For my blog post this week, I’m switching things up a bit! Throughout the year, I’d like to write about finding and building community as a writer – whether that be online or in person, local or abroad. Whatever form your writing community takes, what’s important is that you create a support system that best suits you and your needs as a writer! Since I began actively seeking out fellow writers, readers, and book lovers with similar passions and writing ambitions, my life and writing have infinitely changed for the better. I can’t wait to share some of these thoughts and insights with you!
This month, I’ve got conferences on the brain! This time last year, I was beginning my first foray into conference research. I’d made the decision to refocus my time and energy on what I was most passionate about – writing. But here’s the thing – I was scared! I had low confidence in my work, was daunted by the idea of completing a novel, and overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who populate the publishing world. I felt like a conference would help me to begin to better understand how the larger writing community works and allow me to meet fellow writers with shared interests.
With this in mind, I began researching North American writing conferences. I knew that I wanted a smaller conference (AWP and Writer’s Digest just seemed so BIG and overwhelming for a first conference) where I would feel safe as a queer woman and be encouraged to talk about speculative fiction. Luckily for me, this is a pretty specific conference checklist, and after a few Google searches and Twitter chats I stumbled upon the Sirens website.
Sirens is an annual Colorado conference geared toward writers, readers, librarians, and educators of sci-fi/fantasy literature, specifically those who feel the effects of the patriarchy (nonbinary folks, tran folks, women, or wherever you land on the gender spectrum!). Founded in 2009 (10 years ago!!), Sirens sought to create a conference space where all were welcomed and encouraged to celebrate and see themselves in speculative fiction. Their commitment to doing better and being more inclusive each year is evident and refreshing, and is what drew to me them in the first place.
Like the women of fantasy literature, we dream big and bold and bright.
After months of planning, budgeting, and applying for grants, I attended my very first Sirens conference in October 2018! I decided to attend both the pre-conference Sirens Studio (Tuesday-Wednesday) and the full Sirens conference (Thursday-Sunday) to give myself a fully immersive experience. Sirens Studio was an amazing experience – two days of small-group workshops taught by stellar faculty interspersed with time to read, write, and relax (yes, there were bonfire pits and outdoor hot tubs!).
The full conference began Thursday evening with a welcome reception and the very first keynote speaker. Friday was chock full of workshops, lecture, and panels, and ended with a fabulous evening of Bedtime Stories, during which all visiting guests of honor read from their new/upcoming work (while we, of course, sipped on hot chocolate and ate gourmet s’mores!). Saturday featured similar conference scheduling, two more amazing keynote speakers, and an unforgettable masquerade ball!
My first Sirens conference was truly life changing. I’m a bit shy and reserved before I get to know people, so I was glad that I decided to start with the smaller Sirens Studio. The few extra days gave me a bit more time to ease into the conference and to meet a few people before the (delightful) chaos began on Friday. A lot of people already knew each other (some people have been attending Sirens every year since 2009, which is AMAZING!) and I was a little bit intimidated at first! However, Sirens does a wonderful job at planning group outings for lunch and dinner, and I quickly learned that connecting with people over food is SO my thing!
One of my biggest struggles as a writer (besides, ya know, writing) is being confident enough to discuss my work and ideas with friends and strangers, and Sirens really forced me out of my comfort zone in this regard, which I am so thankful for. Seeing how passionate everyone was about their own work and other’s really pushed me to reevaluate the fears/anxieties I have about sharing my own writing. This was my biggest take away from the conference – a new confidence in myself and my work. I’m so grateful for all of the amazing people I met last year at Sirens!
I could sing praises about Sirens forever (I can’t wait to go back this year!!) but before I finish this post I just want to touch base on the most daunting thing about conferences: $$$$. I don’t know about you, but as a person with two part-time jobs who makes less than $20,000 a year, the thought of dropping $1500 on conference fees, plane tickets, and housing was horrifying! Financially, conferences are not always accessible. I was fortunate enough to receive a grant from my local arts counsel that funded my entire trip, but it’s not always that easy!
If your city or state doesn’t offer grants for artists, there are also scholarship options through Sirens (some of which are still open!). Sirens is currently accepting program proposals through May 15 – three exemplary programming proposals will be awarded free registration and shuttle tickets! Additionally, Con or Bust is a fabulous financial resource for people of color seeking to attend SFF conventions.
What are you experiences with writing conferences (the good, the bad, the ugly?!). Let me know in the comments!