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Wednesday

How Much Is Too Much?

Recently I read a new book by one of my favorite authors. Though the story held my interest and I liked the ending, I couldn't help the feeling that kept arising in my mind: this is just too much.

It was all a little too tailor-fit for me. The hero and heroine's compatible flaws and strengths, the somewhat sterile doubts about God, the cliche resistance to the romance.

But what really bothered me was the over-the-top description of the sparks flying between them.



Now, don't get me wrong. I love a good romance. I've been reading Christian fiction for years, and really, Christian romance was my guilty pleasure many a day when I was supposed to be reading various postmodern theory and long-gone British poets (not that I don't enjoy the words of a long-gone British poet as much as the next gal).

I know alpha males sell well.

I know women like to imagine themselves as the heroine.

I know we like to feel a spark, and that readers want an escape from their lives.

But don't we also have a responsibility to the integrity of storytelling? Don't we as Christians, who hope to show the nonfictional, redemptive story behind the fictional one, have an important task of keeping that larger purpose in mind? Have we in CBA strayed too far in the pursuit of writing a spicy but clean romance?

What happens when women begin to grow discontent in their own relationships because of these stories? What happens if our books give unmarried readers unrealistic expectations of their future spouse? What happens if we dilute the greatest kind of love--the commitment kind--into something so one-dimensional as physical sparks?

But how do we make that commitment kind of love look just as sexy as the initial sparks-flying kind?

I don't have the answer to this question. I genuinely want to hear what you all think. What are your thoughts on the role of Christian romance? Are romances becoming a stumbling block to readers, or do they open up the possibility of a different kind of love for people who are used to grittier fiction? How do we walk this line as authors?

*Photo from http://villagegardensblog.com/summer-2/spice-up-a-summer-romance/

Monday

The Ministry of Words



Do you ever take a step back and really let yourself absorb the dynamic opportunities we have as writers to influence the hearts and lives of readers?

If you're anything like me, sometimes it's easy to forget. We focus so much on strengthening our craft, broadening our platform, and weaving our plots that we lose sight of the big picture.



What is it your write for?

What do you write about?

Why did you start writing in the first place? Why do you write now? Because it gives you something to do, or because there's something stronger pushing you forward? And if there's something deeper in your heart--in our hearts--then shouldn't we write in a way that reflects that truth?

Have you ever read a story that touched you on a deeper level? Not just something that held your interest or made you laugh, but characters who stuck with you. Maybe they stick with you still. Maybe they're one of the reasons you became a writer. Maybe those characters seemed truer to you than people you even know in real life.

We ought to be writing like that.






Be encouraged today. Don't let all the distractions, discouragement, and rejection dilute your passion or change your course. Focus on your calling. It is unique yours, and God has called you for a reason. Believe that. Then write like it.

How do you incorporate a deeper level into your stories? Has God put a particular area of ministry on your heart?

Wednesday

Your Pickup Truck Might Be Too Big If...


First off, I just wanted to let you guys know the newest edition of the e-zine I've been writing for is out! If you want to be among the first to read it, get your free copy before it goes on sale next week, and spread the word! Here's how:

1) Go to https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/247821
2) Download your choice of e-reader format (if you don't have a customer account, you'll need to register)
3) At checkout, enter coupon code VE37H to get 100% off between now and Oct. 31.




Last week, I was at a stoplight and turned to see that the truck next to me was so high off the ground, the cab entry was close to the top of my car. All I could think was, "That truck could run over my little car!" It would be like a monster truck rally or something. One of my pet peeves is when people drive around ginormous pickup trucks just because they think it looks cool. So in honor of my fuel-efficient vehicle and all the non-ginormeous vehicles on the road, I've complied this list. Hope you enjoy.

Your pickup truck might be too big if...

