No, I Won’t be Attending NYC’s Writer’s Conference

My writing organization membership just expired. By choice. I had been a member of the largest organization for romance authors for more than a decade. I’d made some amazing friends during my time there. I found my writer’s ‘voice’ and I learned to trust my process. Well, recently, new rules were applied within the organization about what it meant to be a member of it, and what it meant, by extension, to be considered in “serious pursuit’ of a career in writing. I realized, then, that my vision did not in any way match that of the new board of directors, and the direction of the organization did not fit with my personal plan for myself as an author. And so, I chose to let my membership lapse.

Writing is a solitary act. I don’t mind that, but I do like to interact with others in the industry. Fortunately, since I made a number of writing friends over the years, I am now part of another group of writers who value the level at which each of us stand now and where we hope to be – as well as what route we might choose to take to get there. There is nothing quite as fulfilling as belonging to a group that doesn’t force you to conform or make you feel inferior for choosing your own course.

And that brings me to the huge writer’s conference planned, this year, in NYC.

I attended the last writer’s conference in NYC four years ago. Thousands of authors were there. Editors from big publishing houses were there and available. Literary agents were there, as were authors who had already reached the golden ring – Sylvia Day, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kate Pearce, Cherry Adair…

And then there were the rest of us. Thousands of us each vying for the same readership, the same golden ring.

The keynote speech at the luncheon was phenomenal. A tale of overcoming outrageous and discouraging odds. It was funny and sad and cheer-worthy. The unpublished and published writing awards were thrilling. How wonderful to celebrate with other authors, those who finaled, and those who took home the coveted awards.

There was one winner in each of the two contests. There were a handful of successful authors who signed books, gave workshops, and otherwise engaged those of us who had yet to reach that status but instead remained unpublished.

Where did we fit in? Was there even room forBlog - Conference 1 us? Would anyone notice if we weren’t there? Would anyone miss us? Care? Would it make a difference in our own pursuit – gee, is it “serious” enough? – if we attended every workshop or instead chose to rub shoulders with the more successful? Was there a path to follow? A yellow-brick-road leading to publication?

How about a path to some self-confidence or a way to look at all the other wannabes, wish them the best, yet still believe in yourself and your own chances? Was there a way to convince your muse that, yes, you have something unique to say, something readers will enjoy enough to buy. Perhaps a way to view your own process as one of pleasure not one of pressure – pressure to beat out every other wannabe vying for success in the romance genre.

Some of the workshop lecturers told attendees the genre they coveted (in my case, Romantic Suspense) was a dying genre and that no one made it in that genre unless they’d already created a name for themselves in it (this was actually said during one workshop which directly contradicted another). Some workshop lecturers offered tried and true methods for getting an entire story down in just a couple of days. Others offered advice on how to revise an entire novel in one week.

It was all fascinating and clearly worked for each of the speakers. Their enthusiasm soared as they spoke and offered advice and guidance – all of it, in my experience, generous and freely presented.

I was pumped when I left, thinking I could refer to my notes and the experience and forge a new path for myself. One lined with encouraging signs and constant forward motion.

Blog - Conference 3Instead, my muse fell silent.

The vast amount of advice was overwhelming enough, but when dissected and compared and, therefore, exposed as contradictory or non-applicable to ‘my’ situation, or just plain awkward given the way I need to work… it became a jumble of nonsense for me. A muddled vision of the huge undertaking that still lay ahead for me… and the thousands more who wished to one day see their own name on a book.

It took months to get myself psyched again. To wake the muse, to rework the creative muscles that had atrophied. To realize the methods that fueled the few success stories relayed there were as varied as the stories sitting on bookstore shelves. That the ‘right’ road toward publication might detour into all of those areas – or none – since we each need to follow our own course, as is creativity’s demand.Blog - Conference 2

There is no room for conformity in creativity. There is no one tried-and-true way to advance to a level of success (and no single definition for “success”). To shuffle along with the crowd, to be told what it means to be serious about the craft, to have all of your effort dismissed for not fitting into that definition, is to stifle the muse, crush the spirit and demand conformity… which limits creativity.

