I’m on board the Acela express, speeding south from Boston on my way home from Readercon. I’m exhausted from a barrage of information, ideas, people, and fun. It’s overwhelming, but as much as I feel a weary yen for my own bed and a home-cooked meal, I feel even more invigorated.
I blogged the other day about some of the great panels I’d been attending and how inspiring they were. Today I’d like to reflect more generally on why I think cons (and Readercon in particular) are worth attending. So, here are my thoughts, in no particular order:
1. They’re social. We writers can be a solitary lot. Much of our interaction with fellow writers occurs online, often of necessity as our writer friends are scattered across the country (or even the globe). Cons are a good way to strengthen and develop relationships face to face and provide a valuable reminder of the actual people behind the critiques, online chats, and so forth. Cons help keep us connected.
2. They reinforce what we know. Some people complain that panels rehash the same old stuff year after year, or that they’re only valuable for newbies. While these are certainly valid comments, I’d argue there’s great value in being reminded of things we already know. It’s a little kick in the pants, a refresher (particularly about things we may prefer to ignore, such as daily writing practices or making harder choices when it comes to characterization or plotting). Often we’ve heard a piece of writing advice before but weren’t, perhaps, ready to process or understand it yet. Hearing it again, at the right time, can make all the difference.
3. They inspire. Hearing other writers talk about their work casts our writing and ideas in a new light. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left a con or workshop with a new perspective to enliven my writing. For instance, for my current project, I’m incorporating the notion of communicable diseases. I’ve read a lot about epidemiology, as well as other novels that incorporate disease. I’ve pondered the topic till my eyes have rolled back in my head. But at a one hour panel this morning, I got about 43 million new ideas, just from listening to five writers bounce around ideas about paranormal diseases. We cannot be one-man (or woman) idea generating machines. We need collaboration and input from others. Panels are one way to get that.
4. They’re a space outside the flow of our daily lives. This is so important. In everyday life a billion little things pull at our attention. The dirty dishes. The cat. Our families. Errands. Television, and so on. When you go to a writing-focused con like Readercon, or to workshop, you get to set all that aside and just narrow the world down to the part of your life that’s about writing. Anytime you have an opportunity to do something like that, you should seize it.
5. They push the boundaries of our comfort zone. This is a tough one for me, and probably my least favorite aspect of con attendance. It may (or may not) surprise some of you to know that I’m very shy with people I don’t know well. I try to put on a brave face and be friendly, but I’m deadly afraid of going up to new people, or people I’ve only met once or twice, or online…or even just haven’t seen in a long while. What if they don’t remember me? What if I’m suddenly struck dumb, with nothing to say? What if I’m interrupting? Ugh. HATE IT. Just met me? I promise, behind that big smile is a great wall of nervous terror. So…all the more reason to put myself in a situation where I have to meet new people. If I stay home, I’ll never get any better at it, after all.
So, that’s five reasons to attend cons, which seems like more than enough to make it worth the time, travel, and resultant exhaustion.
Now, excuse me please while I take a nap 🙂