Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Hardest Contest ...

By Julie Lessman

The Seeker blog tagline is The road to publication. Writing, contests, publication and everything in between, so today I’m going to mosey down that road a bit to a “contest” of another kind—writers’ conferences!

I wish, wish WISH someone had told me what I’m about to tell you before I went to my very first writers’ conference. Ah, I remember it well! The 2003 ACFW Conference in Houston, Texas (American Christian Fiction Writers, but of course, back then it was ACRW, American Christian Romance Writers), and I went by myself without knowing a soul. Up until that point, I had done everything I knew to put me on the path to publication—took fiction-writing courses at the community college, attended small writing seminars and local RWA chapter meetings, and entered contests until I was in hock over binder clips.

I knew in my gut that the time had come for me to venture far from home and interface with other writers of my ilk. I mean how difficult could this be? Although by nature I am a recluse of sorts, I have the misfortune of having an outgoing personality, so the word “shy” just isn’t part of my vocabulary. So I smiled and mixed and mingled until my teeth ached and made a lot of acquaintances, but no real “friend” that I felt I could connect with. Everything felt surface to me, and it seemed like everybody I spoke to was either published, had an agent, a contract in the works or fulls being considered.

That night I cried on the phone to my husband, and I’m talking major sobbing! I told him I felt lonely and jealous and like publication would never happen for me. He comforted me and prayed with me and told me everything would all right.

But it wasn’t. The next day I would attend a seminar, then go up to my room and cry, clean my face and go back down to smile some more. That went on all day as the loneliness and jealousy seemed to grow, and that night my poor husband got another earful of long-distance weeping. God love him, he prayed for me and encouraged me and told me to put my hope in God. Yeah, right, I thought to myself at the time, and how is that going to change these waterworks? That night I cried myself to sleep, rivers of tears seeping into my pillow.

What happened next is nothing short of supernatural. The next morning, even before my eyelids peeled open, my brain was pelted with hope scriptures in rapid-fire succession:

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. - Romans 15:12-14

And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. -
Romans 5:4-6

No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame. -
Psalm 25:2-4

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. -
Psalm 62:4-6

But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more. -
Psalm 71:13-15

Now, first of all, I wasn’t aware that I even knew that many hope scriptures! In fact, they shocked me so much, that my eyes popped open and I lunged for the Gideon Bible inside the nightstand drawer. I flipped it open to the first few pages where they list scriptures by subject and scanned the list for “Hope.” It wasn’t there, so I settled on the scripture for “Fear.” There were only two, mind you, and I quickly paged to the first one: Hebrews 13:5.

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

Come again? What does fear or lack of hope have to do with covetousness and ingratitude? Give me a break, the Gideons have TONS of hope scriptures to choose from and they choose this???? I blinked several times … and then the Holy Spirit nailed my butt to the wall.

I had spent the last two days of this expensive conference doing NOTHING but coveting other writers’ success and complaining that it would never happen for me. My husband had forked over $800 bucks (airfare, hotel room, conference fee) so I could fly to Houston and instead of being grateful, I was utterly lonely and jealous. Talk about a one-two punch! I fell to my knees and sobbed again, only this time my tears were tears of repentance. I told God I was sorry for being such a brat, and I prayed for every woman that I had been jealous of, that God would bless the socks off of them. I asked Him to change my attitude and give me hope and help me not to be lonely the rest of the conference.

For the umpteenth time that weekend, I cleaned up my face, put on my name badge and squared my shoulders to go downstairs. The elevator opened, and I flashed a smile to the couple in the back and turned to face the door. The woman gently tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re from St. Louis? I live in Illinois, just twenty minutes across the river.”

I turned around and will NEVER forget the look of kindness and warmth in that woman’s eyes—like an angel sent from God! She was an ACFW author named Diana Brandmeyer (www.dianabrandmeyer.com/), and she invited me to sit with her and her husband for breakfast. Trust me, conference food had never tasted so good!

Later that day, there was a contest for book giveaways. You simply had to write about someone who had positively affected you at the conference so far, and if the ACFW Master of Ceremonies (Brandilyn, of course!) picked your comments out of the hat, the person you wrote about won a free book. My eyes smarted with tears as I dashed a quick note about the kind woman in the elevator “whose eyes radiated love and warmth—Diana Brandmeyer.”

