Saturday, November 12

Tips for a Happy Conference

Conference organisers Kathy Chung (left) and K.C. Dyer (right) play dress-up 
As I was telling you last week, I attended the Surrey International Writers Conference in October. It had been a while since I was last at a conference, about seven years. It was long enough that I’d forgotten some things about attending a conference. So here are my tips for attending a writing conference in general and SIWC in particular.

1. Find a way to take notes that’s comfortable for you. At SIWC the workshop rooms only had chairs; there were no tables to write on. So that meant I had to write on my lap. I took a small briefcase that opened up like a three-ring binder, but I couldn’t open it fully because half of it would have been in my neighbor’s lap. Next time I go, I need to find something I can write on more easily. Or try something different. I saw more than one person who was recording a session with a digital recorder or phone.

My friend Holly Scott (right, the steampunk witch) with a mysterious gentleman from South Carolina.
2. Ask for a fridge in your room if there isn’t one there already. From Friday to Sunday, my lunches and dinners were included in the package I bought. But breakfast was an issue. Being on a budget, it would have been nice to be able to keep yogurt and juice in my room so I wouldn’t have had to buy breakfast in the hotel restaurant. But since I didn’t have a fridge, that wasn’t possible. That’s a tip I got from a fellow attendee who was smarter than me.

3. Take the stairs, stand and walk whenever you can. We spent a lot of time sitting, so whenever I could I took the stairs or went outside for a walk. It’s tough to get exercise at an event like this, but do what you can. Your back will appreciate it.

This attendee from Ontario attended with his brother and mother. All three are writers!
4. Participate. Guests were invited to come in costume to the Friday night dinner, with the theme being “Once Upon a Time…Machine”. I’m not much for dress up, so I didn’t bring anything. But some of the costumes were so good and the wearers seemed to be having such fun that I wished I had.

5. Don’t be afraid to go to a conference alone. When I’d last been at SIWC in 2009, I was with a large group of friends, so I never had to worry about having someone to eat with or talk to. But this time I went alone, so I was concerned I’d feel lonely. I needn’t have worried. This year SIWC’s ambassador Hayley Lavik made sure no one had to eat or drink alone if they didn’t want to. All they had to do was tweet #SIWCmeet if they wanted company. Even without Hayley’s help, everyone was so friendly and welcoming that I never felt excluded. All that was needed was a friendly smile and an open attitude.

Rosanna from California heard about SIWC from the podcast Writing Excuses.
6. Don’t let a less than stellar pitch get you down. As I wrote last week, my pitches didn’t go as swimmingly as I would have liked. But I took the rejection as a call to action, an incentive to make my stories better. I decided not to let anything ruin the fun I was having at SIWC.

What’s your best advice for attending writing conferences?


  1. I love that someone helps you not be alone if that's what you want. I can BE alone, but hardly ever prefer it at conferences. I have no advice, but I loved yours.

    1. I don't like to be alone at conferences either, especially at mealtimes. I knew Hayley beforehand because she used to live in Saskatchewan and was part of my writing group there before moving back to B.C. She told me that when she started going to the conference she didn't know a lot of people, so this year she pitched the ambassador idea to the conference organizers and they thought it was a great idea. Hayley made a wonderful ambassador!

  2. Yay for Hayley!!! Because your No 5 is a real concern for me! So glad you had a good time!

  3. I love your advice! I've found that writers like to talk about writing, so it's easy--even if you feel awkward at first--to strike up conversations with complete strangers and still find common ground. Just ask, "What do you write?" LOL

    Another piece of advice I'd add is to sample a workshop that is outside your comfort zone or genre. As a volunteer for WWC, I've often been a room monitor and haven't had a choice to which tract I get assigned to. So, one year I was monitoring the Film tract and got to sit in on workshops with Luke Ryan--love him!--and another Hollywood agent type whose name escapes me. Those weren't workshops I would've sought out, but I enjoyed them immensely and learned.