Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Please don't let me pee myself at this conference

You know that irrational fear you might hurl yourself off a balcony or scream curse words in church?

I see a few of you nodding and the rest wondering if you should keep a closer eye on your friends in multi-story buildings and places of worship.

I feel this way as I prepare to attend my first writers’ conference this week. Not that I’m afraid I’ll leap from the 17th floor of the Seattle East Hilton Bellevue, though the cursing is always likely.

It’s more that I don’t know what to expect, and I realize there’s a strong possibility I’ll spit gristle in someone’s purse or spontaneously lift my dress over my head.

It’s the little things that worry me, really. I’ve studied the list of workshops available at the Emerald City Writers Conference, but I’m not savvy enough to know how many I get to attend or how I’ll find my way from point A to point B. I specified my preference for the smoked salmon ravioli, but worry I should stuff my purse with crackers and a 15-pound turkey to satisfy my constant need for snacking.

And what to wear? “Business casual” in Central Oregon means something very different than it does in Seattle, and I also fret that the current heat wave in the Pacific Northwest will prompt conference organizers to air condition the rooms to the approximate temperature of a meat locker.

At least I don’t have to roam the city looking for a good cardboard box to sleep in. A couple members of my RWA chapter in Portland very kindly offered me a spot in their room, but I’m not certain whether I’ll be sleeping in a bed or on the bathroom floor. I also have to confess that I’m not 100% sure I’ve met these kind souls in person. What can I say? I’m terrible with names and faces, and despite our friendly email banter about room rates and breakfasts, it still hasn’t completely clicked for me who these women are. If it turns out they’re zombies or serial killers, I hope the maid doesn’t have too much trouble scrubbing my blood from the carpet.

I know these are trivial things in the grand scheme of my writing career, and I’ll figure it all out once I get there. I’m attending this conference to learn and to make new friends, and I intend to do that even if I have to use my plastic pirate sword to take hostages in the lobby.

Have you been to a writers’ conference before? Do you have any tips for newbies like me? If you’ve never attended one, what’s holding you back?

Admit it – it’s the cursing thing, right?


Lisa Miles said...

I've never been to a writers conference before, but I totally get the swearing in church feeling. I'm always afraid I'll yell out the F word anywhere that's quite. I like to think of the reactions I'd get from people (it must be the writer in me). I had a friend once who would only drink from a straw because she was afraid she'd try biting the glass.

Unknown said...

Here are some basics..don't be afraid to ask others for help or directions, take small bites and if you're worried about any slip ups avoid alcohol. I have a habit of dropping food on myself,(classy, I know) so I tend to wear dark tops.

Other than that follow the same rules you did when you were a kid: smile, be friendly and if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything.

Good luck.

Trisha Leigh said...

I've never been to a conference but am planning to go to SCBWI in NYC this winter. Scary! How about I use you as my test subject - send Tawna in first so I know whether or not to wear Depends.

Seriously, I felt this way before my first ComicCon last summer. Terrifying. Staying in a hotel with no one I'd met but work with online.

It turned out great. Minimal intimidation.

You are going to have a blast, can't wait to read all about it!

Julie Weathers said...

Yes, I went to Surrey and RMFW.

1. Don't wear perfume. Wear a scented lotion at most. Many people are very sensitive, if not allergic to strong scents. One agent at Surrey even mentioned in in a workshop. One woman had to dash out and smoke before her pitch appt and apparently reeked of cigarette smoke. Another pitch appt was a man with very strong cologne. The agent said your preferred reaction is to have an agent leaning forward in anticipation and interest, not leaning back to get away from the smell.

2. Roommates are fun. Surrey has an open list going each year for people who have a double room and would like a roommate or people looking to share a room. They also have lists for people to meet up and share a ride from the airport.

3. Once you get there, you will have time to sit down and plot out which panels and workshops are best. I, being a list maker, carefully plot these out ahead of time and then adjust later. At both conferences, we had a large group of friends so we rearranged things so all the interesting workshops got covered and then we shared notes on the ones we missed.

4. I'm sure your clothes are going to be fine. Slacks, a nice blouse and sweaters or jackets. Most rooms are cold and you can always take a sweater or jacket off if they aren't. Wear a dress if you're comfortable in them.

I wore jeans, shirts and vest or jackets, boots and a hat to both conferences and I was happy as a clam and comfortable. Don't wear crap that is uncomfortable just because it looks good.

