Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chicago, Here I Come!

By Mary Vee

Chicago, here I come!

I couldn’t believe it. I was driving to my first writing conference. Who could sleep the night before? I couldn’t!


My Christian radio station did an infomercial about the Write to Publish Conference one day as I drove home from work. It sounded exciting. But, writing conferences were for writers—accomplished writers—weren’t they? Doctors go to doctor conferences; teachers go to teacher conferences; therefore professional writers go to writing conferences, right?

Maybe--maybe they offered classes for novices. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. With only one published article to my name, I yearned to go with every ounce of ink I owned. I did what any red blooded, American wife would do; I dropped some not so subtle hints to my husband for the perfect birthday/Christmas/and any-other-gift-day-for-the-next-decade. Three weeks later I blasted my favorite tunes while cruisin’ down the expressway at an hour too ridiculous even for birds. By late afternoon I should be pulling into my first writing conference. Woot! Woot!

Had the Chicago traffic cooperated, I would have arrived in seven hours. However, millions of cars had the bizarre inkling to turn the expressway into a parking lot. Why, I’ll never know. I suppose my trip would have been better if I hadn’t left the freeway to try a shortcut. It was worse than the blind leading the blind—no one was leading.

Hungry and fizzled out I found the campus and stopped at the obvious building. I yanked at the main door. Locked. It seemed like a perfect moment to sulk. As I worked myself up to a decent pity party a Good Samaritan noticed me sitting on the stairs. She pointed the way to the registration building.

I dragged my suitcase two blocks to the building and clunked it upstairs, wondering why there wasn’t an elevator. On the third floor I stopped, panted and searched for directions. To my left, stood a lonely elevator begging to be used. A registrar handed me a meal card. “You look tired and hungry.” It wasn’t the compliment I was looking for. “Leave your things here, go eat, then come back to register. You better hurry, though, the cafeteria is two blocks away and stops serving in five minutes.”

That night I met my roommate. I stayed up for hours listening to her experiences at previous writer’s conference. She answered my questions and gave insight into what to do. Just think—the writer’s conference started in the morning!

After a breakfast feast, I hurried down the hill and across the street to sign up for a personal session with an editor. Of course I’d be first in line; I arrived forty-five minutes early. I opened the door and gaped. Hundreds, no, thousands of people filled the room. OK, there really were about forty. My mind swirled. A few Good Samaritans invited me to join their conversation, calmly passing the time with shared experiences. When I reached the sign-up sheets, each person I wanted to see had an open spot at a perfect time.

If I had to choose a favorite part of the conference, I’d choose the praise song time. God basically put a pillow under my mind, slowed my excited spirit, and helped me to praise Him in an auditorium filled with Christian Writers. Restful, inspiring, fulfilling.

Armed with physical and spiritual food, I walked into the hallowed hall of my first class. A real, live, accomplished author stood at the lectern. He looked up from his notes and said, “Hi.” Ooooooo. I knew I would never wash my ears again!

I scribbled down every word and illustration using pages and pages from my new spiral. My hand looked more like a crumpled claw by the end of the hour. I attended sessions about fiction, proposals, speaking, radio interviews, and much more, all taught by accomplished writers--all inspired me.

After dinner, Lynn Austin, winner of the Christy award, talked about Mary’s alabaster jar. She reminded us of our own alabaster jars filled with words. Would we kneel at Jesus’ feet and shed tears of labor to present our works for His use? She continued her series throughout the week, feeding our souls, encouraging our hearts, and strengthening our spirits.

My total sleep time for the conference averaged 3-4 hours per night. It was a week to remember. A week that blossomed into seventeen articles and a manuscript that made it passed an editor’s slush pile. A week of new friends, networking, writing ideas, goals, and inspiration.

I even sneaked in a short visit to the museum on campus which has on display the real, live, wardrobe C.S. Lewis had in his home. I didn't see Narnia inside.

On the way home I survived the perpetual Chicago traffic jam by listening to CDs from the conference—and not taking any short cuts!

Have you been to a writing conference? If yes, share one or two special things you learned. If no, what questions do you have regarding writing conferences? How can we help you?

8 comments:

Casey said...

Very fun, Mary! Have you been back to that conference since? I LOVE Lynn Austin, how exciting that you got to hear her speak!! I had to laugh at your shortcut and the registration bally hoo. Sounds like something I would get myself in. :)

Great post!! Makes me want to attend a conference with you. :)

Mary Vee said...

Yes, I did! And loved it. This conference has a never ending supply of information for writers no matter where they are on their journey. I must admit, last year I flew instead of driving:)

Casey said...

LOL! Probably best considering that story. :)

Keli Gwyn said...

Mary, what a great post. You really brought your first-time conference experience to life. Well done.

I can relate to the first-timer jitters. I had a serious case of them when I got brave enough to attend my first conference. Just being in the same room with published authors gave me a head rush. I was a sponge, and my workshop leaders and the keynote speaker filled it to overflowing. I couldn't wait to get home and put my newly acquired knowledge to work.

Mary Vee said...

Me either, Keli. Weren't you stuffed with ideas? And the notes...I needed to translate them into English (fast writing does that). And the friends....oooooo great memories.

Krista Phillips said...

Thanks for sharing, Mary!!

My first writing conference was a mini-retreat, and it helped prepare me (in a small way) for my first REALLY big Writer's conference, ACFW. And wow, what a fun time! Overwhelming because it's so large, but that didnt bother me so much. It was the whole "pitching" thing, as well as recognizing faces of authors that I admired... I felt strangely out of place, like I had snuck in and would be taken away by security pretty soon!

Most everyone was very nice though, and I went back the next year and had an even better time!

LOVE me some conferences! Sad that I can't go to any this year... but God knows!

Pepper Basham said...

Great post, Mary.
Chicago is overwhelming enough. Add your first writers conference and....wow!!
I don't think the BIGness of ACFW will bother me, it's the mass amount of info that will be overwhelming...and the CHOICES. Daggone it - you guys know what I'm like with choices!
My Speech-Language Pathology national convention was in Chicago two years ago and it's thousands and thousands of people strong, but it wasn't about WRITING!! :-)
That makes all the difference

Sherrinda said...

I am sooo late in commenting today! Forgive me!! Wow, Mary, I LOVED reading about your experience. Not having been to a conference, it was so cool to experience through YOUR eyes!

I CAN'T WAIT TO GET TO GO AND MEET MY WRITING FRIENDS!!!!!