January 30, 2012

How to Make Friends and Network in the Writing World

In my post last Monday, I talked about how excited I was to discover that the writing world is not as cutthroat as I had once believed and how it has helped me on my writing journey to gain support and encouragement from fellow writers.

But in order to gain that support and encouragement, you have to step out of your comfort zone. You have to reach beyond your desk and your computer and immerse yourself in the writing world.

I know. It can be a scary thing. We put our thoughts, our reputations, our very selves out there—it’s not easy, and no one else can do it for you.

But it’s totally and completely worth it.

Today I want to give a few suggestions on ways to connect with other writers:

Visit other blogs.
Sure it’s great to have your own blog; in fact, I think it’s necessary to help you to hone your writing style and voice and to discover what it’s like to stick to deadlines. But it’s also important to read other people’s blogs. Because chances are, people won’t just “happen upon” your blog. So if you want to really get connected, don’t just sit there waiting for people to come read your blog. Go read their blogs and start building relationships by commenting.

Reading others’ blogs will also help you to understand what’s going on in the industry. It’s also great to gain advice from industry professionals at all points in the publication journey; from unpublished, to agented, to published authors, there’s something to learn from everyone.

Email other writers to make a more personal connection.
Once you’ve found authors whose blog you like, email them to make a more personal connection. I love it when bloggers reply to my comments, but it’s even cooler to get an email reply and build a real relationship this way.

Support your fellow writers through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.
One of the coolest things I’ve seen from the writing community is writers’ willingness to promote each other’s blogs and published work. I am constantly seeing tweets and Facebook “shares” from writers promoting others’ work, and I love to get in on the action. In your face-to-face relationships it is important to cheer each other on—nothing’s different about relationships with those you’ve met online.

Attend conferences and participate in writing groups.
I know that forming online relationships can still seem somewhat “distant” when you haven’t met someone face to face. So one great thing to do is attend a conference and establish those face-to-face relationships (which you can then continue online if you don’t live nearby). Joining local writing groups also provides a great level of accountability as you slog your way through your WIP.

Your Turn: Any other suggestions for how to immerse yourself in the writing world and build a network of relationships with other writers?

*Photo courtesy of jannoon028

January 27, 2012

Characters: Friends for Life

I just love it when a book or movie is so moving, so inspiring, so vivid that it seems real. But have you ever finished a book feeling like you really know a character—and wishing he or she was real?

I have.

For me, I’ve read Francine Rivers’ “Mark of the Lion” series several times. The key character, Hadassah, is a Jewish believer in Christ whose family dies and who is forced into slavery after the fall of Jerusalem (not that long after Jesus walked the earth). She goes through a number of trials, but is quiet, gentle, and faithful through them all.

As I read these books, I feel like Hadassah is talking to me. As if I’m walking beside her and watching her suffer and that she really, truly is encouraging me…telling me to have faith, because God is real and He sees our pain. And He saves us from it.

Am I a psycho? No (well, I don’t think so anyway…). J Rivers has merely created a character who sticks with me because of her amazing resiliency and faithfulness.

And if she were real, she’s someone I’d love to be friends with.

Your Turn: What about you? What character from a book or movie would you love to be good friends with (you know, if that character actually existed, of course!)?

January 25, 2012

The Ultimate Source of Rest

How many times a week do you find yourself saying, “I’m just so…tired!” or “I need a break!” ??

For me? Something like, oh, let’s say 1,000. A nice round number.

OK, maybe that’s a *slight* exaggeration, but the point is, life is busy. We go, go, go. And everyone, everywhere, at some point, needs REST.

But what is rest, exactly? Different people probably find different things relaxing. To some, their idea of rest is watching TV. To some, it’s reading a good book. To still others, it’s cooking (because they enjoy it).

Lately, I’ve had more time than usual to rest (a lot more time than I ever had when working full time and going to school, anyway!). And I’ve needed it. We all do.

But I’ve found that the things I’ve been doing to rest haven’t really been all that restful. That is, I didn’t feel that deep sense of “Ah” that I was hoping I’d feel after resting.

Watching TV all day didn’t get me there. Reading a book didn’t get me there. Cooking certainly didn’t get me there.

There’s a reason for that.

The Bible says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Normally, when I think of “rest,” I think of physical rest, but I think this verse refers to a lot more than the physical type of rest. And I think what I usually need is more along the lines of a spiritual and emotional rest.

Physical rest is important too, of course, but usually when I’m completely drained and my energy is depleted, it’s because I haven’t taken the time to rest my spirit.

