As you read this, I am most likely in a plane making my way to Kansas for the LDStorymakers Midwest conference. Excitement! I love going to conferences and meeting so many talented writers. But I recognize that I'm an extrovert. Large crowds are like DD batteries to me. For the more introverted among you, a conference might sound like a medieval torture device.
1. Network with other authors
This is probably one of the least touted reasons for attending, but might be the most important. Finding your tribe couldn't be easier than at a conference filled with other weirdos who talk to their characters at breakfast and check under the table for plot bunnies. Your people are at conferences. This is where you can find like-minded crazy people who will answer your random twitter questions, beta read your next project and offer a supportive word while you query. You can write in isolation, but a good network will keep you from completely losing it while you do.
2. Practice talking about your work
When you are surrounded by other writers, the most common conversation topic is "So what is your book about?" Before you run away screaming, hear me out. The best place to practice telling others about your book is in a room filled with writers. They will completely understand when you can't seem to find the right word to explain the villain's evil plans. And, they'll offer helpful advice if you want it. Once you have a published book, you'll want and need to tell everyone about it and this means perfecting that pitch. At a conference you'll have all weekend to work out the kinks and get more comfortable talking to strangers about your work.
3. Meeting agents/editors
I'm not talking about a formal pitch session here, though if your conference provides this, you should definitely take advantage. I'm talking about all the other times when these people aren't in classes or pitch sessions. Don't be afraid to pull up a chair at lunch and ask a question or two. We are completely normal people and we go to these conferences because we want to help writers. You are not bothering us by asking questions. That's what we're there for.
4. The classes
Let's not overlook the actual meat of the conference. There are usually tons of classes to pick from that will help writers at all levels whether you are looking for help with character development or long term marketing strategies. These classes are taught by agents, editors, and writers who were once in your shoes. Go, learn, take notes. If you're there with a friend, don't sit next to each other in the same class. Split up and then share your notes afterward. A well organized conference can be like a mini MFA in a weekend. Go get your learning on.
5. Recharge your creative batteries
There is just something about being around so many other people who are all working toward the same goal. It's inspiring and the energy buzz is tangible. Don't be surprised if you make it back to your hotel room each night with your fingers itching to hit the keyboard. And you don't need to be in a slump or have a case of writer's block to benefit. Even if you are in the midst of a writing frenzy, you can't help but be uplifted by the meeting of so many creative minds.
So go check it out. If you still aren't sure, start small with a local conference in your city or state. There are some great organizations such as RWA and SCBWI that hold mini one day conferences that you can start with before jumping into the big ones.
And if you are going to be at the LDStorymakers conference this weekend, please stop by and say hello.