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.

Writing life

Goal Check-in

Christmas is barely past, the New Year is just around the corner, and it’s time for me (and lots of other people) to think about the goals I set in ’09, how well I did (or didn’t) do with them, and where I want to focus in 2010. To be quite honest, my mind’s all for it, but my body’s still pretty tired from all the feasting and celebrating. But I’ll give it a shot anyway.

Some of my writing goals in 2009 included:

  • Finish the manuscript I’d been researching and playing with for a few months.
  • Enter at least 2 or 3 contests.
  • Attend 1 or 2 writers’ conferences.
  • Get back on track promoting my speaking ministry.

So how’d I do?

  • I didn’t finish the manuscript, but am still working on it. I still love the story and it won’t leave me alone, so I’m taking that as a good sign. 🙂 I decided to rewrite the beginning and change one of the subplots, so making those changes has taken some time. I’m almost caught up again, though, so am ready for the story to keep moving on. Didn’t meet the goal I’d set, but at least I’m still working on it.
  • I entered 3 contests, plus paid for a critique through a conference. That was a big step for me because I’d only entered 1 contest in ’07and 1 in ’08. I didn’t final in any this year, but got some good comments and (even sweeter) got some real encouragement from some judges. The author who critiqued my conference submission was incredibly encouraging so that was another big boost, but she also gave me some great pointers for  making things even better. So — a checkmark for that goal.
  • I attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in May — a great time and wonderful experience! No matter how great books or online classes or crit groups or other resources might be, nothing beats going to a conference. Then my local writers group hosted a conference in July with Dr. Dennis Hensley as our speaker. More great classes and I loved having the chance to meet Dennis. He’s a fantastic teacher, mentor, and all-around great guy. Yay — another goal checkmark.
  • Promotion for my speaking ministry this year was close to nil. Sigh. I love to speak, but just haven’t felt God pointing me in that direction lately. Toward the end of last year I went through a period of feeling like it was time to decide whether I’m a writer who also speaks or a speaker who also writes. After lots of prayer and mulling things over, I felt God turning me to focus more on writing. I realize that speaking and writing usually go hand in hand, and I’m fine with that. But right now I’m mostly focusing on the writing. I’m not sure what 2010 will hold for me in that regard.

Of course, actually, I don’t know what 2010 will hold for me in any of these areas. And to tell the truth, as much as I might like to plan things, I’m glad I’m not the one who’s really in charge of everything in my life. Yes, Jeremiah 29:11 is one of my favorite verses (For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope). I just want to keep my head and heart focused on God and will let Him handle the rest. How about you?