And the source of that ultimate rest is in God.

It can only be found in stopping what we are doing, going to Him, and asking Him to give us rest. To refresh us. To help us regain focus and live life with energy and zest. To revive our spirit.

So the next time I feel tired, worn out, and just plain drained emotionally and spiritually, I hope I will remember to run to Him, read His Word, pray out my troubles, and ask Him to give me rest…and watch as He refreshes my spirit.

Your Turn: Where do you find rest, whether it be physical or emotional/spiritual rest?

*Photo courtesy of Suat Eman

January 23, 2012

A Pleasant Surprise


When I began this writing journey (see my post from last Monday to learn more), I had a lot of expectations.

First, I thought I’d quickly grow discouraged at my lack of expertise in novel writing, that others might secretly sneer at my blog or my comments on other blogs and think, “She’s such an amateur!”

Second, I also figured that the world of writers was a cutthroat one in which authors were always trying to top each other and doing anything possible to stand above the cut.

Finally, I thought the journey would be a solitary one. Sure, I’d anticipated maybe meeting another writer here and there, possibly exchanging information at conferences and chatting occasionally. But all in all, I figured I’d rarely interact with other authors.

When I look at that list, I realize what a cynic I was. But it’s what I’d always heard about the writing community (sad, but true). However, as the title of this blog post suggests, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself wrong on all counts.

This may be because I’m immersing myself primarily in the Christian writing community, but whatever the reason, I couldn’t be more grateful.

Because my experience has been that other writers realize everyone is in a different place in their careers. Some are novices, never having written anything. Some have been writing for years, but are new to novel writing (oh me, me, pick me!). Others have already acquired agents, and still others have published books on the shelves.

So those “amateur” comments I was so worried about? My experience has instead been that more experienced writers are more than willing to answer the less-experienced writer’s questions—and in a gracious manner.

I’ve also perceived that writers exhibit genuine joy when they know others who have succeeded in some way. I’ve witnessed true excitement for each other instead of the jealousy you might expect  (see this awesome post by Katie Ganshert on the joy/jealousy rollercoaster).

Finally, though I expected to be a loner on this journey, I’ve been so grateful to see writers come alongside one another—and alongside me!—in support and encouragement. Just you who comment regularly on my blog encourage me so much, reminding me I’m not alone and helping me to build a community of people with similar goals.

(There have been some very specific ways I’ve discovered to immerse yourself into the writing community, and I’ll address those in next Monday’s post.)

Your Turn: Have you also been surprised by the writing community? If so, in what ways?

*Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici

January 20, 2012

Fun Fridays: Superheroes

I thought I’d ask a fun question sometimes on Fridays to get to know you all better. I’ll give my answer and an explanation, and I’d love to hear your answers too!

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

Recently, I’ve been doing a Bible study called Brave by Angela Thomas. In the first week, she talks about how none of us are superwomen, as much as we’d love to be. It got me thinking: if I was a superhero, what superpower would I have?

Of course, I could say some super spiritual answer like the ability to love all people regardless of how rude they were…but nah, I think I’ll go with FLYING.

I know, cliché, right? But ever since I was a kindergartner asking Santa Claus for pixy dust (like Tinker Bell uses…I was severely disappointed when all my fellow kindergartners told me Santa couldn’t stuff like that!), I’ve wanted the ability to soar over buildings, hover above the trees, and do running leaps off of mountains (without splatting on the ground below).

Guess I’ll have to wait for Heaven for that one. Because I’ve gotta think God will grant us our desired superpower in Heaven, right?! (Note: I have absolutely no Biblical basis for this thought…just wishful thinking!)

What about you?

January 18, 2012

Questioning Our Faith

I don’t know about you, but I’m a questioner. I’m naturally inquisitive. I was that annoying kid always asking her parents, “But why?” I’m that journalist always digging deeper into a story, pulling out the details to arrange them in my mind until they make sense.

In school, teachers like to say that there are “no stupid questions.” While that may not be entirely true (especially for the class clown determined to prove the teacher wrong), questions are encouraged in school. Questioning is how we learn. It’s how we process things in our own minds until we come up with an answer that is satisfactory.

But somewhere along the way, I think some Christians have gotten the idea into their heads that it’s not OK to question our faith. That if we do, we are sinning. That asking questions means we don’t have faith at all, that we are doubters and thus not really Christians.

And that, my friends, is how we get into trouble. Big. Trouble.

