A Word (or Several) About Writing Conferences

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I’m not going to lie, I’m a lazy bastard some days. And I’ve got plenty on my plate to make me feel justified when I rehash an old blog, especially if it still fits with what I’d like to talk about.

This, being April and the start of the Writing Conference Season (I’m not sure if that should be a capitalized title, but it seems like an event so…I’m going with it) I thought it would useful to budding writers out there to go over some conference basics as well as some advice that has really helped me get the most out of them. This also being a totally new era, I’ve added some modifications to reflect our new Zoom/Teams lifestyles (not NEARLY as cool as a Rock n’ Roll lifestyle).

So, let’s get into the meaty goodness of writer’s conferences and why you should strive to attend at least one a year.


How do you choose which one to attend? 
 
•	Firstly, most conferences, at least since last year, have had to switch to some type of online format or perhaps online-in person hybrid to make accommodations for safety during the pandemic. So, the good news is, you may not have to shell out so much for travel expenses as they can be taken from the comfort of your home. Bad news is that you’ll still be at home and all the challenges that can go along with it. I’ll touch more on that later on. 

•	If you are anything like me, you’re wealthy in creativity but strapped for cash. One of the biggest deciding factors, for me, is the cost of the conference, along with which classes, speakers, and agents will be there. Getting to pitch to an agent, or multiple agents for publishers specific to your genre is a boon. Classes that are not just interesting but will help expand your craft are also good factors to consider.
 
•	Some conferences are genre specific and if you are a comfort-hugging archetype who doesn’t flirt around outside your style and subject matter, then definitely consider something specifically geared to your genre. The Romance Writers of America used to host in fun and far-off lands like…San Diego and…New York City…*le sigh* remember travel? Now things have changed. I was lucky enough to attend last year’s Wordsmith Institute’s Romance Writing Conference online and it was simply amazing. (they are offering the conference again this year and here is the linkhttps://www.wordsmith.institute/writing-events—totally worthwhile. In the fall they host a Sci-Fi conference that is equally engaging and informative). Genre specific conferences are awesome if you’re looking to polish skills or start out in a new genre that you don’t normally write in. Don’t be afraid to flirt a bit (outside of your genre, that is *wink)
 
•	If you’re stuck deciding between two, look at the courses offered, the speakers presenting, and if they are offering pitch sessions, especially agents suited to your work. Pick the one that gives you the most opportunity for growth and stretches your creative and ambitious goals.
 
How do I get the most out of my conference?
 
•	Here’s what I’ve learned. Plan ahead but be flexible. Conferences don’t just start the minute you pin that snazzy name badge on your seldom-used dress clothes (or, via online conferences, log in with only dress clothes on your upper half). They start the year before, during writing when you self-reflect on the issues you have with your WIP, your style, your grammar, or even the steps you want to take next. If you have trouble with dialogue but are a whiz at plotting out the perfect story arc, then use your conference to build up your weak points. Even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Which leads me to my next point:
 
•	Sit it on at least one session that is outside of your genre, comfort zone, or even interest. Look, conferences can be amazing experiences but if you’ve been through sixteen hours of various takes on the query letter or trying to perfect your memoir pitches, you’re not growing as much as you could be. Why do athletes cross train? Why does an engineering major still have to take social science classes? Because learning about the realm outside yourself will make you better in all aspects of your work. Try a sci-fi world-building class or screenwriting. I guarantee, you will get something new out of it that will help your project and your craft.
 
•	Push your limits. Talk to people you wouldn’t normally, share your story, your success, and your pitfalls. This is an awesome opportunity (I’m talking to you little introvert) to commiserate, vent, and rejoice in the craft you love so much. Pitch your novel, article, or story. Talk to the larger-than-life keynote speaker (here’s a hint: every single one of them I’ve had the pleasure to meet has been the kindest, most down-to-Earth and supportive writer). Come away feeling like the weekend/day was an experience that has changed you in some fundamental way.
 
