Rethinking that Con Thing

Courtesy of Julia Rios, you too can use your phone to do amazing things.

a photo taken of the VP XIII reunion at Readercon.


It’s been 3 days since I started this post. I had a faboo weekend with my family of choice, but yeah, my extrovert battery got hit pretty hard, so I’m only just getting back into the swing of extrovert things.

And work today…well, after a week’s vacation, I really couldn’t expect any better than 31 phone messages and 147 emails. Because that’s just the way the English department rolls.

So…anyway, let’s get back to the subject at hand, which is rethinking that Con thing.

Readercon was fun. It was a con. I saw some friends and enjoyed seeing others from afar. I attended valuable panels, and I burned out and skipped panels I hoped to see. It was a pretty typical con experience for me–highs, low, and the impossibility of doing it all, but enjoying most of what I did.

Except there was something unusual that has never happened to me at a convention before.

And if you don’t want to read on, I’ll cut this here. But if you do, especially as regards writer’s retreats and VP XIII-ness, you may want to click.

One of the things that had me really jazzed about Readercon was the high friend meet up ratio that this con offered. Not only excellent writer friends, but also my best friend from Japanese language school, and one of my best costuming buddies were people I was going to meet up with. The convention gave me an awesome excuse to see cool people.

You know that I got to see lots of VP buddies. Six of us were there: George, Julia, Kat, Miranda, Lisa, and me. On Friday we had a lovely dinner. We kept hanging out and running into each other at the convention. We would talk about our writing, our rejections, and our hopes.

The pattern for me went something like this: meet up with VP folks. Go to convention. Go back to room to rest/recharge. Rest/recharge AND have a writing break through. Write like a maniac. Find VP folks again. Repeat.

I began to notice that I was not the only person cycling through this pattern. Many of us were plotting new stories, having breakthroughs on novels, or scoping out places in our busy lives to write.

It was really cool.

And it made me think. I love conventions. I’ve been to lots of them, all flavors. There are certain conventions you can count on me to go to, based on proximity and long-term love (ie unless I’m in Russia on a Fulbright, I don’t miss Wiscon). But after the World Fantasy and Readercon experiences, I find myself wondering about attending writer conventions at this point in my career.

They are cool. They are awesome. But Readercon seemed to have an underlying message: right now what you need to do is to write. You write best around writers who are interested in what you’re doing and you are interested in. In an ideal world, it would be best to spend money on both writer conventions and writing retreats, but since your funds are limited, does it make sense at this fledgling stage to spend your precious $$$ on writer’s retreats?

I had a fantasy about having a writer’s retreat. VP XIII buddies, we could have a yearly retreat somewhere, a long weekend, and hole up and write. That would be really cool. Miranda and I are going to toss around the idea in the fall. Would you be interested in that sort of thing? We’d move it around, so that different people could go different years.

I’m hoping for a research trip to Norway next summer. That doesn’t necessarily preclude this retreat for me next year, but it might. However, I think we should toss this idea around. I think that the gift of writer time at this point in my life is more what I need. The kibbitz at conventions is wonderful, but having something to kibbitz about with other writers is wonderful-er.

I would like to produce work that makes me less of a wannabe, and more of a…you know, a published writer. This is a very attractive option. And I was just astounded at how productive we all were that I can’t ignore that getting together worked.

Do any of you (not just VP’ers) have experience with this sort of thing? How does it work for you?

Oh, so much to write about, and so little time! I think I’d better do the anniversary post ASAP. Yesterday was 23 years. Stay tuned.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

4 thoughts on “Rethinking that Con Thing”

  1. Aside from VP, I’ve only gone to three writer retreats, all sponsored by the Northeast Iowa Writers association. I have to confess to having some mixed feelings about them.

    One – each retreat was a short, single day session. Most of the time was spent listening to a published author speak (that’s one or two hours of the day), then doing some simple writing drills or other things.

    Two – I didn’t know anyone there. I spent most of the time just figuring out who people were. I barely got a chance to find out what their writing was like or about and when I did, it was a whole range (poets, romance, history, etc). Really hard to discuss things when you’re so far across the spectrum.

    That said, I could honestly see a longer, larger retreat with people whom you are already familiar with working. Neither of those problems would arise. We’re all basically on the same level of writing (or at least understanding) so all the generic, general stuff could be skipped. Find a little hidey hole, write, come out, see your friends, chat, have dinner, hide again, come out, throw chapters in progress against the wall and say “This is dreadful!”, commiserate, find a breakthrough in an off hand comment, hide again … And if it was a nice enough place, send the spouse off to have some fun while the rest of us geek out.

  2. I’ve definitely had that experience, but I get it more at cons than at writer’s retreats. Retreats by necessity end up with everyone spending more time being introspective. I feel like the energy of the con, and all the ideas spilling over into panels, causes that urge to write. I’ll be interested to know if your experience differs!

  3. I really like Matt’s idea of the writer’s retreat without much in the way of speakers/classes. If we wanted to work in critiques, we could; if we wanted it to be just writing and kibitzing about the process over dinner, it could be that too. Even a long weekend could work really well for this — arrive Friday, everyone have dinner and catch up with each other, we retreat to our rooms/cabins, meetups for other breakfasts and dinners and such are available but not required. Checkout on Monday morning.

    In my head, I can see this happening at the state park that my family stayed at this summer — there are cabins to rent that sleep 4-8 people, the cabins have full kitchens (and a huuuuuuge table with lots of chairs!) but no phones or wireless (have to go up to the lodge for that), it’s in a state park on a lake, there are hiking trails for those who need to walk through an idea and there’s a tourist town nearby with restaurants and bars for those who need to eat or drink through an idea. 😉 (All right, it’s Unicoi State Park near Helen, GA, which probably deserves to have some science fiction or dark fantasy laid upon it!)

    My local writing group has talked about doing something like this (there are only five of us), because we’ve definitely found that even meeting up at a coffee shop to write for a few hours in company is good for the creative juices. No one wants to be the interrupter, so we all focus; then, after an hour or so, we all take a break and trade notes. It works.

    We could always open up the option to VPeeps from other years, too.

  4. Oh, wow! What a cool idea! Perhaps this is a good time to mention that while I was at my mother’s place in New Mexico, we totally kept talking about what a wonderful setting it would be for a writing retreat. Her house has enough room to host probably 4-6 guests, and it’s in this really lovely area where there’s lots of nature and very little distraction. There are also reasonably priced hotels nearby. I would so love to meet up with some of you VPXIIIers in a place like that.

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