Four Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills

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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?

Impossibility: Five Important Truths

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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?

WordServe News: June 2015

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

Bryan Bishop, researcher with Youth With a Mission, released Boundless with Baker 9780801017162_p0_v2_s260x420Publishing

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Arnie Cole and Pam Ovwigho released in partnership with GoTandem9781630583736_p0_v1_s260x420 Resources, Managing Your Family’s High-Tech Habits.

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Rebecca DeMarino released her second book in The Southold Chronicles with Revell, To 9780800722197_p0_v3_s260x420Capture Her Heart.

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Greg Johnson and Michael Ross released in partnership with GoTandem Resources, 10 Reasons to Stay Christian in High School9781630583750_p0_v1_s260x420 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jonathan McKee with Danette Matty released The Skinny on Volunteers with Group 9781470720858_p0_v2_s260x420Publishing.

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Bill Myers released his nonfiction title with Barbour Publishing, The Jesus Experience. 9781630589899_p0_v2_s260x420

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Michael Ross and Brian Doyle released in partnership with GoTandem 9781630583743_p0_v2_s260x420Resources, Words that Heal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Michael and Tiffany Ross in partnership with GoTandem Resources released 101 Ways 9781630583729_p0_v3_s260x420to Strengthen the Parent-Child Connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New WordServe Clients

Matthew Mellema and Julie Parker signed with Wordserve Literary!

New Contracts

Larry Dugger signed with Charisma for his book, The Other Side of the Wilderness. Due out in Summer 2016

Karen Jordan signed with Leafwood Press for her debut nonfiction book, tentatively titled, Words that Change Everything. 

Jim Putman signed a three book contact with Baker Publishing, the first book releasing in the Fall of 2016.

Linda Znachko signed with Kregel publishers for her memoir, 13 Hours that Changed My Life. Due out in Fall of 2016.

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?

Facing a Change?

Photo/KarenJordan“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed … ” (1 Corinthians 15:51 TNIV).

I first noticed this scripture many years ago displayed on a wall mural in our church nursery. I laughed at the clever inference to the care of the babies. But the verse prompted me to research its biblical context.

I discovered differing opinions about the end times. But I also found Someone who never changes: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8 NIV).

Possibilities. Change is inevitable. And many times it arrives when least expected—like an illness, untimely death, or even an opportunity you never dreamed possible.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future” (John F. Kennedy).

Politics. Politicians also promise us change. But their promises often prove to be just as empty and meaningless as their rhetoric no matter how well intended.

Such shallow commitments remind us of what the Bible says about keeping our word:

And since you know that (God) cares, let your language show it. Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words. Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say yes or no. Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you. (James 5:12 MSG)

Projects. I embrace change at times, especially with my writing projects. The writing process requires many revisions. Some people believe writing is just a three-step process—pre-writing, writing, and re-writing. But most writers agree that each of these steps involves much more.

For instance, the beginning of the composing process includes things like brainstorming, asking questions, researching, outlining, and other pre-writing strategies. Even the simplest blog post requires multiple revisions. The first draft of this post needed a lot of editing and changes.

Promises. The Bible also reminds us, “… in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye … we will be changed” (15:52).

But even though God’s Word promises change, it also encourages us to “… stand firm. Let nothing move you … ” in our faith (15:58).

So when you face change or resist it, remember, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (15:58b).

What changes are you facing right now?

Facing Our Fears as Writers

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We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us. (Beth Moore)

I’m forced to face my fears and weaknesses in many areas of my life, particularly my writing life.

Resistance. What fears haunt you as a writer? I have a long list of my own. Writing for publication demands strength and stamina! We should expect to face resistance, right? Each new project, goal, or idea, may trigger memories of intimidation, shame, rejection, failure, regret, or setback. Or we may even fear the price of our success.

Intimidation. Fearful to let anyone see your first (second or third) drafts? Even the best writers produce shoddy first drafts. Anne Lamott offers an entire chapter on this topic in her outstanding instructional book on writing and life, Bird by Bird.

That’s why we RE-write. And that’s why I recommend finding a critique group or someone who can (and will) edit your work. I’m grateful for my writing friends who are honest enough to wield their red pens and hack on my stuff.

