It’s an Honour Not to be Nominated

I have a love-hate relationship with Christian writing awards. On the one hand, I can definitely see the value, particularly for newer writers attempting to become more well-known. Winning an award, even being a finalist, offers great exposure for the author and no doubt increases sales. Finding your name on a shortlist can also provide much-needed encouragement to keep pressing on in a business that is notoriously discouraging, even soul-crushing at times, for those trying to break in.

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But there’s a flip side, as always. What about authors who enter contests year after year without ever seeing their names on a shortlist? That can only add to the soul crushing I mentioned earlier, perhaps even drive a new writer to give up entirely and seek another career. I know that personally I have often contemplated the merits of quitting writing and taking up burger flipping or cab driving, or any job, really, that doesn’t involve putting myself out there and subjecting myself on a daily basis to criticism and rejection.

I wonder, too, about the big-name authors, the ones who appear to have “made it” in the business, whose books are well-known and widely read and whose sales and fan base is firmly established, who continue to enter these contests. Not being in this position myself (yet smiley-163510__340) I wonder what it is that motivates them. At what point do awards stop losing their meaning? Do they ever? If you no longer need the exposure or the affirmation that your work is good and has an audience, what do you get from winning an award, especially when it means a lesser-known author will miss out on the honour? I’m a little afraid to ask any of them, in case the answer is that you never get over the feeling that your work isn’t good enough, that even if fans have been loyal so far, you may lose them on your next book, that your agent may drop you, or your publisher fail to offer you another contract, as they seek out newer authors and you get left behind. Is there ever a point where, despite what others think, you yourself feel that you have “made it” and that your position in the publishing world is now secure?

I suspect that, for most writers, the answer is no. And so continuing to win awards must ease that trepidation a little, at least for another year.

As I write this, we are in the throes of another awards season for Christian writing. I love that the names of friends and colleagues, not to mention well-known authors whose work I admire (and even mine, occasionally) are showing up on shortlists and that many are going on to win awards. I hate that so many others are, right now, feeling more discouraged than ever about their efforts. It is difficult, some days, not to envy those whose work is being affirmed with numerous public accolades. In this season, it is more important than ever for us to remember that, in the world of Christian writing, we are not in competition with each other. We have all been gifted and called to write by God, and he has a plan and purpose for each of us and our work. Whether or not that involves human recognition in the form of awards is, from a divine, eternal perspective, not really all that important.

As long as we are obedient to the call to write (or flip burgers, or drive a cab, or whatever work is put in front of us to do), and we do it with all our hearts, as unto the Lord and not unto man, we can look forward to receiving the greatest and most meaningful award of all one day, in the form of the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

How to Refill Your Writing Tank

Feeling empty after finishing a manuscript or spending weeks marketing your books? Has burn-out become your default mode?

Then it’s past time for you to indulge in some writerly self-care. Here’s how I refill my tank:

