Earlier this month I tore myself away from the laptop to attend the 2014 Writer’s Digest Conference here in New York City. For me, heading into the beautiful Roosevelt Hotel was equivalent to Indiana Jones stepping off the cliff in The Last Crusade. It was a huge leap of faith. In my writing and in myself.
I purposely filled the month leading up to the conference with CampNaNoWriMo, a writing challenge of 50,000 words in 31 Days. I reached my goal in the wee hours of July 29th which left me with three days to stress and panic about what I’d signed up for. I had to remind myself that my desire to learn and eagerness to meet other writerly folks outweighed the scary unknown.
Then, day one arrived. Hello nerves!
I arrived earlier than planned because the conference's hashtag on Twitter [#WDC14] was full of people already there and I felt like I was missing out. Showing up early paid off and I was let into one of the Pro sessions, Do You Really Want to be a Best Seller? Here’s How. led by Larry Kirshbaum, a Senior Literary Agent with Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. When the session ended, the Grand Ballroom filled with others like myself, that had signed up for the next day’s Pitch Slam [for a detailed post on my pitching experience, click here], where Chuck Sambuchino prepared us with his Pitch Perfect session.
All of the conference sessions fell into one of the following categories:
- How to Get Published
- How to Write Better
- Platform and Promotion
I mostly followed the How to Write Better track, attending sessions like How to Write a Page Turner, You Have Three Pages to Win Me Over: Essential Advice for Your Opening Pages, Setting and Description: Where Are We and How Much is Too Much?, and Working the Muddle Out Of Your Middle. Led by editors, agents, booksellers and authors, like Jacquelyn Mitchard [uh, The Deep End of the Ocean anyone?], the sessions were so chock full of information that by the end of the conference my head—and notebook—were filled nuggets upon nuggets of advice and encouragement.
As if that wasn’t enough, every day ended with a Keynote Speaker. All of them inspired me with their stories. Here are just some of the quotes that I know I'll lean on again and again:
[Author: Slow Motion, Black & White, Family History]
"It's hard to give yourself permission to call yourself a writer."
"There is no such thing as a magical place of arrival, there is only the solitary self facing the page."
[Author: Six Years, Missing You, Tell No One]
"Only bad writers think they're good."
"Don't be a douchebag."
Kimberla Lawson Roby
[Author: The Prodigal Son, A House Divided, The Perfect Marriage]
“It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 80 years old. It’s never too late to live out your passion.”
"Double your determination and keep moving right along."
I was nervous going into the conference, but by the time it was over, I was sad to see it go. I felt myself grow with every session attended and every conversation had, whether it was with one of the speakers or a fellow attendee.
Speaking of, it was beyond amazing making writer friends on similar paths to my own. Friends that send you tweets like this when you feel like you're drowning in post-pitching nerves:
I can't recommend the Writer's Digest Conference enough. I walked away excited about my future in writing...whatever it may be. I learned a lot, I laughed a lot, and I worried about passing out while pitching a lot. What could be more fun than that?