I was at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers' fiction conference earlier this week, reading in the alumni series. I attended Squaw as a student in 2003 and count it as one of the best experiences of my writing career. Are you a writer? Have you been to a writer's conference, one where they teach craft? If not, put it on your short list of things you must do. Attending conferences is an essential part of the writing life for a number of reasons:
1. IMPROVE YOUR WRITING: This is particularly true of a conference where you'll be workshopping a piece you've written. In workshop, you'll get new readers to cast their eyes over your work, and you'll get feedback from the workshop leader, who should be a writing professional. A plug for Squaw: attendees are divided into workshop groups and the instructors--editors, agents, published writers--rotate through the groups, so you get the views and insights from a number of professionals.
2. MEET FELLOW WRITERS: Writing has its own peculiar stresses, and chances are there's not another writer in your immediate circle of family or friends to talk to when you've had a bad writing day or need to compare experiences. There are online groups or plain old Facebook, but there's nothing like the connection you make meeting people face-to-face, at dinner or at the bar. Yes, this can be stressful for introverts (I'm one, too) but folks are usually super easy to talk to at these events: heck, that's why we're all there.
3. NETWORK: This is your opportunity to meet editors, agents, and both established and debut authors. More and more, it's critical that a writer have a network of other writers who will help get the word out about each other's new releases, contests, awards, blog posts. When you book an appearance in an unfamiliar city, it's great to have a writer who lives in the area (in addition to every family member or friend) who can advise on local networks of readers, press, even to help find a hotel.
4. CHANGE OF SCENERY: Creative people need to be exposed to new things to inject fresh life into their work. It's amazing what a trip to a new location can do for your writing. Another plug for Squaw: they may have the best location in the world at Lake Tahoe. You're surrounded by mountains. The weather is crisp and dry, the sunlight sharp. You can hang out until late in the evening or go back to your group house to write in companionable silence.
Photo: The awesome alumni readers at Squaw Valley this year: (L-R) Sara J. Henry (LEARNING TO SWIM), Alia Yunis (THE NIGHT COUNTER), Michael David Lukas (THE ORACLE OF STAMBOUL), me, Jessica O'Dwyer (MAMALITA)