Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why My Writing Stinks (Sometimes), Part 3

More and more posts are popping up dealing with some things I have been thinking and feeling. I wish I had time to address them all, but I need to wind up this series. However, there were two particular posts that struck a chord with me, and I would like to share what these authors had to say along with some of my thoughts.

The first post is by Jenny B. Jones. She’s teaching creative writing and this is one of the things says about her students and herself:

Author Joseph Chilton Pearce says, “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”  These kids don’t have that fear. Yet.

But when you write for a living, you do. You write for industry standards, for your publisher’s expectations, for your own expectations, personal rules, logic, for trends, for this, for that.

And it sucks the fun right out of it. And sometimes it sucks the life out of it. And sometimes it sucks the life out of the author. (

Jenny spoke so beautifully it brought tears to my eyes. As I said in Monday’s post, (because of fear) the words that do escape my fingers are only misshapen vessels. And, instead of building something of beauty, as does a glass blower, I’m writhing in pain because of my fear. And the writing joy is being sucked from me as well.

Our fears can strangle and leave us blocked, unable to create. One of the great fears we often have is we’ll never be published writers. Jennifer Crusie talks about this in her post,  A Writer Without a Publisher Is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle.

Crusie says women were once fed four great lies (I’m not so sure we are not still being fed these to a certain extent—but that’s not our topic). Also, writers, she states, are being fed four corresponding lies.

The first lie for women was marriage made them “real” women. Crusie says in the same way, writers are fed the lie that being published makes us “real” writers.

We are not to be ashamed that we are unpublished. Every single writer once stood in the same shoes. Were great writers less great before publication? I love reading biographies of writers. Many struggled to become published, and many never knew fame in their own lifetimes. Most wrote in relative obscurity. Yet they were “real” writers.

writerWe must proclaim the truth: writers are real writers whether published or unpublished.

The second lie for women, according to Crusie, was they must change themselves to wrangle a husband. For writers, it is we must change our writing to wrangle a publisher.

I think this is even more true if we are writing for the Christian market. (Can a lie be more true?) Some Christian publishers expect certain things when they receive a manuscript. Writers can go crazy trying to meet those expectations. This is the thing: If we are truly Christians, we should be writing books that reflect who we are, but, as we are writing them, we should not be writing them to please a publisher, an agent, our critique partners, our spouses, our friends, or even our fellow Christians. Whom, then, are we writing to please? God, of course. We write with a dedication, with a focus as narrow as a laser beam, aimed at the One. When we write to please God, we, as always when we obey God, ultimately please ourselves, and, perhaps, in so doing, please a few others along the way, perhaps even a publisher or two.

We must proclaim the truth: God is pleased when we, as Christian writers, do not distort our writing but remain focused on him. God will lead us on the right path. (And this does not mean to be arrogant and unyielding to correction. Others may guide and correct our writing along the way, but as we are in the process of writing, we should forget all else and focus on God. Trying to please others while we are doing the actual writing, will leave us confused and unfocused.)

“Any husband was better than no husband” was the third lie told to women. And, according to Crusie, the corollary for writers is “any publication is better than no publication.”

This makes writers desperate, throwing themselves at anyone and everyone. Spamming Facebook walls, sending unsolicited emails, pitching in bathrooms. An ugly sight. We need to retain our dignity. Let me expand this one to the lie: anyone buying my book is better than no one. Well, that might be true if we’re only interested in the monetary value of our book. If we think our book is of any integral worth—and hopefully we have done our best to make it so—it deserves to not be thrown at people willy nilly. That includes publishers. We should look for publishers who will be a good fit for our book, just as we need to look for readers who will enjoy our book. I’ve got to say it. Don’t prostitute your manuscript or book.

We must proclaim the truth: we will treat our manuscript/book with the dignity it deserves and wait for the right publisher (and readers).

And the last lie women were once told was even a bad marriage was better than no marriage. For writers it is staying in a bad relationship with a publisher is better than no relationship with a publisher.

And, again, this indicates what we think we and our books are worth. Are they worth being taken advantage of, ignored, or browbeaten by some unscrupulous publishers? (Not that I’m saying there are any. I don’t actually know many publishers. And I say that out of fear some publisher may read this.)

We must proclaim the truth: if we value our work and ourselves, we will refuse to stay in an unhealthy relationship with a publisher.

Because of our fears, we buy into these four lies. God tells us throughout the Bible to fear not, he is with us. Let us cast away our fears and proclaim the truth, to write with joy, therefore enabling us to enjoy the dignity we deserve as writers. (And to quit stinking!)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Why My Writing Stinks (Sometimes), Part 2

In yesterday’s blog post, Why My Writing Stinks (Sometimes), Part 1, I mentioned this amazing phenomenon—many people blog, tweet, or have status updates on the same topic at the same time. For example, this morning I read this post, The Angst of a Diseased Author, by Linda Yezak. Perhaps it’s because we are reading one another’s thoughts on various forums and we all come up with the same idea at the same time. Or it could be a God thing.

Personally, I like to think of it as a God thing.

white flagFear does cloud our writing. The question is, what can we do to overcome that fear?

