groupIt’s been 10 years since I attended my first writer’s workshop, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a pretty small workshop, with the three basic genres you find at most workshops: fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. The real draw for me was the faculty. One of the three was Sherri Reynolds. I had heard her speak while I was a college student, and read some of her books. I was in love with her passion and excitement for writing, and knew that I would be inspired just being around her.

I was probably an anomaly at the workshop. I wasn’t really “working” on anything, so to speak. I haven’t written a novel, I don’t write poetry, and at the time I wasn’t even trying to write short stories. But I was making a living as a freelancer doing editing and writing jobs, and I figured the workshop would be a great way to improve my writing skills, as well as serve as inspiration and also some practice for when I did find time to start writing the fiction I’d always dreamed about.

It was a short three-day conference, but the experiences I took away from it were priceless. I’ve attended a few other one-day conferences here and there, and every time I come away armed with inspiration and great feedback and advice. Here are a few reasons why I think writer’s conferences and workshops are a good investment.

  1. You get a chance to be around other writers. For most of us, writing is pretty much a solitary endeavor. And it can sometimes get lonely. Attending a conference gives you a chance to be around other writers, where you can share your ideas and frustrations with a group of peers who understand, because they’re going through the same thing.
  1. The feedback. Need I say more? Whether you get feedback from the faculty or other attendees, or both, it’s always good in helping improve your writing.
  1. Networking. If you’re working on something that you hope to one day get published, attending a conference is a great way to meet other writers and make connections that can help you out down the road. You might meet someone who knows an editor or an agent that would be helpful, or other writers who could serve as reviewers for your book once it’s published.
  1. Fresh ideas. As I said at the beginning of this list, writing is often something we do alone, and because of that it might be harder to find ways of doing what some professions call continuing education. Writers workshops and conferences are a good way to get out and find out what’s new in the publishing industry, new trends in the writing world, and even fresh ideas when it comes to style and tone.
  1. A chance to try something new. This might not be true for everyone, but it was for me. In my work I mostly write non-fiction. But I attended a workshop in the fiction genre, to experiment and go outside my comfort zone. It was exhilarating. Some people might not want to do that, if you’re a poet and need to focus on your poetry, it’s fine to stick to one thing. But the opportunity to try something new exists.

It’s pretty easy to find a conference that’s affordable enough and close enough to make it worthwhile to attend. Poets & Writers has a great database that you can use to find something near you. And if you can’t make it to a conference, you can join a local writer’s group. You get a lot of the same benefits there, free, local and on a regular basis!