How to Refill Your Writing Tank

Feeling empty after finishing a manuscript or spending weeks marketing your books? Has burn-out become your default mode?

Then it’s past time for you to indulge in some writerly self-care. Here’s how I refill my tank:

  1. Eat ice cream. Lots of ice cream. It freezes all the synapses in your brain so you can’t think about writing, even if you wanted to. The idea is to give your brain a break, and ice cream does it every time for me.
  2. Read a lousy book. In fact, read two. It will remind you that anyone can write a book, but YOU can write a GOOD book. Pat yourself on the back. (Gratuitous self-praise is one of a writer’s most potent secret weapons when it comes to longevity in the writing business.)
  3. Go cliff-diving. (No, wait. That’s too much like writing – throwing yourself into a project not knowing where you’ll land. I guess that’s why I’ve never gone cliff-diving in real life since I do it all the time with writing. True confession: I just included it in the list to catch your attention…)
  4. 4. Take up a new hobby. Not cliff-diving (see #3 above). I’ve recently started weeding the yard, lopping off dead branches and building rustic furniture. Physical activity is good for the body, soul, and brain. (Hmmm… I just realized that my new hobbies all involve aggressive behavior: I get a visceral thrill from yanking out weeds, cutting off limbs and I absolutely LOVE drilling and pounding in nails. Let’s move right along…)
  5. Make something from Pinterest. Admit it, you’ve wasted time on Pinterest along with the rest of the world, oohing and aahing over charming hand-crafted items or exotic destinations or delightful food presentations. I took the plunge and here’s my result:(Hey, I didn’t promise it’s always pretty to refill my tank. I just offered to tell you what works for me. Sometimes, the most motivating thing I can do is fail miserably at something else and tell myself “Well, I can always write…”)
  6. Be a language vigilante. I love this one. I’ll make a point of reading every sign I see in a day and point out to anyone who’s within hearing the grammar/spelling mistakes. Big favorites are the ever-present “Your” instead of “You’re” as in “Your our most valuable customer” or “Thanks for you’re support!” I have to make a conscious effort not to carry a big fat red magic marker with me everywhere and circle the errors. By the end of the day, I once again feel like I have a firm grip on the English language, and it’s my duty to enlighten others how to properly use the written word.
  7. Thank God for writing. It’s a lot more fun than standing all day with a stop/slow sign directing traffic in a one-lane construction zone. Truly, I am blessed!
  8. Laugh! After all, God made you a writer, of all things! Talk about a great (make that OMNIPOTENT) sense of humor…

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.

Watching and Waiting

Photo/KarenJordanI’ve learned a lot about waiting and watching as a writer. So, I wanted to share this excerpt from my book, Words That Change Everything, with you.

Waiting rooms can bring out the worst in me. Long periods of waiting produce all kinds of emotional red flags—from impatience and worry to full-blown panic attacks.

Reminders of past pain, traumas, and personal losses make our current trouble seem intolerable. The dark clouds roll in, and we ignore the light of spiritual truth.

I’ve been assigned to many waiting rooms, especially this past decade. And I don’t really like to wait; I’m very impatient for good news to arrive. But waiting does not have to be hopeless. We can find hope and resist worry when we know that God is listening to our cries for help.

The psalmist speaks of “waiting” in Psalm 40, and I particularly resonate with this line from The Message Bible.

I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip. (Ps. 40:1–2 The Message)

Jumping from one waiting room to the next—crisis after crisis—and trying to help others in their time of need, well-meaning supporters encouraged me to find relief from my stress, anxiety, and exhaustion.

When I asked for advice how to obtain their suggested rest, some offered me quick fixes and temporary solutions. But nothing provided the peace that I desperately needed until I leaned on God’s Word for help.

What are you waiting for today?

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

OneWord 2017: Hope for the New Year

Image/KarenJordanHave you chosen your “OneWord” for 2017?

Focus. I selected my initial “OneWord” after reading an inspiring post on  Lindsey Nobles’s blog in 2011. I decided on the word “focus” after wrestling with distractions.

Fearless. I decided on the word “fearless” the next year. I needed to defeat the spirit of fear and pursue my projects, plans, and dreams.

Essential. After skipping three years, the word “essential” surfaced in 2015. Struggling with my priorities, I needed to rethink what mattered most. Plus, I faced a book deadline. At the same time, my husband, Dan, retired.

BookCover/KJordanRelease. I didn’t select “OneWord” in 2016. Why? I concentrated on my first book, Words That Change Everything. So, I suppose my “OneWord” became “release,” since I focused on marketing my book.

Hope. Recently, I sensed “hope” should be my 2017 “OneWord.” I had lost my confidence as I faced my lack of experience in marketing my book. Plus, my husband acts like “every day is Saturday” since he retired.

When the Lord placed “hope” on my heart, I sense new direction and a renewed purpose for the future.

Choose hope. Do you feel hopeless about the future? Perhaps our recent presidential election left you disheartened.

God’s Word offers us this promise of hope after a difficult journey.

(We can) rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5 ESV)

Can you identify the reason for your hopelessness? If you need direction and clarity of purpose to overcome your discouragement and doubt, I challenge you to accept His gift of hope today.

Happy New Year!

