Monday, February 27, 2017

Working the Workshops: the 2017 Pikes Peak Writers Conference

By: Darby Karchut

Writing conferences are glorious events for us writers. But attending one comes at a cost. We spend some serious time and money to get there, and we’re eager to mine every little nugget out of each workshop.

But conferences can also be taxing, both mentally and physically. How do we get the most of the workshops without overloading on the whole experience? It’s all about pacing.

First of all, remind yourself that not every single workshop or panel is going to be chock full of non-stop aha moments. In fact, you might only glean one or two useful writer-y tidbits from each session. Hopefully, though, by the end of the conference, you’ll have gathered so many tips that your head does that brain-shrapnel thing.  

If you arrive to class early, find a seat in the first couple of rows. This allows late comers a chance to nip into the back without feeling embarrassed. And no worries about being “too close” to the presenters--they’re all housebroken. In fact, sit up front and give the presenter a friendly greeting or smile. It’s always appreciated. Additional bonus: if the presenter is the agent or editor you’ll be pitching to later in the conference, it can’t help to make a warm first impression.

Speak to the person next to you. We writers spend so much time in our heads that I use conferences as a chance to practice my conversational skills. If you’re not sure what to say, here’s some opening lines.

“Have you attended this conference before?”

“Crazy weather here in Colorado. What’d you think of snow/rain/hail/sun/tornado/wind this morning/afternoon/evening?”

And the ever popular one: “What do you write?”

Be mindful, however, when folks ask YOU that question. Don’t become the dreaded Coyote Writer. That’s the writer who won’t stop talking about their book, and you have to chew your own arm off to free yourself. Just like a coyote chews off its paw to escape a trap.  

Ask the presenter questions. This is your opportunity to pick authors’ and agents’ and publishers’ brains. It’s been said a bajillion times, but it’s true: your question is probably one that others wish they had the nerve to ask. So, go for it. Some of the best workshops I’ve attended (and presented) were those where the audience asked loads of questions. Inquiry begets more inquiry, so fire away.

I know this sounds terribly impolite, but I’ll take a risk and say it: If you discover that you’re sitting in the wrong workshop for you, even though it seemed like a perfect fit when you were scheduling your day, find a way to ninja out the door. Time is precious, my precious. Do not waste it. I know a lot of folks would say that’s rude to the presenter and to your fellow audience members. I understand. And if you can’t do it discreetly, sit tight.

But, as a presenter, I would rather not waste anyone’s time. Plus, it could be that the person who just slipped out really had a legitimate reason. I mean, have you seen the lines for the ladies’ room? When in doubt, give the benefit of such.

That said, you may find yourself in a workshop or panel that you weren’t crazy about attending, but you thought you “should” hear that speaker, or your friend dragged you along. Give the presentation a chance. You never know. I have to admit, there have been many times I’ve attended workshops outside my comfort or interest zones and learned some pretty nifty stuff. All grist for the ol’ writing mill.

If you can, take some time throughout each day to retreat to the Library (see conference map) or a quiet corner of the lobby to digest what you’re learning. Our brains need time—I believe it is about six hours—to internalize new information. Re-writing your notes is one way to do this. There’s so much new information presented at conferences and it’s easy to get overwhelmed or discouraged. You can’t do it all or learn it all. Take what you can from each presentation and apply as needed.

If the weather is nice, don’t forget to step outside once in a while and get a few minutes of Vitamin D and fresh air. The mountains are to the west. The city and plains are to the east. And Pikes Peak does not have an apostrophe. Take a deep breathe, marvel at the joy that you are surrounded by your tribe, and then plunge back in.

About the Author: Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter.  A native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy writing for children, teens, and adults. She is represented by Amanda Rutter at Red Sofa Literary.


  1. Coyote writer, hahaha. I've met those, but never heard the term. Love it. Great pointers.

    1. The chewing your arm off isn't a legend; I've done it :) wonderful article, Dabry.

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    3. I cringe when I think of the times I was *that* writer. Sheesh. Shannon and Donnell - I'm looking forward to see you guys at the conference!

    4. Can't wait, Darby! xo I'll be sitting in the front row of your workshop :) And THEN I'LL TELL YOU ALL ABOUT MY BOOK XO :) Bwahahahaha

  2. I was always wondering why Shannon and Charise had their teeth snapping toward their shoulders when they sat in on one of my workshops. Oh...maybe on 2nd thought, they was fixin' to bite me! Pete Klismet

  3. Love "Coyote Writer" which I hadn't heard before. And yes, weather in Colorado is always and easy start. Great article!


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