Worst Writing Conference Horror Stories (+100 Tricks to Look Like a Literary Genius )

(This post may have afilliate links. Please see my diclosure)

What’s the most embarrassingly awkward thing that can happen at a writer’s conference, convention, or workshop? Read this post to find out. These are the absolute worst writing conference horror stories I’ve ever heard (Use this post as your ultimate writing conference checklist of what NOT to do!.)

Then, after the hilarious cringe-fest, keep reading to learn 100 (tongue-in-cheek) tricks for looking like a literary genius at every writer’s conference, workshop, or retreat.

First, sit back and enjoy these insane but true horror stories…

Um, He Wrote About What?!

Creative Writing Workshop Horror Story example image Student story
Courtesy of electricliterature.com

How Rude!

Creative Writing Workshop Horror Story example image
Courtesy of Flavorwire.com

Who Needs Conflict in a Story Anyway?

Creative Writing Workshop Horror Story example image 2
Courtesy of Flavorwire.com

Well, That’s One Way To Put It!

Creative Writing Workshop Horror Story example image 4
courtesy of www.texasmonthly.com

Ahhh Reddit, You Never Disappoint

Worst Writing Conference Horror Stories Reddit image
Courtesy of Reddit.com

I’m not going to lie, those were pretty horrifying. To make sure you kill at your next event, check out these 100 tricks to look like a literary genius at any writers conference.

Worst Writing Conference Horror Stories post - writing conference crowd
Wait, where’s THIS writing conference at?

100 Tricks to Look Like a Literary Genius at Every Writers Conference

Why bother with inconvenient things like hard work, discipline, and talent when you can use the following 100 tricks to look like the smartest writer in the room at any writer’s conference?

You can agonize for 1 to 5 years on a manuscript that nobody will read and everyone will reject, or you can use the shortcuts below to drop literary genius bombs everywhere you go.

Without further ado, here are the 100 tricks to look like a literary genius at every writer’s conference. (By the way, in case it isn’t obvious already, this is 100% satire. No harm came to any writers during the writing of this post).

Oh, and editor’s note: this list was originally published eons ago on an old WordPress (dot) com site that no longer exists. But I LOVE this content, and I hope you enjoy it, too.

Download a PDF copy of the 100 Tricks (because all the cool kids are doing it).

Worst Writing Conference Horror Stories blog post neon sign image
Me, too, sign. Me. Too.

Writer’s Conference Tools of the Trade

  1. Carry a notepad and pencil everywhere you go. Go out of your way to explain that these tools make you feel more deeply connected to your writing than any modern forms of technology.
  2. Always carry a literary classic like War and Peace. Anytime you think somebody might be looking at you, thumb through it and grunt as if receiving a sudden jolt of literary inspiration.
  3. Never carry a copy of your manuscript. Whenever someone asks to see it, point vaguely at your chest and say, “I keep my greatest work in here.”
  4. Always carry a cup of coffee in your hand no matter what time of day it is. Call it your “muse juice”. BONUS POINTS for saying the coffee is organic just like your writing process.
  5. Randomly pull out a camera or microphone, explaining that your 2 million followers want to hear/see this (whatever THIS is). Don’t worry that this contradicts earlier advice. Any contradictions make you more alluring.
  6. Get tattoos of your book covers high up on your outer thigh. Anytime someone demands proof of your genius say, “You want to see my work? See this!” Then flash your thigh and walk away.
Writing Conference Checklist Featured Image Cool Guy  Sipping drink
Genius style, coming to a Starbucks near you.

Dress Code of A Writing Diva

You are a genius and you should dress the part. Too dressed up and you look desperate and out of place. Too underdressed and you look like a bum who wandered into the conference. Striking the right balance is critical to your facade. Here are the basics:

  1. Messy hair. Signifies that you don’t care about appearances. You are deep. Just like your stories.
  2. Wrinkled t-shirt. You aren’t here to impress. You are here to absorb all that the conference has to offer, to indulge in what really matters (The free hotel buffet).
  3. Dark shades. Better for deep reflection. And sleeping during workshops.
  4. Designer Jeans. Yes, this is a contradiction. It keeps people on edge, guessing what you are all about. Just like the best stories.
  5. Sandals. You are relaxed in your genius. At any moment, you are ready to tread barefoot into the blissful sands of the story. Yes, that makes no sense. Yes, it doesn’t matter. People will think you are a story shaman.
  6. Never wear a watch. Time is a trap of lesser intellects. Your genius transcends time. Say exactly this if someone asks about a watch. If someone asks the time, add, “Maybe it’s time you give up time?”
Writing Conference Horror Stories funny face

