How to Utilize NaNoWriMo When You Aren’t Participating

UntitledEvery November, we flood The Sprint Shack’s blog and Twitter with NaNoWriMo advice. And while that advice is helpful for the many writers who do partake in the annual challenge, what about those of us who don’t? Thankfully, the lessons learned during NaNoWriMo apply to writing throughout the year—first draft writing, at least. And the tenacity, dedication, and supportive camaraderie displayed throughout the month is always a source of inspiration.

I, personally, decided not to do NaNoWriMo this November. When Faye, Taylor, and I posted our kickoff post, I had every intention of participating. I sat down, started writing, almost hit my word count goal for the first day… and immediately stopped. I had no love for the story I was attempting to write and very little time to spend working on one that I did enjoy. I knew starting out that this would not be an optimal time for me to attempt such a large goal, but I wanted to at least try. And while I don’t consider giving up after the first day a real concerted effort, I knew that I was making the right decision for myself this year.

That, however, doesn’t mean that I don’t intend to write at all this month. I still plan on being productive, only on a much smaller scale. So what if you’re like me and aren’t participating in NaNoWriMo, for whatever reasons you may have? What if you’re in the middle of editing rather than penning a new draft? Try using these tips to feed off the NaNoWriMo vibe to still stay productive, even if you aren’t aiming for that 50,000 by November 30th:

1. Read the pep talk emails. One of my favorite things about NaNoWriMo is the regular pep talk emails they send from various NaNoWriMo staff and acclaimed authors. Having your own personal cheering squad can be incredibly exciting, not to mention those who are writing the pep talk emails often have great advice that applies to all stages of writing.

2. Scroll through the forums. Don’t do this while you’re writing, of course, but take a few minutes in your spare time to peruse the NaNoWriMo forums. This can be especially helpful if you have writer’s block since many generous wrimos will often drop unneeded characters, settings, prompts, and entire plots into the Adoption Society for anyone who needs some fresh ideas.

3. Watch your friends closely. If you don’t have any “writing buddies” on the site, now’s the time to get some (the forums mentioned above are a great place to start). Watching everyone else’s word counts climb steadily throughout the month can be incredibly inspiring and can often kick your muse into action.

Of course, these are also great tips for those of you who are participating in NaNoWriMo and are struggling with those second week blues. For more on that, check out Taylor’s last post on getting back on track!


Are you choosing to participate in NaNoWriMo this year? If not, what are you working on instead and how are you staying focused? Let us know!


5 Summer Reads to Improve Your Writing

Summer is drawing to a close—don’t shoot the messenger!—but thankfully, there’s still one month left. For those of us who have extra free time during the summer months, whether due to school break or reduced work hours, that’s 4 full weeks to give our writing craft some extra TLC. And if you’re like me and typically salivate after back-to-school notebook sales this time of year, then what better time to stock up on a few marbles or spirals, grab a writer’s guide, and get to work—fall semester style?

Many of us graduate high school or college and take the reins with our own work, but every now and then, it can be helpful to return to some kind of formal instruction. Writing is a hard thing to teach (and learn) in a classroom setting, but one thing I love about writing guides is that, unlike classes, they’re one-on-one experiences can be tackled at your own pace.

So to help you get started, I’ve compiled 5 writing guides here that I think have a lot to teach, plus a bonus podcast class! I have experience with and highly recommend each of these works; for simplicity’s sake, I’ll list them in order of recommended to MUST reads.

  1. The Writer’s Idea Workshop. This was my first foray into fiction writing guides as a teen. It was not long after I had decided I wanted to be A Writer, and upon an impromptu trip to a Barnes & Noble that actually had a section dedicated to writing manuals, I thought I’d give one a try. The Writer’s Idea Workshop caught my eye and, quickly grabbing a rare open seat in the café, I dove into it while my family shopped.

    The Writer’s Idea Workshop is everything you come to expect from a writing guide: lessons, action points, questions, and assignments. The thing that I admired most about it was that, while it had a good deal of knowledge and advice to offer, it put more emphasis on getting the reader to write rather than keeping them there reading page after page.

