Four Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills

Photo/KarenJordan

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen. ~Ernest Hemingway

“Are you listening to me?”

Has anyone ever asked you that question? Or maybe that thought pierced your heart and mind, as you felt the sting of someone else ignoring or rejecting you?

How important is listening to you as a writer? How do you know what your audience wants or needs if you don’t listen carefully to them?

Consider these four ways to improve your listening skills.

  1. Resolve to be quick to listen. Many times, people who come to us for help, just need us to listen. James 1:19 offers this advice, “Understand this … You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (NLT).
  2. Decide to be available. Jesus gives us an example of a wise counselor who made Himself available to listen. “The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught” (Mark 6:30).
  3. Desire a discerning heart. Not only does Jesus listen, He discerned the needs of others. When His disciples came to Him after their ministry tour, Jesus observes their need for solitude and rest: “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31).
  4. Choose to be quiet. Proverbs 17:28 reminds us, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (NIV).

At times our failure to listen before responding can provoke a negative, emotional response from our loved ones or friends, who may need our help. In fact, Proverbs 18:13 warns us, “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude” (MSG)

What can we offer others with our response, after we listen to their needs?

  • Grace, not criticism or judgment. Romans 2:4 reminds us, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (NLT)
  • Companionship. We must encourage others to be dependent upon Jesus, not co-dependent with us. Jesus promised His followers, “I’ll be with you … day after day after day, right up to the end of this age” (Matt. 28:20 MSG).

So, the next time someone comes to you for help, I hope you ask yourself this question first: “Are you listening … Really listening?” (Matt. 11:15).

How have your listening skills helped you as a writer?

What Breaks Your Heart?

broken heart dreamstimeAndy Stanley, in his teaching series entitled “Re:Solution” asked a powerful question when he asked, “What breaks your heart?”

The point of the question is this: You were designed by your Heavenly Father who has given you unique gifts, talents, experiences, etc. and when He did, He also designed you for the purpose He placed you here at this time in history to fulfill. (Sounds kind of like this book, On Purpose For a Purpose which you may have heard of. #ShamelessPlug)

What breaks your heart is tied directly to your calling.
Does human trafficking and slavery break your heart the most?

Does social injustice break your heart the most?

Does seeing children struggling in poverty break your heart the most?

Does the decline of healthy marriages and families break your heart the most?

Does domestic violence break your heart the most?

Does lack of medical care to those most in need break your heart?

Obviously, these are all tough, tough issues in our world today, and our hearts break with each one. We know that none of us can do everything. We also know that all of us can do something. So, what is it that breaks your heart the most? Perhaps it is something not even listed above.

As Andy asked this question, and as I considered the past decade of my life in full-time ministry, it became so clear to me that what breaks my heart the most is …

Seeing people remain in shackles that keep them from the abundant life Jesus came to offer. This enslavement shows up in the the following ways:

People striving so hard to experience freedom through their self effort to please God..

Husbands and wives trying so hard to make marriage work in their own power…

Parents living with shame and guilt over what their children choose…

Children grasping to find acceptance from parents who never can never be pleased…

Family members estranged from one another over past offenses…

Pastors or other Christian leaders using shame and guilt to motivate change from those sitting in their services, reading their books, or attending their conferences…

Men, women, adolescents and even children in bondage to addictive behaviors, substances or acts.

When it all comes down to it, I realize what breaks my heart the most is seeing people live with the heavy shackles of legalism disguised as “Sold-Out” New Testament Christianity. That’s what breaks my heart.

But what gives me HOPE in the heartbreak is the awareness that through Christ in Shelley, I can be a carrier of light and life into the world. I can be a voice of grace and truth to my generation. I can be a teachable student on a journey who invites others to join me.

Being self-aware enough to know what breaks our hearts can help us when we’re trying to determine our next step, our next move, our next project, or perhaps the next blog post. 

Becoming aware of what truly breaks our hearts can also lead us to the hope we can offer others whose hearts are broken as they live through the experiences that break yours. 

I encourage you to take some time to reflect on this question and articulate what breaks your heart the most, but don’t stop there! Once you’ve written these down, consider the hope you can now offer through your life–vocationally and relationally–to those who need you and are waiting for you to show up in their lives.

