Lessons from my first conference

The 2017 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York just blew my mind.

Not only in terms of the scale of the event but also because of what I learned there. It probably gave me the steepest, most-rapid learning curve that I’ve ever experienced over the course of three days.

Just being in New York is thrilling enough for me! Then throw me into a swanky hotel full of thousands of like-minded writers, and I’m in heaven.

Aside from the agent pitch sessions (see previous post), the conference panel sessions were just wonderful. From learning specifics on elements of the craft (such as dialogue, pacing, plot, characterization and so on) to understanding what is required of writers on the business side, it was a massive and almost overwhelming amount of information. I went back to my little Air BnB in Kips Bay each night just exhausted, feeling like I had run some kind of mental marathon. And the notes! So many notes…

I also had a really interesting one-on-one first chapter consultation with a writing coach. She pretty much tore my first pages apart (which was what they needed!), telling me I needed to start with action and get to my inciting incident sooner. The “realism” I was shooting for just wasn’t translating to interesting plot on the page. I totally got what she was saying, and figured that much of what she was teaching me could be applied to a lot of the book. Despite having pitched my MS to agents early on in the conference, it became clear that my book has a long way to go before it’s ready.

Added to that learning curve was meeting so many wonderful people who were attending alongside me. I had signed up to a couple of attendee Facebook groups ahead of time, so by the time of the conference we were ready to meet each other in person at the Hilton Midtown and buddy up. It also gave me a gang to have dinner with on the Saturday night, which was really great. People from all over the States (I was the only one of our buddy group from Canada) and from varying backgrounds, all coming together in this shared passion.

It was honestly one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences of my life! But not cheap, so I won’t be able to go every year, more’s the pity. And it’s really too bad that this kind of education is only really available to those with the financial resources to pay for it. That conference was packed full with people who looked like me – mostly white, middle-class, financially comfortable professionals. It certainly made me think about how the white middle-class narrative is constantly perpetuated while the voices of those who struggle financially continue to get marginalized further.

I feel very lucky and recognize my extraordinary privilege in being able to go to such an event at all. I also feel the responsibility of using what I’ve learned (and spent all that money on!) to make my book much better.

Let the re-writing begin…