ACFW, Goals, Trusting God

Brave: 5 Heart Lessons from ACFW 2015

ACFW program

By +Jeanne Takenaka @JeanneTakenaka

I just returned from my fourth American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) writing conference. I brought home priceless memories, lived through some struggles and am pondering lessons learned during my four days in Dallas, Texas.

The challenging aspects of the conference always come down to my innate tendency to: 1) compare myself to others and where they are in their journey, and 2) question my giftings as a writer.

Rejected page

After one disappointing pitch appointment, I caught myself second-guessing my ability to craft a worthwhile story. That wound I walk around with . . . the one called rejection . . . it began speaking lies into my thoughts, and I fought the funk that accompanied its words.

God reminded me that He has not (nor will He ever) rejected me. Sometimes He uses man’s rejection to reveal what’s in my heart.


When our wound is tapped, our hearts are laid bare. I was seeking affirmation from men. God showed me I’d fallen into believing the lie that I’m enough in and of myself. I can’t do this writing-journey well on my own. I’m dependent on Him in every step I take. It’s not my role to tell Him how things should be done. My role is to trust Him to guide me.

Later, I craved time to be still and worship the Lord. I yearned to hear His voice—to come and remember who He is. As I sought Him out, He met me and re-aligned my perspective.

Genesis finalist

ACFW collage 1 copy

At the gala on the final night, the winners for the Genesis contest were announced. I was a finalist, but someone else won. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.

When I rely on myself, of course I’m going to be disappointed. I’m unable open doors only God is meant to open.

But this: whether or not I win contests . . .

. . . whether or not agents and editors like my stories . . . isn’t the goal.

My goals are these: to bring God glory through my writing, and to point others to Him. When my focus veers off these, I open myself up to being punched by fear. When my desires are yielded to His, and I trust His plan and timing, fear won’t sway me.

ACFW collage 2 copy

These are the heart lesson takeaways from this year’s conference:

  1. When we put ourselves out there, there’s no guarantee we’ll receive the reward we hope for. Sometimes, being brave doesn’t pay off the way we expect. Those fears that held us back may be validated. It’s hard to be brave when our wound gets stomped on. But, when we choose to trust God and step out again? We grow in character and in trusting Him.
  2. Connections are more important than wins. Though I didn’t win the Genesis, I met some amazing people in different aspects of the industry. The relationships begun and deepened are far more meaningful than being able to say, “I’m a Genesis winner.” Relationships far outlive a line on my resumé.
  3. It’s okay to want to win. It’s okay to feel disappointed when we don’t. If we don’t allow ourselves the freedom to desire, we live in fear of pain. Pain is not the enemy; fear is.
  4. Not everyone will like or agree with what we are doing—writing or otherwise. We may fall short of others’ expectations. And that is okay, as long as we’re following God’s leading. We must set our eyes on Him and not on that which we want. God’s plans for us are always broader and better than anything we strive for in our own strength.
  5. When we trust God’s plan, we can enter bigger-than-us situations with confidence. When we know we’re where we are supposed to be, we can walk with His peace inside us.

ACFW Gala centerpiece

These lessons sound writing-related, but they translate to other areas of life. I came away from this conference very aware of God’s nearness and of my absolute need to walk this journey with Him.

What about you? If you attended ACFW, what lesson did you take away? What heart lessons have you been learning over the past few months?

19 thoughts on “Brave: 5 Heart Lessons from ACFW 2015”

  1. First, you’re a winner in my book, because you have helped keep me alive. Seriously – to lose the belief in a unifying paradigm would be fatal…and you’re provided the internally-consistent arguments for faith that have gotten me through some bad patches.

    So, Jeanne, your writing is lifesaving.

    Heart lessons I have learned…there are a lot, but I’m too ill at the moment to mention more than one.

    The Samurai were right; “Hagakure” (a book by Yamamoto Tsusenori, later used to codify Bushido) holds that it is vital to do one’s best; winning is another issue. It’s the opposite of the Western viewpoint, and made the Japanese something of an unpredictable foe in WW2.

    It’s summed up in the word that is pronounced ‘ganbatte’ (all syllables equally stressed) – “please continue trying to do your best”.

