Being Equipped

Criticism 1Many times, when I meditate on God’s Word, my eyes are drawn to encouraging and uplifting verses like John 3:16, or “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” or “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

And sometimes, as only God can do, He whacks me upside the head with a mackerel as he did during my prayer time the other day when He led me to Proverbs 29:1 (NLT): Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery.

In the King James Version, this verse reads: He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy. Not quite as in my face as the NLT. The Old English makes it a little mushier with having to untie the knots in the sentence.

Not the NLT. It’s like stepping on the wrong end of a rake.

When I began writing seriously, the thing I feared most was receiving criticism. I had always been extremely sensitive to criticism. It came from having a poor self-image and being convinced in my mind I could never be smart enough or good enough. My first reaction was to shut down and then, at the first opportunity, I would go off by myself and brood.

Frustrated Woman at Computer With Stack of PaperImagine taking this attitude into a critique group.

But God, with His grace and favor and wisdom, prepared me. He showed me magazine articles, books, and blogs that talked about receiving and giving criticism. He brought me to my first critique group. There I observed a group of people much more experienced than I give and receive critiques in ways that were constructive and encouraging.

Most importantly, through prayer and wise counsel, He showed me, for the first time, how to see the criticism was not about me personally, but about my words.

Sometimes, it’s still hard to make this distinction. The enemy tries to wedge the door open and tell me negative feedback means I’m no good. But God has shown me, no matter what people think of my writing, I am good. I am His child and, as the old saying goes, God does not make junk.

To refuse and reject criticism is to set myself up for failure, to put myself in a situation of not being published, of developing a reputation of being difficult, if not impossible, to work with. This accomplishes several things I don’t want to happen. People won’t work with me or consider my work because I’m not open about improving it. It hurts God because it takes me out of His plan for me. And it gives the enemy a victory because it takes me out of the will of God and opens the door for him to do even more damage, and, thus, for me to be destroyed beyond recovery.

God’s shown me the purpose of the criticism, how it applies through this verse. The feedback is to help me improve as a writer, to develop and refine my craft, to become a better storyteller. To become a better servant of Him by taking my skills to the highest level possible. To walk in obedience and in the fullness of His plan and calling for my life.

After getting my attention in Proverbs 29:1, He led me to this Scripture, a part of a prayer in Hebrews 13:21 (NLT): May he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.

He’s equipped to me write and He’s equipped me to receive feedback and instruction to improve my writing so it serves Him even better.

Seeking a Revelation

source: Fotolia via MS Office

We’ve all been there—happily plowing through a manuscript when we’re suddenly brought to a squealing halt. Or maybe it comes on gradually, like so much mud solidifying as we try to trudge through until we find ourselves frozen in place, blinking at the ground and wondering what happened.  It could be our outline didn’t foresee all it might have, or we wandered down an unexpected path only to find it’s a dead end. Or perhaps our characters took on lives of their own and staged a coup when we weren’t looking. However we got there, we’re stuck, and being stuck mid-project is no fun. So what’s a writer to do? 

We could ditch the whole thing. Occasionally that is the right answer, but being persistent writerly-types, thank goodness that’s not our first inclination. There are lots of ways to get unstuck which leave us with a better manuscript in the end. Here are my top five:

  • Walk away for at least 30 days. It never ceases to amaze me how insightful this can be. When you’re writing, you’re close to the material. You leave a part of you on the page, and sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Many writers know this, and they take frequent steps back from their material in the hopes of approaching it later with a less familiar eye. It’s tempting to think a week or two is sufficient, and sometimes it is. But if you’re really stuck, I highly recommend walking away for a full month to get a truly fresh perspective. That distance can do wonders for improving your writing on the next go-round.

Source: Wikipedia

  • Ask for help. While many writers recognize the value of a critique group for the craft side of writing, I’m surprised how few ask for help with storyline. Asking for help does not make you weak. It makes you resourceful. I recently rewrote the entire end to my novel because an editor thought it predictable. I asked a trusted critique partner for help. She brainstormed with her daughter (this was a YA story) and came up with a slew of possibilities. One contained the thread of an idea I ultimately spun into a much better ending. And let’s not forget the power of prayer. Realizing you don’t have all the answers and asking for guidance from above is simultaneously humbling and empowering. Just remember to let go of any preconceived ideas and be open to whatever form inspiration may take.
  • Print it. This isn’t the first time you’ve heard this, but it works. Seeing your work in print is strangely insightful. You will plainly see things you don’t when looking at it on the computer.
  • Push through. To put it bluntly, give yourself permission to write crap. Knowing the next chapter or two will be ‘throw away’ material is incredibly freeing. It takes the pressure off and lets you work through the block. Not everything you write needs to be brilliant. You’re not going to go with that first or second draft anyway, right? So give yourself permission to make a mess before you refine it all.
  • Read in your chosen genre or non-fiction category. Some writers worry if they do this they’ll either find someone beat them to the punch or they’ll inadvertently pick up another author’s voice or idea. In the case of the former, you’re better off knowing this sooner than later so you can make your story stand out as different. In the latter, you can influence this: you’re a disciplined, creative being, not a machine that regurgitates what you’ve read without your knowledge. The benefits of understanding what’s successful (or not) in your chosen field far outweigh the possible risks. Read—and keep a pencil handy for when the revelation hits.

How do you get through when you find yourself ‘stuck’ during a writing project?

Third Day Give Me a Revelation