Attending a writers’ conference is a heady experience. My first conference was especially exciting as I learned there that I had sold my first book. It was a modest sale, but it remains the most important one in my career.
Still, conference was a stressful time. Looking back, I wish I had known a few things to help me navigate the experience and come out at the other end feeling confident and happy instead of worn-out.
I came up with the following for anyone contemplating attending a conference:
Accept where you are in your writing career. Are you a brand new writer? Rejoice in that and take workshops to help you develop the craft of writing. Is a writer you admire presenting a workshop? Take her class. Afterward, tell her how much you like her books. No writer tires of hearing that someone loves her books. Are you on the verge of being published? Rejoice in that as well. Take some classes on polishing your manuscript and how to submit to different publishing houses. Are you published? Once again, rejoice. Perhaps it’s time you concentrated on classes about social media, networking, and marketing. Don’t let yourself become complacent, but do know that writing is a journey, not a destination.
Leave the comparisons at home. Do not compare yourself to other writers. Their journey is theirs. Your journey to publication is yours alone. Comparisons are dangerous. If your career isn’t as advanced as that of a friend, you may feel that you lack the talent and drive to succeed. If your career is more advanced than that of others, you may feel smug or you may feel that they are resentful of your success. Neither is a good place to be. This goes back to the first tip of accepting yourself.
Believe the best about your fellow attendees. Don’t assume the woman who cut in front of you in the line to meet a best-selling author did so on purpose. Chances are she didn’t realize she what she was doing. Expect others to treat you in a respectful way and do the same for them.
Be helpful. If you see someone who looks lost, take time to help him find the workshop he’s looking for. I’ve never regretted taking time from my schedule to help someone else. Is there a woman sitting by herself who looks lonely? Ask her to join you or your group. Invite her to sit with you at the luncheon. Be willing to help a harassed hostess find the lost forms she was to hand out.
Spend more time listening than talking. After all, you’re there to learn. Listen to the workshop presenters. Listen to the keynote speaker. Listen to other writers who are talking about their works-in-progress. Tuck away any gems of knowledge you glean and resolve to take them home and use them in your writing. People will notice your respectful manner. (They will also notice the attention hog who talks non-stop about herself and her writing but in a far different way.) They may even decide that you are a great conversationalist!
Have a schedule of workshops to attend but be flexible. It’s great to identify the workshops you feel might best benefit you and your career, but if you stumble upon something that looks promising, don’t pass it by because it wasn’t in your schedule. Part of the fun of conference is the serendipity of learning new things, making new friends, going to a class you hadn’t planned on. Take time out of the day to meet with friends from your writers’ chapter.
Finally, relax. Conference represents a significant commitment in money, time, and energy. But don’t let it make you crazy. Find your niche in the scheme of things. Make some new friends. Understand that you are there to learn and to give of yourself when you can.
Conferences can be overwhelming. Make your experience a memorable one by finding where you’re comfortable, then stretching yourself a bit. Don’t try to do everything. Expect to learn. Then have fun!