Gems of Writing Wisdom from Writers Conferences

I attend and present at eleven or twelve writers conferences a year. That’s a lot. But it’s always a joy to renew friendships and talk writing and meet promising writers. It’s also amazing how much writerly wisdom flows at these events, some of it in such volume that attendees and faculty can struggle to hear and process all of it. So I thought I’d offer a little help and record here some (a small fraction, actually) of the things my faculty friends have said at recent writers conferences:

“If you self-edit your work (even before it goes to a freelance editor), you will separate yourself from the masses” (Eva Marie Everson).

“Something visual should be on each page. Don’t let important scenes be done offstage–put them right there in the story” (Lenora Worth).

“We’re all buds in God’s garden, waiting for our time to bloom. Some have started to open, some haven’t. Will you blossom?” (Marilyn Turk).

“The best thing I’ve ever done as a writer is that I didn’t quit” (Edie Melson).

“Nothing brilliant was ever written the first time around. You might have a great idea, but to make your work really shine, it needs a good spit and polish” (Taryn Souders).

“Nothing terrible happens to authors, just terrific anecdotes” (James N. Watkins).

“Your words are as individualized as your finger prints–powerful enough to touch hearts, lives, and transform nations” (LaTan Roland Murphy).

“When you deepen your story’s sense of place, your characters resemble actors shooting on location instead of on a sound stage” (Johnnie Alexander).

“Don’t marry your words. There are always better words, better phrases, better ways to say something. Having a teachable spirit helps prevent word divorce, and it nurtures the ability to craft words that make an impact” (Cindy Sproles).

“Add details to your stories by being the kind of person who assimilates life through noticing–taking time to filter and process. That’s why good writers are deliberate and focus on others. That’s why we choose to relish the moments and to listen and to look deeper. I cannot be a writer of details if I am always on the run.  Our readers don’t want us to tell them how to feel something or even what to feel. They want us to help them experience the situation so vividly that the lesson or emotion is naturally awakened within them” (Lucinda Secrest McDowell).

“Work for long-term success, and don’t expect to be discovered or make a big splash right away. Keep a notebook full of writing ideas, and don’t have everything ride on one dream project” (Susy Flory).

“If you get a rejection, don’t lose heart. Keep polishing, keep making connections, and keep at it. Success in publishing is often your proposal getting to the right desk at the right time. Always try again” (Vicki Crumpton).

“If God has called us through His Word, empowered us through His Spirit, and equipped us through His gifts, we can trust Him to open the right doors in His perfect timing. Our job is to pray fervently, write passionately, edit ferociously, and submit humbly, resting in the reality that God’s opinion is the one that matters” (Liz Curtis Higgs).

See what I mean? Good stuff. These kinds of gems and more are par for the course at any of the many fine Christian writers conferences around the country. What’s the most memorable thing you’ve heard at a writers conference?



28 Responses to Gems of Writing Wisdom from Writers Conferences

  1. Avatar
    J.D. Wininger May 8, 2019 at 5:18 am #

    Lots of great wisdom shared. Among my favorite for this year was at the Carolina Christians Writers Conference when a speaker encouraged us to create a collage of your target audience and place it in front of you as you write. Placing Christ in the center of mine helps me remember why I am doing this.

  2. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray May 8, 2019 at 5:57 am #

    Trying to manage others’ disappointments is the surest path to being overwhelmed. ~ Michele Cushatt

    We dream big dreams of doing great things for God, but most of us dream of a crown and not a cross ~ Michele Cushatt

    Only when we walk in the purposes of God are we not consumed by what we are called to. ~ Michele Cushatt

    Every one of us is a creative individual, a living legacy of the most creative being in the universe ~ Tosca Lee

    If I am writing a roller-coaster for readers, I have to do that screaming and peeing my pants. ~ Tosca Lee

    It is a dangerous place to be IN other people’s emotions. ~ Tosca Lee

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 8, 2019 at 6:18 am #

    Being a bud is a lovely thought;
    it raised a manly tear.
    instead of life coming to naught
    I can aspire to be a beer!
    And yes, words-like fingerprints
    in hope to lead the masses
    might not work out for me, since
    they’re on my writing-glasses.
    ‘Tis best, yes, not to marry words
    though they be calm, sleek, efficient;
    besides, they always come in herds
    and one wife is sufficient.
    My advice would be, write fast
    ’cause you don’t know how long you’ll last.

    • Avatar
      Judith Robl May 8, 2019 at 4:53 pm #

      Andrew, you make me ache. Praying for a good day today and tomorrow.

    • Avatar
      Holli Hamner May 9, 2019 at 1:19 pm #

      Thank you, Andrew! I am so mindful of the limited time each of us has on Earth. We don’t have time to waste. I wonder how that kind of thinking translates to eternity in heaven. I look forward to meeting you there!

