Two Words of Advice: Stop it!

newhartWe were going around the room, introducing ourselves at a recent writers workshop I was leading, when one of the attendees got negative about herself.

I listened to this woman — a two-time winner of our Metaphors Be With You contest — explain why she wasn’t making as much progress on a memoir as she would have liked.

Most of it had to do with her inadequacies.

I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Stop putting yourself down,” I said. “You’re a good writer and you need to stop thinking otherwise.”

I proceeded to explain to her and the 15 others why one of the first ways we sabotage ourselves as writers is to look down on ourselves.

“For starters, writers need two things,” I said. “The confidence to believe they have something to say to the world and the humility to let others help them say it better.”

Instead, too many people write — and live — quite the opposite: with little sense that they’re worthy to be heard or with little openness to accepting help along the way.

As we discussed negativity, another workshop participant chimed in with a reference to an old TV sketch in which comedian Bob Newhart plays a psychiatrist. He listens to a woman’s problem — “I have this fear of being buried alive in a box” — and offers her a two-word solution:

“Stop it!”

Stop worrying about being buried alive in a box.

I love it. In fact, when it comes to advice, you could do a lot worse than offering people those two words — “Stop it!” — and two others: “Start it!”

“Start it,” as in take a risk. Begin your project, even if you believe it might fail. Try something new, even if it might feel awkward at the start.

“Stop it,” as in quit thinking you’re unworthy. Quit sabotaging your success because someone long ago told you you weren’t good enough. Quit believing the inner lie that you’re inferior.

Frankly, you can’t get to the “start” without the “stop.” Or so says Christian-based author Henry Cloud, whose book Necessary Endings (HarperCollins, 2010) I recently read.

Cloud, who mainly writes for a business audience, suggests “stop it” is about more than an attitude. It’s about action — or, more precisely, our unwillingness to take it when necessary.

“In your business and perhaps your life, the tomorrow that you desire may never come to pass if you do not end some things you are doing today,” he writes.

But, some might say, stopping things can be hard.

Habits. Addictions. Relationships.

It’s easier just to stay the course. To not confront the norm. To not risk.

Easier. But seldom better.

“Endings,” Cloud argues, “bring hope.”

Frankly, I’d never thought much about that until a friend recommended the book and I gave it a read. I tend to be in a constant “add” mode. But, Cloud argues, sometimes you need to subtract. Prune. Say goodbye to something in your life — and, yes, in some cases, someone.

Can it hurt? Almost always. But, he argues, there’s a difference between “hurt” and “harm.”

Last week my mother moved out of the house she’d lived in for nearly half a century. It was difficult saying goodbye. But the payoff will be a simpler existence that better fits her life today. It hurt, yes, but to stay could have brought harm, she figured; it was too much house for someone who is 87 years old and slowing down.

It took courage to make the change. But, in sailing terms, to stay moored to sameness simply because change can be challenging is to miss the glories of the wind in your sails.

At the end of the day, my workshop student — the one lamenting not being good enough — offered a piece in the voluntary read-aloud session. The class’s enthusiastic laughter and applause affirmed what I’d felt myself: her story was among the best of the bunch.

I hope she’ll look back on this day as a new start — a new start only made possible by her first being willing to stop.

In Praise of Editors

facebook personPosting a comment online this morning made me suddenly hyperaware of the publicness of published writing. Publishing actually does mean, as I tell my students, making something public.

“Everything you write for a class, even if it’s disseminated no further than the classroom, even if I’m the only one reading it, is public writing,” I tell them. “Don’t tell me you just wrote it for yourself or attach a sticky note saying it’s just for me. Assume that whatever you hand in may be made public. That it’s already public. It was public the moment you printed it up and put it in my hand or clicked ‘attach’ and then ‘send.’”

copyedited manuscriptIt’s easy to forget that writing is public, though. Consider Facebook, where people often post sentiments best kept to themselves. However tempting it might be to rail or even to agree—by liking it—with someone else’s railing, I generally restrict myself to happy birthdays, comments about good-looking photos, and commiserations with others’ suffering.

Today I was doing just that: commiserating with a friend whose autistic child had just “had a huge meltdown . . . complete with yelling, food throwing, and tears running down his face” in front of, as she wrote, “almost everyone I know.”

It was a wonderful post, as those who’d already commented said, because it was so frank. So, as my students say, “relatable.”

