The Art of Writing Conference {with notes!}

“Every writer should make an effort to attend writers’ conferences,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

Boy howdy, were they right! 

Caroline (of Cosmos and a Cuppa) and I set out with her husband Daniel and their 15-month-old on Tuesday morning, bound for the Art of Writing Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Before I go any further with this story, allow me to say that Caroline and Daniel are the best, their baby is the cutest travel companion, and that the road trip itself was so much fun! Caroline and I got to discuss our writing and our goals for the future, while Daniel made us laugh and asked challenging questions like, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” (I need people to ask me this question, because I rarely dare to ask it of myself.)

Oh, and we watched Good Mythical Morning while we were stuck in Downtown Nashville traffic. Classic.

I’m proud to say that my first *real* coffee shop experience was in Nashville! And by real, I mean “Not Starbucks.” I did get a pumpkin spice latte, but it was way better and far less sugary than Starbucks’ version–I’m just sayin’.
On Wednesday morning we had coffee with our longtime friends, the Foto Sisters, before exploring the world-famous Gaylord Opryland Resort. By noon, however, we headed to Lipscomb University, where Caroline and I checked in for the Art of Writing Conference (AWC). Associated with the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), the AWC is “a focused conference for writers, storytellers, and publishing curators.”

First we heard from Lysa TerKeurst, whose opening session was entitled “Reaching the Hearts of Readers.” Here are a few of my notes from her address:

  • “How can my book enter conversations people are already having?” = the Right Question we should ask ourselves
  • Where my pain meets my reader’s pain = where the journey starts
  • Subconscious Narrative: words that give voice to what the reader thinks but doesn’t know how to verbalize. Evoke the emotions rather than stating them.
  • “Strangle not that soaring place from which the words come” [part of her Writer’s Manifesto, which you can read here.]

Then we hurried upstairs to the Marketing/Publishing House Pros Share Their Secrets Panel, featuring Steve Laube, Michele Misiak, Dave Schroeder, and Anne Bogel. I learned a lot from this panel. My notes:

  • Advice to upcoming novelists: 1) Don’t demand features, 2) Don’t reveal your cover too early, 3) Don’t avoid honest conversations with your publisher, 4) Don’t be afraid to try new things, and 5) Don’t be afraid to ask people to buy your book!
  • Don’t waste your time on social media platforms you don’t like.
  • Your fellow authors are not your competitors–they are your partners and resources.
  • Since there are fewer bookstores now, we have to engage our readers at events, libraries, conferences, etc.
  • Have a newsletter, and keep it SHORT and VALUABLE [currently working on this…*wink*]
Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash
After a thirty minute break for networking and coffee, we attended James Rubart‘s “How to Create Unique Stories with Deep Emotional Impact.” This session proved to be our favorite; we deeply appreciated his passion for Story! More notes:
  • Unique stories always start with an idea
  • Look at the world in a different way, a little bit askew
  • Steal like a good artist
  • Be well-read and well-watched
  • Unique stories come from deep places…which means you need to figure out the theme of your life. The stories that resonate with you provide the clue. Look for the theme that occurs in each story you love most.
  • Unique stories come from creative places. Train your brain. Don’t forget how to play.

And last but not least, Anne Bogel‘s seminar on “Using the Enneagram to Create Fictional Characters” was great fun! I didn’t take as many notes from this one simply because I was taking pictures of her slides instead. (You can view the slides here!)

  • Neither you nor your character are a “pure type”
  • Myers-Briggs shows how your brain works. The Enneagram reveals your motivations–why you do what you do.
  • You/your character don’t change types, but you do change your levels of development (Healthy, Average, Unhealthy)
Left: at the Gaylord Opryland Resort! // Right: on our way to the Christy Awards Gala!

I know that I was a bit daunted by the whole thing at first. We didn’t know a soul; we weren’t sure what to expect. But we were immediately drawn in, first by the sight of so many books and then by the friendliness of everyone we met. We even had our first starry-eyed moment right at the beginning, when Ann Bogel herself came right up to our table…and sat down with us. We may have looked calm, but I know I was screaming internally, haha!

I also got to meet the publisher whose guidelines for book proposals I’ve been studying for weeks. I didn’t pitch my book, but I did ask him some questions regarding its future that have been troubling me. He was so kind: he stood there with me for 5-7 minutes, giving me advice and suggestions, telling me story after encouraging story, and challenging me to always obey Christ’s leading, no matter what. That conversation alone was worth the trip.

The evening concluded with the Christy Awards Gala, oft described as the “Oscars of Christian fiction.” By the end, we were both a bit emotional. Christ (and Christ-saturated storytelling!) was the focus from beginning the end. As writers who want to glorify God through the words we weave, we ended the day feeling affirmed, challenged, convicted, and inspired.

