Why Our Time Matters

Why Our Time Matters

Original Image Credit: Pixabay/FreePhotos

When writers work from home, distractions abound.

We care for our homes and families, chauffeur kids, tackle laundry, prepare meals, and handle the day-to-day affairs that go with the territory.

We also field infringements on our time from outside sources. Those come by way of well-intentioned friends and family who may not realize that while we’re home, we are indeed still working. At writing. Yes—that.

And though we are home, our time still matters.

The truth is if we don’t value our time and treat writing as our career, no one else will either.

Prioritizing our work load isn’t something that always comes naturally. We must be intentional, focused, and goal-oriented. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions.

Life ebbs and flows. Of course, sometimes, unforeseen things upend our schedule. We know we have a problem, though, when we begin to see a pattern—when we allow things that could wait to hijack our day.

For people-pleasers, time management is difficult. We want to be approachable and available, yet we also understand the rigors of working from home. We have X number of hours during the day to get our work done before our families arrive home and our evening routine begins.

Occasionally, we try to juggle it all only to discover we can’t.

Writing is our job. Maybe we don’t yet earn the income from it we’d like. Maybe we’re still pursuing career goals.

Does that mean our work is less meaningful?

I’ll give you an example.

Many years ago, “Sally Sue” used to call me—usually more than once a day. I dreaded those calls that went something like this.

“Hey, Cindy. There’s a great meat sale down at the market. Of course, they tried to cheat me out of some deals, but I got everything worked out. Let me tell you about it.”

“I’m working just now, Sally Sue. Can I call you back when I take a break?”

“Oh, this will just take a minute. Five, tops.”

What do you think happened?

One guess.

Well, of course, those it’ll just take a minute phone calls morphed into thirty-minute commentaries.

And Sally Sue was always in a tizzy. Nothing ever went right. The world was against her.

Her calls left me resentful and deflated. For this see-the-glass-half-full gal, I was thoroughly parched by the time the calls ended.

As much as I wanted to be there for Sally Sue, it became apparent I needed to distance myself from what had become a disturbing pattern.

“Sally Sue, I won’t be available to talk as often,” I announced one day. Subtle hints hadn’t worked and neither had direct cues. It was time to cut to the chase. Tactfully. Truthfully. Lovingly. (Did I mention truthfully?)

“Oh, what do you mean?” The sound of an electric mixer whirred in the background.

I plunged ahead. “My time matters, Sally Sue. I work from home and when you call, that’s time away from work.”

“So, you want me to call in the evenings? I can do that.”

No. That’s not what I wanted at all. Evenings were family time.

“Sally Sue, that won’t work.”

Right then, I nipped this situation in the bud. I regretted not doing it sooner.

I told Sally Sue I’d only be able take calls on Friday afternoons and I could no longer chat beyond the ten-minute mark.

When she pushed the envelope, as I feared she would, I refused to answer her calls other than on Fridays. When ten minutes passed, I ended the conversation. Politely, but firmly.

Her parting line was always: “Wow. I guess you’re serious. Your time really matters, huh?”

Yes. And yes.

Sally Sue’s calls stopped altogether when we moved from the area. I prayed that God would direct her to the friend she so obviously yearned for. One who shared similar interests and attributes.

Since I’m a firm believer that God brings folks together for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, I recognize the time with Sally Sue as a defining point in my writing career.

When I grew serious about managing my time, I began to think in a new way. My craft (my work) no longer took a back seat to other “nobler” professions. I approached my job with a new mindset, having learned a valuable lesson in the process.

There are always times of sacrifice, but self-respect is non-negotiable.

See, here’s the thing—and may I be frank?

  • I may not always answer the phone.
  • I may not answer my door.
  • Dusting may have to wait, as well as clothes-folding, toilet-scrubbing, and errand-running.

