Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Fog

Some call it “being in a funk”, but the more I’ve thought about it, I think it feels more like driving in a fog. I’m still doing things as a writer, but as I bang out the words to this post I simply can’t see very far down the road. I stare ahead, trying to stay alert so I don’t miss anything. This is how I feel right now as I’m pushing ahead on my writing journey. I’m in a fog.

I’m still brainstorming some ideas for my next book, and I’m trying to get up the emotional energy to send out proposals on my last one. In fact, my last book is one that I am very excited about…if I can just get it in the hands of readers. And while I enjoyed the many blessings of the writer’s convention I attended in September, a discouraging fog has settled in around me.

No…I’m not ready to quit. I am just being real with you: if you want to be a writer, expect to have to fight your way through the fog every so often. The way you deal with the fog may be different than how another writers tackles it. Some drink enormous amounts of coffee (I’ll leave the drink of choice as coffee since I’m talking about Christian Fiction), others go on retreats and attempt to ignite their creativity, some master solitaire, and others go shopping. And some of us blog. Whatever works.

There are many things I don’t know about this fog–like how long it will last–but there are a few things that I DO know:

  • God is bigger than the fog & that will never change.
  • I’m his child, so He never loses sight of me…not even in the thickest fog.
  • I’m blessed to have a wife and family that believes in me unconditionally.
  • I’m still moving forward…even if I can’t see very far down the road.

Have you ever been in the fog as a writer? How did you handle it? What did you learn?

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If the Declaration of Independence were written today

The worldview of the author shapes what he or she writes. So as I look around at the humanistic mindset that fuels our society, I shudder to think of what the Declaration of Independence would look like if written or revised by our pagan leaders of this era. I submit it might begin something like this:

When in the course of human events (although there is nothing superior about the animal known as “human”), it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another (those disbanding should apologize for their intolerance and out-dated morality), and to assume amoung the Powers of the earth (i.e. United Nations), the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature (Evolution and Global Warming) and of Nature’s God entitle them (pick your “god” and your entitlements), a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare (but not in a way that would be offensive) the causes (extremism) which impel them to the separation.

We hold (loosely) these truths (tested in focus groups and subject to change without notice) to be self-evident (unless they are not politically expedient), that all men (animals, plants, glaciers, and ozone layers) are created (empowered by indoctrination) equal (unless they are Christians), that they are endowed by their Creator (Federal Government) with certain unalienable (no offense to illegal aliens) Rights (as shall be determined by the Supreme Court and/or the United Nations General Assembly), that amoung these are Life (once you escape the womb), Liberty (freedom from responsibility or accountability) and the pursuit of Happiness (as defined by your inner desires and not shackled by organized religion).

Yes, what we write is most certainly colored by the lens through which we view the world. As a Christian, I write stories that are informed by my belief in God. I recognize–even if imperfectly–the power of words and their ability reach people emotionally and intellectually. And I believe that God will hold me accountable for what I do with those words.

Writing is not a game or a therapeutic hobby. It is a powerful stewardship.

People who might not spend much–or any–time in a Bible, might read one of my books. I must shape more stories so that light shines out and helps them see a path to truth…to redemption…to God.

What stories to you think our society needs hear today?

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Skeptics

One time an evangelist was preaching to a crowd of people. A man in the crowd kept heckling him, but the preacher kept preaching, trying not to pay attention to the man. But when the man yelled, “if you’re so smart…tell me, where did Cain get his wife?”

The preacher looked directly at the man. “I can’t tell you where Cain got his wife, but when I get to heaven I’ll ask him.”

The man smirked. “What if he’s not in heaven?”

“Then you ask him,” the preacher said.

When it comes to the writing journey, you will find that skeptics line the road. They question your reason for writing, sometimes firing questions at you that are hard to answer. Or they try hard to plant seeds of doubt which will undermine your self-confidence or sense of calling. These voices from without are draining.

But they’re not the worst. The worst skeptic lives inside each writer.

I’m convinced that times of self-doubt are part of the journey. And since not everything we write drips with brilliance, we focus on those less-than-readable pages as proof positive that we don’t have what it takes to be a writer. Or we allow room for the monster called “Maybe” to live in our minds. This monster growls out questions like, “Maybe you heard God wrong…Maybe He didn’t call you to be a writer…Maybe that contest judge who hated your story was the only one telling the truth…Maybe you should consider giving up.”

What do you do when the skeptic within taunts you? How do you silence it?

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A One Volume Library

I keep a library on my desk. Sometimes I carry it with me. I’ve even been known to take the entire collection with me when visiting someone in the hospital. I have the same library at home too.

It’s handy and affordable.

