Surviving the Valley

You hear a lot on the writing journey that it’s filled with highs and lows—probably more so in publishing because it’s rapidly changing and I personally wouldn’t consider any part of the industry stable or predictable.

valley-of-fire-1390258_1920The problem is the valley is hard. What exactly do you do? Do you give up writing? How do you readjust to keep your writing career moving forward when seemingly no one wants the words you’re putting on the page?

My writing valley (really—the deep dark hole of despair) started after my first trilogy was published. I worked really hard marketing those books, had great reviews, and two out of three of the books were each nominated for multiple awards. I was even told by my publisher that I was (at one point) their second-bestselling fiction author.

I thought there was no way my next proposal wouldn’t be picked up—by somebody. Well, it wasn’t and to be honest it put me in a psychological funk. I was pretty convinced that my envisioned bestselling author status dreams were rapidly crumbling in front of my eyes.

I’ve come through my first major valley (I’m sure one of many to come) and I thought I’d share what I did to survive it without throwing my writing career in the trash and lighting it on fire.

  1. Grieve. It’s okay to be sad about it. The writing life is unpredictable—even that’s a pretty generous understatement. Your writing life didn’t go as planned and it’s hard to readjust dreams sometime—but do readjust.
  2. Help other authors. Help them promote their books. Read books for endorsement. Review novels. Keep your name in the reader’s mind by having your name on their books.
  3. Stay active on social media. Even if you’re not publishing, keep engaging with your readers and other authors.
  4. Keep writing and learning the writing craft. Above all else—don’t stop writing. Journal. Blog. Write a new book proposal. Use this time to brush up on the areas of your writing that aren’t strong. Read those numerous writing craft books that have been piling up beside your bed (come on, I know you have them!) Learn those pesky computer things you’ve been putting off. Scrivner. Newsletter distribution sites. Take an on-line writing course. Even James Patterson has one now that’s very reasonably priced.
  5. Write outside your genre. During my valley, an editor from Guideposts reached out to me and asked me to audition for a cozy mystery series they were putting together. Hmm. Cozy mystery? I write thrillers. Straight up thrillers. I honestly didn’t think I could write gentle enough for a cozy mystery, but what else was I really doing? So I tried it. My first submission, well, you could probably predict the feedback I received. Too dark. The heroine’s not cheery enough. By the way, this surprised no one that knew me. But I resubmitted—and they loved it! And then the series didn’t move forward. I auditioned for a different Guideposts series and washed out again. Maybe cozy mystery wasn’t for me, but it did prove I could write something other than thrillers and I built bridges to editors at Guideposts even if they didn’t take me on for those projects.
  6. Fractured MemoryListen to God’s nudgings. Looking back with perfect vision, I felt that God used the Guideposts experience to get me to write outside my comfort zone. During this process, I started thinking about a contest called Blurb to Book that Love Inspired was hosting. Never did I imagine I would write for them. I didn’t think I was a good fit, but I found myself obsessing about this contest to the point where I couldn’t sleep. So I entered, and I ended up winning a contract for Fractured Memory, my novel releasing this month from Love Inspired Suspense. Suddenly, I was clawing my way out of that dark writing well.
  7. Go indie. In this writing age, there is literally no reason to not have content out for readers. Don’t quit your day job and scrap and save every penny you can to hire a good editor, proofreader, and book cover designer. I do say this with some caution—be sure you put out a good book! Don’t sabotage yourself into another pit.

Overall, take the valley as a place that can provide rest, rejuvenation, and growth. Perhaps you will need to go back to a paying job or postpone the plans that you had of quitting or reducing your hours. Just know that the valley is survivable and it doesn’t have to mean the demise of your writing career.

Tell me, how have you survived low points in your writing career?

 

 

Don’t ride . . . DRIVE the train!

trainAbout fifteen years ago, while taking a graduate course in Spirituality and Leadership, I had a professor who presented me with one of the most motivational sayings I’ve ever encountered: “Don’t just ride the train, be the engineer!”

