What to Remember at Every Writing Conference

Writing conferences: They make us feel good because we’re taking proactive, positive steps toward our writerly goals, rather than sitting in front of the TV with a laptop and The Simpsons.

Thing is, once we get to the conference, we’re constantly analyzing: Do we stack up to this writer or that budding poet? Do we have what it takes to do what this speaker is suggesting? Will we ever be up there, rambling about our books while everyone dines on roast beef and pasta during the keynote address?

And, certainly last but not least: Are we writers?

Here is the latest in our Top 20 Lessons from WD in 2009 series.  

No. 15: None of Your Business
“Don’t come to the Festival—or any writing conference—with the goal of finding out once and for all if you’re a writer. It’s a question that will only get in the way of your work. Leave it alone. It’s none of your business.”
—Iowa Summer Writing Festival Director Amy Margolis, as interviewed in our May/June 2009 issue.

My sister, who decided to up the sibling ante by attending law school, once told me that one of the cardinal rules in that realm is to never share, discuss or allude to one’s grades in the company of others. You just don’t do it.

Perhaps in the world of writing conferences, like any gathering of those prepping for a fiercely competitive marketplace, it’s best to turn off your overactive mind and just listen, absorb and learn.

Also, tonight I’m heading out for a vacation, and I’m turning over the blog keys for WD Editor Jessica Strawser to help out and be your Promptly maestro until I return. She’s a former book editor and has worked in different areas of the publishing world, so feel free to tap into her wisdom in the Comments section of the blog in the coming week. All told, she’s a great source of knowledge.

As for me, my family has a tendency to have awful luck on vacation—if you ever want a solid tale, come up to me and say, merely, “Out West; van on fire?”—so I’m hoping the following travel-minded prompt will ward off the spirits of bad travel and serve as an appropriate digital knocking on wood.

Here’s to you and your writing (and fireless vans),


WRITING PROMPT: Vacation From Vacation
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below:

With your cell phone and souvenirs in hand, your torn map falls to the ground.
“He wasn’t even supposed to be here,” you mutter.
And just like that, you need a vacation from your vacation.

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4 thoughts on “What to Remember at Every Writing Conference

  1. Dorraine

    Thanks for the splendid conference/writing advice.

    And do enjoy your vacation. They sound a bit like mine, always stuffed with oddities, which means you shall always have a perky story to share!

  2. Mark James

    When my maps fell to the ground, my cell phone went tumbling after, and landed right in the middle, like some giant technological “X” marking treasure.

    I stood on tiptoe, trying to follow his head through the crowd. He stopped at a rug stall, and flashed his signature, you can trust me, honest smile, and I knew it was him. Steve wasn’t supposed to be in the country, let alone in the market, bargaining with a rug seller.

    So much for vacation.

    “You drop map and phone, pretty lady. You want me carry?”

    I looked down to see a little boy scooping up the map. The parchment was heavy and unwieldy in his small hands. My two hundred dollar cell phone crashed to the dirt again.

    I glanced through the crowd again, but I was too short to see through the natives and tourists crowding the narrow aisle between merchants.

    “You look for someone?” the kid said. “Sasha find him for you.”

    Setting Sasha on Steve would be a slice of pure vengeance. He hated anyone trailing him. But what could he to do a kid? Nothing. Not unless he wanted to be kicked out of the Guild.

    I squatted on my haunches and used every trick the Guild ever taught me to describe Steve. When I was through, Sasha could have picked Steve from a line up of a thousand clones.

    “He’ll say lots of things, but he can’t hurt you. It’s against our laws. Keep talking. All day. Okay?”

    He nodded.

    I showed him how much money I’d give him. “Bring him where I told you.”

    “Talk all day,” Sasha said.

    I watched him melt into the crowd. My vacation was ruined, but Steve’s day was about to become his worst nightmare.

    At seven that evening, I was sitting in the shade of a cliff overlooking the sea, sipping something cool and sweet.

    “You’re the one set this kid on me?”

    Sasha ran up and bowed to me. “I bring him here most pretty lady, as you say. He called you many names.” He gave Steve a reproachful glance. “A gentle man should not call so pretty lady these ugly names.”

    “Christ kid,” Steve said. “How much I gotta pay you to shut up? You been yapping at me all day.”

    I laughed, gave Sasha all the local currency I had left. “You did great. Take a vacation.”

    He took off down the cliff, running so fast he nearly outran his long shadow tumbling down the rocky slope after him.

    Steve sat across from me. “That was harsh. Even for you. Kid talked my ear off all day.”

    I had the good grace to look guilty.

    He slid my drink off to the side. “I sent you messages.”

    I traced the cracks in the table. “Email’s down.”

    “Yeah. Like the messengers I sent. They’re down too.”

    “Eight in a row, Steve. I needed a break.”

    “I chased you halfway around the world. Your break’s over.” He got up. “And don’t kill anymore of my men.”

    I looked past him, at the moon rising over the sea.


    I sighed. “I’ll be on a flight tomorrow.”


    “And no more unauthorized kills.”