#5OnFri: Five Tips for Attending Writing Conferences With a Chronic Illness

by Linda Bernadette Burgess
published in Community

In 2015, I had a transformative year. I finally began to take steps in pursuing my love of writing. In keeping with the momentum, I decided I would attend the Writer’s Digest Conference and brave Pitch Slam. Pressing that register button and making all the plans felt like a dream, so much so that I almost forgot about reality. That is until spring of that year when I had my first Multiple Sclerosis exacerbation in eight years.

I worried that I wouldn’t be able to go to the conference. I didn’t know how long it would take to feel better or if I ever would. The good news is, I did get better. I made it to WDC15. Then, in 2016 I attended the Southampton Writers Conference.

They were two very different events, but what they had in common, is that they not only taught me about writing but how to manage traveling and attending conferences with a chronic health condition while still being able to enjoy every minute.

If you also live with a chronic illness and have worry or doubts about attending writing conferences, I hope these five tips can help you decide, pursue and get the most out of each event.

1) Keep Yourself Fueled

Traveling can be draining on the body, more so if you live with a chronic health condition. Keep yourself fueled with the right food from the very beginning of your trip. Consider these factors before you even step out of your house and especially if you must travel a long distance.

  • What kind of healthy snacks can you bring for the trip?
  • What kind of food will be available at or nearby the conference? (This is especially important if you are on a specific diet)
  • Will you have a refrigerator in your hotel room?

These may seem like simple things to consider, but they can easily get overlooked in the excitement. It’s easy to assume that you will be able to find what you need along the way or when you arrive, but sometimes there are obstacles. Consider travel delays, traffic and the possibility that for some reason you may be running late and can’t stop for food.

When you arrive, there will be things to do such as checking in to the hotel and waiting online to get your id and welcome bag. Depending on when you get there, it may take some time to get these things done.

Going to a writing conference is an inspiring and unique experience. Don’t let yourself burn out before the fun even begins.

2) Location of your hotel/sleeping arrangements

Take time to research hotel/housing options and the location landscape when deciding on conferences, so there will be no surprises when you arrive.

I booked my hotel early when I signed up for the Writer’s Digest Conference. I wanted to make sure I didn’t have to walk around New York City too much in the August heat.

At the Southampton Writers Conference, you can choose to stay at a hotel nearby, but it’s recommended you stay in the dorm rooms. What I didn’t realize is that the dorm rooms were up a hill. It was July. It was a suffocating, Long Island, make your hair frizz hot July and there was a hill!

I’m sure, if I needed assistance, there would have been no problem getting rides up to the dorm rooms. But, I was doing ok, the scenery was beautiful, I made lots of friends, and I wanted to take those strolls up and down the hill with everyone. I realized though that in the future, I should research further into the landscape if attending a similar event.

3) Packing light and your choice of electronic device

    Being weighed down can deplete your energy, and we need to conserve as much as possible. Whether it’s your suitcase or your electronic device, go light.Some things to consider:

  • Try to plan what you will wear each day. For WDC15, I found a cute little suitcase that rolled on all fours, and it was a life saver. But, since Southampton was a longer, I got carried away and brought a larger suitcase feeling unsure of what I would want to wear each day. It was a mistake. Bring what you need, but try to think it through and not overload yourself so your energy is not sucked up with carting around too much stuff when you travel
  • Even though you think you might make it back up to your room during the event to rest or regroup, this usually doesn’t happen. Often, even when not in a workshop, there are people mingling and nice spots to chill out at, contemplate and write. It’s fun to be in the scene and within the company of other writers. You may find that you want to soak it all up. This was my experience, and I met others who have said the same. They often didn’t get back to their room until the end of the day. So, when you leave in the morning, make sure you have what you need, but don’t overload yourself. (Also, don’t forget your medication for the day, so you don’t have to go back to your room if you don’t want to.)
  • This is where your choice of electronic device comes in. A very, very light laptop or iPad will be the best option. You will have it with you all day and won’t want to be weighed down. Because most workshops are in a room with just chairs, no tables, whatever you choose to use it should be, easy to handle, quickly accessible and able fit on your lap comfortably.

4) Get to know the conference layout and workshop locations

This ties into conserving as much energy as possible, so you can enjoy, have fun, mingle and make new friends and connections.

It feels like sensory overload at first. For me, this can be exhausting. If this happens to you, I highly recommend just taking a breather to look everything over and plan.

Within the buzzing try to stop for a minute, breathe, focus, and study the map of where the workshops are. Decide what workshops you want to go to and plan it out.

5) Get physically prepared ahead of time

When I had that MS flare in the spring of 2015, I felt hopeless. It was then that I discovered a new workout. I always felt better when I exercised, but never found anything that I could stick with consistently. I had nothing to lose, and so I tried it.

I was realistic and patient. I followed the workout modifications, stuck with it, and little by little became stronger. What really kept me going was the effect it had on my symptoms, they lessened with each workout and eventually disappeared. I got better. But, it was not until after I returned home from the Writer’s Digest Conference that I realized what had also happened. I got through that weekend, traveling, carrying luggage, running around to workshops and having a great time with very little fatigue or pain If it was not for my new muscles and endurance, I’m not sure it would have gone so well.

If you can find a routine that works for you, I highly recommend it. Of course, consult with your doctor, modify workouts, take your time and believe in yourself.

I’m sure adrenaline also played a role in getting me through these events. When I returned home the busy days did catch up, and I experienced a little more fatigue than usual. Try to schedule the day off when you return home and take the time to rest, reflect and celebrate!


Linda Bernadette Burgess is a multi-passionate artist and entrepreneur.  Her business partner, who is also her husband shares these multi-passions and they have several fun projects on the horizon. She is currently working on a Contemporary YA novel and a variety of short stories.

All other free time is spent entertaining her dogs.

Visit her at lindabernadetteburgess.com

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