Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Follow the Yellow Brick Road to My Handy Dandy Conference Scheduler

One week from today, Romance Writers of America will kick off another National Conference. Blogs have been blasting the air waves with helpful hints and lists to prepare a romance writer for the journey to Orlando, as well as imparting wisdom on how to survive those five inspirational and insightful days. Whether this is a romance writer’s first time attending, or fifth time, every attendee develops his or her particular way of getting through the week through a process of elimination. I’m no exception.

The best thing to do before leaving for conference is to gather every bit of advice, apply it and personalize it to fit your lifestyle or conference experience. (An excellent packing list is available in the archives of: www.writingplayground.blogspot.com/.)

No one should have to go into conference oblivious. Writing chapters and websites are loaded with advice and motivation: bring a sweater or pashmina (conference halls are chilly), wear comfortable but totally rockin’ shoes (a Heart of Dixie phenomena), bring an extra bag or box to send home free books, share a business card and strike up conversation with someone you’ve never met (the greatest friendships are forged this way), and remember to present yourself in a business-like manner (you are your brand).

How do you stay calm? How do you find the yellow brick road sure to lead to the best workshops, booksignings, author chats, spotlights on publishing houses, and special events without losing track of time or forgetting where you wanted to be? My secret is my Handy Dandy RWA Conference Scheduler.

You may scoff at my anal attempt to be organized. Those who know me know I love spreadsheets. But don’t be fooled. It’s extremely hard to keep up with all the events going on at conference. And for a borderline introvert/extrovert, with one look at my Handy Dandy scheduler, I know what is going on, and when and where I need to be there. Less headache, double the fun!

Where do I get this schedule and how do I go about creating one, you ask? First, decide which track you are on at this stage of your writing career. Do you want to learn more about Craft, Publishing, a Writer’s Life, or Research? Is this the year you want to learn as much as you can about the particulars of writing in general, publishing houses, editor/agent panels, and diverse or trendy genres? Are you in need of inspiration? Author chats and special presentations are good for encouragement and rejuvenating the muse. Deciding these key points puts you 1/3 of the way there. You've dodged the wicked witch of the east, confusion, and are headed to a headache free conference.

Second, select the workshops you are most interested in, hour by hour, day by day. Print off the schedule RWA has posted online. Highlight workshops on your track. Pick 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choices because classes are sometimes rescheduled when you arrive. This also gives you the ability to pick something else right away— and I recommend sitting at the back of the class if you are so inclined— and in that case, slip out and attend one of the other classes on your list. Now you're skipping 2/3 of the way to a headache free zone.

Third, add this detailed list to the Handy Dandy spreadsheet I use at conference. I’ve developed my own formula in Excel to keep me organized. With this schedule, I never feel overwhelmed or flustered. There are columns for Meals, Publisher spotlights, Booksignings, Events and three Workshop choices. Later, during conference, I can easily pencil in something new or change my mind. But the basic shell of my schedule is always there to keep me from feeling overwhelmed. Oh, Dorothy! No need for ruby slippers. You've made it to Oz!

I’m including the basic shell of my Handy Dandy spreadsheet in this blog for anyone who would like to give it a try. There is no reason to be unprepared at conference and with a little bit of planning on your part, you can walk into every room with confidence so you can learn and network with the best.

So what helps you stay on track at conference? Do you rely on lists? Is this spreadsheet something you might be willing to give a try?


Kathy Bone


  1. Great idea, Kathy! Last year at conference I sort of floated around with a highlighted schedule. This is a vast improvement! Thanks for sharing this with us!

    I have only recently learned how to do a spreadsheet (to keep up with characters). This one ought to help everyone enjoy conference a lot more! Just wish I were going...sigh. Hope all of you have fun!

  2. Thanks, Cheryl! I wish you were going too. We'll be sure to keep you posted while we're gone. ;)

  3. Thanks, Kathy! Great blog and great ideas. I plan to print my spreadsheet out on colored paper so I can find it quickly among all the white papers that four people will accumulate in one room.

  4. Colored paper is the way to go, Jean! I like to use different colors for various events so they stand out more and are easy to locate.

    You can change up the times, add pitching times, parties, other activities by copying one section of cells and inserting them where you want them to go. Then, just adjust to your schedule.

