Disclaimer: This is a longer post and I didn’t edit it or anything. This is my raw accounting as I wrote it during the conference. I didn’t what to clean it up…I wanted it to be authentic. I wanted you to see how powerfully your prayers were answered.
Have you ever had one of those events that at the end of it you feel wrung out and exhausted? Exhilarated and Excited? Refined and refreshed? And when the adrenaline wears off you slip into a vegetative state for a few days? That’s about the best I can do to explain the aftermath of the Northwestern Christian Writer’s Conference 2018.
What a ride!
I’m going to take you through the entire journey, from beginning to end because I don’t want you to miss how amazing our God is and how faithfully he answered your prayers! Thank you, thank you, thank you for your prayers.
Before the conference
For months before the conference, I was struggling. Not with the Bible study I’m writing. Not even with book proposal to share with an agent, editor, or publisher. I was struggling with the concept of “Building a Platform.”
Don’t get me wrong; it’s essential to have followers and subscribers. To have those who do follow to like and comment on my blog posts and share my writing with others. It helps to have readers who love you and are excited and anxious to help share your website and book.
BUT I struggled with the idea of building a platform. First off, when I think of a platform I think of standing above everyone looking down saying look at me, look at me, look at me. That is so not me. And when I keep hearing over and over again, I HAVE TO BUILD A PLATFORM all I can think about is King Nebuchadnezzar and the image he built for himself. The concept and effort to build a platform made me feel dirty, manipulative, and gross. To make matters worse, it was detracting from what God called me to, what I’m passionate about, and what I love: ministry.
I didn’t feel like I had a choice, this was part of the gig. Like all other jobs that have to make sales, this was part of it—love it or hate it.
I hated it.
I felt trapped.
A few days before the conference we learned what out breakout sessions were going to be. Interestingly, there were several offered to help with various aspects of platform building, and I felt this is where I needed to go if nothing else but to get an attitude adjustment about this side of writing.
I spent a lot of time praying about this and asked God to speak to me about my conflicting thoughts and emotions here.
Conference Day 1
The Jump Start class was the part of the conference I was most excited about. It was a small class offered before the conference officially started. I can’t lie, I was most excited to meet Liz Curtis Higgs an author I have loved for a long time and a woman I respect and admire. I was also looking forward to learning about the publishing process, but not as much as meeting her.
And I did! I finally got to hug her neck!
I asked, “Hey Liz how are you feeling today?” (She is in cancer remission)
“Great. I am in remission, thank you for asking.”
“I know you are. But how are you right now, this moment. Today?”
That is when she looked at me. I have asked her that question in emails and such as I’ve been praying for her. “I know you. I know your face. Hold on. I know you…”
“My name is Cheyenne—“
“Olson! I have been looking forward to meeting you and hugging you!” Then she gave me a huge hug and told me what an encouragement I’ve been to her. I’m sorry. She has been the one who has encouraged me—for years! Because of her writing and the way she loves others so well. What joy! What an honor. A true honor.
During our class, Liz asked an excellent question: “Do you believe God is 100% responsible for your writing career? Your answer will affect everything else you do and how you approach it all.”
There were a lot of yeses, some nos, and a few yes-nos. Then Lizzy looked at me; I shifted my eyes to look out the window avoiding the question. Funny, she didn’t look away but made me answer.
“Yes. I know He is.”
Then, I shared my story, my burning bush moment. I told how I whined and told God He had the wrong girl. I told how I didn’t want to write or speak. And how He patiently listened but said we were doing it anyway.
That was the point where she said, how you feel about God’s involvement in your writing career affects how you build your platform.
But then she said something that started to change my perspective on “platforms,” and I know this was the start of the message God had for me this weekend. Let me paraphrase what she said: I hate the word platform. I hate the idea of standing above and looking down on people I need to be with the people, among them. Loving them. Ministering to them. I think of them as my Tribe, my Community. I also believe God is 100% responsible for my wiring career. As far as my tribe goes, if I am faithful God will bring those to me that He needs there. When my projects are Spirit-led, they do well when they are not they crash and fail.
I felt the shackles of Platform building loosen significantly, but I was not yet free.
Liz was co-teaching with an acquisitions editor from David C. Cook, Alice Crider.
I took her class on proposal writing last year and was thankful to hear her present it again in this class. I mentioned I had a website, blog, Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. But I, umm, forgot to add the addresses. OOPS!
