I started going to science fiction conventions in 1978 or ‘79. I was a new professional, I had sold my first book, but it had not yet been released. It was very exciting, and humbling.
I did little more than just attend conventions for many years. I was, after all, a very minor writer. One time I asked C. J. Cherryh how she got to be a guest at so many cons. She told me, “I asked.” I took her advice, was accepted several times. I had better credentials by then. I spoke on a number of panels, mostly about writing, and tried to make a contribution to the con, and never felt that it was enough. Now I’m an old hand at conventions — I speak on panels, moderate panels, lead workshops, introduce guests, and indulge in lots of conversations.
I took away a lot more than I gave during the first five years or so. Just being there energized me, being among other writers of all statures, among fans, among readers. I would go home full of energy, eager to get to work, running over with ideas. That energy would last for days, sometimes weeks. Conventions made me enthusiastic to do what I wanted to do, which was to be a writer, to write and publish my stories, and to improve all my writing skills, and especially my social skills. These days I come home exhausted. It takes me until Tuesday to recover. After all, I am significantly older now.
Writers typically work alone, which is as it should be, if you’re going to get anything done. But working at home means that I don’t get out and meet people — other than, say, store clerks, many of whom will talk with me for a minute or so. For many, that’s no problem. But if you have no peers to talk with, you can’t advance as quickly as you might if you could share shop-talk with your fellow writers. Just being with people isn’t enough. Being with people who share your interests, have different but related experiences, and have greater insights gives you a larger context in which to grow. During those early years at conventions, I grew a lot. And I’m still growing.
There are other kinds of conventions besides science fiction and fantasy. I know little about them. I know there are conventions and conferences for mystery writers, romance writers, horror writers specifically, and western writers.
I once attended a university sponsored weekend conference for literary writers. One of the invited guests, who had won several awards for his science fiction, didn’t want to run a workshop on how to write it, so he asked me to do it. I still have my notes, and could do it again. It would take four to six hours, depending on attendance. Every other panel and lecture and round table was about literature, criticism, and academics — and very little about best sellers.
Whatever you write, whatever branch or field or genre, it’s a good idea to find groups who write the same thing, with whom you can talk face to face. I don’t mean workshops, that’s something else, I mean conferences, conventions. E-mailing, messaging, even talking on line is fine, but it just can’t beat face to face. Which is why I sometimes attend conventions at which I am not a guest. I still come away energized. There is a lot more to learn.