Friday, July 31, 2009
I’ve never forgotten that. I was horrified. He couldn’t be there for his wife when she needed him because of a book deadline? I didn’t understand, still have a hard time with that one, but at least now I’ve been writing long enough to understand more about the sacrifices writers must make.
For some of us it’s a financial sacrifice. We could be making more money (or at least some money) at a real job. Then there’s the whole sacrifice of time. We’re traveling to conferences, hulling ourselves up in the basement or the office or the local Starbucks laboring over our stories and articles.
The time and money is hard to give up, but for me the most difficult sacrifice is the results—the manifestation of what I’m striving for, of what I’m longing to communicate. I really struggle with sacrificing my dreams and letting God recreate them to be what he wants to fulfill his purposes.
It’s hard. I have a vision for those stories. Hopes and dreams for what they will accomplish. How they will change lives. They are so dear to me and I want to make sure they reach their full potential. Like Madeline L’Engle says in her book Walking on Water, “Art is communication, and if there is no communication it is as though the work has been stillborn.”
But even stillborn stories have a purpose. That’s why we have to take the words we write, the love and passion and purpose behind them, and lay them down at God’s feet. We don’t know what will come of them, whether they will ever amount to anything other than a reflection of what’s in our hearts. We can’t control who reads them, or if anyone ever does, but a story does not have to be published to glorify God. When we write those words and tell the stories that burn within us, we are being obedient. We are glorifying God. The most painful sacrifice is largely internal. We must offer up our pride, our sense of wanting to accomplish something, of wanting to hold a printed book in our hands, and let God own our stories just like he owns us. Maybe they won’t get published, but they will serve a divine purpose. They already are.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Recently, I was lassoed into a Write Out at the Broadmoor with my WFTJ writers friends. I must admit though, it didn’t take a lot of convincing. Spending the day with my favorite people is incentive enough, but when you throw in the Broadmoor , I’m hooked.
I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of work I accomplished. As social as I am, I didn’t anticipate a highly productive writing day.
“We have to do this more often,” I reflected aloud as my fingers flew over the keys.
“Um hmm,” they muttered into their laptops.
The creativity was flowing so freely, I thought of asking for a ‘to go’ box, or at the very least, another couple of days.
Convinced yet? Ready to plan your own? Below are a few tips.
What to bring to a write out:
- Cord for laptop
- Lunch money
- Pen and paper
- Light jacket
- Reading glasses
- Turn off your cell phone -Leave your family problems at home. They'll survive without you.
- Make a plan – stick to a schedule
- Drink plenty of water
- Take several projects so you can chose one that inspires you
- Go somewhere away from home
- Be prepared to socialize – but not too much.
Reasons to Plan a Write Out:
- Spend an entire day writing, free from distractions
- To bounce ideas off each other
- The creative energy is palatable
Monday, July 27, 2009
Even as my agent broke the news that my proposal was on life support, she encouraged my most recent efforts in a different genre. “Keep working. Keep going in this direction. This is better.”
Her words came back to me on Saturday when we took our two boys on a surprise trip to Santa’s Workshop. We piled in the van without telling the boys where we were going. But, of course, they could read the fun mood in the car and began peppering us with guesses. My husband and I grinned at their excruciating excitement.
“Are we going swimming at the Y?”
“Maybe,” my husband said. But we soon passed the turn off for the YMCA.
“Are we going to Art Sports?” they asked.
“We could do that, I suppose,” Kory said. But we didn’t.
We drove by the putt-putt course and the boys frantically begged, “Can we play golf?”
When we passed the exit for mini-golf, the kids got upset. “Dad,” my oldest whined, “why can’t we play golf?”
I turned back and smiled at him. “Don’t worry. This is better.”
My boys were impatient for the good thing to happen now. They would have settled for swimming at the Y when we had something much, much better planned for them.
And here I am getting worked up, just like an over eager seven-year-old, because my writing path hasn’t gone where I thought it would. I want to be at the destination now, but what if God has something even better planned for me?
Kory and I shared so much joy over the fun trip we'd planned, but, of course, we didn’t enjoy our children’s panic and frustration when we passed by the places they thought we should go. Luckily, they listened when we told them to trust us and wait for the treat that was coming.
Can I do the same? Trust and wait. Yes, on a good day. On a bad day, I still ask, “Why isn’t this good enough?” Silly Evangeline. Don’t settle for the neighborhood pool when you could go all the way to the amusement park.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
My friend's posture was a little defensive and matched the I know what I'm talking about look he was giving me. I tried not to smile, but couldn't stop myself. I hope he didn't take it the wrong way.
