I thought I'd share ten things that allowed me to really immerse myself in the writing world.
- Team Up then Split Up - I was fortunate enough to attend with two other people from our Wednesday Write-in (aka: #datenight on Twitter). We were able to cover 2 times (and on occasion 3 times) as many sessions than if I had gone alone. I’ve gone to work-related conferences, and I know how hard it is to pick between a number of sessions and feeling like I’m missing out by picking one over the other. This way, I got the best of all worlds.
- Don't Be Shy - You’re either an extrovert or an introvert. Our little threesome was varying degrees of introvert. Many writers are the latter. A con story: at all our meals we sat with a table of 10 people. It was a little hard to hear people across the table, but we all tried to say hello and what we wrote. (The answer was everything from PBs to Romance. Every skill level was represented.) One meal, we sat down and there was a girl who didn’t say more than three words. I feel like she didn’t get everything out of that conference because she didn’t wear a mask of confidence.
- Network - I finally found myself surrounded by like-minded people. For the first time, it wasn’t embarrassing to talk about the people in my head to other people. I met people I’d only seen online, I met people to sit next to during sessions and get valuable information and advice from, and I met people that I now follow on Twitter. Writing can be a very solitary endeavor. It doesn’t have to be. Find people you can talk shop with and exchange information. If you do this in the first session, you can then agree to split-up and share the information at the next meal. :)
- Bring Business Cards - These are an inexpensive way to give the people you meet your information. If you’re published, you probably already have these with your book cover. If you’re not published, you can still add contact information, as well as what you write. On my business cards, I have my name, mailing address, Twitter, email, and Live Journal address. They’re small enough to slip into a pocket, and you can find places online that will let you make them for free and charge only shipping.
- Have a Plan of Attack - Every conference (all work-related) I’ve ever attended has had the program available before the actual event. Some send these to you in the mail, some have them available online to print, and some will even send this to your phone. Our group had a pre-con dinner where we picked out the sessions we wanted to attend. Once we knew everyone was picking the same session, we could then pick something else and cover more ground.
- Take Notes - Unless you have a photographic memory and total dialogue recall, it helps to take notes. I’m the kind of person who takes notes to reinforce what I hear. If the conference doesn’t provide note pads, the hotel usually does. Barring both of those, you can also bring your own notebook or a laptop. Our con included a notepad, handouts, and I still saw people typing away on their laptops. Whatever works for you, do it!
- Be Polite - I know this sounds obvious. Sometimes you need to reinforce the obvious. Again, I’ve been to other conferences, but I must say that the people at this one were the friendliest. The speakers were giving of their time, even answering questions long after their sessions were over. (Speakers included agents, editors, and authors.) The staff was friendly too. I probably asked a handful of basic questions, yet they still smiled and pointed me in the right direction. And as a related aside, so many people were so complimentary of a piece of jewelry or an outfit I wore. That’s a rare occurrence. Those comments made me feel welcomed and accepted.
- Have a Post-Con - We did this on Saturday night at the bar (and then again on Sunday afternoon for the Sunday morning sessions). Instead of mingling, like we probably should have, we found a table in the back, ordered a lot of drinks, and shared all our notes from all the sessions with each other. If we’d waited to do this until Sunday afternoon, it wouldn’t have worked for time or brain capacity. Having slept little (though Kit insists I’m a Snore Machine, and she had to use earplugs), by Sunday afternoon I was running on fumes. Alternatively, you could do this the next day or send emails out, but with every day between you and what you learn, things get less and less clear / immediate.
- Never Stop Learning - I found that even the more basic sessions either reinforced or shined a brighter light on things I already knew. I wrote down a couple of very basic things (like, “plot is conflict and tension”). And even the things I know can be practiced and refined to strengthen that skill. Two weeks ago, I had a piece of paper in my fortune cookie that said “Writing is a craft, not an art”. I agree and disagree with this statement, and I hope to devote an entire post to why, but for now, you can’t improve your craft if you don’t polish it to a gleam.
- Volunteer - I want to be a published author. I want to be able to give back to the writing community. Since I’m not-yet published, I can fulfill the second statement. This conference was well-run, true. I run a conference in another subject entirely, and there were things that we do well that I’d love to share with PPWC. There are things that PPWC did well that I will certainly bring back to my conference’s committee. Besides being good for your karma, volunteering for something that you believe in can be hugely rewarding. I talked to PPWC’s president, Chris Mandeville, and gave her one of my business cards. (See, they can be used for so many different things!)
Overall, PPWC was both worth the money and the time spent away from my current project. I will be back next year, which happens to be the 20th anniversary! I hope some of you can join me.