Writers’ Conference Imperfections: How to get the most out of your writers’ conference and enjoy yourself entirely

If life were a constantly perfect utopia, we’d probably be bored anyway, so best to get over the wish for perfection, and get on to finding the perfect in the imperfect. Back onto writers’ conferences today, and how to enjoy yourself even when things aren’t going perfect, there are glitches, etc. After making the decision, spending the money, taking the time and effort to attend, don’t you want to get the most out of it? Here are a few problems you could encounter, and how to counter them and still have a fabulous, inspiring time.

  1. Cancellation or change of plans.

Things happen. Remember the whole ‘this is not a perfect utopia’? The first rule: don’t panic. If the event is cancelled, find out how you’ll be refunded, what actions you need to take next. If it’s postponed or changed, wait for further news and make a new decision based on this information. For the most part, any organization putting on the conference is going to be as distraught if not more than you if bad news comes even before the conference. So, have some empathy, take a breath, smile, and then act patiently.

  1. Bad food.

To be clear, I’m not very picky about the food, and do not expect a gourmet meal. Nor have I encountered outright bad food… it’s just a bit dull. If you love chicken, chicken, and more chicken, you’re set. If not, all is far from lost. First off, if the food isn’t too bad, does it matter so much? You’re there to fill your head with knowledge and experience, not stuff your belly with food, right? Another option is to handle food yourself; some conferences offer the option of including meals or not. Perhaps you’d be better off purchasing and choosing your own meals rather than opt into a full plan. If the meals are just part of the conference fee, some writers opt for the vegetarian meal even if they’re not strict vegetarians; this can offer variety. Otherwise, you can always live on granola bars from home and water, right?

  1. Poor quality workshops.

The fact is, not every workshop will appeal to you. Some will be aimed at writers in other genres, different levels of writing, different methods, etc. The variety is a good thing: how do you know for certain it isn’t your method or might not work for you until you try it or learn about it? Is there anything you can take from it? There will be workshops which are for you, which appeal and speak to / answer whatever questions perhaps you had. Be sure to watch for indications of level: you may be better off, for example, in “masters” type workshops than beginner, depending on your level of writing, mastery of craft, etc. Most conferences will allow you to leave the workshop quietly and go find another; don’t give up – just keep looking since the right one is out there, maybe just in the room down the hall.

  1. Mean people.

They’re everywhere! Shall I refer you back to the “this is not a utopia” comment? Fact is, while the majority of people you will meet will be happy and eager to learn, experience, network, etc, there will be some who will not. There will also be strange ones (although for writers, this is indeed perhaps a ‘strange for a given definition of strange and on some kind of sliding scale’). Enjoy the strange ones; often they’re very interesting and could inspire unintentionally. For the mean: don’t be one of them, and then politely move onto happier, friendlier faces. They’re waiting to meet you, and they are there.

  1. Accommodation issues.

A lot of conferences are held in larger facilities, and if they’re relatively large, there is some plan for accommodation. I shall refrain from mentioning any word of utopia, but so long as the issues aren’t too severe (ie: affecting your health, safety, or well-being) essentially the room is just somewhere to sleep after an exhausting day. If you do need to deal with the issue, do so politely and in the means established by the conference: sometimes you address the accommodation provider directly first, sometimes the conference organizer(s), though both probably should be informed what’s going on. Smaller issues (ie: cold presentation rooms, etc) can be dealt with simply by remembering to dress in appropriate but comfortable clothes, and often in layers which make allowances for differing temperatures.

  1. Conference overload.

This seems a bit odd to add, but I thought it fit since this can indeed be a hazard of conferences, especially if you’re eager and excited. When conferences spread over more than one day, expect to be exhausted, particularly if you try to attend every workshop, every event, etc. My personal advice: don’t.  Go to the conference, make sure you’re getting the most out of it and attend the workshops which appeal to you – I am in no way suggesting you shouldn’t! And, if you want to attend every workshop all day long, go for it. But, take breaks too and remember to take care of yourself. Take breaks. Drink lots of water. Stretch. Get fresh air. If there’s nothing you feel you MUST see in a workshop block, why not just take some time to digest what you’ve learned, perhaps take a walk, or get outside and explore the area a bit. The conference is supposed to help your writing; not leave you so mentally exhausted you can’t write for a week after getting back!

Well, those are the main difficulties I can think of, off hand. In general, I think the main thing to remember to pack is a positive outlook, empathy, and manners. This way when problems arise, they can’t possibly ruin your entire experience, you won’t ruin anyone else’s, and all in all, they can generally be solved much easier.

Have you encountered difficulties I’ve forgotten? How did you deal with them? What was the outcome?

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