About Karen Jordan

Karen Jordan encourages others to tell the stories that matter most as an author, speaker, writing instructor, and blogger at karenjordan.net. A native Texan, Karen now resides in Arkansas with her husband Dan, near their two children and seven grandchildren.

Encouraging Aspiring Writers

Photo/CCWCAs a freelance writer and writing instructor, I’m often asked to edit the work of my peers and of aspiring writers. And I love to encourage others to tell the stories that matter most.

Grammar cops. I also appreciate the editing skills of my writing peers, as they wield their red pens and hack on my “shoddy” first drafts. But at times, I observe grammar cops attack insecure, fragile writers, who approach them for encouragement as they tiptoe into the waters of writing for publication.

Now, I’ve been known to whip out my red pen from time to time, when someone asks me to do that kind of editing. But I try to use a little discernment and discretion when a novice writer approaches me with their work.

Aspiring writers. Sensitive, aspiring writers need our empathy, since they trust us with some of their most intimate tales. These newer writers pour out their hearts and souls into their first pieces; we need to handle them with care.

I’ve seen writers spanning from late teens to senior citizens. And I’ve noticed many of them choose topics dealing with difficult life struggles—the death of loved ones, flashbacks of war experiences, or simply leaving home and beginning their own journey as adults. I’m able to empathize with their pain, confusion, doubts, and fears. I recognize their need to tell their stories, trying to make sense out of the rumblings of their minds and troubled hearts.

Levels of edit. I believe it’s vital to discern the needs of a writer, not always assuming they need a grammar cop to attack their work with a red pen. My unsolicited grammar cop comments tend to cause more harm than good. I find it helpful to ask writers to clarify their needs and their expectations of me as an editor. What level of editing do they want?

I also think it’s important to examine one aspect of editing at a time, since I don’t do well at multi-tasking. And although many professional editors may have different terms to describe their levels of editing, my editing checklist for my own work includes three—the panoramic, macroscopic, and microscopic viewpoints. But sometimes, I consider one more level editing, especially with writers who need encouragement—like students, wannabe writers, or hobby writers (i.e. not professional writers).

Peer responses. Some professional writers may not even consider the peer response a valid level of editing, but it can serve as an important phase of the writing process. For instance, this approach might be helpful for some critique groups.

In the classroom, I required my students to participate in peer groups where they would listen and respond to each other’s work. I preferred small groups, where students seemed to be a little less intimidated. I wanted to encourage their writing, not scare them off.

I provided every student several copies of a peer response form. Then, as each writer read their essay out loud, their peers would listen, read along, and record their responses. After each reading, the group would discuss the responses.

One of my favorite writing professors, Dr. Sally Crisp, encouraged me as she taught aspiring writing teachers the value of emphasizing meaning.

I believe that we write to communicate and connect with others, often others we don’t know and may never know. In responding to writers, I like to let them know how their message got through to me. In other words, whether I ‘got it’ or I didn’t. I teach the same principle when I teach collaboration. The right kind of collaboration can be an excellent means of fostering in writers a keen sense of audience.

Dr. Crisp also composed a list of peer response questions and comments that you might find helpful, too.

Peer Responses

  1. How has the writer introduced the essay?
  2. What is the main theme of the essay?
  3. Is there any information that you are wondering about? What might be added to develop the main point more fully?
  4. How did the author conclude the essay?
  5. What part of the essay do you find the most effective? Why?
  6. Suggest two or three things that would make the paper even better.

Who has encouraged you as a writer? 

Staying on Course

Photo/KarenJordan

I failed to consider the length of the trail when I started walking it.

Temptations and expectations. I had hoped that a two-mile, brisk walk along a wooded path overlooking a beautiful golf course near my home would clear the cobweb of worry from my mind. 

Instead, my impulsive, adventuresome nature ignored the signpost, describing this four-mile loop through the challenging hills and valleys in Central Arkansas.

