Writing roadblocks: Fear & Funk

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In my experience, there are two roadblocks that cause a stall out when one is writing a memoir: fear and feeling stuck (or both!).

Fear:

What if I can’t do this? 

You know what? Nobody can actually write memoirs worthy of publishing right away. It takes time, work, passion, and the desire to grow in the craft. But the only way you truly can’t do it is if you don’t do it.

I don’t have a clue where to start. 

Again, few of us do. But the point is to get words down on paper (or laptop). Start at the beginning of your story. The starting place will probably change, but write something. Write a scene. An essay. Some musing. Summary. Thoughts, even if the thoughts are I don’t have a clue where to start. Once you write, you’ve started.

I’m too busy to add this to my life​. 

This is 100% true for some. It’s OK. Life will change at some point and you may be able to weave writing into your life. But a lot of times, this comment has to do with fear. If you really want to write, find time. Fifteen minutes in the morning. A half hour at night in exchange for a reality TV show (I’m obsessed with them!). Jotting down thoughts and ideas on a note pad as you wait for your kid’s soccer practice to let out. You don’t have to set aside chunks of time, but write. Find a little time. Write!

Funk:

Some authors think that writer’s block is a myth. I disagree. I think it is a real thing, but I also think that we can do a few things to attempt to loosen up our tangled creativity.

Put in the time anyway.

Set aside time for your writing. Remember Anne Lamott’s ‘butt in the chair’ admonishment from Bird by Bird? You may not actually write. You may stare off into space without one thought about your project. Just don’t give up. In order to build your writing muscles, you have to write.

Don’t let discouragement stop you cold.

​Or it will. You’re going to think your work is terrible. You’ll decide that your four-year-old can write better than you. You’ll want to give up. You might fear that someone will hear about you writing and think you are a fraud. Don’t let these things stop you. One writer said that as soon as you write, even if it is a grocery list (for the purpose of writing, not strictly to shop), you are a writer. Use your discouragement as a challenge to get better. 

Look for inspiration. 

​Read a memoir or a novel. Pick up a book on craft and read a chapter before you sit down to work. Purchase a writing course. Listen to podcasts about writing (my favorite is Between the Covers. Catchy title, right?). Look for a writing group in your town or online. Read blogs (ahem). Talk to others who write or love all things literary. ​ 

These ideas usually help me get out of my fear and funk. See what they do for you. You might just pick up your pen. 

 

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?

Is it time for a marketing tune-up?

Remember all those things you were going to do this year to update and enhance your online presence, like upload recent photos, add new publication credits, revise your bio? With 2017 approaching the half-way point, here’s a checklist to remind you to take the time now to tackle that list and mark off the tasks. Not only will it make you look active and engaged, but many social media platforms automatically post to your networks the changes you make to your profile, which means you get a boost in exposure. And that’s always a score for a writer…as long as it’s good exposure, that is!

Do the following for every site you use. And if you don’t already use a particular platform, maybe it’s time to try it: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Goodreads Author (https://www.goodreads.com/author/program), amazon author (https://authorcentral.amazon.com/), various genre sites (I’m listed on mystery sites like http://www.stopyourekillingme.com/ and https://www.cozy-mystery.com/ ). As the graphic above demonstrates, there are lots more than my short list, but I’m only human, so I’ve tried to focus on just a few. All I can say is “choose wisely.” And don’t forget your own website…but you already routinely update that, right? (If you haven’t, I bet you will now…)

  • Upload new profile picture. If you don’t have a professional head shot, you need to get one. Nothing builds credibility like a polished photo on your profiles. (And yes, you need something more current than your high school graduation photo.)
  • Update bio. Have you changed your state of residence? Become a grandparent? Won awards for your work? All of these items are important, as they can attract new readers who now feel you have more in common with them, or are geographically closer (which means they could reach out to you for an event!)
  • Add publication credits (books, articles, online blogs).
  • Upload the covers of new books.
  • Update events schedule: add new, delete old. If your last event was a year ago, don’t keep it there as a placeholder. If you have to have some copy, say ‘New events coming soon!’ and then get to work planning those new activities!
  • Switch out banner backgrounds for a fresh and/or seasonal look.
  • Upload new videos.
  • Make a video to say hi to your fans. It can be super simple. Make it fun and your fans will love it.
  • Make a series of photo posts using quotes from your books for fresh content you can use and re-use. (My go-to site for this is https://www.picmonkey.com/.)
  • Enter your name in the search engine of your choice and see where it pops up. You may be listed on sites you don’t know about; until I did this search, I didn’t know my books had been entered on several mystery listing sites, which prompted me to be sure to contact those site administrators to keep my publications current. Do you write romance? Self-help? Enter your name with those keywords and see what results. You might discover a whole new audience for your work, and with a timely tune-up, you’ll be ready to roll!

