Monthly Archives: February 2010

On Choosing a Writing Workshop or Conference

Like any other profession, it’s good to get out there at least once a year and learn from other writers.  There is an endless array of workshops and conferences coming up in 2010.  A few key ones have already happened, like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators annual winter conference in New York City.

There are a few factors to consider before you go in search of a conference or workshop:

1) How much money can you afford to spend?

2) How long can you be gone for?

3) What craft skills or business knowledge do you want to learn?  For example, if your goal is to work on your writing craft, you’d be better off going to a workshop instead of a conference.  On the other hand, if you want a broad introduction to all kinds of writing, a huge conference like the Hawaii Writers Conference (formerly Maui Writers Conference) or the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference would be a better choice.

4) If it’s a writing workshop you’re looking at, do the instructors make a living as writers and/or write novels, short stories, or poetry that you enjoy?   Writing is like painting or music or any other art form–if you want to be the best, try at some point (even if only for a day) to study under someone whose work you admire.

I considered listing specific workshops and conferences, but the list kept growing and growing and growing until it became a hassle.  There’s just so many of them. If you feel overwhelmed by the choices, I recommend starting out by figuring out what type of writing you love most to do, and then track down the website for the national writer’s organization for that genre.

For example, if you love writing romance, you’d go to the Romance Writers of America website to find out what national, regional, and state conferences it holds.   I can say from personal experience that, even though I’m not a romance writer, RWA’s national conference was a fantastic learning experience for me as a writer (especially the talks about the business side of writing).


The strength of Ray Bradbury’s ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING: ESSAYS ON CREATIVITY is the insight he provides into the art and psychology of being a writer.  This is not a how-to-write or how-to-get-published book, and if you go into it with those expectations you will be disappointed.

Bradbury talks about his own journey as an artist, and provides advice on how to keep the writing muse alive and happy.  Whenever I feel blah as a writer, I find picking up this book and reading an essay or two shakes me out of it quickly.  Here’s what he has to say about the joy of writing:

…if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer.  It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself.  You don’t even know yourself.  For the first thing a writer should be is–excited.

He also makes the best argument I’ve read (and I’ve read way too many writing craft books) for why it’s important to write a thousand words per day:

Quantity gives experience.  From experience alone can quality come.

All arts, big and small, are the elimination of waste motion in favor of  the concise declaration.

The artist learns what to leave out.

The surgeon knows how to go directly to the source of trouble, how to avoid wasted time and complications.

The athlete learns how to conserve power and apply it now here, now there, how to utilize this muscle, rather than that.

Is the writer different?  I think not.

Bradbury also provides wonderful advice for brainstorming story ideas, but you’ll have to read the book to find out about that (look for the essay “Run Fast, Stand Still…”).