This past weekend, I did something different. About a year ago, a friend suggested I give this writer conference a shot. I’m not particularly interested in most writing conferences because they do two things I don’t like. One, they force people to spend lots of money to learn things about writing craft that have always come pretty easily to me. Two, they tout networking as a secondary benefit, which is something I really detest doing.
When I was young, my mom worked as an English teacher, then she switched to working for a publishing company. She has a degree in English. This means nothing for me as a writer, except that she also liked to have everyone sit down for dinner and talk about things. Quite frequently we wound up discussing books, grammar, plot, and similar such things. As a 6th grader, I tested at a college reading level. Thanks, Mom! While I might benefit from a few kernels of wisdom here and there about writing craft, I really don’t need to spend five hundred bucks to get them.
Networking…is very important in any business. It’s also exceptionally daunting for a person with social anxiety issues. I cannot walk into a room full of people and find someone to talk to. It is outside my psychological ability to accomplish. To be clear, I know how to approach people and engage them in conversation. The task of finding something to talk about is also not a problem (usually). It’s the part where I have to actually inflict myself on people where I stumble. Generally, it takes long enough to gird my loins, as they say, that whatever opportunity existed vanishes and I must find some other opportunity to gird myself for. As it turns out, girding is a non-transferable currency.
The networking part is why I now have a partner in crime, Jeffrey Cook. He’s exceptional at this. I have other useful skills he benefits from. Sometimes, though, each of us must do the part of the job we’re less good at for one reason or another. Such as this weekend. Jeff worked MythicWorlds without the benefit of my skills and I went to Superstars without the benefit of his.
To be fair, it’s not exactly networking at Superstars. It’s less formal than that. There are people you can ask questions, but the actual point is similar to that of a non-critiquing writer’s group. That is, you’re making friends who happen to work in the same industry as you and can understand the trials and tribulations of it. That could be called “networking,” but it’s really a more complex concept. However, it’s still a large room full of a large number of strangers whose time is at least as valuable as my own, if not more valuable, and the ones with the most influence, experience, and knowledge are always surrounded by those bolder than me. Even when I’d really just like to talk about Portal or argue about Star Wars.
The end result was a kind of a disaster on my end. While I was able to enjoy myself during the gaming night at the conference, and I did get a chance to chat with several wonderful people, overall I was miserable. The entire weekend was incredibly demoralizing for my writing career, I barely slept, and I couldn’t eat during the lunch break 2 of 3 days for my stomach being twisted into knots. It’s no one’s fault and there’s little that could have been done to make it better for me. A few friends among the group tried to help, and they did an admirable job. I’m told i seemed to have a genuine smile on the last day, which may or may not be true.
I’m glad I had the experience. Maybe someday I’ll get to the point where I can actually handle this stuff and genuinely have a good time. Until then, no more conferences for me. I’ll stick to conventions. Conventions are a blast. My next convention appearance will be at the Festival of Literature for Young Adults (FLYA) in Portland, OR, March 19-20. This is also the launch weekend for Backyard Dragons, about which you’ll hear more as we get closer.
I’d love to share pictures, but I didn’t take any. I did get someone else to snap a pic of me with Jim Butcher while he signed my DFRPG YS and Changes, which is cool, though I wasn’t able to marshal the moxie to actually talk to him for more than 5 seconds. There were other people waiting to get things signed, and he looked tired. I hope he was able to get a good night’s rest after the conference.