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This past weekend my husband and I attended the Breathe Christian Writers Conference in the Grand Rapids area. The speakers included a good friend of ours, a former coworker, a freelancer of mine, and my husband’s agent, so I was excited to attend and see familiar faces as I thought deeply about writing. I love writers conferences. If fact, I really like the whole conference experience. The lanyards, the tables of books, the feeling of going to class, the comradery, the hum of ideas as they buzz around in people’s heads.

For those of you who may not have been to such a conference before, here’s the skinny on the sessions I attended and whether or not I think I will be able to put what I learned into action in my writing.

Writing a Personality-Packed Book Proposal by Lorilee Craker

Lorilee has had my job before. She’s been a freelancer for me. My company has published some of her books. We’re friends on Facebook. But it was so nice to finally see her face to face. She has a wonderful personality and her workshop on proposals was very well done and helpful.

Writing from Your Passion and Perspective by Tim Burns

I found the first half of Tim’s presentation interesting and helpful. He talked a bit longer than I thought was necessary on Peter’s life and I would have preferred more time for the “students” in the room to interact on the subject so we could hear from each other about where we come from in our writing. This session also led me to ask once more the question that has vexed me for more than a decade: So if my life is not laced with tragedy (as were the lives of Tim’s example writers) how exactly to I draw deep as a writer from what feels like a comparatively shallow well of experience? Can happy people with blessed lives be compelling writers?

Finding Your Voice–And Your Story’s by Dave Lambert

Former executive fiction editor at Zondervan (bonehead move cutting all those experienced editors from your staff, Zondervan) and also a former editor at Howard Publishing of Simon & Shuster, Dave Lambert was knowledgeable, had excellent illustrative examples, and had the manner of a good teacher. I think this was my favorite session by far. While developing a voice in fiction cannot be taught, exactly, and it cannot be manufactured, this session gave me a lot to think about in terms of how my POV affects everything in my story and helps define my voice over time.

Conquering Your Writing Fears by Sharron Carrns

I don’t have a lot of writing fears. More like one specific fear. Okay, maybe two. But I’m not riddled with them. Still, Sharron’s candid and thoughtful presentation, along with her very helpful handout, did help me realize that there is not one thing out of place for me in my life when it comes to being meant to write and set up to publish. I’ve always had tremendous parental, scholastic, and spousal support for my writing. My education has been just what it needed to be. I’ve worked in the business for over a decade. The only piece that I need to continue to work on is the actual writing! So this session gave me another little mental boost. Write, write, write!

Common Mistakes Novelists Make–And How to Avoid Them by Jocelyn Green

Another case where the speaker had a great handout full of clear examples (many from lovely and talented authors I work with in my publishing house). Jocelyn had much good advice to give.

Beyond the workshops, I loved Alison Hodgson‘s talk on the sort of courtship rituals involved in writing and publishing. Her piece was laced with the pain of having lost her home in a random act of arson, of wanting to write but not knowing quite how to draw it all out, of seeing herself almost as a “fake” writer, and of the continual process of coming to grips with the fact that when you are a writer, you must write. She had me cracking up and welling up the whole time. What a talented woman.

And now we come to the keynote speaker, Terry Whalin. His Friday talk, “Never, Never, Never Give Up” was great. Lots of encouragement and stories of people who finally made it because they wouldn’t give up. I enjoyed hearing his stories at lunch of his time as a Wycliffe Bible Translator and his adventures in South America. But his talk Saturday seemed scattered, less prepared than the one the day before. It didn’t seem particularly on point and instead dripped with name-dropping that a generous person would call…tacky. But by and large he has a lot of helpful resources for writers out there on the interwebs and he seems like an endlessly energetic person. His positivity will rub off on you. And that’s always a good thing.

If your interest in writers conferences has been piqued, find one in your area. Just start Googling. If you’re in the midwest, plan on joining us at Breathe 2013. I just may be one of the speakers. ;)