I am not attending the conference in NYC because while some authors are encouraged and invigorated by all it has to offer – and good for them to benefit from the experience – the last time I went, I was left doubting my own desires and my own efforts. Had I left there overwhelmed with possibilities, it would have been wonderful – a cause to return – but that was not to be.

So… while a huge flow of there-already and getting-there authors gather in NYC for a few days and nights of excitement and enlightenment, I will thank my lucky stars for the chance to have experienced it once… and for the ability to have overcome its paralyzing effects.

I know now that there is no yellow-brick-road to follow. There is, however, a man behind the curtain. And now that I’ve seen him for who he is, I realize he is no better than I… or any other author.

 

all images in this post were purchased from depositphotos.com

12 Responses to No, I Won’t be Attending NYC’s Writer’s Conference

  • I went to a NY conference once and came home both stoked and discouraged. So much hope but where did I fit in? Plus the overwhelming size was almost frightening. (Can you tell I’m an introvert?) I might be tempted to go again, however, if it wasn’t so far and if I didn’t know my time is best spent sitting at my computer and tending the things of life that I need to get done.

    • Exactly, Linda. “So much hope but where did I fit in?” That question was left unanswered by the time I had left as well. I know it’s a wonderful experience for many, but it was the opposite for me. And yes, I completely agree – my time (and money) is better spent tending to things that need to be done – like writing. 😉

  • I’m going—for the first time. I don’t really know what to expect, and I may end up hiding in my room at least part of the time. (When somebody says “Let’s PARTY!” I’m the one over there mumbling, “Maybe some other time.”)
    But I figure I’ll probably have a good time simply because I don’t actually have any great expectations except getting to meet some authors I really admire—and I know that’s going to happen.

    • I think the best advice I received before going to my first conference was to USE MY ROOM. Definitely keep it as an escape, even if only for an hour in the afternoon. If you like the rush and crush experience, you might not need that retreat, but if you feel at all overwhelmed, know that many other attendees are probably retreating to their private spaces as well. Have a great time, Lillian!

  • I’m not going this year, but I plan to go in 2017. I’ve never been to an RWA conference, but am very excited to do so one of these days. I would mainly like to go to network with other authors, make friends, and maybe pick their brains. 😛

    I can imagine how overwhelming the cons must be when you have thousands of people gathered in one hotel, clambering for the attention of editors, agents, and readers. But I think for a newbie, that’s part of the fun, right? 😎

    • It’s true, that can indeed be part of the fun – if you’re prepared for it and if you’re not looking for actual answers.

      As a newbie, I was eager to hear what everyone else had to say about the writing craft and about publication. I joined various writing groups and chapters and toed into the social aspect of it, learning and making friends along the way. It was an amazing experience for me – the memory (and friendships) of which I still cherish.

      However… had I gone to a huge conference like this at that early stage, I believe I would have walked away from this career. It wasn’t just overwhelming, it was stifling. The advice given in (craft) workshops, I found, related to personal experiences that may or may not work for anyone but the various speakers. As a newbie, I would have tried to implement their methods rather than trust my own process – a process which, as a newbie, I would have yet to discover.

      If you plan to wait until 2017 for the big conference, I would suggest trying to attend one or two of the smaller conferences before then. New Jersey has a small one in the fall you might want to look into. It’s definitely more affordable, it’s only 2 days, and I would guess (I haven’t gone) that any agent or editor pitch appointments they schedule will be presented in a more reasonable, more professional manner. At the big conference, authors were lined up and ordered about like school children… or more like cattle being led to slaughter.

      Bottom line, learn what you can before you go and don’t rely on what you hear there to be the answer to anything. They’re mostly opinions and personal preferences, and what works for some can fail for others. Think for yourself, not as one in the pack, and you should be fine.

  • Great topic, Debora. Especially for me.
    At first, I was torn. I’d wanted to go, even played with the budget and penciled-in the grandparents babysit, because, let’s face it, that’s “the place to be” for a romance writer.
    Then I the reality bug bit me.
    I think I liked the idea of going more than I would enjoy actually being there.
    Networking and workshops-galore all seem wonderful. Yet painfully overwhelming.
    Maybe someday I’ll have the burning desire to attend.
    For now, I’m glad I don’t have to pack, or coordinate, or dress, or commute.
    Instead, I’ll be entertaining my kids by day. Revising my WIP at night.
    Ahhhhhh….*enormous sigh of relief*
    Good luck to all the attendees–have fun!

