Inspiration Abounds at a Writing Workshop: Getting out of our Zone and Into the Rooms with other Writers (Part 4).

I love writing workshops. I love the awesome speakers, the swag bags, the great connections, the food, and getting to know others—all of it. However, most people I know can be like me—a bit uneasy when it comes to, well, to just getting out and doing it.

How do you sign up? What do I do when walking into a session? What should you wear? What, exactly, should we do during break time? And doesn’t it cost money?

Well, here, in Part 4 of this five-part blog series, I’ll show you what it is like for me and how to make the most of your time there.

This blog post series explores my recent attendance at the Midwest Writers Workshop (July 22-24, 2019), held at the Ball State University Alumni Center in Muncie, Indiana (or for simplicity sakes, MWW.) In part one, I expressed the gratitude found in going to a workshop, conference, convention, or the like. In parts two and three, I shared about the break-out sessions when at this event with MWW.

Learning from professionals in our chosen craft, whether our craft is writing or another art, is an excellent way to continue our education and improve our knowledge and skills.

Pre-Attendance

You can find out about upcoming events, workshops, conferences, conventions, and the like by doing an internet search. Best yet, it’s often easy to hear of these events from your friends and other people you hang out with.

When you learn of an upcoming event, do some research. Find out what this get-together is about, where it is, who will be speaking, and if there are sessions, which sessions you’d be interested in.

With MWW, I was already following Jane Friedman’s blog and had already met her in person. When I got word that she would be teaching at this event. I dug in and learned more. Wow! — the break-out sessions to choose from with the presenters offered what I needed for advancing my researching and writing skills in the current book I am now working on. And yes, I was down for a full day with Jane Friedman.

In prior events I’ve attended, one was the Writer’s Digest indie-lab, right near me in downtown Cincinnati (September 29-30, 2018). I chose that one for its close location and for one of its speakers, Amy Collins who has been an integral part of my book marketing. One thing awesome about it was that on the first morning, Amy and I met for breakfast— it was a time to get to know each other outside the centered scope of my book.    

I also went to the annual writing workshops with the School for Creative and Performing Arts (or SCPA), also here in Cincinnati. Those were once a year in the spring up until they were recently discontinued. I went to each one except the first one. It was awesome in that it joined community members with their students for an intensive weekend of creativity. And it was free, only requirement being to pre-register. Following each workshop with this school, our works from the weekend get-together were compiled into a published anthology. When I first attended, it was in perfect timing for my writing career—that was in the spring of 2015, when I was in the early days of writing my memoir.

Once you know you want to go and what parts of it especially interest you, it is time to sign up. Nearly all events, whether it is a workshop, conference, or convention have an online registration form for you to complete and submit. Do this as soon as you can. The hosts of these events most often want to make the registration process easy-friendly and will include who to contact with questions. Don’t shy away from emailing or calling if you need more information or help in this process. They want to see you at their event!    

Getting to It

Attending MWW involved a different mode of transportation for me. I couldn’t just hop on a city bus or in a taxi and go. When first signing up, I wasn’t even sure if my old and ugly pick-up truck would get me three hours down the highway.

But, as the saying goes—where there’s a will, there’s a way. I had registered nearly three months before event day which gave me time to figure it out. As the time neared, my pick-up truck became a goner. In Plan B, I made arrangements with a rental car agency. Now, for those of you who know my story, my driving a late model car was going to be a brand-new thing for me. (Ask me about hitchhiking and I can tell you about that part of my past, but driving, well, I’m not much of a driver.) A good friend went with me to get the rental car and then gave me a crash-course in driving. By the time I returned the car, I had not only learned so much at the workshop but also how to work a key-less car.

As far as lodging went, MWW posted hotel suggestions right on their registration page along with discounts. Here, I did more research. And more. In the end, I settled on a different place- a motel with lower rates, no frills, and high reviews found online. And it gave me a two-night reduced rate. I left home on the morning of the workshop, checking in to the motel later that day. I checked out of the motel on the morning of my final day, the day with Jane Friedman. Each night I was too tired to even think about a swimming pool at the higher-end hotels.

For events further from home, again, look into the travel options to decide if you’d rather drive or fly or perhaps even carpool. There may be discounts available for airplane flights, either on their website or through a certain membership you have. AARP got me a discount on my rental car. I think AAA offers discounts too. Research to find what works for you.   

Packing

Survival Kit: Print out and take with you any registration receipts, agendas and the like. Also take a notebook for notetaking and pens or pencils. If you take your lap top computer or tablet, also take your charger for it. Your phone charger as well, needs to be in this survival kit. 