  2. Immediate Fiction. This was a required workbook in one of my college creative writing classes. And while I cringed at the title—is there really any such thing as “immediate fiction?”—I found myself to be pleasantly surprised at how helpful this book was. It hooked me from the introduction, where Cleaver does an excellent job of speaking in a conversational writer-to-writer voice that sets the tone for an enjoyable and not “preachy” learning experience.

    Though my class didn’t work through the entire book, I found the prompts to be interesting and useful. Like most manuals, it does treat writing as a fixed step-by-step process, which many writers may disagree with—but that didn’t take away from the positive experience I had.

  3. The Writember Workbook. This is one of my favorite writing guides of all time, and not just because it was written by our co-founder. Whereas The Writer’s Idea Workshop focuses on the “spark” and development of ideas and Immediate Fiction focuses on the writing process, The Writember Workbook is dedicated to helping writers take the very first step before any of that: making writing a habit.

    It’s been said before and will be said a billion times over: you can’t be a writer unless you write. Thanks to her unique background as a psychology graduate, Faye is able to take a look at the bare bones of habits and how we form them in order to help the reader become a more regular writer.  For something we love so much, we find a lot of creative ways to avoid it—and Faye’s e-guide, complete with worksheets, a Facebook support group, and regular pep talk emails, does a great job of stripping us of all our excuses and helping us both find and make time to write.

  4. The Elements of Style.  Chances are you’ve heard of this one, and for good reason. Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is an iconic guide to grammar and proper writing that doesn’t once step into the boring territory of your sophomore English class. This one was a required guide in my advanced placement English class senior year of high school, and many of its lessons still stick with me today.

    Our teacher at the time used the guide to supplement our lessons and gauge how our writing was changing and improving. His style, just like Strunk and White’s, was dry and abrasive and hilariously devoid of BS (there was even a “Wall of Shame” put up on the blackboard after each round of essays was graded, displaying anonymous sentences pulled from the essays that blatantly ignored Strunk and White’s advice). This is a short guide that cuts to the chase because, just like in any good writing, there’s no room for unnecessary fluff.

  5. On Writing. Easily my favorite and, in my opinion, a must-read for any writer regardless of their taste or distaste for Stephen King’s fiction. Part memoir, part writing guide, On Writing has become nothing short of my writing bible. This one isn’t a workbook and doesn’t come with writing prompts or homework, but it is chock full of advice that’s going to resonate with everything you write.

    From avoiding excessive use of adverbs to revising and submitting your work, King has sage advice for the entire process of writing and publishing fiction. He’s not apologetic, though, and he’s a workaholic—just look at how many books he’s written—so don’t expect to get any sympathy or handholding here.

BONUS: The Writing Excuses Master Class! I’ve been a regular listener of the Writing Excuses Podcast for a little over a year now, so when season 10 went live with the announcement that it would be acting as a novel writing master class, I had a bit of a fangirl moment. In case you aren’t familiar, Writing Excuses is a podcast hosted by acclaimed authors Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. Episodes are released every Sunday and are approximately 15 minutes long, making them the perfect listen for a quick commute or a brief window of free time in your otherwise busy schedule.

Episodes range in topic from planning to writing to publishing and everything in-between; there are even episodes dedicated to helping writers navigate networking situations like conventions, as well as tips on proper online and in-person etiquette (hint: always be professional). In short, if it’s anything to do with writing or being a writer, they talk about it.

Season 10 of the show takes listeners step-by-step through the process of writing a novel. I personally lost steam with it after the first few weeks earlier this year, but only because I was already working on a project that has been in the works for a few years. When I look into beginning a new novel, though, this is going to be my first stop.

Even if you aren’t in the market for a new idea, consider giving the podcast a try. The hours of advice buried in those archives are invaluable, and even if they don’t have anything new to teach you (doubtful), they’re incredibly enjoyable and inspiring listens.

Do you have a preferred writing guide or workshop that’s helped shape you as a writer? Do you plan on picking any of these up or attempting the Writing Excuses Workshop? Let us know!

