I’d like to share some lessons I learned at the recent Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference in North Carolina.
Lesson 1: Don’t Be a Know It All
This is actually a lesson (or attitude) to learn before setting foot anywhere near the venue. It’s where I tell myself I don’t know everything. If I think I know it all, my mind is closed to learning anything new. It raises the questions: Why am I going at all? What could they possibly teach me? I should be teaching them.
Recognize this attitude is driven by pride and makes it nearly impossible to learn short of divine intervention by God himself. Even then, we’re likely to think he’s agreeing with us and his lightning bolt is an endorsement.
Check pride at the door and put on the cloak of humility. I approach each session like I don’t know anything. I want to soak up the material. This came clear to me at Blue Ridge as I took several classes on marketing and discovered how little I really knew.
Lesson 2: Learn Outside the Classroom
We can frequently learn as much from other attendees as we can from the faculty.
Look for times and places to fellowship with other attendees. At meals. In the coffee shop. Waiting for appointments. Before and after classes.
Get over our introverted selves. I speak from experience. I used to be a man who was so introverted, I wouldn’t even talk to myself.
Let me suggest a few “break the ice” questions: What are you writing? How long have you been writing? Where are you from? What do you hope to gain from the conference? You may occasionally encounter a weird kind of person. Like me. When asked what brought me to the conference (another way of asking why are you here, what do you hope to gain), I may take the question literally and answer, “My car.”
What I’m about to write may sound like I’m contradicting the first lesson, but while I don’t know everything, I need to remember I have something to offer. Not from an arrogant or conceited viewpoint. Quite the opposite. We have the opportunity to encourage other writers. We could be God’s divinely arranged appointment to speak a word in due season to a fellow author who is struggling and may be on the brink of quitting this writing gig.
Lesson 3: We Can Learn from Everybody
Everybody we encounter can teach us something. The Blue Ridge Conference is held at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in Black Mountain, NC, near Asheville. The Center can accommodate several groups at once and has a cadre of staff and volunteers to help. Watching these people was to see a live demonstration of a servant’s heart, kindness, friendliness, a willingness to answer endless questions, and a drive to help attendees have as pleasant an experience as possible. Through their humble service, they taught lessons in servanthood that exemplified the Bible.
Lesson 4: Pray Before, During, & After
Pray about going. Is this what God wants? See Lesson 1. Pray about which classes to take, which agents and editors to meet. Pray to be a blessing to others. Don’t fret about being blessed. God will take care of that like he always does. Seek to be his servant.
Lesson 5: Be Prepared
Be prepared for meetings with agents and editors with one sheets and pitches ready. Select classes before arriving. Be prepared to be flexible when my plan doesn’t work out. I may not get a meeting with the agent I’ve been drooling over. What’s my backup? Part of being prepared is to show up for your appointments with editors and agents. I blew this at the conference, completely forgetting an appointment. I arrived sixteen minutes late for my fifteen-minute block of time. The agent was gracious and made herself available for a few minutes at lunch that day. And she asked for a proposal. Talk about the favor of God.
Lesson 6: Relax and Enjoy
After preparing ourselves, remember it’s all in God’s hands. Roll the care onto him and listen for his direction. Enjoy the setting. Enjoy the people you meet. Exchange info and stay in touch after the conference. Enjoy the doors God opens. And really enjoy the doors he shuts.
What are lessons you’ve learned from going to conferences?