Attending your first RWA conference is like losing your virginity. Before the event, there’s a lot of anticipation, expectation and much trepidation. The event itself is over before you know it, and then you want to jump in and do it all again. Or ring your best friend and tell her. Or hide in your room and process it all. Or return home, filled with mojo, and write write write.
But being a conference virgin is a state that you can only experience once, so you need to make the most of your first time. Because your subsequent conferences will never be the same.
Friday 10 August, 2007 is the day I lost my conference virginity.
My first conference was in Darling Harbour, Sydney with Jennifer Crusie as the keynote speaker. I was a scared little mouse. Though I was a member of Romaus, I spent most of my time lurking, and the thought of turning up to the e-list dinner without knowing anyone terrified me. So I avoided all the extra-curricular social events. My accommodation was the cheapest (and possibly dodgiest) in Sydney but was only a fifteen minute drive away. It was convenient, but it still wasn’t the conference hotel so there was no chance of bumping into someone in the bar by chance. I didn’t attend the Awards Dinner due to a combination of expense, and not knowing anyone. I talked to other virgins and occasionally raised the courage to talk to a real live author, but mostly I just soaked up the atmosphere, learned heaps in the workshops and enjoyed being with other writers.
But there were many lost opportunities: the book I ummed and ahhed about at the bookstore sold quickly so I didn’t get Jenny Crusie’s autograph in the end – in fact, I didn’t even end up speaking to her. Despite Jenny getting everyone in the room on their feet to declare ‘I am a great writer’, the wimp inside me wanted to bow down in front of her (Wayne’s World- style) saying ‘I’m not worthy.’
But I am. And we are. Just by being a member of this fabulous organisation, just by putting pen to paper, we are pursuing our goals and we are worthy.
Losing my conference virginity was a bumpy experience (much like the other, but I’m not going there!).
My general advice is:
Don’t do what I did!
My specific advice is:
- Make the most of the next 3 months by getting to know people in RWA online – Romaus, the specialist e-loops and the Friday night chat (in the RWA chat room – Friday night lounge from around 8pm AEST) are all designed so that members can get to know each other.
- Join 50ks in 30 days and have a go at writing a novel in a month – again a great way to get to know other members, along with a pom-pom squad for your specific goal.
- Stay at the conference hotel if at all possible – you’ll never know who’ll you’ll bump into between conference events.
- Go to the social events – this includes the cocktail party (and it’s a great excuse to dress up), the Awards Night, but also the extra activities such as the historical tour, the chocolate tour and the e-list dinner (more information on the e-list dinner will be on Romaus closer to the event).
- If you admire an author, tell them (but don’t stalk them for the rest of the conference LOL). Authors love it when you have a fangirl moment.
- if you see a book at the store that you want and there’s only a few copies, buy one. Unless you want to take the chance that it will still be there on the last day, and discounted.
- Mix it up. Don’t spend the entire 3 days hanging out with the first people you meet. Sit at different tables and say hello to people. Don’t be afraid to break the ice. You might sit next to the person who’s destined to be your critique partner, and absolutely gets your writing.
- Don’t panic in the workshop that it’s information overload – you will take on board exactly what you need to know for this phase of your writing life. You can’t record everything.
- Dose up on the vitamin C and any other cold/flu preventatives you can – as conference falls at the end of winter, there are always bugs flying around. Build up your immunity.
- Try not to spend the whole night talking to your room buddy. Hard to resist because the whole conference atmosphere is a buzz but you do want to conserve some energy for the next full-on day.
Needless to say, my last two conferences were very different to my first conference and it’s because I knew a lot more people. But between 2007 and 2009, I participated in 50ks in 30 days, I hung out in the Friday night chat room, I found my critique partner, I joined the webteam, I developed this blog, I joined the RWA committee, I was Romaus moderator, I became Member Secretary. Once you’re a volunteer, you suddenly know a lot more people and there never seems to be enough time at conference to catch up.
But that’s all to look forward to.
So for all the conference virgins out there, I hope the 2011 conference is wonderful and exciting for you, and that you make a heap of lifelong writer friends.
And for all the experienced conference attendees out there, I know you will make the virgins very welcome!
Would you like to share the story of your first RWA conference here? We plan to run this as a regular feature leading up to conference. Email me at email@example.com.