4 Essential Nighttime Habits for Morning Writers

UntitledIn case you haven’t heard, we recently ended our weekly #TNightSprints program in favor of an earlier sprinting schedule: #TuesAMSprints. This was largely due to my inability to partake much in the actual sprinting during #TNightSprints; I would host the tweets on our account, but more often than not, nighttime was quickly becoming a less-than-ideal—if not impossible—time for me to be writing. As a result, I’ve decided to try my hand at morning writing since it seems to work so well for others, and thus #TuesAMSprints was born.

But one thing I’m quickly learning is that, while mornings are great opportunity for us rare non-night owls to tackle our writing with fresh, re-energized creativity, it also presents the problem of stricter time limits. For most of us, nighttime writing sessions may stretch out longer if we wish, since “bedtime” can (though shouldn’t!) be flexible. But in the mornings, if you have a job or any other kind of strict commitments, writing for “just 5 more minutes!” or pushing to finish a scene or chapter can result in tardiness and subsequent repercussions from the outside world—not to mention stress, which is poison to creativity.

If you’re like me, though, you work well under pressure, and an hour in the morning is typically more productive than two directionless hours at the end of a tiring work day. So how can you ensure you’re as productive as possible during your morning writing sessions and still get out the door on time?

I’m still learning, myself, and this past week was a pretty rough trial period. But here are some habits that seem to be necessary for me to get anything done at all between waking and leaving for work:

Habit 1: Prepare Your Writing Space

Faye has some excellent advice on this in her Writember workshop, not to mention she’s an organizational fiend—so if you want more tips on optimizing your time through organization, I highly recommend buying her e-book or taking her course. But at its very basic core, preparation for morning writing starts with setting up your writing space; just like setting out your sneakers and workout clothes the night before makes getting up to exercise that much easier, so does setting up your writing materials in advance.

Make sure your workspace is clear and only contains the items you’ll need to write. If you need coffee or tea to get started, set out a mug and set the pot up so all you have to do is get it started when you shuffle out of bed. Sometimes the hardest part of working in the morning is simply showing up to your work station, and by having everything set up ahead of time, you’ll be giving yourself one less obstacle between you and your writing (and maybe even a few more winks of sleep)!

Do you write at a café or from another public space? Check out our Coffee House Checklist and ensure you have all your items ready to go in the A.M.!

Habit 2: Set A Goal

The biggest mistake I personally make when setting aside specific writing time is not knowing what I’ll be working on. Sure, there are countless projects at my fingertips—that unfinished WIP, the first draft that needs revising, a short story begging to be written. But with any given project comes a pile of notes, plans, and ideas, and not knowing what I’m working on only results in wasting precious writing time gathering my thoughts.

Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, this can happen to you. Regardless of if you’re embarking on a new project, revising an old one, or simply planning a free-writing session, having a goal—or even just a starting point—allows you to jump straight in from the moment you sit down.

Of course, great writing can come out of unplanned sessions, too. My first-ever published short story, “Petals to the Sea,” was born of an unexpected lull in my work day and some spur-of-the-moment writing. But when planning a writing session in the groggy hours of the morning, it’s typically best to have direction.

Habit 3: Prep Your Project

Once you have a neat writing space and an idea of what you’ll be working on, take Habit 1 a bit further and prep your project. This can be as simple as opening a new writing document for a free-writing session or flipping to a blank page in your notebook and setting out your pens—or, if you’re more in-depth with your planning, as involved as mapping out the details of your next scene in a spreadsheet. However you prep for writing sessions, this is the time to put those rituals to use.

If you don’t have any preparation rituals, try this one: every night, while preparing your writing space and your goal for the next morning, read over what you wrote in your last writing session (if you’re working on an ongoing project) or jot down a few potential ideas for your next session (if you’re working on something new). Heck, even just adding a sticky note to your computer monitor or notebook with a motivating quote is better than doing nothing; rituals help set the stage for your work, and by performing the same one each night, you’ll wake up in the right mindset to tackle your next writing session.

