After the Conference

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

We often write about how to get ready for a conference and how to make the most of each day at the conference, but what about after the conference is over? There’s usually a natural letdown after intense days of friendship, scholarship and relationship. I know in years past when I attended writers’ conferences I would often come home so full of information and exciting possibilities Β that when anyone asked me how it went, I just froze up. There were so many complicated interactions I knew it would take far more energy than I had to explain everything and put it in context.

So how do we navigate the post-conference?

First of all, and possibly most important of all, Recharge Your Batteries. I’m thinking of those who just returned from ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) on Sunday and had to go to work on Monday. Eek! Don’t do it if at all possible. We need to allow ourselves time to process. A rich brew needs percolating time. For me, unpacking, doing laundry and organizing the paperwork is fertile ground for processing. Here at Books & Such we try to allow ourselves one day on either side of a conference, otherwise much of the work we accomplished gets muddled.

Update Your Contacts. Take all those business cards and input them into your contacts program. If you learned important bits and pieces about people, put that in the notes section of your contacts. Don’t rely on memory. These details may be important sometime down the line, but by then you’ll have hundreds of other contacts and if it’s not written. . . well, you know.

Process Your Notes. You probably already have a system for dealing with all the notes and materials from the sessions, but here’s how I deal with them: Divide the notes into two categories: “Valuable” and “Throw Away.” Toss the second pile. The note taking did its job of keeping you focused during the presentation, but there’s no need to handle the information again.

For the valuable information, divide it in two piles: “File” and “Action.” Β As you file the notes you will want to refer to again, think hard about your filing system. If you just put them in a file marked “conference,” they will remain out of sight and forever out of mind. Instead, create files that might read something like “Building Characters,” “Deep Point of View,” “Social Marketing Tips,” etc. then each time you find more info on that subject you have a place to put it, and you’ve enlarged your knowledge base.

Take Action. The pile that requires action needs to be prioritized. One of the first things you’ll want to do is to write out a list of all the things that need to be done in the order of importance. If you have an agent, you need to send her an email outlining what interactions you had and what proposals if any need to be sent to editors with whom you met. Don’t do it in a phone call because an email will form the basis of your record as well as your agent’s action plan. And if your agent attended the conference, don’t rely on the quick interaction you may have had. Trust me, he will be as brain dead after the conference as you. The email will be a solid reminder of that conversation.

Write Thank You Notes. In this day and age of quick email or even worse, Facebook messages, we often think we can just jot an email to conference organizers or industry professionals thanking them for their time and effort. Yes, it works, but trust me, it’s not memorable in the least and that’s one of the reasons you want to write notes–to cement relationships. Your sweet grandmother had it right. Take the time to write heartfelt notes. In our hurried world they stand out more than ever before. Besides, it’s another way to help you to process the people who made a difference to you.

I couldn’t attend the ACFW conference this year, and I really missed it. The one thing that always impresses me about that conference is that the work is largely done by volunteers. That’s right, volunteers. And a smoother, more professional conference would be hard to find. No one deserves thank-yous more. When I think of the work done by the contest coordinators alone. . . well, a thank you note seems hardly enough.

Anyway, those suggestions only touch the surface. How do you process? How long does reentry generally take for you? Does the after-conference glow last? How do you deal with the reality of real life after the fellowship of other writers? Got any tips or observations for us?

58 Responses

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  1. This is great information. My mind is still buzzing from the ACFW conference. I’m thankful that we’re able to keep some of that fellowship with writers going online and through social media. Seeing everyone else excited about the conference experience they’ve had keeps me excited and motivated even after the conference has ended.

  2. Lisa says:

    These are really great ideas. Thank you, I’m recording some of them to remember!

    I love that you allow a day before and after a conference to process. I think that is so needful in our always pressing on lifestyle. Time to let God speak to our hearts is a gift.

    And I love hand written notes. I keep a pack in my purse, so when I find myself waiting I can quick jot down a thank you.

