One of the best ways I’ve found of “honing your craft” (I love that phrase. It sounds very artsy, but professional at the same time) is to attend writer’s conferences, seminars and workshops. One must, of course, be careful to attend good conferences, seminars and workshops, but, and perhaps I’ve just been singularly blessed, I haven’t had the misfortune so far to attend one I haven’t found to be, at least in some measure, helpful and instructive.

Last year’s UNF Writer’s Conference, held at the Banner Center on the lovely campus of the University of North Florida, was wonderful. Not only did I learn something new about characterization and editing from the workshops offered, I made valuable contacts in the writing community that remain helpful to me, long after the conference’s conclusion. In fact, my writing group, The Servilious Panerians, arose out of that conference, and I wouldn’t be anywhere near as far along in my current project without them. It is my fervent hope that I have been of benefit to them as well.

Networking is a major benefit of attending conferences and seminars, not only for the help you can receive, but for the opportunity they give you to help others. One can meet fellow authors, agents, editors, illustrators and even publishers at a conference, in an atmosphere that is highly interactive. Such an atmosphere gives you the opportunity to present your work to interested parties in a casual setting. Just as importantly, as you improve your craft and widen your list of contacts, you may be able to be of assistance to other writers, which profits your spirit, even if it never touches your wallet.

In addition to a plethora of workshops on Friday, the UNF Conference offers critique sessions on Saturday and Sunday. Each attendee submits ten pages of manuscript, any genre. Attendees are organized into compatible groups and each member critiques the offerings of their fellows prior to the conference. I have received some excellent story advice from my compatriots in these groups and I highly recommend them.

The UNF Conference is just one example of many offered nationwide every year. Since there isn’t room here to list all the upcoming events in the U.S., I’ll stick to Florida for today, with maybe a little Georgia thrown in for spice. The point is, as an author, you need to continuously improve your skills and add to your writing tool box. Think of the following list as an a la carte menu of tasty entre’s designed to help you do just that. (I know, its a mixed metaphor. Enjoy.)

2012 Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writers Conference

Date: September 13-15

Place: St. Augustine, Florida

Cost: $170/3-day festival/conference, includes banquet and lunches. Book Festival free. Other options and combo packages available.

Lily Creek Lodge Writing Workshop

Date: April 29 – May 4, 2012

Place: Lily Creek Lodge, Dahlonega, Atlanta, Georgia

Cost: 1200.00 (includes meals and lodging for six days)

 UNF Writers Conference

Date: August 3 – 5, 2012

Place: University of North Florida,  Jacksonville, Florida

Cost: 349.00

Books Alive!

Date: February 2013

Place: Panama City, Florida

Cost: Free, Luncheon 20.00, Literary Gala 50.00

Writers in Paradise

Date: January 2013 (8 day conference)

Place: Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida

Cost: 700.00 (Scholarships Available)

Florida Christian Writers Conference

Date: March 2013 (Dates to be announced)

Place: Lee, Florida

Cost: 465.00 Tuition only (costs vary depending on accommodations and meal plan, Scholarships are available)

These are just a few of the many offerings found in Florida and her close sister states. Check out Shaw Guides for more information, but be sure to go to the home page of any conference you want to attend as information does change and secondary and tertiary sites may not keep up with these changes.

Writing tends to be a solitary career. Conferences and workshops give you an opportunity to network, improve your skill level and contribute to the profession as a whole. Plus, they generally have pretty good food. All in all, its a win/win, so make plans to attend a likely looking conference and who knows? Maybe I’ll see you there. Meanwhile, live well and happy writing!

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