My Experience at #ACFW2016!

20160828_201601A little over two weeks ago, I started my first ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference experience. I’d decided to fly from Atlanta to Nashville instead of driving because I had a ticket that needed to be used and because hotel parking was so expensive. So off I went. This was my first time flying without a companion. My trip included a stop off at Raleigh-Durham and a plane change, which wouldn’t have been so bad if we hadn’t been delayed in Atlanta because of storms. If you want to hear all about the adventurous travels I had, check out my video on my Facebook Author Page.

Now onto the conference. I’m an extrovert. I love people. I love talking. I rarely find people who I can’t strike up a conversation with. And if said person doesn’t talk back, I’ll do all the talking. But for some reason, I was very nervous about going to the conference alone. Even though I had friends that would be there, I was afraid I’d never find them. I was rooming with two friends, and I didn’t want them to have to babysit me all day every day, but I didn’t want to be a lone wolf either. One of my dearest friends who I’m in writers group with told me I was being so silly. She said I would be the belle of the ball. I didn’t believe her.

One thing I did believe was that I was supposed to go. God had worked out all the details in such a way that people who don’t even know me well knew I was supposed to go. I told my husband that I figured one of two things would happen to me while I was there.

  1. I’d be completely dejected, rejected, snubbed, made to feel like such a small fry, told I didn’t know how to write and should just go home and try to learn to paint Bob Ross pictures instead of writing. I’d feel bored in the classes and unchallenged. I’d be a discouragement to everyone and would probably make someone feel awful because sometimes I can be too blunt.
  2. I’d be completely accepted, encouraged, affirmed, surrounded by friends (old and new, from my real world as well as my virtual world). I’d learn new techniques and things about writing and marketing and feel challenged. I’d be told that I could write well and should send my manuscript in as soon as I have it ready. I’d be an encouragement to other writers (both behind me and ahead of me in the game), and I would resist the urge to say too much.

I am happy to say that number two happened! Well, I can’t say for sure that I was a huge encouragement to people, but I didn’t make anyone cry and run to their rooms in shame, so I think I at least wasn’t a discouragement.

From the moment I walked into the newcomer’s orientation at the conference, I saw people I’ve been friends with for years on Facebook and received welcoming hugs around the neck. Instantly, my nerves settled and I was ready to own this experience.

The first night’s dinner was a genre dinner, in which you dressed in character, if you wanted to. I had planned to wear a costume I fashioned out of curtains complete with a hat decorated in full Victorian style, but since I was coming to conference as a Romantic Suspense writer, I decided not to dress in costume. Plus, one of my roommates said that the last time I wore the costume at a writers retreat, my costume didn’t quite cover all the necessary areas and I flashed her. I guess my wraparound skirt didn’t wrap around quite far enough. So….

Friday and Saturday were jam packed with classes, continuing education, agent panels, and publisher spotlight sessions. Short fifteen minute breaks between each didn’t leave much time for catching your breath or journaling your experiences, but that’s okay. That could be done later.

We had great worship in each general session and our keynote speaker was Ted Dekker. So I was in heaven!

Me and one of my favorite people in the world, Carrie Turansky
Me and one of my favorite people in the world, Carrie Turansky

I attended a spotlight session for a publisher I wanted to know more about and learned about all the things they look for in a manuscript, what immediately puts it in the slush pile, and what causes it to jump to the top. I took a class on the “antagonistic setting” which basically showed how to cause extra trouble for your characters. You know, throw a spider in the car, a fire in the kitchen, a shark in the ocean, a tornado or a hurricane into their plans. Good stuff. I learned how to be more creative and how to conquer fear, discouragement, stress and all the things that zap a writer’s energy and keep her from writing.

Me with friends Dani Pettrey and Becky Wade
Me with friends Dani Pettrey and Becky Wade

On Friday, I had my agent and publisher appointments. Now I have to admit, my nerves were getting the best of me. But I had people praying for me and I was praying for me, too, and when I walked out of those appointments, I wasn’t walking. I was floating. I floated down the hall. I floated down the escalator. And I floated back to class. I had survived what can be the equivalent of a job interview (I haven’t interviewed for a job in YEARS) without losing my lunch, and I felt even better about my story than I did when I entered the room. I received the coveted request for my full manuscript in both appointments.

What I had hoped to hear, I’d heard. And I was thanking God even more than before for paying my way and paving my way to the conference.

Saturday night’s dinner was the BEST! It was the gala and award ceremony. We all dressed up nice and fancy, posed for pics with our peeps (I didn’t take many because I’m just too caught up in the moment usually), cheered our fellow writers along as they were nominated for and won awards, and felt like Cinderella for just one night.

Me with Love Inspired editors Tina James and Melissa Endlich

acfwlogoNow that I’m back home and I’ve recovered from my travels and the pile of work that waited for me, I’m working feverishly on this book. I’ve set a 2,000 word a day goal (this blog just used up 1,000 of them for today, haha!) and hope to have it finished by the first of October. Then I can edit and have my test readers go through it. Prayers would be much appreciated.

If you’re contemplating going to a writers conference or retreat, I can now say that I highly recommend it. There’s lots to learn, lots of opportunity to grow, and lots of chances to make friends (which is probably the best part of all).


Published by Sherri Wilson Johnson

I am a wife/mother/writer/speaker looking to be used by God!

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