Tag Archive | writing

Did You Call Me or Not?

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to become a published author before the age of forty. Never did I expect that dream to be such a thorn in my side.

Having grown up in a Christian home and coming to faith in Christ at a young age, I’ve long understood that God has a purpose for my life. That He has a calling for each of His children, and while the general calling looks the same—spread the life-giving news of love, forgiveness, and saving grace found in a relationship with Jesus Christ—He asks us to live it out in countless ways according to the unique gifts and talents He’s given us.

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Therein lay my problem. For over three decades, I have heard one story after another of writers feeling called by God to write, whether that was writing in general, or a specific book or series. But for me, I never felt called. I just knew I had a passion for it. On good days, I could write without worry, without second-guessing myself. On bad days, the doubts would creep in and I’d wonder if I was listening to my own selfish desires or if this passion was, in fact, from God. Oh, how I’ve wrestled with it. I’m sure you could find many posts on my blog under the “Writer’s Refuge” tab filled with my questioning, agonizing, pleading with the Lord to just tell me. Just tell me if You want me to write or not. I will give it up if You want me to.

Recently, one of my good friends and local writer buddies, Leah, started a new blog, justwriteinspire.com. Stoked for her, I visited the blog and clicked on the “About” page. The following is a little of what she had to say. (I’ve already shared this with her, so no worries I’m saying something that will hurt or offend her. 🙂 )

“While growing up, I never dreamed I would write. I wanted to be a singer and teacher–not an author.

“However…one day, a plot downloaded into my brain. I thought, someone should write that book. A year later, God planted an idea in my mind, ‘You write it.’ I fought the concept for years. I did not believe I could do it.

“God never gave up on me. He continued to whisper–over and over–‘You are a writer,’ until His words seeped, profoundly, into my heart and soul.”

~Leah, from justwriteinspire.com

At the time I read her words, the irony was not lost on me—how she had felt God’s calling in the area of writing when she hadn’t even been looking for it, while I had prayed for years and continued to question. But still, I smiled, genuinely happy for her.

Come the next day, dark thoughts had descended upon me, and I wasn’t smiling anymore.

I had planned to write that day after cleaning the bathrooms, but as I sprayed and scrubbed sinks and bathtubs, it occurred to me I didn’t have anything to write about. The characters in my two current WIPs weren’t talking, and I was plum out of ideas plot-wise. By the time I finished mopping the floors, I was a mental wreck. If I was supposed to write, why was it harder for me to make up stories than other writers? Maybe I was just fooling myself. Maybe I was a square peg trying to shove myself into a round hole.

So I cried. Hard. And I begged God to speak to me.

I. Needed. To. Know.

Did He want me to write or not?

In late March, I had been sharing my frustrations at Bible study about how my inner critic looks like Jesus, making it difficult for me to always know who’s talking: the critic or Jesus. Sitting beside me, one of my girlfriends promptly texted me this pic from Pinterest:

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I can’t begin to tell you how helpful it has been for me to see these differences written out so I can refer to them whenever I’m questioning the words inside my head. That day cleaning bathrooms, after reading how Leah had felt called to write her story, I remembered this picture and tried to reject the condemning, discouraging words rattling around inside my brain.

But I was weakening.

At last I fell across my bed, my chest aching in that deep way that makes you curl into a fetal position and sob from the core, sob without tears.

How?” I cried to God, glaring at the ceiling. “How can I fight these negative feelings about writing—how can I fight the devil’s lies and deceptions and attempts to bind me—when I don’t know if You want me to do this? How can I combat these attacks with Your promises if I don’t know You’re fighting with me in this area? I’ve wanted to write and be published since I was a kid. Have wanted to write to please You. So many others have felt called by You—why don’t I feel like You ever called me?”

I didn’t expect an answer right away. Hadn’t I pleaded with Him countless other times and received silence in return? Maybe if I kept an open mind and continued to lift up this specific prayer over the next several weeks, I’d recognize His answer…if it ever came.

But that day, God met me in my need, and almost before the question left my lips—“Why don’t I feel like You ever called me?”—a calm, comforting, gentle voice whispered to my spirit.

“Because it was what you already wanted to do. I didn’t have to call you onto a path you were already traveling.”

Oh.

Really?

In my case, yes, really.

And it makes me wonder if other believers can resonate with this.

Often in Christian circles, we get so focused on finding our purpose, finding our calling, our gifts, how we should edify the Church…but for the person who searches for that answer with a pure motive and comes up empty, this quest can be extremely frustrating and lead to feelings of inadequacy.

