To Conference We Shall Go!

The American Christian Fiction Writers’ conference ( is just around the corner (Sept. 18-23 in Dallas, TX), and I’m seeing increasing buzz online about all the fun attendees are going to have. It’s true, too. Writers’ conferences are a lot of fun, especially those focused on the Christian market. In fact, I’ve equated them to church camp because the feel is very much the same. It’s a delight to be with folks you haven’t seen face-to-face for months, even years. And there’s just no joy to compare with being surrounded by folks who love words and writing and reading as much as you do. So it’s little wonder that people are excited. Heck, I’m excited. I’m looking forward to copious amounts of hugs and laughter and coffee shared with those of like mind and heart.

And yet, for all the great fellowship and teaching we’ll find at ACFW and other writer’s conferences, allow me to give two cautions.

First, be strategic. If you wanted to, you could do things from dawn to…well, dawn! Between workshops and teaching tracks, general sessions and panels, spotlight sessions and late-night events, author and editor meetings, brainstorming and marketing sessions…you can find something to fill every moment of every day. I know that’s the temptation, especially considering that conferences aren’t cheap. After all, you want to get your money’s worth, right? As true as that is, you also need to make sure you’re not overdoing it. (Consider reading some of the related posts linked at the bottom of the page.)

Writers’ conferences are among the most exhausting thing I do, and I’m an off-the-scale extrovert! For most of you folks, who tend to tip the chart at introvert with a capital I, writers’ conferences can pretty much do you in. Not only can you end up physically exhausted, but your emotions can run the gamut as well. Hopes rise and fall, dreams come true and crash and burn, and egos are inflated, bruised, and decimated.

So be strategic. Go ahead and sign up for whatever you want to do, but pay attention to your body and emotions. If you start dragging, be willing to head to your room to rest. If you’re feeling hurt or discouraged, get away from the crowd with a good friend and talk it through. Or take some time to immerse yourself in God’s Word. And don’t worry about missing out on anything. Almost everything you want to attend will be available as a recording!

Second, be grounded. Those emotional ups and downs I just mentioned? You can avoid most of them if you prepare your heart and spirit before you head to conference. Remember, the One who tasked you to write has you—and your career—in His hands. He is at work on your behalf, not to make you a best-seller, but to make you the best tool for His work. As much as we’d like to think this whole gig is about selling books, it’s not. It’s about obedience. About writing, because that’s the task He’s given us. It’s about seeking to serve Him and others through the gifts He’s given us.

As you go to conference, go in anticipation, not of what He’s going to do for you, but what He’s going to do to refine you. And use you. That’s where the greatest blessings lie. And that’s where freedom lies. The freedom to be at conference and enjoy every encounter, every event. To rejoice with those who experience wondrous blessings. To commiserate with those who face disappointment. And to be Christ to all you meet.

I promise you, that will make this conference the best you’ve ever had!

24 Responses to To Conference We Shall Go!

  1. Richard Mabry September 12, 2012 at 4:20 am #

    Karen, Good advice. And in addition to being sensitive to what God will do to refine you, be sensitive to how God may use you–yes, you–during the conference. Friendships are forged and networks widened, but at almost every turn you can find someone who’s hurting, overwhelmed, confused. Maybe you’ll be the instrument God chooses to minister to them. It’s happened to me, from both sides.
    Thanks so much for the post. See you soon, and I expect a hug.

  2. Debby Mayne September 12, 2012 at 4:56 am #

    What a great post, Karen! I always come away from conferences exhausted but happy to have seen old friends and met so many wonderful people. I won’t be there this year, but I’m already looking forward to next year!

  3. Lisa September 12, 2012 at 5:28 am #

    Remember, the One who tasked you to write has you—and your career—in His hands.

    Thank you, I needed those words today:)

  4. Jeanne September 12, 2012 at 6:10 am #

    Karen, I needed this post today. I’ll be attending ACFW for the first time, and I’m beyond excited. And nervous. Your words remind me what the “main thing” is to focus on at conference.

    “As you go to conference, go in anticipation, not of what He’s going to do for you, but what He’s going to do to refine you. And use you.” He’s already begun using the process of preparing to refine me, and I’m certain that He’ll continue that work at ACFW. I’m excited to be among those who love words.

    I hope I run into you. 🙂 Uh, not literally.

  5. Dana McNeely September 12, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    I’ll see you there, Karen! Working on a little intro for you this week!

    You are right on with this post. Many of us have been working so hard to prepare for this conference that we’ll arrive there already exhausted and “coffeed-up”. A reminder to look to the One who calls is timely.

  6. Jackie Layton September 12, 2012 at 6:23 am #

    Hi Karen,

    Like Jeanne this will be my first writers’ conference. I’m excited and scared.

    I’m praying to follow God’s leading and to not get ahead of His plan for me.

    Thanks so much for sharing this today!


  7. Meghan Carver September 12, 2012 at 6:47 am #

    I won’t be at ACFW next week, but I will be attending the Indianapolis Christian Writers Conference in November. This will be my third year, but I still appreciate the advice. Thanks, Karen.

  8. Amy Leigh Simpson September 12, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    Great post! And absolutely true! when I skipped a season last year and curled up with my Bible I ended up getting a much needed portion of peace, making a new friend who prayed over me, and had a lengthy encounter with my dream agent! When we let go, God can really move!

