About Jo Ann Fore

Jo Ann Fore is a popular blogger and the author of When A Woman Finds Her Voice: Overcoming Life’s Hurts & Using Your Story to Make a Difference. Jo Ann serves a powerful promise of hope to a woman’s heart, her encouraging words and coaching experiences helping many women transform broken lives into beautiful ones. Connect with Jo Ann online at www.JoAnnFore.com and @JoAnnFore.

Tell Your Story

Tell Your Story

Each year thousands of folks descend on the tiny town of Jonesborough, Tennessee, for the National Storytelling Festival. Tucked in these southern Appalachian hills, the International Storytelling Center hosts storytellers and attendees from throughout the country for exciting performances.

What New Orleans is to jazz… Jonesborough is to storytelling.
 Los Angeles Times

Watching this unfold for many years now, I’m seeing how the crowds gather, yes, for the exceptional story-telling, but I believe for more than that. More as in the exponential healing power that story holds.

There’s just something about story that somehow makes our lives better, easier to live.

As writers, we understand this, how the greatest stories of all time evolve from a raging internal conflict. As writers, we can also use this. I don’t mean “use” as in “cheapen,” I mean “use” as in put to good use, aligning with God’s purpose.

We live in a self-aware generation that craves authenticity and real connections with writers who are willing to share raw and real, willing to share the story of overcoming, yes, but also the backstory. Today’s generation wants real hope, seeded in Truth, from folks who have been there.

We can use our stories to make a difference.

I’m passionate about this, believing we’re part of a selfishly divine design. Our stories hold the potential to unlock hardened {or even hopeless} hearts, our personal experiences serving as a point of reference for others in similar places.

Consider the Israelites—an intimidating Jordan River standing between them and God’s future, the imposing waters (seemingly) blocking God’s promise. Remember how God successfully led Joshua and his people through those waters? We know this story because God called them to establish a memorial. He had them return to the trouble-spot {that very place they thought they would never endure} to gather twelve stones to mark the occasion of His divine deliverance. These twelve stones served as an invitation for a future generation {including us}.

“In the future, when you are asked, ‘what does this mean?’ God said, “tell them the story (Joshua 4).”

He meant the whole story. The storyteller was required to be careful and exact. To share the intricate details and not change one single word. The Israelites story of deliverance began in back-breaking bondage as slaves to the Egyptians. The oppression was as much a part of their story as the victory, the pain as important as the healing, and God wanted their children, and their children’s children, and all future generations to know that.

Will we do this, ground our legacies through the power of authentic story?

Oh, that our epitaph would read what was said of King David. “David served God’s purpose in his own generation, then he died (Acts 13:36 ESV).” Yes, God has a purpose. And I pray that by the time I arrive at my grave I’ve lived out mine, that you will have lived out yours, and the same can be written about us.

Everyone has a story. It’s time to tell yours.

Deeper Still: Do you ever feel stuck in the “in-between”? This stalled out place somewhere between the joy of using your story to make a difference and the daily to-do’s of parenting, a busy career, or even a fear of failure? What is one step you can take today to move you closer to using your story?

(Photo: Shanyn Silinski)

Will It Ever be Enough?

worried head

I love the turn of the year; it’s one of my favorite times. There’s just something that happens when a fresh hope stirs the air. And, yes, in this season of countless commitments for less of this and more of that, I’ll admit I’ve shared more than a few words with myself about change. Not resolutions per se but rather affirmations, things I choose to think about in a positive manner in the hopes of moving in that direction.

Some of those have to do with folks finding my book. I shared recently how my publishing dream quickly turned to a real-life marketing responsibility after the book was released. My dream morphed into a product—a product that competed with many others for incredibly scarce bookshelf space and reader eyes. And while I was passionate about sharing the hope of God’s truths tucked between my words, I knew well that readers sense motive and I felt {more than} a little funny chasing numbers and progress.

Until my days of interviews and Facebook parties and twitter chats turned to nights of laryngitis and pneumonia and cancelled engagements and disillusionment because I could no longer directly engage my audience.

You see, as newly published authors there’s this window of opportunity to which we respond in launching our books, this newness that either ignites and spreads like wildfire or burns a quick blaze and dies out. And sometimes, in an effort to fan the flame, we new authors nurture this mind-numbing over-fixation to be everywhere at once so we can personally touch each one of our readers.

Will it ever be enough?

I imagine it’s not too far from how the disciples felt that day they walked alongside Jesus by the lake in the country, that day they found themselves responsible for a crowd of hungry mouths yet held only five small loaves of bread and two fish. {Remember the miraculous story in the gospels of Jesus feeding five thousand folks?}

“We have here only five loaves and two fish,” they said.

Will it ever be enough?

“Bring them here to me,” Jesus said.