And call me a “meanie” BUT

  • I will no longer serve on every committee, join every club, or attend social functions for the sake of “putting in an appearance.”
  • I can’t walk your dog.
  • I don’t do laundry (other than my own).
  • I won’t organize your closets, clean your kitchen, or mow your lawn.
  • I know nothing about stamp-collecting, beekeeping, or turnip-growing.

Because writing is my full-time profession, if I don’t value my time and my career, no one else will. That’s why there are times I must say “No, thank you” and “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to pass.”

Let me encourage you today to get real about your work—whether at a tabletop or a little niche inside your home.

Some folks will understand. Others won’t.

That’s when we love them anyway.

Then we silence our phones and eat chocolate.

While we work. 😊

***

As a writer, how do you handle life’s delicate situations?

Any time-saving tips you care to share?

 

Cynthia writes Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction from the beautiful Ozark Mountains. She loves to connect with friends at her online home. “Cindy” also hangs out on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. For love, fun, and encouragement, sign up for her monthly newsletters.

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That Time When I Plagiarized… Accidentally.

I was riding on the wings of a book launch, when energy and excitement are high, and the invitations for radio interviews, podcasts, and guest blog posts filled the pages of my calendar.  I was delighted to have one of the most coveted (can Christians say coveted?) invitations, a guest post on a blog that’s read worldwide. I pulled an excerpt from a chapter in my book, a piece about having confidence in the sovereignty of God, even when you feel overlooked.  I submitted to the editors, I got the stamp of approval, and I waited for the day it would go live. These were exciting times, my friends. Exciting times, indeed.

The morning after the post went into the world, I got an email from an author I’ve long loved, one whose writing I have studied and learned fromI was delighted to hear from her, as I’ve long read her words and tucked them into my heart.  I found her work years ago, shortly after my husband died, when I was searching everywhere for guidance and any ounce of hope.  This author had experienced her own dark valley of grief, and I read her words voraciously, letting her light my path through the valley. She had been a lighthouse for me. She had read my guest post and she wanted to reach out to me… but not for reasons I had hoped.

She said,

Tricia: I know what it’s like to find someone else’s words that sound so much like your own thoughts and to use them so much they begin to feel like your own. I know I’ve used other people’s words in this way, so I’m not throwing stones. But your beautiful blog post today had some very familiar-sounding words, and I wonder if you might want to either rewrite them to make them your own or attribute them as a quote?

And then she wrote the text from the blog post, and I gasped aloud and spilled my coffee across the dining room table. Those words were definitely hers. I was very accidentally, but very definitely, guilty of plagiarizing. And I was horrified.  As embarrassing as it is, let me tell you what happened so I can perhaps spare you from breaking the Number One Rule of writing.  Here’s what happened.

As I devoured her books so many years ago, I had quoted her in my journals, prayed her prayers in my own voice. In my silent hours of crying out to God, I had copied her passages and doodled her quotes, weaving them into my own.  After all, she had given me words when I was too sad to find my own. But in my stream of consciousness journaling, I didn’t quote my sources. (Because who footnotes in the privacy of their own journals?)  Years later, when it came time to write this new book, I revisited those journals that had chronicled the stages of my journey.  I rediscovered words and prayers and ideas and themes, all in my handwriting.  And I simply pulled from my journals, and I wrote them into a new manuscript.

Yes, she had found her words in a blog post that could be easily fixed, but the greater concern is that the blog post was an excerpt from a book. And that book was now out in the world. Such things are not as quickly fixed.

I called my agent, Greg, immediately.  It happened to be on his birthday. First, I told him happy birthday, then I told him I had accidentally broken the law in a book that was out in the world.  I prepared myself to be sued, to lose my credibility, and worst of all, to never write again.  It felt unprofessional, and unprofessional is never something I want to be known for. I didn’t want to draw anyone’s integrity into question, certainly not mine, and definitely not my publishers’.

