I entered a short-story contest not long ago, and it completely refueled my passion for writing. I loved it so much – the dedication to a specific story, developing characters and scenes. It was a game-changer for me. Everyone who writes should try this, even if short-stories aren’t your thing.

Truth-be-told, I exceeded the word count (by a bunch) and was supposed to have been disqualified. They weren’t even supposed to read the story at all, yet somehow, they did. And they don’t even know how cute I am, so how weird is that?!

Last week, I received an email from the judges with feedback. Feedback! They told me what they liked and didn’t like about the story, and I was OVER THE MOON. I felt validated and heard and, most of all, valued. They were just a handful of simple words, but they were said in truth and said by successful, published writers. I was reminded that I’m right where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing, and I’m fulfilling my purpose. Yeah, it sounds corny. But I believe it’s true.

I’ve written a lot in my life; I mean, I have a blue binder full of extremely crappy poetry from my teen years (don’t worry, I will never make you read it. So embarrassing, you guys). Farther back, now that I think about it, I wrote and illustrated a story in crayon on folded pages when I was in grade school. I remember drawing a puppy dog and big cartoonish trees on each of the pages, and how proud I was when my “book” was finished. Writing felt rewarding to me. It still does. Most days.

When I really think about it,  I’ve been working on Baby Love – my treasure, my work in progress, my novel – for 15 years. It began as a short story for an English class in college, and then I shelved it for a long while. But something about the story haunted me; the way I wrote it didn’t feel very authentic. So years later, I retrieved the story and started writing it in full-length form. Baby Love deserves to be a book that stands alone.

A funny thing happened, though, that stopped me in my tracks very early in the process. I shared the pages of progress with a handful of trusted friends, and one friend – an aspiring writer – provided some rather harsh criticism. Okay, let me just admit right now: I’m tender. And I’m particularly tender when it comes to my writing.

So, of course, I didn’t write for months.

Admittedly, the criticism wasn’t really all that harsh. But I am filled with self-doubt sometimes, and I’m so terrified of failing at this one thing that matters to me more than all of the other things that I put my heart and soul in to, that I just couldn’t face the pages for a while. It’s so cliche. I’m afraid of failure. I could almost laugh, seeing those words on paper, because OH MY HEAVENS COME ON THIS IS RIDICULOUS.

My friendly critic pushed me down, completely by accident and 100% without malicious intent (I think?), but I stood back up. Eventually. The first thing I did when I found my legs was re-read Baby Love and try to see their point(s) without getting my feelings hurt. Okay, yes, there were flaws. I read it again. Then I read it once more, just for good measure.

And then I started over. I trashed the original pages (or, more truthfully, bound them together and put them in the back of my Baby Love folder), and I started over from scratch – but this time with intent. Before, I had just been typing out a series of events pertaining to a girl, but now I’m writing from within the story. I see the story, and I feel the story, and I am allowing the characters to show the story to the reader.

A big part of the fresh start was creating a storyboard and focusing strongly on character development. Making it real. These were changes that needed to happen, and as much as I hate to admit this, I benefitted from that constructive criticism. As of right now, 8:45 a.m. on Friday, March 25, 2016, it’s going really, really well. I’m happier about this very important part of my life than I have been in a really long time. Okay, probably ever.

Every day I open the document and see my characters and watch them grow, I am filled with confidence. I’m a proud momma! Right now, the stories within the story and the words that string them together are coming to me easily. I know this won’t always be the case, and that there will be peaks and valleys throughout this process. To be honest, I’m not sure how I will deal with those valleys.

But I will tell you that I made a decision when I restarted the process. The one person who needs to feel good about this book is me. If I don’t love it, then I certainly cannot expect anyone else to. My approval is what really and truly matters if this process and this book will have any meaning, and then I can ask for yours. With that thought in mind, Baby Love is all mine (and my future editor’s) until she’s ready to be shared. I’ll know she’s ready when I see the words “The End.”

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