Hearing What You Can’t Read

woman listeningI am always fascinated by our five senses—touch, smell, sight, taste, and hearing. I love the warmth of my husband’s hand when he clasps mine, the fragrant scent of a rose caught up on the morning breeze, or the tart pucker of a Granny Smith apple.

As writers, we know that adding the senses into our books makes the world our characters live in more real to the reader. But that’s not where I’m going with this post. My question to you is, when was the last time you listened to a book? I don’t mean just for pleasure, but to get into the depth of the story by using more than your eyes.

I have a Kindle that offers a “text to speech” option, which I’ve found to be available on many books. (I believe this is up to the author and/or publisher if they offer this choice and I’m sure it’s available on other readers as well.) It has a computer generated voice, which for me is fine, but you can go through this exercise with an audio book as well.

The trick is to listen to the words, but not become caught up in the story. It’s amazing what you can hear.

Rhythm: Did you know words and sentences have rhythm? When you listen to a story you can hear it. A good writer will create a steady beat with their words to slow the pace of the story. Or, speed it up to raise the tension as needed.

Choice of words: I’m a big proponent of not using the same word over and over again. I’m not advocating pulling out a thesaurus and running the gamut of possible choices, but just having an acute awareness of word choices. It makes the work more appealing. Fresh. You can “hear” the repeated words more than “read” them.

Story world: Has the author “painted” the world the character is in vividly enough that when you close your eyes while listening to a scene you can almost imagine yourself right in the middle? This aspect is hard to do when you need your eyes to read!

Emotions: Much like the story world, can you picture the characters’ actions? Feel their pain? Or laugh with them? This follows the line of showing instead of telling. When you listen to a book, you can “see” their reaction, like a movie screen playing on the backside of your eyelids.

I go through this exercise with many of my favorite authors. I take the time to learn from their writing style by listening to it. Then try to apply the concepts to my own writing.

So what do I do then? I always listen to what I’ve written. I email the Word doc to Amazon and it goes right to my Kindle. Then I go through the same exercise. Have I set the proper rhythm for the scene? Do I have words repeating that should be changed? Have I created a memorable scene mixed with real-life emotions?

Try it some time. You might be surprised what you hear that your eyes would have never seen.

WordServe News: March 2014

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

Debora M. Coty released The Bible Promise Book: Too Blessed to be Stressed Edition 9781624169885_p0_v2_s260x420with Barbour, a collection of selections from the original Too Blessed to be Stressed book.

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9780802409577_p0_v1_s260x420Roberta Kells Dorr released Abraham and Sarah with River North.

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SavedbyGracieJan Dunlap released Saved by Gracie with Authentic.

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Ken Gire released At Peace in the Storm with Bethany House Publishers.9780764208843_p0_v2_s260x420

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9781624168581_p0_v2_s260x420Paul Kent released Playing with Purpose: Baseball Devotions with Barbour.

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Tim LaHaye and Craig Parshall released Mark of Evil with Zondervan.

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Ben & Julianna Zobrist with Mike Yorkey released Double Play with B&H Publishers.

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9781624166181_p0_v2_s260x420Mike Yorkey released Playing with Purpose: Racing with Barbour.

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New WordServe Clients

Shelley Hendricks signed with Alice Crider.

Leticia Yuzefpolsky signed with Greg Johnson.

Linda Znachko signed with Alice Crider.

New Contracts

Anita Agers-Brooks signed a contract with Barbour for her non-fiction project titled, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over. Alice Crider, agent of record.

What We’re Celebrating!!

The Brotherhood Conspiracy by Terry Brennan is a finalist for Foreword Review’s 2013 Book of the Year Award, in the category of Action & Adventure (Adult Fiction). Foreword Reviews, the only review magazine solely dedicated to discovering new indie books, announced the finalists for its 16th Annual Book of the Year Awards. The winners will be determined within the next two months. The final announcement will be made Friday, June 27, in Las Vegas, during the American Library Association Annual Conference. There are awards in over 60 categories and cash prizes for the best in fiction and nonfiction. Here is the complete list of finalists and the listing for The Brotherhood Conspiracy can be found here.

