Today I’m doing something different–we have a guest blogger!
Big round of welcome for Christian Berkey, who has written a YA science fiction book, and is hard at work getting his debut book in front of agents.
Without any more ado, here’s a post he wrote after his experience at the Writer’s Digest Conference at the end of this summer.
This year, I had the incredible fortune to travel to New York for the Writers Digest Writing Conference. It was my first time attending a writing conference and I was beyond excited. Just the thought of spending an entire weekend living, eating, and breathing all things writing was sweeter than a piece of chocolate-covered chocolate cake. With extra chocolate. On the side.
Despite my excitement, I was a little terrified, too. Questions plagued me as the conference inched closer. How would other writers perceive me—a legit wielder of words, or a fumbling hack? What if I learned something that meant I had to start my completed novel all over? There was also that hollow feeling in my stomach when I thought of pitching my book to agents and editors who had the power to either make my dreams of publication come true, or crush its still-beating heart.
Rest assured, none of these fears came to pass. All the writers I met were amazing, the tips I learned gave me opportunities to enhance my novel (not scrap it), and several agents requested partial submissions…two even asked for the whole manuscript. And when it was all over, I realized that the thing that served me best wasn’t a snazzy business card or a picture-perfect pitch. It was having the right mindset.
Here are four attitudes to adopt that can help both first timers (like me) and veterans alike have a successful conference.
- Be curious
When we finally come out of our writing caves, it’s tempting to prove to others that we know what we’re doing; we know our stuff. Many of us are still looking for a small dose of validation that proves we really are writers. But this isn’t an opportunity to show your knowledge of the publishing industry or recite The Elements of Style. The goal of a conference is to gain tips and insights, not look good in front of your peers.
So, ask if you don’t know something. I give full marks of bravery to a fellow writer who asked what “free writing” was in a creative writing session I attended. While the concept was elementary to most in the room, I saw several heads bob up and down when he posed the question. And that’s the point. You may feel like a dunce, but writers of all knowledge levels attend writing conferences. Chances are high someone else might have the same question.
- Be sociable
As writers we spend hours by ourselves hunched over our computers. It’s easy, then, to stay withdrawn—even when we’re surrounded by people. Taking this approach, however, won’t help you grow at a writing conference. In fact, going lone wolf means you’ll miss one of the best things about being a writer: The writing community.
Writers are creative, driven, humorous, poignant, and thoughtful people. They have stories to tell—and not just the ones they write, either. Furthermore, they share your passion for the written word. Why wouldn’t you want to meet these people?
Additionally, networking with other writers will help you gain insights that go beyond the conference. So, make sure to wear your social pants at the conference. Not only will you learn from others—and share your knowledge, as well—you’ll make friends to share the joys and struggles of writing with.
- Be humble
Make sure you check your ego at the door. I was amazed when people openly challenged the advice of more established writers during panel sessions. In these instances, the person seemed more concerned with defending their school of thought rather than receiving help.
Authors and agents who present at writing conferences have given up their time to help you succeed. Show them reverence. Even if you disagree with their point of view, even if you think they’re taken up a summer home in la-la land, you can always gain a new perspective. Each presenter is there because they have valuable writing expertise to share. You can learn something from all of them.
It’s equally important to take a shot of humility before speaking with other writers, as well. Don’t view yourself as better (or worse) than others. Whether you’re agented, published, or none of the above, all writers who take their craft seriously are on the same plane. As Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Show respect to those, like you, who bleed every day as they endeavor to put words on the page.
- Be enthusiastic
As I said before, I was over-the-moon ecstatic that I was attending a writing conference. This enthusiasm ended up being a huge benefit because it kept me upbeat and energized. Not only was I able to listen for hours without feeling tired, I was also positive and optimistic when it came time to pitch my book.
This is it…your time to geek out on all things writing. Make no apologies for being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It’s a rare opportunity to spend a few days doing nothing but learning about writing. Enjoy every minute! Be grateful for each conversation, each session, each opportunity to learn something new that will help you become a better writer.
Going the distance
Not only did each of these four attitudes help me learn a lot from the conference, they helped me get some attention from agents, as well.
As I attended workshops and sessions leading up to the pitch session, I learned as much as I could about successful pitches by asking questions. Armed with this new information, I realized that the pitch I’d written beforehand (one that I had worked hard to perfect and memorize) needed an overhaul. So, I ate some humble pie, went back to my room, and wrote a new one.
During my pitch I was petrified—and I’m the type of person who isn’t scared to be in front of people. But I used my enthusiasm to mask my fear and it paid off in spades. Finally, I wasn’t afraid to be sociable and engage agents after the pitch session. In fact, one conversation with an agent who’d asked for a partial submission yielded a golden opportunity when she told me how to help her remember me when I submitted my work.
Attending a conference takes quite a bit of time, energy, and resources. While it’s important to make sure you’re prepared, don’t forget to bring the right attitude, as well. It’s the small thing that’ll go a long way in helping you reap all the rewards a writing conference has to offer.
Christian Berkey spends his days writing for Progressive Insurance and his evenings perfecting his young adult novel. You can read his Progressive articles to learn about everything from fitness to saving money, check out his website to learn about his novel, and follow his offbeat musings on Twitter at @ChristianBerkey.