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Saving Your Sanity at Conventions

Have you been to a convention before? By that, I’m referring to everything from your various comic cons to the more local literary and art conventions–and you might even include writing conferences in there, if you want. However you want to define these events, there’s one thing that holds true for all of them.

My “wall-o-con-badges” from the last few years.

They’re insane.

Especially if you’ve never been to a convention before, you might as well be facing down the writhing tentacles of Cthulhu himself when you get in the registration line to pick up your badge. Your mind grapples with the countless costumes being paraded about like alien life forms, and that group of people standing nearby to talk about their favorite game might as well be cultists quoting gibberish to summon the Dark Lord.

Cons are intimidating beasts, even for the seasoned soul. Fortunately, there are ways to get through a convention–and even enjoy yourself!–with your sanity intact (no guarantees about your body, though). I’ve been to countless conventions over the years…okay, technically not countless. I could go back and tally them up, sure. I just don’t wanna. Suffice it to say that I have figured out a few approaches to cons that allow me to have a grand time at each one while not coming away a medicated wreck. Allow me to share a few with you.

1. Preparation – Beyond travel to and lodging at a convention, not to mention meals and other logistics, cons can have a lot to navigate. Various hall layouts. Multiple levels of programming. Specific times when certain celebrities will appear and then vanish in a puff of smoke. However, cons often release a lot of information well ahead of time (or they should) detailing everything from parking arrangements to program rundowns to vendor booth locations to special events. Some even have begun using apps that let you sort out a schedule based on your interests. I’d suggest printing out a copy of every piece of info you think you might need and keep it with you. Don’t rely on wifi, and take the time to read through everything before you even walk through the main doors.

2. Focus – Why are you attending this convention? What’s drawing you there and what one or two things do you want to be absolutely certain you experience before you leave? Is it a show? Is it buying a particular piece of swag? Is it a certain game pre-release session? Determine your top priorities and then structure your con experience around those so you don’t get distracted, lost, or confused and wind up going home without the one thing you went there for in the first place.

3. Simplification – You’re not going to experience everything. That’s just a fact. So don’t try to. Enjoy what you’re able to enjoy this year, and if you miss out on something, you’ll likely be able to make up for it next year! But if you drive yourself to exhaustion trying to do everything at once, you’ll hardly be able to enjoy anything at all.

4. Self-Care – We’ll delve more into this in a later post, but remember that your sanity and health is important throughout all this. If you go home and suffer for weeks after from an illness or injury you picked up because you didn’t take care of yourself during a con…was it really worth it? Find ways to give yourself healthy margins during cons (oh, and don’t forget things like food and water, of course).

In the end, remember, there will always be another convention (and another…and another…and…). In fact, there are now enough conventions in this country alone that you could attend one every single weekend of the year if you had A. the money to do so and B. some insane reason to do so, beyond being a masochist. The point is, take your time to discover this unique cultural phenomena. Discover what you enjoy most about them, and don’t force yourself to participate in elements you really don’t care about.

Conventions are there for you. The fans. The geeks. The nerds. The readers. The artists. The performers. The cosplayers. The gawkers. The vendors.

Because without you…conventions wouldn’t exist.

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