Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Call

First of all, I want to send out a big congratulations all the 2012 ACFW Genesis Contest semifinalists, especially my fellow Alley Cats who made the cut: Cindy, Pepper, and Casey! I am so proud of you and am cheering you on!

But some of you did not make that cut. And this blog is for you. This is not the blog I’d planned to write today. But throughout the afternoon, my perspective changed, and I want to be sensitive to that because I suspect many of you are feeling the same way.

As I’m sure many of you already know, the results of the ACFW Genesis contest have been released. As the day rolled by yesterday, I found myself checking my phone more and more often. What began as a casual, “Oh, are the results being released this week?” turned into me jumping every time my phone made the slightest noise, or even lit up in my purse. Could that be it? I kept thinking. Could that be . . . the call?

Moment of transparency: I really thought I was going to semifinal. Last year I semifinaled, and have since signed with an amazing agent, so it only seemed logical I would semifinal again. And I’ll be honest, I had hopes of making it further than that. Don’t we all? So when the only phone calls I got were from a bogus home security company, let’s just say I was a bit rocked.

As in, I drove through McDonalds for French fries and changed into my fuzzy pajamas as soon as possible.

I don't handle failure well. I was always the kid who studied the spelling words she already knew, whose good grades contributed to her confidence. Yes, I realize the contest is subjective and it doesn’t mean I’m not a good writer. I’m sure the rest of you who didn’t semifinal know the same thing. But that knowledge doesn’t chase away the feelings of insecurity and doubt that come knocking on our heart’s door, does it?

But as I sat back and thought about it, and as I considered what I would write for this blog, a thought hit me.

Who’s call am I most worried about? A judge’s, or God’s?

The space you enter when you approach failure, disappointment, and discouragement is the space that defines who you will become as a writer. Are you concerned with the praise of others, or with the praise of God? Who are you writing for? Whose story are you telling?

If you are here, reading this, it’s probably because God has called you to write. So look at the feedback you receive with an open heart, continue improving in the craft, and seek critiques whenever you can. It’s okay to need encouragement from other writers and to seek a mentor. But at the end of the day, know where the treasure of your calling lies. With God. And with God, all things are possible, through Him who loves us and has called us according to His purpose.

Philippians 1:16: "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

How do you handle the inevitable disappointments of the writing life? How can we use these things to strengthen our approach to writing and stories, and to glorify God?

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Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog and her Tumblr. She's also on Facebook and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.

33 comments:

Sherrinda said...

Wish I could give you a big ol' hug, Ashley! Not getting chosen is a hard thing, but you have to remember that it is definitely not a failure to not be picked. To me, failure is more about giving up. Not getting picked is more about a bump in the road. And all those bumps help us toughen our skin and build up muscle to endure the journey.

I love your spirit (for I see God in you!)

Congratulations to Pepper, Casey, and Cindy!

Freya Morris said...

Ashley - thanks for this post. It totally chimed for me. It was as if you had followed me around and got in my head! Creepy.

Thanks for the reminder and the strength.

Beth K. Vogt said...

I like how you handle your disappointment honestly, Ashley. You look it in the face, feed it a few French fries, and then let God's grace cover it all.
Wise woman.

Terri Tiffany said...

Ashley,
You wrote this post for me. I have been struggling with my writer's life and have just come to the conclusion this morning that I am not writing for the same reasons I started and I must change that,

Jeanne T said...

Ashley, thanks for your transparency. I didn't expect to semi-final, much less final, but deep in my heart, I held out the hope, that just maybe, I'd be one of the "chosen." It truly was unrealistic, but I'm working through disappointment anyway. Working to hold onto the truths, and to remember that people do not validate my writing, God does. He gave me the story, and He will bring it to the people he wants to read it. In His time.

In the meantime, I continue to write, to keep soft toward God and to grow in craft knowledge and application.

Ashley Clark said...

Sherrinda, such a good point about what failure really means... that sounds like a post in and of itself! Thank you for the precious cyber hugs. :)

Freya, I'm so glad to hear it chimed with you and hope that you find encouragement in your writing journey! It's important to remember that feedback is always subjective, and a lot depends on the judges you happen to get.

Beth, thanks for the kind words. I've also found milkshakes to be a big help. ;)

Ashley Clark said...

Tiffany, it's so easy for us to loose focus! In fact, my original post for this week was going to be about priorities. But be encouraged because recognizing you want to change your perspective is half the battle, and you are going to see great fruit come out of your decision to surrender it to God.

Jeanne, that's the spirit! I would encourage you, though, not to think of ever semifinaling as unrealistic. You never know what could happen or when it will, and you sound like a fabulous writer. Don't let this disappointment keep you from believing that at any moment you could touch your dreams.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Ashley, I'm sending you and the other commenters a big hug today! Your post is going to reach a lot of people because most of us have been in this place before. This is why I believe it's absolutely essential to have other writer supporters out there. Sometimes when it's hard to even find God through the disappointment, they can help do it for us and get us going again. Thanks for this post!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Sending you all a cyber hug!! Ashley, I've only known you for a short time online, but you are such a beautiful fit here. I love your spirit! And I know this will encourage so many others!