Greg talked me off the ledge, explained that this was an honest mistake that happens sometimes, particularly among pastors who become authors.  They gather their resources from all over, they write a sermon, and then their sermons are transcribed to become book chapters, and the original sources get lost in translation. He walked me through a plan: we would write a correction on the blog post, we would make changes in future reprints of the book, and we would make changes in ebooks immediately.  This mistake was not, in fact, the very end of the world or even of my career.

We offered our solution to this acclaimed author, and she was gracious in her reply.  She said:

Please don’t sweat this.  I know I’ve done this.  In fact, I think we would both be horrified to see how much I’ve done it without realizing it because I too have been sloppy in noting where I got things.  So please don’t beat yourself up. You are forgiven and free, my dear.  And may the Lord give me grace to respond as graciously as you have when an error like this is pointed out to me, as I’m sure they one day will be.

She was the epitome of gentleness, forgiveness, and professional compassion.  She showed me how we, a community of Christian authors, can support one another’s work and hold each other accountable. I’ve learned some hard lessons about plagiarism, gentle confrontation, grace, and footnoting everything – even in the sacred privacy of my journals.

Take it from me, my fellow writers. Even on cocktail napkins, journal pages, and fleeting scraps of paper, note your sources so you can quote your sources.

Six Hurdles to Becoming an Author

When I attended my first writer’s conference in 2006, I thought I’d pitch an agent or editor and sell my book on the spot. After all, my college professor used my papers as good examples for her class, so these writing professionals were sure to read my work and sing the Hallelujah Chorus, right? Interviews on Good Morning America, Oprah’s Book Club, and a Pulitzer Prize would be sure to follow. Money would rain from the heavens. I was 28.

I’ll be 40 this year. I’m older, wiser, more experienced, and yet I’ve never met Oprah.

So let me step in as your coach and tell you how this really works.

  1. You have to write a book. I started many books before I finished one. And I probably only finished because I’d paid for a conference and needed something to sell to all those editors who I thought would come knocking. Editors or not, this is probably the hardest hurdle to clear. You don’t know you can leap over it until you do. So set that deadline for yourself, make the time, and feel free to write crap. Because this manuscript will likely be considered a false start anyway.I Got Nothin'
  2. Find a critique partner. Now because I’m the kind of person who takes off before the pistol is fired, I did have an editor request my manuscript after this conference and an agent sign me on the basis that I had an editor interested. This story didn’t get published though (thank goodness), and the most valuable thing that came out of my first conference was my critique partner. She got me back on track and trained with me. We moved at about the same pace and agreed to read each other’s manuscript. I not only learned a lot from her, but she ended up starting a publishing company which eventually published my Fun4Hire series. This is one of the coolest things about the writing community. Meeting all those famous authors is exciting, but it’s even more exciting to help your friends succeed.

    20170824_154228

    I named characters Christina and Dave after my first critique partner and her husband.

  3. Enter contests. Christina and I both finaled in contests. This is great encouragement to keep going when it feels like your words will never see the ink of a printing press. It also looks good in a cover letter and can include great feedback. Often these contests are judged by your dream editor. You’ll be scored on exactly what they like or don’t like about your work. And sometimes, if they like your work enough, as in the case of the Harlequin contest I entered, they’ll give you a contract and publish it.

    Book Signing

    Almost all of Team Love on the Run sold manuscripts through a Harlequin contest!

  4. Submit. Now I didn’t include “reading” as one of the six hurdles because normally if you want to be a writer, reading is no hurdle. It’s more like cheering from the stands. That being said, READ and research your favorite books to find out who sold and edited them. That’s probably who you should to submit your work to. Agents and editors know what they want, and you are wasting time if you send them something outside their interests.

    Angela and Editor

    My editor Miralee Ferrell is hard to keep up with.

  5. Get rejected. This is like shin splints. You don’t feel the pain unless you push yourself. Now you can commiserate with the rest of us. Feel free to keep count of your rejection letters or recycle them so your next rejection letter can possibly be written on the same fibers. Whatever you do, be proud. You’re writing isn’t perfect, but that’s okay. It’ll never be perfect. What matters is you’re working hard to beat your last time. Get up and keep going.

