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.

Ten Reasons You Should Attend a Writing Conference

Just in case you’re still wondering whether a writer’s conference is worth your time and money, here are some of the benefits you’ll gain from your conference experience.


Image courtesy of mrsdkrebs on Flickr Creative Commons

  1. Tambako the Jaguar-2Inspiration. Building a writing career might be easy to begin, but some days it’s a bear to stick with it. Sometimes, you need to hear a rousing Keynote address from the likes of Donald Maass to remind you that someone needs to write the books that his little boy will read.
  2. Writing Craft Education. If you’re serious about your career as a writer, you need to invest in continuing education to improve your craft. Although you can gain a lot of great information from reading books, in a face-to-face setting you can ask questions, get examples, and obtain a deeper understanding of different aspects of writing craft.
  3. Feedback. Conferences can provide you with feedback on your work-in-progress or opening pages, in the form of manuscript critiques, first pages sessions, and workshops.
  4. Marketing Ideas. As Jane Friedman explains so eloquently in her article “Should you focus on your writing or on your platform?”, marketing is a task for writers at all stages in their careers. A conference is a great place to hear from working writers who are out there doing what you want to do—visiting schools, for instance, or figuring out how to set up an author’s website. Come prepared with questions!
  5. Connection. Need a critique group? A mentor? Or maybe just a writing friend? Conferences are where YOUR PEOPLE—other kooky writer-types—congregate. Come meet the people who are like you! Be encouraged and affirmed by others who GET you.
  6. To meet more experienced writers. This is a special aspect of “connection”: a writing conference enables you to pick the brains of those more experienced. Not only can they answer your questions, they can answer the questions you didn’t know you needed to ask.
  7. To help less experienced writers. If you’re farther along on the writing path, what are you waiting for? A writing conference is the perfect path to give back to the community that supported you when YOU were starting out as a writer.
  8. Open publishing doors. Did you know that many agents (such as Elana Roth, who accepted submissions from conference attendees following the 2011 RMC-SCBWI Fall Conference) and editors who normally don’t accept unsolicited submissions (READ: submissions they haven’t specifically requested and submissions from unagented authors) will look at manuscripts from writers they’ve met at a conference? Some will accept manuscripts from anyone who has attended the conference—check specific conference info for details.
  9. Reality Check. Hear from authors who have “made it” for insight on what it takes to become a successful writer—and insight into what being a successful writer actually means. At this year’s Pikes Peak Writers Conference, bestselling author Robert Crais had the audience in stitches during his inspirational address, reading his “fan” mail. Dear Mr. Crais, You need to learn the difference between “bring” and “take.” Dear Mr. Crais, I feel the need to point out that you are using the words “bring” and “take” incorrectly. Dear Mr. Crais… He moved us to tears as well, when he shared an email from a soldier in Afghanistan, thanking him for the story that provided a much-needed escape from stress and fear.
  10. Discover focus or direction. One of the valuable aspects of a writing conference is that it gives you a glimpse into all stages of the writing process, including both pre- and post-publication steps. It provides a broader view of the different directions a writer’s career can take—and allows you to figure out which paths are most appealing to you. In addition to writing/rewriting, editing, and selling a manuscript, a book writer’s job may also include
    • School visits
    • Social media
    • Teaching
    • Presenting workshops for writers
    • Presenting workshops aimed at your target audience
    • Writing articles for magazines and websites
    • Mentoring other writers
    • Editing and critiquing others’ manuscripts
    • Creating a podcast
    • Working a day job

Still not convinced? Read yesterday’s post for more :).

What sort of writers’ life do you want to build? What vision do you need to discover? Who do you need to meet? I’m guessing you might find the answers at your next conference.

The Joy of the Writing Conference

Now that I’ve written about how to get the most from your next writing conference, and how to dress for your next writing conference, I’ve realized that I may be putting the cart before the horse. You may not yet be convinced that you should invest the time, money, and emotional energy to GO to a writing conference in the first place. Conferences and travel and lodging and all that aren’t free, you know. So why bother?

Helga Weber Photo by Helga Weber

Changing Your Vision

I wrote an entire “Tuesday Ten” list of reasons to attend a conference—and they’re all good reasons. I’ll post it tomorrow. But I feel like the list doesn’t get at the heart of the issue, which is that attending a writing conference can change you. A good conference can meet you wherever you are as a writer, and give you what you need plus a little extra.

Every year, I attend my local Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Every year, I see people attending their first writing conference.

There’s the young mother, nervous, who doesn’t know anyone. This is her first weekend away from her two preschoolers, and she wonders if she made the right decision in coming.

There’s the high school student, who looks somewhat mortified to have his mother in tow. He’s eager to learn EVERYTHING and will tell anyone who will listen of the epic fantasy he’s written.

There’s the retired schoolteacher. He’s written his entire life but never had the self-confidence to do anything with it. He’s only here because his wife gave him conference attendance as a gift.

