I’ve been to five Pikes Peak Writers Conferences
This year would have been my sixth and I was teaching four workshops. But with COVID cancelling everything, I didn’t get to go.
That bums me out because I love writers conferences. I believe we’ll get back to attending them in person. That could be a while, but several organizations are considering virtual writers conferences.
I think regardless of the format, conferences are fantastic for all writers.
Why I went in the first place
Eight years ago, I was home fresh from a deployment to Afghanistan and looking for a creative outlet for my writing. I was also a freshly minted Reservist and for the first time in over a decade, didn’t have a full-time job.
Naively, I thought I could punch out a couple of books and embark on a long and fruitful writing career.
We were stationed in Colorado Springs and after a quick Google search, I found Pikes Peak Writers, a nonprofit organization whose mission was to support aspiring and established writers.
It was a sign!
What I got out of it that first year
In April 2012, I packed up my pencils and a pad of paper, my laptop and cell phone and hiked on up to the Marriott, nervous and excited to attend my very first writers conference.
With full awareness of my novice – ness, I signed up for Angel Smits beginners class.
I met three future critique partners and a guy in a kilt, and I knew I was off to the races.
Angel was enthusiastic and fun, and gave great information on character development, plot structure and project organization.
I learned an amazing amount during that first conference. The air opened up around me in a way I had not felt since I was a broody poet in college. I knew I was in the right place. With writers.
Over the next year, I attended workshops, conferences, and just about every event Pikes Peak Writers held.
More importantly, I wrote two full novels.
I have no idea what I’m doing!
The next year after that first conference, I volunteered to help with banquet decorations and became a bit more involved.
I knew more people and conference blossomed from nervous fun to industry reality.
I was really having a good time.
I attended lots of craft workshops. One on character building, another on point of view; one on plotting.
But a deep, dark realization began to creep its way into my writing mind.
I had no idea what I was doing!
I started my book too fast. No one related to the main character.
The plot would never happen in real life.
Every workshop reminded me I was doing it wrong.
Every “expert” had a different idea for how to start a novel.
Around every bend was another writer, author, publicist, agent, editor, and expert offering lots of advice about how to fix my work.
All I knew was that what I was writing would never get published.
I was crushed.
Thank God for writer friends
I spent the next several months writing absolutely nothing.
I didn’t go to workshops.
I stopped reading trade books, and generally felt sorry for myself.
All around me, writer friends spent every spare minute chasing Hemingway, and I refused to even read fiction.
Then Cindi Madsen smacked me upside the head and told me to get a grip.
Back then, she had an agent but had not published a book yet. Now, she has more than 40 books out and a Hallmark film in the works.
She told me, of course “they” gave advice. That’s why they were at conference.
Take what you could and throw out the rest. The point of all the workshops is to explain what the industry standard is and help guide your work.
Writing is personal, but industry is not.
Fiction holds a certain formula, for lack of a better term.
Jeffrey Deaver called it giving the wide populace of readers what they were expecting.
When you switch it up too far off the grid, sometimes it works, but a lot of the times it doesn’t, especially for new writers.
No, you are not a terrible writer. No, you don’t have crash-burning ideas. Yes, you can tell a story and you tell it well.
Now get up and go do it!
Off my ass
I got up, dusted off my proverbial ass and began edits on my first work.
Eventually I realized the book I was writing was really a cathartic exercise for me and not for readers. I just threw it under the bed and started editing the next one.
I also wrote another story. And another.
I got the feel for plotting and began to really understand and enjoy my characters.
I absolutely adored the hometowns I’d created. I even pitched the series….six times.
Every single agent was interest.
I got back on the horse and was redeemed!
Great, but what about those who aren’t new?
Since that first conference, I have five completed novels and am working on my sixth. I have published two books on marketing. (Since I still have a full-time career in the military, I’m calling that pretty darn successful.)
And I still consider conferences the highlight of my year.
I believe all writers can get something out of conferences, even experienced, multipublished authors.
Washington Romance Writers holds a retreat every year that brings in some serious agents and marketers. These folks aren’t kidding around and when they talk, the room is full.
Generally full of USA Today Bestsellers and even a RITA winner or two.
Conferences offer support, assistance and advice, even when they are virtual. They also provide realistic views of the industry.
The publishing industry is always changing. Keeping up with market trends is a full-time job in itself.
They also give the opportunity for a rededication to writing that is only found in mutual enthusiasm.
And lastly, validation. You are a writer. No matter where you are in your career. No matter when imposter syndrome hits. You are a writer.
You love books and you love writing. That is only fed and enhanced by attending a conference where the people are as passionate about writing as you are.