ACFW, Expectations, Trusting God

Expectations: Reflections From ACFW 2017

+Jeanne Takenaka @JeanneTakenaka

Have you ever entered an experience with a certain sort of expectation? I’ve done this. Many times. Sometimes those expectations are satisfied. More often, though, mine have been disappointed.

I just arrived home from my sixth ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference. It’s hard to believe I’ve gone to so many. Most of those years, I’ve tucked hopes and dreams along with clothes into my luggage.

Each year, those hopes and dreams have shifted.


When I registered for this year’s conference in April, I expected to have a new story penned and ready to pitch to editors.

Then, summer happened.

If you’ve read my blog over the last number of months you know my summer hours were filled with many things, very little of which included time to work on my story.

Besides that, this story, this “baby” I’ve meditated on, prayed over—agonized over, really—just wouldn’t let me write it. It was as if I held this big, unwieldy bag of ideas that refused to fall neatly into place.

I brainstormed it (probably to death), tried to make all those beautiful ideas fit into the story I thought I was going to write.

But the darn thing wouldn’t work. My head—and my heart—couldn’t tame it.

As I stepped onto the plane last week, I wondered what God had for me over the next few days. Because, obviously, my conference experience would not include pitching my story.

I walked through the doors of the hotel in Dallas, checked in, and searched for a late breakfast. A peaceful hush permeated the atrium of the hotel. I found a place to grab a meal and prayed about this conference. I asked God to use me to encourage others. That was my hope and my expectation.

Who knew He would use others to encourage me in the deepest places?

Some years, I attend all the workshops and courses I sign up for. And then there are years like this one.

I almost overslept for my all day workshop with author and well-known writing teacher, James Scott Bell. When my roommate woke me, I had less than an hour before I was due to be in class.

When we head into an event without expectations, God has ways of surprising us.

Thursday night, someone I respect spoke words of life over my dream. Those words penetrated deep into my heart and challenged me to bring them before God. I know my Father has plans for me on this writing journey.

But the plans spoken over me? They’re way bigger than anything I can accomplish in my own strength.

It was as if God was asking me, “Do you believe I can do big things with you, with your writing?”

My hearted quavered out a “Yes, Lord.”

There’s something humbling about knowing others are intentionally working to help you achieve your dream.

This weekend was about connections. I chatted with well-known people I’ve only heard about. Reconnecting with friends refreshed my spirit. Hearing how God is using others’ writing lifted my praises to God on their behalf.

Something special happens when we can rejoice for others with a genuinely joyful heart.

I knew I had nothing to pitch this year. Praying for friends before they went into their pitch appointments and then hearing about how their time with agents and editors played out excited me for them.

I have a mentor who has been instrumental in helping me make my writing more authentic. She spent time with me brainstorming a new story . . . one that resonates on a heart-level.


My biggest takeaways from this year’s conference are three-fold:

Writing-wise—In my writing, my characters need to be real, relatable. Readers enjoy stories about characters who could be their friends.

People-wise—The people-connections are huge on this sometimes lonely journey. God uses relationships to prepare us to walk out His calling. Whether we are dreaming of one day being published, or we are writing for ourselves, we need each other.

Personal-wise—When we go into a situation that lends itself to certain expectations, and we let go of those? God does surprising things in our hearts and lives.

When we can release our plans and agendas and wait for God to bring about His? That’s when things really get exciting.

What about you? If you read fiction, what makes for a compelling story in your mind? How has God helped you manage expectations?

Click to Tweet: How God uses others to encourage us in unexpected places 

I’m linking up with #RaRaLinkup, Jennifer Dukes Lee, and Holley Gerth.

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32 thoughts on “Expectations: Reflections From ACFW 2017”

  1. I’m so glad your time in Dallas was good, Jeanne. I’ve been praying for you. And the pictures are wonderful…though seeing the Texas flag makes me homesick.

    What makes a compelling story? For me it’s mainly character (which is a strength of yours!). Plot’s important, but a cracking-good plot is hobbled and ultimately betrayed by weak characterization, while a ‘quiet’ character study is still enjoyable. An example of the latter is Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Remains Of The Day”.