    This schedule has saved me from moments of complete confusion. ;)

  5. Your link at the bottom doesn't work. :-(

    I have my own version of a schedule but it's always great to see if someone else's is better.

    Planning is everything!

  6. Hi, the link didn't work for me either, so will check back when it is fixed. I love lists and spreadsheets. I make a to do list ever day, lol.

    For RWA this time, I used an itinerary feature from my gmail calendar, you can change it from the usual calendar format to an itinerary format and it prints off in a long list and has the option for printing the details or just the date and time and event name. Color coding would be nice.
    Great post, looking forward to seeing your spreadsheet. I'm always up for a better mousetrap. lol :)

  7. I printed a copy of the workshops and schedule along with other mini invites to different non workshop events. Then I highlighted. I put them into a calendar and marked it--when we get there I'll have to look up where everything is held.

    Thanks for the great post and see you at Nationals!

  8. Sorry for the glitch everyone. I'll try to get this fixed ASAP.

  9. Kathy, I look forward to taking a look at your spreadsheet. Even though I won't be attending the conference now, I can begin to plan for the day when I will.

  10. Have to say, I love this gorgeous photo with the tulip tree. Yummy-pretty.

    As for schedules and lists and being organized, well, I'm a seat of the pants kinda girl! I go where the spirit takes me! LOL I've been to the ACFW conference four times and I usually don't attend the workshops. I'm too busy hanging out. I know, I'm bad. But I buy the workshops I want to listen to. :-)

  11. Kathy, going into a conference organized is the best way to learn and to make your money count - and that includes published writers as well as aspiring. Bravo for you! Even after 25 years, I still learn something new and valuable at every conference. Always, I try to balance workshops, business meetings, booksignings abd meeting new people with enjoying down time with long-time friends.

  12. Kathy, you have no idea how much I appreciate all the helpful info and guidance you all have provided. I'm nervous about my first conference but I'm probably more prepared than most first timers!
    Jean, the colored paper is a really good idea! I'm taking a binder for my schedule, workshop handouts and any other paraphernalia I might gather along the way.
    Thanks guys!
    Cheryl, I wish you were going too!!!

  13. Ann, Christine, Crystal, Melanie, Peggy and Sherry: Thanks for posting. :)

    Ann, your itinerary feature sounds real cool. I have a gmail account and will have to check that out.

    Christine, you sound very organized! ;)

    Crystal, we'll miss you at conference. :)

    Melanie, are you going to Orlando?

    Peggy, it is hard to find balance at the conference. That's why I always give myself permission to deviate from the schedule. Enjoying time with those around you is a must. :D

    Sherry, I got your back! You'll be an old hat at this in no time. ;)

    If you'll post your e-mail address, I'll get this sent to you right away. And in the meantime, maybe I can get this figured out. Thanks for your patience.

  14. Playground Monitor, you and the playfriends always have great ideas and tips for conference. I already know you e-mail address and will send you the file ASAP. ;)

  15. Great idea, Kathy! I wasn't this organized at my first conference, but it was stress free because I decided to just go with the flow and see what happened. Had a blast, of course. :)

    You forgot to put your name on this post, btw. The only way I knew it was you was because you posted it on the social loop. Someone coming to this site wouldn't know who the author is without reading the comments and seeing everybody thanking you. And you deserve the credit for such a great post right up front! Don't be modest. :)

  16. Wow, I take one day away from the computer and you all are a running past me in the organization line.

    Great post, Kathy.

  17. Lynn! I can't believe I forgot to include my name. LOL! (My excuse: I'm new to this. Thanks for stopping by. You are one of the most organized people I know! (I'm in awe. :)

    Stephanie, thanks for the kudos. I'm grateful for the chance to share some of what I've learned by attending four conferences so far. There was a time when I was as scared as a jack-rabbit. :D

  18. Hi Kathy,

    I saw a link to this post on the Beau Monde. I'm the most disorganized person on the planet, but this year I've got so many events, I knew I needed to plan ahead. The easiest thing for me was to input everything on the Droid phone calendar. I set reminders, location, and there's even room for directions (which I needed for a reception I'm attending). You can input events happening at the same time. Safe travels to those going to RWA. See you in Orlando!