Entry #7: Surviving your First Writer's Conference

October 26, 2017

Hello lovely human! Thank you for taking a moment to read this blog post. I hope it is helpful to you in some way in the future. If you have a writing conference or big event that you are attending for writing, this article is for you. So grab a cup of coffee, get comfy, and let’s get into it.

I attended SiWC this past weekend (Surrey International Writer’s Conference). It was the first conference I have ever been to, and I went completely solo. As someone with anxiety, this was a rather intimidating feat for me. The conference was three days long and consisted of back to back workshops each day. It covered topics such as: Self Publishing, Worldbuilding, Crafting Believable Villains, Identifying Tropes *and inverting them- guys, this was by far my favourite workshop*, Author Branding, and much more. During the conference each attendee had two appointments scheduled. 1. A pitch appointment, which was a one on one ten minute appointment where I had the opportunity to pitch my novel to an agent, and 2. A blue pencil session, which was another ten minute appointment, but this time with an author who read and critiqued the first ten pages of my novel. So, needless to say, it was a jam packed and stressful weekend.

But it was magnificent. I soaked in as much information as I could, and, low and behold, connected with some really awesome people. Us writers are usually introverts, so when thrown into a forced social setting surrounded by like minded people pursuing the same goal, I took the opportunity to reach out and make friends. (I feel a bit like Hermione Granger here in ‘the Goblet of Fire’ when she says, “the whole point of the tournament is international magical cooperation. To make friends!”). I now have someone who is going to help me with my manuscript if I run into any roadblocks. Not only that, but she will also be a source of encouragement and a good confidant when the writing world gets… overwhelming… as it often does.

I wanted to share with you what I learned in terms of how to actually survive a conference like this. There were many things I wish I had done differently, and things I was well prepared for. Let’s begin, shall we?

  1. H20, peeps. Stay hydrated. The conference was well organized and had water stations outside each workshop room, but that meant I had to stop in between workshops to get water. I wanted to make sure I made it to each session early so I could grab a good seat, so I brought my own water bottle and refilled it during down time. The conference was hosted at the Sheraton Guilford Hotel, which was a fabulous location, but you spend ten hours indoors breathing recirculated air all day. Make sure you have water. Trust me.
  2. Aspirin!!! Or some form of painkiller. I got a headache all three days before noon like clockwork. This seemed to be a common thing for most people I talked to. The air in the hotel combined with early starts, stress, and a copious amount of information made for a very intense day, and headaches plagued almost everyone I talked to. No joke. So prepare for that, because trying to focus while your eyeballs feel like they’re trying to pop out of your skull is a real downer.
  3. Make friends. Seriously. Had I not made an instant connection with another writer at the conference my experience would have been much different. So, insert shout out to Kelly right here- you rock! She was so supportive when I started freaking out about my pitch appointment with an agent. I was terrified, and all that writerly self doubt (you know what I’m talking about) was threatening to suffocate me. I told Kelly how stressed I was, and she assured me that I wouldn’t regret going to the appointment. She was so kind, and had it not been for her I am 100% I would have cancelled my appointment. Which would have been a real shame, because guess what? The agent I pitched to wants me to submit a query. And it wasn’t scary once I was sitting down in front of him. The nerves vanished and I channelled all the love I have for the story I want to tell with Jack: Rise of Faerie. So again, thank you Kelly <3
  4. Be prepared. Bring notebook(s). Bring pens/pencils/highlighters. Make sure you bring more than one. I can’t believe how many people were trying to bum pens off of others in the bathrooms. It was quite funny, really, to see all these writers, dressed in knee high socks and knit cardigans bargaining for pens in the bathroom- it was like a really sweet, friendly drug deal between workshop breaks. Don’t get caught like that, you need to take notes. You are bombarded with so much information that you won’t retain ANY of it. I mean it. Bring a lot of pens. Write down everything you can. You will thank me for it later.
  5. Try to slip outside when you can. I didn’t do this at all on my first day, and when it was time to go home I felt lethargic and drained. My headache wasn’t helping. On day two I made a point to go outside whenever I had the chance. The fresh air definitely helped keep me energized and alert. It was also nice to escape the hustle and bustle of the conference for a brief five minutes once every couple hours.
  6. Participate, if you can. I know it’s hard because like me, you’re probably an introvert. But you have no idea how important it is. Ask the questions you need to ask. You paid money to be at this conference (I’m assuming), and you deserve to get as much as you can out of it. The presenters/authors/agents all want you to ask your questions. That’s why they’re there! And, you never know who you could meet by participating.
  7. Try not to stress too much. This is probably the most crucial piece of advice I could possibly give you. I worked myself into such a state of anxiety about my pitch session and it turned out to be the highlight of my time at the conference. If you’re stressed about meeting people remember this: they are in the exact same position as you are. Writers are usually (and by usually I mean almost always introverts. All the nervousness you feel about having to meet people and socialize and talk about your book (God forbid) is felt by almost everyone else attending the conference. But for realz, my loves, be brave! Make friends! Talk about your book or your project every chance you get, because that is the whole point of a conference!
  8. Take pictures. I know this is a bit weird, but I didn’t take any. Kelly took a couple and posted them online, and I wish I had taken more. Presenters and authors and agents were more than willing to pause to snap a photo with people. I missed a good opportunity there to create some awesome memories from my first conference. Don’t make the same mistake.
  9. Snacks. Bring snacks. ‘Nuff said.
  10. If you can, try to take the day off immediately after the conference. I’m lucky to be a freelance writer who works from home, and therefore I do have the luxury of making my own schedule. I arranged everything in advance to have my Monday off, and I spent nearly the entire day on my couch watching Netflix. I am still watching The Office and crushing HARD on Jim Halpert. Please send help!I think I drank three cups of tea and all three of my meals were comfort food: bagel and cream cheese, red pepper and tomato soup, and then tacos. Yup. That’s the dream right there. In all seriousness though, you will appreciate the day to recharge and not use your brain at all. I definitely did.

So what about after the conference? Well, I am still coming down from the high of it all, and it’s been three days. I feel refreshed and inspired, and I think this conference gave me the push I needed to finish my novel. I’m hoping to have it done within a month… that might be a little too optimistic, but we shall see.

I’m also already thinking about next year. I will definitely be attending again, probably annually. If you want to attend SiWC 2018, please let me know! I can be your buddy if you don’t know anyone who is going to be there. If you have any questions, reach out, and I will try to help as best I can. For now, I’m going to be staring at the ‘SWAG’ I have from the conference (which I have placed all around my workspace because it gives me good feels): my conference ID badge, my attendance confirmation, and the quill I bought myself to commemorate the epic self accomplishment of pitching my book (and winning the interest of an agent).

Final thoughts on this massive entry: if you have the opportunity to attend a conference, take it. You will not be disappointed.

Until next time my loves, XOXO, Rebecca

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© 2017 R.M. Jamieson