Monday, August 19, 2013

An Introvert's Guide to Writer's Conferences

For many writers, summertime means writer's-conference time. Conferences can be exhilarating, exciting . . . and exhausting to a natural introvert. All those people! All that talking! All that smiling and back-slapping hail-fellow-well-met-ness!

Having just returned from one big conference in Portland, Oregon, and soon to attend an even bigger one in Indianapolis, making the most of a writer's conference is at the top of my mind, so I thought I'd share a few hard-won suggestions with you.

First, why would you even want to attend a writer's conference, which can sound like an introvert's worst nightmare? For me, it's primarily to connect with other writers, to meet editors who might be interested in the kinds of things I write, and to take classes and workshops that will help me improve my craft. Fix your own reasons in your mind; then the time, money, and all-out effort will seem well-spent.

There's loads information on the Internet for things to do before, during, and after a conference, from preparing your pitch to sending thank-you notes. In addition to the usual wisdom about elevator pitches and comfortable shoes, here are a few suggestions from my own hard-won experience:

*Make sure you're at the right conference in the first place. Do your homework to choose a conference that's a good fit for you geographically and financially, as well as appropriate to your kind of writing. Check that it features keynote speakers and teachers you're truly interested in meeting and learning from. Socializing is much easier when you feel that you're among kindred spirits.

*Set a goal. Choose a goal that takes you out of your comfort zone, and make it measurable, like "initiate conversations with three fellow writers" or "schedule meetings with two agents to discuss work-in-progress." Then peel yourself from the wallpaper and do it. When you've achieved your goal, kick back and reach for the chocolate. You've earned it!

*Look for ways to serve others. You never know when someone might need a pen, an aspirin, a chair, a breath mint, a tourniquet . . . Mom was right: focusing on others helps you forget yourself and your anxious feelings. Especially keep an eye out for others who might be feeling as lonely or ill-at-ease as you are. A simple "hello" may improve both your situations.

*Take a time-out. A writer's conference is not a retreat--you are not going off to some bucolic locale to write for long, delicious, uninterrupted hours.An active conference will likely keep you busy from sunup to sundown and beyond--it's up to YOU to call a time-out when you need a break. Retreat to your room for a lie-down, or scope out a quiet corner of the hotel lobby or campus where you can catch your breath and regroup.

*Drink water. It's good for your body, gives you something to hold on to, and keeps you from getting dry-mouth. The air in some conference venues can be incredibly dry.

*Practice what to say. Here's some solid information from C. Hope Clark, author of The Shy Writer, on pre-planning what to say about yourself and your book, so that you aren't scrambling to think up a response on the spot.

*Phone home. Sometimes all it takes is the sound of a familiar voice to give you the courage to get back out into the fray.

*Above all, have fun.  Try to work some enjoyable activities into your schedule, whether it's swimming in the hotel pool or visiting a nearby museum or tourist site. While you don't want to skip out on too much of the conference--you've paid good money to be there, after all--a few well-timed withdrawals can help you absorb the information you've been given, as well as give you a break from being "on" all the time.

Who knows . . . by the end of the conference, maybe some of those strangers will have become friends.

Are you an introverted writer trying to make it in an extroverted world? Share some tips!

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