    Me and Mark Twain

    Even Mark Twain’s WAR PRAYER was rejected. He said, “I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.”

  6. Network. To some of you, this hurdle might be even harder than getting rejected. It’s like being interviewed after you lost a race on television. But you have to get in front of an audience to build what editors like to call a platform. It can be through social media, blogs, websites, radio, magazines, or newspaper. You are your own front man. You exude the the passion that pours into each of your stories. People want to read what you have to say because you inspire them.

    Why Christian romance- (2)

    People who know me know I’m passionate about healthy relationships and that I believe love can change lives. Also, it’s fun.

If you continue to improve your performance and don’t give up, you increase your chance of crossing the finish line into publication. All I’m going to say here is that selling your first manuscript won’t be anything like you imagine it to be. It will be better.

There you have it. Though you should also know that on average it takes seven years to win a book contract. And then you face a whole new set of hurdles.

Is it worth it? Only if you can relate to Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire when he says, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.”

He never met Oprah either.

Oprah

Photoshop is probably the closest I’ll ever get.

Behind every writer…

I used to think that successful novelists and writers did all their own work; from conception to final manuscript, the individual author did it all, including research, editing, writing coach, spiritual director, personal trainer (writing a book is like a marathon in many ways!) and project manager. Then I started reading author acknowledgments at the ends of books and realized that it took almost a whole village of assistants for an author to be successful!

And so, since I am committed to transparency in my career, I confess that I, too, rely on a staff to help me produce books. Let me introduce you to Team Jan:

Eddy is my editor. His sharp eyes don’t miss much. In fact, he may be the most demanding editor I’ve ever had. After I’ve slogged and wrestled with a heartfelt devotional or a chapter of plot twists, he often wipes out what I have done with one (paw)stroke on the keyboard, requiring me to attack the material again. And without fail, I have to admit, the second version is always better. He teaches me that patience, diligence, and revision make a better writer out of a good one. I just wish he’d stop shedding so much on the keyboard.

Michael is my personal trainer. He knows that too much sitting stagnates the body and mind, so he insists on frequent breaks from writing to both tone my muscles and clear my thoughts. There’s nothing like a competitive game of tug-of-war with a 75-pound dog to take your mind off character development, and Michael makes sure I sweat through several rounds every day. Afterwards, I’m more than ready to bring a focused mind to my writing project. Or else I take a nap.

Gracie is my spiritual director. We start every day with a walking meditation and prayer that helps set my priorities for the day. Many of my best pieces of writing result from the inspiration I find while in her company; her ability to live intensely in the moment motivates me to pay attention to details in the world around me. Sometimes, she points me to hidden pathways, inviting me to stretch my horizons of experience, which then influence my writing. I try to be open to those new directions, although the one that unexpectedly dumped me into a muddy gully was not one of her better ideas.

And finally, there’s Otis, the perfect project manager. When I’m stressing about a deadline, he calms me down by modeling relaxed behavior, reminding me that too often, I’m the one putting pressure on myself to perform. His easy-going nature encourages me to take my career with a proverbial grain of salt – or in his case, with a couple of Purina Kitty Treats – because in the big scheme of things, writing is just one facet of my life. Like every good project manager, Otis knows the value of balance…and the value of a good belly rub every now and then.

Who’s on your team?

Making Connections as a Writer

Business People Meeting Corporate Digital Device Connection Concept

In my previous post, Connecting with People at Conventions, I discussed how writers can connect with people at various convention events such as exhibit hall displays, main sessions, workshops, luncheons, and receptions. While meeting people in person provides great opportunities for a writer to reconnect with key individuals as well as make new friends, most of the time writers need to communicate with people at a distance. Here are some ideas for connecting with people through technology.

