what I learned from the TWUC conference

I recently attended the annual conference of The Writers’ Union of Canada (informally known as “TWUC” by the writing and publishing community) in Vancouver. TWUC is comprised of roughly 2,000 writers whose books have been “professionally published.”


TWUC members from Manitoba and Saskatchewan enjoy a drink with Regional Director, Anita Daher, whose face is appropriately lit as she is our guiding light.

When “The Union” (as it’s fondly referred to by longtime members) was established in 1973, professionally published meant published via a traditional publisher. In today’s world, that is changing, and The Union is looking at ways to develop criteria to admit self-published writers into its ranks.  In fact, much of the professional development day at the conference was devoted to the subject of self-publishing and e-books, so there is no doubt that The Writers’ Union of Canada will be changing, and with it, its membership criteria.

Although I’ve been a professional writer for 19 years, I only recently joined TWUC as I’m looking to every possible information source for guidance to help me make the right decision when it comes to publishing Chocolatour: Your Passport to Passion, my upcoming book about the world of artisanal chocolate. I learned much from the well-executed professional development sessions, but I also learned a few other things I’d like to share about the psychology of being a writer in today’s changing marketplace.

1) Above all else, I learned (and already knew) that I am fuelled by writers’ conferences. I love hanging out with other writers: learning from them and sharing my own thoughts on situations that may be relevant to their own careers and paths.

2) I learned that although writers share a desire to express our creativity through our work, the motivations driving us to express that creativity can be dramatically different. I’ve always written to make a living, and although I love what I do, earning a sustainable living from my words has been my prime motivator. That doesn’t make it any more or less valuable or relevant than a poet who writes strictly from passion, with little expectation to earn enough to live on from their words. We may therefore have different needs and expectations from the writers’ association(s) to which we pay our dues.

3) I learned that writers tend to function within our own areas of interest and may be completely unaware of affiliate organizations and associations that may be of benefit or interest to them. Having been a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) for 15 years, I was quite surprised at how many TWUC members had never heard of PWAC or had no idea that we changed our name from the Periodical Writers Assn of Canada about eight years ago. I can see we’ve got some work to do!

4) I learned that there is a groundswell for writers to become the authors of our own fate. Self-publishing gives writers the opportunity to retain full creative control over how our work is produced, showcased and marketed. How exciting! (You may be interested in the popular post we devoted to self-publishing on this blog.)

5) I learned that it’s never too late to clear up a misunderstanding. It took 15 years for a fellow writer to open up to me and disclose that she’d had a misconception about something that had prohibited our alliance from turning into a friendship. We are both relieved that the misunderstanding has been cleared away.

6) I learned that being billeted by a writer I did not know (personally or professionally) is a great way to make a new friend, learn about her craft as a poet, and discover her neighbourhood of Vancouver (an area which I’d never previously explored.)


Sandy Shreve is the lovely writer who graciously hosted me at her beautiful home in East Vancouver. Pictured behind Sandy is Trout Lake, just a short walk from her home.

How about you? Are writers’ conferences important to you? Have you experienced some exciting revelations at them you may otherwise have missed?

Next week, I’m off to attend the PWAC national conference at MagNet in Toronto. PWAC has long been my tribe. TWUC is my new extended family. I’m happy to be a part of both and appreciate them for their differences – and similarities.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

31 Responses

  1. Doreen,
    I’m most impressed that you make an actual living as a writer. I’ve never made more than about 50% of my income from writing — usually even less than that. I’m watching you carefully to see how you do it! Do you ever have trouble getting assignments that pay well? I sure do!

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Hi Gillian: Thanks for joining the blog.

      Yes, it’s now 19 years that I’ve been freelancing. During that time, I’ve done all sorts of freelance projects, including mag and newspaper writing, writing for a number of websites, co-authoring and authoring a few books, doing a few projects for corporate and business clients, as well as speaking engagements on my books. I’ve actually found the speaking engagements to be the most lucrative on an hourly basis.

      Is there anything you are an “expert” on, that you could give talks/workshops to various groups?

      I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog, as this is the place to be to advance your freelance writing career.

  2. icyhighs says:

    Was just telling my friend we need something like this here in India. Happy for you.. #5 in particular made me smile.