  1. Eat ice cream. Lots of ice cream. It freezes all the synapses in your brain so you can’t think about writing, even if you wanted to. The idea is to give your brain a break, and ice cream does it every time for me.
  2. Read a lousy book. In fact, read two. It will remind you that anyone can write a book, but YOU can write a GOOD book. Pat yourself on the back. (Gratuitous self-praise is one of a writer’s most potent secret weapons when it comes to longevity in the writing business.)
  3. Go cliff-diving. (No, wait. That’s too much like writing – throwing yourself into a project not knowing where you’ll land. I guess that’s why I’ve never gone cliff-diving in real life since I do it all the time with writing. True confession: I just included it in the list to catch your attention…)
  4. 4. Take up a new hobby. Not cliff-diving (see #3 above). I’ve recently started weeding the yard, lopping off dead branches and building rustic furniture. Physical activity is good for the body, soul, and brain. (Hmmm… I just realized that my new hobbies all involve aggressive behavior: I get a visceral thrill from yanking out weeds, cutting off limbs and I absolutely LOVE drilling and pounding in nails. Let’s move right along…)
  5. Make something from Pinterest. Admit it, you’ve wasted time on Pinterest along with the rest of the world, oohing and aahing over charming hand-crafted items or exotic destinations or delightful food presentations. I took the plunge and here’s my result:(Hey, I didn’t promise it’s always pretty to refill my tank. I just offered to tell you what works for me. Sometimes, the most motivating thing I can do is fail miserably at something else and tell myself “Well, I can always write…”)
  6. Be a language vigilante. I love this one. I’ll make a point of reading every sign I see in a day and point out to anyone who’s within hearing the grammar/spelling mistakes. Big favorites are the ever-present “Your” instead of “You’re” as in “Your our most valuable customer” or “Thanks for you’re support!” I have to make a conscious effort not to carry a big fat red magic marker with me everywhere and circle the errors. By the end of the day, I once again feel like I have a firm grip on the English language, and it’s my duty to enlighten others how to properly use the written word.
  7. Thank God for writing. It’s a lot more fun than standing all day with a stop/slow sign directing traffic in a one-lane construction zone. Truly, I am blessed!
  8. Laugh! After all, God made you a writer, of all things! Talk about a great (make that OMNIPOTENT) sense of humor…

Writer’s Block? Consider a Template

You sit down to write your blog post or speech, and your mind goes blank.

What do you do? Panic? Make a fresh cup of coffee? Take a walk outside? Or tie yourself to your desk chair, vowing not to get up until it’s finished?

We’ve all had these moments of frustration when the words refuse to come. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one.

Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then start on the first one.”

One way to do that is to use a template. Michael Hyatt suggests, “I create a template for any task I find myself doing repeatedly. So instead of reinventing the wheel every time, I do it once, save it as a template, and then reuse it.”

If you’ve every written a book proposal, you understand the value of a template. And you compose it in chunks, right? In fact, just typing the cover page is a helpful way to start; then, you go on to the next page.

I use templates as I compose teaching or speaking notes, as well as for some of my hard-to-write blog posts.

I start with an overall look at the topic.

  • Audience. I start by examining who I’m writing for, or who will be attending the event.
  • Felt need or problem. I examine not only what problem I’m addressing, but also what I want the audience to know and to do.
  • Main thought. For me, it’s often hard to reduce my message into one or two words. So, I attempt to summarize my message in one sentence to get my focus.
  • Scripture or reference. Since I write on nonfiction, Christian topics, I write out the main scripture or promise I want to share, or the authoritative source.

The next part of my template includes spaces for each section planned.

  • Opening statement or story. Here’s where I try to capture the attention of my audience with a quotation or an intriguing story.
  • My story. I connect with the topic, using an illustration from my own experiences.
  • Our story. I consider borrowing from other people or source that expresses how many reader will relate to the subject.
  • Resource. What does my primary resource say about this topic? This could be Bible reference or another authoritative source.
  • Your story. Now, I try to lead the reader to connect the topic with one of her own life stories.
  • Application. I encourage the audience to adopt some practical way to apply the message that might change their life.
  • Conclusion. What is the take-away? Write something the audience can remember—a clever quote, a power statement, or repeat what you just said in the post in a memorable way. I propose a premise, then reinforce it with strong, concluding words.

How do you handle those times when the words won’t come for your project?

I hope you will consider developing a template for those tasks you find yourself doing routinely, like blog posts or speaking notes.

And if all else fails, just take a walk or do anything to get your mind off your writing, and allow yourself to refocus on something pleasant or beautiful.

Then, go back to your desk, sit down, and just write!

Have templates helped you in your writing? If so, share a few examples with us.

 

10 Things Every Writer Should Remember

A few days ago, I actually thought it, I even dared to speak the words out loud to God. “Maybe I just need to quit.”

Things Every Writer Should RememberI was referring to writing.

But two things happened that set me straight — one I call a Divine encouragement, the other, a practical review.

In case you are interested in the motivational things that made up my practical review, I’ve listed them in a top ten format. None of these came to mind however, until my moment of Divine encouragement.

