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Welcome to The Inkwell, the blog site of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) of Colorado.

Each week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you can find a wide variety of topics and insight
from inspiration to instruction to humor and more!

For detailed information on ACFW, click here to visit their main website.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hitting the mark

I arrived home from camp Sunday night and began the arduous task of reading a week's worth of emails. It's times like these that I forget to be thankful for news and the Internet in general. The temptation to "select all" and "delete" can be overwhelming. Then something caught my eye. Someone had left a comment on a blog post I had written three years ago. Scanning down my inbox, I came across a second comment on a two year old post. Two different people found my blog while searching for specific topics, and took the time to leave a comment even though it was now old news to me. A slow smile spread across my face as God whispered a deep truth into my soul.
Only God knows how or when your words will hit their mark in the hearts of those who need to read them.
I came back from the writer's conference ready to jump in full force, and yet the busyness of summer and the call of running a ministry has left my writing aspirations and dreams mingling somewhere off my radar. What was once a burning passion and a desperate need to write has become a siren call that faintly echoes from a far away place. The voice is beautiful and strong, but soft enough that I can easily ignore it if I concentrate. And I must if I am going to keep my sanity and witness through my over-scheduled July. I pray this season isn't long and I can reclaim my writing time and move forward soon.

One of the posts was about the movie August Rush, which I loved, so I clicked my way over to YouTube to watch a clip from the movie. I wept through "Raise It Up," a beautiful song about beating the odds, and pursuing hope and God. The last line rings loud and clear for my writing journey at the moment. Young Jamia Simone Nash sings "Sometimes it seems impossible, that's why we pray." I pray these words hits their mark in your heart as they have in mine.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Character Driven

Lately, I’ve had bad luck picking books to read. I think my book club will mutiny if I choose one more novel that Barnes & Noble labels either “literary” or “on sale.” I just finished a novel I really wanted to like. But it turned out like the Mexican fast-food I had the other day—mediocre—despite how much I was craving a taco.

So I’ve been asking myself what it was I didn’t like about these books. And to be fair, I’ve also asked myself what I did like. All my answers boiled down to the subject of character.

I figured it couldn’t hurt to take a brief look at my discoveries for the purpose of improving my own writing.

Great Characters. Not enough development.
One of the books I read—a lauded literary work that’s been made into a movie—had some fascinating characters. The author did an incredible job describing the intricacies of human nature that make characters come alive.

But at the end of the novel, I had a bad taste in my mouth. These unique individuals never managed to rise above, accomplish anything, shine. I wanted more from them. I wanted to spend more time with them, not just exploring the quirks and traits that made them interesting, but also watching them change and grow.

Lackluster Characters. Plenty going on.
I found myself ho-humming through two of my recent reads. Not for lack of action or tension, but because I simply didn’t care about the protagonist. How could I solve the problem of lackluster characters in my own story?

-Up the empathy factor. Make the character more noble, more needy, more haunted, more drunk, more delusional. Whatever it takes, make readers feel more.

-Up the stakes. I confess I’ve been stuck on the current chapter I’m writing. I finally realized that it’s time to up the stakes once again. The initial excitement and conflict of the novel has lulled, and I need to inflict more drama on my hapless heroine.

-Up the antagonism. In real life, nothing can reveal the true depth of our character like a personal attack. So if I want to portray a popping personality in my novel, why not increase that antagonist’s animosity?

Too Many POVs.
Now there are plenty of authors who can handle multiple POVs with mastery, but I get frustrated when a character's POV is introduced for the purpose of one or two scenes. I feel like my time and emotional effort has been wasted. Bottom line for me to remember: reworking the scene into another, more prominent, character’s POV may prove challenging, but it’s better than pulling the reader’s focus in too many directions.

I hope my ‘thinking out loud’ has helped you ponder some character complexities in your own work. Does anyone else have any character pet peeves? Something that irked you in a book you read or in your own story? Please share. But if you’re using an example from another author’s work, be respectful. Don’t include names or details. Just tell us what you can learn from a less-than-riveting read.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Seed

Early this morning I was reading an article in Guidepost about a woman who pursued her dream of designing aprons. Half way through the article the author talked about picking up a book a friend had recommended and having the following phrase pop off the page: “God gave you gifts and the only way to bless others is to use them.”