I knew the path would eventually lead me back to the trailhead. So, when I noticed the third mile marker, I decided to press on. I assumed that going forward would be faster than turning around and returning to where I started. Plus, after investing so much energy, I wanted to finish the course.

Confusion and distractions. I tried to determine my location on my cell phone’s GPS. But I couldn’t locate the trail on my screen, and the diverging paths confused me. So, I just kept walking.

I stopped from time to time to shoot a few pictures. These gave me some short breaks  from the summertime heat and rest for my throbbing feet, as I avoided the pesky bugs, spider webs, and poison ivy sprigs at the edge of the forest.

Photo/KarenJordanElation. By the end of the trail, my worries had  abandoned me, and the strain of the long walk through the woods subsided. Refreshed, I paused by the lake and enjoyed a bottle of cold water.

I also experienced a surge of self-confidence when I reached my destination. I knew that I wouldn’t have attempted such a feat in the summer heat if I’d known the length and difficulty of the trail.

Looking back on the experience, I realize that I’ve learned this lesson in other areas of my life—marriage, parenting, academics, and writing for publication.

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made … By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back … So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. (Phil. 3:12-15 MSG)

Are you tempted to quit right now!? I challenge you to focus on God and allow Him to guide you with His promises.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly … And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:15-17 MSG).

What helps you stay on track when you’re tempted to get off course?

YouTube/YamahaBill (Disney’s Hercules – “Go the Distance”)
Photos/KarenJordan

Overwhelmed by Your “To Do” List?

Photo/KarenJordan

“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it” (George Bernard Shaw).

Buried beneath a mountain of paperwork? Paralyzed by some impending deadlines? Dreaming of a week on the beach?

I considered a “real job” until I read the job description: “Ability to work independently and multitask.”

I love to work independently. But I tend to hyperfocus most of the time. And I struggle with multitasking all of the time. So, I passed on that job opportunity.

I’m not so sure multitasking works well for my daughter Tara, either. She seems frustrated at times when I call as she prepares dinner—holding a screaming baby, listening to a whining preschooler, dealing with two squabbling little boys, and talking on the phone, all at the same time.

I can’t even concentrate on my writing projects at times with dishes in the sink or a hamper of dirty laundry waiting on me. And if the phone rings, I lose focus completely. Then, when I start worrying about all the details of my life, writer’s block paralyzes me.

Revelation. I woke up early one morning overwhelmed with my “to do” list. So, I decided to take an early morning walk at sunrise.

As I walked down the street toward the lake, the view of the sunrise surprised me. And I forgot about all of my worries as I soaked in the beauty of the dawn. I tried to capture the moment with my camera.

After pausing a few minutes to admire the view, I continued my walk. Most mornings, I enjoy listening to the sounds of nature as I walk the trails near my home. But since I took another route to the lake, I decided to listen to my favorite radio station.

Imagine my delight as I encountered the lyrics to “Light Up the Sky” by the Afters: “You light up the sky to show me that you are with me ….”.

In an interview with cbn.com, Matt Fuqua, vocalist/guitarist for the Afters, says, “The story behind Light Up the Sky is a part of the story of all of us … [It’s] a picture of what it looks like when you make it through [a] really challenging time, and you look back and see how God was using all of those things for good and that you were never alone.”

Reflection. God drew my attention to the majesty of His creation as I observed the heavenly canopy of the sunrise reflected on Lake Cortez, glowing through the trees near my home the next morning.

Did God light up the sky to show me that He was with me?

I couldn’t deny it. He opened my eyes, and I could see evidence of His Presence all around me.


How has God revealed Himself to you?

Photo/KarenJordan
YouTube/theaftersvideos (“Light Up the Sky” by The Afters)

 

I Wish I Could Google God

Photo/KarenJordanIf only I could “google” God for answers to life’s problems. Then, I could just type a question and get one right answer—the Truth.

As a writer, I don’t always come up with the best questions to ask to find the solutions I need. And at times, I don’t know what to pray when I’m burdened by life challenges.

