Monthly Archives: January 2013

Quality Never Goes Out Of Style

Great stories are timeless.

It doesn’t depend on genre, trends, or anything else. Great writing is great writing. Period. Quality doesn’t have a “use by” date. It continues to be used by God to reach new readers, years after its original publication date.

Isn’t that what we strive for as writers? Don’t we really want our stories to have long-lasting relevance? The potential for “timelessness” is one of the things that keeps me in love with writing.

As a preacher, I thrive on the preaching moment when I stand before a congregation and proclaim the Word of God. Preaching is a happening…an event. But the uniqueness of that experience is mostly a one-time thing. Recordings of sermons are great tools, but the dynamic isn’t the same. And I’ll repeat–so as NOT to allow room for anyone to suggest that I’m discounting preaching: I LOVE PREACHING. There’s an “aliveness” that surges through my soul when I’m preaching. I feel the same thrill about teaching. The church where I am privileged to serve means everything to me. I look forward to being with them each Sunday.

But there’s something different about writing. When I sit to write a story, I’m humbled anew at the vast potential that surrounds the words–potential to reach a vast number of readers, in various parts of the world, in different languages, even if they’re separated by years as well as other distinctions. And the digital revolution may just be making the potential even greater!

It’s the great “what if?” of possibility. And I can’t control much–if any–of it.

But I can have a direct influence on one thing: quality. I can refuse to settle for good writing and push myself for the best I can do, no matter where I’m at on the journey of writing. I can…I will…I must pursue excellence. That means I never stop learning the craft, because I respect it.

Because maybe, just maybe, my writing will change someone’s life. Even if it’s just mine.

 

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If A Fly Lost Its Wings…

If a fly lost its wings, would it be called a walk?

And if a writer isn’t busy writing, is he/she still a writer? Is being a writer based only on what a writer does? Or is there more to it?

The fact is a writer has to be able to wear many hats: author, editor, student, entrepreneur, marketer, salesperson, advertiser, ambassador, servant, Christian, and maybe spouse and/or parent. On top of that, many writers have day jobs!

So what makes a writer a writer?

In my humble opinion, I believe that if I’m engaged in any activity that furthers my competency or creativity as a writer, I am working as a writer. I may be banging away at the keyboard, reading another writer’s novel, studying a book on craft, attending a writers group, helping another writer, cleaning my desk, making the tough decision between milk or flavored coffee creamer, or doing an edit of my last chapter–just to name a few possibilities. Some of these activities may be more enjoyable than others, but they’re all part of the journey.

What do you think? What do you think determines if someone is a writer? What makes you feel like a writer?

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Discovering

For me, one of the most exhilarating experiences on my writing journey is discovering what I don’t know.

The respect of writing happens when we come to an understanding of how enormous the task is. Such awareness is liberating, not humiliating. It’s like wandering around in a huge mansion that contains room after room after room of surprises and discoveries. Each room is filled with opportunities to learn something. And I’m convinced that part of what it means to be created in God’s image is that we possess the unique ability to discover, reason, and learn in a given context. And each lesson learned is like a key that unlocks another door.

I don’t want to “just write,” I want to write with power and passion. I want to be a good steward of this calling. And good stewards are alert learners. They’re hungry and teachable.

Sometimes I learn from other writers or editors, and sometimes I learn from books on the craft/business of writing, and other times I just stumble my way into an “Aha!” moment.

While knowledge isn’t the a guarantee of skillful application, you can’t apply what you don’t know. But once you know it, you can grow it!

How man times do we cheat ourselves–and God–by not being humble enough to admit that we don’t know everything? Pride is a poor covering for ignorance. It really accomplishes nothing but self-deception. And deceived stewards can’t be good stewards.

I’m in the process of going back through my first book. Oddly enough, I can’t find the words to describe how empowering it is to look at the glaring weaknesses and be able to know that’s what they are! And then feel confident about how to fix them! It’s more than the thrill of discovery, it’s the thrill of creativity intelligently focused.

The balance to be maintained on the writer’s journey is between celebrating strength and recognizing weakness. If you know something now that you didn’t know before, than you have grown. And if you remember that there is much more yet to be learned, you can continue to grow in the future.

What has been a lesson you’ve learned as a writer in the last year?

 

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And the Winner is…”

On a great episode of The Andy Griffith Show (Season 2), a poor fella named Henry Bennett had been tagged with the reputation of being a jinx. Henry decided the only way to get on with his life was to leave Mayberry. In an attempt prove Henry wasn’t the cause of bad luck, Sheriff Andy Taylor decided to have a fixed raffle which was “guaranteed” to have only one outcome: the fella known as the Jinx would win the television set. It would prove his luck was changing.

