The word community conjures up a variety of images. I talked about creating a village a few weeks ago, surrounding yourself with people who encourage you, are honest with you, support you, and care about you through life’s highs and lows.
This week I’m highlighting one of my favorite communities – a group of aspiring writers and authors called MN-NICE. I’ve mentioned them before but want to take a bit more time today to explore the why behind joining a writing (or painting or music or sports) community.
The ACFW chapter called MN-NICE stands for Minnesota Novelists Inspiring Christian Excellence. Aside from actually being nice, this group is truly inspiring, faithful, and striving for excellence in their lives and in their work. Being part of a community of writers – some of whom are multi-published and award-winning while others are just starting their writing journey – makes me accountable, encourages me, and calls out the best in me.
Inspiration can come in many forms. You may feel inspired by a quote, like the one on my front page: “No one can go back and make a brand new start, but anyone can start from here and make a brand new end.” I love that idea – it inspires me every time I hear it. (And I have to admit I’m not sure who exactly came up with it since I’ve seen it attributed to numerous people. When I first saw it, it was attributed to Carl Bard so I’m going with that!)
I’m inspired by nature, music, chocolate, spending time with friends, writing, reading, worshipping. I’m inspired by people who try hard, perhaps fail but then pick themselves up and try again. I’m inspired by success when it’s something someone has worked hard to attain. Occasionally I’m inspired by my own failure – after I recover from feeling humiliated or angry or frustrated. After all, how many attempts did Thomas Edison make on his way to the light bulb?
And I’m inspired when I see novelists of all shapes, sizes and experience banding together to encourage each other, share their knowledge and their heart, and honestly cheer for each other’s success.
The Christian part of MN-NICE names who we serve as we write. If you asked each member why they write, I guarantee they’d say they feel called. Not called by the bright lights of fame and fortune (although I doubt they’d turn it down!) but by God Himself. Many will say they aren’t even sure they’re being called to a writing career, or that their work will be published, but all will say they feel called to serve God through writing. Striving to be faithful when the road twists and turns and seems to go nowhere is not an easy task. But being in a community like this, working side-by-side with others on a similar journey, is what keeps us moving forward, focused on Who we serve. Easy? Not at all. Worth it? Absolutely!
And then there’s excellence. I doubt many of us strive to be mediocre. I don’t want to go to bed thinking I did my worst at whatever the day threw at me. Wanting to do our best at each endeavor is before us is good. We should want to offer the world the best we have. However, when we start comparing our best to another person’s best, we’re bound to come up lacking. Those are times we may need to alter our definition of excellence.
Is it only excellent if it wins awards? If it puts us in first place? If we’re declared the winner? Or can it also be considered excellent if we’ve done the best we can, put our heart into our efforts, used our brains and skills and energy – even if we don’t “win”? I think it can. I think doing our best is excellent. Learning from mistakes, trying alternate methods, collaborating with others are all signs of excellence.
So when I meet monthly with the men and women who are MN-NICE, I come away inspired, my desire to serve God through my writing strengthened, determined to do my most excellent work the next time I sit down to write.
What inspires you? How are you called to serve God? And what’s your definition of excellence?