Habit 4: Get Enough Sleep

This one doesn’t even need explanation. Just do it. You know you—and your writing—will be better off if you do!


Do you have any unique nighttime habits that set the stage for morning writing sessions? Let us know—and hopefully we’ll see you every Tuesday morning for #TuesAMSprints!

Navigating The Eight-Point Story Arc

yzu1CGEoRQ6IE7yj8rc9_IMG_8812 copyAs we all know, writers tend to fall into one of two categories: plotters or pantsers. There’s the ambiguous gray area between the two that some of us wade into from time to time, but ultimately, most of us tend to lean one way or the other.

However, whether you choose start your Big New Idea with a blinking cursor on a blank Scrivener document or by filling entire notebooks with outlines and character profiles, your story has to have one thing in common with everyone else’s—regardless of their planning methods or lack thereof. For your story to incite curiosity, pull a reader through the pages, and ultimately fulfill its promises, it has to have a narrative arc, also known as a story arc).

Take any classic or modern work of literature and you’ll likely find elements of the Eight-Point Arc. I’m going to describe it here, and I’ll use examples of several different works to avoid creating one big spoiler for any particular story. Keep in mind that your story’s narrative arc goes hand-in-hand with your character arcs, which I discussed a while back here.

The Eight-Point Story Arc

  1. Stasis. Known sometimes as “exposition,” this is the part of the story that sets the scene. Think of Katniss hunting just outside District 12 and observing the starvation and desolation when she returns within the broken electric fencing.
  2. Trigger. Something happens that triggers the protagonist and kicks off the Quest. In The Hunger Games, Katniss’s sister, Primrose, is selected for the reaping and Katniss volunteers in her place.
  3. Quest. The protagonist embarks on a quest; in The Hunger Games, Katniss’s quest is to partake in—and win—the Hunger Games for the sake of her family.
  4. Surprise. Self-explanatory, the surprise is something unexpected that changes the story for better or worse. One surprise that may stand out to Harry Potter fans is Harry’s discovery that he can speak Parceltongue in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, which decidedly alters the direction and outcome of the book.
  5. Critical Choice. The critical choice is, by name, critical—that is, it can’t be made by accident and the result has a lasting effect on the story and its characters. Often, this is where we get a full picture of the protagonist’s true colors, such as that fateful moment in which Robb Stark chose to marry outside his arrangement with the Freys.
    (Note: arguably, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice And Fire series is composed of MANY different intertwining story arcs in order to create a massive epic in which there is no true single protagonist. For this example, I’m focusing strictly on the story arc of the Starks’ quest to vengeance in the HBO show).
  6. Climax. A direct result of the critical choice, the climax is the height of drama, the point in the story at which all the built-up tension over hundreds of pages finally peaks. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this is the moment when the war against Voldemort erupts at Hogwarts.
  7. Reversal.This point in the novel is what separates a true climax from a fireworks show. Your climax shouldn’t solely fill the purpose of forcing a reaction; rather, it should be a consequential moment that leaves your characters forever changed. This state of altered being is the reversal, the decelerating moment in which Jasmine is safe, Aladdin’s selfish ways are changed, and the genie is set free.
  8. Resolution. The story has come full-circle and the characters are now in a new form of stasis. This isn’t the way things were, it’s the way they are and will be (or, where the sequel will pick up with a brand-new trigger!). Example: the hobbits returning to the shire at the end of The Lord of the Rings.

Now, those of us who wing our way through novels may have a hard time with this because we feel restricted by outlines and spreadsheets; that’s okay, and it’s not expected that everyone prep and write a story in exactly the same way. If you’re struggling to wrestle out all the main plot points of a story before you get writing, try applying the arc to your story after the first draft is written. Hold up the skeleton of the arc to your full, well-rounded story, like a star frame to the expansive night sky, to identify the constellations of scenes and events that correlate with each of these phases.

Examining your story this way, through the lens of the Eight-Point Arc, can help you smooth out the narrative flow and identify kinks in your plot. Likewise, if you’re having a hard time with unruly characters whose actions aren’t matching up with their personality or the direction of the plot, character arcs can also help—whether you use them as planning devices or editing tools.

