Writers are supposed to be a solitary lot. We’re supposed to take our laptops and notebooks off to some cafe where we sit in dark corners and pound out novels while sipping cappuccinos and smoking foreign cigarettes. Once published, we can switch to Jameson’s straight up and pipes. This, I believe, is how the world views the life of a writer. And to some extent, it’s true. A novel should not be a group effort. Even the screenwriter eventually gets help from great actors and directors. The writer is very much alone. His or her creation must stand on the skeleton of words laid out on paper. Black on white. I’ve heard it called the purest of art forms, for our pallet can never consist of anything more than 26 letters. It’s up to us to arrange them in some coherent and entertaining fashion.
And we do it alone.
Sometime during the 20th century, however, the world took pity on us. Someone came up with the idea of a “writer’s conference.” I have to imagine the first person to organize a writer’s conference was scared to death. I can see him in his moment of inspiration–“Hey, let’s invite all the introverts we know and all their lack of social skills to one big setting.” Yes, that must have been terrifying. I bet the world had not seen so much pale skin and coffee stained teeth in one place before. Something must have gone right, though, because we still have writer’s conferences today.
While there are conference for every genre, even erotica (I don’t even want to know what kind of conversations happen there), my conference of choice is the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). True, it covers a multitude of genres, and one must filter through twenty romance writers to find a suspense or mystery writer, but it fits me. I have some perspective because I’ve also attended a Mystery Writers of America conference. While I enjoy the fellowship of people like me, who look at strangers on the street and wonder if they are about to murder or be murdered, there’s an element missing that only a Christian would understand.
At the ACFW conference, we’re constantly reminded that our craft is in answer to God’s calling on our lives. We write for His glory, each of us tapping out a 200 page parable with each completed manuscript. We don’t need the reminder, because each of us already feels this call. Publishing and selling books is great, but if one reader tells us that he gave his life to Christ because of something we’ve written, no amount of royalties can top it. Every angel rejoices and all that.
At my single MWA conference, of course, God was rarely mentioned, if at all. At one point the keynote speaker told us that seeing our book in print is the greatest feeling we’d ever have. I sat there thinking about the night I gave my life to Christ at a Promise Keepers Conference. The keynote speaker was wrong.
You see, when one realizes that he has all of eternity ahead of him, a few decades of book publication seems like a trivial thing. We strive for publication because God wants us to live life to its fullest abundance. Part of that abundance is the struggle toward fantastic goals. It’s how we grow spiritually. Put your faith in God, but then get off your rear and work. It all comes together after that. The very act of the struggle brings about spiritual growth. So there are no losers. There’s no hell for the unpubbed. Though some published authors have informed me that hell comes after the first book. They refer to it as “deadlines.”
I’ve just returned from the ACFW conference today. Most are still there. I negotiated with my extremely cute financial planner for the one day package. It was plenty. I’m encouraged and “re-kindled” by my experience, certain once again that this is what God has called me to do at this stage in my life. I thank God for all the friends I’ve made there. For people like Brandilyn Collins and James Bell, two highly successful authors who took a chunk of time to sit with me and talk about my book. I’m thankful for the new writer who really wanted to hear my opinion about his manuscript. Taking a lesson from those who’ve mentored me, I gave him the straight skinny. Sometimes it’s brutal, but we’re tough. We’re writers.
I hope to return to ACFW next year. But if I don’t, our little gang of story tellers is always linked by a long chain of prayer that connects through dark little cafes (and my daughter’s bedroom turned office) all over the world. Until next time or until that glorious day, I’ll just keep writing.