I’ve attended and presented at Christian writers conferences for more than three decades. (I know, I don’t look anywhere near old enough to make that claim, and thank you.) I’ve sometimes served on faculty at as many as a dozen conferences in a given year. (I know, it’s hard to believe that many conference directors would actually book me for their event, no offense taken.) And so I suppose I’ve discussed the writers conference bell curve, as I call it, with hundreds of aspiring and developing writers over the years, which I’ll offer to you here, free of charge. (I know, that’s overwhelmingly generous behavior; you’re welcome.)
I’ve seen the bell curve replay in countless conference attendees, especially among those attending their first conference. It goes like this:
The uphill side. You arrive at the conference, register, get settled, and begin meeting other writers, as well as the conference staff and faculty. You may feel a bit dazed and confused, but you’re excited and amazed to be there.
The pinnacle. You attend some workshops and hear a few speakers. You meet authors, editors, and agents; and they actually talk to you as an equal. It’s almost like they’re regular people. You start to picture yourself as one of them. Plus, you’re meeting people who love to talk—with you—about reading and writing! It’s heady stuff.
The downhill side. As the conference progresses, you learn a lot. A LOT. And, may I say, a lot. You begin to realize there’s more yet to learn—more than you’d imagined. You begin to get overwhelmed. There’s so much to know and do. How will I ever remember all of this? Your head won’t stop spinning.
The trough of despair. Sometime around halfway through the conference—maybe sooner, maybe later—you hit rock bottom. You think, I don’t belong here. I’m an imposter. I’ll never be good enough. I should just give up. Is it too late to get my money back? Can I just sneak out and go home?
The bounce back. Then, after a good night’s sleep (or more), your spirit starts to rally. You’re still overwhelmed, but you realize you’ve made some amazing friends. You’ve found your tribe. You have a grasp of the writing-for-publication process. You’ve learned new skills. And you have at least the beginning of a plan for moving forward. You’re also starting to look forward to your next writers conference, because you’ve figured out that the journey you’re on isn’t one of instant transformation and overnight success but of steady improvement. By the time you’re heading home, you’re amazed at how much has changed in such a short time span, and you feel prepared to take a few important and promising next steps in your development as a writer.
This bell curve may not be every conferee’s experience; but it’s common enough that when I share it with others, I regularly see expressions of relief (“It’s not just me!”) and hope (“I may soon be as cool as Bob Hostetler!”). Realistic or not, that hope does not disappoint.