November 30, 2011

Patience, Perseverance, and Lots o’ Prayer


Well, here we are. November 30. For me, this day is monumental.

Why?

Because today is the day I finish the rough draft of my first novel. *Exhausted cheers*

I originally set my deadline as December 31, but when a friend decided to participate in NaNoWriMo and write 50,000 words in the month of November, I decided to join in. I had already finished 30,000 words of my novel but knew if I didn’t light a fire under my hands, I’d never finish writing this thing by the end of the year.

There were many days I felt like (1) I was an awful writer, (2) I had no originality, (3) my story was as dry as days-old bread, or (4) I shouldn’t be wasting my time. Writing wasn’t always fun. It wasn’t always easy.

But some days, it was both, and those days carried me through.

Now, this is a very, very rough draft. I plan to go back and read through it all, scouring off the grime and getting to the good stuff. But instead of moving hastily on to the next step, I want to stop and reflect on what it took to get here.

Patience
Patience with myself. Patience with the process. Patience with my inexperience at novel writing.

Perseverance
I kept moving ahead, plodding along. No. Matter. How. Hard. The. Next. Step. Felt.

Prayer
I asked for divine gifting of the aforementioned patience and perseverance, and a confirmation that God was OK with me spending my time like this.

Your Turn: What goals have you set for yourself lately (writing-related or otherwise)? Have you achieved them yet? If not, what will it take for you to achieve them?

P.S. – I’ve read some really good advice on this topic of perseverance and the writer’s calling lately. Author Jody Hedlund and literary agent Rachelle Gardner have particularly provoking posts.

Photo courtesy of http://tvtropes.org

November 28, 2011

My Name Should’ve Been Martha


Last week was Thanksgiving. You most likely spent it with family. Some families get along great (I’m blessed to be part of one that falls into this category). But some…well, let’s just say it isn’t the holidays without a little bickering.

The Bible tells a story of a typical family, one with two sisters who couldn’t have been more different: Mary and Martha. (Their brother Lazarus is the one whom Jesus raised from the dead.)

John 10 gives a little glimpse into their lives. Martha was the responsible (most likely older!) sister, who was on the ball and worked her tail off to make sure everything was ready when Jesus came to stay with them. I totally get Martha. I relate to her. She and I would’ve been good friends if I’d lived 2,000 years ago.

And then there’s Mary: the free spirit (my interpretation). The lover/peacemaker. The one who might be prone to wandering off because she’s marveling in nature on a beautiful day.

The one I don’t understand one bit, because to me—at first glance—she was lazy.

I mean, hello! There were things to be done and all she was doing was sitting “at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (John 10:39b). Meanwhile, Martha was running around like a chicken with her head cut off. In my mind, I can see the feathers flapping and flying as she races around the kitchen.

But here’s the thing. Even though Martha’s intentions were good, even though she was taking care of others and serving them, Jesus told her that “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (John 10:42b).

Uh…what?

That’s right. Mary chose what was better. Jesus also told Martha these wise words: “[Y]ou are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one” (John 10:41b-42a).

That “one” thing that’s needed? His name is Jesus.

It’s so, so easy for me to get wrapped up in all that I have to “do.” Our lives are full of “doing.” Much of the time, the activities that fill our day are intended to lift others up and serve the Lord. And that, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.

What is bad is when the “doing” outweighs—or altogether obliterates—the time spent praying, seeking God’s face, aching to know Him better, and simply sitting at his feet, listening to what He has to say.

Your Turn: Have you ever struggled with being a Martha? Do you have any suggestions for becoming a Mary (my ears are open!)?  

Photo courtesy of Rawich: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1758

November 23, 2011

Be Thankful in Everything

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

Families across the country will sit down together and celebrate all of the blessings in their lives: roofs over their head, health, jobs, and loved ones. And it’s true: we have been richly blessed.

But the Bible says a curious thing. It instructs us to, “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19b-20)

Did I read that right? We’re supposed to give thanks to God for EVERYTHING?

I have a lot of friends who are hurting right now. Dear friends who have lost babies and loved ones. Friends who are suffering with their health, unsure if they’ll ever be well again. Friends who have lost jobs and don’t know when they’ll find work again. Are they really supposed to thank God for those things?