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for dropping into the blog.

      Yes, conferences are great! I’m presently at #Magnet12 in #Toronto and ready for another great #writers conference.

  3. Doreen, terrific synopsis and excellent insights to share. I am still processing. SO much learned, so many wonderful people and new friends. I honestly don’t think I would be up to a second or third full-on conference like this one every year. I like the idea of PD on a one-day or workshop basis, so I am looking forward to attending the Book Summit 2012 in Toronto in June. I am sure there will be something significant for me to take away as a micro-publisher, but wearing my author’s or self-publisher’s hat, I think the people I will meet, share connections with and learn from could lead to some exciting career developments.

    I WISH I was as good as you are Doreen on turning things around so quickly, i.e. reporting on what you’ve learned. My mental digestive process is a very slow-moving machine and I’ve barely begun taking all the new learning on board.

    @Sandy Shreve – LOVE LOVE LOVE your book *In Fine Form*! Our meeting was meant to be. Thanks and will be in touch (as soon as I get my feet on the ground).

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for your comments, Christine. It was lovely finally meeting you after communicating online for several months.

      If you had an active blog, you’d realize that information must be current and relevant. I haven’t even finished unpacking from my time in BC and will soon have to pack for TO. But when it’s time to post an update to my blog, I have to keep to my schedule. My readers have come to expect it, and it’s the only way I can ensure I will post as promised.

      Will be posting an update on the chocolate travel blog by Monday (which you can find at https://chocolatour.net.)

      Then, when I return from TO, it will be time to once again post to the writer’s blog. I hope you’ll subscribe in order to keep on top of the discussions and we hope you’ll contribute to the conversation on a regular basis.

      Cheers & Ciao for now!

  4. I like conferences to some degree but haven’t been to one in years. And the writing, I can understand both sides of loving to write for earnings and loving to write for sheer excitement of it. Your writing has put the next speakers conference (I’m more of a professional speaker than writer) on my radar screen to get reacquainted with people I haven’t seen in years, and forge new connections. Thanks Doreen!

    Patricia from LinkedIn BHB
    Patricia Weber recently posted…Get Guests Talking at Corporate Events by Guest Blogger Kevin RossMy Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for your comment, Patricia.

      Yes, conferences are great for igniting past connections. Often, time goes by and we lose contact with people. But seeing them at conferences helps remind us why we made those connections in the first place. Enjoy!

  5. I attended my first ever TWUC conference and loved it. Attended a couple of the workshops which were great, but the absolute best part for me was meeting a couple of other local writers at the newbie reception. We ended up hitting the bar instead of the speaker, but I learned so much from two writers in particular, both in completely different genres, that it was worth the price of admission alone. I also met a couple of writers that I much admire – Katherine Gordon and Susan Musgrave – so sorry if I scared you both in my excitement at meeting you….

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Hi Eve, and thanks for sharing your impressions of the TWUC conference.

      Isn’t it amazing how we just click onto certain people at a conference and end up spending most of our time with them? That happened with me as well, and I am so pleased with the bonds I have forged. We are so fortunate to have such a caring/sharing nature in the writing profession. Without that, we would likely all be floundering in isolation.

  6. Dianne says:

    Hi Doreen. Yes I love going to Conferences – you come away so motivated and energized. You have an opportunity to network with friends as well as make new friends. It is great to get away from your “normal” life and be a different environment. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for dropping into the blog, Dianne. I appreciate your input as I know you’ve been to many conferences of various groups. And we’ve sure enjoyed our time as roommates during the Toastmasters conferences, haven’t we? Sorry I’ve missed the last couple. But as this post attests, I’ve had so many other conferences and meetings happening, I’ve had to trim down my involvement and attendance a bit. Hope to see you soon!

  7. I enjoyed getting to know you, Doreen. Great summary of the agm.

    I rarely get the chance to go to conferences like this but when I do – like you – I learn much and enjoy the buzz and company of other writers; it always inspires me. Because conferences are a small part of my world, where I look for, and get, the most sustenance from other writers is through local groups I belong to, and going to readings and related literary/artistic events.