How do I not get overwhelmed?
 
•	For goddess’ sake, take a break in the midst of it all. I’m the worst at this. I’m a classic victim of; “I paid the money and I’m going to hit every single class. I will volunteer, pitch, hit up the speakers at the dinner table, and stuff every bit of information into my head until explodes!” Then by day two, nothing makes sense in my mind, words are blurry, I’m not sure what my name is, and I’m crying into a self-made mashed-potato tower, while wearing Underoos on my head that clearly are not my own. 

Take the breaks between sessions or even forgo a session and find a quiet corner or go for a walk outside. You need it to recharge, allow time to absorb the information and be refreshed for the next round. This is especially true for online conferences! Take the computer to different rooms (if they’re still quiet) or outside if available, take walks in between sessions, take eye and body breaks (look far off for a spell, or ‘rest’ your eyes away from the screen, get up and stretch as often as available). Its’ almost like interval training—the space between, the recovery is what sets you up for the next round, so take it.
 

 
•	If you are pitching to an agent or editor, polish the shit out of that thing beforehand. Take your pitch to your critique group, your friends, random people on the street before the conference and learn how to deliver it with confidence and clarity. Know your story, your characters, and your plot, inside and out. That first page should sing the sweetest siren’s song anyone has ever heart and lure the tepid agent from the afternoon lunch lull into something exciting they want to read more of. The more you practice your pitch, the more it will feel like a conversation with a good friend instead of an interview.
 
•	If you are pitching, don’t be intimidated by the agent or editor. Remember they are people. They are there, specifically, to talk to you. To hear your story. To find the next big thing. Most of them are also just like you…they may even be wearing Underoos and like mashed potatoes. The point is, it’s okay to be nervous, but don’t go in assuming they relish the idea of shooting you down. Be polite and always thank them for their time and any advice they have to give.
 
•	Sleep before. Sleep after. Eat nutritious food, take walks outside whenever you can, and watch the caffeine and the booze. Free coffee stations are like crack for me (or conversely at home for online conferences—having my own espresso machine) and cash bars are a tempting mistress at the end of a long, people-filled day. But you’ll have things to do the next day and Underoos will stay safely tucked in if you can avoid that third cocktail. 
To conclude, I’d like to share one of the best lessons I’ve learned from conferences.

For every conference I attend, I add a layer to the writer in me. That is to say, through the people I meet, the classes I take, and the lectures I attend, I learn more about the craft. How, and when, and why, and what and all the technical attributes that come along with the delicate balance of creativity and grammatical science. But more than just the sum of these limitless parts, I learn a greater whole.

The whole that is me as a writer. 

And in doing so, I’ve learned how to enjoy myself more at these kinds of functions by listening to my body, my brain, and my growing years of experience. 

Back in the day, I would be hand-cramping from the steady stream of notes at each session. I would be tumbling from one to the next, chugging down coffee between in hopes to keep my energy up so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I would strategically place myself at the agent’s table who I wanted to garner the literary affections of. I would, in essence, be the adult version of my grade-school brown-nosing self. 

Something happened one year, while at the meet and greet “networking” event. I found myself long past my emotional and mental boundary and crossing all lines of my introvert nature, to garner the attention of at least a few more experts in the field. I was mentally exhausted, untethered and I felt like I was on emotionally shaky ground. I realized after a long day of learning and being ‘on’ that I didn’t want to be there. 

I didn’t understand my limits or that honoring them was at the core to being successful at a conference (and let’s face it, in life)

I thought I could talk it all day, learn it all day, do it all day. Nerding on a pro-level is a quintessential part of who I am. I loved hearing about other projects much more than I like talking about my own and reveled in the creativity and ingenuity of my fellow conference goers.

But…the more stories I heard, the more classes I took, the more advice I tried to apply—the less sure I became of my ability. The more tired I got, the more flustered I became, the wearier my mind, the less information I could process.

