We’re all engaged in this art form that can be brutally isolating. So, no matter how difficult connecting with new people can seem, it’s important for writers to do. The Willamette Writers Conference gives us an opportunity to come together and share the joy of writing with each other. But how do you break the ice?
What if You’re an Introvert?
My friend Gail Pasternack, a Willamette Writers Board member, has attended every conference since 2010. At the 2014 conference, when she was an average participant, we met at a table with a group of writers by the hotel pool. About half of the writers were extroverts like me who found socializing with new people easy, and the other half were not.
Gail says, “If you are an introvert, like me, it helps to connect with an extrovert who will introduce you to other people.” On the other hand, you don’t want to hide behind a social buffer friend so much that you don’t experience all the conference has to offer. “Don’t go to the conference the first time with your friends and spend the whole time hanging out with them,” Gail says. “Start conversations with people you don’t know. If that’s hard for you, try asking them what they’re writing. And, remember to listen to the other person before sharing your writing story with them.”
Freedom to Talk about Writing
Most of our lives we’re surrounded by people who don’t find the art of writing as interesting as we do, but at the conference we get to hang out with people who do. As Zack Palm, who attended the conference in 2014 and 2015, says, “Everyone is extremely kind and more than willing to spend as many hours as you want, to talk about writing or what they’re doing career-wise.” People are excited to hear one another’s elevator pitches and offer constructive feedback.
Orit Ofri, another Willamette Writers Board member, says, “Even if you’re not pitching your book, be ready with your logline (one, two, or even three sentences summarizing your book). Why? One of the most common questions at the conference is What are you pitching? If you have your logline ready, you have a good conversation starter.”
But it’s important to remember that you aren’t pitching to everyone. Don’t feel compelled to convince your fellow writers that you’re the love-child of J.K. Rowling and Ernest Hemingway. If you prefer to write poetry, don’t tell folks you write up-market prose. Be yourself. We will like you because you’re a writer just like us. As Debby Dodds says, “Stay humble. Maybe you came mainly to pitch, but be open to learning.”
And remember, writers can talk about things other than writing. Gail says, “Some of my best conversations with people started from their comments about my hair (the gray stands out) or my comments about their shoes (I’m a tango dancer, so I always notice shoes; people seem to like talking about their shoes).”
After the Willamette Writers Conference
Don’t let those new relationships evaporate at the end of the conference. “Go out there and expect to walk away with at least three friends,” Zack says. “The best part is the modern social media, …since [writers] have more to tell about what’s been going on with them.” Gail makes it a point to reconnect, too. “Collecting business cards helps me remember names after the conference, and reminds me who I want to friend on Facebook or follow on Twitter.”
The dollars-and-sense angels and devils on your shoulders may get embroiled in a furious debate about how many pitches or advanced manuscript critiques to purchase (I side with going for it), but remind them both that success at the conference is not measured in money alone. It can be measured in the quality of friends you make who can enrich your writing and your life.
We’d love to write about the networking experiences of Willamette Writers members at past conferences. Got a Willamette Writers Conference networking tip or a good story to share? email Gail Pasternack.
Photo credit: Russell J. Young