What Your Conference Blunders Teach You About Novel Writing

by | Writing | 6 comments

“There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.” —Denis Waitley

Oops! Road Sign

Do you need to go to a writers’ conference to learn to write?

Yes. How else will you experience blunders that teach you about conflict; the hero’s greatest fears; obstacles, disasters, and ticking time bombs; and ramping up tension?

In going to the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Indianapolis, my goofs showed me in my deep point of view* everything I needed to know about these writing principles.

* Deep Point of View is a writer’s technique to make readers feel they’re living inside a character’s mind.

Ramping Up Tension

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The night before I left for conference, I still had packing to do. I needed to finish my pitch to editors. And I needed a golf glove to complete my costume for the dress-up-like-your-character dinner.

Adding to that, I’d scheduled to attend a board meeting and regular meeting that night. I left for the meetings with barely enough time to stop and purchase a golf glove.

With all I had to do, I sensed a meltdown coming on just short of hives. Now, I knew how to write my characters’ emotions under escalating tension.

Obstacles, Disasters, and Ticking Time Bombs

mage courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

mage courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

On the second leg of our drive from Virginia, my sister and I left with enough time to make it to the Conference’s Early Bird session. While we yakked, something felt wrong. Then realization slammed me. I’d tapped on the wrong hotel address in my GPS. We’d traveled twenty-one minutes back toward home! Panic set in. Could we make up forty-two minutes of lost time?

A second realization hit me when the low-gas light appeared. The trip meter said I had twenty miles of gas left. On all horizons lay miles of Ohio cornfields. My heart jumped to my tonsils. I prayed frantically as the miles of gas kept dropping and we passed exits without gas stations. Would we find a station before stranded with only corn to survive?

I pumped gas with six miles of gas to spare. And we arrived on time for the Early Bird session. Thank you, Lord.

Now, I knew how to write my characters’ emotions while disasters created a ticking time bomb.

The Hero’s Greatest Fears

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The conference parking information I received ahead of time was confusing. The info mentioned twelve-hour parking when I needed twenty-four. Rates would increase during the Colt’s game unless I moved my car. But move it to where? I feared I’d have no place to park.

When we arrived, parking was a breeze.

My greatest fears were unrealized. That was good, but how boring for you!


Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

During the conference, I left an interesting session to attend a mentor appointment. A writer was pitching her story to an editor at the mentor’s table. Bummed, I told a volunteer the mentor hadn’t shown up. The volunteer interrupted the editor and writer, thinking the writer was the mentor.

Embarrassed at her faux pas, the volunteer checked the schedule. My appointment was for the next day. The volunteer was unhappy with me. I could’ve crawled under a rock.

Now, I knew how to write my characters’ emotions when they were in conflict with other characters.

I’m thankful (now) for these events that showed me how to write emotions in deep point of view.

What situations have taught you something you could include in your creative work?

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American Christian Fiction Writers

American Christian Fiction Writers

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  1. Keisha Broomes

    Great post, Zoe. WIthout a shadow of a doubt I know that going to a conference helped me to rewrite my novel properly. I only wish I’d had enough wisdom to attend a conference before I even started writing…

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Hi Keisha. Conferences are helpful, even without the blunders. I think maybe we have to play around with writing a bit before going to our first conference to understand why we need the instruction on the craft. At least that was true for me.

  2. LoRee Peery

    I went to my first “large” conference 20 years ago, 10 years before I knew anything about the business of writing… long before I heard the word tagline, let alone conflict in a sentence, 40-word elevator pitch, or any of the buzz phrases we are familiar with. When I had my appointment with Tracie Peterson and she asked me what my story was about, I couldn’t tell her. Then I said, “I have the whole thing right here if you’d like to see it.” Major oopsie all the way around. God is so gracious with His perfect timing and our foolish ways.

  3. Zoe M. McCarthy

    LoRee, I remember at my first ACFW conference, I also didn’t know how to tell what my story was about. I thought the editor would ask me questions to find out about my story.

  4. Eileen Hinkle Rife

    Creative way to demonstrate how to ramp up the tension in a novel, Zoe! Enjoyed the article.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Thanks, Eileen. I hope I don’t have to experience too many more of these mishaps to learn how to write tension. :0)

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