And I’ve been there too. When my mom was dying from cancer, I read this verse and scoffed. At first.

But then I read another verse: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1: 2-4)

It’s then I realized: I didn’t have to be thankful for the fact that my mom was dying before my eyes, but rather, thankful for the chance to grow closer to my Lord. Thankful for the chance to see His work in my life. Thankful for the chance to see His light in the darkness.

Because if we never experienced darkness, we wouldn’t really know what light was.

And so, even though it was the hardest thing I ever had to go through, I’m thankful that it led me straight back into my Savior’s arms and that I experienced pure joy (but that’s the topic for another post down the road).

Your Turn: What are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving season?

*Due to Thanksgiving, I’ll be taking a break from blogging until Monday.

November 21, 2011

What an Editor Is Not


I’ve been a professional editor for more than 5 years, and during that time I’ve learned a lot about writer/editor relationships.

Obviously, the relationship can be touchy. Tenuous. Confrontational. It can lead to all-out verbal sparring, hurt feelings, and bad attitudes.

But the relationship can also be good-natured. Respectful. Mutually beneficial.

I think it all depends on one’s expectations.

So, I thought it might be helpful for me to give an editor’s perspective on an editor’s role.*

1.    An editor is NOT a REWRITER.

While an editor (especially a line or copyeditor) most definitely can tweak minor wording issues, he/she should always attempt to keep the writer’s voice intact. In most cases (and some would disagree with me), an editor shouldn’t change wording simply because he/she doesn’t “like” it, but only when the grammar is incorrect, the flow is off, or the wording doesn’t make sense.

2.    An editor is NOT a CONTENT CREATOR.

Ultimately, the writer creates the content. While an editor can (and most likely will!) offer new ideas for directions your story can go, he/she is not ultimately responsible for coming up with a brilliant ending, doing the research to make a historical novel more believable, or creating a character description that sings.

I will say that a good editor SHOULD point out when content isn’t working, but he/she should explain why. It is not at all helpful to a writer for an editor to say, “I can’t figure out why I think this doesn’t work for me, but it just doesn’t, so change it.” Where does a writer go from there?

3.    An editor is NOT an EGO BOOSTER.

An editor has a job to do—help a writer finesse a piece until said piece is in the best shape possible. An editor points out flaws in logic, holes in the story, “poof” moments, characters who aren’t believable, etc. etc.

While an editor should most definitely use kindness when pointing out these issues,  a writer should not expect the editor to sit there and praise the work to high heaven. That is not helpful either. A good editor will both point out what you do well (so you know where you’re on track) and use constructive criticism to show you where you can make improvements in your writing.

Your Turn: What did I leave out? What else should writers be able to expect from their editors?

*Just a note: Obviously, some editors work differently than I do. There are some workplaces in which an editor has final say, and that’s that. Here, I’m describing a relationship that’s more give and take.

November 18, 2011

My Love Story

Five years ago today, I married my best friend.

It’s really hard to believe that 5 years have passed. We’ve been through a lot (law school and grad school were big hurdles!), been blessed a lot, and loved a lot.

Mike and I were friends for several years before we started dating. We hung out in the same group of friends who went to our church and Arizona State University—we would all ride the shuttle from West to Main campus, eat lunch together during the week, and hold game nights on the weekends.

I guess Mike liked me from the beginning (so sweet!), but I had no clue. I was going through a lot of stuff—my mom was sick for a long time, and finally passed away at the beginning of our junior year—so let’s just say I was “emotionally unavailable” at the time. But he just kept on being my friend and I never knew that he really wanted to ask me out.

Finally, toward the very end of our junior year, Mike and I started talking more frequently. I respected him so much; he was (and still is!) so intelligent, generous, funny, kindhearted, trustworthy, protective, a true friend, and above all, a godly, godly man.

He finally asked me out in April of 2005. We started dating the summer before our senior year (yes, it took me awhile to say yes…that’s another story!) and got engaged a year and a week later.

Then November 18, 2006, I walked down the aisle and have never looked back since.

Happy anniversary to my true love and best friend!

Your Turn: How did you meet your significant other? If you don’t have one, what’s a favorite love story you’ve heard?

