Thursday, October 1, 2015

Top FIVE Pieces of Advice at ACFW

Last week, I shared my top FIVE moments from ACFW, and this week, I wanted to share my top FIVE pieces of advice. 

I started getting nervous weeks before the conference. I don't like big crowds. I don’t like being in situations where I don’t know anyone. And I wasn’t very excited about the idea of pitching myself or my story to an agent. In fact, the thought made nauseated, so I quit thinking about it. The morning that I flew out, I sat in the airport and cried. I thought, Am I really doing this?
I arrived on Thursday morning, and to be honest, I was so overwhelmed with all the people, I hid in my hotel room. There were people everywhere, in the coffee shop, in the lobby, on the first floor—people with ACFW badges like me. But instead of introducing myself, I just retreated. I told the Lord, this is too much. 

Then Thursday afternoon we had our opening session and a time of praise and worship. I had to drag myself out of the room to attend, but I attended.  When the first song we sang was a Kim Walker-Smith song, I thought, Okay, I can do this. His presence surrounded me, and by the time we ended with a Bethel song, I told the Lord, I am right where I need to be. 

He gave me a word two years ago, in the fall of 2013: Brave. Before Bethel had the song You Make Me Brave, my Heavenly Dad was already saying, Be brave, my daughter. In worship on Thursday, He reminded me of that word. Be brave. So, I decided then that I would attend it all, I would meet people, and I would pitch my ideas. I would be brave. 

For those who might not be familiar with the conference, we sat in continuing education classes all day Friday. There were several to choose from, but in each class, we learned something about honing the skills for our craft. On Saturday, there were shorter workshop-style or presentation-style sessions on various topics ranging from working with agents, handling rejection, or creating compelling characters. During sessions on both Friday and Saturday, we had appointments with agents and/or editors, so people would slip out of a session and return frequently. I had four appointments, so I missed two parts of the Friday continuing education class, and portions of two of my Saturday sessions. 

But unless I was in an appointment, I was in ‘class.’ I kinda felt like a kid in a candy store. I love to learn—I always have, but learning about fiction writing captivated me. I didn’t want to be anywhere else, and I didn’t want to miss anything. I felt like a sponge. 

So… top FIVE pieces of advice:

5. Create a platform for yourself. I’ve already blogged about this, so I won’t belabor the point. But essentially I learned that I don’t have a platform, and I probably need one. J Step 1. Create a platform. Ha!

4. Decide to write, and, equally as important, decide to call yourself a writer. In her session, “Writing Is a Decision,” Kathleen Y’Barbo gave us great advice about being a writer—and the first part was deciding to write.  

3. Develop a story question for your work. I went to a workshop on Saturday titled “The Power of Story Question.” We learned that your story question is more than the ‘what if’ of your plot. The story question is a deeper question that readers identify with—an inner struggle that may not have an easy answer. My story question for Restless Heart might be something like, If God took everyone you ever loved, would He still be good? Is God trustworthy when it feels like you’ve experienced a life of disappointment and unexpected circumstances?

2. Hone your craft: perspective and dialogue. Kristen Heitzmann’s CE class on “Keys to Compelling Stories” entailed more advice than I can list in one point, much less a blog post—but I loved her discussion about these two elements in particular, perspective and dialogue. She gave us four grammar rules about perspective. I naturally followed some of these rules, but as I have been polishing my manuscript, I’ve been trying to pay special attention to syntax for each character’s perspective sections. She also gave us great tips about dialogue, especially ways to cut sentence length and match a more abbreviated speech pattern that sounds like the way we naturally talk.

1. Be patient and willing to change. I have to say—of all the advice I received in the workshops and classes, one of my biggest takeaways was this piece of advice. At the Friday morning breakfast, I sat next to Karen Witemeyer, a multi-published historical fiction writer. She shared her first experience with publishing her novel—and, to offer the short version, she was basically asked to cut her whole manuscript and re-write it based on a brief scene at the beginning of the novel. She had to completely re-envision—and rewrite—her novel to get it published. And it took a lot of time. In the end, it was worth it—but her attitude likely made all the difference.

Comment below and share your top five pieces of advice if you were at the conference! 

p.s. I've already put next year's ACFW dates in my calendar. :) 

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