About Kariss Lynch

Kariss Lynch writes contemporary fiction about characters with big dreams, hearts for adventure, and enduring hope. Shaken, her first book in the Heart of a Warrior series, released in February 2014. A former freelance writer, she now works as the writer for the communications ministry at a church in Dallas.

Working with an Editor

Kariss manuscriptsThey say that all good things must come to an end. Sadly, the same holds true in writing. As you turn your manuscript in to the publisher, you abdicate your position as ruler of your own fictional kingdom in favor of an advisor who tells you all the wonderful things you did wrong and how you can fix them. (For example, my editor would have asked me who “they” is in that opening line.)

But this “bad” thing doesn’t actually have to be bad. In fact, think of it as iron sharpening iron. Who knows your story and characters better than you? And who better to help you improve than an unbiased person who likes to read and knows a whole lot about writing and how to craft a story?

I am by no means an expert, but as I edit my second book, I realize how much I learned while editing Shaken. As you prepare your book for the editing process, here are some ways to prepare yourself, as well.

1. Check your pride at the door.

First of all, realize your editor is there to HELP you, not hurt you. Don’t take it personally. I thought I understood that, but I didn’t really grasp it until I received my first round of notes. Then my pride took a nose dive and shattered in a very ugly pile around my feet. This process is meant to refine both you and your story. I tend to write in a steady stream of consciousness, wrapped up in my story world. It takes someone looking at it from the outside to show me where the issues are and help me to change them.

2. Kill your darlings.

In Texas, we call this “killin’ your darlin’.” Your editor believes in your story, too, or they wouldn’t spend countless hours helping you. They want to make it better, but sometimes that means cutting important characters or scenes you love. This is the part I hated in the editing process.

It is challenging to dig into your story, delete scenes, and create new ones where you originally imagined something different. There were times my editor suggested a line of copy or dialogue that made me cringe, not because she wasn’t right, but because it wasn’t in the exact voice my character would have said it. Here’s where camaraderie came into effect. She could see the holes. I could keep the story true. We made a great team. Killing my darlings made my story stronger.

3. Fight for your story.

This may seem to contradict the previous point, but trust me, it doesn’t. Like I’ve said before, NO ONE knows your story or characters better than you. Here’s where discernment comes into play. At the beginning of the editing process, my editor asked me to cut several characters. No matter how much I played with this request, something didn’t sit right. So I fought for these characters, explained the role they would play in future books, and stood my ground. I knew keeping them would benefit the story. Once I explained their importance (and not just my emotional attachment), my editor listened and immediately replied with ways I could make these characters even stronger than what I had in mind.

It turns out that the characters I fought to keep have been some of the favorites for readers. If you know in your gut something needs to stay, fight for it. Just make sure to check your emotional attachment at the door and identify exactly why this piece adds to the story.

So, take what I’ve learned. Add your own insight. And I’ll add to the list after I finish this round of edits. I never want to be a bratty author who says I know best. I do want to collaborate. Yes, I know my story, but I need people who will help me make it better. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities. Bring on the next challenge.

What lessons have you learned while working with your editor?

Travel to Write, Write to Travel

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” St. Augustine

I’m an Irish girl, both by heart and by blood. As a teenager, I remember dreaming of visiting Ireland and Scotland and seeing the hallowed halls of my ancestors’ castles. The idea is more romanticized than real – the Lynch castle in Ireland is now a bank and the Chisholm castle in Scotland is a renovated weekend getaway.

Kariss - IrelandAs a kid, I loved studying the old folk tales, imaginative stories of the tricks and heroism of the wee folk. I grew up on a steady dose of faith and fairy tales. One nursed my convictions, the other my creativity. Three years ago, my dream came true. I spent three weeks on the British Isles. I didn’t see any of the wee folk, though I walked through the fairy gardens at Blarney Castle.

But this rainy tour wasn’t the beginning of my adventures. The travel bug bit me in middle school, and since then I’ve tried to visit new states and new countries, fascinated by the culture. Nothing stimulates my creative side more than exploring new sights, scents, and scenery.

