Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thoughtful About . . . Those Twisty Paths

Last night the semi-finalists of the Genesis Contest (for unpublished authors) were announced. On Monday, the nominees for the Christy (Christian Fiction's most prestigious award) went public. And as award season gets into full swing, I imagine we'll see many more lists of potential winners and the results themselves.

I know quite a few of my readers are writers, so I wanted to talk about this today. And if you're not a writer, you've presumably been in competition over something at some point or another, so it should still be relevant for you. ;-)

I've been blessed with the fulfillment of my dream--I get to write for a living. I'm certainly not bringing in enough to support a family right now, but as a part-time job for a stay at home mom who's home schooling, it's a pretty sweet deal. =) So I have what I'd deem success--success defined as doing what I love. And hey, even getting paid for it! LOL

But I've never in my life won a writing contest. Never. Never even finaled in one. Even back in the day of short story contests against other middle schoolers, the best I ever did was Honorable Mention. Yet it was my thing. And I was the unquestioned Best at everything in school; valedictorian, first chair clarinetist, drum major . . . and I knew I was a good writer. I knew it, and my teachers all made a point of telling me so.

And yet . . .

A couple years ago I entered the Genesis contest. It was the only unpublished contest I'd ever entered (or have ever), and I entered with very high hopes. They didn't publicize semi-finalists that year, just finalists, and I saw all the emails from my friends who finaled appeared on my historical list when they got their Call. I sat there, with the phone by my computer. I hoped, and I prayed, and I told myself it was okay, no matter what. That it didn't determine anything about who I was.

Then when the list went up (absent my name), I went outside and let myself cry for five minutes.

I wanted there to be some reason to it. So when my agent, a week later, submitted the book I'd entered to an editor who really liked it, I got hopeful. See, we couldn't have submitted had it still been in the contest. But that would have been perfect poetic justice! I could see myself now, winning the published contest instead of the unpublished, going up to make my speech . . .

The book was too like another the line had already contracted, so the editor passed.

I never had another chance at Genesis, because A Stray Drop of Blood came out, and Jewel of Persia after that. Right around then I emailed that editor who liked that book I'd entered, to follow up with a question I'd asked a while before, and she said, "Have you checked in with our other editor? She has Annapolis penciled in."

Whhhhh....aaaaaa.....ttttt?

Did that Genesis-rejected submission bear fruit after all, by winning over another editor at this house, one who could champion me as a writer when Editor 2 brought Annapolis to committee? Maybe . . . maybe . . . who knows? But what I can tell you is that Annapolis was published soon after that.

Of course, now I'm in the realm of published contests. I now know nothing of mine that came out in 2011 was nominated for a Christy, which was no big surprise (though it would have been nice!). There are only two other contests I'd entered, and we'll see how those go. Am I hopeful? Well yes, a bit.

But you know what? I'm also finally getting to the point where I just don't care about wins. In part because I learned that one of my all-time favorite authors, Francine Rivers, will not enter a contest and requests her publishers not enter any on her behalf. She'd walked that road while in the ABA and refused to walk it again when she moved to CBA. And I really admire that.

I haven't gotten any clear direction to avoid contests, and having an "award-winning" before my name would certainly be nice (although I'd be just as happy--even happier!--with "best-selling" LOL), but as I look back on this stuff this week, I have to wonder if I ever will win. Not because of what I write, but because of who I am. Because I'm a competitive person, and staying humble is something I have to focus on to achieve. Because God knows way better than I how I might handle a big win . . . and maybe He doesn't want that for me.

Is this a lesson in humility for me? Could be, wouldn't be surprised. But more, there's a lesson for me about focus and determination. My goal cannot be to write a book that wins awards--it must be to write a book that wins hearts. My determination must be to keep on the path I've been set upon no matter how many twists of disappointment, not to keep walking only when flower petals are showering down upon me.

When I was in high school, my cross-country coach had a saying: If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.

Mr. Brown's wisdom can apply to pretty much anything worth working at, can't it? It isn't easy, this thing you've been called to do. It has its moments of triumph when you finally cross that finish line, but it also has a lot of moments along the way when you step in a dip and twist your ankle, when a stray tree branch smacks you in the arm, when you can't seem to draw in enough air to keep those sides from stitching.

