Whatever the Circumstance

This is part of an ongoing series of devotionals for writers.

Not that I speak from want; I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. – Paul writing to the Philippians 4:11

I am stuck in the middle of revisions. I have been floundering since I started this step in the writing process. My brain, which normally has no problem with words, has turned to mush. Needless to say, I have not been content in my writing life.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the launch party for Chasing the Lion. This book and its author had a long way to publication. Nancy Kimball is one of the most amazing ladies I know and I am truly blessed to have her as a friend. I smiled all day for her and for many days after. She reminds me that no road is easy, but we still have to make the right choices and be thankful.

At Nancy’s party, I was also able to reconnect with other authors I know and meet some new ones. We are all at different stages in our lives and careers, but we have two things in common: a love of the written word and a love for the Lord. These encounters reminded me why I write. They each, in their own way, encouraged me to persevere. I had forgotten, in my battle with revisions, to be thankful for where I am.

I have everything to be thankful for and I neglected in the past weeks to find contentment in my circumstance. When I pause to consider where I started, how far I have come, and where I have yet to go, I am excited and thankful. I am content.

For you: In what ways have you let daily frustrations rob you of contentment? What can you be thankful for today?

For your characters: When they face a frustration, what is their reaction? How do they handle a situation for which they feel unequipped? What will it take to make your character feel contentment or even joy in their circumstance?

The Best in This Moment

When I wrote Mob Rule Learning, it was the longest piece of writing I had undertaken at that time. Before that, the bulk of my writing had been articles and blog posts. The glory of writing for the web is the constant feedback, discussion, and metamorphoses a conversation can undergo in hours, days, or months. Writing long form non-fiction was painful because it is like writing in an echo chamber. I spent a lot of time wondering, “What the heck do I know any way?” and “Does this tripe even make sense?”

Since then, I have completed three fiction manuscripts and I have one WIP (work in progress). The process of writing the first draft of fiction is wonderful. I love the worlds I have created and I love the process of weaving words together.

I took the next step and found an editor I thought would mesh well with my writing and my goals and who would challenge me. I am now in the middle of development revisions for the first book in a series I want to release next year and I have learned something valuable.

This stage of fiction writing is just as painful as writing long form non-fiction.

The reasons are different for each type, but it boils down to the same questions, “What the heck do I know?” and “Does this tripe even make sense?”

In facing these questions again, but for different reasons this time, I know that no matter what kind of stuff you write, if you are author, you spend time wrestling with these questions. The secret is to get past them quickly because they can mire you in indecision and immobilize your brain.

This morning, when you sit down to do the thing you do (write, teach, cook, lead, or change the world) be the best you can be today, this moment, and keep pushing forward. If we do it right, each moment teaches us something new and wonderful and each moment we improve.

Development revisions are painful and I have spent the last week pulling out my hair, but I want what comes at the end, a better book, and so I persevere.

Whom shall I fear?

This is part of an ongoing series of devotionals for writers.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread?
When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh,
My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me,
My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
In spite of this I shall be confident.
Psalm 27:1-3

Memorizing scripture comes up often enough in different classes I have taken over the years. My response has always been, “I don’t want to,” which is a terrible attitude in general. A close friend memorized the entire book of James last year and she said it changed her life. It was the last nail in the coffin of my excuses.

I am starting with what has come to be my life’s verse, or rather verses. Some people claim a verse, I claim the entire chapter 27 of Psalms, as my guide. I know it is a bit excessive, but each part has resonated with me at different times. Last week, I started with the first verse of my favorite Psalm.

“Whom shall I fear?”

We fear many things, some real, some imagined. I am scared of the dark, still at thirty-six, and I find myself walking faster through dark halls. I am scared of my own failings, that I will allow my faults to define who I am becoming.

We fear death, our own and of those we love. We fear pain and failure. Sometimes, we fear the truth and the consequences it holds. We fear the scars and baggage we carry from our past experiences. Our entire lives can be wrapped in fear of one thing or another.

Fear has the ability to rob us of what we should be enjoying. It robs us of peace and thankfulness.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation…”

Faith is our light in the darkness. It is our salvation in a world bursting with things to fear. Our anxiety and fears should be handed over the the Lord because all we have comes from Him. In Him, we can find strength and courage to face what comes for us.

I am still afraid of the dark most nights, but I know where my strength comes from.

For you:

What fears are keeping you from living your full life? Turn them over to God and look for one way to step out of our fear this week.

