Conference Confidence

Many years ago I attended the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference.  This was shortly after starting to peek out of the closet and admit that I was a writer.  As anyone knows who has attended this conference, it is huge.  So there I was, a timid writer, listening to the crowds around me talking about their novels, their manuscripts, their synopses, the difficulty of making their pitches.  Right next to me was one young woman, very excited, telling a friend she had pitched a magazine article and it had been bought on the spot.

I sat in the back of the panel discussions, as close to the door as I could get, terrified I would be expected to produce something.  I felt like an imposter.  I left devastated.  I created O-Pen writer’s group shortly thereafter, in order to have a place that was safe and non-threatening for writers like me, just toddling out into the world. 

I didn’t attend another conference until a couple of years ago when I went to the Idaho Writer’s Conference that was held in Wallace, Idaho that year.  I went because I was writing a mystery set in Wallace, loved the town, and could add research to the time spent there.  I had tons of fun. 

What made the difference?  For starters, the size.  The Idaho conference was limited to a set number of participants.  The panel discussions felt intimate and safe.  No speakers demanded that you write something and read it out loud, like a few at the Pacific conference did.  The milling about in the lobby consisted of writers  anxious to talk to others about the excitement of writing, not their latest sale.  It felt like a supportive environment.  I’m sure the Pacific conference is like that, too, and my initial reaction was because of my newbie status and lack of self-confidence.  Some day I might attend again, just to see how I respond as the person I am now.  Although it is very expensive.

Stephen King, when talking about conferences in his book, On Writing, asked if we really need to have a name tag on our chest that reads ‘writer’ in order to feel like one.  I loved his comment, and it made me feel like I could be a writer even if I never went back to a conference.  In spite of that, though, these small ones can be beneficial.  Have you attended writer’s conferences, and what reactions did you have?  What benefits did you receive? 

Anyway, today I registered for the Write on the Sound conference, held in Edmonds, WA, in view of the Puget Sound.  Enrollment is limited to 200 people.  I am excited about going, even though it doesn’t happen until the end of September.  But I have learned that these small conferences work for me, that they don’t crush my writer’s self-esteem, and that I can relax and learn.  Not to mention visits with other writers.  Small, intimate, educational, and respectful of all level of writers.  That’s my recipe for being able to attend with confidence, and walk away excited to be part of the writing family.

4 thoughts on “Conference Confidence

  1. I don’t know why, but I’ve never felt the least interest in attending a writers’ conference. Maybe the word “conference” just feels too corporate to me. Or maybe it’s because I’ve never been to a conference that completely engaged me and made me see things in a new way. I’ve done other events that gave me that buzz and connected me to cool people, but in my mind “conference” and “worthwhile” just don’t hang out together. I should try to revise that impression someday.


  2. That’s interesting. I never associated ‘corporate’ with a conference, but that might be a little part of why I didn’t like the first one I went to. The second was small, more like a supportive writer’s group where everyone wanted to hear how everyone else was doing. Find out we’re not alone in our struggles and all that. The larger one was more about pushing and selling and felt like a battle. So corporate definitely fits. I’m not sure you would like a conference though, just from what little I know of you here. I like sitting at a table, pen and pad in place, taking notes, and then going away alone to breathe that in and be creative. You seem able to pull out your creativity in group settings, as in your artist workshops. Some conference panels allow that, but most are there to get as much information out as possible in the time frame they are given. I learn, but after I leave and have time to absorb.


    • Yes — I have zero interest in anything that’s all “about pushing and selling and felt like a battle”!

      Hmm, you might be right that I do seem to prefer group workshops to panels where I just take things in and then go home to process. I’ll have to think about that some more. Thank you for that. 🙂


  3. I’ve never been to a conference, writer’s or other kind. I’ve thought of them as opportunities to network while learning new things about one’s field, and I’ve learned that even when I know a lot about what I’m doing, to experts I tend to sound like a novice and make a bad impression. It’s disconcerting and very unpleasant. I like the way you describe the smaller one you enjoyed. Maybe someday I’ll be able to try one of those.


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