“Most of the time I suck it up,” my friend wrote, the “meltdowns, 10+ accidents a day, the stares, rude questions, the incomprehension on the faces of people around me, but today it was all too much, so I walked to the car sobbing my heart out.” She confessed, “it felt, somehow, like it was my fault,” and I sobbed too. For her. For her son. For sufferers of autism and their parents. For parents in general. Is there a more agonizing feeling than the unavoidable conviction that it’s somehow our fault whenever anything goes wrong—even something we didn’t cause and couldn’t have stopped—with a daughter or son?

It’s hard to respond to someone else’s pain in a way that doesn’t compound it, though. I learned that when, in the aftermath of a sexual assault at gunpoint, friends commented, among other intended condolences, that I was “lucky not to be dead.” I didn’t feel lucky and wished I was dead. Being told the contrary merely intensified those feelings.

I was thinking about that as I commented and (hopefully) didn’t make that error. Not this time, anyway—thanks to my best editor, the Holy Spirit, who, I’m convinced, translates our groans not only to God but to everyone else and (with some effort, in my case) bleeps our stupidest words. After telling her I’d cried, I advised her not to blame herself: she was doing the best and only right thing to do—loving her son—and doing it perfectly. So far so good, I thought—or anyway, I didn’t feel that tug in the direction of the delete key at that point.

BloggingI did feel it moments later, though, when I helpfully passed on a reassuring comment from a pastor’s wife eons ago when I was in the throes of parental shame about a problem with one of my toddling daughters: “God chose you, precisely you, for your girls,” she said, “because he knew you’d be the best possible mom for them.”

Sounds safe enough, I thought. And I was mightily comforted by that woman’s words at the time. God chose me to parent my girls. I was the best possible mother they could have. Everything was going to be fine.

But, as I say, the Holy Spirit apparently didn’t think so. In the fraction of a moment before I pressed enter, stories of parental abuse and neglect poured into my brain. A friend whose mom once told her children she hated them. Did God choose those children’s parents, too? What child, grown now but surely still suffering that meanness, might be reading my post?

The public is a tricky sea to navigate alone. Our kindest intentions, our most heartfelt theologies, have as much potential to mislead and hurt as to inform and uplift. Thank God for editors.

For the Brokenhearted

reaching out to you

Psalm 34:17-18 “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

This is the season of Joy. Glistening lights, happy Christmas carols, gifts given in love. But for some, the season is not as bright. For the father who is struggling to put food on the table for his children, let alone buy them Christmas gifts. For the old woman who sits in her rocking chair, her life but a memory and her children too busy to visit. For the child who wants to be a part of a loving family. For the mother who cries over the son she lost in the war.

For those who have gone through a year of endless trials and heartbreak and feel you have no reason to celebrate, this is for you. God is a God of love. He loves you. The Bible says He hears the prayers of His children. He knows the pain and sorrow you carry even without you telling Him. But even more so, He promises to deliver you from your troubles.

Even if your sorrows haven’t been as grievous, know that God has walked by your side. That He is ever faithful to love and keep you. Psalm 34 is loaded with promises from God—He answers our prayers when we seek Him, He encamps around us to protect us, His eyes and ears are attentive to our cries, and He promises to deliver us from our troubles.

It’s easy this time of year to get caught up in the trappings, the glitter, and the clutter and lose sight of the real reason for the season. God did not come to earth to judge us, but to save us. To lift us up when we are discouraged. To be our comforter and the lover of our souls.

May this holiday season be a time of refreshing for you. I pray you can leave your cares at His feet and that God’s presence will fill your hearts and souls to overflowing.

The Art in Writing

Strange and wonderful things happen when we keep our eyes peeled, our ears sharp, our hearts welcoming, and our minds creative. This year, I met someone who at first glance was not an obvious fit with my writing life. But first glances are often wrong.

Mary Young Zog the DogI am a Christian non-fiction author. The woman I met at a local women’s expo is a children’s book author. She launched as a self-publisher via Pucky Huddle Books — I have chosen the traditional route as my foundation. I’m a business coach, she married a rock star. Literally.

But we both live in the same tiny county.

Mary Young is married to Rusty Young of country rock group Poco fame. They still play for exclusive events, and tour around the country. But in their desire to escape the crazy life of frenzied fans and intense concert schedules, they built a beautiful cabin nestled about twenty minutes from where I live. On a serene hill overlooking the stunning Huzzah Creek, Rusty gets to relax with his music and Mary peacefully plays with her muse.

RC Woods What Lies BeneathDue to Mary’s prompting, she and I, along with local Indie author RC Woods, have pooled our talents. Recently, the Crawford County Author’s Group held our first event, called The Art in Writing. Three diverse but driven authors determined to learn from, promote, and support each other.

