- by Sam Hunter
Well, I survived! More than that, I really enjoyed my first conference. The travel was more or less effortless and aside of two hotel fire alarms and locking myself out of my room once, it was a fabulous trip. I enjoyed the energy of being amid that many writers, editors and readers. Everywhere I went, I could hear snippets and echoes of conversations about books and writing, and it was pretty cool to be in a spot where no matter where you turned, you knew you were going to bump into someone who spoke your language. It was also just as nice to retreat to my room or a quiet spot and be alone for a while.
For me, the highlight of the conference was meeting so many people personally whom I have only known online — that was my main goal and I did manage to connect with several, and I enjoyed a few dinners and lunches with women I know will be longterm friends. I was very fortunate to have conference buddies who met me there, and showed me around, introduced me to others, and generally made me feel like part of the group. I could imagine how otherwise RWA could feel like a very lonely place in spite of having so many people around, but for me, it was wonderful and affirming. My advice to other newbies would be to make your connections before the conference, and make sure you have friends to meet there — because in the middle of conference madness, it’s so much harder.
I managed to go to a few workshops, most of which seemed aimed at aspiring writers, who also comprised the better part of the audience. While I picked up a few interesting points, I can’t say the content of the workshops landed all that much for me, but that isn’t to say I didn’t get anything out of them. It was great to see various writer personalities, to see how a talk was structured (or not…a few were really badly organized), and how different people have different presentation styles. Also to scope out some of the editors who appeared on panels, and to see the kinds of writers they work with. In that way, I think attending workshops was very interesting, even if you don’t connect with the content, it was still worthwhile. Eloisa James’s talk was very artful, in the best way, but as I don’t particularly like crying over lunch (there wasn’t a dry eye at the table) I think I would only go see speakers from now on who are funny. *G* Still, her message of writing from the heart was well taken and I thought she had a fantastic presence.
I feel now that I know much more about how to dress for conferences (not as fancy as you might think — I’ll bring far less next time), and I also had time to enjoy time on my own — breakfast an a nearby outdoor cafe where I lingered over coffee with my Kindle, and watched people around me. As much as I went to parties and socialized, I think the biggest thing I took home was a feeling of competence at being able to go out into the world on my own, and also to employ that skill that we writers are best at — watching and listening. I came home a day early and I still needed two night’s sleep to recover, so I can only imagine what it was like for the folks who partied hard and stayed longer.
I met with all three of my Toronto editors, and each meeting was wonderful, and I finally sat down with my agent and her assistant, and found we have as good of a relationship in person as we have on the phone. That was a great thing.
Anyway, I am very much looking forward to NINC now, to continue wandering among my writer colleagues, meeting people, but I also know the workshops and information at NINC will be a learning experience of a very different kind. I can’t say I see myself becoming a “conference addict” — 0ne or two a year would be more than enough for me, and I want to vary them, to try smaller or regional conferences, or things like Thrillerfest etc. Otherwise I could see it becoming very repetitive? What do you think? Do you vary your conferences or go to different ones each year?
I’m very much looking forward to hearing other people’s views on conferences, workshops, and what they do or don’t get out of the experience. If you were at RWA, I’d love to hear about your experience, and if you are a conference vet or newbie, what you’ve learned or think is most important to consider about conferences.