This weekend, I attended the Muse and the Marketplace conference, put on by Grub Street, a Boston-area hive for all things literary. I’ve never had the chance to go before (I’m usually at the New England SCBWI conference) so I was interested in checking it out.
I didn’t do any of the Manuscript Mart sessions, where you pitch to an agent or editor. (That could be a whole post in itself.) For this conference, I just focused on the sessions and events. I was impressed by the sessions – both the variety and quality. They were a mix of craft talks and inspirational sessions, with offerings for beginners, intermediate writers, and people who had published books and needed to focus on the business end of things. A few take-aways I had:
• Attend a mix of sessions. This keeps things fresh. For example, you might need help on plot, but attending nothing but plot and structure sessions is a recipe for boredom and/or confusion. I attended sessions on character development, cinematic structure, boosting creativity, crossover fiction, pitching, editing, and more.
• Grab as many handouts as you can. I went around and picked up ones from the sessions I couldn’t get to – you can never go to all the sessions you’d like to at a conference.
• Take a break. It’s important to acknowledge when your brain is full, and you need to take a walk, get a coffee, browse the bookstore and the exhibit area… yes, I bought too many books (from the wonderful indie Porter Square Books), and I also pitched a couple of article ideas that were well-received, so I’m glad I took that time.
• Practice, practice. Almost all the sessions had a short lecture followed by (or interspersed with) periods to put what we were learning into practice. I’m not always a fan of writing at a conference, since my mind is usually focused outward, not inward, but getting a taste of the process cemented my learning and made it applicable to my current project. When you go to 4 or more sessions in a day, they can begin to blur together, but I feel like I retained a lot more from the sessions that did this.
• Make a post-conference plan. While I was listening to final speeches, I put a plan together of what I was going to work on when I got home, based on things I’d learned at the conference. This is good to do before you leave, if possible, since once you get home it’s easy to shove all the stuff you got at the conference in a folder somewhere and never look at it again. Not that the general inspiration from conference-going isn’t great, but making a plan for implementing the tools and ideas you’ve learned helps you get far more out of it.
The closing “Discover Me!” event seemed geared more toward people with books imminent, but interesting to see what the various fiction and nonfiction writers were doing and the advice experts (bookseller, social media advisor, editor, etc.) gave around gaining an audience and promoting your book. After three days, my attention was waning, and if it didn’t seem immediately relevant I found it hard to pay attention. They did have some awesome cake, though.