    Managing expectations…honestly, I don’t expect much. Today was super-painful (and worse things happened, leaving me weak and dizzy), and tomorrow will likely be worse. My hope is to face death with honour, and my future will, I pray, metaphorically match that of Hugh Latimer, who said to Nicholas Ridley, just before they were burned for heresy:

    “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

    But meanwhile I’m livin’ the dream, and having the time of my…uh…life.

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    1. Andrew, first off, thank you so much for your prayers. They’re needed on a number of fonts in my life right now.

      You’re right, it seems like characters make or break a story. This is one aspect of fiction where I don’t think you can ever be tooo good at writing. We can always work to improve on character development. 😀

      I am praying for you my friend. I am sorry the pain and other things are wreaking havoc in your body. And for the record, Jesus’ light in you shines brightly. Very brightly.

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  2. Dear Jeanne, your blessings from the conference are spilling all over this post! So happy the Lord met you where you are. When I get discouraged about my writing, He reminds me that He loves me and my willing heart above the books I write for Him. Thank you for using your recent encouragement to bless others. XOXO

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    1. Awww, thanks for your kind words, Alice. God was faithful (no surprise there!) to meet me where I was and remind me of His presence and His love. And yes, God definitely wants our hearts before anything our hands can create. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. This introvert has often left huge conferences overwhelmed and numb. This one sounds tailor made for you, Jeanne, a source of motivation, encouragement, and solid practical stuff. I, for one, can’t wait to see the fruit that is ripening and bursting into bloom.

    An inspirational post, for sure …

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    1. I can see how large conferences can drain introverts. My room mate and friend is an introvert. She loves being with the people but she hits this point where all she wants is to be home and in a quiet place. 🙂 I’m looking forward to seeing what God is going to do too. Thanks for your words!

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  4. Hey, Jeanne. It was so nice seeing you again at ACFW. I loved your blog. I went into ACFW feeling discouraged as it’s been a rough year for me and felt like my joy of writing was zapped from me, but the conference was amazing and has renewed a spark within me. Yah, God! He is so good and His timing is always perfect. Thanks for your reflections on ACFW. God bless!

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    1. Darlene, it was great seeing you! I guess we’ve both been struggling with discouragement. I’m so glad God met you and refreshed your joy in writing. His timing is so perfect. Thank you so much for stopping by!

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  5. I love this! Our expectations are nothing like God’s when we let Him lead the way. It sounds like your writing conference was exactly as it was supposed to be. God is good at orchestrating just what we need. I am praying for you as you continue to surrender to the story God is writing for you and in the process I pray your own story spills us out on the page.

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    1. Mary, it’s so true. God’s expectations far exceed our own, don’t they? He knows what He’s capable of doing through us when we trust in Him. We can’t see that. Especially when we view things through the lens of discouragement.

      The conference was soul-filling. I came away inspired and at peace and full of anticipation for what God is going to do. Thank you for your beautiful encouragements, sweet friend!

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  6. I enjoyed hearing about your experiences at the conference, Jeanne, and I love that you went looking to encourage others but also found so much encouragement yourself. Your post also makes me think about my expectations as I’m going to a writing conference for the first time at the start of October. I think I mainly just want to meet people, as all my writing connections so far have been online, and to learn from more experienced writers, but your post challenges me to be open to what God wants to do and also to look for how I can encourage others.

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    1. Lesley, I am soooo looking forward to hearing how God reveals Himself at your writing conference! It sounds like you have the right mindset and focus as you prepare to attend. I’m excited for you! There’s something super special about gathering with other writers in one place.

      May God surprise you in the most delightful ways!

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    1. Michele, I went back and clarified what ACFW stands for in the blog. 🙂 It stands for an organization called American Christian Fiction Writers. They have an annual conference for fiction writers, and it’s wonderful. Yes, great connections are made, the worship is amazing and God always has ways of making His presence known. 🙂 I have TONS to learn in this writing life. 😉

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  7. Jeanne, this is a beautiful overview of the conference! It was great to see you and I so appreciate your encouragement when I needed it (as well as your encouraging other friends)!

