Before You Go To A Writers Conference This Summer
Written by
Kristina Lakes
May 2017
Written by
Kristina Lakes
May 2017


Ron Carlson, the famous fiction writer, rode shotgun in my 1995 Chevy Blazer. Short story master, Amy Hempel, poured me a cup of coffee. I swapped vegetarian recipes with Writing Guru Natalie Goldberg, and Poet Jim Daniels sat beside me for an hour-long lunch.

Are these just the dreams of a star-struck, writer wannabe? No, they’re real incidents. By attending writers conferences for the past 20 years, I have interacted with some of the biggest names in the business.

As a seasoned veteran, I have gleaned some important advice for first-time attendees and returnees. I compiled the list before I hosted my own writers’ workshop at Sinclair Community College in Ohio, and many people said that it helped them make the most out of their experience.

1. Familiarize yourself with the featured authors’ works. You may think you have committed your favorite poet’s book to memory, but invariably, you will forget everything when you meet her. It helps to have a notebook with you, and a page of questions for each author, prepared ahead of time. That way, when you meet your idol in the hallway, you can do more than stammer.

2. Go early and stay late. One of the best ways to interact with the writers is to arrive early to the conference itself and each individual session. Volunteer to help the writers as they set up and test the mic. When they’re finished, ask those questions that you’ve prepared.

3. Introduce yourself to the Director of the Workshop too. At the Antioch Writers Workshop, I volunteered my services and my car, since I lived in the area. As a result, I was asked to pick up several writers from the airport! Other people paid for one-on-one time with the writers, but I got it for free -- along with their gratitude!

4. Attend early morning sessions and evening readings. This is often when the writers veer from the scripted program and venture into the nitty-gritty of the craft. I learned just as much from the Q&A sessions as I did from the classes I had signed up for.

5. However, make full use of the classes too. I came to the workshops ready to learn. Be open to doing exercises, that might, at first, seem like they don’t apply to you. Throw yourself into the experience. But, don’t be fool hardy or selfish. Recognize boundaries. What do I mean?

6. Respect the writers. When you see an author sitting down by the lake, all by himself, don’t ask him to sign your book. Allow the authors to have their own space at the conference. Many writers come to a conference hoping to relax and get some writing of their own done, too. They’re not there to be available to you 24/7.

7. Conversely, don’t be afraid to buy your favorite author a beer. When you’re out at a bar after the day’s events, it’s OK to send over a drink with your compliments. But only join him if he asks. And DON’T go back to the hotel with him. Just don’t. Passions run high at writers conferences, but don’t allow your admiration for a writer to overrule your better judgment.

8. Pace yourself. There is an ebb and flow to the conference. Whether it’s a week-long conference, or an intense weekend, don’t let yourself burn out the first day. Don’t party all night with your new-found friends in the dormitory. It’s intoxicating to find yourself in the middle of 200 like-minded souls. But, go easy. Get your sleep, eat right, and stick to your exercise routine. You’ll feel better and write better. And that,  after all, is why you’re there.

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