I just attended the 2023 Writing Heights Writers Association Conference in Colorado! I had a great time, learned some stuff, talked to some cool people, had some drinks, and did a presentation. I was exhausted by the time Sunday rolled around.
Conferences aren’t just for learning. You never know who you’re going to connect with. The first time I went to a conference, I didn’t know anyone! I was a nervous, anxious, reclusive, introverted mess. But I strapped on a smile that I found in a drawer somewhere collecting dust and went. To my surprise, there were real, down-to-earth people there who weren’t cannibals. In fact, they were warm, welcoming, lovely people who were happy to talk with me and offer guidance.
Since then, I’ve attended many conferences and although I’ll never get over feeling awkward, I’ve been told that it’s okay, and that most writers are awkward. That’s a big relief. Now I make it a point to seek out people who are sitting alone and introduce myself. They may not want to have anything to do with me, but at least I reached out.
In 2019 I didn’t know anyone in my local writing community. As time has passed, I’ve joined the Writing Heights Leadership Team, I’m a blog writer for the Horror Writers Association, and I’m an Organizer for Shut Up and Write. I work with my local library during their annual Book Festival. I’ve been published in anthologies and on Amazon’s serial platform Kindle Vella.
But all that aside, I’ve also met so many cool people that I might never have connected with otherwise. This year I met thriller writer John DeDakis while we enjoyed the first evening faculty dinner of the event. Then we had a beverage at the hotel bar. Now, John’s a nice guy, but how much did I have in common with a much older dude from the east coast?
Turns out, a whole lot! The second evening, we wound up at the bar again and discussed politics (thankfully on the same side), literature, female perspectives, legalization of marijuana, and the military. On the last evening, he agreed to let me show him some of the coolest hang-out spots in town. We met up with some other authors and stayed out late, talking about snooty intellectual topics while I sipped a glass of thirty-year port, and stumbled around in the dark looking for a speak-easy.
I don’t swim in the same social circles as this accomplished writer. I mean, he was a Senior Copy Editor at CNN in Washington for The Situation Room, anchored by Wolf Blitzer; a White House Correspondent for CBN News during the last three years of the Reagan Administration; a journalist in Vietnam.
Would he ever have chatted with me on the street? Who knows. Maybe. But I doubt it. However, he was just a person like anyone else with a lot of cool stories. Just like me. Despite being two decades apart in age, were both brought up in the Midwest, we both have strong opinions about social justice and humanity, we write death and murder and suspense. And we’ve both been tear-gassed: John in 1969 while covering an anti-Vietnam War riot for campus radio, me while in college Marching Band when spectators got out of hand (though the band was not a party to the riot
I’m headed to Pittsburgh for StokerCon next week. I’ll be traveling alone to a city I’ve never been to, which would have made me sick with anxiety four years ago. But I’ve made connections in the horror community, so I’m not a panicky mess of nerves. At least, not much.
This is a long way around saying that connections are the best part of conferences. Everyone’s open and awkward. You don’t have to worry if you think you said the wrong thing, or wore the wrong shoes, or had one too many cocktails. Everyone’s a little weird. We’re writers. So put yourself out there. Read your work when opportunities come knocking. Network. Do the things you’re afraid to do. Go to conferences and volunteer. The connections you’ll meet are worth much more than the price of admission.