Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Conferences: Lonely and Overwhelmed?

You walk into the lobby and already see groups of writers hugging and laughing. A part of you thinks, Great, everyone is friendly! but the other part worries, I'm not part of the group. Will I be alone the entire conference?

On Monday I shared my best conference tip for those going to ACFW, and the comments hit close to my heart. Conferences can seem like the first day of high school. It's easy to feel lonely and overwhelmed.

Let me assure you: You Are Not Alone!! Trust me on this! Not everyone has friends at the conference. Not everyone is having the time of her life.

Conferences can bring out the insecure in anybody. You see the laughter. The hugging. The "You have to meet so-and-so." And if you aren't the one laughing, being hugged and introduced to others, you can feel very alone.

Just when you're starting to feel comfortable, you'll realize it's time to pitch. Many writers get enthusiastic, "send me the full" requests, but other writers get gentle criticism instead. Guess what? It then gets worse! You hear all the excited writers gush over how so-and-so wants to see their full or how this author introduced them to that editor. Your heart shrivels inside. It's at this point, the whole conference becomes overwhelming.

You may wish you were home. You may wonder why you even try. Did you waste your money? Why do you spend so much of your energy doing something everyone seems destined to succeed at but you? There will be tears. You'll wish there was booze. But...

You Are Not Alone.

You're not. And I'm going to tell you something else--God has this. He has it.

You may think you went to conference to land that agent, but God really led you there to smile at the person in line behind you, to get over your fear of flying, to build inner strength about rejection, to break you down so you will lean on Him, to you-fill-in-the-blank.

Yeah, you feel lousy. You're not seeing anything but FAILURE in flashing lights. There's a prayer room for a reason. Go in there. Pray. Chances are, some kind writer will be in there with a shoulder to lean on.

Last year--and I'm talking all of 2012 from beginning to end--was difficult for me. On every level. I desperately wanted to go to ACFW's annual conference to meet all of the friends I'd made over the years and to pitch in person. My expectations were high. While I loved meeting friends (and met many new ones!), the conference itself challenged me, the same way life in general challenged me.

At one point I skipped a workshop, bought a coffee, sat alone in the lobby, called my husband and, with tears in my eyes, said, "I just wish I was home."

Me!! The girl who loves being around writers, who adores conferences, who has been blessed with a supportive agent and caring friends.

Yes, anyone can feel lonely and overwhelmed at a conference.

So how can we deal with this?

1. Lean on God. Pray. Know you're entering a potentially overwhelming situation and ask for His strength to get you through.

2. Be friendly, especially to those who seem new, confused, shy, or upset. God may not be calling you to meet your dream agent--He may be calling you to put your arm around someone who is struggling.

3. If you have a roomie or a trusted friend, meet up with her and discuss your feelings. Just having someone who will hug you or listen to you is a huge blessing. Jessica Patch and Cynthia Herron helped me get through a difficult hour last year. I'll always be grateful. (If you don't know anyone at conference, please contact me! I'd love to meet you! And if you get to conference and are struggling, I would love to be that ear for you.)

4. Get out of your room. Yes, it's tempting to hide away in the room when you're feeling overwhelmed, but get out. Get a coffee or a soda and get your buns to a workshop or a common space. Chances are you'll run into someone friendly who will lift your spirits. You'll just feel worse in your room!

5. Stay connected with your loved ones. You might feel isolated at conference, but a text message or phone call to your mom, spouse, child, or best friend will ground you.

Conferences can be exciting, but they can also be overwhelming. Please e-mail me at jill(at) if you're going to ACFW! I'd love to meet you!

Have you ever had a less-than-wonderful conference experience? Are you nervous about going to a big writer's conference?

Have a fabulous Wednesday!


  1. This was an excellent post jill. I have thought these same thoughts..was nervous to go to my last conference too and like you...I love people. But it happens.

    1. Thanks, Terri. Anyone can feel lonely and overwhelmed at a conference! But we get through it, you know? I'm glad you went!

