SiWC 2009 or bust!

So I just did something very exciting—booked a four-night stay at the gorgeous Sheraton Guildford in Surrey, BC. It seems unbelievable, but it’s already time—really time!—to start planning my favourite annual indulgence: The Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

I normally try to rein in my freakish enthusiasm and exuberance while blogging, so I don’t scare readers away, but allow me one, YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!

I know some writers are sceptical of the advantages of conferences. They think they’re nothing but a money grab. They feel you don’t learn anything that you couldn’t from a book or a bit of research. They’re sure everyone’s just there for their egos—I’m a writer, look at me. They’re convinced you’d be better off spending the time writing, not talking about writing.

I confess I don’t understand conference bashers.

1. Yes, attending a conference is a financial commitment. That it costs you something is part of its value. Say what? Just that: Putting money into your craft, saying in essence, “I’m serious about my writing, and it’s worth not just my time, but also my material resources to pursue,” is like giving yourself a big ol’ permission slip to take your goals more seriously. It’s also a big cue to family and friends—Oh, she’s serious about this little writing thing.

Professional development (Yes, a little FYI, conferences are P-D, not just wonderfully social times where everyone sips wine, talks about their favourite things—books and storytelling, of course—and comes away absolutely inspired) betters the quality of your work and boosts your word counts. Being with other people who are excited about the same things you are is motivating.

2. Books on craft are great, and yep, you learn a lot reading them, but—and gasp, I can’t quite believe I’m saying this—there are some things being alone with a book can’t do. Reading alone in your study doesn’t give you the experience of being with 1000 other souls who love what you love—ideas, words, stories. It doesn’t give you the chance to laugh along with one of your favourite authors. It doesn’t provide the opportunity to stick up your hand in the middle of the information to say, “Gah—I don’t get it!” or “Yay—I love how you put that!”

Hearing authors talk about their personal experiences, reassure you that it’s an achievable dream (they’re living proof, after all), and answer every-question-you-can-imagine is invaluable. As is getting to learn face-to-face from agents and editors who accept books (maybe even one like yours!) for their livings.

3. As for the complaints about “egos” . . . I don’t see it. I’ve met people I don’t click with, sure. I may have (it’s terrible) even cringed or grimaced inwardly a time or two on behalf of a cornered agent or author, yep. But people are people wherever you go. The great, the bad, the meh—they’re everywhere. And for what it’s worth, I think writing conferences having a higher per ratio capacity of hilarious, generous, kind, and witty people than most public groupings. The feeling of community and camaraderie is almost the whole reason I go. I work alone day after day all year (Yay for the Internet, but that’s an aside). Even the most reclusive of us benefit from and need human company sometimes.

4. Four days of conferencing and sushilizing does not, in anyway, take away from my productivity. I write almost every day—and that’s in addition to my business writing, editing, and workshops. Surrey energizes me for a whole year. If I have a day where I feel kind of unmotivated, I look at the calendar and recall the goals I’ve set for the next conference . . . Speaking of which, I’m on track, but not ahead of where I wanted to be by this month, so I should go.

Happy writing, everyone—and if you’re heading out to Surrey this October 22, 23, and 24 for SiWC, let me know.

I’m also interested in any comments about why you love writing workshops or conferences—or really mix things up and tell me why I’m out to lunch and they suck! 😀

~ Ev

10 thoughts on “SiWC 2009 or bust!

  1. Ohhhhh! I am jealous!!!
    I’ve been thinking that I’m up for a writer’s conference. Where oh where is the question! I attended one in Ottawa two summers ago, and although I was not ready for publication, I was a new writer and I learned a lot from it. It was a great experience. We do not have such events in Montreal (or for english writers anyway – maybe there’s not enough of us LOL), BC is wayyyyy tooooo farrrr. NY – best bet I think (with the most competition). Closest to home. A drive away. Know anything about those held in NY?

  2. Ohhhhh! I am jealous!!!

    That’s why I posted, heh heh. Just kidding. 😀

    I attended one in Ottawa two summers ago, and although I was not ready for publication, I was a new writer and I learned a lot from it. It was a great experience . . . Know anything about those held in NY?

    Weirdly, I do. Agent Donald Maass and editor Lisa Rector-Maass (his wife) present in Surrey every year and always attract huge crowds. They are both great, warm people–amazing at what they do and excellent teachers. The DMLA website (which I just happened to be hovering at recently) mentions these:

    Writers Digest/BookExpo America Writers Conference in New York, New York.

    The High Tension Workshop in Providence, Rhode Island.

    International Thriller Writers (This is one I dream of going one day!) in New York, New York.

    I am sure that if you google and keep asking around, you will find others too. It is New York, after all. A drive away. Now I am jealous! 😉

  3. Hi Ev,

    I believe we chatted at SIWC a couple of years ago.

    I agree with all your points, particularly the one about cost. Annually, I take a couple of SFU workshops and they average $225. Three days for just over $500 including meals is a bargain.

    I think of the weekend as “renewal time”. Some years I attend most seminars, other years I hang out in the hallways a lot.

    I also make a point of picking a few fiction workshops. I write non fiction but find fiction techniques useful.

    See you in October!


  4. I agree with you with all of my heart. The things I’ve learned at the SIWC have been instrumental in bringing my writing quality to where I feel like I want other people – total strangers! – to read my work. And the feeling of being around so many people who adore writing as much as I do, and who actually think of it as a worthwhile activity (apart from so much of the world who seem not to notice that almost everything they enjoy has to be written!) is one of the best in the world.

    I hope I’m there with you at the end of October. I can’t promise it, and you know why, but I really do hope. And if I’m not, there’s next year.

  5. Katherine, hi!

    I remember you; it’s lovely to hear from you. 🙂

    It’s funny how something so intense can be rejuvenating at the same time, but it really is.

    And yes! re: fiction techniques being valuable to non-fiction writers. That’s something I always stress to my students and reinforce with exercises.

    See you in Surrey!

  6. Jen:

    Your whole heart!? Aw, I am flattered. And I’m glad you love SiWC so much. It (yikes, this is almost blasphemy, I know) won’t be the same without you.

    You do have wonderful, valuable reasons for missing 2009 though–and yep, there’s next year. And the year after that, and the one after that, and . . . 🙂

    I will try to take good notes.

  7. A little late coming into this, but I’ll be there, too, for my 4th year running. The workshops are great, and I always take a master class or two (this will be the first year I’m only taking one, due to finances, not because I couldn’t find a great one at the earlier timeslot).

    I started going because I heard Mr. Maass would be there. It took me three years to get up the courage to talk to him, and I actually managed to pitch him last year! SiWC is a great confidence booster, too; every year I feel more comfortable and I meet more people.

    Everyone at SiWC — including authors, publishing professionals, volunteers, and fellow attendees — are great people. I started going for the chance to learn and pitch; I keep going for the friendships and networking possibilities.

    Yes, you could say I’m sold on SiWC, too.

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