Write Stuff Wednesday:Work in Progress

journal-3398214_1280“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” – Robert Cormier

My son decided he wants to write a book. Yesterday he came home excited. “Look what I got for my book!” Out of a nondescript plastic shopping bag came a beautiful journal. Brown leather with a strap to hold it closed. Very classic. Very nice. Very costly. I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit jealous. My husband says I have a journal problem. I say 25+ journals, and very few of them filled, is not a problem. And yes, I can always use more. But that’s a story for another time. The focus of this one is my son’s journal.

As I thought about his new journal and the story he wanted to create on its pages, I began to wonder if he would hesitate in the writing. Would he mistakenly believe that the words he put on the paper should be the perfect words? Would he allow room for error in that beautiful journal?

With encouragement in mind, I did what any good parent who loves to write would do. I wrote him a note. It was short and to the point, speaking of the writing process. It said not to be worried about having to get it “just right” before writing. It was okay to have words marked out. Those markings are not the ugly signs of failure.  Rather, at the end of his writing journey he will come to see them as beautiful because they show dedication and growth in his writing. They will show how much improved the final work is from the original. They are the mark of the work in progress, and they are part of what will enable the finished product to be as strong as it can be.

It’s important to remember the same thing can be said about each of us. Salvation begins the process of God setting us apart as His own. It renews our relationship with the Father and sets Him up as the Lord of our lives. But this is a process. Becoming like Christ is not a once and done kind of thing. We are a work in progress. We will make mistakes. We will sin. But that doesn’t mean the work God is doing is ruined. It doesn’t mean God can’t continue to use us and mold us into the people He would have us be.

When we fail and come to God with a heart that understands the wrong we’ve done and desires to turn away from that sin, God promises forgiveness. It doesn’t erase that sin from existence. There may even be consequences we have to face, but we can have assurance that God has forgiven.  It will not be counted against the final work in eternity.

Sometimes our failures have less to do with sin and more to do with misunderstanding. We seek God’s will and move forward, but there are times we may find ourselves off course of where God actually desired us to go. It doesn’t mean God’s going to throw out the work He’s writing with us. He’s going to nudge us back in the right direction. When we’re honestly seeking to do God’s will in our lives, we don’t have to worry about “what if I heard wrong”. We can’t mess up in such a big way that our Editor can’t fix the manuscript.

Philippians 1:6 promises believers that we can be “confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” God isn’t done with us yet. We are a work in progress.  And just like the marked out sections of a written work in progress, one day we will be able to look back on the manuscript of our lives and see how God used the marked out sections to make us stronger, more faithful, and more like Him. That day, we will see the finished work, and it will be beautiful.

Giving Back

Usually I post character and character development related things on Mondays. Forgive me for not following protocol today. While we’re at it, why don’t you consider forgiving me for being a little less than consistent with writing any of my posts in the recent weeks. I’m trying. I really am. But with a deadline hanging over my head and life events or misfortunes happening one on top of another around my house, I’m lucky I haven’t shut down completely!

But all of that isn’t what I want to discuss today. There’s a lot of people in the world, good people who are completely misinformed about how Christianity and a life of faith works. They’ve been given the impression that if you accept God’s gift of salvation, you enter this amazing life where it’s all rainbows and sunshine and unicorns.

Don’t misunderstand me, I think a life of faith is amazing. There’s nothing more exciting than watching God show up in an unexpected way. Whether it happens in your life or the life of a friend, seeing God work in and through circumstances strengthens our faith and gives us glimpses into who He is. There’s nothing better.

But a life free of betrayal, pain, sickness, or problems is as realistic as the mythical unicorn. Though we are not intended for it, though it isn’t our home, we currently live in a sinful, fallen world. Hurtful things happen. To expect they won’t simply because we have God in our lives is like expecting to wade through the mud without getting dirty. It’s not going to happen.

But that doesn’t mean our faith in God does us no good. God’s right there with us when we’re wading through the muck. He’s helping us not get sucked under. He’s encouraging us to keep going. He’s showing us how to have peace, hope, and strength in those times when it doesn’t make any sense. And He’s with us to make sure the mud doesn’t leave it’s stain on our lives.

Our path through the mud can go one of two ways. We can cling to God, keeping our eyes on Him, and end up with stronger faith in the end. It doesn’t change the circumstance, but it reminds us the truth about those circumstances. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t take away the pain and heartache. But it does help us stay strong and find the peace God has for us in it.

Or we can fight it. We can try to “do it God’s way” for the selfish reason of wanting Him to take us out of our situation. We want God to work like a genie in a bottle there to grant our every wish. So, we adjust our behavior in order to earn God’s favor and a get out of jail free card. When we find it doesn’t work that way, we declare faith useless or worse, false, and throw in the towel. We walk away from God without truly understanding what faith is all about.

Giving lip service to God in order to have our path cleared of the mud doesn’t do us any good. But as counter-intuitive as it sounds, living our faith out through the muck does a world of good. In my hardest circumstance and my deepest pain, I couldn’t see what God would do. To be perfectly honest, I wanted out of it. But that wasn’t how God wanted to use it in my life. When I decided it was best to trust and do it His way, I found God grew me through that pain. But it was more than that. At least two people had the opportunity to accept salvation because I was willing to go through it God’s way instead of my own. If that wasn’t enough to make it worth it, I’ve seen God use my experiences to speak to others through teaching and writing.

