There are pros and cons to Facebook but my favorite pro is the memory feature it sends you each day. It’s a chance to look back on what was happening 1, 3, 5, even 10 or more years ago complete with whichever picture you attached to your post. It’s here that we marvel at how kids have grown, share fond memories of those who have passed away, reminisce about vacations, or recall frustrations we’ve longed since worked through.
Just this past week, a 12 year old memory popped up in my feed that said “For better or worse, the manuscript is in the mail.” It made me chuckle.
My “manuscript” was a memoir submission to a writing competition that had a 12,000 word maximum. I had sent it to a few friends to ask for feedback and a grammar check but it was no surprise it didn’t land in the top 20 to compete for prizes.
What it did do was reawaken my love for writing that was birthed as a young teen. I started looking for an affordable writer’s conference that was local to me and a friend mentioned the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference a friend of hers had attended. I learned about the Cec Murphy scholarship, applied, and was honored to receive one.
The process was a bit overwhelming even before I walked into a classroom. The brochure was rich with workshops, continuing sessions, learning labs, and bios of those offering appointments. I took the time to study each option, made my selections, and reworked two blog posts into devotions so I had something to discuss at the appointments along with my fledging manuscript.
That first year I commuted because the conference was on the campus of Cairn University which was only 15 or so minutes away, but I would immerse myself in the experience by staying overnight in future years.
Throughout the four days, I learned SO much, including how much I didn’t know that I didn’t know! It was clear that my manuscript was far from being ready, but I was honored to win the unpublished writer’s prose competition which allowed me to return the following year at half price. Eight months after I left that conference I was also contacted by one of the editors I’d met who offered me an actual paid opportunity writing a week’s worth of devotions for The Quiet Hour. I’ve now been writing for them for 10 years.
Getting a book published was not as easy. Year after year I returned to the conference and learned more about my craft. I made connections and friendships. I had to work through some disappointments and lots of life hurdles that could have derailed my writing process including two different cancers and helping my brother through homelessness.
Eventually, my book morphed from memoir to outreach how-to handbook with a little of my story weaving it all together. But it still wasn’t ready. At the end of each conference, the director, Marlene, would hand out commitment forms and I would pledge to continue working on my book even when I wanted to throw in the towel because I wasn’t sure it would ever see publication.
I learned how to write a solid book proposal, worked on my platform (still a struggle!!) and had my first few chapters professionally edited. After almost seven years I was finally clear on the vision for my book, had a much better understanding of the publishing industry, did a radio and Facebook interview regarding the concept, and placed it in the hands of a publisher through a connection from the conference. All the while, Marlene cheered me on and reminded me how important my message was.
Ultimately, the publisher passed but the feedback on my writing was favorable and I had an open door to submit again. I decided to have an independent publisher I had met at the conference – she too had been on a journey going from writer to indie publisher – edit and publish my book.
Jesus Has Left the Building: the Nitty-Gritty of Creative Church Outreach was published in September of 2021. It has won a Golden Scroll award and was a finalist in Christian non-fiction through the Next Generation Indie Book awards. While the accolades are nice, of greatest importance is its message is finally getting out: God’s people need to leave their church buildings to impact their communities with Christ’s love in practical ways.
It would have been easy to give up at many points along the nine year journey. But I was encouraged to complete the work that God called me to do by people I had met over the years at the conference. They cared about me and the message God planted in my heart. Signing that commitment each year acted as a reminder that this wasn’t about me, but about the souls that could be impacted if I just didn’t give up.