  1. Magazine and Journal Editors – Even after you have written a book, keep writing articles for magazines and journals. You will find that writing these shorter pieces helps you pursue fresh ideas as a writer and keeps your name in front of readers. If you have met editors at writer’s events or conventions, send them an email to follow up on potential writing opportunities. If you discussed potential topics with an editor in person, send a query for an article that fits the publication’s current needs. If you have not already done so, connect with the publication through social media, liking the page on Facebook or following the account on Instagram, Twitter, or other social media sites. These social media connections will assist you in determining what articles are most suited to the publication and how a finished article will appear online.
  2. Agents and Publishing House Editors – If you are seeking to publish your first book through a traditional publisher, you most likely will need to communicate with a publishing house through a literary agent. During the publication process, your literary agent will give you suggestions as you hone your book proposal (nonfiction) or manuscript (fiction), so you want to find an agent who understands and enjoys books in your genre. If you have met a potential agent in person, follow up with a letter sent through email introducing your background (education, professional interests, previous writing experience) and a one-paragraph description of your potential book. If the agent is interested, the next step will be a scheduled telephone conversation to verify that the agent’s interests align with yours. After you sign a contract with your literary agent, he or she will communicate with publishing house editors until you sign a publishing house contract.
  3. Bloggers and Readers – If you have connected with bloggers and readers at conventions or speaking engagements, use social media to maintain the connection. Comment on blogs, guest post, and interact with readers through your social media accounts. Make sure you end each presentation at a workshop or speaking engagement with a slide providing your social media contact information. Focus on maintaining the social media connections with individuals and organizations whose values and focus match your readers. However, welcome connections that expand your reader base. Be aware that articles on the Internet can be taken out of context, especially with the passage of time, so use caution when deciding whether or not to write a guest post for a particular blog or agree to an interview.

How do you use technology to connect with people as a writer?

WordServe News August 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

Jan Drexler’s The Prodigal Son Returns was re-released by Love Inspired as part of a 2-book package along with Emma Miller’s Redeeming Grace. In Drexler’s tale, a criminal’s trail has brought FBI informant Bram Lapp to Ellie Miller’s Indiana community. Now he’s posing as the kind of man he once hoped to be—someone who might be worthy of Ellie. Enjoy these two sweet novels about second chances at an Amish happily-ever-after, now available as a single package!

Jim and Bill Putman’s Hope for the Prodigal was released by Baker Books. With wisdom that comes from personal experience, Jim and his father, Bill, offer brokenhearted parents and loved ones hope for their prodigals. A prodigal son himself, Jim has also found himself in the role of the prodigal’s father when his own son rejected the faith. This family’s powerful story of restoration, along with solid biblical truths and practical advice, will inspire, motivate, and equip readers to go after their lost sheep with acts of love and service.

Jordyn Redwood released Taken Hostage with Love Inspired Suspense. When neurosurgeon Regan Lockhart’s daughter is kidnapped, the abductors want to make a deal for the little girl’s life. If she wishes to ever see her child again, Regan must hand over the virus she uses in a radical cancer treatment. Can bounty hunter Colby Waterson prevent this from happening–and save his sister in the process?

Amy Sorrells‘ book How Sweet the Sound was re-released by Tyndale. This lyrical novel, set in the Gulf Coast, considers how behind the gentle facade of white pillared porches and acres of cultivated pecan orchards, family secrets can smolder. Redemption, grace, and forgiveness take center stage as old secrets and sins are finally brought to light.

New Contracts 

Cara Whitney signed with Thomas Nelson to publish Unbridled Faith, a devotional based on country living accompanied by color photographs featuring horses and other country images.

Angela Hunt and Bill Myers signed a 3-book deal with Regnery. The first book, God Stories, will be published in 2018.

Barbara Scott signed a 3-book deal with Mountain Brook Ink for The Reluctant Bride series. The three books, Dreams of My Heart, Love of My Heart, and Desires of My Heart, will be published in 2018 and 2019.

Linda Thompson signed a 3-book deal with Mountain Brook Ink. The first of the series, The Plum Blooms in Winter, will publish in January 2019.