10) you've ever tried to haul a mobile home.
9) you take up more than one parking spot.
8) your vehicle has more than four wheels. More than six wheels, and you're really in trouble.
7) kids move their arms up and down when you drive by, hoping you'll honk your horn.
6) your friends call you when they need to move because you can take all their possessions in one trip.
5) you have to pull off the road a little whenever another truck comes by to keep from sideswiping them.
4) you need a ladder to get into the driver's seat.
3) MTV contacted you about Pimp My Ride.
2) kids walk past and say, "Hey look, a Transformer!"
1) the words "Git 'R Done" are printed so large on your back window, "she" can read it on the other side of the state line.


Got anything to add to the list? What are some of your pet peeves?



*Photo from http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2009/07/mark_buehrle_deserves_a_parade.php

Monday

All in the Details

The longer I write and study literature, the more I realize how the simplest things can make all the difference in stories. Let me explain. Say you're reading a book, and the characters are in a coffee shop. If the writer just says, "coffee shop," it's clear--you get the jest of what's going on and can imagine the scene. But if the heroine's got a rose and a copy of Pride and Prejudice, suddenly you're in You've Got Mail.

The question is, how do we get these details in the first place? What do we do to make our writing sing?

For me, it's so tempting to write in the same places. Coffee shops, my house, etc. But these places provide limited environmental creative sparks. I've found that getting out and, ideally, even into a setting similar to the setting of my book, can work wonders. Suddenly I start noticing things like the particular song of the birds, the chilling effects of the breeze, old ladies' hats, and butterflies.

I've found that writing down these details, or even clever lines, as they come is key for me. I don't know about you, but if I don't write these things down as they come, I will lose the idea. This is especially true when ideas come to me late at night. I can't tell you how many times I've been about to fall asleep, when all of a sudden, some incredible line or idea will just pop into my head. I've even gotten some of my "first lines" this way.

Another thing I try to do is tap in to a similar emotional setting. It can be a challenge to write empathetically about situations we've never experienced, especially from the perspective of people we've never been. But for me, the trick is identifying a similar situation in my own life, even if it's miniscule compared to the "big picture" struggle my heroine is facing. For instance, a couple months ago, I lost my wallet. I felt so frustrated with myself for letting that happen, and I was also desperate to get my wallet back (which, thankfully, I did). When I finally realized it'd fallen out of my purse at a pet store parking lot, I was overwhelmed with feelings of thankfulness to the person who picked it up and turned it in--a person I may never know. I wish I had a way to thank them, but I don't. What a different perspective I got on random acts of kindness when I was on the receiving end in such a big way. Life's situations and experiences, such as these, allow us the opportunity to extrapolate our emotional responses and then give them to our characters. Start paying attention to your reactions, and then write those into the narrative. You may even want to just write a list of descriptive words you feel at the time so you can come back to those later.

I want to hear from you! What tricks do you have for making your writing shine and coloring the storyworld so it's particularly unique?



Wednesday

The Narrow Calling

Today I explained to my students what I'm expecting to see in their final literature paper. One of the main things I told them is I want them to focus on going deeper in their analysis of the stories, to think of their papers like tree roots and go further in depth rather than in breadth.

Recently I've been realizing that this isn't just true about well-written papers. It's also true about life.



I am a compassionate person. Most of you probably are too, and you well know the feeling of taking the world on your shoulders. Sometimes I allow myself to take on things that are beyond my calling, burdens that "aren't mine to carry," as the saying goes. So much of the time, I think I consider this a good thing. I'm being compassionate. Right? So then why is it so exhausting carrying all this around?

Sometimes I find myself worrying over things that are way outside of my control.

Problem is, we only have so much energy and so much time in the day. Like that tree, shouldn't we focus on developing deeper roots instead of wide ones?

It's much easier in the Christian life to full our days with good acts rather than listening for the voice of God. Obedience to God's calling takes effort, practice, and discipline. And sometimes it requires more of us that we want to give. All too often, we live how we think the Christian lifestyle should look rather than actually living in relationship with Christ. It's like if I were to go around, clean like a maid and cook (btw-yeah right--poor Matt's lucky if the dishwasher has been run) because I think  that's what being a "good wife" looks like, but I never actually interact with my husband. Why do we take this approach to our relationship with Christ?

