Every year, as hundreds of people flock to Douglas Anderson’s Writers’ Festival, writers and fans alike ask themselves the same question: How can I possibly see it all?
The answer, unfortunately, is simple — you can’t.
But part of the magic of these festivals is just that, and the pressure of choosing between two great workshops forces festival-goers to make the most out of what they’re allotted. At any given time, there will be four or more workshops covering a range of topics like developing intention, setting, humor, and more. With all the options available, it’s no surprise attendees new to the event’s structure are left at a loss for how to manage their time. What it comes down to really depends on what you’re there for. Often students flip through the pamphlet, find the workshops best tailored to what they struggle with in their own writing and go there. Getting that focused time to craft that skill is often one of the most valued elements of every good convention, and Writers’ Fest is no different.
But even the most prestigious, seasoned writers enjoy writing conferences like Writers’ Fest, the AWP, and Dodge Poetry Festival because they allow for exploration and communication between creators. These writers may no longer need to hear tips on forging plot but it’s the collaboration of each writer’s process, the proximity to other creative-thinkers that draws the most out of everyone that attends. I went to my first Writers’ Fest as an over-eager sophomore just beginning to grasp the basics of the craft, so I attended lectures work shopping style, plot, and characterization. Now, I’m a senior with a clearer grasp on those things, but now as I’m figuring out how my voice should sound from the page, I’ll be at the workshops that encourage exploration of theme and identity. Whatever your goal is, following these general rules will help you get the most out of your Writers’ Fest experience:
- RESEARCH. I skipped this step as a sophomore, and as a result missed out on incredible workshops with Dorianne Laux and Patricia Smith, two of my favorite poets now. Learn from my mistakes. You can find a complete list of the authors on the DA Writers’ Fest website along with bios and samples of their work. Mark where you feel a connection.
- REFLECT & DECIDE. Think about where you are in your journey as a writer (or reader). What lessons can you benefit the most from learning? Taking into account your immediate goals and desires, compile a list of techniques you find yourself stuck or struggling in.
- COMPARE. If you’re lucky, the authors you were drawn to will have workshops that tie into what skills you want to develop (a list of author workshops is also on the DA website). If not, try to leverage your desires as a fan with your needs as a writer. Make a decision and stick to it.
OTHER TIPS BASED ON MY MISTAKES:
**Do not be afraid to attend a lecture alone! I missed the aforementioned Dorianne Laux workshops for a lecture my friend wanted to attend. I still had fun, but I walked away from it knowing I couldn’t apply what the workshop sought to teach. Similarly, if two lectures you and your friend want to attend are scheduled to happen at the same time, don’t hesitate to split ways, attend both, and compare notes later. Bottom line, working together can make or break your Writers’ Fest experience.
**Writers need to make a living, too! If you meet a writer you really connect with, don’t hesitate to buy their book. Douglas Anderson will have a small store featuring all the writers’ collected publication for sale. They’ll sign it!
**While I can’t speak for all our writers, most of their lectures will not involve sitting around a table helping you hammer out your third draft. Instead, bring a blank journal and pen and try something new. Take good notes!
**Don’t freak out if you can’t attend every workshop on your list. Plans change; workshops get moved around, etc. Just remember to breathe and know that you’ll probably get another chance to see/hear/learn from them soon. After all, it’s supposed to be fun!
-Tatiana Saleh, Community Editor