Whose call am I most worried about? What a great question. I struggle so much with looking to people's approval at times.

Thanks so much for including this verse: Philippians 1:16: "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Its one that's been on my heart in more than one way lately.

Julia M. Reffner said...

OK, went to tweet this and immediately Janice Thompson's tweet pops up. Wanted to share the quote she had up:

Did you wake up saying "I can't do this anymore"? If so, don't ask "What can I do?" but "What can He not do?" - Corrie ten Boom.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Wow, Ashley...we're like, the same person. Must be the whole English prof thing. I'm still waiting for those grammar shirts to arrive...

I felt disappointed yesterday too. I had hoped I would make it. I thought, if I can't even make the top 20 in my category, what am I doing? Is there any hope?

But like you said, our hope is not in man's (or woman's) praise, but in God's. He made us. He gave us purpose. And if he wants us to be published, he will lead us there. Our job is to work hard and trust. I don't have as much problem with the first as with the latter.

Sending hugs your way!

Cheryl Wyatt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cheryl Wyatt said...

Ashley, this is a fabulous post. Sometimes when your "voice" becomes more developed and stronger, you will begin to get more drastic reactions to your work one way or the other. Either people really love it, or they don't connect with it at all. So honestly, the fact that you're finaling in some contests and not others *could* mean that you're actually closer to THE OTHER CALL, one from an acquiring editor, instead.

Sometimes, too, I think it's just "not our turn" to shine. Perhaps God knows another equally-skilled writer needed the final more, due to life's non writing-related hardships. I can't tell you how many times right before I sold my debut book that I didn't final in major contests yet later discovered the horrific life circumstances of those who did.

When you're at that level of finaling consistently, and this variance of result happens, rest in the fact that maybe someone else would have given up, truly given up, had God not sent the contest final to them like a lifeboat in the worst storm of their life.

It seems by your post that you are willing to hear hard things about your writing and writing for Him. Those are both noble traits and so I believe you have what it takes. Hang in there and nice job being transparent and using what could be percieved as a failure, to encourage others. I don't think it's a failure at all, but a test of character in which you passed...as evidenced by the openness and honesty of this blog post and your heart coming through it. Keep writing. Keep shining.

Blessings on your writing endeavors!
Cheryl Wyatt

Mary Vee said...

Ashley,
You have sparked some great comments today. Words that have encouraged me both from your blog and our fantastic readers.
For me, God basically urged me to send congrats to every group I belonged to, because each one had at least one semi winner. Forced to put a smile on my face, I found the ache a little easier to endure.
God is so good.

Angie said...

Ashley, the news was definitely easier to bear with our conversation throughout the day! You totally affirmed my notion that community is so important in the Writer's world. I love what Cheryl had to say, as well as everyone else. Writing Contests aren't like other arenas in life...just because we move forward one year, doesn't give us security that we will conquer the next level the next year, no matter how much our writing has grown. Our voices are appreciated by some ears and not others, and times when we don't win, there is always someone nearby to cheer for. Times to give and to receive...I am choosing this to be my time to give kudos to my dear friends who semi-finaled!!!
Love you!
Angie

Sarah Forgrave said...

What an encouraging post, Ashley! As someone who went through this process last year, I know exactly how you must have felt yesterday. From the judge's side, I also remember seeing the semi-finals list last year and being shocked that some of the entries I judged didn't make it. They blew me away. It really is subjective, and ultimately our most important audience is the Big Man upstairs. :)

Jeanne T said...

Cindy, Casey and Pepper--I was remiss earlier (probably because I had two kiddos I was rushing off to school) to say CONGRATULATIONS on semi-finaling in the Genesis! I was thrilled when I read your names on the list. :) Couldn't be happier for you!

Ashley Clark said...

Cindy, that is so true! Even apart from contests, there are some days when I just have to e-mail Angie because every idea I come up with for my book seems terrible! But it's amazing the power of godly, good friends in our lives. I don't know how I would make it on this writing journey without all of you!

And might I add how EXCITED I am that you are on the semifinal list! I think it's just a testament to your determination and perseverance, and shows a job well done! I am SO cheering you on through the next rounds!

Ashley Clark said...

Julia, that quote gave me chills! And thank you for your words of encouragement. You have such a kind heart! Prayers for you as you look for direction and affirmation of God's promises in the various avenues of your life. It is such an encouragement to know He is faithful indeed. Sending hugs back!

Ashley Clark said...

Lindsay, you are too funny! I think the problem is you and I have a, shall we say, "sophisticated" style of humor contests don't resonate with. And by "sophisticated" I do not mean nerdy. Since when are grammar jokes nerdy? For real. ;) J/k. Seriously, though, I felt the same way yesterday, but you have to realize that not making to the 20% that semifinaled does NOT mean you do not belong in a top 20%. There is such a wide array of variation within a category like "contemporary fiction" or "contemporary romance," that it's oh-so-difficult for judges to attempt to score these differing entries. One judge might have a soft spot for sweet western love stories, while another might like quick jokes and a city setting. A lot of it comes down to which judges you get, the same way different publishing houses will look for different things. And that's not a critique of contests, it's just an age old problem of how to quantify art. All that to say, be encouraged. I bet you'll see your story in print someday... and maybe sooner rather than later. :)

Ashley Clark said...