  3. Although I wasn’t at ACFW this year, I’m hoping to stay out of trouble in Indiana next year. Okay, that was just a legal disclaimer in case me and my peeps run afoul of the law and get hauled off for sticking our heads in the chocolate fountain. Is there a chocolate fountain? I digress…

    Although I have yet to enjoy a writer’s conference, I have been to Urbana and on quite a few high intensity mission teams. I would gather that the “last day blues” run in the same vein. So I’ll add my two cents and see if it helps.

    Re-entry is like a break-up.

    The conference/team is basically a short, intense romance for one’s soul. A time of fulfilling joy and undivided attention. Hours and hours of being filled and loved, and being with like minded individuals who want nothing more than to be with each other. Walking away from that love affair is physically painful! Give yourself the space to be alone with your thoughts and step down out of the clouds. Solitude after such intensity will help you step back into your normal life. Otherwise, you open yourself up to the emotional onslaught that is normal life, and you will crash.

    Remember that everyone else feels that same way you do!
    Text, email, call or meet with the peers and friends with whom you shared your time. Commiserate with each other and communicate even the most minor of feelings. The blues are only soothing when BB King is in charge. Don’t let the sadness grow deep. Keep your heart safe with a little help from your friends.

    Your non-writer friends and your family WANT to understand, but only to a certain point.

    This was not their event or celebration. Some may even react negatively to what you consider to be a life changing experience. Read the room. Gauge their reactions. Are they jealous or is it indifference that dampens their spirit ?But don’t be angry at them for not loving the experience as you do. If they are downright nasty, there are other factors at play.

    Store up these treasures in your heart.

    This was a HUGE deal for you!! Don’t let anyone say otherwise. God put you there to be taught, blessed and to grow. Keep in touch with the friends you made and build on the personal and professional relationships.

    Remember that old song, “it only takes a spark to get a fire going”?

    Fire it up!

  4. Jeanne T says:

    I attended my first ever ACFW, and I’m still figuring out what to do with everything I learned and all the interactions. I came back to the reality that I had immediate deadlines, so I spent yesterday working on those things. Now I can begin to process everything from this past weekend.

    Your suggestions are helpful as I figure out where to go from here. I haven’t created a contact list yet. Do you have suggestions? I was thinking of creating an excel file.

    The thought of throwing away notes is also good, though it will be hard. I like my notes. πŸ™‚ Thanks for your insights, Wendy!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I think every writer needs contact management software. I’m a Mac user (ever since my beloved Apple IIE) so I’m sold on their contact software that comes with the Mac. Once you’ve added a contact you need never type that info again. Christmas cards? It’s done. Addresses on your iPhone. Already there and updated every time you make a change. A place to take and retrieve notes about your contact people? Right there.

      Maybe some of our commenters can recommend the best software for PCs.

  5. Yesterday, after returning from ACFW, I was brain dead. I caught up on my weekend chores–laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning. And though that stuff was important, I felt guilty for not jumping into those proposals. But you’re right–I needed a day to process. Thank you for reminding me about that.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I don’t think we realize how exhausting the intensity of a conference can be. It’s not about the three or four days, it’s about how much information and how many deep discussions and how many connections.

  6. Wendy, I really love your idea for processing notes. That one’s a keeper!

    Jennifer, everything you said–right on. One of the things I love about ACFW is that the conference doesn’t have to be a once-a-year thing. Many of us are fortunate to have chapters where we get together once a month. Having writer friends close by helps to carry you throughout the year.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Besides online critique groups. I’ve been with the same critique group for more than fifteen years and I love them like sisters.

  7. This is such helpful information. Coming back from a conference can be so overwhelming. You’re excited and you don’t know what to do first. And since I’m the registrar for one of the conferences I attend, there’s also the job of processing those final adminstrative duties until next time.

    My administrative duties are what I usually tackle first, because they give me time to compose my soul and start the transition back to my normal schedule.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Cheryl, those of you who do the work are the unsung heroes. Without all that administrative work none of the magic would happen. (and registrar is one of the most intensive jobs of all.)

