Top Five Reasons to Attend a Writer’s Conference

This will be my ninth year attending the Cedar Falls Christian Writer’s Workshop, and my eighth year as a presenter. Two weeks after last year’s conference, I moved an additional hour away from the venue, but I’ve never considered not going. In fact, during my job interview for my current position as program coordinator at a spirituality center, I made sure to mention I would be gone for a few days every June to attend this conference.

It took me two years after I learned about this conference to work up the courage and rationalize the cost to attend. It was my husband who suggested I invest in myself and my writing. He was my biggest encourager. Outside of the learning that takes place at these kinds of conferences, I’ve netted lifelong friends and mentors at this particular conference. While there are many reasons to attend a writing conference, here are my top five:

To learn more about the craft of writing. I believe in lifelong learning. No matter our level of expertise in writing, there is always something new to learn. Sometimes we have to make a commitment to hone our craft and that commitment might involve both time and money. Committing to a conference or a class could be the first step in taking our writing seriously. Call it an investment in yourself. I tell attendees in my writing classes that paying for a class gives them a reason for taking time out of their busy days to write. “Remind your husband or your kids that you paid good money for a writing workshop so now you need to write and sell something to recoup your money.”

If you take yourself seriously, others will take you seriously, too.

To learn more about the business side of publishing. It’s not enough to be a good writer; you also have to learn about the ever-changing world of publishing. What is a book proposal? How do I write a query letter? How can I build up my platform? Do I need an agent? Where do I find markets for my work? These are questions you can find the answers to at conferences and workshops.

To connect and network with other writers. There is nothing more enjoyable than “talking shop” with another writer who understands the foibles and follies of the world of writing. Writers at conferences and workshops share markets with each other, commiserate about rejections, and support each other’s accomplishments. I’ve made life-long friends at each conference I’ve attended. My world has gotten so much bigger in the last few years. It was at a conference that I met my mentors (and good friends), Shelly Beach and Cecil Murphey.

To meet and network with editors, publishers, or agents. Not everyone who attends a conference ends up sitting next to an agent at a lunch table and subsequently signing a contract with her husband a few months later, but I did. I’ve developed both personal and professional relationships with editors and agents at conferences. While initially the prospect of meeting with an agent or editor was quite daunting to me, I’ve experienced some enlightening conversations with several. Of course, the easiest conversations are those I’ve had without the anxiety of attempting to sell something.

Amazing moments and divine encounters regularly happen at Christian writing conferences. I can’t speak for all conferences as I’ve only attended Christian ones, but I’ve found that if I pray fervently before, during, and after a conference, and keep my eyes and heart open to God and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, amazing things have transpired at each of the conferences I’ve attended, some so powerful they’re difficult to talk about without crying.

 

Vignette: A Moment in Time

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It was an unseasonably warm October day. Mom and I had conversed comfortably in the car on the way to and from her doctor’s appointment; about my recent blog posts that mentioned her, how much she liked the new LIVE sign I’d purchased to hang on my wall, and her concern over her cat being attacked by some feral felines. I’d assumed if she’d wanted to discuss more serious topics, she’d have brought them up.

Arriving at her house, I helped her out of the car. Swaying a little, she grabbed my arm to steady herself. She clung to me as we slowly made our way to the back door. When she expressed the desire to stay outside, I settled her in a chair before getting her coffee and cigarettes from the kitchen. There was no sense in arguing it may have been those very vices that had caused Mom’s cancer. It was too late for that, and pointless. On the contrary, my siblings and I seemed in agreement that she should have anything she wanted.

As I set the cup and cigarette pack on the small white table in front of my mother, I asked if it would be okay if I headed home to make supper for my husband and children. She nodded. I remember leaning down to kiss her cheek then, and while I’m certain I would have told her I loved her, I don’t recall actually saying the words.

Inside the car, I started the engine before glancing back at Mom. She was looking straight at me, a gentle smile on her face. She raised her hand slightly, giving a little wave. That one small gesture undid me. Throat filling with tears, I could barely breathe. I quickly looked away, not wanting her to see me cry. My mother is dying, I thought as I headed down the driveway. My mother is dying. I sobbed all the way home.

There is so much we didn’t talk about that day. In fact, I hadn’t mentioned the inevitability of her death in any of our conversations. I’d been with her when the doctor informed her she had lung cancer, had heard her whispered “I wondered what it would be.” We never talked about death, or fear, or even faith, which surprised me, considering how important religion was to her. There were no last-minute lessons, no pleas or after-death directives.

More than six years after Mom died, in the winter of 2017, unhappy with my job and searching for possible answers from the enigma that was my mother, I re-read letters she’d written me, a Memory Book she’d filled out, and the odd notebooks and partial journals I’d inherited. By then, I’d unexpectedly lost my husband and eight-year-old grandson, as well. Still raw with cumulative grief, I needed a mother to turn to. And there she was, in the words she’d repeatedly written.

“Utilize your God-given talents.”

There was never a question that each of her children and grandchildren were born with inherent talent; it was her greatest desire that we discover what it was, and follow God. Mom’s own gifts were apparent in the way she made our home a haven. Multi-talented, she concocted delicious meals from garden produce, eggs, and the chickens Dad raised. She created colorful wall hangings, rag rugs, and beautiful quilts from scraps of cloth, and drew pastel pictures of her children. She was the kind of woman who, at the age of 42, picked up a kitchen knife and a piece of wood and decided she’d carve a statue. She then honed her artistic talent to begin a home business that sold well over 500 pieces of her art.

Reading Mom’s words again that winter, it occurred to me that she’d already said it all. There was nothing more she could have said that she hadn’t already modeled in a life filled with creativity, integrity and faith. Her last lesson was in facing death with dignity, grace, and the firm belief she would soon be joining both our father and Our Father.

That October day was the last time I was alone with Mom before she suffered what we assumed was a stroke from the brain radiation she’d undergone. My next visit was to take my turn caring for a mother who struggled to walk or communicate. While her gentle smile remained, there was no more shared conversations. In the ensuing days, my siblings and I cared for her, watching her drift into unconsciousness and die on November 3, my birthday.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see my mother sitting outside at that little table, a cigarette in her hand, a cup of coffee in front of her. Her face is lit by a beatific smile, her eyes filled with love. She lifts her hand to wave.

“I love you, Mom,” I imagine saying, waving back.