  4. Avatar
    Tisha Martin May 8, 2019 at 6:53 am #

    Write like there is pain in every reader because there is. —Phil Calloway

    The Holy Spirit is the oil; we are the wick. We must be careful not to burn out, but to let the oil burn within us. —Bill Myers

    Professional writers have a good grasp of grammar. —Tim Riter

    Don’t start with the bait. Start with the fish (reader). Write what everyone else is dying to read. —Bob Hostetler

  5. Avatar
    Tisha Martin May 8, 2019 at 6:56 am #

    Trust the process. —Sarah Sundin

    Each chapter helps build reader devotion. —Jane Rubietta

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    Sherry Stacy May 8, 2019 at 7:04 am #

    I loved all of those gems. Two gems helped me from the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal in Seattle in 2018. First from Rachel Hauck, the keynote speaker. She shared she had a dream once, Jesus was walking to her, and he had a gunny sack bag he was carrying. He dropped the bag in front of her, and she asked, “Lord, what is in the bag?”
    He said, “All the stories I wanted you to write, but you didn’t.” I hear that in my head every day.
    The second gem was from Steve Laube. He said, make sure your proposal or your manuscript is 95% when it gets to the agent you want to present to. So I have finished my first draft and been working really hard on it. I sent it off to the ACFW’s Genesis contest. I found out last week I’m a semi-finalist. Because Steve told me to make it the best ever, I did, and will soon be sending to him, the best book proposal I could do. Well, at least after I see if I made finalist! Sometimes the very most important thing at a writers conference is not the meeting with the agent, (important still) but the meeting of your heart in encouragement from those who have walked in our shoes or have wisdom. Thanks Bob, you nailed it. Hope someday soon to meet “Mean Bob” at the Oregon Conference.

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan May 8, 2019 at 2:57 pm #

      Wow Sherry, what a great pearl from Rachel, I hope to meet her someday! Steve always nails the head straight on as well, surgically! His wisdom is dividing like a two-edged sword, separating great from crap, haha.

      Where are you in Oregon? I live in Southern Oregon, and Seattle is a long trip if you want to drive together. I am dying to make it to a conference with the folks from the SLA because I have the utmost respect for this group and their wisdom.

  7. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 8, 2019 at 7:05 am #

    “Everything in this book may be wrong.” – Richard Bach

  8. Avatar
    Lillian May 8, 2019 at 7:14 am #

    I can’t remember the messenger, but I remember the message. It;s a tongue twister:

    “If you want to be a better writer, then read what better writers write.

  9. Avatar
    Lillian May 8, 2019 at 7:20 am #

    Oops! Wrong key. A little proofreading would help. 🙂 “IT’S a tongue twister.”

  10. Avatar
    Tim Suddeth May 8, 2019 at 8:05 am #

    Great job Bob. Lots of good advice here.

  11. Avatar
    Sherri House May 8, 2019 at 8:13 am #

    “Go, untill God says no ”
    Bob Hollister

    ” The reason, the only reason we write, to bring God glory. ”
    Liz Curtis Higgs

    ” you must think of your writing as a ministry. Although there is a business end of writing, you as a writer must focus on it as a ministry.”
    Liz Curtis Higgs

  12. Avatar
    Maco Stewart May 8, 2019 at 9:03 am #

    These are superb, Bob, thank you for collecting them. I’ve already bookmarked the page. Watch out when you meet Sherry Stacy: she’s amazing, and deeper than the Mariana Trench. And she’s a hugger! Be prepared!

  13. Avatar
    Renee Garrick May 8, 2019 at 9:14 am #

    A bucketful of diamonds and rubies! Thanks.

  14. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson May 8, 2019 at 9:46 am #

    One of the best pieces of wisdom given to me at a recent writer’s conference was when I met Larry Leech. I said “Hello” as I reached out to shake his hand. He could tell I was nervous. Larry smiled and said, “Relax”. His simple comment of “Relax” helped me to pause and breathe. 🙂 I will always remember his kindness.

  15. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver May 8, 2019 at 11:51 am #

    “When people go into a bookstore, they are looking for a book to meet a need. Write to that need,” Bob Hostetler

  16. Avatar
    Catherine May 8, 2019 at 12:11 pm #

    Wonderful thread!

  17. Avatar
    Dr. Katherine Hutchinson-Hayes May 8, 2019 at 12:11 pm #

    I’ve heard many wonderful things from experts in the field. Even some of the posts written in this blog-I’ve heard from the mouths of the actual people quoted. One of the most memorable is “I’m a giant killer.” (James Watkins) PS- I still carry the rock he gave out!

  18. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan May 8, 2019 at 3:02 pm #

    ‘Give it a two-week rest, take a walk, a vacation, and return with fresh eyes.’ -Linda Rodante, author

  19. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan May 8, 2019 at 3:06 pm #


    this is a bucketful of info to tuck away into my writing folder. As a newbie, taking forever, I’ve noticed a lot of spit and polish, spit and polish, etc., but I see the reasons and plug on.

    Hope to see you at the PNW conference. Hey. Consider a Southern Oregon conference…. Grants Pass is especially lovely near the river. 😀

  20. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D May 9, 2019 at 12:54 pm #

    Bob, I don’t know if this was from a writers conference or not but someone told me the following:

    Don’t try to rush God’s plan for your life. Everything will happen exactly when it is supposed to happen. Have patience, faith, and never stop believing.




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