Do you use the Eight-Point Arc to plot or edit your story? Let us know how it works for you—or whatever else you use to polish up your narrative instead!

#WriteFit Challenge – 4 Steps to Using Fitness to Fuel Your Writing Life

WriteFit Blog Title PictureBack when The Sprint Shack was first founded, a fun hashtag was floating around the Twitterverse: #WriteFit. With such a simple yet descriptive name, I immediately knew it’d catch on quick.

From there, I witnessed the very first beginnings of the #WriteFit challenge, which encompasses something every writer I know struggles to balance: the goals of sedentary writer life with the goals of a fit and healthy life. How can we be productive writers–something that requires hours of sitting, often with harmful posture and bright screens glaring against our straining eyes–while still maintaining good health? Poor habits for the sake of productivity aren’t sustainable–just ask the writer and cartoonist Howard Tayler, who had to get spinal surgery from too many hours of sitting at his desk.

Unfortunately, the challenge took place during an extremely busy month and I was unable to participate, but good news: the #WriteFit challenge is back, this time for a whopping three months instead of its usual one!

Here to talk to us more about the challenge are its founders, Jessi Esparza and Katie Siuta O’Shea.

Can you tell us the basics of the #WriteFit challenge for anyone who’s new to it? The what, where, and when?

#WriteFit combines writing plus fitness (hence the Write and the Fit) in a month-long challenge with a social twist. We’ve found that a fitness regimen really helps us stick to our writing goals. There’s something about exercising that helps us clear our minds and focus on getting words onto the page.

By setting goals, we take the first steps to actually meeting them, and by sharing those goals with the #WriteFit community we have people cheering us on and ensuring that we do.  Participants tweet, blog, or otherwise share their progress in word counts, number of steps, number of miles, minutes of yoga (however they’ve decided to keep track) and encourage other participants. You can do #WriteFit anytime, anywhere—it’s meant to be flexible to fit your lifestyle!

Each challenge typically lasts for a month, but right now we’re doing a few consecutive months. People can start at any time!

How do people interested in the challenge participate?

It’s easy! You set goals, achieve goals, share your progress, and support other participants in the challenge.

Set Your Goals: Set specific goals for yourself, such as writing 20-30 minutes every day (or 3x a week—whatever you choose!), paired with fitness goals, such as 30 minutes of exercise a day or reaching 10,000 steps a day. It doesn’t even have to be “writing” new words—some people are in the revising or querying stages and set their goals to spend time on those things.

Achieve Your Goals: This part’s simple—you actually sit down and write, and jump up and exercise (or visa versa–the timing’s not important)!

Share Your Goals: Use the hashtag #WriteFit on Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media site to check in and share your progress with your friends and the other participants.

Support Each Other: Check the #WriteFit hashtag and tweet other participants encouragement. Favorite, retweet, friend – it’s easier to stay on target when you have a community around you. The more involved you are, the better your results will be. You can even schedule writing sprints (or real sprints!) with each other.

Why did you decide to start the #WriteFit challenge? What was your initial inspiration?

Jessi originally came up with the idea a) to make actual progress on her novel, b) to keep up with her other writing projects, and c) to counteract working a 40 hour desk job followed by coming home and sitting more.

Katie, who is way more social media savvy than Jessi, saw how much progress Jessi was making and decided that #WriteFit should be a legit thing. She posted on her blog and Twitter and invited others outside our small circle of friends to participate too.

What has participation been like in the last challenges?

We’ve done the challenge several times in the last two years and we’ve been overwhelmed by the level of enthusiasm. It really spread and took on a life of its own. Even when we weren’t specifically running a #WriteFit challenge month, we loved seeing that people were still making their own challenges, or keeping up with their goals.

After starting her YouTube channel, Katie O’Shea Books, Katie posted several official YouTube #WriteFit Challenges, and it has continued to grow from there.

From what I understand, there’s also a #ReadFit for non-writers and those who just want to read more! How does that work?

