Turn the Page

Writing Conferences for Every Season

by Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez

Every writer knows the feeling. After pounding away in a room, shed, or corner for days on end, writers begin to spin. They keep writing even though their better selves tell them to stop and do just about anything else. Writers are a stubborn lot, however, and keep writing instead. They search in vain for the perfect word, story arc, or sticky emotion until heads begin to throb from banging up against self-made brick walls.

In smarter moments, writers stop, cap their pens, and close their computers. Some hug their children. Others bake bread or take a walk. And in brilliant moments, writers have epiphanies. They realize they must get out and explore the world in order to refill their creative wells. One way to refill is by attending writer’s conferences.

“Conferences always re-energize my writing. It’s an amazing feeling to be surrounded by so many people who understand what you do and why you do it. My fellow writers and I share tips, discuss books we have read, celebrate each other’s successes, and commiserate when those inevitable rejections come,” says Katherine House, children’s nonfiction author. Katherine’s most recent book is The White House for Kids, published in 2014.

Writer’s conferences vary in length, size, and offerings. They all offer a variety of opportunities to connect with other writers and often with agents and editors. Conferences may include sessions on craft, the writing business, small group discussions, time to write, or individual manuscript critiques. Shared meals with participants are as important to many writers as the organized sessions.

Writer’s conferences vary with the seasons. For some writers, winter means a drop in vitamin D levels. Attending the annual San Miguel Writer’s Conference and Literary Festival in San Miguel, Mexico, is an option that includes sun. This year’s conference is February 11-15, 2015.

Regional conferences abound in the spring for writers craving a boost.

“The New York [national] SCBWI Conference [Feb 6-8, 2015] focuses on the industry … the Los Angeles [national] SCBWI Conference [July 31-Aug 3] focuses more on craft presentations … the regional conferences [spring] feature everything,” says Connie Heckert, writer and regional advisor for the Iowa Chapter of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Writers in New York’s historic brownstone.

“Writers in New York” (May 26–June 18, 2015) offers students of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction an opportunity to develop their craft while living the writer’s life in Greenwich Village. Most classes and readings are held in the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House (above).

Each April, Connie and her crew coordinate a spring SCBWI-Iowa conference in Bettendorf, Iowa, a city on the mighty Mississippi. This weekend event boasts a riverboat ride for Mark Twain fans along with other regional conference perks. According to Connie, regional conferences provide “more one-on-one contact with speakers and attendees, and … the programming is often of equal high quality [to national conferences].”

For writers needing to go big in the spring, there’s North America’s largest literary conference, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference & Bookfair. This event attracts about 13,000 participants and 700 exhibitors and travels to a new city each year. Minneapolis hosts this year’s event April 8-11 at the Minneapolis Convention Center and Hilton Minneapolis Hotel.

The lazy days of summer beckon some writers to summer school at one of the many writing schools across the country. The city that never sleeps boasts many options. One is Writers in New York 2015. This New York University program for fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction meets in historic Greenwich Village for four weeks every summer.

If writers want a view of growing corn instead of bright lights, there’s the Writing University’s Iowa Summer Writing Festival in the UNESCO City of Literature, Iowa City, Iowa. This program offers writers weekend, weeklong, and two week sessions.

Fall follows summer and some writers choose to rejuvenate while watching the leaves turn. The Brattleboro Literary Festival in Vermont is a free four-day festival charging only nominal fees for its writing workshops.

Island get-a-ways intrigue other writers. Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington is home to the annual Whidbey Island Writers Conference. A program of the Northwest Institute for Literary Arts, this weekend conference offers pitch sessions, editor consults, and time to chat with other writers.

Whatever the season, writers have many options for a bit of refueling. A good dose of socializing and writer sustenance can be found at one of this year’s writer’s conferences.

Web and Twitter:
San Miguel Writer’s Conference and Literary Festival@WritersConferen
Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, @SCBWI
Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference & Bookfair@AWPWriter
Writers in New York 2015
Iowa Summer Writing Festival,  @ISWFestival
Brattleboro Literary Festival
Whidbey Island Writers Conference@WhidbeyMFA

Feature photo: Connie Heckert, third from the left, with SCBWI-Iowa conference attendees and presenters.

Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez is a freelance writer who lives North Liberty, Iowa, with two teenaged sons, a big fluffy dog, and a very supportive husband.

This article was first published January 2015.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *