Tuesday, April 18, 2017

5 Ways to Embrace Your Next Writing Conference/Retreat

5 ways to embrace your next writing conference
by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Spring and Summer are prime seasons for Writing Conferences, so I hope you are able to take advantage of one in the coming months. There are so many benefits to gathering with other creative folk and learning from one another, especially while going deeper with God. While such events are an essential investment for your writing career, they do require energy, resources and time. 

How can you make the most of your next conference/retreat?

Here are my five keys to staying focused:

1. Purpose: There are perhaps several reasons why you have registered for this event, or accepted a faculty invitation. But it is helpful to pinpoint some of your primary expectations. Are you hoping to shop a book proposal with publishers/editors? Do you mostly need to learn the ropes as you enter the freelance publishing industry? Perhaps you've just started a novel and your hope is to find out about characterization, plot, scene, and how to do a story-line. Maybe you're going because you are asking God to direct your path and confirm what seems to be a call to write or speak. Are you looking for an agent? Or your deepest need right now is to find like-minded friends who are believers and communicators - writing is a lonely business and you are eager to connect. I find it helpful to target my primary purpose, because when I'm immersed in the crowd and the many offerings, it's easy to forget why I'm there and just chase after the next thing. For instance, next month I'm on the faculty of a Writers Conference and I know my main purpose is to encourage, support, teach, and guide writers and speakers on the path. Yes, I will enjoy making new friends and learning from others, but my primary purpose is to give and serve.

2. Prayer: From the moment you began to research this event, I hope you have prayed about whether the timing is right, provision for resources, what you hope to gain, and how to prepare for being there. It may help to begin a list of your own prayer needs before you come. I also always print out the faculty and staff list and pray for them. Whenever I share a room with other writer/speakers at the event, we try to have a prayer time together before we all go our separate ways for the day. (One time at ICRS we prayed for our young roommate who hoped to get married one day and she literally met her husband-to-be on the CBA floor—he was a novelist too!)  If you have classes, critiques and appointments scheduled, pray over those‚that God would give you the words to say and the open heart to receive what is communicated to you as well. That book proposal—lay hands on the manuscript and offer it back to the One who gave you those words. I'm a firm believer in praying over and through every aspect of life, so don't leave home without this important spiritual discipline.

3. Preparation: Most events will send you needed information about what to bring, wear, and sign up for, etc. Don't forget such things as business cards (yes, a small photo on them will help others remember you), hard copy of proposals or items to be critiqued, perhaps a few of your latest book or small gifts for others, clothing you want for a head-shot if you're using that option, comfortable shoes and a great tote bag. If you are meeting with editors, agents and publishers you will want to spend time preparing your pitch (other Write Conversation articles share details about this). In addition to prayer, one of the best preparations you can make is to ask and answer these questions before you go: 1.Why do I want to be a writer/speaker? 2. What unique story do I have to share with the world? 3. How am I willing to sacrifice in order to pursue the slow work of excellence and spiritual maturity? 4. When I return home, what is one thing I must bring with me (doesn't have to be a tangible thing) in order to feel this event was successful? Be thoughtful. Remind yourself that God is with you every single moment and has called you to be part of building His kingdom.

4. People: In my humble opinion, people are the highlight of any writing/speaking event. So be sure to go with an open mind that God will most definitely bring people into your life to encourage, stretch, and utterly surprise you with wonders! This has been my experience throughout life, but only if I was always opens to those God-ordained encounters. Not necessarily with the 'superstars' everyone wants to meet, but with that gal who shared the elevator, or that guy who sat at our lunch table. You go first. Ask them questions that allow them to share portions of their story and journey. Offer to help or direct if you are an alumni. Remember some of your own insecurities when you first started coming to such events and do everything you can to make others feel comfortable and empowered. While you probably are not in a position to affirm their professional qualities, you can affirm them as made in the image of Christ. If you know faculty or publishing folk, praise them to the attendees and recommend classes etc. And always go home with new contacts in your pocket, not just people who might help you get a book contract, but people who will continue to enrich your whole life. Today most of my closest friends were people I met while at writing/speaking events. But there's always room for one more...

5. Plan: All too soon, the conference will be over. And you will return home to your study with a pile of information and business cards and emails. What to do now? Make a plan, and then work your plan. Starting by writing a Thank You Note to the directors of the event (yes, even if you did not meet them personally). Their team worked hard and appreciate feedback. Then, write Thank You Notes to everyone with whom you had an appointment—critiquers, editors, publishers, agents, faculty, etc. Next, start a timeline on what needs to happen with your current Work In Progress (WIP). You should have requirements for what each publisher needs for a non-fiction book proposal - start putting it together. Or perhaps you heard of someone soliciting sample devotionals for a compilation book and the deadline is this week. Get on it and submit—that's why you went to the event anyway! Whatever your goals are for your writing/speaking career, this conference has hopefully propelled you forward. But the problem is that all this information can be overwhelming so many people come home and freeze. Make yourself take one step forward a day—look over your notes and pray for direction.

I hope and pray that each of you is able to attend a writer/speaker event at least once this year (or perhaps every other year). Such conferences and retreats not only strengthen us in our craft, but they broaden our vision and open our eyes to all that God is doing in the world. My very first pursuit in free-lance writing was the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference of 1982 and it literally changed my life. I assure you I would not have anything to give back as faculty today had it not been for so many who encouraged and launched me on this path so many years ago. Next month I’m privileged once again to serve as faculty for the Blue RidgeMountains Christian Writers Conference. If you come, be sure and introduce yourself to me. And, by the way, I attended this same conference back in 1987 and 1988 during a season where I wrote only magazine articles because I was raising four young children. How marvelous to see what God has done through His people! One day you will see that too...  

Every word you give me is a miracle word— how could I help but obey?
Break open your words, let the light shine out, let ordinary people see the meaning. 
Psalm 119.129 MSG


Lucinda Secrest McDowell, M.T.S., is the author of 12 books, contributing author to 25 books, and has published in more than 50 magazines. Her books and studies include: Dwelling Places and Live These Words. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, she also studied at the Wheaton Graduate School of Communication. A member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA), Lucinda received Mt. Hermon “Writer of the Year” award and blogs monthly for The Write Conversation. Cindy has served on faculty at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, Florida Christian Writers Conference, Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference and co-directs "reNEW ~ retreat for New England Writing." Lucinda is a storyteller who delights in weaving grace and mercy into ordinary life situations. Known for her ability to convey deep truth in practical and winsome ways, she writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England. She blogs weekly at www.EncouragingWords.net


  1. Cindy, Great information and encouragement. I hope to see you there.

  2. I'm delighted you're returning this year, Lucinda. My only regret from last year was not meeting you. :)

  3. Thank you for such a rich post. I hope to meet you at Blue Ridge.

  4. Cindy, your post makes me want to attend another writing conference. Thank you!

  5. Great conference tips, Lucinda. I bought your devotional book last year at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, Dwelling Places. I loved it. Hope to meet you in person sometime. Blessings!

  6. Lucinda, you absolutely covered all the bases, including the importance of prayer! Great information for newbies to conferences and for us "old timers" as well! I look forward to meeting you at Blue Ridge in May.
    Blessings, Elva Cobb Martin, Pres., ACFW-SC Chapter www.elvamartin.com

  7. Thank you for this post! I love all five keys, with #2-Prayer being my absolute lifeline. Praying for you and the leadership of BRMCWC. Blessings!