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The ACFW Conference: It’s Not What You Think!

My name is Jennifer AlLee. I’m 43 years old. I’ve been all over the country, seen a lot of things, done a lot of stuff. But until last year, I was a conference virgin.

Pretty amazing, huh? Even though I’d been diligently studying my craft for years, writing manuscripts, seeking publication, I was clueless when it came to writers conferences. But then I joined ACFW, and a whole new world opened up to me.

ACFW Conference Ad 2008What? You mean I can actually be in the same room with agents and editors and no one will tell me I’m in the wrong place? And they’ll talk to me? I can sit with one at a table and share a meal? Published authors will breathe the same air as me and be happy about it? I had to be a part of this.

For me, the months leading up to the conference were full of excitement and stress. I was like a kid planning out my trip to Disneyland, making lists of what I’d do and see so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I got business cards. I submitted my manuscript for a paid critique. I made one sheets (after finding out that I needed one sheets and then finding out what the heck a one sheet is). I practiced my pitch. I planned my wardrobe, second-guessed it, then planned it again. Finally, I was ready.

Being in Dallas, surrounded by hundreds of people who are not only fellow writers, but fellow Christians, was an incredible experience. Yet, despite all the preparation I’d done, the things that blessed me the most were the things I never expected. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Flexibility is a must – I had my one sheets, but in the end, I never gave any of them out. But that’s okay. I would have hated to need one and not had it, but at the same time, forcing it on someone is not cool.
  • Be a sponge – Seriously, soak it all up. There’s so much knowledge floating around, you can’t possibly attend the conference and not leave a better writer and a better person. Between the classes, the times of fellowship, and the worship, this conference feeds every part of you. Which leads me to my last point….
  • Expect God to bless you in ways you don’t expect – This was huge for me last year. Before I left for Dallas, I thought the conference would be a success if I got submission requests from one or more editors. In that respect, things didn’t go so well. But God had so much more for me! Whenever I was feeling discouraged, He put me together with someone who lifted me right back up. Because of that, I got to be great friends (and critique buddies) with Patti Lacy and Lisa Richardson. I was blessed by the prayers of Mary DeMuth and Meredith Efken. And I can’t leave out the hugs and infectious smiles of Shar MacLaren, Ane Mulligan and Leanna Ellis, which have to be experienced to be truly appreciated.

When I get to Minneapolis in September, I’ll be one year older, and a bit wiser. This time around, I’m leaving my stress at home. I’m ready to learn everything I can, reconnect with young friendships begun last year, get real-life hugs from my cyber-buddies, and soak up God’s presence. I can’t wait to see what He’s going to do this year!

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