Romance Writers of America’s national conference is coming up very soon. Are you ready? Have you attended before? Are you starting to hyperventilate at the thought of spending four days with thousands of strangers?
Don’t worry! You’re not alone. Many, many people feel just the same as you do.
What can you do to avoid freaking out any more than you already are? Prepare. I’ll list some tips and resources below that will hopefully help you calm down a little.
First of all, the conference is in Orlando this year (which is exactly why I’m not going – I can’t imagine Florida in the summer!), so be sure you take appropriate clothing for the times you’ll be outside. But also keep in mind that you’ll be in a giant conference hotel and those are notoriously chilly, so bring a couple sweaters or long-sleeved shirts too.
My friend Keely always recommends comfortable shoes. Depending on how far the guest rooms are from the conference areas, you could be trekking quite a bit each day. Shoes are definitely at the top of many people’s packing lists, so take some cute ones and some comfy ones.
Kelly Maher has a great series on Twitter for RWA first-times – check it out!
I generally take some snacks with me to tide me over if I miss lunch (or it’s too far away) along with a water bottle. I don’t drink much else, and constantly buying plastic bottles of water will get expensive.
If you haven’t yet, download RWA’s app and start to map out your days. There’s a first-timers’ orientation on Wednesday that I definitely recommend. After that, I generally try to find two workshops or sessions for each time block that I’m interested in. Or even three! Sometimes, once you’re in the room, you realize that the information being given isn’t what you expected and that’s when you want to duck out to find your second choice for that hour.
I always recommend staying flexible. It could be a small thing, like just not digging the workshop and trying another one, or it could be a huge thing like, “Hey, want to come to lunch with me and (insert your favorite, bestselling author’s name here)? I know it means you’ll miss the next three sessions, but I know you love her books and I thought you might like to hang out with us.” Be flexible enough to accept that invitation.
If you have the opportunity to do something really cool – TAKE IT! I say this in capital letters because there are few things I regret in my life. However, at the RT Booklovers Convention in New Orleans in 2014, I found out about a secret Foo Fighters show being held just two blocks from the conference hotel in a dive bar with a crowd that included Anderson Cooper. I was tired and didn’t want to put shoes back on and go out that evening. YOU GUYS, THAT MAY HAVE BEEN THE WORST DECISION OF MY LIFE. I could have rocked out just feet away from Dave and Taylor and the boys AND I DIDN’T DO IT. I regret that. Poor money decisions, crappy relationships, whatever, I don’t regret that stuff. But you’re damn right I regret not going to a secret Foo show!
And last but totally not least because it’s the most important recommendation I have – have fun. You’re going to this conference where you’ll be surrounded by thousands of people who know exactly what you’re going through. They are introverts who hate being in crowds. They are authors whose manuscripts have been rejected 23 times so far. They are full-time corporate professionals who thought this writing thing was going to be a cute little hobby until it took their lives. Meet those people. Introduce yourself. Ask what someone is reading. Ask what someone is writing. Make friends. Get drinks with strangers. Hyperventilate a little when you tell your favorite author how much you love their books. We’ve all been there and lots of us are still there.