Speaking encouragement: Investing in writers’ lives

“God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it” (1 Thessalonians 5: 9-11 [The Message]).

Writing fiction is a solitary pursuit. Much of the time we authors are alone (if you don’t count the cast of characters mouthing off in our heads) and it can be easy to lose heart—to wonder if what we’re doing matters to anyone but us.

That’s why opportunities like the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis Contest and the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest can be seen as balms to a writer’s tired soul—a much needed validation. Certainly, when I finaled in the Genesis two years running, I took that as confirmation.

But, I didn’t win. Either year.

So I started to question my ability—my calling—and I set aside my keyboard for a time and turned my focus to editing. I became discouraged.

I’m concerned too many others place the focus on the wrong thing in entering contests—validation—and do the same.

No wasted time

One writer who takes a different approach is Jennifer Slattery, one of the five finalists in the 2010 Operation First Novel (OFN) contest with her entry, Impossible Choices.

“I used to struggle with discouragement and would spend days moping,” Jennifer says. “God always drew me back to His will. Only in the meantime, I’d lost countless hours of productivity.

“I finally decided, either I believe God has a plan for my life or I don’t. Either I believe He’s in control or I don’t. If He’s in control, what is there to be discouraged about? A rejection letter or a harsh critique is not going to divert His plan. In fact, it could be part of His plan.”

Discouraging discouragement

This year the Guild received 139 full manuscript entries in our contest. In 2010, ACFW received almost 500 entries (15 pages each) for the Genesis, according to contest coordinator Camy Tang.

Surprise! Not everyone is going to win. But everyone who enters any contest wins a more important battle. You’ve beaten back the voice of discouragement and put your words out there—the words God gave you. That’s no small accomplishment.

As Diana Prusik, an OFN finalist this year (with Delivery) and in 2008 and a semifinalist in 2009 says, “I am most thankful to those who have met with success in the writing and publishing worlds and who still take the time to encourage aspiring novelists like me!”

Encouragement from others in the business is helpful as we pursue our solitary ministry. Another OFN finalist, Kimberley Gardner Graham (The Rockinghorse of Tuscumbia), admits to feeling “relief” at learning she finaled. “It was as if someone handed me a huge plaque that read, ‘You’re Not Crazy.’”

So I do want to “speak encouraging words” into other writer’s lives. To “build up hope” that, regardless of contest placement, what you are doing matters. But I also want to encourage writers that while the accolades are nice and you should enjoy them, they don’t validate God’s call on your life.

To paraphrase Jennifer, God already knows what you’re going to accomplish, has gifted you to fulfill His plan, and is at work training you.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

More on Operation First Novel

See the five finalists for The Guild’s 2010 Operation First Novel contest. On Feb. 10, 2011, at the Writing for the Soul conference in Denver CO, one will win $20,000 and a publishing contract from Tyndale House.

To attend the Writing for the Soul conference, visit our website to register or call 866.495.5177.

Learn about the rules and submission requirements for the 2011 Operation First Novel contest here.

Michael Ehret is the Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. He has written for newspapers and other print and online outlets. He edited several nonfiction books, was the senior editor for a faith-based financial services and insurance organization, and is the ezine editor for American Christian Fiction Writers.