It’s still two months away, but it’s never too early to prepare for the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) annual conference – especially shy writers. People laugh when I tell them I’m naturally shy. They don’t believe me. That’s my goal: making people believe that I’m comfortable even when my insides turn to jelly. At any writing conference, that should be your goal, too.
There’s a lot to be said about scheduled appointments, but those aren’t the only ways to meet agents or editors, or even prospective mentors. If you want to take advantage of all of your opportunities, however, you need to leave your introvert at home. Make yourself ready (and willing) to say hello to anyone, anywhere. I’ve been particularly lucky in computer labs.
Last year I attended the Write-to-Publish conference in Illinois. With over 200 people, it was the largest conference I’d ever attended. On my first night I wanted to sit in my room an curl up with a book until the sessions started, but I had a deadline to meet. Having left my laptop at home, I visited the computer lab.
It wasn’t your typical lab – it was actually a time machine. Pressing the little power button sent a person back 15 years to top of the line dial-up connection speeds. Thanks to a quirk in the server, five minute page loads slowed everyone down, but they also gave us lots of free time. Not wanting to over-edit my article, I turned to the person next to me.
“This reminds me of the days when you could read a magazine while you waited for your computer to boot up,” he said.
I glanced his name tag with the shiny “SPEAKER” ribbon. Then I noticed his name – Dr. Dennis Hensley. My brain froze. Though I’d never attended one of Dr. Hensley’s classes, I recognized his name from almost every conference schedule I’d researched. Intimidated and panicked, I said something truly intelligent, like, “Yeah.”
God loves me, though, so the next day I once again sat beside Dr. Hensley. This time I started the conversation. We continued to meet that way for the next two days, chatting about computers and sharing on-line pictures of nieces and grandchildren. I never had the chance to sit in one of his classes, but we developed a friendly exchange .
Three weeks later I attended my next conference. The scheduled fiction instructor had to cancel and Dr. Hensley took his place (I told you – God loves me). By the end of two educational days I had the friendship (and email address!) of a prolific writer.
As wonderful as that relationship has been, it’s not the only one that started in a computer lab. In fact, it was shortly after my dazzling first-impression on Dr. Hensley when my conference mentor found me fumbling for words in front of a computer screen.
“There’s a lady in the lobby who’s looking for someone to watch the hockey game!”
That’s the only problem with writing conferences in early June – they conflict with the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That year, though, it was quite the blessing. My team made it to the finals, and so did Diana Flegal’s – the editor I wanted to meet. Since the college campus didn’t have cable, we decided to find a television elsewhere.
That gave us the chance to drive into town and spend hours together, away from anyone else. We ended up watching two games – approximately five hours of quality female bonding. By the end of that conference we exchanged emails and Facebook pages. We’ve stayed in touch ever since.
Now as I work on my manuscript, and even my freelance writing, I have the advantage of two friends in the industry who share their tips and advice. If I had only used my “game face” in the classroom, I would have missed the chances to meet such wonderful people.
So please, leave your introvert at home. For four days take advantage of each elevator ride and buffet line. Don’t let fear get the best of you. Remember – your God is bigger than that! Trust in Him, and just say “Hi”.
For more information on the conference, visit the website at www.acfw.com/conference.