"All I have to do is punch the address in and my GPS will get me there."
I had been there several times and knew the way. I had given him a detailed map, and turn by turn directions. I reassured him that I would arrive first and be waiting on the curb watching for him. We had exchanged cell phone numbers. But he was more comfortable trusting an electronic device than me and my experience.
The smile had come as I recalled a recent conversation with my brother. We chatted on the phone as he navigated his way around an unfamiliar city. His language got a little colorful as he told me he had to hang up because his GPS had given him the wrong directions and mistakenly led him to turn into a military facility. On another occasion, it had told him to make a u-turn in the middle of the interstate and take a road that wasn't there. Sometimes technology can't compete with good, old fashioned, human know-how.
Back to my friend. Would I have responded the same way had our roles been reversed? Maybe. I've been there before with my writing. I know a handful of authors, editors, and agents. I've asked the same questions other writers have been asking for centuries. I've filled notebooks with what I've learned through seminars, classes, reading, and one on one advice. Do I always put it into practice? No. I have my days when I'd rather punch in a formula regardless of what these experienced voices have to tell me. Some small part of me fights against trusting the advice of those who have been where I want to go. What if their path led them a different way and if I follow, it will take me longer to reach my destination? But what if I don't listen and find out that they knew about a construction zone that's not on the map? A detour could delay me in more ways than I can imagine.
I'm pretty good with directions, my friend arrived on time, and I was waiting for him as planned. He had looked up the address anyway, and though I didn't take it personally, I wondered why he'd choose not to listen to the voice of experience.
I'm discovering that's how it is in the writing world. I'm thankful for those who have already been to the place I want to be and are willing to give me directions. Our paths may vary, but the goal is the same - to make a difference in this world through the written word. So I'm paying attention, trying to be teachable, and holding onto the courage to take the path I feel led to take. GPS is great, but I'd rather follow the person who's already been there, done that.
Friday, July 24, 2009
all you do is sit staring
at a blank sheet of paper
until the drops of blood
form on your forehead.
There’s this amazing book I read back in December of 2007 called Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland (copyright 1993 Image Continuum Press). It talked about writing being an art, and writers dealing with some of the same issues other artists dealt with.
The opening paragraph says this:
“MAKING ART IS DIFFICULT. We leave drawings unfinished and stories unwritten. We do work that does not feel like our own. We repeat ourselves. We stop before we have mastered our materials, or continue on long after their potential is exhausted. Often the work we have not done seems more real in our minds than the pieces we have completed. And so questions arise: How does art get done? Why, often, does it not get done? And what is the nature of the difficulties that stop so many who start?” (Bayles & Orland, pg 1, 1993)As the title of the book suggests, fear is one the greatest motivating factors behind a writer 1) not starting a project, or 2) not completing it. It’s what binds and cripples them. It’s what wears them down and gives them reason to quit. And it’s what metabolizes their writing into artistic disease or, worse yet, artistic death.
Bayles and Orland talk about artistic death and how it comes about:
“…while artists always have a myriad of reasons to quit, they consistently wait for a handful of specific moments to quit. Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail. And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work—for the place their work belongs.The American Heritage Dictionary describes fear as: “A feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger. A state or condition marked by this feeling.” Which makes me wonder…is the fear writers often possess imaginary, or is it real? Are we in the presence of immanent danger when we write? And if so, from what?
“Virtually all artists encounter such moments. Fear that your next work will fail is a normal, recurring and generally healthy part of the artmaking cycle. It happens all the time: you focus on some new idea in your work, you try it out, run with it for awhile, reach a point of diminishing returns, and eventually decide it's not worth pursuing further. Writers even have a phrase for it — "the pen has run dry" — but all media have their equivalents. In the normal artistic cycle this just tells you that you've come full circle, back to that point where you need to begin cultivating the next new idea. But in artistic death it marks the last thing that happens: you play out an idea, it stops working, you put the brush down...and thirty years later you confide to someone over coffee that, well, yes, you had wanted to paint when you were much younger. Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping. The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once. Quitting means not starting again—and art is all about starting again.” (Balyes & Orland, pg 10, 1993)
The authors of Art & Fear put the fear factor into two basic categories: fears about yourself and fears about your reception by others. In “fears about yourself,” Bayles and Orland say fear is often rooted in our concern that others may find out we’re not really writers…that we are “pretending.” Or that we really don’t have talent. Then there’s the lie of perfectionism: Our writing isn’t good enough to qualify us past the level of “hobbyist.” In “fears about the reception by others,” the authors state “acceptance” and “approval” are two of the greatest fears artists face.