Over the years, I’ve learned this serves me in my writing. All the sensory details, the tiny quirks, the cultural differences influence my settings and characters. I’m learning to identify different textures, not just what they look like but how they feel. I identify different scents with different people and memories. Color takes on vibrancy all its own, enhancing character features, scenery, and what the character experiences.

My travel stimulation reached new heights when I visited Haiti a couple of years ago. I had written and finished my first book, Shaken, which is partially set in Haiti around the time of the earthquake. I researched, talked to those who experienced the earthquake and those who visited before and after, and watched documentaries and the news. But when I finally had the chance to experience this tiny island for myself, I walked away changed with a perspective that enhanced the editing of Shaken.

Kariss - HaitiI remember the stifling humidity and heat as I stepped off the plane. Haitian men stood waiting in the small hangar where they tried to take our luggage off the conveyor belt and then quickly exit to the street as we chased them, hoping we would pay them to get our luggage back. While corralling our luggage was a challenge, I silently cheered their ingenuity and resourcefulness in a poverty-ridden city.

I caught my first glimpse of Port-au-Prince as I hopped in the back of a pick-up and gripped the seat as we played chicken on a two-lane highway, winding past people walking less than two feet from the side of the road. An old man bathed in plain view. Women balanced enormous baskets or jugs on their heads as their daughters trailed behind them with smaller cargo. The air reeked of garbage and burning plastic. Plastic bags that used to hold water littered the street.

Kids ran past in oversized American hand-me-down clothes or no clothes at all. Buses called tap-taps, that looked like a skittle pack blew up, wove in and out of traffic, people hanging onto the back of the cab. The people are down-to-earth and friendly. Those that work, work hard, and the kids are curious and intelligent.

ShakenWhile travel shows me the differences in this wide world, it also shows me the similarities. I noticed that the cement block homes on this tiny island resembled the colored homes in Ireland. I learned that cultures are not as different as we think, that people are people, no matter where you go. I learned to look at the human condition, the driving motivations behind actions, the heart, the hurt, the dreams.

Travel shapes my writing. Haiti certainly shaped Shaken, and adventures I had years ago in Ukraine shaped a few scenes in Shadowed, book two in the Heart of a Warrior series.

So, let the travel bug bite hard, and choose one new city, state, or country to visit each year. What places, people groups, or cultures have influenced your stories?

Writing is a Team Sport

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As I write this, the Olympics are in full swing, and I don’t know about you, but I am glued to my television every night, cheering on Team USA.

I am blown away by the dedication of these athletes. As I watch them compete, I see similarities in their job and mine, in their passion and in my passion. And of course as a writer, I see an analogy in EVERYTHING. So here are my take-aways from the Olympics:

1. Identify your team.

Kariss' teamWhat strikes me about so many of these Olympic events is that they are solo endeavors, meaning the athlete competes alone and is scored individually, even though they are part of a larger team for his/her particular discipline and country. But regardless of the individual scoring, each athlete also has a support system, usually consisting of coaches, trainers, and family and friends. Writing so often feels like an isolated career. Unless I sit down and place my fingers on the keyboard, it doesn’t happen. A month before my first book, Shaken, released, I panicked. I needed help, but not with the writing. I have a great publisher, editor, and agent, but I needed a local team. In January, I invited a group of my friends to participate with me in the dreaming and execution. I call them my “Creative Brain Trust.” And, man, did they have ideas. They are the reason for all the buzz leading up to release day. They not only encouraged, but jumped in to help.

2. Have the courage to share your passion.

One thing I LOVE about watching these incredible athletes is the pure joy they feel in participating in and sharing their sport with the watching world. Writing is a vulnerable career. We splash our hearts and thoughts across bound pages and put it into the hands of those who can criticize. That is the beauty and the struggle of art. These athletes are no different. There is something beautiful about watching a snowboarder catapult in the air on a jump, stick the landing, and grin from ear-to-ear as they coast to a stop. What a rush! Move past the possibility of criticism and fear of what people think. Find the joy in writing, and be unafraid to share that with others.

