A Writing Workshop Primer: What, Where, Why? Part Two


In Part One, we covered the basics: choosing a conference that fits your writing needs, developing a thicker skin, and doing your homework. Today, we’ll look at conference personalities, budget concerns, and the benefits of attending conferences. Here we go . . .

Every Workshop/Conference Has Its Lens
Consider focus. Does the conference emphasize craft alone? The Writers in Paradise conference I mentioned in Part One places primary emphasis on writing craft—workshops, craft talks, panels, readings, interviews with guest faculty—and on the importance of building a writing community. There’s a publishing panel, but no scheduled access to agents and editors. It isn’t that the conference leadership discourages efforts to publish; far from it. They have simply made teaching craft their mission, and they do a bang-up job of it.   
Many conferences include agents and editors on-site and offer access to them. For an additional fee, an agent might read a brief writing sample and spend time with you. (Such fees generally go to the conference, not to the agent, so you aren’t “paying” an agent to look at your work.) Yes, writers have gotten agents that way! Most agent consultations last only a few minutes, however, and are based on 10 pages or so of your work.
Maybe you aren’t ready for such a critical look but want additional feedback on your workshop manuscript, or on a different one. At some conferences you can opt for a one-on-one critique session with a faculty member, also at extra cost. Sometimes, a consultation with the workshop teacher is included as part of the experience. I was enrolled in a novel master class a few years ago, and an hour-long critique session with the teacher was included as part of the workshop. Obviously, there’s no hard and fast rule; each conference is different. Here’s where your careful homework pays off. Make sure you know what the opportunities are. Choose wisely.
A developing trend is toward short (often a single weekend) conferences geared to publishing opportunities. If you have a manuscript that’s ready to go, you might opt for one of those. 
Watch Your Pocketbook
Higher-end conferences are expensive and can be difficult to get into. How much can your budget stand? Factor in travel expenses. Are room and board included? Consider the extras, like the consultations described above. What’s your anticipated reward for dollars spent? Even if you consider the expense an investment in your future as a writer, is it worth it? 
Many conferences offer financial aid and/or scholarships, including work scholarships. Don’t hesitate to apply for assistance if it’s offered. Study the conference’s guidelines to see if you qualify, and if you apply, follow the guidelines to the letter. Often, conferences base their monetary awards on the merit of the writing, not just on financial need.
Hood workshop, Writers in Paradise

Hood workshop, Writers in Paradise 2013 / Photo by Gerry Wilson


Benefits? (Besides Being Discovered)
Do I dream of being discovered? Of playing out the old scenario where the movie mogul walks into the soda fountain, pulls the beautiful young woman out from behind the counter, and makes her a star? You bet I dream of that, although I know it’s not likely. So I measure the benefits of the workshop experience in other ways.
Even if I’m not discovered, I love connecting with other writers. I’ve come away from conferences with new writer-friends whose feedback I value immensely. We continue to read for and support each other beyond the confines of a week or two together. Such writing friendships become the backbone of a sorely needed support system, especially if you don’t have access to a local writers’ group. Writing friends cheer our successes and cheer us on when we’re down. Worth the price of a workshop, don’t you think?
The greatest benefit of attending a workshop is the learning curve. I’ve attended a number of workshops, and although each was different, I came away a stronger writer. Fortunately, I’ve never made a serious misstep in choosing where to go and with whom to work. But I do my homework meticulously, I know what my expectations are, and I try to keep them realistic.
Come back Monday, February 18, for Part Three. We’ll look at resources that will help you find just the right conference for you and include links to some of the top conferences in the country.


What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned at a writers’ workshop/conference?

9 comments for “A Writing Workshop Primer: What, Where, Why? Part Two

  1. juliatomiak
    February 15, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    At that conference I went to in January, a lawyer presented some legal issues writers need to be aware of. Things to look for in contracts, etc. Gina Holmes also gave a great lecture on publicity – which I hope to write a post about and submit here… The conference was big on publishing/ business moreso than craft. I’d like to find more help with craft. Thanks for giving me good things to consider.

    • juliatomiak
      February 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      Also, that conference was only $60- well worth the money. And it’s getting bigger, and the organizing group is planning more activities for writers in the future.

      • February 15, 2013 at 7:11 pm

        Sounds like valuable information, and what a bargain! Thanks, Julia!

  2. Amy
    February 17, 2013 at 12:09 am

    You learn so much at conferences/workshops. Sometimes too much. It can be overwhelming.

    The most valuable thing I’ve taken home isn’t information or lessons, per se. What I treasure most is that energy from being around creative people. All that inspiration.

    • February 19, 2013 at 8:50 pm

      That’s so true, Amy. A conference can be overwhelming (and exhausting), but the energy is contagious. I love being immersed in a writing community. It spoils me every time!

  3. February 18, 2013 at 12:59 am

    I haven’t yet been to a conference, but I did attend a Writer’s Festival at UCLA. The workshops offered were overviews to gather interest in certain classes being offered there. I think it was a good place for me to start. I didn’t have to pay anything to attend (other than parking) and I got a taste what a full conference might feel like.

  4. February 19, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    That was smart, Linda. I think it can’t hurt to start small. I didn’t do that, and I was pretty overwhelmed my first time at a conference (Sewanee–a wonderful conference and place, but I was in over my head, I think). And lucky you–the festival was free!

  5. elissa field
    February 24, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Gerry, I’m just getting a chance to read this series. You did such a great job highlighting the value of conferences and helping anyone know how to weigh which workshops are best worth their time and money. I shared a link to the series in a post on my blog: http://elissafield.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/2013-writing-conferences-workshops/

  6. Gerry Wilson
    June 12, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    Harvey, I haven’t been doing this very long myself. I’m glad you’re enjoying the Wordsmith Studio blog. We came together just over a year ago. Look for more posts here, where there are writers who can certainly offer us good tips. I may tackle this topic of “novice” bloggers myself at my own blog, http://gerrygwilson.com. Thanks for reading here, and do come back to see us.

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