If you’re a writer and you take your art seriously, you want to do whatever you can do to learn or improve your craft. Let’s face it, there are a gazillion writers who publish uncrafted novels which aren’t ready for consumption, and, unfortunately, they usually sell three copies to friends and family. If you want the greatest possibility to be a successful (however you define that for yourself) author, you have to put your best possible product out there. The book must (usually) fit within the standards of the genre (because it has to be marketed by someone, and booksellers need to know where to put it on a shelf), and absolutely must be as polished as possible. Then, and only then should it be pitched (if the author wants to go the traditional publishing route), or be considered for self-publishing (NOTE: if self-publishing there are many more steps that you need to undertake before you click the submit button).
These are craft issues. Most fiction writers don’t have an MFA and it isn’t necessary to obtain a degree of any kind to be a writer. Writing the story is an artist’s passion, or a hobby for some who improve their craft on weekends. And sometimes it is just an idea that someone has who has always wanted to write a book. Regardless, it is necessary to get some educational foundation of the craft of writing. Some writers are able to get that much-needed foundation from books and can use those books to help them create the solid structure necessary on which to hang their plot and characters. There are some very good books that explain how each character needs their own goals and motivations, and how stories are built on conflict. It is possible to learn how to write dialogue, how to create a scene, and how to create just about every aspect of the novel from the pages of writing craft books. It takes time to read all of these books (I’ve not seen one book that teaches it all), and consistent dedication for the writer to translate from what they have read in the book to what they will write on the page.
There is another route. You could go to a writers conference. But, do be ready to be immersed in all things writing while surrounded by a jillion other excited people soaking up that same information. I personally find writers conferences a great way to soak in information AND make great connections with other writers. It is also a great opportunity to get quality feedback on your work in progress. I also admit to needing a nap afterword.
Do not take it for granted that all writers conferences are the same. They vary based on price and content, as well as quality. Also, be aware that a convention isn’t the same as a conference and you will need due diligence to find the best fit for you. I have been to my fair share of writers conferences and have been both wowed and ho-hummed. And I admit that I am biased, but I do truly believe that the best writers conference in the United States is Colorado Gold, which is hosted by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Colorado Gold has workshops for writers of all levels (beginner, intermediate, and professional) and a wide array of topics on craft and business. Because RMFW is a non-profit educational organization, the conference is very affordable, especially when compared to some other for-profit conferences. It is also a really great group of people who are passionate about helping everyone learn and be successful. If you can only afford one conference this year, I recommend that you attend Colorado Gold.
There are myriad other conferences if you can’t get to Denver in September. One of the best resources I’ve found for finding quality conferences is the AWP directory which has a searchable comprehensive list of writers conferences as well as writing programs and retreats. There is still no guarantee each listing will be the right conference for you, but with a little effort you should be able to research your choice and make an educated decision.
Whether you choose to improve your craft by reading books or you choose to go to a writers conference, do something to improve your skill and your craft so you can be the polished artist that you want to be.