October 12, 2014

Identifying The Two Camps by Dayna E. Mazzuca

Identifying the Two Camps:
What conference planners and attendees need to know

As a writer, I attend as many conferences, retreats, readings and writers’ groups’ meetings as I can. I love being around other writers, and people struggling to call themselves writers, and writers who want to be paid more for being a writer. I like them all, but it’s as if there’s this self-generated gamut writers love to run. Personally, I think it’s helpful to clearly identify the dividing point of this long line of ability, talent, confidence and desire. The half-way point. The distinction that defines us, as writers, into two camps, each with its own needs.

On the one side, there is the writer looking for encouragement, affirmation and know-how. On the other side, there is the writer looking for business cards, goal setting and a bigger pay cheque. It’s the difference between the writer who writes to tell a story (their own or someone elses), and the writer who wants to have their work appear in a venue that monetarily values the craft, as a professional who feels called to write.

This distinction, between writers looking to connect with other writers, and writers looking to develop their network of editors and publishers, is important. It’s important as a writer, so you can wisely choose what events to hit (and miss). And it’s important if you’re the person planning the writing event.

I’ve been part of writer’s organizations long enough to know how the conversation goes: What workshops should we offer? How much should we charge? Who can we get to come and speak who will draw a crowd and bless our membership? Good questions, but a better one might be: “Since we have two camps of writers, which one are we going to serve, or how are we going to serve the needs of both?”

This is a good starting point, because the two camps have (very) different needs. The “encourage me” camp needs some practical “how-to” sessions; a chance to read their own work; a social hour or two to connect over coffee and goodies; and an inspiring speaker. They like hand-outs and lists of writers’ resources and freebie samples of markets.

By comparison, the “prosper me” camp needs an editors’ panel with a stack of business cards on each table; a session geared towards the business side of publishing; and a chance to take their writing to the next level. They like fill-in-the-blank worksheets they can apply to their own area of expertise; cross-cultivating between editors, agents and booksellers; and a chance to promote their own work.

These are called “take-aways” and they are the litmus test of whether or not a writing event (of any size or scope) has real value for its participants.

When an organizer is aware there are two distinct camps of writers, they plan that much better. They don’t schedule all the workshops geared towards new writers at the same time and don’t let the professional development sessions pile up either. Ideally, these two streams are formally identified in the marketing of the event, to help writers know which camp they belong to, and better reach their own goals (even the ones they haven’t articulated, yet).

For me, as a writer who can only belong to one stream at a time, I find this distinction most helpful. As a former organizer, I know the value of such a clear-cut approach. As a future participant, knowing which camp I’m currently in helps me choose which events meet my needs.

I enjoy writers of all stripes, but I don’t think we have anything to gain in moving as an indistinct herd aimlessly towards ill-defined goals. I love to see writers of all kinds reach their destination. Whether it’s to tell a story well, or sell a story for a good price, it’s worth celebrating — and working towards. In the end, the good news is our camps do not compete, because they are not working against each other, but alongside. So, here’s to getting ourselves sorted out, and moving forward towards our rather different destinations!

This post was 'lost' in the unpublished drafts. It fits well here after the recent ICWF fall conference. 


  1. It is good to examine one's own motivation. Both are valid.

  2. Love this, Dayna. You have aptly described what I've been trying to define in my own life for the past few months. With prayer I have come to the realization that I am in, and want to remain in Camp One. I have no ambition to hike to Camp Two and climb that mountain (although I do like to know what they're up to!). Coming to terms with this has freed me up to focus where I am, and not where I thought I should be.

    Your Conference Streams comments are right on, as well. The exec has been looking at this, figuring out how to offer the most we can to each member, where they're at in their writing journey, and writing needs - a daunting task, but one we know is critical. Your excellent breakdown will be helpful for us. I'm glad your clear analysis was found and posted. Thank you!

  3. Very true, Dayna. I have been to conferences that catered to both and have benefited from both. I don't think one is better than the other, just different and probably of benefit at different times in our careers. After attending Write Canada for several years I switched and went to Glen Eyrie one year, which is more of a mentoring workshop than a conference. I loved it and would like to go again but since I also want my words to be read it's of benefit to attend the other kind as well.

  4. Very true. Having being part of planning writing conferences, I know how hard this is to achieve. There is another layer here as well--genres. It's impossible to have a conference serve everyone's needs across the board.
    Having been a workshop presenter at a conference, it's not always easy from that prospective as well. Even when you do your best to describe a session in the brochure, you get attendees looking for something other than what you're presenting.
    It's a tough job andn I'm thankful for all the work and effort put into the events I attend and have been a part of.

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  6. I found this post to be very informative, Dayna. Good definition of the two camps and good thoughts on the purposes of conferences. Thanks.

  7. Your intriguing title called me back to read your blog, Dayna. Although I agree with your camps in principle, I happen to be a straddler on this one. I still enjoy a how-to session in a genre I'd like to try more seriously or in a different way. Sometimes I'd like to see how a certain writer tackles one aspect of writing.

    At the same time, I'd like to find more regular and lucrative markets for my writing, so I would like to meet with editors, agents and publishers too. I'd like to have more samples from various markets available.

    I was, however, impressed with the scope available to us at the relatively small InScribe Fall Conference. (There are far bigger conferences out there.) I am also encouraged by what our planners are looking into for the future, but I wouldn't want it to be a conference for just one camp.


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