How To Pack For A Writer's Conference

by - March 28, 2016

*an updated post from the archives*

Writing is a private affair. It's a locked-in-a-closet, introspective exercise most often engaged in by textbook introverts who dream in colour, compose better than they speak, and birth their darlings upon pages only to weep over their death-by-edit later.

To take the writing creature and plop her down in a crowd of like-minded beings is to invite anxiety and excitement and fear and hope and a whole plethora of other emotions.

This Friday, along with a lovely friend and fellow member of Writer's Jam, I will be hitting the long road to Ottawa, journeying hour upon hour to participate in a one day Writer's Conference.

Because of the distance we will spend two glorious nights away, tucked neatly into a charming French hotel, across the Ottawa river, minutes from the conference location.

Perhaps it's strange, to dedicate an entire weekend to such an endeavor, but I look at it as an investment into my passion and I will do it without apology, with many pee and coffee breaks, while happily embracing the adventure of it all.

I'm really excited!

{I'm also really sick. I've basically been bedridden since Saturday. Today I woke up with absolutely no voice. The only sound I can make is a barking cough that feels as bad as it sounds. I'm like a sweaty, phlegmy creature from the deep. I have horrid bags under my eyes and I've been wearing the same hoodie since Friday night. Needless to say, I'm not at my best. I miss feeling pretty. And I really need to get over this before we leave on Friday—the flu is not something you want to pack for a conference!}

This will be my fourth writer's conference experience and I have learned a little bit in the area of preparation. Let me share with you The Four 'Don't Forget Them' Things. {and by four I mean about one hundred, but bear with me}:

Something to wear.

Something to show.

Something to write with.

Something for comfort.

Something to wear: 

Once you have registered for your conference you should receive a package detailing things like schedule and accommodations and yes, how to dress. Mine states 'Business Casual' to which I say, "phhhhhttttttt!"

Of course, this should be self-explanatory but, because I lack corporate confidence*, for me it is not. I googled 'Business Casual'. Once again, "phhhhhhtttttttttt!" Not that I have anything against it. It's just not who I am {remember?} I wear jeans to work. I try to picture myself in a pants suit and all I feel is sad.

My advice to you? Pack the clothing you feel comfortable in—that you feel your best self in. Whether you actually believe it or not, giving off an air of confidence will do wonders when you're sitting in your meetings with editors and agents.

At a prior conference I had a meeting with an agent {a darling southern gentleman in a ten-gallon hat} and I asked his advice on making myself attractive to an agent. After complimenting me on my firm handshake he said, "I must say, you've already made yourself quite attractive!" Guess what I was wearing? Jeans! He said nothing about wearing a blazer.

Pack nice clothes that can be mixed and matched into various comfortable outfits. And layers—you might be moving between buildings and rooms, from air-conditioning to outdoors to non-air-conditioned spaces {hooray for cardigans!}

Be sensible with your shoes. In a continuing class last year I sat beside a beautiful editor in three inch heels. She looked amazing and put together and super professional but all I could think was, 'her poor, poor feet!'

Something to show: 

Two conferences I've attended without business cards. How lame! If you take nothing else in the way of self-promotion, take business cards. I will admit that I do feel a little bit silly at the idea of handing them out—like I'm some self-important chump out to boast my own wares BUT everybody else will be doing it and people will ask for it and you don't want to be like I once was: "Ummmm, I didn't even think of that..." {I had my cards printed through Vista Print and was very pleased with how they turned out.}

Bring samples of your writing. Each conference will offer different things. In the past I've taken pieces for blue-pencil editing sessions, and a few pieces to share during the Night Owl readings which is ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING {if you're as awkward and shy as I am} but I think it's an invaluable exercise. Because this particular conference is only one day, I'm not sure how much opportunity there will be to share but I'm at least going to bring the first chapter of The Church In The Wildwood—you never know...I could find myself sitting at a lunch table with an agent! {There was opportunity to submit a piece for critiquing from a professional editor. I did seriously consider this BUT when I looked up the website of said editor I was incredibly underwhelmed and so decided against it. An extra cost was involved in this option and I wasn't going to take that chance on a professional who didn't present professionally.}

Have your pitch ready. There will be many opportunities to share what you're working on. Share it confidently {gulp!} Remember that you've been dedicating much of your time to this endeavor and it's okay for the passion you feel for your project to shine through! Be ready to share it with editors, agents, publishers, and other writers.

Bring a one-sheet. If you want. I labored over this for an earlier conference and I didn't hand out a single one. I think this could be a valuable tool if you have already established yourself in the field of writing. If you're more like me and all you can say is 'well, I write and blog and I'm working on some stuff...' maybe leave it for another time.

Something to write with: 

I am an old-fashioned soul when it comes to taking notes. I love the scratching of the pen, the frantic scribbling of great thought and the turning of filled pages. I will arrive at the conference center with a large spiral notebook and an arsenal of pens and pencils. I will also bring my laptop and/or tablet for possible blogging or writing during down-time, and my cell phone so I can keep in touch with the people I love—which means I must remember all the various charging cords and a bag to carry them all in.

Something for comfort: 

Comfort is so important. I want us to sleep well the night before and the night after. I want us to come home feeling invigorated, rested, and ready to confidently tackle our projects.

That does not happen if nights are spent in a seedy motel with mildewy bathrooms.

I spent hours searching for the right accommodations for my friend and I. There must be a hundred options—probably more—but I had specific requirements in mind and I wasn't willing to settle. Or break the bank.

I made a list of demands and I refused to concede on any point.

  • no less than three stars
  • free parking
  • free breakfast
  • modern
  • clean
  • good reviews
  • complimentary WiFi
  • affordable
And I'm happy to report, my final decision claims all the above. Here's hoping there's still honesty in the world!

I am also bringing along my travel mug. My registration fee included coffee breaks and, because I like to sip my hot drinks slowly, I bring my mug so I can take it with me to workshops and classes. I'll also be able to top it up at the hotel breakfast in the morning before we leave, saving us a time-wasting stop at a drive-thru.


On top of all these things mentioned, I will also bring cash for the book table.

So here I go, off on the big adventure, hopefully returning fully motivated and inspired to carry on and keep pursuing this crazy, crazy dream!

But first I need to get over this crazy sickness! Send good thoughts my way, friends!

* corporate |ˈkôrp(ə)rət| confidence |ˈkänfədəns; -fəˌdens|
one who navigates a professional field with self-assurance and poise

corporate |ˈkôrp(ə)rət| dingbat |ˈdi ng ˌbat|
1. one who navigates a professional field with awkward small-talk and self-deprecating 'humor' while wearing flip-flops and jeans.   2. me

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  1. Ugh! The flu! It comes in many forms and they are all evil! Praying you have a quick recovery and a pleasant trip. Come home rested and fulfilled!


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