Last week I watched a 2008 video of J.K. Rowling giving the commencement speech at Harvard. Why did I watch a 2008 video? I rarely watch videos and this one was exceptionally long and made three years ago.

Someone had posted the link, and, for whatever reason, I clicked on it and watched. When Rowling touched on this topic, the topic of fear, the topic I had already been reading and thinking about, I sat up and listened. Here are some of her words:

What I feared most for myself . . . was not poverty, but failure. . . Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew. . . why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free . . .

(The rest of the speech’s text can be found here.)

We’ve all heard this--Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

When we reach that point, when we have nothing left to lose, when we have been stripped of all but our essential self, when we write our words to please God, when we no longer fear because our greatest fears have become reality, that’s the point at which we create our best work.

Thankfully, we do not have to fail on epic proportions.  We need only strip away our pride, our envy, our timidity and simply lean on God’s guidance.

Surrender all! And then we will have nothing left to lose and will be free to create without fear.

Part 3 coming soon!


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Why My Writing Stinks (Sometimes), Part 1

Why is my writing often trite, deflated, and weak? 

Fear is the short answer.

Liam Clancy was one of the great Irish balladeers and a key figure in the folk renaissance of the early 1960s. Naturally he ran across 20-year-old Bob Dylan who was starting to get noticed in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village.

In the superb Martin Scorsese documentary,No Direction Home, Dylan recalls Clancy giving him some advice (fueled by more than a few pints of Guinness). "Remember Bobby," Clancy said, "No fear, no envy, no meanness." (read the rest here: No fear, No envy, No meanness)

No fear. That's the hard one for me. Sometimes I overthink things. I hesitate to say the words that are true to me. The fear of offending makes me try too hard to please. By trying to please men instead of God, my words are empty, or simply left unsaid.

I hold in the words, words of healing, of love, of encouragement, afraid my words will be rejected or misunderstood.

God says repeatedly throughout the Bible to not fear, he is with us.

God is our refuge and strength,
   a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
   though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
   though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Psalm 46:1-3

Let us trust in God and write without fear.

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Pot Boileth Over: Learning to Accept Interruptions of Writing Time

MC900264390My writing time stands firmly on the front burner, a dangerous place. I’ve been cleaning spills as it boils over and doctored a few burns.

Last week was a good example. It was not a good writing week.  A doctor’s appointment, necessary shopping for a new microwave, and unnecessary shopping for my eighty-eight-year-old mother (that yielded nothing), plus a couple of real-life social activities, did not leave me with a large block of writing time. I am not one of those people who can write fifteen minutes here, fifteen minutes there. I need at least three hours of uninterrupted quiet time to come up with any cohesiveness.

But I think I accepted most of the interruptions with good grace. Instead of fretting over wasted time, I read some really good blogs and wrote a couple of blog posts myself. I can’t really say I suffered, but the following verse helped me through the week:

(W)e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

And it was a productive week—just not in the way I had envisioned. I learned a lot from reading informative blogs, but my biggest learning curve, perhaps, was in patience and endurance.

In not throwing the pot off the front burner.

I’m keeping it there.

Just learning to adjust the control knob along the way. I’m a slow learner, but I’m getting there.

One spill at a time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why Someone Became My Favorite Blogger

This week I have spent more time reading blogs than I normally do. One blog I rarely read became my favorite blog this week. I’m not going to name the blog, but if you are a blogger, see if the shoe (or, in this case, blog) fits.

My favorite blog:

  • loads quickly. Many readers of blogs do not have the patience (or time) to wait for your blog to load. Bloggers need to choose quick-loading templates and limit widgets and add-ons that tend to slow things down.
  • makes it easy to comment on posts. Professional bloggers want as many comments as possible. Choose settings so that anyone may comment and also do not moderate the comments. Any comments that are inappropriate may be deleted by you later. Another thing, don’t make readers fill out verification forms (CAPTCHA). There are other ways to avoid spam comments.
  • has the blogger’s picture prominent. Readers like to know they are talking to a real person. Another thing, information about the blogger is prominently displayed. People are wary, especially in our electronic age. They want to know about you before offering up a comment. Let them know who you are. (That doesn’t mean handing out phone numbers and addresses. Be cautious but as open as you find comfortable.)
  • has the subscription form easy to find at the top. And I subscribed! Don’t hide your light (subscription form) under a bushel if you’re looking for regular readers.
  • is simple, clean, and easy to navigate. Don’t have your blog so busy, or so cutsey, that it’s distracting.
  • has an easy-to-read font that is dark black on a white background. Reading from a computer screen is difficult enough. Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be.
  • uses one striking image per post. One or two should suffice for anyone except professional photographers.
  • shares incidents from his/her life. Now, I’m going out on a limb with this last one. How often have you read: Give the reader something they can use; Make it about the reader; Readers won’t come back if you don’t fulfill their needs? The thing is—sometimes we can give the reader what he/she needs without stifling self. Readers want to know about you. And this blogger is brave enough to share. What readers do not want from bloggers is self-centeredness: READ MY BOOK. I AM A GREAT WRITER., etc. They do want to know your heartaches and trials. They do want to know how you handle adversity. They do want to know if you have a sense of humor. They do want to know if you can be trusted. By learning about you, they can also come away from your blog with something useful—if only a chuckle for the day. Don’t hide yourself. Let us, your readers, get to know you.

