Last Friday I took off work in order to attend my first writing conference. I’ve been to other conferences before for work and school, but this was a big step for me. I was officially at an event as writer, introducing myself to others as a writer. It was both scary and exhilarating. I learned a few things that I thought could be helpful to share if you’re thinking about attending your first conference.
It was the annual conference for my local chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America). Since this year I am writing mainly romance, and the RWA is known for having very informative and welcoming meetings and conferences, this seemed like a good one to start with. It was local, so I could come home Friday and tuck in my son, and Saturday I could stay out later than usual without worrying about driving too far to get home.
Lesson learned: start small and local! Your first conference doesn’t have to be a huge event hundreds of miles away. If you’ve never been away from your children for a long period of time, staying local means they can see you in the evenings and the morning, even if you’re gone during the day. It also keeps costs down.
There was a really helpful first session just for newbies, where we introduced ourselves. I think without this, the weekend would have been a lot more stressful. Knowing that someone else was new made it much easier to approach them.
One tip they gave at the newbie session was that you can ask anyone there “what do you write?” as a conversation starter. It worked really well! A lot of people were still working on drafts, and hadn’t published yet. When non-writers ask me about my work, I get a little awkward. There was none of that at the conference. Everyone wants to talk and hear about writing! It was wonderful. Plus, there were free books in our welcome bags and at the meals, which was all sorts of awesome.
Lesson learned: everyone is just as nervous as you! But they are all writers, just like you, so literally anything about books and/or writing is a good topic of conversation. If you are struggling a bit with imposter syndrome, or haven’t told your friends or family about your writing, talking to other writers is one way to start to feel more comfortable with the phrase “I’m a writer.” When everyone around you is a writer, it makes you want to be one, too!
I mainly attended the business-oriented sessions, and one craft-focused session. I skipped a few Saturday afternoon, in part to process everything I was learning, and in part to do a little kid-free shopping at the mall nearby. When I got back, I managed to get in a thousand words in the writing room.
I could feel my network and writing community growing just by being there and introducing myself to new people. There are chapter meetings once a month that I was too afraid to attend before, but now I am excited to go and see a few familiar faces.
Lesson learned: you don’t need to attend the whole thing for it to be useful. Even just one session is a chance to learn new things and meet new people. Often conferences are sponsored by writing groups that have other meetings or an online presence. So if you were thinking about joining the group but aren’t sure if it’s for you, the conference is a great way to get a feel for what their members are like.
The best part for me (besides all the free books) was hearing how many other people also have non-writing jobs, even those who indie publish a lot or have a traditional publishing contract. This just reinforced how important it is to see someone like yourself when starting a new venture. It made me even more excited to keep working on this site, the podcast, and the Facebook community. I left feeling like I’m not to only one trying to do this writer mom life thing, and that has made a world of difference in my attitude and outlook for the future!
Lesson learned: you are not alone! It’s easy to forget there are other writers out there as we sit by ourselves at our computer inventing imaginary people. Online communities are great, but there is something special about seeing someone in person, especially someone whose work you’re read and enjoyed, that makes it all seem so much more real.
Have you been to a writing conference? What was your experience? Share in the comments on in our WML Facebook community!