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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Countdown to Nationals: 5 Tips for Choosing a Writing Workshop

RWA® has released the workshop schedule for the 2011 National conference in NYC this year. Here at the Lady Scribes, we have a tradition of picking out our workshops ahead of time and coordinating our schedules. That may seem like over-planning. Why not just pop into any workshop that looks appealing? But if you’ve been to Nationals before you know it’s impossible to attend every interesting workshop. Often two favorites are scheduled at the same time.

So how do you decide which ones are must-see and which ones can wait for the recording?

First, make sure you’ll have a recording. My local RWA chapter purchases the conference CD’s and puts them in a library where members can borrow them. If you don’t have access to something similar and can’t afford the CD’s, consider chipping in with some of your writer friends to buy them. Individual sessions may also be available for download. Check the program to be sure.

Go for the Visual. There are some workshops that are so visual and interactive that you really have to be there to get the full benefit. Here are a few examples from the 2011 catalogue:

Experiencing Dance Across Time: a Physical Exploration of Dance through the Ages (RESEARCH) Sarah Shade
Participants will be taught the physical and rhythmic components of a dance form unique to one of three time periods by Sarah Shade, a dance expert, and then will be led through a re-creation of each dance.

Kick-butt Heroes: Using Martial Arts in Your Action Scenes (RESEARCH) K.M. Fawcett, Melinda Leigh, and Rayna Vause
What would your hero do if the villain held a knife to his throat? Three experienced, highly trained martial artists will show you how to add authenticity and excitement to your action scenes.

Bottoms Up: a Look at Victorian Women’s Clothing from the Inside Out (RESEARCH) Deeanne Gist
Ever wonder what Victorian women wore under all those gowns? Find out as a best-selling historical author strips down to chemise and bloomers, and then watch as her lady’s maid dresses her, layer by layer.

Collage: Visual Brainstorming (CRAFT) Jennifer Crusie
New York Times best-selling author Jennifer Crusie will show writers how to use a collage for brainstorming and editing.

Look for the Big Names. You don’t have to be star-struck. It just makes sense to go see the big names. Nothing is more inspiring than discovering what you have in common with your favorite bestselling author. If their fiction speaks to you, chances are you’ll connect as writers too.

The same goes for the big name writing teachers. Even if you’ve already read their how-to books, don’t miss the opportunity to see them in person. A lot of these ‘experts’ are famous simply because they’re great speakers.

Even more important, if there’s an editor or an agent you’d like to work with, make sure you catch their workshop, panel, or spotlight. The insight you gain may make the difference between a rejection and a sale.

Look for your Subgenre: One of the great benefits of a conference as big as RWA Nationals is that they can offer the subgenre-specific workshops you might not find at a smaller, local conference. I won’t go into detail about this year’s options here because other members of the Lady Scribes will be highlighting the workshop choices for their subgenres in later posts. Suffice it to say, your schedule will be quite full if you simply attend the sessions geared toward your specific subgenre.

Look for your Weaknesses: A lot of authors use the track designations (Craft, Publishing, etc) to choose sessions appropriate for where they are in their career. Even though I’ve been writing for a few years now, I still like to choose craft workshops which address my personal writing weaknesses. I’m always open to learning an easier way to do something I find difficult.

So there you have my top 5 tips for choosing writing workshops. I would love to hear your suggestions. When faced with too many great choices, how do you decide which workshops to attend?


  1. These are great tips, Clarissa. I like to hear the "big names" speak because, as you said, there is often more in common than you might think. And I love to hear their journey to publication, or how they manage certain writing challenges--it can be very inspiring. :)

  2. Great post, Clarissa. I love hearing the big names. Last year at RWA I caught Linda Howard's 12 Steps Toward Intimacy workshop, I think that was what it was called, and turned out it was her LAST speaking engagement. It was great. I wish I was going to RWA year, but I'll have to skip it.

  3. Thanks for the post, Clarissa. It gets me excited just thinking about all these great workshops. When trying to decide between 2 great, concurrent workshops, I will always pick content over the speaker. Don't get me wrong, I love to listen to the big names too...I'm just not at a point in my writing that I feel I should skip craft lessons in favor of indulging my star-struck self. :)

  4. Hi Clarissa, I won't be going to NY this year but I'm getting geared up for LA next summer. I'm so excited I can hardly wait. One thing that's going to help is a few of these suggestions for chosing workshops. Whenever I attend a conference, I pick workshops that focus on my weaknesses, but I never thought of getting with other chaptermates and chosing ones they might be in. That sounds like fun. I also like the idea of chiping in to buy a conference CD and sharing it. Thanks Clarissa for the great ideas, I'll be keeping them in mind when I'm planning for Nationals next year.

  5. Great tips! Wow. How do people come up with these workshops? Watching a woman dress another woman? Hmmm.

  6. Another useful post, Clarissa! This is my first writing conference and my first trip to nationals. You've made selecting my 'first workshop' that much easier.

  7. Great post, Clarissa! These are tips I'll keep in mind when I finally get the chance to go to nationals!

  8. Thanks to all of you for the kind comments. I ended up taking a sick kid to the doctor yesterday, so I missed interacting with you, but I really do appreciate your stopping by and I will be checking out your blogs too. :)