I just returned from BlogHer Food, where I met many friendly, kind people, but I'm still trying to figure it all out. What's real? What's posturing? What's marketing? What's genuine? The questions fill me up like helium, and soon, I fear, my feet will leave the ground and I'll crack my head on the ceiling.
It's getting exceedingly difficult for me to figure out where I, and the type of career I'm crafting, fit into this whole swirl of hobnobbing and hoohawing. I remember back in the day when a writer was someone who enjoyed solitude. Someone who felt charged by sitting alone at a desk, with nothing more than an idea and a vision, someone who struggled over word choice and sentence formation, rhythm and tempo, syllables and tone. Someone for whom the process of translating a nugget, or a concept, into a fully realized piece of prose was a genuine form of artistic expression.
Now, writing is social. It's a collective. It's a giant party, with links and shoutouts, with self promotion and promotion of others. It's about the business and the craft, about advertising and connecting with sponsors, about branding. I struggle with this mightily. I don't have any answers to this particular angst at the moment. It's just lingering on my shoulder, and I feel its persistent weight.
And so, since I can't offer you answers, I will instead offer this consolation prize: some wholly unsolicited advice to future conference-goers based on my recent experience.
A blogger named Brooke Burton (whom I didn't meet, regrettably), wrote up a list of sincere and useful conference-going tips in her aptly-titled post, How to Go to a Food Blogging Conference. I would like to offer a flip-side companion piece, which I will title:
How *Not* to Go to a Food Blogging Conference, or (subtitle) The 5 Second Rule Guide to Conference Etiquette
1. When someone sits down next to you at a meal, and you are the only two people at the table, do not keep Tweeting/texting/playing Doodle Jump. Stop what you're doing, put down your phone, and connect face to face. You may like her, and she may like you. One real person in front of you is worth more than 9,000 followers on Twitter.
2. Do not introduce yourself with your blog name. Why? Because it's incredibly annoying. Introduce yourself using your real name first, your blog name second. I can't tell you how weird it is to have someone reach out to shake your hand with the words, "Hi! I'm MelindaCooksBlackBeans!" Or, "Hi, I'm SexyBakerBunny!"
3. Do not hand someone a card before you've exchanged actual, verbal words. When someone at a conference asks you about your work, or your blog, talk to them using language. It doesn't even matter what language you use -- Klingon, Swahili, who cares? -- but wait to hand them your card until after you've made an initial connection. It's more effort, sure, but life's a bitch that way sometimes.
4. If you see a small group of people chatting quietly with a Very Well Known Writer/ Blogger/ Keynote Speaker, do not physically move your body between the object of your wonderment and the existing group of people talking with her. Instead, wait politely for a break in the conversation, then do your whole fawny, gushy thing after we've widened the circle. We will let you in, honest, if you'll just give us the chance.
5. Do not insult a sponsor. Mea culpa. This one was my fault. One of the sponsors was a yogurt company that had just came out with a new product. I got it in my head that I had a moral imperative to inform them that their divided packaging made me think of baby food trays, and that every time I ate a spoonful of yogurt I felt like I should make airplane noises and feed it to the person next to me. Brownie points for me? -25. Likelihood of my landing a lucrative spokesperson contract? -1,000,000.
So, get out there! Represent yourself well, meet and greet, and connect with other writers. And if you've got a safety pin on you, pass it my way. I've got about 12 remaining kinks in my necklace, and I'm having a hell of a time working them out.