The same way as #WriteFit, except instead of writing goals, it’s reading goals. A lot of our friends who didn’t write but loved books wanted to join, so we created a hashtag for them too!

Will #WriteFit and #ReadFit be back in the future? Do you have a set schedule for future challenges, or are they as you have time?

Definitely! Our current challenge is going on through at least July. We don’t have a set schedule but typically we run at least two official challenges a year. Of course people can also continue to use the hashtag throughout the year.

Jessi Esparza is a writer, designer, and nerd of all tradesJessi Bio Picture, who loves cuddly animals, witty people and yummy food. You can find her on Twitter @jessimesparza or on her writing blog, jessiwritesthings.tumblr.com. She has an ongoing serial about what happens when the fairytale realms and modern day world collide. Read it at http://www.wattpad.com/story/1616693-tales. You can also check out her artwork at jessisketches.tumblr.com.

Katie Bio Picture

Katie Siuta O’Shea is lawyer by day and a writer by early morning/late night. She loves photography, music, traveling, and setting way too many goals. You can find her online on Twitter and Instagram @ktoshea, her YouTube Channel Katie O’Shea Books, or her blog, katieosheabooks.blogspot.com.

Mashing Mediums: How Switching Gears Can Improve & Refresh Your Writing

In March, I wrote a postUntitled on my first-ever 10KWritathon and the valuable writing and productivity lessons I learned from it. While I didn’t achieve the 10,000 word goal I had originally set for myself, I did get quite a bit done, and there’s one thing I attributed my final push to: switching mediums when my current fiction project was becoming a chore.

During the 10kWritathon, I devoted a good chunk of my time to my fantasy WIP. Several hours in, the writing became stale—I was tired and no longer interested. The words were coming slowly. I needed some space to clear my head, so I switched to writing a blog post. And just like that, the words flew.

You don’t have to be shooting for a challenging word count or personal record to reap the benefits of variation and experimentation, and the benefits aren’t limited to a boost in word count; after all, as motivating as a hefty word count can be, you’ll never finish Project A if you keep diverting to Project B. But whether your goals are to finish a current project, edit X number of words on any of your multiple projects per day, or to just sit down and write, working within multiple mediums will likely give new life to your voice.

What do I mean by switching gears or working within multiple mediums? Simply spending some time writing outside of the genre or form of your current project, or better yet, your comfort zone–such as a fiction writer dabbling in poetry or screenwriting.

Real-life example: After the 10kWritathon, which took place on a Sunday, I returned to work. At my day job, I spend my days writing newsletter and blog content for a staffing and recruitment firm. The content is very straightforward, professional, and to the point: pretty different from the fantasy and young adult fiction I enjoy writing in my spare time. I had noticed some of my pieces getting a bit repetitive around that time, not in content but in voice—it seemed like all of my articles sounded the same regardless of their subject. But that Tuesday, I wrote an article that was much more prosey. It used imagery and metaphor, avoided the standard numbered-list style that my latest articles had all utilized, and told a story much like a short work of fiction would. When I handed it in, I was a bit nervous; I’d never written an article like that before, especially not to represent this company, with its very corporate appearance and professional style. I expected the pages to come back bleeding red, marked up with my boss’s many edits.

It came back pristine.

My boss loved the article and didn’t suggest a single stylistic edit, which is rare. Spending all of Sunday working on fiction and making that transition to blogging in the last few hundred words sparked a connection for me, one that blurred the lines between the writing styles of fiction and nonfiction and allowed me to utilize them tangentially. This can happen with your writing, too.

Think about each major form of writing and how different it is from whatever it is you do: fiction, poetry, screenwriting, nonfiction writing:

  • Fiction: focuses heavily on description and plot and, in most cases, insight into a character’s thoughts
  • Poetry: makes great use of imagery, metaphor, and other useful tools that can add life to other genres
  • Screenwriting: carries a story through dialog and minimal description/action
  • Nonfiction: focuses on the facts and a logical flow of information

Of course, there are many exceptions and these aren’t hard lines—they too get blurred, and there are many more factions they can be broken down to. But I think many would agree these are typically the main characteristics of each.