No, it isn't easy. But something else Mr. Brown passed along that will always stick with me is that verse that perfectly sums up both my writing story and this running analogy--we have an Author. We have a Finisher, a Perfecter--and it isn't us, you know. I might write a book, but I don't write my own story.

That's for Him.

I might enter a few contests, but I don't determine where I finish.

That's for Him.

And I don't look at those awards as any kind of goal to reach, not anymore.

That's for Him.

But I don't give up. I will run with endurance. And just like with cross country (at which I was never any good, let it be noted, LOL), those races won't be about winning. They'll be about growing.

Let us run with endurance this race that is set before us; looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
If you entered the Genesis and indulged in a few moments of tears last night, chin up. And look at me--I didn't final and was published before quite a few folks who did. And if you did end up on that semi-finalist list, big congratulations! I have friends whose publishing doors were opened by that. 

Just know that, no matter where you end up this contest season, your story is your own, between you and God. Win or lose, He knows how to get you where you're going. And He knows what you need--and what you don't--along the way.

29 comments:

  1. Wow, this is so weird, Ro, but I had a dream last night about trying to get back to VA from up north during the winter, in the snow and there were two downhill courses of skiers, the left coming down fast on standard skis and on the right, no one. So I started walking that but two cross-country skiers came down (I, too, ran cross country only it didn't work out because I got appendicitis - but because of me on the team, because of the numbers they needed, our top guy won a huge race.) In the dream these two skiers first told me get off the track and go over to the other side, I shouldn't be walking on the right, but it was across a partially frozen pond at that point. Then they took pity on me and said I could go up. At which point I realized my car was parked at the top of the other course and I thanked God that I met the two skiers who stopped me, even though they seemed brusque at first, lol. Because if I kept going that way I wouldn't be able to get home. So I had to cross the icy field, make my way uphill against the onslaught of downhill skiers, and get to my car and home. Sounds a lot like trying to get published and doing it for God. I was just praying the other day, btw, about whether I would enter contests once I am published and I felt the conviction that I would not be the one ever initiating that. I submitted to Genesis once, also, years ago.I agree with you - God knows what we each need along the way. I am wondering if those two skiers were two angels. What looks like the easier way isn't necessarily the best way nor God's way. As far as I am concerned, a finished polished MS, done to the glory of God, counts as a win with Him!

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    1. Wow, what a dream, Carrie! And so to-the-point. So often we think we know what path is logical and best--but only because we can't see the outcome.

      Here's to the win with Him!

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  2. I found your article so interesting. I've never tested well, and expect rejection. Now how's that for self-esteem! Yet, I've had encouragement from many sources about my writing. I have published three e-books (Christian romance) with a royalty house, and I have a fourth coming out in Sept. Also published devotionals.

    I won't submit to contests for some of the same reasons you listed. (Francine Rivers is also one of my favorite authors)

    I have books that are too Christian for the general market (ABA) but too "edgy" for CBA. I want the message out there though, and I'm considering self-publishing one manuscript - not for the money - but to reach young women contemplating abortion. My heroine has led a promiscuous life and now must face a decision about her unwanted pregnancy.

    Yes, happy ending! Finds Christ and gives birth. I wrote the first draft in three weeks - totally absorbed after much prayer. (Hubby cooked!) It is nearly ready for publication. I still weep through one chapter as I place myself in her situation. It's a tough decision for many women.

    It's wonderful you are home-schooling and able to earn money on the side. I plan to get your book soon. I wish you continued success and God's blessing on you and your family.

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    1. Your book sounds great, June! And it's SO important to listen to the Lord in what He wants you to do with it, so props for doing so. Sometimes those books that are so intense for us have a very unique path! I know that's true of my biblical novels. =) Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. You've got a lot of deep and encouraging thoughts about contests, Roseanna. Thanks for helping to keep everything in perspective. I think the most important thing is that we all strive to follow God's leading in our lives and adhere to His timing. He knows so much more than the rest of us.

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    1. He does indeed! You're a perfect example of the doors these contests can open, and I would never, ever disparage them! But sometimes we tend to think God can ONLY use them. I know I often need the reminder that He isn't to be bound by winning or losing.