November 16, 2011

The Emotional Effects of Reading


You’ve probably heard it said that reading is a way to experience another world, to check out of reality temporarily, to get “lost.” And I would definitely agree.

But reading is also a way to find something: truth.

There’s no doubt that the written word is a powerful thing. And when we read something that rings true to us, we can experience a range of emotions.

Like happiness when something is funny. Or fear when we’re not sure what’s really around the corner. Or sadness, regret, frustration, doubt.

Or deep, abiding joy.

Something I read this last weekend gave me that kind of joy.

I’m reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters for the first time (I know, I know, what took me so long?!) and if you aren’t familiar with the premise, let me tell you a bit about it. Basically, the book is a collection of “letters” written by an older demon to his nephew. So when he talks about “Our Enemy,” he means God. The older demon is giving his nephew advice on how to thwart humans and keep them from God.

One passage in particular nearly turned me into a puddle of joy. In this simple excerpt, the demon describes the differences between the dark side and God:

“To us a human is primarily food. … We want cattle who can finally become food; He [God] wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below [Satan] has drawn all other beings into himself; the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.”

Do you feel the power in this poignant narrative? Does it draw something up from within you, warm you with assurance, and give you the desire to cry out to God in gratitude?

That’s the way it affected me. I’m so thankful for authors like Lewis who speak the Truth to my heart, who remind me of God's goodness and His graciousness in creating me and wanting a relationship with me.

And I hope, someday, as an author, to have the privilege of writing something that will turn readers toward the only One who matters in all of this anyway.

Your Turn: Do you find yourself affected emotionally when you read? What have you read lately that affected you?
 

November 14, 2011

Seriously Contemplating a Series

It all started with a small idea. One standalone idea, one issue I wanted to tackle.

And then it took root in my mind and soul, grew, and blossomed into something much more than I ever thought it would be.

I’m talking about the story I’m writing. When I initially started planning it in my head, it was a single novel. I didn’t think about writing a series, because the ideas I had so far were only enough to fill one novel. Plus, the main characters’ issues are more or less resolved at the end of this novel.

However, I’d been reading some blogs that mentioned the topic and even asked an agent whether agents and publishers are more willing to publish a series than a standalone novel. The advice I saw seemed to indicate that, if a standalone novel is well written and has a gripping story, then it can definitely find a home with a publisher.

But publishers ARE looking for writers who have more than just one great book idea in their heads. They want people who can be career writers, who are more than just a “one-hit wonder.”

I asked the question (“How many book ideas do I need to present to an agent when seeking representation?”) of a seasoned writer when I attended a recent conference, and she advised me to try to make my novel into a series somehow. One advantage is that you have a built-in audience of people who liked your first book and want to know what happens to the characters in the second book. This writer told me I could even take a minor character from the first book and write the second novel about her life/story.

So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I began brainstorming and it didn’t take me long to figure out a story for Stacy, the roommate of my main character. I’m even developing a storyline for a third roommate, who doesn’t yet exist but I’m going to write in. Her story is becoming vivid to me and I can’t believe I didn’t have her in my original outline. It’s crazy what happens when you think outside the box!

In all, the simple question of whether this should be a series has led me to develop three separate storylines for three different college-aged women. And I’ve even been able to develop a uniting concept for the series as a whole, something to tie all the books together.

I think I would have been OK going with my standalone novel, but I’m hoping that writing a series—which of course still needs to be dynamic and well written—will increase my chances of gaining representation and, eventually, a book deal.

Your Turn: As a reader, do you enjoy series or standalone novels better? As a writer, which do you enjoy writing the most?

November 11, 2011

Thankful for Freedom


The Bible says to be thankful for everything. Later this month, those of us in America will celebrate Thanksgiving. We will gather around our tables and tell each other what we are particularly thankful for: family, friends, a roof over our heads, provision, health, etc.

But will we remember to be thankful for freedom?

Today is Veteran’s Day. I think it’s really cool that this day is so close to Thanksgiving, but I have a confession: I rarely remember to be thankful for my freedom, even though there are whole holidays set aside just for that purpose. How often have I viewed the day purely as time off from work, time to relax and catch up on stuff around the house?

