How to Actually Stay Inspired and Energized AFTER Your Conference

First, I have to apologize for last week’s lack of posts. Our regional SCBWI fall conference (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators, for the uninitiated) was this past weekend, and somehow my normal blogging time disappeared in printing, packing, checking lists…You get the picture!

But the conference went off with nary a hitch. IMHO, this was the best lineup of authors, editors, and agents our conference has hosted in years–and I have permission from several speakers to share my sketchnotes from their sessions! Expect to see them in the coming weeks.*

Now it’s 6:22 PM Sunday night and I’ve only been home for an hour or so. I’m simultaneously

  • exhausted from a weekend of being “on” (always an energy drain for an introvert!) and
  • energized by the connections with new and existing writer friends and
  • exhilarated by all the fantabulous new ideas for stories, articles, characters, and rewrites bouncing around in my head.

Oh yeah–I’m also a little overwhelmed, because where the heck do I start with all of that?

From experience, that feeling of overwhelm will increase. Also from experience, that feeling of exhilaration and the sense of being full-to-bursting with fantastic ideas will also fade.

From speaking with other writers, I know I’m not the only one to go through this disheartening progression. Don’t worry, though–I’m not writing to discourage you! Au contraire, I’m writing to share with you my tried-and-true, step-by-step plan for How to Actually Stay Energized and Inspired After Your Conference forward through the coming weeks and months. In other words, I want to share how you can get the most from your conference experience over the long term!

During the Conference

Already finished with your conference? Read this section anyway. These steps can still be implemented after you return home.

Step 1. Reflect on each day

I’ve found it helpful to set aside a few minutes at the end of each day–or during an afternoon break–to review the day’s notes. This is when you can start adding items to your master Inspiration List (below) or To-Do list. You might jot down things you found especially meaningful, things you want to make sure you remember.

It’s also helpful to glance over your notes from presentations, critiques, and other conference sessions. Check to see if someone would understand their meaning if they hadn’t attended the same session. No? Then you probably won’t understand your notes, either, after a month or so has passed. Take time to clarify what you’ve written. If you come up with questions, you still have time to track down the speaker and ask!

Step 2. Keep a master “Inspiration List”.

Conferences tend to be highly inspirational. I came home with several ideas for new picture books plus renewed vision for some old manuscripts currently sitting on my shelf. However, those ideas ended up as jotted notes in the margins of various pages of my notebook. After the first day, I created a “Master Inspiration List” and collected the various tidbits of creativity in one location. That way, I’m far more likely to remember them and put them to use.

Step 3. Keep track of names and contact info for new writer, editor, and agent connections.

After last year’s conference, I had a list of names and emails for people I wanted to keep in touch with. People I was sure I would remember…but then I didn’t do anything with that list for weeks. By the time I pulled it out and dusted it off again, I couldn’t recall where I’d met some of those people or what we’d had in common.

Fortunately, I learned my lesson before the conference I attended this past June. I collected names and addresses, but didn’t let them languish unattended until I forgot about them. This time, I consolidated them on a single notebook page, which I stored with my conference notes. I sent emails to remind people of how we’d connected and saved their responses to a special “Personal Connections” folder.

It’s up to you to decide what information you want to save and where. Perhaps you want to stay connected to a fabulous author you heard speak–then send a quick email message to let them know how much you enjoyed their presentation, or simply to say “thanks” for the opportunity to get to know them. Save your messages in a folder dedicated to writing related friends and contacts. Or maybe you want to remember a particular editor you think might be a good fit for your work someday–you could create a spreadsheet, Word document, or Evernote notebook to store that editor’s name, house, where you met, and a few notes about them.

The key here? Keep it simple! Make sure that you create a system that’s

  1. easy enough to use that you’ll actually use it, and
  2. intuitive enough that you won’t forget how it works when the next conference rolls around.

After the Conference

Step 1. Review Your Notes

  • Make sure your notes make sense. In your rush to copy down information, did you leave out any key words? Essential transitions? Try to reread your notes with a fresh eye to make sure they will make sense later, when you’ve forgotten the context. (If you went through step 3 of “During the Conference,” you’ve got a head start on this process!
  • Highlight or star key information. What ideas did you find especially helpful? What information do you want to be able to find easily 6 months down the road? Judicious use of colored pens or highlighters can make your notes easy to scan–helping you create a fabulous source of future inspiration.
  • Record your insights. Any insights into your writing projects? These might arise from writing exercises you did during a workshop, or from a speaker’s words that really hit home, or from a critique. Don’t let those flashes of insight go to waste. Definitely don’t trust yourself to “just remember” them! Instead, record the key information someplace where you’ll see it the next time you work on that project.

Step 2. Get Organized

This step is easier if you start during the conference. Even if you did get a head start, though, it’s important to spend some time organizing your stuff after your return home. I guarantee you’ll find things you missed!

  • Record deadlines. Do you plan to submit to any of those wonderful industry professionals you met during the conference? Many editors and agents allow attendees to submit to them post-conference, even if they normally accept submissions only from agents or by referral. However, some only do so during a limited window available of time–in which case, you need to get their deadlines on your calendar and get to work.
  • Add items to your to-do list. What action did the conference inspire you to take? What deadlines do you need to remember? Put them on your calendar, your to-list, your wall–whatever you use to stay inspired and focused day-to-day.

Step 3. Add to Your Inspiration List

The evening or day after the conference is a great time to review your notes and ideas and use them to help you brainstorm more ideas. The truth is that you probably didn’t have time to pursue every idea sparked by every session while you were at the conference. Take time to follow up on those stray thoughts before their trail grows cold!