If that’s you…could it be you might already be on His path for you? Pray about it. Test it. Press into Him with an open heart. And be ready for when He answers.

Yes, I will still have bad days, moments when Negativity wants to tear me down and immobilize me. But now I can resist those thoughts and Satan’s attacks. Now I know writing is something God has called me to do.

And that dream of becoming a published author before the age of 40? Well, I signed a contract with my publisher a month before I turned forty, and my debut novel releases two months before I turn forty-one.

God’s timing is always perfect. And in this case, I’m thankful my timing wasn’t too far off. 😉

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The Writer’s Desert

 

This past November, I traversed into new territory when I signed a publishing contract with Clean Reads. Setting my sights away from the sparkling, intoxicating metropolis of Accepted Manuscript, I ventured down an unfamiliar, inconspicuous path: The Second Book.

Funny thing about this path. The Second Book doesn’t take two authors in the same direction. Some find themselves in a thick jungle, wrapped in an overabundance of words, swathed in the heat of a luscious plot that can’t wait to be written. Others enter the succulent haven of a coffee shop, drawing inspiration from the lives unfolding around them, tears splashing onto plastic lids, laughter bubbling up toward the ceiling tiles.

Still others, alas, take a journey such as mine and step into the barren wasteland of the Writer’s Desert.

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Unlike an earthly desert, it stays cold here even during the day; the sun might shine, but it emits no warmth. The dry ground remains firm beneath my feet, unforgiving in its hard surface, wicking away what little optimism I had armed myself with when I first started this journey.

I thought I was prepared for it. I had my laptop for communication—you know, for those several rounds of edits expected from my publisher, and for that finicky thing called a platform I need to spend time thinking about. But more importantly, I had a canteen of liquid words—others’ words—that were supposed to keep my writing muscles limber and supple until I reached the other side of this empty landscape. Serving as one of several judges on a few writing contests. Swallow. Involvement with an online critique group. Gulp. Offering my help as a beta reader for two different manuscripts. Sip, sip, sip.

But while my muscles stay quenched with others’ words, my soul has become parched at the lack of my own.

Sure, I’ve come across an oasis now and then. Broad ideas for a new story here; a one-paragraph summary for another story over there. Scenes for a sequel to my book that releases in October. But for the majority of the time, it’s just me and my canteen of somebody else’s work.

Oh, and the devil.

He likes to come alongside me at those times when I’m stumbling across the sand and taunt me. Tell me I don’t have what it takes, because other authors—better authors—are thriving in the jungle and there’s a reason I’m stuck in the desert. Better authors are on book #20 after eleven years of writing, and I’m on book #2 after seventeen. Better authors always have ideas cooking on the back burner, and since I don’t, that just reaffirms I lack what it takes to be successful in this field. Better authors have better blogs, more followers, a larger platform, a stronger backbone, a more persistent nature.

Sometimes Jesus is able to edge the devil out of my peripheral vision. For a few moments of time, maybe even as long as a day, I breathe in His clarity. He’ll take my hand in his and with the other, he’ll point to the horizon, and whisper, “Do you see it?”sunset-1331088_1920 And with my flawed incompetence wrapped within His limitless capabilities, I glimpse something hazy on that horizon, something shimmering with promise and strength, purpose and fulfillment. And—

Then the devil shoves his snout in my face and I lose hold of my precious Jesus.

Why is Satan’s voice so much louder than my Lord’s?

Why does Hate have a better grip than Love? Why does self-deprecation feel more comfortable than self-confidence? Why are lies easier to believe than the truth?

The devil, I’ve come to realize, has been leading me in unnecessary circles to keep me floundering in this desert so I don’t gain the promise on that horizon. I reached a certain milestone despite his lies when I signed that publishing contract a few months ago, and he hates it. He knows my fundamental desire—once the selfishness and narcissism gets pushed aside—is to write for the Lord, whether that’s in the form of a Christmas fantasy or inspirational romance, so what better way to keep me from accomplishing anything further as a Christian writer than to blast my negative qualities on “repeat” in this desert that offers no diversion to silence the noise? Wallowing in negativity is a stronghold in which I practically have a doctorate, so long did I once study it.

Once. Several years ago. I’m not where I was several years ago, and the Lord certainly doesn’t want me making a U-turn to head back there.

