Writers’ Conferences, Workshops, and Retreats: Why Should You Go and How to Choose

Photo by Big Stock Photo

Photo by Big Stock Photo

One of the things I love about writing is that writers can self-educate. We don’t have to earn a degree, or a license, or complete a residency to write.

I don’t mean that writers only teach themselves and never learn from other teachers and writers. And I don’t mean that we shouldn’t pursue formal education. Those are wonderful things!

What I mean is that if we want to improve their writing and learn about the business of publishing, we can do much of the legwork ourselves. We can read excellent books similar to our writing style, we can study books about writing, we can practice writing on our own. We can also find tons of help on the internet, and we can join various writers’ groups.

Another thing we can do is attend writer’s conferences, workshops, and retreats.


10 reasons to go to a conference, workshop, or retreat:

  1. To learn writing skills.
  2. To learn about the business-side & market trends.
  3. To get books autographed by your favorite authors.
  4. To bring home a list of books to read.
  5. To meet editors, art directors, and agents, find out what they’re looking for and realize they are people, too.
  6. To meet people who like to do same thing and won’t think you’re crazy when you say your main character won’t behave.
  7. To make new friends and form critique partnerships/groups.
  8. To get a critique by an industry pro.
  9. To gain access to publishing houses that are closed to submissions.
  10. To be inspired.

Differences between conferences, workshops, retreats:

Conferences—In general, conferences tend to be open to all writers, from beginners to multi-published authors. Some have hundreds of attendees–some are smaller, some are larger.  There are usually multiple speakers, and maybe even break out sessions, intensives, pitch sessions, critiques, award banquets, autograph parties, and lots of networking. Conferences can be very generalized, with something for every writer. Or they can be specialized by focusing on a certain genre.

Workshops—These tend to be smaller, more specialized, and hands-on. For example, the workshop might focus on writing picture books. There might be fewer speakers, and attendees might be required to bring a manuscript to work on. Expect to have class sessions, but also expect time during the classes to practice on your manuscript. There may also be times to share your work with each other.

Retreats—These are usually getaway times for writers to focus on their work-in-progress. Retreats tend to be very small and to be at places that promote creativity, rest, and productivity–interesting that the same place can promote all three. The faculty may teach some intensive workshops, do individual critiques, or lead critique groups. There will probably be lots of time worked into the schedule for alone work, but also time for socializing with the other attendees.

How to decide what type to attend:

I’ve gone to all three types and have loved them all. What you choose depends on what you want to learn or work on. It depends on your personality. It depends on your time and money budgets, as well as your family and work situations.

If you’re new to writing, go to a fairly local general writers conference to soak up information on a broad variety of topics, but especially writing-related topics.

If you’re working on a writing project and want to improve in specific areas–such as characters or plots, try a workshop.

If you’re really invested in writing projects and a writing career, try a retreat.

If you’re ready to investigate and/or pursue publication, go to a conference that has editors and agents on the faculty.

Do your homework. Some conferences are focused on the craft side of writing. Some are focused on the business side of writing. Some are a mix of the two. Some conferences are for writers, some are for booksellers/publishers, etc.

There are also conferences for almost any type of writing you can think of–mystery, romance, Christian, non-fiction, children’s, educational, speculative (science fiction, fantasy, paranormal), etc. Many of these conferences are part of writing organizations, such as Romance Writers of America, American Christian Fiction Writers, or the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.

Look for local and regional conferences, etc., too. They may not have the large number of big-name speakers, but they might have a big-name speaker or two, and it will cost a lot less to go to. Also, the faculty/attendee ratio may be much lower, so it’s more likely for you to have a conversation with a speaker at a smaller conference.

How to locate conferences, workshops, and retreats:

  1. Check online at the websites of writer’s organizations.
  2. Use the search engines to find writer’s conferences, etc.
  3. Read the blogs or social media of authors, agents, and editors. They often mention conferences, etc. they will be attending or speaking at.
  4. Ask other writers what conferences they’ve been to.

Finally, if you just can’t get away from home, work, family, or you hate being in even small crowds, or you need to keep your costs down, try an online webinar, workshop, or conference. I’ve done these, too, and found them to be helpful, as well as time-efficient and cost-efficient.

What conferences, workshops, or retreats have you attended? What kind do you prefer? What other benefits have you experienced by going to a conference, etc.?


    • Deb Watley

      Dyane, it looks like you had an inspiring experience! It’s so exciting to talk with other writers. I hadn’t heard of the Catamaran conference before; thanks for the heads up.

      • dyane

        Thanks so much checking it out – I wrote it while hopped up at the conference & I apologize for it being so long and extra-effusive 🙂 I had the “conference high”. Take care!

        • dyane

          I definitely want to read about that & share!!!!! To my surprise, the conference actually triggered hypomania – I have postpartum bipolar disorder and that’s what my upcoming book is about. I haven’t been hypomanic in literally years so it was unexpected. Luckily it subsided because I had an emergency pill in my bag (Seroquel, which can stop a racehorse in its tracks) so that I got some sleep after the first night.

          Can’t wait to read your post!

        • Deb Watley

          I often have trouble sleeping the first night–different bed and a racing brain. It is hard to take in so much information in such a short amount of time. But, conferences can trigger emotional lows, too.

  1. Karirene

    I enjoyed your article today. I still feel I’m new to the writing world. I have my blog and my non-fiction book I’m writing. Could really use some inspiration. 😀

  2. Karirene

    I’m looking for inspiration. Thanks for this inspiration! I still feel like a young writer, with just my blog and the one book I’ve told you about.


    • Deb Watley

      Hi, Kari! Thanks for reading! Knowing a little about you and your writing, I think you’d like reading the blogs of Emily Freeman (www.emilypfreeman.com) and Holley Gerth (www.holleygerth.com). For further inspiration, you could check the Writers Digest website (www.writersdigest.com) for articles and books about writing memoir, articles, and blogs.

  3. Pingback: 15 Ways to Make the Most of a Writers’ Retreat, Workshop, or Conference | Deb Watley

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