I know there are several places in the Bible where Jesus talks about having faith to move mountains, not doubting the Word of God, and believing in His power. But God also created us to be inquisitive beings. In my mind, that means He not only knew we would inevitably ask questions, but created us to do so.

Because He doesn’t want robots. He wants followers and friends who have thought about His words, invested time in considering what following Him really means, and who have CHOSEN Him.

It’s the same reason why there’s free will.

Think about how many people out there follow their prescribed religion because it’s what their parents followed. It’s how they were raised. It’s ingrained in their heritage.

But to them, that’s what it is. Religion. Not a relationship.

I know, because I’ve been there. I was raised as a Christian, and never wavered in my faith until my mom got cancer when I was 15. Until then, my faith had never really been tested, and when it was, I had a lot of questions.

But I felt like a big fake because I didn’t think it was OK to question. I thought I wasn’t a very good Christian because I was questioning whether God actually loved me. Whether He was all He said He was. Whether He truly was a good God who wanted good things for His people. Whether “Christianity” and the Bible really spoke the Truth or if some other religion was the answer.

But the thing is, the Bible says “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). God knows there will be times when life will knock us on our rears and our faith will be tested.

And in my experience, those are the times when, if we truly seek Him, He’ll reveal Himself to us. Sure, we won’t know every reason behind why God allowed what He allowed in our life.

But because of our questioning, we will have a different sort of knowledge.

We’ll know our faith is real and that He is Truth.

Your Turn: Have you ever questioned your faith? Do you agree that it’s OK to question? Do you agree that it can be a dangerous thing to blindly follow a faith without examining/questioning it first? Why or why not?

*Photo courtesy of Master isolated images: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1962

January 16, 2012

All Sorts of Terrain


When I began walking this journey down my writing path, I didn’t know what I would encounter—I was just eager to start. I pulled on my literary hiking boots, grabbed my figurative walking stick, and hit the road.

At first, everything felt spectacular. My senses exploded. I made all sorts of discoveries about myself and the world around me. I bounded through crystal streams of joy (what I felt when writing, writing, writing!), threw my hands up and spun in meadows of contentment (I was finally doing what I’d been wanting to do for awhile…writing a novel!), and smelled the flowers of plot, character, and dialogue (ah, what a heavenly scent!).

The terrain—and thus, my journey—was breathtaking, and yet in a weird sort of way, I could finally breathe, because finally I was no longer dreaming about walking the path but actually walking it. As we all know, exercise has this way of causing us to breathe harder but making our lungs stronger in the process.

And then I hit some rocky roads: doubt over my purpose, stress over self-imposed deadlines, despair that I wasn’t as good as others. I wrote the majority of my novel in the month of November, pushing myself at a grueling pace that left the soles of my feet burning and my head spinning with the new altitude. It hurt.

Some of the novelty was gone. I forgot sometimes to enjoy the flowers. They were still there, but I forgot to smell them because I was focused on something else. The summit. That wasn’t a bad thing to be focused on. I’m not saying it was. It was time to test my mettle and find out what Lindsay Harrel is really made of.

Now, looking back down that path from the top of the First Novel Written Summit, I smile. I made it! Looking ahead, I see countless more summits, with names like First Novel Edited, Second Novel, Third Novel, Agent Acquired, First Book Published, etc.

I admit, I’m exhausted just thinking about the journey ahead. Looking down the road, I see just how far I have to go. I try to remember that this is not just a journey with one end goal—every summit is a goal worth achieving. Some are taller than others. Some have thornier bushes—but then, some have rosier ones.

If I focus on all of them I have yet to climb, I get woozy. Excited, but woozy.

But, if I sit down, rest for awhile, and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment here at the top of this first summit, that (and of course, God) will give me strength to say, “I’m ready for the next one. Bring it on.”

So…I’m ready for the next one. Bring it on.

Your Turn: Regardless of whether you're a writer or not, what summit are you currently climbing? Does it have thorny bushes along the way or rosy ones?

Photo courtesy of Michal Marcol: portfolio is:
http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=371

January 13, 2012

Fun Friday: Colors

I thought I’d ask a fun question sometimes on Fridays to get to know you all better. I’ll give my answer and an explanation, and I’d love to hear your answers too!

What color best describes you?

For me, think pink.

I love all shades of pink, and because there are so many shades, I think this color describes me in all my moods.

Hot pink because I can be loud and silly and because I love life—and sometimes I bust down the walls of life and scream “Here I am! Notice me!” Must be the performer/actress in me. J

Pale pink because I’ve got a softer side. I can be super sensitive, a romantic, a listener, someone who is soothed by the softer things in life.

