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(This summer, while there are a few road trips on our family’s horizon, I’m also taking a virtual trip down memory lane back to when my writing adventure began. Today’s flashback takes us to 2008.)

After dreaming about writing fiction for years, in 2008 I finally started work on a full-length novel. Still feeling guilty about my disobedient attempt in early 2005, I took a different idea from my stack of dreamed scenes, sketched out a trio of books set in a small town diner, then began writing the first book tentatively titled Amanda’s Hope. Gleaning from my vast reading experience and pairing it with the fiction lessons from my writing course, I soon had a good start to the first story.

A few weeks later, I returned for the third time to the Christian Writers’ Guild Conference determined that this would be the year for successful pitches to editors and agents since I had both a non-fiction and fiction project to talk about. For the first time, I actually got positive responses from the professionals! Even though the few requests for proposals eventually were rejected, I had turned a corner with my in-person pitching appointments.

However, one seemingly-ordinary appointment with an experienced author turned out to be a career-changer. I still remember sitting down across the table from DiAnn Mills and showing her the opening chapter of my unfinished-novel. She read silently for a bit, complimented my descriptive writing style, then kindly pointed out that my story actually started at the last line of the chapter.

And then came the words that changed everything: “If you’re serious about writing fiction, I recommend you join American Christian Fiction Writers.”

As soon as I got home, I looked up ACFW and felt a surge of hope. For a low yearly membership fee, I’d have access to even more classes focused only on fiction writing, get inside information from other authors through the email loop, and could even get paired with fellow writers to critique and strengthen each others’ work. 

I could have signed up right away, but instead chose to use that membership as my “carrot” reward for finishing the complete draft of Amanda’s Hope. So over the next few months (while also juggling my newish part-time day job that allowed me flexible hours to work from home so I could be there for my special needs daughter but still earn enough to support my writing  expenses and even contribute to the family’s budget), I completed the final Apprentice Course homework, had three more articles published, continued marketing my first book through more signings and speaking engagements, and wrote “The End” of my first novel.

As promised, I immediately joined ACFW. It was everything I’d dreamed of…and more. Especially when I signed up for a critique group. Back then, the next group of interested writers were assigned to each other. While not everyone was a good fit (or even serious about the time involved and quickly quit), I eagerly sent my new opening chapter to my group. Only one author responded but her reaction was the one I needed for my writing. She said the technique and mechanics were good and that she could *see* the scene…but that she found herself not caring about the character’s dilemma when she knew she should have. She apologized profusely about not knowing how to fix the problem, but her words started me on a journey to learn more about the craft at a deeper level.

I could tell a story, but readers didn’t care about my characters. Hmm.

About this same time, I had joined a local group of Christian authors who met monthly. One of those members also offered to look at my opening chapters and delivered her opinion. Once again, I received high compliments for my voice, style, and the rhythmic timing of my writing…but another honest reaction about a lack of emotional connection to the character.

If I couldn’t get over that hurdle with the first book of the three, I’d never even get the chance to write the second two books…and those second two women were going to be such fun to write about! After weighing my options against the truth of what the story needed, I tried an experiment. What if the main “character” of the story was actually the diner and I wove the storylines of all three women in simultaneously?

With a you-never-know-until-you-try attitude, I started over…and immediately felt the story come alive as I wrote. I then sent the new opening to my local writer friend, and this time when she gushed about the difference, I knew I’d crossed a major hurdle.

But while I’d learned a valuable lesson, the work was far from done.

What about you? Have you ever received life-changing advice for your personal life or career? Have you ever heard difficult feedback that you weren’t sure what to do about? Was it smart for me to see if multiple people had the same thing to say before I made a change?

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