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  4. What a great post. I can tell you're a great writer b/c I read the entire post, and didn't skim it as I generally do!

    I totally get you on the contests. I entered Miss Snark's first victim, got honorable mention...which you would THINK would be cool, but it wasn't for me.

    See, I was the kid who WON those writing contests in school and college! So I expect that when I enter something, I'll win (I'm not proud! I just feel writing is like the one talent/gift God's given me! Grin). I had plenty of excuses I made to myself. Miss Snark is mostly YA, and my book was adult...etc. etc.

    But I really have no desire to do contests anymore, for the very reason you mentioned. I'm just too competitive. I beat myself up about it if I don't win. And at some point, as writers, we have to know that we're a) writing b/c God wants us to write, and b) we're writing to the best of our abilities.

    It's hard, though, as a Christian writer. B/c the stuff you're writing will HELP people! You've written it with a purpose and godly worldview! That's where we definitely have to trust God and let things slip from our control. SOOOOO hard to do--I'm still learning to do this!

    Great post! Tweeting this for sure!

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    1. Totally with you, Heather (obviously, given the post, LOL). Competition is a part of the industry, but those of us who are Christian writers need to constantly guard our hearts against the jealousy that can ensue, and the feeling of devaluing that can come. It's a tough balance, but how great to know that the Lord knows when we NEED a win, and when NOT winning will guide us where He wants us to be! Thanks so much for stopping by and tweeting!

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  5. Well, as someone who won one out of two of the first big contests she entered, I'll be the first to say that the judging on these contests is subjective. Sometimes downright random and willy nilly. My entry that won the Touched by Love contest in 2009 didn't even final in Genesis. I had one 98/100 score by a multi-published author, and another that was something ridiculous like 60/100. Some judges just don't connect with my writing.

    This year as I prayed about the Christy's, I seriously felt like God said, "You're all praying. I'm staying out of this." LOL.

    A Christy nomination would have meant a lot to me this year, not for pride reasons, but for publicity reasons. However, the week before the nominations I found myself praying that God would prepare my heart for the possibility that I might not win. So that was a good hint to me.

    On the other hand, my husband and I both had dreams that I would win something this year. Hopefully that will also be a hint :)

    Roseanna, I seriously can't believe you've never won anything. That's crazy. But on the other hand, winning is partly in the odds. Women who enter 5-10 romance contests a year really increase their chances.

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    1. Excellent point, Dina--if you want to win, you should enter a ton. And that's never been in the cards for me, as funds were limited that one year I could enter the unpubbed contests, my biblicals didn't fall in good category for romance awards, and this year I just didn't feel the leading to submit to many.

      I really hope you do win something this year!! Obviously. ;-)

      And it's very true--my writing has never won a thing. Maybe it never will. Thankfully, I have an awesome group of encouragers that help me see that doesn't determine anything about ME. =)

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  6. Hugs for your humility and perseverance! Just look at your reviews to know that your audience loves you!

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    1. Gosh--I write this to encourage others, and everyone's encouraging ME! You guys are the best. =) And with such wonderful readers who become genuine friends, I honestly don't need an award to tell me I'm doing something right, LOL.

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  7. This is a wonderful reminder of focusing on the goal for our writing. I was a little disappointed but not much. I always have an "in God's timing" mindset but that's not to say I'm keeping my focus off of my own rewards!

    I want to write well, be contracted and be successful as an author. Of course. But I must keep your words in mind.

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  8. I just want you to know that it doesn't matter if you NEVER win a contest because your writing touches hearts! You KNOW your books are among my all time favorites (and that is saying a LOT considering I have been reading adult fiction since I was about 10). You keep writing what God leads you to write and let Him speak through you. Keep touching lives. And we will keep reading them, passing them along to others, recommending them to others and praying for you always. Hugs!!!!!

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  9. Great post, Roseanna. It's so important to never lose sight of Who we're writing for, Who gave us these stories, and that He'll accomplish His purpose with the gifts He gave us.

    Finaling (or, yes, semi-finaling) is wonderful. I can't lie. But contests can be quite subjective and a lot depends on the judges. Like Dina, I've received wildly differing scores. I allow myself a day to mope and eat comfort food.

