Three Steps to Freedom!


It’s The Most Wonderful/Terrible Time of the Year.

It comes every year, and every year we wait for it with a mixture of excitement and dread. No, I’m not talking about taxes.

I’m talking about the award season.

From the ECPA Book of the Year awards to the Christy’s, the Genesis to the RITA, the Golden Heart to the Carol, and all the gazillion contests and awards in-between, online groups, Facebook, Twitter, and more are buzzing with the news of who finaled and who didn’t, who was nominated and who wasn’t. It’s a heady time for those chosen; a difficult and even painful time for those not so blessed.

This year has been especially interesting to me as a number of the books I acquired and edited over the last year or so have garnered several nominations for prestigious awards. I’m delighted for these writers, because I know how hard they’ve worked, and how talented they are. But I know, too, that those not getting happy news have also worked hard, are also talented. And I know that so many of us find ourselves smiling through the ache inside, congratulating our friends, knowing we should be happy for them, but all-too-aware of that nagging “Why not me??” in our gut.

So what’s a writer to do?

Well, let me offer you Three Steps to Freedom. Freedom from frustration, from resentment and envy—and from that voice that keeps telling you you’re not good enough.

Step One: Go ahead. Feel Sorry for yourself.

Seriously, if you’re glum because your book wasn’t chosen (or even submitted), or you’ve been writing longer than that finalist has been alive!, or you just knew this was YOUR year until you broke all your fingers in that extreme crochet tournament, or for any of the myriad reasons we have for feeling bad that we weren’t chosen or spotlighted, give yourself 10 minutes to sulk. Yes, go ahead. Rant, rave, snarl, consume copious amounts of chocolate. Get it out of your system. But only for 10 minutes. No fudging on this one, friends. Ten minutes tops.

Step Two:  Go forward. Focus outside yourself.

Best way to get over those feelings in step one is to stop focusing on yourself and start, as Scripture so aptly states it, rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep. If you know those who have finaled or been nominated for awards, send your sincere congrats. Celebrate with them! A win for them is a win for us all, friends. And if you know others who were hoping against hope, only to have those hopes dashed, send them a quick “I understand and I’m praying for you.” Come alongside those who share this writing journey with you, be they celebrating or sad. Because we’re all serving the same Master, and when you reach out to your fellow sojourners, uplifting and encouraging them, He is pleased.

Step Three: Go Deeper. Examine your craft.

If you entered a contest or two or twelve, and didn’t receive the results you’d hoped for, use this experience to take a hard look at your craft. If you receive any comments back from judges, look them over with an open and teachable heart. Don’t let this discourage you. Instead, know you’re doing the work, and determine to grow in both craft and grace. God has this, just as He has every other step in our journey. Nothing is wasted in His economy, so seek what He wants to teach you in this particular step. It may be a craft issue, or it may be a heart or faith issue. Whatever it is, be teachable. And rejoice in the honor of His refinement.

And never, ever forget, no matter how rocky the road, that we who get to spend our days immersed in words, and in His Word, are among the luckiest people of all.

31 Responses to Three Steps to Freedom!

  1. Avatar
    JennyM April 18, 2012 at 4:12 am #

    I’m still wrestling over whether or not to enter a contest here (in Canuckia)and a few friends suggest that I should. The top prize includes a full blown editing package. This may sound shameless and utterly self important, but I want the editing, not the title of *winner*. I cannot afford to hire a team of pros, so this may be an excellent option. Or, even though I’ve already written my acceptance speech, perhaps I should cool my jets and think of Plan B.

    When I look back at Draft One, I laugh, I thought it was good. Refinement is not about looking good, it’s about being great. That’s what I want, right now, to be great at what I do. If someday I have the disappointment about not winning an armload of awards, I’ll hopefully say what all the nice people say on Oscar night , “It’s an honour to be nominated”.

