Episode 16: Conferences, Workshops, and Retreats

On October 27th, Kasie was at Pawley’s Island for the SCWA’s annual writers conference. Here are the show notes for the show we recorded discussing the advantages of attending events like that one:


Dr. Kasie Whitener, Clemson Road Creative, fiction writer

Rex Hurst, fiction writer and English instructor

Theme for the day

Conferences, Workshops, and Events


  • Who we are and why we’re here
  • The topic for the week: Conferences, Workshops, and other writing events
  • Interview with Chuck Sambuchino
  • Book discussion — currently reading and its analysis through the lens of the topic
  • Craft book discussion — Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life — there’s a chapter on conferences, too; this book has it all!
people sitting watching in the theater
Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

Segment 1

The categories of writer events:

Conferences – a two- to three-day event, usually in a hotel, featuring workshops, agents, publishers, and other how-to information; also usually a vendor set-up with various books to buy, other workshops you can attend being advertised, etc. In general, literary community gathering. Some organizers will bring faculty in from out of state, which makes for an interesting educational experience.

  • Favorite thing about conferences? It’s fun to meet other writers and learn what they’re working on. It’s also fun to hear their journeys and compare it to my own.
  • Least favorite thing about conferences? Self-promoting self-published or “independent” authors. I don’t know very many people who come to the conference to buy books. So self-promoting authors can be alienating.

Workshops – one-day, half-day, or just an hour or two event focused on educating the writer about something. Sometimes interactive where you can bring your own work and get it critiqued or worked on. A couple of years ago, the SCWA had a one-day workshop at the SC State Museum and had breakout sessions on cool topics like Time in Your Novel. The author-led session addressed the importance of deciding on how you’ll handle time, then the various techniques for moving forward and backward through time as it elapses in the book. Really cool stuff.

  • Favorite thing about workshops? An intense focus on a particular skill
  • Least favorite thing about workshops? Sometimes too short, feels more like a survey than a focus group. Also, the skill-level of the attendees is such a spectrum, that it can feel like it has to be generic to get to everyone.

Retreats – multi-day, on-location somewhere special, lots of time for writing and reflection. Less instruction and more working on a piece. Few encourage whole novels be taken on; most suggest using the time to address a particular challenge, block, or issue in the work. Faculty are usually pretty accomplished authors, sharing their knowledge of an experience with the craft.

  • Favorite thing about retreats? Again, the singular focus and it’s usually a small group which is cool to build lasting relationships.
  • Least favorite thing about retreats? They’re usually super expensive.

Of course we have a resource. This one says All Writers Should Attend Conferencesand here’s why:

  • Meet other writers
  • Learn if self- or traditional publishing is for you
  • Try out your book concept or pitch
  • Find a new market for your work
  • Leave feeling inspired
  • Write off the expense on your taxes

Segment 2

I first met Chuck Sambuchino at the 2015 Writing Workshop of South Carolina. These are “how to get published” events and Chuck’s a good source for that information. He’s the author of, “Get a Literary Agent,” “Create Your Writer Platform,” and “Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript.”

Chuck worked for Writer’s Digest for several years and edited The Guide to Literary Agents and wrote the blog on new agents. His top advice there: new writers should aim for new agents.

Welcome Chuck to the show. Let’s talk about your transition from Writer’s Digest to this new freelance world you’re in. What’s working for you?

What is it about speaking to writers that keeps you engaged?

What are the top lessons you think writers need to know right now?

You bring a lot of agents to events. How do you think agents add value to the writer’s journey?

A few phrases thrown around about the publishing industrylately:

Oversaturated, fragmented, evolving, elite, smug,

24 Things Nobody Tells You About Book Publishing

  • The further you are from NYC, the less preoccupied you’ll be with literary gossip.
  • It is not your responsibility to make people who don’t like your books like them; you are not running for public office.
  • If you read a truly great book and feel more excited than jealous, congratulations, you’re a writer.
  • The older you are when your first book is published, the less resentment will be directed your way.

Chuck and I have stayed in contact over Twitter since 2015. Let’s talk a little bit about how authors are using social media to make names for themselves, build their platforms, and in general be “in” the world. Is there one social media tool you’d recommend over others?

Segment 3

What we’re reading

I’m reading Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy; admittedly on a bit of a crush after attending the Pat Conroy Literary Center’s Book Club Convention two weeks ago. They have a conference November 2-4 which I can’t attend because it’s my kid sister’s 40th birthday. It’s also the same day as Chuck’s Columbia one-day workshop.

This weekend is the SCWA’s Pawley’s Island Conference which should be good. Some details on that:

  • Therese Anne Fowler who wrote Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgeraldis the keynote (taking my copy to be signed); interested in her take on these women’s stories which seem to be a publishing trend right now (The Aviator’s Wife, The Paris Wife, Love & Ruin)
  • Some breakout session topics: Writing Your Obsession, Persona & The Poet’s Voice, Who are these people and why are they doing these awful things? Making a Scene

Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life has a chapter on literary conferences:

“In summing up my first writers’ conference, I got insulted by Alice Walker, thrown out of a poetry workshop by Adrienne Rich, and had a poetry reading dedicated to me by Miller Williams. All in all, I thought I was in the middle of leading a grand and possibly even a fascinating life.”

– Conroy, Pat. My Reading Life (Kindle Locations 1743-1744). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.



One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s