“For the artist, the issue of acceptance begins as one simple, haunting question: When your work is counted, will it be counted as art? It's a basic question, with antecedents stretching back to childhood.” (Bayles & Orland, pg 41, 1993)So how do we overcome this fear? How do we get past this debilitating disease? How can we walk forward in our writing when we feel our legs are nothing more than mush and Jello?
“…Acceptance means having your work counted as the real thing; approval means having people like it.” (Bayles & Orland, pg 45, 1993)
First, we must recognize God as the Author and Creator of our work is. Second, we need to acknowledge that in Him and through Him all things are possible. Third, we must keep our eyes on the LORD and not “turn aside to the left or to the right” (Deuteronomy 5:32 NIV) so that our feet remain on the path He’s called us to. And fourth, we need to remember that the spirit of fear is NOT of God. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV)
Writing is a call. A special one. We are scribes of the LORD, and our work matters as much today as it did for the ancients thousands of years ago. For when we rely on our heavenly Father to work in us and write though us, we find there is no bondage of fear. Instead there is a sweet, gentle voice whispering in our ears, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Therefore, it is a gift.
Therefore, it is a privilege.
Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God.
Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him .
Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way.
In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.
— Elisabeth Elliot
Monday, July 20, 2009
But I have a secret.
I . . .
Can’t . . .
That’s right. A writer who can’t write.
Growing up in school if you would have asked me if I wanted to be a writer of any kind, I probably would have laughed at you or ran away crying because I would have thought you were making fun of me. School was very hard for me. Reading and writing in particular were very challenging to the point of painful. And spelling? I still can’t spell my way out of a soaking wet paper bag to save my soul, even with spellchecker. Fortunately, my salvation is not dependent upon my spelling ability. Jesus paid the price in full (and no spelling required). :-D
If you were to make a list of characteristics of a writer growing up, I doubt that I had a one.
Good in English . . . Nope.
Liked English . . . No way.
Decent Speller (Could at least last one round in a spelling bee) . . . Only in my dreams.
Read a lot . . . read minimally only when forced.
Liked to Read . . . Hardly. It gave me a headache from struggling so hard.
So if you had asked people when I was in school what they thought I might be when I grew up, writing not only wouldn’t have been last on the list, it wouldn’t have been on the list at all.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” II Cor. 12:9
I am like a stubby little pencil. You know the kind; it’s about 1”-2” long, eraser long worn off and the end chewed, and the lead worn down to the wood. Not very useful But in the hand of the God, He can do mighty things even with this stubby little useless pencil.
I am humbled when I finish writing a book or see one in print because I know I can’t write. The God of this universe and all creation chooses to use me, a stubbly little pencil.
My challenge to you: What weakness can you give to God to use and see what He does with it?
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
And with the warmer weather comes the desire to seek out summertime activities. Swimming, hiking, camping, sipping iced tea in a hammock, reading under a shade tree, working in your garden.
Almost anything except writing.
Because after all, writing is primarily an indoor activity, and who wants to waste all this wonderful sunshine by staying indoors?
MereditH Efken, our speaker at HIS Writers in North Denver on Monday past spoke about Overcoming Creative Block. And one of the things she talked about was changing your surroundings to stimulate the right side of your brain to come up with things to write about.
My thought is a good way to do that would be to take my writing outside. I have a great deck with a topper on it. I could sit in relative comfort, sip my iced tea, enjoy my garden, and still write on my laptop or Alphasmart word processor.
Or, I could go to a park, take a pad of paper and pencil, and brainstorm ideas for my current project or a whole new series or something completely different, all the while enjoying the sounds of kids playing on the swings, while I sit under a shade tree.
Here's another idea -- I could go sit by a swimming pool, under an umbrella, and watch people go by, listen to their conversations, and make notes for future characters.
As a writer, I cannot afford to look for reasons to take the summer off from writing. As a Christian writer, I cannot afford to ask God to please not bother me while I enjoy myself. I am called to write, and write I must.
Of course, there's nothing in the Bible that says I can't do it under a shade tree, sipping an iced tea.
Monday, July 13, 2009
I wasn't able to attend the Christy's, but like Heather, I dream of one day being nominated for one and perhaps even winning. Of course, that also means I need to branch into trade-length from mass-market where I am now. All in God's timing.