3. Dedication and training pay off.

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What is your Olympic moment? What are you training for? For a couple of years, I wondered if my training would pay off. I flew to out-of-state conferences, bought training books, took classes, spent money on professional editing, joined associations. It didn’t seem to lead anywhere. But my Olympic moment just came February 4 with the release of Shaken, book one in the Heart of a Warrior series. I look back and see all the training and dedication coming down to this one moment. And I’m not done yet. I’m gearing up for my next Olympic moment next winter with the release of Shadowed. In the meantime, back to training.

4. Be innovative and take risks.

I heard a snowboarder from Canada say that his sport is always changing. In order to succeed and stay on top, he has to be willing to change with it. But change in itself isn’t enough. He has to be willing to blaze the trail for new tricks, new techniques, and new skill. That’s what I love about writing. It’s fluid. Though the rules are specific, they allow for personal style. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of this field and make it your own. There is value in following the rules of the market, but there is also value in standing apart. Find the balance. I’m still learning what this looks like, but I relish the challenge.

5. Celebrate the victories.

Whether or not they win a medal, at the end of the day these athletes are Olympians, and so many of them celebrate that fact alone. I loved watching a first time cross-country skier celebrate eighth place because it was a personal best for her. She even talked about where she could be four years from now in the next winter Olympics.

At the end of the day, you are a writer. Celebrate the success and release of your work. Take a break and rest. Then get back on the horse and crank out something even better for your next Olympics. You have accomplished something great. Now, set your sights on something greater.

What lessons are you learning during the Olympics? What would you add to this list? Happy writing, and Go USA!

Finding Your Place

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 9.35.24 AMFrom an early age, we seek a purpose and earn an identity. No matter the person or age, there is a deep yearning in all of our hearts to matter, to do something with our lives, something bigger than us, something of eternal significance. It’s what we constantly strive for.

Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of young singles about finding their place. Initially, I balked at the idea. I definitely am not an expert, nor do I have all the answers. But I have a direction and I’m moving toward that end. I don’t control the outcomes, but I do control my commitment.

So I shared my story because it is the one area of my life where I am an expert (well…sometimes). If you desire to find your place/purpose in life, in writing, or in your career, here are a few pointers that have shaped my journey:

1) Start somewhere.

Realize that how God has wired you is perfect. Because you are an image-bearer, you are created uniquely with an ability to create, think, and impact. Don’t forfeit that! What do you need to do to reach your goal? Determine a course of action and take one step at a time.

I’ve heard an analogy of a person standing on a frozen lake with the thing they most desire waiting on the other side, but the person doesn’t realize that the ice is already cracking all around them. Their only option is to take one small, steady step at a time to reach their goal. You may have to avoid or change course because of cracks or weak spots, but forward movement will ALWAYS get you to the other side.

2) Allow experience to shape you.

Failure is inevitable. It’s how you weather it that counts. I received twelve grad school rejection letters before I identified the direction I needed to take. At first I cried with every closed-door. Before the last letter arrived, I began to ask the Lord, “What’s next?” Every moment of victory or defeat gives you an opportunity to speak into others’ struggles later on. Allow them to shape your character, your giftedness, and your calling.

3) Discover your giftings.

Every day when I wake up, I must choose to look at who I am in light of the great I AM. And He has gifted me uniquely, just like He has gifted you uniquely. Know who you are and how He’s wired you. Take personality tests, love language tests, StrengthsFinder, and a spiritual gifts test. Not only will they help you understand your tendencies, but these tests will help you shape well-rounded characters, as well. As you seek direction and dig into your talents and skills, ask yourself:

  • What breaks my heart and baffles my mind?
  • What stirs my affections for Christ?
  • What passions and gifts has the Lord instilled in me?
  • How and where can I use these for His glory?
  • What’s my purpose?

Where the answers intersect, take action and develop those skills and passions.

4) Be faithful where you are.

Don’t miss the opportunities you currently have around you as you pursue whatphoto copy God has called you to. William Arthur Ward said, “There are three keys to more abundant living: caring about others, daring for others, and sharing with others.” As a writer, your goal should be to care about people around you and allow that to shape how you care about your readers during the writing process. Budget time for writing and reading. And take time to live life in the company of those around you. It will improve your writing and help you make the most of every opportunity.