That’s when we watch the miracle unfold, when we see Jesus take what they had, bless it, and return it to the disciples so that they could do what needed to be done.

I’m learning this the hard way, how God blesses what we bring to him, shares what we offer through him. I will never have enough, never be able to be everywhere I need to be {for countless reasons} but Jesus takes what we’re willing to bring him, blessing and multiplying it.

Walking this marketing journey, sometimes I forget that. After several weeks of an unexpected illness, I’m now back out there sharing the word about my book with my intended audience. As far as those weeks I missed that couldn’t be helped, I’m earnestly praying that God will multiply my loaves and fishes.

Deeper Still: How about you? Do you ever struggle with the need to be in control? What do you do when things don’t go as planned?

My Book is Published, Now What?

culture of numbers

These words, they urged me to somehow live them.

Since my small hand cupped my first #2, painted-yellow pencil, I’ve experienced life through story. Stories to entertain me, yes, but my mind also craved stories that taught life lessons (although I couldn’t comprehend or articulate that at five years of age.)

There’s something about story that somehow makes our lives better, easy to live.

It seems only natural that after (way too) many years of traipsing across the country in various marketing positions, I became a storyteller myself.

Matthew West is responsible. Well, somewhat—he did play an important role. About four years ago, Matthew released this song that flat messed me up. The song, The Motions, was about how we oftentimes live this complacent, ordinary life, how we fall into these stale daily routines unaware.

The song uncovered some stalled dreams, desires I had long ago tucked away.

For months, those dreams were stirred fresh. Seems each time I dropped into the driver’s seat and clicked on the radio, I heard, “just okay is not enough,” and “I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking, ‘What if I had given everything instead of going through the motions?’”

So that’s how I spend my days now—giving “everything I have.” As a blogger and author, I share heart-stories that bring hope to women when their days are hard. Don’t we all have those hard days?

And that stalled dream, the one of crafting a traditionally published book that would make its way into the tender hearts of other women, it recently became a reality. About six weeks ago, When A Woman Finds Her Voice: Overcoming Life’s Hurts & Using Your Story to Make a Difference was released.

We shot streamers, and I won’t hide it, we shed a few joyful tears.

But then, reality.

Within a couple of days a very real responsibility leaned in, one of partnering with the publisher to now sell thousands of these books. And gut-honest here, I’m tired, because I’ve just spent the last six months sacrificing many nights and family events to pen this book. And while the book is packed with hope, it wasn’t an easy write.

There are those times a cord of hope runs a scarlet red.

Now I love painting hope thick, and I’m a connector who loves meeting women far and wide, but to feel the weight of sharing a book that I authored with others, and to (over and over again) suggest they purchase it? Not so much.

Soon I fell into conversation with a wise and trusted friend (who also happens to be a best-selling author), and we uncovered my true heart to market this book.

Serve the reader.

Yes, that’s right, serve, not manipulate. In a world of hype among thousands of new books released every year and a responsibility to a publisher who risked a partnership with me, my goal is to find my reader and serve her. To engage heart-to-heart with love, support, prayer, and encouragement. To be a trusted resource.To put her first.

From that sincere offering of mine, she can decide if she wants more of my hope-filled words.

There’s this awesome conference for bloggers, Allume, and recently I sat alongside hundreds of other storytellers as Ann Voskamp brought the room to a pondering silence when she posed the question, “In a culture of numbers, how do you kneel?”

This is it for me; this is how I’m learning to kneel. I’m feeding this desire, nurturing and cultivating this servant-heart in the hopes it will defeat the anxious fingers that numbers tempt.

How about you? Who is your reader, and what are some specific ways you can serve them?

When Writers Face a Constant Climb

Photo by Anna Langova

Photo by Anna Langova

Sandstone boulders and harnesses and ropes, not really what I had envisioned when the new guy picked me up and we headed out for the afternoon—our first date together.

Girlie-girl me had somehow landed in a ragtop Jeep headed for some serious rock-climbing. Or so Mr. New Guy thought—what actually happened was girlie-girl watched some cute guy scale the side of a cliff, up, down, and sideways.

But getting to the top wasn’t his end-all plan. He seemed most challenged {and the proudest} when he slipped and then recovered. The catch and the readjustment seemed just as exciting to him as the time he stood at the top and waved high from the completed climb.

It’s been a few years since I sat in that ragtop and watched that guy climb. Seems I was about as interested in him as I was in climbing those rocks myself.

Why would we pull ourselves up the sheer face of something just so we can?

We do it more than we think, though, us writers. This writing for publication can be slow and hard. I have a {very thick} notebook full of rejections to prove it. Countless queries I thought would please never flew, never left their cage. And I mourned their loss. Made untold threats to quit, to lay down my pen.

Doubt can eclipse a budding hope if we allow.