I finished the article, closed the magazine, and thought, that's nice...glad the Lord encouraged her like that.

Shortly thereafter I went upstairs to figure out what to write for my portion of the June ACFW Colorado blog. I stared at my computer screen for a few minutes, opened Microsoft Word, positioned my fingers on the keyboard, then sat there as a blank piece of white, virtual paper stared back.

What to write? What to write?

I fidgeted in my chair a bit, toyed with some papers on my desk, then looked back at my screen.


As this whole staring-at-a-blank-piece-of-virtual-paper thing was not working, I decided to head downstairs and fix myself a glass of ice water. While down there I thought what the heck, I’ll make myself a bagel and turn on “Judge Judy.” Maybe I’ll somehow get inspired that way.

It didn’t work.

After finishing my snack, I turned off the TV and headed back upstairs. Plopping down in my chair, I turned to look at the computer screen and mutter a quick prayer.

“Lord, help me.”

Within seconds the phrase that jumped out at the Guidepost author, jumped out at me: “God gave you gifts and the only way to bless others is to use them.”

I looked around.

“You talking to me, Lord?” I asked.

In my mind I could see Him nod.

“Hey, listen…” I started, “I understand what You’re trying to do here and I appreciate it, I really do, but we have a problem. You see, I don’t have those kind of gifts.”

The seed must die and fall to the ground, Jill. The voice in my head was quiet, yet firm.

“What seed?”

It must die so it can produce many seeds.

I was getting desperate. “What seed, Lord? I don’t know what You’re talking about! First You mention gifts, then You mention seeds. What seed to you mean?”

The seed of writing. You must either let that seed—that gift—die so I can multiple it through you and bless others, or you can keep the seed and settle for nothing more than one, fruitless trophy seed. The choice is yours.

“But I told You, I don’t have a seed like that.”

Yes, you do. Don’t bury it. Give it to Me, and allow me to plant it…to help it die so it can produce fruit.

As the Lord said that, in my mind’s eye I could see Him reach forward and pluck something from me—like one would pluck a grape from a vine. He then took what He plucked, knelt down, and pushed the object (along with His finger) deep into soft, fertile soil. Then He pulled His finger out, stood up, looked at me, smiled, and walked away.

I wanted to dig up the seed, run after Him, and yell, “Hey, Lord, what was that all about?” But I didn’t. Not this time. This time I let it be.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Maybe an overnight writing miracle, maybe not. But in any case it really doesn’t matter, does it? All that matters is the Lord now has the seed and the rest, as they say, is HIStory. ;)

* * * *

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)

Monday, June 22, 2009

???, Ramblings, The Proposal, & Fear

Here I sits and ponder on what to write about. I want to write something deep and spiritual like some of the others do, but after mowing the yard, doing laundry, cleaning up after five orphaned cats in my laundry room, and having kitty litter stick to the bottom of my feet, I don’t know if I can get to deep and spiritual on this Monday.

So . . . . . . . .

I think I’ll tell a story but nothing is coming. I don’t have cute little toddlers or preschoolers anymore to spawn inspirational stories from, so I’ll go vacuum the kitchen and living room and see if something comes to me.

Well, that’s done. Now what? I could do a movie review.

On Friday I saw The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and some cute guy. I love Sandra Bullock. She is such a great actress. The movie is a romantic comedy. It was hilarious. It also made me cry. Sandra Bullock is a high-powered editor at a NY publishing house. Everyone in the office is terrified of her. And for good reason. She would just as soon fire you than let you get ahead of her. Well she is going to be deported back to Canada. Not so far but she can’t work for a U.S. company for a year. Well she can’t have that, so she says she is engaged to her assistant. The poor guy is dazed. He looks like he’s been hit over the head with a 2x4. He agrees because she threatens to fire him and make it impossible to work in the writing/editing world again. So they go to Alaska for Gammy’s 90th birthday and to tell his parents about the engagement. It’s hilarious. The whole thing with the dog and her cell phone cracked me up. One of my favorite things was Betty White. I’ve always loved her. She was great too.

