So this is the week to talk up the conference. Well, last week, too, but I’m a little behind.

This year’s conference will be in Dallas September 21-24. It will be my third ACFW conference and my sixth writing conference over all.

My first ACFW conference was the 2003 conference in Houston. I had just joined ACFW and knew no one. I got there, went to my room, and called Peter. I told him I didn’t think I should have come. I felt so out of place. But I met Diana Brandmeyer and Julie Lessman who would end up being in my critique group.

It was also the conference where God really confirmed to me that He had called me to write. I remember so specifically praying before I went for God to show me if I should commit myself fully to this writing thing that I had just been playing at for years. God whispered something to my heart during that prayer, and it played out exactly as He said it would during the conference. I didn’t realize at the time how much I would need to cling to that promise of His faithfulness to keep me on this path. Most days it would just be easier to hang it up.

I missed the 2004 conference in Denver because we were going through a major upheaval in our lives. Good old Crit 19 had evolved into a wonderful support group not only for our writing but for each other spiritually. Whenever I think back on that time, I remember how much comfort I got knowing they were holding my family up in prayer.

Last year’s conference in Nashville was terrific all the way around. Once I got there. Jenny called me a couple of days before the conference during my son’s birthday party to tell me I wasn’t booked on a Thursday flight. Her daughter worked for Southwest and was trying to get her on the same flight as mine. What? When I got home I e-mailed Jenny my confirmation. I was booked on a flight. She called me back. I was booked on a flight for Wednesday. Except I didn’t have a room for Wednesday. Luckily the hotel wasn’t booked up (unlike this year), and I got a room a day early. Got to hang out with another member of Crit 19, Greg Williamson, and Malia Spencer from my mentor group for a day. I liked it so much I decided to come a day early this year.

I also met my agent at the conference. I got to meet my mentees Sabrina Fox and Malia in person. I took Gayle Roper’s fiction clinic and met Jeanne Damoff and Mike Snyder there. We hit it off, and they have added much laughter to my life this past year. In fact, I can blame Mike and the conference last year for the fact that I even have a blog. I wanted to leave a comment on Mike’s blog, and I couldn’t without a Blogger account. I got one since I had wanted to talk about my conference experiences to my friends who couldn’t go and decided that a blog might not be a bad way to do that.

As you might have noticed, what I’ve taken from the conferences have been my experiences with people. Yes, I’ve learned a lot in the classes, but you can always order the CDs. What you can’t do is replicate the experience of hanging out with other warped people who call themselves writers. In real life (not to be confused with cyberspace) the only writer I ever see is Jenny, and that not very often. So coming to a conference is like coming home. I get to see friends that I only know through blog comments, forum postings, and e-mail.

But there’s also a practical side to this. It’s one of the only ways to make business connections. Because the ACFW conference focuses on fiction, this is the place to be if you want to meet editors and agents that are acquiring fiction. Making those personal connections either though an appointment or at meals can make a big difference between being an actual person on the other end of that proposal or just a name on a piece of paper. In my experience the two editors I’ve had extended dealings with are ones that I met in person. If I hadn’t met them, I doubt I would have gotten as far with them as I did. Now, that’s no guarantee of success. I met an editor who didn’t like my writing and flat out rejected me (lots of sympathy, please). Still, I’m farther than I would be if I hadn’t been to these conferences.

This year I’m looking forward to hanging out with all my old friends and meeting new ones. And because I have an agent and my project is out to pretty much everyone it could be out at, I don’t have the pressure of pitching anything. I’m also teaching a late night chat on mentoring, so be sure to come and heckle me. I’ll even have chocolate to hand out.

Feel free to post your favorite conference memories or what you hope to get out of this year’s conference in the comments. If you talked about the conference on your blog, let us know that too.

See you in Dallas.