People’s Stories Belong To Them

I remember the day I had to apologize to my daughter. I broke one of my personal rules as a writer and a leader:

People’s stories belong to them.

This is especially true in regard to pastor’s children who already feel like everyone knows their business.

My husband and I have been on staff at the same church for thirty-two years. Many of the members have known my children since the day they were born. When our children were little, it was not an issue to talk about my struggles with discipline or potty training or bad grades in math, but now our children are adults living grown-up lives and to their dismay, their mom, who is still a pastor’s wife, is now a writer! A writer who one day forgot the rule:

People’s stories belong to them.

When I was going through cancer treatment, along with both of my parents, the lines became blurred about whose story belonged to whom. Although my parents had given me carte blanche to talk about their stories, this permission did not trickle down to include our children. One daughter was struggling with difficult circumstances at the time and I shared some of my concerns with friends in church. Okay, okay, it was over the microphone. In front of the entire congregation.

Major stepping across the line. In army boots. Stomping through the mud.

The writer and pastor’s wife in me didn’t show up in church that Sunday. The mom inside me did. The mom who was overwhelmed.

But that didn’t give me any “get out of jail free” cards. I still screwed up.

I had to apologize, even though in my mind I wanted to justify it, saying “how can people pray if they don’t know?”

Let me ask you–do you want to be known as a prayer project?

Earlier that year I had been chatting in a circle of people, a mix of friends and strangers. A friend had started asking me pointed questions about my cancer treatment, questions I wouldn’t have minded sharing with her personally, but suddenly I felt I had a spotlight on the personal details of my life.

You know that saying, that if you are nervous in giving a speech, that you should picture the audience in their underwear and you won’t be nervous anymore?  That’s fine when you are the speech-giver, but in this situation I was the audience and all eyes were on me and I didn’t like feeling exposed. Vulnerable.

In regard to my daughter, it was a lesson I had forgotten and needed to remember–as a mom, as a pastor’s wife, and as a writer.

Have you ever felt exposed when someone shared parts of your personal story? Have you ever shared someone else’s story and regretted it?

(And yes, I had my daughter’s permission to post this story. In case you were wondering.)


Against the backdrop of the Sonoran Desert, Lynne Hartke writes stories of courage, beauty and belonging–belonging to family, to community and to a loving God. Her book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May 2017 with Revell/Baker Publishing. She blogs at You can find Lynne on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


Don’t Let Fear Stop You ~ Dream Big


If you’ve followed the Water Cooler or my personal blog for a while, you know I’m a glass half-full thinker. I dream big.

I weigh the realities and set goals within reason.

I pray.

I plan.

I strategize.

And then there’s this—

I dream bigger.

Over the years, I’ve often thought about dreams. In fact, I’ve blogged about them, too.

Certainly, as a writer, my pursuit began with the tiny glimmer of a dream.

The dream languished as months slid into years and years into decades. It all but withered away as a long, bone-chilling season blew in and took up residence.

Then life changed.

I shifted careers. I left my area of expertise in favor of sunnier paths.

My kids grew older. No longer did I have one in diapers and another in middle school.

No longer did we live in and out of hospitals and ERs like we once had (more on that here).

At last, the fresh, clean breeze of opportunity seemed to blow my way.

I explored new goals.

I made the most of my time, started new projects, and immersed myself in the writing craft.

I allowed my dream to soar.

Was I scared?

You bet!

Writing’s a risky business.

There’s always the risk of rejection, failure, and loneliness. Add to that the never-ending details and mountains of work—the actual writing, even though we do love it.

In other words—the writing landscape is far from glamorous and ideal. (If you’re a veteran at this, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.)

It’s a day-by-day, put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other process. If we want to realize our publishing dream, writers must stay focused.

We must adopt a big dreamer mindset.

We must adapt to new ways of thinking.

We must set aside our fear and go for broke.

And here’s something to consider—something I wrote several years ago as a reminder.

Goals: What I try to realistically shoot for with God’s help.

Dreams: Something beyond the scope of the tangible, but completely possible with the One who moves mountains.

A guest speaker at our church one Sunday put it another way.

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, he preached the Good News. (Matthew 4:17)

Through a gracious invitation, he called his first disciples to follow Him, acknowledging he would make them fishers of men—evidence that whatever we do—whatever vocation we have, Jesus will use it and transform it.

If we follow Him, we’ll no longer find meaning in other “stuff.” When we chase after Him, our dream is found in His call for us.

Self-made dreams won’t satisfy because Christ has something bigger in store. The kingdom dream.

And when our hopes and dreams align with His will for our lives—wow—all bets are off.

Even when we’re scared. Even when we don’t know how on earth our writing ministry will come to fruition.

Because that’s the thing really—how on earth?

Well, on earth—in the finite realm, it may not.

But given our supernatural Heavenly Father’s charge over our dream, anything can happen.

As a novelist, that thrills me!



As appeared on my blog.

Original Image Credit: Pexels/Pixabay

What’s your dream?

How do you keep your dream alive?

How would you encourage others to press forward toward their dream?

