Over the years, I’ve listened to many speakers at writing conferences suggest the following:
“Say hi to strangers!”
“Bring business cards!”
Whenever I heard this advice, I’d think, “Yeah right.” I’d tell myself, “I’m never getting business cards." I’d repeat my mantra, “I’m only here to learn about the craft of writing.”
Not surprisingly, I was that person who sat alone. I’d take a ton of notes and I never went to social events. By doing this, I closed myself off to one of the best things about conferences. Meeting people who love books.
So, at a recent SCBWI Writers’ Day I tried something different. During the breaks, I talked. I talked about my writing but more than that, I talked about my life. I talked about the difficulty I have balancing my kids and my work. I talked about my love of the Red Sox. I talked about the books I’m reading.
And then the coolest thing happened. People talked back. I had the pleasure of listening to others tell me about their work and their lives.
For the most part, the things I feared (I won’t know what to say, the conversation will feel forced, I have no idea how to network) didn’t happen. Because every time I spoke with someone, I reminded myself this person might be feeling a little nervous, too.
Did I network perfectly? No. Did I talk too fast? Yes. Did I accidentally interrupt? Yes. Did I over-share and make one or two people uncomfortable? Probably.
But you know what? I’m glad I put myself out there. For me, writing is all about getting the words on the page, letting myself make mistakes, and then going back in and making sense of it. Maybe networking is kind of like the same thing.