Okay that’s done. I know I’ll ask my daughter for inspiration or words of wisdom from the POV of a 17-year-old girl.

“Fear can either hold you back or drive you forward. The choice is yours.” Jessi Davis.

How did she get so smart? I wasn’t that smart at her age. I think the fear was holding me back at 17. I don’t know that I can do any better than that. I do have one other fear quote.

“Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Jack Canfield.

I am trying to live both of these fear quotes. The Lord did not give us a spirit of timidity. There will be fear, but don’t let it stop you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's Your Dream?

Our church has been working through a series of sermons on Vision, including God's vision for our lives, and our understanding of that vision. One of the sermons encouraged each of us to write down what we believe God's vision for us, individually, is.

That was a real struggle for me. I mean, I don't have any problem with writing it down. My issue was I didn't dare write down what I hoped was God's vision for me. I really felt more comfortable putting down on paper where I am, right now. After all, that would be easy. It would mean I didn't have to strive for more. I wouldn't have to change. I could live out my vision of God's vision for me.

That's when I took a deep breath, realizing I am not where I want to be in any area of my life. Not in my marriage, my relationship with my kids and grandkids, my relationship with God, and particularly not my writing. I realized I didn't want to just settle.

So I prayed and asked God for His vision for me.

And then I wrote down what I believe He showed me. I followed that up with a Mission Statement, and then with a paragraph I called "Manifestation" – how I will know I have achieved this vision. Check out my web site to see my version at Feel free to use it as a guide for your own.

Scripture tells us "without a vision the people perish." (Proverbs 29:19) But we are also told to "write the vision plainly .... so others can see ... the vision has an appointed time..." (Habakkuk 2:2-3). So knowing God's plan for our lives is very important.

I encourage you to ask the Lord what He has planned for you. Ask Him what His vision for your life is. You will probably not get a timetable or a hint of when this might come to pass. But God promises us in Habakkuk it may seem slow but it will not be late (verse 3).

Then, write down what He tells you. Make a list of steps to accomplish this vision – your mission. Your ministry. Your calling and anointing. Next, make a short paragraph that combines the vision and the mission into a concise sentence or two.

Post this vision somewhere prominent. Carry it in your wallet. Keep it near your computer, so that every time you get a rejection letter or a manuscript returned, you can see it. God's vision for your life is not determined by the number of rejections, the bad reviews, the overworked-and-underpaid contracts.

God's vision for your life is determined by His complete plan, perfect and good. You've got His word on that – Jeremiah 29:11 "I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Deadlines and Number Crunching

Well, this is a banner day for me. God must have known that my day to blog would fall on today...the same day that my 6th book is due to my editor. Talk about stacking up on deadlines and "due" dates.

As many of you know, I have a brand new baby girl here at home, so writing has been in brief snatches. Whenever I can grab a few minutes, I've dumped from my brain. So, the book was assembled in bits and pieces. Thankfully, my husband was wonderful when he came home from work for the past two weeks. I provided the milk for Victoria's evening feeding in a bottle and he fed her to allow me a solid chunk of time each evening to write. Othewise, I know I never would have made it without suffering through a handful of sleepless nights to get the book written.

Used to be, I could pump out a 50K word book in just 2 weeks. This one took me about the same time when I put the time blocks together, but it was spread over about 7 weeks instead. I didn't quite make the 50,000 words, but that's the high end. Ironically, I ended up right about in the middle between 45K and 50K...47,423 to be exact. :)

And the best part? My critique partners had time to read through the entire thing before I finished. I was working on edits right up to the end, as you can see by the time stamp on this post. But praise God, the book is done, and my editor has it. It'll go straight to content edit immediately, as I was working on an extension from the original due date of May 1st.

Funny how my editor knew having a baby would require me to push the deadline back before I did. She anticipated it and built in the spare weeks. :) That's why she's so awesome.

