First conference

The stars on shoes struck me. They were absolutely brilliant. So much so that perhaps all large groups should consider them.

You see, many writers are introverts, so a writers conference is quite the challenge for many attendees. Someone suggested the introverts who wanted to meet people and talk but didn’t want to move outside their comfort zone put stars on their shoes. The extraverts could look for stars on shoes and know who wanted to socialize. This was my first writers conference, so I have no idea if this was the first year or the tenth year of stars on shoes, but it worked. By the end of the conference, the conference hall was loud. Everyone was talking. It was great. I can see stars on shoes being handy at accounting and engineering functions as well.

It took a while to digest what I learned. Now, a few weeks after the conference, I’m better able to relate what it was like and what I learned. Overwhelming. Inspiring. Educational. Exhausting. I attended the DFW Writers Conference June 22-23 in Hurst, Texas. I attended every activity from the pre-conference mixer to the final session. With a 30-minute commute and sessions starting at 8 a.m., I was exhausted by the end of the second day. I slept most of Monday, and felt bad for those who did not have a day of recuperation before returning to real life.

I had few expectations for the conference. My biggest desire was to find a local community of writers. Writing is a lonely business. I’m happy to report that I found the Lone Star Writer’s Club as well several new friends who live nearby and also desire to meet regularly for writing. Lone Star is a support group, a place to discuss writing problems and solutions, be critiqued and learn new techniques. I’m also organizing a Write-In. So exciting. The networking alone was well worth the cost of the conference. 

In addition, I learned much about the writing business. I learned about agents and publishers, a little about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing, a bit on marketing strategies and tools. I learned about alpha readers and beta readers.

Alpha readers are usually industry insiders who either know the language of the subject being covered in a non-fiction work or writing industry insiders who understand structure and other facets of storyteling and can help an author create a cohesive work.

Beta readers, on the other hand, need not know the writing or any other industry. They can be friends and family. They should provide honest feedback on how they react to the writing and what works for them and what does not. They may know that a story feels off, but would be able to tell is because of the pacing and offer suggestions on how to fix such a problem. They may not like a character, but not know that it’s because the character is flat or perhaps does not have his or her own arc. 

I also made contact with the author/blogger Shayla Raquel, whose blog inspired me to pick up my pen again last year and to attend the DFW conference this year. She is part of the Yukon Writers Society outside of Oklahoma City, and her Facebook posts introduced me to the idea of a Write-In. I shamelessly stole the idea. Which was already replicated by others, but that’s beside the point. 

Speakers talk too fast for note-takers to capture everything. Take pictures of the slides.

My only conference complaint: The schedule of classes was too good. Every single hour had at least two classes and usually three that I wanted to attend. Choosing classes was difficult. I wish I would have had at least one friend attend with me so we could split up and share notes. But that’s my plan for next year, and I have a new circle of friends to share strategies.

My biggest piece of advice to someone attending a writers conference for the first time would be to know where you are in the writing process and what your goals are for the conference before you attend. The DFW Writers Conference is well known because it is attended by agents, and attendees receive a pitching session with their tickets. Those who were not prepared to pitch could consult with an agent instead. I didn’t have the nerve. I now wish I had. I know now that the agents do not discourage anyone from writing and are very tactful in guiding writers in both improving their writing as well as finding contacts in the correct genre.

Structure separates the form. The structure of a novel differs from a news story or a short story.

However, there were sessions on the writing craft and the writing business. Many beginner writers do not fully understand that writing is a business and should be treated as such from the very beginning. That means that the writing conference itself is tax deductible as a business expense. (There are a few benefits of marrying an accountant. Knowledge is power.) It would be easy to attend all the craft classes as a beginning writer and all the business classes as an experienced writer. Nonetheless, there was a delightful range of both for everyone. 

Goodies from the conference included a notebook and an amazing Passion Planner. I’m looking forward to putting it to work.

While you are waiting for the next writers conference in your area, I’d highly recommend joining a local writers group if you have not already. I’d also recommend choosing one that has at least one or two published authors, because the blind leading the blind can fall off cliffs. Look on Facebook and MeetUp as well as your local library. Unless you are very rural, there is likely at least one group near you. 

Happy writing!

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