If you can believe it, out of over 350 women and like 2 men (grin), Brandilyn picked a handful of notes to read, and one of them was the note I had written about Diana, which referred to her “eyes full of love and warmth.” My heart jumped with excitement … until Brandilyn read my name instead of Diana’s. My heart froze when I realized I must have written my name down by mistake, thus winning a book for myself instead of Diana. Brandilyn called me up, and I was too embarrassed to tell her the truth, so I intended to return the book after the function was over. Imagine my shock when a few moments later, Brandilyn read another note about a woman “whose eyes radiated love and warmth,” only this one was the note I had written about Diana! Yes, you guessed it—two women who broke the yoke of loneliness off of each other in an elevator wrote almost exactly the same thing about the other. Go ahead, tell me that’s not a God thing!

That conference turned out to be a pivotal time in my career, not only because of the amazing friendship/critique partnership that Diana and I still share today, or even the very encouraging paid critique I received from author Tracey Bateman later on that day, but because of the invaluable lessons that the Holy Spirit taught me from the pages of a hotel-room Gideon Bible. Yes, contests, writing classes and writers’ conferences are all important tools in traveling the road to publication. But the most important tools needed are spiritual—to keep your heart clean of jealousy by praying for those who incite it, to praise and thank God wherever you are in your journey instead of complaining, and to renew your mind with hopes scriptures instead of despair. Because “hope never fails” ... and neither does He.


  1. Jules, this post beautifully displays your inner warmth, love, faith and giving spirit.

    And a hint of your temper, as well.


    Thanks for connecting with all of us by the simple means of your own confession.


  2. Julie,
    wow, I had no idea what you were going through that day! I remember the book give-away--such a huge God showing of love!

    You nailed it when you said we connected, and I am ever so grateful God put you in that elevator!

  3. Julie, what a beautiful post- from the heart. That was my first ACFW conference. I was the woman standing over by herself...holding up the wall. LOL

    God really touched me at the conference. Touched my non-fiction writing. I'd put all NF writing away vowing never, never, never to do it again (I hated it!), but God spoke to me at that conference and changed my heart. When I got home he opened a huge NF door for me and thankfully, my heart was so filled with love and expectancy that I bounced right through it. That door was: writing for The Beaumont Journal and other regional mags owned by the Beaumont Enterprise and it led to a position with Lamar University, overseeing their Profession Writer's Center: see http://www.lulearn.net/writesite/

    That ACFW conference will always be special because it taught me that I might want to sell another novel, but it's absolutely NOT what God has planned for me right now. I may never sell another book. I never hear him speak as strongly to me about my fiction as I do the NF but every time I decide to quit writing novels, he sends me a tiny little seed of encouragement: a note from a friend, an acceptance from Chicken Soup, an agent. I should always roll with God's flow, not try to create my own career plan. We just never know where God wants to use our writing.

    I've been super depressed ever since I got back from this year's ACFW conference. Have just climbed out of that pit during the past 2-3 weeks. Your post (and all of them here) is a real encouragement. Thanks for this beautiful story. It tells me I'm never alone and it tells me to fall down on my knees right now and thank God for my blessings, and especially those NF blessings.

    P.S. I've been digging out all my contest entries and last night I went over them. I was surprised at the encouragement I've received from judges. And the feedback is great. Just goes to show that hindsight brings wisdom. LOL I would have sworn that every judge I've ever had hated every story I've ever written. LOL Just kidding. But I am learning so much.

    The Seekers = Big Blessing!

  4. Oh, Julie, I was there! As you described Brandilyn reading each of those notes, it all came back to me in technicolor. What a God thing!

    BTW, you have been a real blessing to me with your prayers and encouragement. You are my spiritual role model, and I pray every day for a faith like yours.

  5. Jess, your feelings are totally understandable. Conferences can be a huge boost or a hit-the-wall bridge abutment.

    We've walked in those shoes, girlfriend.

    But I'm so glad you found us, and know that we've all been there. Some of us are still there, and it's okay to wonder, to question, to forge ahead, to ponder at length.


    Too much length and we'll be pondering in our graves at this stage of the game! Some of us are getting a little long in the tooth.

    I don't think there's one of us who hasn't felt exactly as you do. The camaraderie of having one another makes waiting at the door of publication more palatable.
    We know we're not alone, we spur one another to keep working, we poke fun at one another (Mary's job) and ourselves (also Mary's job) and we move forward.

    'Cause what's the other option? No movement. For writers who can't quit, that isn't an option.

    You've got great heart and soul. Hang with it.


  6. Julie,
    I immediately copied those verses and printed them out!
    I know how you felt at that conference. This writing journey has been full of tears and pain, and it seems that God has used it to make me more mature, to face my fears, face my own ugliness and faults, to humble me, stuff that could make anybody cry! I had no idea it would be so painful when I started.