Until recently, in our small region, we each felt alone. Let’s face it, those of us who put pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard are a strange breed to normal folks — most people don’t get the weird ways our minds work. Or sometimes, the strange hours we keep.

When my brain fries, when my creative juices dry, when I’m too tired to think of new ways to market my books, a couple of hours with fellow writers revives my brainstorming abilities. The art in writing is not magical — it’s intentional. It’s not competitive — it’s cooperative. No matter how similarly or differently we write.

I have other author friends who equally stir my creative brew. They don’t live close, but because of twenty-first century technology, we can call, text, private message, Facetime, or Skype. We can schedule retreats with each other, (my favorite). We can compare marketing efforts, research, and new ideas.

Getting Through

Releasing, April, 2015 through Barbour Publishing

The WordServe Water Cooler is another way to stay in touch with those who get the crazy business of writing. Sharing and learning with folks like you keeps my energy up when it threatens to flag. I often write about difficult subjects, so I need an occasional boost.

No matter whether other writers live near or far, I’ve discovered I don’t do as well without them. For me, the real art in writing is community. A brother/sisterhood of folks who will pick you up when you feel down. An encouraging message, a timely quote, a pertinent fact, a social media shout-out, even insights to help you market like a rock star. The writing community is the magic behind my words.

What infuses the art in your writing?

Tips for Managing Time as a Writer

You’ve heard the age-old story: Creative individual decides to write a book. They sit down with paper and pen or keyboard, and painstakingly write that heart story. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes it takes years. When talking with their friends, you often hear them say, “Something came up. It isn’t quite right yet. I just haven’t had the time.”

It’s pretty clear that time is precious. In fact, outside of my loved ones, my time is my most treasured possession. Since signing my first contract in January 2013, I have learned an important writing tip, probably the most important tip.

There is NEVER time, unless you choose to make it.

In fact, I’ve noticed one common trait among the published: They make time to finish. Once you sign that dotted line and make a commitment, “I didn’t have time” doesn’t fly with the publisher. Neither does “it’s just not ready yet.” You better make time and make it ready fast or risk losing your credibility.

After signing that contract, time to market becomes important. And time to edit. And time to promote. And time to interact with readers. Lots of time. So it’s important to figure out how to manage it.

My friends hear me say that I’m overwhelmed more than anything else. But I’m learning how to carve out time, discipline myself to finish, and not miss out on the world around me. We aren’t only writers. We are marketers, publicists, graphic designers, speakers, and more. So I’ve learned a few tricks to maximize my time in every area of this writing journey.

Kariss Lynch - timeCreate margin.

I am a night owl and can write and create relevant marketing content easier when my checklist for the day is accomplished. It clears my mind to be creative. Determine your best time of day to write or create, and maximize those short windows.

Set a timer.

Write every day. Set the timer on your phone for an hour, then put your phone on silent and put it on the other side of the room. Clear your mind and write. I found when I did this, I could easily write close to two thousand words if not more in an hour! When the timer goes off, I feel accomplished, satisfied, and ready to write even more.

Carve out marketing time for social media.

I work full time as a writer for my company, so in the middle of the day I am tired of writing. I’ve started taking thirty minutes of my lunch break or fifteen minutes in the morning or afternoon to create social media graphics that I then pre-schedule so I don’t have to think about them. Think about content that is relevant to your brand, then have fun with those designs.

Strategize for online interaction.

The internet is a wonderful tool, but managing our online interaction can eat our time if not handled correctly. Block out thirty minutes every few days to catch up on emails. Take a few minutes to respond to every person who comments on social media (within reason of course). Know your brand, what you are passionate about, and have character and author interviews on hand for guest blog posts. Don’t overthink. Just do.

Know your audience and limits for speaking engagements.

My favorite interviews and speaking engagements are via Skype since it helps me conserve my time, but I’ve also enjoyed those in person speaking engagements with small groups or crowds. Determine your price (if you have one), the size of the group you are willing to speak for, if it is wise to travel or Skype in (this is great for book clubs and classes that may not be close). Bottom line, know your options and then plan accordingly. Don’t forget you still need to write and market and live life, so carefully plan the weekends you will be gone.

Managing time is as much mental as it is physical. At the end of the day, be satisfied with what you accomplished and leave the rest for tomorrow. What tips have you found effective in managing your time?

Stretch

For the last several years, I’ve worked an assignment that has stretched me as a writer as much as anything has in a long, long time.

WritingI’ve never sat down with the intentions of putting a fictional story to paper, but some of the sports I’ve covered for NCAA.COM are just about as close as I will ever get. NASCAR, I know. I worked that circus full time for nearly ten years. I’ve loved baseball since I was a child. I played football in high school.

