Writer’s Conference Hangover

Q&A with keynote speaker, author Tobias Wolff (at podium)

Phew! Here we are, fresh from a fabulous writers conference called Hippocamp 2017, named after Hippocampus Magazine, which is in turn named after that part of the human brain–wait for it–the hippocampus. Is that too meta? Not for a bunch of creative nonfiction writers! Elizabeth (author of the thoughtful pre-cap in last week’s blog) noted that the word “Hippocamp” on our name tags sounded literally like we were hippos at a camp. To someone not “in the know,” did it sound like we were at a fat camp?And did we look the part?!


A gentleman on the elevator–obviously not there for the conference–pointed to my name tag and asked me, “I’ve been seeing that name around. What exactly is it?” When I replied with an explanatory smile, “Oh, it’s a writer’s conference,” I wonder if that response was better than he thought, or worse? He didn’t comment either way, so I’ll never know.

And now, I’d like to share some general tips I learned at this conference. Should the first one be, “Name your writer’s conference something that doesn’t sound like a fat camp?” While we’re mulling that over, here are my non-expert tips, in no particular order. I would love to hear what you think.

1. Get on Twitter before you go. Follow and tweet with the conference’s hashtag (such as “Looking forward to meeting other writers at #Hippocamp17”).

2. Have a business card ready. Put your Twitter name on it. Put your author website on it. Put your most active communication on it. Home address, not so important.

3. Don’t admit that you don’t “get” Twitter. I was surprised by how many people said this. Get Twitter so you can “get” Twitter, people. (See #1)

4. Don’t be afraid to walk out of the session you are attending if it’s not working for you. There’s almost surely another option during that time slot that might be a better fit. Maybe you just need a break. Conferences can be intense.

YES Jesse Waters is wearing Captain America footie pajamas.

5. Make connections with the other attendees. Yes, even if you’re introverted. Connect with them during the event (such as, follow them on Twitter). Afterwards go to their websites, follow their blogs, get on their mailing list, and connect on Facebook.

6. Take advantage of opportunities to be social (face to face, people, not just on your phones) with fellow writer conference attendees. Is it possible to eat together? To have a drink at the bar? Create a personal connection beyond just sharing the conference. Ask about their work in progress. Pass out your business cards and ask for theirs.

7. Introduce yourself, if possible and appropriate, to the speakers and presenters at the event. Who knows what connection might spark?

8. Don’t judge live-tweeters. Let them do their thing and get their own experience out of the session. (If you don’t wish to be interrupted by their tweets during the session, silence your phone and put it on the floor. Done.)

9. Buy the speakers’ books before the event (and read them). If you can’t get them before, but you can buy them there, do that. If possible and appropriate, engage with the authors and request their signature. Take advantage of sharing this experience with them. Plus, imagine yourself someday signing your own book for someone else. Doesn’t that feel nice?

Dinty W. Moore had many motivational words for the writers. (At the previous session, we were encouraged to draw.)

10. Fill out post-event surveys. This helps the organizers create an even better experience next time.

11. Set goals post-conference and go for them. Ride the wave of what you learned toward reaching your personal next level.

12. Stay in touch with your new friends. Don’t be afraid to ask those new friends for support later. Great and supportive writing communities exist out in the Twitterverse (and elsewhere, I suppose).

13. Memoirs. They are wonderful. Side quiz: Can you name any happy memoirs? If so, please, tell me. How about happy ones written by women who are not comedians? Thanks in advance.

14. If you want to have a social drink after the sessions with your new writer friends, fine. But keep in mind that someday in the near future (hopefully), you might want these folks to buy your book, so go for one drink, not that third martini.

15. Don’t encourage your new writer friends to approach someone at the hotel bar who might seem oddly left out of that wedding crowd. For the moment, stick with the writers.

Writers. Each of us would write about this moment differently.

Ta da! That’s my list. Got any of your own tips? Or, even better, have any crazy stories from a conference you’ve attended? Ever? Thanks for reading and follow me on Twitter (@bylisatully)! Oh, and check out Hippocampus Magazine. The writing is beautiful.

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