This weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the LDS Storymakers conference for the first time ever.* In fact, not only was this my first time at Storymakers, it was my first time at any major writing conference. For those of you who, like me, are thinking of attending your first writing conference, I’d like to tell you about some of the things I learned this weekend—not about writing technique (because that would take pages and pages, as I learned so many things)—but about what it’s like to attend a writing conference such as this one.**
So here are my First-Timer’s Writing Conference Tips, written by a first-timer:
1) If you can, go with someone you know
…or at least plan to meet them there. If you’re a bit of an introvert (like most writers,) having at least one other person you can comfortably follow around like a puppy d–I mean hang out with–will make you feel much more at ease.
2) However! Talk to people you don’t know, as well!
I know. This is haaaard. But everyone attending is there for one or more of the same reasons you are: to learn something. And, yes, to network. And maybe to pitch to an agent (not me, this time. My current WIP isn’t ready for that yet.) Yes, I get that most writers are introverts, but besides this, you already have something else in common with every single person there: You. Write.
So talk to people. Don’t be shy. Sit down at one of the big round tables at lunch and ask the person next to you if they’re enjoying the conference so far. Ask them where they’re from. Ask them what genre they write. And then reciprocate with the same info. Ask them (if they’re comfortable) what their current WIP is about. I know many of us like to keep that info close to our chests, but trust me, they’re highly unlikely to steal your idea (and you can be vague). They have their own ideas. That’s why they’re there. And from these initial conversation starters, more back-and-forth talk will follow, and before you know it, you’ll be following each other on social media. AND . . . you may even end up as critique partners, or at the very least, good friends.
3) Expect to take LOTS of notes
And unless you have a strong hand, take your laptop with you to classes. I started out handwriting my notes in a little spiral-bound notebook, just like I did back in college (cough) eighteen (cough) years ago. But by the second class, my hand started cramping and my letters morphed into illegible squiggles. I have no idea how I hand-wrote my notes every day, three-to-four classes a day, so long ago, but I think it might have been due to some kind of witchcraft that I have long since forgotten how to perform. So anyway, I switched to my laptop for the third class, and note-taking became so much easier.
Speaking of laptops and electronics in general . . .
4) Bring one or two portable, rechargeable phone chargers
Have you heard of these? They’re these lipstick-sized cylindrical battery chargers that you can plug into the wall and fill, and then later, plop them in your bag with a charging cable and hook them up to your phone or tablet in order to charge your electronics on the go. I originally bought a couple for camping, but they’re FANTASTIC for keeping your phone charged during cons. I bought mine at REI, but you should be able to find them on Amazon as well, and at any outdoorsy/hiking/camping store.
5) Stay Fueled Up!
Pack a water bottle and a few small (non-messy or noisy) snacks. Learning uses up mental energy. You’ll want to keep hydrated and keep your brain well-fueled. I stashed a bunch of Lara Bars in my suitcase before I left, and I’m so glad I did. I ended up eating all of them by the time the conference was over.
6) Stay Warm / Cool / Pain-Free / Fresh
Make sure you have a light cover-up (I had a thin cardigan,) deodorant, a small thing of ibuprofen or aspirin, and breath mints in the tote-bag that you carry from class to class. Some classrooms will be chilly, some will be toasty. You may get a back-ache from sitting too much, or a headache from neck-strain or forgetting to drink out of the water bottle you brought (if you didn’t, please re-read tip #5 above), and sometimes lunch is served with onions. And if you want to network, you don’t want onion breath, okay? Seriously. Onion breath ruins everything.