When we look at Jesus' actions and prayers while on earth, we see He had a singular focus: obedience to the Father. I have wondered in the past why Jesus didn't just heal everyone on earth, or spend all His time proclaiming His identity to as many people as possible. But that line of thinking presupposes something important: the idea that more is better.

What Jesus did instead was listen for the voice of God. His calling was direct, specific, and powerful.

His calling was to save the world.

But how did He go about that? One act of obedience at a time. Jesus only traveled, spoke, taught, healed, according to the direction of God. So why do I think my life, my calling, should be any different? Why am I not doing more to listen to that calling?

When we catch hold of our purpose, we find great freedom from trying to fulfill everyone else's callings, and we become much more effective in our ministry within the body of Christ. This is something I've been learning and struggling with lately, as I'm daily trying to train my focus on my particular calling. But there is such joy in knowing the entire world does not rest on our shoulders, isn't there?

Do you ever find yourself focusing on the breadth of your calling rather than the depth? What do you do to help focus your perspective and energy on the right things?




*Photo from http://www.zazzle.com/tree_with_roots_and_branches_surrounding_a_heart_postcard-239744737284067784

Monday

Staying Motivated

This weekend, I've been rereading my manuscript to be sure everything is nicely polished before I send it off to my agent. And let me tell you, I always underestimate the amount of time it takes to do final polishing! I don't know why. Does this happen to you too?

I know many of you are in the same boat, getting ready to send things off to agents and publishers you may have queried or met at the ACFW conference. So I thought I'd share with you a few things I've found that help keep me motivated.



  • Eat Dove chocolate ice cream minis. Seriously, these things are a-mazing. I was planning to institute a one-mini-per-fifty-pages rule, but I ran out. Boo.
  • Break the work into chunks. Last night, I read something like one hundred pages. That was a lot. By the time I finished, I was shaky feeling because it was 11 o'clock and I hadn't eaten, and I was also being overly critical of my book. I've found I stay much more sane and keep a healthier perspective if I work in chunks, say, fifty pages at a time (i.e. the Dove chocolates... boo again that they're gone!)
  • Remember the heart of your story. It can be easy to slip into a must-delete-everything mentality when you take an overly-critical perspective. Instead, let your story breathe. There's a reason you wrote it and stuck with it so long. Remind yourself what that is while you're rereading.
  • Read on another medium. I have found that for whatever reason, my Kindle is magical. It really helps me pretend my book is already published and catch the errors (and opportunities for strengthening) that I would catch if I were reading someone else's book. (You know you correct errors in other people's writing--don't pretend you don't! ;) ) If you don't have a Kindle but do have an iPhone, you can get the Kindle app and still send the manuscript to yourself to read. I think Julie usually does this. Correct me if I'm wrong, girl. 
  • Surround yourself with positive heart-things. Quotes that inspire you, books you love, and even photos or artwork can help spark that courage that will take you from a good writer to a great one. The power of a strong voice often can be found when a writer discovers his or her own strength. So, as the saying goes, when your heart calls, listen.


Do you have any tips to share? How do you get through last-minute polishing work on your story?




*Photo from http://www.dietsinreview.com/slideshows/best-low-calorie-ice-cream-treats-for-summer/dove-chocolate-miniatures/

Wednesday

The Worry Window and The Very Brave Dog





This is Schroeder. Pretty adorable, right? We've had him two and a half years now, and we think he's about three and a half or four. We don't know exactly how old he is because he was picked up as a stray and taken to an animal shelter. This is the first photo I saw of him:




When I saw this picture on Petfinder, I knew we had to get this dog. All we know about his story before he joined our family is that he looked a little like Chewbacca because of his matted hair and that a kindhearted woman picked him up from the side of the road where he was wandering around as a stray. He'd been at the shelter for three weeks before we adopted him, and no one ever came looking for him. This is what Schroeder looks like today:



He now loves peanut butter, pumpkin treats, and naps in the papasan chair. He's settled into his routine in our family and no longer cries like he did when we first adopted him and one of us would leave the house. He seemed to think we were leaving for good. He doesn't do that anymore.

