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.

Facing Distractions and Discouragement

How do you respond to distractions and discouragement when you’re seeking direction?

Writing my first book initiated one of the most intense spiritual battles of my life. I worried about my family—especially my seven grandchildren.

I had not been available for their needs with all my blogging, speaking, and writing. Guilty thoughts saturated me like a heavy rainstorm. And worry encompassed me like a dark thundercloud overhead.

Then, a Word broke through the storm clouds like a ray of sunshine: “[T]here is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1 NLT).

My husband, Dan, had scheduled his retirement date just weeks before the deadline to turn in my book manuscript. So my direction faltered, and my thoughts were like a honeybee, flitting flower to flower. Lord, how will I ever finish this book in time?

I completed my book, but not without spiritual battles. Ephesians 6 offers us this truth:

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life.
God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. (Eph. 6:13–17 The Message)

What scriptures have helped you during the spiritual battles of your writing life?

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4 Strategies to Examine Your Life and Work Priorities

At times, I get exhausted chasing all of my writing ideas and plans.

I’m tempted to give up when I look at my “to do” list. But after examining the lessons I learned about rearranging furniture, I realized I needed to reposition a few things in my writing life, too.

This process included examining my priorities, resolving some internal and external conflicts, developing a strategy, and asking for help.

1.  Examine your priorities. Right now, I’m overwhelmed with many of the projects I face. So, I decided to visit my priorities again in all of my writing, blogging, and speaking commitments.

I also know that I need to be willing to make changes. Last week’s priority may not even be in the top ten on my “to do” list today. But often it takes a conflict or a stumble to get my attention.

2. Resolve internal and external conflicts. I often take on more commitments than I can handle. Do you? And this causes me humiliation and embarrassment as I’m faced with making choices that others won’t understand.

For instance, a few weeks ago, I traveled out of town to speak at two separate events, leaving only one day to prepare for my next event. Although I had prepared most of my materials, I became overwhelmed as I sorted through the last minute details.

Then, the day after I returned home, I drove a couple of hours to spend a few days at my daughter’s home. She needed a little moral support, preparing to send her four young children back to school and tackling some household projects.

When I returned home again, not only did I need some rest, I needed to sort a few things in my own house, including my writing life.

3.  Develop a strategy. I asked myself, What should I do to meet my writing needs right now? 

I knew I needed to develop a new strategy. Writing down all of my commitments helped me examine them, so I could get a more objective view of my writing decisions.

So, as I reviewed my calendar and my “to do” list, I also asked myself some hard questions. Why did I commit to this endeavor? Am I passionate about this?

Often, I can’t see my own life objectively until I examine it on paper. And sometimes, that process doesn’t even work. So, that’s when I call in the troops.

4.  Recruit a friend for help. I’m grateful for a few family members and writing friends who will be honest with me when I ask for their input about my schedule.

Sometimes the looks on their faces say it all, “What were you thinking?”

At other times, they encourage me, “Don’t give up! You can do this thing!”

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Eccl. 4:12 NIV)

If you’re overwhelmed in your life—whether you’re a writer or not—don’t give up!

I encourage you to examine your priorities, resolve those internal and external conflicts, develop a strategy, and maybe even call in the troops for some help.

What strategies have helped you as you examine your life and work priorities?

Sifting and Winnowing

Photo/KatenJordanMy heart pounded as I braved my re-entry into my writing space. I simply did not want to work on another uninspired blog post. Why, I didn’t know. But I knew I needed to identify the source of my resistance to what I’m passionate about—writing.

From my office chair, I scribbled a few forced phrases—those anticipated first and necessary words. The ones I demanded myself to write. It was a painful hour.

Even though they were interesting, they weren’t satisfying. And I grieved once again for inspiration that would give me life—meaningful thoughts flowing from a grateful heart. But the words I produced were stale and stodgy. Would anyone be blessed by reading them? I thought not.

The next morning, I awoke to another day of blank pages. So I confessed to my husband, Dan, “I’m really struggling with the blog posts I should have already written.”

“Why? What’s the problem?”

“I routinely commit to writing about things others have requested, and I never get to work on things that really matter to me.”

“Like what? Give me an example,” he asked.

Dan listened carefully as I voiced a litany of excuses. Then, he responded, “Maybe you need to do some ‘winnowing.’”

“Tell me what you mean.” I knew what the word “winnowing” meant, but I wanted to hear his thoughts.