Everyone would pull a number out of a hat–and all the slips of paper would have the same number–and when the “winning” number was called no one would answer, giving the Jinx the only opportunity to be the winner. But when the winning number was announced the Jinx didn’t respond. When asked if he had the winning number, he said, “No.” And he didn’t. His number was something like 4 7/8…he’d pulled out the tag that had the hat size!

Ever entered a writing contest and ended up feeling like you were left holding the tag with the hat size? It may leave you asking, “Why did I enter in the first place?” or “What’s the point of contests anyway?”

Good questions.

Contests should be seen as opportunities to grow as a writer. And if approached with the right mindset, they can be worth your time. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • For the most part, contest results don’t make you a writer. They aren’t meant to create writers, they’re meant to critique writing. If you take the results as an attack on you and your worth as a person, you’ve missed the point.
  • Sometimes the best way to win a contest is to have had lost it in the past. Sounds goofy, I know, but I really believe it. Many of us are more comfortable and confident entering a contest we’ve entered before. And–like the GENESIS contest sponsored by American Christian Fiction Writers–if the contest includes feedback from judges, that returned feedback can be priceless in helping you prepare for next go around. But, more importantly, you are learning as you go.
  • Contest results only have the power you decide to give them. It’s up to you to make the experience positive or negative (for you and others). How you respond to the outcome of a contest may reveal as much about you as it does about the quality of your writing. And I’m told that agents and editors notice stuff like that.
  • And lastly (mostly because I wanted to use the word “lastly” :)), contests were never meant to be ends in themselves. Our desire should be the grow as faithful–skillful–stewards of story. To the extent that participating in contests help us head in that direction, they are useful. But if all a writer ever does is become a professional contest enterer, then a great calling has been wasted.

There are other benefits, but since I’ve used the word “lastly” I’ll just ask you to share your opinions and experiences. How do you feel about contests? Have you learned to be a better writer because of a contest experience?

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Top 10 Ways to Serve God as a Writer

#10:  Make your writing a celebration of God’s love, not an attempt to earn it.

#9:  Stay amazed by the creative process in which God has allowed you to take part.

#8:  Realize that writing is a privilege not to be taken lightly.

#7:  Be diligent to keep yourself humble & teachable.

#6:  Approach writing as a ministry instead of a hobby.

#5:  Recognize the responsiblity that comes with being a “steward of story” who is entrusted with the power of words.

#4:  Take time to be a blessing to other writers.

#3:  Embrace contentment while pursuing excellence.

#2:  See Writing as an act of worship.

#1:  Know that, as a Christian Writer, you are involved in spiritual warfare. Believe YOUR writing can be a powerful weapon against the forces of darkness, a source of comfort and healing to the wounded, a line of encouragement and strength to other Christian soldiers, and can bring hope and victory to those who need to be freed from the power of the evil one.

 

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Out with the old

Recently I opened a file that contained the start of a novel. It was a project that I’d started several years ago. As I read through the first few pages, I could feel my stomach churning. Several pages later I was cramming Tums down my gullet like they were sweet tarts. A chapter further and I was fighting the dry heaves.

I was stunned that a human being could create something so terrible. I wanted to call 9-1-1 and turn myself in for something. There had to be a law somewhere that banned the writing of such terrible literature. I couldn’t look my James Scott Bell books on writing in the face.

It was a dark moment. Then a realization broke through the shameful gloominess and brought rays of affirmation: I’m not as bad anymore…I mean, my writing doesn’t stink as much now…wait, that’s not exactly what I’m trying to say…you probably understand. Right?

Seriously, I’m glad I put myself through the torture of reading my earliest attempt at novel-writing. It was a start…that counts for something. But more important, it wasn’t my last attempt. I’ve kept writing…learning…writing…learning…and I’ve proven to myself that this writing journey is about growing.

What have you learned from re-reading your first “baby-steps” as a writer? Are you better now than you were? In what ways?

Please take a minute to share the lessons you’ve learned and the ways you’ve been able to measure your growth as a writer.

 

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“Ode to Writer’s Block” or “How I almost became a Romance Writer”

After reading today’s “offering”, you may think I should be fitted for one of those wrap-around sweaters that tie in the back. Enjoy! Have a good laugh even.

“Ode to Writer’s Block” or “How I almost became a Romance Writer.”

I opened my laptop, and stared at the screen.

I glared at the cursor as it blinked back at me.

I swallowed some coffee and peered at the clock,

determined to get through this writer’s block.

I paced round the table, ran my hand through my hair,

rubbed hard on my temples, then plopped down in my chair.

“Eureka!” I hollered, “now I am on it…

I think all my heroine needs is a bonnet!”

But a rude awakening then smashed my glee

I don’t write Amish…and my book’s buggy-free.

I slapped my forehead, slumped back in my chair

as the “boys in the basement” chose to play solitaire.

“No! I won’t play…okay, maybe one round.”

