(Note: just to clarify, that is the other blonde Aussie in this photo. Not me).
I’ve returned from ACFW Conference in Nashville and my brain is full of inspiration, experience and creativity. I’m fogged, but not completely because of the jetlag. Instead I’ve got contacts, new friends, inspiring stories, exciting plot developments and challenging ideas floating around my brain, eager to find their place somewhere in my writing.
Going to a Conference is about connection and networking, but it’s also about what you do with what you take away.
So what did I learn?
- That I have an accent. Apparently. But that’s okay, because everyone else has one too.
- Americans are very courteous – and Southern hospitality is alive and well. I felt warmly welcomed to your part of the world.
- You know you’re on a long-distance flight when you wake from a good night’s sleep, only to find there are enough hours for another good night’s sleep before you arrive.
- Writers are my tribe .. I blogged about this last week before I came over to the USA, but this was reinforced to me over and over again. I more than enjoyed talking to hundreds of writers about their stories and characters; I actually craved it . There was something about talking to them that felt like coming home, like these people understood how I thought, what I was trying to achieve, my challenges and my struggles. And they wanted to get to know my imaginary friends too. They speak my language and I speak theirs.
- Brainstorming sessions are great fun, but very, very valuable. I loved meeting with other writers and helping them with plotholes, questions, character traits and all sorts of other things. They also helped me with an issue I had with a character from my next book. Thanks to Tisha, Kelsey, Sarah, Barry and the rest of the gang whose names I have forgotten. I blame the jet lag.
- ACFW is a community, but felt like a family. There was a real warmth in the Conference and people were really, really friendly. Especially with the agents and editors appointments. I found people to be really encouraging, which is extraordinary considering you could say those people are competing with each other. As a visitor and first-time newbie, I found people wanting to help so eagerly.
- Being a finalist of Genesis brings with it so many nice compliments. It’s not a pride thing; it’s more the recognition of years of work and it’s nice to hear. Especially when writing can be an isolating, solo pursuit, where feedback isn’t readily available because you’ve disappeared into your own world.
- There are so many subsets of Christian fiction. Even in a smorgasbord of storytelling, I found out about steampunk from talking to Morgan Busse. (Although when I got home, I got a 45-minute lecture on the coolness of steampunk from my 14-year-old son. I may have missed a connection with him there). Even within some genres, there are some things people are writing that are amazing: spec fiction, historical fiction and thrillers (some with doctors, some without).
- Jebraun Clifford has a surprising accent for a New Zealander, but she’s great fun and a Genesis winner! Casey Miller has the type of dry humour that could make him an honorary Australian. Karen Sargent is a most fun English teacher to talk to ever. And Barry deLozier and Ian Acheson are two of the most encouraging Christian men I’ve met in a long time.
- Nashville pulses with music and BBQ sauce. As a musician, I was so heartened to see guitars everywhere. A major highlight away from the Conference was the RCA Studio B tour and I stood in the spot Elvis recorded Heartbreak Hotel while hearing the track echoing through the crackling, sagging PA. My heart actually stopped at one stage.
- The food was great – burgers, ribs, mac and cheese, BBQ – everything you hear about American food was in Nashville. But USA serving sizes are less of a suggestion and more of a dare. I ordered a snack-sized Nachos and it was as if Jesus Himself had blessed two corn chips and some salsa before feeding me plus 4,999 other diners.
- The Omni Hotel is a comfortable hotel with good food and facilities. It’s a belt buckle toss from the Broadway and the staff were friendly (if you ever need help, just ask for Vincent. He’s a legend.) But …
- There is one train crossing in Nashville and it’s right underneath the noses of the should-be-sleeping Omni Hotel guests. Goods trains crossing the road need to blare their horns three times, and drivers must be paid by the length of their horn calls. And men who operate jackhammers always start at 6.30am. Always.
- Ted Dekker is on another level when it comes to writing – and he’s so inspiring. The way he talked at the Conference about writing to explore yourself or your beliefs in order to be authentic in your work was mind-blowing. Once I got over the fanboi reaction of seeing Ted up on stage in person, just listening to him reframe the whole process of writing was enough to make you go away and not just replan your WIP. You end up replanning your approach to writing.
- That God is good. The fact I was in Nashville at all was a testament to God going: “do you trust Me?” The whole trip came together under His provision and everything that happened at ACFW was as a result of God’s goodness. That was reinforced again and again in all the similar stories I heard from other people. We’re all on a similar journey, but we all have the same travel agent and guide.
But do you the one thing I learned the most (or probably had reinforced the most)?
- I am a writer. I enjoyed talking to writers. And I look forward to talking with them a heap more.