After being a member of ACFW for 3 ½ years, I finally attended my first ACFW annual conference. What an amazing, intense five days of learning, panic, laughter, and hanging with rarely seen friends. And what a crowd! More than 620 people which—especially at mealtimes—pushed my crowd-o-meter a hair past the Zanex-zone a couple times.
Attending this conference came as a gift from the ACFW Scholarship Committee, to whom I am deeply grateful. I went with the hope of learning some things that would strengthen me as a writer, of gaining new skills and improving on the skills I’ve worked to acquire. I also hoped to connect with writers who have mentored me and who have inspired, entertained or befriended me via email, blogs or their books. There are so many!
I got the connecting with writers thing down about 47 seconds after arriving at the hotel, to the dismay of a couple respected writers. I realize now that letting my enthusiasm bust out all over the first two writers I saw was a mistake. While waiting at the elevator, I saw one of my favorite authors whose books nearly kill me with her wit and style, and another writer with whom I’ve corresponded with for years but have never met. Like a true groupie, I screamed their names as I ran over and attacked them with a hug. Naturally. This is what you do when your dream of meeting people you’ve grown to appreciate becomes a reality. At least, in MY dream. Judging from the freaked out looks on both ladies’ faces, I’m guessing the dream for them was more of a nightmare. I think I even said something about being her biggest fan. This would be short for FANATIC, also known as a person to be avoided regardless the cost to handbag, life and limb. Sorry, girls. I really am. If it makes you feel better, I do learn quickly. At their less than enthusiastic response to my joyful greeting, I reminded myself I would be here for several days and that as a passably intelligent woman, I could pace myself and not frighten anyone further. The fact that both ladies were unable to make eye-contact with me for the remainder of the conference reinforced my first lesson:
1. DON’T attack people you admire upon first encounter, no matter how normal and sincere you truly believe yourself to be. Any hope of reciprocating love WILL be aborted.
Another great lesson I learned from this conference was that although you MUST prepare yourself, your pitch, and your plan as perfectly as possible (& always be alliterative), God has a pretty good plan for you and has a few thoughts of his own on how to best steer your life and career. This is by no means an excuse to hide in your hotel room and wait for your career to come knocking like room service. Which is ridiculously expensive, by the way. Do your homework on the conference and the industry reps attending. Make a plan and follow through, but remember: God is in control and truly knows best. Seek moments of quiet to recognize his leading. Remember that those Spirit-nudges may move you to sit somewhere or speak to someone or (GASP) hug someone you might not have planned on. (Yes. I now know that some hugs should be carefully considered for value vs. risk.)
One of the truly high points of my conference experience came by a ‘chance’ meeting at one of the lunch tables. By Sunday, I had met with editors and spoken to everyone I’d hoped to meet. At lunch, a couple of my friends still wanted to sit at a particular editor or agent’s table. This is in a room of about 100 tables with 620 people ALL trying to sit with someone particular, at tables with teeny name signs you had to be within 4 feet of to be able to read. With about 36 seconds to find it. Since I didn’t need to find a particular table, I took half of the room while my friends took the other half and we scoured the tables until we found the ones they wanted. By then, most of the tables were full. I looked around for a spare seat for myself, anywhere. Right beside me was a table with one seat left. It was the table hosted by an editor I have met and who has spent some time looking at my book for a contest I entered last year. I had hoped to at least say hello to this editor but had not seen her yet, even after 4 days. When she joined us and saw me at her table, she said she was hoping to see me here too, and after lunch, she pulled me aside for a great little chat before she had to run to her appointments. I so enjoyed the time at her table amongst a group of writers to whom she showed genuine interest, and was so blessed by our conversation afterward, that this unexpected meeting made my day. Made my conference, actually.
Another one of the many highlights for me was finally meeting my agent in person. Even if only for a few short moments, I think that kind of face time adds an extra touch of personal connection in a good working relationship. And lemme get one thing straight: I did hug her, but she made the first move. She even gave me chocolate. Dark chocolate.
A special treat for me was taking part in the conference choir. I am still amazed that our choir director, Rachael Phillips, was able to take people with varying abilities from all corners of the nation, pull us together with only a couple of practices, and direct a song that moved and inspired us all. This was a rare and beautiful treat! I praise the Lord for orchestrating something far greater than the sum of our numbers—a sweet collective of the gifts he gave us—and gathering our voices in a way that left us unable to do anything but stand in awe of him.
On How ACFW compares to other Christian writing conferences:
I’ve twice attended another large scale Christian writing conference that encompasses all forms of writing, not just fiction. I loved it! But while I am interested in many types of writing, my primary focus as a writer is Christian fiction. ACFW offers what no other conference does: a smorgasbord of instruction for writers at every level, and a rare opportunity to meet and learn from fellow Christian writers, editors and experts who know the fiction industry. ACFW conferences offer more tools unique to a developing career in Christian fiction than any other conference can, and definitely more than a writer could ever acquire on their own.
I came to this conference with a standing set of personal goals: to become a skillful wordsmith and storyteller, to grow as a communicator, artist and professional, and most of all, to remain true to the specific calling the Lord has placed on me. I was not disappointed. The choices of classes and workshops offered provided a variety of valuable resources for writers at every level, published and not, seasoned and new. I gleaned from every class, even on topics I’ve studied before.
I may never fully recognize the all the benefits I received from attending this conference. And that’s okay. I’ve been given so many opportunities to learn and grow as a writer that I no longer doubt God’s call on me to write or question his lead. He keeps flinging open doors before me, pushing me ahead, making the way clear. Why? And what does he want to say through me? I pray for the courage to dig down deep and let the words flow. I pray that I will hear his voice and sense his nudges, that I will understand what pains and truths, what victories and failures, what fears and joys and longings dwell in my heart that he can use to display his amazing grace. After all . . . 'tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
Q: Have you ever attended an ACFW Conference? What did you take away from it?