Tuesday, September 28, 2010


A question came up during an intense discussion among pre-published and published authors at Midsouth SCBWI conference (see blog for all the good stuff) in Nashville: Does a writer ever outgrow writing conferences?

My answer is YES.

But that's not to say a writer ever stops learning. Just that once you've broken into the industry, you have all sorts of other avenues to feed that growth.

Writing conferences open the door, but over a writer's lifetime, I don't think writing conferences have the power to sustain. Ultimately, writing conferences serve beginners best. And even though every writing organization I've been associated with strives to keep writers coming back, I think that energy is really misplaced. We should be courting the beginners and pushing the more accomplished out the nest. Tiers like SCBWI's PAL membership only serve to divide the membership, when the whole point is to support and educate budding careers.

Also, there is something to be said for the the turnover of power in these organizations. The fastest way for a group to become stale and useless is to maintain the same leadership over the course of many years. We need new voices, new ideas, new energy. Which means the more established writers should of course make themselves available as mentors, but should also move out and on.

I got much of my education on craft and industry through attending writing conferences, so I continue to be wildly grateful for their existence. But I realized this weekend that the best thing for me to do now is to offer my chair to someone else.

Take it. It's yours. And if you need any help... give me a holler. And to my dear writing friends who have also outgrown conferences, two words: WRITING RETREAT. I am so there!!


  1. I've been saying lately that while I certainly don't know everything about writing, I think I know everything that can be imparted to a group in a one-hour session, so I didn't see what I would get out of conferences.
    And then over the Midsouth conference weekend I had two major aha! moments that have caused me to re-vision two WsIP.
    There's also the networking at conferences--no matter what stage you're at, you can benefit from that.
    Last but by no means least, I strongly feel that published authors who have benefited from conferences and workshops should give back to the community that nurtured them at the early stages of their careers. Attending conferences and volunteering with SCBWI are two ways we can do that--there are plenty of other ways, though, for those who don't choose to do either.

  2. Tracy, don't you think that what Irene meant was that there comes a time in every writer’s journey that they have to stop and think about direction. An agent at this weekend’s conference commented that at some point a writer has to write. Yes, you hear new tidbits every time or same tidbits said a different way and yes you meet new people. Like Irene, I feel my next “break open the piggy bank” venture will be a boot camp or workshop. I'm not published and might not every be but I will always chase that dream and taking steps up that steep mountain doesn't mean sidestepping or taking detours.

  3. Sure, but the point that *I* was making is that a conference doesn't have to be a detour. It isn't for me, and it isn't for Ellen Hopkins (who still attends sessions!). If it is for someone, whether published or not, of course they shouldn't spend their time and money at one!

  4. Whatever, Tracy. And the point "I" was making is I agreed with Irene. I wouldn't really know what Ellen Hopkins thought, I only talked to her for 7 minutes and you know she writes poetry and I write fiction. And get a grip!! It's not like I'm scream or mad at you... I was posting my opinion that can be different than yours.

  5. Like Irene, I thought I had heard all this stuff before and like Tracy, I too had an "aha" moment. I went to the book packagers session not really knowing what to expect. I really got a lot out of it. This might be the opening I have been searching for but never considered. Lionel Bender was so down to earth and helpful and encouraging.

    And like both Tracy and Irene, I hope to one day be published and can be a mentor for other prepublished writers. It always makes me feel glad to see other published writers at the conferences, because it makes me see them as a "real person" and not someone who just magically had an idea and the next moment they were published. Hearing their individual stories reminds me it hard work AND perserverance that gets you published.

  6. We all know that different things work for different people. One of the speakers last weekend (I think it was Ruta) said that she didn't see how you could get published without belonging to a critique group, yet I've heard other industry professionals say that critique groups are more often a negative influence than a positive one. (I belong to one and love it.) We all need to find what works for us, and if Irene doesn't find conferences useful anymore, then of course she needs to spend her time in a way that's more productive for her and that will help her to keep on turning out beautiful books like LEAVING GEE'S BEND. And I LOVE writing retreats! I highly recommend the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow ().

  7. Oops, tried to post a link to the Writers Colony and it didn't take. It's writerscolony dot org.

  8. This makes absolute sense. I'm still at the stage where conferences are useful in terms of making connections, but I far prefer the read and critique of writer's retreats vs. craft talks. Not that I can't still learn, but practice, practice, practice and revision is where I'm at now.


Your thoughts?