Right now, though, it's time for bed. I fully intend to enjoy the rest of this week post-deadline. Going to get out of the house with my daughter, catch up on email and housework that's been a bit neglected, and perhaps even cook a decent meal for my husband to thank him. :)

Tiffany Amber Stockton is an author and freelance web site designer who lives with her husband and fellow author in beautiful Colorado Springs. They celebrated the birth of their first child in April and have a vivacious puppy named Roxie, a Border Collie/Flat-Haired Retriever mix. She has sold six books so far to Barbour Publishing. Other credits include writing articles for various publications, five short stories with Romancing the Christian Heart, and contributions to the books: 101 Ways to Romance Your Marriage and Grit for the Oyster.

Read more about her at her web site:

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Writing should be a discipline. How many of you look at it as such?

As I sit here at the pool for another long swim-team practice, I'm struck by that word - discipline. My kids are swimmers. We have practice six days a week, three hours a day. Then, we head to the YMCA and they swim for another hour or two. They are disciplined. Determined. Focused. When I was growing up, it was piano practice that took two to three hours of my day. My point? To excel at anything, you have to practice. It's a discipline.

I've met a lot of other writers since immersing myself in this world of an author. One thing I have noticed is how many "wannabe" writers - and even a few published writers - don't want to work at it. They want to be discovered, get published, become famous, and it all to happen overnight by osmosis. Because they have talent. They shouldn't have to work at it. They should just write and it be gloriously brilliant the first draft. I mean once you're published, you shouldn't need to attend classes at a conference, submit anything to critique partners, or work to polish your masterpiece. It's all about marketing, networking, and sales at that point. Right?

Ummm, that's a big fat NO.

You have to work at writing. You have to constantly be willing to learn. You have to practice the art of writing. It takes discipine. It takes diligence.

Just like one performance of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody takes hundreds of hours of practice at the piano, or one 100 meter Freestyle sprint in the Olympics takes swimming hundreds of thousands of meters - so one well-written manuscript should take work, practice, edits, and thousands of uses of the delete button.

Are you willing to practice? Are you willing to keep learning? Are you willing to be disciplined about this art and craft?

Don't get caught up in the old adage "practice makes perfect" - it isn't true. As I've told all my students over the years, "Practice doesn't make it perfect. Only perfect practice makes it perfect." If you are continually practicing the wrong way - it will never be perfect.

Be willing to stretch yourself. Be willing to learn. Be willing to grow. Be disciplined. Join a writing group like ACFW and surround yourself with others who will encourage you, hold you accountable, and help you along this writing road.

Write. Write. And write some more. Humble yourself and ask for direction, for help, for another set of eyes. And learn how to take constructive criticism.

Discipline. I'm learning even more about it from my kids. What an awesome way to learn.

Kimberley Woodhouse is a wife, mother, author, and musician with a quick wit and positive outlook despite difficult circumstances. A popular speaker, she’s shared at more than 600 venues across the country. Kimberley and her family's story have garnered national media attention for many years, but most recently her family was chosen for ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, The Montel Williams Show, and Discovery Health channel’s Mystery ER which premiered in 2008. Her story, Welcome Home: Our Family’s Journey to Extreme Joy, releases in September 2009 from Focus on the Family/Tyndale Publishers and is available now for pre-order. Kimberley lives, writes, and homeschools in Colorado with her husband and two children in their truly “extreme” home. Pre-order Welcome Home
Kim's Website

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ancient Words

As Christian writers we strive to include a spiritual thread in everything we write—or we should. If we don't what makes our articles and books and short stories any different from the secular world's? It certainly doesn't have to be blatant; subtlety works just as well. Look at the stories Jesus told, for example.

Since I was a child, I've always had a fascination for the Word of God. One my parents both nurtured in me. And over the years I've grown in my love for it. As a result the Lord has gifted me with the ability to remember and apply scripture when praying and, as He emboldens me, when counseling.

At the recent CCWC the Lord gave me strong confirmation that this indeed is His purpose for me: to encourage others to return to the ancient truths revealed in His Word. These truths are alive and very apropos to our world today.

I was part of the JOY of Rediscovering Creativity clinic. Several weeks in advance we were each given a name of another person in the clinic to pray for, send encouragement to, and then to bring a gift to present to that person during one of the clinic sessions. It was wonderful to sit in on that session and listen to the various stories people told as they gave their gifts—stories of how God had directed their thoughts to give just the perfect gift to someone they didn't know.

