This was the third time I've gone to this conference, and while I shy away from claiming anything is 'the best', I think this is the year I got the most pure enjoyment out of the experience.
My first year, SiWC 2013, was so overwhelming that I don't think I retained a whole heck of a lot... other than the physical notes I took during the workshop and the ongoing friendship with a few local writers I met. So, thank goodness for my reasonably fast typing skills and the self-learned-tendency to talk to people I don't know ;)
I wasn't even going to go to SiWC 2014... for those who remember, I was still mired in mid-divorce-nastiness, and things had come to a pretty awful place. I was feeling exhausted, burned out, and with the stress of everything, had not written in quite a while. The only reason I went is because I won a free basic pass to the conference the previous year (serendipitous?) so I went in thinking it would be a good distraction. Yep, that was the height of my expectations. A good distraction.
...and I had an amazing time. I talked to way more people than I had the previous year (not so overwhelming when things are a little bit familiar), and I repeated my habit of finding the emptiest table in the dining room, sitting down, and starting a conversation with whoever was there. I also took a Master Class on story structure, with the absolutely delightful Eileen Cook, which has shaped the way I write in more ways than I can possibly explain.
I left the conference feeling like new energy had been breathed into one corner of my life, and it was enough to make me chase down some excellent help on the story I was completely frustrated with, TRoRS. I had sent out a very small batch of test queries, and the agents who read the full all came back with the same piece of feedback:
"This was a really hard decision for me, I love this story, but something's off with the tension that I can't quite put my finger on."
As a dyslexic writer, this confirmed the deeply ingrained, ever-present fear that there's (always) something wrong with my writing. Essentially, I was so incompetent that not even professionals could figure out what the heck was wrong with my MS.
And you all know I am weirdly optimistic and zen about the whole dyslexic thing, so that tells you something about my state of mind at that point.
Hence my going into the conference expecting a 'good distraction' at best.
The help I chased down several months after the conference was Eileen Cook. I hired her to edit TRoRS and... oh my goodness, it was worth it. Yes, there's a blurb from me on her website, and yes, if the topic of editing a frustrating story comes up in a conversation, her name tumbles out of my mouth soon after.
I wouldn't have met Eileen if I hadn't gone to SiWC 2014, and I probably would have dropped TRoRS into a virtual drawer and moved on. No, I would not have quit writing, never that, but I might have quit querying and stuck to writing for the sheer pleasure of it.
SiWC 2015 was a much different experience. A large part of it was just being more comfortable in a (now) familiar place, pulling out my inner-extrovert and talking to pretty much anyone I sat down next to.
Like the previous years, I tried to sit at tables where I didn't know anyone* (though I did end up at the same table near the bar for several dinners - the 'wine-fairy' visited, as it did last year - and will again next year), joined people hanging out on couches, and struck up conversations with those sitting beside me or standing in line.
I was... absolutely blown away and humbled by the number of people who remembered me from the previous year... one highlight being, as I sat in the lobby, someone walked by with a group of friends, noticed me, stopped dead and asked, "How terrible was it watching the Super Bowl last year?"
And the reason this was so surprising is that I wasn't wearing my fluorescent yellow Brasil ball cap (so bright it is visually offensive) like I did last year. People remembered me, not my (inappropriate?) choice of headwear.
(maybe it's the blonde fro that people remember? ...I try, people, but it does its own thing when it's this long...)
If I have any regrets about this conference, it's that I'm still reasonably new to twitter and have not gotten into the habit of exchanging info. I think it was only on the final night that it occurred to me (and, to be honest, was actually brought up by someone else at my table), so I wasn't able to build/maintain that point of connection with as many people as I would have liked to. Smarter people than me came armed with business cards... so maybe I will be better prepared next year.
...and things to look forward to at SiWC 2016?
Obviously, top of the list, is catching up with everyone I already have met, and talking to new people I haven't. This may include the three people who have now dubbed me: 'Damn Boobs' as my name tag kept getting caught/turned around and no one could ever read it. And we were in the bar. Which somehow made the whole thing funnier.
My volunteer-stint as an early-morning airport shuttle on Sunday & Monday morning went really well... and a few of those I dropped off claimed they will ask for me again next year ;)
(it IS the car, people... not my winning personality)
And that would be really fun, to shuttle people around again. So I will probably volunteer for that early-morning shift that no one else ever wants. I love driving, it's rarely ever a hardship. Though I was pretty sleepy during the Sunday workshops...
Signing up for as many Blue Pencil sessions** I can get into, as usual.
Also, the wine-fairy will be visiting the table closest to the bar... (just sayin...)
Honestly, so many good things happened at the conference this year that I could go on for ages, but that would convey very little of the fun/laid-back atmosphere of the SiWC, and the kind & generous volunteers who keep it running smoothly.
As with every year so far, I'm glad I went, and am looking forward to next year.
* Even though I would define myself as an introvert, I am generally quick to start conversations with other/new people. I like asking questions and hearing about the good things in other people's lives because you pass on your mood - good or bad. Comes back to one of my rules of life: always smile first. So, for example, even though I went into SiWC 2014 feeling very tired and discouraged, I was not going to pass that on. Instead, I was going to focus on the good energy of other people and what was going right for them.
** The Blue Pencil sessions are handled by writers and editors who volunteer their time to read your first couple of pages and make comments. Everyone seems to fight over the extra Pitch*** sessions (where you can pitch an agent or editor), but I really like signing up for more Blue Pencil slots, not just only from those who write/read YA, but from a range of writing backgrounds. It's always so interesting to see how different the comments are.
*** Last year I didn't go to a Pitch session, I gave away my time slot to someone else. This year I did use my slot, but I didn't sign up for any others. I used it, not to pitch, but to ask for a professional's opinion on a certain question I had, which was incredibly helpful, and I got an interesting book recommendation out of it that I am going to read very soon.