The Heart of An Artist

Hands of Businesswoman Using LaptopWe think, we feel, we bleed on the page. We’re sewers of words, stitch by stitch until our heads unravel fuzzy.  Hey, are you talking to me?

People don’t always “get” us, and we’re okay with that because we already know we’re a bit strange, no shocker. Our dearest people love us anyway.

We writers draw boundaries and let our voice mail field calls. We plop our rears on chairs and pop up prayers and Advils and away we go, ready to transport our readers.

A thousand distractions call, but we have a dream-scream and God put it there. And if God put it there, nobody can take it away. And who needs to clean her house anyway? We have books to write.

We’re emotional creatures, God bless us. We’re well endowed with feelings. We love and hate our emotions with a passion. We get a high when we make readers laugh, cry, and get angry, boom-boom-boom, sometimes all at the same time.

My husband wipes his eyes as he reads the fruit of my year-long labor. He’s lost in the part where Ema McKinley swallows her grandsons into a hug. It’s her first hug since the miracle. And as Ema absorbs the feel of those boys, my husband sniffles and I swell. Swell with the joy of the craft and the miracles and the emotion-packed words.

Jesus had emotions. Remember how he wept? To love is to feel, and when Lazarus died, Jesus felt what we’d feel. In love, He felt for us.

We feel for our audience when we write, and this is our love gift.  We want to love them closer to something. Just like Jesus, the Living Word, wants to love us closer to Himself.

Hey, big-hearted artist, what do you love most about writing? What drives you to do what you do?

Beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about the king, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet. Psalm 45:1

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Back to School

When I was a kid, summer was my favorite season: 4th of July, family barbeques and reunions, my birthday, catching fireflies, and participating in our county’s fair through various 4-H activities.

However, as I got older, and especially now that I am out of school, I appreciate fall more and more. About a month ago, lured in by the back to school displays at King Soopers, I made my husband buy me new pens and pencils, explaining that I would be more motivated to complete my to-do list if it were written in purple and green as compared to black and blue. Ultimately, I feel motivated by that fall feel—Pumpkin Spice Lattes, working at Starbucks with bright-eyed college students, and hunkering down in my house with manuscripts stored up on my Kindle.

Since many of you are probably parents and are, therefore, enjoying some extra writing time now that the kids are in school, I thought I would share some specific motivational tips that inspire me during the fall.

  1. Enjoy a hot beverage. Coffee, black, is my drink of choice, but I also like the occasional cup of tea or the more-than-occasional cup of hot chocolate. I also read somewhere that if you put the cup on your face, the warmth does something to your endorphins to make you happy. No idea if that is true or not, but it feels like a mood booster when I do it. Plus, it pulls me out of email or editing for ten minutes or so and just lets me be creative or pray or review my list of things to do.
  2. Going to Starbucks or a local college. Usually, I see several college students reading or writing or studying, and I think, if they can push forward, so can I. And then I will see someone working on calculus or chemistry or some other god-awful subject, and I send up a prayer of thanks that the most stressful thing that I encounter throughout the work day are rejections or a particular difficult edit. Seriously, calculus? Who willingly takes a class like that?
  3. Talking walks. It was HOT in Colorado this summer, and I’ve heard we have more ninety degree days ahead of us, but I have really enjoyed the past few days where the temperature has dipped into the seventies. I like working outside on my balcony and taking walks to observe the changing leaves. I feel energized and like change is happening in me both physically (baby boy is growing!) and spiritually. God and I have had some wonderful conversations these past few days, and I have felt my relationship with Him maturing and becoming clearer in a lot of ways.

So what motivates you during the fall? Have you had your Pumpkin Spice Latte yet?

No Angry Rejection

Rejection—we’ve all experienced it. Some days, it seems to roll off our backs; and on others, we feel as if a knife just pierced our vital organs.

Maybe you’ve been shunned by a friend, coworker, or employer. Perhaps you’ve experienced an even deeper-cutting rejection by a spouse or a loved one.

As a freelance writer, I experience rejection of my ideas and projects on a regular basis. At times, it’s hard not to take the “no’s” personally. When I was trying to break into the book market (something that took five years of learning, growing, praying, and waiting—after several years of writing articles and stories for freelance markets), the multiple rejections got to me after awhile.

Even though I believed I was called to write, and felt obedient to God by pursuing that call, major discouragement set in for me when three of my favorite publishers turned down a nonfiction book proposal in one week. Ouch!

My husband, friends, and family encouraged me to keep going. And I wanted to—but my “fight” was running out. The rewards of risk just didn’t seem worth it anymore.

Then God gave me a gift—a passage from Eugene Peterson’s The Message (1 Thessalonians 5:9–24), at the precise moment I needed it. I hope it will minister to you as it did to me:

“God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ…So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this…Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens…The One who called you is completely dependable. If He said it, he’ll do it!”

Isn’t that awesome? Those verses remind me, first, that God is up to great things behind the scenes. He will never fail. That truth allows me to trust in His timing and to thank Him–yes, even for rejections. After all, as James Lee Burke once said, “Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.”