But finally came my first assignment: a book review. I landed a column as a book reviewer, and my name held a place on a website that traveled the world. No matter there was no pay, I was writing. And I simply had to write.

Funny thing, though: that column landed me my first paid gig as a columnist for an established online magazine. With pay. This I celebrated. I framed a copy of the paycheck and then headed to my local electronics stores and nabbed a digital camera I’d had my eyes on for months.

From there, I secured an interview with a leading Christian author and sold that query to an international publication, and that one article led to contacts with other magazines and freelancing for the next few years. Meanwhile, my notebook of rejections grew thicker. Another brilliant idea shelved. Another dedicated period of grief. Another resolution to pack it up, find something else to do with my time.

Why do we allow fear and hurt to cloud our hope? To stall our dreams?

Looking back I realize that much like my rock-climbing friend from earlier years, my greatest sense of accomplishment came from those very moments I slipped, those critical steps I took to recover. I made my way to a writer’s conference where I could improve my craft, which led to securing an agent, which eventually led to a book contract, and that led me to my debut book. But there’s so much more to come. And to get there, I have to be willing to slide sideways when my quickdraws don’t connect just right, ready to race ahead when the space opens wide, or even to fall with grace when the fall comes {and they always come}.

There’s something that happens when we surrender to the process, when we climb for the sheer sake of the climb. I’m learning there is no end. If my sole focus was waving high from the top, I imagine I may be disappointed should I ever stand there. It’s been said before in countless ways, but in the life of a writer I’ve experienced it true, “the journey is the reward.”

Deeper Still: What setbacks have you faced on your writing journey? What readjustments have you made, or do you need to make in order to continue the climb?

 

Why Do You Want to Write a Book?

voice matters2I love words. Slices of words on my tongue satisfy me like a sweet, icy watermelon on a sweaty July day. Whether I twist those words into colorful quotes, mash a couple of them together to create my own new word, or string just enough of them into countless paragraphs that eventually produce a book, I. Love. Words.

It took me a few years to realize I’m different that way—not everyone shares my passion. Few people consider their office or library a haven like I do, a place of refuge where shelves of categorically arranged books permeate the air with the faint mist of paper and ink.

Chances are, you’re somewhat similar to me. Yes, I suspect I’m in good company as I share today with you. We writers with lofty dreams, we have a way of finding each other. As an often insecure tribe who spends the majority of our days writing and waiting, vacillating between confidence and fear, we need the support of each other on this sometimes lonely and highly competitive journey.

It’s not new news: the publishing industry is shrinking. Larger publishers have nabbed smaller ones, and some have simply closed their doors. E-readers have reshaped the way consumers think about, and purchase, books. As a result, today’s publisher tends to seek new authors with the lowest risk.

Here’s the good news: God is bigger than statistics.

Publishers still need new authors; I imagine publishers will always want a well-rounded catalog of books to offer booksellers. While, yes, the best-selling authors sometimes carry the majority of sales, booksellers are usually on the lookout for “What’s new?”

This newness, though? I’ve discovered it costs us. Many hours of learning the industry, honing the craft, and most importantly, uncovering our unique voices.

Only you can determine if it’s worth the sacrifice; it’s the same choice I recently had to make. You see, I have a book releasing in a couple of weeks, When A Woman Finds Her Voice, and I wrote this book during a very difficult season. Many days, the morning sun rose right over the rim of my keyboard. In the only quiet time available to me, I would tuck away most of the night pleading for this heart-message to come. {I write about sensitive topics that today’s Christian women face, and that requires an unwavering authenticity that for me can only come in the stillness.}

I wonder what you’re willing to invest. The time it takes to pen the words—even if the book never sells? The sacrifice of certain relationships that might be put on hold while you pursue your dream? Your own reputation ?

Your turn: Why this book? Why are you willing to give this slice of time and energy? Is the investment worth it to you? I’d love to hear why!

When Fear and Doubt Keep You From Your Dreams

who told you that

You’re a silly little idealist; you’re not smart enough to do something like that.

There it was again, the dream-killer—haunting my thoughts, pushing down my hopes.

You’re doing it wrong, you know. Why don’t you quit now before you embarrass yourself?

Since I was a young teen, I dreamed of crafting words of hope and encouragement that would change the world. But I’m not the only one. Many of us want to be authors, writers who make a difference.

The dreaming is easy. It’s the pursuit that’s hard—harder still when the voice of lies sacrifices our dreams. If you don’t try, you can’t fail.

God accomplishes his will on earth through truth;

Satan accomplishes his purposes through lies.

Warren W. Wiersbe

This fatal falling for lies was modeled for us long ago in a beautiful garden where Eve was tricked, deceived.