So this time, I’m on to the devil. I’m on to his pranks, his condemnation and discouragement. It might have taken me a few months to slough through his deception, but better that than several years. I’m learning to tune him out again; to trust, instead, the voice of my precious Jesus, and to believe what He sees as good in me. I’m taking steps toward that shimmering horizon, and while I’m not there yet—I still have weeks of travel through these cold, hard-packed sands—the oases ahead of me look more abundant than those along the trail of my last four months.

I’m confident I’ll be filling my canteen with my own words soon.

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What’s Your Word for 2017?

Project for New Year 2017

Happy New Year! Are you sad to see the old one go? Thrilled to see this new one come? Vice versa? When I sit down and take a moment to think back over the year, 2016 was a pretty good one, but I’m hoping 2017 turns out to be even better.

Last year, I had two words to propel me into 2016: optimism and perseverance. While I didn’t stay optimistic 365 days out of the year, I did see progress in tamping down my negative thoughts and not letting them drown out my self-pep talks. As for perseverance, my goal was to finish my latest (fourth?) draft of my Christmas story and start sending out queries by summer’s end. I told myself I’d send out at least 35 queries before taking a break and revamping my strategy, if need be. I ended up only sending out 30, because…

…Query #21 to a small publishing company was rewarded with an offer of publication!

Yes, my Christmas YA (young adult) fantasy novel, Tinsel in a Tangle, will be published by Clean Reads in October 2017! *happy dance* More on that in upcoming posts. The decision to sign with CR came with a few lessons and epiphanies, and I really should write down what I learned so I can refer back to it when Negativity comes knocking in the months to come. (Because you know it will; Negativity is relentless that way.)

So what’s my word for 2017? PURPOSEFUL.

Image result for purposefulPurposeful in how I spend my money, what books I choose to read, movies I choose to watch, but mainly, this word has to do with how I will spend my time. Because somehow I’m supposed to find the hours to research book marketing so I can help promote my book when the time comes, find the hours to begin writing a new manuscript, continue posting on my blog, and then there’s the whole non-writer part of my life in which, as wife and mother, I play the part of companion, confidant, laundress, cook, housecleaner, chauffeur, teacher, counselor, shopper, etc.

In order to do these things well—according to how God would have me perform these duties, not according to society—I need to approach my days with purpose and prayer. I need to remember God is in control of my book’s success, not the writing world telling me I’m supposed to do A, B, C, D, and E in order to see success, because that could easily paralyze me. While I will do what I reasonably can for the sake of Tinsel when it’s released, my talents do not fall under “marketer,” or “promoter.” I’m the type of person who’d like to be recognized without having to call attention to herself, yet I’m not naiive to think God doesn’t have some growing for me to do in these areas. 🙂 Somehow, He’ll help me bring it all together, but it will be done with purpose.

How about you? Have you chosen a word for 2017? Did you choose one last year and see an improvement in that area? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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Something Fun ‘n Flighty…

…Because sometimes a Tuesday can feel like a Monday. So, here’s a little ditty just for fun. I wrote this a few months ago one Saturday morning when I woke up with the first line running through my head. Have a blessed day!

 

What Will I Do Today?

 

Today I’ll cross swords with an armored knight

Or face down a dragon in a deadly fight.

 

I’ll flit through the sky on papery wings

In a land of giants and magical kings.

 

Today I’ll pirate a ship on the seas

Hunting for treasure, attacked by the breeze.

 

I’ll brave the monster squished under my bed

And lure him out with some moldy bread.

 

I’m an agent.

A ninja.

A cat-loving ghoul.

The choices are endless,

For I set the rules.

 

Today I’ll snuggle with laptop or paper.

Immersed in a fantasy, drama, or caper.

 

Black letters adrift on an ocean of white,

I’ll open my mind…and then I will write.

 

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The Writing World: Narrow-minded and Legalistic?

Early last month, I took the plunge and joined an online writer’s critique group, for I want/need to get unbiased opinions on my Christmas story. This group ranges in skill from beginners to experts, and one of the basic rules of thumb is to critique (or crit) two submissions from other writers before submitting your own excerpt (up to 2500 words) for critiquing. Each submission should receive at least three crits.

Now, I’ve been at this writing thing for over sixteen years. I might not always write the most exciting plot, but I know how to make a pretty sentence. I know my rules.

I thought I knew my rules.

If I don’t get anything else out of this critique group, I will take away this: I’ll never know all there is to know about the craft of writing. Ever. And that’s okay—as long as I’m consistently moving in an upward curve, right?