The Good Editor

typewriter-584696_640 Every writer needs a good editor. There are no exceptions. Typing away at the computer may be a solitary adventure, but bringing a well-rounded story to readers is a collaborative effort with a lot of players on the team. One of the most necessary players is a good editor. This is so much more than catching a typo or fixing a sentence that ends in a preposition or realizing you meant effect and not affect. It’s more than knowing what AP Style or Chicago Style is and when to use what, where.

Keely Boeving, a freelance editor who has worked with me on one of my novels, said, “I consider myself an advocate for the reader. My goal is not to change a writer’s style or intent, but rather to draw it out—to help them say what they truly want to say in a way that resonates with readers. Translating what a writer conceives in their creative mind into words on a page can be tricky, and an external observer—an editor—can help facilitate the translation in order to help writers achieve their intent.”

A good editor gets you and can see where the story is going without the need to add in their own two cents’ worth. The really good ones are part fan who write notes about the parts they really like, part brave hero who can tell a writer they need to take out that beloved chapter, and part mind reader who can ask just the right question about that part you thought was clear.

Taking the time and investing the money in an editor can help you get an agent or a publisher to read past that first page. Not taking that step may mean a lot of rejections for a good story that just needed a little more work.

Some tips when looking for the right editor:

  1. Gather information. Ask for the editor’s background and do they specialize in your type of work. Ask them for names/emails of writers they’ve worked with before. Write a short email to the writers asking them about their experience. See if the editor has ever worked with your genre. Keely worked in New York for over four years and is now a part of the WordServe family, as well as working as a freelance editor.
  2. Be clear about your expectations. Talk about cost and when payment is expected. Be true to your budget and keep searching if someone is out of your price range. Talk about your timeline and whether the fee includes second or third rounds of edits. If you have a deadline that can’t be missed, say so up front and take no for an answer if you hear ‘maybe’.
  3. Talk about how you expect to receive the edits. Some editors and some writers still use the printed page. I prefer Track Changes and comments but I still run into people who don’t and prefer mailing that manuscript back and forth.
  4. When you get the edits back, read over them briefly and put the manuscript down. Go find something fun to do and let it go for a day. On my initial read there’s always one or two things that I don’t agree with at all… until the next day. Often, those are the changes that fixed something that would have tripped up a lot of readers but was pretty easy to fix. Don’t let that become the reason you don’t sell a work.
  5. Take what you like and be willing to leave the rest. There will be moments when a suggested edit changes the intention of a scene or the voice of a character. Have some confidence in your idea and know when to say no. Reason it out with the editor, as well. It could also be that the setup isn’t fully there but with some tweaking, your story gets stronger. If you don’t feel like you’re being heard, you have the wrong editor.

One last thing. Celebrate every part of the journey as a writer, including this one. You took an idea from your mind and put it down on paper. That’s a big accomplishment. Now on to the next step.

And the Tweet goes on…

Red HotA few months ago, I enthused in this space about a book I’d read at my agent’s suggestion. Now I’m going to give you a follow-up, because reading Red Hot Internet Publicity has truly changed my marketing game; unlike a lot of books that sound great and helpful while I’m reading them, RHIP is proving itself to be one of those books that truly make a difference in my career. In other words, its tips WORK and you can actually DO them.

(Or am I the only person on earth who finds it difficult to implement ‘great ideas’ that use apps I can’t understand, or require more financial investment when my writing income is already in the red, or simply involve too many steps to even remember?)

This is what I’ve accomplished since my post “Learning New Marketing Tricks” appeared here two months ago: I’ve more than doubled my Twitter followers from 217 to 500+ by discovering new audiences on this one social network, and my exposure (impressions) has increased tenfold!

twitter-bird-light-bgs.pngThe route I’ve taken involves the RHIP suggestion to engage in group chats, which has introduced me to new contacts with similar interests. Even just a few Tweets back and forth produce new followers, and sometimes that generates ideas for writing posts on other networks. Perhaps even more significant is my new habit of scrolling every day through the topics that are currently trending on Twitter. I find a few to which I can contribute original Tweets, and then comment on others in that stream. Again, it only takes a few minutes, but it always generates new followers.

Finally, I’m insistent on using hashtags with every Tweet I make, and the more hashtags, the more likely it is that I’ll reach into new markets. Before I started focusing on Twitter, my tweeting impact was dismal – maybe making only a couple hundred impressions (read that as ‘your name showing up in the Twitter universe’) a week. These days, I’m getting a thousand impressions a day – that’s a lot of times my name is showing up in the Twitter stream, and that connects me to large groups of people I might otherwise not have encountered. Some of those people have now subscribed to my newsletter and bought my books; by following them back, I’ve found more threads of conversation and topics in which I can engage. Throughout it all, I constantly remind myself of my brand – of my unique voice – and make sure my Tweets reflect that. So far, I’m delighted with the results.

Hourglass --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Hourglass — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

So delighted, in fact, that I’m thinking I should double my time on Twitter…from 30 minutes a day to 60 minutes.

That’s right – 30 minutes a day have yielded me a breakthrough in exposure, and since getting my name and brand ‘out there’ is so important for making sales, those 30 minutes pack more of a marketing wallop than any other 30-minute marketing I can do.

Isn’t it great when something you try really works?

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?