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  • Writer's pictureJanette Johnson Melson

Contests - From Intimidating to Inspiring

With all the Coronavirus craziness in the world right now, I thought that maybe my blog should have something to do with that. But then I thought, No. There are plenty of knowledgeable voices out there. I’ll let them handle the pandemic crisis, and I’ll carry on with life as usual. Hence, my newest blog about how I’m honing my craft of writing.

One of the biggest things I learned at my first writers’ (ACFW) conference was just how little I actually knew about novel-writing. This came as a shock to me because I had been writing professionally as a journalist for newspapers and magazines for years. However, journalism is different from novel-writing—very different. And, in the thirty-plus years since I had been in college, the rules for writing fiction had changed, too, so I also needed to learn a lot to keep up with the changing times. Since I wanted to continue riding on the wave of excitement which the conference had started in me, I decided to jump in with both feet and enter The First Impressions Contest for unpublished authors, offered through ACFW. I had to submit the first five pages of my novel, plus a 200-word blurb (the kind you find on the back cover of a book). I must admit that I was intimidated, but I felt it was a good way to continue the learning process. Based on the few things I had already gleaned at the conference, I rewrote, edited and re-edited those first five pages right up until the deadline in early October. When I finally hit that “send” button, I felt anxiety and relief, all mixed together. I guess that’s probably how most authors feel every time they hit that button.

Still feeling uncertain about my ability as a writer, I prayed for God to let me know if pursuing this writing thing was what He wanted me to do. I had felt for a few years that He was pushing me to do something with this talent I thought He had given me. But I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t wasting my time (as sure as you can be when He doesn’t talk through burning bushes anymore). Well, when the results came back in November, they seemed brutal at first. Of the three grades, two of them were “failing.” However, the feedback that I received from the three judges was helpful—and hopeful. I came away from that contest with the belief that even though I had a LOT to learn, I did have talent which just needed to be honed and perfected. I felt inspired and energized to put their advice into action to become the writer that I have always dreamed of being.

Fast forward to this October when I decided to enter the First Impressions Contest again. (I can enter it as many times as I want as long as I remain unpublished.) I had spent the past year gobbling up books, articles and blogs on my craft and had the first chapter of my book critiqued by friends and professionals. So I edited the beginning of my novel again and re-entered the same (albeit new and hopefully improved) five pages into the same contest. My main goal was improvement—proof that I had learned something in the past year and that my writing was reflecting that. Every so often, I start to doubt myself again, and so I keep asking God for proof that He wants me to keep pursuing this. And every time (so far), I have felt an undeniable answer of yes. The proof this time was a dramatic improvement in my scores from the contest—all three grades were passing grades and were significantly higher than the first time. I have decided that I have spent enough time editing, revising, reworking and rewriting those first five pages. So my next contest goal is to enter ACFW’s Genesis contest. It is also for unpublished authors, but I must have a completed first draft before I can enter it. Since its deadline is this month, I won’t make it for 2020, but I hope to enter it in 2021. My immediate goal is to have a completed first draft by the ACFW conference in September, which will give me some editing time before the contest in March. And so far, I’m moving right along. I have completed 18,000 words, which is 23% of an average novel, and I am taking advantage of these weeks of no work and social distancing to get as much done as I can on my first draft.

I obviously have a long way to go, but putting “words on paper” and having a reachable goal that I’m striving toward help keep me plugging away every day. And if I can do it, so can you!

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