To Retreat or Not: The Writers’ Conference Question

Underwood Typewriter KeysWhen I first began taking creative non-fiction writing classes, I balanced heavy homework loads with a full-time (plus) job. To keep up and get the most out of these opportunities, I shut off the TV and gave up my weekends. It was rewarding—and exhausting.

I felt a slight envy towards my classmates who were full-time freelancers and, seemingly, could better balance the demands of a writing class with earning money. Once I became a freelancer myself, I promised that I would take classes and focus on my writing.

That hasn’t been so easy. Even if I’m not working on projects, I’ve got to market myself and stay up on tasks like invoicing and quarterly taxes. After almost a year of freelancing, I finally committed to making time to write.

This spring I’ll be upping that commitment with a class through Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop. In addition to learning from my instructor, I’m eager to become involved in Denver’s active literary community.

Which brings me to writer’s conferences. I’ve never been to one but just a few days ago, I discovered the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, which hosts the Aspen Summer Words Writing Retreat and Literary Festival. It’s practically in my own backyard (well, not really, but close enough.)

Should I apply to the writing retreat? If selected, I’d spend five intense days working on my manuscript and getting feedback. And if I wanted to spend a little more money, I could attempt to get 10-minute meetings with agents and/or editors.

The thought of five days away from everything except one of my writing projects is thrilling. But the practical part of me says I could do the same thing at home, if I just scheduled myself to write for five days.

I’m still torn. So, of course, I turned to the Internet for some feedback. Here’s what a few people had to say.

Agent Betsy Lerner (in her always-blunt fashion), says: There is only one reason to go to a summer writing workshop and that is to get laid. She also describes those 10-minute agent-meet-writer meetings as drive by shootings.

Agent Rachelle Gardner penned the thoughtful blog post Should You Go to Writers’ Conferences? but her reasons lean towards demonstrating to your family that you’re serious about writing and being part of a community, neither of which speak to my intentions for going.

Yet another literary agent, West Coast-based Nathan Bransford has written about attending writers’ conferences and seems to feel positively towards them. He even offers his own take on Conference Protocol.

One of my past writing instructors, Liza Monroy, was selected as the Jack Kerouac Writer in Residence and spent the summer working on her novel and teaching an online personal essay writing class. She said she loved being the writer in residence and highly recommended it. Although it’s not the same as a writers’ conference, I include it here because of the retreat nature of it.

To squirrel away—outside of my home, in Aspen—to write? Or to be disciplined and carve out a summer writing retreat at home?

What would you do? Are you dreaming of attending a writers’ conference or retreat? Do you have experience with writers’ conferences? If so, do you recommend it? Please share in the comments below.

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5 thoughts on “To Retreat or Not: The Writers’ Conference Question

  1. Late to respond, but I say if you can afford it, go. I went to an inexpensive two-day conference here in Washington and it was fabulous. A shot in the arm, and a great time to focus. The connections with other writers were also something I found beneficial. And I’m not referring to connections with a capital C that one of the reviewers you read mentioned :)!

  2. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts on this! I can’t believe that everyone (online and off) has been so encouraging. I figured there would be at least a few people who didn’t think writers’ conferences and/or retreats were worth it. Finances will probably be the make-or-break point, but I’m going to apply for the workshop and the scholarship.

    You all are the best!

  3. I’d go – why not connect with other writers? Why not afford the opportunity to not only receive feedback on your own work, and learn from providing it to others? And why leave an experience feeling absolutely fulfilled and revived and inspired? I can’t inspire myself as well as a group of people with like-minded goals can – most of the time.

  4. I’ve never really thought much about attending conferences (too poor), but the thought of going to a writers’ retreat or some such thing has tugged at me. If you have the means, I think it’s definitely worth trying at least once. No distractions! Being amongst a community of writers! Heaven!

    p.s. Betsey Lerner is hilarious.

  5. Jesaka: follow your heart. Give yourself permission to take that week. You’ll love it. You’ll get a lot out of it and you will be away-away as opposed to trying to feel that you’re away or involved in your creative work. xj

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