This summer marks seven years since I joined ACFW and started writing fiction. (WHAT? Has it seriously been that long?) I am so thankful for the friendships, dreams, and strength I have found in this community. As I think back on my writing journey thus far, I realize that it's already taken the form of several chapters. Maybe you can relate.
At first, I wrote from excitement. I sensed God stirring a new dream in my heart, and I could hardly believe He'd connected me with the people I was meeting. My first ACFW conference was unbelievable. I met Angie for the first time, Etta Wilson (who was then an agent at Books & Such--she retired a few months later) requested my first story, and Ami McConnell said my voice reminded her of Denise Hildreth Jones. I'd always wanted to write fiction but never thought I was good enough...the dream just seemed somehow too good to be true. To be recognized as a writer... to think of holding a real book with my name on the cover... well, it literally kept me up at night.
Then, I wrote for publication. After a few months and drafts under my belt, I began to learn the norms of the business side of things. I realized that my dreams were pretty big, and in order to get a publishing contract, I first needed to find an agent. I immersed myself in learning more about the craft, and in the networking I needed to do to set up my future career as a writer. I found Angie, and in her, I found more than a critique partner but also a best friend. God brought Cara along as my mentor (who turned into another precious friend), and everything really seemed to be shaping up. I still dreamed big dreams, but I started learning the real life steps toward them. Publication seemed the end-all-be-all for the dream.
Then, I wrote with expectancy. Signing with Karen Solem was such a huge confidence boost for me, I found validation that someone I respect so much in the industry would believe in me. Surely a contract was on the horizon, right? Surely, after a couple years of writing, I was ready.
Then, I wrote from heartbreak and humility. I had a master's degree in Creative Writing. I had a super agent. And I knew God's the one who put this dream on my heart. But I also had a slew of almost-but-not-quite-there-yet rejections, and they were getting to me. Some wanted to offer a contract, but the publishing house was downsizing. Or they liked my voice, but had a plot critique. Or maybe they just hated the story entirely. I always try to maintain a teachable spirit, so I took all the feedback to heart. But inside, I grieved the withering of my publishing dreams. Others got contracts and contests wins, and some days, the comparisons were hard to fight. But mostly, what a knock to your confidence. I knew I was a new voice, but why wouldn't anyone take a chance on me?
Then, I wrote from fear. When I sat at my computer to write, all I could think about were the many "rules," and norms, and trends in publishing. How my platform was still probably not big enough, and would my characters' southern dialect come across to strong, and what other objections would an editor make? Maybe if I could just anticipate all their possible critiques, I could avoid them. Seems logical, right? But this kind of thought process is crippling because it takes the focus from God, and from your story, and puts it on approval, which is somewhere it should never be. Fear paralyzes us. It's really that simple. And I saw the effects in my writing. Nothing seemed good enough. All my previous attempts--all the heart I put into my other stories that were rejected--felt like failures. And I really don't like failing. This was a breaking point for me. I had a choice to make. Who was I really writing these stories for? And what defined success for me?
Then, I wrote from freedom. I think, in my own writing journey, I had to go through all these stages before I could really learn my true writing voice, and find confidence in my craft. I would absolutely love the approval of readers and a publishing house--who wouldn't?-- but really, that is not why I'm writing. I'm writing because God has given me stories, and I love these stories. It's that simple. I want them to be crafted beautifully. Not so that they're "perfect," but so that they're told well. And hopefully someday, someone else will find that beauty in them too.
Now, I am so thankful my first books and drafts were not published. I wasn't ready. I was so not ready. Whatever season of writing you find yourself in today, I hope this post encourages you. You may feel like you're at the end of the journey, but maybe you just need to rest a while before continuing your uphill climb. The view will be worth it in the end.
I truly believe that God prepares us for each stage of our lives, writing and otherwise, if we just let Him. So let's not fight His hand when He tries to give us the tools we need for tomorrow. Even if they look ugly. :)
"And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:19
Ashley Clark writes romance 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, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.