On Writing Conference One-on-Ones and Mood Magic

Apr 25, 2022

By Christine Carron

I left for the conference with high hopes. Not only was I going to get all the main conference sessions, I had paid for a session with a V.I.I.P., i.e., a very important industry professional. I was going to be mentored by an agent or an editor or a successful author who had read the opening pages of my novel. A full hour of their time. Wowza!

It just got better. When I arrived I found out who my mentor pairing would be: a highly respected agent. I was between agents at the time, so . . . Yay! 

With anticipation and absolutely some nervousness, I made my way to the table where I would sit with other writers and our assigned mentors. My person was across the table, I smiled and said, “Hi. I’m, Christine, your mentee.” He looked at me expressionless and said, “I know.” And then turned to talk to someone else. 

It was abrupt. Like maybe he was irked about getting paired with me. Definitely not a confidence boost. When the time came for the actual hour-long mentoring session, the energy had not improved. 

He gave me brief notes on my pages. Very brief. Then he looked at me. Silently. Expectantly. With only five minutes down and fifty-five minutes to go. That confused me. As he was the mentor, I had thought he would at least somewhat facilitate the conversation. 

I floundered for a moment, completing forgetting the questions I had prepared, and awkwardly went with, “Uhm, do you have any additional advice?” To which he responded, “This is your mentoring session, if you have questions, I will answer them.” 

Hoo boy.

The One-on-One Conundrum

As an aspiring writer, signing up to meet with a V.I.I.P. at a conference is a great strategy for getting feedback, networking, and for giving yourself an internal boost that you are taking yourself seriously as a writer, putting yourself and your work out there. Good on you!

The problem is conference one-on-ones don’t always go as we hoped or planned, or even what we think is a reasonable expectation for a one-on-one. So the question is: when things get awkward (or go fully sideways) in a writing conference one-on-one, how do you keep your cool and get as much as you can out of the session? 

The answer, in my opinion is all about setting and maintaining your mood magic. 

Mood Magic?

Mood magic is the way I think of mindset. Conference one-on-one mood magic is all about managing both your internal hopes, dreams, and wants for the one-on-one, as well as your responses to what actually rolls out during the session. 

I would guess the majority of writers who sign up for a writing conference one-on-one are excited. About getting to meet with a V.I.I.P. About getting feedback that will make their manuscript stronger. About the possibility that this will be the moment

You know what moment I’m talking about, right? Here’s how the moment plays out for me. (Imagine Walking on Sunshine playing as you read what follows, since every wildly unlikely dream montage needs its own background music.)

THE MOMENT: My assigned V.I.I.P. plucks me out of writerly obscurity, launches me onto the world stage, where I become a critical and commercial darling, so much so that forevermore I will be asked to tell the story of “how I was discovered during a writerly conference one-on-one,” an inspiring gem that I will of course artfully share with Colbert, Kimmel, Noah, Kelly, O’Fallon and the like, when my universally beloved books are turned into major motion pictures and I am both a literary and box office sensation.

Okay. I have to pause for a second to stop laughing at how easy it was to let that sentence run on (and on) into its hyperbolic conclusion. But it was important to do that in order to better set up the first tip for maintaining your mood magic during conference one-on-ones. . . . 

Own Your Wide-Eyed Wonder

A foundational way to support your overall mood magic is to simply own that you actually have all those hopes and dreams. From the ones that feel (and are) grounded and legit, to the ones that adorably lean way into la-la-land territory. 

The writing adventure can be pretty harsh at times. It could be easy to fall into glum, gloom, and cynical denial of the parts of us who still are bright-eyed and hopeful. But ignoring or denying those parts of us does not actually make them go away.

It just leaves them (and us) more open to the slings, arrows, and disappointments that might come during a conference one-on-one. But if we take time, say five minutes of journaling, in advance of a session with a V.I.I.P. to own all the yearning and hoping inside of us, then we are giving those parts more cover, which means they will feel and actually be more protected if something goes awry. That is a good, good thing.

So own all those hopes and dreams. They are valid. They are yours. And they are yours to protect, which begins by simply acknowledging they exist. Welcome them all, even your wild dreamy montage version of the moment. (I know you have one.)

Cultivate Curious Trust

Another aspect to rocking your one-on-one mood magic is to cultivate curious trust. Let’s start with the trust. It is not generic trust. It is about trusting that you will get (i.e., learn and experience) exactly what you are supposed to get from your one-on-one, no matter what. 

That level of trust might be hard to swallow for the parts of you who have all those very specific hopes and dreams. They want things how they want them. But life, including one-on-ones, don’t always go to plan. Which can be awesome if the session turns out to be better than we hoped. But not so good if things take what feels like a nosedive. 

