I know, Mix and Mingle aren't part of the official 'Ms' of the slogan, but they are definitely an essential part of the conference weekend. My final conference post offers suggestions on making the most of those times outside the general sessions. These are times designed for you to interact more directly with the faculty and other attendees. For some that can be a bit intimidating. I hope by explaining a little about each one, you'll have an idea what to expect before you arrive and that will make your conference experience more enjoyable.
SlushFests: While these are part of the general sessions, I've found them to be more interactive than the other sessions. Even if you don't have a synopsis or two pages of manuscript to share, SlushFests are worth attending. You get to witness how agents and editors read submissions, and see what grabs them and what misses. During the SlushFest I attended last year, the agent not only gave her opinion and discussed the pieces, she also asked the participants what they thought worked, what might work better, their sense of the characters and story, etc. It was more a dialogue than a class. I think anyone sitting in a SlushFest will come away with something.
Faculty Tables: During each meal, faculty members will be seated at tables with the attendees. Their names will be on the tables so you can choose to sit at the table with someone you're interested in or want to hear more from. This is not the time to pitch your work! unless you are specifically asked. So why would you want to sit with a particular agent, editor or author? Sometimes the conversation does cover the world of writing and publishing. Remember in a previous post I suggested you come with a couple of questions? This is the time to ask them if they've not been answered. You may get extra pointers, advice, insights that might not come out during the general sessions.
Faculty Tables offer the opportunity to get to know the faculty as real people! They have lives, families and interests outside of their work, just like the rest of us. One year a table mate and the faculty member found they grew up in the same general vicinity. Wouldn't it be interesting to learn that you and one of the presenters shared the same hobby or alma mater? The conversations might not lead to a contract, but you may realize it's easier than you thought to talk with people in the business. And that knowledge can go a long way when you are ready to make that pitch or send that query letter.
Night Owl Sessions: It can be tempting to go back to your room and decompress after a long day of information input. And that's fine. But there are opportunities to extend the learning after the dinners both Friday and Saturday evening. Other than setting the rooms aside, these are not organized by the Conference Chair/Co-Chairs. There is always an attendee or conference volunteer willing to lead the way and sessions turn out well. The Night Owl Sessions include . . .
Mix & Mingle: This is time to relax and visit with faculty and other attendees. A cash bar is available if you choose to enjoy conversation over drinks. If you don't see yourself being part of the hob-knobbing, maybe you're a good listener and observer - two skills important to every writer.
Open Mics: Open Mics are open to anyone interested in reading so bring your work to the conference. There is no judging, no critiquing, just encouragement. The poets who read at the Open Mic I attended last year had poems ranging from the very sweet to the very bawdy. We cried from empathy and laughter.
If you've never read in front of an audience, this is a safe environment in which to read for the first time. The crowds are small and you'll no doubt discover you write better than some and not as well as others. That's not a bad thing. You'll hear what others are writing and how people react to it and that's a good thing. You are of course welcome to come and just listen. Readers are always grateful for an appreciative audience. Open Mics can be a fun way to end the evening - whether you read or not.
Some additional ideas for making the most of your conference weekend . .
Get in the Loop: A friend of mine attended last year's conference and saw something that really stuck with her. She was a newbie writer and a bit nervous. She watched a group of people talking and noticed another person standing off to the side, alone like she was. A member of the group also noticed the other person, moved away from the circle and without saying a word looped her arm through his and drew him in. Claire thought that was one of the most generous gestures she'd ever witnessed. Recently she attended another workshop and made the effort to be the person bringing another into the group. She said by the week's end, she'd noticed almost everyone else had done the same thing. If you're at the conference solo, or just happen to be solo at a certain moment, don't be afraid to link arms and enter a group together, and don't hesitate if someone offers you an arm.
Table Hop: Even if you have a conference buddy to eat with, make a point to eat with a different grouping for each meal and don't always sit next to each other. This might sound goofy, but it's interesting how changing that little dynamic changes the flow and content of conversations.
Dance: No, we don't provide dancing opportunities, though that could be interesting! I'm talking about the stepping back and forth so you have a full but not overloaded weekend. You know your own writing needs and you own body rhythms. Listen to both and balance your time at the conference between The Method, The Market & The Muse. And if your Muse shows up and tugs you to the beach to write, to gather inspiration or to retreat, it's ok to listen to her and slip away.
Conferences are there for us to learn, network, and return home ready to write. We all get out of them what we put into them. I hope these posts have been helpful in getting you ready for the weekend. I'm heading to a writers' retreat Friday so I'll be putting into practice what I've put into print these last couple of weeks. And I look forward to meeting many of you at The South Carolina Writers' Workshop 20th Annual Writers' Conference. See you then.