What I learned at 2013 ACFW Conference

Three amazing days packed full of workshops, meetings, food, people, laughing, crying, books, pens, paper, and everything else a good writers’ conference includes.

This was my third ACFW conference, and it was held in Indianapolis this year. This was possibly my favorite conference (although the getting there and getting home part of it was quite an experience, but that’s another story). Robin Jones Gunn was the keynote speaker and she was beyond incredible. She is genuine and she tells stories in such a way that her listeners (and readers, I suppose) can easily relate and glean valuable information and lessons. Most importantly of all, the lesson to follow God first of all and trust in Him.

There are too many other things that I’ve learned this weekend, about writing and about myself and about life, that I couldn’t begin to list them all here. But here are a few things that stand out.


1. You can find names for characters in the most unlikely places.

I’m not kidding. Example? The name of the company that made the toilet paper dispensers in the restrooms. Honestly, I don’t remember what it was but I read it and thought, Dodrick. BOOM. Character name. And usually when I find a name, the character comes with it. I don’t see a name and think, “Oh, that’s a cool name, to whom can I assign it?” No. It’s more like I see the name and the character goes, “Hey! That’s ME!!!”

Same goes for setting. I can glimpse a place, or even a corner of a place, and suddenly have an idea for an entire setting.


2. What “Save the Cat” scene means.

Quick rundown as I understand it: There’s a Clint Eastwood movie where he plays a guy named Harry. Harry kills everyone in town, or a lot of people, or something. So you’re watching it and you’re thinking you don’t like him very much. But then he saves a cat and suddenly he’s an okay guy because even though he just killed a bunch of people, HE SAVED A KITTY. You can use this idea in your writing, to make people like the character better. But make it more original. If all your characters are saving cats all the time, it would get really boring.


3. I plan and write in a way that is similar to Susan Meissner‘s approach, although our stories are different.

Her workshop last year was a gigantic help to me, and I took her workshop this year, too. It was different, but tied in perfectly with the one she taught last year. She talks about the 3-act structure and how to structure your novel. Love it. So much.


4. Jeff Gerke is a really nice guy, and not intimidating like I thought he was going to be.

Self-explanatory? I think so.


5. “If God is calling you to write, to choose not to write to is to choose disobedience.”

Lisa Jordan said that, or something very similar, and that was quite convicting. I’d been doing a lot of thinking and praying around that sort of thing lately. Wow. Just what I needed to hear.


6. In order to know my characters, I have to know myself. In order to do that, I need to be honest and that honesty needs to come out in my writing.

Honesty isn’t always easy. Sometimes in can be brutally painful to be honest with yourself about yourself. But how can you address your characters’ strengths and weaknesses and fears and joys if you aren’t willing to address your own? How can you be honest about the character on the page if you aren’t being honest about yourself? Tosca Lee held a workshop on making characters sympathetic, and this was what really stuck with me. It makes sense that if you are writing honestly, it’s going to be better writing and more sincere than if you are holding back.


– – – – –


What are some important lessons you have learned recently? And what are some unexpected places you’ve found ideas for your writing?


4 thoughts on “What I learned at 2013 ACFW Conference

  1. athewriter says:

    I was totally inspired by Robin Jones Gunn. She was amazing. I liked when she talked about asking for “just one thing”. Two or three people said that if you are choosing not to write when it’s God’s calling for you, you are choosing disobedience. Totally needed to hear that. Loved this conference and super-glad I met you! 🙂

  2. Heather Vinson says:

    Great post and advice.

  3. Sounds like you learned some very important info. This was my 6th conference but I still came home with a ton of new things to apply to my writing – not to mention meeting lots of wonderful writers. Like you! It was great to meet you.:)

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