My First ACFW Conference: A Writer’s Journey Through Fear

On September 20, I arrived at my first American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference in Grapevine, TX, and it was everything I hoped for and more. I learned so much from my sessions, reunited with old friends, made new friends I’ll treasure for a lifetime, and even got to meet my mentor of 18 years in person for the first time. The whole experience was life changing and euphoric.

Leading up to the conference, my anxiety had kicked into overdrive over the looming pitch sessions. The idea of discussing my book for 15 minutes straight with literary agents and acquisitions editors I’ve followed and admired for months was daunting, to say the least. Usually, though not always, writers write because written expression comes more naturally than verbal expression. I…er…um…yeah. That’s me. Again and again, I heard the advice, “Don’t be nervous.” I know, I know. The pitch sessions aren’t life or death, and we shouldn’t put so much stock in them. Excellent, truthful advice. Still not sure how to train my brain to follow it, though. Alas, I’m a work in progress, much like my manuscript.

Thinking back to the actual appointments…they’re a bit hazy, but the happy, dreamy kind of hazy. I can’t exactly remember what I said, how much I stuck to my memorized pitch, how much of it I came up with on the fly, or how much I messed up. I’m just resting in the knowledge that I did my best, and that the wonderful professionals I met with accepted me, smiled at me, didn’t melt into puddles of sad disappointment because of my imperfections. By the grace of God, all four of my appointments were positive experiences, despite my low self-esteem and negative self-talk.

Speaking of God’s grace, the conference opened my eyes to it all over again. I was blessed to have a prayer appointment with the amazing Brandilyn Collins. As we prayed, I cried, wanting so much to let go of everything I gripped so tightly in my life and give it to God. I realized God wants me to release all the fear, pain, and negativity trapped not just in my mind but in my body, and I believe He’s working to heal me, evidenced by Brandilyn’s guided touch to exact places I’ve had chronic pain. I also believe He wants the smile I wear on the outside to shine on the inside as well, as He led Brandilyn to say. As you read this blog, whatever your beliefs are, please know that I absolutely love, respect, and accept you, exactly as you are, and I hope you’ll do the same for me, but it’s okay if you don’t. I just want to express that for me, in that hushed, dimly lit prayer room, I experienced a moment of childlike faith, free of the doubt that so often plagues me. I believe with all my heart that God was with me in that moment, letting me know I’m His work in progress. I felt heard, validated, and loved, and that’s the biggest gift of my whole conference experience.

Letting go and letting God isn’t easy, and I have yet to master that skill. I have a recurring nightmare where I’m driving along a treacherous road and unable to control the wheel. The road itself varies. Sometimes it’s surreal with bright red dirt and purple trees, and sometimes it’s a regular highway. Either way, the danger is the same. The road curves, without guardrails, and it’s miles high. I see it now as a representation of my anxiety taking the wheel when I feel overwhelmingly unsafe. In some versions of the nightmare, I swerve off the road precisely because I’m trying not to. In others, it is a careless act, or even a daring one. In all, I’m not putting my trust where it belongs–in God.

The writing journey is a difficult one, fraught with waiting, unknowns, judgment, rejection, and growing pains. I’ve learned from writers ahead of me on the journey that all these hardships are ongoing. Writers at all stages deal with imposter syndrome, fear, and doubt. But I’m not alone on this journey, and neither are you, even if your journey looks a bit different.

While I was on vacation with my husband in Charleston last August, there was a day on the beach I’ll never forget. I stood waist deep in the ocean with my arms stretched in front of me as I braved each crashing wave, imagining it was something in life I struggled with and wanted to conquer. Self-doubt. Self-hate. Anxiety. Depression. Codependency. ADHD. Fibromyalgia. Fear of failure. Fear of worthlessness. Fear of loneliness. Sometimes the wave was too great, and I had to dive under it. Sometimes it was smaller than I expected. Sometimes it knocked me down. But I fought to stay upright, got back up every time I fell backward, and felt…strong. Brave.

Yes, life is hard. Writing is hard. In fact, it’s terrifying. But I’m on this path for a reason. God put this passion in my heart for a reason. I’m not a perfect Christian or human being, and I don’t pretend to be. I don’t even know what that means anymore, because I’ve changed and progressed over the years. I don’t fit into a box or stereotype, and I don’t want to. I’m just…me. And you’re you. And that’s okay. I’m loved, and you’re loved, and we all have a purpose. So whatever it is you’re called but scared to do, just do it scared. Lean into the discomfort and trust that God will catch you when you fall. Because you will fall. We all do. Just get back up. Maybe have some chocolate or take a nap first. The important thing is to keep working on your dreams. Nurture the friendships you make along the way. Do whatever you feeds your soul. Help someone who’s behind you on the journey. Learn from someone who’s ahead of you. Do whatever you need to do, as long as you stay in it. Stay on that curvy, frightening road. Let God take the wheel instead of fear. Fear will throw you off the cliff every time. Prayer will keep you on the road and block out the fear of falling.

