Observations from a Noob
A few weeks ago, I attended my very first writing conference. I have been hobby-writing for years, but only recently felt ready to get serious. Registering for the spring conference put on by my local chapter of SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) was a big step. I was excited, but nervous.
Would anyone talk to me? And if they did would I make a idiot of myself?
Would I be out of my league?
Most importantly, what should I wear?
Here are some ways that I sorted it all out.
Getting the Lay of the Land
Before the conference, I joined an email group for local children’s writers. I knew that many of the group members were also members of SCBWI. I introduced myself and mentioned that I would be going to the conference. I asked if anyone had advice for newbies and was pleased when several members responded. Not only did I receive answers to my questions, including the all important what-to-wear one*, I also made some connections. When the conference came around, I was able to meet, in person, some of my new friends.
*Business casual, which here in Oregon means pretty much anything clean and in good repair that does not say Juicy across the butt. In case you are wondering, I opted for a casual, jersey-knit dress one day and dark denim capris with a nice blouse the next.
Getting the Most Bang for My Buck
I signed up for everything. Professional critique? Yes, please. Chance to read my first page and get feedback? You bet. Cocktail party to discuss the changes in my chapter? I am there, but since I do not drink, you can have my wine.
Even though I still would have learned a lot by merely observing, the chance to put myself and my work out there was invaluable. I was not expecting any of these things would result in a contract but I knew they would all help me to grow, both in my craft and as a person. I was right. I gained invaluable insights into my current work-in-progress and into myself as well.
Which brings me to:
Getting Over Myself
I can be a pretty social person but being in the same group as “Capital W” Writers was a little intimidating. For one thing, I did not think of myself that way. I had participated in critique groups, completed my first novel and begun work on a second, and made (a teeny-tiny bit of) money from my writing, but I did not see myself as a legitimate writer.
However, once I started paying attention, I found that others were probably having the same lame-little-fish-in-a-pond-full-of-awesome feelings. I made it a point to be friendly and talk to everyone around me, but most particularly those that looked like they needed a buddy. You know who I mean: the lady sitting at a table by herself, looking nervously around or the man hovering by the coffee station, quietly observing the conversations happening all around him.
The awkward. The lonely.
Those were my people.
I looked for someone who might need what even I could offer and as a result, I did nt feel awkward or alone. Getting comfortable made it easy to open my mouth in other situations, be it participating in workshop discussions or chatting up an editor about the best kind of herbal tea.
I realized that there were writers at all stages of their careers in attendance. All of us have to start somewhere. Just being at the conference proved that I was serious about my work.
I began to change the way I thought of myself. I belonged. That alone was worth the price of admission.
I cannot wait for the next one.