Raise your hand if you’ve heard any of these:

~Stay away from adverbs. (-ly words)

~Stay away from the passive voice. (any form of “to be”)

~Show, don’t tell. (don’t tell me the girl is panicked; show me what panicked looks like)

~Limit the use of tag lines. (“he said…,” “she asked…”)

~Only use “said” as a tag line.

~Better yet, don’t use tag lines at all—just action beats.

I’ve known the first three for a decade and a half, but the last three I just heard within this last year.

Now, how about these?

~Limit the use of exclamation points.

~Limit the use of adjectives.

~Only two prepositions per sentence.

~Never two prepositional sentences side by side.

~Beware the dangling modifier.

And on and on it goes!

(Oops. Just used an exclamation point.)

Okay, time-out. Throwing all that stuff about prepositions in there is like throwing a heavy yoke around my neck. It’s going to strip the fun out of the act of writing—precisely what I’ve tried to reclaim in writing my Christmas story. It’s hard enough to construct a sentence that sounds good—now I have to worry about the number of preps between periods?!

(Oh, no. Another exclamation point.)

If you’ve written for any length of time, you have heard that the writing rules were made to be broken…after you’ve mastered them. When I first started writing, I used adverbs with aplomb. These days, when I use an adverb it’s because I want it there. When I first started writing, the passive voice snuck into every other sentence. Now if it appears in my writing, I put it there on purpose.

My point?

The rules (and there are many) are phenomenal guidelines. If you follow them as often as possible, you will take your writing to the next level, guaranteed. Even though I came into the crit group with a solid foundation, I’ve already gained a better understanding of how to “show” rather than “tell.” And that whole preposition-thing? It isn’t a bad rule to have in your arsenal, after all. Makes for tighter sentences.

That said, there are some well-meaning writers out there that have taken these rules to the extreme and gone legalistic with them. That’s no good. I don’t care if you’re talking religion, art, education, parenting, marriage, etc., legalism never helps anyone.

I was thirty pages into a book when I realized the author wasn’t using tag lines. Good writing? Yes. The problem? Sometimes I was confused as to who was saying what because the author gave neither a tag line nor an action beat. Each time that happened, it pulled me out of the story. And at other times I felt the author went overboard in the use of action beats, just so she didn’t have to use a tag line. Again, it pulled me out of the story. Then I became irritated with the writing and never finished reading the book.

Another writer refuses to use exclamation points. Even when her characters are hollering or incensed, she uses periods. Seriously? Which sounds better in your head as you read:

“Get back here, you filthy urchin.” His fist pounding the air, he raced after the child.

Or:

“Get back here, you filthy urchin,” he shouted, fist pounding the air as he raced after the child.

Or:

“Get back here, you filthy urchin!” His fist pounding the air, he raced after the child.

Small changes, yet no doubt you read them differently. In the first example, there’s no indication the guy is shouting, so you might not think he’s as angry as I wants you to think he is. In the second example, a tag line had to tell you the man was shouting. In the third, the exclamation point says it all. No intrusion, no confusion.

Here’s the thing. Exclamation points, tag lines, adverbs, passive voice…they exist for a reason. Sometimes your sentence requires the use of one or all three in order to get your point across, in the way you want it read. Certainly, limit their use, follow the rules when possible. Narrow-mindedness isn’t always a bad thing—and in the writing realm, it will force you to dig deeper and work harder, growing you into a better writer.

Just be careful not to insert “never” at the beginning of these rules. That kind of legalism will do more harm than good to your manuscript.

Silence is Golden

My blog-life has been quiet for several weeks.

My real life, on the other hand, has not.

School started up again at the end of August and with it came new schedules, new routines, new meetings, new appointments. Around those responsibilities and those of the household, I also had a self-imposed deadline to finish the second draft of my Christmas novel by mid-October. Early on I realized I couldn’t work on both my novel and my blog at the same time if I wanted to make the deadline. Which I really wanted to do. So I took a break from the blog…and I pulled back from Twitter, FB, and Pinterest, as well, because let’s face it: all that social media can lead down rabbit trails and detract us from using our time wisely and productively. 

I’m happy to say I completed my second draft on schedule [insert happy dance here], and now…well, now I get to take a little break from writing to work on all the projects I’ve ignored since August.

Like the sideboard in the master bedroom I want to revamp. The “quilted” AWANA bag I should finish for my daughter. The fireplace I want to make for my dolls before Christmas. The Pookies I want to knit for some relatives. A couple of Shutterfly albums I need/want to put together before Christmas (Mom, pretend you didn’t read that last part). And another half dozen random projects I’d like to complete around the house/for the family. And all done by Christmas, of course.