Mary Davis signed a 3-book deal with Mountain Brook Ink for her series The Quilting Circle. The first installment will be published in July 2018.

Marjorie Jackson signed with Barbour for the publication of The Devoted Life: A Girl’s Guided Creative Journal. A follow-up to her first book, Devoted, it will publish in late 2018.

Jonathan McKee signed with Barbour for his next book, The Bullying Breakthrough. It will publish in early 2019.

Kara Powell signed a 2-book deal with Baker Books for Unleashed, which will publish in 2020, and a second untitled book to publish the following year.

Bob Welch and Dick Fosbury signed with Skyhorse Publishing for The Wizard of Foz, the never-before-told story of Dick Fosbury, a failed Oregon athlete whose new high-jump style ultimately helped him win a gold medal in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and revolutionized the event so completely that no jumpers today use any other style but his.

New Clients

Dr. Donese Worden and Rev. Anthony Thompson joined WordServe Literary this month. Welcome!

What We’re Celebrating

Mandy Harvey, who along with WordServe client Mark Atteberry is the author of Sensing the Rhythm (due out from Howard Sept. 27), made it to the semifinals of America’s Got Talent! The singer-songwriter has been deaf since 2006, yet she has perfect pitch and kept pursuing music via her ability to feel vibrations. Her incredible story is detailed in the book, available for pre-order now.

The God We Draw Our Readers To

“Your book really helped draw me closer to God.”

Are there any more thrilling words for a Christian author to hear? That is, after all, our ultimate goal, isn’t it? To point our readers to God?

That is certainly the reason I write. Because God gives me the stories and I want to be obedient in writing them down to the best of my ability and to do what I can to get them into the hands of readers. Not for my glory, so they can know me better, but for His glory, so they can know Him better.

So yes, that feedback thrills me like no other. And it also terrifies me like no other. Because it compels me to ask myself: Is the God my story has just drawn someone closer to the one true God? Or have I allowed my incomplete, in-a-mirror-darkly comprehension of who God truly is, as well as my preferences, my biases, and all cultural influences, to shape my understanding of God and therefore cause me to present an inaccurate picture of who He is?

mirror darkly

“The book I just read might be controversial, but it drew me closer to God, so it must be all right.”

I can’t tell you how often I have heard this from fellow believers. And it tears at my heart every time because it brings me back to another question that haunts me: If the words I write draw my reader closer to a god that is not the one true God of the Bible, haven’t I done more harm than good? And, even more frighteningly, will I now be held responsible for leading this reader—who trusted my words, my theology—astray even a little?

Matthew 12:36-37 says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

As one who has been appointed a steward of words, these verses challenge, convict, and sober me. If the feedback I have received has been honest, my writing does have the ability to influence and shape the ideas and beliefs of others. According to these verses then, will God not hold me accountable for the words I use while claiming, by virtue of the fact that I call myself a Christian author, to represent and portray Him through my stories?

Consciously or unconsciously, readers turn to Christian writing to help them with three things: to begin to comprehend who God is, to understand who they are in relation to Him, and to decide how that relationship, once rightly established, should inform their actions and reactions, as well as their words and thoughts, in the midst of whatever situation comes along in life. And all of this happens (ideally) as they read our stories and witness how these truths are lived out by the characters on the pages of our books.

Which brings me to another soul-searching question: Am I even capable of depicting this God—whose thoughts and ways are so much higher than mine—accurately, when the voices of the culture I am immersed in, of special interest groups, government leaders, the media, and countless other influences are so strong?

smallness of man

The answer is no. Not without the help of the Holy Spirit. Not without a solid knowledge of Scripture. Not without prayer. A lot of prayer. Prayer for guidance, for the words to write, for the ability to block out the relentless noise of the world around me pounding in my ears every moment of every day so that I can hear the still small voice. The voice of love. The voice of truth. The voice of the one true God of the Bible.

May that God be the one our words draw others to every time they read them.