In my writers group, a member report on a conference might be the complaint “I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know”, or “there was one good session, but all the others sucked” or “it was good, but it was geared toward marketing, not writing skills” or vice versa. Ever once in a while, however, you’ll here an ecstatic attendee remark that it was wonderful and that every session had something valuable for them.
The proof is in the pudding, however. At five hundred dollars a pop, will they actually sign up again next year?
What is it a writer might expect to gain from attending a conference beyond the camaraderie, the support from other flailing novelists, or the ashes to riches stories of those who succeeded? Is there ever an element that can actually make a difference in a writer’s career?
Perhaps so. At both conferences I attended, the Western Writers of America Conference in Sacramento and the Tony Hillerman WordHarvest Conference in Santa Fe, I heard returning attendees claim that but for the conference in question, they would not be where they are now. And where was that? Sometimes that place was unclear, but admittedly others could demonstrate publishing success and a loud chink of change.
I have never yet attended a session that revealed the lightbulb secret to success, unless the bulb simply didn’t light for me personally. But I doubt that. Therefore, I must assume that the writer attributing his/her success to the conference must have found a private lightbulb, perhaps by meeting an agent or publisher to take them on, or maybe an experienced writer who took them under a wing. If that is how it works, there must be a less expensive and more efficient way to foster such meetings.
But in truth, I found both conferences valuable, if at a lesser level. I learned much that I did not already know, I gained new perspectives and made connections with nice people and found new ways to view my writing. All of this was constructive and renewing.
Perhaps one day an opportunity will arise that will propel me on a path to success. Until then, I will delight in honing my writing skills and learning my marketing flaws. And to be honest, I do enjoy the stimulation and inspiration from other writers, even if it does fade over time. After all, isn’t that precisely what we try to achieve with our own writing?