Last night the semi-finalists of the Genesis Contest (for unpublished authors) were announced.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 It was the only unpublished contest I'd ever entered (or have ever), and I entered with very high hopes.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 I could see myself now, winning the published contest instead of the unpublished, going up to make my speech .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."
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.