I like Writer's Conferences. I've been to 3 in the past 3 years and I have to say that if a new writer were to ask me for a 1 piece of advice on how to get started I would say without hesitation: Get Thee to a Writer's Conference!
That being said, these conferences are not always as shimmery and delightful as everyone makes them out to be. They have a dark side. So in this season of conferences, I'm going to share a list of 6 potential negatives to consider and some solutions on how to overcome them and make the most of your experience.
Problem #1: Money. Registration fees, hotel rooms, airfare, rental car, food. All of this can add up to one very expensive weekend. And let's face it... some of us don't have that kind of cash.
Solution: Find a conference close to where you live. Or at least, close to where someone you know lives so you can bunk at their place. Look for scholarships associated with that particular conference. Consider volunteering; often the conference will offer discounted registration fees for volunteers. If all else fails, start saving extra change in a jar!
Problem #2: Information Overload. Conferences often span 2-3 days (sometimes longer) and during this time you're attending workshops, talking to other writers and experts in the industry, getting handouts and listening to speeches. Each year I become very overwhelmed by the amount of information thrown around. Do this. Don't do that. It can feel very much like getting hit in the head with a hammer.
Solution: Don't write down every word. I've recently discovered that most people don't learn everything all at once; we learn in layers. So take small bites and don't worry if you don't remember it all. Write down what seems important to you at the time and keep those notes to refer back to later. As you continue to educate yourself on the craft of writing (through more conferences, blogs, craft books, novels), you'll start retaining/remembering more and good habits will start to slip into your writing almost unconsciously.
Problem #3: Headaches/Migraines. See #2. Makes concentrating and social interaction very difficult.
Solution: Take 2-3 aspirin and drink lots of water. Make sure you're eating well and find some caffeine. Most conferences provide coffee and tea. Take a break from everyone if you need to. Find a quiet place and close your eyes for a moment.
Problem #4: Nay-sayers and Mean People. My sister calls them Dream-squashers. I call them Assholes. These are people who, whether intentionally or unintentionally, feel the need to tell you that they think you're going in the wrong direction or making the wrong choices. For instance... I had a man tell me once that commercial literary fiction is a lost cause and that I was wasting my time since no one reads that stuff anymore. Yeah. That's encouraging. Luckily, he was a little on the strange side, so I didn't take him seriously. Still, these people have the potential to be harmful especially to new writers.
Solution: Ignore them if you can or leave the conversation. Don't be afraid to say, "I have somewhere else I need to be. It was nice talking to you." and then just walk away. These people are generally experiencing insecurities of their own. Don't let their doubts taint your experience. Gravitate towards people who are encouraging and kind. Who will say "Oh that sounds wonderful" even if they think it's a piece of drivel. You have critique partners, friends and family to tell you how to improve your writing (and life), you don't need to listen to complete strangers. Especially if they are trying to drag you down. There are many wonderful people attending conferences and the connections you make can blossom into fantastic friendships. So don't waste your time with people who make you feel uncomfortable.
Problem #5: Small fish in a big pond syndrome. That person over there has published 3 books already. That person has an agent. Everyone around you is writing YA or thrillers. With all these people trying to "break in", what chance do you have? You know what I'm talking about. That feeling of smallness you get sometimes... when you question every little thing you write and think every idea you come up with is dumb, outmoded or really really boring.
Solution: Remember every writer is on her/his own journey and no two journeys are the same. Gather a list of quotes that inspire you and keep them tucked inside a notebook or your wallet. Refer back to these if you start to feel intimidated or anxious. Remember that everyone has to start somewhere. Try not to compare yourself to the people around you. Think about the growth you've seen in yourself, the accomplishments you've made. You are the only one who can define what kind of writer you want to be. It takes time, but if you keep working hard and practice, you will find your voice, you will find your strength and you will succeed.
Problem #6: Racing to the finish line. Closely related to #5. It never fails. Every year after the conference is over, I get this strange, sneaking feeling that I'm way behind, that I've ruined all my chances at being a career writer because I wasted time writing a book that will never be read, because I chose a difficult genre to write in, because I started writing seriously when I was 24 instead of 16, because I went to the wrong college, because I'm not getting an MFA... blah blah blah.
Solution: Consider this... the race is only over when we die. There is always more work to do: another book to write or edit, networking and promotion. It's a job and there's always something more to do. It's not a race. It's working hard day to day, pursuing a passion and deciding to keep moving forward each and every day. It doesn't end (or even get easier) when you get an agent, when you publish a book, when you publish 3 books. There's always something more to do and we should embrace that... because this is life and life moves forward and you have no idea what tomorrow will bring. So stop focusing on the end. Focus on here and now and the journey. Learn from yesterday. Don't worry about tomorrow. Focus on today. Enjoy this moment. Whether you are writing a first draft, a second or seventeenth. Whether you are querying or in between projects. Focus on today.
Now, you tell me: Have you been to a writer's conference? Any suggestions on how to get the most out of them, how to have a pleasant experience? Horror stories? Success stories? Feel free to share...