Seven Essential Tips Every Successful Writer Must Apply

Fresh StartsI think every published author wishes they could go back in time to whisper in their younger self’s ear. Doing so would certainly save volumes of time and energy. I’m sure five years from now, I’d wish for the opportunity to tell today’s me something I need to know right now.

These are the thoughts rolling through my mind this new year, clean with the possibility of fresh starts. I think it’s important to slow down sometimes.

We need to reflect on the past in order to improve on the future. So I’m reminding myself of the tips I’d give my younger self, knowing I’ve let some slack, and resolving to begin again. I believe the seven following tips are essential, things every writer must know.

  1. Ray BradburyRead as much as you can. Phrases such as, “Great writers are great readers,” hold a wealth of truth. The more we study, the more prepared we are to succeed. Reading teaches us the subliminal art of sentence flow, heart tugs, and scene staging. It also shows us what to avoid, as we learn from the mistakes of others. It’s the best motivator I know.
  2. Eavesdrop. Most of my best dialogue came from listening in on someone else’s conversation in restaurants, conferences, stores, airplanes, etc. I write non-fiction, and I tell true stories or compilations based on real people, but even if I wrote fiction, I would use this technique for writing believable and fascinating statements.
  3. Listen to outsiders. The more detached someone is from you, the more objective their writing feedback is going to be. Family and friends tend to fall into two camps: they either gush over everything you write, even your sloppy first drafts, or they nitpick, make digs, or outright blast anything you pen. Make it your mission to interact with people on social media, critique groups, or professional advance readers who are willing to respond honestly.
  4. Pull on your thick skin. You might want to consider whale shark skin for this one, (estimated at 6″ thick). Just like “there’s no crying in baseball,” professional writers soon learn, no one’s handing out Kleenex around here either. When rejection stings, stiffen your spine, and pitch again.
  5. Douse distractions. It’s going to happen. Ten people want five different things from you at once. You’re working on one project, when the siren call of another beckons. But professionals know the power of tenacity — grinding your behind into the seat, tuning out the voices trying to break your focus, and writing through to the finish line.
  6. motivational quotesSet time-stamped writing goals. I’ve really let this one slip lately, and my work is showing it. But my One Word is Reset, so I am resetting my goals. The difference between a dream and a goal is a measurement. So my refreshed writing goals include a minimum of 5,000 words per week. This reasonable number allows for flexibility, while pushing me beyond a normal comfort zone. It’s doable.
  7. Touch your own heart. If I’m not passionate about what I’m writing on, why would anyone else be interested? If I’m bored, my readers will feel boredom. If I’m thrilled, my readers will feel a flutter of excitement driving them to turn the page.

The more I write, the more I question myself at times, and yet, when I go back to the basics, I find the truth, the way, and a successful writer’s life. Which brings me to a bonus secret.

Pages in a Thousand BooksI can write until my fingers are numb. I can start writing at dawn’s break, pushing until the wee hours of the next morn, but if I am not inspired, it’s all for nothing. My personal inspiration come from prayer, provision, and praise for my Maker. He’s the one who gifted and called me. This is my most powerful secret.

What inspires you to write? Do you have any tips you would whisper to your younger self?

Another Sacred Moment: Launching My First Book

Photo/KarenJordanIn my first post on the WordServe Water Cooler blog few years ago, I wrote about “Embracing Sacred Moments” in our lives. In that short piece, I mentioned a couple of writing firsts for me—my first contract to write an article for a well-respected publication and my first call from a WordServe agent, signing me as a client.

This month, I’m experiencing another first—the launch of my first book.

But as I prepared to write this book, a sudden and disturbing vivid memory emerged from a time when I stepped out of my comfort zone to serve. I still feel the embarrassment of that day when I helped prepare the noon meal after a revival service in my hometown church.

A million doubts and fears raced through my mind that morning. Was my skirt too short? Were my heels too high? Were my clothes too tight? Would someone ask me too much about my personal life? Why did I even come here in the first place?

Since I was the youngest and newest member of the ladies’ group helping that day, someone nominated me to pass out rolls to everyone.

I stacked the rolls high on a large platter, hoping to avoid a second trip to the kitchen. But as I pushed the swinging door open with my back, I tripped and fell to the floor, propelling everything across the room.

I can still recall everyone in the room gasping at the spectacle I had made of myself.

BookCover/WordsThatChangeEverythingAs I wrote my first book, Words That Change Everything, my old fears and worries resurfaced, reminding me of that humiliating experience. Do I dare expose more of my failures, worries, and vulnerabilities with an even larger audience? What if I make a total fool of myself again in front of my friends, family, and total strangers as they read some of my life stories?

Then, I remembered what I learned from my earlier failed attempt in serving others. Forty years after I humiliated myself in my home church, the pastor’s wife invited me to speak in that same fellowship hall at a women’s ministry event. And I shared my humiliating “tossed roll” story, revealing some of my own worries and vulnerability.

God gave me an opportunity to revisit and overcome a moment of failure in the same context and venue, four decades later, as I stood on this promise from God’s Word: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9 NLT).

