Today our guest contributor takes us through her experience at the Wesleyan Writers Conference. Margaret McNellis received a scholarship to attend last year’s conference. Less than a week after the event she pitched this post to me. Now we are just about a month away from the 2016 Wesleyan Writers Conference. Great tips below for those planning to attend!
Navigating the Wesleyan Writers Conference
By Margaret McNellis
In the spring of 2015, I was fortunate to receive a partial scholarship to the annual Wesleyan Writers Conference in Middletown, Connecticut. This was to be my first writer’s conference and I was eager to experience as much of it as I could. However, I was a commuting attendee, and naturally the days and nights are so packed with activities, talks, and workshops that I did not have the opportunity to sample everything.
PANELS, TALKS, & WORKSHOPS
Most of the panels I attended were fantastic–there was one with a literary agent and a book editor that I found most instructive. They provided an inside look at the publishing industry. I learned that most editors, for example, only sign 6-8 books each year.
The conference featured daily classes in numerous subjects: fiction, journalism, poetry to name a few. Some of them ran simultaneously, and they were sequential, so I chose the fiction track. In retrospect, I should have chosen something else. I had just earned my MA in English & Creative Writing with a Fiction Concentration one month prior. I did not feel as though I learned much, and even disagreed with many of the hard-and-fast opinions of the faculty instructor. I ended up only attending half of the fiction classes, and used the time the following two days to meet other writers.
Signing up for the manuscript review cost extra, but boy, was it worth it. I submitted the first three chapters of a novel I am working on, to which I’d made copious edits since my fiction thesis course. One of the fellows reviewed my three chapters ahead of time. We sat and discussed it for more than an hour. She asked pointed questions that I’d not thought of that helped me shape the plot of the book. It was a frank discussion of what worked and what didn’t, and I found it to be the single most helpful experience of the conference.
MEETING OTHER WRITERS
I loved meeting other writers. About 80 percent of them were looking to transition from journalism to fiction. Talking with them about their careers fascinated me. I also met students of various levels of experience–everything from undergrads to PhD candidates.
I enjoyed the conference, despite not finding much value in the fiction classes. I noticed that this year’s conference does not include that particular faculty member I anonymously referenced above. I know from discussing the fiction classes with other writers that many of us gave similar reviews, and it’s nice to see that the conference administration paid attention to participant reviews.
There were events that I would have liked to attend that I could not because I was commuting. I missed the fellows’ readings and the participant open mic night. The conference was well-organized, with options to stay on campus and purchase meal plans. The number and diversity of offerings make this a worthwhile investment of time and money.
Writer, editor, 3rd-degree black belt, musician, and extreme fan of Assassin’s Creed, Margaret McNellis set out to help other writers create their best fiction after earning her MA in English & Creative Writing. She is a member of Sigma Tau Delta (the International English Honors Society), and the founder of Paper Mill Lane, a site devoted to writers and readers. Paper Mill Lane provides writing tips and insights, as well as a community for writers and editing services. When she’s not writing, editing, practicing the martial arts and music, or playing video games, Margaret is crafting. She creates handmade books, stationery, bookmarks, and more. Margaret prefers to write her fiction by hand. She has published a book of poems, titled A Modern Masquerade and an ebook with tips on how to thrive in an online graduate program. She is currently working on several novels and a flash fiction anthology. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter @papermilllane.