Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fear of conferences: Survival tips from Carol J. Garvin

Our latest guest post on the topic of fear will hit home for introverted writers who long to touch base with other writers, but are hesitant to face conference crowds. Today, Carol J. Garvin provides conference survival tips:

As gatherings go, the Surrey International Writers’ Conference is a big one for me. It’s my favourite weekend of the year but it’s also my biggest challenge.


Approximately 600 people fill the ballroom for keynote addresses and calorie-laden meals, crowd into conference rooms for their choice of seventy-two workshops given by fifty-eight writing professions, and cram into elevators to get between the two.

It’s exhilarating, rejuvenating, motivating and terrifying! Why? Because I’m claustrophobic. Oh, not wildly so, but moderately, and the challenge is to keep myself under control so I can absorb all the benefits of the annual October weekend.

Many writers claim to be introverts, so I’m not alone in my reluctance to mix, mingle and schmooze with strangers. A lot of us would prefer to hunker down and write in solitude. That’s okay for a while. I get my best writing done in the quietness of my office, and I can learn a lot online about the craft and the publishing industry. But there are limitations to living in cyberspace, and eventually there comes a time when I have to make a choice – stay there and let my fears direct me, or take a deep breath and move out into the real world. Without making an effort to push past my reservations, I would miss out on unique opportunities for building my writing skills, getting personal exposure to writing professionals, and making new friends in the writing community.

So how do I do it? When it comes to conferences, how do I make the outer me do what the inner me resists?

1. First, I plan ahead and arrange to attend with a good friend so there will be someone else there who understands my limitations. Plus it’s just plain more fun sharing the conference experience.
2. I register online from the comfort of home (the SiWC website is familiar territory and thus isn’t intimidating).
3. I make advance reservations in the host hotel so I can slip up to my room any time I need a break from the horde.
4. When I make my hotel reservations I request a lower floor so I know if I can’t deal with the elevators at any time, I will be able to walk up and down the stairs.
5. I prepare my pitch material thoroughly at home, and then leave extra time before any agent/editor appointments so I’m not rushed. That helps minimize anxiety. (It’s not a bad idea to forego these appointments at a first conference.)
6. I try to be early for workshops to get a seat on the aisle or near the back so I can slip out easily if the crowding overwhelms me. Others might choose a seat at the front where they can’t see the crowded room behind them. It’s a personal thing. :)
7. Beforehand I connect informally with some of the event organizers and presenters via Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and after the event, I make a point of seeking them out to thank them. It helps to establish familiar relationships and build a sense of community, both of which contribute to expanding my comfort zone.


What works for me won’t necessarily work for everyone who has a problem with crowds and enclosed spaces. Panic attacks are no fun, but neither is being captive to a fear of them. I’m fortunate that if I emotionally prepare myself and stay alert to potential situations, I can often avert a meltdown. (And when in doubt, I resort to a lot of prayer and a little Ativan!)

Carol J. Garvin is a writer who blogs about writing, spirituality, nature, and other topics. More about her experience at this year's Surrey Conference can be found here.


  1. As mentioned on your LiveJournal blog, I appreciate the invitation to share my story. I think a lot of writers admit to being introverts -- even joke about it -- but few acknowledge how it affects them, or how they cope with it. So I hope some of your readers will find this helpful.

    Christmas blessings to you and your readers.


    1. Thanks again--I'm sure they will! (Though some may be too shy to comment, I suppose!)

  2. I think it is great that you shared this Carol. We all deal with some sort of fear, meeting new people, being in crowds or eating in front of others--tons of them. At my last conference. I dreaded going into the lunch area with everyone wondering who I would be sitting with. I also brought my own meal cause I have Reflux and couldn't eat the food given. Not fun and causes stress.

    1. Do any of us ever get over that lunchroom feeling, so reminiscent of the school cafeteria?
      Though I have to say I've found conferences to be welcoming--"What do you write?" is a great ice-breaker at a writer's conference!