The thought of attending a conference on my own makes me shudder with fear. My husband can step into a room of unknown people and before you know it he has made friends with at least a dozen of them.
I'm the complete opposite. Born in July, I am a typical crab. I like to hide in my shell. build up my walls and observe while everyone else around me talks.
In social situations where I know all the people that are invited I'm fine, but put me in a situation where I am out there on my own I suddenly dry up. I can't find anything to talk about, and certainly can't begin to think about joining a group where they all seem to know each other and I am the odd one out.
Sound familiar? So why would you put yourself in this situation and attend a conference of like-minded people?
In the past two months I have done just that. The first was a writer's workshop in the beautiful Araluen Valley with the amazing Jackie French. The second was the Creative Kids Tales Writer's Festival in "The Shire." The place I grew up and called home for my younger years.
I learnt a lot from these events and I am so pleased I put myself out there on a limb, took a chance and dove into the experience.
Here are my top 5 reasons you should consider attending a conference in your field no matter how introverted you are.
Developing your Network.
This could be one of the hardest for me. Online, I have no problem connecting with other authors. In person, this is a lot harder. While at the festival I had hoped to introduce myself to other authors that had also been involved in the Creative Kids Tales Story Collection. I don't think I managed to speak to one of them, until perhaps the end of the day when this photo was taken. I did connect with other authors and illustrators that were new to this publishing journey and I hope I was able to help them with a little insight of my journey so far. It was a few small steps, but at least I have now met a few more like-minded people to continue along the road with. I encourage you to do this too. You are never alone, there are always other people in your field willing to share their experiences and wisdom.
Increasing your Knowledge.
The keynote speakers at the festival were amazingly generous with sharing their knowledge. I wrote copious pages of notes so numerous I don't know where to begin. A huge thanks to Georgie Donaghey, founder of Creative Kids Tales for bringing together these wonderful writers, illustrators and editors to speak to us. Also a massive thank you to Susanne Gervay, Wai Chim, Tristan Banks, Sue Whiting and Sarah Davis for being so willing to give their time to us novice writer's so that we may learn from your incredible experiences. A few of my take-home points from their advice is as follows -
- Do your research, read a lot, rethink your work, rewrite, make it relatable.
- Don't be afraid to write about hard topics, but soften it with highs and lows. Add laughter as well as tears and always finish with a happy ending.
- Start with what you know, then lie. In other words, be creative, stretch the the truth, add a twist and see where it leads. Build on what you know to find an original story.
- When marketing think outside the square, be unique, different but always be true to yourself.
- Write the story that only you can tell. Look at it from different angles, make it topical, be brave, bold and write from the heart.
Improving your skills.
As a member of Creative Kids Tales we had the bonus of being offered a one on one manuscript assessment by either Clare Hallifax, Sue Whiting, Sarah Davis or Susanne Gervay. This was an opportunity not to be missed. Sure, you can pay for a manuscript assessment without attending a conference. You can email your manuscript off into the ether to someone and wait for a written response, but to meet and personally speak to the assessor makes the experience all the more personal and worthwhile. I truly appreciate all the advice Sue Whiting gave me for my junior chapter book. It has been a work in progress for many years. After speaking with her and listening to all her valuable advice I now feel I am on track to finally complete the story and begin the submission process with more confidence. Sue was able to guide me in the right direction where I could see I wasn't quite right but wasn't sure how to fix it. Like anything, writing takes practice and is a constant learning curve. No matter how much you read or study, there is always something someone can teach you.
Build your resource library.
Conferences always supply goodie bags and the Creative Kids Tales Writer's Festival was no exception. There were two bags on offer, one for members and one for non-members. Inside among all the pamphlets and wonderful information were also a couple of books to add to your resource library. Inside my bag was the fabulous picture book 'I'm Australian Too,'by Mem Fox, (which is among the Children's Book Council of Australia's short listed books of 2018), and a YA novel 'The Things We Promise' by J. C. Burke. I also managed to buy for myself copies of Georgie Donaghey's PB 'Clover's Big Idea.' Can't wait to start reading that to my 3 month old grandson. Susanne Gervay's JF, 'Super Jack' and Sue Whiting's MG 'Missing." I have already finished reading 'Missing,' it was certainly an 'unputdownable' irresistible story. You never know what fantastic things you might come home with. It goes without saying, I wore my CKT badge with pride on the day and hope to find other occasions to wear it too.
Opportunity to Challenge yourself.
As I said at the beginning I am by nature a rather introverted person. I overcame this to an extent as a teacher. Put me in front of a group of kids and I can read, teach, perform for hours, but put me in front of a room full of adults and I freeze. So the decision to enter the draw to 'Pitch Ya Book' was a biggie! While introducing myself to people at an event is difficult, this was even harder.The idea was to prepare a picture book pitch, place your name in the box on entry to the festival and hope to have your name drawn out. When the time came for the pitches, I actually sat there hoping my name would not be called out. My self doubt had overwhelmed me. Sure enough my biggest fear eventuated. Before I knew it I heard Georgie call my name. It felt surreal as I rose and walked to the front to take the microphone. My mouth dried up, I felt myself begin to shake as my face flushed. I opened my mouth and began to stammer. Before I knew it my two minutes to explain my latest Australian animal picture book were up and it was all over. I was left to hear the response from the panel. They gave some fantastic feedback and brilliant advice to take home to help with my edits. I always felt the story needed a different ending. I now have a new antagonist, Mr Fox is no longer. I have heard before, 'Don't be afraid to kill your darlings.' The panel advised that a fox as an antagonist was too predictable. Foxes have been hard done by in children's stories, perhaps it would be better to find another option, preferably another Australian animal. Enter a Tasmanian Devil who brings a different slant to the story that is all the more stronger and improved. Armed with Tassie as my new baddie, my new ending became obvious to me, the story practically wrote itself. Challenging myself to attend a conference on my own proved far more worthwhile than I could ever have hoped. Who knows, I might even try to do it again one day.
So there you have it. This little crab is proud to say she has poked her head out of her shell, challenged herself and taken steps to move forward. Next Thursday night I will be attending the SCBWI ACT meeting here in Canberra. Who knows, I may even raise my hand to ask a question...but don't count on it!
Do you attend conferences? How do you feel about them?