By Kerry Schafer
Most of us head off to writing conferences with enthusiasm and great expectations. We plan to learn, meet with like minded people, and get our creative batteries recharged. We expect to come home brimful of energy, all ready to conquer new and wonderful writing worlds.
But just maybe you've headed off to a writer's conference in the past all full of hope and expectation, only to come home feeling like somebody sucked your soul out through your eyeholes and then used it for target practice.
If so, you're not alone and there's nothing wrong with you.
Writer's conferences are big, busy, and supercharged with emotion, information, and expectation---exactly the sort of environment in which an extrovert thrives and grows. But most writers are introverts. We get recharged home alone in the quiet with a good book and maybe some good tunes on the playlist. Crowds drain and exhaust us.
So should you just keep your introverted little soul at home then, swilling coffee or booze and watching the cons all unfold through tweets and pictures and Facebook posts? Because this isn't very good for sanity either.
Part of the problem is the fear of missing something that most of us still carry around from when we were little kids. If I take a nap right now, what am I going to miss? Maybe the ice cream man, or the Easter Bunny or a big purple dinosaur riding a tricycle down the middle of main street. And if we don't nap then we get crabby and tired and if the dinosaur does show up we're in the middle of an exhaustion induced tantrum at the time and miss him anyway.
Right? So I think conferences become much more manageable (and enjoyable) if we are able to give up on the idea of experiencing everything and are able to focus in on one primary purpose.
There are a lot of possible options. Maybe you want to learn more about craft, or need to explore new strategies for marketing. Maybe you're searching for an agent, or want to place a manuscript with an editor. Or your intention could simply be to network, have fun, or get as drunk as possible every night at the hotel bar.
Setting a primary purpose doesn't mean you can't involve yourself in other things. It does give you a focus, an ability to turn down the static and not be overwhelmed by trying to pay attention to All Of The Things. It means you can skip a session of classes and hang out in your room. Maybe even take a nap.
There are three steps to creating a mindful goal.
1. Define for yourself what is your primary reason for attending this conference at this time. (Hint: this may be different for every con you go to)
Ask yourself, "If I get only one thing out of this conference, I want it to be _________."
If you're struggling with this, stop and make a list of All The Things you want to accomplish. Tell yourself you have to give one up. What will it be? Cut that one out. Repeat, until the primary goal is left.
2. Make sure your goal is something over which you have control. Look at your statement of purpose from step one and see if this is true. For example:
"At this con I will get an agent," is a fabulous goal, but not one over which you have control. Your agent--the one who is out there looking for you--may not even be at the conference. Or maybe you're not quite ready to meet her yet.
Consider modifying the goal to, "At this con I will focus on connecting with agents."
3. Tailor your conference experience toward this goal. If your purpose is the example above, then sign up for pitches. Go to the classes that teach pitching, or that talk about premise and synopsis. As other writers to help you practice.
Once you're pursued your primary goal for the day, If you have the energy and the inclination to do other things, perfect. If not, also perfect. You'll come home feeling like you accomplished what you set out to do. Sure, you'll still be tired and might want to avoid people for awhile, but hopefully with your self and soul still intact.