Calgary Young Writers’ Conference (2021 virtual edition)

Calgary Young Writers’ Conference

I will be running a workshop at the Calgary Young Writers’ Conference this Saturday (April 10, 2021). I’ve now officially lost count of the number of times I have either volunteered for the conference or actually presented at the conference. What I do know is, it is a fantastic day spent with Calgary’s up-and-coming writers and I always leave feeling both exhausted and refreshed at the same time.

Exhausted and Refreshed?

I put a lot of effort into creating the workshops and ensuring that the participants get as much as I can give out of them. That takes a lot of energy on my part. But it also refreshes my own view of writing in general. I get the chance to see how exciting writing is through fresh eyes. That is the best part. I leave the conference with new energy and excitement for my own writing.

Creating a Workshop

I highly recommend the exercise of creating a writing workshop even if you have no intention of ever presenting it. Why? Well, it gives you the opportunity to think about topics (usually things that are near and dear to your heart) and reflect on the important elements around it. Once you have made a list of what you think is important in for a given topic, review your own writing. Does it encompass everything you are talking about? Is there something you could do more/better? Is there something missing entirely.

I have often found this to be very useful. Now, if you DO present the workshop to anyone (other than your pet, that is), listen to the questions you get. Perhaps you haven’t touched on something that others might find important. Or, you need to clarify something you haven’t given enough attention to. Chances are good that you will learn something yourself.

Virtual Session versus In-Person

As you might imagine, there is a big difference between virtual and in-person sessions (especially with kids). Virtual requires a lot more preparation, for one thing. There is much less back-and-forth so you need to have material that the students might find engaging. You also have a tougher time getting the feedback loop happening to ensure you are hitting the mark with the workshop. Remember questions, both asking and being asked, are critical.

In person, you can see the whites of their eyes, so to speak. You can tell if something is resonating with the students or not. You can be more directly involved.

To give you some idea of the presentation difference, when I am presenting in person, I like to use a blackboard/whiteboard to capture ideas. I have physical props (my books) to talk about and I move around the room during writing exercises. I create and follow a schedule of events for the class and try to stick to my timelines and topics of discussion.

The virtual are quite different. While I still use my books as props, they are only showing up on screen. The written schedule is replaced with a formal presentation that I put lots of visual elements into to keep people engaged. The presentation drives the timeline and there is (obviously) no moving about the room. The presentation takes a lot more thought to prepare.

One last thing to consider

If you do have the opportunity to participate in a writing conference, pay attention to what other presenters are talking about. You may see topics that you had never considered as important. Get as much information on those that sound interesting to you and see if you can incorporate any of the ideas into your own work. There’s no rule saying you can’t learn something at the conference too, after all. 🙂


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