Anyone who thrives in the solitary act of writing probably has some difficulty networking.
Once you finally come out of your focus tunnel for air, it can be hard to articulate what you’re working on and what it means for your overall career.
It’s even worse if you’re a full-time something-elser and a freelance writer on the side.
Not only are you hustling nearly nonstop; you also probably lack the time to get to writing-related events in your community. When you finally do make it to a reading or a happy hour, the pressure makes you clam up — and maybe use your phone as a crutch to avoid conversation altogether.
Networking is hard, especially when you have multiple roles
When I attended my first major conference after settling into life as a full-timer with a tiny desk and an ever-growing list of projects, I had a terrible case of impostor syndrome.
I could talk about my day job just fine, but I knew the conference — the American Society of Journalists and Authors — would be primarily attended by full-time freelancers.
The temptation was great to sit in the back row and scroll through Twitter as I waited for every session to begin.
But as the conference kicked off, I found more and more business cards in my pocket. As I crisscrossed the exhibition hall to get to different talks, I found myself smiling and nodding to people I had met earlier in the day.
No, I was not doing cartwheels in the hall or waiting next to the women’s room to pounce on attendees when they were least expecting it. (Remember, this guide is for introverts, and I am one of them. I might be president of the Introvert Writer Club.)
Let me share with you a few of my favorite networking tricks. And by tricks, I mean, regular tips and conversation starters people use all the time, but you might forget about when you’re nervous.
You have an elevator pitch, right?
You cannot go to any event, conference, convention, happy hour, reading or grocery run without knowing how to describe your work if someone asks.
Since your workload and mission can change frequently, it’s important to practice your short career spiel before you’re standing in front of a curious stranger.
Practice in front of your partner, the cat or the bathroom mirror. Doesn’t matter. Just practice.
Here’s mine, as proof your pitch doesn’t have to be the most exciting thing in the world:
“I’m a personal finance writer at my day job, but I only recently took that full-time position after five years as a freelancer. I still do some freelancing on the side, like some content marketing work for nonprofits and a few personal essays here and there.”
Like I said, not exciting. But it gives you an idea of how I spend my writing time — and provides plenty of opportunity to take the conversation further.
Conversation starters for introverted writers
Rarely will you be asked to give your career summary on demand. Most of the time, it’s up to you to approach someone new to make a professional connection.
Some good openers if you’re standing in line at a conference reception bar, choosing a table for a lunch keynote or milling about aimlessly in the registration area:
- “Have you been to this conference before?”
- “How long have you been a member of this organization?”
- “What have you found to be the biggest benefit of your membership/participation?”
- “Are you local, or did you travel for the event?”
- “Have you decided which sessions you’re going to go to this afternoon?”
If you’re new to a writing organization and you’re especially lucky, you’ll be given a name tag that indicates your newbie status. Not only did other new members approach me in solidarity; more experienced members of the association often spoke up simply to welcome me.
Name tags can be the worst, but they can also be the best conversation starters.
What if you’re feeling a little more subdued? Turning to the people to the right or left of you as you’re waiting for an event to start can be just as productive as actively networking with gusto.
If you’ve ever gone to a networking event with the goal of “I just have to meet one new person and then I can go home,” these conversation starters are for you:
- Simply smile. You do not have to show all your teeth. A small grin is often enough to invite another introvert to sit next to you.
- “Have you heard this speaker before?”
- “What made you choose this session/event?”
- “I’m thinking of reading XYZ (whatever’s highlighted in the program you’re probably clutching). Have you read it?”
- “Have you ever been to this venue before?”
If you hit it off, you can throw in any of the questions above. If not, I give you full permission to scroll through Twitter until the event begins.
Just be ready to try again next time.
Writers, share your favorite conversation starters in the comments below. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, share your elevator pitch!