The reason that I love this portable library is because it’s a gift from a dear friend. This collection of sixty-six books is more relevant than today’s newspaper. And I find out more about my friend, my world, and myself when I access this wonderful assortment of literal history, prophecy, poetry, and some of the greatest stories ever written.

My friend is a best-selling author. He knows a thing or two about communicating effectively…you know, the whole handwriting on the wall thing, just to name one. He understands the power and permanence of the written word.

My friend is God. The “library” of which I speak is the Bible.

Writer friend, understand that there is a unique influence that has been entrusted to us. No, I’m not suggesting that our words are on par to inspired scripture, but I am saying that God has entrusted us with a powerful tool. We have the honor of learning from God’s Word, and then teaching the great lessons in story form. Lets just make sure we’re staying in His Word while we’re trying to carry out this incredible task.

What are you reading in the Bible this week?

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Oops!

Ever written something that didn’t quite communicate what you meant to say? Me too.

Enjoy the following bulletin announcements that I’m told actually appeared in church bulletins:

“Bertha Belch, a missionary from Africa, will be speaking tonight. Come and hear Bertha Belch all the way from Africa.”

“At the evening service, the sermon topic will be What is Hell? Come early and listen to the choir practice.”

“This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Johnson to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.”

“On Sunday a special collection will be taken to defray the expenses of the new carpet. All those wishing to do something on the new carpet, please come forward and get a piece of paper.”

“A bean supper will be held on Saturday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.”

“The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind, and they may be seen in the church basement on Friday afternoon.”

“Ladies, don’t forget the church rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don’t forget your husbands.”

“Barbara remains in the hospital, and needs blood donors for more transfusions. She is also having trouble sleeping and requests tapes of Pastor Jack’s sermons.”

After reading the above bloopers, I’m sure you agree that getting a fresh pair of eyes to view your writing is valuable. Do you have someone to read your “raw” Work-In-Progress and help you catch the bloopers that might be there?

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Writers and Spiritual Warfare (Part 2)

(see previous post for Part 1)

Our only weapon in the spiritual battle is the Word of God. Let’s be clear on that. The stories we write do not take the place of God’s living Word. In fact my stories are only effective if they are based on firm scriptural truth. I need to think of them as a “this is how God & His Word brings victory in place of defeat, light in place of darkness, life in place of death” applications of what God’s Word reveals.

So if you and I, as writers, are not feeding from the Bible, we have robbed our writing of its most powerful–life-giving–force. The kind that touches souls and not just emotions. And we are cutting our readers off from the only supply line that really matters.

So while we are well equipped for spiritual warfare, there is another great truth that we need to remember: we are not alone. Please re-read those last four words again. One more time–this time put “I” in place of “we”. Do you remember the last part of the quote from St. Francis de Sales that began Part 1 of these posts? It said:

…for without being seen, they [angels] are present with you.

We are not alone. We’re not alone when we pray for God to give, then bless story ideas. We’re not alone when we develop characters and story goals. We’re not alone when we bang out word after word after word, only to cut or replace many of them. We’re not alone when we stare at the blinking cursor on our screens and wonder if we even know what we’re doing anymore. We’re not alone when the story rushes out of our minds & souls like a flash-flood sweeping down a muddy mountainside. We’re not alone when we type “The End” or when we finish polishing that proposal and with trembling finger punch the Send button. We’re not alone during those tortuous weeks or months when no response plops down in our Inbox. We’re not alone when the rejections come. And we’re not alone when God says “Yes” and we sign a contract and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

WE ARE NOT ALONE! EVER! NOT FOR ONE SECOND…ONE WORD…ONE JOY OR SORROW.

God never abandons His troops. We are surrounded by a reality beyond the veil. Like the servant of Elisha, we need to know that the hills are filled with God’s mighty angelic warriors.

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Writers and Spiritual Warfare

Make yourself familiar with angels, and behold them frequently in spirit; for without being seen, they are present with you. (St. Francis de Sales)

The longer I walk the journey of discipleship I become more and more convinced that the call to write for God is a call to battle. This call to duty is not based on my value as a human being, but on the particular stewardship that God has entrusted to me: the stewardship of story. Every Christian has a place on the spiritual battlefield. All followers of Jesus are participants. There are no bleachers in which we can leisurely sit and chomp popcorn and drink the beverage of our choice. We are soldiers, not fans.

Every Christian is gifted…which is another way of saying that every Christian is equipped to take part in the warfare between light and darkness. There’s no sitting this one out. Stewardship brings responsibility.

I believe that my writing is a part of the battle. I want to show how God’s light can penetrate the darkness. I want to use the power of story to testify to how God’s power can reverse the curse. What an awesome privilege indeed! God can use our stories to bring victory in readers lives.

How do you think Christian fiction has helped you fight the spiritual battle in your life?