    • Avatar
      Connie Almony April 18, 2012 at 6:14 am #

      Jenny, contests are about so much more than getting the “winner” title. They are about getting feedback from a variety of perspectives (ie. judges) who will all view your work from a different lens (much like readers will). It’s about refining and even to some degree toughening. Knowing how to take the lumps and learn from them. It’s also about exposure. I actually don’t even know what the prizes are of the contests I’ve joined.

      • Avatar
        JennyM April 18, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

        I may enter the contest, we’ll see. The refining and toughening is the reason I’d enter. Like I said, I don’t want the title. Although flowers would be nice…Aren’t I just Miss Congeniality? 🙂

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    Richard Mabry April 18, 2012 at 5:28 am #

    Karen, Wise words, and very appropriate for me today. I’m grateful for being multi-published, but a bit sorry for myself because I haven’t made it to the top level (who doesn’t want to be able to call themselves ‘award-winning’?). Appreciate the sage counsel.

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    Rick Barry April 18, 2012 at 6:26 am #

    Karen, you present a nice, balanced view with good advice. Although award-winning books must meet certain criteria, I suspect that at least a wee bit of subjectivity plays a role in the judges. Perhaps the Lord, who judges objectively and not subjectively, will highly commend some authors for glorifying Him despite never receiving accolades down here.

  4. Avatar
    Paul W. Coleman April 18, 2012 at 6:26 am #

    Beautiful, compassionate, and something every writer (and every Christian) should have before them daily. Thank you, Karen

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    Connie Almony April 18, 2012 at 6:28 am #

    Thanks for this post. I’m coming up on lots of contest results dates and feel I need to steel myself against my hopes. Just wanted to add one step to yours above. The one where you rail against the judge because they just don’t understand your style … until you realize there’s a reason they don’t understand it. Because it’s not understandable. Then, tail between your legs, you make changes to the WIP that actually make it better :o) … Or is that just me?

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    Henry McLaughlin April 18, 2012 at 6:36 am #

    Thank you for the very wise and timely counsel. It is greatly appreciated. So I join in celebrating with the nominees and finalists and come alongside those who are disappointed. And I use this opportunity to commit to dig deeper into learning and improving my craft.

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    Sally Bradley April 18, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    A few years ago I heard Allie Pleiter say the first twenty-four hours don’t count, whether it’s good or bad news. Our emotions have taken over and it’s hard to think correctly, easy to say something we later regret.

    I’m in the Genesis category of waiting. I’ll be glad when Saturday comes and the week is over. And I’ve been on both sides, finaling and not finaling. But I’m most looking forward to the feedback. What I received last year went a long way to helping me in a number of areas.

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    TC Avey April 18, 2012 at 6:57 am #

    Thank you Karen for such wonderful pearls of wisdom. Granting ourselves a little time to vent is needed, but then we must move on if we want to be productive.

    In my own life I have found that when I pray for someone it helps to change my attitude about them. I’ve also found spending time in prayer can change my grumpy heart into one that can celebrate with the successes of every member in the Body of Christ.

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    Janet Ann Collins April 18, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    Many years ago I was afraid if someone else in my critique group got a book published before I did I’d be jealous. But when a member (John Olson) not only got published, but won a Christie award I was thrilled. I felt like a proud mother enjoying her child’s success because we’d all helped nurture that book.

    • Avatar
      Sally Bradley April 18, 2012 at 7:25 am #

      Janet, that’s a great point, and it goes back to Karen’s second point. It seems like when we hold ourselves at a distance, we have the most trouble with jealousy.

      • Avatar
        Janet Ann Collins April 18, 2012 at 8:30 am #

        Thanks, Sally. We’re all part of the same family. I love the way competitors help each other at Christian writers’ conferences, unlike at secular ones.

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    Michelle Lim April 18, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    Fantastic post! It is always hard to wait, but there is work to do…waiting is for the birds…roll up the sleeves and study the craft. Thanks for the encouragement!

