This past week I had the good luck to attend five hours of Book Expo America and a full day of writing discussion during the Writing Workshop of Chicago. Both taught me different lessons and both helped inspire me this morning as I went back from the dreamlike land of conference-world to the sweat of the keyboard.

BEA is an annual meeting of book industry professionals (publishers, authors, editors) and book distributors and consumers (librarians, bookstore owners, as well as bloggers and educators). Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe the atmosphere, but despite the SWAG and ARCs of books everywhere, the biggest takeaways for me in my short time there were that first, there are so many good books out there. Second, community is key and participating in that community as a responsive reader is good practice. Everyone knows this already, but it can be hard to remind yourself to leave that review on Goodreads or Amazon after finishing a book. But it does matter. Finally, befriending a librarian is a really good idea (lucky for me, I have a few!) I sat in on a panel at the end of the day Friday of librarians who were sharing their best picks from discoveries at BEA that they thought would circulate this year and my “to read” list grew exponentially (for the better).

I actually went to Chicago with the purpose of attending Writer’s Digest’s Writing Workshop, a one-day event full of panels and opportunities to pitch. Particular highlights include Lori Rader-Day‘s fabulous panel on mystery/thriller tips and a social media talk by Amy Sue Nathan. The most eye-opening event of the day was the first-page reading event. Jessica Bell read anonymous first pages aloud while a group of ten agents gave feedback on what worked and didn’t. Even without hearing my own pages judged, I learned a lot about what makes agents stop reading (weather and waking up to an alarm clock, anyone?) and what hooks. Beyond the panels, I met several writers who I “clicked” with on a personal level.

Heading home from a weekend of literary abandon meant a bit of a reality hangover this morning, but a good one. While conferences are fun and refreshing, I realize that they aren’t what makes you a writer. Writing makes you a writer, and now I’ve got to get back to it.