But the thing about Schroeder is this. He hasn't forgotten what happened to him, whatever that was. It shaped the way he thinks. Every night, while our other dog Maddie is sneaking into bed, Schroeder hops up in the windowsill and watches. Sometimes in the middle of the night, he'll start howling because he's seen a bird or a cat or a tree limb moving.

I just can't seem to convince him he's safe now. That he doesn't have to always be on guard.

Last night I got up to get some water and found Schroeder dutifully standing in the windowsill, guarding our family. So I picked him up and carried him to the dog bed in our room and rubbed his belly for a few minutes. I told him to relax, that we were all okay and that he didn't need to worry.

And then it hit me.

I don't need to worry either. It's time to get out of the windowsill.

How often do we go over to our worry windows and watch for what might be coming? How often do we fear the cats or the noises the palm trees make in the breeze, then sound the alarm in fear? When all the while, God is calling to us, saying, "Come with me"?

Remember the story of Mary and Martha? While Mary was running around trying to finish everything that needed to be done, Martha caught hold of the bigger picture, and because of that, she was able to spend some time in the presence of God.

What does your worry window overlook? Today I want to encourage you to let go to God. He knows the cares and worries of our heart. He doesn't want to diminish those concerns, He just wants to give you a bigger perspective. He will keep you safe. Let Him watch the window for a while.

Do you ever find yourself trying to micromanage the dreams God has put on your heart? Maybe you've come to a place where you're nearing your goals, just like Schroeder finding a home, and you feel like you have to protect those things from danger. How can we take a step back and trust those things to God?

Tuesday

Jesus and Germs






Saw this on Pinterest and had to share. Is this true or what? :)






Source: etsy.com via Katie on Pinterest

Monday

Follow Through

Have you ever noticed that several days after a writing conference like ACFW, maybe even a week after, everyone's got that glow about them? They're excited about the new friendships, networking opportunities, lessons learned, and maybe even manuscript requests.

Ever noticed that happens a week or two after that?

Everyone is sick, exhausted, and worn-out.

I actually managed to stay healthy after this year's ACFW conference, somewhat of an amazing feat considering my social stamina usually outlasts my germ tolerance. :) But thanks to my students, here I am a couple weeks later, sitting on the sofa, typing this and thinking about taking my third nap of the day. Stupid germs!

It's oh-so-easy to allow ourselves to get weary when we come off of a mountaintop experience. Suddenly reality hits again, and we begin panicking. Is our manuscript really strong enough to send? Should we even bother connecting with that editor or agent who asked to see our work? Do we really have what it takes to be published?

In these moments, it's so very important we allow positive affirmation of God's calling and purpose to enter our hearts and lives. Remember what your critique partner has said about your story. Remember that feedback you got from a paid critiquer, the verse God brought to your mind? Think on these things.

God has given us this whole room full of gifts. We're talking, way bigger than Christmas morning. We wake up and get excited when we see them, but how often do we then walk out the door without ever having used these gifts He has given us? We keep saying, "God, give us more," when He's saying, "It's time to start using what you already have."

I hope you're encouraged today to see beyond the here and now into the deeper promises God has spoken over your life. When He purposes something in us, He does not forget, and He does not give up. Accept that He has a plan for the stories He has put in your heart, and He's placed them there for a reason. Do not be afraid. You never go alone.

How do you pick yourself back up on those days you'd rather stay in your pajamas and watch a Gilmore Girls marathon?

Wednesday

Perspective


Today has been one of those afternoons where things have been bothering me. Do you ever have those days? In my first class, one of my students was rude to me in front of the rest of the class, then I went to renew my campus parking pass, and it cost me $85! To park at my job. Students kept running out in front of my car as I was trying to get to and from class, and I just felt frustrated.

Then I looked around.