    • The budget is a HUGE factor in this, but for me, so is the shuffle-along-with-the-crowd feel of it. When I went, I wound up lost in all of that wondering how it pertained to me and the level at which I was in my writing and career. One can truly feel their insignificance while in a stadium-sized crowd. I probably expected too much from it and if I were to go now, which I won’t, I’d go with a completely different attitude and expectation. But I agree with you – I’m glad I don’t have to pack or plan or wear uncomfortable shoes, and I’m happy to have that cash in my pocket and a pen in my hand. Thanks for coming by, Deb!

  • Great post! I’m going, but I’m really anxious – partly because I’ve been so crazy busy and haven’t even come close to finishing packing. But mostly because of the hit to my budget. I thought I would have a couple of roommates – everyone was paired up already. One non-writer friend is staying with me for a couple of nights, but that’s not enough. I didn’t think it through money-wise and now reading your post – I’m more nervous. I do get overwhelmed in crowds, so I’ll follow your advice and use my room. I basically just want to network – I studied my craft for many years in college and post college – my writing style is set and I’m not interested in changing my methods. I chose workshops on the writer’s life, the business of writing and things I could definitely use more knowledge in – like the police officer led workshop. And I’m moderating a workshop, which I’m excited about. So I’m hoping the hit to my wallet will be somewhat worth it 🙂 We’ll done!

    • The hit to the budget is one I cannot reconcile. Had I felt I had benefited from the experience, then the expense would be worth it for me. It would have been an investment in my future, my career. It just didn’t turn out that way for me and rubbing shoulders with the “have’s” wasn’t the reason I went – or worth the expense. I went to learn, to absorb, to feel what it would be like to ‘make it’ and to imagine myself as a successful author while those who had reached their goal spoke about how they did it. It had the opposite effect on me.

      I’m sure you are going to have an amazing time though – you’re more focused on what you’re looking to gain from it than I was. I actually thought there were secrets to be shared. 🙂 But even now, knowing what it’s about, I wouldn’t go. Giving my money to an organization that instilled new rules which made me and many of my author friends feel inferior, an organization that contradicts my vision for myself and those friends, is not on my to-do list. The irony for me is that now that I know what I want and need, now that I would gain more from it than before, I no longer care to go… because I know what I want and need. 🙂

  • I also went to the RWA conference in 2011. I’m glad I went, if only to experience it. Yes, it was a bit overwhelming at times. I was trying to pack in as many talks as possible to make it worth the money I was spending. I was also president of LIRW, which probably led to more stress for me. I didn’t get to schmooze because that’s not in my nature and feel I passed on an important part of the conference.

    I did have fun. I came home semi psyched about writing but had no epiphanies or writing marathons. I loved Sherrilyn Kenyon’s speech. To me, that was a highlight. I didn’t attend the awards ceremony because I figured it would bore me.

    I feel if you’re going to a conference to learn concepts in writing, your money would probably be more well spent if you took a class instead. The “talks” glaze over fundamentals where a class you go more in depth and is more personal. If you know what your path is, then a conference can help you by networking, if you can handle that kind of thing.

    I’ve also been to the NJ Conference and I found that to be a bit more laid back and friendly.

    • I remember you being there, Donna. 🙂

      I suppose semi-psyched is better than disillusioned. 😕 I’m not the networking kind, but I do like a party, so I attended the awards. In fact, that was my only down-time since I’d scheduled myself to fit in as many workshops as possible – ergo my comments on the contradictory information I received from them.

      For a conference as large as this one, I believe there should be a ton more guidance for new attendees. You’re basically dropped in the middle of it all with a brief bit on how it’s done, and off you go. We’re adults, we can manage of course, but to get the most out of it, to get the most for our money – which isn’t a little bit – logic would say better organization and leadership should be in place. But for those who prefer to find their own way, I suppose it works. Me? I didn’t/don’t have the time, money or energy to waste.

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