So, I wish I could enter a word or phrase into my Internet search engine, trusting that God would grant me the exact direction I needed.

As I share in my family’s struggle with their painful issues, I don’t even pretend to know how to help them manage their lives. How can I intercede for someone else, when I don’t know how to pray about my own problems?

Many days, I can’t even express the concerns of my heart. But I’ve discovered some powerful promises in the Bible that help me navigate through the turbulent waters of my worry life.

How can we find rest from our stressful lives?

… Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30 NLT)

 How can we know that God hears our prayers?

 And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. (1 John 5:15)

What if we don’t know what to pray?

 … the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. (Rom. 8:26-27)

What if you don’t believe that you can hear from God? God’s Word answers, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me … ” (John 10:25 NIV).

What are you worried about today? Philippians 4:6 encourages us, “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns” (MSG).

I still wrestle with how and what to pray at times. I am thankful for the recorded Word of God. It serves as a lifeboat that I can rely on when unexpected storms roll in, or when I need to pray for others who are drowning in their ocean of worries.

Father, we need you, but we don’t know what to say.
Thank You for Your Spirit, Who guides us when we pray.
Holy Spirit, intercede—You alone know our needs. Amen.

Will you share a promise from God’s Word that has helped you find direction?

Watch Your Words: A Mother’s Day Reflection from Nature

Photo/KarenJordan

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.  (James 1:9 NLT).

I glanced up the hill behind our home, and I had eye contact with a doe as she watched over her fawn. As I continued to water my wilting tomato plants on my wooden deck, the doe stepped closer to check my reaction to her movements.

I remained painfully still while watering my plants. Any sudden movement from me would have caused the doe and her fawn to scamper beyond my sight.

A few minutes later, I turned my head to redirect my hose toward another plant. When I looked back up, I saw the deer walking quietly away from me, grazing on the grass and plucking leaves from the low-hanging branches.

Without any words, I understood this message from nature, loud and clear, “We feel safe here if you don’t make any sudden moves to threaten us.”

Reality check. As I observed the doe and her fawn, I recalled a recent conflict with my daughter Tara, mother of five children.

How many times have I chased away my children with my impulsive words or quick temper? Too many to count.

Without outlining the nitty-gritty details of my personal life, I’ll “plead the Fifth Amendment” here—on the grounds that my answer may be self-humiliating.

Good word. So, I’ll just quote the wisdom of the Bible.

And now a word to you parents. Don’t keep on scolding and nagging your children, making them angry and resentful. Rather, bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord himself approves, with suggestions and godly advice. (Eph. 6:4 LB)

Am I cautious with my movements and reactions as I relate to my own children and grandchildren? I’m working on that one.

After I expressed my concerns and expectations to my daughter about a situation with one of her children, I regretted my hasty response and unsolicited advice. So, I offered a heartfelt apology, hoping and praying for her forgiveness. I realized that my emotional reactions often bring unintended consequences.

Reflection. Sometimes our silence speaks more clearly than our words. I know my voice can scare away an animal or bird, but sometimes I forget that just one inappropriate word can also repel a child, friend, or loved one.

We often use our written and spoken words to express our thoughts and feelings. But at times, we fail to guard our choice of words or listen to others. As a writer, I know the importance of editing my words. But often, I forget to consider the power of my spoken words, and I fail to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. (Jms. 1:9 NLT)

When the doe appeared in my backyard again, I knew to be quiet. Opening a squeaky door or stepping on the dry, parched leaves would propel her to run to a safer place with her fawn.

As I watched the doe scamper away with her young a few minutes later, I thanked God for the lessons He sends me in nature for my own family and for my writing life. I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for being exposed to His truth expressed in nature and in my everyday life. Then, I asked Him to help me release my children and all of my expectations once again.

What concerns and expectations do you hope to release to God? 

Embracing Your True Identity as a Writer

Photo/KarenJordanAs I watch my grandsons, Ethan and Zach, make silly faces dressed in their costumes, I realize how much I act like them.

