The Shy Writer Tackles a Conference

My guest C. Hope Clark is sharing tips about how a normally shy writer can have the best experience while attending a writing conference! Enjoy …

Sooner or later, a writer has the opportunity to attend a conference. Many will pass up the chance. Most of us refuse to attend because conferences intimidate us. We don’t know what to do once we get there, and since we’re usually a shy lot, we’re afraid to learn. Stepping into a sea of people to openly admit we write can send quivers through our bones. But what if you did go? What do you have to gain? At a minimum, you:The Shy Writer Reborn

  1. Feel more natural as a writer because everyone there can relate to your experiences.
  2. Learn new tricks and resources to better the writer in you.
  3. Meet more advanced writers who are willing to share their knowledge.
  4. Learn that the walls you hit (and curse at night!) are indeed normal.
  5. Develop the beginnings of a network, as well as the seeds of a platform.

I attend several a year, and jitters still fill my belly when I walk into a new group of people. As friendly as the attendees might be, I feel like a fraud, as if they can see through me. Thousands of writers at events and through my newsletter Funds for Writers have related the same feeling. We’re trying to be something we’re not sure we can be.

In my book The Shy Writer Reborn, I address some of these butterfly concerns. But the advice I preach most is this . . . come armed with your one-liners: your “elevator” pitch, your practiced answers.

One-liners prepare us and they impress others. When you ask a person a question, and they answer assured and succinctly, don’t you admire them? On the other hand, when someone asks you a question that you know the answer to, don’t you feel proud?

One-liners salvage a lot of situations. Rote responses relieve the pressure of having to ad-lib on the spot. One-liners show you have your act totally together since you aren’t pausing or stammering, hunting for words. You’re sharp and crisp, on top of your game. Less nervous. Before you attend an event, spend the days before fine-tuning your one-liners to questions such as:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are you writing?
  • What do you do?
  • Why do you write?
  • What have you published?
  • Who’s your favorite author?

Record them on index cards if you have to. Write large. Make your answer simple, tight, and one sentence. Don’t write anything complicated or lengthy because you might not remember it all, plus the other person isn’t wanting your biography. This is also how you learn to brand yourself. This exercise makes for a great writing prompt while preparing you for your big weekend conference. You define yourself, your career, your writing, or your book in easy-to-digest doses for both you and others.

Turn the situation around. You’re seated at a table, at dinner, in a classroom or in the auditorium. People are talking all around you, and you don’t know how to participate because you have no clue where to find common ground. Just like you prepared one-liner responses, come up with a list of light questions to break the ice with your neighbor:

  • “What are you writing about?”
  • “Why did you come to the conference?”
  • “Which classes are you attending?”
  • “Do you know any of these instructors?”
  • “Are you enjoying yourself?”
  • “Have you met anyone interesting?”

Keep them on one index card, if you like. If you succeed in opening a dialogue, ultimately exchange business cards or information, because this is how you develop a network and a following. Finally, remember these nine important no-fail tricks:

  1. Smile
  2. Listen intently
  3. Let others approach you
  4. Make solid eye contact
  5. Stand if others are standing (sitting is withdrawal)
  6. Ask someone’s name
  7. Carry a drink (settles you down and keeps your mouth from drying)
  8. Offer a compliment
  9. Wear a nametag (even if you have to bring your own)

You don’t have to attend a conference with huge, grandiose plans. Maybe you just want to test drive one, or learn as you go. At least go prepared to wade into the crowd. By priming yourself, you enjoy the day so much more, and, surprise! your mind relaxes, becomes receptive, and laps up much more knowledge for you to take home.

Hope Clark200x300About the author: C. Hope Clark is editor of, a website selected by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 12 years. Her newsletters reach 35,000 readers. She is also author of Lowcountry Bribe (Feb 2012) and Tidewater Murder (April 2013), books one and two of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series. She recently released a non-fiction guide book for writers entitled The Shy Writer Reborn: An Introverted Writer’s Wake-up Call. Visit her online at

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28 Responses to The Shy Writer Tackles a Conference

  1. Belinda Pollard April 29, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Hi Hope and Molly, as that rare type of writer, the raving extrovert, I love a good get-together. 😉 But I think it’s really helpful that you’ve given some practical ideas for the introverts among the writing fraternity to make such events less stressful.

