I had spent over a year working on a collaborative project with my Adult Bible Fellowship leader that I had to put on the back burner as I entered into my MFA thesis classes. All of my attention and efforts had to be put into my thesis novel. My collaborator continued to work diligently, sending me amazing pieces almost weekly. I knew I would have some catching up to do once my thesis was done. Not a problem, I thought. I’ll have plenty of time to work on the project once I finish my MFA. So my focus remained on my novel project. I remember breathing a huge sigh of relief once I had finally turned it in. All was right in my world once again – until it wasn’t.
I sat in front of my computer, staring at the screen in disbelief. I had received and email telling me that my collaborator was in the hospital and was having a major heart attack. In an instant, all that time I thought I was going to have to devote to the project simply disappeared. With the future so uncertain, I knew in my heart that I had to get my remaining pieces written so that I could get the project self-published as quickly as I possibly could. I wanted my collaborator – no, I wanted my friend to see the completed project in light of all the “What-ifs” that raced through my mind.
So, I set to work immediately, not sure just where I was going to get the inspiration for my pieces. Our project was a a type of devotional that involved telling our stories (which often weren’t pretty) and then showing how God had spoken to us through Scripture concerning those situations in which we had found ourselves (even after the fact in my case). I could not just pull my pieces out of the blue. Thankfully, God gave me what I needed to finish up my own work. I could not have done it any other way.
What Happened Next
I worked feverishly to try to figure out the whole self-publishing world and felt like giving up many times. I couldn’t afford to hire an editor or anyone who could help me with it, but I kept at it until I finally was able to get our project uploaded and published. I think one of the most rewarding points across my authorial journey was being able to send my friend the link to our published project. It was waiting for him when he got home from the hospital after having to have quadruple bypass surgery. He told me that when he saw it, he wept. Honestly, so did I as I read his words.
Here’s the thing – in order to get the project uploaded and published, I did not have time to sit and go through each piece to check for errors. My focus was on having it up there for him. I wanted him to see our completed project – and doing so made him smile. I was satisfied with that. The word of the project being published spread quickly and sales began to come in. We had made a mutual agreement early on that we wanted to donate all the proceeds to a worthy cause. The project never was about us. Our hope was that we would touch the hearts of readers with the overwhelming love and hope of Jesus. It was never about the money that might come of it.
All was going along well – until it wasn’t.
Maybe I Just Didn’t Listen
If I had to pick one recurring theme that weaved itself between all the essays, group projects, final projects, and everything in between in both my MA and my MFA programs it would be this: As a writer, you must develop thick skin because you cannot please everyone. Negative reviews will come eventually – and when they do, it can be – no, it will be a hard pill to swallow. I heard this so many times that I was pretty confident that I was prepared to handle whatever came my way. I don’t know – maybe I just didn’t really listen to those words.
A well-meaning relative gave a proof copy of the book to someone I practically begged him not to give it to because I knew what she would do with it. Still, he insisted on doing so – I’d like to think because he was proud of it. There were a couple of pieces in it that pertained to him in some way – so maybe that was part of the reason. I will never know. I wrestle with the whole thing even today.
This person did exactly what I thought she would do – she tore the book apart. She did so in a phone conversation I was not meant to hear, but when the conversations are on speaker phone…well, how could I not hear. In short, I was devastated. Her attack wasn’t focused on the mistakes I’d made – it was focused on the personal aspects of what I’d written. I felt as though she was attacking me directly because we had both poured our hearts and souls into the project – I was more open and honest about myself in this project than I have ever been. She didn’t read my partner’s pieces (said she didn’t want to), only mine – and she said so many negative things about them. If it had not been for the fact that my collaborator’s name was on the project, I would have ripped it down in that moment.
I knew there were mistakes. I knew I hadn’t taken the time I should have to properly edit the project. I could have lived with that type of criticism. But the way she aimed it so personally, well…it hit me hard. My heart was crushed and I wanted to hide – but God had something different in mind. I felt the Holy Spirit tapping me on the shoulder and telling me that instead of taking the project down, there was someone else I was supposed to give it to. I fought this nudge. Trust me, I fought it with everything in me – but I finally obeyed and did what I thought I was being asked to do -in spite of the emotional mess doing so left me in. I didn’t want anyone else to see all my mistakes…or me – I just wanted to hide.
It’s been several weeks since this all happened, but it’s only now that I’ve found the courage and the words to put it into writing. I still can’t honestly say that I’ve been able to write anything else since then…mainly because I’m not sure I have anything worth saying anymore. I’m sure that will come in time and with lots of prayer – I know God will bring me through this. I do believe the whole experience happened for a reason…although I might not ever understand it.
I will also say that the feedback I have personally received has been so supportive and has helped me begin to overcome the many of the ugly things that the enemy hurled at me when I was the most vulnerable.
As I sit here, writing this, I can say with confidence that I have revised and edited the project and have (hopefully) caught all my mistakes. The funny thing is that out of the two projects I’ve completed, this little devotional has been the one that’s sold. And really – that fills me with a sense of having done what I feel the Lord has led me to do. I don’t know what the future holds for our project, but if I had to put more importance on one over the other, the devotional would take the top spot. I pray that the Lord will use our stories to touch others – and we both agree that if only one heart is changed, then all the struggles, tears, and doubts that have come along with completing it will all be worth it.
So, no – in light of the circumstances my co-writer and I were facing at the time, I really don’t think I would have done anything differently. Sure – I wish that the first attempt had been “perfect,” but I’m so far from “perfect” that maybe the Lord meant for it all to reflect who I am and is using what I’m walking through to remind me how His love and faithfulness has, and will continue to, be there for me. He’s taking what was meant to harm me and making it into something good.