And finally, purplish pink because I love to craft stories and tell them creatively.

What about you?

*Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=659

January 11, 2012

Stair Steppin’ It


At my gym, there are stair stepper machines. But they are not normal stair steppers. They are gargantuan.

When using one of these machines, you always seem to be fighting to reach the top—but you’re never able to. Despite your burning thighs and gluts, you seem to merely be floating in the middle, and sometimes, you can sink dangerously close to the bottom.

It’s like that with our relationship with God.

He’s way at the top. We want to reach Him, so we step and step and step in the right direction. But a lot of times, we feel like we’re going nowhere. That our progress really isn’t progress. That no matter what we do, we’ll never become really close with our Lord the way we want to.

And then we’re tempted to let ourselves slack, or we become so tired of stepping that we stop—maybe even for a moment or two—a move that brings us to a place we’d never want to be. Rock. Bottom.

To a certain extent, I think we’ll never reach the ultimate closeness with God we crave until Heaven, when our earthly distractions, crutches, and excuses are gone. But we CAN be close with Him. It’s why Jesus died.

Because incredibly, God wants a relationship with us. With you. With me. But it’s not enough for us to want that relationship in return. Just like with any relationship in life, we have to invest in our relationship with God, giving it time to grow and flourish. We have to remember that every step we take toward God is a step we take away from the temptations of this world.

And even though it feels like we’re floating in the middle somewhere, we’re not. Because whatever space that’s left between us and the top of that stair stepper toward God?

He’ll reach down and cover the distance.

He’s crossed the divide before. He’ll do it again, over and over, because He loves you that much.

Your Turn: Was there ever a time in your life when you felt far from God but wanted to be close? Have you ever felt as if you’re on a stair stepper regarding your faith? What, if anything, did you do about it and learn from it?

*Photo courtesy of Master isolated images: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1962

January 9, 2012

Unhelpful Feedback: I Could’ve Done Without That


As many of my friends and readers know, I recently finished the first draft of my first novel (and there was much rejoicing…hooray!).

And after a first draft comes editing. Lots and lots of editing.

As an editor, you’d think I’d love this part—and to some extent, I do enjoy the rigor of making my stuff better. But it can still be painful. And it’s just plain difficult to edit your own writing sometimes. It’s hard to completely delete a character you’ve created who just isn’t necessary after all. Or to reword a scene you’ve spent hours crafting because, well, several minor details have to change in order for another part of the book to make sense, and…yeah, you get the picture.

That’s where critiques from others come in handy. I recently received some great critiques on my first chapters. They were extremely helpful, pointing out a lot of things that I point out to other people and just didn’t see in my own writing (insert sheepish grin here) or telling me when a character or scene didn’t ring quite true.

I must say, this is quite a different experience than critiques I’ve received in the past.

You see, while receiving feedback from others is necessary, there is some feedback that’s just plain unhelpful. A few examples I’ve personally encountered:

“I just loved it all! Don’t change a thing.”
Um, yeah, while my ego would just LOVE to hear this one, it’s Never. Gonna. Happen. At least, for real. That’s just the (gut-wrenching) reality of writing a novel; there will always be something to improve upon. And when someone who is reading my work (especially in early stages) tells me this, I tend to think (1) he/she is lying or (2) he/she really didn’t read my story, at least with a very critical eye.

Note: I’m not saying to never be positive. It’s great to receive positive feedback along with the more critical comments. Always point out the good things you see in addition to the things that don’t work, so the writer isn’t overly discouraged and is in fact encouraged that he/she is doing some things right.

“This just doesn’t work, but I’m not sure why.”
It’s great for me to know that something isn’t jiving, but I also want to know why. Is it that the character isn’t believable? The situation is unrealistic? The dialogue is dry? Try as much as possible to be specific about why an aspect of the story doesn’t “work.”

“Word this differently.”
Again—why? While I appreciate it when someone tells me something should be reworded, I want to know why it needs to change. Did the sentence strike you as awkward? Out of character? Just plain wrong grammatically? When I critique, I try to give suggestions for a different wording to explain what I mean. That doesn’t mean I expect the author to adapt my wording, but I hope it gives him/her a reference point for rewording.

Your Turn: Have you had your work critiqued by others? How was your experience? Can you think of any other feedback that isn’t helpful (maybe that you’ve actually received)?

Photo by Grant Cochrane: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2365

January 6, 2012

Fun Friday: Hot or Cold?


