PART I: PREPARATION
After months of waiting…
I executed several Corp de Ballet-worthy pirouettes across the room after the news sank in that I had, indeed, been accepted to the Yale Writers’ Conference (YWC) to be held June 18 – 22. Yes!
As I write this from the 4th floor oven that is my dorm room at Yale’s Berkeley College (a fan is being bought for me as I type), the sounds of screeching police cars, raucous laughter and what sounded like an orgy of Roman proportions has given way to the soft strumming of a guitar and some very sweet voices singing “Sweet Home Alabama” on Cross Campus. I’ve promised myself that I’m not going anywhere until this blog post is finished.
Workshops start tomorrow. I’m thrilled to be here. A writers’ conference is useful on several levels: You get to learn more about your craft (in my case, poetry), educate yourself about the publishing industry, get feedback on your work, get inspired and most of all, have the opportunity to network with editors, agents, fellow writers and teachers of the craft of writing.
One thing I’ve learnt: in order to get the most out of your conference experience, you must be thoroughly prepared. Here are some of the ways I prepared for YWC 2014 which I hope can serve as guidelines for other writers attending conferences.
I’ve listed the general benefits of attending writing conferences above but what are YOUR specific goals? What are YOU hoping to get out of this conference to further YOUR writing goals and ambitions? For me they are:
* Develop my capacity to create new, improved work
* Get feedback on my writing.
* Get guidance and mentorship for future direction.
* Pitch my manuscript to agents and editors
* Network with fellow participants
* Brand my blog, Scribe’s Madness
The benefits of setting conference goals is that you are aware of why you are at that conference and as a consequence your activities are focused towards realizing your goals and not fragmented.
Know your conference program really well. What workshops and classes are you taking and what is their nature? For example, I have a workshop on “Poetry for Prose Writers” which is a generative workshop, meaning we will focus more on creating new work than workshopping old writing.
I received a ton of pre-conference reading material in my email: from the 12 workshop submissions of fellow participants to essays, poems and criticism sent by our workshop leader. Should you receive materials to get through before the conference starts, read them, make notes on them. Your workshop leader wants you to come from a position of being informed on certain texts BEFORE the workshop starts. Make sure you are.
You need to hold your work up to thorough scrutiny and know your strengths, weaknesses and the type of writing you engage in. Be honest. Be ruthless. Be cognizant of the bottlenecks you come up against in your writing. Maybe you feel you constantly reach for weak metaphors or as a poet, sound and rhythm are the weak link in your writing. Conversely, know the areas you have command over. This intimacy with your writing will help when you discuss your writing in a workshop or when you make a pitch to an agent or editor. It helps strengthen your writing.
Participants at the YWC will have the opportunity to meet with their workshop leader for 45 minutes to an hour. Should you get this invaluable opportunity for one-on-one mentorship make the most of it. List beforehand the points you want to discuss. Also, allow for the feedback you will receive and be prepared to note suggestions and advice for your writing.
A lot of writing conferences have panel discussions with agents, editors and publishers and you are given the opportunity to meet with them and pitch your manuscript or work. You may also find yourself elbow-to-elbow with them at lunch or walking with them from one session to the other. Usually, you don’t have too much time to talk indepth about your work. Prepare to pitch yourself in 5 minutes or less. Know the kind of work they publish. Know how your writing matches that focus. Be able to cite two or three writers they have published whose work is similar to yours or who have been an influence on your writing. If they show an interest in your work, make sure you have a polished first draft to share. If you agree to send it to them online, then honour that and do it as soon as possible.
A writing conference is an excellent way to get to know students as well as teachers of the craft. The opportunity to exchange knowledge and experience with working writers is a great learning experience. Try and engage with as wide a group as possible. Don’t just stick to talking to poets if you are a poet. Mingle with the screenwriters. Have lunch with the creative non-fiction people. It is a great way to forge relationships with a diverse base of people doing the same thing you love: writing. A good idea is to have business cards printed to hand out. You can do that fairly inexpensively at vistaprint.com.
Our workshop leader specifically asked us to bring laptops and flash drives. Other than that, make sure you have a supply of notebooks and pens. I also brought my copies of the books written by my workshop leader for him to sign for me!
I hope this helps. Next week, I’ll be blogging Part II of the Yale Writers’ Conference. Stay tuned! 🙂