All Things Come to She Who. . .

gray coneflowerCome this September, I will have been a published author for nine years.

I’m still not a household name, and I don’t expect to ever be one.

But, I can say with complete assurance, my writing career is beginning to bloom into what I had once only imagined.

In the last two months, I received my first Kirkus review, which is, according to my agent, a “big deal.” Not only that, but it was a positive review, and it’s already generating advance word of mouth among readers thanks to shares on social media. I also finally landed a review with a major magazine in my (fiction) subject area of birdwatching, which will generate the nationwide publicity for me that I’ve yearned for since my first Birder Murder Mystery book came out. Both of these reviews are for the seventh book in my series, titled The Kiskadee of Death.

Yes, it took seven books for me to land on these reviewers’ radar.

Seven books.

Another first in the last month was receiving a request from a magazine editor to write an essay for them. In my entire writing career, I have never had an editor approach me for an article – I was always the one doing the pitching. To have an editor seek me out to author an essay was a huge boost to my career confidence; knowing that I’ve made an impact on publishing professionals is worth the months I’ve spent cultivating readers and developing my brand.

The final mark, for me, of having my feet firmly planted on my writing path is the number of guest posts and speaking engagements I’m now booking with relative ease. Whether my new-found success in that arena is due to my hard-won lack of fear of rejection, the persistence I’ve practiced, or just a matter of time, I don’t know. And at this point, I don’t care what has generated these new opportunities; I’m just very grateful to have them.

Coincidentally (or not), I recently read an interview with Kate DiCamillo, the celebrated children’s author. Before her first publication, DiCamillo recalled meeting Louise Erdrich, the award-winning author, who asked DiCamillo how long she’d been writing. When the budding children’s author said “Four years,” Erdrich advised her to hang on, that her own book career had taken six years to get off the ground.

It made me feel better that even some of the author superstars of the publishing world know what it’s like to have to wait for success.

The bright side of all that waiting is that when success does finally come, a writer can look back over the years that have gone before, and see that without that waiting, that revising, refining, re-imagining, and all those countless hours of learning a craft and business, the achievement would not taste as sweet as it does. Because the truth is not that all things come to she who waits, but that all things come to she who works while she’s waiting.

Have you begun to see some signs of success in your own writing journey?

 

Impossibility: Five Important Truths

Photo/TaraRoss

Sometimes God leads us to do the impossible.

This morning as I waited for the sunrise to go on my walk, it started raining. I thought, Oh, no! If I don’t go for a walk now, it won’t happen today.

Simple problems. Sometimes the simplest challenge can seem impossible. I also know that my emotions lead me to exaggerate my problems at times.

Life and death issues. I don’t intend to compare my insignificant problems with the life and death issues that others are facing right now. I’m aware that many people face horrific, painful circumstances every day. And as I look at my circumstances in light of the needs of others, my problems often seem trivial.

Photo/KarenJordanCrises in Spain. My writing life often pushes me out of my comfort zone toward some “impossible” dreams. It led me into the academic world where I faced all kinds of uncomfortable situations. My most memorable learning experience occurred in Spain.

I wrote a previous post on the WordServe Water Cooler about my academic journey in Salamanca, Spain, “Sergio: A Memoir from My Writing Life.” During that summer in Spain, God revealed His faithful guidance and strength as I faced my limitations and weaknesses.

Photo/KarenJordanImmersed in another culture and language, I discovered I had taken on an academic endeavor far beyond my abilities, and I felt totally incompetent to complete it. My personal weaknesses became painfully obvious, as I experienced the reality of my limitations.

I’d been pacing myself as I pursued a course of study as a nontraditional student, commuting to school from home. But after a few weeks in Spain, without warning, I crashed—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Like an athlete, I hit the wall, suddenly losing all my strength after a long, difficult journey.

Spiritual Truths. I rediscovered five important spiritual truths about impossibilities during my painful summer of learning in Spain.

