Last year, I was a brand new ACFW member. I was still new at even considering myself a pre-published author, and if it weren’t for finaling in a contest and the encouragement of a few persistent friends, I probably would have talked myself out of going.
But when I looked at the ACFW, I saw this big fellowship of people with an unreal camaraderie. And even if it took years, I wanted to be part of it.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t take years.
I dressed like I was going to a job interview and wheeled my suitcase to the terminal at the Tulsa airport, kissed my husband goodbye, and embarked on what I felt was a grand adventure. Because it kind of was.
And I had my first (in-person) experience with the ACFW earlier than planned. My connecting flight at the DFW airport was soon after landing, so I hurried to my gate. There I found a group of women talking and laughing. I didn’t know a soul. But I recognized one, author Betsy St. Amant.
So I inched closer. Casually. Gathered up the nerve to ask if they were going to ACFW. They immediately opened their circle to me and asked me what I write. Can I tell you that it was weird answering that question for the first of many times that week as someone who normally shrugged it off? But it got much easier, I promise. Then we exchanged business cards and went around introducing ourselves.
I don’t remember everyone who was at the airport gate that day. But I remember that, when I said I was flying standby, Lena Nelson Dooley offered to pray for me with the whole group. Wow. Me, a person she had just met minutes before.
When we touched down in Dallas and dispersed to get our luggage, I realized that in my frenzy to get all of my materials ready, I had no way to get to the hotel from the airport. Rookie mistake. But sweet multi-published author Elizabeth Ludwig had pity on me and took me into their taxi. Another WOW moment of unhesitating kindness.
I think that’s the whole point of this post. The members of ACFW are your people. Individuals with whom you can unleash your full writerly self without fear of condemnation or strange looks like the “Muggles” give us when we talk about our characters as if they’re living, breathing people. The Muggles just don’t understand 🙂
At conference, I encourage you to introduce yourself to people — even that multi-published author you’ve been fangirling. Respect people’s personal space. Be courteous, professional, friendly, and especially gracious. But take that step closer and introduce yourself. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and exchange business cards. Learn somebody’s story. Not everyone will become your new best friend, but you never know what connections you’ll form.
Or who will become your fabulous new critique group. 🙂
PS: If you’re new to the ACFW Conference, Mary Vee put up a fabulous, informative post today on The Writer’s Alley. It will help you prepare with peace and confidence!