Backspace Writers Conference · On Writing

My Thoughts on Writers’ Conferences – A bit of a ‘to do’, if you’re interested in attending.

It’s been almost one month since I attended the Backspace Writers Conference in New York City.

To quote my seven-year old son, “This year is going by the fastest ever.” Indeed. I hear myself saying over and over again “I can’t believe it’s insert date already!” And I’ll say it again now, I can’t believe it’s June 24th. I can’t believe the 21st was the first day of summer, and that there’s only one week left of school before summer vacation starts. My brain can barely keep up.

Last week went by so quickly and our days have been so full that I haven’t touched a computer or written a word on my novel since Thursday. Before that it was only Monday that I was able to write. That’s two out of seven days. Yikes. But it’s my reality. And coupled with the crazy energy of seasons changing, moons super-ing and the deck around our new pool being safe enough to use, I have to accept that time for writing is going to be very up and down for the next little bit.

What does all of this have to do with writing conferences? Ummm. Nothin’? Shall I get back to that now?

My thoughts on writing conferences are as follows:

1) It’s absolutely worth it to attend them. However, it’s imperative to do your research and find out which conferences you think will work best for you. That includes the themes/offerings of the conferences as well as the location and cost. If you’re not interested in going the agent route then it’s probably best to not attend a conference where agents will be there with bells on (okay, maybe not bells. Shark costumes?) There’s a definite distinction between a writing conference and writing retreat. So take the time to check out both, and ask yourself where you are in your writing life and what you want to gift for yourself in terms of a conference or a retreat. Yes, each is a gift to your writing life.

2) Allow prep time. Depending on what the conference offers and asks of you, you may need to do prep work. For example, you may have to write something, make a certain amount of copies and prepare to read it in front of a group so you can get feedback. You may need to figure out where your hotel is in relation to where the conference is located, therefore, you’ll need to get your map skills on. You may need to dress a certain way – weather-specific and/or bring fancy clothes for a special cocktail event. If you’re flying to a conference location, then you’ll have to think about packing bags, what you’ll do in the airport, how to get to and from the airport…you get my drift. It’s a good idea to wrap your brain around the prep part of what you’ll need to do for the conference. Oh, and this includes more research in terms of reading up on who will be in attendance. It’s always nice to know a bit about the keynote speakers/workshop leaders before the conference starts. There will more than likely be an opportunity for you to ask questions of these cool peeps, so it’s nice to be a prepared in this regard.

3) Give yourself time to relax and reflect. I purposely chose not to stay at the conference hotel. Not because I was being anti-social, (okay..maybe a bit. Sometimes I get shy!) but because I know myself well enough to know that I would need alone time. The walk to and from the conference hotel back to my own hotel or wherever I was going in the evenings was really important for my brain and soul. It gave me the opportunity to wind down, think about what I’d learned, what I’d written, what I’d shared. Plus, I love taking photographs, and I brought my fancy camera with me so I could take photos as I walked around Manhattan. When I got to my hotel at the end of the night, totally spent and high on New York City and what happened at the conference, I could barely squeeze out a post about my day. But I did it. And it helped me reflect and recuperate for the next day. I also brought my journal (yes, I still write in a journal! It’s been over thirty years since I’ve been writing in a journal. I can’t stop!), and was able to reflect in its pages as well. I have to admit that most of my hard-core reflections came on the flight home and in the following weeks, but I’m glad I gave myself the space and time to be alone whilst I was at the conference.

4) Bring extra money. ‘Cause you know, the whole conference isn’t costing you enough already, right? Well, this little extra is important. The authors who attend will likely be selling their books. And they’ll probably be doing book signings as well. If you really love the work of an author and subsequently fall in love with her as a person too, then you’ll probably want to buy her book and get it signed if you haven’t done so already. So bring extra cash for this. I say cash because the conference may not have any other payment options. Also, if there is conference swag that you’d like to purchase, you’ll need to have money for this as well.

5) Bring business cards. But I’m a writer, I don’t have business cards! What would it say? Jenny Jawbone, Writer of Great YA novels?  HELLS YES. Come on people, you’ll need something to pass out to other writers, new friends, the guy on the corner who looks like he’d read your book. So spend the time and money to get some cards printed. I use I’ve also used as well.

Here’s the front of my card. (That’s the shadow of my thumb on the corner…) It is made of thick paper. It almost feels plastic. And they were delivered within a week after I ordered them online.

Here’s the back:

I got 100 cards for about 30 bucks. Solid, folks. Solid.

Almost everyone I met at the conference had a card.

6) Prepare to ride an emotional roller coaster. Seriously. If you’re not quite ready to share your writing with total strangers, some of whom could jumpstart your writing career, and lots of whom are ready and willing to give you feedback and talk about writing, you may not be ready for a conference. Workshops can be long and intense. Especially if led by Donald Maas. I took 25 pages of notes during his workshop entitled ‘Writing 21st Century Fiction’. It was four. hours. long. I almost cried three times, and the only reason I didn’t was because I was in a room full of people (who, let’s face it, were probably holding their own tears in). But if you’re a dedicated writer, then you already know that this job is all about riding roller coasters. Look, you won’t be alone. There are other writers who feel, struggle, laugh, stress, fear, freak, enjoy – the job of writing just like you. Knowing this should help you make your decision as to whether or not you think you can handle a conference. I mean, I was totally freaking out before I left…but I did it. I went.

The Backspace Writers Conference website was fantastic. Thorough. Helpful. Easy to navigate. Hopefully, whatever conference you attend will have great on-line support as well. There’s a certain amount of gut-trusting you have to do when you decide you’re ready to attend a conference. You have to trust your choices in terms of which one attend, then you have to trust the folks putting on the conference, then you have trust the other folks attending, and then it’s back to trusting yourself again when it comes to sharing your work.

I say, do it. It’s all good practice for when it’s your turn to be on the panel or as the keynote author or workshop leader. It’s inspiring and maddening and motivating. And it will make you a better writer. I can honestly say that I am a better writing armed with all the new information I received at the conference.

In case you’re inspired right now (!), here are some links….(there are sooo many more, people!)


On Pelee Island!


A whole bunch in this link

And just in case you’re thinking more of retreating…

Cool blog about retreats/conferences

Lots of info on retreats

And this is the one I’ll be attending next summer:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s