Tiffany Shaw got my name. She handed me a gift bag. Then explained how she had gone to my Web site and blog to find out as much as she could about me. Then she had the idea to use her photography skills for my gift. Reading my Web site, she learned that shevet meant a writer’s tool. So she gathered old pens, a couple of ink bottles, and the Bible, arranged them into a lovely still life, and photographed it. When I pulled the framed picture out of the bag, I was amazed. Such a powerful picture of how I view my writing and editing. (It's the picture at the beginning of this post. Tiffany doesn't have a Web site up yet, but if you want more info about her photography, click here.)

Isn't it so neat when God confirms what you suspect He's doing in your life? My prayer is that each of you would see/hear that confirmation, as well.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Why Do You Doubt?

Our church has been going through a video series during our Sunday School class called, Faith Lessons--In the Dust of the Rabbi. In it evangelical historian Ray Vander Laan takes a group of people through the holy land and teaches history and practical application. It's a great series.

Recently, we watched the group climb a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Ray tells the crowd that Jesus went here after the feeding of the five thousand. He had just told the disciples to get into a boat and go ahead of him to Bethsaida, which was across the lake. Ray asserts that they probably didn't want to go because of the squalls that took place in this part of the lake, dubbed "The Abyss." (This isn't in my Bible, but Ray, as a historian has other geographical resources.)

As they fatefully predicted, a huge squall came up and they strained against the oars. Ray tells the group that Jesus was no doubt sitting on the mountain and watching them the whole way. About the fourth hour, (probably around four o'clock in the morning,) Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. He nearly passes them by because he was intent on getting to Bethsaida, as he said he would. But did Jesus not see them out there struggling? Or was this a faith lesson for the disciples who didn't understand the miracle of the five loaves and two fish? (Mark 6:52)

They see him walking by on the water and fear it's a ghost. I mean, seriously. Who else would be walking on the water? No doubt, if I'd been in that boat, miles from the shore, I wouldn't have thought my rabbi would be chancing by. He tells them "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

Matthew 14:28 picks up the story. Peter calls out to him. "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water." And Jesus says, "Come." Poor impetuous Peter. Wanting to be just like his Lord, he jumps out of the boat, but fearing the wind--promptly sinks. Jesus shakes his head and says, "Why do you doubt?" as he fishes him out and escorts him back to the boat.

This is where Ray posed a question that had us discussing at great length later. "What did he doubt?" Jesus? Why would that be? Jesus is still only toes deep in the water. The conclusion was that he doubted himself.

Okay. Let's look at the big picture here. Jesus gives the disciples a directive. "Go to Bethsaida and I will meet you there." They all hop in the boat, grumbling. They'd just seen the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and still didn't quite get it. (Our class decided this was a faith lesson for them.) Just as they feared, they hit a storm, and what do they do? Panic! In the meantime, Jesus is watching them from the hill. Once they're good and scared, he heads out onto the lake. Then, during one of their most dramatic lessons, they doubt.

You know where I'm going, don't you?

In 2002, I received a clear directive from God. "Write, and I will partner with you." At various intervals along the way, I have felt the squalls of life threaten to capsize my dream. Where is Jesus? I cry out.

He's on the hill watching me. Seeing how I will do. Probably shaking his head as I panic when the words don't come, and when they do they sound amatuerish. He says, "Oh, Kathy," when I want to quit because an editor has torn at my precious story, slashing and ripping at the carefully placed concepts like fierce winds to a sail. Finally, at the fourth hour, He gets up, and walks toward our previously agreed upon destination. I want to be like my Lord. I try, yet I fail, and He asks me "Why do you doubt?" He hasn't changed. I don't doubt Him. I know He will partner with me. I know His will for me is to produce written witnesses. I know He is still standing there, waiting for me to "get it."

Why do I doubt myself?

Sound familiar?

If you're in a storm, take heart. Jesus is watching to see how you'll do. To see if you've grown in your faith. Every trial is a strengthening exercise. And once you "get it," you will be able to walk with Him hand in hand. Safely. Without getting wet.

I have my toe in the water. Anyone joining me?
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