 

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Snoopy the Great American Author

Penelope Stokes, in a book called Complete Guide to Writing and Selling a Christian Novel, told about a Peanuts comic strip where Snoopy was chasing his dream of being an author. Snoopy is sitting atop his doghouse banging away on the keys of an old typewriter. When he finishes his story, the overjoyed beagle does a happy dance and the caption reads, “It’s a wonderful feeling when you know you’ve written something really good.”

Ever been there? You sit back in your chair and bask in the glow of a job well done. “That’s good,” you say to yourself. “Really good.” Snoopy danced on his doghouse; how do you celebrate?

If we could just bottle that moment, then take a sip when we needed inspiration. Or when we write something that’s…well, less than good. But it doesn’t work that way.

I hope, as writers, we never loss sight of the sheer joy of writing. Whether or not that story is ever read by anyone else or not. I’m convinced that when we stop relishing the incredible thrill that comes from writing, we begin to sink into a life of “duty” and not “joy.”

Isn’t being called by God to write enough to fuel our joy?

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Respect

The journey of being a novelist is often noted for its solitary confinement. We sit at our keyboards and attempt to give birth to a dream, a calling, a passion. We place words on a page like a painter carefully brushes colors across a canvas. It is hard work. And it is the kind of hard work that no one else can do for us. We have to write our stories.

There’s no graph in the front of any novel that charts the ups and downs the writer met during the writing of that book. And if we’ve done our job well, the reader will not think about the author when they’re nose is buried in the book and they are “in the story.” It is, after all, all about the story that God has given us to write.

One of the sources of encouragement that jolts us with bursts of energy is the opportunity to meet other writers who understand the journey. In other words, they’re as weird as we are. Some of these people are published authors, but many are still trying to get their foot in the door. I am blessed by them all in so many ways.

Friends like Joe Courtmanche, whose vibrant personality blesses me in countless ways. Joe has a blog www.commotioninthepews.com I encourage you to visit it and enjoy his wide-ranging posts. Joe is one of the most decent people I’ve ever met and I’m glad to count him as a friend. And I am confident that it won’t be long until you are reading one of his books. Another friend is Karl Bacon. Karl has written a book called An Eye For Glory. It’s an amazing book that captures a slice of time during the Civil War with characters that will grab your heart and open your eyes. Go get that book now….run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore, or download it in e-book form. You’ll be glad you did. I happen to know that he has a second book done, and hopefully it will soon be available for readers.

I mention these two good men because they represent the kinds of people who work hard to tell great stories. They, like the many great writers in Christian Fiction, are wonderful examples of giftedness expressed through humble spirits. There are others I could mention, like Deborah Raney and Nancy Mehl, who are great examples of humble stewards in the Lord’s service.

Writers, at least the ones I’ve met, are people who love their craft, love their readers, and–most importantly–love their Lord. I’m honored to know them.

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The Perfect Manuscript

A groom took his new bride by the hand. “Now that we’re married, dear…I hope you won’t mind if I mention a few little defects I’ve noticed about you.”

“Not at all,” the bride said. “it was those little defects that kept me from getting a better husband.”

Defects, snafus, imperfections, issues:  we’ve all got them. Some of us are loaded with them. And so are our manuscripts. Try as we might, we are unable to create the perfect manuscript. There will still be the overused words, muddled phrases, unneccessary speaker attributions, blurry POV issues, and on and on and on the list could go.

So what do we do about it?

We get fresh eyes to look over our work. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received was from an agent who told me to have a freelance editor look over my project before I submitted it to anyone. And that’s exactly what I did. In fact, I’ve done it for both books I’ve written so far on my writing journey. The experience was eye-opening and skin-thickening to say the least. And I loved it!

The editor’s red ink alerted me to mistakes that I hadn’t noticed before. I learned that I have a crazy fascination with the word “that.” And in my first manuscript at least, I had an allergy to contractions and an addiction to speaker attributions. Once I was made aware of these things I just slapped my forehead and said, “Of course!” And there were the other red-inked areas of concern that I didn’t know were defects at all. It truly was one of the most inspiring learning experiences ever.

Writer, relax in the knowledge that ALL writers produce imperfect manuscripts. Be humble, teachable, and respectful of the craft, and you will grow as a writer.

Having other people look at your work is essential. They will see things you missed, or were unwilling to cut. No, there is no perfect editor. They are giving you educated advice, but they can be wrong too. You may have to try a few to find one whose personality meshes with yours, or who has the ability to hear your “voice” and understand your intent. But it is worth the effort. (The dark side of this experience will be a topic for another post).

What mistakes do you make in your writing? Remember confession is good for the soul…or at least good for a laugh. And it helps other writers know that mistakes are just part of the journey. Share a comment about your writing weaknesses and “defects”. Thanks!

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