If you have been with this blog for a while, you'll know that in the last year or so I've been focusing on devoting more time and energy to my writing. Part of that has been about setting goals and trying to build a more consistent writing practice, but the missing piece has always been getting more involved in the writing community. So, this year I decided to attend my first writing conference: the 2018 Philadelphia Writers Conference (PWC).
For my first conference, I chose to go for something local and of a manageable size. If you aren't familiar, PWC is the oldest open registration writing conference in the country. Held over the course of three days, PWC had several one-off sessions as well as a few three-day seminars that were available to participants. In addition, there were pitch sessions where writers could pitch agents and editors. I'll admit, I didn't quite know what to expect from my first conference, but it was amazing and I learned a lot. So, I wanted to include the top 7 things I learned at my first conference.
- Everyone is there to learn and network -
I am very introverted and it can be hard for me to put myself out there, especially when there isn't a single person in the room that I know. But, what made it so much easier was the fact that everyone else is also there to learn from the panels, to practice their pitching, and to meet other writers. I talked to a bunch of people at the conference and no one was rude or standoffish, no one bit my head off for trying to talk to them, which brings me to my next lesson.
- Plan out some icebreakers -
If you aren't a social butterfly, it can be a little nerve-racking to try and talk to a bunch of new people. I'm not ashamed to admit that I read a few articles about how to prepare for your first writing conference and one article suggested coming with some icebreakers. So, I brainstormed a few things and jotted down a few questions and talking points into my notebook. While I never read the questions out of my notebook when talking to people, the act of thinking about them beforehand and writing them down helped to keep them at the forefront of my mind. It didn't always feel easy, but I tried to introduce myself to people and start asking them questions to get the conversation flowing.
- Bring business cards -
If you are meeting a bunch of new people, you will probably hit it off with at least some of them. I printed out business cards to hand out so that I would have an easy way to share my contact information with people. You don't have to spend a ton of money on them, but I totally recommend that you make a few business cards. Personally, I designed my cards on Canva using the color palette from my website and then printed them using Vistaprint. Aside from being a great way to distribute your information, it makes you look serious and prepared to other writers, instructors, and any agents or editors you meet with. Plus, it was a really gratifying experience to get business cards with my name on that and the word "Writer" printed beneath it.
- When in doubt, just do it -
I'm an anxious person and I tend to overthink a lot of things. However, I made the decision to try and make the most of my conference. So, I signed up for a pitch session so I could practice my pitching and I volunteered during one of the classes to workshop my character. I'm not going to lie, it was terrifying to tell other people about the story I'm working on, to lay my story idea bare for other people to judge. But you know what? I got some really great feedback. I pitched an agent and got some tips on how to improve for next time as well as an invitation to send her a full query. I workshopped a character with other writers and got great suggestions on how to strengthen my character and improve my story. I think that my experience of the conference would have still been a good one if I hadn't pushed myself to do more, but I'm so glad I did. The people at the conference were there because they love writing too and no one was looking to tear anyone else down. If there is something you want to sign up for or volunteer for, just do it!
- Take tons of notes -
This one seems incredibly obvious, but make sure you take notes! The sessions I attended included some awesome advice. Plus, I wrote down books that other writers suggested, writing groups I wanted to check out, and personal notes for things I wanted to put into practice or ideas I had for my writing.
- Take lunch to recharge -
If you are an introvert like me, then you can only socialize for so long before you start to feel drained. So, I took my lunch in a nearby park instead of staying in the conference area. I ate my lunch, refined my pitch, jotted down some notes, and generally took a little time to collect myself and absorb everything I was learning throughout the day. I'd always pop back into the conference 15-20 minutes before the next session so I could talk to people and do a bit more networking, but always reserved my lunch time for myself.
- Don't forget to have fun -
I'll admit, I was so anxious about the conference that I barely slept the night before. I had visions of me standing off in a corner watching everyone else socialize feeling awkward, alone, and horrendously out of place. But that didn't happen. The entire conference was about taking three days out of our busy lives and all of the normal commitments we have to celebrate writing and connect with other people. I was surprised with just how much fun I had and how much I enjoyed my time at the conference. I left feeling excited, energized, and ready to make some serious moves on my current WIP. Conferences can feel a bit scary, but they should be fun too! Let yourself enjoy it!