You know those fun little projects people start like the giganto ten thousand piece puzzles of gumballs, or a replica Titanic-In-A-Bottle renown for its attention to detail, or gluing together sofa-size mosaic tiled portraits of Elvis? It can take years, and only the most dedicated (or foolish) ever complete these undertakings, but when they do, they’re hailed for their tenacity.
Now, I’m not calling myself tenacious, or dedicated, (a bit of foolishness does run in the gene pool), or anything else that conjures up images of worthiness. I’m simply a work in progress. Much like the beginning of creation, many churning seas, gale force winds, and hot dry droughts have sculpted me into the writer that sits before you. . .bruised, pitted, and scarred.
Okay, enough poetic license, let’s get real. Contests molded me into the writer I am today with the finesse of a ruthless toddler attacking his favorite colors of Playdoh. . .and with about as much grace and insight too, I might add.
Back in the early nineties, before a lot of judges’ trainings were offered, I eagerly released my masterpiece to contest after contest expecting the kudos appropriate for the next Kathleen Woodiwiss. Imagine my horror when entry after entry returned to me with ink of many colors dripping from the pages of my most angst-torn feelings. Many of you can relate to the hurt and tears. I’d cover up my 286 computer and put my tractor-feed printer away and turn my back on the industry that obviously didn’t know great writing when they saw it.
Alas, pride wouldn’t let me go that easily. Soon, while the kids were napping, I’d find another take on my manuscript, revise and enter contests again. Different contests hosted by chapters that sounded like they knew what they were doing.
Hmm, same scores; same colored ink. What was I doing wrong? I’d look at my pages and I’d read all the charts and profiles I’d created for my amazing characters. I’d read more how-to books. Nothing made sense. I went and knocked on God’s door and essentially told Him, I wasn’t the right person for the job. I give up.
Then the Aha! time of my life began. You know the feeling. Everything rolls out of the fog and you gain new sense of wonder each time you sit at the keyboard. It was at this time I also listened to my heart and started writing in a new direction. No, not abandoning romantic fiction, just tweaking my road map and adding the elements necessary to declare my work as Inspirtional. A whole new world opened up to me.
I went back and looked at the comments on those score sheets, I listened to my critique partners, I went back and read the stuff I’d highlighted in yellow in all the how-to books on my shelves. Only this time when I reviewed all the advice, I picked and chose the comments that seemed consistent. I weighed the differences. I shared my writing with only two people whom I trusted without a doubt.
In essence, when I gave up, God took over.
Working through old manuscripts that harbored great ideas created new challenges. I grew as a writer. I learned discernment. I gave contests another chance. Scores got higher; ink bled less. I read the comments judges offered and found flaws in my plot, my structure, my time period. Months --I daresay-- years passed and my craft grew stronger. I started finalling in the same contests that once raked me over the coals. I started winning. I started meeting editors and agents and developing treasured relationships with them.
Today, an arduous fourteen years later, I continue to sit at my computer and fight with every last word I write. I no longer barge into God’s office and declare I quit, but rather I pray for direction and patience. I’m winning contests now which sooth the ego, but it’s not a sale. Have I learned anything through the trials of fire?
Yes. God is in control. Look at how far He’s brought me. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
As far as advice to others? Listen to your heart, not the market, and write the stories you know best.