Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why Writers' Conferences are Important Guest Post by Alice Orr

I've never had a guest post, so you know I feel strongly about this subject if I am sharing my pulpit (my mom's a retired minister).

I attend about 20 writer's workshops and conventions a year, every year, and many of my agent and editors friends ask me why.  I'm an established agent with a track record and more clients than I can handle, but I go to give back, to make connections and to be part of the transformation process of making published writers.  I just returned from my 28th NeCon convention (which is my favorite convention), and I have seen writers go from horror fan to the best seller list and creators of TV shows.

Below is my colleague Alice Orr's take on the writer's conference/retreat we both will be attending on August 10th.

There are writers’ conferences and there are writers’ retreats and barely the twain shall meet. Writers’ conferences are about craft and career – the business of being a writer. Writers’ retreats are about craft and contemplation – the soul of being a writer.

Both happen all seasons of the year but I love best the retreats of summer. When the dog days crawl in it’s a blessing and a relief to have a place to be apart with members of one’s tribe.

I found that place in the late seventies when I was done with feminist journalism or it was done with me and my writer self was adrift in a sea of uncertainty.

I wanted to write fiction but was convinced I had no imagination – not enough anyway to be a true storyteller like Mary Higgins Clark or my grandmother Alice Jane Rowland Boudiette. All of those names were a lot to live up to and I deeply doubted I had the stuff to meet that mark.

Then I heard about a writers’ conference retreat being held at a college about a half hour’s drive from where I lived. I signed up on impulse but only for the weekend.

I was wild in those days. Definitely not known for caution but I was cautious about this. Because it involved coming out in front of God and everybody and admitting I wanted to be a writer.
I could hear the sniggers of the naysayers back in my hometown. “Who does she think she is? She thinks she can be a writer. She was always too big for her britches.”

By the end of that first summer weekend those voices were fading and I was hooked. I wheedled my way into the week-long retreat that followed and by Friday the old voices had been supplanted by new ones and my future of ever-since had begun.

I count three events in my personal life as profound – my seven years with my grandmother – meeting my husband – the births of my grandchildren. Profound because they redirected my life. They lifted me from where I was and set me down in a very different place.

There have been profound events in my professional life also – the day I stood up in a classroom and found my teacher voice – the day I walked into a publishing house as a manuscript reader on my way to becoming an editor and then a literary agent – and that first summer writers’ retreat.

August is just around the corner. We’ve been crawling through the dog days for some time now. And that means summer retreat time is almost here. The same retreat I happened upon in the late seventies so that ever-since could happen in my writing life and my writer’s soul.

It’s interesting that this particular conference retreat always has something about magic in the title because magic is exactly what it has been for me. Magic and fabulous friendships and a few days away from my real life world. I’ve been told you can still sign up on impulse or otherwise at

Keep On Writing Whatever May Occur -- Alice

Alice Orr is a former book editor and literary agent, published in fiction and nonfiction, including No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing A Manuscript That Sells. Alice lectures nationally on storytelling – how to write and market novels, memoir and narrative nonfiction. She lives in New York City.



Suzanne said...

I know about the MacDowell Colony, but these writer's retreats are a revelation. I live near Rhode Island, so I'll consider the one there. It's just exciting to make such a discovery. Thank you for the post!

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