Monday, February 23, 2015

The most important thing you've learned at a conference - TBA client post

This month is all about conferences on the blog, so we’ve asked some TBA clients a question:

“What is the most important thing you’ve learned at a conference?”

Lori Roy  Edgar-award winning author of BENT ROAD and the forthcoming LET ME DIE IN HIS FOOTSTEPS Twitter: @LORIROYauthor

Ten years ago, while taking part in a workshop at a writing conference, I learned one of the most important things I would learn as a writer. As often happens when writers are workshopping manuscripts, the conversation had become rather impassioned, although I, still new to the process, sat quietly and listened more than I talked. We had reached that portion of the class where the author of the work that had been workshopped was getting his chance to speak. He chose to use his opportunity to challenge the advice he had received and to defend, explain and justify his work. The class rallied around him and reassured him we had all attended the conference to receive similar advice and criticism, and he should appreciate and not resent it. The argument continued until another student, nearly as quiet thus far as I had been, spoke up. “We need to humble ourselves to the craft of writing,” he said.  

The gentleman’s comment ended that particular workshop. To say that we needed to humble ourselves to the craft was to say we needed to earn our confidence and resist our egos. We needed to learn the rules and guidelines of the craft, understand them, appreciate their importance and only then could we break them. We needed to respect all the work that had come before us, and in doing so, we would be able to respect the amount of time and commitment our writing would demand. 

I have recounted this story a number of times and the only thing missing is the name of the gentleman, who so perfectly said what needed to be said. His sentiment remains among my favorite lessons learned. Many times over the years I have rifled through my email in search of his name as I would very much like to credit him.  So far, no luck.  

Jen McLaughlin/Diane Alberts 
NY Times & USA Today Bestselling Author of OUT OF LINE
Twitter: @DianeAlberts 

One of the most important things I’ve learned at conferences is that while it’s a whole lot of fun and games—the friends, the books, and the drinks—it’s so much more than that. Never forget that those conferences offer valuable opportunities. Editors, agents, readers, and fellow authors are all around you, so you don’t want to be that drunk girl puking in a potted plant in the lobby.
Have fun, but don’t forget to network smartly while you’re there. I’ve made a few book deals and plans happen at conferences…in the lobby, in the hotel coffee shop, and even at the blackjack table in Vegas at midnight. You never know what’s going to happen, so make sure to mingle, have fun, and be ready for anything! And if you see me at one, please come up to me and say hi!

M.J. Pullen
Twitter: @mjpullen

Before I viewed writing as a full-time career, I attended many professional conferences in other fields: psychology, counseling, marketing and fundraising. But never writing. For some reason it only seemed “legitimate” to attend a conference or pursue continuing education for a job I already had, rather than the passion I was slowly, quietly pursuing.

In April 2014, I was finally persuaded to attend The Atlanta Writer’s Conference, where I was fortunate to meet and pitch to Nicole Sohl, now my editor at Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press. Aside from that relationship and the contract offer that followed, the conference gave me an important reminder.

There is so much to know about writing that none of us can know it all. But any time I sit with other writers, whether in a workshop or across the lunch table, I learn a little more. That conference reminded me, not just how much I still have to learn about the craft (always) but how valuable my connections with other writers are. And, even though I had been writing professionally for a couple of years; investing in the conference marked a shift in the way I view my writing. No longer just a hobby or fantasy, that conference truly helped me view writing as a professional-level pursuit, worthy of serious attention. The shift was completely internal, but it’s made a difference in the way I approach my writing every day since.

Ruth Fitzgerald
Twitter: @writingruth

The most important thing I learned was at the SCBWI conference when Cathy Cassidy said she can't write if she plots first. If she has a plot it ruins it and she can't write the book. This made me feel much better as I write in the same way. I always felt a bit inadequate when I saw authors with post-it notes all over the wall and complex diagrams and pages of notes. The most I ever do it a bit of a spider chart or mind map and that's it. Then I just have to write and see where the characters take me. Every time I try to plot in advance I feel that there's a lack of spark about the writing. So what I actually learned was there's no 'right' way to write, you have to find out what works for you.

And some less serious, but fun responses to our question: 

[How about] that time I sat down next to Margaret Peterson Haddix on the bus to the Rochester Teen Book Festival, realized who she was halfway through the conversation, then started freaking out and embarrassingly fangirling because JUST ELLA was one of my favorite books as a kid.  I also stole another author's cheesecake at dinner and showed David Levithan that I could do a split, so it was a memorable event all around.

Kat Ellis 
Twitter: @el_kat

Even if you find yourself within poking distance of Neil Gaiman, DO NOT POKE NEIL GAIMAN.