Friday, July 30, 2010

Validation

In her excellent post on Wednesday, Bonnie touched on our need for validation, and where one should or shouldn't seek it. No matter who we are or what we do, we need validation. We need to know that what we spend a good deal of our time doing isn't wasted time. That it matters. As writers, oh how the time adds up. We can spend months, even years working on a novel or non-fiction book, and feel every minute as if we're walking a tightrope without a safety net. A book can release to great reviews only to garner mediocre sales numbers. As we wade through the disappointment, how do we determine which one tells the real story? Maybe neither. Or maybe both.
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"Validation is an illusion," Bonnie says. Well, at the very least it can be fickle. We have to take it all with a grain of salt, and most assuredly we must consider the source. Best friends and mothers are not the most reliable validators. Because they love you, they love your work. Or they'll say they do to keep from breaking your heart. Bless them, but don't rely too heavily on their praise. By the same token, good reviews don't guarantee a best seller. See what I mean? Fickle.
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So where do you turn if you're serious about your writing, when it's more than a hobby, when it's something you want to put out there for the world to see? Maybe you've had the benefit of college courses that have helped validate your skill. You have papers with grades that you're proud to show, and the encouragement of professors to boot. Well and good, but many writers I know don't have degrees. Fortunately a degree is not a prerequisite for publication, but good writing is. So you work at your craft. There are excellent books on the art of writing from which you can benefit. We've talked about many of them on this blog, and have several listed on our Resources page. They can help strengthen your strong points and shore up your weak ones.
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Critique groups can also be of great benefit, but only if the critiques are honest and knowledgeable. Seek out a group near where you live, where there are writers skilled in the type of writing you do. The Internet can be an invaluable resource for that. You may be nervous, even afraid in the beginning. But you could very well find that inner circle Bonnie talked about. When our agents brought the six of us together a year and a half ago, we had no idea what a tight group we would become. But let me tell you, the love and support we give and receive among ourselves is a blessing none of us can measure.
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In our Roundtable on Monday we discussed the professionals who have encouraged us on our journey. Where do you find someone like that? Writing conferences that allow you to have your work reviewed by professionals top the list. I can't stress enough how invaluable such a conference is. It's where you'll meet fellow writers who share your passion, and where, perhaps for the first time, you'll have a true gauge of your writing skill. It's also where you can connect with editors who will gain an appreciation of your work.
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Maybe you've done all these things and you're still unpublished. I feel your pain. And so do the vast majority of published authors. It took more years than I like to talk about to see my books in print. But I pressed on, ever working on my craft. It paid off for me and it will for you too. The fact that you're not yet published doesn't necessarily mean you're unpublishable. More than likely it's a matter of timing. I know how difficult the waiting can be. But you're not just biding your time. You're writing, and growing, and persevering. Because you'll get nowhere if you give up.
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As Christians, the peace that passes all understanding is the ultimate validation we should seek. If we know in our hearts we're being true to the call the Lord has placed on our lives, that has to be the final word. One of my favorite scriptures is Philippians 2:13: "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." He gives both the desire and the ability. And he wants to bless us.
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Can you share an instance where an encouraging word at just the right time made all the difference? It doesn't have to be writing related. We'd love to hear about it.

11 comments:

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Such an encouraging post, Sharon.

Just completed Camy Tang's self-editing online class. She shot me an email with some meaningful words in it. Will save.

Non-writing related. Was enduring a deeply sad time of life after a loss and a dear friend from my mom's group sent her daughter to my door with a bundle of yellow daffodils. Wordless, the young girl handed them to me. My friend waved from the car. To this day I swear it was those flowers that reminded me of the hope I have in Christ during that time. It was the exact encouragement I needed.

God Bless,
Wendy

BK said...

Yes, we spend TONS of time on our novels. In fact, for my first manuscript, I spent just shy of 2,000 hours over the course of 6 years completing it. To put that in perspective, A full-time employee works 2,040 hours/year.

I view validation as both internal and external.

For internal validation, I did not consider myself "a writer" until I had submitted to my first editor. That was actually the toughest validation b/c I am hardest on myself.

For external validation, I am blessed to have wonderful crit partners and associates in the writing community. But the ultimate validation for me came right when I was about to give up writing altogether--I had prayed and prayed to God for direction but never seemed to hear an answer. I was just so tired of trying to find time to work on my book between the stressful day job, church commitments, etc. And right at the time I wanted to throw in the towel, I learned I was a finalist in this year's Genesis.

