June 18, 2005

A Few Thoughts on Conferences

I've been thinking a bit about the merits of writing conferences lately. I have mixed feelings about them in general, and specifically as well in some cases--cases which I have decided to be tactful and not go into.

Anyway, I'm considering the idea of going to the summer SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. The price tag at any conference is always a major consideration, of course, and this usually forces me to really examine what I might be getting out of such an expenditure. At first glance, these things always look so awesome. The panels--I want to go to five at a time. The schmooze events--which famous writer will I make lifelong friends with? The keynote speeches--what writerly wisdom! What secrets of the trade!

Then I come back down to earth. Keynote speeches can be hit or miss. The panels, at third or fourth glance, don't seem quite as earth-shattering. And my schmoozing abilities are of middling quality at best, unless I decide to mildly embarrass myself with the help of alcohol.

The reality of the matter is, when it comes to writing conferences, I have to remember that I know some stuff already. I learned a lot of quality nuts-and-bolts craft points attending college for writing and art. I learned how to let others read and comment on my work, and to evaluate my own work more critically. And, of course, I learned how to network, do research, and toot my own horn on occasion. As part of a Web site marketing department, I was exposed to the importance of, well, marketing--icky as it may sometimes be.

Remembering all of this helps me immensely when it comes to A) choosing a conference in the first place, and B) figuring out which and how many panels to attend. When you think about attending a conference you have to figure out whether you're actually going to get something out of it for your money: by learning something totally new, by hearing the words of someone you really admire, or by experiencing a new and unexpected take on an old topic. These are definitely the deciding factors for me. That's why I ended up skipping a few smaller local seminars this year.

But in the end, I think I'll be going to at least part of the SCBWI summer thang. I'm eager to hear a few of the speakers--Carolyn Mackler and Christopher Paul Curtis, for two--and it'll be interesting to have the experience of a big writing conference, something I've never done before. I've been to E3, a big video game industry convention, but that was totally something else, plus it was work-related, plus there was some of that mildly embarrassing alcohol-related schmoozing I talked about. At SCBWI I hope to take advantage of the opportunity to meet and talk with more experienced professionals, and I plan to be choosy about what I attend.

Plus I'll save a few bucks by staying with my parents. (Now, if only I can channel the ensuing teenage flashbacks into writing fodder...)

1 comment:

TadMack said...

I really appreciate you writing this mostly because I get absolutely panicky at Conferences. I always want to cram my schedule, get frustrated with how many things overlap, and I am running, running, running the whole time, trying to get it all in.

You're right: I do know a lot of this stuff. That the SCBWI people have split the conference into Beginnger's & Professional venues (not to mention Illustrators - yay!) helps, but I guess the point of Conferences for me is to just go and try and rejuice my solo-creative-career batteries.

The suckiest thing about choosing a creative life is that it's sometimes lonely, sometimes humiliating (that was a REALLY quick rejection from Harvey Klinger today, wasn't it?), and usually people want to ask you what you're working on "now" -- because you're only as good as your last fifteen seconds in the spotlight. It's not easy to be around people who hope some day you get a 'real' job, and live up to that potential you always showed in high school. And, without alcholic inspiration in its various befudding forms, I don't guess that I'll be glib and funny and merit the sudden attentions of someone with 'connections.' But, no matter. I'm going. I'll see what I get when I get there. And every time I go, I have faith that something wonderful will happen... I hope I'll know it when I see it.

Meanwhile, I await your twitchy, parent-induced psychosis.