Too many.
I live in an amazing country, where I can worship the God I want to worship freely, without consequence. I am free to marry who I want to marry, free to have as many children as I am able, free to get an education. There are many countries in which I would not have such freedoms.

But I take it for granted.

We have brave men and women who have fought and some who are still fighting for the very freedoms that are such a part of my daily life that I cannot imagine it without them.

So today, I’m being purposeful.

To my mom’s dad, who fought in Vietnam: Thank you for your service.

To my dad’s dad, who fought in WWII: Thank you for your service.

To all the veterans out there and to those still in the military: Thank you for your service.

May God bless you and keep you safe.

Your Turn: Do you have a friend or relative who is a veteran or currently serving in the military? Honor them here!

*Image courtesy of Bill Longshaw: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=341

November 9, 2011

It’s Not About Me


Last Sunday, my pastor had us open to the book of Philippians and read this verse:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.”

Uh oh, I thought. I’m in trouble.

I really, really want to live my life for the Lord. I want to do things that matter. I want to leave a lasting impression on this earth, to touch people’s hearts, to lift their spirits, to turn their eyes toward our wonderful Savior.

And yet, me, myself, and I often get in the way.

Because it’s so, so easy to do things for our own glory.

In a small way, I’ve been “in the spotlight” for a lot of my life. I’ve been acting and singing on stage since I was 6 years old and I currently serve in the music ministry at our church. I love singing my heart out for the Lord, reminding others of his love. There is something about music that speaks to my heart and stirs something inside of me that almost nothing else can stir.

But I’ve struggled with the spotlight. There were times in the past when I thought I was pretty awesome because, hey, people liked my singing! They thought I was great! And an ego boost can be heady stuff.

For awhile, singing became about me, not about praising my Lord and using the gifts HE GAVE ME to glorify Him.

The Lord has also given me a passion for writing, and right now, I’m trying to write a novel and succeed at getting it published. But I’ve really had to evaluate why I want to do this. Is it because I want the fame? The influence? Because I want to see my name in print? Because I want my ego boosted?

Or is it because I want to glorify my Maker, to show believers and non-believers alike that God is good and faithful, that He loves us beyond compare, and that He has a plan for each of us?

My prayer is for God to make these the song lyrics of my heart:

“It’s all about you, Jesus. And all this is for you, for your glory and your fame. It’s not about me, as if you should do things my way. You alone are God, and I surrender to your will.”

Your Turn: What are some of your favorite Bible verses or song lyrics that talk about glorifying God?

*photo courtesy of flickr*

November 7, 2011

Know Thy Character

I’m writing about her, but do I really know her?

As I sat there, staring at my laptop screen, I thought about one of my novel’s main characters, Grace. She’s an 18-year-old girl going off to college, and—after finding a dusty journal, one that belongs to her mother’s childhood best friend—she discovers that what she’s always been told might not be true. She faces temptations and is forced to figure out what she really believes—namely, did God create rules for us to live by because he’s cruel or because he’s loving?

So, I knew the basic conflicts Grace would have to go through, and I imagined how I would handle them. But that’s just it.

Grace isn’t me. I’m not her. We wouldn’t handle things in exactly the same way.

And therein is one of the most difficult things I’ve discovered with novel writing. I have to figure out my characters. What makes them tick? What are their likes and dislikes? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

It was all a bit overwhelming until I was introduced (by Gail Gaymer Martin, at a recent American Christian Writers conference) to a wonderful little tool known as a character sheet.

A character sheet is essentially a list of questions/prompts that you fill out about your character. It contains everything from physical description (like age, hair/eye color, height/weight, clothing style) to inner conflicts (greatest dream, dark secret, relationships). For an example of a great character sheet, see Gail's site.

I filled out a character sheet for Grace and it helped a lot. Before, she was this nebulous cloud of mystery—I never knew what she was going to do on the next page!

But now? Me and Grace? We’re tight, yo.

Your Turn: Have you ever used a character sheet for your characters? If you’re not a writer (or even if you are!), who is your favorite fictional character and why?

November 4, 2011

Worth Waiting For


“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” – Psalm 27:14

“But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.” – Psalm 130:5


To me, there’s nothing worse than waiting. I’ve always agreed that patience is a virtue—just one that I don’t have.