Then back to the book, and that keyboard I’d pound.

Two hours later, I snapped out of my trance

and decided to switch from suspense to romance.

Yes…an epic love story sounded just like the ticket.

I’ll make readers swoon, and Oprah will pick it.

A hunky pen name–that’s what I need,

so from now on “Suede Beefcake” I’ll be.

I giggled profusely, pumped my fist in the air,

leapt to my feet, then jumped up on the chair.

I danced on the table, on my chest started drumming,

sure a best-seller soon would be coming.

I ripped off my shirt, then crowed like a rooster,

until someone said, “Can I help you, mister?”

Wouldn’t you know it…it was just my luck…

I’d completely forgotten I’d come to Starbucks!

People were staring…wide-eyed, mouths a gaping,

one had a camera and I’m sure she was taping.

Others were frozen…mid-sip or mid-scone…

I decided it was time for me to go home.

I cleared my throat, hopped down to the floor,

snatched up my laptop, and ran for the door,

yelling, “I know what you’re thinking, but I can explain.

I am writer…Suede Beefcake is my name!”

My career writing romance was brief and quite tense.

And now I have returned to writing suspense.

The highs and the lows…the struggles and fighting…

Oh, how I love this thing they call “writing!”

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A Chapter of Blessing

Call it a fellowship gathering, a support group, or a monthly injection of writing adrenaline, and you’d be right on the mark. The American Christian Fiction Writers Chapter that I am blessed to be a part of is all those things and more. Quite frankly, now that I’ve been a part of the South Central Kansas ACFW Chapter that meets in Wichita, Kansas, I can’t imagine my life as a writer without this group.

Last Thursday we went around the table and each writer spoke about the writing project that they were working on. I was blown away by the passion that was expressed by my fellow writers. They spoke openly about the joys and struggles that they faced. And I understood what they meant.

And on my hour-long drive home, I praised God for the group, and for the fact that He has entrusted us with the stewardship of story. We encourage each other along the journey.

If you are part of a writers group, I’d love to hear from you. I’d be thrilled to hear what you like the most…and about how important being a part of a group is to you.

And if you are a writer of Christian Fiction, and are interested in belonging to a group, ACFW has chapters all across the country. I promise you will not regret the time you spend with other writers. It may just take your writing to a higher level. And just as importantly, it could make you–the writer–a more fulfilled person too.

Fellowship has a way of doing that.

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“Leaning and Longing”

In his letter to Christians in Philippi, the Apostle Paul referred to his “desire to depart and be with Christ.” His fellow Apostle, Simon Peter, wrote of his eventual death as a departure and said, “the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent.” They both expressed a longing awareness that they would leave this life–as we all will–and travel to a place of eternal reward.

The Bible calls this place heaven. The Christian calls it home.

As a writer I recognize that my readers are on a journey. Many of them are longing for a place they’ve never seen with their physical eyes. They are believers. And there will also be readers who have let their longing for heaven fade. Additionally, there is always the chance that there could be readers who’ve never known the hope of heaven that comes with salvation. They long for something, but they’re not sure what…or where.

So I write with all of them in mind.

Its been said that we lean in the direction of our longings. If we desire something, we will pursue it. Some of my readers are leaning toward heaven…some are not. I want to encourage all of them along the journey. I have two main goals when it comes to my writing. My immediate goal is to write stories that engage and entertain. My ultimate goal is to connect readers with truth….life-changing, soul-stirring truth.

I thank God that He allows me the honor of using the power of story to carry out this task.

What are you longing for?

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Bad Book Ideas

Let me bounce a few book ideas off you. Let me know what you think, and feel free to share some of your own.

These first two were part of an article I wrote for The ACFW Journal.

I’m think of writing a book about Amish Vampires, and calling it Buggy Bites. Do you think that would be a book that readers could sink their teeth into?

Then there’s the story idea I have which revolves around the lives of old maids in a church sewing circle. I’m thinking of calling it The Jilted Quilters.

Then there’s the rather risky thriller about a group of Nuns who rob banks and are on the run from the law. Oh, it will be titled Bad Habits.

Next will be the contemporary fiction adventure about men who are in charge of snack food at a monastery. The working title for this sure to be best seller is The Chip Monks.

How about a book that puts the reader in a high seas experience? Yep, got that covered too. I’m secretly working on a story about elderly pirates. It’s going to be called Sunken Chests.

Then, for those who want a story with more Biblical relevance, I’m thinking of stepping into the non-fiction world with a devotional book for people who love Chinese food. The title of this masterpiece will be Wok Through The Bible.

And finally, I’m returning to the realm of fiction with a soul-searching book about an Austrian body-builder turned actor who secretly pursues his life-long passion to be a classical composer. This book will be called I’ll Be Bach.

Okay, your turn. Any thoughts? Book ideas?

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