Conferences and the Writing Process

Recently, I finally pushed past my fear of making purchases greater than a month’s rent and registered for this year’s Association of American Geographers (AAG) conference in New York. As a broke student, it’s often hard to justify expenses that rival my quarterly tuition bill, so I sought out the advice of my peers in the Writing Center to help me decide whether or not to go to NYC for AAG. At first, I expected my fellow students to encourage me to play it safe: Why spend so much money on a trip that will cost you a week’s pay and yield no more than a canvas tote bag and a pen? It’s simply not economic. However, to my surprise and ultimate delight, the encouragement of my peers forced me to reflect on my previous conference experiences and I eventually came to terms with the fantastic reality: conferences are where it’s at!

Looking back on my earliest conference experiences, I remember presenting among my UCWbL peers as a conclusion to our Peer Writing Tutor training course. Despite the small attendance, the conference set-up created an environment where I was pushed to fully consider my Writing Center-related topic (on Generation 1.5 writers, in  my case) from every angle. The result was phenomenal: although I had been struggling to finish my final paper for the course, the creation of a conference presentation provided me with a complete outline and the peer feedback and questioning made it possible for me to create a well-rounded draft article I could be proud of. It was then that I first realized how crucial presentation and discussion was to my Writing-process, though I would later discover how key it would be in every stage of writing.

A year later, I presented at the AAG West Lakes conference on what I originally felt was a complete paper on food access in some local Chicago neighborhoods. Upon presenting alongside my fellow geographers (including a scholar I had cited in my very own paper), I was struck with a new reality: there was more to be said! I found myself in my presentation and Q&A emphasizing and exploring ideas that had not had a presence in the paper that sat on the podium. As the conference pressed on and I continued to interact with my peers in the field, I found my “completed” paper covered in graphite, awaiting new revisions and additions.

Oddly enough, most of these marginal notes sprouted from informal conversations with my fellow geographers outside of the presentation room, at lunch, on the street, in a local pub. Indeed, when I attended the UCWbL’s 2011  Tutor & Mentor Summit at DePaul as a spectator only, I found myself absorbed in new conversations with my Peer Writing Centers for weeks after, continuing to mull over the topics presented well after the voice of the speakers had faded. This reality speaks to the ultimate element that makes conferences so rewarding: conferences bring together scholars with related (though diverse) interests and provide the site for discussion, resource-sharing, and knowledge-seeking.

With the upcoming AAG conference in New York and the Chicagoland Writing Centers Association’s Winter Gathering on the horizon, I would like you to get me even more psyched about these events by sharing your conference experience. What do you find most meaningful about conferences? Where does conference-going factor into your writing process?