At times, I pretend to be someone else, wearing a mask to disguise my true identity.

Masked crusaders. Zach and Ethan often pretend to be superheroes with superhuman powers, fighting against crime or evil. But even though they enjoy their make-believe world for a while, they soon shed their costumes. Bored with one adventure, they put on other outfits–such as pirate costumes–and search for a hidden treasure or sail off to conquer another ship. Later, they may be fully decked out in their new football or soccer uniforms.

True identity. As a writer, when I masquerade as somebody or something else, I tend to lose my focus on reality. And with this cover-up, I sometimes unintentionally deny my true identity.

I may be tempted to hide behind a cloak of self-confidence, trying to compensate for my weaknesses and failures. Or I try to put on another mask to temporarily gain acceptance and approval.

Self-deception. My self-deception always directs me down the wrong path, leading me down a new road. And I find myself in places that I never intended to go. When I choose an identity that God never expects me to wear, I make regrettable mistakes and commitments. And I focus on my faults, instead of my blessings.

I’ve tried on the masks of SuperMom, SuperNonnie, SuperWife, SuperTeacher, and even SuperWriter. And I’ve suffered from stress and burnout. Then, I feel like a SuperNobody. When I try to become any of those super-characters in my own strength–instead of depending upon God for direction and strength–I fail miserably.

As I continue my journey as a writer, I pray that I will embrace my true identity and remember who I really am “in Christ” (Eph. 1:3-14). As a Christ-follower, I am unconditionally accepted and loved by God because of what Christ did, not because of what I can do for Him or for others.

101031.gkids copyI also plan to model my faith and beliefs for my grandchildren, so they will also know when to put their masks and costumes away and discover their own identities “in Christ.”

What has helped you find your true identify as a writer?

Photos/KarenJordan

Frozen in Time: Writing and Healing

Photo/LeahSchultzHealing … is change from a singular self, frozen in time by a moment of unspeakable experience, to a more fluid, more narratively able, more socially integrated self. (Writing and Healing, Charles Anderson & Marian M. MacCurdy)

These words challenged my heart. Am I “frozen in time”?

The writing process helps me work through the painful trauma of my “unspeakable” experiences. It enables me to view my story from a more objective viewpoint, melting my frozen numbness, offering me hope beyond the icy boundaries of emotional bondage.

Helpful process. When I write about traumatic events, I often sense fear closing in on me like the twisted, frozen branches of a tree—wrapping its bone-chilling claws around me, choking the inspiration right out of me.

When I work on certain writing projects—like my book proposals—I freeze. I can’t control my thoughts, and chaos emerges, stealing my creative energy and organizational skills.

I try to forget some things for fear of stirring up painful memories, but they resurface when I least expect them. Often something unrelated triggers a memory—like a smell, a song, a picture, a person, or a place. Then, panic sets in again. And I freeze from the memory, unable to cope, until I regain control of my thoughts and reactions.

Healing narratives. Sometimes I‘m not sure how to begin composing my healing narratives. But I know the writing process will bring restoration. So I just start writing, even if I don’t know where the process will take me.

Do you fear writing certain projects? Are the stories too painful to consider? Do you fear the memories will trigger hidden emotional scars? Can we escape being “frozen in time”? Yes!

Hopeful vision. I long to write my stories without fear of a panic attack rooted in painful memories. But sometimes the writing process seems impossible. Luke 1:37 promises, “… nothing is impossible with God” (NLT).

I’ve observed the power of writing and healing as a writing instructor. Many students seem compelled, like I am, to write their own gut-wrenching narratives. And many of those writers come out of their secret hiding places, free from their emotional bondage. They experience change and healing—“to a more fluid, more narratively able, more socially integrated self.” And they begin to live new stories, delivered from their “frozen in time” memories.

As I write my healing narratives, I pray that I have the faith and courage to tell the stories that matter most and encourage others to experience the power of writing and healing.

What stories have you written that have brought healing to you and others?

Photo/LeahSchultz