by Michelle Arch
Last month I attended the Orange County Christian Writers Conference. Having attended the event previously in 2012, I had vacillated before registering earlier this year. My experience three years ago was a high point in my writing life, as an excerpt from my developing novel caught the attention of publishers and editors and won three fiction awards. Astonished and elated, I had vowed to dedicate all my free time to completing the book and pursuing publication before the end of the year.
Within weeks, however, the demands of my career and graduate school and life thwarted all my good writerly intentions. With my creative energy allocated to finishing my course work at Chapman University and numerous guest columns and blog posts, progress on my novel stalled. There was simply no time to write more than a few chapters for my MFA workshops, and I labored over those small accomplishments. While I did return to the novel at full speed in 2014 in order to fulfill my 150-page thesis requirement, I have often felt disappointing and even disobedient to God by not finding a way to finish. Even worse, as the years passed, I began to diminish the merits of the recognition my excerpt had received and question what I had believed was my lifelong calling. It shouldn’t be this hard, I thought. Perhaps I heard God wrong.
I had a multitude of excuses for not attending this year’s conference, but a niggling feeling urging me to go prevailed. I decided to register and attend Friday night’s activities. I could always skip the Saturday workshops and appointments I had scheduled if I felt at all uncomfortable or out of step with the other attendees. After checking in, I helped myself to a paper cup of coffee, said hello to my tablemates, and settled in for the keynote address by Sharon Elliott.
I liked her immediately. She was boisterous and frank, assuring us that rejection and self-doubt would unquestionably be part of our writing and publishing quest, just as they were for countless bestselling authors. And then she said the most powerful words of the night, the weekend, and probably my year: “Relax. You heard right. You’re in the right place.” Wait, what was that? Is she talking to me? In case we missed it, she said it again: “You heard right. You’re in the right place.” And at that moment, I knew that I had and that I was.
The rest of the conference was just as propitious and exciting. Significant connections and new friends were made, and complicated questions about the current publishing industry were answered. I left on Saturday evening knowing exactly what I needed to do to submit my passion to God fully and continue the narrative I began so many years ago. I heard about platform-building and social media optimization and online branding. I learned how to submit to magazine editors and why it’s prudent to always maintain film rights. I was even convinced to…wait for it…tweet, something I vowed I would never do. Most importantly, I know that I haven’t imagined or misunderstood my calling. I can relax, because I heard right. He said “Write.”
Michelle Arch earned a Master of Arts in English and an MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and is the recipient of the 2015 Tom Massey Award for Outstanding Dual Degree Student. She also holds a Master of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and English from California State University, Fullerton. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, the Christian Writers Guild, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, and the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society. An excerpt from her novel in progress, Time of Death, won First Prize in the Fiction Writing Contest sponsored by The Editorial Department, Second Prize in the WestBow Press Writing Contest, and Third Prize in the Beverly Bush Smith Aspiring Writer Award competition at the 2012 Orange County Christian Writers Conference.