The Writing Life: A Conference Junkie Discovers Another Option in ASJA By Donna Talarico

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Anyone who knows me, knows I love learning. Outside of earning other degrees, taking non-credit courses, or attending writing workshops, one of the best methods of professional development is attending industry conferences. From 2010 to 2015, while I worked in higher education, I attended more than 20 conferences – and had a speaking role at 18 of them. Prior to that, in my career in the eCommerce field, I also attended and presented at my company’s eCommerce Boot Camp and several other community events.

I love to attend, and I love to share when I can. And that’s the one of the reasons I developed HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers, an event I hope will offer creative writers a fresh, new way to experience professional development.

As I make the shift from marketing and communications career into the full-time writing life, I’ve been exploring more and different professional development opportunities for me in the writing field – both on the creative writing side and in the journalism and professional writing realm.

asja dc event logoA friend of mine, Nikki Mascali who now edits The Blot, spoke on a social media panel at ASJA’s annual conference in New York. That’s how I randomly happened upon the conference hashtag; then I followed the action at the conference and wished I’d heard about it sooner. (Twitter is my constant companion in professional development, by the way.) The mission of ASJA—The American Society of Journalists and Authors—appealed to me, and I wanted to learn more.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to ASJA’s executive director, Alexandra Owens, about this membership organization and its upcoming regional event, which happens in Washington, D.C., August 28, 2015.

Owens is proud of her organization and touts it as “the single best resource for independent writers.” From a host of online resources and an email newsletter to planning regional and large-scale national events, ASJA does appear to be a force to be reckoned with.

The regional events, a newer offering from ASJA to supplement its annual conference, travel to different locations each time, and Owens says the topics usually revolve around the vibe of the host city. So in San Francisco, for example, it was tech. In Washington, D.C, the program—A Capital Event—was built around the resources our nation’s capital offers—it features writers and editors involved in government organizations and leaders of many national associations—all of which hire writers.

“I’m a political nerd myself,” Owens said, adding that she’ll enjoy hearing these niche writers talk about “who met who, and what did they tell you…I get a kick out of stuff like that.”

ASJA’s A Capital Event features two tracks and several all-conference sessions, including a keynote from COO of The Newseum, Gene Policinski. Other organizations represented include Mother Jones, The Washington Post, AARP, Politico, Washingtonian, Amtrak’s Arrive, HR Magazine, and a slew of successful full-time freelancers with impressive publishing credits. (View the full schedule here.)

Owens anticipates that the conversations in D.C. will be lively, and she’s looking forward to attendees hearing tips and tricks, learning new things and making new contacts. For instance, she adds that a discussion in D.C. might include networking like this: “Who do you know at the National Archives…?”

While ASJA membership is selective—there’s an application review process and professional criteria to meet—the conferences are open to anyone.

“We’re making a conscious effort to present information that can be used at any career level,” she said, adding that some conference attendees have no interest in joining the organization, while others may attend to learn more about ASJA before applying.

Owens has been with ASJA since 1985, and she has seen many things change in the freelance profession and in the media in general. She recalls that the first technology shift had writers wondering, “Do I buy a word processor?” Then, she says, there was “an enormous tectonic shift in tools”—first email and message boards, and then, the Internet. Now, the next shift, she explained, is “the connectivity, the speed at which things are produced and developed.”

But some things don’t change.

“It’s in ASJA’s DNA to share,” Owens said. “Through it all, the truth has remained that independent writers are made stronger by sharing with others.”

I love her mantra. And I’m only a few hours from D.C. You just might find me at A Capital Event.

Event Details:

  • ASJA presents A Capital Event
  • Aug. 28, 2015
  • A full day of programming beginning 9 a.m. and ending with a cocktail reception that begins at 5 p.m.
  • National Press Club, Washington, D.C.
  • $195 for non-members
  • Get more details here.

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