Why I Love Writing Conferences

I’ve got a couple of writing conferences coming up in the next couple of months. At the start of April, I’m off to the Sacramento area, as an attendee at the SCBWI Spring Spirit conference. Then in May, I’m off to Pennsylvania to present at the Pennwriters conference in Pittsburgh. Obviously, things are going to be different at each–there’s a different speed to a conference where you’re on faculty to one where you are part of the audience. I love both ways of doing a conference, and here’s why:

  • I love hanging out with writers. For too many years, it was just me and my pen/computer. Then I found my critique partners and suddenly I had a world I was part of–every conference I go to opens up that world to me and lets me totally immerse myself in it for a solid day or three.
  • I get to talk about writing. Yes, I do more of this if I’m up at the podium, but believe me–I do plenty when I’m an attendee, chatting with people in the workshops (NOT while the speaker is talking…usually!), at meals, in lines.
  • I get to travel. Okay, this isn’t quite as much fun as it used to be (but don’t quote me on that until after I see if I get the full-body pat down at the airport in May!), but I still love the feeling of going somewhere, surrounded by other people going somewhere. There’s a feeling of expectation and anticipation–a who-knows-what-might-happen tinge to the air.
  • I stay in a hotel. Every now and then I do the drive-there-and-back on the same day, but I try to treat myself to at least one night in a place that makes my bed, replaces my towels, delivers food (if only in the form of the candy machine down the hall), and basically makes me feel pampered. Honestly, I’m easy–I don’t have to stay anywhere particularly expensive to get this feeling. I just have to be somewhere where my laundry and my kitchen aren’t staring me in the face.
  • Conferences give me a break from work. Yes, sure, speaking is work–but such a different kind. A lot of the work we do–writing, editing, freelancing–whatever, has a bit of a delayed-feedback reaction. At a conference, whether I’m talking about critiquing, discussing someone’s manuscript, signing a book–I pretty much always get a smile in return: instant gratification. Something we all need & don’t get often enough, as far as I’m concerned.
  • A conference makes me shift my mental gears. It’s all to easy to get into a groove–not always a good one–as we go along, doing the same things, following the same patterns, day after day. Conferences push me out of this–they wake me up and let me look at things from a different angle, usually a pretty happy one.

That’s me. Those are the big reasons why I love writing conferences. What about you? Why–other than to learn the craft or make a contact–do you head out to conferences?


  1. Lani Longshore says:

    I love conferences, period. My ideal job would be to attend conferences and summarize the sessions for business people who are too busy to keep up with their own field. It isn’t just about hanging out with people who enjoy the same things you do – it’s about being around the energy of people who are excited to be learning something.


  2. Kelly Fineman says:

    I like many of the things you like – and, like Lani, I like the energy that’s at the conference, and that I take away from it.


  3. Totally agree with everything about this post. I also love conferences because I met my agent at one and will forever be grateful for that regional SCBWI conference!
    (the hotel bed-making thing was nice too!)


  4. Dave Swords says:

    Hi, Becky.

    I have been both student and presenter at conferences and agree that they are so enjoyable either way. Coming from the world of law enforcement, it is such a change to be around so many friendly faces.

    p.s. Be sure to tell us how that pat down goes in May, will ya’? ๐Ÿ™‚


    • beckylevine says:

      Have you been presenting at the Writer’s Police Academy? Those look amazing. ๐Ÿ™‚


      • Dave says:

        I presented at the WPA when Lee had it in Ohio, but not since it moved to NC. And it looks like it gets better every year. For anyone who writes in the mystery genre, I think it would be worth the September trip.


  5. Kathleen Trail says:

    Actually, I’m pretty new to long-form fiction and will be attending my first writing conference in April (we’ve got a YA-specific event being held here in Austin). I’ve signed up for a 30-minute critique session too.

    Do you have any tips on how to get the most out of the conference as a whole and the critique session specifically? I’m about halfway through my first draft, which I know may be a kind of tenuous place to get a critique, but I’ve also got a pretty tough skin and clear sense of what I want to accomplish, so hopefully I won’t get derailed.


    • beckylevine says:

      Kathleen, I’ve never blogged about specific tips–but I’ve read plenty of posts. You might google around–here’s one I found at Mary Kole’s blog: http://kidlit.com/2010/12/03/conference-checklist/

      My basic advice is try to stay open to what’s going on, rather than have such a firm plan it doesn’t give you room to relax and react to what happens–the stuff you can’t know ahead of time. Remember, you don’t have to understand the entire critique when you get it–you’ll have time to think about it after, so don’t panic and think you’ve got to GET IT right then. You don’t have to get derailed–a lot is going to change as you keep writing the book, so listen to the critique, think about it, but don’t feel like you have to revise right then, as soon as you get back. The feedback will be there waiting when you know your story better.

      If you’re shy, promise yourself you’ll push yourself to say “hi” to people in workshops and in the halls, and get yourself to sit down and do some mingling at lunch, etc. You’ll be surprised how glad people are to have someone else start a conversation! Have a wonderful time!


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