The Mountain Crumbling Power of Persistence

There isn’t anything much more intimidating to a writer than a blank page.

An empty file.Untitled

A blinking cursor.

And a deadline.

Somehow, in the next three or six months you have to pull eighty to ninety thousand words out of your head and throw them into some semblance of order.

And do it well.

 What is the one key thing that will get you to that goal?

Some people depend on speed to get them through to the finish line. They can pour words on the page in writing spurts that make my head spin. They can write an entire novella in a week. Or a novel in a month.

Other people depend on their muse – writing only when it strikes. They may write for four hours one day, and not again until three days later when they find the idea for the next scene.

Some people depend on catching what little time they can out of their busy schedule. Five minutes here, twenty minutes there….

Whatever your writing style, there is one key ingredient you need to have:

Persistence

Persistence is that drip, drip, drip of water

          seeping into solid granite.

                      One by one the words come.

                                    Relentlessly.

Persistence doesn’t let life interrupt the commitment.

If you have a life that likes to intrude on your writing (and who doesn’t?), make time when the little ones are asleep, or when everyone is out of the house, or when someone else can care for things at home for an hour while you grab solitude at the coffee shop.

Before my children graduated from our homeschool, I rose an hour earlier than they did and wrote. I would write seven hundred fifty to one thousand words a day while they slept.

Persistence protects the writing time.

Turn off the text and tweet messages. Don’t answer your phone. Close the internet browser. Don’t answer the door. Set a timer, and don’t do anything but write until that timer goes off.

I set my timer for twenty-five minutes. When it goes off, I change the laundry, or let the dog out, or check my email, and after five minutes, I set the timer again.

Persistence forms a habit.

If possible, write in the same place at the same time each day. Write for the same amount of time each day. Aim for the same word count each day. Day by day, day after day, builds habit.

Have you discovered the joy of habit? One thousand words a day, five days a week, will give you 250,000 words in a year.

Two hundred fifty thousand words in one year.

How many books is that? In my world of writing for Love Inspired Historical, that’s three books, and a bit more.

That’s the kind of output agents and editors love.

 Will you make persistence a key weapon in your writing arsenal?

39 Cathedral Spires

 It is the relentless power that can split boulders and crumble mountains.

The Curse And Gift of Being Called to Write

giftThere are days you totally get Jeremiah. He decides not to speak anymore, but the words burn like a fire shut up in his bones (Jeremiah 20:9). Even when you can’t write, the words burn inside, don’t they?

How often have you wished you were just normal? On those days where you’re trying to fit it all in: a full day of work, a kid’s basketball game, dinner and laundry, and somehow you’re supposed to find writing time too? There’s the agony of staring at a blank page and watching your book drop in Amazon rankings.

You’ve even decided to quit. Often. Finally, a friend or spouse tells you to stop tormenting yourself. “You’re a writer,” they say. “You know you’re not really going to quit writing. You always come back to it.”

So, if you can’t walk away from writing, isn’t it time to look at it from another perspective? “I suggest you learn to write not with blood and fear,” Jane Yolen writes, “but with joy. It’s a personal choice.”

And there is joy, lots of it.

First, you were chosen. Like Jeremiah, before you were in the womb, God chose you. Whether you started writing as soon as you could hold a pencil or didn’t begin writing until some life event pulled you to it later on, whether writing holds financial success for you or not, being a writer is a role you were personally designed for by your Creator. If that isn’t joy, I don’t know what is.

And then there’s what drew you to writing in the first place: the thrill of a coherent story coming together at last with characters who walk off the page; that zone, where reality falls away and you’re virtually swimming in your story world; and words become so sharp and real, you’d swear you could taste them.

You were the one blessed with heightened senses and the words to go with them. So while your walking partner says, “Oh, isn’t that pretty?” you see how the thick tree cover on the forest trail washes the sunlight green, and how the Spanish moss drapes from the tree limbs like ornaments. You have words to describe the warm breeze rippling across your face and how the coos of a mourning dove bring the summer evening alive.

You have the privilege of exploring and enfleshing ideas (ideas, by the way, you almost certainly would never have come to unless you’d spent day in and day out with your fingers on the keyboard). Writing brings the joy of discovering new worlds.

And when you’re done, and the book is published, you receive emails saying things like, “I read your book and was so moved by it, I turned back to page one and read it again.” Wow, you think, did I actually create something that could do that?

You did, because you were blessed. In spite of the tortuous days of staring at a blank page, and wondering how a person can be pulled in so many directions without being ripped apart, you were given a beautiful and multilayered gift by God when He called you to write. It’s a gift you love to give back to Him, and when you’re having a thorny writing day or month, you need to remind yourself of that.

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

5 Ways to Drive an Editor Crazy

13761150586648bAs an aspiring writer, I thought editors had horns on their head and pitchforks perched beside their desks. After all, they sent me form “no thanks” letters after I’d slaved over an obviously brilliant manuscript. They ignored my letters and phone calls, and seemed to take joy in waiting months before replying to my oh-so-urgent emails.

