Both conferences and retreats tend to be expensive. They are an investment, and your goals as a writer should dictate whether attending one will be worthwhile.
True writing conferences are intended for writers to network with other writers and publishing industry professions (literary agents, publishing house representatives, editors, etc.) while also having the opportunity to attend lectures and workshops. There will be very little time to do any writing while attending a conference as the two or three days of that conference will probably be fully scheduled with various events from sun-up to sun-down. Some conferences will include time for writers to meet with fans.
If the conference is hosted by an educational organization, you might be able to get some kind of scholarship or grant to cover the costs. If the conference is hosted by a professional association, you might be able to write off the costs of the conference as business expenditures.
I encourage you to look up writer’s conferences in your local area, and then to look at national conferences if you want to broaden your exposure. Research merit scholarships or grants that can help cover your attendance fees, too. You may also want to consider going in a group with other writers from your area to help make travel and hotel charges more manageable.
Writing retreats can last anywhere from a few days to several months. They are intended to help writers detach from normal life and focus solely on the craft and process of writing. Most of the retreat is spent in seclusion, though there critique groups or other classes and workshops might be available sporadically. Retreats are ideal for writers struggling to find time for their craft in-between typical daily commitments such as work, school, and family. Keep in mind that retreats are not viewed as a necessity–they are considered a sort of vacation or holiday–and they cannot always be written off as a business expense.
I discourage most writers from paying for something they could organize on their own for much cheaper. Take some time off work, if you can (time off is a luxury for many, I know), and dedicate that time off to writing. A so-called staycation might work well for this. Block social media access during your writing time. Put your phone away or turn it off. Ask local writer friends to hold you accountable. Do what suits your needs and budget. Check in with online writing forums and groups in order to keep yourself accountable and get feedback if needed.
There are several thousand writers’ conferences and retreats that happen around the globe. Most of these events are genre-specific, whether they are for fiction authors or nonfiction writers. Because of how many conferences and retreats there are and the difficulty in vetting each one personally, I cannot compile a list of ones you “should” attend. However, I have put links with information about some conferences recommended by others below.
WRITERS’ CONFERENCES & RELATED INFORMATION
Poets & Writers’ List of Conferences & Residencies
List of writers’ conferences from around the world on Wikipedia
General information about attending writers’ conferences on Writer’s Digest
Writers conferences, workshops, and other learning places
Writers Conferences and Checklist
Literary Agents Explain Why They Attend Conferences (and It’s Not What You Think)
Writers’ Conferences for Authors, Bloggers and Freelancers
(If any of the links above have expired, try running the URLs through the Wayback Machine.)