Clothing: The fewer items you can take, the less bulky packing will be. Anywhere you can mix and match will work well. Be sure to pack a sweater for layering as temperatures can swing and vary in different parts of the country as well as in different rooms at the same event. 

Not sure what to wear—whether to dress up or not? If the event you’re going to is an established one, browse their website or other social media page, perhaps from their prior events and find pictures to see what people are wearing.

When attending MWW, I dressed up more than my usual day-to-day attire, if only because it is a good feeling for me. You see, on my library job, I do work that puts me in between public floors, which can be dusty and dirty. Switching from jeans at work to dressy pants is my reminder that I’m getting out of my zone and doing something great.  

Another thing for the survival kit is to include your business cards and if you have a published book, then, that too.  

Check-In

Upon arrival at MWW, I knew from their website that parking was free right out front of the alumni center where it was being held. Most often, the registration process will let you know ahead of time as to where to park. If you are unsure though, contact them before arriving to find out the parking logistics.

Once parked and first walking in the building, there is most likely a welcome table. That has thus far always been so for me in the events I’ve attended. Here, you can introduce yourself and the person who greets you will likely make you feel welcomed. That person will give you a packet of important papers and other goodies for you to help yourself become acquainted with the layout.

At MWW, I was right away greeted by the event host, Jama, and from her, I knew I was in the right place. I knew her name and picture from registering on their website.

Meals

Again, the registration process will likely have informed you which meals, if any. that the event includes. Where meals are included, this is a great opportunity for meeting new friends. So, I recommend staying off your phone—while it can seem intimidating to be in a room where you don’t know anyone, and a phone is an easy distraction, engaging with people instead leads to much greater things. Even if your goal is as simple as having a five-minute conversation with one person over the lunch break, that’s better than being a wall flower.

Presentations and Sessions

If the event has several sessions to choose from in each time block, I suggest choosing a topic that interests you and of which you have yet to learn more about.

Don’t limit yourself to familiar speakers. There’s time in between sessions to say hello to those familiar faces. Instead, meet new leaders and listen to ideas unfamiliar to you. Our investment in time and money is our opportunity to expand our horizons. 

Talking to Speakers and Panelists

Talking to the people presenting at the event, especially when they’re surrounded by a gaggle of fans can also seem intimidating. But making these connections is crucial to our networking. Industry leaders tend to pop up at several different events, so the next time you see them, they will no longer be strangers. This was the experience I had with Jane Friedman at MWW after first meeting her at the Writer’s Digest Conference.

And don’t just go after the well-known speakers. If someone spoke eloquently and is lesser known, these people generally have more time to talk to you and can be fountains of knowledge.

Networking

When you see “Break” on the agenda—well, it’s time to get to know others, even through a casual meet and greet. Making conversation with strangers can seem awkward at first. However, unlike where you’re thrown together in a room with little or no context, this workshop or event gives you one topic you already have in common—the event itself. This is also a good time to ask for their business card and to offer yours.

To start chatting with someone, it’s as easy as starting off with a question about what sessions they attended or what speakers they liked the most. From there, it feels more natural asking that person what he or she does for a living and why they are also there.

Most people at these workshops or events are there to mingle with like-minded individuals, so don’t be afraid to chat with others and make connections.

Social Media

Don’t underestimate the power of using social media (live tweeting, following the event hashtag and liking posts) during the event. This “social currency” can keep you connected after returning home. Some of my bonds with fellow writers and well-known authors are strengthened through online means which keep us connected well after the event. 

Post-Event

Reach out to those who you met. Ask how they are doing with what they learned. Shortly after attending MWW, I emailed a fellow memoir writer. In her reply email, she exclaimed “Oh, my first table buddy.”  

And talk about the event. Whether you’re on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram or have a blog, show your love for a conference online. Personally, I have enjoyed writing about this conference and what I learned. If mingling in person days afterwards, share your experience with attending the event. Encourage others to get out of their zone of solitude and into their community.

I hope this blog post series is helping you. I returned with so many ideas and concepts swimming around in my head, meant to be processed. Sharing with you has helped me gain focus. Reaching out to those I met at MWW has strengthened my connections and has given me more opportunities to be there for others. It’s a community thing. Together we can make our communities great.

Look for the final part in this blog series coming at you in a week from now. It will be an overall recap. If you have any feedback pertaining to this series, please let me know in the comments and I will try to include those in Part 5.   

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-Elle-

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