If you’ve just gotten yourself to a writing conference, you are already on the right track. You probably already have the mindset and the practices in place that will help you accomplish your writing goals. Rather than returning from such an event feeling like you have to change everything, choose JUST ONE THING to add or change. Every conference is a rebirth, and the first thing every newborn needs to do is rest, and suckle. Set your writing aside for a day or two, inhabit your life and allow it to fill you, the way life does.
The Post-Conference Gem: Think about it right now. What is the one piece of advice, or the one idea, that struck you most during the conference? Consider that to be your message and your mission.
Gem in hand? Set it on an altar on your writing space. Mine looks like this, both tool and reminder that every minute counts; when I make my writing time sacred, I create the space for my craft to gain momentum.
The Post-Conference List: After a dreamy weekend spent at the SCBWI Golden Gate Conference in Asilomar, even with the clear gem of WRITING TIME in hand, I still needed a plan to transition myself back to regular life, and back to my writing. So I did what writers do: I made a list. If you’re like me, you want writing to be your whole life, and a list will help you pretend it can be. But here’s the caveat: You have to remember to treat your list like a map, not an expectation. Go ahead – list all the things you want to add to or change or do in your writing life. Then, choose JUST ONE THING to start. And don’t begin the day after the conference. Take some time to bask in the luminous glow of community, to bank the coals of inspiration, to tend the lantern of your ambition.
Three weeks later, here’s my list, as always separated into the categories I always use to think about my writing life. Community. Craft. Draft/Revise. Career. Practice.
- Thank your organizers! SCBWI organizers are volunteers, making it happen for all of us. Offer feedback and gratitude.
- Look at the business cards you collected. Read the names and notes you (hopefully) made on the back of each card to remind you about the people you’ll only get to see every once in a while, but who are on this journey with you. Try the World Card App for scanning and collecting contact info.
- Connect with people. Let people know what meeting them meant to you. Follow your new contacts on Twitter and Facebook. Look up their blogs and like a post. There’s nothing more encouraging to writers than connecting with a new reader.
- Meet with your critique group. Debrief your experience with writers who know your writing and know you. If you had a critique during the conference, find out what your partners think about the feedback you received. You will all learn from this. If you don’t have a critique group yet, reach out to a few people you liked from the conference to see if you can get something started.
- Read. Start with the books written or created by presenters and colleagues at the conference. What craft lessons can you extend from the conference by closely examining the language and structure of each book? Keep a reading journal about what you’ve learned. Take your study to the next level by writing a review, a great way to offer something back to those who shared their expertise at the conference.
- Review your notes. I like to type my conference notes into a Scrivener file, often including photos of presenters pulled from the web so I can remember those I’ve met and what they had to say. Remember that conference presentations and handouts are copyrighted material, and can only be shared with permission.
- Journal. What did you learn from the conference? What struck you the most deeply? What are your hopes and goals?
- Write in your project logs. Talk to your stories and characters. If you heard a tip at the conference that spoke to a writing dilemma you’ve been facing with a particular project, tell your characters about the new plan. List goals and revision strategies you’d like to apply to each project.
- Compost. If you got feedback from a 1:1 critique at the conference, give yourself some time to absorb its possibilities before attacking your manuscript. Put that project in the drawer for 2-4 weeks and work on something completely different.
- Research. Investigate the agents and editors you met at the conference. Follow them on social media, learn about their lists.
- Submit. But not immediately. Agents and editors want your best work, not your fastest work. They are busy people, too; after a conference, they also have to unpack and pay the pet-sitter and sift the unsorted mail. Let your manuscripts compost for 2-4 weeks, work on your cover letters, research thoroughly before taking advantage of those post-conference submission opportunities.
- Evaluate. What’s working about your writing life? What would you like to eliminate, change or add? When you’re at a conference, it’s easy to feel like everyone else is doing it right. But what matters is what’s right for YOU.
- Choose JUST ONE THING to focus on next. Let a list be your guide, not your dictator. What action on this list (or off it) spoke to you with the greatest urgency? Highlight that item, and make that the ONE THING you will do.
Got a list or a gem? I’d love to hear about it. May your writing thrive.