That’s when our mood magic requires curiosity, too. Instead of going to a place of “this one-on-one sucks” or “why did I waste my time and money on this,” go to a place of, “hmmm, what is it that I am supposed to learn here?” The first two questions will not only tank your mood magic, they will also cut you off from any value you still could get out of your one-on-one. But the last question leaves the door open for learning.

It could be learning patience in action. It could be learning more about your own preferences or requirements for working with an editor or agent. It could be learning how to exit a situation gracefully. Or it could be, as it was for me that day, an opportunity to learn if I could keep a conversation going for fifty-plus minutes with someone who clearly did not want to be in a conversation with me. 

Not exactly what I thought I signed up for, but by gamely hanging in there, I maintained my professionalism and my calm, which kept my mood magic in a solidly proactive mode. That felt like a win. 

I also decided (while still in the session because it seriously was so odd) that I would use the experience as an example in a blog post someday in order to help other writers keep their cool in situations like that. Et voila! 

Cultivating curious trust is mood magic balm, restoring it to fighting form in no time at all. Sweet!

Lean into Respectful Playfulness

A final way to proactively maintain your mood magic if a conference one-on-one is not going as you hoped is to turn it into a game. Basically, get a little playful about how you stay engaged. Which will most likely involve letting go of your original goal and coming up with a new one in the moment.  

My original goal was to get some helpful feedback on my novel and perhaps make a new connection in the publishing industry. Clearly that was off the table. And  once I realized that I was going to have to do all the heavy lifting in the conversation, something inside of me rebelled a little. 

I decided, okay, game on. Not only will I maintain this conversation, I’m going to break through whatever is going on here and get a real connection with this guy. Social skills and charm challenge, here we go!

Note: I was swinging for the fences a bit with that intention since the guy was conveying with every inch of his demeanor that he was not interested in helping me or even sitting at that table with me. But hey, go big or go home, right?

Our awkward stilted conversation crept on minute by minute (kind of like speed dating without any speed), punctuated by a couple more throw downs on his part, which felt like he just wanted me to lose my cool, but then it happened. At about the fifty minute mark, he acknowledge that I seemed to have a positive attitude about my work and what it would take to get published. A thaw in the iceberg!

Then he said something about his list being filled and that he was overextended, otherwise he would have requested a full read of my manuscript. Getting warmer! And then, in the last three minutes, his physical demeanor changed. Until then, he had been stiff and back in his chair, aloof, his eyes distant. In the last moments, he leaned forward, looked directly at me and said, “You want someone who is hungry. That is not me anymore.” 

Whoa. That was real. We were connected. Finally in a conversation. Adrenaline dropped, compassion flooded in. I was having a momentary frustration. This guy (from all indicators) was in the midst of some deeper upheaval. 

It was a powerful and impactful experience for me. It seared into my being how effective this notion of respectful playfulness is. It can empower us to navigate tough situations and reminds us that another’s behavior and energy does not have to dictate our experience. 

Equally important, it gave me the the gift of seeing that whatever was going on for the agent that day had little, if anything, to do with me. Respectful playfulness boosts our ability to not take a situation personally. To remember, no matter if we are in the role of aspiring writer or V.I.I.P., that we are all just people doing the best we can.*

Line Up Your One-on-One Fun

When you focus on mood magic during your conference one-on-one you have a much greater chance of getting value from it no matter what, or at least coming out of it with a fine story with which to regale your writerly friends. So own your wonder, cultivate curious trust, and lean into respectful playfulness and let the one-on-one games begin! You have got this. 

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* Note: Taking the position that "everyone is doing the best they can" does not mean you have to accept less than supportive behavior or treatment endlessly. But remembering that truth will help you sort out your next action with less negative emotional charge so that you are truly choosing your response, rather than simply reacting to the behavior/treatment. 


The Goodjelly Prompts of the Week

  • Post-in-Action Prompt: Before your next conference one-on-one take a few minutes to journal about all your hopes and dreams for the session, even the wild ones. Then take a few more minutes to think through ways you might remind yourself to practice curious trust and respectful playfulness during the session if things do go awry. For example, maybe you where a rubber band around your wrist or doodle a special symbol at the top of your notes page. 
  • Scene Prompt: Write a scene where your main character has high hopes for a meeting and it doesn’t go well at all. Go for the emotional thud your character experiences when this happens. Do they keep that on the inside, or let it loose?
  • Journaling Prompt: Have you ever been disappointed or upset by a conference one-on-one? Does it still sting a bit? If so, use the three tips in this post retroactively and see if you can change your current experience of/relationship to that past event. 
  • Connection Prompt: Connect with your writerly peeps and discuss if they have strategies or tips for navigating conference one-on-ones.
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