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  10. Great post. Like Dina above, my first MS tends to get very high and low scores in contests. I submitted it to Genesis, but KNOW this is not a "contest" MS. Average scores this time. It will appeal to a very targeted audience so, unless the judges are all in that audience, it will never win. I started the second in the series with that MS mostly because I knew IT would be a "contest" MS. The topic has an emotional draw and a bigger hook. So far, I'm semi-finaled. But not because its a better book. It just has that "contest" thing about it :o). Not all readers are looking for that. In fact, I tend to like books that draw me in with characters and build with each chapter. Not what wins. Still, I have benefitted from the feedback of the contests I've entered. And though I agree, one should not let the non-wins bring you down, it's still a good idea to try. Thanks for the encouragement. I'm still hoping MS1 gets a contract!

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  11. Well. Now that I've actually read the judges comments, I have to say they were mostly helpful -- so I guess that's as good a reason as any to enter a contest?

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    1. That a GREAT reason for entering! I probably would have kept entering the Genesis if I hadn't entered the realm of published the next year. =) Instead, I've been a judge pretty much every year, or at least an alternate judge if they need extras. I try my best to give comments that will help each writer grow, knowing that, above a score, is what will matter most.

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  12. Excellent post! And anyone who may have judged Jewel of Persia in a contest and didn't pass it on to the next round is just plain stupid. :D

    This is the first time in my life I've made it to the next round of a contest. It's amazing how I've come out of the darkness and every time I turn around my writing is going to the next level. Contests, agent requests. It's SO awesome to be in the light and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt I'm doing what I was born to do.

    The first ACFW conference I went to I won a door prize for the first time in my life. I wasn't even going to check the board but Mama made me do it anyway. Could have pushed me over with a feather. Every conference has been a turning point in my writing life and it's amazing to look back over the last five years and see what all I've pushed through to get where I am now.

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    1. And I'm so proud of you and happy for you, Rachel! Praying you onward and upward. =)

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  13. Thanks SO much for this post, Roseanna. Didn't enter this year (did last year and didn't do so hot) - but I've been thinking about my friends who did and didn't semi. Great post, my friend.

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    1. I was wondering if you had--there are years to enter and years not to. And when I entered, my scores were all over the place, LOL.

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  14. Hi Roseanna,

    I saw Carrie's note on the ACFW loop and clicked on her link.

    This was my second attempt at the Genesis Contest. I'd hoped this time I'd move up a notch in the standings, but it didn't happen. Last time, the feedback encouraged me. I'm looking forward to seeing what the judges have to say this year.

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    1. Good feedback can certainly make it all worthwhile! I hope you're blessed by the words of the judges. And thanks for stopping by. =)

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  15. Thanks for your transparent and encouraging post, Roseanna. It is important to approach our writing endeavors with pure motives and keep the right perspective. Blessings as you continue to pursue your dreams.

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  16. Such a thoughtful post, Roseanna. We think alike in many respects. I have never entered a contest either and feel the Lord telling me not to. My publisher has entered me for 2 Carols but it's not something I would ever pursue personally. I remember a couple of years ago feeling so shocked when I learned authors could enter themselves in contests! I thought others who liked your work entered for you! Kind of as a surprise or atta boy;) I'm still amazed that you can enter yourself! That said, Francine River's stance on them helped me see I wasn't being unrealistic in my thinking regarding contests. Nor do I read my reviews anymore. It's very freeing. Bless you and your writing, my friend.

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  17. Your post deeply moved me, Roseanna. You make a point that needed to be made, and that is, that our Lord's ultimate goal for us is to transform us into the image of Christ. Whatever it takes to do that, He will do, because nothing is more important than that and nothing other than that is true success.

    This writing life is a spiritual journey. As we write for our King, He is writing His plan for our lives. And His plan is so much better than ours. As you so wisely said, "I might write a book, but I don't write my own story." Words to ponder and words to keep, especially when the enemy tries to distract us from the truth.

    Thank you for a wonderful post! You have made a difference in my life.


    Blessings,

    MaryAnn
    _____________________
    www.maryanndiorio.com

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  18. Ha--I see I commented on this last year, too...though I didn't listen to my own advice and entered another contest...hee. Sharing this with so many who are sad they didn't semi-final this year in Genesis.

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