I attended my first writing conference last year. I'd been holding off for awhile. They're expensive. I have a family to take care of. Etc, etc. But a year ago, I signed up to go and I'm so glad I did.
The same conference is happening again in just over a week and I can't believe it's been a whole year. Having something like a yearly conference to mark the time makes it easier to see progress. I have learned so much this past year. The interesting thing is, I can't say definitively where all my knowledge has come from.
Certainly, I learned a lot at the conference. But I've also learned from blog posts, other writers, literary agents, twitter contests, online critique partners, my once a week local writing group, books about writing, my own observations, and straight up practice. At this point, my knowledge base resembles a patchwork quilt. Beautiful, but crafted together by tons of tiny pieces that, by themselves, may be insignificant.
I could also compare what I've learned to my recipe box. Over the years, my recipe box (yes, I still use hard copies of recipes and yes, I know, someday I will curse the fact that I didn't digitize them) has been filled with recipes shared by friends, family, and strangers. My recipe box is full of memories. Every time I pull out a recipe, I remember the person who shared it with me. But now those recipes are mine as well.
My five-year-old daughter loves to help me cook and often she asks if I will give her all my recipes when she grows up. To her, those recipes are mine. The dishes I make don't remind her of my college roommate, my mother's best friend, or my husband's aunt. They remind her of me.
So it is with my writing. I've gleaned bits and pieces from so many places. Countless people I admire and respect have shared their knowledge with me. I've gathered it together in my little writing box and I love it. Each little tip adds to who I am as a writer. I know my box is nowhere close to complete. In fact, I don't believe it ever will be, because that would be the day I stop learning. And who wants to be done learning?
After the conference is over, I'll write a few posts highlighting my favorite new bits of knowledge. But for now, here's one thing that surprised me last year:
You don't need a zillion business cards.
Okay, I didn't order a zillion business cards. I ordered fifty. But they were nice ones, printed on gorgeous, thick paper with rounded corners. But as conference time approached, I got nervous. What if fifty wasn't enough? If there were a hundred people at the conference, I'd need a hundred business cards, right? I didn't want to get caught without one if someone wanted it. So I ordered another fifty and had it rushed to my house.
When I got to the conference, I was surprised to find that business cards weren't flying everywhere. In fact, I had to summon the guts to bring up the subject of exchanging business cards with the table of writers I met at breakfast. When I mentioned it, everyone sighed in relief and pulled out their own shiny-new cards. We exchanged and I was able to stay in contact with a few new writer friends. Throughout the day, I met a few more people and we all exchanged cards. But at the end of the day I'd only given away maybe twenty. Getting to know someone well enough to know you'd want to exchange cards with them takes time. And there are workshops to attend and speakers to listen to. The only way I would have needed all hundred of my business cards is if I'd gone around shaking hands with every single person in the room, stating my name, handing them a card, and then moving on. Which would have been weird.
Bring cards. But don't go overboard.
I really enjoyed meeting other writers, even though I had to step way out of my comfort zone to do it. That was an unexpected benefit of going to the conference. I also enjoyed the keynote speaker, the workshops I attended, the panels I listened to, and the agents I met. It was an amazing day. I can't wait to see what surprises are in store for me this time!