May is a prime time for writers’ conferences. Just this past weekend, there was the DFW (Dallas Fort Worth) Writers Conference, and Muse and the Marketplace took place in Boston. If you’re on Twitter, you probably saw the #muse14 and #dfwcon hashtags flying by. Both were full of writers getting together to learn about the craft and the industry, meet agents and editors face-to-face, and just hang out with other writers and talk non-stop about writing in a way that most of us don’t get to do in our everyday lives.
If you’re at these conferences, that’s fantastic. If you’re not at these conferences, every tweet is a reminder that you’re missing out. That can make you feel lonely, sad, and above all, jealous.
So if you get jealous of all those lit-partying, networking, panel-attending conferencegoers, here are a few ways to tame this particular green-eyed monster.
Next time, maybe you should go. Getting all riled up about one conference you’ve heard good things about doesn’t mean that you should attend that particular conference. But it might help you channel your enthusiasm into some research. Certain conferences are more or less helpful depending on where you are in the process — if you haven’t finished your novel, for example, you really shouldn’t sign up for a conference focused on pitch sessions. So if you find yourself wishing you were at X Conference, find out more about X Conference — and Y Conference, and Z Conference. That way you can figure out what works with your budget and goals, and plan ahead for next year. There are lots of local conferences that aren’t as well publicized as the national ones, but still offer similar opportunities, without the price tag for travel. Go looking for them.
Cyber-attend. More on the Twitter angle: following hashtags may not be as fun as going in person, but it’s a lot cheaper, and it can still give you a slice of the conference life. If you retweet (selectively, please!) some of the more interesting tweets and comment on them, you can find yourself in ongoing conversations, and picking up new followers — exactly the kind of networking with other writers that you’d be doing if you were there. If you’re not on Twitter but you think a particular conference sounds fascinating, some of them offer transcripts, podcasts, or other information on what went on at the conference afterward on their websites. Take a look and see if you can get some of the experience another way.
Make your own conference. Last but not least, if you can’t afford to go to conferences in person or you can’t find one that’s right for you, you have other options. If your goal is to learn something about craft, are there lectures or workshops you could participate in, either in-person or online? If your goal is to produce new work, can you band together with fellow writers for accountability to shared deadlines over a particular weekend? If you want to pitch your completed novel idea to editors and/or agents, can you find an online contest that gives you that opportunity? Conferences aren’t the only way to get things done.
In short, maybe that green-eyed monster is trying to tell you something. Conferences aren’t just about parties and keynotes — you can figure out what you wish you were getting from a conference, and figure out the right way to get it for yourself.