Early this year, for six busy weeks, I traveled across five states speaking, in addition to several in-between events in my home state. I enjoyed getting to meet many new people and personally share the messages I’m so passionate about.

Within two weeks of finishing my speaking circuit, my oldest son got married. But his joyous event was tainted by the flare up of a severe back injury. So much so, that he fell during his ceremony. It broke my mother’s heart to see him push through the pain and sweat through the rest of his vows, to determinedly marry our new daughter-in-love.

After a month and a few more falls, he had improved little, and was becoming frustrated. All medical efforts lacked real results. I took turns with other family members who stayed with him during the day, helplessly watching my son suffer, and feeling my writing hours slip away.

But something new was about to occur.

I woke up shortly after five in the morning to my husband’s groans. I asked, “Are you all right?”

When he said, “I don’t think so,” I popped off of my pillow on full alert.

I interrogated, “Do you have any other pain? Are you sweating? Do either of your arms hurt?”

“I took a shower, so I’m not sweating now,” he said. “And my left arm is sore, but I think I must have pulled something when I was carrying my boat batteries yesterday.”

I’d heard enough. “Get ready. We’re going to the hospital.”

On our way out the door, I gave him three baby aspirin. An attending physician later told me they could have saved his life.Inspirational Quotes

A heart cath revealed a 95% blockage in one artery, and 40% in another area. He’d had a heart attack. Thankfully, the two stents they immediately placed in him, along with a complete lifestyle transformation, have drastically improved his health. But the hits weren’t over.

Four days after his release, my genetic eye disease triggered, common after periods of heavy stress. For days, I couldn’t see clearly and all light felt excruciating. Watching TV, reading, or looking at a computer were impossibilities. All I could do was lay helplessly in bed, where I thought and prayed.

I confess to holding multiple pity parties, where fleeting thoughts of giving up on my writing career came and went. When I finally began to feel improvement in my body, but felt overwhelmed by how far behind I was, I spoke out loud, “Maybe I just need to quit.”

As I said it, I had no idea I would get a clear response so soon. God used her to provide Divine encouragement.

My cell phone rang. I recognized the name of a woman from an audience I had spoken to the month before. She was on the organizational team, and they had invited me and my fellow WordServe authors Karen Jordan and Kathryn Graves to bring our Untangled Conference to their city in September. I assumed this was her reason for calling. I was wrong.

“Hello,” I said.

Motivational Quotes“Oh, Anita. I’m so glad you answered. I had to call you. I just finished reading your book, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, and I have to tell you, it’s the best book I’ve ever read. I’m getting a copy and sending it to my sister tomorrow. So many people need this. Thank you so much for using your talents to write and speak.”

Only God had known my inner wrestlings before she called. The confusion bound in physical and emotional fatigue that pummeled my brain. Maybe you can identify.

If writing professionally were easy, more people would stick it out, but especially when life blindsides you, it can get tough. However, the hard days are what make us real people — realistic, relatable, and relevant.

As I think about it, aren’t those the qualities that make good writers flawed but great?

Dreaming and the Creative Writing Process

The clock by my bed read 3:30 a.m. when I jerked awake. I fought to untangle my legs from the sheets while trying to clear the fog from my brain. Why did I wake up? I wondered. I shuffled into the kitchen to make a cup of hot tea and as I inhaled the fragrant steam, a story formed in my mind.

Grabbing a pen and notebook, I settled into my favorite comfy chair and watched the story appear on the paper. My hand was doing the writing, but the words flowed from an inner place in my mind that I didn’t realize was even there.

Most writers have experienced something similar. I wanted to know how the process works, so I did a bit of research. I discovered that dreaming is a known quantity in the creative writing process.

In her book, Writers Dreaming: Twenty-six Writers Talk About Their Dreams and the Creative Process, Naomi Epel says many “famous authors . . . all discuss the nature and significance that dreams play in their writing.” Dreaming and writing are not only a natural combination, but an effective one as well.

Many writers try to get into a semi-dream state in order to create. Carol Gift Page described this process in a class she taught at writer’s conferences.

