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.
An Ode To Bob Hostetler
The King of Cool has just arrived
in his magnificence
to succor those of him deprived,
and conference may commence.
He’ll hold court in the lobby
to give encouragement
to those now long past hobby
that they do not lament
their writerly vocation,
for he was once there too.
Fear is initiation,
but when he speaks to you,
you’ll know you’re in presence august,
and that this trip was not a bust.
Bahahaha! Perfect, Andrew!
I could only hope to be as cool as you. I did purchase the mask though. Can’t stop looking in the mirror. Thanks for this and your constant (free) wealth of inspiration.
That’s me, pretty much every day! It’s overwhelming to say the least. And if you add the comparison virus to that mix, it gets ugly.
I’m excited to attend my first in-person ACFW Conference in September. I will keep this email in mind and hope someone is there to talk me off the cliff.
Thank you for posting!
You really nailed it with this post. That’s exactly how people feel at writers’ conferences. Even the ones Bob Hostetler doesn’t attend.
My bell curve at the Blue Lake Writers Retreat went exactly as you described. Then, after a reputable publisher took on my books 📚, I rode it again! Exuberance to fear – will the promotion of my SOULS WARFARE series succeed? Will I fall flat on my face about doing my part in marketing?
I had one short meltdown. Prayed a lot. God helps me say, “I want to be as successful as I CAN be in the Lord’s will and power. Now I plan to encourage other writers. In the future I hope to lead a session at a conference- which has its own bell curve. – and most of all, I want to help troubled souls heal through telling fiction SF stories.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
That’s pretty spot-on, Bob…..Been there, done that, worn the hat…..
You affirmed my experience when I sat by you during our last dinner at Mount Hermon in March. When I told you I was new, you asked, “Have you done this yet?” with your arms moving across the air in roller coaster formation. I said, “YES!” You helped me feel better. Thank you, Bob.
Yes. True. Thank you.
Yep. Your assessment sums it up quite nicely.
So true! It was so nice meeting you at the Florida Word Weavers conference last year.
I spewed my coffee while reading this. (I know. That’s rude and sloppy). I’ve only had opportunity to attend one large conference, and that was online. During my appointment with an acquisition editor, my mouth started going, in spite of everything I did to stop it, and I proceeded to do and say every last thing that the Steve Laube posts tell you NOT to. If a virtual meeting is less intimidating, I’m glad I wasn’t able to attend in person because a defibrillator may have been involved.
I’ve only ever been to an online conference, but even there, yes, I recognize this. All of this.
Especially the part of hoping to one day be as cool as Bob.
Bob, this is great. I’ll watch for warning signs at my first conference this fall.
Do you go on a similar mental journey when you’re present as an agent or speaker?
Kristen Joy Wilks
Yes, this fits my first few conferences pretty well. I just kept going back year after year, enjoying the chance to get away on my own once a year, and not feeling like my big break had to come right away. Lots of great learning accumulates over time!
Jan Rogers Wimberley
Thanks Bob….You pulled me into the story immediately and made me feel each step as if I was there. Great information for those those aspiring to the heights in writing.
Jan Rogers Wimberley
Thanks, you captured my experience perfectly.
Can’t wait to have you keynote at The Well in 2023! Our attendees will be blessed!
Yeah … pretty much what you said …