While these differences may be daunting when you aren’t used to writing in a certain way, playing within them can open your writing up to so much more within your usual form. Struggling with dialog? Write a short scene of a play or movie. Over-describing a scene and taking away license from the reader? Try writing poetry or flash fiction, both of which are typically evocative but clipped. Having a hard time getting to know a character in your cast? Try writing a scene from his or her point of view, long-form, to learn more. The list of possibilities goes on.

Have you found switching gears to be a useful tool for your writing? What else do you typically try when you’re having trouble with your current project? Let us know!

How To… Make the Most of Conventions

CONVENTIONSConventions are a great way for writers to take a momentary break from the loneliness of the craft, step away from the computer, and mingle with others of our kind. Sure, the writing community on Twitter usually does the job, but sometimes it’s important to get out and meet industry professionals face-to-face. You never know who you’ll meet outside of the roster of expected guests and speakers, and bonus: you usually get all kinds of free goodies!

Conventions are a great opportunity for those looking to network, as well as a fun event for those who just want to geek out over their favorite topic or hobby. But they can get chaotic quick. Whether you’re attending a fandom- or genre-specific con or an official convention for writing professionals, you have to know what to expect and be prepared heading in—otherwise, you won’t get nearly as much out of it as you hope.

I attended BookCon yesterday for the second year in a row and took a much different approach. Last year, I went into it completely unprepared. My only planning consisted of taking a quick peek at the roster, and while I expected to see everyone I’d hoped, my lack of preparation left me disappointed. This year, I geared up beforehand—and while I couldn’t quite catch everyone and everything I wanted to see due to some scheduling conflicts, I had a much more successful haul. Here are some steps I took that you can follow, as well, to make your next (or first!) con a fun and productive event:

  1. Print, and make several copies of, maps and schedules. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I definitely didn’t think much of it last year and regretted that decision. This year, I not only printed these materials but marked off the exact locations of each event, signing, and giveaway I wanted to attend. Being prepared with a game plan ahead of time will make sure you don’t miss anything, and will give you a chance to prioritize in case you have to make some tough decisions. (Example: I had to choose between standing on line for a wrist band to see a panel by Nick Offerman or heading straight to the Macmillan booth for a limited edition of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, the first 200 copies of which came with tickets for her signing party. These are the kind of game-time decisions I didn’t prepare for in my first year at the con, and I wound up missing a lot; this year, I knew which event I preferred, and made a bee-line for the Macmillan booth as soon as the doors opened).
  2. Travel light. If the con you’re attending is anything like BookCon, you’re going to be getting LOTS of free stuff. Bring a large, lightweight bag to store any freebies in, and don’t bring anything unnecessary. However, do make sure to bring pens and paper. You never know whose autograph you might get or, if you’re there in a more professional capacity, whose information you may have to write down.
  3. Arrive early. Last year, I showed up a half hour after doors opened, fully expecting to get tickets to special panels that apparently hit capacity well before I even arrived. This year, I showed up 2 hours early—and while the line still wrapped around several blocks, I still managed to get ahead of a lot of people and secure that special edition book and signing ticket I needed. Not all cons may be like this, especially those that are more professional, but events like BookCon that feature major celebrities and bestselling authors are likely to form some pretty hefty lines.

That being said, this was only my second con… and there is definitely room for improvement in my preparation skills. There is one thing I wish I did, and plan to do next year, and that’s:

  1. Bring business cards. There’s a time and place for networking, and being able to discern between when you should self-promote and when you should stick to light conversation can be a tough skill to hone. However, having business cards on you with your personal and professional info is a great move. In a time when we’re so reliant on cell phones, it’s easy to assume that you can easily trade numbers, emails, and social media profiles with anyone you need to, but those who are looking to network professionally will make a much better impression with a tangible business card.

If you follow these tips, you should have a fairly easy time navigating and taking advantage of the next con you attend. Do you have any tips of your own? Is there a convention you’re excited about, or one you’ve always wanted to go to? Let us know!