I've been to my share of conferences. I went to editors conferences each year I was active-duty as a "DINFOS-trained killer." I'm not sure how much of those I remember (and I'll blame the passage of time, as opposed to the hours in the bars, on my faulty memory) but I kept the information passed out and refer to the handouts even now when I'm no longer associated with the newspaper business. I've been to conferences for philanthropic organizations my family is active in.
Writing conferences, though, I've been to very few. My local writer's club, the Black Hills Writers Group, has hosted a few that I've attended -- once with William Kent Krueger and one with Bonnie Ramthun. I've also been fortunate enough to attend some on-line classes (one taught by Mary O'Gara and one by Emily Brightwell)
The only other real-life conference I've attended is Mayhem in the Midlands, a mystery conference held annually in Omaha, Nebraska. I've only been to this one once, but LOVED it. It's among the closest to the Black Hills -- less than 500 miles away -- and that is a big factor. Plus, not only is it in my hometown, so I get to see my parents and sister and brother-in-law, but it's an amazing opportunity for me to meet other authors and get "re-blued" about my writing.
I'm going to Mayhem this year. I've paid my registration fee, but still need to book the hotel room. I'm looking forward to renewing friendships I made last time I went, as well as making some new ones. I want to hear how other authors have struggled with getting characters out of certain situations -- like how Lori G. Armstrong had PI Julie Collins at a stop sign on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for days before realizing Julie wasn't supposed to be there at all! I want to know that the frustrations I'm going through aren't some clue from the Universe that I shouldn't be writing.
Conferences are also an opportunity to find my writer's voice. Maybe that's just something I do, I don't know. But in addition to reminding me that I can accomplish this goal of having a published novel, I'm more excited about writing after a conference.
The one and only downside to a conference is the cost. And I'm not talking about the registration fee or the travel costs or even the hotel bill. The cost that kicks me in the butt is in the vendor room. Like most writers I know, I'm a reader. A ferocious reader. After the last Mayhem, my TBR pile doubled in size because I purchased books from almost every speaker I heard. And, after two years, I've finished most of them. I'm not sure where I'll PUT any new books I get at the next Mayhem in the Midlands, but I've already budgeted to bring another ton home.
If we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times. Writing is a solitary profession. The opportunity to mix and mingle with other writers is important. Writers need to vent. We need to understand that the struggles we face aren't unique to us alone. We need to know that the obstacles blocking us are something we can overcome. And those published authors give us some hope -- hope that we will succeed and prosper in a difficult career.