Sunday, May 31, 2009

Roadblock Or Opportunity?

This weekend was supposed to be my big writing weekend. I had planned to get a ton of book #3 accomplished, and I was looking forward to being able to make great strides in the story. It was a well-planned, much anticipated few days... and then I injured my back.

I have no idea how. There was no moment of, "Oh, now I've done it." There was no slip or fall or over-long shopping trip in too-high heels. But that didn't matter because I was limited to two relatively comfortable positions, nonetheless. So instead of hours of productivity, I ended up with hours in bed, dependent on a heating pad and Advil.

It took me a while, but after a little quiet time before the Lord it hit me... maybe I do know what caused it. After all, there's something to be said about a weekend of forced relaxation. Sometimes we're just so busy, so focused on our goals, that we don't listen to what the Lord is trying to tell us. We don't take the time to sit still and listen, to read His word, to pray over our problems and concerns, to worship.

So sometimes He takes us out of commission. Physically, our goals become out of our reach, and all our well-intentioned plans fall by the wayside. That was my weekend. I got absolutely no work done at all. And the way my back is hollering at me right now, I'm sure I won't get more than this blog done today, as well.

But this is no slump. The Lord blessed me with His presence in wonderful ways this weekend, and I'm incredibly grateful that He chose to force me there. I only wish that wasn't necessary; that I could remove myself from the hectic pace of life voluntarily and sit before Him willingly.

So if you find yourself struggling physically today, maybe you're being called to rest, too. Try not to look at your circumstances as roadblocks but as opportunities. Anytime we can take a vacation from life to bask in the renewed life only God can give, we start to see the world differently. God's perspective seeps into the picture and the daily tasks don't seem so daunting.

I probably won't be able to get back at the computer for a day or two more, but you know what? The story will still be there for me when I get back. And the likelihood is, it'll go from my head to my keyboard a lot more effectively. Because God is the master of perspective and ability, and the more time I spend in His presence, the more they're bound to rub off on me.

And I figure I could use all the help I can get.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Writing Worth Reading

I put a lot of thought into what I write. Is it personal enough? Is it witty enough? Is it going to keep people from nodding off mid-paragraph?

But really all of that is secondary to the core of what I'm trying to communicate. The main question is, am I writing what is worthwhile? Because as someone whose written words will land before the eyes of others, I'm solely and soundly responsible for what I say. It's an important responsibility to make sure that what I say in public, whether out loud or on paper, is accurate and morally sound. After all, being able to speak out and be heard is an incredible privilege.

In today's newspaper, I found a great example of using a public voice in an excellent way to say excellent things. The article by Paul Greenberg was incredibly well-written and immensely inspiring; a reminder of what can be communicated with wise words and sound thinking.

When I read something like that, it spurs me on in my endeavors, gives me that little extra spark to not only write and speak diligently, but to live diligently as well.

So to all of you writers who sit at your keyboards every day looking for inspiration, I pray you realize how blessed you are to have the opportunity to be heard. Write carefully. Make what you say worth hearing, and, above all, pleasing to the God who gave you your talent in the first place.

And pray I'm able to do the same.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Little Healthy Competition

So, I'm watching the American Idol finale results show as I write (Go Kris!), and it makes me think what a shame it is they can't have an American Idol for writers. Clearly it would be way too boring! But when you're unpublished and trying to get that break, the idea of having a forum to catch the attention of the right people can make you so envious.

Which is why legitimate writing contests are such a gift to writers who daily attempt to get their foot in that very small crack in the publishing door. I should know. That's how I got both of my high-heels into the publishing industry, and I'm incredibly grateful for the hard work of those who organize, judge and reward efforts in these contests.

Personally, I can only recommend the two I've entered: The Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest and the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis contest. The latter gave me valuable feedback from the judges, and the former catapulted my writing from an endeavor to a career.

Fortunately, I didn't have to sing onstage, fend off paparazzi or listen to criticism from Simon Cowell. I just had to write - which is what we writers do best anyway - and meet the deadline and criteria of the contest.

So if you can write and you remember what it's like to get your homework turned in on time, you can enter writing contests too. Why not use your summer to give it a try? Pull out those partial manuscripts and finish them up, polish up the complete ones, and take the leap.

You never know where you might land!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

National Fiction Day

Lifeway Christian store's National Fiction Day on Saturday turned out to be a great way to celebrate Christian fiction, and I was so glad to be a part of it! Thanks to everyone at the Glen Allen, VA store for giving me such a warm welcome, and a special thanks to everyone who dropped by my signing table. I had a terrific time and look forward to visiting there again in the fall to sign Cottonwood Whispers.

And if I didn't get to see you there, I hope to see you at a signing table somewhere soon!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Writing For Readers

I met with a local book club this week to discuss Fireflies In December. I love talking with book clubs. It's not only a great chance to meet readers, but it's also a great way to find out how other people see my stories and characters. As a writer I spend hours immersed in a novel from my own perspective, but we all see things differently, and hearing the questions and observations of a group of women who love books can only help me improve as an author.

One of the most interesting comments I heard after we finished our discussion was from one woman who told me I talked about writing like an author, but I talked about the characters like a reader. I'd never heard that before, but it really is true. Even though I'm creating these people, I still see them in my mind like I'm watching them on a movie screen.

Not long ago someone asked me about a character in the book, and my answer began with, "Well, I think he was probably just..." Someone who heard the answer looked at me strangely and said, "You did write the book, you know." But for those hours that I sit with the characters -figuring out their motives, their words, their reactions - it almost seems like they're developing right before my eyes rather than being fleshed out by my fingers on the keyboard.

