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.

The Hard, Beautiful Work of Surrender

In-Gods-economy-ourThe angel of the Lord found Hagar by a well of water in the desert on the way to Shur. He said, ‘Hagar, you who serve Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?’ And she said, ‘I am running away from Sarai, the one I serve.’ Then the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your boss. Put yourself under her power.’ The angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will give you so many people in your family through the years that they will be too many to number.’…So Hagar gave this name to the Lord Who spoke to her, ‘You are a God Who sees.’” (Genesis 16:7-10, 13 NLV)

Did you know: Hagar was the very first person–and the only woman–in the scriptures to “name” God? In the desert, she saw Him for who He really was, and called Him “El Roi” (the God who sees me). In the midst of a dry, barren wilderness, her wounded place became a ministry space.

Experiencing Him gave her the strength to go back to Sarah, who had been mistreating her, even though such a task must have frightened Hagar. From her desperate encounter, she received a sense of God’s provision and protection. And God ultimately blessed her obedience, just as He will bless us when we obey.

However, it’s not easy to trust God when He’s leading us to do something more difficult than we could ever imagine. In order to change our character and heighten our dependence on Him, He may ask us to surrender our long-cherished dreams, ideas, or habits.

Why? Well, God knows when our plans, goals, and rituals have turned into idols. He sees us relying on other things and people for comfort and relief, and He wants to guide us to a place of freedom instead of bondage. So He whispers to us: Trust me. Open your palm and release what you’re grasping tightly. I promise that I will hold onto you, if you will just give me everything.

What difficult thing is God asking you to do:
• Believe Him for the impossible?
• Forgive someone who abused you?
• Turn over your children’s future to Him?
• Persist in your calling, when you see no fruit?

I urge you to trust Him…no matter what. In God’s economy, your wounded place can become a ministry space. You may not understand why He’s asking you to obey, and you may be unsure how long you’ll have to stay in a difficult situation. But whatever you go through, He promises to sustain you. He will never leave you to fend for yourself.

Perhaps your obedience is for someone else’s benefit. He may want to teach your children, friends, co-workers, or spouse about His character.

Unfortunately, if we don’t surrender the first time God asks us to, He changes tactics…using other people, circumstances, and even pain to get our attention. Does that sound harsh? It’s all for our good. Our Maker, who knows the future and created us to find our ultimate fulfillment in His arms, longs to save us from ourselves. He knows that because of our limited view and human frailties, our desires—if left unchecked–will lead us to destruction.

II Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

This transformation takes place not by our own efforts, but by the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. As we die to our plans, God changes us to be more like Jesus.

And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Post adapted from Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts by Dena Dyer and Tina Samples (Kregel, 2013). 

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.

Give ‘Em What They Want, Not What You THINK They Want

shop-vac-10-gallon-industrial-wet-dry-vacuum-925-40-100After fumbling around with social networking and reading every marketing article about it that I could get my hands on for the last year or so, I’ve distilled my promotional strategy down to a simple directive: give readers what they want.

I know that sounds obvious, but the tricky part is understanding the ‘what,’ especially once you realize that ‘what’ your readers want may not be the same ‘what’ that you THINK they want.  The key is taking ‘you’ out of the picture, so you can clearly see your reader without your own perspective distorting your vision.

It’s like reflective listening – you want to reflect back what the other person is saying without putting your own spin on his words, so you hear clearly what he said, and not what you think he said. Quick example of doing it wrong: my husband said he wished he’d taken music lessons when he was a kid, so I got him music lessons for Christmas. Two weeks into the lessons, he told me he didn’t want to continue.

“But you said you wished you’d taken lessons as a kid,” I reminded him.

“As a kid, yes,” he said. “But now I have other interests that I’d rather spend my time on. You interpreted my comment as a current wish, which it isn’t.”

Ouch. I should have gotten him the shop-vac he said he needed, which I thought was boring.

Same idea applies to your readers.

Pay careful attention to what they say, or in the case of social media, what they really like to see and with what they engage.

For instance, I thought that as an author, I should be posting on Facebook about my WIP or upcoming events. Those posts, I’ve found, get little notice.

But if I post a photo of me getting kissed by a French bulldog, or a goofy homemade video of me singing (badly) about the cold weather, I get comments galore. Clearly, on Facebook, at least, my writing news is not very interesting to my readers.

Writing news is appreciated very much, however, by my newsletter subscribers, so that’s where it now goes, along with on my website. As for LinkedIn, I post both events and business-related material, such as when my books get a rave review or included in an industry-recognized blogger’s post.

For Twitter, I post quick links to interesting material in my subject areas (birds, nature, dogs, humor) or retweet entertaining posts, because I’ve found that those kinds of communications are most appreciated by my followers. Because it’s a fast and short exposure, I tend to use Twitter more than any other social media platform as more of a shotgun approach – post and hope it spreads wide and far to get my name in front of a greater number of people, because that’s the first step to finding new readers.

My experience has convinced me that connecting with readers, followers, and networks is a necessary piece of expanding my readership, but once I’ve reached new folks, it’s time to shift gears and use social media to build relationships, not solicit sales.

That’s why it’s called social media, and not the shopping channel. Remembering to give the reader what they want is easy when it’s the same thing you want to give your friends.

How do you use the various social network platforms?

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?

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