After the class, I asked her a question: I am writing a Bible study for college-aged students and those just out of college entering into the business world. My secondary audience is high school students and adults. I am struggling to find other materials for competitive analysis that are not associated with para-church ministries such as Cru, Intervarsity, and Young Life (part of the proposal where we compare our work to other works already in print.) Is this because I’m not looking in the right areas or because they don’t exist?
Alice’s answer: Well, we don’t publish for this age group because they don’t have any money.
“I disagree. When was the last time you walked into Starbucks, Jimmy Johns, or Chipotle? These students have money. Some have more than others, but they have quite a bit of disposable income. But more than that, they need to be reached!”
“Maybe. But this is not a group widely published for. However, we do work closely with Cru. That may be a good place to send your writing and see what they say.”
My heart sank. And I confess I was a little mad. I’ve been mentoring for 17 years. I know these kids have money. But more importantly, I know these kids need to be reached, written to, discipled. 40-65% of them are walking away from the church, never to return. This number terrifies me, but not as much as the trickle-down effect to the future generations does. It reminds me of the first chapter of Judges…a nation turning its back on God, and it only took one generation.
That night I was confused.
I paced around and around the island in my kitchen. Talking to God. Processing out loud. I knew He called me to write to this audience. He has given me a heart and passion for them. I was sure He intended for me to write for the Chrisitan community, not para-church ministries. Right? Or do I have to use this as a backdoor? Around and around I went until I decided to call it a night. He and I would figure this our later. Besides I have my 1-2-1 with Wendy Lawton (VP of Books and Such Literary Agency, my dream agency) in the morning. I can get a second opinion.
Another thing: I met a new friend, a kindred spirit, a like-minded woman named Jamie. She was a joy to talk to through the entire day. She loves and teaches Scripture like I do. Has similar passions and concerns. I believe God brought us together for a reason and purpose, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Conference Day 2
Our morning started out with worship, and the musicians that led our music were outstanding. The set they chose was perfect. You could feel the Spirit in the room, and it was amazing.
Inbetween songs Susie Larson of Faith Radio took the stage. She shared her story…about platform building. Again, I need to paraphrase: When I started speaking and writing some well-meaning, well-respected women in my church told me I needed to put my mug on a flyer and send it to all the churches in the area to let them know I was available. That didn’t sit right with me. I never felt comfortable with it. (Man oh man, I could relate with
her there. To say she had my attention was an understatement.) I felt like David when Saul tried to put his armor on him before he went to face Goliath. (YES! That’s it!!—yeah, I did say that out loud. I started to cry. She gets it. She put my emotions, my misgivings, my angst into words.)
The shackles fell off. I was free.
The weight that was holding me down was gone. See, I still have to face that giant. I still have to take him down. But the armor that worked for others is too big, too cumbersome for me—it was handed to me with man’s perspective, not God’s. It was keeping me from ministry; it was robbing me of the joy I have in writing. I was chilling my passion, stilling my heartbeat. David believed God. He believed He would take down Goliath and deliver him into his hands. And he used the weapons he was most comfortable with, the weapons that saved his sheep from bears and lions. A sling and a stone. I also serve a God who is able! I serve a God who called me to do this; I will pray and trust God for the
right timing. The right avenues. Would you pray with me on this?
I could have left the conference satisfied and completely happy. But that was just the beginning of the day.
1-2-1 With Wendy Lawton
I was excited and nervous to meet with her. But now I felt peace.
Can I just say right out of the gate, this meeting was a God-thing?
We had 10 minutes to talk, and I believe God stretched our time to make it 30. How two women can do anything in 10 minutes is a mystery to me, so you know it had to be our Father loving on me.
I approached the table, and she looked up and said, “I know you. I know I know you. You face is very, very familiar to me.” Okay, this beautiful woman meets thousands of people a year at various conferences, in her office, and around the world. How she would remember my face?? God-thing!
“We met last year in the pro-room.” (The pro-room is a room with a handful of professionals where we can go in ask them questions. They rotate who is in the pro-room every ½ hour so we can be sure we are asking the right person the right questions.)
“I remember you. I do.”
“My name is Cheyenne…”
“…Olson!” She remembered my name?! God thing!
“Tell me about your book and how I can help.”
“I’m writing a Bible study about Nicodemus..”
“YES! I remember your book! Tell me more.” She remembered my book?!??? Yup, another God thing!