7) Bring cash
Storymaker’s had a bookstore set up with all the books of the authors who planned on attending the signing event at the end of the conference. The store had Square set up, so credit cards were accepted. However, if you want to buy a book at one of the actual signing tables during the event, not all authors will have Square, so you may need to pay with cash. Also, break up your twenties beforehand. Because you can’t expect them to have to keep track of cashboxes filled with change as well, when they’ve been basically doing the exact same thing you’ve been doing all weekend: attending and/or teaching classes. (Actually, I have a fun story about this. I wanted to purchase Ally Condie’s most recent release, Summerlost, at her signing table, but it was $9. I had thought to go to the cash machine before the trip, which was good planning on my part, right? However, cash machines typically pay you in twenties. And I went to her table very early during in the signing event. She only had change for tens. However! I remembered that I had some wadded-up cash in my jeans pocket from I have no idea when and so I reached in my pocket and pulled out a five and two ones. I also happened to have two more ones in my wallet from who knows when. Which meant that I had exact change. The person next in line, however, still only had a twenty. So, I gave her my nine dollars, and she gave Ally Condie her twenty, and Ally gave her a dollar back. Thus we were both able to purchase her book at the table and get it signed. Ally declared that it was a Storymaker’s miracle. (I am inclined to agree.)
9) Chose Your Classes Wisely
I don’t know if other writing conferences are arranged this way, but Storymakers is organized in a series of one-hour “breakouts.” If you sign up for an Intensive (highly worth it, please do), it will span two full breakouts. Every other class takes up one. And there will be a good selection of classes to choose from during each one-hour session. Think about what you’re working on now, and what you are planning to work on in the future, and choose classes that apply to those. For instance, my current WIP involves a small town police department. So I took a Police Procedural class taught by Mike Perry (who is hilarious as well as a fantastic teacher, by the way–hands down one of my favorite classes at the conference). I also have a future project planned, which is a modernization of a classic. So I took a class on retelling classic literature (taught by McKelle George and Kate Watson, and also one of my absolute favorite classes this year). I also chose classes on techniques that I know I struggle with. If it’s available, get the class schedule ahead of time and plan EVERYTHING out. You will get the most for your time and money this way. (This is where I say, and absolutely full-heartedly mean, that several of our own TTOF authors taught classes that, yes, I attended, and oh. my. goodness, they all did a fantastic job. (cough) Rosalyn Eves, Tasha Seegmiller, Helen Boswell, Elaine Vickers (cough), yes, that’s right. TTOF had a STRONG presence at Storymakers, and also, with the exception of Helen [who I roomed with and met IRL twice before,] I got to meet in person for the first time at this conference. I love you guys, and I wish I didn’t live so far away. . . . Okay, enough gushing, back to the subject at hand . . . )
10) FEEDBACK, FEEDBACK, FEEDBACK
Storymakers has a class feedback system. I have heard, though I cannot confirm, that some other writing conferences have this as well. If the conference that you choose to attend does allow feedback, GIVE IT. The organizers need this information so they know who to invite back again to teach the next year. I had one class (no, sorry, I will not say which one) that I wasn’t satisfied with. The instructer went through her slides too quickly so no one had enough time to actually take notes on what was on them. So yes, I provided feedback that reflected this. But don’t just give feedback on the classes that you weren’t satisfied with. Give feedback on the awesome ones too. The organizers NEED THIS. I cannot emphasize this enough. GIVE FEEDBACK ON EVERY SINGLE CLASS YOU ATTEND.
And that’s it. Those are the top 10 tips that I can give you. Will I attend Storymakers again next year? I certainly hope so! For a first-time conference experience, I couldn’t have chosen better.
*Let me clear this question up for you right now. Yes, it is an LDS conference. Do you need to be LDS to attend? No. I am not LDS. BUT . . . if you do attend, and you are not a member of the LDS church, please be respectful of it. I worried, at first, that I might feel like an outsider . . . like an interloper. But I needn’t have worried about that at all, because I was welcomed with open arms. So here’s a HUGE thank you to everyone involved. Thank you for making me feel welcome. And whenever I am able, I hope to attend again and again.
**Your mileage may vary. Obviously, not all writing conferences are identical. Even from year to year, the same conference will be different.
When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.