Living in Faith, What I've Learned Lately, Writing life

Iron sharpening iron … in a writer’s contest world

Creativity takes courage. Henri Matisse was right about that.

Whatever form it might take — art, music, writing, design — sharing the “baby” of your creative soul is scary and humbling and sometimes downright humiliating. I’ve experienced all three (and more) with my writing. Sharing what you’ve created is not for the faint of heart and doesn’t necessarily get any easier with time.

Creativity takes courage quote from Henri MatisseAnyone who looks at this blog or my author social media accounts can see that I stepped away from those things for a few years. The desire to write was still there, but some things had to shift when I went back to the corporate world after working from home for almost 18 years. Now life has shifted again and I’ve been dipping my toes back into the Christian writing world during the past few months (yes, partly because I’m working from home again due to COVID-19, but also because we’re now empty nesters so I have fewer Mom things on my plate).

Last month I decided to be brave and entered the “First Impressions” contest with American Christian Fiction Writers. It’s for writers who have never published book-length fiction; you submit a 200-word summary of the book and the first five pages to be judged.

I entered several contests years ago and also submitted work for faculty to critique when I went to writers’ conferences. Some comments were helpful, some were harder for me to find the help in. Most included at least a couple of encouraging notes, but one in particular was so hurtful to my tender ego that I couldn’t bring myself to write more of that story for months.

All that to say, I hoped for good scores and comments when I entered First Impressions, but mostly hoped I would be able to accept the judges’ critiques and learn from them. This story is a different genre and for a different audience from most of what I wrote years ago (young adult dystopian instead of historical romance). Plus, this is the first time I’ve written in first person/present tense and that’s a world away from the usual third person point of view.

One of my prayers when I submitted the entry was that God would either give me a bit of encouragement that I’m writing what He wants or that He would make it clear that I’m going in the wrong direction.

I said the same prayer when I sat at my computer this afternoon, butterflies in my stomach before I opened the email with my score sheets and comments. I asked God to help me keep an open heart and mind when I opened those three attachments and read what was inside.

iron in blacksmith fire
Photo from Morguefile

And then five minutes later I was sitting there with tears in my eyes and a hand clamped over my mouth, overwhelmed by God’s goodness.

Did I win my category? No. Was I one of the three finalists? No.

Instead, God blessed me with three gracious judges who gave valuable feedback but also shared encouragement and compliments that bolstered my insecurities. I can do this thing if I keep praying, keep learning, keep working hard.

Maybe someday God will bless me with a publishing contract so that my book can find its way to people who need to read it. Or maybe He won’t. All I can do is keep writing and be faithful to use this love for words that He gave me.

Proverbs 27:17 says “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” That give-and-take of helping and accepting help applies to every area of life. It’s  a reminder that we need to be accountable to each other and that while sometimes we’re helping sharpen someone else, at other times we’re the one who needs to be sharpened.

Today that’s especially true in the writing corner of my life. Three people took time away from their own friends, family and writing to read my entry and share thoughts on how I can be a better writer. Today they sharpened me. And someday I’ll use that knowledge to help sharpen someone else.

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