Eve—the first woman, first wife, first mother, and the first one of us to fall for an ugly lie. That day Satan met Eve in the garden, he brought a convincing argument—one intended to lead her, and any of us who would follow, away from God’s truth.

I mean, really—the woman was in a beautiful, perfect environment with the perfect man. I can’t think of anything more satisfying than a clean house and a great husband who loves you. Eve had both. Not to mention that there wasn’t another woman alive to compare herself with. Truly heaven on earth.

Yet Satan found a way to convince her she deserved more. That somehow she didn’t measure up and God was holding out on her. If we aren’t careful, we allow these triggered-by-others insecurities to rewrite our life stories, to shape our lives so negatively that we lose direction.

Our mind is the control center of our lives,
and Satan wants control.

Consider the impact that someone else’s opinion had not just on Eve, but also her husband. After the famed fruit-sharing, Adam was quick to lay blame and excuse away his actions, “I was afraid . . . I was naked and I hid.”

Who told you that?” God asked.

I just love the question. God well knew the source of their shackling guilt, but I believe he wanted them to consider that someone else, a shrewd and conniving Enemy, had influenced their beliefs. The winds of accountability fell fresh among the trees in the garden that night.

That same wind stirs now as God asks us the same thing, “Who told you that?”

Who told you that you are doing it wrong?

That you aren’t good enough?

That what you say doesn’t matter?

No matter the messenger, we must wrest ourselves from these grips of doubt and fear that keep us from our God-sized dreams.

Let’s reclaim those stalled dreams. When these negative thoughts start rolling around in our heads, let’s smash these warped lies, reframe them with truth by reminding ourselves what God thinks about us.

When I’m stuck, when I need to redirect my thoughts, I use a simple question: Is there another way to think about this? 

As an example, what if I’ve jumped to a conclusion {which I tend to do}, and fallen into the mental trap that people won’t listen to me, may even consider me dumb? Without facts to support this assumption, I interpret the situation negatively, anticipating the worst. But I can reframe this thought with 1 Cor. 1:30 that says, “God himself gives me wisdom.”

God. himself. gives. me. wisdom.

Funny; Satan was right. I’m not smart enough to do this. When I write, it’s often bigger than me, smarter than me. That’s the sort of thing God does when we follow our dreams, depend on Him.

How about you: What lie are you believing that’s interfering with your dreams, even now?

A Writer’s Flash-Point

Life is packed with flash-points, moments of ignition, moments when something contagious is sparked.

A few years back as a freelance writer for national and international magazines, I nurtured an until-then-dormant desire in the recesses of my heart: I wanted to write a book. I had no idea what book, but it sure sounded glamorous. Jo Ann Fore – Author.

I envisioned days penning words in a secluded cabin surrounded by soaring mountains and pristine lake waters—which would lead to countless fans, best-seller lists, and media engagements, of course.

My fantasy lived a number of quiet years before I joined the ranks of thousands of others who had made writing a book an official goal. I was proud of my fearless move. I did it. I set the goal! That much closer to authorhood.

Funny thing though, verbalizing that goal always led to the inevitable question: What are you writing?

What am I writing? (Flashpoint One.)

I really didn’t know.  All I knew was someday I was going to write a book. I had dreamed of writing a book probably since I held my first crayon.  But, someday.  Someday when I had more time, when my daughter was grown, when life wasn’t so hectic.

My husband, Matt, taught me a valuable lesson about the word “someday.” When he and I dated, I was extremely commitment-shy after having escaped a not-so-great (okay, horrific) marriage. Today Matt and I joke about the countless pre-proposals he tossed out before he got to the real one. Consistently he asked, “Will you marry me?” This both warmed my heart and petrified me. Feeling a bit bi-polar each time he asked, I simply smiled and said, “Someday.”

Until the day Matt called me out. “Maybe you dangle it just far enough out of reach to avoid the reality. There’s really nothing intentional about the word someday.”

Once he was serious about his proposal, he let me know that “someday” was going to have to move to a set date. We just celebrated our seventh anniversary. If I kept saying “someday” I may have lost this amazing husband.

I was unknowingly sabotaging one of my greatest desires. (Flashpoint Two.) And now, I was doing the same thing with my aspirations to write a book.

It was time to drill this thing down. What am I writing? I want to help hurting women. I want to offer lasting hope and practical application. So, what is my message?

Once I articulated that, I could move forward. After I settled the premise of my work I was ready to write. (Flashpoint Three.) That was the day the book became more than a dream, more than a goal. It became an intentional laser-focused choice.

Along these lines, Huffington Post’s Complete Guide to Blogging offers a great exercise we can use to nail down the focus of our book: “What is your point? How would you explain your point to a batty, slightly deaf relative in one sentence? Write that sentence down. This is the gist of your piece.”

I would love to see your answers in the comments section below.