I thought I’d ask a fun question sometimes on Fridays to get to know you all better. I’ll give my answer and an explanation, and I’d love to hear your reasons too!

Today’s question: Would you rather live where it’s cold or hot?

Earlier this week, my cousin (who lives in Alaska) posted a picture of her thermometer. It said -20°F. Yes, that’s a minus sign. (!!!!)

Needless to say, this Arizona girl hasn’t EVER experienced 0°F, much less anything below that.

Even though experience here dictates my preference for the heat, I’m sure others feel differently. I know of many Arizonans who prefer the cold.

Maybe in some cases, the grass is greener, but not in mine. Even in the middle of July, when the heat is skimming 120°F, I’d rather be here in summer than in Alaska in the winter. Of course, those are both the extremes, but you get the point: It’s hot all the way for me. (Plus there are those awesome 80-degree Phoenix days in January that you just can’t beat!)

Your Turn: What about you? Hot or cold?

Photo courtesy of digitalart: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2280

January 4, 2012

The Unknown


Yesterday, I started a new job. It didn’t matter that I’ve worked in a similar job before. It didn’t matter that I have a good feeling about my new boss. It didn’t matter that there is a long list of “pros” to starting and working this job.

I was still nervous.

I think that’s a fairly common sentiment when someone starts a new job, but what exactly about it made me nervous? It was a general, not specific, anxiety that I had. There’s nothing in particular that gave me concern about this new job.

I guess I was just nervous about the unknown.

Of course, our whole life is one big series of unknowns, but we feel in some ways that we have control over some aspects—even if that sense of control may be false. But for me, it seems I get anxious particularly when there’s something NEW I’m doing. When I’m unseasoned. When I feel inexperienced. When I could possibly fail.

And that makes me realize a few things about myself. One, I’m a perfectionist overachiever who expects great things of myself and fears falling off the horse (cliché, I know) so much I’m tempted not to ride in the first place. And two, I’m a control freak.

But luckily, there’s a solution for my neurosis.

His name is God.

Because God tells me that HE’S in control. That I shouldn’t worry. That there’s nothing to fear if He is with me.

So if I can stop FEARING the unknown and start EMBRACING it because it gives God an opportunity to be in control of my life, I think I’ll be a lot better off.

Oh, and that first day of work? I shouldn’t have been nervous. God had my back the whole time.

Your Turn: Do you fear the unknown or embrace it?

Photo courtesy of Africa: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1803

January 2, 2012

A New Year, A New Pace

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Well, we’re back at it. The tree and lights have been packed, the parties attended, Christmas carols sung, and presents opened. The holidays are busy, busy, busy, but worth every moment.

I’ve been really blessed. I had this whole last week off with my husband; we made no plans and did nothing important.

I wasn’t used to that. At all.

You see, the last few years have been filled with busyness: getting my husband through law school and myself through grad school, teaching for the first time, writing my first book, performing in musicals, participating in church leadership, not to mention hanging out with family and friends.

All of that aside, busyness seems to be a part of who I am. I’m naturally a doer. A go-go-goer. I am always making plans, checking items off of lists, and in general speeding through life as if it’s a race. And in part, it is: a race to better myself, to make sure I take advantage of all life has to offer.

But after awhile, racing like that—all the time—wears on me. But I’ve become so good at (metaphorically) running that I forget what it feels like to walk. I figured the time to start running again would be this week, after having a week off. I thought I’d take off, full blast, tomorrow, January 3 (when I start a new job!) and run into the sunset of 2012.

But this week off did a lot more for me than I thought it would.

Because even though walking feels foreign to me, it’s good for me. It gives rest to my muscles. It allows me to focus on my breathing and my reason for running the race in the first place. And above all, it helps me to run even faster when it’s time to run again.

So I think I’m going to keep walking for a little while. I’ll still start my new job, write, and spend time with loved ones. But I don’t need to keep going with this intense pressure cooker of a life that I’ve been living for the past however-many years. I have always had high expectations for myself, and that won’t change—but I think I need to allow God to have a little more control over the timing of it all.

He means for us to enjoy life, not just jump from goal to goal, accomplishing them and not taking the time to celebrate each one. But that’s what I’ve done—it’s what you do when you’re constantly running.

I always thought if I slowed down, I wouldn’t achieve anything. That life would get away from me. But if I remain focused, but still move forward, then I’ll eventually get there. Slow and steady—and focused on God’s plan—wins the race in my book.

Welcome, 2012!

Your Turn: Metaphorically speaking, do you tend to run or walk through life? Or is it a mixture?