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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. Her debut novel, the first in a three-book series, releases with Mountain Brook Ink July 2019.

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

Besides writing, Cindy enjoys spending time with family and friends. She has a fondness for gingerbread men, miniature teapots, and all things apple. She also adores a great cup of coffee and she never met a sticky note she didn’t like.

Cindy loves to connect with friends at her online home. She also hangs out on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

For love, fun, and encouragement ~

Sign up for Cindy’s monthly e-NEWSLETTERS


20 Ways Writers Spread Joy


You’ve heard it said before. The writing life is not for the fainthearted.

In addition to the actual writing, marketing, and everything our craft entails, there’s an added dimension. Because our work is solitary in nature, sometimes, loneliness nips at our heels. Toss in a few life events and trials, and we have the perfect recipe for conflict—an element integral to great fiction.

The reality is it’s real life. Our lives. And sometimes, it’s difficult for us to talk about what we’re going through. Transparency is tough. Uncomfortable.

The good thing?

When we experience heartache, we view others’ hardships through a fresh lens. We’re inclined to nitpick less, listen better, and love more. We’re considerate of the process and we’re moved to pay it forward.


Here are 20 ways writers spread joy:


1. Joy-minded writers write something worthy. They take the high road. They uplift. Motivate. Inspire. Love.

2. They comment, retweet, and share. They are intentional. They multiply fabulous thoughts!

3. They mentor others in their journey. Fifteen minutes, one day, a week, a month, or longer.

4. They lend an ear. And keep a confidence.

5. Joy-minded writers encourage. They offer a kind word. A smile. A hug.

6. They pay it forward. When someone extends a kindness their way, joyful writers keep the ball rolling!

7. They are authentic. They say the very thing you wish someone would have said to you. And they mean it.

8. They deliver a pep-talk. They accentuate the positive. They reboot a day gone south.

9. They share knowledge. Joyful writers aren’t selfish. If they know something that will help, they happily bear glad tidings!

10. Joy-minded writers toot others’ horns. They shine the spotlight on friends’ accomplishments and lavish praise accordingly.

11. They show appreciation. They send encouraging e-mails, cards, and well-wishes. Sometimes, they even mail goodie packages!

12. They solve a problem. They help without being asked. They “fix things” that are within their power to fix.

13. They compliment (and complement.) They find something good to say. They bring out the best without hidden agendas.

14. Joy-minded writers brainstorm. They weed through the “noise” to help with solutions.

15. They pray. They bear others up when the going gets tough.

16. They follow through on promises. Their word is their bond. If they commit, they finish the task with a joyful mindset.

17. They challenge. (In a good way.) They inspire others to rise to new heights.

18. They hook up. They link back to favorite websites and highlight folks in their sidebars.

19. They generate excitement. They host guest bloggers, offer book reviews, giveaways, and influence free gratis.

20. Joy-motivated writers stay the course. They persevere when, sometimes, they’d rather not, and they encourage others to do the same.

Today’s post is dedicated to those writers who spread the love—day in, day out, and expect nothing in return. I appreciate you and I know the folks you bless do, too!



Original Image Credit: Engin_Akyurt/Pixabay

How will you spread joy this week?

How has someone shared joy with you?

What’s one thing that encourages you the most in your writing journey?


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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.

Besides writing, Cindy enjoys spending time with family and friends. She has a fondness for gingerbread men, miniature teapots, and all things apple. She also adores a great cup of coffee and she never met a sticky note she didn’t like.

Cindy loves to connect with friends at:

She also hangs out here:

For love, fun, and encouragement ~

Sign up for Cindy’s monthly e-NEWSLETTERS

How to write a GREAT book

What makes a book a great read?

If someone asked me to name the best books I read in 2017, four immediately come to mind: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore, Be Strong in the Lord: Praying for the Armor of God for Your Children by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers, and Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.

But if you asked me why they were the best books of the year for me, I would have specific reasons for each. I choose Walker’s book because it literally changed my behavior in two ways: I now try to get more sleep to improve my health, and I refuse to drive a car if I’m in the least bit tired (yes, he scared the heck out of me with statistics!). Moore’s book impressed me deeply with its story of women who suffered terribly, yet fought industry to make it responsible for employees’ health on the job. Be Strong in the Lord deepened my faith for both my children and myself, and Picoult’s novel gave me new eyes and a new heart to confront racism in America.

These books changed my behavior and attitudes in specific, concrete ways. I am a different person because I read them.

And that is ultimately what makes a book a great read: it meets the reader where she lives, and changes her.

Book design, reviews, buzz, brilliant writing, thorough research, perfect plotting – authors dream that all those things will come together in their books to make it a bestseller, but the key to every book’s success, I believe, is in how the author connects to the reader about something important to that same reader. This means, naturally, that there exists a myriad of topics a writer can address (and they do!), which also means many – actually, probably MOST – books will never appeal to every reader, and because of that, every author needs to be mindful of the particular audience for whom they write. To best serve that audience, however, the successful author has to dig deep into his own wants and desires, unearth the most compelling, most universal, needs he can share with his readers, and then translate that into the written word.