Okay, maybe not the most theological statement I heard in the course of my graduate program, but it lit up my brain in ways I’d rarely experienced since finishing my undergrad degree decades earlier. Knowing myself to be an introvert and nonconfrontational, I’d always preferred to have someone else take the lead in projects at work; the only role in which I felt confident enough to be in charge was as a mother to my children. (Looking back, I can only say that ignorance was truly bliss, but that’s another post or two or a thousand.)

But the moment my professor uttered that directive, I had an epiphany that any writing career I wanted to pursue was going to demand that I drive the train, and not just ride along on whatever might come my way. As a result, I began to view writing as a vehicle I would steer, and, when necessary, refuel with energy and hard work. I also accepted that no one else cared as much as I did whether that train finally arrived; not even the support of spouse, family and friends (as important as that is!) would bring that train into the station if I didn’t commit myself to being the engineer.

I share this story with you because every writer needs to know that writing requires you to make that train your own: if you want to be successfully published, you have to learn the business, and these days, that means EVERY aspect of the business: writing craft, understanding your audience, marketing, platform building, travel requirements, publishing trends. Gone are the days when your publisher says, “Thanks for writing this swell book. We’ll take it from here.” Even your agent – if you’re fortunate enough to land an agent – can’t hold your hand through every stage of book development, because she or he is swamped just trying to navigate a path to publishers through all the layers of the industry – layers which can shoot down a book proposal for reasons of marketing or audience or numbers of your social followers, which may have nothing to do with the actual value of the book you’re creating.

You have to take ownership of your career. You have to drive the train to where you want it to go.

And that may be the biggest plus of being the engineer – you can CHOOSE where you want your career to go. It will take hard work and learning from the experience itself, but if you find you’re being called to write romance instead of devotionals, or humor instead of profiles, or politics instead of fiction, you can steer that train of your writing career onto different tracks, and see where it takes you. Maybe it will only be a short detour and you’ll end up at your original destination. That’s great! Then again, it may be a whole new journey on the writing rails.

Are you ready to drive the train?

The 15-Minute Writer: Tips for Creatives Who Parent

 

photo-1415822138156-fd0cd874335a

Photo source: https://unsplash.com/giuvicente

I began writing before God blessed me with children, and in the last eighteen years, I’ve birthed two boys and eight books. Being an author has been a grand adventure. It’s also kept me sane.

Seriously.

After having my oldest, who was a very high-needs baby, I suffered severe depression and stopped writing. One day, my counselor asked me, “Why aren’t you doing something that makes you light up whenever you talk about it?” Her question helped me realize God had called me to writing not only as a ministry to others, but also for my own growth and happiness.

Combining parenthood with a creative passion can be challenging, but I believe it’s worth the effort. If you’re a parent who longs to create, here are a few tips from the trenches:

Make the most of your kids’ sleep times.  When Jordan and Jackson were small, I used nap times to write instead of clean. Hiring a once-a-month housekeeper was well worth the expense…even when I didn’t get paid for writing. If you work full-time, dedicate a few moments after bedtime (or before your children wake up) to your art. A Netflix binge won’t feel as good as creating something–I promise.

Apply your creativity to time management. Once my sons were old enough, I enrolled them in Mother’s Day Out (two days a week) and dedicated those twelve hours a week to my art. On days we were together, I did household chores and errands with them in tow. I’ve also written by hiring a temporary sitter or working when my husband was at home. When my husband and I both worked full-time, we made one Saturday a month “guy time.” The boys enjoyed days with Dad while I worked on upcoming deadlines.

Work away from home. If you can swing it, try to write at a coffee shop or restaurant with free wifi. Another helpful habit is to participate, at least once a year, in a writing conference or retreat. For me, the expense of travel has paid off in contacts, clarity, and opportunities. (It also helps my family realize all that I do, and they appreciate me more when I get back. Talk about a win-win!)

photo-1457369804613-52c61a468e7d

Photo source: https://unsplash.com/impatrickt

Say “no” to distractions. Every artist who makes time for their passion has to say “no” to social events, book club meetings, and various distractions (such as Facebook posts about organizing closets). On the days I set aside to write–first proposals and queries, now articles and books–I worked. Even if I set self-imposed deadlines, I tried (and still try) to meet them if at all possible. Take yourself seriously, or no one else will.