Until everything was just noise and words.


Then I learned a secret. 

You don’t have to throw yourself under a bus to catch it. 

Knowing your limits is not just useful in this particular scene. Knowing your limits is useful for all humans. And it comes with age and the ability to let go of unrealistic expectations.

During a few of my sessions, even as I listened to the speaker, I listened to myself. If I was inspired to write; I let myself write.

If \the iron was hot, I struck while in the moment, abandoning the mad scribble of notes.

Did I miss a little of the presentations? Sure, but in the midst of other brilliant minds and the energy they impart, in the middle of shutting out the rest of the world, the heart and brain start to do this funny little dance and learn to play again.
 
Inspiration doesn’t always happen at the opportune times. You have to write when the words are ready and when the heart is open. Conferences have given my heart a doorway, an acceptance into writing what often builds up behind all my carefully constructed walls. 

In years past, I’ve forced myself to jump the hurdles of social interaction and witty conversation until late hours, when all I really wanted was to wander off to a quiet room and take a nap.

I had to make it OK for myself to listen to that want, in order to get the most out of my time at conferences. These events open pathways, but only when we’re not too busy to see them. If we are embroiled in getting the most out of every single planned moment of the time, then we may miss the real lesson. 

Creativity is like a river and if you fully submerged you’ll easily drown. You’ll miss the beauty of the ride, the view, and the sounds. 

So, know yourself, Writer. Do the things that you know work for you. Let the river of creativity, carry you, but always leave yourself plenty of breathing room to be inspired. 


The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week 2- Mission Possible: Drafting A Writing Statement

Read that title, again would you?

 

I know, right?! SNOOZEFEST!!!

I promise, this isn’t going to be as painful as it sounds and it might be one of the most useful tools you have when it comes to guiding your writing. A writing mission statement turns vague hopes for an outcome into solid ideas and language.

So what is it that you want your writing to do?

Last week I asked you to compose some answers to questions about your writing in hopes that you can expand on those answers in the coming weeks and use them in addition to our exercises to flesh out your writing career.

From those answers, you should have written down aspirations for what you wanted to accomplish in a year, month, week, etc, and the small manageable goals that can get you there.

This is a little different.

Thinking about the work in progress you’re embroiled in (be it a novel, an article, an essay, or directions on how to make a giant rooster shaped cake)

rooster cake2
Join me next time when I explain how writers are masters of procrastination. Like, looking up images for rooster cake.

I want you to write down what you hope to accomplish with this particular work. We’re talking end game stuff here. What do you want the people reading your work to walk away with afterwards?

Example 1:

Say you’re working on an article about the wage disparity in large corporations.

Take ten to fifteen minutes and write what outcome you want to see as a result of your article. How do you want people to see your subject of the story? How can you make them identify with the people involved? Is it to educate? To change policy? Do you want to give them the tools to make changes, or just to think about it in a new light and in a way that encourages discussion?

Once you know the end goal, it will affect how you write the story.

 

For novelists a mission statement is integral to developing a relationship with your reader via your characters.

Example 2:

I want my readers to identify with a cranky, semi-violent spirit, haunting an old seaside house and fall in love with him. I want my readers to feel the sting of being trapped, and the power of love to soften hurt.

 

Writing about what you want to write will actually help you know what you need to learn in order to accomplish this mission statement.

 

So here’s your job this week:

  • Write a short mission statement for your work in progress or your next work.
  • Share it with someone (accountability bitches)
  • Where is the next, imagined destination of this work?
  • If you have time—study some of your old work, and see if you can write a mission statement for them—what did you learn from each?
  • If you have time—think of your favorite articles, books, masterpieces and see if you can decipher what the mission statement was for them.

Oye, so much work. Don’t make me crack a whip.

Again, feel free to share. I love hearing about your purpose in writing and remember that sharing that will help to manifest your goals!

Next week we’re dipping into some heavy creative work to balance out all of this business side.

