As writers, we're told about the things we're supposed to do - learn the craft, follow the rules, break the rules, get an agent, go indie, dream big, be practical. The list goes on, but rounding it out, you'll usually see "Attend a writers' conference."
I love being home. I love hiding behind my computer and exploring the world of my imagination with a steamy cup of tea. I'm good when I don't have to interact with many human beings. I am a classic introvert. So venturing into an unfamiliar conference center full of strangers isn't my favorite thing to do.
But I did it. And I recommend you do, too.
My experience is with the Pikes Peak Writers' Conference, known to be "the friendliest conference around." I'd like to share how I - quite possibly the world's worst introvert-not-yet-hermit - not only survived, but learned to thrive at conference.
Pikes Peak Writers offers wonderful workshops year round cleverly titled Write Brains. These are free and open to the public. I don't remember the first one I went to, but I know I instantly fell in love. Great content, amazing people. But I sat toward the back rather quietly keeping to myself and ducked out the instant the workshop was over.
A few months before conference, PPW hosts a conference preview event called Write Your Heart Out. The first one I went to, I was way intimidated. It was held in an enormous ballroom at the Marriott (the location of the conference). I arrived close to start time, and most of the seats were gone. The introvert won out, and sadly, I ended up leaving early.
I was determined, though, not to let the introvert get the best of me. I wanted to be part of that writers' conference somehow or other. I've always done behind-the-scenes work (theatre, radio production), so I figured if I could get "in", I could handle it. I made the proper connections and landed a volunteer position. In an impulsive moment, I also volunteered to moderate a few sessions. Yes, this meant I'd have to (*gasp*) speak in front of people, but I'd have a semi-script and I was told to be invisible. I could handle it. Really.
PPWC 2013 was my first conference. I went back last year, and I'm going back again this year. I've gotten to know some great people, and I am really looking forward to that weekend in April. No more fears. No more introverted worries. And here's how I do it:
1. Take advantage of everything the conference has to offer. Pikes Peak Writers offers Read and Critique sessions and Query 1-on-1 appointments. These allow you to get valuable feedback on your work, as well as give you the opportunity to speak with a professional in the industry. It's not as scary as it sounds. Your lifeline is your work, and you don't have to speak much.
2. Volunteer! It's a great way to meet people. And the staff you're working with are extraordinarily grateful for your time. You will be remembered and make an impact.
3. The best piece of advice I received is to strike up a conversation with a fellow writer by asking, "So, what do you write?" Works every time! They'll share a little about their writing and return the favor. Boom! Instant conversation.
4. Be prepared when someone asks you what you write. It will happen. You don't have to have a memorized logline or 300 word summary. Even just sharing your genre is enough of a springboard.
5. When you get your registration information, look at it. It's full of valuable information. Take a few moments to study the map of the areas you'll be in. You may even be able to help someone else! (My first year, I got to help an agent find where she needed to go. That earned a few extra brownie/pitching points!)
6. Don't feel pressured to pitch to every agent or editor you come in contact with. And if you do, remember, they are human. While they have done great things for authors, they're just normal people. Try not to put them on too high a pedestal. If you know something about them, strike up a casual conversation. (Again, my first year, I was pitching to an acquisitions editor for a pretty major sci-fi house. We had lunch together before my scheduled appointment. Instead of coming right out with my work, I spoke to him about Disney's Star Wars takeover. Great conversation!)
7. Speaking of lunch...or any mealtime...it's nearly impossible to hear anyone unless they have a microphone. Just be prepared for that. Don't get discouraged. You'll find time to talk with the right people. And if you can hear folks at your table, listen closely. You'll get to hear how others talk about their work which you can apply later.
8. Sometimes, you'll need a break to refresh and recharge. Find a quiet room (at PPWC, there's a lovely room behind the bar near the restaurant that's usually empty) or even a bench off to the side where you can take a few calming breaths. For the introvert, it's necessary. I've even seen a few people skip out on sessions to do this.
9. Along those same lines, allow yourself some space writing-wise. At conference, you're drinking from the firehouse when it comes to craft information. You'll take in so much...and sometimes, that just needs to soak in. I've know folks who go back to their hotel room and stay up until the wee hours writing. Personally, I put writing on hold during conference time. Be a sponge.
10. Again, referring to the previous point, get some good rest at night. The temptation to stick around or stay up late is there. It's an exciting time to be sure! But in order to function, your brain and body need sleep. Taking care of yourself in general is always a good idea. Eat, hydrate, and sleep.
I'm sure I'll think of a hundred other things as we get closer to conference time. But for now, I send forth my fellow introverts with this knowledge. And if you need introvert sympathy, you can hunt me down. I'll probably be at my post at the Query 1-on-1 desk or on the 7th floor. I promise not to overwhelm you with flashy conversation or disregard for your personal space. Just a knowing smile and a comforting nod.
As it says on the t-shirt, "Introverts unite! Separately!"
Pikes Peak Writers Conference is April 24-26. You can still register! For more information, check out their website at PikesPeakWriters.com.
3/25/2015 08:16:07 am
And, as a spinoff, just think of all of the good friends you've made - and I'm one of those critters!!
Last year was my first time at PPWC and I agree with the points you made. Especially getting some quiet time. There is a great patio that is near the bar where I sat for about 20 minutes and it rejuvenated me.
3/26/2015 01:51:43 am
What a great post, Ashley! I am such an introvert, too, and have to fake it so much of the time when I'm in public. But, the PPWC is so amazing and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again. And I'll see YOU next Saturday!
11/26/2020 12:24:37 am
I thoroughly enjoyed this blog, thanks for sharing
8/28/2022 01:56:48 am
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Award-winning sci-fi author * Christ follower, wife, and mom * broadcast content producer. And yes, I am a real duchess. http://amzn.to/2eLTlH3