Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Death and Rebirth of a Dream

For years I've dreamed of being the next Toni Morrison. Okay, okay. I said "dreamed". When I would awake from my dreams, I would settle for being a pretty good novelist in my own right. I dreamed of writing the latest breakout novel. I could visualize my novel title on the New York Times Best Seller List.
Well that was before my dream died... and resurrected. Here's the story of that resurrection...
I boarded the airplane prepared and self-assured. My rolling suitcase contained khakis, a few colorful tops and sensible black patent loafers. I had packed my hair essentials and three-ounce bottles of Japanese Cherry Blossom shower gel and body cream. Most importantly, I was armed with my laptop and five copies of my novel proposal. My confidence at an all-time high, I spent the long flight to California gearing up for a packed week at my first major writer’s conference.
            This would be the week I’d be discovered as the breakout novelist of the year. I anticipated the faculty’s praise over my captivating metaphors, vivid scenes and engaging dialogue. I knew I didn’t possess a perfect manuscript, so I expected some constructive criticism along the way. Still, I hoped to land my first contract through some direct contact at the conference.
            On the first night of the conference I attended a workshop entitled “How to Make the Most of the Conference”. I could feel the energy in the room full of writers and wanna-be writers. An excited buzz permeated the room. A group of eager-beavers, we sat with our backs straight and our eyes glued on the speaker. A seasoned author and editor, she represented the conference faculty. She’d moved up the ranks years ago, having earned the medals and stripes of several published works.
            Her heart-felt advice was invaluable from the start. She encouraged us to be energetic, yet cautioned us to be still at times. She told us to be assertive, yet courteous to the conference faculty members and our fellow conferees. Her last encouragement: be satisfied.
            One piece of advice still rises to the top of all she said that evening. I can hear it like she said it yesterday: “Some are here to get published. Be here because God has something for you.”
            Mind you, this session represented merely a precursor to the actual conference. A preconference freebie, if you will. But God was already challenging me deep down where no one else could see. Did I attend the conference as a means to an end? Did I sign up in my quest towards becoming a published author, or to meet God in a way that I couldn’t back home? Was I open to whatever He wanted to do in and through me?
            And what if I didn’t get “discovered” this week? What if by the end of the week, I’d fallen into the abyss of anonymity with the majority of the conferees there? Maybe I wasn’t such hot stuff after all. Maybe, as a writer, I was actually quite ordinary.
            God would soon answer all those questions for me.
            Throughout the week I attended several workshops, all plenary sessions and a fiction track. The wealth of information far outweighed the expense of the conference. Meeting countless people that shared my passion for the written word, my soul was filled to the brim. I received invaluable information about my love and my craft. A wonderful bonus: I met a sampling of God’s most kindhearted, sincere world-changers. Many of them were fledgling writers like me.
            Like many of my fellow conferees, I took advantage of this opportunity to rub elbows with professional writers. I had several meetings with a variety of professionals – editors, multi-published authors and literary agents. I approached these meetings with my face smiling on the outside and my heart pounding on the inside.
However, after perusing the first two chapters of my novel, these folks were less than admirable of my work. After each appointment, I took a deep breath in, deep breath out, squared my shoulders then moved on to the next. Clinging to my floral dollar store journal, I noted each piece of constructive criticism of my work. It hurt to process their assessments, but I knew I would utilize them to improve my writing.
            By the end of the week, it was crystal clear that I wasn’t exactly the breakout novelist of the year, or even of the conference. Unfortunately, after reading my work no one had exclaimed breathlessly, “Carla, where have you been hiding all these years?” I was not the conference “it girl”. Not one author/editor/agent was beating my door down.
            By the end of the conference I questioned myself, while wiping tears from my cheeks. Did I have any writing talent at all? Was I cut out for the writing life? Had I been delusional my entire adult life?
            God didn’t answer my questions directly. But He did remind me of the poetry, short stories and plays that I had written as a little girl sitting on the purple carpet in my purple bedroom. I remembered a writing camp I’d attended while in high school. I had received an award for an investigative writing piece. He pointed out all the positive feedback I’d gotten in recent years over my magazine and newspaper articles. I thought of the favorable comments I receive after I post a new blog.
I haven’t received a lot of compliments about my novel, but I have received more than my share over my nonfiction works.
            During the conference, I also received the most amazing affirmations ever. During breakfast, one lady stopped me and told me, “You know, you’re as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside.”
            Another lady told me I had a “commanding presence” while a gentleman told me I had the “aura” of a professional speaker.
            I laughed inside at all the compliments. Little did they know that while I’m married to a full time pastor who lives to speak from a pulpit every Sunday – and whenever else someone will let him – I practically run away from public speaking opportunities. They were also unaware that I’d spent the majority of my life battling low self-esteem and questioning my self worth. Only in recent years have I experienced major victory in these areas.
            While at the conference I had been studying the book of Malachi in the early mornings. A few days into the conference, I came across Malachi 2:7, “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction – because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty.”
I’m certainly no priest, yet I felt God encouraging me to use my writing to preserve knowledge and give instruction. I felt Him calling me to be His messenger. I realized I had already been doing that through my nonfiction writing.
Since the conference I've received more writing assignments than I have in years. Since my "revelation", God has opened my eyes to amazing stories all around me. Sometimes I wonder if I'll live long enough to get all my ideas down on paper!
Telling imaginative stories certainly has its place in the world. I personally love curling up to read a good novel or watch an amazing film. Yet, at this season of my life, God is calling me to write moving true stories.
            I may not be the world’s next Toni Morrison or Francine Rivers, but by following my passions and His leading, I am becoming the woman He wants me to be. And by dreaming His dreams for my life, I'm becoming the writer He wants me to be.


  1. Great post, Carla. It's encouraging to hear what God is doing in your life and with your writing. And really enjoyable to hear about your experiences at Mt. Hermon. Miss you! Barb

  2. Beautifully said, Carla. I'm so glad to have met you at Mt. Hermon. I count you as one of my own conference blessings and can't wait to see how you respond to His promptings. I'm on the journey with you, Girl. Feeling many similar emotions.

  3. Love the candidness of this blog. God has a plan for each of us. I write for me. You have inspired me to consider a writer's conference. Can't wait to see how you will be used to bless through your work!

  4. This is awesome. Thanks for sharing. We give Him our dream and He gives us back His.

  5. What a beautiful post. We can all relate to this in so many different ways! Thank you for being real. This blessed me. I'm excited about following your blog in July for "31 days." All I can say to your words in this post is AMEN! I'm right there with ya: finding my place, questioning my motives and figuring out my niche in life....

    Love you! xoxo