How to Handle Writer’s Conference Workshops Like A Pro

  1. Before the workshop starts, stand at the door and greet people as if you are part of the presentation. This will make you look very important to all the other writer wannabes.
  2. Offer to help the speaker by handling the technology (PowerPoint, etc) and by introducing him or her. If you get the intro, take as long as possible – more stage time is more genius time. Thank the attendees for coming and say you and the speaker can’t wait to share the workshop with them. Make up a thrilling story about how you and the speaker adopted kids and raised them together off-grid.
  3. Sit as close to the speaker as possible. People will think you are “with” the speaker. BONUS POINTS for blowing air kisses to the speaker during the presentation.
  4. Call the speaker by their first name. This gives you instant writer cred with people who believe in things like writer cred.
  5. Randomly shout out the name of famous authors: “Dickens”, “Faulkner”, “Seuss”.
  6. Furiously take notes the whole time. Others will wonder about all the literary gems they’re missing and you will look massively insightful.
  7. Laugh louder than anyone else at the speaker’s jokes. This will basically make you and the speaker a BFF.
  8. Whenever the speaker makes a poignant point, loudly explain how a more famous author has been doing that for years, and how what was just said is basically a rehash of something as old as time.
  9. Scour the presentation for any mistake in grammar or spelling. If you find something –  and you almost always will – jump up immediately to point it out to everyone else. Thereby usurping control of the workshop and setting yourself up as the word wizard you know you are.
  10. 15 minutes before the workshop is over, leap out of your seat, shout “This changes everything!” and run out of the room.
Writing Conference Horror Stories blog laughing guy

Dominating Group Activities Genius Style

If there is a hell it’s probably an endless series of forced group activities. Nobody wants to awkwardly detangle themselves from a group of strangers. A genius understands group dynamics and uses psychological judo to McGyver a solution.

  1. If at all possible, refuse to participate in group activities. If someone asks why, say “Shakespeare works alone”.
  2. Insist that the group first take a moment of silence to invite the muse. Everyone will comply and feel ashamed that they didn’t think of it first.
  3. Whenever it’s your turn to participate, state that you wrote 10,000 words today already and then take a sip of your coffee. See Trick #4, Tools of the Trade.
  4. Whenever possible, stand up, pace, do a handstand, or sprawl yourself on the floor. The crazier you act, the more creative everyone will think you are.
  5. Doodle something and present it to the group by saying, “Sometimes art speaks loudest”.
  6. Say, for you it all comes back to “What If?”
  7. Always say you’ll go last because you always learn best from listening (and also the activity might be over before it’s your turn).
  8. Pause as if in deep reflection then just summarize what everyone else just said. Add nothing new. Then pass.
  9. Quietly hum Amazing Grace.
  10. When in doubt, quote Shakespeare.
  11. Jump up, shout “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and then run out of the room. See trick #10, How To Handle Workshops Like A Pro.
rabbit holding carrot image for writing conference checklist blog post
This doodle is genious

Networking – The Secrets of Working Any Room at a Writer’s Conference

Nothing is worse than idle chit-chat. Use these tips to outmaneuver the cleverest social butterfly and look like a bona fide literary rock star.

  1. As soon as possible, stand up on a chair and read from the conference guide. Direct people to workshops and thank everyone for attending. This immediately gives you the aura of leadership.
  2. Never use a name tag. Tell people you’d rather focus on the craft. Never explain what that means.
  3. Ask everyone to tell you about their story. Then, when they are halfway done, interrupt them with, “What about the story beneath the story?” This should make them pause in confusion. Use this space to slowly walk away while holding intense eye contact. (Disclaimer: they may think you are a real wizard).
  4. Start every introduction with, “This conference has changed so much over the years…” This makes you sound like a conference veteran who knows so much more than they do. If they ask you any questions, tell them the conference is best experienced from a place of not knowing.
  5. Name drop the famous writers attending the conference as if you know them personally: “Stephen King sure likes his crab cakes!”
  6. Wink and point at people you don’t know as if you know them. Hug complete strangers. They will be too confused (or polite) to correct you.
  7. Introduce people you don’t know by saying, “I always thought you two should meet”.
  8. Remind everyone that the story is king.
  9.  No matter what someone says, wink and whisper, “I know what you mean.”
  10. Answer every question with a writing-related question: “What do I write? What do any of us really write?” The more abstract, the better.
  11. When in doubt, quote Shakespeare. See trick #10, Dominating Group Activities Genius Style.
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Literary Rockstar

