Writing conferences can be expensive, in terms of both time and money. There's the registration fee, the travel and lodging expenses, the cost of business cards and maybe a new outfit or two–it can all add up pretty quickly. For pre-published writers, especially those who have yet to earn a single dime from writing, it might seem an unreasonable expense.
But . . .
Recently I was privileged to attend the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, six days at a gloriously refreshing mountain retreat center with around 300 other writers. Costly? Yes (**but see note below).
Worth it? Absolutely.
I've been thinking about it ever since I left the conference, and thought I'd share with you some of the benefits I received.
- Excellent teaching and generous mentoring by world class writers. The Mount Hermon conference Mount Hermon conference, like most conferences of this type, offered a veritable banquet of indepth morning sessions (you picked a track and attended those sessions with the same teacher each morning) and afternoon workshops covering every possible aspect of writing. For the morning sessions I elected to participate in the fiction mentoring track, which meant I spent 2-4 hours each morning in a small group (see photo below) led by Robin Jones Gunn. We critiqued and discussed each others' work, with each of us getting incredibly valuable input from Robin and the others on our respective projects. Irreplaceable.
- Time away from the demands of my day-to-day life. Most of us pre-published writers have to fit writing into the margins of our daily life, whether we have an outside career or are stay-at-home parents. A conference–especially a multi-day one away from our home town–gives us the chance to really devote mostly uninterrupted time to our writing. The Mount Hermon conference ran from Friday morning to Tuesday noon. I also signed up for their “early bird” Head Start program (more about that in a moment), which started on Wednesday afternoon, so I had six days away from home and day job to focus on writing. I came away with a new vision for both my current project and the possibilities of future writing.
- Inspiration, ideas, and renewed motivation. Before I left for Mount Hermon, I had been stuck for a couple of months on some unfinished scenes in my novel. I knew what I needed to accomplish in those missing scenes, but didn't know how to do it. Fortunately, I had signed up for the Head Start mentoring program. That meant that during the first day and a half, I was privileged to spend several hours in a very small group–just me and two other writers–mentored by Susan Meissner. As part of that program, each of us got a thirty-minute one-on-one session with Susan, to talk about whatever we chose. My one-on-one turned into a brainstorming session, in which Susan tossed out an idea that flipped a switch in my brain and led to a solution to the block that had prevented me from finishing.
- Refreshment and encouragement. The Mount Hermon setting is spectacularly beautiful and refreshingly peaceful. Unfortunately, during my everyday life I seldom take the time to sit on a bench outside and soak in the sunshine and fresh air. At the conference, I did. It made a world of difference in my outlook on life and writing and a lot of other things. Even better, conferences like this create an environment that fosters spontaneous conversations with other writers (in addition to fun discussions in the various workshops). Around the table during meals, outside during breaks, it's easy (even for an introvert like me) to enter into conversations with people I don't know, because you can always start with, “So what do you write?” Some of these spontaneous (God-arranged?) meetings left me encouraged in a way I deeply needed at this point in my writing journey.
- New friends. I've listed this last, but it's by no means the least of the benefits and blessings I came home with. I can't described the impact any better than agent Karen Ball did in her post-Mount Hermon blog post on community. Writing is a solitary, and often lonely, enterprise. Maybe the best thing that happened to me at this conference was connecting with some amazing people with whom I hope to remain in contact. We've already continued our communication via Facebook and email, so the encouragement and–dare I say?–friendship that began in California continues now that we've all gone home.
Sure, there was networking and there were opportunities to pitch my story to editors and agents. And maybe another time I will do that. But that wasn't my objective this time (although I did get an invitation to send a proposal to an editor I visited with at lunch one day!). For now, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience all this (and more) at the conference, and look forward to attending one or two conferences a year in the future.
**Like many other similar conferences, Mount Hermon offers the opportunity to apply for scholarships to attend. If you're interested in attending next year's conference but finances are tight, be sure to check out their website for information about the scholarship opportunities.
Your turn: Have you attended writers' conferences in the past? If so, what are the top one or two benefits you received?