At my first ACFW Conference, I learned that God is bigger than fear. I can, and will, brave the journey. I believe you will, too.

 

Advertisements

Writing Prompt: Someone Else’s Shoes

Think of a loved one in your life who is going through a difficult time. Now close your eyes, and imagine that person’s favorite shoes. What do they look like? Feel like?

You put the shoes on, and as soon as you do, you transform into that person. You are now in their life, facing their struggles. You look in the mirror and see their face, not yours. You feel their aches and pains, think their thoughts, see the world through their lens. In what ways did your identity change? Your beliefs? Your passions? Your needs? Your past?

Now remove the shoes and write about your experience. What was it like? What did you learn about yourself and your loved one? How can you better empathize and support your loved one in their time of need?

Meditation: Generations

Today I invite you to meditate on the past…not just your past, but that of previous generations. Are there any patterns you’ve noticed through the generations? Are they healthy, unhealthy, or a mixture of both? Are there any negative cycles you can break? Are there any positive patterns you would like to see continue in future generations? Now meditate on your own life journey. Spend a moment in gratitude for the positive behaviors you’ve learned from loved ones in your past, and reflect on any generational patterns you want to discontinue.

Organizing my Life

Hi, friends. I’ve had some challenging but rewarding months since the last time I posted. I started life coaching in March, and it’s been truly enlightening. I realized that some of the challenges I was facing with life overall were due to not being fulfilled in my current role at work. I’ve since started on a track to become an official instructional designer (even though I have many years of experience in that role without the official label), and I am loving it. I realized I couldn’t be happy with myself and my life if my days were spent just proofreading technical materials without having a greater purpose or applying my creativity to what I was doing. I am much happier now after taking the courage to speak up and make a change, and it’s making my organization and efficiency better as a result. I’m also taking the same approach for my personal life, specifically my novel writing and the overwhelm and insecurity that hinder me from moving forward.

My life coach and I discovered, first and foremost, what doesn’t work for me. With my novel, I kept coming up with impossible timelines because I was overly ambitious and anxious about getting it done, but with my already busy life, it just wasn’t realistic. I would fall short, hate myself, and stop writing altogether. Then rehash my schedule and repeat the same pattern. Obviously, this is the opposite of what I set out to achieve.

But then my life coach and I realized what does work for my highly sensitive mind and heart. Positivity. Reflection on what I’ve already accomplished. Thinking about starting where I am, not how far I am from the finish line. We came to the conclusion that a comfortable setting is very important to me (such as a cozy coffee house), as is going back to the pure judgment-free creativity I had as a child (mostly by sitting on the floor and playing music while I work). So I’m scheduling coffee house writing sessions (with the companionship of a fellow writer and great friend), and making my office floor a comfortable workspace at home. I also created a spreadsheet where I log my daily accomplishments–in all important parts of life, not just writing–so that I can look at it before I try to write and see everything I’ve already done to reach my ultimate life goal–making the world a more compassionate place.

The icing on the cake is that my two life-long best friends have also joined me in using the goal spreadsheets, and now I feel closer to them than ever in adulthood. We encourage each other, see each other’s goals and accomplishments, and that makes the tasks at hand no longer look like mountains. It’s hard to see a mountain when you focus on the small rocks in front of you, and when you look back to see how far you’ve climbed.

So let’s keep climbing, one step at a time, until we reach the top. We’ll get there. Just believe. 🙂

Don’t Give Up

I’m writing this post as much for myself as for you. Lately, I’ve felt as though I’d rather just give up. Even the best intentions can lead to failure. Sometimes a day starts off stormy, and then a heavy storm cloud hangs over my head for the rest of the day. Sometimes a day starts off sunny and bright, and then a storm cloud builds over me slowly…maybe I put it there myself, or maybe there’s an external cause beyond my control.

Whether the day starts off right or wrong, once the storm hits, how do you push through it instead of giving up and letting it defeat you? In a torrential downpour, I know all I want to do is find shelter and curl up with a blanket. Hide. Wait it out. But what if the storm won’t go away unless you stay in it? What if the answer is to let it rain on you, soaking you to the bone, making you cold and uncomfortable, until you’re numb to its effects? What if staying in it will make the sun come out again to dry your sorrow and shame and to recharge you with energy?