Amy Sorrells’ debut novel How Sweet the Sound received a fantastic review from USA Today!

Set in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time when the topic of sexual abuse was not a thing “talked about” in the media and for which victims were still too often treated as “deserving” of the crimes committed against them, this novel refuses to nicey-nice over tough and ugly realities. This story is, throughout, raw — but yet penned with a sweetness of prose that makes you want to keep reading, even when you know it would be easier to curl into a ball and weep for the brokenness of the characters therein.

Poignant switches of point-of-view between Anniston and her aunt, Comfort, show the reach of abuse within generations of the same family and stretch a reader’s heart to its limits. Simply put, it hurts to read this novel. It hurts to watch the characters go through what they do. It hurts to see family secrets exposed, revealing pain upon pain. It hurts to see them abandon true love and it hurts when they are seemingly abandoned by it — but how beautiful the pain when an ending so lovely and right redefines and redeems several futures at once.

This book will turn your emotions inside out and grip your heart with a clawed fist before pouring acid — and then balm — over the wounds. You have been warned. Now, by all means, go buy this unusually edgy and entirely moving inspirational novel and read it for yourself.

What are you celebrating on this writing journey?

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.”

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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

WordServe News: February 2014

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

RoadUnknownBarbara Cameron released A Road Unknown (part of the Amish Road Series) with Abingdon.

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Shepherd SongBetsy Duffey and Laurie Myers release The Shepherd’s Song, their debut novel with Howard Publishers.

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UnlostMichael Hidalgo released Unlost: Being Found by the ONE We Are Looking For, with IVP.

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TransformedCaesar Kalinowski released Transformed: A New Way of Being a Christian with Zondervan Publishing House.

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How SweetAmy Sorrells released How Sweet the Sound, her debut novel, with David C. Cook.

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NotWhoIImaginedMargot Starbuck released Not Who I Imagined: Surprised by a Loving God with Baker Books.

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HeartWideOpenShellie Tomlinson released Heart Wide Open: Trading Mundane Faith for an Exuberant Life with Jesus, with WaterBrook Press.

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TenaciousJeremy and Jennifer Williams released the DVD and audio of their book Tenacious through Brilliance Audio.

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New WordServe Clients

Bill Myers, longtime CBA novelist and filmmaker.

Kathy Carlton Willis, platform coach, editor, and member/trainer with Advanced Writers and Speakers Association and CLASSeminars, signed with Alice Crider.

Cassandra Soars, narrative non-fiction writer and cofounder of iheartus, a new social media website for couples, signed with Alice Crider.

New Contracts

Robert Wise signed with Barbour to write Bible Lands: An Illustrated Guide to Scriptural Places.

Back to the Bible signed a 13 book agreement with Barbour Publishers to write short, felt-need books that will be distributed directly to churches through a back of the church spinner rack (as well as in all other outlets).

Sarah Varland signed with Love Inspired to write Tundra Threat, a romantic suspense novel.

Bryan Bishop signed with Baker Books to publish Boundless Jesus: Radical Faith from a Hidden Global Trend.

Kelli Gotthardt signed with Kregel to write her memoir, Unlikely Rebel.

Kate Hurley signed with Harvest House to publish a memoir about making sense of the unexpected single life.

Sarah Parshall Perry signed a two-book contract with Revell for her projects tentatively titled Sand in My Sandwich and Mommy Wants a Raise.

What We’re Celebrating!!

YouFoundMeKeith Robinson’s book, You Found Me, landed on three bestseller lists this month!

5 Ways to Add Humor to Your Writing

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Humor is a life-giving stress reliever and ice breaker. I often sprinkle my talks, articles and books with funny word pictures and phrases, because laughter opens a reader/listener’s heart to the serious points I want to make. Thankfully, my home is full of crazy guys (including my husband, who’s the most hilarious person I’ve ever met) and I’m a ditzy, accident-prone bundle of midlife hormones. Thus, I’m never short on material.

It’s true that humor, like writing, is an innate gift, and some people have it in abundance. Others…well, not so much. However, certain aspects of both crafts can be taught. As a follow-up to this popular post, here are a few ways to humorously pump up your prose:

1. Wordplay.

Mae West said, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” Classic!