    It is unlikely that I will survive this ‘thing’. And it doesn’t matter, because I believe that trying, every day, adds to the stock of goodwill and steadfastness in the world, and that somehow this is a heritage upon which others may draw.

    I hope this makes sense; I am really struggling tonight, but wanted to be here, with my friend.


    1. Andrew, your words made lots of sense. We always tell our boys we don’t expect perfection (or, in this case, to win every time), but we expect their best effort. We may not always get what we hoped, but if we put our best into what we do, that’s enough.

      And I so, so appreciate you being here with me. I always look forward to your life-giving words and truths through your perspective. You always enrich mine. Thanks, friend.


  2. Jeanne my friend….you know I wasn’t at ACFW. (Although man, what a cool trip! 🙂

    First, I am so proud of you for finaling in the Genesis award. Good for you! And (you know what I think of that first chapter) I am not a bit surprised. But I agree with you. Timing is such a challenging thing to wait on.

    Second, I love your #3: “Pain is not the enemy; fear is.” Sometimes it feels like the two are intermingled, though, doesn’t it? Great, great lessons you shared. Thank you and lots and lots of love!


    1. Thanks for your kinds words, my friend. And, the longer I walk this writing road, the more I realize God’s timing is the best timing. I actually didn’t come home from the conference discouraged, because God gave me eyes to see all the things He’d done while I was there. 🙂

      Yeah, I sometimes let fear rule over pain, when really pain will be the tool God uses to conform me to the image of Jesus. Thank you so, so much for stopping by!


      1. Oh, you’re so welcome! I really wanted to know how the conference was for you.

        I really, really appreciate your fear/pain delineation. I know that I have battled fear in the past. But I don’t think I have really connected actual pain with the fear…which, as I continue to walk out these years since 9/12, is very important to notice. Actual pain doesn’t have to propel me to fear, if I can just stop and think about it.

        Have a great day, my friend. LY!


  3. I know all about comparing myself with published authors. Constantly hearing “No” takes a toll. Even now, with my series coming out next year, I fear how it will compare to other WWII stories. A contest judge once commented that my debut was a sweet, light story. Shouldn’t a WWII novel grip your heart or at least deal with the gritty issues? One comment, maybe not even negatively given, can cancel out other judges’ “Can’t wait to read it.” And I believe God smiles at the humor I try to include.
    You may not be able to write Genesis Winner on a resume, but we can put Genesis Finalist. And we’ve got a pin to wear on our name tags. At least we’re not empty handed!!


    1. Terri, I can only imagine the challenges of keeping your eyes on the journey God has you on. It’s so easy to look at others’ journeys and want what they have, or even wonder if yours will look as amazing as theirs does. It reminds me of John 21 when Jesus tells Peter that John’s journey (paraphrased according to Jeanne) was his own, and not Peter’s concern. 🙂 I’ve needed that reminder once or twice (or a hundred times!) myself.

      I can’t wait to read your books, my friend. And yes, Genesis finalist still says A LOT. I had an agent remind me about that truth at the conference. 🙂


    1. Lisa, you said it well. Writing can be so hard on the heart! 🙂 Being a finalist is special, but even more, I hope my heart will be yielded to God so He can use me as He wants, not as I think He should. 🙂 We had a great time. Do you think you’ll ever go? I’d love to meet you in person one day. 🙂


  4. Love your takeaways, Jeanne. There is such bravery in your words. It’s such a fine balance to let go of that approval seeking side, especially when we’re dealing in an area where we need to be “approved” in order to have publishing doors opened. But the fact that you’ve found that that variety of approval pales in comparison to glorifying God, well that is so far reaching! And yup, being brave is not a guarantee of results, just an indication of obedience…which I know pleases God. Love you, friend. I think you’re a winner in the Kingdom of God! xo


    1. Beautiful words here, Tiffany. I am entirely too prone to seeking approval from humans. Learning to be brave and seek only God’s is a challenge, but it’s one I’m embracing. It’s only as I seek Him that I can truly glorify Him. Thanks for your encouragements!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think many of us can identify. The good news, you tried and you’re making progress. It looks like you’re connecting with other writers. I think that would be cool, too. I’ve never been to a writer’s conference, yet. I haven’t had the connections, and it sounds scary by myself. It will happen when it is supposed to happen. Keep smiling. I assume we all will have our moment in the sun. Whenever that is, we will know that we didn’t do it on our own. We have those who encourage us, believe in us, and are helped by what we do. . . and God.


