Steph Auteri is a full-time freelance writer and editor who has written for The Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE and other publications. Her memoir, “A Dirty Word,” was released in October 2018. She is a member of Montclair’s The Write Group. For more, visit stephauteri.com.
The last day of the conference was a long one. I woke up early to teach a 6:30 a.m. yoga class to a small group of writers. This was followed by breakfast with the other conference attendees, during which I chatted with some of the folks I’d gotten to know throughout the weekend. Having not slept well the night before, I inhaled the steam from my cup of coffee as if it could somehow carry me through the rest of the day. From there, I hurried to a talk about the various types of hybrid essays, followed by a session on how to leverage Instagram as a writer. The session was great, but I snuck out early. I had to get my butt to the main lecture hall, where I was giving a flash session on the query letter.
Though I would have loved nothing more than to collapse into a puddle after this, I still had to make it through lunch and closing remarks. Then, after waiting for the book sale table to close so I could grab the leftover copies of my book, I finally headed for the three hours home to New Jersey.
I thought I was going to face-plant on my steering wheel.
At the same time, I had never felt so energized.
I’ve been asked if I feel writing conferences are worth it. After all, they can be pricey and — if they’re not close — you need to add transportation and lodging costs to your budget. Why bother? What do I get out of it?
Continuing Education. Sure, conference presentations can be hit or miss. Some are a snooze. Some are a rehash of things you already know. Some just aren’t what you envisioned they’d be. But I always leave every conference with a notebook containing new resources, promising ideas, and bits of advice that help me approach my work in a new way.
Valuable Feedback. Back when I was still querying book agents, I participated in the speed-pitching sessions offered at some conferences. I also speed-pitched magazine editors at the larger magazines I hoped to someday break into. Not only did this give me the chance to land an agent or get a foot in the door at a dream publication, but I received valuable feedback that enabled me to effectively reshape my story ideas. Even beyond these speed-pitching events, however, it can be great to bounce your nascent project ideas off fellow conference attendees.
Visibility. There’s one conference I’ve been attending regularly for four years, and every year, I become more involved. When I first attended, I had recently been published in the literary magazine behind the conference. By the next year, I was on the magazine’s reading panel. The following year, I presented a flash presentation and also put out stickers to promote my forthcoming book. This year, I taught yoga, gave a flash presentation, and finally had copies of my book “A Dirty Word” on the book sale table. Putting myself out there — even just a little — makes it so much easier to connect with the other attendees and grow my writer-community. And — bonus! I sometimes gain new readers!
Community. I spend the bulk of my writing life in solitude. Sure, I attended a residency this past summer. Sure, I have a critique group. But most times, it’s just me, my laptop, and that bag of Twizzlers I have hidden in my office closet. More than anything else, I love the chance to hang with people who get it. To make new writer friends I can reach out to throughout the year when I’m struggling with a project idea or just want to bitch about the state of publishing. To be reminded that, even when I’m drowning in a miasma of my own inadequacy, I have accomplished things. And I should keep going!
If you want to dip a toe into the conference world without dropping a huge chunk of change for travel and lodging, New Jersey and New York City have plenty to offer. The Rutgers–New Brunswick Writers’ Conference takes place every year in June, and William Paterson University plays host to an annual spring writers’ conference in April. In Brooklyn, Slice magazine hosts the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference while, in Manhattan, the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) has their own annual conference. And this is just a small sampling of what’s out there.
It can be hard to make that decision to invest in your writing. But in my humble opinion, that investment is worth it.