If you Google “how to be a better writer,” you’ll get hundreds of thousands of different results. I know; I’ve done it. A lot. And I’ve given a whole lot of those suggestions a try. Some of them are working for me, like making sure I read tons of books both in my genre and outside of it, and setting aside time every single day to work on something. Other things just don’t seem to click with me, like Stephen King’s advice to shut out the world completely during the first draft (I require a lot of staring-out-the-window time while writing).
There’s one piece of advice I’ve read over and over, and I’ve wanted take it for a very long time but it felt financially out of reach: attend a writing conference or retreat. This past weekend I was finally able to not only attend but to volunteer at the League of Utah Writers Fall Conference, and it was EPIC.
I got to learn from successful authors, editors, and other publishing industry pros in panels and workshops about things like developing my secondary characters so that they’re more than just window dressing, writing layered stories that do more than just distract the reader for a while, and even managing my social media accounts more easily. By the end of the day, my brain refused to accept any new information unless I agreed to purge stuff like King's combo moves in Capcom vs. SNK2 or the lyrics to Closing Time. Thank goodness for my pages upon pages of scribbled notes and the many presenters who shared their PowerPoints on their websites or via email.
But as cool as that all was, it wasn’t even my favorite thing. Writing can be a pretty solitary activity. For a couple of years now, I’ve been missing the social and cooperative aspects of being an active musician: sharing the stage with other musicians, building a network of bands in similar genres, and celebrating each other’s successes. At the beginning of the summer, I joined the League of Utah Writers and started going to chapter meetings to try to capture a similar sense of community.
And it worked.
The best part of the conference was just getting to meet so many other writers at every stage. Over coffee in the morning, I chatted with another writer about balancing our writing time with working and spending time with our spouses. While volunteering as a timekeeper for pitch sessions, I met a published author of steampunk fantasy. We compared notes about our own marketing strategies and how neither of us feels like we’re doing Instagram right. I was able to meet one of my Twitter #amwriting friends in person (it was crazy to spot her from across a panel and realize I’d been seeing her face in my feed for months), and now we’re going to be working on a committee together. I had dinner with a small group of authors and editors, and by the end of the meal I felt like I’d made ten new friends.
Call me hooked. I’ll be going back next fall, and I’ll be hitting the League of Utah Writers Spring Conference and LTUE (a conference just for sci-fi and fantasy) next year as well. I feel pretty lucky to live in a place where there’s such a large and active writing community, and I’m glad I put on my brave pants and dove into it.