Finding our place in life has more to do with seeking His face than seeking our dreams. Start somewhere, allow experience to shape you, discover your giftings, and be faithful where you are until God moves you to the next step. Be faithful to steward your time, talents, and treasure, and expect big things to happen!

What steps have shaped your writing journey?

You’ve Been “Notebooked”

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Have you ever read or watched a scene that gave you chills? The guy says all the right things, the girl responds accordingly, and the scene ends in an epic kiss that you feel down to your toes because you know that these two are meant for each other.

Those are the kind of scenes I like to write. And I’m still learning. Several years ago, I would have laughed at anyone who told me I would write romance. Don’t get me wrong…I’m definitely a romantic, but I’m more of a closet romantic who only expresses it if the situation allows. As I write, I’m learning to tap into that closet romantic side of myself. To do so, it helps to understand why people love the romantic pop culture hits.

Let’s face it: You can’t talk pop culture romance without talking The Notebook.

People mock it. Chicks dig it. He’s hot, and she’s girl next door gorgeous. Guys groan when their girlfriends “Notebook” them. But there’s a reason that The Notebook and other movies based on Nicholas Sparks’ books do so well. If you can move past your bias, you’ll identify the attracting factor.

It’s all about love. Those are the moments in the movie/book most remembered and most quoted. Think about it. You remember what Noah said to Ally. You remember the passion and tears. You remember the words, the heartache, and the victory.

You root for this couple. So what can we take away that will help us write memorable romance?

1. The scene becomes another character and sets the mood.

Whether it’s the sweeping southern scenes that make you long for small towns, front porches, and handsome gentlemen, or the throes of war that make you cheer for the soldiers on the battlefield, Sparks (and others) knows how to give the scene a personality all its own. The scene definitely sets the stage of the romance, tugging at your sympathies.

2. The characters are three dimensional.

I love following Noah’s story in The Notebook. And no, it’s not just because he’s good looking. I love watching his growth. He starts out as a gutsy teenager who works to help his family and experiences summer love. Only he doesn’t let go when the summer comes to a close. He writes, growing in the midst of recording his heart to a girl who left. Then he heads off to war with his best friend, loses him, comes home, buys a home, loses his dad, and spends some time refurbishing a house. He is no longer the gutsy teenager out to charm the girl. He’s experienced heartache, loss, success, regret, and loneliness. But then Ally comes back. He’s the same romantic guy, but more mature, calm, confident in what he wants. By the end of the movie, he is an old man still set on charming his one and only love and fully confident in their love story. Who doesn’t like to watch love conquer all?

3. The dialogue is memorable and passionate.

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Once again, I love Noah’s dialogue. This country boy is deep. Why? He realizes the cost of love, the difficulty, the pain, the joy, and he’s willing and ready to weather it all. He believes it’s worth it. And he makes us believe it, too.

4. Good, bad, or indifferent – it doesn’t shy away from cultural issues or trends.

We live in a culture of sex, drugs, and whatever you want goes. Don’t shy away from the issues. Be in the world but not of it with your writing. Some writers define love by physical relationships. We have to address how Jesus defines life and love in the midst of our romance.

5. It relates to our desire to be known, loved, and belong to something greater than ourselves.

Why is this a big deal? Because God created us for relationships, set eternity in our hearts, and said it isn’t good for us to be alone. Tap into your emotions. Let them flow on the page with every word. And in the midst of the character romance, point people to the romance they can have with Jesus.

What tools help you when writing romance?

Write to be Relevant

Twelve years ago, tragedy struck our nation. For the second time in United States history, we experienced a day that “lives in infamy,” a day we were attacked on our own soil. From across our country, people came together from every religious, ethnic, and cultural background. The walls fell for a few short weeks between liberals and conservatives, and we stood united in the face of great threat.

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So many years later, many have forgotten the pain they experienced that day, but they are reminded through the documentaries, television shows, and news broadcasts. Flags will fly and people will remember where they were on 9/11.

