At the last writing conference, I had a lightbulb moment. I've been to a few conferences over the last year or so, and I've learned a few things. First, writing conferences are awesome and inspiring. But they also can be overwhelming (it's hard not to get discouraged when you see all the other people who want to be writers). Second, it's great to go to writing conferences to learn about the publishing market, however, things start to repeat after a while. My first conference, I soaked everything up. But there are only so many times you can sit in a class of fifty people (or more) and get told that the economy is rough right now, that YA is huge, and that "voice" and originality are the most important things in a manuscript. After a while, you really start needing some specific help, not just generalizations.
So that's where I am now. I'm not going to swear off writing conferences, but I am going to be a little more selective. Unless I know that my work will get workshopped, that I will have a real opportunity to network with people in the industry, or that I can take some specific classes on writing (if I hear one more vague description about "voice" I'm going to scream), then I will probably pass on the conference.
I'm learning that it's also good to have a completed manuscript when going to these conferences. I once had an editor read my first ten pages and ask if I had a completed manuscript and I had to say no. Not that he would have been interested in the whole thing (though he was very nice about the first 10 pages), but he could have been. The "what if's" are a killer.