Now, as both a seasoned writer and an editor for a large faith-based website, I’ve learned that editors are people, too. We love finding new voices to publish, and we try to be gentle when doling out rejections. Sure, we have our quirks, and we make mistakes. But mostly, we’re word-loving, gentle souls who find joy in a well-placed modifier.

When provoked, however, we can lose our literary minds. Several habits don’t just rub us the wrong way—they make us want to run down the street while still in our bathrobes, shouting Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” until we puke.

Here’s how you can speed that process along:

1) Treat Guidelines as Optional.

      Don’t bother reading writing guidelines; don’t even visit websites or read back issues of magazines. Send a totally inappropriate submission. In your cover letter, tell the editor that while you’ve never taken the time to familiarize yourself with their publication, you’re sure that your work is perfect for them. file3781288474089

       2) Respond viciously to rejection letters.

      When you receive a letter stating that “your submission doesn’t meet our current needs,” fire off a hateful email, chastising the editor for his lack of taste. Even better: use bad language and post your vitriolic thoughts all over social media. (This habit works well if you never want to see your work in print. Those bridges are so pretty when they burn!)

      3) Never turn in an assignment by the deadline.

Deadlines aren’t set in stone; therefore, ask for repeated extensions, paying no attention to the panicked tone of your editor’s responses. Don’t worry that you are one of several dozen moving parts in the publishing of a website, magazine or compilation book. Take all the time you want—the world does, in fact, revolve around you.

       4) Take up all your editor’s time.

Ask repeated questions about the contract or terms of your publishing agreement. Don’t get an agent or other professionals to weigh in on your questions. Don’t network with other writers so that you can learn from their experiences. Pester the editor with texts (preferably to her personal cell phone, if you can dig up the number) about when your piece will be printed, how many readers you’ll get, etc.

And finally:

5) Refuse to accept changes in your manuscript.

Since you have received your talent from God, treat every word as His direct quote. Don’t let an editor make changes to your beautiful masterpiece. Fight over each letter and punctuation mark. Don’t choose your battles. Take offense at questions. Die on every single hill.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nasty email to delete…and I need to look up the lyrics to a certain parody song.

Help! My Life’s a Tilt-a-Whirl and I Wanna Get Off!

I watched the pink and orange eventide rise behind the bare-limbed trees lining our backyard.

The day was gone again.

Lost in a shuffle of orthodontist and doctor appointments, car pooling, awkward schedule changes due to the weather (again), blog posts and interview questions due yesterday, and a hopelessly floundering manuscript, life felt like a tilt-a-whirl and I wanted to get off.

How in the world could I keep the pace my life was going? How could I meet everyone’s expectations? How could I make sure I was being a mother and a wife first?

Through Me, I heard Abba whisper.

I’d recently forced myself to become diligent about reading the Bible again, after “forgetting” to make it a daily habit despite the five Bible applications on my smart phone and the three hard copies in a dust-covered stack on my bedside table.

No wonder I felt lost.

No wonder I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore.

I can’t.

Be still, He whispered again. Anything is possible through Me.

I can’t.

But God can.

IMG_0785Obviously He’s not going to write the blog posts for me. He’s not going to drive my kids to the orthodontist. He’s not going to bathe the five nonagenarians at the hospital for me during my nursing shifts.

But His power, through my heart staying centered on Him, can be made perfect.

And I can rest, knowing everything in His will to be done, will be done.

Eventually.

Writers or not, we all have times we feel lost and overwhelmed, insufficient and incapable. But if we keep our eyes on Him, He will renew our hearts. He will accomplish infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine (Eph. 3:20).

And best of all, we can rest in His peace.

 “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ … have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”

Colossians 3:15-17 (TMV)

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?

Don’t Write to Heal and Other Truths about Writing from Affliction

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Dear writers, don’t we know already that we are to write into our darkest moments? My writing students have heard me say this 1000 ways: Enter the forest, dive into the wreck, face your toothy, hot-breathed dragons, open the closet, hold hands with your enemies, etc. We may remain silent in the midst of them, but at some point we must write. We must steward the afflictions God has granted us. Patricia Hampl reminds us why: “We do not, after all, simply have experience; we are entrusted with it. We must do something—make something—with it. A story, we sense, is the only possible habitation for the burden of our witnessing.” Dan Allender, in “Forgetting to Remember: How We Run From Our Stories,” tells us what happens when we ignore the hard events in our lives: “Forgetting is a wager we all make on a daily basis and it exacts a terrible price. The price of forgetting is a life of repetition, an insincere way of relating, a loss of self.”

