RWA 2011 was my fifth Nationals Conference in four and a half years of membership. I fell into writing, as many of us do, bitten by the story bug. But after I completed that first novel, with no connection to anyone, I had no idea what to do with it. A speaker in a class mentioned his wife wrote romance novels. Published ones. I’d written a fantasy with a love story so asked what she’d done next: “She tells every writer to join Romance Writers of America.” So I did.
I attended my first local chapter meeting in May 2007. Everyone was talking about ‘Nationals’. When fellow Maryland Romance Writers member Kate Poole learned I had completed a manuscript, she urged me to attend and pitch at the 2007 conference in Dallas. It sounded exciting, plus, my parents live in Texas and I owed them a visit. I signed up for the pitch appointment and also scrambled and got PRO status to attend the PRO Retreat.
My ‘First Timer’ Nationals taught me a lot. PRO retreat offered the perfect introduction to my career and throughout the three days, workshops covered craft, career and publishing over many romance genres. All of them had something to offer my fantasy writing. Plus,since many of the special interest chapters only came together this one time per year, a number of additional activities could be found. Er, besides the bar and karaoke. I can’t claim to have hit everything, but here are a few tidbits.
First glad-I-did-it: Use the RWA Online Chapter when it opens for conference chatting. I found a roommate my first year when anyone I barely knew in the chapter was already in a committed (roommate) relationship.
Second glad-I-did-it: My also-newbie roommate had received the great tip to attend chapter functions to mingle. We pooled our groups and went to KOD’s Death by Chocolate party, Passionate Ink’s luncheon, From the Heart’s dinner—where Deidre Knight spoke to a small room of 25 of us. LOL, I was that green I had no idea how lucky I was—and FF&P’s The Gathering. Ah, I had found my tribe—people to talk fantasy with. Funny enough, I found my second genre group listening to the CDs: Who knew “Doing it with a Younger Guy” wasn’t about May-December romance, but YA?
Which leads to third glad-I-did-it: Though I missed that first YA workshop presented in person, I listened to it and all hundred and forty-some CD workshops. I strongly recommend buying the $99 CDs. Then you never have to worry about missing something. Except…
Fourth glad-I-did-it: Look at the symbols on the conference brochure. Some workshops aren’t recorded for various reasons. Of the handful this year, I went to Roxanne St. Claire’s “How Do You Mend a Broken Scene” and Jennifer Crusie’s “Collage: Visual Brainstorming.” (Fan girl moment!)
Fifth, and best, glad-I-did-it: Some workshops aren’t in the conference listings. They may notbe specifically in my genre, but I’ve had good experiences to add to my muse’s pool of ideas:
KOD offers a pre-conference tour with varied suspense or mystery-applicable topics. I attended one to a military base in Florida for a close up look at refueling and weather planes and parachuting.
With the Outreach Chapter I’ve been to the Spy Museum and Alcatraz. Not to mention ridden with fifteen people in a stretch limo.
In a one-day mini workshop hosted by Beau Monde and Hearts Through History chapters, I chose the medieval track and gleaned background in horsemanship, armory, foods and wiccan ways to add to my fantasy world.
Sixth glad-I-did-it: Talk to people. I love meeting up with writers and connecting over our journeys. I’m always learning something new. If I hadn’t asked Suzi Lazear about steampunk at the 2009 conference, I never would have been inspired to create a costume for the 2010 FF&P party and to start my latest WIP, a YA steampunk.
At some point Nationals is over and you have to come home. My last glad-I-did-it is to keep the inspiration going. Chapter meetings and workshops, reading craft books, listening to workshop CDs, online workshops, entering and judging contests; they all add to your writing experience.
Do you have any gems to share? Please do! Or share your best bets for SF/F conferences. I’ve only been to one: Darkover held near Baltimore over Thanksgiving weekend. It’s small, but has several tracks to choose from (including steampunk!) Please recommend others.