Confessions of a Conference Junkie: Guest Blog by Bret Ballou

Bret Ballou attended the same Big Sur conference that brought the Muses together for the first time. Since then, he has become a friend and writing partner in so many ways to us all. Bret is currently a participant in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program and will soon be querying agents with his new WIP. Here he is with Muses Katy and
Donna at the SCBWI New York Conference---->

Ahem. [tap tap tap]. Is this thing on? Can you hear me?
Ok. Good. Thanks.
I’ll get started then.

My name is Bret. And I’m a Conference Junkie.

Whew. That felt good to get out. Now, onto to my uber-special-YA-Muses-guest-blog post.

As most of the readership knows, SCBWI Winter Conference occurred this last weekend in New York. Of course, I wasn’t going to miss it. I signed up on the day the registration went online, madly clicking to get into the intensives, quickly deciding which breakout sessions to attend, and tapping in my credit card number from memory.

I couldn’t wait.

Now, I’m sitting on a plane on my way back home. I can barely keep my eyes open. My mind and soul are all the colors-of-a-bruise rainbow. I spent almost a whole paycheck, braved one of the biggest blizzards in NYC this winter, rode an emotional roller coaster, and slept the number of hours in four days that I shoot for on a normal Saturday night.

What fun, right?

So why am I a Conference Junkie? What’s so great about these things?

As a Junkie, I generate so many reasons to go: An idol is speaking, a friend is guilting me, and/or the is venue right in my backyard. However, at first, the strongest pull for me as a “pre-published” writer (don’t you love that term), was simple: The shot.

Conferences are where things happen. Chance meetings with editors on elevators that lead to bestsellers. Drinks with famous authors where they drop your name to a couch full of agents. Critiques where agents DEMAND to see your full manuscript as fast as you can get to a computer. Even as pooped as I am, I just got chills.

I confess, it hasn’t happened for me yet. (I’ll pause for the collective sob – done? Great. Moving on). In fact, the chance of being that super-star are super-slim. At the international conferences a handful, among thousands, get chosen. At a local conference, they probably are better with fewer attendees, but there are fewer of the big-wigs there, so it’s a trade-off.

Yet, I still subject myself to so much pain/exhaustion with so little hope. And I won’t lie, until I achieve that next level, I probably still wonder if the next time is the time. But it’s not really why I go anymore. I go because every conference has been a milestone in my writing life. I come out a different writer than I went in.

These conferences have defined my career in so many, unexpected ways. And since the Muses will no doubt expect a bulleted list from me, here’s a sampling of what I mean:

• One horrible critique sent me into all-night rewrite frenzy. The revision blew the critiquer’s mind (or so, I believe). I consider this as the defining moment where I stopped being a hobbyist and started being a writer.

• A presenter flashed a tool J.K. Rowling used to help shape one of her books. The image appeared for less than a minute, but it rocked my world, and now is a my own very powerful/very geeky tool.

• At few of these conferences, some very smart people gave me some solid encouragement. I keep these compliments close to my heart so they generate that critical, but elusive, “butt-in-chair” glue.

• I’ve used conferences as landmarks to finish a draft or force myself to polish something for a critique.

• And most importantly: Through a series of “coincidences,” I’ve connected with the most wonderful people (yes, including the Muses). Now, I consider them my most trusted of trusted in writing and life. (I totally think of us a Crash of Hippopota-Muses…see, we even have inside jokes).

There are so many more “random” run-ins, tidbits of knowledge, and inspirational networking that have come from my conference experience that I could go on for another 600 or 6000 words. But the flight attendant is on the speaker, demanding I power off my laptop.

So before she slams it closed for me, I’m a Conference Junkie because they’ve shaped me to become who I am in my writing life. They are the chapter breaks in my story. I never know what’s going to happen, but it’s always something. And a high like that is worth every penny and travel-related headache.

I’ll sleep tonight. I’ll get another paycheck. I’ll recover from the mental bruises with the help of my friends. And I’ll be first in line for the next conference (shout out to ASILOMAR! What! What!)


Okay, I can type in my credit card from memory too. Scary!!! Thanks for a fun (and funny) post. Conferences are great but they sometimes do require a sense of humor :)

Asilomar! Woot! Thanks for guest posting, Bret!

Excellent post. I'm so happy to have met you and your group!

I go to conferences in the hopes that someday, I'll sell enough books to be able to afford the quesadillas at The Apartment!

I'm a conference junkie, too! But you all know this since you see me at every single one of them. Great post, Bret. I agree, there are many reasons to attend and each time I do, I can connect another dot in the overall dot-to-dot of my publishing picture.(Now, I'm suddenly inspired to actually generate a dot-to-dot...) Anyway, it was great to see you there. As always.

Asilomar! Bret and Donna, you will definitely need to take your publicist!

So totally, it...J

This perfectly sums up the conference experience, Bret! Thanks for this. And I never did get to hear how your critique went? (Because I was too busy yakking.) Hope it was great. And it was wonderful to see you.

Martina (Hi, my name is Martina and I'm a conference junkie.)

Yay, go, Bret! I love how conferences can rock your world, and give you very powerful/very geeky tools. So full of awesomeness! Thanks for sharing B! Enjoyed much.

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