May 7th, 2009

I returned safe and sound last week from the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference in New York City — and I must say, all normal cynicism aside, I’m glad I went. Sure, I have work to catch up on now. Sure, as a freelancer, I had to pay my own way out to the East Coast. But here’s what I enjoyed:

Not having wireless. At first I was flabbergasted that a conference space could lack WiFi. How was I, a reporter accustomed to furiously covering all events I attend, supposed to sit still through the hour-long panels without working at the same time? Despite my ADD (I could call it my proclivity for multitasking, but who am I kidding?), this turned out to be a blessing. For once I had to sit still, revert to writing by hand, and relax. No email for twelve hours at a time. No need to buzz around like an overworked bee. By the end of the weekend I was munching on black and white cookies at the speed of a cow chewing cud and feeling zen.

Spending time with non-techies. I love San Francisco. I do. But sometimes life for a tech writer — or anyone in a technological field — can get majorly claustrophobic here. Thanks, echo chamber. Thanks, Valleywag culture. I didn’t meet a single tech, games, or sex writer while in New York. 90% of the people there (average attendee demographic: 50 years old and female) didn’t know how to use Twitter. Like the missing WiFi, that was frustrating at first. How many sessions did we need on explaining how to use blogs? In the end, it was lovely. The swirl of travel, health, and housekeeping writers were a breath of fresh air.

Hanging out with other journalists. Working as a freelancer can make for a lonely existence, one spent primarily in your living room. Walking into a conference full of hundreds of writers in exactly the same position was incredibly heartening. Here is an entire cocktail party of colleagues who know what it’s like to fight with editors, to struggle toward deadlines, to have to do the pitching tap dance. To top that off, everyone was incredibly welcoming. Again, none of that tech world competition. Just a lot of floral dresses and hugs. GDC had the same effect on me in March. “Oh right, I like people!”

Getting energized by new ideas (yeah, I just said “energized”). It sounds cheesy I know. While I can’t say that every single moment of ASJA conference I felt like I was learning something new, the sessions I enjoyed (one on reprints, another on book proposals) left me with the urge to rush home and get back to work. No adderall needed.

Meeting one-on-one with editors and agents. Friday afternoon I had seven “personal pitch” sessions, which meant sitting down and selling myself to potential publishers, etc. I’ve yet to see what will come of it, but I feel the sessions went well. Apparently being friendly and enthusiastic has its perks. Who knew?

Making (hopefully) long-lasting connections. Though everyone I met at the conference was lovely, there was a small handful of journalists — Reid Bramblett, Chris Maag, and Katherine Glover — whose company I especially enjoyed, and whom I have my internet fingers crossed I’ll stay in touch with. Don’t disappear into the ether, guys!

The excuse to visit family and friends. I’m from Philadelphia originally, and I went to school in New York, which means 75% of everyone I know in the world lives in the NYC area. Catch-up time: check.

Thanks again to Damon Brown for giving me the shove out the door to NYC. Now back to normal work/life, or as normal as work/life can get seven weeks before a wedding…

Tags: events, journalism

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