In Praise of the One-Day Writers Conference

I’m sure when you think of writers conferences the image you have is a multi-day affair like AWP, Writers Digest, or ThrillerFest. They are great places to go and learn and network, but take AWP, for instance. At AWP Boston this past March, you were one among 12,000. How on earth do you network successfully there? Even the time between panels is compressed, when you have to move that many people in a large convention center. I’m not dissing big conferences or suggesting they’re a waste of time. They aren’t, but they can be overwhelming.

One-day conferences are more intimate, and the opportunities for networking, not just with fellow participants but with faculty as well, are better. The mini-workshops are intensive but because you don’t have to rush across a convention center the size of a city block for your next panel, you can actually stay behind and talk to the instructor or have plenty of time to network.

Press53, an independent press in Winston-Salem, NC, sponsored the second annual “A Gathering of Writers” this past Saturday in Winston-Salem (or “Winston” as the locals call it). The faculty consisted of Press53 authors and/or teachers of writing from universities up and down the east of the country. Press53 limits the number of attendees to 53 on a first-come, first-served basis. As much as I enjoyed A Gathering of Writers last year, somehow Press53 managed to improve upon it. Last year and this year, I came away with more writer-friend connections, and kernels of information on how to enhance my writing. And the cost (under $200) is reasonable. It’s not a case of getting what you pay for but, rather, getting a lot for a little.

A Gathering of Writers offered six workshops then repeated them in the afternoon, and the most you could work into the day was four. It was difficult to choose because all six sounded great. Here are the offerings with the ones I attended in red:

How to Haunt Your Readers, given by Mary Akers
The First Five Pages, given by Marjorie Hudson
The Compelling Story, given by Michael Kardos
Sandbox Game: Writing as Discovery, given by Steve Mitchell
Inhabiting Story Through Images of Place, given by Darlin’ Neal
Picking Your Perspective, given by Henriette Lazaridis Power

After the workshops ended, the faculty each read from their current, published works or works in progress. Throughout A Gathering of Writers, two West Virginia writers, Natalie Sypolt and Renee Nicholson, did live interviews and live-Tweeted for their great podcast, summerbooks. They even interviewed me, and it was one of the most fun interviews I’ve done–sitting around chatting about writing and reading with two other writers and voracious readers.

Later this week, I’ll post about the workshops I attended and why they were so successful–even given my momentary and embarrassing case of writers block.

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