For your character:

What is their greatest fear? What is the origin of this fear? Are they forced, over the course of the plot, to confront their fear? When presented with the opportunity to overcome it, do they? If not, what are the consequences for them and for others?

Gathering Fruit

This is part of a series of devotionals for writers.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. -Galatians 5:22-26

I will be honest. I struggle with this passage. All these things, these fruits which are the natural out flowing of our love for the Lord, are hard for me.

I struggle with loving people who are mean. I struggle to find joy in an afternoon of housework. I struggle to have forbearance, also known as patience, every moment of every day. I struggle to be kind to people who say hurtful things. I struggle with having faith when the process becomes long and hard. I struggle with being gentle when my spirit tells me to charge in and take control. I struggle with keeping my big mouth shut when a little self control would save me from some apologies later.

It is hard to harvest these fruits.

I can say though that I am better than I used to be. I have more patience than I used to when presented with an opportunity to be impatient. I choose to keep my mouth shut more often. I have more self-control. I find more moments in my day where I notice the peace, joy, and love around me and then I turn and show that to others with my words and actions.

I do not always choose the right thing, but I make better choices more often than I used to. I will never be perfect, but God does not ask perfection of me. He only asks that I try with my whole heart and that I improve over time. He asks that, in striving towards Him and becoming like Him, I grow into a better version of myself.

For you: Are you making better choices today than five years ago? If yes, say a prayer of thanksgiving and ask for new ways you can change and grow. If not, what one small thing can you do this week to make a change?

For your character: What thing on this list of fruits is hardest for them and why? Does the plot force them to confront their fault and do they grow as a result? Do they lose something, a relationship or opportunity, because of this fault? How do they deal with the loss?

 

Justice, Kindness, and Humility

This is part of an ongoing series of devotionals for writers.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

The Lord requires we do justice. It means helping those who have fallen and speaking up for those without a voice. It means seeking justice for others when they cannot but it also means acting with justice towards others. Sometimes it means extending grace and forgiveness to someone who does not deserve it. It may mean making a hard choice because it is right and then facing a storm of consequences.

The Lord requires we love kindness. Kindness is actions and words which place value on other people and not ourselves. It means speaking words which edify and not destruct. It means reaching out and offering a warm embrace to the lonely, clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry. It means we love to do kindness more than our need to be comfortable or serve ourselves.

The Lord requires we walk humbly before Him. This is the toughest one for me. It means laying aside my pride and humbling myself before Him. It means submitting to His authority and doing what is right in His eyes which is love Him and love others. It means looking to serve instead of be served. It means looking for ways to love others instead of seeking love for myself. It means I am not the center of the universe.

For you:

Which is hardest for you, justice, kindness, or humility? What is one practical way you can extend justice, kindness, or humility to someone else this week?

For your character:

What do they do when they see injustice done to someone they love? What if the person is a stranger? Does it change their reaction and subsequent actions?

Twitter Dos for Writers

Like all tools, we need to use Twitter (and other social media tools) for good and not evil. As writers, we are our product. We steer the company and we have control over what we put out into the ether. Once the information is out in the wild, we lose control, but the initial message and how we communicate it is all on us. Communicate it well.

Twitter is a fabulous way to build a circle of professionals to whom you can pose questions. It is also a concise and interactive way to build relationships with your readers. If you want a list of Twitter Dont’s, read the post from two weeks ago.

How do you walk the line between building a following and pushing your product too hard? Grab a cup of your beverage of choice, sit back, and let me offer you some advice to get you started.

Do

Have a good profile and keep your picture consistent across platforms. Your profile should not be too long or short and it should convey just enough information for people to find you. Don’t give your enitre CV or list every book you have ever written. Be concise and show your personality. My Twitter profile describes what I do, who I am, and is amusing (I think). If you use more than one social media platform, keep your picture consistent across platforms. This will help people instantly recognize that they have found the right you. After all, as an author, you are your own brand.

Use a management tool. There are many different ones to choose from, but I prefer Hootsuite. The free version does just about everything you need to control and stay on top of your different social media accounts. It allows you to schedule posts ahead of time which is especially helpful for promo tweets. Hootsuite makes it easy to keep up when people @ you or DM you and then allows you to respond quickly.

Be a human being. You are not a robot and your Twitter account should reflect the fact that you are a living breathing person who has good and bad days. Be yourself. Be funny. Interact with people. Tell jokes. Share successes and failures. Be real. People want to interact and follow people who have something to say or will share something which will enhance their day in some way. In order to be that person for someone else, you have to be real.