My husband Dan serves as my Editor-in-chief, although most of writers do not advise asking a spouse to edit. But I’ll reserve that debate for another post. Although, I welcome your opinion on that subject in the comments space below.

Shame? Perfectionism and the fear of judgment and criticism can stifle our writing life. Our inner critic may be harder on our work than any reader or editor. “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough” (Dr. Brené Brown).

Rejection? Wow! This can be a monumental hurdle for writers! But many famous authors were rejected before succeeding, like C.S. Lewis and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

If you’re a Christian writer, here are a few encouraging words from Beth Moore, “The next time you feel rejection’s sting, remember God’s words to Samuel: ‘It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me’” (1 Sam. 8:7).

Failure? Many writers never pursue writing for publication for fear of failure. But I agree successful author and blogger Jeff Goins: “The cost of not pursuing a dream is greater than the cost of failure.”

Regret? Our mistakes can yield valuable lessons. But we don’t want to focus so much on our missed opportunities or disappointments that we lose sight of hope and dreams for our future.

… I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead …  (Phil. 3:13 NIV).

Success? Do you fear having high hopes? Afraid of taking risks? Or maybe you’re counting the cost of success, and you don’t think you have what it takes. Could your fear be the stumbling block that’s keeping your from moving forward?

Setbacks? How do you endure setbacks in your writing life? I’ve learned a few survival tips on the walking trail and on my writing journey. But as I face my fears and take one step at a time by faith, I’m able to go the distance.

And now, … one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received … Then the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9 NLT)

What challenges have you faced and what fears have you overcome as a writer?

How to Write a Nonfiction Book that Sells — Pt. 2

Good NewsIn Part One, I talked about the importance of subject, title, and content for writing nonfiction books that sell. All of these are key elements. Missing just one could mean the difference between a publisher’s bite on your bait, or their swimming away.

Equally, if you neglect the power of your marketing strategy, including future books you can write, a publisher might say no instead of yes. Short-cutting is not worth the risk of losing a book deal.

So let’s talk specifics.

  • Intriguing marketing strategies are an integral piece of your non-fiction book proposal. Every author’s heard it, “You must help promote your own book.” But most, even those of us with sales and marketing backgrounds from other industries, can feel overwhelmed at how to effectively boost book sales on paper or in application. So what’s an author to do?

Think outside the industry. How do movies and TV programs promote their wares? What are the big producers doing to move sales? Think Coke, Wal-Mart, Apple, Under Armor, Cabelas, or others you see frequenting the air and radio waves, or filling store shelves. Learn from the big boys while creatively using your small budget.

For instance:

  • Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverBuild human curiosity into the heart of your sales tactics and specify samples in your book proposal. i.e. Six Secrets to…, How to…, What ______ Want, Three Things Most People Forget that Could Cost You Sales. See the pattern?
  • List all of your speaking events, including those you volunteer for, or that may feel more like family than a professional gig. Any exposure to a potential buying public counts — and those with built-in fans increase the odds of book sales.
  • Look at conferences, organizations, businesses, that don’t immediately seem like a fit for your message. Is there a way to connect your book to their needs? For Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, I’m promoting the impact personal issues have on the workplace and vice-versa. I’ve booked new speaking opportunities as a result.
  • Include something unique. *Talk about the psychology of color and how you can use it in your marketing materials. Note your intent to attract those looking for peace through shades of green, your strategy to pursue passionate responses with strokes of red, or your ability to stir deeper thinking by adding blue.

*After you’ve made the sale, don’t forget to work with your publisher on appropriate colors when considering cover art for your book.

  • Future books you’d like to write are like adding scent to the lure for a publisher ready to bite. After writing your proposal on a subject matter readers are interested in, brainstorming a dynamite title, writing clear content, and adding unique marketing flavors, offer a list of intriguing future titles, true to your brand. This shows the publisher you are more than a one-hit-wonder. You are an author readers will follow for a long time to come.

In conclusion, I must stress the need for a teachable attitude and patient demeanor. Two common challenges we must overcome if we want to succeed. There is no place for arrogance or impatience in any professional venue. Be a turtle, not a hare, and in time, you will write a nonfiction book that sells.

Have you sold books and if so, can you offer insights I missed?