Got a Problem? Here’s the Solution!

office-991306_640

Many years ago, our then five-year-old son trudged into the kitchen.

“I don’t wanna go back to school.” He dropped his Ninja Turtle backpack on the floor and crossed his tiny arms to emphasize the point. “Mrs. C doesn’t like questions and she doesn’t like teaching kids either.”

Surely, he’d misjudged Mrs. C. The teacher we’d just met at Open House a week earlier seemed warm, welcoming, and open to creative little spirits and their quandaries.

I knelt and met my child at eye level. “What makes you say that, honey?”

“’Cause if we wanna know something, she says ‘Not Now’ or ‘Go back to your seat.’ And…if we have a problem, she tells us to go write it on the problem board.”

Hmm.

“Problem board? What’s that?”

“It’s that big board on wheels with lots of white paper.”

Ah…yes. The one at the front of the classroom. I remembered seeing it at Open House.

“Well, did you need help with a question?”

“No. I had a problem.” My son’s face clouded. “Tommy took all my pencils and snapped them in two. When I tried to tell Mrs. C she said, ‘Go write it down on the problem board and then your problem will go away.’”

Really? What kind of nonsense was that?

“And so, what did you do?”

“I wrote my name on the problem board. And then Mrs. C laughed at me and said ‘You have a problem with yourself?’”

I cringed.

Even today, I still frown at the memory.

What I eventually deduced:

  • Most five-year-olds might be able to write their name, but very few write in complete sentences yet. Therefore, blank space on Mrs. C’s problem board equaled—well—no problem! Ever.
  • Mrs. C’s methodology for handling her classroom on a day-to-day basis was far different from what my husband and I observed at Open House. “I try to make things as easy for the students and myself as I can. The less complicated, the better,” she told a group of parents one day.
  • By easy and less complicated she meant unencumbered by demands, decisions, and anything else that required more than marginal effort.

I found that mindset disturbing, and to this day, Mrs. C’s words and attitude still resonate. It was and is so heartbreaking.

God doesn’t grant us creativity to waste, but He does set the bar high. He expects us to use good judgment when using our talents.

For writers and many other professionals, words like easy and uncomplicated rarely mesh with success.

Most of us know by now that with anything worth having (a long-held dream, goal, or career), there’s going to be work involved.

Ignoring “problems,” neglecting the obvious, and expending little energy aren’t endearing qualities. They invite complacency and undermine God’s plan for our lives.

It’s a tough climate for writers just now, but heaven help us if we come to think of our craft as not worth the effort!

If you’re new to the writing journey or if you’ve been at the process a while, I hope you’ve decided to dig in your heels and not settle for the uncomplicated.

I hope you’ll think through, rise above, and go beyond the “problem boards” of life, yet be confident enough to realize, too, sometimes, that’s where the real stories are.

Now

Go tackle some white space.

Don’t be afraid to write on it!

*This post first appeared on my blog.

Original Image Credit: MiraGregorCosic/Pixabay

 

Can you think of a time when you felt ignored or that your problem didn’t matter?

How did you handle it?

Writers, anything you’re tackling on your “problem board” today?

***

CH-7888 copy

Cynthia writes Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction from the beautiful Ozark Mountains. A hopeless romantic at heart, she enjoys penning stories about ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances.

“Cindy” has a degree in psychology and a background in social work. She is a member of ACFW, ACFW MozArks, and RWA.

Cindy loves to connect with friends at: http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com/

She also hangs out here:

http://www.twitter.com/C_Herronauthor

http://www.facebook.com/authorcynthiaherron

http://www.pinterest.com/cynthia_herron/

For love, fun, and encouragement ~

Sign up for Cindy’s monthly e-NEWSLETTERS

 

Advertisements

Promises for the Writing Process

WordSwag/KarenJordanAs I worked on my first book project, I struggled with all kinds of self-doubt and fear. I wondered why I had even bothered with writing a book proposal.

I had faced several rejections in the past. And I had been unable to follow through on other book projects earlier for a myriad of reasons.

Yet I couldn’t seem to let go of my desire to share the spiritual lessons I had learned, applying God’s principles and promises to my life.

Peace. I had been praying about finding spiritual rest and peace. And I had struggled with the thought of compiling the truths I had discovered while helping others in their struggle with fear—especially with worry, anxiety, and depression.

Prayer. I had voiced a question to God as I wrestled with fear, doubt, and unbelief concerning direction for my book: How can I write a book about finding spiritual rest, when I’m still one of the most anxious people I know?

Promises. I discovered powerful promises in the Bible as I sought God’s direction and moved forward with my book. I hope they will encourage you as you work on your next writing project.

  • God will complete the work that He began in me. “[Being] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion . . . ” (Phil. 4:6 NLT).
  • The Holy Spirit will teach me all things and remind me of everything that the Lord has taught me. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you” (John 14:26 HCSB).
  • Christ promises to give me the strength I need. “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13 NLT).

What promises from scripture have meant the most to you while you labored over your writing projects?

 

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?

My Favorite Encouragement Quotes for Writers

Never Too OldIf you write for any length of time, you’re going to need encouragement somewhere along the journey, no matter how long you’ve been at it. If you’re like me, you may need a lot of motivating words, and you can’t wait around expecting someone else to provide them. Often, to keep the creative juices flowing, you need to get intentional about inspiring yourself — which is why I keep my favorite encouragement quotes for writers close by.