That has given me the strength to go on. Just b/c I'm a finalist, my life doesn't get easier; I don't suddenly have more time. I still have to scratch and claw and fight for time each day. But I know that what I'm doing matters and, at least for this season in life, I'm doing what God wants me to do. Sorry for the long-winded comment.

Katie Ganshert said...

What an inspiring, heart-felt post. I have an agent (since November of last year) and have been waiting for pub board since April. You're so right! Waiting is not easy! But I take such heart in the fact that publication is not my life's pursuit. Jesus is. Publication is a great dream I have and it would be amazing to see it come to fruition (to God be the glory!), but it's not going to validate me and answer all life's problems. Only Jesus can do that.

Jan Cline said...

Love this post. Besides the posts I read here on this blog there have been some times recently when God has brought me a word of encouragement. I recently won a Book/DVD by Josheph Bentz titled When God Takes Too Long. (I will be reviewing it on my blog soon). It was exactly what I needed as I have been frustrated with all the waiting and wondering. Im so glad God gave me this gift - it's still hard to wait, but now I have it put in a better perspective.

My question to other writers is how do you afford conferences, editors, classes and websites and all the other expenses that come with learning the craft and networkiing?

MandyB said...

My validation came from the writers circle I found by chance upon emigrating to Canada. I was embraced, encouraged and validated by the members from day one. Without them I would not have entered NaNoWriMo, written a novel or written some piece of prose/poem almost every day since. It has been my joy.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Wendy, what a touching story. The Lord knows just how to minister to us, and who to use.

BK, congratulations on being a finalist. That will certainly put the wind in your sails. I wish you the best.

Katie, I pray the Lord encourages you as you wait. Waiting is often a huge part of the equation in life.

Jan, what a compelling title. I'm going to find a copy of that. Sounds like something I need to read.

Mandy, yay for your writers circle. And yay for you having the courage to reach out.

Sharon K. Souza said...

BK, would you email me the title of your Genesis entry?

Lauren said...

I never got a bad review on my writing until my Freshman year of college. I was taking English 102 and we were doing peer reviews. I'd had the same professor for 101 with the same peer group who'd been in the professor's class with me before. They'd all praised my work before, but this one assignment threw me for a loop and I got harsh reviews. I tried to apply the critiques to the paper, but I never got a good grip on my topic, which is a horrible recipe for writing an academic paper. However, when I had the same problem a year later in my Survey of American Lit class, I was able to delve through that part and pull it off. My professor said I ended up with one of the highest scores in the class on that assignment. So even though you have a hard time with validation at one point in your writing career, you will learn from it and you will find your validation later on.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Lauren, thank you for making such an excellent point. Criticism can be the very thing to propel us to excellence if we'll allow it to do its work. I know, not all criticism is warranted or accurate, but as my daughter says, chew the meat and spit out the bones.

Jan, I'm sorry I missed the last part of your comment when I replied earlier. Affording conferences can be a challenge, especially in our current economy. Only you can determine the feasibility based on your financial situation. I know for myself, every conference I've attended has been a financial challenge, but very much worth the sacrifice. I know at Mount Hermon scholarships are available, which is always good to know.

Megan Sayer said...

This post really struck home to me. I spent years trying to be the best writer I could in order to "prove my worth" to myself, God and others.

In short, I had a real God-encounter and gave it all up, even writing. In the ten years that followed I swallowed a lot of pride, and find myself writing again - working on a memoir of that experience. Now I feel like I'm writing FROM that God-place, as opposed to trying to achieve it.

Still hard work though. I struggle with keeping a strong plot at the forefront, and remaining true to character's voices. The other day I was tempted to just chuck it all in and write fiction again.

And then I remembered a prophecy that a friend had for me some weeks ago - a friend who didn't know I was writing actively again, let alone what I was working on. God spoke to her, giving her all kinds of details of my story, and some very special words of encouragement. I felt - and still feel - so humbled that the God who made the Universe would care for me and my writing that much that He would encourage me and validate me in that way. Still feel so blessed that even after I gave God all my desires to write, told Him I'd do whatever HE wanted - not what I wanted any more - that He would...would...allow me to write.

Thanks.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Megan, thank you for opening your heart to us. All our experiences are unique to us, but many of us could share stories of how God personally inspired and directed our path. It really is amazing that the infinite God of the universe relates to us so intimately.