The Thing About Conferences…

More I Hear the Craziest Things Friday  (after HoWW tomorrow and PIFS Thursday), where we’ll delve deeply into the kinetic mess I call travelling. “But what’s the thing about conferences?” you ask after reading the title of this post…

I taught with my fabulous agent last weekend, Michelle Grakjowski. And when we weren’t embarrassing ourselves in restaurants driving the wait staff crazy, we got to know 35 amazing people from the Rochester/Syracuse areas of New York. We talked publishing industry trends (particularly the rise of eBooks and digital publishing as major players), I taught an interactive version of my character planning and rewriting workshops (with a dose of drafting/improvisation to round things out), and we did one of my favorite things–discussing the communication skills that can make or break your career.

 Teaching mechanics

But that’s just the framework. The mechanics. The syllabus. My handouts are detailed and up on my website and a lot of the nuts and bolts of what Michelle and I teach can be taken away from just reading them.

The thing about conferences, especially magical events like this, is the energy. The dynamic of learning. The growing connection that began Friday night when after about an hour everyone loosened up and took me up on my offer to tell us every horrible thing they’d heard about digital publishing and everything they were scared about it doing to their careers.

Then Michelle and I started leading the group through a reality check that was cathartic for everyone. Yes, it’s scary out there. But the thing is, it always has been. Yes, change is closing some doors, but that’s how all the current traditional publishing avenues got their start, too. In the ten years Michelle and I have both been involved with publishing in one way or another, the story’s been the same. It’s only the current “threat” to everything staying the same that’s changed.

It was “…the beginning of a beautiful relationship…” as the movie quote goes. It was the class agreeing to trust us and let us become one of them and break down the barrier of getting to know you that sometimes doesn’t fade when it’s a larger conference with multiple speakers and everyone’s rushing from here to there too fast to settle into a synergy of, “we’re all in this together.”

teaching community

Literally, there were no empty rows at the front of the class Saturday morning, the way there had been the night before. Everyone had scooted up and we were all eager to get down to what we’d come there for. I convinced them to see plotting as a character thing (new converts!). I bared my latest WIP and showed them how it worked. Someone in the class was brave enough to do the same, and we were off. There were heads nodding. There were questions. The class started making suggestions to the writer who’d volunteered her story. She was gracious enough to let us work with her en masse. It was an amazing hour or so I wish could have lasted all day.

The thing about conferences that makes them good is when everyone’s learning. The teacher and the students. It’s best when it’s not a class at all. When it’s just a room full of writers who love their work and their stories and others who do the same thing, and we’re talking and helping each other get better. Published and unpublished. Newbie and veteran. You couldn’t tell the difference, really, by the time my agent joined us again and we began working through our communication skills material.

This is stuff that’s essential for everyone, whatever you life or job or relationships. Communication is the coursework that I’d teach above all the rest, if I was forced to do only one thing for the rest of my “teaching” life. It’s life-changing techniques, and it doesn’t work if the students don’t believe you’re in this for them. If they’re not open to better understanding something they think they’ve already mastered. And this group was magical.

The thing about conferences is that it’s a relationship.There’s a level of trust that, once you’ve earned it as a teacher, takes everyone to another level. It’s a two-way conversation that opens mental doors and says, “Come in, I’ve got something to share.” It’s a beginning, and learning about communication together was a great start to something I hope I get to continue with these special students for a long, long time.

Thanks for a great weekend, Central NY RWA!

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6 Responses to “The Thing About Conferences…”

  1. M.E. Anders says:

    Anna – Glad to hear you thoroughly enjoyed the conference. I agree that these events ooze a synergy of great minds – the atmosphere is charged with innovation. :)

  2. My chapter is still discussing this years minicon. I can’t thank you and Michelle enough for coming. Everyone is talking how to Plot through Character…my own critique group has turned and now they are telling me I have to do the chart….AGAIN….

    It was an amazing weekend. Thanks for making my last year as conference chair the best year ever!

  3. Jo Crosier says:

    Thanks for such a fantastic weekend. You’re right in that the best parts are when all the barriers come down and everyone is learning from everyone else. I’m exciting to try plotting through characters with my new book. I think I’m going to make up BME character trait charts for my hero and heroine, and even one of my secondary characters.
    I just started in on Dark Legacy and I’m hooked. Thanks again for some great material this weekend.

  4. PW Creighton says:

    Sounds like it was a great conference. Really annoyed that I missed it. There’s not much up here in CNY and hopefully I can catch up with you guys next time.

  5. McKenna says:

    Wow, Anna, that sounds absolutely amazing. I definitely have to watch for the next conference where you lead this session. I want to be part of that energy!

  6. Mary Preston says:

    I have been to work conferences that were dull beyond comprehension. I am quite envious of yours.

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