Hello, from Jeanette, CAN’s faithful secretary! This week I am scrambling with last minute preparation for two writers’ conference workshops that I am teaching over the weekend. Teaching at the Castro Valley Christian Writer’s Seminar has become a highlight of my year. In addition to teaching, I critique, and have many opportunities to encourage and guide new writers. Fifteen years ago I attended my first writers’ conference with a pretty even mix of excitement and terror. Now I’m one of those standing beyond the podium (actually, at this conference we get a music stand) teaching hopeful newbie’s how to format manuscripts correctly, write so readers will listen, and communicate with editors. What a fun yet humbling place to be.
I can’t help getting a bit nostalgic when I prepare for these things. I remember arriving in the dining hall for the opening lunch of the Mount Harmon Christian Writers’ Conference, back in 1995, praying that nobody would catch on to my cluelessness. When a woman who obviously knew the ropes took time to say hello during the orientation, my self-esteem tripled. I wouldn’t spend the entire conference alone after all. I could make friends. As if that weren’t enough, I discovered that she was a member of the faculty. One of them talked to me. I have a first-timer sticker on my nametag and everything and she still talked to me! That woman’s friend heard that I was a beginner and practically begged me to attend her workshop track. Oh my goodness, God, is this what it feels like to be popular?
If anyone had even suggested that the workshop instructors were anything less than geniuses I’m sure that the Mama Bear in me would have roared far louder than my fear of confrontation. I was in awe of their knowledge. My first critique came back with smiley faces, suggestions for improvement, reminders to avoid passive voice, a sticker (she’s a children’s author), and a note encouraging me to show my story to one of the editors. My brain almost short circuited as it bounced between she thinks my story is good enough to show an editor and I have to talk to one of those scary editor people. Surely everyone sitting around me at dinner could hear my pounding heart as I prepared to make an appointment. But I did it, and quickly discovered that, like the faculty, those editors were not only normal human beings, but actually pretty cool. Yes, I had tons to learn and 800 words to shave off that story before I could officially submit it, but I had survived my first writers’ conference. No wait, I had completely loved my first writers’ conference!
All these years later I am still writing for that magazine. Now that I’m on the faculty end of some conferences I understand that those genius instructors were as nervous as I was back in 1995, just in a different way. Still, they were willing to teach, critique, and encourage clueless, insecure, needy me. Whenever I start to whine over how slowly things seem to be moving along in my career sometimes, I remind myself how far God has brought me since that first step into the Mount Harmon dining hall.
What precious markers do you have to remind you of your progress as a writer? How can you pass on even a tiny piece of the knowledge you have gained to a frightened, clueless, yet eager new writer?