No, not Wisconsin–well, sorta.
I’m talking the Writers’ Institute, an annual writing conference held in Madison, WI every April. I’ve only attended once, and then because the conference is close (a six-hour drive) and reasonable (ever see the prices for some of the bigger ones?).
Being in the Midwest makes things tougher when it comes to writing conferences. Sure, we’ve got what used to be Love Is Murder in Chicago–wait. Hang on. Um, okay, I guess that conference has gone the way of the dodo as of this year. Hmm. Well, that puts a damper on things. Point is, there aren’t a lot of writing conferences in our area. Hey, I’d love to travel to Florida for SleuthFest, or Seattle for the PNWA conference, or NYC for the Writer’s Digest conference, or (fill in other large city writing conferences here) but the pocketbook just can’t handle that kind of fun.
Notice the pattern? The bigger conferences tend to be located on either coast. And I’m stuck in the middle with yew (heh, couldn’t resist). Now, we do have other conferences in the Midwest (MN Northwoods WC), and last year the AWP had its conference in Minneapolis (which I didn’t find out about until the last day of the conference), but WI is big enough to be mentioned in Writer’s Digest magazine (where I initially found it).
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got some great writing groups here: The Loft, the MN Writers Workshop, and our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. I have this thing about driving into Mpls/St. Paul at night. And it’s a hike for me since I live outside the metro area.
“Excuses, love.” My Muse tosses his LA Dodgers baseball cap onto my desk and peels off his leather bomber jacket. “You could go to those if you wanted to.”
I lean back in my chair and sigh. “I have a tough enough time driving to work and back some days, and I’m not even going into the city. Besides, I don’t like being somewhere unfamiliar at night.”
“The UW-Madison campus wasn’t familiar either when you went there the first time.”
“First, the Write-By-The-Lake Retreat and WI are on the edge of campus, and second, I stayed within walking distance. It’s a college campus, for crying out loud. And …”
He lays a finger on my lips. “Excuses. Now tell them the real reasons you would rather go to Madison.”
I roll my eyes. “You know, you didn’t need to show up yet. I won’t get a chance to work on my WIP until later.”
He points at my computer. “You tell them or I will.”
Truth is, there are a lot of published writers from UW-Madison, and their Continuing Education instructors have some serious creds. I started with an online class, then took a deep breath and signed up (well, applied to) for the week-long Write-By-The-Lake Retreat Master Novel class with the highly-recommended and beloved Christine DeSmet. The first year I tried, I didn’t make the grade in Chris’ class (she recommended another class, but I really wanted to take hers). The next time I did.
And that week in 2012 changed my writing life forever. Hell, it changed my life, period. Six novelists are the max in the class, each one with a novel they want to get published. I was one of those six. And guess what?
The Writing Sisters were born.
To this day, the seven of us keep in touch. Three of us are published or soon will be, and one has a second book coming out this year. We’re seven great gals who are more than just fellow writers. We’re friends.
So, I get all warm and fuzzy when it comes to UW-Madison and writing. The Writers’ Institute is a cornucopia of workshops for writers of all flavors, with keynote speakers and opportunities to meet with writers now published who have enjoyed lessons from the awesome instructors at UW. In fact, one of my writing sisters is on that list this year, so of course I have to go and heckle–er, cheer her on. They also have some great agents who take pitches and give workshops during the event.
And that’s where my frenzied work on my WIP comes in. I have just under 4 weeks to shine up my WIP so I can pitch it.
“You’re falling behind, love.” My Muse leans a hip on my desk. “You didn’t work on it last night.”
“I sent two queries off, and spent some time tweaking my log line. And #PitMad is tomorrow.”
“I thought you were going to lay off the Twitter pitch parties for a while.”
Yep, I was. Still might stay in the wings. But doggoneit, it’s another way to get an agent or editor’s attention.
Anyway, long story, short moral: if you have an opportunity to go to a writer’s conference, do it. Seriously. There’s nothing quite like the energy of all those writers gathering, learning, and encouraging each other. Maybe I’ll see you there.