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    Lindsay Harrel April 18, 2012 at 8:13 am #

    Thanks so much for these words of wisdom. I’m realizing lately that taking criticism has been much more difficult than I thought it would be. Mostly because my pride is wounded and I feel embarrassed about what I didn’t “get.” But I’m learning. Slowly, I’m learning.

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    Julia Reffner April 18, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Great advice, Karen. I didn’t enter any contests this year, but I love your thoughts on celebrating with others. Isn’t it interesting how sometimes that can be harder than mourning with those who mourn? I want to get better at it.

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    Ginny L. Yttrup April 18, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    Karen, thank you for the reminder to all of us to embrace sensitivity toward one another. God holds each of us in His arms and ordains each step of our paths. In my 17 year journey to publication, I never entered a contest because it never occurred to me that my writing was “good enough.” Of course, to me, it still isn’t good enough. But during those years of pursuit, I finally surrendered it all to God. I set the dream aside and said I’d follow Him, regardless. For many years, I wrote as an act of worship. I’m so grateful for those years and the lessons learned. I learned the habit then of writing as worship rather than as a means to worldly success or to earn the approval of others. God’s timing is perfect for each of us.

    I always appreciate your wise words….

    • Avatar
      Lindsay Harrel April 18, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      Well, it sounds like a lot of people DO think your work is “good enough,” Ginny. Congrats on your Christy nominations! Your book is in my TBR pile. Can’t wait to read it!

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    Julie Surface Johnson April 18, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Thanks, Karen, for addressing this topic. Your sensitivity warms the soul and your admonition to limit self-pity to ten minutes encourages the heart to press on. Very timely post.

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    Ruth Douthitt April 18, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    Good luck to all the entries!! I decided not to enter any contests this year with my book. I have no regrets. There will be other books and other contests.

    And that’s just the way it goes!

    So, I celebrate with all the others!!

  16. Avatar
    Karen Ball April 18, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Wonderful thoughts and comments, all. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Avatar
    Debra April 18, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    I like to enter a contest and then forget about it. Its better than watching the calendar or waiting by the phone. Unfortunately online buzzing reminds us!

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    Cindy R. Wilson April 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    This is great advice. I especially like Step 2. Sometimes it’s hard not to look at writing as a competition (what with all the contests), but other writers are also our support system and there for us when it’s hard or when we want to celebrate so it makes sense to cheer them on and support them.

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    Michelle Saint-Germain April 18, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    I really needed to hear this today! I’ve been editing my current wip and thinking, “Why do I think this will EVER sell?” I subbed it to GENESIS and haven’t looked at it since then–at least a month ago. Now that I’m seeing it with fresh eyes I’m totally cringing at what the judge’s comments will be. What was I thinking? After I get the results I’m going to come back here and reread this.(And eat chocolate! Thanks for giving me permission.)
    Great post.

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    ginger takamiya April 18, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    My first contest and subsequent rejection letter felt like a vacuum cleaner came along and sucked out all my insides except the word REJECT in big red letters across my brain. I could not understand why. But I pulled myself up, got into more writers’ retreats and studied the craft like crazy. I continued to improve and ask for feedback. After 6 more years, I’ve developed a pretty thick skin and some much improved prose. I love my new skin. It fits so much better than the old, soft kind.

    Great post! I’m so tweeting this 🙂

  21. Avatar
    Kara I April 19, 2012 at 2:52 am #

    Thanks Karen for such a great post. I’m in the position at the moment where I’ve had some great contest news, but my critique partner who I was SO sure would do even better than me hasn’t. I’m finding it really hard to celebrate my success when I am so disappointed for her.

    It’s true. Judging is so subjective. This time I happened to be the person who got judges who somehow connected with my writing. The times that has happened is far outweighed by the times that they haven’t!

    • Avatar
      JennyM April 19, 2012 at 10:57 am #

      Judging, by the very nature of the word, always sends shivers down my spine. Too bad they don’t have a live microphone as they’re reading.
      “Whoa, Bob! Did you see that misplaced pronoun? She’s gonna lose points for that!”

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