Cultivate your LOL quotient by reading children’s books, which are full of 1362536802le12smarvelous wordplay. Humor writers and comedians are childlike spirits–playing constantly with sounds, alliteration, and rhyme. Let loose a little, and see what happens.

2. Exaggeration.

Never stop at one when fourteen will do. In humor, less is not more and more is better. Erma Bombeck, one of my all-time favorites, was a master at exaggeration: “I’ve exercised with women so thin that buzzards followed them to their cars.”

Remember George Burns? He often exaggerated about his age: “When I was a boy the Dead Sea was alive.”

3. Surprise.

When my nine-year-old saw that our local drive-in was up for sale, he said, “Mom, I’m sad about that. It’s such an iconic part of our town.” I laughed because I was surprised that he knew the word at all, let alone used it correctly.

Want your reader to laugh? Take a phrase and change the ending to something unexpected, like Jim Carrey did:  “Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.” Stephen Wright makes a living by crafting surprise endings to one-liners: “A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I’m afraid of widths.”

4. Parody.

“Weird” Al Yankovich has been doing parody songs for years. More recently, Christian comedians Tim Hawkins (“Cletus, Take the Reel,” etc.) and Anita Renfroe (“All the Wrinkled Ladies”) have gotten into the act. There’s even a clever parody of the infamous song “Blurred Lines” called “Church Signs.” The writers make fun of Christians’ tendency to preach mini-sermons with little plastic letters.

A word of caution (especially for Christian writers): let’s be careful when poking fun at other people. Sarcasm can be soul-crushing, as can insult humor. Remember the Golden Rule.

5. Learn from the best.

Read funny writers, watch comedy videos on Netflix, take courses in humor writing, or read books about the craft. You can also hire professional humor writers to spice up your work (I did this with the first book proposal I sold, and learned a ton from the experience.)

While you’re learning, though, remember to be yourself and not a copy of someone else. Readers can tell when you’re trying to force a joke, and it will make them uncomfortable. Find a style of humor you like, and try it on for size. Ask for opinions from people you trust–if it doesn’t fit, simply try another.

Most of all, have fun!

How have you used humor in your writing?

Tell Your Story

Tell Your Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can use our stories to make a difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo: Shanyn Silinski)

The Journey from Idea to Bookstore

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Someday I’d like to write a book. 

Book on the beachHaving spent most of my adult life as a research scientist affiliated with Harvard University, I like to break down goals into doable steps and analyze the process needed to achieve a certain result. While the publishing process is more art than science, here are some basic steps you will need to take to move from dreaming about writing a book to holding the finished product in your hands.

What’s the big idea?

Your nonfiction book of tens of thousands of words starts with one sentence that captures the main idea, or theme, of your book. Ernest Hemingway talked about writing one true sentence, and this goal is your first task. While this sentence may never appear in the book itself, you will need it in the book proposal your literary agent will send to publishers. Crystallizing the big idea of your book also will help you write a working title.

For my first book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2014), I started the process by writing down a list of words and short phrases that captured the essence of my message. A cluster of these words became the working title. Once I had a working title, I was ready to write the outline for the book.

Who is the audience?

Books are for readers, not the writers. Publishers want books to sell, not collect dust on bookstore shelves. Accordingly, once you have your big idea, you need to determine who will desire to read the book. These readers are your audience. Perhaps your book is for a general audience, and you hope everyone will read it. However, publishers will require that you define your audience more clearly.

Is there an age group more likely to read your book? Will the book appeal to certain specialists or professionals, like pastors or counselors? What interests do your potential readers have that would make them likely to buy your book? Will your readers use the book in a group setting such as a Bible study or classroom, or will they tuck it into a carry-on bag for entertainment on an airplane ride or while soaking up the sun on a distant beach?

Think in terms of primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences. These categories will help you define who is most likely to buy the book as well as the wider audiences that may express interest. You will need to describe your audience in your nonfiction book proposal. Knowing your audience also will shape your writing style for the book. For example, a book for teens will use a different vocabulary than a book for seminary professors. A book useful for a specialist may need to include references and an index, while a book used in a church setting may benefit from a discussion guide.

