Checking the Conference Map

Do you attend writers’ conferences?  If so, have you got a map?  I don’t mean a literal diagram of the conference hotel, or a list of the classes you want to attend – though you’d better get those too.  But in addition, going to conferences with a mental map of the things you’d like to achieve can make the experience much more rewarding than going without advance thought.

Next week I’m heading off to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference in Denver.  I’ve got my plane ticket, class list, hotel reservation and business cards.  But I have something else, too.

I have my map.

When I register for a conference, I read the class list carefully, along with the list of presenters and editors/agents/industry professionals planning to attend.  I think it over.  Then I start to plan.  I try to go to the conference with specific goals in mind, some career related, some personal, and some just for fun.  The reason?  Achievement and success.  I may not return home with the perfect agent, or a contract offer from an editor.  In fact, statistically I won’t.  Yet even so, I can come home a success and a better writer, by meeting the objectives I set for myself in advance.

I could go without the objectives and still achieve an increase in my skills, but I find it helps me – both in terms of accomplishing the desired goals and in recognizing that success upon my return – if I have objective, quantifiable goals in mind before I go.

My goals for Denver?

1.  Meet at least 3 new writers each day and spend more time listening to each of them talk about his or her novel than discussing my own.  (Note: you don’t really “meet” people if you spend most of the time talking.)

2.  Attend at least 1 class session in each of the following categories: marketing, basic craft (character, plot, pacing or editing), and one panel or class taught by an editor from a publishing house (doesn’t matter what (s)he’s teaching, it’s important to learn what (s)he thinks is important enough to tell this conference).

3.  Attend at least one class session outside my genre and areas of interest.  (Note: in my experience, this is often the most interesting class I attend – even if I was doubtful in advance.)

4.  Find at least 3 new people to follow on Twitter.  (We call this the “stalker goal.”)

5.  Blog at least one entry per night about the day’s experiences.

Note: I also plan to talk with editors and/or agents and achieve plenty of other things, but if I achieve all of those goals, this conference qualifies as a success.  Why?  Look at what those goals represent:

1.  Learning to listen to others and really hear them, rather than just making my own noise.

2. Improving my writing skills  – and believe me, a writer can improve until the day (s)he stops breathing.

3. Giving myself the opportunity to learn something I didn’t know I was interested in.

4. Everybody needs a stalker.  Let me be yours.  (OK, Kidding.  Goal 4 is about making friends.)

5.  Taking the time to reflect on what I’ve seen and heard, and letting those experiences gel into things I will remember.

If I can take all that away, I’d call it a successful conference indeed.