Which is probably a great thing for the writing process. After all, we write for the readers, don't we? Obviously we want to give them our stories with our own style and creativity, but ultimately the goal is to give the readers something that entertains, encourages, and stirs their emotions. If we're thinking like a reader, we're bound to connect with them.

So if you're working on your own novel - grinding away at plot lines, stumbling over some writer's block - fall back on those characters. Look at them like you would look at the characters in your favorite books. What would you want to see them do? How would you like their relationships to progress? Try seeing them through the eyes of a reader and let them walk you through their story.

You never know where they might lead you.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

This Isn't Child's Play

My job as a nanny is important to me. After all, kids grow up to be adults who will someday make decisions that affect the world. They can end up being anything from doctors to store owners to congressmen to teachers. And many of them will end up raising a new generation of kids who will one day become adults to raise their own children... and so on, and so on. The time and attention we put into the children in our lives will help to form how they make their mark on this world for decades.

Which only makes me realize how vitally important my job, and the job of every parent and child caregiver, is to our lives as a whole. Taking care of kids isn't easy, but it is worthwhile. There's so much importance attached to teaching them how to think before acting, speak with discipline, behave in a mannerly way, and live responsibly.

A positive upbringing helps boys and girls grow into responsible workers, caring friends, nurturing spouses, loving parents. And when Christ is involved in the process, it helps them grow up to be positive influences and bright lights in an increasingly dim world.

Life in this country today is busy and costly. It makes spending valuable time with kids so tough when work and finances eat away at our thoughts and priorities. After all, while kids are fabulous blessings they're also expensive. They eat a lot, grow out of clothes a lot, run through diapers a lot and go to colleges that cost a lot.

But the value of a dollar can't compare to the value of character, and I'm hoping the small time I spend with the kids in my life will render great dividends. There's just no better investment.

So thanks to all you moms (and caregivers) out there who take your job so seriously; who bless the kids in your lives with time, energy, creativity, selflessness, and love.

By blessing them, you bless us all.

Special thanks to my own mom who taught me the truly important things in life... and who still teaches me today.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Go To The Head Of The Class

Remember when you were in school and you thought, "I can't wait until I graduate and I don't have to be responsible for learning new stuff all the time"? I do. In fact, it feels like it wasn't so long ago. (It really was long ago, but let's not go there.)

The thing is... I was wrong. You never stop learning. In fact, life is one loooooong lesson. The Christian life in particular. Why? Because we're imperfect people on a journey to become like the perfect God who saved us. That sort of goal requires constant learning, incessant improvement. We truly define the term "work in progress", and it's when we find ourselves standing still rather than moving forward that we need to reassess who we are and what we do.

One of my nephews recently complained to me about having to learn things in school that he'll never actually use in life. Sound familiar? I think every kid who ever lived has said that at one time or another. I vividly recall saying that about Geometry. And truth be told I've never once had to know how to figure out the dimensions of a triangle to function in life.

But if we hope to someday reach a point when the learning process will cease to be of importance, we're sadly mistaken. It's a very real, and often frustrating, fact that we will always be learning; learning wisdom, new skills, better forms of communication, patience - the list goes on and on.

"So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of His will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better" (Colossians 1:9-10).

Clearly, we are meant to be in school all of our lives. If we ever think we've learned everything, all we have to do is look at Christ's life. That's when we realize we have such a long way to go.

But what a thrill it is to know we're not alone in this! God - through His Word, His example in Christ, and His Holy Spirit - gives, to those of us who have accepted His forgiveness and Lordship, access to everything we need to continually mature.

Yes, we're busy people. We're not capable of focusing primarily on learning as we were able to in school. Now we have jobs, family, homes... we're swamped. At times it feels that there's no way we can fit in time to learn anything new. But thankfully He uses life itself to teach us. Life is the classroom.

And if life is the classroom, then time in His Word and in prayer is homework. Wiktionary lists one definition of homework as "preliminary or preparatory work, such as research." The time we spend directly on learning about the Lord and basking in His presence is what prepares us for the classroom learning of life. If we don't spend the time in spiritual "research" we won't be prepared to survive the schooling we get as we live out our days.

So I'm resigned to the realization that I will never fully know it all until I step into the presence of God, but I can continue to learn more everyday. "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go" (Psalm 32:8). Those words are straight from the Teacher's mouth. All I need to do is pay attention.

If I get to the other end of this journey and look back on my "school" career and realize I only passed by the skin of my teeth, I'll be devastated. Not because of pride or arrogance but because it's the least I can do for the One who gave me new life. I don't want to just barely miss out on flunking His class, I want to excel in it.

After all, there is no reward that can compare to hearing Him say, "Well done, My good and faithful servant."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Books-A-Million Signing

Thanks to everyone who stopped by my book signing at Books-A-Million Tuesday evening. It was a fun time of meeting new people and seeing old friends. And thanks to everyone at Books-A-Million for making my visit so special. I look forward to doing it again soon!

If you missed it, come on by the Lifeway Christian Store at 9840-A West Broad St. in Richmond, VA. on Saturday, May 16th. I'll be there from 11am-2pm to sign Fireflies In December and help celebrate Lifeway's "National Fiction Day". It sounds like a great time, so join us for this celebration of the wide array of Christian fiction we're blessed to have available to us.

I hope to see you there!