  8. Amanda Dykes says:

    I particularly love the suggestion for processing valuable notes into “action” and “to file” piles; so often there is an abundance of information just waiting to applied to my WIP, and if I’m not careful, the ideas get buried on my desk or in the cobwebs of my mind. Thanks for the suggestion! In my WIP, whenever I encounter an idea I want to apply, I scroll down to the very bottom of my document, type up the idea, and highlight it in yellow so that I can check that list intermittently to see if I’m remembering to apply those ideas. I erase them when they’re done (if it’s a one-time plot point, etc.) or wait until the end of the WIP when it becomes an MS (*magical moment*) and delete or re-locate the rest of the highlighted “action” list.

  9. I didn’t get to go to ACFW this year, but in the past I’ve returned from conferences both inspired and exhausted. That’s a frustrating combo. But I think my home reality naturally provides the remedy. When I come home, I’m attacked by little boys who thought I’d be gone forever. And I miss them like crazy when I’m away. So for a couple days after a conference, I’m in total mommy mode. But it gives me time to process, and it reaffirms to them that even though mom may be gone a few days, she’s going to come back and things will go back to normal.
    The only problem is that when I get around to looking at my conference notebook, I feel a little disconnected. Your tips for going through notes and adding contacts to a file will be helpful for balancing my mom/writer world. Thanks!

    • Jeanne T says:

      I’m sooooo with you on these thoughts, Evangeline. πŸ™‚

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I love how you put first things first. Writer Debbie Macomber always says one of the best things she ever did for her kids was live out her dreams in front of them. Her grown kids are bold about following their own because they saw their mom loving them while going after her dreams.

      • Wendy, thank you for sharing that! As a mom who is always trying to do the best for her kids, I sometimes wonder if I should put pursuing my dreams off until they’re out of the house. I talk to God about that a lot! But when I’m not beating myself with the guilt stick, I can admit that it’s a good thing for them to watch me using the abilities God gave me.
        I’m sure I’m not the only writer mom who was encouraged by your words and Debbie Macomber’s example, so on behalf of all of us who wrestle with this issue, Thank You!

  10. Wendy, we missed having you at ACFW! This was my first time in attendance, and WOW. I did take yesterday off work, and was sooooo glad I did. I just would not have been ready to go back to “life as normal,” not when I’d just spent five days on a high unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

    I like your suggestions on thank you notes. I was tempted to write emails since it’s easier and I’m tired, BUT I want to stand out. So snail mail it shall be. πŸ™‚

  11. Sarah Thomas says:

    The best piece of advice I ever got was from a friend who told me to take Monday off after attending my first Proverbs 31 conference. Just being alone with my thoughts was a novelty!

    And I LOVE that you have a notes pile to throw away. I do that–take notes to stay focused or even to look as outwardly engaged as I am inside–and I always felt like I was supposed to DO something with those notes. Now I have permission to throw them away. Ahhhh.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Not only permission but encouragement. Note-taking is a process to help us internalize ideas. handouts are meant to cement concepts. Some are keepers and some served their purpose by the very act of taking them or reading them.

      (Don’t get me started on organization tips. )

  12. Helpful post.

    Every time I leave a conference I fully intend to blog about it and write thank-you notes. I never do either. It’s horrible. Once I get back to the real world I lose all my fairy tale desires to be a thoughtful person who serves others. All the grit and grime of daily life just drives all the happy, snuggly, huggly thoughts out of my heart.

    Really, it’s not grit and grime. It’s talking about the conferences to family and friends that wears me out.

    I should add a day to the end of the conference to stay in a hotel room and do all those kind things and map out a plan, before I re-enter my home atmosphere.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      That’s a fabulous idea. Janet and I have talked about doing that a number of time but we are always compelled to get back to work. Some of our best ideas have been hatched in the airport and on the plane ride home however, when the energy is still high.