Still, I saw the list of winners and am ecstatic that three of my friends won. Cathy Gohlke, Tamera Alexander and Tracey Bateman. Cathy won for her first novel as well, so her first 2 novels have both won this prestigious award. Tamera won a previous one as well. For Tracey, it's her first, and I'm so excited to see these and other familiar names on the list. Six winners I know are ACFW members. Not sure about the other three. Just goes to show you what a fantastic representation ACFW has among the winners as well.
For those who haven't seen the list, visit this web site: http://ajast.com/ChristyAwards2009WinnerPR.pdf
Anyway, I suppose it's pointless to say just how excited I am to be able to attend, even for 1 day. Stu and I are going on behalf of David C. Cook, where Stu works...or at least he is. Victoria and I are just tagging along. :)
So, I might return and post a comment or amend this post with a very brief report from the event. And I might even see some of you reading this up there. In any event, I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun.
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: http://www.amberstockton.com/.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Sometimes as writers, we spend so much time brainstorming, plotting, writing, or thinking about writing, that we don't take the time to read. (Yes, yes, I know. Didn't I write a post about writing?) Yes. But, any good author will tell you that you also must read to become a better writer. And I'm not just talking about handbooks on the craft of writing. Take the time to read, enjoy, and even study other author's works.
I'm a fast reader, so I read a LOT of books. But I am amazed each time I shut the cover of a new read and think about all the things I learned, just from reading. Even if the book wasn't my favorite, I can learn a lot from it and my own writing can grow in new ways.
This coming week is the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) which I am excited to attend. My non-fiction book, Welcome Home, is launching and I am honored to have the opportunity to speak at the Heart of the Author Luncheon, sign my books, do radio and TV interviews, and attend the wonderful Christy Awards. But another wonderful part of the week will be seeing amazing writer friends, checking out all the incredible new books, and learning as much as I can. We should never stop learning.
So my advice to you today is: Read and Write. Even if you are on a deadline, you should take some time to read. You'll be a better writer for it.
Maybe I'll see some of you at ICRS - I'll be signing at 9:30 on Tuesday morning at the Tyndale House Publishers booth. We can talk about what we've recently read ;)
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 SOON from Focus on the Family/Tyndale Publishers and is available now for pre-order. Kimberley lives, writes, and homeschools in Colorado with her husband of seventeen years and their two children in their truly “extreme” home. Pre-order Welcome Home
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Several months ago, I got a call from one of my dearest friends, Claudia Mair Burney, she shared the news with me that she was up for a Christy and asked if I would be her date for the awards. Um, like duh!
So Saturday night, I get to get all dressed up and hang out with two of my favorite people, Claudia and Paula (our very own HisWriters prez!). I can’t wait.
Not to mention dream of the day that I’m actually nominated for a Christy… which means I need to get a book published… um, which means I should be writing… um… bye!
Monday, July 6, 2009
So you're tucked away in a remote basement closet fighting spiders for elbow space, banging out the Next Great American Novel.
A smile tugs at the corner of your lips. You like what you see on the screen. Yeah. This is gonna be good.
First to sign up for a writer's conference, you're able to score appointments with the most coveted editors and agents. Nervous, you plop into the seat next to Mr. Uber Agent and let out a sigh. Here goes.
Words spill from your lips. Your pulse races and beads of sweat dampen your brow. Mr. Uber Agent nods then holds up a hand, "Who are you writing this for?"
Agent coughs. "Who's your audience?"
Mr. Uber agent rolls his eyes, checks his watch and nods to the next person in line. "I wish you luck with that." It's over.
Writing is a business. Your words are your product. Corporations spend millions studying potential markets before they throw money at a new product.
Publishers don't sink millions into market research for books they publish - especially for newbies. They expect you, the author, to introduce them to your audience and prove there's a desire for your prose. Editors expect you to know your readers inside out, upside-down and backwards.
Don't write mysteries for llama herders if you've never herded llamas yourself and hung around with llama herders for a chunk of your life.
Many writers like to be reclusive, but getting to know your audience requires bumping into them. Talking to them. Playing with them. It may even mean getting a job that puts you smack in the middle of their lives.
I write young adult fiction. My audience is made up of high school girls 13 -18 who are involved in color guard and marching band.
For eight years I coached color guard at Sheridan High School. I've been judging the sport during the winter season for 7 years, and I just started teaching the guard at Columbine High School which will be a year-round job.
God has His hand in all of this. My manuscript had been requested in full by a publisher. Sheridan killed their music program leaving me hanging, wondering how I'd continue to connect with my potential readership. Then, out of the blue, I get a call from the band director at Columbine. A school almost four times bigger than my previous school. A school anyone and everyone has heard of. I have thriteen students thus far, the biggest group of students I've ever taught.
