About Karen Jordan

Karen Jordan encourages others to tell the stories that matter most as an author, speaker, writing instructor, and blogger at karenjordan.net. A native Texan, Karen now resides in Arkansas with her husband Dan, near their two children and seven grandchildren.

6 Questions and Ideas for Your Writing Reflections

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“[T]ake chances, make mistakes, get messy!” (Magic School Bus)

Do you tend to focus most on your grammar and mechanics when you self-edit? I do.

I want to offer you some questions and ideas that will help to get you out of the “grammar cop” mode and into a more reflective mood.

Writing instructor. I compiled this list of questions as a writing instructor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I offered these questions to my students to help them in their revision process with their papers.

I’m not sure where I got most of these reflective questions. Writing instructors tend to do a lot of “academic borrowing.” If you teach, you know exactly what I mean.

Professional writer. I also try to remember to ask myself the following questions when I’m reflecting on my own work, so I won’t be so critical of my own work. I tend to be a bit of a self-deprecating perfectionist at times.

I offer the questions and ideas to reflect on your work. I hope it will encourage you to tell the stories that matter most to you. So, let me know if they help you. [You can share your thoughts in the comment section below.]

Consider these questions/ideas as you reflect on your next project:

  1. Who do you imagine might be the audience for this story? (Self, parent, child, writing group, etc.) What details did you include for your audience?
  2. What feelings and reactions did you have as you were writing the story? What surprises? What insights? What have you done or what might you do that would capture those feelings, reactions, insights?
  3. What do you think this story means to you? Have you shown what the story means to you in the writing of it? What have you done? Where and what might you do?
  4. Pose questions you wonder about this story or that emerge from this story. What do you need to know in order to complete this story?
  5. How would you revise this story? Write a plan for your revision.
  6. What did you learn about yourself from writing this story? What did you learn about writing from writing this story? What did you learn about writing from reflecting on this story?

What reflective questions do you ask yourself when you revise your work?

2 Important Questions for Writers and Speakers

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Sometimes you have to shove all the surface stuff to the side in order to see what’s underneath. (Beth Moore)

What do I have to say?

Several years ago, in a workshop for Christian Leaders and Speakers (CLASS), Christian communicator and author, Florence Littauer, taught us to ask ourselves two questions before standing in front of an audience to speak:

  1. Do I have anything to say?
  2. Do people need to hear it?

So, I ask myself that question every time I prepare to stand before an audience—whether it’s a group of writers, a church group, or class of college students.

As a writer and a writing instructor, I recognize the need for people to tell their stories. And I’ve seen lives change as they listen to other people share their life lessons, especially their faith stories. Passing along our faith and family stories also help us make sense of some of the crucial issues that we face in life.

As a women’s Bible study teacher, I know the importance of sharing personal stories with other women, particularly in a mentoring or discipleship relationship.

But as a mother and grandmother, I also know the importance of sharing my stories with my children and grandchildren. My stories are my legacy to the next generation.

I believe in the power of story! And I love to encourage and instruct other people how to communicate their faith and family stories.

So, I want to ask you those same questions that Florence asked us at one of my first CLASSeminars.

  1. Do YOU have anything to say?
  2. Do people need to hear it?

“Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation” (Matt. 12:37 The Message).

What questions do you ask yourself as you prepare to speak or write?

Building a Platform? Finding Helpful Resources

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“If you want to be a nonfiction author, you’ve GOT to work on building your platform?”

I perked up when I heard the word “platform” mentioned for the umpteenth time at my first writing conference.

Building my what? I didn’t expect this advice at a “Christian” writing conference. In fact, I didn’t even know what the workshop leader meant by “platform.”

Hands popped up all over the conference room, asking questions about “building a platform.”

“Can you give us more information?” Another frenzied writer whined.

A few seats down from me, an older lady with a wrinkled brow whispered to the person next to her, “What does she mean by ‘platform’?”

“I didn’t think ‘Christian’ writers should focus on building a platform,” someone mumbled. “Is that even scriptural?”

The murmurings continued…

I felt my blood pressure rise as I listened to all of the questions and observed the body language of the writers all around me.

I shook my head in disbelief as I considered all that I had done to prepare for this moment—particularly the last five years of academic writing. Is she saying that I need to study marketing now? Oh, great!

A few days later, I abandoned my first writing conference early due to a family crisis. So I didn’t get a chance to hear more about platform building.