*Sigh*

With our busy lives, we don’t like any kind of waiting: waiting in line, waiting at the doctor’s office, waiting for an answer, waiting for a grade. Waiting disrupts our timelines; we need to move on to the next thing, but sometimes we can’t until we’ve finished the first. And we can’t finish the first because we have to WAIT on something or someone.

When we’re young, we can’t wait to get older. When we move out, we can’t wait to get a house (that apartment just won’t do anymore!). When we start dating, we can’t wait to get married. And on and on and on.

In addition, we’re worriers, so when things don’t happen right when we want them to, there’s all this extra time to—you got it—worry.

But God tells us to wait for Him.

It’s easy to wonder why—other than torturing us—God would ask us to wait for His guiding, His timing.  But God is loving and He wants the best for us. And sometimes that means waiting.

Because sometimes He wants to teach us humility—a reminder that He’s in control.

Sometimes He wants to teach us trust—a reminder that He’s got our best in mind.

And sometimes, He wants to show us that His plan is greater than anything we could have dreamed up.

And those things are worth waiting for.

Waiting is hard. It can be brutal. So all we can do, if we want to keep any amount of sanity, is lay our dreams at God’s feet. To strip ourselves of pride and worry and tell God we trust Him to guide and direct our lives.

Because in the end, it should be God we are living for anyway. It should be God I’m writing for. I want so badly to finish my novel NOW, to find an agent NOW, to get published NOW.

But if he wants to teach me patience, trust, and humility in the process, shouldn’t I be willing to learn it?

Shouldn’t I be willing to wait on the Lord, to be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord?

Your Turn: Have you ever had to wait for something you really wanted? How did God use that time of waiting to teach you something?

November 2, 2011

The Power of Words






Whoever said “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” must have lived in a monastery or some other place where words are rarely used.

If you didn’t already know it, let me tell you something: Words are powerful.

At the writing conference I recently attended, literary agent Chip MacGregor spoke on this very subject. He explained that words move us, that words help us find beauty and meaning in life.

That words change us.

When Chip finished speaking, I thought about which words have changed me the most. The following list is the result of my pondering.

You are talented.

You are cherished.

You are beautiful.

I find joy in your presence.

I love you.

I have called you.

You are my beloved child.

Do you know why all of these words have changed me? Because they are spoken to me by the God of this universe. He has spoken them through his Holy Word, through his creation, and through Jesus’s death on the cross.

God has given me a love of language, of using words to express compassion, love, honesty, joy, and anything else I feel. I am so grateful he chooses to communicate to my heart in the same way.

After all, as Chip pointed out, John called Jesus himself “the Word” — “In the beginning was the Word.”

No wonder I love words so much.

Question for You: Which words have changed you?

November 1, 2011

Get Inspired!


American Christian Writers conference sessions: $250 for Friday and Saturday.

Banquet dinner: $25.

Hotel stay: $87

Networking with fellow writers and conference faculty: Priceless.


This past weekend, I attended my first writer’s conference. It was attended by 40-60 fellow Christian writers—some published, some seeking publication, some just starting out—and was held in Phoenix. I attended with a good friend of mine.

It. Was. Awesome.

I attended sessions on fiction writing: how to make characters come to life, make your setting a character, and write simply.

I attended sessions on the importance/role of agents, common writing errors, and developing a writing career.

I attended an amazing session centered around Ecclesiastes and the reminder that “for everything there is a season.”

And I attended a 15-minute consultation with well-established Christian author Gail Gaymer Martin. She read the first chapter of my manuscript and encouraged me to keep writing and doing what I’m doing.

I was seriously floating by the end.

It’s so easy to let ourselves be consumed with doubts when we follow our dreams. It’s easy to feel like we are alone. That we are the only one trying to pursue this crazy calling of writing for God, of wanting to bless others through the written word.

But I’m not alone. I just met at least 40 people who want the same thing I do. That felt good. It was validating. It was beyond encouraging.

It was priceless.

Questions for You: Have you ever attended a writer’s conference or met with a group of people who were pursuing a common goal? How did it affect you?