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When I’ve heard other writers give advice about attending writers’ conferences, there are two pieces of advice I always hear: “Connect with people you don’t know. Network.” and “Go to everything offered.”

For first-time conferees, these two phrases can put a lot of pressure on both the conferee and the conference. There are many expectations for the experience. However, while I think that both pieces of advice are good to hear, I also think we need to take them with a grain of salt.

“Connect with people you don’t know. Network.”

Networking is good, and so is connecting with writers, agents, editors, etc. that you don’t know. However, this can put a lot of pressure on conferees, especially introverts. While at the conference, they’re worried about talking to enough people, and the use much of their energy trying to work up the courage to talk to strangers all day. As an introvert myself, I’ve found this to be extremely exhausting. And as I use up my energy trying to talk with people the whole time, per the advice I’ve received, I find it harder at times to focus on the workshops and have energy for the things I am excited about.

Another thing that I thought when I heard this piece of advice was that I had to connect with a lot of people. I took it in the sense of “meet someone, have a short, meaningful conversation, and move on to meet someone new.” But I think sometimes you just need to connect with those old friends you haven’t seen in a while, or even those acquaintances you don’t know that well. Here’s one of my own experiences.

This past weekend I attended the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference in Anderson, Indiana. I was there with a group of fellow classmates, and a lot of the time I talked with them. Instead of branching out at lunch and sitting with a group of strangers, I chose to sit with a few of my classmates, most of whom I hardly ever talked to. And we had a wonderful conversation. For that day, it was my favorite part of the conference, and I feel I gained much more out of having lunch and interacting with my classmates than I would have if I’d networked and sat with a group of people I didn’t know.

“Go to everything offered.”

Look, I get the point of this statement, but it’s just not possible sometimes. I know the value in experiencing everything the conference has to offer, but sometimes you just can’t do it.  From what I thought when I heard this, and what friends have thought as well, this is often taken as “Go to everything offered no matter your energy level.” Which I think is just ridiculous. If you’re going to a conference, you’re going because you want to learn new things and meet new people. You can’t do that if you’re too exhausted to approach others or pay attention in workshops and critique groups.

I attended the Write to Publish conference at the beginning of this summer, and this was one of the pieces of advice I took to heart. I was determined to go to everything they offered that I could. I was ready to take in all of the information from the four day conference. I was excited.

By the time I made it to the middle/end of the third day, I was exhausted, but still excited. I was having a great time and learning a lot. Then at dinner I started talking with an alumnus from my college who was also attending the conference. When the time came to go to the evening activities, such as a speaker and critique groups, we decided that we both needed a break–and we didn’t want to end our conversation. So we went back to the dorms we were staying in (we were on the Wheaton Campus in Wheaton, Illinois) and talked for another hour or two. Honestly, it was the best thing I could have done. Not only was I able to rest from taking in information, but I was able to really connect, and it was with someone who helped me more than anything I could have learned from the conference activities.

So, what I’m trying to say with these examples is to not go too far. Know what your limits are, and when you reach them, don’t push past. You’ll only exhaust yourself further, which could lead to missed opportunities or lessons. If you get the chance, slow down and really connect with someone–whether that’s someone you already know or someone you just met. Don’t be rushing around trying to get everything in, because chances are, you won’t. And that’s okay. It’s why most conferences are an annual thing.

Go ahead and take everything you can out of the experience, but don’t go too far. Slow down and listen for what God’s calling you to do, even if that’s getting away from the conference for an hour or two to rest. Because if you don’t, you might just miss something important.

 

What do you think about these pieces of advice? Others? Voice your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say on the subject. (After all, I’m only one of the many perspectives out there.)

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