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This month we have expert advice from Simon Whaley on how to connect with other writers using conferences. Ten Top Tips covers how to create a sense of place in your writing, student successes are as pleasing as ever. Inspiration does its job and Useful Websites covers the tricky world of online profiles.

Conference Calling

By Simon Whaley

Locking yourself away in your writer’s garret to produce incredible prose is one thing, but every so often it’s important that you make contact with the real world! One of the best ways to do this is to head off to one of the many writers’ conferences taking place across the UK and around the world. Not only can they give your muse a break from your current project, but they’re a fantastic training and networking opportunity, too. Writers’ conferences vary in format, duration, and cost, but they all have similar benefits:

  • they’re a great place to meet other like-minded people,
  • the ability to network can lead to new writing opportunities,
  • there are workshops where you can develop existing writing skills, or learn new ones,
  • they offer an opportunity to hear some of your favourite writers talk about how they work.


Some conferences also offer one-to-one sessions with editors, agents or other writers, where you discuss your novel and get professional feedback.

It can feel daunting the first time you go to one of these events. Frequently, these conferences detail the main courses and workshops on offer, in order to tempt you to attend, but there will also be other ‘fringe’ events and sessions that don’t get finalised until nearer the conference start. This means when you arrive, there’ll be a detailed up-to-date programme listing everything, and there’s likely to be plenty going on! It’s a huge temptation to go to every workshop, talk, taster session, lecture or event. Don’t! You’ll be exhausted. Instead, have a plan.

Identify the main course, or series of workshops, that you want to do. This will probably be the event that attracted you to a particular conference in the first place. Make this your priority. Then go through the programme identifying other events that you’d really like to do, as well as those you might dip into if you have the time. Different colour highlighter pens work well here. I use yellow, green and orange. Yellow identifies the priority workshops, green for the others I’d like to attend and orange is for those that I’d like to get to if I can.

Most conference programmes will have a timetable at the start, or in the centre pages of the programme, where everything is listed, day by day. This is what most people end up carrying around with them in their inside pocket, or handbag, for the entire conference! The colour coding system works really well here.

Some writers use the conferences as an opportunity to work on their personal writing projects, too. If you don’t have your own writing garret to escape to, but have to muddle through in the kitchen with your children playing around your feet, escaping to such a conference can give you some quality quiet time, in your own room, in which to work on your project. Some conference delegates might spend the morning going to workshops, the afternoon working on their own writing, and the evening mixing and networking with other writers. It really is a case of making these conferences work best for you.

If you’ve never been to one before, don’t panic! Yes, it can be a little scary, but remember, you have something in common with everyone there. You’re a writer! Delegates usually fall into two camps: those for whom it’s their first time at the event, and those who’ve been going for years! Find yourself chatting to another first-timer, and immediately you have something else in common. Get chatting to someone who’s been coming for years, and they’ll remember their first time, and they’ll soon have you relaxed, and offering you tips and advice.

One thing these conferences have in common are the refreshments. Writers conferences are all about writing and eating. Or writing and drinking. There’s a good reason for this: networking. Take an empty address book with you, and by the end of the conference it’ll be full of the contact details of all of the new friends you’ve made. It’s common at meal times to find workshop tutors and lecture speakers sitting amongst the other delegates, making it a great opportunity to ask questions – assuming the tutors and speakers don’t mind, as meal and coffee breaks are meant to be breaks for them too! Even if you’re not sitting with a tutor or lecturer, you’ll be sitting with other writers, who you might find you get on really well with, sharing common writing interests. Some of my greatest friends are writers I’ve met at conferences.

Of course, conferences aren’t free, but many writers pay for these annual conferences by selling their articles and stories throughout the rest of the year. And if you’re a self-employed writer, you may be able to claim the expense as tax-deductible – it’s an investment in your business, after all. One thing I’m certain of – when you’ve been to one, you’ll be hooked!


June – Winchester Writers Conference, Winchester, Hampshire

The 2013 conference will be the 33rd, held at the University of Winchester, with the main conference taking place over a weekend, although further workshops and events continue during the following week. It also offers several one-to-one appointments with writing professionals, including agents, publishers and editors.

July – Summer Writers Holiday – Cearleon, near Newport, Cardiff, Wales

Running for over 27 years, this conference takes place at the end of July. It operates with workshops and courses in the morning, lectures and more workshops in the afternoon, and after dinner talks and entertainment. The climax is a fantastic performance by the Cwmbach Welsh Male Voice Choir on the Thursday night. (The 2014 Summer Writers Holiday will be held in Fishguard, Wales.)

August – The Writers Summer School – Swanwick, Derbyshire

Established in 1949, this annual conference has history! Packed with workshops and talks throughout the day, and after dinner talks, dance-loving writers can feel the boogey most nights with one of several discos.

August – NAWG Festival of Writing, Warwick

NAWG is the National Association of Writers’ Groups, and they run a weekend of workshops and talks at the end of August. If you can’t manage a week away, Friday afternoon through to Sunday afternoon might be the perfect alternative. If you’ve never been to a conference, this is a great place to start.

September – Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing, York

This year’s event (13th - 15th September) at York University, offers workshops, talks and the opportunity for one-to-ones with agents and publishers. If you have a novel written and ready to submit, this is the festival to head to, with representatives from most of the key London Literary Agents attending.


Southern Writers’ Conference

The Southern Writers’ Conference organise three events throughout the year in San Diego, Los Angeles and Palm Springs, offering workshops, talks and one-to-ones.

Central Ohio Fiction

A two-day event of talks and workshops given by writers, publishers and agents.

Bread Loaf Writers’

The oldest writers’ conference in America, dating back to 1926, offers four days of events and workshops.

Sewanee Writers’

Writing events in Tennessee begin he last week of July, and continue until the end of the first week in August.


Australia Romance Writers’ Conference -

Romance Writers of New Zealand Conference -

Simon is a tutor for the Writers Bureau and a freelance writer and author. Hundreds of his articles have appeared in print in the UK and USA, and his short stories have been published in the UK, Australia and Ireland. He is the author of ten books, including The Positively Productive Writer, which was published in January 2012. He will be tutoring at the 2013 Summer Writers’ Holiday in Caerleon.