Be patient with yourself and your goals. I found this very difficult at first, because I began writing before my kids were born, and I’m a very goal-oriented person. However, I found contentment when I surrendered my dreams and accepted that the kids needed me now, while the writing could often wait. Try to picture your artistic pursuits as a marathon, rather than a sprint.

Pay it forward. God gave me a supportive spouse who’s also creative, so he understands my calling. I don’t take that for granted, and I try to let him have space to pursue his own passions. I also have a heart full of gratitude for the precious relatives, friends, and colleagues who’ve encouraged me along the way.

Today, I hope I’ve given you a bit of that same encouragement.

Your turn: if you’ve combined parenthood with a passion, share your tips in the comments. (Hurry, before the kids wake up!)

When You Know Who You Are, You Know What to Write

public domain; pixabay.com

public domain; pixabay.com

As writers and communicators, we’ve probably all heard the saying, “Communicate with the listener in mind.” I keep this statement on my desk to be reminded often that I need to be intentional in my writing – intentional to focus on clearly articulating the topic at hand with you – the reader – in mind. When I prepare a live presentation, the same practice applies. Like John Maxwell said in his book by the same title, “Everyone communicates, but few connect.”

If we only write or talk to have something to say, it does little good to anyone. And in a day when seemingly everyone has a platform of some kind, it matters even more that our words count.

Beware getting lost in the practice of communicating with your listeners/readers in mind, though.

In the private practice (counseling, coaching and consulting) my husband and I have, and in my teaching and writing, one of the main focuses of all I do is to affirm and re-affirm to clients, audience members, and readers that everything we do reflects what we believe about our identity. Like Joyce Meyer has often said, “Your DO is not Your WHO.” In other words, you aren’t what you do – either in daily behavior nor in vocation – for better or worse. That reality is hard to remember sometimes, isn’t it?

I have a couple of heroes in my life about whom, over the years, I’ve thought or even said aloud, “I wish I could write like him/her,” or “I wish I could be as funny/articulate/bold/etc as ________________ is.” While learning from others and even emulating others we admire can be a really positive experience in personal growth, we need to be careful that we avoid trying to become another person in our attempts to find success.

No one will bring to the world what you’ve been placed here to offer.

Discovering my identity and then practicing the position of my identity is key to experiencing success (i.e. “the abundant life” Jesus spoke of in John 10:10).

“Your DO is not Your WHO.” – Joyce Meyer

In my book, Why Can’t We Just Get Along?, the main point throughout is that “When you know who you are, you know what to do.” Since this is true in everyday life and relationships, we can trust that it is also true in our vocation. For the purpose of this blog, I’m speaking specifically to writers. If we never discover,  or if we fail to remember who we are, we will lose our unique voices in our writing as we attempt to ‘communicate with the listener(s) in mind’. The pull to be who others want us to be, even well-meaning friends and colleagues, will be too strong to avoid. We may (no guarantees here!) become extremely popular or even write a bestseller, but if it isn’t our voice the readers hear, is it really worth it?

This is a question only you can answer for yourself. For me, it just isn’t worth it.

Readers connect with different writers for as many reasons as there are writers and readers! I love it when I can “hear” the sound of different writers’ voices. Your readers love it when they can hear you distinct voice as well. So, as you’re working diligently on having solid content to share, avoid the pull to share it in someone else’s voice.

“My voice is never much louder than a ripple, but even small voices sound loud when you talk about things that matter.”
Natalie Lloyd, The Key to Extraordinary

 

 

Take it with you when you go

moving dayMy husband retired from his job last December in Minnesota , and within a month, we were unpacking our worldly goods in our new home in Texas. Having relied heavily on my local readership for growing my book authoring career, I was faced with a choice: retire from my own career as a writer, or start it all over again in a new place.