The news will make much of the event that marked this day twelve years ago. Why? Because people want to know. They will take to the internet and read articles and more new stories. They will remember the valiant plane crew and cheer their heroism. They’ll remember the firefighters and first responders who bravely ran into the towers as they crashed.

As writers, our bread and butter is anticipating what our audience wants. Where are the holes in the market? What’s doing well? What isn’t? Judge the attitudes and mindsets of people. Teen fantasy sells well because those that buy it want to escape reality. The same could be said for many Amish fiction readers.

Know who you are writing for. Let’s be honest. Most of us would like to say that our audience is everyone from 16 to 95, but that’s not realistic. While you hope that those in that age range will read your books, attempt to tailor it to a certain group within that and then market hard. I am a young adult who understands the heart, habits, and hang ups of my generation. I can tailor my novels to my age group. However, I also want to make it relatable to every age group, so I create characters that every group can somehow identify with.

At a mentoring clinic I attended, one of my mentors, a very successful author, looked at me and said, “Kariss, your books perfectly describe your generation’s desire to not simply DO church but to BE the church. You have a lot to learn from those who have gone before, but my generation could learn a lot from your generation by reading this book.” Why? Because at one point, this man was my age. His children are my age. His grandchildren will be my age. It’s still relevant and relatable to him.

We’ve been at war since I was 13. But as a result, I’ve come to value the brave men and women who serve our country and protect our freedom. It’s affected the way I write. It’s even bled into my characters as I researched and created courageous Navy SEALs. I live in an age of everyday heroes who are seldom recognized. 9/11 is relevant to me today, but it also shaped my teen years. It sent my friends into the service and combat. While the media markets this day for other reasons, I choose to remember. And in my writing, I make these heroes front and center, because no matter the day, they are relevant. Now that’s something to market.

I Told You So

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Some of the most well meaning people told me to wait to write until I get older. No way a twenty-something can write what people want to read. You don’t have enough real world experience. This is a pipe dream.

The reality of writing a book is that this is a tough job, tough business, and not everyone succeeds. So often the people in our lives have the best intentions as they quietly attempt to redirect us. They don’t want us to be disappointed, experience the sting of failure, or struggle through pain induced by rejection.

Thank goodness the Lord has different plans. I’m thankful for those who attempted to redirect me. I’m thankful for the countless friends and family members who consistently encouraged me. Both groups helped me trust the Lord more. I imagine Him smiling down with a little chuckle and saying, “I told you so.”

I am under qualified in life experience, but I serve a big God. If fisherman can become world changers, so can I. I love what the apostles say in Acts 4:20, “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” So let’s turn that into writing advice:

1)   Write what you know.

I know the heart of young adults to make a difference and dream big. I know the pitfalls that come with learning this adult life. I know the struggles of my parents to raise kids and find a new dynamic with adult children. I know my grandparents’ joy as they pour into us and take the “friend and counselor” role because they’ve already done the parent thing.

I know the south. I know Texas. I understand different personality dynamics. I know how girls think. With a younger brother, I’ve been around guys enough to know how they react and respond.

Bam. I can take all that and craft characters, scenes, problems, and story lines. Imagination takes care of the rest.

2)   Write what you want to learn.

In the course of writing my first book, I wanted to learn more about the SEALs, Haiti, and living in the deep south. (Yep, my brain is random.) So I set my book in Alabama with a trip to Haiti and a Navy SEAL love interest. I might recommend starting out with something slightly more familiar for a first novel, but I rarely pick the easy avenue when I start a project. So here we are!

I traveled to Haiti, made friends with a SEAL, and peppered my Alabama friend with questions and requests for pictures. I worked to become an expert. I’m still a long way from perfection, but I can now speak with a working knowledge on these topics.

3)   Write from your passions.

