The Horrors … uh … Joys of Writers Conferences

Image by tookapic taken from

Image by tookapic taken from

I nearly hyperventilated in route to my first national writers conference. By Saturday evening, I was in my hotel bed, lights off, crying. For those who don’t know, a writers conference is basically like a massive casting call-job interview-intensive learning experience to the extreme. And yet, we silly, irrational, slightly crazy writers keep going back. Again. And again. And …

Today my sweet guest, Chaka Heinze, a woman I met, ironically, at the WordSowers 5Q3A4817-Editconference in Bellevue, NE, shares what what she loves and dreads about these sensory-overload weekends.

    The Horrors AND Joys of Writers Conferences by Chaka Heinze

Attending writers conferences is a joy—but also a horror. Introverted souls must awaken from realities of their own making to a terrifying realm where errors can’t be corrected in the next revision.


Chaka with the sweet Mikal Hermanns–When two hilarious women get together …

Joy comes from being surrounded by others who don’t ask, “Why don’t you have a real job?” And also from engaging in a fellowship of other souls with a passion for creating. Classes. Continuing sessions. Clinics. Motivational speakers. One on ones. Critiques. Opportunities to be discovered. A virtual cornucopia of delightful opportunities to hone the author’s evolving craft.

And. The horror.

To imbibe in the riches of a conference, the normally solitary creature called writer must emerge from the depths of their own imaginations and step out into a society peopled by others with quirks, opinions, and personalities existing entirely independent of the writer’s pen! They must face stoically the criticisms of the gatekeepers of fiction: literary agents, acquisitions editors, and publishers. Numerous, unalterable appointments must be committed to memory. And in stark, unscripted reality, the very real possibility exists that a writer might make a mistake which they can’t erase with the delete button.

(Cue scream.)

And that’s what happened to one unfortunate soul whose story was told to me by a literary agent.

I’m not sure if the pace of the conference was finally wearing down the writer’s mental faculties (the itinerary was exhausting), or maybe facial recognition simply wasn’t a necessity in the writing closet where she sat day in and day out basking in the eerie glow of her computer’s screen. But this poor, ambitious soul blundered.

She noticed the aforementioned agent/gatekeeper sitting alone during a time when he should have been participating in a one on one meeting. Seizing the unprecedented Chaka'spitchopportunity before her, she courageously approached the agent and asked if she might pitch him an idea she had for a book. The gracious agent acquiesced, and she took her seat. Not remembering that his was a face she should have been familiar with from their one on one session a day earlier, and his was a biography she should have studied when she first signed up to have a sit down with him…

She proceeded to give him the exact same pitch he had already heard in the prior meeting.

Oh! The horror!

Stifling his laughter, the agent never revealed the blunder to the unfortunate author-to-be.

He relayed the story to me later that day. He relayed the story to me later that day when I interrupted his dinner to sit down at his table. He relayed the story to me later that day when I interrupted his dinner to sit down at his table and apologize profusely for standing him up—and leaving him sitting there alone to be approached by that poor woman…

Mistakes happen, but we didn’t make that agent feel particularly memorable that day. (Through a blessed turn of events, he offered me representation anyway.)

Oh me! Oh conference! Oh immutable blunders of real life!

(Cue applause.)


Chaka Heinze lives in Nebraska with her husband, four children, and two havanese pups. She has always admired C.S. Lewis and desires to emulate his ability to glorify God without slapping people in the face with religion. Her debut novel, Under A Withering Sun, is in the process of being re-released (stay tuned for more details). Chaka also enjoys speaking to groups of women about the faithfulness of God through difficult times. She is a member of ACFW and NWG.

Connect with her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

If you’re a writer, do you have a conference horror-joy story to share? If you’re not a writer, I’m venturing a guess you’ve experienced something similar, a job fair perhaps? Any blunders you can share? To make Chaka feel better about hers? 😉 Share your examples, thoughts, encouraging words, and horror stories in the comments below.


About Jennifer Slattery

Novelist and speaker Jennifer Slattery, also writing as Jen Pheobus, uses humor, grace, and truth to inspire God's children to live abundant, Christ-centered lives. She does content editing for Firefly, a southern fiction imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and is a regular contributor to; Internet Cafe Devotions; Faith, Friends and Chocolate; and manages the social media for Takin’ it to the Streets, a ministry that serves Omaha’s working poor and homeless. She’s placed in numerous writing contests and her work has appeared in numerous compilations, magazines, and e-zines.
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3 Responses to The Horrors … uh … Joys of Writers Conferences

  1. Mikal says:

    LOL!!! I adore you, Chaka!!!! This is probably one of my favorite conference blunders. 😉


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