“Have you ever seen an illustration of someone threshing wheat?” He shared several photos after searching the Internet.

“You mean, like sifting?” I knew Dan was right, but I hadn’t figured out how to climb out of my writing rut.

He said, “All words are not equal. And like grain, where the husks have to be separated and discarded. To produce the best dialogue and story, the worthless ideas must be winnowed out.”

Sifting. I listened to the Daily Audio Bible during my morning walk. From the book of Judges, I listened how God gave Gideon instructions for choosing warriors to fight with him.

You have too many warriors for Me to allow you to defeat the Midianites. As it is now, the people of Israel would just deny Me the credit and claim they had won the victory on their own. So go out and tell your army, “Any of you who are afraid and trembling are free to leave Mount Gilead.” (Judges 7:2-3 VOICE)

The scripture reminded me of my earlier conversation with Dan.

After Gideon reduced his army, the Lord told him. “You still have too many warriors. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you. When I say, ‘This one will fight for you,’ he will go with you; but when I say, ‘This one will not fight for you,’ then he will not go’” (Judges 7:4 VOICE).

As I listened to the passage being read, the word “sift” took on new meaning for me. I knew the Lord was teaching me about “winnowing” and “sifting.” I also recognized I could take my notebook “down to the water” and ask the Lord to help me “sift” through all of my writing and speaking commitments. The neighborhood lake was the perfect place for solitude.

Winnowing. After lunch, I took a brisk walk to Lake Cortez with my pen and paper, with my heart prepared for “winnowing” my writing options, sifting and discarding those that didn’t seem right for me.

One-by-one, I reviewed my current writing commitments, praying what was most important would emerge as my next writing effort.

Recently, I read this encouraging word from the book of James:

If you don’t have all the wisdom needed for this journey, then all you have to do is ask God for it; and God will grant all that you need. He gives lavishly and never scolds you for asking.

The key is that your request be anchored by your single-minded commitment to God. Those who depend only on their own judgment are like those lost on the seas, carried away by any wave or picked up by any wind. (James 1:5-6 VOICE)

I’m so grateful when God gives me his guidance and help. Some days I make decisions and commitments without even considering Him. But as I listed all of my plans that day, it became clear which projects and events I needed to abandon and pursue.

I instinctively knew which stories mattered most. And I also understood what genre of writing I wanted to pursue. So, I had the courage to resign from writing about things and issues that undermine my creativity and leave out elements of my faith.

I’m not sure what I will write next. But for now, I will continue to ask the Lord to help me sift through all of my projects and plans and allow him to impress my soul about what choices to make.

How do you “winnow” through your life and work? What sifters do you use when choosing what matters most to you and is worthy of your time and energy?

Scripture taken from The Voice™. Copyright © 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Using Family Photos to Write Your Family Stories

Photo/KarenJordan

Whenever we put together our own stories and either tell them or write them for posterity, we are preserving the most central element of our own identity and value system. Who are we, apart from the people and the events about which we tell our own stories? (Donald Davis, Telling Your Arkansas Stories)

Have you ever discovered an old family picture and wished that you knew the story behind it?

The following questions might help you discover an important family story that you can share with the next generation!

People. Can you identify the people within the shot? If not, do you know anyone who can? Can you write a description of that person? Who else might have been around when the shot was taken?

Places. Do you know where the picture as taken? Can you describe the place or the area at that time? Do you know anything about the history of the area? What do you know about that area now?

Photo/Karen JordanTime. When was the shot taken? What time period? What was going on in the world at that time? What changes have taken place since that time?

Events. Do you know what event was taking place when the photo was taken? Can you tell what season of the year it was taken? What events might have been happening around that time?

Story. Does the picture remind you of a story? What came to mind as you thought about the people, places, or event that might have been taking place when the photo was taken?

Questions. You might think of even more questions that you need to ask yourself about the photo that would help you capture an important family story.

Brainstorm. Take a moment and write down your thoughts about your picture. You could even include the picture when you preserve your story—in a scrapbook, on your computer, on a blog, in a notebook … the possibilities are endless!

Legacy Stories. Don’t miss your opportunity to preserve your family history by composing a written legacy of your family stories, as you identify the details and stories represented by your family photos.

Did either of these photos remind you of a person, place, or event from your own family history?

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.

