On Writing: How to Manage Your Expectations at Cons

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

THIS CON IS DEFECTIVE: or, how to manage your expectations as a writer

What, you mean that you went to a writers conference, but your wildest dreams didn't come true?

Yeah. Sorry about that. Mine, neither. Not yet.

See, I went to a fantastic writers conference a few weeks ago and enjoyed the hell out of myself. I came home inspired and reinvigorated, ready to dig my thumbs deep into the fried chicken thigh of writing and pry out the deliciously greasy bits. Who could ask for anything more than chicken and transcendence?

Lots of people, actually.

When you're on Twitter and Facebook and connecting with people after a conference, you can't help making note of the feedback. And while most of what's being said about this particular con is overwhelmingly positive, I've seen a few complaints that people didn't get the answers they'd hoped to find. And I'm somewhat annoyed, because you can't blame the con for your false expectations. I mean... if you walk into a Bojangles and ask for caviar, you're bound to be disappointed, but that doesn't mean you should go whining about it on Yelp.

Here's the thing: you can't worry about getting published/getting a million hits on your blog until you've perfected your craft-- until your writing is really damn good, and you're plugged into your muse, and you're networking, and you're constantly working your ass off. The people you admire in the writing world did not start last week and rise to stardom yesterday. It's taken them years, sometimes decades, to get where they are.

And they're all going to tell you the same thing: there is no one secret to success.

Life as a writer is about hard work, time, tenacity, embracing failure, taking risks, and never giving up. You apply that to your writing, and then to your editing, and then to your querying. And then to everything you do, ever.

You don't get to skip to the front of the line just because you went to a conference.

Most of the questions I heard during Q&A sessions weren't about how to improve one's writing and perfect one's craft. They were about how to get MORE STUFF. How do I get blog hits, magazine gigs, an agent, a sale, self-publishing success? Gimme, gimme, gimme. And, yes, these are questions asked by everyone who wants to be a writer. I would *still* like to know how to sell more books and get more deals and anthologies.

Believe me-- I feel your frustration. When you're still writing on your own, for yourself, hoping to get somewhere, you want the answers to the next step so that your current situation feels viable. After all, if you can't eventually level up, why are you working so freaking hard right now? You want to see success waiting on the horizon. You need something to run toward, proof that your blood and sweat and inky tears will be worth something, someday. You're looking for outside validation.

But you're not going to get that at a conference dedicated to insight and motivation.

So, here's my advice: when you pay to go to a conference, be realistic about your expectations.

If you want someone to critique your writing, go to a retreat or hire an editor or find critique partners.

If you want to connect with agents/editors and discuss your query, go to a con with agent pitch sessions.

If you want inspiration/a kick in the pants, go to a con that specializes in just that.

Do your research, and be honest about the return you expect on any investment in writing help, because anyone who promises you success/answers is probably lying to get your money.

And if, after all that, you're still not getting the answer to your particular questions, find the people at the conference who came the closest to satisfying your curiosity and ask more specific questions. Find their websites or blogs, stalk them on Twitter, whatever. They didn't purposefully disappoint you, and most people remember what it's like to feel lost and are glad to offer their encouragement and help, if not their agent's cell number.

The hardest part about writing is that you have to do it by yourself. No one can force you. No one can give you ideas, stick your butt in the chair, or make you do the research that will help you reach your goals. You have to want it, chase it, long for it, and dedicate yourself to it.

And believe me-- you can get a helluva lot done, standing in this line, waiting your turn.



Looking for a writers conferences? Here's a list on Wikipedia. 

Looking for resources on how to get published? Here's what I used.

Looking for the water cooler for other people waiting in line? It's called Twitter.