5 Tips on Maximizing a Writers Conference

This guest column is by Jessica Monday,
freelancer and aspiring novelist.

So you’re planning to attend a writing conference? Read these five tips to ensure an experience you’ll savor long after you’ve left the hotel lobby.  After all, you paid for it, right?

1. Choose sessions you find interesting.

It’s no secret you need to know how to write a sparkling query, but you’re intrigued to find out how journaling can release your creative muse. Go for the muse. Hundreds of websites will be waiting at home to tell you how to write a query letter. Whenever I attend a lecture or reading, I never know what I’ll take away. That’s the beauty of being open to whatever information the speaker decides to bring. View a conference as a mini-vacation, not something to stress about or execute perfectly. Also, don’t become a guest speaker groupie. Sample as many different speakers as possible because you’ll learn something new from each one.

2. Resist taking copious notes.

You’ll retain more when you are focused on listening, not rushing to take down every word leaving the speaker’s mouth. If your type-A personality insists, bring the notepad with you and jot down inspiring bullet points you can hang above your desk. If you waste time taking a ton of notes, more likely you’ll miss the most important things being said and lose an opportunity to engage in the moment.

 

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:

 

3. Mingle.

Walk around and talk with people between sessions. Find out what other writers are working on and get inspired by their imagination. If you already know some of the other conference attendees, meet new people and introduce your friends. During meals, sit at a table where you don’t know anyone or, if obligation demands you sit with your friends, invite someone you don’t know to sit at your table too. This is your chance to exchange ideas with other artists, so don’t be shy.

4. Talk less, listen more, and ask concise questions.

Please don’t be “that guy” at the conference who is always in the midst of a twenty-minute story outline. Don’t worry about impressing people. You’re here to ingest expert knowledge, not disseminate yours. When you have finished your graphic novel, poetry anthology, etc. and are invited to be a guest speaker, then is the time for you to talk about your process ad nauseam. Until then, your job is to listen. On the other hand, now is the time for questions. Ask the panel of experts who have been assembled for this purpose and don’t be afraid to share your question during a session. Caveat: If your question is particular to your work rather than general, wait until after the session to ask the speaker one-on-one (which is a great way to engage them personally as well!).

5. Bring at least one piece of your work. 

Most conferences have open mic during the evening hours. Choose short pieces – again don’t be “that guy” reading three chapters from a rough draft. Shoot for 1,000 words in length or something that can be read comfortably in less than five minutes. It should be polished enough for public presentation, but be sure to bring something even if you write it specifically for the conference. Reading your work out loud builds self-confidence and helps transcend the fear of exposure common to so many of us writers. Above all, remember the conference is the easy part. Writing is the real work that will be waiting when you return home. So enjoy yourself and let the conference energize your creative spirit; it will follow through in your writing.

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