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  8. First I want to say, I love your dress, Jeanne. 🙂 You look and sound like you had the best time ever.
    This morning, I wondered if maybe I’m not supposed to try to get published–ever. And I handed it over to God (again) and trusted He would let me know what He thought about this. When I came across Luke 5:5-6, I realized that no matter how long one may fish for a contract or agent, when He says it’s time, He’ll point to which side of the publishing boat we should cast our net, and the rest will be history (and more hard work–of course).
    Like you, I can’t not write. And God is the One with perfect plans and perfect timing. For now, peace is the perfect catch of the day for me.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

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    1. Thanks for the comment on the dress. It’s one I love, and it’s comfortable. If I had a dollar for all the times I’ve handed my writing over to God (again and again!), I’d be able to buy lots of pretty dresses. 😉 We both know God is always faithful in guiding us on the paths He knows are best for us. Like you, He’s reminded me time and again that His timing is perfect. May He continue to guide you and give you His peace on the journey. Saying a prayer for you, sweet friend. I’m right there in that boat with you.

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  9. Jeanne,
    Your experience was very similar to mine in going to “She Speaks”. Everyone else, but me, seemed to have an agenda…a book to pitch, a platform to build, a set of expectations as to what they wanted to get out of the conference. I kind of felt like a freeloader. I didn’t have a fixed agenda. God hadn’t firmly planted in my heart a book He wanted me to develop. I went with absolutely no expectations. I can’t say that I came home with a book idea either. In fact, I came home with a more firm idea that God will tell me when “it’s go time”. Learning to lean on His timing and not my own. Right there with you….
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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    1. Bev, isn’t there a sort of freedom in going to a conference without an agenda? One of the things I’m learning—and this conference re-inforced—is the truth that when we lay aside our own expectations and offer Him only an expectant heart set on Him, He often works beyond ways we can imagine. I love your willingness to wait for God to show you when it’s go-time. That’s great! It’s a wonderful thing to realize we—none of us—truly walk this journey alone.

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  10. I hope I’m at the same conference as you someday! God dreams are bigger than ours, I know he has the perfect plan for your writing. You are an encouragement to so many. That is a gift.

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  11. “Then, summer happened.” Yep, I know all about that, Jeanne! 🙂 I’m so glad your experience at this conference was good even though it might not have panned out according to your expectations. And what a blessing to meet new people and have affirming words spoken over you and your writing. Praying for you today, my friend …

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    1. Lois, isn’t it amazing how powerful words are? We just never know how what we say to someone will impact them. Some of those who spoke words of life and hope over me have no idea of their impact. Thank you for the prayers. I’m praying for you today, friend.

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  12. This post was very affirmative to me, who has never attended a writer’s conference before, and was always thinking that I should wait until my novel is finished, so I might at least be able to get an agent… (also an introvert who might be terrified at one of those things where everyone else is more knowledgeable about everything…) Yes, Lord. I will listen…

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    1. Oh, if you have the opportunity to attend a writer’s conference, DO IT. 🙂 You make friends there, and connect with people who “get you.” You have the opportunity to learn from people who are successful along the journey, and you make connections with people in the industry as well as those who are still figuring things out. It’s not just about pitching and finding an agent. Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now. 😉

      I’m glad you were encouraged by this post.

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  13. Love your story here Jeanne. You still went to the conference even though the expectations on yourself for having a story prior did not come to completion. And your heart was open to give and receive what God had planned for you. So encouraging! Yes, expectations can turn into resentment if we hang on to them instead of allowing to just expect the unexpected! As for stories, I have to like the protagonist for sure, to like the story. They can be severely flawed, but aren’t we all? That’s what can make them relatable. But they can’t be whiny, or too ‘victim’ mentality. That drives me crazy!

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    1. Lynn, for us planner-types, it’s hard to leave ourselves open to expect the unexpected. 🙂 I am getting better at leaving myself open to the Lord’s leading in situations.

      I’m with you–I prefer a flawed antagonist who is still likable. These kinds of characters make me want to keep reading a story. Don’t give me a TSTL (too stupid to live) character. I’ll set the book right down. 😉 Have a great weekend!

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