Tag: career

Willamette Writers Conference 2018

What are conferences for?

I know what cons are for and I love them for it: fans of a medium exchange squees. Cons are also hugely important culturally — unironic enthusiasm is a joy to be shared, and the sheer glee of a good con is hard to resist.

I have usually attended cons as an aspiring author, though, and while cons often have craft tracks in their sessions providing resources to help creators to find their way, the majority of the programming is giving space for fans to appreciate the things they are there to appreciate.

Conferences, by contrast, are working spaces: peers talking to each other on technical topics, networking, and finding opportunities.

Cons can be enjoyed as a consumer only with little planning. Conferences work best with forward planning and effort.

Going into Willamette Writers this year, I didn’t really have a plan.

Last year I had specific goals around pitching, and following those goals (from the pitch workshop to the pitch sessions and the inevitable post mortems) was fruitful both in terms of pitch response and making contact with other similar-stage writers.

This year I went tired and a bit grumpy. I need to keep myself accountable when food is available and I wasn’t sure how supportive of my plan the catered meals were going to be, so I brought my breakfast with me along with my very necessary flask of tea. That was a good choice. I also finally learned that I need to bring a top-up thermos of tea to get me through the afternoon in better shape.

Despite all these intimations of disaster relating to this year’s proceedings, I ended up having a grand old time.

One serious error last year was that I didn’t know when the best times to hit the pitch sessions, and so I missed sessions I would have enjoyed. This year I wasn’t pitching which meant I only had to contend with interesting sessions being scheduled on top of each other!

I learnt a lot, though. Just on the first day I learned about maintaining momentum in a manuscript, crafting a plausible antagonist, and making credible characters in incredible situations (the last was from the marvellous Charlie Jane Anders). I also learned (as if I didn’t already know) that most of my craft is instinctual rather than conscious: I know what works, but I don’t necessarily know why.

My strategy this year was to stick to sessions which aligned with current interests. The off-beat sessions last year were interesting (and I wouldn’t have done any audio experimentation without them) but more tightly relevant sessions this year meant I learnt yet more about tension in manuscripts, for example, as well as ideas on platform building.

And I met more terrific people. The greatest strength of this conference, still, is its community. As one of my new friends said, by the end of the conference everybody knows everybody.

It’s a good place to be.

I am still processing the massive influx of new information but I do know I have a few things to follow up on, and some thinking to do about how to advance my writing career.

Until next year, then.

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Willamette Writers Conference 2017

This year’s Willamette Writers Conference was a little over week ago. My brain is still fizzing.

My history with cons and confs is not lengthy. I went to Westercon last year and enjoyed it mightily, including the many writing track sessions that I sat in on. However Westercon is still a fan convention rather than a conference. And, in fact, most of my con-going has been to fan conventions, whether it was Wordstock a few years ago (which I somehow forgot to mention in my Westercon post) or UKCAC way back in the 90s.

And this is why I was keen to go to the Willamette Writers Conference. It has fan elements because writers tend to be fans of other writers, but it’s a conference about the business of writing rather than a celebration of the results. This will not be the last writing conference I go to, but going to a conference which is in my home town was too bic an opportunity to overlook.

There are also pitch slots available.

One of the huge differences between a con and a conf is that agents don’t usually go to cons to do business. Conferences, on the other hand, can attract agents who are looking for authors to represent, and this conference in particular offers an opportunity to pitch your story to agents in ten minute slots. Since one of my three goals for the year was to seek representation, these pitch slots were obviously a big draw for me.

There are also many tracks of craft sessions over the three days. I tried to go to a variety of sessions covering both things I think I need to know and things I don’t know that I need to know yet. So, I went to sessions about editing and genre, but I also went to sessions about nonfiction queries and writing love stories. The speaker quality was generally high, in some cases rising to the level of deeply inspiring. I am thinking that I will actually have to do the audiobook of Livia, now*.

The best bit of this conf was the community, though. Being around other writers, being in an atmosphere of acceptance for the odd pursuit, and meeting other writers who are making a living off it, was wonderful: it was validating and transformative. I will be going to some of the Willamette Writers sessions in Portland over the next year too.

Going to a conference like this is not a cheap option, but it was an enormously valuable weekend for me, and I am very glad I was able to attend.

I will return.

[*] producing the Livia audiobook is probably the goal that will replace publishing A New Dawn on my list of things for the year.

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