  13. Rick Barry says:

    My post ACFW processing began on the flight back to Indianapolis. I had time to recall each person I had a chance to chat with (not just in appointments) and to say brief prayers for the Lord’s blessing on them and their writing. I told a few I’ve prayed for them, but most will just have to feel the blessing and thank the Lord. πŸ˜‰

  14. Dale Rogers says:

    I didn’t get to attend the conference, but when
    I have gone to them it’s been so inspiring, and
    I’ve brought so much information home with me.
    It’s like a new beginning.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      And don’t we need new beginnings? Because you weren’t able to attend you need to figure out how to give yourself one of those new beginnings. I always feel like Autumn is a new beginning, maybe from back in my first-day-of-school days.

  15. For reasons unexplained (God always is at work in the unseen), my connecting flight that was changed by the airline made it impossible for me to deplane on time to board the next one when returning from the ACFW conference in which I was heavily involved in leadership and yeah so what if this is an incredibly long sentence that should have been broken into three parts which I would if my conference fog had lifted already. So I was “stuck” in Chicago for a night. Airport hotel. Traveler’s Misery rate. But the quiet buffer zone between conference and home provided just what I needed to prepare me for re-entry. I have three white-boards of assignments and follow-up. But later today, I’m going for a walk in the amber sunlight of autumn in Wisconsin. I’ll listen to the delicate rattle of crisping leaves, watch their colorful waltz, and tune my heart to the pulse of heaven before plunging into the workload. And then I’ll write to my agent and tell her all about it! One other piece of advice: If an agent or editor asked to see a proposal or manuscript, do not let insecurity keep you from following through. (That almost sounded like preaching, so I’ll stop now.)

    • That was a mighty fine sentence, Cynthia!!

      Chicago, huh? Not bad.
      I got stuck in Cleveland in July.

      I’m sorry, this isn’t the venue to brag and make people feel bad, is it?


    • Jeanne T says:

      How did you know that insecurity struck yesterday? I’m battling it off today. πŸ™‚

    • Amanda Dykes says:

      “…tune my heart to the pulse of heaven…” Cynthia. That is going on my bulletin board. That’s what I want to do every time I open my laptop, before I clack out a single word on the keyboard! Thank you.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I say, preach it, Cynthia. These days there are few agents or editors who will ask you to send something just to “be kind.” There’s not enough time. If they asked for it, I’d count on the fact that they were intrigued.

      BTW, Cynthia is one of those tireless people at ACFW. She shepherds all the industry folk and does an amazing job.

  16. Jenny Leo says:

    This morning as I cleaned out some files I realized that exactly one year ago today I flew home from ACFW in St. Louis. I remember being physically exhausted but highly encouraged and bubbling over with plans. I had fun today rereading my notes from the conference and taking stock of how much I feel I’ve grown as a writer in the past year, all the actions I’d planned to do that I DID do, and (more humbling) things I’d planned to do that I have NOT done. Time to update the to-do list!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Kudos, Jenny! A one-year review is one of the most valuable tools of all. I do periodic and one-year reviews of my goals and, yes, though it’s humbling it gets me back on track.

  17. Kiersti says:

    What a wonderful post, Wendy! I didn’t make it to ACFW this year either, but I’ll have to revisit this post after Mt. Hermon or whenever I next make it to a conference. Thank you!

  18. One more comment??? This year I’m going to be smart.Tonight I’m going to make two lists–one will be an update to my computerized list of what to take when traveling, and the other will be a list of what to remember to have prepared for next year’s conference (or whatever is the next conference. I heard so many people respond, “No, I’m sorry. I don’t!” when asked if they had a business card. Essential for conferences. You may think you won’t need one if you’re not published yet. But mentors asked mentees for a business card so they could send a helpful online link, or stay in contact about an ongoing project, or send a “Here’s that picture we talked about” email. New friends wanted to exchange information. At the dinner table, an editor or agent might ask for a business card because of someone else entirely they wanted to tell about you. A business card is a very simple standard practice, not costly, but invaluable at a conference. If you ran out of time to get one made for this year’s conference, mark your calendar to get them printed no later than two months before your next conference.

    That’s not my issue. I have others. πŸ™‚ So I’m creating a list of “Things to Remember for 2013.”

