Your palms are a little sweaty. Safely cocooned in your bag are the one-sheets you’ve bled over. You walk up to the registration desk, and a sudden fear strikes your heart. They’ve lost your name. Or you won’t be registered. If you are, they’ll have forgotten to assign you editor appointments.

You give your name and receive your name tag, finding that your very worse fear has come true. Everything is in order. You’ve been assigned a roommate, classes, and editor appointments. You really have to do this.

You look over the sea of faces wishing fervently for a familiar one–or even a friendly one. You swallow hard and put on a smile and decide to be that face for someone else who has the panic in her eyes that you feel. You made here. You will believe in yourself. You will believe in the One who sent you. It’s time to do this thing!

Truth is though I’ve felt the above, I’m no longer a new-comer to conferences. So here I stand, cheering you on, excited for the journey you’re beginning . . . and thinking that all my sweaty palm experiences give me room to offer a little advice for surviving your first conference:

1) Plan ahead and treat yourself to something that will help you through the experience. Before my first conference I bought colored note cards and wrote my favorite Bible verse and quotes on them. Once I checked in I put them all over my room to remind myself to be courageous! (I’ve also been know to take a pretty tea cup.)

2) Once at the conference, don’t do everything. Really. There’s too much offered to attend every single option. If you’re a morning person choose the morning devos and skip the late night chats. If you’re a night person, take a snack and have breakfast in your room. When the amount of material stuffed in your brain becomes overwhelming, find a quiet place and be alone–or a friend and down-load–or take a nap. But do NOT for any reason attempt to conquer every single thing on that bulging schedule.

3) Pray each day that you can encourage someone. The Lord will lead you to that person, he will be buoyed for his journey, and you’ll be refreshed to see God at work. It’ll take the stress out of the serious pursuit of all those writing dreams and remind you that God is in control.

4) If a speaker or workshop isn’t meeting your needs, discreetly slip out and find one that suits you. It’s okay.

5) Be brave. Make friends. Believe that the person next to you in line or in your class is a divine appointment. My first conference I met a delightful woman who ended up being from my area. She invited me to her critique group where I’ve been happily learning for the last 8 years. I didn’t seek her out for any reason except to be friendly, but God put us together.

6) And #5 reminds me to mention #6. Pray for the networking aspect of the conference–not just for yourself, but for each attendee. Ask God to weave it all together exactly the right way, networking those who need to meet to take the next step on their writing journeys and further His purposes. I like to imagine God putting exactly the editor and writer who need to meet together, or helping someone find a new best friend, or putting a writer with exactly the speaker who will help him learn that missing piece. I have lots of God stories about how He did this. LOVE to see Him so tangibly at work.

7) Don’t compare your writing with others. Usually first time conferees discover they are starting on a new learning curve. Don’t be discouraged by that. God has called you to write. He has given you the talent. Now you get to develop the skill. Don’t let the prowess of advanced writers make you insecure.

8) Be teachable. Chances are something about this business is new to you. Listen. Don’t barrel ahead with your opinions. Ask good questions, not to be noticed, but so you can learn. If a teacher presents a new concept, play with it, think about it, even if you don’t like it at first.

9) Celebrate every positive experience, and grieve and move on from the disappointments. Conferences can be highly emotional, especially the first few times, or if you’re doing a lot of pitching of a writing project. Hide and have a good cry if you need to. Give appropriate room for your emotions, but don’t dwell on the disappointments. The crazy thing about conferences is you can feel deep discouragement one minute and have a fantastic experience the next. Keep your head high, and don’t let the disappointments get you down. You don’t know what might be waiting around the corner.

10) Trust God. Believe that HE is the one who opens doors no man can shut and shuts doors no man can open. Believe that HE has a plan for your writing and will guide you on the best pathway for your life. Relax. Enter into His plans for this conference and know deep inside that the One who brought you this far will see all this to completion in His time.

And . . .

while you’re doing all of that, don’t forget to HAVE FUN!!!!