I will say this straight out: unless all conference presenters and attendees are in different places, a physical conference is better than an virtual conference. But this is the world we live in, and to keep everyone safe virtual is how it is going to be for a good while yet. This time of COVID I think it is better to have something rather than nothing.

For the first attempt at a virtual conference, I will say Wordsmith put on by the Loft Literary Center last weekend did a good job. The presentations went smoothly and had some very good writers. I loved Jane Friedman for putting the business side of writing into clear terms (bought two of her books, I might be reviewing one). Megha Majumdar’s talk about writing her novel A Burning had a tidbit on writing a braided narrative that left me going “I am totally doing that”. The extra agent pitches and consultation were well run in terms of getting everyone where they needed to go virtually.

On the negative there was little chance for small group interactions beyond the agent pitches and consult. The day filled with pitches around the main sessions was my one day I felt I was actually making time for a conference. Most sessions were interviews with writers, which really started to feel the same. When going to a large conference I’ve always loved the variety of being able to go to one room and learn something about plot, then learn about marketing, followed by a session on book sale trends.

A physical conference allows many small interactions that can add up to a wonderful experience. One time at a writer’s conference and started chatting with a friendly older woman for several minutes before realizing she was an agent and one of the presenters. You can have a chance meeting with a fellow attendee and make friends (or live with the regret of “oh crap, I didn’t get that person with the awesome novel idea’s contact info”) or a side conversation that gets a question answered, or a comment that gives an idea that blossoms into a new project.

I think a huge part of the conference experience is simply being there. It is taking the time to be away from your normal life for anywhere from a few hours or a few days to be totally immersed in the world of the conference, and be surrounded by people who have at least one thing in common with you. While doing a virtual conference at home is more convenient, I would say that is part of its curse: in between conference sessions I was doing laundry and other tasks that needed to be done so I didn’t feel like I was away from my normal life. It felt more like a weekend with something added to do.

So I will say straight out yes, I am glad I went. As a snack to tide me over until big events are safe again I am grateful for it. But it didn’t leave me with the feeling of I need a week to digest everything I’ve learned or I am so excited to take what this conference gave me and work on my writing that I normally get from a conference. So for now I am going to wear a mask, wash hands, and hope a return of in person conferences will be coming soon.

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