top 6 things “not” to pack for a writers conference


frog luggage tag

Getting ready for an upcoming SCBWI conference in NYC has reminded me that knowing what to not to pack just might be more important than knowing what to pack.

Here are my top 6 recommendations for things you’d be better off leaving at home:

#1 Your manuscript. You may have polished that thing so hard it makes diamonds jealous, but a conference is not a place to pedal your work. Most presenters, like editors and agents, will extend an invitation for attendees to send submissions or queries after the conference.

#2 Business cards (that you plan to pass out like pizza coupons). What? I can’t bring my card? Oh, sure you can. It’s a great idea. Just please wait to be asked for it. Otherwise, you look desperate or like you own a print shop. BTW, I ordered mine from a cool, very customer-friendly place called (And no, I don’t get any kickbacks for mentioning their name. Darn it.)

#3 Your laptop. So, here’s the thing. I love my laptop, but if I don’t like having to restrict my seating choice to make sure I’m always near an outlet. I also suspect that my tappity-tap-tapping can be a bit distracting to the people around me.

Laptops and other electronic gadgets (iPads, etc.) are probably better suited to writing workshops or for when you’re on your own. It’s been my experience that there is very little time to spend actually writing at a writer’s conference (ironic, I know). You might think you’ll write when you’re back in your room, but you’re probably going to be too tired for that. You’d be better off spending the time networking and or sleeping.

So, what’s the solution to going laptopless? Bring a notebook. You know, the old school kind with paper. (I buy mine at Target. Again, no kickbacks.) Oh, and bring pens. Lots of pens (in case you need to share with that person next to you with the dead laptop).

#4 Fancy, schmancy clothes. Unless you’re expressly asked to dress up, “smart casual” is the way to go. Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers so that you feel warmer or cooler as needed.

#5 Your Inner Critic. Why not give the poor guy the weekend off. Go to the conference acknowledging that you feel a little nervous or insecure. You will be in very good company. We all feel that way. Decide to get over yourself and be the person who focuses on putting other people at ease. They will love you for it and you will forget about yourself already.

#6 An irrepressible need to impress. I still cringe when I think about some of my behavior at my very first conference. I was so intent on fitting in and making sure people knew that I knew what they knew, that I know I must have been a pain in the bookend. Since then I’ve found that I learn a lot more when I relax and come ready to absorb not impress.

I’ve seen how you can’t learn anything when you’re trying to look like the smartest person in the room. ~ Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

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