See if any of these strike a chord with you. Maybe you could use one of these morale boosters for your writing.

“Be ruthless about protecting writing days. Do not cave in to endless requests to have essential and long overdue meetings on those days.” — J.K. Rowling

Writing Quote George Orwell“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” — Maya Angelou

“Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour. Do this despite fear. For above all else, beyond imagination and skill, what the world asks of you is courage. Courage to risk rejection, ridicule, and failure.” — Robert McKee

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” — Anais Nin

“If you wait for inspiration to write, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” — Dan Poynter

Writing Quote Tobias Wolff“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” — Agatha Christie

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” — Thomas Mann

“I can fight off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” — Anne Frank

“This business of being a writer is ultimately about asking yourself, how alive am I willing to be?” — Anne Lamott

“You can do it!” — Your Morning Coffee

Do you have some favorite encouragement quotes for writers you’d like to share? Which of these is your favorite?

Behind every writer…

I used to think that successful novelists and writers did all their own work; from conception to final manuscript, the individual author did it all, including research, editing, writing coach, spiritual director, personal trainer (writing a book is like a marathon in many ways!) and project manager. Then I started reading author acknowledgments at the ends of books and realized that it took almost a whole village of assistants for an author to be successful!

And so, since I am committed to transparency in my career, I confess that I, too, rely on a staff to help me produce books. Let me introduce you to Team Jan:

Eddy is my editor. His sharp eyes don’t miss much. In fact, he may be the most demanding editor I’ve ever had. After I’ve slogged and wrestled with a heartfelt devotional or a chapter of plot twists, he often wipes out what I have done with one (paw)stroke on the keyboard, requiring me to attack the material again. And without fail, I have to admit, the second version is always better. He teaches me that patience, diligence, and revision make a better writer out of a good one. I just wish he’d stop shedding so much on the keyboard.

Michael is my personal trainer. He knows that too much sitting stagnates the body and mind, so he insists on frequent breaks from writing to both tone my muscles and clear my thoughts. There’s nothing like a competitive game of tug-of-war with a 75-pound dog to take your mind off character development, and Michael makes sure I sweat through several rounds every day. Afterwards, I’m more than ready to bring a focused mind to my writing project. Or else I take a nap.

Gracie is my spiritual director. We start every day with a walking meditation and prayer that helps set my priorities for the day. Many of my best pieces of writing result from the inspiration I find while in her company; her ability to live intensely in the moment motivates me to pay attention to details in the world around me. Sometimes, she points me to hidden pathways, inviting me to stretch my horizons of experience, which then influence my writing. I try to be open to those new directions, although the one that unexpectedly dumped me into a muddy gully was not one of her better ideas.

And finally, there’s Otis, the perfect project manager. When I’m stressing about a deadline, he calms me down by modeling relaxed behavior, reminding me that too often, I’m the one putting pressure on myself to perform. His easy-going nature encourages me to take my career with a proverbial grain of salt – or in his case, with a couple of Purina Kitty Treats – because in the big scheme of things, writing is just one facet of my life. Like every good project manager, Otis knows the value of balance…and the value of a good belly rub every now and then.

Who’s on your team?

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.

What authors need to know: a view from the reviewer’s desk

© Royalty-Free/Corbis

I’ve recently been reviewing books on Netgalley. To my surprise, it’s been an educational experience for me as an author; by putting myself on the reader’s/critic’s side of the equation, I’ve learned a few truths that every author should know about 1) writing books, and 2) receiving book reviews.

Truth #1: Not every book is for every person. No matter how important your message or story, it’s not going to appeal to everyone. I keep thinking of the key question every writer gets when pitching a book for publication: who will want to read this book? Many of us (myself included when I began writing) believe that EVERYONE should read our books, that there is value in our work for every reader. But the truth is that people have different interests, and not everyone will want to read your book; that’s why the precise identification of those readers most likely to read your book is so critical to publishing your work. Authors MUST know their specific audience.

As a reviewer, I can choose from a multitude of topics, which means there are many excellent books I don’t choose to review for the simple reason that I’m not interested in the topic. Don’t take it personally when reviewers don’t rave about your book – it may be that your topic just didn’t hit a home run with that individual. Remember always that reading and reviewing is subjective, so while authors want and need reviews, you’re at the mercy of individual preference.

Truth #2: Not every writing style will appeal to every reader. Part of the joy of writing is to find your own voice, and when it resonates with your readers, it’s like winning the lottery. From a reviewer’s perspective, however, some writing styles are irritating, which then often result in poor reviews. (Case in point: as a former teacher of English composition, I can’t get through a book filled with incomplete sentences. When I find that in a book I want to review, I return the book rather than penalize the writer for her own voice. I’ve made that my rule based on my experience of receiving a poor review for one of my books wherein the reviewer said he didn’t read the book because he didn’t like my style in the first chapter! Again, it’s subjective, so don’t panic when you receive a review like that; if you know your audience, you can let that bad review roll off your shoulders, because you know something your reviewer doesn’t: your audience likes your style.)

Truth #3:  Your writing will improve by reading and reviewing other books. As a writer, every learning opportunity you take – even reviewing others’ books – will contribute to your store of ideas, craft, and understanding. Besides reminding me of the importance of audience, reviewing has reassured me that there is room in the publishing and reading world for many voices and many topics. As long as you continue to polish your craft and write engaging books, there’s room for you, too!