Monday, July 30, 2012

Beyond Writing: Conferences, Workshops and Beer Night!

It's t-minus five days till SCBWI's Summer Conference in LA - an event of epic proportions which brings together hundreds if not thousands of would-be authors, illustrators, tops agents, and editors in the children's and youth's fiction industry.  

It's going to be filled with mad dashes to speaker sessions and round the clock meet and greets which is what makes the sweet little 2 day workshop that I went to last weekend seem all the more cosy, intimate and well worth the drive to Guelph, Ontario (I know my American friends are all scratching their heads wondering where the heck is Guelph?).  

Organized by writer extraordinaire (and co-ordinator of the SCBWI Niagara Conference) Jackie Garlick, the B&B Garden Party Writer's Workshop was one of the best writing experiences (outside of writing) I've had to date and I can count the number of participants on both hands.  It featured two days of writing, critiquing and sessions lead by Jackie and independent book editor and ghost writer Lorin Oberweger.

Jackie Garlick teaching at the B&B Garden Party
Jackie Garlick teaching at the B&B Garden Party
Which brings me to the topic at hand - what to do beyond just writing?  Whether it's just an idea, an outline, four chapters or a full manuscript, there's always something beyond writing (be it a conference, retreat, or industry beer night) that can help you make it better. 

Writing is an investment.  We would like to think that it doesn't cost anything besides paper and a pen, but it does.  This is your product and it needs the same care and attention to bring it to the market as any other product.  The nice thing to know is you don't have to spend thousands of dollars a year travelling across North America to have a great experience.

Here are a few points to help you identify which conferences/retreats/get-togethers work best for you.

1.  Set your goals for the year.

2.  Identify your wish list of events. 

3.  Set a budget and prioritize.

4.  Keep an open mind and have fun!

Big Sur Writing Conference
Big Sur
What are your writing goals by the end of the year?  Do you plan to have an outline, a few chapters or a full manuscript completed?  This will help you to determine which type of conference best suits your needs.  If you only have a chapter or two written, you may want to forgo the larger conferences early on and focus on the smaller ones where the focus is more on five page critiques and intimate group settings.  The Big Sur Writing Conference organized by the Andrew Brown Literary Agency and the SCBWI Niagara Conference are two that I've attended that were great for just this reason.  For those that want more than just a weekend and are looking for workshops to really tighten up their manuscript, there's also weeklong events such as Free Expressions Your Best Book workshop which has a cap of 30 participants and gives writers ample opportunity to work with top children's agents Tracey and Josh Adams from Adams Literary and independent editors such as Lorin Oberweger and Emma Dryden.

Finally, if you can't make it out to a workshop or conference, check out your local writer get together.  Toronto has a great group of young adult and middle grade writers who are warm, friendly and often hold events to get to know one another.  You can get the latest info here.  

There's going to be good conferences and bad conferences but at the end of the day, it's really what you make of it.  Have you learned something thing new?  Met a new contact or have a "eureka!" moment about your story.  Focusing on the positive aspects of the events that you attend helps you to continue to push forward.  The best thing that came out of the first conference I attended.... meeting my three fabulous blogmates!  


  1. Thanks for this Jen! So glad you got lots out of the Guelph weekend!!! I sure enjoyed it!!!

  2. Same here, Jenn! I had a wonderful time, myself. Glad our paths will cross again in October!