I had the pleasure of going to my first writing conference this past weekend. Someday I want to go to the big national ACFW conference, but that’s probably out of reach this year, and besides, I thought it would be good to go to a smaller, local one first.
Since I live in Southern California though, my small, local writing conference isn’t actually that small (or that local; I got to drive freeways I’ve never driven before, anyways); I would guess there were a couple hundred people there, at least.
The weirdest thing about it, for me, was how diverse it was. I don’t mean diversity of race or gender or age (though it had all of those), but diversity of purpose. I think I’ve gotten spoiled as part of the ACFW. In the ACFW, everyone is, first of all, a writer of fiction. Also, there is a strong, strong drive towards cultivating excellence of craft. The conference I attended seemed to cater more to non-fiction writers than fiction and it also seemed to emphasize message a bit more than craft.*
Though not across the board, by any means. My favorite workshops were put on by Jeff Gerke, and he had lots to say about writing well. He talked about point-of-view errors and shallow characters, but far and away what I have the most notes on from his lectures is showing-not-telling. He explained it better than anyone I’ve heard yet.
I also got to have a couple of conversations with Susan Meissner, which I really appreciated. She talked about editing and about publicity, and I found everything she had to say helpful. She was also lovely to everyone who asked her a question, no matter how aggressive or how uncertain they were. It was a pleasure to watch someone field so many hopeful people with such grace. So, even though the conference wasn’t heavy on fiction, the people they did have there to talk about fiction did a great job.
I was also glad that I got to go to my first writing conference before I had anything to sell. I’m not planning to query my novel till late this summer, at the earliest, so I was able to go to this conference just to listen. Whenever I sat next to anyone, I was able to ask, “What do you write?” and listen to the answer without feeling that interior urge to interrupt and tell them what I write. I’m hoping that when I do go to a writing conference with something to sell, should that ever happen, that I can remember how I acted at this one and act the same way, listening lots more than I talk. It was good practice, I think. And I got to hear lots of interesting stories, lots of other writers’ journeys. The funniest story I heard though wasn’t from a writer proper at all, it was from a woman who had come to the conference to find and hire a ghostwriter! Not a bad place to look, actually!
I also felt like I got confirmation that I’m on the right path. I heard a lot of things where I was able to say, “yes, I’ve done that” or “yes, that’s what I’m doing”. There was new stuff too (there’s always new stuff!), but there was also stuff I’d heard before, and that was, to me, a good thing. It’s good because it let me know I’m headed in the right direction, even if I’m not there yet.
So that was my first conference experience!
Peace of Christ to you,
*(It’s one of those old false dichotomies where the true answer is probably a balance of two not-so-opposing forces. But I have lots of sympathy for how hard it is to talk about without slipping into defending one side or the other – see me doing the same thing in this very entry! So I am not saying that people at this conference didn't care about craft. Just that the emphasis was different.)