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(This summer, while there have been a few road trips on our family’s horizon, I’m taking a virtual trip down memory lane back to when my writing adventure began. Today’s flashback takes us to 2009.)

With a clear idea of where to take the novel I was working on, I started 2009 with a fresh focus. And thanks to my new membership in American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), I finally knew where to turn for even more valuable feedback.

After a couple failed attempts at finding critique partners, I finally landed with a few other dedicated writers and we swapped chapters every other week or so. Using their feedback, I honed the opening chapters of Serving Up Love (again) but then plowed ahead through the saggy middle of the book.

With their encouragement, I also took the plunge to enter my first ever writing contest in the women’s fiction category. The Genesis Contest was sponsored by ACFW and while I had no delusions about winning or even being picked as a Finalist (back then they didn’t have a semi-final round), I looked forward to the valuable comments and critiques from the experienced judges.

Imagine my shock when I got the call that I was a Finalist! I had two days to review the spot-on comments from the initial judges, modify my entry, and resubmit it. That done, I put my nose to the proverbial grindstone to get to the end of the book before the ACFW Conference that fall. Back then the completed manuscript was not a pre-requisite for entering the contest, but since I would need to finish it eventually, I set a personal deadline and did the work required.

Except in addition to a finished novel, I’d also been eavesdropping on ACFW discussions about the importance of a website and blog. The summer of 2009 marked the beginning of my blogging journey and I created my first website for my author name (rather than a single book title).

With just weeks to go before the conference, I finished the novel and sent the final chapters to my critique partners…who gave me valuable feedback about when and how to end the story. However, one mentioned that it lacked a cohesive thread to tie all three women’s stories together. This led to some frantic brainstorming about a crisis at the diner that would force the waitresses to work together toward a common goal in addition to their individual story arcs.

(As I’m taking this trip down memory lane, I’m not that surprised to find myself still repeating this same routine of writing a first draft of a story and then circling back to fix critical story elements. It’s a valuable skill to know how to revise…and a priceless trait to be willing to do the work for the sake of the story.)

The ACFW Conference finally rolled into town and I eagerly checked into the hotel. It honestly felt like the true starting line of my career! (And as an interesting side note, my baby had finally started kindergarten a few weeks before, but instead of just now starting my writing journey, I was five years into my trek to “Climb the Mountain” of my dream.)

The highlights? Being inspired to dream bigger by keynote speaker Debbie Macomber (and then having breakfast with her a few days later). Meeting fellow unpublished authors Jodie Hedlund, Katie Ganshert, Liz Johnson, and Valerie Comer. Choosing to spend Friday night at a pizza party sponsored by Susan May Warren, Rachel Hauck, and the My Book Therapy gang. The next morning I stopped by the bookstore to pick up Susie’s first craft book From the Inside Out (which later transformed how I plot and led to an ongoing membership in Novel.Academy where I still attend weekly classes about writing, marketing, and publishing).

And at the Awards Banquet, I was announced as the Runner-Up in the Genesis Contest!

Unfortunately, at the time, all I could remember were those discouraging appointments and lunch encounters with editors and agents. The ones where I was asked about my over-reaching “story question” and had no idea how to answer. Or when I was told my diner didn’t smell or sound like any diner they’d been to. Or when I was told that all of a publisher’s slots for women’s fiction were already filled for the next three years (!!!) so thanks, but no thanks.

The day after the conference ended, I delayed my drive home to have a pivotal lunch with one of my randomly-assigned roommates Valerie Comer. I still remember our commiserating together over the reality of our conference outcomes…and then helping each other chart a new course. As a result of that talk, I decided to put the diner book aside for a bit and begin work on a new story in the broader “contemporary” category. Later, I might come back to it and either hone a better story question (once I learned what that was all about) or rewrite the story as a true romance with a wider market share to get my foot in the door.

I headed home exhausted and overwhelmed, but after a bit of pouting time, I rolled up my sleeves and began to research and outline that new story using Susan May Warren’s LINDY HOP structure. The brief emotional setback was over and I ended 2009 with fresh momentum.

What about you? Have you ever had a turning-point event? Have you ever been so distracted by the “bad” news or unfulfilled expectations that you lost sight of the good things and blessings? Have you learned to bounce-back after a disappointment and chart a new course?

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