I wrote this piece before attending the San Francisco Writers Conference for the second time. If you’re an aspiring – or successful – writer who’s thinking of attending a similar event, I hope you find these tips useful.
I’m assuming you have already checked out the conference schedule, instructions, and tips from the organizers carefully, and that you booked accommodation early to get a good rate…
Before: Planning your time
- Read something by the keynoters – you’ll probably get more out of their sessions if you’re familiar with their work. And if they’re outside your usual reading genre, so much the better.
- Dip into, or check out the contents pages of, books by promising-looking speakers. This can be a clue as to what they might cover in a live talk.
- Pay attention to the description of a session, not just its title. If no description is available, try approaching the speaker via Twitter to find out more.
- If handouts are already available on line, use these to plan which sessions will cover things you want to know.
- If you’re torn between two sessions, try to find a buddy and split yourselves between rooms, then catch up later.
Things to Bring to Writers Conferences
- Snacks: not all writers conferences provide between-meal boosts for those of us who like to graze.
- Highlighter pens.
- Cheap pens to lend, which you don’t mind not seeing again. Never lend a favourite pen, not even to J.K. Rowling.
- Something to tie around your bag, so it looks different from the dozens of others scattered around. I like to use a nice scarf, since that does double duty in chilly rooms.
- Business cards – yes, people really do forget to bring these!
- Mints. If you should find yourself in an elevator or sharing a lunch table with someone awe-inspiring, and you can’t immediately come up with a fantastic conversation opener, try offering them a mint. This broke the ice for me last year with a couple of lovely agents.
During the Conference
- I like to use those highlighter pens to mark notes with To Do items and “A-ha” Insights. If you’re an over-achiever, you might also want colours for Reference and Share.
- If you take written notes, leave them in a safe place each night in case you lose your bag/binder.
- Restroom lines are usually worst at the start of a break. Consider getting your snack, your seat for the next session, then visiting the restroom.
- Know your energy levels. Can you interact happily with others from 7am to 10pm? At multi-day writers conferences, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. If not, skip sessions and don’t skip sleep.
After the Conference
- To get the most out of the time and money you just invested, you must plan time back in the real world to consolidate your notes, digest the “A-ha”s and make your action plan. I suggest you allow two hours for this activity, for every day of the conference.
- Don’t forget to follow up with new friends and contacts, and not just the ones who you think may be helpful in future. If you promised to do or send something, make sure you do it. Most conference organizers appreciate a quick thank you, too.
- Put time in your calendar three or four months hence to review the material, your actions and insights. Once things have settled in your brain, you’ll be more able to build on your most meaningful conference takeaways.