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I’ve just spent five days at the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Melbourne, and thought it was worthwhile blogging about that.  I’m sure a lot of folk came away enthused and inspired, but a proportion were also overwhelmed and jangled.

The difference seems to be related to personality, as International guest speaker Bob Mayer pointed out.  Introverts tend to become overwhelmed and go home exhausted, whereas we extroverts soak up energy from others and go home tired but also elated and buzzing to get back to work.

The lesson seems to be, if you’re an introvert you need to plan for that.  Make sure you have blocks of time to be alone and regroup, even if that means pretending you’re going on a tour and then sneaking off to a coffee shop or park bench to get some peace.  You’d need a thick overcoat in Melbourne in August, but luckily for me I’m an extrovert (despite the fact that the MCG was across the road and I was desperate to see the spiritual home of cricket in Australia).

So that settled, what are some of the things all writers should be doing at a conference?  Bronwyn Stuart has some great tips here, but these are some of mine:

Learning from the workshops and plenary sessions is a no brainer – and I’m assuming you carefully selected your sessions prior to the day to suit your current needs for industry info or craft.  Take a notepad or recording device to keep gems from slipping out of your overstuffed brain.  I heard so many great things in the very first session that I was sure I’d never forget – life-changing pearls of wisdom – and luckily I wrote them down because two sessions later I’d forgotten them completely.  And add to this, don’t be afraid to change sessions if you learn something that makes you think “Jeez, I need to hear more about that.”  I’d imagined one session on digital publishing would be enough to fill me in on developments, but the question of territories in publishing was confusing enough for me to realise I really needed to know more about that before I sold my next book, so I asked and was allowed to change to sessions that suited my changing interests.

Networking.  I hear you groaning from here.  But it’s part of the deal.  You’re wearing a name badge and so is everyone else.  You’re in the middle of the common area waiting in the line-up for coffee and someone strikes up a conversation (or if they don’t, you should).  Unless you really need ten minutes to clear your brain – in which case you’re better to sneak back up to your room – you should be chatting, and with anyone.  Prior to the conference you might decide there are key people you want to introduce yourself to – a published author in your genre, a publisher, an agent, a NYT# best selling author, and by all means do that.  But those conversations will be brief because everyone wants to talk to them.  In between the “important” conversations you need to make connections with other writers, because you never know who you can help, or who can help you, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get/give.  Put faces to names, have a laugh and share the camaraderie.  Romance writers are renowned for their generosity and Melbourne didn’t disappoint.  It was funny, and heart-warming and hard to leave.  I do fantasy now, but I started with romance and I miss those guys.  They know how to work hard and how to let their hair down.  And so should you.

A note of caution however, you don’t want to be the person who gets so drunk other people discover you on your arse in the lift unable to find your room.  I’m not mentioning names, but it happens.  Don’t let it be you.  A conference is WORK.  Don’t confuse ‘relaxation’ with ‘recreation’.  It might be called a cocktail party but you’re there to work: to meet people, to exchange information and yeah, to have some good, clean (one glass of wine, not six) fun.  And to prove that I did have fun, here’s a photo of me looking like a complete doofus in my Roaring Twenties outfit.  Thanks be for dim lights in the ballroom, that’s all I can say!