So, even though I’m a little apprehensive about revealing some of my most intimate stories in my first book, I’m excited to share my story with the world—Words That Change Everything: Speaking Truth to Your Soul.

Why? Because I also believe in the power of story—as we share the stories that matter most, lives change and hearts heal.

Did my story remind you of a story in your own life?

Why Marriage (and writing) Needs a Third

Why Marriage(and writing)Need a Third

“Two’s company, three’s a crowd,” we are told. But sometimes that is not true. Both in marriage and in writing.

Writers can’t just write about writing. It’s tedious. Not to mention boring to the non-writer.

Nouns, verbs, and prepositional phrases can only interest a person for so long, but put those same words in a story, and a writer has the ability to capture imagination.

Writers need a third thing–something “to gaze out at” according to author Natalie Goldberg in her book, Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir.

Sometimes the writer has no plan or control of what that third thing will be.

“We must find the third thing,” Goldberg writes. “And we cannot afford to be fussy. How a pothole is formed holds our interest. A kind of cheese, a license to own a beauty parlor, a felt slipper, someone’s toothache, all are fodder for our pen….”

Or staples. Staples can be the third.

This week I decided to re-do my kitchen chairs. I can’t remember what fabric originally covered the chairs when my grandmother owned them. After my mom inherited the chairs, she covered them in a cream-colored fabric, material that was now showing years of stains:

  • Stains from family dinners of scalloped potatoes, ham, frozen peas, and orange jello served in goblets Mom and Dad received as gifts at their wedding in 1957.
  • Stains from years of grandchildren learning to eat cheerios with a spoon, but invariably milk dripped down toddler chins and pooled on the fabric.
  • Stains from card games around the table, with fingers needing to be wiped of popcorn grease, and the cushion serving as a giant napkin.

Decades of stains.

I flipped over the first chair, a testament to the importance of life around the table, to begin removing the material from the cushion. I encountered staples.

Many, many staples.

As I pulled them out, I began counting. Twenty…thirty…forty.

The kitchen table was soon covered with flying metal projectiles. Sixty…seventy…eighty.

recovering a kitchen chair

I began to laugh. I knew, without being told, that although my mom selected the fabric, my dad was the one who stapled the material in place. Although neither was alive to ask, the unseen surface of the bottom of the cushion told the tale of a man who was legendary for taping the wrapping paper around Christmas presents so securely, that a knife or scissors was needed to open the package.

Mom was the project idea person. Dad was the implementer of the plan. 

Like writers, Goldberg contends, couples also need something “to gaze out at” for time cannot always be spent looking face to face, but rather, also, side by side.

Projects were my parents’ third. As was family. And faith.

I pulled out the last remaining staples holding the dingy cream fabric. Eighty-five. Did the chair cushion really need eight-five staples to hold the material in place?

“What are you doing?” my husband asked, walking into the kitchen.

“I’m re-counting the staples,” I replied, a bit distracted as I remembered yesterday moments around a Christmas tree. (To his credit, he did not ask why I was re-counting staples.) “I wonder if I can write a blog about staples?”

“I think you have proven that you can write a blog about anything,” he said.

I smiled at the compliment, from a man who has lived with my writing third, not an interest he shares, but a gifting he gives me space to pursue–which in itself is one of our thirds.

Family. Faith. And applauding one another’s dreams. Each has given us something “to gaze out at.”

Eighty-five staples do not hold us, yet we walk side by side.

What is your third?

5 Tips for Sharing Your Faith Stories

imageThe Bible encourages Christ followers to share their life lessons of faith with others.

Men. The apostle Paul gave Titus this advice as he prepared to teach men.

.  .  .  talk to them; give them a good, healthy diet of solid teaching so they will know the right way to live  .  .  .  teach the older men (to) enjoy everything in moderation, respect yourselves and others, be sensible, and dedicate yourselves to living an unbroken faith demonstrated by your love and perseverance.” (Titus 2:1 The Message).

Women. Paul also gave Titus instructions about teaching the older women, offering him some instructions concerning issues that concern all women (Titus 2:3-5).

Today. We might be able to glean some good stories with writing prompts from these passages. But how can we share our own faith if we can’t communicate our personal stories, identifying the stories that matter most to us?

As I prepared to speak to a group of Christian women, encouraging them to share their faith stores, I recalled an important challenge in 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (NIV).

Prompts. The following writing prompts helped me prepare to tell my faith story, particularly my personal “come to Jesus” experience.

  1. Before Christ. How would you characterize your life before you trusted in Jesus Christ? [Attitudes, emotions, concerns . . . ]
  2. Faith Crisis. What were the circumstances in your life that led you to trust Jesus Christ as Savior?
  3. Salvation. When and how did you respond to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?
  4. Christ follower. How would you characterize your life today since you chose to follow Christ? How is your life different now?
  5. Scripture Promises. What Bible verses have helped through a crisis of faith?

What resource or practice has helped you communicate your faith stories?