Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Look Both Ways

Janus, the Roman mythological god for gates, doors, endings, and new beginnings, lends his name to January. The bleak midwinter provides a perfect time to reflect backward and forward.

This year has been one of much growth for me as a writer. No, I didn't manage to sign with a leading agent, nor did I land a seven-book contract with a major publishing house. But God graciously lead me to take several giant steps forward in my career.

Giant Step #1:  I hit 2010 at a run. It was one year ago this week, the last week of 2009, when a fellow ACFW member called together a small cluster of historical writers to form a Scribes critique group. I was thrilled when he accepted me to be a part of that select few because my wip is a middle-grade fantasy set in the twenty-first century and the nineteenth. It was an important step toward professionalizing my calling as a writer.

As we've grown from being a cluster of strangers--albeit, sisters and a brother in Christ--we've become a cohesive unit that not only critiques one another's work but also prays for and encourages one another. I praise God for our critters.

Giant Step #2:  When it came time to renew ACFW membership, I didn't hesitate, largely because of the critique group, the specialized loops I had joined, and the camaraderie among Christian writers. Also, I joined ACFW-Indiana.

Giant Step #3:  Upon hearing that the annual conference was to be held in my backyard, I determined to attend, though it was a financial stretch. Fellow ACFW members helped me navigate a crash course in crafting one-sheets, elevator pitches, one-paragraphs, and synopses of various lengths. Finally September arrived, and I was able to match up faces, voices, and personalities with names from the main loop; meet writers whose work I had critiqued or reviewed and who had dissected my scribbles, chat with agents and editors as if they were ordinary people, share a room with writer and friend Ramona K. Cecil, and see Chip MacGregor's kilt. Of course, the high point was a request from one of America's most respected literary agents to see the full manuscript of my nearly-complete wip. (Unfortunately, she retired before I could get the ms to her. Lesson learned? Don't pitch an incomplete. Have that puppy all coiffed and groomed before you march it around the ring.)

Giant Step #4: God intervened with my plans. Because He had plans of His own. After a fourteen-year hiatus from classroom teaching to concentrate on my work as a writer and raconteur, I was offered an English teaching position at a Christian school. Five days a week--and sometimes more--I'm surrounded by middle-graders. Get the irony? I write for that age group. He plopped me smack-dab in the middle of the middlers! Every day I hear their interactions and laugh at their humor.

Now it's time to look forward to 2011.

Goal #1:  I'll let Christ lead, revealing His plans, whether they be giant or baby steps. I pray He will guide my mind in the creative process, my fingers on the keyboard, and my heart to Him, that all I write will reflect Him, because if it doesn't, it's just a bunch of empty, vain symbols on a page.

Goal #2:  When I read that the agent who had asked for the full ms. was retiring, I went through a brief period of mourning. After all, this was the third time such has happened. (The first two were editors who, based upon conference interviews and their reading of partials and synopses, requested fulls. In both cases, they left their positions shortly after that conference.) As the Lord has done so many times throughout my life, He promptly reminded me that He is sovereign and omniscient; nothing comes as a surprise to Him. (See Jeremiah 29:11.) The agent had agreed that mid-March was a reasonable target date to submit my completed manuscript to her, saying, "The publishing houses won't be acquiring until after the first of the year, anyway." I am keeping with that original goal, finishing the final chapter as 2010 winds down and beginning revisions with the new year. Lord willing, I'll have the first revision accomplished by the Ides of March.

Goal #3:  I'll begin plotting and writing the sequel to The Second Cellar.

Goal #4  I'll continue to hone my craft by participating in the Scribes critique group and studying various resources.

Now, it's your turn. What steps did God lead you through in 2010 to improve you as a writer? Where do you hope to go in 2011? What are your goals? I can hardly wait to read your responses.


  1. Three events this last year made God's involvement in my writing "career" very close up and personal and REAL! First, my co-author husband received an invitation to write a monthly memoir column for his hometown newspaper. Don is dyslexic, so in our novel-writing partnership he writes the first draft, then I take over. His newspaper column is totally his writing (with only minor editing on my part), which delights him to no end. Secondly, I was invited to write a monthly column in Afictionado, which is huge fun for me. And thirdly, we received a request from a small publisher to read our entire ms. Don and I didn't solicit any of these invitations--they're "surprises" straight from the hand of God. His sovereignty in arranging these events has removed my doubts about continuing to write for publication.

    My goal for 2011 is to finish editing the novel requested by the small publisher. I move at a snail's pace, so my goal of having it completed by next fall is an over-the-top challenge for me. Must say, I am highly motivated... and nervous... but confident that God will direct the outcome, whatever it may be.

  2. Congratulations, Steph. I'd call those three big giant steps forward. God is so very GOOD!

    Write on, you two!

    Because of Christ,

  3. I had a manuscript that I pitched at Denver last year. Two editors and an agent requested sample chapters--and then all declined the project. I let the project sit for months while I did other things. When I finally went back, I could see it with fresh eyes and had to agree that it wasn't yet ready and reworked the whole thing. Now a different editor has had it for over two months. Still no yes, but still no "No" either. :) Lesson: as eager as we are to get a project into print, if you rush it too much, you're hurting your chances more than helping them. Give it time to ripen and develop.

  4. Good comment Rick and it's a point I learned from my 2010 goal of establishing habits of a professional writer.

    This goal has kept me focused on a single project,seeing it through to the end instead of losing heart and jumping to another project. If I hit a snag on the main project, I spend extra time with the secondary projects until I've mentally worked out the problem and then I'm right back at the main project.

    One goal for 2011 is to finish that editing project, which is almost done. Another is to choose the next main project and do the same.

    I also learned a valuable lesson about myself. I can stay focused on the editing better if I am also creating new stories.