So you’re planning on going to the Willamette Writers Conference, eh? Well, before you go, you need to know the most important rule: You do not talk about the Willamette Writers Conference! No, wait, that’s something else.
The first rule of the Willamette Writer’s Conference is: Have fun meeting other writers! Sure, the keynote speakers will entertain and inspire you. The presenters at the sessions will teach you all kinds of valuable tips that will improve your writing. The literary agents and publishers will hear your pitches and give you valuable feedback (and, every year, somebody gets picked up by an agent, gets their screenplay optioned, or signs a contract for a novel). But many past conference attendees say that networking and connecting with other writers is as, if not more, important.
Kate Ristau, author of Shadowgirl, says, “When I attended my first Willamette Writers Conference, I was a nervous young writer who wasn’t really sure what I was doing. That first day, I forced myself to sit down at a table at breakfast with a group of people I did not know…. One of those writers I sat with became my friend and writing critique partner. We’ve gone through some amazing times together. But I would not have had those experiences if I didn’t force myself to sit down, open up, and meet someone new.”
Places to Network at the Willamette Writers Conference
Willamette Writers knows how important networking with other writers is for its members, so this year they will create a conference Coffee Shop, a gathering place near the Barnes & Noble book selling area. Agents, publishers, and speakers will spend time there mingling with attendees. So while you’re at the conference, take a break and hang out at the Coffee Shop.
Events in the evenings are designed to provide great opportunities for networking at the conference. Friday evening will begin with the Welcome Reception and will round off with the Timberline Review Reading and FiLMLaB Panel and Premiere. On Saturday, writers can mingle at the Awards Banquet and the cash-bar networking period that will precede it.
The hotel bar is also a popular destination for networking. Debby Dodds, who has attended the Willamette Writers Conferences as a participant, a volunteer, a “Pitch For the Prize” winner, a faculty member, and the open mic night moderator, says, “Stay up and be social—do the nighttime activities! I’ve made some of my best friends over a glass of red wine or pint of beer in the evening gatherings.” Debby and I became friends via the Willamette Writers Conference years ago. Guess where I first met Debby.
But don’t feel you have to wait until the wee hours of the night to network. If you’re early to a workshop, feel free to strike up a conversation with the other early arrivals. After a session, while the presenter bustles off to their next appointment, reach out to the other attendees by asking them for their big take-aways from the workshop.
Dodds says, “Don’t try to meet people just in your genre – have an open mind.” You never know what relationships will emerge from reaching out to writers of any ilk.
But, what do you do if you feel uncomfortable breaking the ice with strangers? Well, that’s the topic of our next Networking blog post.
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