How then do we begin to write from within our afflictions? And how might the practice and the disciplines of writing offer a means of shaping our suffering into meaning for both writer and reader? Forgive the brevity and oversimplification, but here’s what NOT to do and why:

1. Don’t write to heal. Really. Our therapeutic culture urges us to write into our pain as a means of self-healing. Newsweek’s article, “Our Era of Dirty Laundry: Do Tell-All Memoirs Really Heal?” rightly questions this cultural assumption. One friend assumed I wrote my most recent book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hate and Hurt primarily as a means of self-healing. Not so. Writing into our pain can be hellish at times. Know that returning to re-live an experience with language and full consciousness is sometimes worse than the original event. Recognize that writing into affliction brings its own affliction. And even more importantly, recognize that when we are predisposed to heal ourselves, we will not be fully honest in the writing. Healing will likely and eventually come, but only as we engage with the hardest truths.

noah pulling in skiff in storm

2. Don’t write to redeem, to turn inexplicable pain into sense and salvation. We want to bring beauty from ashes. We want to make suffering redemptive to prove its worth. But this is God’s work, not ours. Our first responsibility is to be true to what was, to witness honestly to what happened. Our job is not to bring beauty out of suffering but to bring understanding out of suffering. Poet Alan Shapiro argues that “…the job of art is to generate beauty out of suffering, but in such a way that doesn’t prettify or falsify the suffering.”

smiling old woman with cigarette

3. Don’t write for yourself alone. This is not just about you. You are working to translate suffering to the shared page. Buechner reminds us of the universality we should be striving for: “…all our stories are in the end one story, one vast story about being human, being together, being here. Does the story point beyond itself? Does it mean something? What is the truth of this interminable, sprawling story we all of us share? Either life is holy with meaning, or life doesn’t mean a damn thing.” One of the greatest compliments I have heard from the book and the telling of my own story is, “You told my story.” Writing begins in the self but should consciously move us beyond ourselves, to place our story into the larger stories around us, and ultimately, into the grand story that God is writing. The most powerful work comes from a “self that renders the world,” as Hampl has said—not just the self that renders the self.

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Life is holy with meaning. Pain is holy with meaning. Don’t miss it. I pray for you the strength and faith and wisdom to begin to enter those hard places and to translate your afflictions onto the pages we share—for the good of All.

How have you been able to translate your suffering into your writing?

After You Sign the Contract

You did it! You succeeded in acquiring an agent, your book sold, and you just signed your contract. Ahhh. Life is amazing.

But…

There’s more work to do. Maybe the hardest work of all. This is where an author truly needs encouragement, practical ideas, and inner strength. But it all starts with thoughts.

Magic of Thinking Big Book

Little Thoughts Keep Your Writing Small

“Success is determined not so much by the size of one’s brain as it is by the size of one’s thinking.” The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz

Allowing any task to become daunting can deter us from doing all we are capable of. Especially when there’s a lot at stake — like the completion of a life’s dream. I know, I almost let it happen to me.

I was approximately 85% finished with my final manuscript and three weeks from deadline. Then I froze. There’s no reasonable explanation I can offer as to why. My outline was solid, and until that morning, my words flowed smoothly.

At first, I attributed it to exhaustion. After all, I was still working over sixty hours a week as the general manager of a large river resort, and it was early September. But after taking a couple of extra days off, catching up on rest, and trying again, still no go.

I panicked. A swell of fear felt like it was swamping over me. In a choked voice, I told my husband, “I guess I’ll send the advance money back.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t finish.” I felt my chin quiver. “I don’t know why I ever thought I could write a book. It isn’t good enough to send in, and I can’t get any new words on the page.”

“I thought you wanted this.”

I ran out of the room. My husband meant well, and he was right. It was what I wanted, but in that moment, I didn’t know how to get it done.

First Hired Last Fired

Available in Major Bookstores and Online

The next morning, I awoke feeling no less anguished, but one thing had changed. My determination not to give up. My husband’s final words on the subject resonated in my heart. I did want this. So I got on my knees and thanked God for helping me finish what He had started. Then I took advice from my own book, First Hired, Last Fired — How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market, and resolved to get the job done, regardless of how I felt.

I won’t lie and tell you things suddenly got easy. Those final pages were excruciating, and to this day, I can pick them out of my book by the weakness I see in the sentences forced into existence. But I did it. Exactly on my deadline date, I submitted the full manuscript according to contract. And I learned something.

Michael HyattI’m not the first author to experience soul-crushing panic deep into the book writing journey. Many have relayed similar experiences, including best-seller Michael Hyatt.

But I also learned how to push past my fears, and whether the world likes it or not, to put the message out there. It was hard, but the satisfaction is sweeter than my earlier efforts and emotions.

I’m not sure where you are on the path to publication. But if you’re new to the process, be prepared for some emotional bumps after you sign the contract. And remember — sometimes we need to do what we love, versus what feels safe.

Have you ever panicked in the middle of a big accomplishment? It’s never too late to start again.

Anita Fresh Faith

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