 

Take care!

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Welcome!

Good morning writers, authors, editors or accidental guests.

This is the inaugural blog for The Beautiful Writers Workshop, a year-long journey into developing your craft through exercises in creativity, editing techniques, inspirational prompts, and building the framework for your writing career.

Some of the blogs will inspire. Some blogs will lean more to the technical side of writing. But whatever the weekly topic, you can be assured of two things:

  • You’ll have a prompt or exercise to help develop your writing (and the opportunity to share it)
  • I’ll try to keep it spicy enough to be enjoyable.

 

So let’s get rolling! I searched through nearly all of my favorite books on writing for a perfect topic for our first lesson together but the truth is, there are just too many (good and bad) ideas out there.

So I’m going to start simple and ease you in gently to this process.

If you’re here you are either interested in writing, or are already doing it and are looking for something to add to your tool box. In order to appeal to all levels today’s workshop is centered on the basic purpose of your writing.

Below are a few questions that I’d like you to read, think about, and journal down your answers to. You can share them, you can keep them secret, but DO WRITE THEM DOWN.

Something amazing happens when we write down goals and steps to reaching them. The process becomes manageable; the goals become real. It’s one of the many beautiful and powerful attributes of writing.

  1. Without judgement or discouragement, and being as direct as possible: what is the ultimate, lifetime goal you have for your writing?
  2. What can you do to kick start this goal in the next 12 months? (hint: where do you need to start, where do you need to grow most for the big picture)
  3. Is this yearly goal attainable? WHY OR WHY NOT?
  4. Of your reasons from #3, think about the fears, limitations or concerns that formed these reasons. Name them. What do you foresee keeping you from moving forward on this yearly goal?
  5. Of the fears, limitations and concerns, what are the possible solutions or actions you can take to eliminate them? (hint: each limitation/fear/concern gets its at least one action you can take to overcome it)
  6. If you have a planner or calendar, write down one weekly goal (eliminating distractions, word count requirement, number of submissions out, editing, classes etc) that will help overcome the hurdles you have to your writing.
  7. Looking at these weekly goals, find specific and measured times you have to dedicate to their success and write them down.

Okay, that’s it! I know, it’s a little dry but when building a house you have to have a solid foundation first or none of the pretty architecture above it will survive. So build your foundation, know where you’re coming from and next week we’re going to talk about:

Mission Possible: Drafting your Writing Mission Statement

(that sounds super boring but it will help writer’s across the spectrum. I promise!)

 

Conferring on Conferences

 

 

Okay, so I promised two weeks ago that last week we’d be talking about writing conferences. Then my squirrel brain shouted “I do what I want!” and flicked its squirrel brain tail and stole some nuts and ran off on a tangent.

 

Adult Sarah remembers. So without further prodding, let’s get into the meaty goodness of writers conferences and why you should strive to attend at least one a year.

If you’ve never been before or even if you are old-hat in the world of conferences, here are a few tips on how to choose the right one for you, how to get the most out of it, and how to not feel completely overwhelmed in the process.

 

How do you choose which one to attend?

 

  • If you are anything like me, you’re wealthy in creativity but strapped for cash. One of the biggest deciding factors, for me, is the cost of the conference (including travel and accommodation expenses) against what classes, speakers, and agents will be there. Getting to pitch to an agent, or multiple agents for publishers specific to your genre is a boon. Classes that are not just interesting but will help expand your craft are also good factors to consider.

 

  • Some conferences are genre specific and if you are a comfort-hugging archetype who doesn’t flirt around outside your style and subject matter, then definitely consider something specifically geared to your genre. The Romance Writers of America is hosting its annual conference in New York City this year…but, as my first bullet point states, it’s a little too much expense for my budget. Plus, I like to flirt… (outside of my genre, that is *wink)

 

  • If you’re stuck deciding between two, look at the courses offered, the speakers presenting, and if they are offering pitch sessions, especially agents suited to your work. Pick the one that gives you the most opportunity for growth and stretches your creative and ambitious goals.

