How to Prepare For a Writers’ Conference: Workshops to Nights

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Like most writers, I love a good conference. Not only are they a wonderful opportunity to get away, reflect and commune with creative people such as yourself, but they are incredibly fun! Conferences are almost like camp for writers, an exciting time to work with other talented, intelligent authors and learn from renowned writers. I am honored to attend The Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference later this month and thought it fitting to share what I’ve learned so far from my experiences. Over time, preparing for a conference becomes second nature, but it never hurts to review the essentials.

Even seasoned conference goers can be overwhelmed with what to pack, what materials to bring, and where to stay. There can be an astounding amount of information from the conference administration and past attendees. What to pass over and what to commit to memory are often difficult to discern. The important thing is not to forget what you are actually there to do. This short guide will help you get the most out of your conference experience, stress-free.

What to Pack

Most conferences will send you multiple pamphlets and guides full of suggestions, and it is important to at least skim through all of the information. The student guides and pamphlets are where you will get tips on what to pack, what weather to expect and what your projected itinerary may be. Rely on this information to guide you while doing your own research. Check out the weather forecast a week in advance, research the facility and what past attendants have said about their experience. It is always best to overpack than do a late night Target run for an extra blanket or hand soap.

Most conferences are held during the summer months, so it is always best to pack 75% season appropriate and 25% comfort. Seasonal may be shorts, t-shirts, skirts, jeans, etc. and comfort may be long sleeve shirts, hoodies, cardigans, or sweats. The same rules apply for footwear, in addition to packing sandals, flats and flip flops. bring comfortable tennis shoes and sneakers that can carry you for long distances. During workshops, you want to be focused on the material being presented, not how high the air conditioning is being blasted or how much you want to soak your feet in a hot bath. 

You can expect to be spending time with other attendees after hours, so appropriate and comfortable pajamas are best.

Lastly, depending on whether you are staying in a hotel or on campus, personal bedding, toiletries and snacks are a must. Make sure to pack the following items:

• Extra pillow and light comforter
• Body wash, shampoo, razors etc.
• Shower sandals
• Extra body and hand towels
• Hand soap
• Non-perishable snacks

What Materials to Bring

It is always best to remember that you are attending a workshop or class to expand your craft, be inspired, and learn from others. It is not the time to attempt to become someone you are not. If you are not the type of person who writes in a moleskin notebook with an expensive ballpoint pen, then don’t rush out and buy a moleskin notebook and expensive ballpoint pen! I’ve found I work best with large academic spiral bound journals available at your local drugstore. For some, it’s a yellow legal pad or blank sketchbook. Stick with what works for you and pack accordingly. However, you may want to have some of the following materials at your disposal:

• Everyday journal or diary
• Journal for note taking
• Laptop
• Printed or electronic copies of previous work
• Any supplementary handbooks
• Pens and pencils
• Reusable water bottle
• Various books for pleasure or collections of poetry
• Backpack or shoulder bag

Lastly, a decent amount of cash on hand is always best. You’ve already paid a pretty penny on tuition, but it is equally important to save up enough cash for spending money. A well-stocked book table to a writer is like a well-stocked refrigerator to a hungry teenager. You will most likely be attending readings by guest speakers, and you do not want to be held back by your wallet. You may also need cash for any meals that aren’t covered, transportation, or activities during your time off.

Where To Stay

Writers’ conferences will often offer on-campus housing, a campus lodge, or suggest local hotels in the area. Campus housing is typically cheaper, depending on the size of the area and can be added into your overall tuition. Campus housing is also a great way to network and make new friends. It can be a wonderful bonding experience to live with other writers and will provide you with a more intimate setting in which to discuss your workshops, receive critiques and share advice.

Your Nights Off

Your breaks in between are not only great for taking much needed naps or grabbing a bite to eat but also for networking and socializing. During a writers’ conference, you’ll meet new people all the time, so gather some new friends and head downtown or coordinate an after-hours read around. Meeting new writers and talking with them is just as crucial for your growth as the workshops. The majority of writers I know I’ve met through conferences and those friendships have been integral to the growth of my writing. Attend any scheduled mixers or open mics. It can be daunting to put yourself out there, especially with a group of highly talented individuals, but it can also be one of the most enjoyable aspects of a conference. These events give you the opportunity to talk with other writers about things only writers care about for hours on end! So grab a drink and pontificate on the benefits of the MFA, you’ll find that the connections you make will continue to fuel your journey after the conference is over.

Whether you are attending a writers’ conference for the first time or the fortieth, every conference is different and will require different approaches. When all is said and done, rely on simplicity and the basics, go in with an open mind, and don’t underestimate how magical and rejuvenating a conference can be. Above all, enjoy writing, enjoy meeting others, and enjoy your vacation!