“I’m gonna kick butt at this writers’ conference!”
I was a wee bit manicky.
“I am a writer and I know it! I’ve had articles published in lots of magazines! I have two blogs and I write in them every week! I can do this!”
It was a conference for humor writers.
So, comes the conference…at a time when I’m not the least bit manicky.
Forget what I said about having developed a few social skills (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-2M). I was there alone, and confronted with a large group, not small groups or individuals.
And I had paid a lot of money to attend.
It was noisy. It was people-y. It had multiple panels scheduled all day. Every day lunch was an Event with big round tables. Every dinner was an Event with big round tables and important speakers. Everyone there blogged daily or had three blogs, an agent, and/or a book contract.
What to do?
Give myself permission to do what I could do. And skip the other stuff. Ignore the money. Build in breaks. Find quiet spaces. Admit when I’m exhausted and go home. (I lived in the area. If I had stayed in the hotel, that would have been “take naps” and the quiet spaces would have been easier to find. If I had better social skills, I might have made a friend and asked to borrow her hotel room.)
This is how I got through it all. Or most of it, anyway.
Do what I could. I combed the program book for Sessions I Must Attend, Sessions I Would Like to Attend, and Sessions I Can Skip. Then I looked for sessions that were offered more than once and decided which offering fit my schedule better. I tried to avoid more than two back-to-back sessions.
Ignore the money. Yeah, I paid quite a chunk of change for this. But it would have been ridiculous for me to calculate how much money each session was worth and try to make back my investment. I had to tell myself that I spent a lump sum and that whatever I got from the conference was worth it.
Build in breaks. The conference had what they called breaks – 15 minutes between sessions when everyone rushed the snack tables, compared schedules, and chattered up a storm. My idea of a break was to sit in the lobby in a comfy chair, stare at the program book so no one interrupted me, and carry snacks with me (boxes of raisins are good).
Find quiet spaces. When I needed something quieter than a hotel or conference center lobby, I searched for unused classrooms. In a hotel, the bar is usually pretty empty during a conference and is a good place to sit and relax with a nice glass of iced tea and maybe even complementary peanuts. Sometimes I was lucky enough to find that if I went to the room I wanted for the next session, it would be empty or contain only a few people. When all else fails, there are always the restroom stalls. (Unless there’s a line.)
Leave when exhausted. On the last full day of the conference I found myself slumped in a chair in the lobby, totally wrung out. There were events scheduled that evening that sounded fun and that I had signed up for while manicky (see above). But I just couldn’t. The events were mostly entertainment rather than educational anyway, and I was not in a headspace where I could absorb entertainment. The fact that there was a flu going around made my disappearance more understandable (even though I wasn’t physically sick).
So did I learn anything at the conference? Did I make new friends? Did I come back revitalized?
Sort of. I learned that the one-on-one “speed dating” with experts was perhaps the most valuable thing I did. I learned that showing up early for a session allowed me the opportunity to meet one of my idols (the speaker) and spend a little time with her and a small group before the session started. I learned that if I sat near the door it was easier to slip out when panic struck.
I even learned a thing or two about writing – how to write a better query letter, how to improve my blogs, when to consider self-publishing, and so forth. I learned that, despite my manicky expectations, I was no better or worse than the other attendees. We all had skills and valuable experiences and we all had things to learn.
Did I make a lot of new writing friends? No. At least not then. The conference had a Facebook page for attendees and I got involved afterward, online, where I am more comfortable than in crowds. I recognized names I had seen on nametags and had conversations with them. I posted some material from my blogs and read what others posted. I commented and read comments. I “followed” some of the instructors. I read books that attendees had recommended.
To tell the truth, I think I got more from the conference after it was over than when it was going on.
Am I glad I went? Yes. The experience was good for me in more ways than one. Paying attention to my own limits and not trying to live up to artificial expectations made for a good – and survivable – learning experience.