Top row: the nominated books I want to read! (Becoming Mrs. Lewis won the Book of the Year Award!) // Bottom picture: MY (free) BOOK HAUL.

I’ll be collaborating with Caroline when she writes about the conference on her own blog, so be sure to either 1) subscribe to her blog, 2) follow me on Twitter, OR 3) follow the official Trekking Thru Hobbit Holes Instagram so you’ll know when it drops! (Or you could do all three, which would be really, really awesome.)

Have you ever attended a writers’ conference? If so, let me know in the comments! If not, 10/10 would recommend 😉

11 thoughts on “The Art of Writing Conference {with notes!}

    1. It was wonderful to meet you as well! I haven’t had the opportunity to “geek out” with somebody over Doctor Who like we did in quite a long time, haha! I hope you came away from the conference as encouraged as we did.


  1. Hi! I notice one of the notes above is to limit social media if it doesn’t interest you. I see you have Twitter, Instagram, a blog, & are working on a newsletter, so I wondered how you feel about this tip? I see people online say YOU MUST have social media, & it’s better to not have social media, & I don’t know which is actually better.

    THANK YOU so much for sharing your notes from the conference. 🙂


    1. EXCELLENT question, Jilli. This is something I’m trying to work through as well! I’m currently on most of the main social media platforms, and I’ll be honest: that’s often a great source of mental frustration for me. However, I’ve pretty much decided since the conference that 1) my blog is my top social media priority, 2) Twitter is my favorite place to promote it and my writing, and 3) I’m not going to expand my presence on Instagram. Instagram is my least favorite social media site, and always has been; I’ll continue to share my latest posts there, but I have no plans on expanding my platform. My weekly blog posts and my Twitter account, instead, will be my primary platforms as an author. As for the newsletter, I’m really excited about it! But it’ll only be released on a monthly basis, so it won’t be something that takes up too much of my time.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the notes!! I’d love to know which ones you liked the best 🙂


      1. I’ll be interested to read your newsletter when it comes out. 🙂

        * I’d love to know which ones you liked the best *

        I loved the tip on being well-read & well-watched, as well as the remarks on Myers-Brigg and the Enneagram. 🙂


  2. This sounds like such a lot of fun! I’ve never had the opportunity to go to a Writers’ Conference (they do seem a bit daunting and scary to me!) but I hope to one day. Going with friends probably makes it a lot easier!

    Plus, even just your notes from it that you’ve posted here are super helpful! It sounds like there were some good speakers there. 😀

    Also, getting to attend the Christy Awards Gala sounds AMAZING


  3. I read this blog post and really enjoyed it back when you posted it, Maribeth, but I wanted to come back over and leave a comment now while I’m on my laptop for a bit (I usually read blogs on my phone or kindle, but since I seem to have somehow acquired the Curse of Ornery Devices in my life, WordPress is signed out on my phone and I can’t figure out how to get signed back in so I can like and comment from there 🙃).
    I’ve been wanting to attend a writers’ conference for some time now and learning about your experience at this one makes me want to make it happen even MORE!! I especially want to go to the Realm Makers conference at some point, which is specifically for writers of Christian Fantasy, Sci-fi, and other spec-fic genres, and has grown to include something akin to a low-key comic-con at this point. Everything I’ve ever heard about it is amazing, not to mention that they have a cosplay awards banquet towards the end!

    Also, I somehow managed to completely miss that the Art of Writing Conference was held at Lipscomb University!! I don’t know a ton about the school, except that it seems to be a great place for students interested in learning about the Arts from the perspective of a Christian worldview, and Andrew Peterson’s younger son (whose art I’m a big fan of) attends there. Oh, and one of my very favorite bands, which I actually happen to be listening to as I type this, was formed there!! 😊


    1. I’ve heard a lot about Realm Makers–it sounds wonderful! But I did NOT know about the cosplay awards banquet. Now I really want to go, haha! I’d also love to go to the Anselm Society Conference. It’s in April, in Colorado…which would be quite the trek for me…but golly, I sure would like to go.

      OKAY SO, I didn’t actually see Andrew Peterson, but I did get his new book, Adorning the Dark, at the conference! I can’t wait to read it. What I saw of Lipscomb University was truly lovely. Nashville is a beautiful city; we’re hoping to vacation there next year, and I really think my parents and siblings will love it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Attending both Realm Makers and at least one of the Anselm Society events are absolutely on my bucket list of things I desperately want to do before shipping off to college!! Colorado would be quite a trek for me as well, and so far, all the places Realm Makers has been held (at least since I’ve become aware of the event) haven’t been anywhere near my part of the country. But I’m not giving up hope yet!!

        Oh I can’t WAIT to get my hands on that book!! I haven’t been able to order my own copy yet, but it’s at the top of the wishlist I’m giving my family for Christmas, lol!


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