Last month I attended the annual conference for the Romance Writers of Australia. As a conference newbie, I felt a little like a deer in the headlights despite being well prepared by the the Queen of Newbies and her team of Wranglers. But this was only because the experience blew all my expectations out of the water. I expected to have a good time, learn loads and meet a great bunch of people — but what I got out of it instead was so much more. And seeing as I have lost my writing conference virginity, I though I would share my newfound wisdom with future conference newbies.
So here are my top five tips for getting the most out of your first writing conference:
1. DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE A FINISHED MANUSCRIPT BEFORE ATTENDING!
In the lead up to the conference, a number of other writers mentioned on social media that they were going to wait until they had a finished manuscript before they attended their first conference. My number one tip is DON’T WAIT! You will learn so much during the sessions that you will be overwhelmed (like me!) with all the changes you will need to make to a finished manuscript. Use it as a learning experience, take on board the expertise of all the presenting authors and apply it to your writing. Much easier to do — and less daunting — if you are still working on the early drafts of your novel.
2. CONNECT WITH OTHER ATTENDEES BEFORE ATTENDING
As mentioned in a previous post, the RWA did an amazing job at preparing first time conference attendees. We were all getting to know each other months before the conference via a secret newbie Facebook page. It made being surrounded by 400 other writers much less daunting when I could recognise a few faces (or at least their names) from social media, particularly those that were at roughly the same stage of their writing career as me.
3. STAY AT THE VENUE
I was so glad I was able to stay at the conference venue. The timetable was so jam-packed it was a relief to just be able to pop up in the lift to get something I’d left behind or to freshen up before the next event, etc. If your budget allows, definitely consider it, or if not at the venue, then certainly close by.
4. SCHEDULE IN SOME DOWN TIME
As mentioned, you’re not going to be left with a lot of free time. I was stupid enough to arrive (by plane!) only hours before the conference began and flew out hours after it closed. Please don’t be that stupid. Other than that, you may want to consider letting something from the schedule go, just to get a moment to yourself. I gave one event a miss, just to get an hour to myself.
5. ATTEND THE SOCIAL EVENTS
I strongly recommend attending all the social events — even if they cost extra and even if you normally find that kind of thing difficult! You will meet the most amazing people and could make some very important connections. I was lucky enough to be seated at a table at the Awards Dinner with the most incredible women. We had a great time and decided to form our own critique/support group. After only one month since the conference, these women have become invaluable to me and I’m so excited to travel our writing journeys together.
I should perhaps mention one more tip for conference newbies which is:
BE PREPARED FOR POST-CONFERENCE BLUES
(More on that next time!)