Storymakers conference is this weekend and several other writing conferences and conventions just concluded. Writing conferences can be found almost year around, but some of the most well known ones occur in the spring. I'm sometimes asked if these conferences are worth the money attendees spend on them and I always say it depends on what you hope to gain from them.
Because I've taught or "presented" at a lot of these conferences as well just attending others, I've drawn a few conclusions. First off attendees aren't always there because of what they hope to learn. There are those who attend just because the conferences are fun and an opportunity to meet in person some of the "stars" they admire. Some of these fan attendees spend years hitting every conference they hear of, but never write or submit anything to a publisher. There are some attendees who already know it all and are just there to show off their superior knowledge. Heaven forbid they should actually learn something new. Some are looking for a shortcut to publication and think they'll find it at a convention.
The majority of those at the conferences I've attended are there for multiple reasons. They enjoy the camaraderie of other writers, they hope to make it through the slush piles a little faster by meeting agents and editors, but most of all they're interested in improving their work and having better manuscripts to submit. Many are looking for that spark that keeps them excited about writing when life has dampened their enthusiasm.
Some presenters are better writers than teachers and some presenters do a better job presenting than they accomplish in their own writing. That's why it's a good idea to hear from more than one writing instructor. Some concepts like using good grammar and spelling correctly are universal; they work for everyone who employs them. Other advice doesn't work well for everyone, but learning about other writers' techniques and methods helps new writers discover what does work for them and opens their minds to previously unconsidered options.
Writing is usually a solitary experience, but it's more than sitting before a computer and pounding out words. There's a side most of us never considered when we fell in love with writing. There are book signings and other PR obligations, there's learning to do home business taxes, and there's the assumption that anyone who writes well can also do public speaking well! Conferences usually provide some help with the non-writing side of being a writer as well as the nuts and bolts of formulating a well-crafted story.
Are conferences worth the money they cost? There is no definitive answer. Some are; some aren't. I've attended a lot of conferences; sometimes as a presenter and sometimes not, some presented by individual groups such as ANWA, League of Utah Writers, ALMA, Romance Writers of America, National Federation of Press Women, LDStorymakers, and those sponsored by colleges and universities. I've always learned something of value. Only those who actually attend can judge whether or not it was worth it. I suspect that most of those who attend this weekend's conference will consider it money well spent.