Three things impact my writing heavily:

- Characters that dream big

- Life as an adventure

- Hope that is found in Christ

I believe we serve a big God who loves to do big things with everyday people. I believe every day is an adventure crafted by the Master Storyteller. And I believe every story ends with hope because of Christ. Forget this post-modern idea that you live and die and that’s it. We were created for something more, and my stories wrestle through hard issues that don’t always end perfectly but always end with Christ. With that fueling me, passion informs every word I write.

I don’t have to understand life, the universe, and everything. I understand my world and snapshots of the world around me. I write what I know. I write what I want to learn, and in doing so, my world expands to fuel my next novel. I write what I’m passionate about, which changes and grows constantly.

Now, I’m telling you that you can do it. You can achieve your writing dream. There were many moments when I doubted this dream would come true. But if the Lord has called, He will bring it to pass. Keep writing. Keep growing. Keep networking.

One of these days, when you get that first contract in the mail, know that you heard it here first: I told you so!

Writing Life Lessons

photoNo matter what stage I’m at in the writing journey, whether it’s researching, plotting, writing, or editing, I continue to learn. Currently, I’m in my last round of edits for my debut novel, Shaken. Man, has it been humbling. I don’t claim to have all the answers to this writing journey, but here are a few tips I’ve learned from trial and error. Like my novels, I’m always a work in progress.

Paint a scene

This seems like a no-brainer, right? I thought it was, too. Except sometimes I don’t write all that is in my head. Thank goodness for an editor who reads the story and asks me to fill in the holes. Use the senses. Again, you would think this is obvious, but too often we forget. In my second book, I open with a beach scene. Can my reader smell the smoke from the bonfire, taste the salt in the air, feel the whip of the sea breeze, hear the lap of the waves, see the fireworks exploding? If not, I need to keep crafting.

Make connections

Link scenes, events, and characters. As my granddad told my brother when he came home from college late one night, “Account for yourself!” Make sure all your elements are accounted for, and again, not just in your head. If a character just spoke yet the scene ends and they are nowhere to be found, make sure there is a clue to the reader of where they went and when they exited the conversation. Again, these should be obvious, but sometimes when I focus on the story line at large, I forget these important little details that further immerse the reader in the story.

Books are not movies

I tend to see my book playing out like one of Nicholas Spark’s movies – sweeping, southern, and characters that tug at your heart. Except, books are not movies. What a viewer can take in in a few seconds of a new scene takes a lot longer to paint in a book. The best movies come from books that paint vivid scenes. Think the party scenes in Gatsby where Fitzgerald describes the house and guests in great detail. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, stop reading this right now and at least read those scenes.

Kill your “darlings”

This is a lesson one my college professors shared with me, and regardless of the time passage, it doesn’t get easier. First, let’s define “darlings.” It is any piece of your story that you are attached to that does not ultimately propel the story forward. You may think a scene is epic, but will your readers care? Does it demonstrate an irreplaceable character quality or scene that is essential to your reader’s knowledge of the story line? Is your attachment greater than the reader’s? If yes, then don’t be afraid to kill that “darling.” Your story will be better for it. Trust me, I know it’s painful, but strike with your red pen and make the page bleed.

You’ll never be completely satisfied

photo copyStop looking at the blinking cursor. Save and send. Your story will never be perfect. If you are waiting for that, choose a different career. I emailed my mentor a couple months ago and told her I thought my story sucked and I wanted to start from scratch. She laughed (I could sense it over email), and told me that it was great for where I’m at now. The next novel will be better than the first, and the third better than the second. If you know you have done all you can do right now, then allow yourself to be satisfied with the results and send that sucker. I still find mistakes in my short stories from college, and I couldn’t count how many times I have edited those pages. But I’ve also increased in my ability and my knowledge since college. I’ll focus on doing my best now and realize that I’m always growing.

What writing tips have you picked up along the way?

Writing In Every Season

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I don’t know about you, but as a writer, I struggle with managing my time.

I work full time. Serve in my young adults ministry. Belong to a community group. Spend time with my family. Juggle a writing contract. Spend free time with friends. Find time to work out. Sleep somewhere in there.

For those of you who have children, I’m sure this list is much longer. Somewhere in the middle of juggling that mess, I hit seasons of extreme burn out and discouragement. Everything seems to pile on at once, and ultimately my writing suffers.

