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Writer-Talk Tuesday: Three Necessities for a Writers’ Conference

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Last week, Pepper Basham asked several authors for three pointers for attending a writers’ conference—what would we suggest writers “take” with them to a conference—more than just pens and notebooks and comfy shoes.

Here are my three necessities for a writers’ conference . . .

1. A plan.
It’s important to go into a writers’ conference with a plan in place—not just for what sessions you want to attend and what editors/agents you’re going to request appointments with, but a plan for what you’re going to do if you don’t get the appointments you want—how will you make sure that you get to talk to that publishing professional? Also, make a plan for which editors’/agents’ tables you want to sit at during hosted meals. Even more importantly, plan ahead to meet up with online friends, new and old, to make sure that you find each other—because sometimes it’s hard to find one person out of seven hundred!

2. A purpose.
Sure, you have a purpose in attending the conference, but what’s your purpose for why you’re writing? And if your answer is “to get published,” you may need a new purpose. There should be something more to the reason you write than the pursuit of a contract with the “right” agent or the “right” publishing house. What’s your purpose as a writer? Clarify that before you get to the conference. Write it down as a mission statement. (Google “writing a personal mission statement” if you need help.) Carry that mission statement in your pocket/bag with you throughout the conference. Pull it out every couple of hours and read it. Don’t let the craziness and chaos of conference make you lose focus on your purpose as a writer.

3. A perspective.
Not only do you need to have a perspective on who you are and what makes you and your writing unique, you need to plan ahead for having a positive, pragmatic perspective on what’s going to happen when the conference ends. What will you do if you don’t hear what you want to hear? What will you do if all of the editors and agents you talk to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”? How will you handle the emotional surge of conference, followed by the inherent crash afterward once you’re back home again and not surrounded by seven hundred other writers? Most importantly, though, is determining your overarching perspective of yourself and your writing and your life and making the decision before you leave for conference that no matter what happens, you aren’t going to let it affect your belief in the calling God has put on your heart to be a writer.

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If you’ve ever attended a writers’ conference, what three necessities (physical, emotional, and/or spiritual; funny or serious) do you think attendees need?

If you’re planning to attend ACFW in less than two weeks or another conference sometime soon, how are you preparing yourself?

8 Comments
  1. Tuesday, September 13, 2011 6:02 am

    I am attending my first ever writer’s conference this weekend. I couldn’t afford to go to ACFW this year, but I found the Texas Christian Writer’s Conference and to my delight, it was right in my backyard. Only a 20 minute drive from my house–and 1/2 the price!

    I am not sure how to prepare, other than to choose the classes I want to take. It is not a conference where you can meet agents and editors, so I don’t have to worry about that. I am taking a notepad for lots of notes. Oh…and a smile. How’s that? 😉

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    • Tuesday, September 13, 2011 10:23 am

      No matter how small the conference, since it’s the first one, prepare to be overwhelmed. There will be so much information and stimulation coming at you from all sides that it’s hard to take it all in.

      Also—after the conference, it might be a good idea to set aside the notes you take there for a few weeks to allow yourself time to recover properly, to clear all of that information and stimulation before immersing yourself in it again.

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      • Tuesday, September 13, 2011 12:45 pm

        So I’m going to need a recovery period? Nobody has ever said that before! lol But seriously, I can see the importance of stepping back and letting it all sink in. Thanks, Kaye. You should come and hold my hand for my first conference! 🙂

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  2. Daphne Webb permalink
    Tuesday, September 13, 2011 9:56 am

    Take a nap! Very important because you will find that you may overtax yourself with appointments and classes. Keep the business cards you receive so that you can stayed connected through Facebook and Twitter with other writers, authors, agents, and yes, even publishers. Completely enjoy yourself. The more relaxed you are, the more connections you make.

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    • Tuesday, September 13, 2011 10:28 am

      Great advice, Daphne!

      When I was working full-time in a high-stress job, I always looked for time in the conference schedule during which I could go back to my hotel room for an hour or so just to decompress and have some quiet/alone time (I’m not really a nap taker), because I knew I wouldn’t have time to do that when I got home before having to go back to work the next day.

      Of course, during the ACFW conference, this time usually coincides with the LSU football game, if it’s an afternoon game that Saturday. 😀

      Although, since I started working in a job where I had much more solitude (full time as an editor at a publishing house and then from home), I find it much easier to spend eighteen to twenty hours surrounded by people the three or four days of the conference and love every minute of it. As long as I don’t have to go anywhere or see anyone for a few days once I get back home!

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  3. Tuesday, September 13, 2011 1:34 pm

    Oh, Kaye. I saw this on Pepper’s blog and commented on the crash that comes afterward. And it does. I’m tired just thinking about it. I hope bringing a familiar face from home with me (my husband) will make what little down-time I have a little more relaxing. I loved, loved, loved my roomies (yes, there were FOUR of us in a regular hotel room!), and wouldn’t take anything for that first conference experience, but I’m not a person who can stay “up” all the time. With lots of people around, I make myself stay chipper even when I don’t realize it!

    So, my three suggestions?

    1. Plan, like you said, for some down-time.
    2. Take lots of deep, cleansing breaths (but don’t hyperventilate when you pass Terri Blackstock in the hallway).
    3. Make sure there is coffee and chocolate readily available at all times.

    But the main thing I want to do is PRAY. I want to experience the prayer room this time.

    Thanks, Kaye. See you next week! 🙂

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  4. Tuesday, September 13, 2011 2:23 pm

    “making the decision before you leave for conference that no matter what happens, you aren’t going to let it affect your belief in the calling God has put on your heart to be a writer.”

    I thought I’d made that decision and in reality I didn’t. My first and only conference destroyed my confidence as a writer and I still haven’t recovered from it. If I talk to anyone going for the first time, I tell them to guard their heart because they’re going to take a hit that first time.

    And rest. Rest is good. I took two naps during my conference and it helped me tremendously with my energy level.

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  5. Tuesday, September 13, 2011 3:06 pm

    My first conference was an amazing experience. I left with absolute, undeniable confirmation that I was indeed on the right path. I didn’t stress myself out with appointments or worrying about where I was going to sit at meals. I went for the sole purpose of having fun and learning as much as I could. And meeting my new friends.

    And it worked. I had a blast and ACFW conference is now the highlight of my year. My second conference I did appointments. I didn’t have anything to pitch so I asked questions. Most productive. I learned that, while he’s a great agent, Terry Burns and I are not a good fit. He told me he doesn’t like “threes” and I think in “threes”.

    Every year I go with the twin purpose of having fun and learning as much as I can. I am doing agent appointments this year, but I’m not nervous (yet). I’m an old hand at conferences now and the thought of talking to them doesn’t scare the bejeebers out of me. Probably because I’ve had practice doing it at lunch. I’m also rooming with both of my critique partners this year and we are over the moon excited about it.

    My advice is this: Have fun! Go with the expectation that you’re going to have the time of your life. And let that be your only expectation.

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