Every two years, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan plays host to one of the largest faith-based writer’s conferences in the United States, the Festival of Faith and Writing. I’ve wanted to go for some time now, and when I discovered one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, was a keynote speaker, I knew this was my year. So my BFF, Melissa Riddle-Chalos, (who also happens to be one of the most amazing writers I know) and I started making plans to go. Of course there’s never quite enough money or time when you want to do something like this, but our husband’s insisted and we took the plunge. Sometimes we writers just need a break from everyday life to regain some perspective on why we do what we do; and sometimes best friends just need a road trip, some good food and a great pedicure to remind them that all is right with the world- even when it isn’t. So our goal was two-fold: a little writing talk and a lot of quality time together, and I have to say, we achieved both.
On the writing side, we were reminded that to create a biography that works, you need to try and get in the skin of the person you’re writing about. We also re-learned the importance of primary sources when working on historical fiction, and how that “getting it right” from a historical perspective is a sacred trust when writing about people of different time periods. We loved the Rachel Held Evans interview about her “Year of Biblical Womanhood,” and what it means to be a modern woman who is also part of an ancient tradition. We laughed at her experiences and sighed as she talked about trying to do everything right and failing miserably, while experiencing at the same time the truest kind of grace there is. And we sat in silence with an arena full of other writers while Anne Lamott talked about her faith journey as a person and a writer, and how being the hands and feet of Jesus means putting skin on skin, showing up and loving like He loves.
On the personal side, we learned that if you have a handicapped placard for your car- which I do thanks to my ever-temperamental rheumatoid arthritis- you always get the best parking places, even when you probably don’t deserve them (another example of grace). We also learned when the same placard gets caught in a gust of wind you’ll do anything- including running through a parking lot- to save it. We were reminded when you get to a seminar late, all the seats will be taken except for the ones in the middle or back of the room, and that most likely the only doors will be at the front of the room near where the speaker is already talking. Oh, and if you’ve stopped for a snack of French fries and cheese curds on the way, you might have to stuff them in your pockets if you don’t want envious or irritated looks from the other writers in the room. But most of all, we were reminded that the truest of friends never ever get tired of talking, listening and just being there for each other, and that is the best part of our stories after all.
So, I highly recommend writers conferences, and especially this one. But go with someone you love. Even more than the speakers, it may be the thing that gives you the courage you need to try one more time and know what you’re doing each day to enrich the lives of others really is enough.
Sensibility- Writer’s conferences are worth every penny when it comes to nourishing your muse and feeding your confidence.
Sense- Choose writer’s conferences that focus on your genre, but don’t assume you can’t learn something from a general conference as well.