Overwhelmed, my thoughts about building a platform and my mother’s untimely death left me dazed and confused. Should I even go forward with “writing for publication” now?

One workshop leader warned us against “quitting your day job.”

Great! I just quit my day job, I whispered under my breath. I had just turned down the offer to teach writing as an adjunct instructor again that semester. Why? I needed to help with our ongoing family needs, and I wanted to focus what time I did find on writing for publication.

After the conference, if someone even mentioned the word platform, I would voice my frustration with a favorite quote from Gone with the Wind, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

What’s a writer to do? Where can we go for information on building a platform? Back when I started, I had to dig deep for information. Now, you can find more resources than ever before now on that topic.

Michael Hyatt is one of the best resources I’ve found on platform building. I started following Hyatt’s blog on the advice of other writers several years ago. A few years later,  when he published his book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, I ordered my copy hoping to improve my own platform. I still recommend this book to other writers who ask me for help in that area. I’ve even led my own writing workshop on platform building based on what I’ve learned.

New Year’s plans. As I await my first book publication this spring, I’m still struggling with all the details of platform building—blogging, social networking, speaking, and writing. With all the advances in technology and social media, I’m always seeking new resources and ways to stay up-to-date with publishing info.

What are your plans for the New Year? What have been your strategies? What’s your secret? Did you quit your day job? Do you have any platform building tips that you would be willing to share with other writers?

I’m hoping this blog post will initiate a conversation about platform building. So, I hope to hear from you. Be sure to share your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below.

What resources have helped you build your platform?

Walking Down Memory Lane: Recording Your Legacy Stories

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What memories do you recall of your hometown?

Christmas always brings back a lot of memories from my hometown, Silsbee, Texas.

My husband Dan and I grew up in the same town in Southeast Texas. So, even though he’s a few years older than me, we share a lot of memories of our hometown. Not only were we both born in that small Texas town, our parents grew up there, too. So, a lot of our relatives and friends still live there. And we still make trips back there when we can.

Fun times. Both of our children were born in Southeast Texas, too. But since we moved away when they were young, they only remember the holidays, summer vacations, and fun times with their relatives there.

Painful moments. Some memories are difficult to embrace–like the death of loved ones or mistakes from our past. But I’ve discovered the importance of recording some of my painful memories, especially since both of my parents are gone now.

Writing down some of those narratives brings healing to my soul. Plus, if I don’t write my family stories down, I know they will be lost forever.

Legacy stories. I should have written down the stories my mother and dad told me long ago. But at the time, I didn’t see any value of recording them.

I still hear those stories from my other relatives when I go back to Silsbee for holidays, weddings, reunions, and funerals. I’m trying to work out a plan for jotting down more of those stories as I remember them.

Certain songs also trigger memories for me. Although I moved from my childhood home several decades ago, Kenny Rogers‘ hit, “Twenty Years Ago,” always takes me back in time, reminding me of my past.

As you listen to the song below, I hope it helps you recall some of the stories from your hometown, too. But be sure to write them down. Someone you love might be blessed by your stories. I also hope you’ll share a story with our readers in the comments below.

YouTube/RareCountry2 (“Twenty Years Ago – Kenny Rogers)

Did this video remind you of a story from your hometown?

Writing about Thanksgiving and Food

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If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes … (Matthew 6:25 MSG).

Food, food, food! Why does everyone make such a big fuss about food during the holidays? I’m always focused on food! Either I’m overeating, dieting, or trying to feed someone else. I can’t remember one day of my life that I didn’t focus on food at some point.

So, how can my worries about food help my spiritual focus? Over the years, I’ve discovered that my hyperfocus on food is often a warning sign for a much deeper problem than just trying to meet my physical needs.

Needs. While we were seminary students, I first learned how my own worry about food could actually motivate me to seek deeper spiritual insights.

At seminary, we lived on a much lower income than most of our family and friends. Often we didn’t have enough money for the food we needed for our family.

Miracles. God used that problem to capture my attention, and I saw Him provide in miraculous ways for some of my friends. Groceries would be left on their doorsteps. Money for food would arrive in the mail. Or they would discover some random source of free food, like day-old bread or vegetables discarded from the grocery’s produce department.

Tips. Intrigued by my friends’ stories, I began to ask to God to help me find ways to deal with our food needs. And I discovered many tips for stretching my food budget with recipe ideas and coupons. My friends and I found that we could all stretch our food budgets by sharing our resources. When we gathered together for a meal, each family would bring their menu contributions.