Step 4. Track Your Peeps

Did you meet any amazing authors or illustrators you want to remember or keep in touch with? Any agents or editors you think might be perfect for your work–even if you don’t plan to submit to them right away? Create a single place where you can record names and information to help you to remember

  1. WHO these cool people are and
  2. WHY you want to remember them.

Sales reps use CRM (customer relations management) software to help them track contacts, but you probably don’t need expensive software. Consider using an email folder, MS Word document, Evernote notebook, or whatever else feels most comfortable.

Step 5. Follow Up

Did any authors offer to email their slides to attendees–like the fabulous Jen Halligan did after her 2014 presentation on book promotion? Or did a speaker volunteer to create a handout of key points–like the illustrious author/speaker Erin Dealey, at this year’s conference? Make sure you send your follow-up email ASAP!

I've put together a handy checklist that sums up these steps for you--sign up now to access, and prepare to be inspired!

*Unfamiliar with the concept of sketch notes? Then go IMMEDIATELY and read about how sketchnotes can “level up” your creative process. And read about practical ways writers can use sketchnotes. Go on, shoo! Sketchnotes will help you pay attention, organize your notes in a way that’s meaningful to you, create notes that are easy to scan for information after the fact–plus they’re plain old fun! You get to use pretty colored pens and everything :D.

Beating the Avoidance Trap

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What’s your avoidance strategy?

Last week I wrote about my tendency to stay “busy” in order to avoid writing (and other potentially uncomfortable tasks!) Staying busy certainly isn’t the only writing avoidance strategy out there. It’s probably not even the most common. Others that come to mind include:

  • Chasing after shiny new ideas
  • Reworking the same page ad infinitum
  • Facebook, Twitter, and other social media
  • Web surfing

…and there are many more!

If you’re a writer who’s not writing, why not? Tweet-Button

Do you have reasons or excuses?

Beating Avoidance

So how do you tackle avoidance in your writing life? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are some starting ideas.

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Six Ways to Recharge Your Creative Mojo

2014CalendarImage2I just returned from the Rocky Mountain Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 2014 fall conference – and it may have been my best conference experience yet.

I know, I know: I think I say that every year! But this particular year seemed to deliver exactly what I needed, leaving me recharged, filled with ideas to explore, and excited to dive back into creative work.

If you’re in need of a creative recharge, a conference is a fabulous remedy – but not one that’s always available. Fortunately, you can gain many of the same benefits even if you’re too late for this year’s RMC-SCBWI conference :). Read on for a few ideas gleaned from my recent conference experience…

1. Step away from the desk!

A change of scenery jars your brain out of its routine and forces you to turn off your autopilot. Just as important, stepping outside your ordinary environment removes the distractions of everyday responsibilities and worries — allowing your imagination room to play!

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Things to Love in the Writing Life: Conferences

I’m going to a conference this week! The Pikes Peak Writers Conference, to be precise, where one of my critique group members took first place in the children’s division of their annual writing contest. I’m going to celebrate with her, attend an all-day writing workshop, hobnob with writing friends…can you tell I’m excited?

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I mean, HOBNOB. With a word like that, what more could one want?

I wasn’t sure I was going to go until a few weeks ago, when a volunteer opportunity arose that will significantly defray the cost. In fact, I’d decided not to go. My logical, analytical mind reasoned that I’ve attended two other conferences in the past six months AND took a writing-related trip to Florida, so therefore couldn’t justify the expense of yet another conference. Besides, what would I get out of it, really? Much of the information presented would repeat things I already know. There’d be opportunities to make editor and agent, but did I really need those? And sure, I’d get some great time with writing friends, but wasn’t that just selfish?

Funny how we can talk ourselves out of things, isn’t it?

If I’d been more practiced at listening to my intuitive side—the side that was deeply disappointed when I decided not to attend—perhaps I would have chosen differently. The intuitive side of my writer-persona knew that there are other benefits to a conference, things like:

  • Creative inspiration: I will be attending an all-day workshop with Donald Maas, author of Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction. I’ve attended his workshops before, and always left them on fire with ideas for my work-in-progress.
  • Re-energizing: I find that conferences always leave me with more energy and excitement, but this one promises to be particularly energizing. This conference pulls in many of my writing friends from across the state, plus I get to celebrate my friend’s success.
  • Connecting: My recent foray into the book Imagine by Jonah Lehrer reminded me that we can’t underestimate the value of connecting with others in our field. In the chapter I’m currently reading, Lehrer cites several studies* that found a direct correlation between individuals’ creative success and the number of contacts/amount of communication with those contacts for each individual. Those who connect more are HUGELY more successful than those who do not. It seems that people who meet with, talk with, connect with, and interact more often with others in their field create a pool of talent they can consult when they need advice. I’m not talking about editors and agents here. I’m talking about the value of connecting with other writers.

I’ve heard both beginning and more experienced writers talk themselves out of conference attendance. There are plenty of reasons not to go. Conferences cost money. They take time, and we should probably spend that time working. The beginning writer might tell himself that he’s not advanced enough to take advantage of the conference’s offerings, while the more advanced writer might argue that she won’t learn anything she hasn’t heard before.

I know: there are times when going to a conference may not be the right decision for you and—as great as conferences can be—it would be silly to bounce from one to another all year long. But when you decide whether a writing conference is “worth” the time and monetary investment, make sure you consider the less tangible benefits as well as the obvious pros and cons. For writers, the inspiration, encouragement, and connections made at a conference aren’t a luxury. They are critical to our growth and creative success.

Besides, they’re a ton of fun!

Your turn: What’s your conference experience? Do you ever regret going? How do you choose which to attend and which to pass?

* Yeah, I love research studies—it’s the scientist in me…