Donald M. Murray, in his book, Write to Learn, asserts that writers don’t know what they know until they write it. He says the best way to write is to blurt an idea out onto the page no matter how tangled up or mangled it may appear. Then he instructs writers to begin to shape it into something beautiful using the tools of the craft.

My ideas seem to lurk in my subconscious mind waiting for the right moment to jump into my conscious stream of thought. Most often this happens while I am sitting in front of a computer, but sometimes it happens in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning.

Jesus Christ is the Creator creating through me. He creates the stories and I obey by writing them down. In Psalm 45:1 God says, “My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” (NKJV) The dream state is when He is able to by-pass myself and my own thoughts to place His ideas into my imagination.

Isaiah 26:3 says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose imagination is stayed on Thee.” (RSV) When we allow Jesus Christ to harness our imaginations, we’ll have the ideas He gives us. Then, when we use our minds to focus on the details, the whole project is brought into subjection to Him and Jesus is glorified, which is the real reason for writing.

The next time I wake up with a story pushing for release, I’ll know where it came from. And I’ll rejoice that I am being used for the Father’s plan. God gives the inspiration, and he expects me to do the work of crafting it into good writing. Then he will work out his plan for the piece. I can trust him.

5 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

Writer's Block

If you have been sitting in front of a computer staring at the empty white screen, you are not alone. We all have felt stuck before. Here are 5 things that I have done that have helped me get the creativity flowing.

1. Get Away to Write

When I am beginning a new project, I like to get away for a week to begin the writing process. I have an 80-year-old mother who has helped provide a place for me to “hide-out.” She goes to Clear Water, Florida every fall for a couple of months. I have taken a week to go and write. I take my computer bag and sit looking at the ocean and let my fingers fly. I don’t worry about perfection, I just write and devote myself to the process.

2. Set A Schedule to Write

If you are going to complete a writing project, a schedule can help you stay the course. I set a goal of how many words I am going to write a day before I stop. Often, I am going to write 1500 words. At first it can be slow, but as I allow my mind to wrap around the page it helps. I like to write in the mornings while my mind is fresh (but others like to write in the evenings when the kids go to bed). You know what time works for you, so put it on your calendar. When I was writing my first book, I made a commitment not to take any appointments before noon. There were people who were frustrated with me and didn’t see what the big deal was. For me, I needed to prioritize writing or it wouldn’t get done.

3. Take the Pressure Off

One of the most difficult times of writer’s block that I experienced was with my newly released book, Women Who Move Mountains, Praying with Confidence, Boldness, and Grace. I had already signed the contract with Baker Publishing Group and had negotiated a date that I thought would work on the calendar. However, as we got closer, the date to launch our new church was changed and it conflicted with my writing deadline. I simply had too much on my plate and I couldn’t do it all. When we renegotiated the due date, it took the pressure off.

4. Just Do It

I was dealing with a great deal of spiritual warfare in the form of negative thoughts: You are in over your head. You can’t write this. You don’t know what you aClick here to Download the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Women Who Move Mountains.re doing. Who are you kidding? Have you ever had some version of negative thoughts? I tried praying (after all the book is about prayer). However, I didn’t have a breakthrough in terms of peace, until I forced myself to just do it. In prayer, God gave me a picture of an acorn that I was holding in my hand, but if I would plant that acorn in good soil, and provide nurture, it would grow to be a strong a mighty tree whose leaves would provide healing for all who read it. After writing these words down in a journal, I took my computer and I sat in my 80-year-old mother’s room and I began to type. (If you read chapter 1 of Women Who Move Mountains, you will learn that my mom has been my main role model for prayer.) (Click the Picture of the book to immediately download the Introduction and Chapter 1).

5. Pray, Believe, Write

Little by little, you will accomplish what God has called you to do. Begin each writing session with this rhythm: pray, believe, write. When you know that God hears your prayers, you can set aside the worries of the day, believe God, and write. Take frequent breaks, look up at the sky, smile, and believe that the ONE who has called you to write will inspire you to do it. As you follow his guidance, little by little, the written words will bring life and hope to those who read it.

