My First Festival of Faith and Writing

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I’ve wanted to attend the Festival of Faith & Writing since I first heard about it a decade or more ago. In 2014, I was dying to go sit at the feet of Anne Lamott and Susan E. Isaacs, but a flight from Memphis to Grand Rapids, Michigan cost almost as much as a flight to Hawaii. Thankfully, a lot can change in two years. With an improved airline situation, and Christmas money from my parents and grandfather, I registered for FFW 2016.

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However, I have never felt less qualified to attend a writing conference. After about a year of upheaval and intensity at work, my brain is fried, and even reflective writing just for close friends has ground to a halt. Though I can easily see the internal and external consequences of not writing, I can’t generate the focus or energy to get back to my old self – let alone progress as a writer. Thinking about my approach to FFW, I didn’t see the point of trying to hide or overcome my “writing depression.” I decided I would go quietly, with open hands and heart, not hustling or trying to prove myself. I was only seeking a little inspiration and mojo (and a faith boost too). By that definition, this Festival was a win. I loved every session I went to, and felt buoyed just being around so many people who love talking about books.

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Going to FFW at all was a bucket list item, but I knocked off another one: meeting one of my inspirations, Shauna Niequist (“the sensei,” as Hillary commented). I thought all morning about something meaningful to say to Shauna, but all my ideas made me tear up, and I didn’t want to be the crying weirdo at the book signing. So I stuck to my usual silent fangirling while she signed my old copy of Bittersweet. She did a Q&A earlier that afternoon, and I was encouraged by how similar our writing processes are.

Even though networking wasn’t a priority for me, I met several of my favorite bloggers and had sightings of many more. After picking up my packet first thing Thursday morning, I was wandering aimlessly through the lounge when I was seized by Tammy Perlmutter, founder of my favorite collaborative blog, The Mudroom. She recognized me from Twitter and immediately introduced me to Mudroomers whose posts I’ve been reading and linking to for years. Then she took me under her wing for the rest of the morning. She convinced me to apply to the Redbud Writers Guild and made me promise I would pitch to her by July. Tammy, you’re a wonderful human being. Thank you for seeing me!

I ran into Cara Strickland (one of the people I most hoped to see), and met Sarah from All Manner of Inspiration, who recognized me at a panel for beginning writers. We both participate in What I’m Into every month. She’s great and we ended up sitting together at Shauna Niequist’s talk.

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After the first day of the Festival, I decided I didn’t want to spend my entire visit to Grand Rapids on the Calvin College campus. Happily, I had Erin! Erin and I met on LiveJournal* maybe eight years ago and have been friends ever since. She attends seminary at Calvin and invited me to stay with her and her husband while I was in town. Erin was a fantastic and generous hostess, and having her and her place as a home base made my Festival experience even better. Since we’re all into craft beer, we hit up two breweries, Founders and Vivant. Memphis’s craft beer scene is great but still young, and it was cool for me to see what we’re working toward. I knew ahead of time that Grand Rapids is one of the hipster capitals of America, so I also knew I’d feel at home there!

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On the last day, I went to hear Sarah Bessey. At the beginning of her talk, she shared about her experience at her first Festival. Her husband had researched Christian writing conferences and sent her as an act of support and love. Sarah knew no one, heard over and over that she needed a “platform” and a “voice” to succeed, and decided by the end of the conference that she was done writing. She knew she would never be the right type of writer or person to fit into that world. As she prayed in her hotel room on the last night, she clearly sensed God saying to her, “You may never be published or known. But I called you to write, and if you write, I will meet you there.” She went home revitalized and started writing just for God and herself. Eight years later, she’s the author of two books and a polarizing and respected figure in North American Christendom. I don’t want a high-profile role like that, but I do need affirmation that God called me to write, and He will meet me there, even if no one else cares. I didn’t come home from FFW ready to take on the world, but I do have a little more spring in my step. And that’s all I wanted.

In summary: 5/5, would go again.

*= I’ve met many of my best and most lasting friends on LiveJournal. We don’t care that the rest of the internet has moved on. We like it that way. ;)

About Brenda W.

Christian. Memphian. Reader. Writer. True blue Tiger fan. Lover of shoes, the ocean, adventure, and McAlister's iced tea. View all posts by Brenda W. →
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4 Responses to My First Festival of Faith and Writing

  1. Angela says:

    I remember reading on Sarah Bessey’s blog about that first conference she attended, and I could relate to her story so much. I’m glad to hear you had a great time at the conference.

  2. Brenda!!! I’m so glad we met! Thank you for your kind words. It was a great morning for me too. I’m sorry we got separated. And that I didn’t get to say goodbye. Looking forward to reading you in July!!

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