I reminded her of what my Bible study is about. For those of you who don’t quite know let me give you a quick summary: My study is Back To The Future meets The Passion of the Christ—when you look back and examine the past, you gain insight into your present. We have to face many obstacles before we come to Jesus, so did Nicodemus. So we join him in that first-century garden and wrestle through them, then we transport ourselves to a 21st-century coffee shop and have a conversation with Jesus, and we conclude with the ending of Nic’s story and decision to follow Jesus. See, Nic didn’t leave the garden a follower, but he did become one. I end with a call to action: For seekers to believe. For believers to follow. For followers to let go of what’s holding them back. I am writing a Bible study for college-aged and those just past college-aged young adults, with a secondary audience of youth, and a tertiary audience of older adults.
Then I asked my question; it was the same one I asked Alice yesterday. I also told Wendy her answer and that I was looking for a second opinion.
To try to shorten everything, she LOVED what I was doing, expressed this is a desperate need, there aren’t enough books for this market, and this market does have money. She said just look at a makeup counter in Macy’s. True story.
Then she said something that blew me away, “I loved your book last year. I love it more this year. You NEED to talk to Kathleen Kerr TODAY! Promise me.”
I promised. In my head, I’m thinking, who is Kathleen Kerr? I have no idea, but I will figure it out.
We ended our conversation with her asking where I got my dress! Don’t you just love that?
The Chapel, Surrender
After my 1-2-1, I had some time as the first breakout sessions were still happening and lunch was about 30 minutes off. So I looked in our booklet to see when Kathleen would be in the pro-room, discovered she would be there with Wendy (God thing), and then went into the chapel on campus. In case you didn’t know, I attended UNW and became Mrs. Thaddeus Olson in that chapel.
The room was empty and dark. Perfect. I snapped a few pictures and remembered our wedding day. But then I felt a pull to the front. I stood on the platform of all things and then sat in the front pew.
Finally, all the composure I had crumbled.
I fell on my face before God, in the darkness of the room weeping and praying. I surrendered again. I gave Him the platform/tribe/community thing. And I gathered the stones for my sling. I gave Him my blog, my book, my everything. Any dirtiness was washed clean; I was restored. For the first time in a long time, I felt confident and sure—no matter what happened the rest of the day. Not in an arrogant way, but knowing I was right where God wants me to be. Even now, I write through tears as His sweetness overwhelms me again.
There was five faculty in the pro roo: Kathleen (acquisitions editor for Harvest House Publishers); Wendy (VP of Books and Such Literary Agency); Janet Grant (Pres. of Books and Such); Mick Silva (author, writing coach, editor); Kathy Lipp (author and writing coach)
I asked the same question I did the day before and to Wendy. I told Kathleen that I was following Wendy’s advice and directing my question mainly to her. When I said my study was Back To The Future meets The Passion of the Christ she was hooked. They all were. Wendy was grinning and trying to discreetly do a happy dance. Her encouragement was…I have no words. She looked like a proud mama whose child is sprouting wings and flying for the first time.
Kathleen looked at me and said, “We need to talk.”
In a nutshell, she gave me her card and invited me to send her everything I have. All of it. No matter what stage I am in. Yesterday I sent her my proposal. So I would appreciate prayers.
I know God is in control and His will will be done. But I also know Satan doesn’t want this next generation to fall in love with Jesus or be nurtured by His Word. He would rather keep that 40-65% out of the church and out of the Bible—and their children—and their children’s children…*shudder! I know I’m poking a bear. But I have a sling and a stone. I believe God. The Giant will fall. But there is still a battle to be fought, and it will only be won on our knees.
I believe my proposal is in good hands because later, I took her class on the responsibility we have as Christian writers to share Christ and God’s Truth and keep things in context. Like me, she is tired of the fluffy messages. And we share a passion for the meat of Scripture and communicating it to others. I cannot tell you want a joy it is to have another like-minded people who want God’s Truth to reign, even when the messages are hard. People whose goal is to feel souls rather than tickle ears.
When I walked out of her class, I heard God whisper to my heart, Trust me. I got this.
So please pray with me:
- For this next generation: their heart to be open, against Satan and his ploys
- For my proposal to be accepted
- For the writing of my book and blog—Spirit-led writing that will reach all who read it
- Balancing family, writing, ministry, and life
Thank you for your prayers for this conference. God answered is so many ways. Thank you for your love and support. Your encouragement. I am so honored to serve you.
With much love and affection