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Monday, July 11, 2011


Many of my writing friends have recently returned from a big, annual professional conference. A few are about to head for a fabulous summer workshop. Their energy buzzes against my skin. Hot and dazzling.

I remember this feeling.

It’s Conference/Workshop Fever.

Talking jag or tongue tied, sweaty palms and dry mouth, the symptoms vary but victims agree there is one constant. It makes writing even harder than usual.

No matter how I’ve tried to inoculate myself, I’ve come down with a case once or twice. For me, it starts with a burst of energy. My brain is jazzed. Comparisons get the upper hand. “That woman tweats everyday and still finds time to write books AND wear nail polish?” I start waxing lyrical as a beatnik, “Boom! Pow! Feel that? Communication is life!” Then imagine the alpha and omega of career scenarios occurring before the end of the month. No, the end of the Week!

I’m a wreck.

Take it from me, Conference/Workshop Fever is a serious condition. Complications can go on for weeks. I’ve known people whose writing has been paralyzed by a severe case.
If you’ve just come back from a conference or plan to head out soon, here’s my tried-and-true medicine:
Start with Decompression. Take off the heels, the suitcoat, the badge. Get into your softest slouch clothes. Your work in the yard shirt. Your flipflops. Outer transformation signals inner transformation. (That’s why Cinderella needs a dress to go to the ball, people.)

Core Dump. Call a friend, your spouse, a dog…tell them everything. The horror of the cab ride. The funky smell in the hall. The man who tried to pick you up in the elevator. The woman who tried to pick you up at lunch. (We’re a randy bunch, we writers.) The only rule about the core dump is—do not write it down. No emails. No blogs. No loop posts. Seriously. You are not in your right mind and cannot be trusted with public speech. Step away from the keyboard until the fever passes.

Slow down. Sit down. Too fast on the reentry to real life causes heart aches and pains like a diver ascending too quickly from the pressurized depths of the sea. You need a few days in a conference -free hyperbolic chamber of space. The bathtub? Couch in front of the TV? The gym? You know where you best decompress. Plan to spend some time there.

What do you do in a hyperbolic chamber? Nothing. Chill. Conference and workshops are about doing, absorbing, reaching out. Believe it or not, similar all the other life forms on the planet, you too are affected by the rule that growth is followed by stasis. The rest period. Don’t fight it. It’s part of the process.

Next comes….

Sleep. You thought changing back into your usual clothes and going to the gym were enough to fuel you back to normal? You’re funny.

Get a good night’s sleep. Or a weekend full of naps. Your subconscious needs to work on all you’ve seen and done. You need a couple of REM cycles to process that avalanche of new information. Sleep helps your instincts read the people you met, filter the ideas you have, focus on the next important step.

Send a Thank You. Someone at the conference taught you something. Someone’s workshop lit the lamp of inspiration. Someone was a pleasure at the dinner table. Tell them. It’s an important part of getting past the fever, trust me.
Download. Now it’s time to write everything down. Journal. Make a To Do list, however you work best. Flush it all onto an empty sheet. Random images, odd thoughts. People to contact. Dates to remember. A phrase you heard. A new drink you tried. The striking intimacy of being in an elevator with someone whose work you know, whose words moved you. The way that time shifts, elongating then snapping back, over before you know it.

Note the things you need to do in your calendar. Stuff everything else (receipts, hotel key, notes) into a folder. Close the top. Push it to the back of the desk. Don’t look at it for a while. Days, weeks. However long you need.

The fever’s past. You’ll live.


Jenny Schwartz said...

Great advice -- which I wish I needed! I didn't get to go to New York, but did live vicariously through y'all's tweets and posts and FB photos. Thanks!

Wynter Daniels said...

You're so on target! I wasn't fortunate enough to attend this year's national conference, but every one I've been to in the past left me with a serious "fever."

MaureenAMiller said...

I suffer from all of the above! Such an accurate post. :) One day my psyche and wallet will recover.

Toni Anderson said...

LOL--yes. Great advice.

Shirley Wells said...

Great advice. I used to do a lot of the (much smaller) UK conferences and it took me ages to recover. :)

J Wachowski said...

Looks like I hit a nerve! I'm glad it resonated. I've always thought we should warn the buddies coming behind's the news from the jungle you are about to enter!

Marcelle Dubé said...

But once you get past the "hangover," you find yourself changed by everything you learned, all the people you met. I love it, even though conferences/workshops are amazingly disruptive to my life. Once I've recovered, I am re-energized and full of ideas. Good post, J.

Betsy Horvath said...

When I was there, I was a contender! I was wearing a "first sale" ribbon! I met Jenny Crusie, Suzanne Brockmann and Nalini Singh and other people knew who I was talking about when I went all fan girl! I went to workshops and parties!

And then I came home and it all...stopped. And here I am sitting in a cubicle...and I have to like...write.

LOLOLOL - great post!

J Wachowski said...

Oooo, sounds like you had a bad case, Betsy. Been there.

Deep breath. You'll feel better soon and Marcelle's so right, all that good stuff is soaking into your brain. It's going to help you grow for the next thing!

Elise Warner said...

Energetic and funny,loved the post. So JW, will you write a mystery that takes place at a writer's conf.?

J Wachowski said...

I've thought about it!

A tired Detective who wades around in all the evil people do....

A chin-up Romance writer who thinks there's good in everyone--except maybe him.

A dead agent in the hall, quickly followed by a dead editor and famous writer....

Oh yeah. That could work.

lindsaylongford said...

On target, fer shure. Especially the part about sometimes being paralyzed afterwards.

You nailed it!

Jerilyn Willin said...

I want it! I want the fever. It's been too long since I had to calm myself after a few days at a conference or writer's workshop. I thought I had kicked it, but no...NO...NOOOO.

JB Lynn said...

Fantastic advice!

I'm usuallly paralyzed after a conference, and then I feel guilty about it since I "should" be energized.

Sherry Weddle said...

Julie, it's not only a conference or workshop that can cause this. How about a son's or even worse, a daughter's wedding? Have had two of each, with a son's wedding in June. Even though it was much less work for me than our daughters' weddings, I was still pretty much worthless for days afterwards. I had to fake it since my company didn't go home until the following Tuesday, but still. Now I've got a term for it.

J Wachowski said...

Jerilyn--thanks for stopping by!Maybe it's like child birth? You forget the pain and remember the joy. Good way to live!

And Lindsay, re: paralysis, try a friendly massage. ;)

JB--no guilt. It's rest you need. So normal!

Sherry--I bet your fake is better than most people's effort. Give yourself a few days (or a month!)after you fake 'em out, okay?

Cozy in Texas said...

Good to read your post. The provide more adrenalin than a carafe of Starbucks coffee.

Clare London said...

I've just staggered home from the much more modest UK Meet GLBTQ fiction conference and this is all so apt! :)

So exciting at the time - and so exhausting now I'm home LOL.

Great post, thanks for helping us to "be there".

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