Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chasing the Wild Writer's Conference

For many writers, after you've been writing for a while it might occur to you it could be worthwhile attending one or more writers’ conferences. Writing can be lonely. Conferences are a place where writers converge – along with agents, publishers and editors. Sharing time with others of your profession and making contacts. What more could you ask? 

So, the question, bluntly put, is, is it worth attending writing conferences? 

The answer, confusingly, is yes and no. 

Okay, before you give up in disgust and don’t bother reading any more of this post, I’m going to clarify, I promise; give you something to consider and hopefully help you see a bit clearer the drawbacks and pluses of attending writers’ conferences.

First remember this is going to be a challenging endeavor. If you're shy, even more so. If you're going to do this you'll need to cultivate a social manner, take along your 'grit teeth' along with some way to conveniently take names and notes and some money (the amount will totally depend on a whole lot of variables, but you better investigate and plan well). 

For starters, plainly, I'm saying it can be a very good idea. Conferences can provide the opportunity for you to rub shoulders with editors, agents and other writers. Frequently it will be one-on-one and those meetings can result in a contact with the right person. An editor who asks to see your work; another, more experienced writer who’s happy to offer advice; an agent who is willing to accept your submission; all these are the right people. 
Many conferences also provide workshops on various topics that can be extremely informative. And many fast friendships have been formed at conferences. All of this is very good.
The down side? 
It’s going to cost you money. Maybe quite a bit of money if you have to travel some distance and stay in a motel plus pay the attendance fees. Then more money will be needed for many of the workshops and classes and of course your travel, room and board as they're frequently not included in the 'general admission'. A 'special' dinner might be quite expensive. Budget in what will do YOU the most good and skip the rest.

If you’re on a tight budget you better research and figure the expenses accurately or you’ll find yourself financially behind the eight ball. A very bad thing in this already stressed economy. You can shave expenses if you’re lucky enough to have one of these ‘dos’ in your city. So investigate that first. It's a good first choice in any case. 
The other down side is not quite so obvious as cash from pocket. If you happen to be very shy, and many writers are, will you really be able to get your dollar's worth out of such a conference? Think about this seriously. You don't want to spend a substantial amount of money for a conference only to stand in a corner somewhere as the 'wall flower'.

When I began writing I was extremely shy. If that’s the case with you, it’s something you need to work on. You might consider starting with local writer’s groups or attending some classes at a college nearby. Talk to strangers on a bus or at the super market. Talk to yourself in a mirror to see how you appear and work on relaxing. Whatever it takes to help you open up a bit. Writers are generally a friendly lot and I've yet to hear of one who bites (at least in public). But jokes aside, shyness is tough to overcome.
But I have to remind you, part of your professional life as a writer is going to be putting yourself out there. You’ll probably end up giving public talks, perhaps attending book signings, maybe giving interviews on the radio or for print publications.

You cannot be a writer these days, hide in a corner and expect your words will be enough. They won’t.
Find ways to shake yourself loose from that shyness. I took myself to dude ranches when I was young, alone, and got to know people there. At first I simply attended the ‘family style’ meals. I felt awkward and self-conscious, but it didn’t take long to get to know a few people and begin to feel more comfortable. I made it a point to strike up conversations and, no matter how uncomfortable, to put myself out there.

I recommend you do the same (not necessarily at a dude ranch – perhaps at a ball game or a mall or a grocery store or a local writer's group; or perhaps take a speaking class at a local college) – and do it before you decide to attend a conference that’s costing you a lot of money. Unless, of course, you’re feeling very brave and want to toss yourself into the deep end of the pool and learn while you're there. Just remember to push yourself, but be patient with yourself. You CAN work your way through shyness to a better place. I did, other writers I know did. You can to. 

Because when you get to that writer's conference, local or distant, you're going to have to be warm and interested. Not fake interested, but really interested. And, you can only be genuine if you're not terrified! 

One thing that can help is attention to your personal appearance. Before you mingle, dude yourself up a bit (no, you don't have to look like a movie star, just put your best look forward). That will give you confidence to put those kind of thoughts aside and that allows you to be more willing to introduce yourself.
Have simple business cards made up in advance with all your contact information and indicating you are a writer. Much easier than continually writing the information down, much quicker too, when perhaps in a fast-moving social encounter.

One possible balm for your shyness is the fact that you should keep meetings with agents and publishers short unless he or she draws you into a lengthier conversation. Remember they're going to be seeing a lot of people in a short time. So, be pleasant, let them know what you do, hand over a card if the opportunity presents and allow them to move on. 

So, eagerly you may say to me, where do I find these Writer's Conferences? Well, for starters you can Google “Writers Conference” and narrow your search from there. Here are just a handful of samples: 

Check out the site - click on the conference & events button 

A good one - check site for chapters & events.

Over for 2011 - but 2012 approaches. 
Events & conferences 

--and of course there are more - do your research.

Oh, and one last word of advice – don't attend a conference that costs whole lot more than you can afford. Find one fairly local if you can instead. There are a number of them across the country each year. Pick the one(s) best suited to your needs and the budget you can spend. 

And don't forget to pack your comfy shoes!

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