    But like you said, it's the writer friends we connect with that makes it worthwhile. And I'm including Mary Connealy in that! She was my mentor at my first conference, 2005, and she has been so kind to me, answering my multitudes of questions. I love her muy mucho!!! I also met my wonderful critique partners at that conference, and they are more dear to me than I could ever say. They're the sisters I never had. But this writing life is painful. I defy anyone to tell me different!

  7. Julie, I'm a day late logging on, but so glad I finally got here. Your message gave me goose bumps. What a witness to our loving God!

    Jess, your sharing touched me as well.

    God bless both of you! God bless all of us! God bless our writing, whether for publication or not. God bless critique partners and contest judges and online friends who bring sunshine into our lives.

  8. Wow, Jess, your post touched me too! Getting a glimpse into what went on for you at that conference just underscores how important EACH of us is to the Father. How cool that he gave you direction that led to such an impressive position as overseeing Lamar University's Professional Writers Center (cool Web site, by the way!).

    But you know what? It sounds to me like you have a heart's desire to write novels as well, and we both know what He says about the desires of our heart! Like in John 15:7 -- "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." Abide, remain, dwell keep on keeping on in serving Him wherever He puts us -- that's what you are doing with your job and NF -- glorifying Him. But don't give up your dream to write novels -- He put that dream there, and He will bring it to fruition at the right time.

    And, whoa, do I relate with the story about digging out contest entries! Yes, "hindsight does bring wisdom!" When I wrote my last blog about my daughter hiding judge's comments under her mattress because I was too menopausal to handle them, I actually went through a stack of old contests and was shocked to see that they weren't as bad as I had originally thought (okay, maybe a few were :)). But BACK THEN, most of them had devastated me because my focus had been so life-and-death on those silly contests, not on God. But, He has a way a righting our perspective, tempering the good and the bad and using both for our blessing and His glory.

    Powerful word, abide. Attached to it are the desires of our heart. Merriam-Webster says a mouthful about this innocent directive from God: to wait for, to endure without yielding, to bear patiently, to accept without objection, to remain stable or fixed in a state, to continue in a place.

    Oh, Lord, help us to abide in You!

  9. Oh, Myra, "spiritual role model"??? Thank you so much, but boy, do I have you snowed! I'm just a brassy broad with a big mouth who happened to apply some Biblical precepts one day and found out, lo and behold, that they actually work! Trust me, it's more application of precepts than it is faith. It doesn't take a lot of faith when you see all the blessings that come from simply applying Scripture. Nothing noble about it -- I am a selfish person who covets God's blessings, and according to Deut. 30, there's only one way to get them -- choosing life, His precepts, in every situation of our lives. Fortunately for me, when I became born again as a kid of 23, I was a pretty black-and-white person, so if Scripture said "jump," I said, "how high?" Obedience=blessing. Wow, what a concept!

  10. Hey Melanie, so glad you liked those Scriptures. Kleenex and hope Scriptures -- two things every writer needs to take to a conference! :)

  11. It is NOT my JOB to poke fun at all of you. I do it for free.
    I posted earlier and it vanished. Ruthy, if you read it and decided it needed to be deleted, I respect that. I sometimes say a bit too much.
    The post was great Julie.
    I sometimes think that conferences, with it's almost funny, here are all these people who mostly just sit behind a computer makin' stuff up, having both sides of most conversations. And that's where we're happy and comfortable. Then we get a book written and we have to go out into the world, hang around strangers...most of whom are also nervous...and send off these precious personal creations of ours to be rejected.
    A cruel, cruel profession.
    The thing is, Jess you talk about being low and Melanie, too. Julie and her tears, Ruthy's long teeth, though I'm not sure what that has to do it with it.
    The thing is, maybe that's part of what makes a good writer. Feeling things deeply, being introspective and content with a lot of quiet and alone time.
    So we're all kinda the same and we may be prone to being that way by the very nature of being writers.
    And I missed being a mentor at this years conference. Though heaven knows, after Melanie's 'incident' they probably had a warning siren go off any time my name came up as a possible mentor.
    Maybe my picture with a big red circle and diagonal slash.
    Possibly they just posted a warning.
    Be Afraid.
    She's the only ACFW'er to have ever lost a mentee.

  12. Mary said:
    The thing is, Jess you talk about being low and Melanie, too. Julie and her tears, Ruthy's long teeth, though I'm not sure what that has to do it with it. The thing is, maybe that's part of what makes a good writer. Feeling things deeply, being introspective and content with a lot of quiet and alone time.

    It sure doesn't hurt, does it? Write on, Mary!

  13. Julie, thank you for the lovely post and for just being wonderful you!

    It's hard to imagine you feeling alone and jealous.