 

 

How do I get the most out of my conference?

 

  • Here’s what I’ve learned. Plan ahead but be flexible. Conferences don’t just start the minute you pin that snazzy name badge on your seldom-used dress clothes. They start the year before, during writing when you (hopefully) self-reflect on the issues you have with your WIP, your style, your grammar, or even the steps you want to take next. If you have trouble with dialogue but are a whiz at plotting out the perfect story arc, then use your conference to build up your weak points. Even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Which leads me to my next point:

 

  • Sit it on at least one session that is outside of your genre, comfort zone, or even interest. Look, conferences can be amazing experiences but if you’ve been through sixteen hours of various takes on the query letter, trying to perfect your memoir pitches, you’re not growing as much as you could be. “But Sarah, why do I need to grow as a writer? I’m practically perfect as is!” Of course you are…but I ask you this: why does an athlete cross train? Why does an engineering major still have to take social science classes? Because learning about the realm outside yourself will make you better. Try a sci-fi world-building class or screenwriting. I guarantee, you will get something new out of it that will help your project and your craft.

 

  • Push your limits. Talk to people you wouldn’t normally, share your story, your success, and your pitfalls. This is an awesome opportunity (I’m talking to you little introvert from up there) to commiserate, vent, and rejoice in the craft you love so much. Pitch your novel, article, or story. Talk to the larger-than-life keynote speaker (here’s a hint: every single one of them I’ve had the pleasure to meet has been the kindest, most down-to-Earth and supportive writer). Come away feeling like the weekend/day was an experience that has changed you in some fundamental way.

 

How do I not get overwhelmed?

 

  • For goddess’ sake, take a break in the midst of it all. I’m the worst at this. I paid the money and I’m going to hit every single class. I will volunteer, pitch, hit up the speakers at the dinner table, and stuff every bit of information into my head until explodes! Then by day two, nothing makes sense in my mind, words are blurry, I’m not sure what my name is, and I’m crying into my mashed-potato tower, while wearing Underoos on my head that clearly are not my own. Take the breaks between sessions or even forgo a session and find a quiet corner or go for a walk outside. You need it to recharge, allow time to absorb the information and be refreshed for the next round.

close-encounters-of-the-third-kind-mashed-potatoes

 

 

  • If you are pitching to an agent or editor, polish the shit out of that thing. Take your pitch to your critique group, your friends, random people on the street before the conference and learn how to deliver it with confidence and clarity. Know your story, your characters, and your plot, inside and out. That first page should sing the sweetest siren’s song anyone has ever heart and lure the tepid agent from the afternoon lunch lull into something exciting they want to read more of. The more you practice your pitch, the more it will feel like a conversation with a good friend instead of an interview.

 

  • If you are pitching, don’t be intimidated by the agent or editor. Remember they are people. They are there, specifically, to talk to you. To hear your story. To find the next big thing. Most of them are also just like you…they may even be wearing Underoos and like mashed potatoes. The point is, it’s okay to be nervous, but don’t go in assuming they relish the idea of shooting you down. Be polite and always thank them for their time and any advice they have to give.

 

  • Sleep before. Sleep after. Eat nutritious food, take walks outside whenever you can, and watch the caffeine and the booze. Free coffee stations are like crack for me (okay, I’ve never been addicted to nor have I ever even tried crack but…you get the idea) and cash bars are a tempting mistress at the end of a long, people-filled day. But you have things to do tomorrow and Underoos stay safely tucked in if you can avoid that third cocktail.

underoos1

 

Well, good luck out there writer. Go find you a conference and learn to mill about in the wealth of knowledge and inspiration. Leave any comments or helpful hints you’ve gained over the years here, or even your worst experiences. I can’t wait for you to jump into one and discover how decadent it feels to immerse yourself in the craft you love.