By Renate Hancock
I stood in front of the elevator watching the lights above the door illuminate one by one. Snow melted from my boots onto the floor beside my suitcase. I pulled my laptop case from my shoulder and stretched my neck, rolling my head from side to side.
I’d made it through a day teaching children, then drove four hours through a blizzard to attend this writer’s conference. The elevator dinged, and the door opened.
I was ready
I’d reviewed the pre-conference tip sheet to prepare so I could glean the ultimate benefits of attending. I’d checked them off, one by one.
- I’d studied the presenters and agents that would be attending the conference.
- I knew which sessions I planned to attend.
- I’d packed professional outfits so I’d look like I was a professional
- I had pens, a notebook, and brand-spanking-new business cards.
- The bag I’d pulled from my shoulder held six printed copies of my manuscript for the roundtable critique.
Beyond that, my goal was front and center. In fact, all three of them were.
I stepped into the elevator with my pitch and my pages, totally (I thought) prepared for this conference. After all, I’d been preparing for this for weeks. Months. Okaaayyy, if you really want me to be honest, maybe it was my whole life.
Another woman stood in front of the control panel. She was tall (which I’m not) and elegant (nope, not that either), and I gave her the number of my floor. Then she turned and looked at me expectantly as though I was supposed to make conversation.
Wait. Conversation? With an adult? Should I know her? Was she one of the agents? She didn’t look like any of the photos I’d seen on the conference website. A publishing company rep? A famous author?
Oh geez. Was this the time to use my new elevator pitch? Did people really do that?
My networking plan (okay, I actually had 4 goals) flashed through my brain like a ticker tape scrolling across a screen.
“Late night, isn’t it?” I said.
She raised her eyebrows. She regarded the empty glass she held, swirled it as though it still had an adult beverage, and turned away from me.
At about that time, I realized it was approximately 8:48 pm. Late night? Oh geez. Yeah, late if you were one of my elementary school students.
The elevator dinged again, the doors opened, and she left.
What if I’d blown it? I’d been at the conference hotel for less than half an hour. What if I’d already eliminated my chances of finding an agent? A publisher, critique group, beta reader?
Or even the reassurance that I had any business attending a writer’s conference?
I could imagine her striding into the downstairs lounge full of sophisticated, published authors and agents. She’d sip her martini and relate the story of the not-so-articulate person in the elevator. They’d all shake their heads in disbelief and wonder exactly what I was doing at a conference for writers. Word people.
“She needs help with dialogue,” someone would say. Everyone would snicker and go back to their beverages.
Maybe I should leave. I’d been fooling myself. I didn’t belong here.
Why did I want to be a writer, anyway? I loved my job and my students. I was happy. Why keep struggling with this writing thing?
All the confidence I’d drummed up for weeks melted away like the snow from my boots. I was in an adult version of a middle-school crisis.
The elevator doors opened on my floor. I hesitated. I wanted to push the lobby button, pack my bags into my car, and burn those printed pages.
But I didn’t.
The following day, I got up, donned my favorite outfit, and went downstairs. I didn’t even look to see if it was still snowing. So what if I took the stairs instead of the elevator? The point is, I went.
In the first session, I met another author. She came to learn more about publishing and try pitching to an agent. When I saw her at lunch, she said something about not realizing how daunting the publishing process would be. That evening, she was gone, even though she’d told me she planned to be there for the duration.
But me? The impostor? I stayed.
I attended every session I could fit into the three days. Here’s what I learned.
- At the roundtable, the group gave me invaluable input about my POV choice.
- The agent at our roundtable said, “Change the point of view and take as long as you need to polish it. When it’s ready, send it to me.”
- The keynote speaker looked at me and said, “Don’t ever give up because you don’t know how close you are to making it happen. It could be tomorrow.”
Did I meet my goals? Not exactly. In the end, the agent I met with turned down my manuscript. I’m still not smooth with my elevator pitch.
The most valuable things I took away from the conference had nothing to do with the three goals I’d written down. I left believing my writing was worth learning how to do it well. And that attending the writing conference was a definitive step toward my goal of becoming an author. (Regardless of who raised their eyebrows at my inexperience.)
P.S. That woman on the elevator? I never met her, even though I saw her at the conference. I have a theory that she turned toward me on the elevator to try out her elevator pitch but chickened out.
Are you slightly terrorized by the thought of going to a conference?
- Show up and stick it out – Getting there may seem like a tiny step, but it isn’t. It’s a giant leap. Sticking it out when you learn that you’ll need to rewrite that novel again is even more challenging. Do it anyway. Give yourself credit for seizing the opportunity.
- Be open to surprises – Goals are great—necessary even. But be ready to learn things you never expected, even from a stranger on the elevator. That session you thought wouldn’t apply to you might provide the motivation you’ve sought.
- Find your takeaways – and write them down. One for each session or one for each day. You’ll learn a lot of information in a very short time. Overwhelm happens. By the time you leave, your brain will be buzzing. Having your takeaways in hand helps.
Have you already signed up for the WHWA conference? Do it. Make that giant leap.