Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Taking Chances

As has become obvious if you've been reading this blog over the past several days, I spent last weekend at the Pennwriters Conference. I've been going to this conference off and on for a number of years, and regularly for the past five or six. It has always been a good conference, but in the past several years, it has morphed into a great one.

What's the difference between a good writing conference and a great one? For me, it comes down to two things: quality and variety.

Writing conferences attract -- or should attract, anyway -- writers of varying ability. In order to do that, they must offer workshops that appeal to both novices and experts. The only thing that frustrates me more than a writer who says "I've reached the point where I pretty much know all of this stuff" is when they're right. And it's easy to be right about this at a conference that lacks the right mix of activities. Fortunately, the Pennwriters conference wasn't that conference.

I've been writing for twenty years. Honestly, I don't read tons of books and articles on writing because I'd rather be writing than reading about it, but I do try to stay current. Yet every single workshop I attended last weekend left me with a takeaway.

Were there moments in these workshops offered by mere mortals where I was tempted to whip out my phone and check my email? Uh huh. And, on a couple of occasions, I succumbed.

Did I already know a lot of what I heard? After two decades, over a hundred articles and three published books (not to mention the unpublished ones), I should hope so.

But by attending the workshops and listening to the speakers, I found a nugget of gold in every single one. Some were veritable treasure chests.

In Monday's blog, I mentioned the importance of taking advantage of opportunity. The Pennwriters conference had thirteen editors and agents. Most of the ones I met were generous, approachable and unintimidating.

Although I had done my research, I hadn't intended to meet with any of them. But at the start of the conference, there were openings available in many of their schedules, and there was no additional cost for the pitch sessions. So I decided to take a chance, and ended up being glad I did.

Truthfully, it could have gone either way. When we take advantage of unexpected opportunities --socially and professionally -- we're taking a risk. Any workshop can be a dud. Or it can be the one that triggers a paradigm shift so cataclysmic that it leads to a creative earthquake.

But the onus is on the attendee. If you don't walk through the door with an open mind, ready -- better yet, eager -- to learn and take advantage of everything a conference has to offer, you're wasting your time and your money. Unless, of course, what you're paying for is merely a weekend away.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I skipped a few workshops -- one each day, to be exact. When I feel my brain approach overload, I know that I need processing time. Without it, my attitude shifts from "ready, willing and able" to "go ahead, impress me" -- a change in mindset that helps neither me nor the presenter. And so I need to take a breather, or perhaps a few minutes to begin putting all that I've learned into action. Those "home base" times allow me to recharge so I'm once again willing to take advantage of new opportunities when they arise.

Will you go to a professional conference this year? Will you go out on a limb, or hide among the trees in the forest? For me, the best conference experiences involve a mix of both.

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