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.

Monday Musings, Scripture verses, Writing life

Shifting Gears

I’ve been writing fiction (or rather, learning how to write fiction) for about 5 years now. It’s an ever changing, always challenging part of life, which I love. And, for me at least, part of that “ever changing” has meant I’ve dabbled in genres from young adult to suspense to contemporary women’s fiction to historical romance. I really thought I’d landed with historical romance for good when God pointed me in that direction almost 3 years ago.

And then He changed the plan.

When I first started writing fiction, I began working on a story about a middle school girl named Paige. I joined an online critique group, learned a lot from those wonderful folks, and entered the Genesis, a contest for unpublished novelists through American Christian Fiction Writers. Much to my surprise (and glee!) my entry was one of the finalists in the young adult category. Now was it really “young adult,” with Paige being in middle school? No, but the Genesis didn’t have a category for younger readers so I went with what they had.

My entry went to the next level of judging, where a published author and an editor from one of the biggest Christian publishers read my measly pages. The author gave me some great suggestions but also heaped on the encouragement. The editor was much more succinct in her comments. So to-the-point that I nearly cried. That I said things about her opinions that I probably shouldn’t have. That I decided I had no business writing for kids.

So, once I recovered from that critique and started writing again a few months later, I ran in the opposite direction. I wrote the beginnings of all sorts of stories for all sorts of genres but never finished any of them. I learned a lot, so I don’t think of all those pages as wasted words. I was finally hunkering down with a story I thought I would see through until the end, and that’s when God let me know He had something different in mind.

Early this spring, I started feeling nudges toward writing for kids again. The nudges grew and things that made me think about it seemed to be everywhere I turned. I started praying about it and the feeling just got stronger. I got brave and pulled out that very first manuscript to see if what I’d written might be salvageable. I asked God for some very specific things if He wanted me to shift my focus to kids. He gave them to me in ways I wouldn’t have imagined. Now I’m following Him and writing for kids. And, yes, I’m loving it. 🙂

All this is to say — we never know when God is going to steer us in a new direction, no matter how good the path we’re on might look from our point of view. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). And I must say, although this plan to write for kids isn’t what I had in mind at the moment, it’s been a lot of fun.

Three things I’ve learned along the way: 1) Sometimes where we start is where God wants us to be in the end. 2) Writing for middle grade kids is more fun than I remembered. 3) When those little nudges and inklings seem to start coming from nowhere, I’m wise to pay attention and pray over them.

What about you? What are some things God has been teaching you lately? Let’s make this a week when we’re open to those nudges and learn whatever He’s trying to teach.