Tools from the Front Lines: Writers Conferences

Last week this time, I was sitting beneath towering redwoods, the warm sun tickling my neck, watching as writers from all over the country converged to learn and commune at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. And I realized that, over the 35 years or so I’ve been involved in the Christian publishing world, like Steve, I’ve attended close to 150 writers conferences! Now, admittedly, I don’t have to pay to go to those conferences because I’m always teaching. And I know that the expense of attending these conferences can seem overwhelming. But as I sit here, listening to the laughter and chatter and brainstorming taking place all around me, I just want to tell you that attending a writers’ conference, even if you only do so once a year, is one of the most valuable tools you have in your writer’s toolbox.  Here’s why:

Workshops. I’m always amazed at the broad range of topics addressed in the workshops at conferences, from craft to business to the spiritual side of writing. And these workshops are taught by people who have been there, who have faced the same struggles and experienced the same joys you have. They know it all firsthand, and their knowledge can help equip and encourage you.

Mentoring classes. There’s nothing like the hands-on, one-to-to instruction you get when you take a mentoring class. Having a skilled writer working with you on your story and overall craft is one of the best things ways to learn. Having professionals like Gayle Roper, James Scott Bell,  Jan Kern, Rene Gutteridge, Bill Myers, and so many others be willing to share their talents and experiences, to help you pinpoint areas you need to improve in and equip you to do that, is just one more reason I love this business.

Networking. The opportunities are everywhere! You can meet and talk with:

Other writers—whether they’re ahead of or behind you in the process, their experiences and insights can educate and encourage you.

Teachers—those who lead the workshops and seminars are there to help and serve you. To answer your questions, give you counsel and advice. They’re looking for ways to strengthen you where you need it, and encourage where you’re feeling discouraged. I’ve had countless people say to me, years after a conference, “you know, you said this one thing to me that just turned everything around!” I’m always so honored to hear that—and so humbled, because I can seldom remember saying what impacted them! But that just proves to me that God is the one saying it, not I.

Editors/Agents—where else can you have face-to-face time with these publishing professionals? And not just a quick “Hi, how are you?”, but time to actually sit with them at a meal or to have a conversation. This is one of the greatest benefits of writers conferences. Because few people have their finger on the pulse of publishing the way these folks do.

Teaching. I got my teaching and speaking “chops” at writers’ conferences. When I first started out, I was so nervous I used to throw up before every session! Now, speaking and teaching to any size crowd is as natural as talking with a good friend. I love it! And I loved learning and getting feedback from conferees and other speakers. The spirit of community and care infuses writers conferences such that it not only benefits conferees, but those who are learning how to be leaders as well.

Inspiration. Our keynote speaker this year was Robin Jones Gunn. When we weren’t roaring in laughter, we were fighting tears from the tender words of truth and encouragement she shared with us. She took us on amazing journeys that uplifted and breathed new life into our work. Every night at the main session, we sat on the edges of our chairs waiting for those seven words she uses to lead us into wonder:

“I want to tell you a story.”

And by the end of the evening, that’s what we wanted to do, too. Tell our stories. God’s stories. To His glory.

So there are are just a few of the reasons writers’ conferences are so valuable. When you add in the fact that they’re just plain fun—I mean, how often do you get to kayak in the ocean with sea otters or run a ropes course in the redwoods?—and that it’s wonderful to be surrounded by people of like minds and passions, well, let’s just say this particular tool is one every writer should use as often as possible.

So here’s hoping I’ll see you at a conference soon!


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