What Makes a Great Class?

_W9A0344Yeah, it’s about that time again.  The last of the DFWcon 2013 glow has faded, there’s 10 whole months to wait until the next one, and in the meantime, it is hotter than two mice [kissing] in a wool sock no matter where you are.

So here I am, plotting my escape to the Great Northwest for a double-header of writing conferences next month.  “Golly, it’ll be great to get out of the Lone Star Furnace,” I was just thinking to myself.  “But I’ve never been to another big-name writers’ conference before – I wonder what it’ll be like?”

And then I thought, “What do I want it to be like?”

And then I thought, “Well, what can I not accomplish by sitting here in my Fortress of Jollitude with a word processor, an Internet connection, and a strict moratorium on cheeseburger cats?”

Because that’s the real point of a conference, is it not?  If you’re going to plunk down a hefty bag of doubloons for registration, and a hotel, and transport, and food more substantial than off-brand Saltines, it’s because you expect to get something, do something, that isn’t available in your own little hobbit-hole.

There’s meeting agents and authors and other dazzling celebrities of the literati, for starters.

There’s meeting fellow writers and swapping war stories / pitches / pudding cups at the lunch table.

And of course, there are the classes.  This seems to be the hardest aspect of a conference to predict.  Sure, you know the speaker and the topic, but will the speaker stay on topic?  Will he or she masterfully peel away the layers of your ignorance like so much dried onion-skin, or will it be the same stuff you’ve already seen in eight dozen blog posts and a whole pile of how-to-write books?  Will there be time for questions?  Will there be time for your question?

That’s where the educational rubber meets the financial road, at least for me personally.  When a speaker has figured out what his audience is expecting and delivers it with a charismatic bang, that’s great.

When he also offers an opportunity for the audience to ask questions and actively participate in the class, that’s even better.

And on that rarest of occasions when he can inspect a sample of each participant’s work and offer personalized critique and instruction, that’s the best of all.  That’s what I can’t get from books and blog posts.  That’s what makes my heart sing and my credit card smoke.  And if the stars align and the attendees agree, that’s what we want to have more of at DFWcon 2014.

What about you guys, though?  In your experience (or expectation), what distinguishes a truly terrific class from a just-okay one?   Please, give me something to ponder while I sweat through my everything.

Tex Thompson is locally notorious as a ‘rural fantasy’ writer and comma placement specialist.  She is represented by Jennie Goloboy of Red Sofa Literary, tolerated by the DFW Writers Workshop, and authorized to act as editor-at-large for the DFW Writers’ Conference.   Her fictional exploits and LOLcat grammar lessons appear regularly at TheTexFiles.com.



Categories: Conference tips

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1 reply

  1. My favorite conferences have been SCBWI Nashville and all the many 3 day intensives I’ve attended in Arkansas and Springfield, MO. I’m a Texas gal living in Fayetteville AR. Go where you like, sit close to the front, and take notes. Workshops are worth the extra fees and panel discussions are often disappointing, even if one or two of the speakers drop some gems. Usually there’s too many speakers for a panel. First pages, face to face crits, opening lines, query letters check-overs; these are golden treasure moments. Now the hardest part…..be sure to meet everyone and take notes, take ID cards to trade, and write down the names of people you really hope to meet again. In teen lit, I am on first name basis with the most talented writers in Missouri and Tennessee….and I’m not even published. But they believe in me and that makes the journey so much easier. I love conferences!

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