I spent last weekend in Hollywood, California, attending the Writers Digest Conference West as a speaker, and as always when I go to this sort of event, an enthusiastic participant as well.
Anyone who knows me knows I hate to travel, hate conventions, hate meeting people . . . until the plane takes off, I actually get to the convention/event, and actually meet people, then I love it. I come alive. And this event was no exception.
I spent Thursday nearly in a panic spiral, obsessing over all the work I had to do, the fact that I had just done a similar, if smaller event a couple weekends before, and I hate flying and wah wah wah cry cry cry. Then off to LA early Friday morning with work files loaded on my laptop, my PowerPoint all done and ready, and I had the best time I’ve had in a very, very long time.
If you’re an aspiring writer and you haven’t been to a writers conference consider this a direct order: GO!
The Writers Digest Conferences happen twice a year, once in New York and once in LA (as part of StoryWorld and a screenwriting conference held simultaneously), but there are smaller events like it all over the country all the time. Like I said, I’d just spoken at one up here in Western Washington, put on (brilliantly, I might add) by the city of Edmonds, called Write on the Sound. To find a writers conference near you, hit Google now. In the internet age there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s going on in and around your home town.
Let’s make this post more for people who haven’t been to one of these events. Think of a writers conference like a convention, but without costumes—a professional conclave where you hear presentations by experts in the field and get a chance to meet those experts face-to-face and at least as important as that, to meet other practitioners of your craft: other writers.
My seminar was called “How to Make a Career Out of Writing Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.” That’s a big subject for an hour and a half and to my horror I didn’t even make it through my PowerPoint, and to the all-important Q&A, before that ninety minutes elapsed. That was bad. It’s easy to find me monologuing about writing SF and fantasy. You’re doing it right now, in fact. What makes conferences special and valuable and not-to-be-missed is that you get to ask questions. You can pin me down on subjects specific to your own project and process. You benefit from my (and other experts’) answers to your fellow attendees’ questions. And I get to hear from you what’s on your mind. I know what’s missing from what I’ve written on the subject so far, and I get to work this stuff out with you, not just to you.
For me, the Q&A is the heart of a conference, for both of us.
So when I say “horror,” I mean true, gut-wrenching blind panic at not having time for Q&A. But maybe it’s true that God watches out for fools, and as it happened my seminar was scheduled for the last time slot of the day. That meant if I hung back in the room, I wasn’t eating into another presenters’ time. And that, by the way, is a serious breach of conference etiquette.
The fine people in charge of the event allowed me to go ahead and take a few questions, which then turned in to a flood of questions, and finally I ended up walking out of the room with the last two stragglers.
It was fantastic. This is a subject I love, and love talking about. I was stopped in the hallway a few times, too, and answered a few more questions, and I was equally delighted to do that, too.
Again, for people who’ve never attended one of these, here’s a sampling of some of the other sessions, a couple of the ones I sat in the audience for:
The keynote speaker was fellow National Buy a Book Day Foundation board member and best-selling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford. We had a chance to meet in person and he’s such a nice guy. A missed Twitter DM prevented us from having dinner Saturday night, which I deeply regret. His talk on “The History of the Love Story” was heartfelt and inspiring.
James Scott Bell, author of Self Publishing Attack and One More Lie spoke on “Creating a Career Out of Ebooks” and I found myself nodding along with him the whole way through. He had some essential advice for indie authors.
Chuck Wendig’s “25 Ways to EARN Your Audience” was fun, funny, and enlightening, too. He knows what he’s talking about and gave great, real-world advice that every author in any genre really needs to take to heart.
One of the things I noticed that I feel I should bring up is that more than once I heard different speakers giving conflicting advice. For instance, I told my audience to read, read, read, both in and out of the genre in which they intend to write. At the closing keynote, thriller author Steven James ( a really funny, very nice guy, who sat next to me at the signing event) said he didn’t read much at all, and advised his audience that sometimes you have to stop reading so you aren’t overly influenced by the work of others.
Which one of us is right?
Both of us are. And that’s the beauty of this sort of thing. We’re talking about creative writing. There is no one answer for anything. There is no one way to do it. Opening keynote speaker Aimee Bender told us how she literally tied herself to a chair to get into the habit of sitting down at the same place at the same time every day to write. I told my audience to get a laptop and learn to write anywhere at any time.
Which one of us is right?
Both of us are.
The point of getting advice like this from people who have been there and done that isn’t to adopt someone else’s process but to get some ideas for things you can try. Try tying yourself to a chair. Try writing at Starbucks. Try writing early in the morning. Try writing late at night. Try all twenty-five of Chuck Wendig’s methods for earning your audience, and so on and so on, and eventually you’ll find a process that works for you. Then you’ll go to another event like this and get even more ideas to try. I did, and I’m the proverbial “old dog.”
The creative process is different for everyone, and there are things you can learn and adopt and things that you’ll never do. The point is to work at the craft of writing so your art can shine through, and the lessons learned from events like the Writers Digest Conference West or Write on the Sound are invaluable sources of fresh ideas.
And when the whole thing was over, Steven James asked conference organizer and Writers Digest publisher Phil Sexton if there were any closing remarks, and Phil just shrugged and called out: “Now go home and write!”
Go out there, writers, and convene, then go home and write!