As this post goes to press, yours truly is getting ready for the biggest romance writers’ convention of the year: RWA 2014. I know without a doubt that I’m going to have an amazing time there. I love going to workshops, catching up with old friends, meeting new people, and just generally immersing myself in a happy writer wonderland.
That said, right now, as I’m getting ready? I am a giant ball of stress. Packing, early morning flights, social overload, fashion anxiety. They’re all very real concerns for even the most experienced conference-goer. For someone who’s only attending for the second time?
It can get a little overwhelming.
So. For the sake of my own sanity, I started making lists. Then I looked at my list and wondered if it would look even more terrifying if I had an item for every letter in the alphabet. Then I realized making such a list would be an awesome excuse to procrastinate the rest of my packing.
Thus, I bring to you:
The ABCs of Preparing for #RWA14
A is for Alcohol: You’ve heard it before. One of the most popular activities at a big conference is drinking. The hotel bar and a bunch of the watering holes around it will all be prime networking locations. But if you’re one who prefers to drink a little more than a little in order to get past her social inhibitions, I highly recommend stashing a bottle in your luggage. Because let me tell you, the drinks at those places will not be cheap. You’ll have to buy one in order to have something in your hands all night, but avoid some of the worst of the bill by nipping a bit of liquid courage in your room with your buddies before you go.
B is for Batteries: All conference long, you’ll be live-tweeting and messaging back and forth with your friends trying to figure out where’s the best place to meet up. Heck, RWA even has an app this year. All those messages and tweets and schedules take up precious battery space, though. If your phone runs out of juice fast, make sure to bring a supplemental battery to keep you running, outlet or no.
C is for Coffee: VERY IMPORTANT FOR PUTTING YOUR BEST FOOD FORWARD ON LITTLE TO NO SLEEP.
D is for Drama: There’s always some sort of drama surrounding the annual general meeting. Things change. Decisions about membership and the future of the organization get made. Either inform yourself about the issues and participate, or decide to focus on your writing and ignore it. But either way, don’t let it keep you from having a great conference.
E is for Earplugs: Even the best roommates sometimes snore. Even the best hotels sometimes stick you next to the elevators. Even the thickest walls allow the sounds of partiers and night owls in. Better safe than sorry. Earplugs are your friends.
F is for Fabulous Shoes: Put a couple thousand primarily female conference-goers in one spot, and what do you get? One hell of a shoe parade apparently. Bring some comfortable kicks, but remember that this is a place to see and be seen, and there’s no easier conversation starter at this particular party than fantastic footwear.
G is for Granola Bars: The conference is only providing one lunch this year, and there’s not always time to grab a real meal between meetings and workshops. Stash a couple snacks in your bag to tide you over, just in case.
H is for Headphones: Feeling run down and overwhelmed? Sometimes, the best way to get a minute to yourself is a pair of earbuds and a secluded corner.
I is for Ibuprofen: Fabulous shoes hurt. Be prepared.
J is for Jacket: San Antonio is boiling outside, but hotel meeting rooms are usually freezing. Be prepared and bring a sweater or a jacket.
K is for Keynotes: The powers that be have shifted a lot of the keynote / general interest speeches to early morning timeslots. I for one will be very tempted to stay in bed a little longer and miss them, but all of the keynotes last year were amazing. If you can bear to do it, get up and go check them out.
L is for (Lots of Extra Room in Your) Luggage: Publisher-sponsored book signings mean lots of free books. Expect to either ship them home or find some spare space in your bags, if you want to get them home.
M is for Mints: No one wants to meet their favorite writer and bowl her over with coffee breath. Discretely pop a mint before saying hello to your writing idol.
N is for Notebook: Whether it’s a notebook computer or a spiral notebook, be sure to have some way of getting down your ideas. Even if the speaker at your workshop is a dud, chances are that all the awesome writer vibes will have you thinking about your manuscript. You won’t be the only one working on your stories while you’re there.
O if for Open Mind: This dedicated pantser went to a great workshop on beat sheets and plotting at last year’s RWA. It didn’t convert me completely, but I sure did learn some good tips for figuring out story structure, and I’ve become a better writer for the experience. All because I had an open mind and listened to some new ideas.
P is for Pins: I don’t know why, but RWA works on a pin based economy. There’s a pin for PRO, a pin for your chapter, a pin for the conferences you’ve attended in the past. Heck, if you’ve ever finalled before, there’s even a RITA pin. If you’ve managed to collect any of these little trophies in your time as a member, bring them and affix them to your badge holder. Remember: she with the most pins wins!
Q is for Quiet Time: Not all writers are introverts, but an awful lot of us are. It’s tempting to try to go to every workshop, but you’ll burn yourself out quickly. Plan time into your schedule for a trip to the gym or some alone time in your room. It’s the key to conference sanity.
R is for RITA Dress: The RITA/Golden Heart awards ceremony is a black tie affair. Be sure to look your best.
S is for Sleep Aids: Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to putting your best foot forward. If you have a script for a sleep aid, bring it, and if you don’t, consider picking up some melatonin or Benadryl to help in case you get too excited.
T is for Thigh Protection: You’re going to wear dresses? For four days? In San Antonio? Hahahahaha. Even the fittest girls are at risk for chub rub in those kinds of conditions. Pack some powder, some Spanx, or these cool little boxer briefs for girls that Jockey is making now and save yourself a world of hurt.
U is for Underwear: Because the most obvious thing is the one I’m the most likely to forget to pack.
V is for Voice: Of course you have to keep an open mind, and you’ll learn a ton of new things. But remember that you’re special, and that no one writes exactly like you. Pick up some tricks, but hold onto your voice. Ultimately, it’s what’s going to set you apart as a writer, and it’s the only thing you cannot afford to lose.
W is for Wrinkle Management: Let’s face it: we’re all packing way too much stuff for this trip, which means crammed-full suitcases and wrinkled clothes. The hotel will have an iron, but there are other, less work-intensive options. Our own Elizabeth Michels introduced me to the travel steamer, and a travel-sized spray-bottle of wrinkle releaser wouldn’t be the worst idea, either.
X is for eXtension Cord: (Shh, cut me some slack. ‘X’ is hard, okay?) Depending on how many roommates you have, outlets may be at a premium. An extension cord with a couple of extra outlets will come in handy.
Y is for Yelp: As I already mentioned, the conference is providing fewer meals than usual. An app like Yelp or Urban Spoon is a lifesaver when you’re trying to find a decent, local place to eat.
Z is for Zest for Writing: It’s cheesy, but in all the excitement, with obsessing over shoes and outfits and schedules and restaurants, it’s easy to lose sight of the reason you’re even there: WRITING. Improving it, talking about it, celebrating it, maybe—if you’re really dedicated—even doing a little of it when you get a bit of downtime. Keep your love of writing front and center, and you’re bound to have a fantastic conference.
Happy travels, everyone!