Schedule promo tweets to happen at different times on different days. If you share the same promo tweet every day at the same time, you are not reaching any new people and you are annoying the ones you are reaching. Use a variety of promo tweets and schedule them to happen at different times throughout the week. Be very judicious in how often you send promo tweets. Except on launch days or other special times, once a day is plenty. See the above suggestion for being a human being.

Follow people doing the same thing as you. Use the search and suggestion features to follow other writers. Follow authors you admire and tell them how much you love them. Find people with similar hobbies or researchers specializing in the topic of your next book. Better yet, find your local library or friendly librarian on Twitter and follow them. They will be tickled all shades of pink to answer your questions. Believe me. Librarians live to answer the questions of others. After you find people to follow, be a human being and talk to them.

Use the list function in Twitter. You can add people to different lists and then have those lists appear as columns in Hootsuite. The people you know IRL and the people you interact with often should be in their own list. This will enable you to read their tweets separate from the influx of tweets from others and continue to develop your relationship with them.

Be nice. I said this in my Twitter discussion of Don’ts, but I will say it again. Just be nice. Have opinions but have compassion for others and be nice. A good rule to follow is if you have constructive criticism, offer solutions to the challenge before you instead of just harsh words. We’re all in the same sea here. Just keep swimmin.’

What would you add to this list? What do you think is an essential skill or guideline to follow on Twitter?

Choosing Love

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32

Jesus told us to love one another. Paul is imploring the Ephesians in this passage to “be kind and compassionate, forgiving each other.” We are told again and again we are to love, forgive, and be kind. We are told often because we fail so often at these things which we know to be right. We know treating others with compassion and love is the best way to live and yet we choose other ways. We choose bitterness, rage, anger, malice, and slander. We choose things which tear down, break other’s spirits, and ultimately hurt ourselves in the process.

Someone comes along who tries our patience. Our children throw tantrums and work on every last nerve we own. People we love hurt us. People we do not know wound us. Life is full of hurts and pains and yet we are asked to react opposite of our sinful natures.

Love each other when there is no reason to do so. Forgive each other when the hurts are great. Build each other up. Show compassion when it is unasked for. These are the actions which should set believers apart and yet so seldom do because we fail to be obedient to our calling. Choose obedience today and love someone you encounter.

For you: In what ways are failing to be obedient to God by not showing love, compassion, or forgiveness to another?

For your characters: When confronted with a person who is hard to love, how do they react? With impatience, kindness, or stony silence? When your character is hurt by another, do they forgive easily or hold a grudge? Does your character have a past hurt which has caused a festering bitterness in their life? Are they aware of this bitterness or has it crept into their life over time?

Twitter Don’ts for Writers

My Twitter stream and online circles used to be dominated by technology folks and librarians. Over the past two or three years, I have been in the process of widening the range of people I follow on Twitter to include authors of various stripes and publishing folk. I have noticed some distressing, and often annoying trends, in some of the new people I have encountered.

This is a generalization and sweeping statement. I know. Please forgive me.

I present to you, as a public service announcement and as a plea for my own sanity, a list of Twitter Don’ts for Writers.* I will be doing to Dos in two weeks on the next Writer’s Chat.

DON’T:

Send auto direct messages. When I see that I have a DM from Twitter, I used to get all excited. One of my friends had a secret to share or a special message just for me. No longer. I can now almost always guarantee it is an auto spam DM from an author I just followed telling me to buy their awesome book, like them on facebook, or to send me a link to their super awesome webpage. No thanks. If I wanted to look at your super awesome website or buy your awesome books, I already did that before/when I followed you. At best, the auto DM causes annoyance. At worst, you get unfollowed.

RT everything. I too am guilty of sending more RTs than actual tweets some days, but I don’t make it a habit. There must be some writer’s groups who make this a practice (and I bet they have a name for it like “cross-promotion”) because I have noticed some groups of indie writers clog my feed on certain days. You know what my response is? Unfollow. I do not click on your links and I definitely will not be buying your books. If you do want to RT something, add a comment and make that tweet your own. And this brings me to the next item.

Tweet only book promos, yours or anyone else’s. If you take a close look at your Twitter stream and 50% or more of your tweets are book promos for your books or the books of other authors, ur doin’ it wrong. I am not saying you shouldn’t promote your books, but you should do so very sparingly. Not even everyday. As a reader, I am more likely to buy a book because I a) had a great interaction with the writer online or b) someone I respect/trust reviewed it and loved it. A great interaction is not a book promo, it is talking about something else not related to your books. Constant and overuse of RTing is not reviewing, it is spamming.