Have fun. Don't stress yourself.

Janet Reid said...

Take business cards with your name and your email address. That way when you meet people you like you can stay in touch. Be proactive. Meet everyone. Be your marvelous self.

Danica Avet said...

Comfy shoes are very important. I've been to two conferences and in both I managed to nearly cripple myself because of my shoe choices. Secondly, have fun. You're going to be rubbing elbows with tons of other authors who are wondering if they're going to puke on their breakfast companions before their agent/editor pitches. Maybe bring several Tide pens just in case someone does spew.

Other than that, just enjoy yourself. Take the workshops you're most interested in and take time to get to know people. These really are some cool peeps.

And try to get out of the workshops/events faster than everyone else if you have to pee. Or invest in some diapers. The lines can be horrible!

Candyland said...

OMG the gristle post is by far my favorite to date!!!! I LOL just thinking about it.

Anonymous said...

Do let me know how the conference goes. I'm gearing up to head my first Con at the end of October and, funnily enough, I'm deathly afraid of spontaneously lifting my dress over my head.

On the plus side, I'm pretty sure people would remember who I was if I did that, so I suppose business cards WOULD be a good idea.

Anonymous said...

No worries! Yes to all the above.
Comfortable and nice shoes, clothes, manners. Everyone has their own style so the most important aspect is your smile.

And yes to personal goodies to eat. There's a lot of enthusiastic energy, laughing, talking, and our bodies need familiar fuel to keep us up to par.

Linda G. said...

Since you already have a marvelous agent, I don't have to give you my standard piece of conference advice: don't pitch agents in the bathroom. ;)

Really, just have fun and talk up PIRATEBITCH...er, I mean MAKING WAVES...to the librarians. They are going to love it! :)

Lisa_Gibson said...

You totally make me laugh! Enjoy your first writer's conference. I'm betting you'll have a wonderful time and learn tons. :)
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

Kadi Easley said...

Don't schedule yourself so tight you are racing from one meeting to the next. Know that you are not going to get to attend every panel that looks interesting and don't drive yourself crazy about it.

The second thing, don't be afraid to skip a panel and hang out in the bar or cafe with some newfound friends. All the best networking happens in bars or restaurants and sometimes, that's where you learn the best stuff.

Last, have fun. That's the most important part and the one I have the most trouble with. I tend to get so nervous that I forget that part.

Michelle Wolfson said...

Janet covered business cards so I'll say I ALWAYS bring snacks and a sweater.

Dr. Goose said...

News article

Tawna Fenske attended Emerald City Writers Conference where she proceeded to scream curse words, spit gristle in someone’s purse and spontaneously lift her dress over her head.

She was later seen stuffing large amounts of crackers into her mouth while weilding a plastic pirate sword saying, "I need friends to help keep the zombies and serial killers away".

Roomates say she slept on a bathroom floor the night before and that the temperature was, "like a meat locker".

Quite frankly it sounds like a great promotion for your book!

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

I have attended and actually run dozens of conferences (business, not writing). They are exhausting, from both sides of the coin. You can't do it all, so it is best to determine in advance what your main goals are. What do you want/need to get out of this event?

Plan out which presentations you want to attend in advance, but also be flexible. You might sit next to a presenter at a meal and find her fascinating and want to attend her session. If you know someone who has attended this conference in the past, ask for their recommendations.

Pace yourself. If you try to do too much you will be worn out by the end and nonfunctional. Don't try to attend back to back sessions on opposite ends of the venue. Snack often. Conferences usually have set times for this. Take advantage. It's always a good idea to have something in your purse, too.

Have fun. The social aspect of conferences can be as valuable if not more so than the educational/business part of it. Attend the parties. Introduce yourself to people everywhere you go. Don't eat meals alone. You have the opportunity to make some great connections with people in your field. Make the most of that. You will likely be in touch with them long after you forget what someone said in a seminar.

Lynne Kelly said...

Ok, since I'm not cruel enough to twitter-tease about seriously peeing my pants at a conference and not follow through with the story, here it is.

