Please welcome this weeks guest Jean Davis for The Journey. She answers the question: How have you seen God work in your writing journey?
Ben cheats. I was at a meeting of a Christian writers’ group a few years ago. We’d been given a writing prompt with fifteen minutes to write. I didn’t want to read out loud the drivel I’d come up with. But when it was Ben’s turn, he received accolades.
“That’s great, Ben! You wrote that just now?” someone asked. “How did you do that? Your piece shines!”
“I prayed, ‘God, help me,’” Ben said. Okay. I see how this works. Ben had extra help.
The first piece I remember writing was a very bad poem that included the words, “May 15th! Glory hallelujah! Vergil asked me for a date!” I was sixteen. You can see why that one never made it. Though the poem was awful, writing it does help me remember the anniversary of that first date with the man I eventually married. In fact, I’m better at remembering that date than the date of our wedding anniversary.
Fast forward seven years and one child later. I wrote and submitted two short stories to the Christian publishing house that printed our denominational weekly take-home papers. The stories came back, rejected. I thought that meant I couldn’t write, so I put away my typewriter. But even though the IBM was in the bottom of the closet, I’d still jot down ideas on the back of envelopes and snatches of dialog on scraps of paper. I recorded everyday events from family life. I couldn’t help myself. For two years in my early thirties, I shared some of those anecdotes in a regular weekly feature in our town’s small rural newspaper.
With two more children and after several moves, life became hectic. When I was almost fifty, our younger daughter had a baby, and they lived with us for five years. I loved that little one. I was so attached, in fact, I realized I needed to get a life or else I would be devastated when our baby took her baby and left our nest. I saw an ad in the local newspaper for a writing class offered by The Academy of Lifelong Learning and enrolled.
In one of those classes, the woman sitting next to me placed a brochure on the table between us. Coincidence? I picked it up, read it through, and asked questions. No, I’d never heard of Marlene Bagnull, the founder and director of the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers’ Conference. The brochure announced a writers’ one-day workshop she’d be leading at a community college nearby. “Keep the brochure,” my classmate said. “I have another one.” I signed up.
At the end of Marlene’s workshop, I realized this continuous push through me to get words down on paper might be more than a compulsion. Maybe it was a call to write. Me, called by God? “If you have a writer’s group in your area, come up and write contact information down,” Marlene said. After almost everyone else had left, I walked up to the white board, saw a monthly meeting someone had listed held the 3rd Saturday in a near-by town, and copied down the location and meeting time. I attended my first writer’s group the following Saturday and continued attending that meeting for almost ten years. Always a little reserved, it was hard to open myself up and share work, but I’ll always remember the gentle encouragement and kind words of new friends.
“So, who’s going to the writer’s conference in Philly?” Candy Abbot, director of the writers’ group, asked. She passed out pamphlets. “We can car pool.” I attended my first conference in 2002 and took a few manuscripts. Each person enrolling got to sign up for three fifteen-minute sessions with authors or editors. I didn’t know that was optional. I was so nervous about that first meeting with an experienced author that I developed intestinal distress and missed not only that meeting but several of the writing sessions I’d anticipated. Though I’d written hundreds of thousands of words by 2002, I had not written anything aimed at publication after receiving those two rejection slips half my life ago. I wanted to learn all I could about the craft of writing since I had a call to write.
While I was taking poems, devotions, and inspirational stories to the writers’ group for critique, Barbara Foster, a member of the group, was writing a Christian romance novel. Every month she’d bring in a new scene or chapter for critique. “Oh, I’m learning so much by writing this.” It was obvious to me she was having fun.
I wanted to learn about writing. I wanted to have fun. I decided to join Barbara on her quest. I would write a book for children. Barbara and I met every Wednesday in the cafeteria of a community college, writing and editing. We celebrated her 73rd birthday together by making a trip to the post office to mail our manuscripts. Mine was returned in three months. Barbara’s manuscript came back in a year. Barbara submitted again, and while she went on to write a second romance, I wrote a young adult novel. We attended another Philadelphia conference to pitch our work. “Too short,” an agent told me.
Barbara was a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). She encouraged me to join. “Jean, we have to enter ACFW’s First Impressions,” Barbara said last year. We polished the first five pages of our most recent novels and submitted. After that, Barbara said, “Jean, we have to submit to the Genesis contest. It’s good experience.” The First Impressions contest is coming up again. I’m already working on polishing the first five pages of a second young adult novel.
Will I ever publish a novel? Will Barbara? While writing and waiting, I’ve published devotions, inspirational stories, and humor pieces. Barbara and I alternate weeks for features on an on-line newsletter. “Your writing is getting better all the time,” Barbara tells me. And the latest piece she sent me to proof is her strongest yet. Though she moved to Florida four years ago, we stay in touch by phone and e-mail. After all these years of friendship, Barbara, at 84, still inspires me.
I love the process of writing. I am the one who bugs my reluctant writer friends with information about writing opportunities. “Hey, the deadline for that Christmas project is Sept. 6. What are you submitting?” I know the joy of seeing a piece I’ve written published. I want to share the joy.
Last year God opened another door for me. I don’t even know how I found information about the opportunity offered by the Delaware Division of the Arts, but I’m sure God wasn’t surprised. I submitted a portion of the young adult novel I’d written and was one of eight prose writers accepted to attend a workshop led by Alice Elliott Dark, author of In the Gloaming. I came away from that week-end not only with confidence in my writing, but also with a short story, an essay about the writing process, a humor piece, and new friends who share my passion about writing. One of them, Ramona, just sent me an e-mail. “Jean, here’s a site you might want to look at. I think this would be a good match for your short story.”
As I write this, I’m thinking about what I want to pack for the Writer’s Police Academy Sept. 5-8 in Greensboro, North Carolina. My even being able to attend is a God story. I saw information about the weekend several months ago and hesitated to sign up. About the time I found my courage, enrollment closed. “Why don’t you see if there’s a cancellation list?” my husband suggested. I wrote the contact person, and a few weeks later a slot had opened. I’m really moving out of my comfort zone, but I know the information I’ll gather at the Writer’s Police Academy will help me expand that too-short novel and flesh out another young adult novel I’m working on.
Would I have ever sought publication without the encouragement of other writers who understood rejection slips were to be expected? God provided chance meetings, open doors, a writers’ group, conferences, and web sites I didn’t even know how I found.
A notice came out today from the Writer’s Police Academy that said please remember to leave all firearms and ammunition at home. I’ve learned a few things about writers’ conferences. I’m going to that meeting packing—the anti-diarrheal, that is.
Jean Davis has published devotions in The Upper Room, Devo’zine, Cup of Comfort Devotional for Women, and Love is a Verb Devotional. Her humorous and inspirational stories have appeared in Vista, Live, FellowScript, The Heart of a Mother, and Whispering in God’s Ear. She lives in Delaware with her husband Vergil.