Hahaha!   

Yeah. Impossible when one factors in all the daily-living stuff I need to accomplish, as well as preparations for the birthdays and holidays that fall in between now and December 25th for my family. So…I’ll just plug away at them and we’ll see how far I get come Christmas. 🙂

Pookies

Pookies!

I’ve already knit two Pookies out of four (see the pattern here on Ravelry.com), although neither is 100% complete (one still needs his hat and ears, and they both need embroidered noses) and I did relinquish some writing time a few weeks back to finish an iPad case/carrier for my daughter. I love the sense of being able to check things off my mental to-do list, and now that I can ease up a little on writing, hopefully I’ll be checking things off much faster than I did before!

felted iPad case

Felted iPad case with a pocket on the backside and a braided leather strap.

How about you? Am I the only one who piles on projects between the start of school and Christmastime, or can you relate to my unrealistic endeavors? 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Letting Go Is Not The Same As Giving Up

Seeing as how we are officially halfway through the year, I thought I’d bring you up to date on my New Year’s resolution, which was to send out query letters to dozens of agents and/or publishers.

To be honest, I’m discouraged at how few agents and publishers I have been able to find that are willing to represent inspirational romance. I will be lucky if I can send out enough queries to warrant an impressive rejection pile on future projects. As of right now, however, I have stopped my efforts to find an agent for Her Knight in Rusted Armor after only six queries. Sounds kinda pathetic at first, doesn’t it? But I didn’t stop because my ego couldn’t take the rejections (I had psyched myself up for a couple dozen at least!). And I didn’t stop because I had already run out of options. I didn’t even stop because of the amount of time required to research each agent and tweak each query letter accordingly. I stopped because I realized I was wasting not only the agents’ time in reading my queries, but mine, as well, in working on them.

Writing can be such a conundrum!

Writing can be such a conundrum!

For how can I convince someone to invest in my work when I am no longer passionate about it, myself?

Oh, I’m still passionate about writing, but not about this particular story. I had hoped that in shelving Her Knight in Rusted Armor for a while (it sat untouched for over a year) I would be able to return to it with renewed fervor and a drive to see it published. Such was not the case.

And I’m okay with that.

Last year, I would not have been okay with that. This story represents hundreds of hours of work and tears and agony and joy. To just let it sit in my laptop and in my memory key seems like such a waste, for I will now have nothing to show for my years plugging away at this plot line and breathing life into these characters.

But over the past few months, God has slowly shown me not to look at the time as a waste, but rather to appreciate how much I have grown from this process. Grown as a writer, grown as a Christian, grown as a wife and mother, expanded my knowledge and experiences. I learned the nuts and bolts of fiction writing while plowing through the first version of Her Knight… fifteen years ago; I continued to gain knowledge and understanding about the writing craft through the several revisions of this story over the ensuing years; and I advanced in my writing abilities as I tried to apply that knowledge to the individual chapters, paragraphs, sentences, words.

Today, Her Knight in Rusted Armor and I have taken each other as far as we can go. For the story, this means it will not see the light of day on a bookstore shelf. For me, this means I get to draw on what I’ve learned from crafting Her Knight… and apply it (in the first draft rather than the tenth) to something new, fresh, and completely unrelated.

In some ways, when I focus on my writing career (or lack thereof) from the perspective of a driven American living in a society where success is defined by tangible results, setting aside a manuscript can be frustrating. There are writers out there younger than me–with kids!–publishing their second, third, tenth, twentieth book! Sometimes I find myself asking what’s wrong with me, that I’m turning away from the only story I have that is 100% complete. This means I’m now putting off my quest for publication for who-knows-how-much-longer!

But then the Holy Spirit steps in and gently turns my focus back to the Lord. He has me on my own path and I need to look to Him to guide my footsteps, not try to emulate other people’s paths to their successes. Oddly enough, I find that I’m not even sure what I hope my “success” will look like anymore. All the more reason, I suppose, to seek the Lord one day at a time, rather than chase after desires that have been known to change depending on the time of month or the pressures of outside circumstances. 😉

Anne Graham Lotz has said, “Let go and let God,” and I try to apply that to my writing endeavors. It’s not always easy. And I’m not always happy. But in the end, so long as I’ve pursued God in the midst of it all, I will find fulfillment in ways I never could have imagined.

Trust in God II