A Note From Writing Conference Faculty To Attendees

I’ve been added as a late faculty member to my favorite writing conference Write! Canada. Why is it my favorite? Because that’s where I got my start. I met so many fabulously encouraging people there who I connected with and have formed personal and working relationships with. These people helped me build my writing career. Virtually every editor I’ve worked with I’ve met in person at this conference. I met my co-writer Marcy Kennedy at this conference – in fact, this conference is one of the few times a year we actually see each other face to face.

Marcy and Lisa as Write! Canada attendees

But this year, Marcy’s not going. :(

If you’ve ever met Marcy or I – well, chances are we were together. We go to virtually every conference together. And when we’re there we eat every meal together, we divide the classes we’re interested in and swap notes, we strategize together before we go. We even finish each others sentences. I’m very blessed to have such a great writing partner and friend. If you’ve never met Marcy, then you don’t know that of the two of us she’s the chatty one. She’s so much better at small talk and social niceties than I am – so I’m afraid I’ll flounder a bit here under the pressure. But, I’m only able to go for one day so – suck it up, Wilson! I’m determined not to be a wallflower!

Marcy and I were faculty together at this conference last year. She gave me permission to repost the blog post she wrote following our experience. (I’ve added a few extra thoughts.)

What Faculty Wish Attendees Knew About Writing Conference Appointments

(1) We can tell from a 15 minute appointment who is going to succeed and who is going to fail.

You probably think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. It’s that obvious.

So what are some of the factors signaling success in a person’s future?

  • a willingness to learn and work hard
  • questions showing an understanding of what I said
  • the ability to tell me what you need my help with (or the acknowledgment you’re just starting out and aren’t even sure what your first step should be)
  • evidence you did your research ahead of time (if you booked an appointment with me randomly, that’s not a good sign)

Lisa: Marcy is very right. The most enjoyable appointments were with the writers who had specific questions or were looking for specific feedback on a piece. It’s very difficult when someone sits down, slides a manuscript under your nose and says, “What advice can you give me?” That’s a difficult situation and hard not to feel like you’ve let the other person down when all you have is just 15 minutes to come up with something profound.

Marcy and Lisa in Times Square for the Writers Digest Conference - 2012

What makes these so important?

Hard work and teachability trump talent every day. Lisa: *high five – so true!

Asking questions (or taking notes) shows that you’re listening, digesting, and are likely to apply what you’ve learned later.

If you know what you need my help with, you know your weaknesses. Recognizing them is the first step in fixing them.

Researching my background and areas of expertise wasn’t difficult. If you signed up with me randomly, it’s a warning sign you’ll also query agents and editors randomly.

Lisa: And both us are very accessible online – and so are most writing conference faculty. Having someone sit down with me and say – ‘So, what do you write?’ makes me wonder if they know what they really want/need from me because it would have taken five minutes to look us up on Facebook or our blogs.

We hope that the ones we see potential in will contact us later, even if only to tell us how things are going. I felt invested in some of the people I met this weekend, and even if I never hear from them again, I’ll be here, behind the scenes, rooting for them to succeed.

Lisa: Absolutely! As a newby conference goer I was so intimidated – I wouldn’t have ever dreamed of contacting faculty after the conference. I remember most of the faces I met even last year – and for the most part we’re happy to help.

(2) There’s nothing in it for us. We don’t even get paid to be there.

Although we get a small amount for any critiques we do before the conference, it’s not enough to cover the time we spend on the critiques, let alone our time at the conference. And we don’t get paid to come to the conference (in fact, we pay to come–albeit with a discount). We also don’t have our lodging or travel expenses paid for. Monetarily, this weekend was a loss for me.

The one and only goal of our advice is to help you succeed. Take what we say seriously. We’re there because we’re experienced professionals. Lisa: Yep! Couldn’t have said it better.

Marcy and Lisa at Mount Hermon Writers Conference - California 2011 Our room was at the top of a very big hill - I had to take a moment to tease Marcy about all the luggage she brought.

(3) Don’t take it personally – we’re just tired.

Faculty members put in 14 hour days. On Friday alone, Lisa and I put in 17 hours, including teaching a class, an impromptu workshop, almost 4 hours of one-on-one appointments with attendees, a working lunch, a working supper, informal meetings . . . you get the picture.

Lisa: Remember that we’re writers too and both introverts. Being ‘on’ for that long is exhausting. We’re excited to be there and we want to help as many as we can, but we’re human and we’re tired. Please don’t take it personally if we don’t give you the answer you’re looking for, or seem to brush you off. It’s truly not intentional. That’s why we’re so open to being approached through social networks after the conference. It’s about making a connection.

(4) We find it overwhelming (and flattering) that everyone knows who we are.

I’m really not cool enough to be that well known. In fact, I’m geeky and clumsy and boring more often than I care to admit. (If you don’t believe me, just ask my family.)

Lisa: We met so many readers last year who had never left a comment or reached out through Twitter or Facebook. It was truly humbling, but affirming that all our efforts were helping people. You have no idea how much we appreciated that. I can only assume that for most faculty, it’s the same thing. Especially for the American agents and teachers conference organizers take the time and expense to have come to Ontario.

Writing is such a lonely occupation – please don’t assume that you’re the only one who’s struggling to figure it all out.

Have you been to a writer’s conference? What do you wish writer’s conference faculty would remember about attendees? What have you sometimes wished you could say to a faculty member?


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If you enjoyed this post, make sure to connect with Marcy on her blog, on Facebook, or Twitter.


    • says

      It’s just not going to be the same :( I didn’t ask to be faculty – I asked about going for just one day and moderating the panel was part of the deal struck.

    • says

      Attending conferences is definitely a big commitment, but I can honestly say my career would not be where it is without making those big leaps and taking chances on conferences. I’ve never regretted attending. We live in Southern Ontario – so nothing’s really close to us either (except Write! Canada). We’ve travelled to New York City and San Jose, California – not exactly short trips for us.

    • says

      It’s in Guelph, Ontario – so about an hour away for me. That’s the only reason I’ve been able to attend every year.

    • says

      We learned as much as faculty as we ever did as attendees. It’s fabulous how being faculty gives you instant cred with other faculty members (like agents and publishers). Definitely a perk.

  1. says

    I think it’s great that you will be there. A lot of people serve to benefit from what you can teach them. Sorry Marcy can’t be there with you this time. :( It’s so cool that you two met that way and became such fast friends.
    Debra Kristi recently posted…A Pocketful of Sunshine!

  2. says

    Have a great time at Write! Canada, Lisa. A shame that Marcy can’t make it. But there’s always the next conference :)

    Thanks for the repost and insightful comments. You work really hard to help other writers. I hope they appreciate your efforts too. Much kudos to you.
    Reetta Raitanen recently posted…Link Feast Vol. 7

  3. says

    Thanks for the ideas. I’m going to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference next month and it’s great to have some tips before I head out, and to be reminded that others will be even more introverted and overworked than I am.
    Ann Stanley recently posted…New Themes: Just Desserts and Oxygen

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