Manna and quail. In Exodus 16:4, “God said to Moses, ‘I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not’” (MSG).

I joked about identifying with the Israelites in the wilderness as God provided manna and quail for them to eat. But as I experienced God providing for my own family, like He did for His children in the Old Testament, I searched for more answers to my everyday problems in the Bible.

Traditions. Before my seminary days, I never thought about asking God to provide for my family’s needs, especially our food. Yes, we taught our children to express their thanks before our meals. But my prayer of thanks usually came after I had purchased groceries and prepared our meals.

So, I examined our mealtime prayers and Thanksgiving blessings. Could they simply be a family or religious tradition? Had I ever offered my mealtime prayers with a heartfelt gratitude for God’s blessings?

Diets. I still struggle with worry and my spiritual focus on food from time to time. Even now, as I try to eat a healthier diet, I realize that I must stop and ask God for direction every day–sometimes moment-by-moment–as I seek answers to my problems and needs.

As I prepare to enter into this season of Thanksgiving once again, I pray that I will remember this promise from God’s Word.

… The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:5-7 NIV)

What stories about food come to mind as you prepare for this Thanksgiving season? Have you recorded them?

Six Promises When Words Fail Us

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What do we do when we don’t know what to say or pray?

Where can we find the words to express our thoughts and emotions?

What can we do when life places us in unbearable circumstances? Where can we go? Who do we run to? What should we cling to when we’re drowning in a sea of our sorrows? And what can we advise others who may be walking through a difficult life crisis?

My younger sister Leslea just endured another health crisis that led to life-threating surgery. My heart aches for my little sister. A single mom of three, Leslea has experienced so many unbearable tragedies and losses in her lifetime–the tragic death of her youngest child, breast cancer, and now major heart surgery. And as her older sister, I often do not know how to respond to her overwhelming needs.

As a writer, my words often fail me when I don’t know how to respond to a difficult issue. And when a friend or family member faces a tragic loss or painful failure, mere words seem inadequate to express my emotions and concerns.

Now, after surviving many trials and crises in my own life, I do know who to turn to when a crisis hits close to home. And I know who I can cling to when I’m overwhelmed by confusion and doubt. I have discovered peace and rest in a storm.

Are you searching for the words to express your thoughts or your faith? God’s Word offers us the promises we need to encourage others.

  1. Help. The Lord promises to help us when we don’t know what to say or pray. “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom 8:26 NIV).
  2. Hope. The Holy Spirit offers promises of hope, even if we never understand why these things happen. “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13 NLT).
  3. Assurance. God’s Word provides the assurance that Jesus will bear our grief and carry our sorrows. “He suffered the things we should have suffered. He took on himself the pain that should have been ours” (Is 53:4 NIRV).
  4. Peace. God’s Word can speak peace to the storm ravaging our dreams. And He promises to throw us the lifeline of His Word. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7 NIV).
  5. Confidence. We can have the confidence to know that in Christ, we will survive. And we can expect Him to provide the power we need to overcome any circumstance in our life if we trust Him with the situation. Healing and hope for the future can be found in Him. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14).
  6. Rest. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Place my yoke over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves because my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NOG).

Show, don’t (just) tell! As you tell others of your faith, don’t forget the power of your story. As we share our own faith stories, we invite others to see, feel, and experience what we have experienced.

Are you facing a loss, a failure, a decision, or some other difficult situation? I pray these promises from God’s Word will also give hope to you and others who may be suffering under a heavy burden.

Remember, the Lord knows your needs—even better than you do. He understands. And He wants to assure you of His presence right now and in all the days of your life.

I lift my friends up to you, Heavenly Father. I pray they will give you their heavy burdens. I thank you for your promise of rest and peace.

The Lord answered my prayer about one important concern the weekend before my sister’s heart surgery. Leslea had asked me to take her to church as she prepared for her surgery. She had been unable to attend church for years because of her job schedule. But since she was unable to work, she was free to attend church.

Since I live in a different state than my sister, I prayed that God would lead us to the right church service that Sunday. And the Lord met all of our needs that day with the perfect church, sermon, and worship experience. In fact, the words of a song, “My Heart Is Yours,” expressed Leslea’s prayers in ways I never anticipated.

How has God’s Word helped you through a difficult situation or as you responded to someone else in crisis?

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?