  • Some things are impossible to do in my own strength. “Humanly speaking, it is impossible …” (Matt. 19:26 NLT).
  • All things are possible with God. “… But with God everything is possible.” (ibid.).
  • I can do anything God calls me to do. “… I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).
  • God will complete the work that He began in me. “ And I am certain that God, who began the good work within (me), will continue his work until it is finally finished …” (Phil. 1:6).
  • God gives me His strength, when I am weak. “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Reflection. These promises from God’s Word continue to encourage me as I face the impossibilities of my writing life. And I’m thankful that God offers His powerful promises to all who choose to believe His Word.

I’ll never forget some of the painful lessons I learned in Spain—and I still bear some of the scars from that experience. Now, I try not to take on more than I can handle, since I’m more aware of my limitations. In fact, I hit the wall faster and more frequent than ever as life takes its toll on me. So, I’m trying to stay focused on the course set for me.

Remember this promise as you face your impossible dreams and goals: ”Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (Matt. 19:26 NLT)

What seems impossible for you today? Does your situation seem hopeless, difficult, or ridiculous to even consider?

What I Really Want To Say

I’m sure these things never happen to any of you other authors, so forgive me while I vent for a bit among you, my friends and colleagues.

(Not that you have any choice. I mean, we all voluntarily signed up for this crazy business of writing books, so it’s part of the unwritten code that we have to put up with each other’s rants now and then. “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night,” as Bette Davis famously says in All About Eve.)

Scene #1

Filled with good intentions, I agree to mentor a local high schooler who wants to become a writer. I attend the mentor orientation program and lay out goals for the semester, based on the profile and paperwork the student has submitted. At our first meeting, the student informs me that she already has her novel’s first three chapters completed and that she wants to know what publisher she should contact. She explains why her book will eclipseTwilight and expects me to help her become the next Stephenie Meyer.

What I want to say: “Believe me, if I knew how to be the next Stephenie Meyer, I wouldn’t be here helping you. I’d already be the next Stephenie Meyer.”

What I really say: “It would be a good first step to check your spelling since I can see five mistakes right here in the first paragraph.”

Scene #2

I agree to speak at a local aspiring writers’ workshop about my decades-long writing career, the need to understand the business of publishing, and how I finally landed my first book deal with a traditional publisher. After my presentation, I invite questions. The first one I get is, “Have you considered self-publishing? It’s really fast, and I’ve already published several books.”

What I want to say: “Good for you. How many copies have you actually sold and why are you here, then? Did you not hear anything I just said? ”

What I really say: “Good for you. Traditional publishing isn’t for everyone, that’s true.”

Scene #3

I’m standing in line to order my favorite hot tea at the local coffee shop when I see an acquaintance who waves me over to her table. I get my tea and go to say hello. My friend introduces me as a writer to the woman seated next to her, at which point the woman launches into a lengthy description of the book she’s thinking about writing. My eyes glaze over, my smile freezes on my face, and I feel the heat from my tea seeping through the extra layer of the cardboard holder and into my fingers.

What I want to say: “I really don’t give a rip about the book you want to write. I don’t even know you. I just wanted a cup of my favorite tea.”

What I really say: “Nice to meet you. Gotta run.” And I promise myself to make my own tea at home for the rest of my life.

Okay, I’m done ranting. Thanks for listening. I feel so much better. I’m going to go make my tea now.

Your turn. Any rants you want to share?

Planning a Book Release Party

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, an author does much more than just write. In fact understanding this was my biggest learning curve once I penned my John Hancock on my first contract. You are a writer, editor, marketer, publicist, your own biggest cheerleader, and your own worst critic. Not to mention the fact that you have multiple voices talking to you at one time as you write. Don’t worry…that’s normal. Kind of.

Book Release Party - Shadowed Kariss Lynch
This year, I added “party planner” to my growing writing resume as I prepared for the release of Shadowed just two short months ago. When Shaken released in 2014, my friends planned a sweet party to celebrate. This year, it was my turn to grab the wheel. Only I had no idea where to begin! But like all things in this writing journey, the learning curve is steep, the lessons memorable, and the end result rewarding.

The release party doesn’t have to be stressful! Here are some tips I picked up along the way.