    Conferences and seminars can be so useful, both for networking with other writers, and for being inspired in both the art and business of writing. I try to go to at least a couple every year.

    • C. Hope Clark April 29, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

      I do, too, Belinda. As a new shy writer, I made myself go to one a year. They did get easier. Though the introvert never ceases being an introvert, she (or he) does learn how to cope better with each exposure. And hanging with an extrovert can be cool, because they tend to open doors for us!

    • Molly Greene April 29, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

      Not fair Belinda! I like to think I’m an extrovert but I do get shy in a group of people I don’t know. I love Hope’s idea about practicing our elevator pitches, it really does impart confidence and helps us better understand who we are and what we write!

      • Belinda Pollard April 29, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

        I’d call you an extrovert, Molly. An extrovert finds being with people energising, whereas an introvert replenishes the energy stocks from being alone — I think that’s the definitions??? There is such a thing as a shy extrovert (I’m one myself).

        And thinking beforehand about what you’re going to say in any uncomfortable situation is always a good idea. Live-pitching to agents has to be one of the most excruciating ordeals on the planet. I think the only way to really survive it is to instruct yourself that your whole life does NOT hang on this one conversation, just do your best, next time will be better, and the time after that, better again.

        I’m just thinking right now, do you know the single most useful thing I have done for my confidence-with-strangers in the past 18 months? I joined Toastmasters (public speaking club) to brush up on my rusty speaking skills so I can give better writing seminars etc… and ended up having to do impromptu speaking again and again. TERRIFYING but so empowering!

        It somehow rewires your brain. You stand in front of someone and you’re more relaxed because you know your mouth will open and words will come out. (Of course, I can’t testify to the absolute quality of those words on all occasions… but there WILL be words. 😉 )

        • C. Hope Clark April 29, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

          I have a good friend who swears by Toastmasters. Not my cup of tea, but I’ve seen it do wonders for people.

          • Molly Greene April 30, 2013 at 9:17 am #

            I will now admit that Toastmasters has been on my list of “things to do” for about 15 years. Yikes!

  2. Laura Zera April 29, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    Hope, I hope your post encourages more people to give a conference a go. I went to my first one last year and had such an amazing time. Learned from the pros, met writers, got requests for my m/s, ate cheesecake. Fantastic. I’m going again this year. I think the tip to remember to smile is huge if you’re an introvert. Often you don’t have to be the one to approach someone if you smile at them — they’ll start the convo. Also, I thought I’d be horribly nervous doing the live pitching to agents, but after the first one, it was a walk in the park. That said, yes, I did rehearse a lot.

    Thanks for being hostess with the mostest, Molly.

    Also signed up for your newsletter, Hope!

    • Laura Zera April 29, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

      And I just realized that I wrote, “Hope, I hope…” LOL!

      • C. Hope Clark April 29, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

        And you aren’t the first! LOL

      • Molly Greene April 29, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

        … and Laura (and everyone), Hope’s newsletter is the BEST!!

    • C. Hope Clark April 29, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

      Thanks back at you, Laura. Yes, it does get better. I tell people to put a beginning, middle and ending on a fear, so that we can imagine the results of some event we are afraid of. Then once we know there IS a real ending to it, and we don’t disintegrate going through the experience, that we can attempt to face our fears.

    • Jeri April 30, 2013 at 11:46 am #

      I’m looking forward to attending my first conference this year as well. I’m taking Laura’s word for it that the PNWA conference is well worth it 🙂

      • Molly Greene April 30, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

        Lucky you! Laura’s experience at PNWA last year was terrific.

