I attended my first ever writers’ conference, which was also my first ever conference, this September held by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization here in the Denver area. I started volunteering with them doing write-ups on events for their monthly member newsletter last November, and the more I get to know the organization and the people in it, the more I want to get even more involved. Despite how much I love participating in their events and getting to know other members, this isn’t a plug for them (though they deserve it because RMFW is awesome). This is about what I learned at their conference, Colorado Gold, and why I can’t wait to go to the next one.
Writers, as a group, are awesome people.
Every now and again you hit a few who are a little snobbish or condescending, but they are the exception, not the rule. I have never met so many amazing, talented, interesting people in such a small span of time who are all interested in the exact same thing as I am. I didn’t feel as left out as I thought I would, either. That might be due to RMFW’s reputation as being a friendly, welcoming bunch of people, which they totally are, but I was also a little worried I wouldn’t find very many people who wrote the sort of stories I like to write. I was afraid I’d end up in a room full of sci-fi/fantasy people, and not for the first time. No offense SF/F writers, but I feel like I’ve met more of you than any other types of writers over the years. To my relief, there are plenty of other crime, mystery, thriller, and even noir writers out there as well!
An hour, or two, or sometimes three, is not long enough for some workshops.
The weekend was jam-packed with workshops from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and I spent every minute I could in one class or another learning about genres, style, revision, the next steps toward publication, common mistakes, and even commiserating on self-doubt. I ran myself a little ragged (though I blame my anxiety causing me insomnia for part of that), but I learned SO MUCH. I finally finished typing up all my notes and am hoping to swap with a couple friends who went to different sessions. Even though I probably attended 12 or more classes, there’s always more to learn.
Networking and (surprisingly) pitching is not scary or hard.
I was totally shocked on this one. I’m an introvert. I get pretty major anxiety in crowds where I’m expected to make small talk and say hello to people, be they acquaintances, friends, or strangers. But, luckily, it was a writers’ conference, so everyone else there has EXACTLY the same fear. Knowing that made it much easier, and knowing that we already had something in common, writing, made it even easier to start talking to people I didn’t know. I made a few good contacts and even a few friends!
As for pitching, the scariest, most anxiety-ridden part was the time before it. Not only are you nervous about having to be salesy to a complete stranger, but they stick you in a room full of a dozen other sweaty, nervous people while you wait! Once I got in there and started talking, it was totally fine. I could do it again. But I will definitely have more talking points prepared, because you cannot rely on the other person to stop and ask questions. Some will and some won’t.
I knew more than I thought I did.
This was not surprising so much as reassuring. One of the first things I participated in was sitting in on a roundtable critique with other writers who had submitted pages to an agent/editor, and everyone gave notes to everyone else. I signed up late, so I didn’t submit pages to be critiqued, but I gave notes to everyone else whose pages I read. I was pleased and reassured to find that not only was I picking up on errors and questions that other writers had, but I also had some of the same feedback as the editor had for the people in my group.
It’s always hard to pick out issues in one’s own writing, but the fact that I understand the issues and can recognize them when I see them in other people’s work will hopefully make it easier to recognize such issues and fix them in my own writing. That said, I’ll probably still miss a bunch of them and someone else will still have to point them out first. However, I met two people at the conference who invited me to join their critique group, so I hope this will be an opportunity to get even better at picking out those problems and improving them even before I hand my work over to someone else to read.
When’s the next one?
Though I’ll admit it was a socially, mentally, and physically exhausting weekend, I had an amazing experience and am looking forward to the next Colorado Gold conference. However, I have found some other conferences in my area as well that take place in the spring, so I won’t necessarily have to wait a whole year. But I can’t get too far ahead of myself. Although the experience was invaluable, a conference still comes with a sizable price tag, so we’ll see how it goes.
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