I'm going to assume that if you're reading this post, you're either a writer or a reader or someone who loves writers and reading or who wants to eat writers. And if you've never gone to a con, which can stand for CONvention or CONference, depending, you totally should. And I will tell you why without threatening you at all. Promise!
Full disclosure: My first con? SUUUUUCKED. They rejected my guest status, so I paid my own way and volunteered, during which experience I was propositioned for sex and then insulted by a well-known science fiction writer who claimed I was ruining his genre. And I lived to tell the tale--at much better cons. I can't imagine what I would be missing if I had let that bad experience influence my feelings about cons. You probably will have a much better time, but carry a switchblade just to be sure.
Now, here's why I think you should go to your first con, a new con, or ALL THE CONS:
1. It's super fun.
SERIOUSLY CRAZY FUN. Whatever you're into, people are getting together to celebrate it. That might mean you hit a small, focused con like JordanCon in Atlanta to squee over Wheel of Time. Or maybe you would prefer a gigantic comicon with a little bit of everything--my personal favorites are Phoenix Comicon and Dragoncon. But chances are that you grew up with geeky interests that your cohorts might not have shared, and there's something healing about being around people who love Doctor Who or Transformers as much as you do. So there are panels, signings, movie showings, tabletop and RPG gaming, room parties, art shows, costume contests, shopping in the vendor room, and the chance to be near famous people to see how tall they really are. Or that time that I was standing next to Jewel Staite in a bar and discussed the merits of white chocolate fondue with Kaylee, because OMG.
2. You will hang out with awesome people, even if you're never met them in person.
I'm an introvert, although you wouldn't know it at cons. As long as I "know" people, they don't scare me. That's why I look up the people I'll be on panels with or join the Facebook page for cons I'm going to attend. I see who in my Twitter or FB feed is going to be there. Basically, I pre-condition friendships to hack my social anxiety, and IT WORKS. It's also pretty easy to identify someone's fandoms by what they're wearing, so you can more easily strike up conversations by complimenting someone's Jayne hat or asking where they got their Archer dolphin puppet. Cons generally feel pretty safe and have policies in place to handle harassment and keep out non-con creeps. I always try to have Moo cards with me and instantly find people I meet on Twitter.
3. You will learn stuff.
If I'm at a con, I love checking out new panels and live-tweeting new info. You have the chance to sit in on discussions with industry professionals who offer knowledge, tips, and honesty about topics that aren't always discussed. You can ask questions in the panels or stop by a signing/meet and greet later to ask them one or two questions in person. You'll hang out at the bar and make friends and learn from them. I've even learned stuff in the dealer room, asking how someone molds their leather or getting a great book recommendation from the con bookseller, like Joseph-Beth at Fandomfest in Kentucky. It's a great time to try something new with no pressure. If you don't like the panel/panelists, you can slip out the door and try something else.
4. You will be inspired.
Sitting at home, it's easy to sink down in complacency like Artax in the Swamps of Sadness. But life's not worth living if you're not moving forward, facing your fears, and kicking ass. When I'm at cons, I am filled with energy and inspiration. I get new ideas, spitball ideas at friends who encourage me, and ask trusted professionals the best way to move forward on projects where I've hit a pothole. I leave cons refreshed and ready to get to work.
5. You will try new things.
Cons are a great place to step out of your comfort zone. Step into the Fencing panel or the Bow Staff Fighting Workshop. Join a flash fiction workshop. Stop by the absinthe tasting. Buy something in the dealer's room that you've always wanted. Spend $50 for a critique from an editor and give her your elevator pitch. Stay in a haunted hotel. Go for a walk in the area around the con and see a movie or a show. Go to the Star Wars Speed Dating. Join a Star Trek trivia team at the bar. Stop by a publisher's booth and pick up a free book that wasn't on your radar. Every experience you have grows new synapses in your brain and informs your writing.
6. You will eat interesting new foods.
Con food is... usually a joke. But it doesn't have to be, if you're smart. I've eaten at the Holy Taco Church in Phoenix, had a feast at Ollie's Lebanese and eaten at Buddy's Pizza twice in two days in Detroit, gotten drunk in a mask at the McKittrick in NYC, devoured a chocolate armadillo in San Antonio, and kidnapped Pat Rothfuss to eat cake at a diner in Atlanta. It's okay-- we were in a group, and we asked nicely first. I also got really excited to have my first Ben & Jerry's milkshake in 15 years in the Chicago airport during a snow storm. Whether you prefer to hunt for your favorite food on Yelp.com or you ask the locals what's best in their area, cons are a great (and often tax deductible!) way to try amazing new foods. I've been told we're doing Korean BBQ in Phoenix this year, and I can't wait.
7. You might learn what writers are like after half a bottle of Scotch.
Mind you, you'll have a better chance of managing this if you're also a writer, if we've met you before and consider you a friend, or if you're buying the drinks and/or brought a cake. But if you think we're wacky online, we're even more fun at the bar. You'll hear horror stories, happy stories, and possibly have people take hilarious pictures of you later for blackmail purposes.
8. You will see things that challenge your worldview.
Y'all, this is so, so important. If you only listen to one side of a story or only live and work among people who look and act the same as you, you're not going to grow as a human being but will instead harden and calcify and become Rush Limbaugh. And that hampers your empathy and your writing. You're going to run into furries and people in body paint and people of all colors and sexualities, and I'm not saying you have to approve of everything, but you need to know that there are billions of people all over the world living vastly different lives. I'm a firm believer in #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and you're more likely to write a wide variety of characters if you've been around a wide variety of people. Hell, this even applies to people who feel strongly about traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. Listen to people. Really listen. And let that inform your writing.
9. You will expose yourself to new possibilities.
I have been invited into anthologies in a hotel bar at 3am. I have been offered book signings while eating a pilfered cookie cake. I have met a friend of a friend and found a new friend, again and again. A great writer I met this weekend got his first big-time Comics job because he was standing in line next to an editor at just the right time. The illustrator who drew my first BOO! comic for Monkeybrain is the significant other of a museum docent I met while coordinating a steampunk art show, and I gave him a free book, and now we're conspiring on graphic novels. Open yourself to possibility, don't be afraid to speak up and ask for what you want, and you never know what might happen because you were in the right place at the right time with the right attitude.
10. You will refill your well.
This one is probably the most important. Writing is awesome, but it's also a hard, lonely slog that we each do separately in our pajamas. It's easy to feel lonely, not good enough, or like you're not where you want to be in your career. Even if writing is a hobby for you or you're a reader and reviewer instead of a writer, there's a good chance that a con will be a vacation from your everyday life. I have two small children, a husband, a house to clean, sick relatives, and plenty of non-writing worries, and nothing refills my well and refreshes me like a con. Ok, maybe the ocean, but cons work pretty well. Cons are my reset button.
So go forth and con! With a little leg-work in advance, you can set yourself up to have a great time.