  3. Diane April 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    Thanks Molly and Hope,
    As someone who has barely moved from calling herself a “wannabe writer” to a “newbie writer” (and has yet to utter the one-worder), taking the step to attend a conference is a daunting one. I can quite easily chat and network when I’m confident about what I do, but the world of writing tends to produce more doubts than boosts to confidence (smile). I can see using your list of one-liners to reflect on how I feel comfortable presenting myself, without feeling like an imposter. All writers start somewhere – no need to be ashamed that I’m where many once were (smile). Thanks for the post.

  4. Anne R. Allen April 29, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    Very helpful tips from Hope. I’ve been a subscriber to her newsletter since we were both columnists at Inkwell Newswatch about a decade ago. Hers is one of the few newsletters I actually read all the way through. She always has such sensible things to say!

    • C. Hope Clark April 29, 2013 at 7:47 pm #


      I’m flattered. Gosh…that was ages ago. My brain won’t remember that far!


  5. Rachel Creager Ireland April 30, 2013 at 7:16 am #

    Great advice. I especially love “bring your own name tag.”

    • Molly Greene April 30, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

      Your own nametag would be a great conversation starter too, wouldn’t it?

      • Laura Zera May 1, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

        Yes, because you could totally make it a funny nametag. “Hi, my name is Laura and I have webbed toes” kind of thing.

        • Molly Greene May 2, 2013 at 11:17 am #

          LOL! I’d definitely want to sit next to you at ANY conference where you wore that nametag :-]

  6. Alison DeLuca April 30, 2013 at 7:19 am #

    Excellent advice – this from one seriously shy writer who quakes at the very thought of “conferences!”

    • Molly Greene April 30, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

      Allie, I find that hard to believe!!

  7. Pamela Beason May 13, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Although I can be a live wire for short periods, I am actually very shy and the feeling of being “on stage” exhausts me. That said, I have attended all sorts of conferences and workshops over the years (and spoken at others).

    Attendees need to match the occasion with their expectations. Writers conferences are mostly geared toward beginning and (occasionally) intermediate writers. If you are an experienced, published author who is one of the attendees instead of the presenters, the experience can feel very awkward. I discovered this last year at a major conference I attended with a friend–I know it was probably my insecurities, but I felt like people kept looking at my badge and thinking Why are YOU here? I was (mostly) a pro, but not traveling among that crowd.

    I recently went to a fan conference–Left Coast Crime Conference–where I spoke on two panels and worked as a volunteer as well, and had a blast connecting with other mystery authors and fans. And I’ve attended several workshops that were most useful, and I hope to teach my own in the near future.

    So match your experience level and your expectations with the conference and or workshop so you are either a presenter (or perhaps a volunteer organizer) or on the same level as most attendees, and even if you’re an extreme introvert, you’re guaranteed to find your peers, make friends and enjoy yourself.

    • Molly Greene May 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

      Well said, Pam! We’d love to hear more about the workshop you are preparing … and who knows? Maybe some of us can attend!

  8. Stephanie Faris August 25, 2013 at 5:28 am #

    I can relate to much of this. I’m not, by nature, a shy person once I get to know people. But in new situations, I freeze up for some reason. The best time for me was when I became involved with a very active local writers’ group and we all went to conferences together. I notice a lot of people doing that at SCBWI conferences. Pre-formed relationships that tend to form a safety net around them. The only problem with that is, it inhibits you from meeting new people because you shut yourself off from everyone else at the conference. I’m going to SCBWI next month as a soon-to-be published author and I NEED to network, so I needed this blog!

    • Molly Greene August 25, 2013 at 8:09 am #

      Thank you Stephanie! Buddying up to attend conferences would be great if the “deal” was to also meet as many new people as possible. Best to you re: your new book and your upcoming conference!

  9. Shelley December 22, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    What a fantastic post and perfectly timed for me. I have signed up for my first writers’ conference in February and have already started with the jitters! I shall crack open the index cards and set about rehearsing my best ‘I’m an awesome writer’ face, thank you so much for the confidence boost 🙂

    • Molly Greene December 22, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

      Thanks Shelley, and congratulations and have a great time!!