All Writers Welcome at Upcoming Conference

I vividly recall that June day in 2011, standing outside the door of a building where a writing conference was being held, steeling myself for whatever, or more accurately whoever, was on the other side. I’d heard about the annual Cedar Falls Christian writer’s conference the previous year but doubted it was meant for someone like me. Though a Christian, my writing wasn’t targeted for Christian markets. Despite having a book released by a small publisher in 1996 and hundreds of published clips, I still didn’t think of myself as a “real” writer. Surely everyone in the room would have had multiple books published, likely by big Christian publishers. They’d be making a living off their writing, spending hours every day honing their craft. Conferences weren’t for people like me; a stay-at-home mom writing to maintain a semblance of creativity as I struggled to raise children and make ends meet.
It took every ounce of courage I had to walk through those doors into a room filled with people I was certain were more prolific than me. It had to be God’s providence that I sat next to a woman whose reply to my “What do you write” query was that she penned handwritten letters as a ministry. I relaxed. Maybe I did belong there. I would soon discover the surge of creative energy that happens in a room full of people interested in the same thing. I learned, and am still learning, about the publishing world from more experienced authors. Simply put, I found my tribe, netting mentors and friends in the writing community.
Nine years and some six published books later, I’m firmly entrenched on the other side of that door. Convinced we are all here to help each other fulfill our God-given potential, I’ve taught workshops at that same conference every year since, and at community colleges, libraries, and my workplace as Program Coordinator at a spirituality center. Inevitably, I hear that familiar lament “I’m not a real writer.”
“If you’re writing, you’re a writer,” I insist as I strive to encourage other wordsmiths to believe in themselves, half the battle in defeating writing angst. Learning the trade is important too.
Shalom Spirituality Center will be hosting a writer’s conference Friday, February 14 and Saturday, February 15. Twila Belk, also known as the “Gotta Tell Somebody Gal,” will be keynote speaker for the Faith Writers Writing Conference. Twila is the author of seven books and directed the Quad Cities Christian Writers Conference for eight years. Her newest book, The Power to Be: Be Still, Be Grateful, Be Strong, Be Courageous, is a 40-day devotional from Broadstreet Publishing. Twila Belk
Other presenters include fiction authors Shelly Beach and Patti Stockdale, nonfiction authors Mary Potter Kenyon and Linda McCann, UNI professor Doug Shaw, Loras professor Kevin Koch, and Dubuque poet Valorie Broadhurst Woerdehoff.
Attendees can choose from presentations on writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, marketing and book proposals. Whether a seasoned or aspiring writer there will be workshops to choose from, along with inspirational messages and opportunities for networking with professionals in the writing industry. Follow the Faith Writers Facebook Page for updates.
The conference will be held at Shalom Spirituality Center, 1001 Davis Street, in Dubuque. The cost of the two-day conference is $100, which includes lunch both days. An overnight option that includes a room, lunch both days and Saturday morning breakfast is $150. Partial scholarships are available. Register & prepay by Monday, February 10. Call 563-582-3592 to register. Contact mkenyon@shalomretreats.org for more information or to apply for a scholarship.

Re-Entry: Day 4 Post-conference

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Every June for the past nine years, I’ve attended the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop.  I no longer go for the writing and publishing aspect, though I do continue to learn something new every year. Instead, I attend because of the God-encounters, the connections old and new.
And every year, I promise myself I will indulge in a period of solitude and prayer afterwards, to give myself some time to decompress and process the intense spiritual experience. The “high” can last for days. The sky is invariably bluer, the grass smells sweeter, the air is crisp, I’m in awe of birds flying overhead. I smile at everyone, stop to hold doors open for others, go out of my way to be helpful and kind, basking in the residual aura of the spiritually-charged atmosphere I’ve just encountered.
While I’d like at least two days of quiet contemplation, flipping through handouts and business cards, journaling and perhaps diving into one of the books I’ve purchased, the suitcase demands to be emptied and a load of laundry must be done. The cat and the daughter vie for my attention. The garbage can is overflowing, the sink full of dishes. Less than 48-hours after I return home, I’m back at work, feeling the full effects of re-entry, returning to reality.

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These are my people, my tribe, my church. I get a little glimpse of heaven in this building called Fellowship Hall. 

It was at this very conference I discovered something broader than happiness; eudaimonia, a Greek word loosely translated as finding the purpose of your life.

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Just ten years ago, I couldn’t even imagine getting up in front of a room and talking. Now, public speaking is one of my passions. David saw that in me before I did, and God planned for it all along.

One of my first workshops was a two-hour couponing one at a community college in October 2011. David was at the back of the room watching my presentation. At one point I glanced up and the look on his face made me catch my breath. It was because of his presence I could relax when a reporter came to do a news article. I was smiling at the man behind the one holding the camera.

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“I love seeing you like this. You come alive in front of an audience,” David commented on the way home.

I feel alive at this conference; seeing friends and mentors I might only see once a year, meeting broken and gentle souls, experiencing small miracles, giving and getting more hugs than I can count. I am a better person because of these people. I want to spend each and every day with them and other kindred souls.

Someday, I will.

 

 

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.