Ever been surrounded by a mixture of people wearing clothes worth more than your life and people whose lives depend on the temperature of the sidewalk at night as they sleep?
Welcome to San Francisco’s Financial District.
How about ever tried to sleep in a room full of sugar-high german teens singing to a guitar throughout the night?
That there is the Adelaide Hostel, tucked away in a back alley in the middle of San Francisco’s Financial District.
Or been inside a hotel so fancy, they have two restaurants that serve high-end caviar, more chandeliers than you can count and plants so gorgeous, you would swear they were fake?
The Mark Hopkins, one steep walk up Mason Street from the back alley of the Adelaide, at the top of a hill in San Francisco’s Financial District.
This was the location for the 14th annual San Francisco Writer’s Conference, a conference I had very little means to attend before being lucky enough to win a ticket through a contest that I signed up for in my bed, sick out of my mind.
After a bumpy arrival, some awkward introductions and a welcoming barrage of dad-level puns from the keynote speaker for the conference, the classes began.
Q&A’s filled the first few days of the schedule for the conference, and suddenly, my world of isolation sitting in front of a computer screen for two years was put into a radically different perspective. Writing is a business, and one that requires attention to details in social media marketing, story crafting, hooks and cliffhangers, Gender components in writing, audience identification “and more!”
It was the way the panelists and presenters cared about the attendees that created a safe and comfortable atmosphere, one that would foster a space for exponential growth for some, and perhaps a good cushion for those of us who needed to tear our stories to pieces and rebuild and maybe find a dark corner in the bottom floor to curl up and question everything we’ve been doing for years.
The keynote speakers gave some rather inspirational talks, and what I found most enjoyable and beneficial were the peripheral discussions about writers involved with the political climates, or in Gender equality, or issues based on diversity. The talks that made me think, that forced me to push against the limits of my carefree-writing life, are the ones that will stick with me for years to come.
On a more social note, I suggest to anyone going to a conference to do the following: Shake hands, look people in the eyes, and whenever possible, laugh. Have business cards ready to exchange, have a pitch in the wings to practice whenever asked about your book, and be ready to answer the same sets of usual questions like “Where are you from?” and “What do you write?”
But more importantly, connect.
In one of the social media classes, a man asked “How do I use social media to get fans?”
The takeaway answer was that you don’t. You don’t go online to get fans, you go online to make genuine connections, to show people who you are and that that connection will guide them to your content. In the same way, connect with the conference-goers around you. Ask how they are doing, what they do for a living, be genuine. Help others whenever possible, and more often than not, that connection will lead to a stronger relationship that will be beneficial for both parties.
And also food. Connections with people will lead to food.
What if you hadn’t introduced yourself to the person that just so happened to be paying attention to the title in the schedule that says ‘free lunch?’ You would have missed out on some killer fish, fruit tarts and desserts that looked like they could have been topped with edible gold. Make connections, be nice to people, and eat gold. What more do you need in life?
Luckily for me, I also happen to be a co-organizer for Sacramento’s Shut Up and Write! group. When I informed my members I was attending, not only did I have moral support, I was able to bring back several notes for different members about their own processes, resources they can use to develop further and even exchanged contacts with a few conference writers in other areas to help build a wider community with our members.
Ultimately, the writer’s conference was an experience, one that I am very lucky to have been given. The big takeaway for me, and one that has already affected how I view my writing, has been the most important part of this whole process.
You, the reader, are the most important figure in the world of writing. Without you, we elicit nothing but silence and isolation. Stories demand a connection with the audience, and if that connection isn’t present, then who are we? What’s our purpose? Admittedly, that connection can be terrifying, but from the experiences I’ve had at the Mark Hopkins, a steep trip from the Adelaide Hostel, in the center of San Francisco’s Financial District, I’ve learned that that is the most vital relationship for any artist.
Keep reading. Keep Writing. Keep connecting. And maybe, we can all taste chocolate flaked with gold.