Conferences For Introverts

I spent the weekend in Baltimore for the Borderlands Press Boot Camp. I ended up comparing it to my residency last month at Antioch, and all in all, I felt that I learned a lot and met a lot of great folks, but I won’t go back.

My unwillingness to return is less about the quality of instruction or the personalities of the other participants, and more about the fact that I realized that I am not cut out for conferences or workshops of this type.

People who know me have heard me claim that I’m an extreme introvert. “No, you’re not!” they say, but I am. Not all introverts are shy, socially awkward or quiet, but all the introverts I know do feel that in social situations where there are lots of new people, loud music, unfamiliar places, etc., they are overstimulated. Some seek the edges of the party, some come but don’t stay long, some won’t show up.

This workshop went like this: all the participants stayed in the same hotel held the entire conference. Friday night, we had a large-group class 6pm – 11:30pm. On Saturday, we had small-group classes 8am – 1pm, then again 2:30 – 5. We all had lunch together on that Saturday; by the time we broke for dinner, all I wanted was to take a walk away from the crowd. We had a 9pm – 11:45pm session Saturday, followed by a 9am – noon session Sunday. During the “everybody in a room, everybody talking and sharing” sessions, I found myself having questions and comments but not wanting to speak up and share. At times I disagreed with the panelists, but said nothing.

I enjoyed meeting and getting to know my fellow participants, but the most valuable and interesting part of the exercise for me was the small-group critique sessions. There wasn’t any small talk in those sessions – we went right to the meat of critiquing and talking about style and content, etc. I didn’t feel that I was playing a role (“engaged dinner companion” or “energetic group-discussion participant”) or that I was overstimulated. The largest group had four other people in it, which meant that nobody was yelling or talking over anyone else.

The whole thing differed from my grad school residency in that at Antioch, I have the choice to attend as many or as few sessions as I want. If, by afternoon, I’m tired out and feel that I need some time alone, I can go back to my hotel room (where I have no roommates) and veg out. We had few required large-group activities, mostly orientation-type things that I won’t have to repeat.

While I won’t be going back, I do want to keep in touch with the folks I met. I found all of them to be interesting, engaging and full of the same kind of ideas and passion I have for writing. For anyone who reads this who’s interested in making their horror, sci-fi or other genre fiction more commercially viable and who’s less of an introvert, I would recommend the Boot Camp. I won’t be there, but you should go.

2 responses

  1. I find forced interactions with strangers at social gatherings to be awkward and exhausting. During an aluminum conference for work, I would go out into the room, force myself to mingle, then retreat to the bathroom for 5-10 minutes just for a breather. It was stressful and by the end of the day I just wanted to be in my hotel and not interact with anyone ever again.

    In general, I find that I need to feel mentally prepared for socially interacting with anyone other than family or friends who’ve reached a level of closeness that they’ve become family. It doesn’t take much, just the need to have an event planned out, knowing a day or two a head of time that I’m going to a party or event, so that I don’t feel sprung on when it comes around.

    • Yeah, when I was younger, I would force myself to be social because it was what people did. People went to parties, they hung out with strangers, they went to concerts with thousands of people and stacks of speakers bigger than my car. And now that I think back on it, I think that a lot of the inappropriate behavior (temper tantrums, drinking too much, outbursts of crazy drama) I displayed back then were reactions to the wild overstimulation. I couldn’t get time alone, so I acted in ways that made people avoid me, which got me what I wanted. Of course, it also got me the reputation of the girl you don’t want to invite to your party.

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