    Just one note about the money thing – while poets might not expect to earn a living from their creative work (reality is hard to miss on that score!), that does not by any stretch mean we wouldn’t like to be fairly compensated/paid for our work. A short poem may look like a wee thing on the page, but it can take many many hours over weeks and months – sometimes even years! – to finish one… $20 for publication is a long long way from a true reflection of the work that goes into such a piece. I’d say our objectives on the money front aren’t necessarily so different from those of prose writers… we’re just way farther behind the starting line than you…?


    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks so much for joining the conversation, Sandy!

      Yes, I now understand the process that goes into creating poetry, and as you had explained it to me, how very often poems get quoted or copied without any compensation going to the author.

      As a writer of non-fiction who sits down and writes something that is usually already readily available in my mind or in my notes, it is clearly a very different process from the poet who searches very carefully for every word to ensure the rhythm, rhyme, or reason are precise.

      I am grateful that we are educating one another (and I’m speaking in a global sense to all writers) about how we hone our specific crafts. We all play with words, but in a rather different way.

  8. Dora Dueck says:

    Hi Doreen, Interesting to read some of your learnings, reflections, on the conference. I picked up on one bit of it too at my author blog, and may reflect further at my other. — I’m one of those not very aware of PWAC, I’m afraid, and when I heard you talking about it, I couldn’t help wondering, as does Christine above, whether the aims of the two national groups wouldn’t be similar enough to create one large organization to work even more effectively on issues of copyright, new publishing trends, and so on. With membership in both, you’ll have a better sense of that and I’d be interested in your response. — Have a great day!

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Hi, Dora, and thanks so much for joining the conversation!

      Yes, I actually joined TWUC for 2 very specific reasons:
      1) to advance my career as a book author;
      2) to investigate from the inside, the possibility of merging TWUC and PWAC.

      As I’ve said in my replies to Christine and to Tracey, I don’t think that tine has yet come, but it is certainly something that will stay on my mind as the two associations work together on an increasing number of initiatives.

      I definitely see things that TWUC does better than PWAC, and conversely, I see the strong points of PWAC that have created such a dynamic and resourceful sub-culture among its members. It will be a very interesting future as we move forward.

  9. Hi Doreen,
    What fun it was to read the lessons you learned visiting Vancouver for the TWUC conference.

    I was particularly struck by your words about the excitement about the possibilities of self-publishing and digital publishing for writers in the coming years. Your message about the different creativity drivers for each of us also struck a chord.

    @Christine, I thought your point about the need for a single umbrella writers’ group is very pertinent. The UK functions in a way that is similar and I’ve noticed many benefits of the linkages that this kind of structure can create. On the negative side though, I don’t see any writers’ group with the vibrant grass roots and regional awareness that PWAC has traditionally enjoyed, although perhaps an umbrella group would create more space for that diversity to thrive.

    Doreen and @Suzanne, both of you make me sorry to be missing all the camaraderie to be had at the PWAC conference at MagNet. Thanks for letting me live vicariously through your experiences. I can’t wait to read your stories about those too!

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Tracey. How we will miss you in TO next week!

      I do support the idea of an umbrella writers’ assn for Canadian writers and had secretly hoped I might be the last president for PWAC, thinking that perhaps we would be merged sooner than later. But being realistic, I see the amazing strengths of PWAC, and small as we are, I don’t think the time has yet come to give that away. Instead, I am hoping as co-chair of the IRC, to further pursue collaborations and joint initiatives with our sister orgs and perhaps that closer collaboration will increase awareness of our similarities and reduce our differences. Always the optimist. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Gail Jansen says:

    Some of the most important information I’ve learned as a writer was learned at Magnet 3 years ago. It made me realize how important it is for me to connect with others interested field.

    The downside of this is how much I miss it when I am unable to attend. Have a wonderful time at Magnet this year. As a Saskatchewanian I am all too familiar with the term “Next year,”…so, see you next year!

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Hi, Gail, and thanks for joining the conversation.

      Yes, I remember having some great chats with you at MagNet a few years ago. Will miss seeing you next month, but do look forward to the PWAC-SK event in Saskatoon in Sept. Hope to see you then!

  11. Going to conferences with like-minded people is definitely stimulating. I find any type of learning session creates food for thought. For example, I teach writing and have attended PD sessions on innovative ways to teach and taken courses on the subject. I come home excited to implement these new tools in my courses.