Do you have a favorite blogger? Does her/his blog share any of these characteristics?


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Marketing Our Books

Kristen Lamb’s blog has some interesting insights about why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. As a matter of fact, the title of the article is: The WANA Theory of Economics: Why Traditional Marketing Doesn't Sell Books (click to read).

She mentioned a large number of Americans do not consider themselves readers. That intrigued me and so I Googled to find out the number. Here are some of the facts I found in an article from 2009:

  • On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading.
  • Reading scores for American adults of almost all education levels have deteriorated, notably among the best-educated groups. From 1992 to 2003, the percentage of adults with graduate school experience who were rated proficient in prose reading dropped by 10 points, a 20 percent rate of decline.
  • In 2002, only 52 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24, the college years, read a book voluntarily, down from 59 percent in 1992.
  • American 15-year-olds ranked fifteenth in average reading scores for 31 industrialized nations, behind Poland, Korea, France, and Canada, among others.
  • You can read the rest of the article at: Study: Americans Reading A Lot Less. The article goes on to say teen books have increased in sales, but that was attributed to the Harry Potter books, often bought by adult readers. So that may be an artificial blimp on the radar.

    And, so it seems, authors have an uphill battle—promoting books to nonreaders. With authors, even traditionally published authors, forced to do so much promotion, we need to understand what sells books, even to the nonreading public, and the best means to garner success for our work. Kristen Lamb has written a book We Are Not Alone--The Writer's Guide to Social Media many writers might find useful.

    Has anyone read it? Comments? Thoughts?

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    You Know You’re an Old Writer If . . .

    1. You find it easier to concentrate on your writing now by simply turning off your hearing aid. Untitled

    2. You still hit the keyboard with too much force because you learned to type on a manual typewriter.

    3. You would rather be typing on a typewriter instead of dealing with some of Microsoft Word’s idiosyncrasies. Why did three asterisks turn into a line? Help!

    4. You still space twice after a period.

    5. When you hate what you’ve just written, you get frustrated because you can’t tear the paper from the computer, wad it up, and throw it at something. (By the time you print it out, the urge is gone.)

    6. You still have trouble with acronyms, as in this email to a son in college: Dear Jack, Wanted to let you know your dog, Charley, died today. LOL, Mom (Doesn’t LOL mean “Lots of Love”???)

    7. You get writer’s cramp instead of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

    8. You still think traditional publishing is the only way to go.

    9. You don’t have to take a bathroom break while writing an exciting scene. “Depend” on it!

    10. A deadline has taken on a whole new meaning.

    Jump in. Join the fun by adding your own top ten!

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    Monday, August 8, 2011

    God’s Steadfast Love Never Ceases

    Yesterday, as I taught my Sunday school class, a verse jumped out at me. Genesis 39:21 says: “ But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.”prison

    Have you ever felt imprisoned in your circumstances, circumstances beyond your ability to control and with no way out? Many of us have felt this way at one time or another. It could be an illness or a bad job situation or the responsibility of being a caregiver. These and many other situations may feel to us like a prison. Let’s look to this verse as an example of how to handle such times.

    Notice this: “The Lord . . . gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” Joseph didn’t do anything special to merit that favor. God did it for him. Even when we are going through tough times, God is giving us favor and we may never open our eyes to see it.

    I don’t know the conditions of the prison Joseph was in, but they were probably horrific—little food, filthy conditions, no bed to rest on, and brutal inmates. Even with the favor of the keeper, conditions were probably worse than anything we will ever experience. Yet in the midst of his suffering—for which Joseph was in no way responsible—God helped him.

    Notice also that God did not immediately release Joseph from his prison. Yet, during that long night, God “showed him steadfast love.” Often in our prisons we feel angry with God because years pass. Our spirits droop when he does not release us and we have no hope of getting out any time soon.

    God has his reasons for keeping us imprisoned, reasons we may never understand this side of heaven.

    Joseph trusted God and made the best of his circumstances. If he had struck out with anger to those around him, if he had become embittered, if he had sulked in the corner of his cell, he never would have had the opportunity to become second only to Pharaoh, to become one of the great men of the Bible, to save his people.

    And to become an example many of us need to follow.

    Yesterday, while teaching this one verse, I was the one who learned. I learned:

    1. We may be suffering through no fault of our own.

    2. God may allow us to spend many years within our “prison” walls.

    3. God will grant us unmerited favor in the eyes of others.

    4. God’s steadfast love never ceases, even when we’re imprisoned and feel forsaken.

    5. We must work on our attitudes while imprisoned and not become bitter, resentful, or unkind.

    6. God has a reason to keep us in our prisons. Perhaps, like Joseph, it’s to prepare us to do great things.

    Imprisoned? Let go and let God --a clich├ęd saying, but one that is applicable. Great things await if we simply trust God!