5 Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Writing Conference

May 4, 2016 § 6 Comments

Mare Swallow

Mare Swallow

By Mare Swallow

With the season of summer writing conferences just around the corner, I’d like to share some tips for getting the most out of your conference experience. Refer to these tips any time you attend a conference. And remember, no matter which writers’ conference you attend, it’s your conference – make it work for you.

  1. Attend with broad goals.

It’s good to have specific goals, but very few writers actually land an agent or get a book deal at a conference. Give yourself broader goals like “I want to be inspired,” or “I want to meet other writers who are writing memoir.” Go with an open mind and open attitude. The best things I’ve gotten from conferences were inspiration, fun, friends, delicious cocktails, and a writing group.

  1. Go towards your “nah.”

Try something you normally would not. Attend a panel that you think isn’t for you. When we listen to something that we think doesn’t apply to us, we can learn something surprising and useful. I once attended a talk by Eric Charles May on ‘Causality in Fiction.’ I thought, “I write non-fiction; this doesn’t apply to me,” but I had some time to kill, so I went. Eric’s lessons blew me away – and were applicable to my nonfiction.

  1. Talk to your fellow writers.

Open your mouth and talk to each other. Yes, many writers are introverted, but your next writing buddy or feedback partner may be sitting right next to you. And you never know who might be a resource for you! Attend the social events, even if it’s just for 30 minutes, and chat.

Need some prompts? Try:

“What did you think of that last speaker?”

“Have you attended this conference before?”

“Are you going to the cocktail party afterwards?”

  1. Buy books, subscribe to newsletters, and connect online.

Stay in touch with your fellow writers (assuming you like them and want to stay in touch). Follow each other on Facebook or Twitter, or Snapchat or whatever your preferred method of social media. Buy books on writing or books by the authors who inspire you at the conference. Follow their blogs and social media, and subscribe to their newsletters so you’re in the loop and in touch with your writing community beyond the conference.

  1. Take notes, and commit to action post-conference.

Note what you get from each session, and commit to using it once you leave.

Whenever you hear something you want to remember, write it down. Also give yourself concrete action steps you’ll take after the conference, and use verbs: “Email query to Literary Agent I met today.”

“Subscribe to Suzy Writer’s Blog.”

“Draft the first 100 words of my novel.”

Education is great, but education without action is useless.


Some upcoming Conferences of note:

Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference

River Teeth Nonfiction Conference

Kenyon Review Writers  Workshop

Antioch Summer Workshop

Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference

HippoCamp 2016

Iota Short Prose Conference

And more here: Poets & Writers Listings


Mare Swallow is the founder and Executive Director of the Chicago Writers Conference. She speaks at conferences throughout the nation year-round. An essayist, she can be found sharing her stories on Chicago’s Live Lit Scene. Visit chicagowritersconference.org for more information.


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