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For the past few months I’ve been keeping an eye on writer conferences, residencies, and retreats in 2021. Long-time readers remember I’m pretty active with these events, both as a speaker and as an attendee. In 2019 I attended the Chicago Writers Workshop and the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York. In 2020 I had planned to attend AWP in Texas and canceled at the last minute due to a family health emergency that required us to relocate my in-laws to our town. (Little did I know the world would shut down a week after that conference!)

Online conferences for anyone.

I’ve noticed that several conferences are moving forward in good faith that they will be able to hold their events offline, while many more firmly choose a virtual platform. I was surprised to see some conferences (writing and non-writing ones) were asking for the same prices they normally ask for even though they’re online. Um, no venue fees, food and bev costs, and lodging logistics should bring the cost down considerably. Were conferences choosing to pay their speakers the balance of what the conference saved in operation costs? Not likely. Also considering how many people lost jobs and businesses for pandemic-related reasons, and either suffered COVID themselves or were affected by family who acquired the virus, and everyone’s budget for writer conferences isn’t like what it used to be.

Then I saw a compassionate conference effort. The North Carolina Writer’s Network (NCWN) will hold their spring conference online this year and the cost is whatever you want. NCWN recognizes how challenging this time has been. They’re posting suggested fees, but attendees are under no obligation to pay the fee.

One of the amazing things about the virtual switch that regional/local associations are making during this time is that their reach grows. Many writers I’ve met through my blog are in the UK, Turkey, Canada, France, and many other countries. Until now, how many writers outside the US would even consider attending a writer conference in North Carolina?

It’s remarkable how being forced to not meet together is making us meet so many more people. This year I’m president of our county beekeeper association and we moved our bee school to an online format. Something that had always been a county-specific event has now brought in hundreds of students from all over the country–and we have students in Costa Rica too!

Since the NCWN Spring Conference is available to anyone with an internet connection, I wanted to share the details with you. (The conference will also have closed captioning.) The event takes place April 22-24, 2021, but as of this writing the workshops during the first few days are full. The Saturday, April 24 sessions cover the entrepreneur side of writing, poetry, creative nonfiction, plus faculty readings.

Seeing so many events move online made me realize that conferences I may not have been able to attend in the past due to travel costs or date conflicts would be possible now, both because they’re online and also because many are recorded and you can watch when you can.

What are your writer conference plans for 2021?