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Saturday, I attended Conversations and Connections, a one-day writer’s conference organized by literary magazine, Barrelhouse, chock full of practical lessons from published literary authors, editors, and publishers. Note: I said practical. (Leave your insta-agent-three-book-deal fantasies at the door.) Really, it was like transporting myself back to my MFA program for the day–complete with the insecurities and boxed wine! All right in my world.

  1. Advice: The first of three panels/workshops I attended featured a memoirist, a novelist, a nonfiction writer, and a poet who all engage with the past–and endure much historical research–for their writing. Some of the most helpful advice suggested writers utilize first-person accounts to better instruct our characters in how to engage with historical fact. There was also an interesting discussion exposing the differences between creative nonfiction and fiction when making meaning of historical events. In fiction, the research must become a part of the narrative arc; in nonfiction, the journey to understand can become another part of the story, a knew way of knowing.
  2. Beginnings: For my second session of the day, I attended a hands-on craft workshop on developing short story openings that grab a reader’s attention. Flash Fiction author, instructor, and editor Tommy Dean led us workshoppers using four prompts for four different story openings. All the prompts started with character/setting/conflict, then added another element to complicate the story start–like subverting the setting or flipping a normal, everyday activity. I am not a prompt person, relying instead on the ideas that fly at me and then stick–usually long about 4am–but even I came away with a few solid story starts, a real win.
  3. Connections: MFA programs are a wealth of information on the art and craft of writing. But then what? How do we get our work out there, and just where is there? Enter the literary journal editors with hands-on experience in the world of literary publishing for a 10-minute editing session, a la speed dating. I took a flash fiction piece of mine; however, I knew going in, I wanted to use that precious time to ask advice of the editor on the other side of the desk. My question was about chapbooks (short collections of poetry or stories). But the point is I used my 10 minutes to connect with someone I could learn from. Not to leave out my fellow conference attendees, time waiting in line for the editor session was a good chance to meet local writers (shout-out to Sonora!).
  4. Inspiration: With the growing popularity of spoken-word and oral storytelling heard on programs like The Moth Radio Hour, today’s creative writing readings are not the cure for insomnia they once were. The featured author readings at C&C did not disappoint. Going in, I knew of the work of only one of the authors, essayist Randon Billings Noble, who I connected with in an online critique group years ago (the writing world being both huge and small). I was delighted to be introduced to the poetry of Kyle Dargan and the fiction of Ivelisse Rodriguez and of Gabino Iglesias, who read their work with such passion–the highlight of my day and very inspiring.
  5. Books…and more books: Want to make an author (and their small press publisher) happy and earn your good literary citizen card? Buy the book. I came away with autographed copies of Billings Noble’s essay collection, Be With Me Always; Iglesias’ horror/crime novel Coyote Songs; Matthew Ferrance’s memoir, Appalachia North; and the poetry collection, Haint, from Cleveland native (yes, we are all over) Teri Ellen Cross Davis, who sat on the panel for the third of my three sessions, focused on publishing and offering great advice on connecting with the local literary community. (These last two authors, I plan to talk about more here on the blog!)

For writers across genres, and for bloggers alike–there’s a conference made for you. This one was a good fit for me, and I’ll be back next year.

Do you conference? What are your top tips? Have you read any of these books? How was your weekend? Comment below–I always love to hear from you… ~Rebecca

19 thoughts on “Top 5 Things to Take from a Literary Conference (not just swag)

  1. I’m leaving for a library conference Wednesday and I would say it is a similar list. Unfortunately, too many people go for all the wrong reasons and then I get irritated that someone took a space from someone who would have done it the right way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a wonderful conference, Rebecca!
    I always think conferencing does a writer-body a world of good, breaks me out of the head-world I’ve been inhabiting … which, having just written these words, makes me think … it’s time for ME to get myself to a conference! 😊 Deb

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The one-day thing is nice–no hotel costs, etc., a good shot in the arm. Barrelhouse also does one in Pittsburgh–and I think they’re pretty big into flash, so it might be up your alley! And I just don’t get to enough readings–so that was a lot of fun. Gabino Iglesias’ reading was crazy good!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s one thing I plan to do as soon as we’re moved: find a writing group and start attending workshops and conferences. I’ve never done either of these things yet!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha! Yep, i know what you mean. My new village has a small library with a book club. That’s where I plan to start. And at least the Irish are known for the gift of gab!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. You know I always have my Rust Belt radar going, so I happen upon writers I might be able to feature here on the blog, which is fun. Also–and I wonder if you find this, but you might be more outgoing–I love having the blog as a platform and way to introduce myself. Rather than, simply, “hey, I like to write, too”–delivered in the most nervous, introverted writer way!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds like a wealth of information! I’ve never been to a conference, but have always been interested in learning more about them. Thanks for sharing the fascinating things you took away from your conference!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog! I’m sure you’ll enjoy your conference, and I’ll await your reactions. You’ll do great! Do you have a business card with your book info on it? At my conference, the writers who had books coming out had cards to exchange.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! I’ve got business cards with all my social media and contact info on it. If my book was further along in the publishing process and had a cover etc I would have put something together for it, but it’s still a few months off all of that. I’ll have to save those kind of ideas for next year and other conferences. I have a feeling that once I’ve been to one, I’ll want to go to others 😅.

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