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.

 

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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. 🙂

We All Dance with Our Struggles

To all my lovely readers, friends, and fellow sensitive souls, I offer you my sincerest thanks. I never know where God is going to lead me, but I trust that it’s where I’m meant to go. You have been a big part of making this week one of the most joyful of my life.

The start of this week was very rough, and I won’t pretend that it’s not terrifying to share these details. Monday was an emotional day after a disappointing appointment with a psychiatrist. Like the majority of highly sensitive people, I struggle back and forth in a dance with anxiety and depression, mostly anxiety. That said, I am in a significantly healthier and happier place now than I was several years ago. I’m blessed to have the best therapist in the world. I’m blessed to have healed and grown. Walking into the new doctor’s office, I felt like I was past the labels. Or at least the label of depression, since I feel so much joy on a daily basis. I love God. I love my husband. I love my family. I love my dear, sweet cat. I love my friends. I love my job. I love writing. I love playing the harp. I love my life.

But the doctor didn’t see me for who I was. My therapist agreed. My amazing writer friends, who turned Monday around into a good day by nightfall, comforted and reassured me. Suddenly the labels didn’t seem so bad. After all, it’s just a dance. It doesn’t need to be a fight. There doesn’t need to be a stigma. There doesn’t need to be shame. If I didn’t have the depth of feeling and emotion I have, the good and the bad, I wouldn’t be able to produce any writing worth reading or music worth hearing.

So on Tuesday, I awoke with a new vision and purpose. Shelter for Sensitive Souls. My blog and Facebook author page, once barely breathing, lit up with life. Connections. Interactions. I realized that I know exactly who I am, who I want to be, and who I write for. I write for God, I write for myself, and I write for you. And I thank you, from the depths of my soul, for reminding me that there is worth in my existence. In my writing. In my soul. ❤

Writing Prompt: The New Friend

Today your character meets a new friend who will have a significant impact on his or her life. Who is the new friend? How do they meet? Describe the setting. What are the sights, sounds, and smells? Is the impact this new friend has on your character’s life a positive or negative one? What will the result be? In what aspects will your character’s life change? What would your character’s life be like if they did not meet?

Please comment with your entries!

Writing Prompt: Daydreaming at the Doctor’s Office

Your character is sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, lost in a daydream. What is your character daydreaming about? Why is your character going to the doctor? How is your character feeling? Describe your character in this scenario using all five senses.

Please comment with your responses!