Technically, I didn’t exactly play high-school football. I was on the team. I had a uniform and everything, but to actually play, you have to see time on the field. I was such a stellar athlete, I rode the bench for a team that went 0-10.

Seriously.

I still loved football, and knew it well. But men’s gymnastics? Lacrosse? Track and field? Swimming and diving? My very first exposures to those sports were the days I sat down in the press box … or tent … or grandstands … to work their national championships.

I had a decision to make, and I had to make it quickly. I could treat these sports as some sort of quirky and obscure sideshow attractions, or I could handle them the way I eventually did. These coaches and student-athletes were absolutely as passionate about their respective endeavors as any involved in more well-known sports like football, basketball, and baseball.

How could I treat them with anything less than the utmost respect? I had to learn, and I had to do so fast. Admitting ignorance can be a wonderful thing sometimes, as I learned from the NCAA committee member who patiently explained the difference between a game, set, and match in tennis. I understood completely, I think.

As a result, I’ve come away with some of the most memorable stories of my career. There was Mo Imel, the women’s lacrosse star who gave up a Division I scholarship to move to a Division II school closer to her cancer-stricken sister. After her sister passed away, Mo and her parents attended the funeral in Maryland and then made the spur-of-the-moment decision to drive overnight to Mo’s lacrosse match the next afternoon in Florida.

Mo scored two goals that day, including the game winner.

So, Tip Number One is to broaden your horizons as a writer. What’s that one subject you’ve always considered writing about, but haven’t gotten around to actually sitting down and tackling just yet? Go for it, and you might be surprised at how it turns out.

Then there’s the sheer volume of copy I’ve been called upon to file for NCAA.COM. My personal record for churning out stories — and I’m talking career-wise, not just for NCAA.COM — is thirty-seven 800-word stories in sixteen days. Producing such a massive amount of work in that short a timeframe was one of my toughest challenges in nearly a quarter of a century as a full-time writer.

Again, I had a decision to make. When filing that much copy, it would have been easy to “phone it in” on a story or two. In other words, I could’ve simply slapped a bunch of words up on my laptop screen and sent them in without really caring about the result.

Aside from the theological implications of not making the best use of your God-given abilities, there are a few problems with this approach. Turn in too many “clunker” stories, and the assignment may go to somebody else the next time around. And for a freelancer like me, that’s a bad thing. A very, very bad thing.

Also, that story might very well be the only one ever written about a given coach or student-athlete. It’ll probably be posted on their Facebook page, or maybe even printed out and placed in a scrapbook or on the family refrigerator. If it’s under your byline, you want it to be the best story it can be, regardless of how many came before or after it.

Tip Number Two is to give yourself plenty of time when writing, if at all possible. If your deadline is tight, don’t just pound the story out and file it. Do your best work, always.

Believe it or not, I’m actually headed to Louisville, Kentucky this week to cover an NCAA Division II championship sports festival. Six different sports in three days, and filing what I’m assuming will be multiple stories for each. Say a prayer for me!

An Attitude of Thanksgiving

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1 Thessalonians 15: 16 – 18 “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

We’ve all had those days, weeks, months where we are tempted to challenge the words of this verse. How can we give thanks when the washer breaks down and we’re surrounded by piles of dirty clothes? How can we give thanks when the paycheck wasn’t quite what we thought it would be, or our spouse is being unreasonable?

We can. And we should, as stated in the verse above. Did you know the term “give thanks” appears in the Bible over thirty times? That’s one verse for every day of the month with a few to spare. Apparently God had a reason for reminding us to be thankful. But why?

To focus on what we DO have.

Rather than worrying about the things we lack, we should thank God for what we do have—a roof over our head, our health, family and friends, a car to get to the job He provided for us, and food on the table. When we count our blessings, the list is endless in comparison to what we lack.

To keep bitterness at bay.

Did you know it’s impossible to be thankful and bitter at the same time? Although it’s challenging at times, any darkness we feel can be driven away with one small act. By thanking God for His love, grace, and provision, our foul attitude is soon replaced with His eternal joy.

To produce Godly character.

The key to remember here is that we know the end of the story. We are being groomed for an eternal life with Jesus Christ. Yes, it’s hard to stay positive when life assaults us from every direction, and He knows that. God understands our humanness. He created us and provided grace and mercy to cover our imperfections, but He also gives us clear direction in His word on how to stay positive and focused on Him.

Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving annually, let’s start a daily tradition. Let the thanksgiving spirit we share as part of our annual holiday become part of your everyday life. Then sit back and see what God can do in you.