What a beautiful afternoon! Birds were chirping, the temperature was perfect, and things in my world were just generally good. Am I a little stressed this week trying to get everything done? Yes, but why is that? Because I have editor interest in my book. My book. How long have I been working toward this moment, and yet I allow my joy to be tempered by the most stupid things.

I had planned to blog about a different topic today, but I changed my mind when I began thinking about the power of perspective in our lives. Look at this picture I found of a subway stop. The stairs are called perspective art.




My question is... why spend so much time looking at the ground when God has built a staircase in front of us?

When we allow distractions to cloud our minds, they change our perspective and get it out of whack. We can no longer see what we ought to be seeing. We lose sight of our purpose, our heart, God's plans. We lose sight of the staircase we can only through faith be walking upon.

One of my best friends in the entire world is saying goodbye to her husband tomorrow for nine months because he is deploying to Afghanistan. She doesn't know how often she'll be able to talk to him because she won't know until he gets there what the internet and phone connections are like.

When I think of that, suddenly the rude comment my student made earlier seems so small, and I am humbled by the blessings God has allowed in my life.  

When we reframe our perspective, it allows us to see God's heart. I'm convinced this is why the Bible commands us in Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

What we think about forms our hearts. And what's in our hearts forms our lives. If we're too busy looking at the problems in our lives, or our faults, or the faults of others, we will miss out on the big picture of what God wants to do through our lives. We'll miss out on opportunities, ministry, and the hearts He wants to change... including our own.

I love Rothko artwork for this reason. It challenges our perspective. When you look at this work, where does our eye go? How is this like our perspective on life?


Photos from http://haha.nu/creative/perspective-art-at-a-subway/ and
http://www.abstract-art.com/abstraction/l2_grnfthrs_fldr/g051_rothko.html

Monday

Brainstorming

While at the ACFW Conference, I attended Rachel Hauck's workshops on brainstorming, and learned so much. For me, brainstorming is very difficult because I am such a perfectionist. I have an easier time writing seat-of-the-pants because it feels like less pressure. When I write an outline beforehand, I feel nervous and almost panicky as the editing side of my brain and the creative side try to work together at once. I'm actually even in the process of doing this right now, and it's making me crazy! Can you relate?

Today I want to share several things Rachel said that stood out to me because they're so helpful in overcoming these problems.



1) Brainstorming in groups can be a great exercise. I'd never thought about this before! Sure, I've talked to my husband, mom, friends, etc. about my books, but I've never sat down to chat strictly for the purpose of brainstorming. Rachel recommended even considering finding a brainstorming buddy, like a critique partner, who can know your story inside and out and really help you craft the essential elements of it. If you meet in person, have someone keep track of time so you can be sure you get to everyone's projects.

2) Keep asking "why." On the plane flight home from ACFW, I practiced this... and boy, it really works! Brainstorming often feels overwhelming to me because I'll just have snipbits of ideas I'm trying to piece together into something coherent. Asking"why" helps deepen these snipbits and connect them. For instance, maybe all you know about a character is that she's scared of stairs. Well, why? Maybe because when she was a kid, she tripped and fell down them. Why does that matter? Maybe she cracked her two front teeth and the other kids made fun of her. Why does that matter? Maybe she still has self-confidence issues today. That's a really quirky example for the sake of illustration, but it really is amazing how your brain will fill in the specifics if you keep digging deeper.

3) Turn off your inner editor. This is the thing I most struggle with when brainstorming. Every time I come up with an idea, part of me says, "That doesn't work with the rest of your story," or "That's ridiculous. No one will believe that." But I loved that Rachel said during her workshop. Imagine if Tolkein had sat down to write Lord of the Rings and thought to himself, "I think I'll invent a place called Middle Earth and invent a fictional language for its inhabitants... no, on second thought, that would never work." How often do we stifle brilliant ideas because they are only in the beginning stages? Rachel said you should never give up an idea until you've considered it from every angle. You may find a way to make it work.

What do you think? Do you enjoy brainstorming? What tricks do you have to make the process effective?