Confessions of a Conference Junkie

I remember reading an essay by Anne Lamott in Salon years ago saying she felt horrible being paid to attend writing conferences where agents and editors and speakers all promised what she feels cannot be delivered: a book contract.

My reaction to that, as a conference junkie from way back, was at first shock, then horror, then acceptance. I’d been to enough conferences to know that I am never going to be the golden one who signs with an agent on the spot or whose workshop leader says “I have to send your pages to my editor.” I’d heard of those things happening, and even saw it once or twice. But, mostly, I know that I will come home from the conference having learned all I could, including that conferences don’t equal contracts.

In her essay, Lamott shared some dire statistics about writers. Most published writers need another job to support themselves. Writing doesn’t make you rich or famous or even published. What she didn’t know then that we understand now is that writing CAN and DOES get you published. But not usually rich or famous. And yes, if you need to support yourself, most writers will have to find another way to do it. Writing in the dark or at dawn or during a particularly boring meeting.

My first writing conference was way back in the 80s. I’ve been to one almost every year since then. I know they’re not going to make me published. I’m already published! What I got out of conferences was exactly what I needed: writing friends, writing skills, writing saturation. Most of my friends are not writers and total immersion in real life of a whole bunch of writers is like being in heaven, with ink pens.

So now I’m planning a conference for the historic Detroit Working Writers. I’m chairing this event, setting up workshops and checking out caterers. For the past few years, since I’ve been published, I’ve been speaking or giving workshops at conferences instead of participating as an aspiring writer. But I like to sneak into a session or two just to fill myself with that feeling of thirty or forty or maybe even a hundred beating writer hearts in one room.

This is taking some time away from my WIP. It’s okay though because it is so much fun. Unlike Lamott, I feel like I can put together a conference that will help people become writers, the way conferences helped me learn the skills I needed to succeed. And that whole publishing thing? Easy as pie these days. Here’s the proof.


  1. Get the caterer to provide a chocolate dessert — I’m speaking right after lunch and I want everyone to feel cheerful while I scold them. “Writers, spell check is your frenemy, not your BFF!”


  2. I love what you’re saying here, Cindy! Attending a gathering like this is so often much more about connecting with like souls than it is about making career-advancing connections. And these soul/heart connections are what give meaning to what we do and who we are. IMHO.


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