Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Joys of Conferences

The Joys of Conferences

I’m at Cape Cod Writers Conference this week, in Hyannis.  It’s one of my favorites -- detailed workshops with professionals, delightful keynote speakers, and plenty of time to network.  People are friendly and accessible.  There’s a sense that we’re all in this together, which we are.

A Conference is a great way to get excited about the possibilities of the business of writing, the creativity of writing, and your own particular place in it.  It’s a place to take creative risks, make new friends, and talk WITH agents and editors about the realities of the business, not just AT them.  They get a sense of you as a person that they can’t get from a piece of paper or an email.

If there’s a conference near you, and it runs for several days but is too expensive or conflicts with work, see if you can go for one day, or for one of the keynote events.  Some conferences have a tiered pricing scale.  See if you can submit your work to get a scholarship or financial aid to help ease your way.  You’ll have to spend some time helping the staff at the registration desk or setting up classrooms, but you’ll get to meet lots of people that way who you might never have met just going to panels or workshops.

Be positive, friendly, and unaggressive.  Be careful about respecting other individual’s spaces, don’t physically grab someone you don’t know as they pass (especially in this day and age, that kind of unexpected contact can be disconcerting), and really LISTEN when someone else speaks.  Don’t just focus on what you want to say next and how you can get a reference to whatever you’re selling/pitching into the conversation.

Be generous with information.  Don’t hoard it, feeling all these people are your competition.  There may be a limited number of publishing slots out there, and they want the best work they can find, but other writers are your peers, your cheerleaders, your support system, AND your readers.  The best writers are voracious readers and support their colleagues.

Bring business cards, promote yourself in a positive and lighthearted way (as opposed to an aggressive and desperate way) and look at it as a wonderful opportunity to grow and to expand your circle of contacts.

When you get home, go through your notes within the first few days.  Write thank-yous where appropriate, send out emails to people you exchanged cards with, go over the class notes.  If you brought work in and received critique, start applying it.  If you were inspired for a new piece, start it.  You want to bring something fresh to the next conference or workshop.  Don’t wait to look over notes or get back to work until “you have time.”  Remember, there’s no such thing as “no time to write.”  Writing is a choice.  Not writing is a choice.  If the “not writing” choice becomes a habit, you need to rethink whether you really want to be a writer.  Books don’t write themselves.  You have to put the work in, and you have to build strong rhythms and good work habits BEFORE you sign a contract.  These don’t magically change just because there’s a signature.

Critiques can be tough, but they’re necessary to make your work the best it can be.  Don’t get defensive.  You don’t have to implement every note.  But listen, be gracious, and think about it for a few days.

Most of all, have fun!  This is a great opportunity to spend time with others who are as passionate about writing as you are.  Want to get inspired?  Cape Cod Writers Center is hosting their First Annual Writers Contest!  Details here.

--Annabel Aidan is a full-time writer publishing under several names in fiction and non-fiction.  Her romantic suspense novel ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT is available from Champagne Books.  Webpage:


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Excellent points about getting to your notes when you first get home. It's easy to forget or dismiss new information if you wait. You could slide into old habits and lose what you gained, and then the conference will have been lost on you.

Pat Marinelli said...

You make me miss conferences. Lots of good thought and practices here.