Language of a Literary Genius

Words are a writer’s weapons. Use them wisely. Cram these words into every sentence that spews forth from your literary genius lips.

Repeat them, combine them, sprinkle them generously into every conversation no matter how much sense it actually makes.

  1. Narrative undercurrent
  2. Literary
  3. The classics
  4. Dante
  5. Flow
  6. Story elements
  7. Emotional throughline
  8. Conceptual outline
  9. The third conflict
  10. The new art
  11. Thematic layers
  12. Deep (as in deep POV, deep spelling and deep debt)
  13. Muse-ically speaking

NOTE: It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand the words you say. Neither will anyone else.

Imagine the glorious blank stares after you say: “Muse-ically speaking, it’s the deep story elements that work with the emotional throughline to really undergird the flow of the narrative undercurrent.”

Confused cartoon guy image for Writing Conference Horror Stories post
Confusion is one step away from hero worship

Genius Answers to Common Writing Questions

If you want to sound like a literary genius, you have to know how to answer the most common writing questions. Memorize these responses to blow everyone’s minds. Speak them with absolute sincerity and without blinking.

  1. Question: What do you write? Answer: Whatever the muse gives me.
  2. Question: What story are you working on? Answer: Don’t you mean what story is working on me?
  3. Question: what genre do you write? Answer: I don’t believe in genres.
  4. Question: where do you get your ideas? Answer: Where don’t you?
  5. Question: Who are your favorite writers? Answer: [insert obscure foreign author].
  6. Question: What kind of books do you read? Answer: All of them.
  7. Question: Plotter or Pantser? Answer: I let the story decide.
  8. Question: Do you ever put parts of yourself in the story? Answer: Only the parts that scare me.
  9. Question: How do you figure out what happens in your story? Answer: I do whatever the characters tell me.
  10. Question: Do you have an agent? Answer:  I believe my story speaks for itself.
  11. Question: Are you published? Answer: Some stories transcend publishing.
Writing Conference Horror Stories silly girl image
This is what I imagine my muse looks like 🙂

Genius Concepts to Religiously Promote

All true literary geniuses know that there a few unassailable rules of writing. Throughout the conference, be sure to promote these concepts but never fully explain them.

  1. There is always another story behind, under, between, or beside the written story. The more stories you talk about, the smarter you look. Encourage other writers to find those other stories.
  2. Characters come alive and talk to you. Sometimes they refuse to listen to you. Sometimes they rob Dunkin’ Donuts at 3 am using your body like a flesh-colored armored car.
  3. Words don’t matter. Plot doesn’t matter. Only story matters (whatever that means).
  4. Only a genius can see the genius in genius work. Any criticism is obviously a fatal flaw in the reader. Obviously.
  5. Never call yourself a Pantser. It’s a weird word. Plotter either. Each story is unique and true writers stay out of the way and let the story tell itself. Coincidentally, you’ve stayed out of the way for years.
  6. There are no formulas. No structure. Only story.
  7. Beginners need to learn the craft and veterans need to unlearn what they learned to become like a beginner. It all makes perfect sense if you don’t think about it.
  8. Characters drive the story. Usually in a Prius.
  9. You don’t wait for inspiration. You make inspiration wait for you. Then you make it buy you dinner because who will buy the book if the inspiration comes free.
  10. It all really comes down to the reader experience. And the emotional journey. And the deep plot. Oh, and 17 other things.
Writing Conference Horror Stories karate image
If you don’t enter the pitch meeting in a karate stance, I don’t know why you showed up