Lindsay, you are too funny! I think the problem is you and I have a, shall we say, "sophisticated" style of humor contests don't resonate with. And by "sophisticated" I do not mean nerdy. Since when are grammar jokes nerdy? For real. ;) J/k. Seriously, though, I felt the same way yesterday, but you have to realize that not making to the 20% that semifinaled does NOT mean you do not belong in a top 20%. There is such a wide array of variation within a category like "contemporary fiction" or "contemporary romance," that it's oh-so-difficult for judges to attempt to score these differing entries. One judge might have a soft spot for sweet western love stories, while another might like quick jokes and a city setting. A lot of it comes down to which judges you get, the same way different publishing houses will look for different things. And that's not a critique of contests, it's just an age old problem of how to quantify art. All that to say, be encouraged. I bet you'll see your story in print someday... and maybe sooner rather than later. :)

Ashley Clark said...

Cheryl, what a beautiful comment, and such wisdom. Thank you for your thoughts. I think what you've said about voice is especially true! I've even noticed that among "professional" contests, where a book I loved reading might final or even win the Christy, and not be nominated for the Carol (or vice versa).

And such an encouraging perspective about the needs in the body of Christ. Thanks for stopping by today and sharing your thoughts.

Ashley Clark said...

Mary and Angie, you bring up such good points about where to put our focus. I was SO thrilled when I got the news Cindy finaled, and then Casey, and then Pepper. I think it's just like most situations in life... we can choose to be disappointed when something we expected to happen doesn't, or we can choose to rejoice in the change. Which is easy to do when it means supporting friends.

Ashley Clark said...

Sarah, what an interesting perspective about the judges. I imagine that would be surprising if you loved an entry and didn't see it on the list. One of my scoresheets in particular was high, so I like to think a judge might've looked for me on the list this year. ;) A girl can dream, right?

Lindsay Harrel said...

Thanks, Ashley!

And grammar jokes are nerdy? That's news to me! ;)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Sarah is so right, Ashley. I had a similar experience with the Golden Heart. What I learned (after total devastation) is that so many subjective factors affect the results each year, you can't let it affect your confidence.

Some people will love your work and some won't. If you're lucky and get judges who love you, and all the stars align that particular day, you just might make it! LOL.

Don't give up or doubt your talent. Your time will come - perhaps through a different route. (Note: See Katie Ganshert's blog)

Hugs,
Sue

Pepper said...

WOW, Ash
This was powerful and spot ON!
and something I need to keep reminding myself about on a daily basis.

It's the same type of feeling I had to come to terms with after ACFW last year...when other people (who hadn't even finaled in the Genesis) went home with an agent, and I'm still searching...

What? (I thought in my self-inflated and somewhat offended manner) I double-final and I can't even get an agent?!?

But the truth comes down to what you mentioned here.
Who is it all about? And whose timing is it anyway?
This Call goes much deeper than the words on a page - but to the attitude of our hearts.

Thank you for the reminder!
And thank you for the congrats. You are wonderful!

Ashley Clark said...

Susan, I'm glad you brought up Katie because I almost mentioned her! So many other popular published writers have similar stories.

And thank YOU, Pepper, for being the spunky adorable self we all love. You will find an agent when the time's right... don't loose heart! You are wise to wait for the right fit.

Karen Schravemade said...

Wonderful post, Ashely. Challenging and encouraging.

Casey said...

Love this post, Ash.

I love what you said about are we looking for God's opinion or Judge's praise? One thing that never fails to stump me is no three people can agree on something. I had one 99/100. 86/100 and 61/100 score. One loved, one thought it okay, one didn't care for it.

People are unpredictable! God just wants our very best and try our very hardest for His glory. That is all He asks for and I can do that for Him every day. He doesn't care about POV, setting, show/don't tell. He just wants us to pour our passion into this "thing" He has given us in this season.

Great post!

Ashley Clark said...

Great thoughts, Casey! And that's true... sometimes I struggle with feeling like I have to do things perfectly, when in actuality, God has called me to do the best I can do... two different things. Thanks for sharing.

Julie Lessman said...

ASHLEY!!! You go, girl!! With all the incredible aspiring and published writers in the CBA, there are so few who final, be it the Genesis or the Christys, so you are speaking to the huge majority of writers, like myself, who have been called to write by God. Sometimes we lose sight of that, so your blog is a true (and needed) breath of fresh air. I blogged about this very subject regarding the Christys in my Journal Jot blog this week, so we are on the same wavelength, girl. Here's the link if anybody wants to see a grown woman cry ... :)

Julie's Journal Jots

Thanks for addressing this very important issue!

Hugs,
Julie

Ashley Clark said...

Thanks for stopping by, Julie! I'm headed to your blog now. :)