I once heard that it is vital for a writer to be mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally healthy. To be honest, I don’t know how that is humanly possible. I am rarely completely healthy in a couple of these areas at a time, and healthy definitely hasn’t described me the past few months.

In January, I received a three-book contract. I couldn’t express my excitement! But, it went down hill from there. Work demanded all my time, I wrecked my car, edits came in right as I hit the most demanding couple of weeks on the job, and conflict rose in several friendships. With all the stress, I lost my appetite and my ability to sleep. Talk about unhealthy in every area.

I wondered how I could possibly finish the edits. I couldn’t concentrate. Creativity escaped me. But I stubbornly kept plugging away. Signature

Then something clicked. My broken emotions began to pour into my character’s painful moments to a greater degree than they ever had before. Not only did I understand what the editor was requesting, but I finally felt like I could pull it off and be proud of the result!

The Lord used my weak moments to breed creativity. 2 Corinthians 12 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Thankfully, the call and standard of a writer is not to be healthy but faithful. In times of emotional struggle, the Lord uses that brokenness to translate a truth someone can relate to in my writing. I love what the psalmist said in Psalm 139, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” If God knows our hearts inside and out, surely He can make beautiful writing flow from the inward parts of who we are, for His glory and the good of others.

Just as we labor to create a masterpiece, Jesus is in the process of molding us into His image. Sometimes He uses desert seasons to chip away excess. Sometimes He uses the mountain tops to create epic scenes. But He uses every piece of our story for His glory. We are never disqualified as writers when we can’t get it all together. Trust, obey, and write. Those messy seasons may just be used to encourage a reader, creating a mountain top moment in their life.

The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

What areas do you need to focus on in your own life to be healthy? How has the Lord used rough seasons in your writing?

The Power of People Watching

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
Henry David Thoreau

FFISummer092253Almost four years ago, I stood in an apartment parking lot with twenty-three strangers from all over the country. We made awkward conversation, silently sizing one another up and wondering how people so different would ever survive a semester together.

That summer was the best of my life with some of the most unique personalities I’ve ever had the privilege to know. In class, we studied personalities, strengths and weaknesses, character, opinions, and worldview. I knew how each person reacted in the midst of passion, anger, joy, or grief. I knew struggles and victories. Our common denominator was a desire to lead and a heart for the Lord.

And I had to know my characters the same way.

Through these people and because of that summer, I had ideas to propel me into my first book. My characters took on the physical traits and personality of one of my roommates. My supporting characters share names in common with some of the guys.

The best characters are the ones the reader can relate to as a close friend, soul mate, enemy, or victim. The best stories emerge from the people, places, and experiences around us.FFISummer090523

Spending night and day with these people for two months taught me the beautiful complexity of people’s stories. It also taught me the depth of people. The best stories come from people watching, from intimately engaging in life, and embracing the good and bad.

As I work on my current WIP, I watch the people around me. I study emotional reactions, goofy quirks, language patterns, clothing style, facial expressions, and character. Slowly, my characters take shape on the page. Fair warning: if you are in my vicinity, one of your odd habits may make it into my book.

As writers, we tend to isolate. Or at least some of us do. We are content to people watch without interacting. Big problem. As Thoreau said, writing is flat if the writer has not lived.

Get out of your chair. Abandon your laptop. Spend time with friends and family. Sit at your favorite park or Starbucks. Take a note pad and record people’s conversations. Listen to the words they use, how they form sentences. Interact with the guy behind the counter or the people walking their dogs. Engage them in conversation.

Live and live well. Abundantly and fully. Engage with people intimately, not for the sake of a story or character, but because every person we cross paths with has a story that can teach us something about life and the Lord and yes, even writing.

People are weird and quirky and complex. We all have different personalities and reactions. People are full of surprises and opinions. Fashion your characters that way, too. God created people in His own image. Fall in love with them. Embrace the uniqueness. Embrace your uniqueness. Then write with eyes wide open, heart full, and a mind overflowing with memories to make your stories rich.

Have you people watched lately?