  2. Jill,
    I love your honesty -- well, gosh, I just plain love you, my friend.
    And I'm sorry the conference was hard for you last year.
    But I understand.
    There are times at conferences past when I've hidden out in my room. Or called home. Or done both.
    And there are times when I've remembered to pray, or to ask for prayer.
    And all of those -- even the hiding out and the calling home -- make a difference. Because God can find me when I'm hiding. And a call home can make me laugh through tears. And friends rally round me when I'm down in the dumps.
    Am I nervous about going to a big conference? Well yes (that's another story) and no. I've learned that you're right: God's got this. God's in this. And I'm excited to see what he's going to do!

  3. Thanks, Beth. As much as I hate to say it, sometimes we need a bad year. God asked me to put all of my trust in Him last year, and I did, and life didn't instantly improve. But I knew He wouldn't fail me, even during the really rough patches.

    God can find us when we're hiding. He just knows what we need. He sent Judy Gann to me last year--I just love her and know God nudged her to reach out to me. What a blessing!

    I'm not nervous this year because I know I have work to do, and it's not necessarily work for my benefit. How freeing!!

    Can't wait to see you!

  4. Jill, I love this post and the honesty of it and how I know it's going to touch readers. You know what's extra hard about those lonely moments at conferences...feeling like you need to keep smiling and being perky even when you feel like crap because there are SO many people around you. I love that you had Jess and Cynthia, though, as well as your husband to encourage and support you.

    I love what Beth said above, as well...that God finds us when we're hiding. I think I do some of my best hiding in public, actually. But God sees past the cheery smiles we paste on when we're not feeling at all cheery. And I love that he knows what and who we need in those moments.

    Praying this year is a completely different ACFW experience for you and a ton of fun! Love these tips and love your wisdom!!

    1. So true, Melissa--we have to keep our happy face on. I love that he knows what we're going through and helps us through it. Meeting you was a highlight last year! :)

  5. This was a fabulous post and you nailed it with: God has this. He has it.

    That's the bottom line isn't it?

    1. He does. A conference doesn't have to "feel good" to be successful! :)

  6. This is so true. Conference can be an amazing experience, but it can also be overwhelming and lonely. My first year was tough, but it has helped a lot when I let go of my expectations and just let God do what He's going to do.

    1. Letting go of expectations is a great first step toward enjoying a conference! Really, it is! :)

  7. Sweet Jill, I love you in Jesus! We're all in this together!! (I think it's time for a little High School Musical, don't you? Still love that movie!Lol)

    So many times when we experience difficult seasons, we're fearful of what others may think. I think "age" (maturity) has been a game-changer for me. I understand so much more now than I did 10 or so years ago. I'm less afraid to "let it all hang out" than I used to be. pun intended. haha

    I love meeting new folks and making new friends. I believe God orchestrates pivotal moments at just the right time. And sometimes we have to walk the valley in order to be the encourager that others need.

    Looking forward to spending time with you soon! :)

    1. It is time to break out in song, Cindy! Ha! You nailed it here--God gives us just what we need when we need it, and sometimes we need to encourage or be encouraged. :) Can't wait to catch up with you!!

  8. Love this post! Very helpful as I face first-conference jitters!

    1. Will you be going to ACFW, Laurie? I hope to see you there!!

  9. And I thought I was the only one having a difficult time at the 2012 conference. It was my first conference and the scenes and feelings you described were spot on for me. Things were so different from the expectations in my head. Yet, one of the highlights was meeting you on the very first day. You were so friendly and seemed to have it altogether-- I think you do, despite today's subject. :-) After much prayer God directed another struggling participant right into my path and we became instant friends then and blog buddies now. You're never alone!

    1. I remember you Ava! We met at the first-timer's meeting! I'm sorry you had a rough time too. But how wonderful that you found an instant friend--love those God moments! Will you be there too? I hope to see you!!

  10. Oh Jill, I thought I was the only weird one who felt this way! Everyone else is so friendly, bubbly, exciting, fun to be around. They all have friends and I'm paralyzed in the corner.

    I didn't go last year, but the year before was my first time. I spent a LOT of time in the bookstore! That was my safe space and I spent way too much money! LOL.

    This year I'm going completely solo and I won't even have a cell phone to call anyone. So I think the prayer room will become my new hang out!

    Feel free to join me anyone who wants to!!


    1. Sue, you must come hang out with me! I plan on staying in the lobby/lounge Thursday afternoon as soon as I arrive! Come there if you can!

    2. Thanks, Jill. I won't be arriving until Friday about noon. But I'll look for you in the crowds!


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