Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Frankly: writers' conferences and retreats

My impression of writers' conferences and retreats is pretty negative. I think of competitive people sucking up and looking down -- and feeling like I'm in 7th grade, NOT as part of the in-crowd. But Alvina's post yesterday got me thinking. Maybe I am being way too negative, maybe it would be fun to go to one, and useful, too.

As you may have guessed from my last post (and like everyone else, I apologize for not posting more lately), I'm living on a small Scottish island. I am writing, every day except Sunday, but I want this book to be good so much that I'm clutching. The word comes from a pitcher on This American Life who said no matter what he did, he couldn't get the ball near the batter and the harder he tried the worse it got. They say in baseball that you can't think and hit or pitch at the same time, and maybe the same goes for writing.

A retreat or writers conference where I could do some exercises and get some tutoring on how to get out of my own way, and have some laughs with the other attendees in the evenings and MAYBE have someone read my work without having a meltdown (that is me I'm worried about melting down, not them) -- might be just the thing. 

There is a retreat for writers in Scotland, above, where no one seems to take themselves too seriously (the bio of one staffer described her as making a huge change in her life "in a mad fit")....and someone who attended one of the workshops described her experiences as "magical." A friend of mine in America went to a workshop on the writing process at  Kripalu (the teacher didn't read anything they wrote, just talked them through sitting down and getting it done) -- three months later, she's still getting up at 5.00 a.m. (two hours before her children) to write. I know a lot of it will be the luck of the draw -- who the teachers are, how they like me and my work, what the group dynamics are -- but maybe it's worth the risk?

What do you think? Have any of you attended a conference as a writer/student (not one of the teachers) and had good experiences? Feel free to answer anonymously if the answer is no!

As a first step, I am definitely going to a one-day workshop at the Scottish Story Telling Center (for 1/20th the cost of a weeklong retreat). They have lots of classes to choose from  -- I'm going to the one on fairies in Scottish legend, literature, and song, that has everyone singing as well as listening to talks and practicing their own story telling. No way can I take myself singing seriously! And it will be fun to go back to Edinburgh, which I have finally learned to pronounce. Here they say Edinburra.


Naomi Canale said...

Being in Scotland sounds like heaven. I would definitely recommend that you go, Libby, especially if one of the staffers described herself as making a huge change in her life "in a mad fit"--haha! That's great. Retreats are wonderful, I always walk away ready to push forward and write, even if there are those few who make me feel like I may be having flash backs of the seventh grade. But that's really only happened to me at bigger conferences. I've had the best experiences with smaller retreats/conferences, they're not so overwhelming. Enjoy, and I hope you'll go and give us a report :)

Anna Alter said...

I think you should go too, why not? I would think it would be easier to enjoy while traveling, easier to see it all as a big adventure.

Anonymous said...

This has been my experience. I've been to small conferences that were not well-attended and usually found at least one person to chat with during lunch or break for a few minutes. Otherwise, I was on my own. At one large conference during lunch, one of the organizers brought the main guest speaker to our table and they both sat down and proceeded to converse only with each other. None of us for whatever reason wished to interrupt with a question or comment. Who knows--maybe they had a lot to say to each other. I thought that maybe the guest wanted a moment to relax but I still found it strange and discomfiting. Jane Yolen summers in Scotland. Maybe on the off chance, she'll come to the retreat.

HWPetty said...

Really, your attitude/mindset when attending is what determines if you get anything out of a conference. I know that sounds like a mommy lesson, but it's so true.

If you go to the conference expecting to come home with an agent and/or book deal, you will be disappointed. That can happen (SO RARELY), but it's not the point of the conference.

If you are there to learn and to meet people, you will. Every time.

That said, I'm a bigger fan of the small conferences. You get more time with the people they bring in, and you have the potential to become part of a local community that can help encourage you on your journey.

Libby Koponen said...

Thank you! These are all really helpful comments. I am glad I asked! The retreat I am thinking of going to has about 14 attendees, 2 teachers, and one guest teacher. I am going hoping to learn and to lighten up -- and to meet people. Anna, I think you are right too that doing it abroad will make it more of an adventure.

Thank you all for responding! And if anyone else has comments, please make them-- I will keep checking. Advice on this is really appreciated, maybe if I'd asked before my last conference it would have gone better.

So thank you all.


Libby Koponen said...

And thank you, anonymous, for sharing that story about the two Important People talking. That would have made me really uncomfortable, too -- and I think it's the kind of thing that makes me not want to go to conferences. I am glad you and Naomi and HW (and HW< not too momy-like at all, you are right!) had good experiences at the smaller conferences.

And let's hope I do, too. I will definitely report back, since so many of you have been nice enough to share your experiences and advise me.