 

White Space

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt. 6: 34 NIV)

Where do I begin? Do I work on one of these book proposals? Do I need to write another blog post? Do I have a speaking event scheduled this month? Do I need to work on my website?

I didn’t know where to start! And I thought, Enough!

At first, I thought my confusion might be a response to the stress. Soon, I realized that I needed God’s help. I needed some white space!

As a writer, I know the importance of white space—the empty space in every document, in the margins and between the words, graphs, and pictures.

The wise use of this white space can vastly improve communicating the writer’s message. And a lack of white space makes the page seem too busy, cluttered, and difficult to read. Yet too much white space produces an incomplete appearance.

White Space of Life

As I planned my use of time and resources, I concluded that the same important rules apply to the white space in all areas of my life.

If I fill every minute of the day with activities, work, and conversation, I become too preoccupied with unproductive distractions. But too much inactivity can rob me of my self-worth and credibility.

How do we determine the amount of white space in our lives? Never underestimate the power of organization, calendars, and spring-cleaning!

Can we discern how much white space to build into our lives? Those who know us best and love us unconditionally can offer healthy opinions. But seek an advisor with extreme caution— you may need to endure unsolicited criticism.

White Space of Grace

Never underestimate the power of God’s Word as you manage the white space in your schedule and decisions.

Jesus promised, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16: 12– 13 NIV).

As I prayed for direction, I remembered other encouraging words: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4: 9 NIV).

I also recalled the story in the Bible of another weak, tormented soul who discovered the sufficiency of God’s grace. Like me, the apostle Paul begged God to take away his problems. But God responded with surprising direction: “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness” (2 Cor. 12: 9 The Message).

The Bible offers important advice about letting go and moving forward:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, 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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3: 12– 14 NIV)

Where do you need some white space in your life? I hope this excerpt from my book, Words That Change Everything, speaks to your need for some white space.

Karen Jordan. Words that Change Everything. Copyright © 2016 by Karen Jordan. Used by permission of Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press.

7 Reasons To Consider a Study Group for Your Next Book Project

Image/karen jordan.net

In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one. (John Steinbeck)

 

Need help writing your next book proposal? Try this.

To help me with the research of my most recent nonfiction book proposal, I recruited a group of ladies at my church to walk through each chapter as I developed it. Since it’s been surprisingly helpful, I thought I’d share a few reasons to consider it.

  1. Helps with book launch. This group started meeting during my first book launch. I had just taken them through a study of my book, Words That Change Everything, this past fall. Each week they read a chapter of the book, downloading a copy of my RESTNotes as a guide for our weekly discussions. This meant I added every member to my mailing list, an important step in the platform-building process.
  2. Offers encouragement for book projects. After we finished the book study, the ladies asked me to lead them in another. I told them that I wanted to use material for a book that I’m currently working on. They happily agreed. In fact, they were excited to be part of the writing process with me.
  3. Produces insights from primary audience. Want to understand how to meet the needs of your audience? What better way to do this than to invite them into your writing process? I’ve learned invaluable insights from these wonderful ladies as we brainstormed questions and issues pertinent to my project.
  4. Keeps you on task and organized. Not only has the weekly agenda kept me on task with my book project, this study has been one of the most productive ideas I’ve ever employed as a writer. Each week, I prepared our session using a template that I developed for each chapter. And I did my outside research for each chapter with this class in mind.
  5. Supplies ongoing research in your absence. During the weeks I’ve been out of town for a speaking event or to help my grandkids, I recruited one of the class members to facilitate a discussion of some of the questions that we may have skipped in an earlier class.
  6. Meets fellowship needs of the group. When I returned from a recent speaking event, the group shared what an engaging experience they had getting to know each other even better, as they focused specifically on the questions I had prepared for them. I’ve also created a private Facebook group for our class to help us stay in touch and share insights on our topic with each other between meetings.
  7. Provides potential help with future projects. We still have a few weeks before we complete our current study. But several of the ladies have already asked me which book project we will use next. And I have several to choose from, since I’m working on a few personal and collaborative projects.

In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser observed, “Ultimately every writer must follow the path that feels most comfortable.”

Right now, while I’m researching my next book proposal, using the help of a study group works for me. So, I want to offer this idea to you, because I love to share lessons I’ve learned and the stories that matter most to me.

Have you ever recruited a study group for one of your works in progress? If so, what did you glean from that experience? Any tips?