I’m not sure I’m making sense. Perhaps this extended metaphor got away from me. It happens. All I know is that hiding when it storms does not make me any better, and it does not make the storm pass any faster. So today I’m going to make an attempt to be brave, and I challenge you to do the same. Stay in the storm. Let it rain on your face. Embrace it. Persevere, even while you’re afraid, cold, shaking, ashamed, and soaking wet. The sun will come out in God’s perfect time. It always does. And until it does, empower yourself to push through the storm. Don’t let the storm defeat you. Be your own umbrella.

Meditation: What is Holding You Back?

Find a quiet, peaceful place, and spend a few moments reflecting on your life. Where are you now in relation to where you’d like to be? What’s holding you back from reaching your goals or finding true happiness? Can you identify any specific fears, worries, or negative self-talk?

Picture this negativity taking form as a burning flame in a forest, building in intensity with all the negativity you absorb in your life each day. The more negativity you identify, the higher the flame grows. This fire is uncomfortable and unwelcome. It must be extinguished.

Now identify positive sources in your life…God’s love, peaceful moments with your family and friends, encouraging words, joyful memories, and hope. Picture this positivity taking form as a sweet, gentle rain. Let this healing rain fall on the fire, slowly quenching the flames that used to burn you. Imagine this rain falling on your face, shoulders, and back, cooling and soothing the burn of negativity throughout your entire body. Feel it cleanse you and make you new. Notice the forest around you healing and springing back to life.

It is a new beginning. Let positivity guide your thoughts this week. If you feel negative thoughts coming back, close your eyes, and imagine the rain washing them away.

Reflection on 2014

This past year has been one of the best of my life, and I consider it the year of self-discovery. On January 1st, I learned I was a Myers-Briggs INFP (the idealist/dreamer/healer) and not an INFJ, as I had thought for over a decade. This revelation allowed me to give myself grace on my difficulty with focus. It also helped me embrace my spontaneity and flexibility as positive qualities rather than negative ones. Around that time, my therapist also helped me discover that I am an Enneagram 4 (the individualist), just like her, which explains why she’s such an amazing match for me.

Moving from the abstract to the concrete, I recently refreshed my wardrobe to reflect the way I feel on the inside, and I’ve found some peace in that congruence. I feel like a stranger who passes me in the street now would get a better sense of what I’m about. Perhaps I’m being silly or too analytical, but there’s something comforting in the thought of people getting a glimpse of your soul when they see you.

After what I learned in January and along the rest of 2014’s journey, it seems so fitting that the year should end with a life-changing diagnosis that echoes my January revelation. I have ADD. I’ve suspected as much for years, and the frustration with my inability to focus peaked when I realized I couldn’t make myself sit and rewrite my 11-year-old-and-counting novel, despite an editor-approved outline and the possibility of publication with a small press I adore. My frustration has built for years as I struggled with a dysfunctional schedule and equally dysfunctional mindset, all wrapped in chronic fatigue. Again and again, as I searched for an answer, all my troubles were blamed on anxiety. But then one day it clicked. My GAD was treated. So was the depression that lingered in the background for years. The remaining anxiety came from untreated ADD interfering with my life.

I’ve only been on treatment for ADD for a few weeks so far, but I instantly noticed a difference. It’s like I could finally navigate through a mind that once felt like mud. As I reflect now, I suspect there is some link between INFPs and individuals with ADD. Mostly, I just see ADD as a blessing of creativity at the cost of a scattered brain.

In the midst of reflection on these deep realizations I’ve come to about myself and my life in 2014, I cannot leave out the most significant part of the year. After waiting multiple years for the day to come, on April 7, 2014, I brought home a missing puzzle piece in my life…Charlotte the Therapy Cat. It’s amazing how much more joy and laughter she brings to our home, and I’m so glad to share her with others through Furry Friends Pet-Assisted Therapy. I had years to anticipate what it would be like to finally bring her home, and it’s been every bit as wonderful as I had hoped, while also being full of surprises and lessons…as life always is.

So now we wait for 2015. I feel like the theme of this coming year will be change. Positive change. I pray that I’ll have a clear mind to help me reach my goals, awareness of God’s guidance for my life, and the opportunity to put all I have learned in 2014 to good use for the greater good of others in 2015.

What do you hope for in 2015?

Happy New Year to you and yours. May it be your best year yet. ❤