One of the things I like about being a writer is the solitude that comes with the territory. Admittedly, I’m not much of a social creature. Many writers feel the same way. So, when I see workshops and conferences being promoted in the social media circles, I’m a little torn. On one hand, I’m intrigued. On the other hand, I start making internal excuses as to why I shouldn’t/wouldn’t attend.
From a freelance writer’s perspective, many of the writing conferences I see are geared to folks that are writing fiction and seeking a publisher. For me, the only fiction I write that is continually accepted is sent to the IRS every April. So I would be more interested if indeed the conference was geared especially for freelance writers.
No rocket science here, folks. A writing conference is an opportunity to learn something new that could help your freelance writing business. Chances are good that you will meet some folks that you are drawn to and with whom you are able to connect. The relationships established at these conferences can be long term and beneficial to everyone involved. As well, sometimes it’s important to see what is happening in the freelance writing world through a portal other than your computer monitor. I tend to think that anything worthwhile is accessed through the Internet and that I know about most of the big stuff out there. Truly, this attitude is arrogant and a bit short-sighted. I think there are discoveries to be made.
In my previous life, I attended a lot of conferences. I attended local and national conferences often as a presenter. Other times I was a mere attendee. I enjoyed these conferences for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the opportunity to travel and see different parts of the country. At the time, I was living in Alaska and trust me, any chance to get the heck out of Dodge for a week was welcome – especially in January. With that said, I freely admit the conferences were on my employer’s dime. Conference fees and travel expenses were all paid for by someone else.
The perspective changes a bit when you are looking at coughing up a grand (or more) for a conference. The danged things are expensive and you had better figure out the cost/benefit thing before you sign up. As well, the first time you attend a conference you are rolling the dice. A particular conference may not be beneficial to you at all and you won’t know until you go.
Another potential drawback is the temptation to:
Catch up on your sleep in a comfy hotel room.
Catch up on the newest pay-per-view movies in your hotel room.
Explore the local community. After all, you came all this way. Who knows when you’ll get to St. Louis again?
Hang out in the vendor area instead of going to the breakout sessions.
Work on a client project because you are up against deadline.
The point here is that a writing conference may be a good thing for you but you need to do the research and you need to be self aware in terms of how you may respond to the temptations listed above.
Diary of my dearest granddaddy Michael who also dedicated his life to writing.
As a life-long writer (I am now past eighty) who has made a living, if not a great success, I sometimes see the image of graduates at the graduation ceremony, joyfully clutching their diplomas. They have accomplished something perhaps not expected of them. And, for the most part, their names are called in alphabetical order, not by GPA. Writers, in much the same way, clutch a completed article or manuscript, poem or screenplay in much the same way. Something had been started, worked on and completed. The success is in the satisfaction of completion and not necessarily whether financial or critical success follows. Unlike some other professions, I am not sure those who aspire to write feel that unless they are “great” writers (“great” being critical acclaim and major sales)they are failures. But, such adjectives are applied or denied by critics who, for whatever reason, have been anointed with a platform to publicize their opinions. In some cases this appears much like that ancient Roman custom of thumbs up or down to spare or take the life of a gladiator.
My satisfaction as a writer comes from having an idea, developing it (or a number of ideas) getting the right words and phrases on paper (or computer) and offering it to the public. Even if the public and critics do not agree with the quality or thoughts, many a writer feels a joy at having completed something. I have a good many manuscripts and screenplays and TV scripts unsold and undesired. But, I still take pride in my having thought up the ideas and finished those thoughts.
Some writers, I include myself among them, use words and their origins as ammunition, bullets meant to make an impact on (and against) the world’s malaise. In such cases, critics are like UN observers, trying to establish rules that can satisfy and appease all sides.
Still it is important to realize that critics themselves, just as the authors they contemplate can lead ordinary lives and have ordinary ideas (as can somehow be ascribed to John Updike’s conventionalism). This does not make them “bad” or “meaningless” assayers of someone’s writing. I write with the idea that my characters and ideas are worthwhile, not “great” or “masterful.” I myself maybe more ordinary than I sometimes give myself credit for; nevertheless, like that student clutching his diploma, I feel good about having finished something. This is not like that old saw about what one calls the person graduating with the lowest grades from Medical School (“Doctor”), but that even if the syntax is raw and the paragraphs splayed in multi-directional points of view, it represents a completed work not everyone is able or willing to do. Acceptance by others is a bonus, but a feeling of self-worth is a priority.