Actually, there was no choice for me: since I can’t NOT write, here I am, back at square one. Except that this time around, I have eight years of experience and a track record as a published author behind me as I begin to cultivate my new area; my task is more transplanting than seeding. For any of you facing a geographic move, here are some of the positive and negative aspects of taking your authoring with you:

A fresh audience!

Positive: You have a fresh audience, which forces you to remember why you write, why you’re excited about what you write, and how what you do can serve readers in your new community. It’s a wonderful opportunity to look at your work from new angles and refresh your own enthusiasm for what you do. And with books already in print, you have product ready to promote in your new area – no waiting around for publication to happen – yet you can re-use the promotional tools you used the first time around, saving you the time and effort of developing new marketing strategies.

Negative: You have a fresh audience, which means you have to start over making connections with bookstores and other venues. Back to phone calls and building relationships (sigh).

A track record as an author!

Positive: You’ve got a track record as an author! Yes, you’re making phone calls, but you’re going to get farther faster in booking events because you’re a proven entity. Your past experience makes you smarter about ways to reach decision makers, adding to your credibility as a published author with new contacts. Since this is your second time around, you won’t waste money and time on the ideas that didn’t work when you were just starting your authoring career.

Negative: You have to put the time in again on building key relationships.

New sales!

Positive: You have a new geographic market to add to your original readership, potentially doubling sales for both old books and anything new to come. Just because you’re no longer physically available doesn’t mean your loyal readers from your old location will abandon your future releases – those fans need to be kept in the loop as you move forward, so be sure to continue communications with them (Facebook, author newsletter, etc.).

Negative: You will lose some readers who only enjoy local authors. Hopefully, though, the gains in your new area will outweigh the lost readers.

Can you add to these experiences/insights of taking your authoring career into new territory?

Are You Prepared for Spiritual Battle?

I was thrilled to see my very first post up on this fantastic website last month. I happily wrote about dealing with sensitive topics. I felt experienced and insightful as I penned that post, delighted with the opportunity to share what I’d learned.

And the next day, a maelstrom erupted on my blog.

One commenter interpreted something I wrote in a way I never intended. I immediately tried to correct the record with a follow-up comment and a clarification in the blog post itself. But the commenter struck back with a personal attack not only against me – but against my husband. Now that is not alright with me.

I politely but firmly defended myself and my husband. Expecting it to end there. It didn’t. She left another scathing comment, which I did not approve. Then she followed up with a comment on my Facebook page that was even worse, which I removed. And another blog comment that was appallingly vitriolic.

While I’d love to say that I calmly handled this situation with Christian love, joy, and peace, I was actually a bit rattled. I externally dealt with these exchanges okay enough, but my chest felt tighter than two-sizes-too-small skinny jeans and I found myself questioning everything I wrote in that post and a few others. Had I done something egregiously wrong?

Then a friend wrote these words to me: “I think this is a bit of a spiritual battle. Satan is trying to shake your cool or make you question what you do.” The timing and extent of what happened made me think she could well be right.

sword

Whether it’s a nonfiction book or blog post or an inspirational story, your writing can have an impact on others. We have a positive effect on our readers far more than a negative one. However, that one naysayer can poke and prod so long and hard you wonder if Satan is applauding with each jab.

He probably is.

I’ve often been told that putting yourself out there in ministry and in writing means opening yourself up not only to constructive criticism but to verbal assaults. Tough skin, I have. But impenetrable? Nope. And if I give an opening – become vulnerable with my readers in some way – someone could hit a tender spot. I could find myself in a spiritual battle.

Am I prepared?  I wish I felt at all times that I was. But I keep turning to God, seeking wisdom from my godly friends, finding comfort in encouraging comments from readers I have helped, and plugging along with my writing. After the Sword of the Spirit, the pen is still my favorite sword of truth.

2 Important Questions for Writers and Speakers

Photo/KarenJordan

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?