5 Reasons why you should attend a writing festival

This is the second year I’ve served on the Board for the Stockholm Writers Festival, and the second year I plan on attending. The first year, I wasn’t sure if I should attend or not. Of course I wanted to support the festival in its debut year! But when I thought about me at the festival, I wasn’t sure it had enough for me. You see, I was under a false impression that I had to have a finished novel ready to be released into the world. I created this imaginary line I had to cross as an author before I should venture forth into the realm of writing festivals. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Festival took place in April and at that time I had several projects going, one project, in particular, I was really excited about. But it wasn’t finished. How could I sign up for an agent one-on-one when I didn’t have a finished product to pitch? How could I sign up for a class called ‘Manuscript Makeover’ if I didn’t have a finished manuscript?

Another challenge for me was genre. I write speculative fiction. Science-fiction. Fantasy. New Weird. Most festivals focus on literary fiction, or general fiction. Despite spec fiction being one of the largest genres out there right now, it isn’t represented much at all in the agents or the faculty, that’s why I usually search for genre specific festivals. What did this festival have to offer me? Maybe you’ve had the same thoughts. ‘I write romance, and there is nothing for romance authors.’

All of these thoughts were unfounded, however. A few weeks before the festival last year, I got my ticket. When I walked in to the locale, I knew all my reasons for not going were nothing more than negative self-talk that I should have ignored.

To prevent that from happening to someone else, I’m here to share 5 reasons why you SHOULD attend a writing festival, no matter where you are in the writing process:

  1. Peer Networking – One of my favorite parts about the festival last year was Find Your Tribe. We all broke out into groups based on the genre we write and spent some time getting to know each other. It was such a hit, it’s coming back again this year. Even if you’re the world’s most introverted introvert, many festivals provide opportunities to meet up with fellow writers that aren’t akin to dying a horrible a death. Take a chance. You just might find a critique partner who lives on the other side of the country, but you two hit it off better than you and your twin brother. You might find a writing partner who writers in a different genre and pushes you to explore new adventures. You also might find a friend for life.

2. Craft – Not all festivals are focused solely on pitching agents, or the state of the business. Many festivals offer opportunities to take out your pen and practice the craft. Those are the festivals you attend. Because no matter where we are in our writing journey, we always need to practice the craft. Not only that, Festival workshops are a way to practice and get instantaneous feedback. If we’re honest, that’s what most of us want. We want to know, from professionals who are out there working where we want to be, what we did right and how to fix what we did ‘wrong’ or what isn’t working. Festivals give you an opportunity for that feedback.

3. Encouragement / Motivation – Writing is a process that pulls the writer outside of the world, to write about the world, in order to touch people living in the world, or in some cases to touch the abstract foundations of the world itself. Peace. Independence. Forgiveness. Hope. Love. Big topics, even if you think you’re only writing a story about a girl who wants to escape her small town. If we can’t get past the first chapter, or are stuck in the scene where the small-town girl confronts her mother, we get discouraged. Once discouragement shows up, it has a tendency to over-stay, doesn’t it? It plops itself on the couch, pulls out a bag of Doritos and settles in to watch you struggle to overcome whatever despondency you’ve wrapped around yourself. Festivals soak us in enough encouragement and motivation to kick discouragement out and get back to what we love most, writing. I dare you to surround yourself with other writers who are excited and come away still feeling discouraged. It’s impossible. There’s just too much raw, positive energy, creativity and encouragement when you get a bunch of writers together.

4. Business Networking – whether you’re ready to pitch your finished manuscript or not, networking with agents, publishers and successful authors is never a bad thing. Who knows what that contact might lead to? Maybe that writer you just friended posts a link to a contest you enter and win. Maybe that agent asks for submissions six months from now that fit your project perfectly. Please don’t stalk agents, writers, or publishers. But if you connect on some level, don’t walk away from it either. You never know where it might lead in the future.

5. Experience – When I asked an agent at last year’s festival what he looked for in a query letter, he told me he looked for all the expected things. Genre. Word count. But he also told me he looked for whether or not someone was part of a critique group. Whether or not someone attended writing festivals. Because those things told him how serious a writer was about his or her work. I’m not saying your book has a higher chance of being published if you attend a writing festival, but your query letter does have a higher chance of standing out. If you’re going up against 500 other query letters, or 1,000, you want to use every advantage you have.

What about you? Why do you attend writing festivals?

If you’re interested in attending the Stockholm Writers Festival, you can buy your ticket from their website: http://www.stockholmwritersfestival.com