  9. Cara Putman September 12, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    Fantastic advice, Karen. I’ve forwarded it to our first-timers. Can’t wait to see you soon!

  10. Robin Miller September 12, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    Karen, as always, your advice rocks. I hope everyone takes advantage of the prayer room at ACFW where I’ve seen miracles of the hearts happen…and if anyone needs help/direction, come find me. I’m an introvert with a capital I, but for conference, I throw it off and just love on my brothers and sisters in Christ in the way only He can allow me.

    Oh, and Karen…I fully expect my hug! LOL

  11. Marji Laine September 12, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    In preparation for this, my first writer’s conference, I start stressing because there are so many goals I feel I have to accomplish. But there are really only a few things if I’m letting Christ be my Lord. My job is to be as prepared as I can be, but go with the anticipation of being used by Him. I keep forgetting that as I get wrapped in one-sheets and synopses! Thanks for the reminder!

  12. Georgiana Daniels September 12, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    Great advice! The down time is so important–and so hard to do. It’s easy to get exhausted, especially since I’m one of the capital I introverts.

    So excited–doing the conference dance!!!

  13. Lindsay Harrel September 12, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    Wonderful advice, Karen. I have been running around trying to prep my one-sheets, my pitch, and my suitcase, but haven’t spent as much time praying. I need to do that. Thank you for the reminder.

    And as for the first reminder, to not do everything but focus on the things I really want/need to do…but Karen…I cain’t say no! 😉

  14. Judy Gordon Morrow September 12, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    Wonderful and wise words, Karen. I loved your last injunction, “And to be Christ to all you meet.” Yes, that will make all the difference! I’m praying for a conference permeated with God’s presence and look forward to a report when you return.

  15. Robin Patchen September 12, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Great advice, Karen. It’s so easy to expect God to do great things for us, but what if His plan is to show us where we can bless and encourage others? This will be my second ACFW conference, and that’s one of my goals–to serve others. Of course the rest of my goals are less lofty, but important nonetheless. I’m glad I can relax knowing God has my writing career in His capable hands.

  16. Tiffany Amber Stockton September 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    An off-the-wall extrovert, Karen? Not you. Couldn’t be. 🙂 I’m right there with you. There isn’t a shy bone in my body to be found. Makes for interesting conferences when the majority are introverts. Thanks to pretending though, we can have introverts become extroverts, and vice versa, for a few days.

    But back on topic…wait…squirrel! Oh right. Your post. Excellent advice. Full of sound wisdom born of experience and spiritual insight. Thank you for taking the time to share it. I have tweeted about it and posted it on my Facebook author’s page.

    Looking forward to seeing you again next week. It’s been 4 years since I’ve been to an ACFW conference. Took time off to have 2 babies. 🙂 But excited to return again.

  17. Peter DeHaan September 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    At my first writers conference I was the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. I met Steve there and he was wonderful and kind.

    Now that I’ve attended a couple more conferences, I’ve finally figured out how to make the most of them.

  18. Cathy Richmond September 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    Looking forward to see Karen and all of you next week!

  19. Joan Miller September 13, 2012 at 3:00 am #

    Thanks for the post, Karen! Sadly, any conference is not in my budget right now, but in the past, I’ve gone home with a headache from trying to do too much with not enough rest. My favorite part of your post, though, is the “be grounded” part. What a timely reminder that our writing is not (or at least–should not) be about us, but about Him. He’s an awesome God with an awesome plan for each of us, when we’re willing to let Him lead.

    Have fun! And I hope to meet you at a future conference!

  20. Karen Ball September 13, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Great thoughts, everyone. I look forward to seeing those of you who will be at ACFW!

  21. Suzanne September 13, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    This is such fantastic advice! Thank you so much for putting it out there. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for the conference next week! The part I’m looking forward to the most is “being surrounded by folks who love words and writing and reading” as much as I do.

    I requested you for one of my agent meetings, and I hope we are indeed able to talk shop. (I’m crossing my fingers!)

    Blessings to you, Karen!

  22. Jennifer Dyer September 14, 2012 at 4:59 am #

    Thanks for the great advice, Karen. This will be my 4th ACFW. I’m looking forward to learning a ton, but you are so right about how exhausting and emotional conferences can be. I love what you said about trusting the Lord with our writing. It is easy to get drawn into the need to be successful, but God may have a different plan for that part of our lives. My last ACFW was 2 years ago. I had high hopes, but God knew I was about to be diagnosed with cancer and have to change direction for a while. I’m glad He is in control, and I’m also glad for this chance to come back. 🙂

  23. Nichole Hall September 14, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    I appreciate this post Karen. Being an ACFW conference newbie it is quite intimidating and extremely overwhelming (and I’m not even THERE yet!) Your words have let me know that it’s OK to take a break when I’m feeling weak and to recharge my batteries when that time comes. Thank you for reminding me to focus on the Lord and what His plans are for me and to be mindful and prayerful about all that encompasses the conference.

  24. Lauren H Brandenburg March 31, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    I came across your post while researching everything from what to wear to a conference to what to take. I love what you said here, “Remember, the One who tasked you to write has you—and your career—in His hands. He is at work on your behalf, not to make you a best-seller, but to make you the best tool for His work.” Thank you – I will add this to my suitcase. Blessings – Lauren

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