1. Choose a theme.

I planned two different parties with the help of loved ones. I wanted to theme the parties, so I selected decorations and small touches according to the audience. Since some of the major moments in Shadowed are centered around sunsets and the ocean and an opening scene with fireworks, I found decorations that flowed like water and paper décor that resembled the pop of color bursting in a dark sky. It was a fun way to set the stage. For the second party, we decided to go with simple and elegant to fit the audience coming. We chose a room lined with windows overlooking downtown, decorated a center table with roses, set up a sidebar with refreshments, and left an open space for mingling and signing books.

2. Delegate the details.

I still didn’t pull this off on my own. In fact, I had a moment where I almost threw in the towel. But friends and family came to the rescue. Friends volunteered to bring refreshments and plastic ware that fit the beach theme. Others donated door prizes like Fossil watches and a hand-lettered quote from Shadowed framed beautifully. Another friend set up a photo booth complete with reading glasses and chalkboards that represented different plot twists. Party-goers could grab their favorite pair of reading glasses, a chalkboard with their favorite plot twist, and enact the scene on camera.

3. Send the invite.

Gather those around you who weathered the journey with you. Those who sat through the tears and endless plot conversations, the ones who left meals on your doorstep, or talked you off the ledge when you wanted to quit. Let them celebrate this win with you! As excited as your readers will be, these people will be even more excited for you, and let’s be honest, you couldn’t have reached this accomplishment without them. Then, encourage them to bring their friends, friends who may just be curious about you as an author, who may just want to come for the party, and who may just walk away as fans of your work. Use Facebook or Evite to send a mass message so that folks can easily respond

4. Remember the journey.

Don’t forget to hit pause in the craziness and excitement Shadowed Kariss Lynchand remember. Remember from whence you’ve come. Remember the winding road that led you to this point, the road that seemed to never end and had too many bumps to identify. Remember that writing is your calling. Remember the One who gave you the story in the first place.

5. Celebrate!

Bask in the joy of completion, of your baby entering the wide, wide world. Ask a couple of your confidants to keep an eye on the refreshments and remind people to turn in their tickets for door prizes, then cut loose and celebrate. Share your heart, speak of the journey, talk about the story, smile, laugh, sell books, giveaway a few, and praise God for the gift of completion, of release day, and all He taught you along the way.

When all is said and done, clean up, sleep up, then hit the desk. You’ve got another manuscript to finish.

Struggling with Your Book Manuscript? Just Write!

Photo/TaraRossHow’s that book you’re NOT writing coming along?

I must admit, writing a book is not at all what I expected, even though it’s been my dream for a long time.

I did refer to it as a goal at one point, but someone corrected me by informing me that “goals have deadlines.” So, I suppose it’s just been a distant dream for me—until now.

Now, I DO have a deadline. So, I guess my dream graduated to become a goal. Yay!

Hold on! Why am I so happy? Did I say deadline? Yikes!

In his blog post, “The Totally Boring Process of Writing a Book,” Jeff Goins wrote about his struggle with writing a book.

I think Goins wrote this article just for me.

Wait … did he say “boring”? Why, yes—I think he did! So, what do you think?

Observer. I know some students who NEVER finished writing their master’s theses or doctoral dissertations! They completed the course work for their degrees, compiled volumes of research, but they never turned in their final papers, failing to complete their degree requirements.

I’ve also known a few professors and ministers who used their entire sabbaticals to do research, but they never finished their books. Such wisdom—still packed away and waiting in an obscure files somewhere.

Recently, I listened to several historical fiction writers confess their ongoing struggle, of not beinging able to moving from the research phase of their writing to actually finishing their books.

One writer friend completed a book that she’s been working on for 25 years. TWENTY-FIVE YEARS! Oh, she’s written other books. But this prize was tucked away for safe-keeping until her other projects were finished.

Is this a common problem for writers? I think so.

But who am I to judge other writers? I’ve been collecting research on my book for a decade. That’s why I’ve been so stalled in this phase of the writing process, gathering 10 years worth of research from every nook and cranny of my home and computer files.

Question. So, how do you break away from your research and graduate to writing?

My writing friend, Kathy, shared some wise advice she gleaned from a writers conference: “Put your bottom in the chair, and stay there until you meet your goal for the day.”

So, I wish I had the answer. Perhaps it’s simply these two words—JUST WRITE!

How do you transition from research to writing?