There’s the art student, winner of the illustrator’s scholarship contest. He acts cocky and self-assured, but you can tell he’s nervous during the portfolio reviews because he keeps dropping his papers.

There’s the mother of two teenage girls, who has finally allowed herself to spend money on her “writing hobby.” She feels like an imposter at first, but she’s determined to stick it out.

Do you see yourself on this list?

I coordinate the manuscript critiques for this conference and it’s one of the most rewarding things I do. Sometimes when I pair a hopeful young (or middle-aged or older, because we’re all hopeful, aren’t we?) writer with an editor or agent for a critique, I feel as if I’m reaching back in time to a younger version of myself—the terrified young woman attending her first conference, afraid to speak to anyone because they were REAL WRITERS. I was welcomed into the writing community by wonderful (and much more experienced!) writers who have since become some of my best friends. Attending that conference changed my life.

Not because of the great information (although there was plenty of great info.)

Not because I learned the latest industry trends (although I did.)

Not even because I made connections that later enabled me to join a critique group (although that happened, too.)


It changed my life because it enabled me to see, feel, hear, even taste what it meant to be a real writer. It gave me the courage and knowledge and support to realize that I WAS a real writer. At that conference, I clarified my understanding of who I was and who I wanted to be. And, for the first time ever, I caught a glimpse of how I could become that person.

So come back tomorrow check out my logical lists of reasons to attend a writing conference this year—but don’t forget that a conference’s greatest benefit may be some intangible shift in understanding that, right now, you can’t even see that you need.

If you’re a veteran conference attendee, how did conference attendance impact your life? If you *haven’t* gone to a writing conference, what’s holding you back?

What Writers Wear

You probably read my how-to-get-the-most-from-a-writers-conference post last week. Well, it failed to address an extremely important question: What the heck should you wear?


Photo courtesy of pipjohnson

I’m no fashion expert, but I can tell you the trending fashions observed at the 2012 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Read on and avoid the writer’s dreaded fashion faux-pas!

  1. The artsy writer. This look included gauzy scarves, hand-painted silks, and flowing tunics. Both bright colors and earth tones appear to be “in” this year. The key to this look is to be yourself, but more elegant and superbly accessorized. Must be worn with confidence to pull off, but when successful can make you appear bold and, well, artsy.
  2. The eclectic writer. Closely related to the artsy writer, the eclectic writer leans toward vintage clothing and one-of-a-kind items such as well-worn cowboy boots paired with lace or velvet. A single focal accessory, such as a unique hat or walking staff, can also create the eclectic look. Finish off your eclectic style with a period hairstyle or region-specific jewelry. As with the artsy look, the eclectic look requires a fair degree of self-confidence with a splash of individualism.
  3. The sexy writer. A few bold writers sported short-short skirts and plunging necklines at this year’s conference, and not just at the formal awards banquet. The sexy look is certainly an attention-grabber, but may make it less likely for editors and agents to take you seriously.
  4. The business writer. A fair number of attendees sported “business casual” dress—which, if you’re not in the business world, means fairly dressy. Think business skirts, hose, heels, and button-down shirts. This can be an extremely professional look, if worn with confidence.
  5. The casual writer. This writer looks clean and comfortable, but clearly did not dress for the occasion. By wearing your everyday duds, you can project an attitude of self-assurance—the “I don’t need to impress anyone” vibe. This look can be particularly effective for the writer who engages easily in conversation and already has numerous conference contacts, because it makes you look like one of the “in” crowd.
  6. The dressed-up writer. Some writers attend the conference wearing fancy dresses and three-piece suits (cummerbunds optional). This look screams “conference neophyte,” but also demonstrates that the wearer takes the event seriously. This look may trigger conference faculty to treat you with a more gentle touch than they would otherwise.
  7. The working-at-the-conference writer. A fair number of conference attendees sported jeans and t-shirts coupled with harried expressions. In some cases, they wore red PPWC Staff shirts. The “working writer” clothing and air of purpose can project an “important person” vibe.
  8. The funky writer. These writers sported fashion items such as ripped jeans, concert t-shirts, multiple piercings, and rainbow-dyed hair. Similar to the eclectic writer, but with more of a rock-band vibe. The look seemed to be especially favored by those writing for teens.
  9. The just-got-up-from-my-computer writer. This look, touted by fabulous writer and speaker Linda Rohrbaugh, consists simply of jeans, shirt, and a sport jacket. It shouts “working writer” and gives the impression that you left your computer (and WIP) only long enough to throw on a jacket and come to the conference. Can communicate professionalism and high productivity.
  10. The Hollywood writer.These writers dressed all in black without the Goth vibe. Numerous black turtlenecks, black mock turtlenecks, and black t-shirts were observed. The look seemed to be favored by screenwriters and writers adept at schmoozing at the bar.

Which style do you favor? Do tell!