This year will be my sixth conference and it's just as exciting as ever. This will be a very special one, the 20th anniversary and already excitement is building. I'm taking a newbie with me this year and I guess her excitement is infectious.
Reading this again I can almost hear the violin strings in the background… but I do remember very well my first conference. It was on the Gold Coast and I went alone, not knowing anyone. I'd been lurking on the e-loop for some time and knew a few names. I'd googled those who were listed as presenters and got to look at their faces on the websites but that was about it. I was blown away by the fact that I got to meet and chat with multi-published and award winning writers Jane Porter and Debbie Macomber who were the overseas guests that year and of course all the Australians who were so kind and friendly.
My goodie bag that year was very much appreciated and loved - probably more than in years since because it was so unexpected and new. I almost wore my coffee mug out until the next year when I migrated to that cup and so on over the years. My collection of writers mugs with their sayings printed on them is very much prized.
By the end of the conference a cold which had started on the day before it began, had really hit home. I had almost no voice left and was taking antibiotics from a local doctor around the corner but, probably wrongly, I was determined to stay until the end.
Yes, there is something very special about getting together with romance writers. I've belonged to other writers groups but I learned more about writing at my first RWA conference than had in years. The RWA members have been particularly helpful and encouraging, and in my experience the RWA pubbed authors are so much more approachable and willing to talk and share their knowledge and experiences. Not that other literary writers are not approachable and willing to share but RWA members have at least to me, seemed even more so. I love every opportunity to get together with as many as I can.
An openness of attitude and willingness to learn/be taught also goes a long way. Again, in my experience, keeping an open mind and listening to and learning from the experiences of others is invaluable. There will always be personality clashes but I believe we can learn something from everyone - even if it's how NOT to do something and those aren't those lessons often even more valuable than the former?
What is also very valuable than any other though are a thick skin and a flexible attitude (like a tree which bends with the wind rather than being broken by it). I've known many writers who have become totally distraught over bad critiques or reviews and given up altogether. It breaks my heart to see this happen to brilliant writers – or any writers for that matter. Unfortunately, these are often the people who need the most help but have an 'all or nothing' attitude. While we need to learn how to critique in a gentle but firm manner, we need also to learn how to take bad news AND bad critiques without allowing them to damage us as writers, just as in our 'other' lives I guess.
I believe RWA Australia is a unique organisation. I like to think it's because our people are special. Organisations are only ever as good as their members. They can sometimes be dominated by particularly strong personalities and can be split by followers of personalities, and all that jazz. Our Australian organisation has been commented on by visitors who appreciate the wonderful atmosphere attributable in a large part to the volunteers who work so hard and are so welcoming and giving.
For myself, I work hard not to upset that balance and to give back where I possibly can by volunteering to judge competitions when I'm not entering them and offering my help wherever else it can be used. RWA usually has a booth at the Brisbane Writers Festival in September. Sitting in the booth is a great thing to do, talking to writers who pass by about RWA and writing, or even better, when the traffic is slow, sitting in the booth and talking to other members. Had a lovely afternoon, I think it was last year talking to one longtime member about her career writing Medicals for Mills and Boon. I learn so much I like to show my appreciation. Feel free to remind me of this should I forget this and get hung up on something someone said or didn't say.
As a volunteer I've been approached to carry out some lovely little jobs such as introducing speakers and looking after them when they are presenting at conference. Although it might be considered work by some, I've found it to be a privilege and an opportunity to have a lot of fun. For example, at the Brisbane conference I noticed that the audience was getting a little tired. If you maybe don't get to bed early enough or eat a little too much of the lovely food at lunchtime sometimes you can lose concentration and be in danger of falling asleep, missing valuable information. I'd won a box of chocolates and I needed them like I needed another hole in the head so when I asked the questions I had prepared about the speaker and her career, I started pegging those chocolates at those who could answer the questions correctly. The audience livened up quick smart and I've heard positive comments about flying chocolates more than a few times since.