Second, trusting in God’s timing and faithfulness builds up my hope, so that I can get back into the ring of life and keep fighting—for relationships, for a vibrant life, and for the ministry God has chosen for me.

Third, online and offline groups–like this blog–allow those of us who share a passion for writing to speak encouraging words to one another, so that we can press into our calling. In unity, without jealousy or envy, we can cheer each other on. Complete trust in the One who made us causes us to know that all Christian authors have a role to play, and that every single bit of success is good for the Kingdom.

Fourth, God’s complete acceptance makes me willing to keep living life fully, even when it’s risky. Though friends, family members, or publishers may reject me, Jesus never will.

I can rest in that.

I Will Prevail! (And Other Things I Tell Myself in the Shower.)

One admonition I can’t seem to scrub from my brain is my mother’s bit about wearing the right underwear in case I’m in a car accident. Maybe your mother used the word, “clean,” when giving underwear life lessons, but mine specified “right.” Her reasoning was if I had on a pair of lacy deals or something even more scandalous, the attending physician in the ER might think I’m loose.

Yeah. That’s going to be a flash of thought for me, I suppose, when the doc is trying to volt me with paddles, and is tweezing shards of glass from my forehead. “Whoa, this chick might not live through the night, but, oh well. She’s got on frilly underwear, and you know what that makes her.”

Whenever I hear naysayer anthems in any walk of life, I have this strange tendency to contemplate the difference between the undies my mom wishes I’d wear, and the undies I do wear. (Yes, sorry, my brain works that way.)

One naysayer anthem I’ve heard relates directly to my newest gig in becoming a published author and venturing into the land of woe and book sales.

What’s said: “Don’t expect much because you won’t get much.”

What I hear: “Wear your granny panties.”                     

Well, you know what? I don’t want to wear my granny panties. And you know what else? I don’t care what I should expect. And I don’t care if an ER doctor thinks I’m loose, and I don’t care if people think I’m chasing unrealistic dreams.

(OK, I actually do care if an ER doctor thinks I’m loose, so don’t quote me on that. I got lost in the moment.)

One thing I do care about is what moves me. I need a juicy little nugget of hope, dangling just out of my hungry grasp. Yes, I know the odds are not in my favor of being a best-selling author. Yet, I still tell myself it’s a matter of when, not if, because anything short of that . . . well, if I didn’t have that particular hope to chase each day, then I’d be lying on the floor pressing a Life Alert button just to see if anyone comes.

I might have failure after failure, never even getting as far as putting one tiny finger on the first stair to success, but I’m sorry, I won’t stop striving and dreaming for more until I’m dead.

(Oh, and when it is my time to go, I hope whether or not the doctor resuscitates me isn’t predicated on my underwear choice.)

What moves you? What are your dreams? What kind of undies do you wear? (Kidding!)

Writing is a Muscle, Flex it

    Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m not Ernest Hemingway, allowed to take hours at a time sipping aperitifs and people watching in Paris before I muster the requisite inspiration to sit down and write something. My goodness, if I did that and my husband subsequently found out, he’d feverishly protest the abundance of chicken nugget nights that seem to bottleneck when I get close to a deadline.

On the first manuscript I completed, however, I remember only writing when I felt like it. It took me two years to finish. And when it was summarily dubbed “Good, but not quite there,” I responded in a few ways. First, there was the shaking of my fists in the air. Second, there was the stint of self-loathing. (Which as a writer, I feel I have a natural right to exhibit, prancing back and forth, moaning, as if I’m original in my pain.) And third, an issuance of a new battle cry: I will never waste that much time again.

Two years of my life back then was the difference between a head of my own black hair, and a bottle of L’oreal Black Midnight to cover the greys that had suddenly popped up. When I began working on my next manuscript, I forced myself to work every day, for a set amount of time, or a set amount of words.

In my day job as an attorney, I have no problem writing piles and piles of drivel . . . I mean, well thought, and well-argued points of law . . . in a quick, methodic manner. Shouldn’t I be applying the same work ethic to a manuscript? And when I did, I wrote 120,000 words in just over two months. Of course, I have to give some credit to the story being an easy tell, but I give more credit to the fact I determined to make it a work task rather than a pipe dream.

I wanted to develop a rhythm with my writing, a habit if you will, that would self-execute even when—get this—I didn’t feel like it. And sure, sometimes I had whole pages that looked as presentable and appetizing as the floor of a gas station bathroom, but that has happened on occasion when I was trying my best.

When you train a muscle to work, when you exercise it daily and watch it tone and tighten, there’s this mental assurance that the next big set of weights—the next writing task ahead—is within your range. Further, if you work those muscles hard enough, they’ll keep working for you, burning for you, long after you put the weights down. They’ll even keep you going on days when you don’t feel like working at all.

Bottom line is that writing doesn’t come and go in these magical, muse-driven spurts, as if some wayfaring pixie is sprinkling special dust and making you transcend. It’s a muscle begging its owner to use and improve upon it. Getting it to its optimum is going to take you gritting your teeth. You may even have to pop out a neck vein here and there.

And once that’s done, you can pull out the Hemingway routine during your next vacation or when you’re trying to be aloof for your friends. That’s always a fun gig.