How do you get the most out of a writer’s conference? What do you bring, and what do you leave behind? Think about the following the next time you head out to spend a day, or days, with your colleagues.
BRING: Confidence! Writers from the full spectrum—published to novice—attend conferences but everyone is there to share and learn. So share! Raise your hand and ask that question. Participate in that activity. Be the brave soul who breaks the ice and the workshop leader will remember you, with gratitude.
LEAVE BEHIND: Shyness. Look around at the folks gathered in the room or auditorium. You all share a bond: A love of reading and the desire to write. What better starting point to find friends and colleagues? These are your people. Smile. Introduce yourself. Interact with your colleagues. No matter what your experience, you belong. Act like it!
BRING: An open mind. Every workshop leader has an individual style. Maybe you don’t normally do character activities or read aloud what you wrote on the spot, but programs are designed to help in a particular way. Participate fully. You may learn something if you try–but you won’t if you don’t.
LEAVE BEHIND: That Guy. Or Gal. You know the One. The One who is obstinate and defensive—and maybe angry—who complains that editors, agents, instructors—all of them, all the time—just “don’t get” their work. The One who takes up an unfair amount of workshop time ranting about the unfairness of it all. It’s a conference, not a therapy session.
BRING: A give-and-take networking plan. Conferences are great places to meet and greet peers, to hear about local or regional events, to search for potential critique groups and to get yourself out there in the literary world.
LEAVE BEHIND: Blatant BSP. If there’s a table or area to set out your promotional materials, great! Take advantage of that. But the folks who hand out their own bookmark or PR materials, unsolicited, to everyone in a workshop? Not cool. The workshop is the leader’s gig. Mind your manners.
BRING: Business cards, postcards, flyers, materials that you can share about yourself and your work. Put them out in the public areas or share them, privately, with the instant pals you make at lunch or between sessions.
LEAVE BEHIND: Your full manuscript, which you plan to press on an editor/agent/teacher who can’t say no because you put them on the spot. Don’t do that. Nobody wants you to do that.
BRING: Fairness. If you enjoyed a session, follow up with a note to the leader. If a workshop didn’t meet your expectations, note that on the comment sheet. If you can articulate exactly why it let you down, in a fair and helpful manner, all the better. Not all workshops are a rousing success. Leaders have off days. It’s okay to express your disappointment. Just try to be constructive about it.
LEAVE BEHIND: Pettiness. If the workshops were boring because you already know it all, and nobody approached you first to talk to you, and everyone left behind your PR materials on the tables of somebody else’s workshop…take a hint. Your conference-going plan needs some work.
Are you attending a conference sometime soon? Been to a great one you wouldn’t miss for the world? Made a friend, learned a lesson? Tell me about it!