 Why write this book?

The journey from idea to bookstore usually measures in years not months, so knowing why you are writing this book will fuel your motivation early in the morning or late at night as you face publication deadlines. The answer to this question will come in handy when family members and friends wonder why you are spending your free time in your office instead of having fun anywhere else.

Understanding what need your book will meet in the marketplace of ideas will provide direction as you decide what material you need to cover in your chapters and what falls outside the scope of this book. Ultimately, focusing on the purpose for writing this book will keep you connected to your calling as an author and the original dream that has moved from someday to today.

Failure to Freedom

DSC_0486Last year I flew with my co-writer and friend, Dena Dyer, to Indiana for a television interview. The Harvest Show interviewed us about our newly released book Wounded Women of the Bible. This was my first television interview and I had no idea what to expect. The night before, Dena and I walked through thoughts and questions, so I felt ready and prepared.

Our host helped us feel comfortable in every way. Once I stepped onto the platform, beneath the lights and cameras, I sank like a marshmallow in the heat of the sun. Someone should have blindfolded me or thrown a towel over the monitors.  I didn’t like my appearance on camera and fidgeted too much. I had too many pillows behind my back and stuck out like a sore thumb. Dena sat proper and polished while I sat like a huge lump on the couch. I smacked my lips and swallowed hard. I even needed a trip to the bathroom.

Dena’s eyes and beautiful smile said, “Stop fidgeting.” Confession: My thoughts not hers. I looked around for a brown paper bag, feeling I might hyperventilate, but then came the questions. I knew these stories. I spent twelve months writing about these particular wounded women in the Bible. I could share in-depth thoughts and notes on each one. I was ready.

The host said, “Tell me about Ichabod.”  Ichabod who? I completely froze. Blank. Nothing. Empty. I grasped at something to say. I couldn’t gather my thoughts or remember that Eli was Ichabod’s father-in-law. As if an eternity, a long pause of silence fell. I had no idea what came out of my mouth after that moment. Before long it was over and I drooped off the stage. Needless to say, I wasn’t pleased with my first television interview, but so grateful to have had the experience.

After Dena left the hotel to fly home, something hit me – I felt despair, inadequacy, and insufficiency. I would be lying if I said tears weren’t involved in that moment of self-pity. While packing, I turned the television on and flipped through the channels to find something to cheer my mood. I stopped on a well-known female pastor. The first words out of her mouth were, “Listen! God uses people all the time who have no idea what they’re doing!”

My heart leaped and the words slapped me in the face – starting with “Listen!” Leave it to God to reach through our self-pity and grab hold of our collars. I was reminded that life is full of experiences and God uses “the least of these.” If I hadn’t heard those words that day, I may have carried my feelings of despair (among others) home, placed them on a shelf, and allowed them to identify my character and abilities. God recognized my “stinkin’ thinkin’” (as my friend says) and burst forward with one bold statement: “He uses people all the time who have no idea what they’re doing.”

Sometimes we have those frozen cloud crowding moments when our mind appears broken. God understands and desires to free us of anything the enemy may hold over our heads. All we have to do is be willing to step into Him and God will teach, grow, and strengthen us, even when we feel like we have no idea what we’re doing. God takes our offerings and uses them for His glory.

One other word of affirmation from God came when my husband, who is one of two men on Sheila Walsh’s launch team for her new book, shared a story she wrote. In her book, Sheila shares a story of one particular television interview. My mouth dropped as it mirrored mine! (But you’ll have to wait and read the story when her book comes out). As if what God shared through the television wasn’t enough, He said, “You see, Tina, even the big girls start out in similar places.”

Let me encourage you to never give up, push through those feelings of failure, and move forward with God at your side. God turns our failures into faith walks when we trust He can use every part of what we offer Him. May this year be the beginning of great things, especially allowing God to free you, and you freeing yourself, from any past failures.

A new dawn awaits.