    1. Norma, thanks so much for stopping by. And yes, sometimes trying is enough. There’s so much more to this writing journey than gaining achievements, isn’t there?

      I hope you’re able to make it to a writer’s conference sometime. They are pretty amazing . . . to be in a room or a hotel where everyone “gets you,” your quirks and hearing characters in your head . . . it’s truly encouraging. And yes, any good thing we achieve on this writing journey comes from God. I appreciate your words!


  6. Jeanne … I love you so. And my pics on your blog post. Yay!! The Genesis … I was rooting for you or Courtney because I didn’t know the other lady … and when one of us wins, it feels like we all win. And oh my goodness … you finaled. Above everyone else. What did I walk away with? That I want to go back next year and be just like you … I want to be the encourager that you were to me to someone else. And that writers who have been published for years, with tons of published works, still have that one thing out of reach, goal they are striving for … it never stops … so I’m trying to find contentment right where I am, even when I feel like a nobody. 🙂


    1. Shelli, I agree. When one of us wins, we can all share a piece of that because we’re brothers and sisters in Jesus.

      You’re sweet. You are more of an encourager than you know. Finding contentment in where you are now is a priceless gift. Good for you in seeing the value of it!


  7. I wrote my memoir and wanted to have it published. Searching for a literary agent was difficult. I received nice rejections—rejections without comments—no responses what-so-ever, and one Christian agent just ripped me apart. He said I needed a ghost writer, my work was a mess along with a number of other very negative comments. I thought about his words for a few days and then realized he was correct about a few things. I accepted his critique and restructured the book. But I couldn’t have a ghost writer write it for me because no one could tell the story with the same passion I could—I lived it.
    I don’t believe that everything is cut and dry or that writing is only of value if it follows the criteria of literary professionals and judges. Writing doesn’t have to be difficult—I prefer it be honest and raw. I don’t write for agents, I write for me. It passes my time and makes me happy. When it stops bringing me joy, I’ll find something else to do. Winning is good, but there is so much more to life than winning. And from my experience I’ve noticed that God seldom leads us to the places we choose for ourselves.


    1. Gene, thanks for sharing your story. I’m learning people see our work so differently. There will always be those who don’t like our words, our voice or some other aspect of our writing. Your approach of taking the valuable from the negative comments was such a wise thing to do. As I enter and receive feedback from contests, I’m learning to do the same. It’s humbling, but valuable to approach negative comments this way.

      I love your perspective on writing. I’m still finding the balance in all of it. And yes, there is sooo much more to life than winning. You’re right, God often leads us in places we’d never have chosen on our own. Thanks for sharing your encouragements!


  8. Jeanne, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed you didn’t win. But in my eyes you are a winner already because you’ve being doing the work of improving your craft. Putting our work out there for judges to see and critique is not for the faint of heart. I cried one night over a wordy and cutting critique from a member of a group I tried out (any praise from the other members was forgotten under the sting). Thankfully I’ve found contest judges to be more gracious—but it’s hard nonetheless to see our ‘baby’ dissected.

    But like you, and other serious writers, I’m going to put myself out there again and again. You rock, Jeanne. You’re a good example to newbies like me and a kind encouragement too. And you ladies were all so beautiful at the Gala. I hope to attend one day. I’ll be hugging the Books and Such Family when I get there. Congratulations & hugs, Jeanne.

    Blessings ~ Wendy


    1. Yeah, Wendy, I’ve been in the place where the positive words of many were swiped away by the negative words of one. How prone we are to want everyone’s approval. At least I am. And yes, putting ourselves out there is good, though at times painful. But, that’s part of what drives us closer to Jesus, right? Taking our pain to Him and trusting Him to help us work through it?

      I look forward to the year you come to ACFW, Wendy. I am so eager to meet you!


Comments are closed.