OWFI Writers Conference 2023

OWFI Writers Conference 2023

The Pen & Keyboard Writers recently participated in OWFI Writers Conference 2023. The theme for this year’s conference was Out of the Box. The president of OWFI said that they were referring to both meanings of this phrase when planning for the conference: technology that works “out of the box” and thinking “out[side] of the box,” and I had fun applying these meanings to the different events within the conference. For instance, Casie Dodd at Belle Point Press gave a presentation, “Small Presses 101.” Dodd would very much like an author’s experience with her press to be “out of the box,” easy on the author while maximizing the success of her press. On the other end, in J Hall’s presentation, “Social Media Marketing (for people who never wanted to be marketers),” Hall encouraged his audience to think “out of the box” with their marketing and be more indirect and genuine instead of sales-y.

I was new to the OWFI Writers Conference this year, so I can’t say how outside the box the conference was, having little experience as to what’s usually in the box. The conference had four rooms of sessions presented simultaneously over the course of two days. The topics ranged from inspirational (“Unstuck Yourself”) to educational, and the educational topics covered subjects as varied as “Violence and Martial Arts in Fiction” to a session about dictation. Additionally, the conference included a book room where authors and presses could market their books (our 2022 anthology Celebrating the Seasons was on display) as well as two formal dinners.

My Brain is Stuffed, Let’s Eat

At the first dinner, Grady Hendrix gave the keynote presentation. Hendrix is the bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires amongst others. His speech was both humorous and uplifting. He encouraged us to play a drinking game: every time he made a mistake in his writing career… drink! What goes on at a conference stays at the conference, so I won’t say if anyone was hammered by the end of the speech, but let’s just say Hendrix admitted to a number of mistakes. At the heart of many of his mistakes was “toxic nostalgia,” when he tried to write about the past in a way that was a rose-colored view of that past instead of capturing the challenges of that time. His best successes have come when he could realistically portray a protagonist’s battles (even if he’s doing so humorously). What I loved about Hendrix’s presentation was how honestly he spoke of his difficulties getting his stories published and how he struggled to incorporate the well-intentioned feedback from his spouse, his editor, and his publisher. These were sentiments I’m sure everyone present could relate to.

At the second dinner, we learned the recipients of the OWFI Writing Contest Awards. We celebrated our members winning several awards:

  • Holly Jahangiri
    • Honorable Mention, Essay: “In an AI World, Are Human Writers Already Obsolete”
    • Third Place, Poetry: Unrhymed Short: “Tepid Coffee”
  • Joe Scavetti
    • Third Place, Prose Humor: “Late-Night Conversation”
  • Darlinda Hagens
    • Honorable Mention, Unpublished Romance Book: Fighting for Love and Heaven

Measuring the Conference Success, Personally

My as yet unpublished research book on happiness outlines the importance of meeting six basic needs (autonomy, physiology, safety, growth, social, and esteem) for long-term happiness and meeting expectations for short-term happiness. Writing a book on the subject, I can’t help but evaluate all my experiences against my happiness rubric, so to speak. I’m going to include you, dear reader, on this fun little activity for measuring the success of OWFI Writers Conference 2023.

Long-Term Happiness

We’re playing the long game with need fulfillment. The more we can fill the six needs over the course of our lives, the more satisfied and happy we feel overall. However, it’s great to get a boost meeting any of these needs with a short-term experience like a conference. I primarily look to conferences as a way to meet growth and social needs: the conference sessions should be educational, and everything in between should provide opportunities for networking. This was absolutely the case at this year’s Writers Conference.


The speakers at the conference covered a variety of topics, and, as a newbie to both the conference and to book publishing, almost all of the information being taught was new to me. I learned everything from what to consider for the design of the book cover to how to run promotions through book deals sites. The speakers provided me with a wealth of resources. Should I choose to do so, I can continue my research further post-conference.


Your social needs require that you not only make one-on-one connections but that you feel like you’re part of a community, too. This, honestly, is my favorite part of attending conferences. I love nerding out with people over a shared interest. Simply due to the fact that we’re all at this event because we enjoy writing and have goals to publish means that we’re all instantly friends. I can strike up a conversation with the stranger next to me as if we’ve known each other a lifetime. We’ll laugh together about $3 sodas or toilet leaks or that person who wins all the darn awards (good for her, but, also, share the wealth!).

Having those moments for connections, both casual and deep, are important. The conference organizers clearly understood this and built plenty of opportunities into the schedule. The conference sessions were spaced with 20-minute breaks, and the free time given for lunch and before dinner was ample. They scheduled break-out sessions so that groups could spontaneously gather over a shared topic of interest, and they provided a lobby with plenty of seating for conversations, planned or unplanned.

Remaining Four Needs

The other four needs were also met to a greater or lesser extent. Our autonomy needs demand that we feel some control in any given situation. Conference-goers could choose between four sessions or could choose to not attend and instead nap in their hotel room. The long breaks meant that I had time to fit a workout in, and the dinners had healthy options (physiology needs? Check!). The community is an encouraging one. I asked several dumb questions (because I’m so new to this!) and yet received thoughtful, supportive responses. Thus, my need for a safe environment was met. Finally, when every person seemed thrilled that I was there, my self-esteem received a happy little boost. Check, check, and check!

Short-Term Happiness

While a conference organizer can plan for how to meet their attendees’ varied needs, it’s a little harder to set expectations. Yes, they can publish information about the conference ahead of time, but a person’s expectations can be based on outside factors beyond the organizer’s control. For example, I spoke to one conference attendee who has been attending the OWFI Writers Conference for years. He stated disappointment that there were so many topics on the business side of writing. What he’d been looking for was more conversation about the art of writing. He had seen the schedule of sessions ahead of the conference, but his expectation was formed largely from past experience. I, on the other hand, was new to the conference. My only expectations (that I learn something and that I meet people) were based partly on the published schedule and partly on my own experiences with other types of conferences. Therefore, the meeting of expectations is more of a personal bar, unique to each person.

My expectations were on the low side of the spectrum. The conference easily exceeded them. Not only did I learn much, I was also inspired by some of the speakers to write and read more. On the social side, I met some lovely smart people. The connections were so tantalizing that I have extended several of them beyond the conference.


Based on the standards I use for evaluating the success of an event, the meeting of six needs of long-term happiness and the meeting of expectations, OWFI Writers Conference 2023 was a home run, well worth the time and money spent on it. I’m looking forward to spending the next year reaping the rewards from the conference. I plan to both put to good use the information I learned and savor the friendships gained.

Your author showing her excitement at being at OWFI Writers Conference 2023.

Celebrating the awards

Another of the Pen & Keyboard tables

Formal dinner time!

Dressed up and ready to celebrate the awards!