by Tisha Reichle
I don’t know if it’s being surrounded by the energy of other writers or pretending for a week, a few days, an afternoon, that I’m a student again, but I sit dutifully in the hotel ballroom chair or at a classroom table or around the cozy fireplace with a view of nearby nature, and listen carefully, take notes, ask thoughtful questions, and offer my insight when appropriate. In 2015-2016, I attended more than ten different conferences and workshops, traveled to seven cities, and spent a lot of my teacher salary. Various notebooks strewn about my apartment and a pile of receipts can attest to this. The experience thrills me every time and after each one, I’m eager for the next.
There are many writing conferences and workshops to choose from in the US and abroad. Which one is “the best” depends on your needs as a writer, your budget, and your desire for distance (or not). I usually looked for conferences/workshops in summer when I wasn’t teaching, in places I love (like New Mexico), where a writer I admire is an instructor, or a topic I’m passionate about is the focus. This strategy led me to my first workshop, Flight of the Mind, in 1995 in Eugene, Oregon with Helena Maria Viramontes. The story I wrote and revised that week is the first story of mine ever published in 34th Parallel Issue 18. Since then, I’ve travelled to Taos, New Mexico for Writing for Social Change with Demetria Martinez. Over the years, I returned to the University of New Mexico Conference several times to work with Carolyn Meyer, Summer Wood, and Jonis Agee. I spent a weekend in Tucson with Denise Chavez and a week at Ghost Ranch with Breena and Cheryl Clarke.
Read their books! See if these writers resonate with you. Search their names and see where they are teaching. Using this strategy, I discovered Nova Ren Suma would be in Los Angeles this summer. After reading her novel The Walls Around Us, I knew her Openings/Endings and Character Voice intensives would be valuable to my current work.
There are huge annual conferences like Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) that offer numerous panels, readings, and speakers about the craft and business of writing. While there isn’t much free time to do any actual writing, they include social events – like dancing! – in the evenings.
AWP is held in a different city every year and made The Writer’s Top Ten List. On the AWP website, there is also a Directory of Conferences and Centers that “lists over 300 programs in North America and abroad.” AWP members can apply for the Kurt Brown Prizes (formally known as the WC&C Scholarship), which “awards $500 each year to emerging writers in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction who wish to attend a writers’ conference, center, retreat, festival, or residency.” I attended AWP in Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. Each time was not only an opportunity to develop myself as a writer, but to promote the work of Women Who Submit to a wider audience. This is how we build community.
SCBWI has two annual events, one in Los Angeles and one in New York, as well as several regional events per year in select cities. In addition to scholarships for students who want to attend the conference, SCBWI offers numerous awards for writers, illustrators, diverse voices, and published authors/illustrators. Through SCBWI, I learned about the publishing market and how to write a query letter. This is a great place to celebrate writing for young people!
If you need an intense weekend of feedback on your writing for children (0-teen), I recommend Big Sur Writing Workshops. It provides opportunities for feedback and insight into the publishing industry. Attendee Lauren Fairchild says, “When I arrived at the workshop, I was in the process of querying one manuscript and beginning another. I knew something was wrong with my first book, as I had only received one request for a full manuscript. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure what exactly I needed to improve, so I was stuck. Feedback from author Eric Elfman and other participants helped me figure out how to move forward. I left the conference with concrete revision plans for both books.”
Which conference you choose to attend may depend on where you are in your writing career. WWS’s Melissa Chadburn went to Tin House Summer Workshop twice. “It was different the second time because I had more publications. It was the right time for me to meet with editors.” She also suggests reading the work of and learning all you can about all the instructors. “I built deep relationships and stayed in touch with people.” Melissa confirms the value of conferences and workshops to engage with people and exchange work.
Sometimes, it’s worth it to aim for the prestigious Breadloaf Writers’ Conference. There, WWS member Laura Warrell “learned from genuine interactions with people about the different paths a person can take to publication. This is just one path and you can combine opportunities to build the writing career you want.” In addition to workshopping her own writing, she appreciated the “best education in the intersection of the writing community and the publishing world.” I’m personally grateful she attended because she met Melissa Chadburn who introduced her to Women Who Submit.
When I attended conferences/workshops, I paid for the trips and registration and accommodations myself because I could. But Conferences and Workshops can be expensive. Fortunately, there are many like Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference that offer scholarships “to make our conference accessible to writers from diverse backgrounds and to reward writing of outstanding merit.” Also in California, the highly regarded Community of Writers, is a workshop for “serious writers [who want to] explore the art and craft as well as the business of writing. The week offers daily morning workshops, craft lectures, panel discussions on editing and publishing, staff readings, and brief individual conferences.” They offer financial support primarily in the form of tuition waivers.
Another way to attend conferences is as a presenter. In 2016 Women Who Submit was invited to the International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) California Dreaming conference. This is one of several regional conferences hosted by IWWG. For more about their offerings around the country throughout the year, visit their events page. Women Who Submit has also presented at BinderCon LA. The conference is “for women and gender variant writers,” focused on networking to build a writing community and career development for journalists, television/movie writers, and writers of literary fiction/nonfiction. They also have a conference in New York.
Now that I’m no longer teaching and I’m returning to graduate school full time, I’ll be applying for scholarships and searching for additional funding. If you attended any of the above conferences or workshops, please add your thoughts in the comments section. If you know of other conferences and workshops that Women Who Submit members might be interested in attending, especially those offering scholarships, please share a link.
Other resources that can help you find the conference that is best for you are the Poets & Writers Conferences and Residencies Database and New Pages Writing Conferences and Events List. Both sources provide the option to search by location and include brief descriptions with links. The AWP website also provides guidelines for successful writing conferences. Using these resources, you can avoid conferences and workshops that may want to take advantage of you. It is important to be aware of our own financial safety.
After attending so many conferences and workshops, I have been put on restriction by the women writers who love and support me. This summer I’m only attending one local conference (SCBWI) and one workshop in San Francisco (Las Dos Brujas), so I can write. So I have time to revise my novels. So I can read. And so I can save some teacher income for graduate school.
Tisha Reichle is a Chicana Feminist and former Rodeo Queen. Originally from a trailer on a dirt road, she now lives in Los Angeles and earned an MFA at Antioch University. Her stories have appeared in 34th Parallel, Inlandia Journal, Santa Fe Writers Project, Muse Literary Journal, The Acentos Review, The Lunch Ticket, and Ghost Town. She is an AROHO Retreat alum and a member of the Macondo Writers Workshop. She is also an organizing member of Women Who Submit and the fiction editor at Border Senses Literary and Art Journal. For the past 19 years, she has engaged high school students with socially conscious literature. In the fall, she will begin her PhD in Creative Writing and Literature at USC.