Do you see where I'm going with this?
Sure, it's exhausting. Part of me just wanted to "retire" from coaching and only be a judge. But how could I write a series of books high school kids would want to read if I didn't spend hours a week with their species?
This post is running long so I'll wrap it up. To be honest, my coaching/judging involvement raised eyebrows of every editor and agent I've pitched to. It qualifies me to write for my chosen audience. It give credibility for the plots and themes in my writing.
Writing pretty prose won't get you very far into the world of publishing if you have no clue who wants to read your stuff. So get on out there and mingle!
Friday, July 3, 2009
Last week I went to Kansas to my writer friend and critique partner Kim Sawyer's house. Two other writing friends and crit partners, Eileen Key and Connie Stevens, joined us there. And what a week we had! Get four writers together, and well . . . you can imagine. *smile*
Kim writes historical fiction (published by Bethany House) and contemporary German Mennonite (Barbour) and a new YA series with Zondervan (early next year). So many of the places we visited had to do with Kansas history and the Mennonite community there. Interesting to see the places that have given Kim her inspiration. Since Connie and I also write historicals, it was fun to do research as a group. But we waited until Eileen could join us before we visited those places.
While we packed Kim's house and office for her upcoming move, we brainstormed stories and characters, worked on synopses, and talked writing and cats and life experiences. We talked and talked, laughed, cried, and what a wonderful time of refreshment it was.
This week, back at home, I've been amazed how much I've missed these ladies. Wish we lived closer together. But we're planning to make this a yearly event.
Writing tends to be a solitary life, but since I've joined ACFW five years ago, my world has expanded. My writing has grown immensely, making me a better editor/proofreader in the process. But I think the most valuable thing I've gained is friends. Not only do we have the common bond of writing, but we also share a common bond through Jesus Christ.
So get involved with writers groups when you can. Develop the friendships that might start through the email loops. It's the best encouragement I know of.
To see some pictures of our time at Kim's house, check out her blog post this past Wednesday at Writes of Passage.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
A few days ago, I think it was on Facebook, I saw these words: "Writers are people who haven't given up their imaginary friends." (Jacob Nuckolls).
All the characters in my mind started to laugh hysterically. “And you never will get rid of us,” they yelled. This started a string of memories and thoughts.
When I worked for the federal government, we were required to take a class on “Violence in the Workplace” every year. One particular year, we discussed the traits of someone who is likely to become violent, or in the vernacular, “go postal.” Two of the top characteristics for these potentially dangerous people were they spend a lot of time alone and they listen to the voices in their heads. Less than a week later, I was at a writers’ conference workshop talking about how much time writers spend alone and how they deal with what their characters tell them to do. So, how safe is it to spend time with my writing friends, especially the fiction writers? And should I be warning my family to keep an eye out for weird behavior?
We do spend a lot of time alone with our computers, tap, tap, tapping out our stories. There is no other way to get our stories out, but we need to build in some safety factors to maintain our sanity. Here are some things I’ve found help me. First, add in some exercise. Just a little physical effort, like walking round a block or doing a few stretches can refresh your mind. Second, connect with other writers. This can mean going to a writers’ group meeting or just sending out something on Facebook so you don’t feel alone. Third, make it a point to be involved in an activity that gives you regular contact with other people. This might be something at your church or another social activity. It could also be a group which helps you to improve your skills in an area related to writing such as Toastmasters so you can build your platform.
That brings us to dealing with those voices in our heads. It is important for me to listen to those voices because they are my characters. They know themselves better than I do and they show me who they are with their actions and their words. I develop their personalities as I write down what they say and do. But sometimes they are like little children. Sometimes I have to tell them to calm down or to do something different than they want to do. It is similar to when we get advice from our critique groups. We are the authors and we are the ones in control. We need to look at what our stories and where we want to take that story. We can accept what our characters and critique partners say or we can reject it. Never give away that control. Then we have to deal with the other voices in our heads – especially those that try to step between us and our writing. For example, there is the self-editor that keeps telling us to change what we’ve written. She can help us improve our writing or she can get in the way of our creativity. Another voice is the one that says what we write isn’t good enough. Sometimes this means we need to work harder and learn more. But sometimes it is important to smash this one and send her to her room because she can stop us from submitting and trying to get our work published.
One more thing about listening to those voices in our heads – if they tell you to do something off the sheet of paper or off the computer screen that will harm other people, it is time to stop writing and get some professional help.