Justine: Five Reasons Why New Writers Should Attend a National Conference

rwa 2014, rwa conference, justine covington, eight ladies writingI just returned from my second national RWA Conference and like last year, it was amazing. However, the 2014 conference was a little different from 2013. My first year out, I was overwhelmed, star-struck, and giddy with the craft things I was learning at the various workshops. I was inspired by the keynote speeches and a little intimidated watching those amazing women writers accept either the Golden Heart or the RITA.

This year I was a bit more focused on the business side of things, of how to work (write) better, I was a little less star-struck, and now I’m a little more determined to be one of the women who take home the Golden Heart (RWA’s contest for unpublished manuscripts) next year. Hey, aim high, right?

After these last two conferences, there are five key reasons why I think every new writer should attend a national writing conference (and if you’re a romance writer, RWA in particular).

Over a three-day period, you could take as many as fifteen craft classes, all in one place, all with like-minded writers…writers who want to improve their technique. Sketchy about conflict? There’s a workshop. Need to learn how to develop your voice? There’s a workshop. Want to know more about GMC? There’s a workshop. And the workshop aren’t just craft-related. This year’s buffet of workshops included cowboys, cops, forensics, sex, software, writer’s wellbeing, and much more. In other words, it’s a fantastic place to LEARN, no matter where you are in the writing life cycle.

Oh, the dreaded pitch. You hate to do it. You’re afraid the agent or editor sitting on the other side of the table is going to hate what you’ve written, or worse, ask you who you think would like to read it. But here’s the thing…it’s all practice for sharing your story. Whether you’re sharing it with an agent, a friend, someone doing a radio interview of you (because yes, someday, you will be so good folks will interview you!)…learning how to talk about your story is important, and putting yourself in front of a prospective agent or editor is a great way for you to not only sell yourself and your story, but to figure out if the person sitting across from you is someone you want to work with. (I can say honestly that I’ve done pitches where I’ve quickly realized I had no desire to work with the person I was pitching to.)

This is the part of the conference I probably hate the most, just because I’m a natural introvert, but it’s really important to get yourself out there and meet agents, editors, and fellow writers. Sometimes you can do this in small settings, like at the beginning of a workshop before it starts, or in one of the smaller one-off sessions available (like the Beau Monde’s Mini-conference, PRO sessions, etc.). Other times, you sit down at the bar and invite someone to have a drink with you, or you invite them to share your table at the breakfasts, lunches, and desserts. I ran into two editors who had previously asked for my ms and chatted with them; both told me I could resubmit. Networking can pay off, literally.

To me, this is one of the biggest reasons I love going to RWA in particular…I leave so inspired, so ready to hit the ms hard and get it wrapped up. Last year, I was inspired to believe in myself, to keep going, and to get involved at the local level. I’ve since finished the first draft of my ms and am becoming active in my local RWA chapter. This year, I’m inspired to finish my ms entirely, submit it to the Golden Heart, and work more on self-promotion.

It’s Fun
I’ll admit, my husband and close friends don’t really understand this writing thing. When I go out to lunch with my best friend, she smiles and nods when I go on about lack of conflict, POV, or something else “writerly.” But when you’re at a writer’s conference, you could talk about that stuff ‘till you’re blue in the face, and the person you’re talking with not only understands everything you’re saying, but they can actually help you troubleshoot your problems! Fellow guest contributor, Jeanne, ended up chatting with someone after a session and got some great ideas to unstick a story that she’s been working on. I love getting dressed up for the black-tie awards ceremony on Saturday night. I love seeing a bunch of women as excited about writing as I am. It’s a total rush.

So there you go. Five reasons to attend a national writing conference. What reasons do you have for going? Why haven’t you attended one (aside from cost)? Which conference are you most looking forward to?

3 thoughts on “Justine: Five Reasons Why New Writers Should Attend a National Conference

  1. Those are all the reasons I go to RWA, Justine. The thing I like best about conferences is what you say about how everyone is focused on the same thing. One always hopes that friends and family will be supportive, but only writers really understand your particular ups and downs. I love it that Jeanne got some brainstorming in with a fellow attendee! That happened to me once; it’s an awesome experience to have a complete stranger help you with your book.

  2. Great reasons! I think finding like-minded people is a really important thing. We can be so isolated as writers . . . but as writers, we also can do the correspondence thing really well, and keep in touch with the people we meet. In the old days, they did it by letters and carbon copies. Today, we’ve got it a lot easier — the hard part is FINDING those people who are going to be inspiring partners. Something like the RWA is a great chance to make those connections, and refresh old friendships.

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