The words “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone” are attributed to Ronald Reagan. Likewise, every book can’t be a great read for every reader, but for some reader, some book can be a great read. As you set forth on your writing journey in 2018, I hope you write that great book for some reader.

Who knows? You might even change my life.

New Year’s resolutions…or not

Well, this is embarrassing. I thought I’d write a post about writing resolutions for a new year by reviewing my resolutions for 2017 and noting how I did.

But I can’t find my list of resolutions.


So I either 1) put it somewhere I wouldn’t forget, and I’ll find it in another six months or so, or 2) the dog ate it, along with several grocery lists and the instructions for assembling my husband’s new bike, or 3) I never made a list in the first place.

I have a suspicion it’s door #3: I never made resolutions for 2017.

And here’s why:

  1. Years ago, I realized I didn’t have to wait for a new year to begin new habits or improve on old ones. Making resolutions is really procrastination, waiting for the right moment to begin a new project or make a change. Every writer I know has learned the truth – there is no ‘right’ moment to start writing. A new year is not going to magically make it happen. You just have to sit down and write. Now.
  2. Resolutions sugarcoat tough realities. Of course, a writer resolves to write a book every year. Some years, that actually happens. Yippee! Other years, that ambitious resolution gets buried by the nuts-and-bolts of marketing the last book you wrote, preventing you from even picking a topic or plot for the new book you wanted to write this year. Or you have a family crisis that demands all your attention and energy. Experienced writers know that life happens…and when it does, writing resolutions go out the window…until those same writers are ready to process what they’ve experienced and incorporate it into their next book, which may not be the next book they thought they’d be writing.
  3. Resolutions are limiting. Again, life is full of surprises, and when a writer feels tugged in a new direction, an old resolution can be inhibiting. Why keep hammering away on that novel you’ve worked over for years, when an unexpected opportunity to write (or co-write) a self-improvement book presents itself and you find yourself drawn to it? Good writers know they need to welcome growth opportunities, sometimes even before they finish old projects.

So you won’t find me writing resolutions for 2018 in the next week. Instead, I’m going to rejoice in all the satisfying things my writing life brought me in 2017: learning how to build my own website, hearing from a growing number of readers how much they enjoy my books, an unexpected nomination for a Christy Award from my publisher, invitations to speak to groups, returning to writing a blog, sharing my faith with published devotionals, and mentoring new writers.

Wait a minute. I am going to write one resolution after all. And here it is: Thank God every day for the gift of writing.

I know I can remember that. And I’ll never have to worry about the dog eating it, either…

Happy New Year, writers!

How about you? Do you make resolutions?

Word Becoming Flesh in the Life of a Writer

 “The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us….” John 1:14. (NIV)

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was called to carry the Word Made Flesh. Saying “yes” to that plan involved a huge surrender on Mary’s part. Obedience brought her under scrutiny and censure, not only in the public eye, but also–initially–with Joseph, whose opinion she must have valued.

“Don’t be afraid,” the angel told her, which was saying, in essence, “You are about to be shunned and ostracized in your hometown because you are going to get pregnant with God’s son and although you have never been touched by any man, nobody is going to believe your story and they are going to whisper and point at you when you walk by and call you harlot and whore and turn their backs when you enter a room.”

Sometimes the hardest part of being a Word carrier is believing the truth of The Word and not the words others speak over us.

Yes, as followers of Christ, we too, are Word carriers. Through our lives, we demonstrate Christ to those around us.

In the book Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr, she reflects on this time in Mary’s life and asks, “What kind of surrender is happening in you? Do you ever experience being called by a Word larger than your understanding? What is the newest Word that has become flesh in you, dwelling deep in the recesses of your being?”

As a writer, I can think of three words or phrases becoming flesh in me. 

  1. Trust is a word larger than my understanding. God is in charge, I am not. Oh, how hard this is for me to remember! I get caught up in book sales and deadlines. I get caught up in numbers! Not words. Numbers! God does not ask for the numbers to get larger in me, but His words. His life-changing words. Trust needs to expand in me.
  2. Fear not are words larger than my understanding. My college writing professor always told me that the job of the writer is to write what people cannot say or are afraid to say. “To write is to take an ax to the frozen sea within us,” Frank Kafka once said and I need those words to become larger in me. Fear not.
  3. Live real words is a phrase being made flesh in me. Not just written words. Not just paragraphs in my safe little office. A writer does not create sentences in a vacuum. Writing does require solitude and space, but words don’t leap onto the page out of nowhere. Life-changing words find their way on paper after living out the Word made flesh among His living, breathing creation. Live real words are words still being made flesh in me.

Today, on your journey of faith as a writer, I pray you say yes to the surrendering, not as a defeatist, but as one who walks one more step into life larger than your understanding, as the Word is made flesh in you. 

Against the backdrop of the Sonoran Desert, Lynne Hartke writes stories of courage, beauty and belonging–belonging to family, to community and to a loving God. Her book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May 2017 with Revell/Baker Publishing. She blogs at You can find Lynne on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


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?