THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH . . . by Char Chaffin

. . . Isn’t just Disneyland or World. This summer, for authors who are members of RWA, it’s also the Annual National Conference, the week of July 26.

That’s when Romance Writers of America’s Annual Conference takes over Orlando and hits the Swan, with spillover at the Dolphin. Or is that the other way around?

No matter. National goes to Mickey Mouse’s home base and the level of fun-anticipation has been growing all winter.

This year RWA beckons but so does Orlando. Many authors and editors will come early, stay later, bring their families, indulge their grandchildren. RWA members can also find deals for tickets and regular Disney events. It’s all fun.

Newbie RWA members show up each year at National, eager and bright-eyed, raring to go. There’s so much to do, endless things to see and experience.

With RWA Orlando coming up fast, I thought I’d ruminate a bit on the value, the cost, the agony and the ecstasy of forking out major bucks for National (or any large conference for that matter).

Here’s the setup: a new-to-RWA author decides to swallow her nausea at the thought of dealing with hordes of people, and scrapes up the money for National. Or any number of more regional but just-as-intimidating conferences.

It’s a lot of money and she’s still so new to the whole writing-to-publish game. She has the online form pulled up; all she has to do is fill it in and write the check. Or log into PayPal and hit the button.

Perhaps she’s not yet a member of RWA and wonders if these memberships—and conferences and conventions—are even necessary. Maybe she’s better off holed up at her laptop or desktop, honing her craft and saving her pennies just in case she decides to self-publish one day. Will she learn anything that she can’t find online, amongst all the resources now available on the internet for new writers? Isn’t she better served by staying the course, getting her manuscript all prettied up, and not wasting time and money doing something she’s probably unprepared for?

Maybe. Then again . . .

I had been a member of RWA for a grand total of two weeks when I did a late registration for a local chapter conference. I was scared and nervous and nauseous and almost turned back several times on the drive to the conference hotel. I had even bowed to internal and external persuasion, and decided to pitch my manuscript. It took every ounce of courage to walk into that hotel and pin on the badge I found in my goodie bag, because I am the very epitome of introvert and I usually don’t do well in crowds of more than three.

Yet I’m glad I went. I learned a lot about myself in those two days, and what I learned served as a huge affirmation that writing truly was my focus, my passion and my future. Of course my pitches were abysmal, my manuscript was laughably so not ready, and I was in awe of everyone else at the conference who seemed to have their stuff far more together. But I met people, I found I could stand in a room with a hundred other like-minded specimens of humanity without freaking out, and I came away with tentative friendships that have since strengthened.

A year later I attended my first RWA conference, in New York City, and threw myself into workshops, pitch sessions, and networking. A month after that, I had my very first publishing contract under my belt, and a year after that, I became an editor for Soul Mate, who’d first taken a chance on me.

I’ve had the splendid opportunity to meet so many of you at past RWA Nationals. If when we met I didn’t come across as an introvert, well . . . that personality quirk is still very much a part of me, truly. What’s changed is how attending conferences has given me a sheen of confidence when I get to connect with like-minded people who have the same goals as I do. Naturally it’s easier to blend in when the entire conference of a few thousand or more writers, agents, editors, and industry professionals all lust after the same thing: the written word. Even better when we get to chat about it. A lot. And in ways our non-writing friends or our family members can’t relate to.

Outside of conference-going, life continues its frenetic pace but it’s wonderful and uplifting. I’m ever the introvert, but guess what? If you ever meet me at a conference, you’ll never know I still have days when I want to lock myself in a dark closet and avoid people, phones, email messages, and anything else that brings me into contact with other specimens of humanity.

That’s what going did for me, and it’s one tiny thing of many a writers’ conference will do for you: help to balance you out and teach you that you’re not alone in your creative needs.

Each time I attend a conference I gain more confidence. Oh, I still retain my people-watching habits, but often I’ll see my old self in so many faces. Like that deer-in-the-headlights newbie who walks around as if wondering what on earth she’s doing there. I also see my future self, the author with more books published and more name recognition both as a writer and as an editor. I see changes ahead for me, and maybe I wouldn’t have seen any of that if I didn’t gird my loins, cough up the dough . . . and go.

Conferences can instill confidence in even the shyest attendee. You can’t wander around during an event like that and not connect with people, especially if you have already developed a few friendships within your local chapter or writing group. Other writers want to smile at you, talk to you, perhaps offer up some of the mojo they have gained over the course of their own creative journey. You sit in a workshop and others will sit near you and start up a conversation; all it takes is one glance and a smile from you. Nobody ever has to be alone for any reason at a conference unless they want it that way.

For anyone who wonders if a conference is worth time and money: yes, it most certainly is. You not only learn, but you experience. Going to chapter meetings is only a part. It’s a very important part, of course, but it’s like a conference ‘seals the deal.’ Whether on a local/regional level or national, you need it. Time away from your normal life, for several days or just an all-day mini-con, is important to your creative juices. It affirms your status as a writer and we all need that. Because in spite of everything else you are to others; a spouse, a parent, someone’s child, someone’s co-worker or someone’s boss . . . you’re also a writer and it’s a huge hunk of your life. Otherwise, you’d be doing something else.

When I’m asked if a conference is worth it, I always say ‘yes.’ Because it is. The cost can be horrendous and not everyone likes staying in hotels or flying to get there, but it’s worth it.

So when you go to your first conference, and you’re nervous and wondering why you shelled out all that money—or if it’s your second or third time at a conference and you still can’t figure out why you bothered . . . come find me. Make eye contact, offer up a smile, and I’ll sit down next to you, talk to you. I’ll listen to your pitch if you have one ready. I’ll have lunch with you if you find yourself sitting all alone. Because someone gave me the same courtesy at my first conference, and it meant a whole lot.

See you in Orlando in July? I sure hope so! I may not be wearing mouse ears, but look for the cute little red SMP pin on my badge.

Char Chaffin is a Senior Acquiring Editor with Soul Mate Publishing, and multi-published in several genres. She also co-writes under the pen name CiCi Cordelia, with fellow author/editor and BFF Cheryl Yeko.

You can find Char here:
Website: http://char.chaffin.com
Facebook: http://facebook.com/char.chaffin
Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/pvscu7w
Twitter: http://twitter.com/char_chaffin
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5337737.Char_Chaffin

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About charchaffin2011

Writer and Senior Acquiring Editor
This entry was posted in Char's Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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