My First Writers’ Conference


I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s 22nd Annual Writers’ Institute last weekend at the beautiful Madison campus. What follows are some of my general impressions. I may comment on some specific workshops and speakers in a future post.

Overall impression: Well organized, informative, good pacing and scheduling, excellent value–$250 cost for Friday-Saturday all day, Sunday half-day+, and an optional Thursday evening practice pitch session, which I attended but did not participate in.

Workshops were excellent, for the most part. Scheduled usually for 1.5- 2 hours, which was enough time to delve deeply into a topic, but short enough that one could attended up to five sessions per day. I especially liked the offering of 3 different workshops per time slot, divided generally into fiction, non-fiction, and the business end of writing. I attended mainly the fiction workshops, but also participated in some business-oriented sessions later in the day, along with two very helpful creativity sessions on Saturday and Sunday mornings. If one couldn’t find at least 6 workshops of interest, one is either not serious about being a writer, or too stupid to live. 😉

Presenters were a diverse lot and generally competent teachers and speakers. There are always a few stumbles along the way, but nothing that made me feel I was getting ripped off content-wise or just being rote-fed a bunch of writing platitudes.

One excellent feature, of which I didn’t partake due to not being at that stage with my manuscript, were optional pitch sessions to ‘real live agents.’ Costs were reasonable–$15 for an eight-minute pitch–and both the agents as a group and the pitchers seemed pleased with the results and opportunity. Additional fee-based activities included private practice pitch sessions, critiques and consultations with the experts. All fees seemed reasonable to me for the benefit gained.

Attendance was limited so there was plenty of room for everyone, although a few more popular sessions were standing-room only.

Participants were mostly female, about a 3:1 ratio to men, and the ages ranged from one girl of about age 12, to a few in their 70s (my estimate).  Most were in their 30s or older. Racial breakdown was about 99% Caucasian, from what I observed. Abilities and experience were varied, ranging from multi-published authors to neophytes with even less experience than me.

I was relieved to discover I knew more about some topics than other attendees, and was farther along in my first manuscript than many others, so I didn’t get the feeling I was in over my head.

The general spirit was one of sharing and honest discussion and respect for different opinions, all within the confines of civil discourse. There was much laughter in many workshops, and most students readily participated in reading and writing exercises, and Q&A sessions. Give and take was always lively and thought-provoking.

Conclusion: The UW Writers’ Institute was an excellent first conference for me. I never felt overwhelmed, outclassed, or talked down to. I came away much wiser about the art and business of writing, confident that I’m on the right track, and inspired to continue improving. For $250 plus expenses, I felt I earned some college-level writing experience for a bargain price. I will definitely attended another writers’ conference in the future.

Have you attended any writers’ conferences? What did you think of the experience?

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4 responses to “My First Writers’ Conference

  1. Thank you so much for this review. It gave me a birds eye view of the conference. And now I know I would like to attend–finances permitting.
    I have attend a few writers’ conference, seminars and workshops. The most recent was a one-day event offered by the Writers’ Union of Canada. This June, I’m looking forward to attending Bloody Words. A three-day conference offered for crime (and related genre) writers.
    Happy writing

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    • I’m glad you found the review helpful. I see you live in British Columbia, one of the most beautiful pieces of land ever created–as is most of Canada. I’m always looking for an excuse to visit the Great White North, so I’d appreciate a heads up on any writing conferences on your side of the border, especially Spring through Fall 🙂 (I’m not big on travelling long distances in winter, despite being from Minnesota). I’m pretty well booked up in June, so can’t even consider the Bloody Words conference. 😦

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  2. Thank you for your kind words about BC and Canada–you’ll get no argument here. Except to say I’ve seen some very scenic parts of the States as well.
    I live on a tiny (extremely beautiful and warm throughout the year) island. So, unfortunately (or fortunately–depending on how you look at things) I seldom leave home. However, if I hear of a conference I will try to remember to let you know.
    Or, better still, visit me at http://sweatercursed.blogspot.com
    If I hear of something good, I’ll no doubt talk about it there.
    Happy writing

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    • I’ve visited Vancouver Island/Victoria and a few of the islands in the Puget Sound, Washington. If I lived on one of those, I don’t think I’d leave very often, either. I’ll check out your blog. 🙂

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