Anyway, I have this bottlenecked-esophagus thing, so once in a while even a small piece of food gets stuck. Not in a place so I'm choking, but so it's really really uncomfortable. So, 1st day of a 5-day conference, we're in the giant conference room before the keynote address, and I'm having hors d'oeuvres and listening to a co-worker when I realize there's a bite of meatball that's stuck. I didn't want to get up and leave the co-worker while she was talking, so I took a sip of my drink, thinking that would help, although I should have known better. So then I have a sip of Pepsi sitting on top of a bite of meatball, not going anywhere. It was getting really bad, so I managed to excuse myself and leave the room. By the time I got out to the hallway my throat was making Chewbacca noises. No restroom nearby, so I was sort of hiding in a corner, hoping everything would self-correct.

It sort of did self-correct, in the projectile sense, all over the nice oak doors of the Marriott. Two seconds later a waiter walked out carrying a tray, having no idea how bad his day almost was. I was actually thinking I could return to the conference-- and then I realized I'd peed my pants. Not just a little. I mean a to-the-knees-in-a-pair-of-khakis peeing. Thankfully I had my phone in my pocket, so after the walk of shame to the restroom, I called my husband to come pick me up so I could go home early. When he arrived he asked what happened and I said, "I told you on the phone-- I choked, I threw up, I peed my pants. "Oh, you really did? I thought you meant it as a metaphor," he said.

I don't know any metaphor that goes like that.

Since my hair was wavy then, I straightened it the rest of the conference days. I'm sure people were thinking, "Huh, that looks just like the redhead who peed...but no, can't be. Hair's too straight."

So I guess my sage advice is, if you start to choke on something, don't worry about being polite. Leave the room immediately. You're welcome.

fOIS In The City said...

Lost this post and since I plan on attending RWA in June, I'll keep all of this in mind.

NYC is my home town although I currently live in another city further south.

If desperate, I can always bunk with my daughter, her husband and her ancient cat.

I'll wait until you come back and get all the tips I will need to have a successful conference.

Good luck and above all ... have fun :)

fOIS In The City said...

I did mean I LOVE THIS POST.

Michelle Wolfson said...

I'm sorry but I had to post a second time to say Lynne, you get the medal for bravest comment ever!! Nicely done. :)

Lynne Kelly said...

Yay, I get a medal! Thanks, Michelle!

Wait...what does the medal look like?

Aw, never mind, woo-hoo!

Patty Blount said...

I haven't done conferences yet, but I did have to deliver software training in a previous role. I had to travel and only packed one bag.

Layers are your friend. Short sleeve shell, long sleeve sweater, jacket, whatever, over it and poof - you're ready for the meat locker inside while the rest of the world is still rocking summer weather.

I wore a lapel mic. Forgot I was still wearing it during our break. Took it the ladies room.

It was still on.

Luckily, the range isn't all that great on those things but believe me when I tell you I HID in that bathroom until they dragged my butt back out.

Janet said it best... be your marvelous self. If that means peeing, spewing, so what? We love you for the zany things you say and do - sure they will too.


Holy cow, guys -- this is wonderful stuff all around. I'll have to print out all these comments so I can take them with me on the road.

Lisa Marie, I wonder what the medical term is for the irrational fear that you'll do something crazy?

Jeannie, good tip on the food -- I do the same thing all the time.

Trisha, I promise to report back with all sorts of useful (and maybe not so useful) advice!

Julie, good thinking on the perfume. I don't usually wear any, but sometimes go for scented lotions. I think I'll just leave those at home.

Janet, thanks! I just got a big stack of business cards printed up, so I'm good there.

Danica, Tide pens, good thinking! I'll go buy one right now.

Candyland, I'm not sure the victim was so amused, but I got a chuckle.

Simon, make sure you remember to wear a slip and shave your legs, OK?

terripatrick, the smile I can definitely do! Sometimes a little too much, which is probably why I have all these @#$% laugh lines.

Linda G, it is a relief not to feel like I have to woo editors or agents, but I'm a little nervous about the "librarian speed dating" event on Thursday night.

Lisa, thanks! I'll be sure to share whatever I learn.

KD Easley, good point about the social/networking aspect. Since I'm not searching for an agent or an editor, that's a big part of why I'm going.

Michelle, sweater -- check! Snacks -- of course! Will Tootsie Rolls suffice?

Dr. Goose, if all that happens, I'm calling you to write the news article!

Elizabeth, I'm glad to hear they'll likely have snack times. Snacks make me happy.

Lynne Kelly, your story was so damn funny I had to call a friend and read it to her. Then we both laughed until we...well, I was going to say "peed" but that seems wrong now.

