Get ready. You’re about to see a TON of tweets about writing.
Because I’m headed to When Words Collide this weekend. Billed as a “festival designed to bring readers and writers together in a celebration of the written word”, it’s a local writing and reading festival in Calgary. This is my second year attending this festival and I’m SO EXCITED. I had so much fun last year, learned so much, and was so inspired.
I go to conferences and festivals to get as much as I can out of them. I want to learn. I want to listen and observe and participate and meet people. It’s all fun. It’s all helpful. It’s all stuff that I hope to add into my writing to make it better, and one day, be published.
I’m going to be taking pages of notes (seriously, oodles of them) at the panels and workshops I go to over two and a half days. And I’ll be tweeting out tidbits all weekend. So, if you’re game to join the conversation, follow me on Twitter.
If you’ve ever been to a conference, you know they’re marathons, not sprints. I know, cliche alert. But it’s true. Nearly three days of constant panels, some that start early, some that go quite late, with no real meal breaks (unless you want to miss panels and why would you want to do that?!). It’s exhausting. Wonderful. But exhausting.
So, how do you survive your writing conference marathon? (Hint: It’s not coffee.)
Plan your writing conference.
First things first–before you even get to the conference, do your research. We’re readers and writers, we know how to research. Go to the conference’s website and download the schedule for the weekend. It’s usually posted up to a week before the event. Print off the quick guide and spend an hour or two going through the descriptions for each panel. Star the ones you’re that spark a flare of interest. That will probably be nearly ALL OF THEM. But… have patience, this preparation thing has steps to it Once you have two or three or five stars in each time slot, read through the descriptions of these sparks of interest again.
Find your focus and stick to it.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are SO MANY CHOICES! And so many great choices. So focus yourself and limit your choices. Think about where you’re at in your writing journey. Are you starting your novel? Just a draft or two in? Ready to edit? Or do you have a polished manuscript that you’re just about ready to publish? If you’re like me and haven’t finished a first draft, you probably want to save publishing panels for later. They sound super interesting, I know, but they aren’t applicable yet. Hold your horses! Cross those off and focus on panels and workshops that can help you now, where you are.
With your immediate goals in mind, rank the panels that you’ve starred. The highest rank, the session most interesting and applicable to where you are in your writing journey, gets a highlight (the brighter, happier the colour the better). That’s the session to aim for. Do this for each time slot. Now you have an idea of what you’re going to do at your conference, and where you’re going to be. It’s not set in stone, but it’s a plan and it’s a focused one.
Get there early and scout the venue.
When conference weekend arrives, get there early. If check-in starts at noon, be there at 11:30. Scope out the venue. Where are the meeting rooms, the bathrooms, the coffeeshop, the plug ins. Figure out the routes between rooms so you can make the most of your 10 minute intervals between sessions. You do not want to get lost on your way to Sarah J. Maas’ “how to write badass heroines” workshop and miss her story about the time she impersonated Celaena in self defence class.
Bring snacks – healthy ones.
Some conferences have awesome snack shops or even free food. Most don’t. Catering is expensive! I’m talking thousands of dollars just for a few hundred muffins and cups of coffee. And buying food for yourself during the conference takes time away from sessions, which means you’ll be missing out on great stuff, and is also pricey.
Hunger pains distract from learning how to write witty dialogue. Don’t let this happen to you. Bring sandwiches, fruit, veggies, and the like. Just try to save the loud crunchy ones for breaks. And yeah–you’re gonna need a pretty decent bag to carry it all.
Drink lots of water.
Coffee and tea are necessities for some of us. I’m also partial to Cocoa-Cola.But, don’t go overboard– a little caffeine during the day can be a lifesaver. But water is your BEST FRIEND at things like conferences. Conferences are full of dry, circulating air. You’re inside, sitting, listening all day. You need water. It’s easy to forget, and to just sip your tea. Don’t. Bring a water bottle that you love, refill it. Add fruit if you need to. Just drink water. It will wake you up. And it will force you to move when you have to pee.
Wear comfy, but professional clothes.
It’s super tempting to wear your spandex leggings and boyfriend’s hoodie to the conference. Those rooms get COLD and those chairs require some adjustments and weird positions to be comfortable. But don’t do it! You’re there to meet people as much as you are to listen and learn. So, if you must wear your Lululemons, at least pair them with a nice top, cardigan, and scarf so you don’t look like you’re having a four-day Netflix binge on your couch with your best pal Mr. Sniffles. Who knows, you could meet a future editor or publisher!
Bring multiple pens and extra notebooks.
I’m a notetaker. I write and write and scribble and scribble. It’s great. I have stuff to study from and remind myself what I heard. It’s not so great when my pen dies in the middle of Diana Gabaldon giving her top tips for writing steamy Jamie and Claire scenes. So, bring multiple pens. Last year, I even brought different coloured pens and switched it up for each session. My notebooks was a GORGEOUS rainbow.
Along with your extra pens, bring an extra notebook. JUST IN CASE. You might fill one up with notes or be inspired and write that scene that’s been floating in an incandescent fog in the back of your brain for the last six months, or meet someone who ran out of paper and be able to share. Remember, sharing is caring.
Split up from your friends.
It’s so much fun to go to a conference with friends! You get to squee about amazing authors and editors together. Talk for hours about the Live Action Slush you just saw. Deliberate on whether or not you agree that theme is necessary for a quality novel. But, friends are also a safety blanket. They stop you from talking to other people. They’re also a distraction–it’s tempting to whisper a comment to them about the panelist’s Hermione reference. BUT–friends who split up and then share notes get to attend WAY MORE sessions than people who go it alone. Get what I said there? Split up, get more for your money. It really does work! And makes for awesome dinner conversation in which everybody gets to take a turn basically being the expert on a topic and rehashing the panel they went to.
Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers.
I get it. Lots of us are introverts. We like to cozy up in our reading nooks with our books or our laptops and focus on fictional friends. Writing conferences though, are safe spaces. We all love the same things–books and writing. So go ahead. Talk to the people sitting next to you while you wait for the panel to start. Chat with the ladies in line for the bathroom. Give out your twitter handle like it’s candy. Make new friends while your old friends are gathering wisdom in other sessions. It’s win-win, really. And, it’s not even that hard. You’ve got some great talking points. Hi, I’m Trisha. This panel looks like it’s gonna be good. What other panels have you gone to this weekend? See? It’s not so bad.
This weekend, I’m stoked to go to some awesome panels to help me develop my writing craft. I’m planning on going to sessions like:
- Research 101
- Silencing Your Inner Saboteur
- Writing the Young Adult Novel
- First Meets
- YA and the Tough Stuff
- Common Manuscript Problems
- Sparking the Idea
- Trilogy, Series or Serial
- Live Action Slush (Romance, Historical, Fantasy, YA)
- The Write/Read Balance
- The 7-sentence Short Story
- Writing Dialogue
If you’re at When Words Collide, tweet me! I’d love to meet you in person. 🙂
What are your tips for surviving writing conferences?