I know the feeling. However, I can also testify to the life-altering benefits of a good writers conference. Introverted writers of the world, we cannot simply stay home from that which makes us uncomfortable. At least not in this case.
Lest you think I’m advocating voluntary self-torture, you can make a large conference (slightly) less overwhelming. Here are five lessons I learned from this year’s Writers Digest Annual Conference (aka #WDC14).
1. It’s worth it to pay for the room.
Staying at the #WDC14 venue doubled my total cost of attendance. I have friends in New York who could’ve put me up for two nights. At face value, this sounds extravagant, but it’s how I get the maximum benefit from my registration fee.
Having a sanctuary right upstairs meant I could take a 10-minute breather after lunch, do some yoga before the first session of the day, and rest when I needed to without getting on a train or walking to another hotel. I also didn’t need to feel bad about being too tired to socialize at a friend’s place (or staying up late chatting).
Conferences drain our energy reserves, so if you have the cash, consider providing an easily-accessible place to recharge. Even just knowing your room is nearby can boost your comfort level.
2. You’re there to network. Find a way to do it on your terms.
I’m a morning person. I have a toddler at home. I’m at my best at 7:00 a.m. Consequently, you don’t want to meet me for drinks after a full day of conference sessions.
Certain there had to be others like me at such a large event, I sent this tweet on Friday evening:
Any writer mamas or fellow morning people want to meet for breakfast before #WDC14 kicks into high gear tomorrow? I’m at my best at 7am 😉
— Jaclyn Paul (@jaclynleewrites) August 2, 2014
I get anxious about saying hello and striking up a conversation, so I leveraged the #WDC14 hashtag to reach out. Once two fellow moms had replied and we’d established a time to meet, I couldn’t back out. We ended up enjoying a lovely breakfast together and helping each other practice our pitches.
If you’re not a natural socializer, it’s important to know — and be honest with — yourself. Figure out a way to make it happen on your terms, when you’ll show people your best self.
3. Set goals.
I told myself I wouldn’t eat meals alone and I would attend sessions in every time slot. When I felt tempted to take a break on Saturday afternoon, I reminded myself of those goals and considered how I would feel later about not taking full advantage of this opportunity.
Of course, every conference is different, and you may end up wanting to revise your goals for next time. For example, a writer friend who attended #AWP14 decided to do fewer sessions so she could preserve her energy for evening events.
But having goals from the beginning will help you push yourself when you start to get tired.
4. When in doubt, ask a question.
Do you start to panic as soon as the conversation hits a lull? When that feeling creeps in, take a deep breath and ask a question. Any question.
People love to talk about themselves: their houses, their kids, their cities, their college major, whether they flew or drove to the conference. After you ask, sit back and listen.
5. Open yourself up to everything the conference experience has to offer.
Confession: I almost cancelled on #WDC14. I almost let a round-trip Amtrak ticket go to waste and a whole amazing confluence of writers go on without me.
The reasons– which can be boiled down to discouragement and disappointment in myself– aren’t important, but fortunately I wasn’t on the ball to cancel before the deadline.
In lieu of losing my entire registration fee, I decided to attend the writing craft sessions to prepare for the (distant) day when I would carve out my career as a novelist.
I didn’t get what I was looking for. Instead, I came away from #WDC14 with a completely new direction for my writing career and multiple pages of ideas I could start developing immediately.
I’ll be launching a brand-new project this fall that marries my family life with my writing life in a way I never thought possible.
Sometimes we don’t get what we came for. That’s a beautiful thing. We so rarely know what we should be seeking. Embrace that. Open your heart and mind, soak it all in, and see where it leads you.
Alright, maybe that last one isn’t just for the introverts, but it’s a reason to get yourself out there.
Yes, conferences are intimidating and exhausting, but they’re also worth it.
Even if you aren’t ready to pitch your work to agents and publishers, the connections you make with other writers and the learning you do in the sessions will make you a better writer.
Push yourself a little bit, and look for me at the next Writers Digest conference.
I’ll be the weirdo organizing social events at 7:00 a.m.
About Jaclyn Paul