Florence, are you talking about RWA nationals? I haven't even looked at my calendar, but I'm definitely hoping to go to that. Maybe I'll see you there!

Patty, oh, Patty...why doesn't that surprise me about you and the lapel mike?!

Thanks so much for all the great tips, guys!

Bonnie C said...

I've done several RWA Nationals (1 of them 7 months pregnant) and recommend/second the following:

-Keep snacks and a bottle of water in your bag. You never know how long the lines are going to be for coffee stands/restaurants
-Wear layers and take a sweater. I run colder than most so I also kept a pair of fuzzy socks in my bag just in case (they came in handy many a time when I couldn't not wear my sooper cute sandals)
-Biz cards. Yep.
-I've done both over the shoulder totes and backpacks and it's backpacks FTW!
-"Business casual" really runs the gamut at these things but seriously as long as you are clean and brushed you should do fine. The tip on lotion vs perfume = 100% awesome.
-Make/allow room in your schedule to hang out in the bar. You find the most interesting people there.
-Be flexible. You may have a bunch of panels you planned to attend but you never know who you're going to bump into and end up stalking/hanging out with, which can in and of itself be highly educational.

Have a ton of fun! Good luck on the roomies!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Have fun, relax, breathe. :) Don't be shy, go and mingle. And wear comfortable clothes. Nice looking ones, but comfort is a necessity.

Susan Spann said...

I've been to several writers' conferences and loved every one. The best single piece of advice I can give is introduce yourself to everyone you can. I generally open with "Hi, I'm Susan...what do you write?"

For the most part, the conversation goes from there. I've never met anyone at a conference who didn't love answering that question, and I've made some really good friends at conferences.

I also set conference goals, but in the interest of not monopolizing your comment thread I'll just say there's a category for it over at my blog and leave it there for anyone who cares enough to click through.

I'm normally an introvert except at conferences, so it's a fun time to step out of my shell and enjoy the company of other people who live in imaginary worlds and kill their imaginary friends. (OK, maybe that's more prevalent in historical fiction, but it works in my world...)

Have a great time!

middle child said...

Hope the conference goes well. BTW - the dress over the head isn't always a bad thing. Depends on what you're wearing underneath.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I've never been to a conference, partly because I haven't heard of any in Chicago and the El doesn't travel far enough. Also, I'd feel kind of intimidated about bringing my work in to show other people, particularly any agents who might be there. It makes me think of going to a job fair and standing in line to show people my resume, which is also intimidating. But I wouldn't mind going to a conference if it meant I could take a workshop with a cool author.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

I can almost always resist the urge to curse loudly in public. Not always the urge to chew on my soda can, but I'm okay on the cursing front. Unfortunately, my life requires me to be in one specific place for most of the year, so traveling for conferences is out. For the time being, anyway.

Clever Betty said...

Tawna - I'm unhappy cause I can't get the spontaneous dress lifting post to come up. I already read the hilarious chicken grissle one. It made me more cautious about making sure my purse is always completely closed.
Great blog and what seriously funny comments.

Claire Dawn said...

I've never been to one, because I've never lived anywhere near one. I decided to fly to Vermont to go to one over summer. Then I lost my passport.

I'm supposed to go to the Japan Writers' Conference in a week and a half. Fingers crossed.

Pamala Knight said...

Tawna I am late to the party but it looks like you're good in the advice department. Loads of great stuff already imparted (bring a sweater, biz cards, comfy shoes, snacks, bottle of water, etc.) to you.

I'll just add that you should take a few minutes after check in (or beforehand if you have it online) to browse the schedule and circle the workshops that interest you. Then map them out and see if you need to cut anything out. Culling anything that's a time conflict or if you'll be sprinting from one end of the hotel/venue to the other. The person who said you should make time to hang out in the bar is also your new BFF because that's a great suggestion.

I organized my local RWA chapter's last conference in CHICAGO (looking at you Neurotic Workaholic) this past spring and met loads of new and wonderful people. It was great fun and I hope you have a great time.


Unknown said...

Never been to a writing conference--thought I ALMOST made it to the SCBWI one up in Charlotte, NC. Darned dog babysitters (ie, the parents) decided to run off to Myrtle Beach for a shag week (no, not that kind of shagging. The shag is the state dance of South Carolina. And, no, I didn't know that until I moved here.).

I'm always afraid of the Diet Coke Burp. Right in someone's face. When I'm talking. Uhg.