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Ten (Plus) Tips on Humor Writing

file0001122505692I’ve had the pleasure of incorporating humor into several of my books, most notably Grace for the Race: Meditations for Busy Moms and Let the Crow’s Feet and Laugh Lines Come. Funny enough, humor is not easy to write. It was a learning process–one I’m still undergoing.

Humor writers James Watkins and Rhonda Rhea are two of the most genuinely hilarious authors I know. When I asked them for tips, they didn’t disappoint. (They’re also incredibly generous and insightful…and they didn’t even pay me to say that!) So, without further ado, I present their helpful comedic insights.

James’ Watkins’ top ten tips for ending up on welfare having a successful comedy career:

10. Eat cold pizza for breakfast. Wash it down with large quantities of Diet Coke. After three cans, I can type 470 words of side-splitting humor per minute but unfortuwythdly nonr ofit maks anv senze aftcher tke thirddddddd . . .

9. Travel. Some of my best columns have come from three weeks in India (“The Land Without Toilet Paper”) and being stuck in traffic in downtown Chicago, in August with a stick shift with no air-conditioning and two kids in the backseat waging a fight to the death.

8. Get married, have kids. Dave Barry provides positive proof that marriage and raising children is a source for hundreds of columns, thousands of dollars, and even a Pulitzer Prize. However, use discretion! He’s also on his third or fourth marriage and is buying baby diapers with his AARP discount card.

7. Read, read, read. Essential reads include Dave Barry, Erma Bombeck and, of course, my very funny friend, Rhonda Rhea! And every morning NewsMax.com provides transcripts of late night comics.

6. Pass a kidney stone. I keep reminding students at writers conferences, “Nothing terrible happens to authors. [It's all] just terrific anecdotes.” The old adage is so true: Comedy is tragedy plus time.

5. Tackle a home-improvement project. This is always good for at least two or three columns and one visit to the ER.

4. Look at life from just a few degrees off normal. Successful humorists look at life through their twisted point of view. It doesn’t have to 360 degrees from normal, because that would put you right back at normal. Just a few degrees keeps it plausible yet humorous.

3. Don’t be afraid of people thinking you’re crazy. St. Francis, who is viewed as, well, saintly, said, “I am God’s clown. People look at me and laugh.” Humor is a brutal business, so if you’re thin-skinned, take up a less stressful occupation such as bomb technician, rodeo clown or drug runner.

2. Hang out with people who are even crazier than you. I enjoyed having lunch with a fellow columnist while working as a humor columnist at a local paper. Most of our brainstorms were not “fit for print,” such as low-tech terrorist “Amish bin Laden” who drives around Lancaster county with a buggy armed with kerosene-filled milk cans! However, my friend never ceased to get my brain cells firing on all neurons.

1. Read my book, Writing with Banana Peels. It’s required reading for a humor class I teach at Taylor University and contains principles, practices and pratfalls of writing humor. (And always, whenever you have the chance, shamelessly self-promote your work.)

file000111849428Rhonda says:

I’m going to have to agree with Jim—especially the part where he says to read my stuff. Brilliant. Instead of cold pizza and Diet Coke, however, I don’t know how any writing is ever fueled without coffee. I walk into Starbucks and almost always find my muse sitting in a hip leather chair in the corner. I can get at least three chapters from a couple of shots of espresso. They’re all one sentence with no punctuation, but still.

Exploiting every experience for its comedic value—family, friends, travel, projects—is also great counsel. They say nothing bad ever happens to writers; it’s all just material. Read Jim’s book. More great things to exploit there. Or plagiarize. Whichever.

I suggest keeping a running “funny file,” as well. Anytime something makes you laugh or you come up with something hilariously brilliant, take a little note. Then when you’re ready to start an article or chapter you can peruse your file for a kick-start.

It doesn’t hurt to test-drive a few lines as Facebook statuses, either. See what people like and then…milk those things for all they’re worth. Getting a handle on comedic timing in print is no easy task. Your friends can help you polish. They can also make fun of you, mercilessly. And that’s usually helpful too.

I’m proud to say I taught Jim Watkins everything he knows about being funny. And about the funny sound of the letter “C.” If my children let me name any of my grandchildren, I’m naming one Carl–after Jim.