For the first blog in this series, I want to talk about something I think is so important for a positive conference experience, and that is having healthy expectations. Any time we invest a lot of our resources into something, whether it be our heart, our finances, or our time (or a combination of these things), we often feel we need to get some kind of return from that investment. It's only natural to feel this way. But today I want to challenge you to think through what kind of return you are expecting from your conference experience.
Many new conference attendees feel they won't have a successful conference unless they sign a book deal with their dream publishing house, or sign a contract with an agent. Let's face it: meeting face-to-face with editors and agents is one of the most exciting opportunities available for conference attendees, and one of the strongest motivators for spending the kind of money it takes to get to a conference like ACFW. It's perfectly fine to make these things a goal and to hope for them. But if that's your measure of success, you have a problem. Because you may be operating outside of God's timetable and instead, inside of your own.
Conferences are about establishing relationships, not signing contracts. If you get a contract out of it, great. But don't make that your goal going in, because you're bound to be disappointed. Even if you do end up with an agent or a publisher because of a meeting you had at a conference, that process is likely to take months. An editor interested in your project may not even look at your proposal for a year. I hate to be a buzz kill, but that's the truth. Now, there are always exceptions, so don't let that get you down. I signed with Karen one month after last year's conference. So it does happen. But just realize that in the writing world, things often take time. Even if an editor or agent adores you, they probably won't offer you a contract on the spot. But a girl can dream, right? :)
So how can we go into the conference with healthy expectations for our experience?
- Open hearts. God has a way of changing our plans, replacing them with dreams that are way bigger than our own. If your heart is closed to His whispers, you may miss out. If you find the lunch table you wanted to eat at is already full, cast off your disappointment, hold your head high, and look for other opportunities. You never know... a chance to eat with your dream agent or editor (maybe someone you'd never even planned to talk with) may be just around the corner. Each conference, I am always amazed and humbled how God has His own plan for my being there and leads me to people I never would've expected I would be able to network with.
- Flexibility. The thing about being open to God's plan is that it often means being flexible, something I struggle with. During my first conference, I reached the point of sheer exhaustion and knew I needed only one thing: sleep. I set my alarm for a couple hours later than I'd planned, canceled my agent appointment in hopes I could pick up a different one last minute (totally outside of this plan-everything girl's usual paradigm) and waltzed into Starbucks for a late breakfast. In the next fifteen minutes, I met an editor who remembered me the next year as she was waiting in line for coffee, and I picked up a last-minute appointment with a different editor that ended up in a full manuscript request. Sometimes in order to open our hands to reach out for what God is giving us, we first must let go of what we have been clinging to so desperately. That may mean being flexible in your plans. If things don't go as you'd planned, instead of getting in a funk, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes to the bigger opportunities that may be ahead of you. You never know. The very thing that seems like a disappointment to you may be paving the way toward a larger landscape of possibility.
- Holding on to dreams. Remember that you are here for a reason. Between the exhaustion, the pressure, and all the famous authors you'll be rubbing shoulders with (even if they are a humble bunch), you are bound to feel discouraged at least one point during your time at the conference. I know I always do. My first conference in particular, I remember hitting a wall at one point, going back to my room, and praying, "What in the world am I doing here? Do I even have what it takes to be a writer? These people around me all know what they are doing." I ended up at Johnny Rockets with a chocolate milkshake that worked a miracle. By the way, I realized I hadn't been outside in three days. Even at the conference, and I realize you want to "get the most bang for your buck" so to speak by taking advantage of opportunities, it is still very important that you take time for yourself to relax. You need to hold on to your dreams and remind yourself why you are there in the first place. Listen to the affirming whispers of God in your heart. Surround yourself with people who believe in your calling, and believe in theirs as well. God has brought you into this season of your life for a reason. Enjoy it, and hold on to that calling with all your might, no matter if your doubts say otherwise.
I think it's so important--yet so difficult!--to remember that at the end of the day, God has a plan for it all. He really does see us, just where we are. What it comes down to is whether or not we really trust and believe that.
Lord, give us the faith to see what You see, the plans and dreams You have for our lives.
What tips do you have for having healthy expectations for the conference? How can healthy expectations help us to have a better conference experience?