Mastering the Pitch Fest – The Art of Genius-Ing

  1. Walk into the meeting while pretending to end a call with a big time New York agent. “Maass, my best buddy, if you can’t get the movie deal, I don’t know what I’m going to do…” This will instantly set you apart from all the others who aren’t literary geniuses.
  2. When shaking hands, hold onto their hands as long as possible. For extra points, gently massage their knuckles with your thumbs.
  3. Tell the agent you only have 5 minutes. You have now usurped control of the meeting. Anytime they ask you a question, remind them of the dwindling time limit. This real life time clock will have agents clamoring to represent you.
  4. When asked about your story, simply recite the plot of Goonies. You may get a six figure contract on the spot.
  5. The louder your pitch, the better.
  6. Compare your story to the classics to show how non-mainstream you are and how only the story matters. “It’s basically Lord of the Flies meets Moby Dick through a Grapes Of Wrath Perspective.”
  7. Bring a stack of blank paper and dramatically slam it on the table. Declare, “Story is in the imagination of the beholder. Who am I to limit the world?!”
  8. Perform your story through interpretive dance, the only medium agents can’t resist. Because: science.
  9. Scowl anytime the agent speaks. This will train them to remain silent unless spoken to.
  10. Always wrap your manuscript in bacon. This is really the only trick you need to know.
  11. If you don’t get an official pitch meeting, follow agents into the bathroom. Nothing says “I’m a genius” like whispering your plot points over an agent’s shoulder while they stand at the urinal. 
  12. If all else fails, let the agent know you did your research. Mostly by bugging their hotel room. Pretend to show your manuscript but really show the incriminating pictures of them. Slowly slide the contract to them while holding eye contact.
Running away cartoon image for Writing Conference Horror Stories post
Genius has left the building

Exiting the Writer’s Conference: Leaving a Lasting Literary Impression

You’ve put in all this hard work to avoid doing any real hard work. Here are a few final tricks to ensure your literary genius is remembered long after the conference.

  1. Get to the large meeting room before anyone else and when others start arriving, start thanking people for coming to the event. Ask them how you can do it better next time. Promise to make sweeping changes.
  2. Randomly fire someone. Maybe the MC. Then take his or her place. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have any authority. Once you have the microphone, you are basically a literary god.
  3. Once you have the microphone, pretend you don’t know it’s on and start name dropping all the famous authors and well-known agents you know. Throw in a celebrity or two. Say you wrote most of Justin Bieber’s hit songs. Say you are dating Taylor Swift.
  4. When you get on stage, make everyone stand up and awkwardly give strangers shoulder massages. Then remind them of sexual harassment policies. Tell them human beings weren’t meant to be monogamous. Don’t explain what any of this has to do with writing.
  5. Thank everyone for their lavish support. Everyone will just assume it’s true, and then it will be true.
  6. Introduce the key-note speaker with a 15-minute comedy roast. Somewhere in there mention that she is probably a baby-hating communist.
  7. Interrupt the speaker to announce that the muse is definitely here in this place. Get a few amens. Repeat what the speaker said as if you are making it all up. Keep saying that you will let the speaker finish but never actually do.
  8. Hold up your coffee cup and toast the true reason you are all there. Never explain the true reason.
  9. Share nature analogies about owls and frogs and tigers. Don’t explain them, just talk about animals. Tell the audience that when they get what you are saying, they are halfway there. Don’t mention where (insanity).
  10. Finish by screaming random writing quotes into the microphone.

Wrapping It All Up

If you have read this far, I now welcome you into the ranks of literary genius-dom. Yes, I just made that up.

Check out my blog post on The Best Writing Books For Beginners

es, this is all satire. Yes, I was inspired by the hilarious book 100 Ways To Appear Smart in Meetings by Sarah Cooper. Yes, the book is hilarious.

Here’s a picture of my Kindle copy: 

Worst Writing Conference Horror Stories 100 Meetings book image

Thanks for reading my post on the Worst Writer’s Conference Horror Stories (Plus the 100 Tricks)! I hope you belly-laughed all the way through. Please share it with your favorite writer friends. 


Christopher is a literary genius and he has the hip tattoos to prove it. Grab a copy of my free eBook, 100 Books That Will Make You a Bestseller.

4 thoughts on “Worst Writing Conference Horror Stories (+100 Tricks to Look Like a Literary Genius )”

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