    I'll never forget how you grabbed hold of Myra, Tina, and me at the 2005 RWA conference. We were Golden Heart finalists and though we'd grown close online, this was the first time we'd met. We got together to pray. You prayed with such emotion, such power. I was awed and thrilled, and to be honest, a little shocked by your boldness. :-) Our prayer styles may have differed, but we prayed in accord. And God answered in a mighty way. I never sensed one smidgeon of jealousy among us when Myra won. That's a God thing.

  14. Shocked by my boldness?? Moi?

    But, oh, Janet, you are soooo right!! It was SUCH a "God thing" when Myra won! I expected to be incredibly disappointed, but instead it felt so incredibly "right." Can't explain it, I just know He was in the midst of that special time.

    I pray for a "God-thing" type of encouragement for every Seeker and every person who reads this blog. Go, God!

  15. Beautiful post, Julie. I got chills reading it.

    You are always so inspiring. Something I'm going to print out and keep in front of my mind and in my heart.

    It was wonderful to visit with you this week.

    Jess, praying for you and glad you're rising from the post-conference slump.


    Cheryl Wyatt

  16. Thanks Cheryl, I'm partial to "chills" myself -- both spiritual and romantic! :)

    It was WONDERFUL spending time with both you and Camy this week! Till the next time, eh?

  17. Mary, I keep telling you, you didn't lose me. Even the manager of the hotel knew exactly which ER to pick me up from.

  18. Melanie is the mentee you maimed? I had no idea!! Wow, nice to put a disaster story to a face.

    Julie, great post. I actually responded early this am, and blogger ate it. Then I was too busy to try again.

    It takes every ounce of will on my part to be social at Nationals.

    I was with my sister at that conference you mentioned, and I so remember you, because you were the classy one a few rows up at the workshop where you told your beauty parlor story.

  19. Great post, Julie! I would have never thought you'd be anything but buzzing around at a conference, making best friends with everybody. It was great to have lunch with you yesterday!

  20. Julie,
    A little slow getting a chance to read this but so glad I did. You realize your moment in the elevator has had an effect of so many of us? I had just joined ACRW at the time of that conference and couldn't go. But I put in for a crit group and got Crit 19 and thus you and then Diana. I love you guys. Your encouragement and hopefulness have carried me many times when I was ready to throw it all away. And I'm so proud of you both.
    Love you!

  21. You know, Melanie, I pretty sure Cheryl, one of us Seekers, came to your aid, too.
    Cherylis an RN.
    Isn't that right Cheryl?
    You might not remember her, Melanie, what with being unconscious at the time.

  22. lol - This has turned into a "I remember Melanie's mishap". Mel, you probably didn't know you were such a celebrity, did you?

    Actually, Sandra and I were working the registration desk that morning, and we heard this huge commotion and pretty soon paramedics with a STRETCHER of all things rushed in! It was the most excitement we'd had all week. lol

    PS. I wrote a nice long comment yesterday and Blogger ate it too. Blogger does sound like some gigantic hungry beast, doesn't it? Reminds me of a horror movie...

  23. oh...one other thing about Blogger: If you write sci-fi or fantasy, you can get some cool terms for your characters and worlds from the blogger passwords! lol

    So, you say you're from Pfwzyst?

  24. Mary just loves to talk about that. Me? Not so much. It was very embarrassing and cost me almost as much as the conference. My next conference wasn't nearly as eventful (thank goodness!). And just in case I pass out at a future conference, here's what you can do to help me: Make sure no one steals my purse while I'm out. I'll come to in a minute. Just don't call 911!!!

  25. Julie,

    I love this post! It's so very touching and it speaks volumes to everyone, because at some point we have all felt lonely and out of touch among hundreds of people. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you, abundantly. This is what I love about the members of ACFW--they are so real, sincere, and trying hard in their walk with Christ.

  26. This is a wonderful post. I've not been to a conference but I've experienced these feelings in my writing. All of them.

    So I'm sitting here with yes, chills, but also conviction.

    Thanks. I needed this!

  27. Jennifer and Patricia,

    Thank you for your kind words. I pray God's abundant blessings on both of you as well (as well as all my Seeker Sisters) and may God's gentle but powerful conviction be our ever-constant guide on this perilous road to publishing!

  28. This one had me tearing up.

    What a good God.

    Great, encouraging post. Thanks.


  29. ROFL Mary!

    I didn't realize that was Melanie...people were dropping like flies...

    Glad to know you're okay and everything intact...despite being friends with one of us...namely one with the initials of MC who happens to be THE funniest women on the planet...

    He he he.

    Cheryl Wyatt