    I’m also scheduling time to pray about all the glorious things that happened at conference, new ideas birthed, people’s needs revealed, and for the industry. Praying for the editors and agents who will wade through proposals. And for the readers who are about to get blessed!

    • Business cards were discussed here last week as well, but thanks for the reminder. I’m going to order some this week. I actually have 2 side businesses. I bake cheesecakes, and allmanner of other completely high carb desserts. AND I refinish antiques. Not exactly similar, but whatever. I’ve had people ask me for years if I had cards, and duh, no I don’t. Now, I will.
      Writer, baker and restorer”

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I love that file idea.

      Another thing I’ve been keeping track of is the great restaurants near conventions and conferences since we seem to keep going back to the same cities. It really helps if you’re trying to set up a meeting in, say, Denver, to remember that the Brown Palace has a fabulous high tea in the lobby.

  19. Wendy,

    Terrific post with encouraging ideas and suggestions.

    I usually come home fried from a writers conference.
    My jetted bath tub comes in handy ~ my friendly, welcoming unwind process begins there, with a conference-purchased book, of course.

    My family expects mom/wife Kathy after a five day absence. She emerges, after the cleansing, a relaxed, attentive women ready to wear all her different hats and begin pouring through the conference material.

    Love the reminder to write those personal thank you notes too.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I have a much-loved spa tub. Many a manuscript has been read in that watery environs. I call it my Think Tank because when I’m “fried,” it not only refreshes but I get the best ideas immersed in water laced with a little something-something from Lush.


  20. Wendy, you are so “on” with this message. I definitely needed some time to process. Lots happened. Yesterday was finding status quo at home. Today was going through paperwork brought back with me, organizing business cards. Prepping the manuscripts that will be sent out and outlining some thank yous. The next few days will be submissions and the sending of thank yous. I love your ideas of how to file notes. I did it the wrong way last year and found all that good stuff as I prepared for this years conference. Thanks for the suggestions.

  21. Anne Love says:

    As Cynthia was stuck in Chicago on her way to Wisconsin, I was on my way home from Wisconsin via Chicago, back to northern Indiana! I couldn’t attend ACFW this year, so my crit partner and I had a writer’s weekend. We watched the awards on line and ate Ben & Jerry’s!

    Post weekend? We ended it by making a timeline for our goals in the coming year. We plan to skype once a month to keep each other on task. We hope to make it to Indy ACFW 2013!

  22. Ann Bracken says:

    I didn’t get to go to ACFW either, but I am attending the HOW conference next week. I’m lucky enough to be assigned the task of driving the agents from the airport to the hotel. While I have them in my clutches, er, car, I hope to be able to build a relationship to add to my contacts file. BTW – I’m a PC user, and find Gmail to work really well for managing my contacts, calendar, etc. It syncs with my android phone, computer, everything.

    My way of unwinding from conference last year was to put everything I had to do in a pile, hug the children, pet the dog and cat, and snuggle the husband. The next day I got to work.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I love how you are planning to make the most of your opportunity. (I can picture the agents getting into a black SUV with darkly tinted windows, hearing a resounding “click” as the doors automatically lock from the front seat and the car pulls away slowly from the curb. Bwah ha ha.)

      Thanks for the PC contacts tip. Have a great conference.

  23. Pam Hillman says:

    Wendy, thanks for sharing this post. I have a demanding day job, but for the last couple of years I’ve padded an extra day before and after conference in order to not be so frazzled. It’s more than worth it!

    As the ACFW Conference Treasurer, I want to repeat your kudos to the many, many volunteers who make the conference the stellar event that it is. ACFW members are the most generous, loving people in the world, and that generous spirit saturates the conference atmosphere.

    The hotel staff was simply floored over how friendly everyone was. They hated to see us go!

    I’m still processing ACFW paperwork, but plan to get to those requested proposals SOON! πŸ™‚

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      And, Pam, you are one of those selfless servants. I can’t imagine the paperwork you have after a conference. May God bless your writing efforts in spite of the fact that it probably often takes a back seat to your service to other writers.

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