I Prepared A Gift for You

Yes, a gift. Maybe you are like me. I tend to drift away from fully believing who I am in Christ. Somehow, unbelief comes into my mindset. I get discouraged and battle worn and I need to find a way to calibrate my soul. Sometimes it’s the sin that is hidden from me that I need to confess. I may be hurt by someone, and I need to choose to forgive them. Other times, it’s just the uncleanness of the world we live in. All of these things can cause you to get stuck and have writer’s block!

5 Steps of Grace will help bring healing and deliverance to your life. You and I are cleansed by God’s Word. We need His Word to wash our minds of the unclean things in the world. These things become like a weight to us and they drag down our joy-filled love life with God. Set aside a time for you to pray through this guide to freedom. You can pray on your own, or invite a prayer partner or spiritual mentor to pray with you. Download your copy here!

WordServe News: April 2017

Exciting things have been happening this month at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ recently released books along with a recap of WordServe client news.

New Releases

Steve & Misty Arterburn, with Becky Johnson, released The Mediterranean Love Plan this month. Unveiling the “7 Secrets of Passion” from some of the most romantic countries in the world, it answers age-old questions about how to keep your marriage interesting, fun, and romantic–burning with passion that stands the test of time.

Carole Engle Avriett published Under the Cover of Light with Tyndale. In 1965, Col. Thomas “Jerry” Curtis’s helicopter was shot down over North Vietnam. He was immediately captured and spent 7½ years confined in a filthy 5′ x 7′ cell at the notorious Hanoi prison camp. Now, Jerry shares the full story of his 2,703 days in captivity and what he learned about faith, hope, and the indomitable power of the human spirit.

David & Claudia Arp and Peter & Heather Larson released He’s Almost a Teenager with Bethany House. Based on tried-and-true parenting wisdom, this book shares fun, thoughtful questions and talking points that lead to meaningful, natural conversations with your son as he approaches those difficult teen years.

Sue Detweiler published Women Who Move Mountains with Bethany House. Prayer was never meant to be a recitation of requests, but rather a drawing close to the heart of God. When you learn to exchange the obstacles of life for the promises of God, you will pray with passion and confidence rather than fear or insecurity. From this place of surrender and intimacy, you will discover what it means to become a powerful, effective woman of prayer.

Lynne Hartke published Under a Desert Sky with Revell. Tracing Lynne’s experience with cancer–her own and the diagnoses of both of her parents–this lyrical work considers how even life’s most desolate experiences can bring beautiful surprises.We are never alone in our fear, and we are never forgotten by a loving, pursuing God.

Marjorie Jackson published Devoted: A Girl’s 31-Day Guide to Good Living with a Great God with Shiloh Run Press. Featuring hand-lettered art pages for coloring, this devotional teaches us how to let our love and dedication to Jesus penetrate every area of our lives–so that we can be young women of God who are completely, joyfully, beautifully different.

New Contracts 

Mary Davis signed a 3-book deal with Love Inspired for a series of romances to be published in 2018.

Jan Drexler signed a 3-book deal with Revell for a new series, Storms on Weaver’s Creek, a historical romance series set against the Civil War and the Amish church’s commitment to non-resistance.

Leslie Leyland Fields signed with Kregel for the publication of Happy Over Forty, an anthology of 40 incredible women writing from their own lives, that provides a biblical, inspiring and unforgettable guide to all that God can do in and through women over 40, making the second half of our lives the most fruitful and abundant half.

Sandy Silverthorne signed with Revell for the publication of two new joke books for kids, which will include illustrations by the author.

New Clients

Paul Basden, Jim Johnson, Chris Langlois, Ross Owen, and Linda MacKillop joined WordServe this month. Welcome!

What We’re Celebrating

Tina and Dave Samples‘ book Messed Up Men of the Bible was named as a finalist for the 2017 Christian Books Awards in the Bible Study Category! Winners will be announced May 2.