Don’t Be a Dick. Follow Wheaton’s Law and be nice. Writers can be passionate about writing because that’s what we do, get passionate about things. However, we need to control ourselves when it comes to being a dick about other people’s publishing choices when they differ from our own. Just be nice. Be happy when someone finds a publishing path which works for them and be a cheerleader not a dick.

#Over #use #hashtags #fortheloveofpete. Every time you overuse hashtags in your tweets, puppies and kittens die. Do you want to be a puppy and kitten killer?

Twitter and other social media tools are great ways of interacting with readers and connecting with other writers. Use these connections wisely and don’t make mistakes that will get you unfollowed.

What are some things people do on Twitter that make you unfollow them?

*This advice is good for Facebook as well, but I frequent that space much less often and thus am less likely to see these things there.

Making an Outline

Back when I wrote longer non-fiction, including a book on training, education, and unconferences  (shameless self promotion), I made extensive outlines including notes, quotes, and anything else I needed for the section or chapter I was working on. Transferring this process to writing fiction took some trial and error, but after taking a workshop with Rhonda Helms on plotting and GMC, I figured out a process which works for me. If Rhonda ever offers another workshop, I highly recommend it.

Having an outline keeps me focused on what my goal is for each scene and chapter. Knowing what each chapter needs to contain to move me to the next scene and chapter also keeps me from getting too long winded or wandering too far afield. An outline makes me a more efficient writer.

I start by writing one or two sentences about the following items:

  • Beginning/inciting incident
  • Turning Point 1
  • Midpoint
  • Turning Point 2
  • Black Moment
  • Resolution

If my project is about 70,000-75,000 words (my norm), then I figure out where each of the above elements fits into a chapter by chapter blank outline. For instance, the beginning is in Chapter 1, Turning Point 1 would be around Chapter 6, the Midpoint would be somewhere around Chapter 11 or 12, and so on.

The other chapters, those between the focal points of the plot, are filled in with one or two sentences describing the events which will lead my characters to the next plot point or develop them as they go along. In addition to small summaries, if I know whose Point of View I want a particular chapter in, I make note of it.

I write out the first draft of this outline by hand on a legal pad. I used to do all my GMC and plotting on my computer, but I remember details better when I write them by hand. I then transfer the written outline into a new document which then becomes my WIP. As I write each chapter, I erase the notes for that chapter and move on to the next one.

As the manuscript progresses, I will often add details, move things around, or delete entire chapters if a certain element does not take as long as I anticipated or I add elements as needed. As long as I stay within my plot points, I have wiggle room in how I get there.

I will admit that the Resolution for the last manuscript simply said, “They somehow do X and all is well” because for about half the book, I had no idea how the characters were going to solve the main external problem. I knew they would in general but the details were fuzzy.

Some writers plot with sticky notes. I adore sticky notes, but I do not have the wall space for that and I do not always write in the same room. My outline needs to be mobile. Some writers do not plot at all. They just plop their butts in a chair and start writing. You should do what works best for your style.

What does your process look like? Is it organized? Messy? Are there ways to refine your process to make it better or faster?

 

Writer’s Devotional: Actions Yell

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:5-9

When my oldest son was about three, he was getting dressed with my husband one morning. He said, “Daddy, I take off my shirt just like you.” He then removed his little t-shirt in an exact imitation of his father. Before that moment, I could not have told you the movements my husband makes when he removes his shirt, but my three year old could. My husband was floored. He knew our sons were watching him but he had no idea how closely they watch every little thing we do.

When the Lord gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites in the desert, He told them to put the words on their hearts. They were to think of them every moment of every day. They were to talk about them with their children. They were to be such a part of their lives that they were like the air they breathed.

God asked this of them because He knew two things, denying yourself and living for the love of God and others is contrary to our nature and thus it is hard. We fail often. Secondly, He knew that their children would be watching.

The Israelites were surrounded by people whose cultures were different and contrary to their own. There were many other people their children could learn from. It was not enough that the parents taught their children the words themselves, they had make their actions match the words.

Love the Lord. Love others. Simple words. Complex actions. Actions our children watch us perform everyday whether we succeed or fail.

For you:

In what area do you find it a challenge to line up your actions with the things you teach your children? Where do you fall short of the love God and love others command?

For your characters:

If your character has/had children, what would they want to pass on to them as fundamental truths about life? Are there things they say they believe, but their actions do not line up? Is there a moment where they realize their hypocrisy and do they take steps to rectify their behavior?