    On another note, I am glad that TWUC is seeing the importance of allowing self-published authors into its ranks. There are many talented writers who have self published some amazing books. Yours will soon be among them. See you at the PWAC/MAGNET conference!

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Right on, Suzanne! Thanks for joining the conversation and sharing your thoughts.

      We do all learn from one another, and as you and Christine have said … often learn more from other attendees informally than we do during a formal PD session. I love the way we writers share with one another. Thankfully, being unsharing (selfish?) is definitely not the norm in our profession.

  12. Living away from a major urban centre where there are PWAC chapters, I do most of my connecting with writers online so I really enjoy the opportunity to get together in person whenever possible. I find the networking that happens before and after the Professional Development sessions to be as valuable–sometimes more valuable–than the PD.
    It’s unfortunate, but not surprising that there can’t be just ONE large umbrella for writers to be under, and then there could be smaller groups. No matter what kind of writing you do, you can always learn from another writer–and there can be wonderful support, commiseration, and camaraderie that can develop. The various associations have a lot to learn from each other too.

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Right on, Christine!

      As co-chair of PWAC’s Industry Relations Committee, it is certainly my mandate to focus on finding commonalities between sister orgs and capitalizing on those. It truly is my dream that one day soon we can all be part of the same family, and work cooperatively on an increasing number of initiatives. We have more shared interests than differences.

      See you soon!

  13. Tammy says:

    I love love love attending conferences! I’m off to the EAC (Editors’ Association of Canada) conference in Ottawa this weekend, then PWAC/MagNet in Toronto next week, then TBEX (Travel Bloggers’ Exchange) in Colorado in a few weeks. It can definitely get expensive attending all these events, especially when they’re out of town, but I find them to be worth every penny — not just for the PD opportunities, but for the social opportunities. It’s an energizing experience to join like-minded professionals in a forum like that. It’s like you feed off one another’s energy and creativity.

    And I actually prefer when they are out of town, rather than in my hometown of Toronto, simply because there’s an extra layer of excitement and commitment when you have to travel to attend. At least, I find it to be that way. (Plus it’s fun to hang out in one another’s hotel rooms, drinking wine and eating chocolate, after the PD sessions!)

    • WizardOfWords says:

      You got that right, Tammy! We’ll definitely have wine and chocolate in our room at MagNet! Make sure you drop by! Looking forward to seeing you again and to sharing travel stories!

      I’ll be interested in hearing your impressions of the TBEX conference. I’ve thought of attending one of their events, but as you say … it’s all about the choices we have to make. See you soon!

      • Tammy says:

        I will be sure to let you know how TBEX goes. This is my first time attending, so I’m pretty excited. Curious to see what it’s like.

  14. I always gain from what ever you have to share. I am late to the party when it comes to writing. I have become a sponge with all the new information that now surrounds me. In regard to writing and writing conferences; I and still finding my voice. I would at some point like to say that I actually make a living writing, but I’m certainly not there yet. For me you are a great example in my journey, where ever that may take me. 🙂

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks so much, Susan!

      I am happy to be your writing inspiration, as you certainly are my inspiration to creativity! I am inspired by the amazing illustrations you create and the warmth and whimsy they portray. I’m sure that is a reflection of your own personality, as I feel the warmth reaching out to me across cyberspace. So happy we have connected!

  15. Hi Doreen, I just attended a conference for bloggers, and I too love the energy they give me. I am energized by the creative thought, experiences and opinions that are shared and the ideas that I always end up coming away with. One of the things that I’ve learned, or rather, observed, by attending conferences is that you get so much more by attending live sessions by the authors. You hear their voices, see the expression on their faces–this, all mixed in with the energy of the atmosphere of the conference all blends together to almost bring more depth and meaning to what they are saying. It’s like, you believe it more–if that makes sense. 🙂

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for your comment, Bethany.

      Yes, no matter how good we are at social media, and how much we enjoy it and use it to our benefit, NOTHING replaces human contact and interaction.

      What I really enjoy about conferences is meeting people that I’ve already formed an online relationship with. It’s a wonderful way to solidify an already positive relationship.

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