That’s the beauty of living a life of faith. When we allow God to grow us through our circumstances, He can later use us to minister to others facing pain in their own lives. He allows us to become part of their faith growing process. We share in the hurts and joys of other believers, and we all reap the benefits. It’s a way to give back to God after He’s carried us through so much. It’s a way to practically show God’s love to others. It’s never easy, but it’s always worth it.

By the Book: Has God brought you through a trial? What did He teach you in it? How have you used it to reach out to others?

Write Stuff Wednesday: Good Advice

way“Beware of advice – even this.” Carl Sandburg

I spent the first few years of my writing journey wondering if I had what it took to be a writer. I always thought I did. But after a few writer’s conferences, I began to think maybe I needed to change my process. Every workshop I attended preached the same idea. To write well, to have the strongest plots and most well-rounded characters, I needed to plan out everything before my fingers touched the computer keys.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the planning process. I understand how it works, and when I must, I can use it. I can pick my own brain for all the details about my main character and write them in an easy to use list that takes me from past experience to character quality to outward actions. I can apply these traits to my character and fit them to an equally well-developed plot.

I can use this method for writing. But it isn’t natural to me. One look at my life and it becomes apparent that there’s rarely room for planning. I can organize with the best of them. When I must, I can craft a plan for an event that takes into account every possibility and the contingencies needed to face each one. I am actually very proficient at doing these things, but I have no love for them. I’d much rather my life be filled with pursuits that didn’t require all that extra time and energy to complete. That feeling carried into my writing life, and each workshop I attended pointed out where I was failing.

Then it happened. I attended a very small conference where each presenter was also an author. It was a more personalized and focused experience than the other conferences I’d attended. And the best part was one of the presenters was my favorite author. I’d admired her story-telling ability from the time I picked up my first book by her. Her characters were complex. Her plots were intriguing and entertaining. Each consecutive series showed growth in her ability. I gave all my attention to her as she stood to speak. When some of her first words to the group were about us all being unique as writers, that some people tell you a writer must be a planner to be a good writer, and that if that’s not who you are that’s more than okay I thought I must have misunderstood. When she shared that she’s not a planner either, I finally felt freed to write my way without wondering if it would hold me back. She didn’t say there was no benefit in planning. She expressed pros and cons for each method. But my take-away was encouragement to be myself in my writing, and it went against all the other professional advice I’d heard.

Advice in the writing process can be tricky. There are most definitely universal ideas that can help anyone better their ability to craft a story. Market changes are constant and require someone in the business to navigate them in the best way possible. I’m a firm believer that we must learn the rules and their reasons before we can even think about manipulating them to work in our stories. We learn them from others.  It’s good to listen to those who have gone before. They have a lot to teach us. But as I found, there is a place where you have to determine if the advice you hear is good advice or good advice for you. Then, you do what fits best with your writing personality and face the consequences, both good and bad, knowing it was your choice that put you there.

While there are some times writing advice comes down to whether it fits you or not, there are still times when it falls into the good or bad categories. I doubt I’d be quick to sign up for a workshop on character development if it was taught by a math teacher. That doesn’t make sense. They aren’t a credible source of writing expertise. When I want to learn about writing, I go to those in the writing profession.

It’s a good practice to get into no matter what advice I seek. We seek advice all the time, but how often do we think about who we’re going to for that advice. It seems everyone in today’s society has an agenda, something to sell us. The results are conflicting information that lead to frustration and confusion.  But when it comes to the important matters of how we live our lives, we don’t have to settle for the mixed messages.

The Psalms and Proverbs are full of warnings about choosing our friends and confidants wisely. Scripture teaches us that good character helps build good character in us. It warns that bad character will corrupt our ways. Why the warnings? God knows we are curious people. We will seek answers outside ourselves, and He wanted us to be prepared to know what advice was good and which should be ignored. He wanted us to understand that to choose the godly path, we needed to surround ourselves with people who would advise us in godly ways.

Knowing even that much is sometimes hard. People are adept at showing us only what they think we want to see. But God knew that too, and He gave us a way to judge the advice we’re given. It begins with weighing it against scripture. With scripture as our authority, we know that any advice given that goes against it is not godly advice. He also gave us the Holy Spirit and discernment. When the answers are less clear, we can spend time in prayer and wait for the Holy Spirit to speak to our spirit about the validity of the advice.

It takes a heart willing to search out the answers. It takes openness to learning and listening to the Holy Spirit. But we can learn to spot godly advice. We can learn to weed out the ungodly. When we do, we will find the freedom and peace that comes from knowing we are living inside God’s will.

Full of Character: Your Characters and Character

Over the last several weeks I’ve used Full of Character Mondays to showcase the characters other authors find compelling. Some have chosen real people from biographies. Some have chosen to take their inspiration from characters created in the minds of authors they enjoy. Whether real people or the products of someone’s imagination, the characters we love can challenge, encourage, or inspire us. Sometimes a single character can do all three.

While they’re busy showing us who or how we want to be in our own lives or telling us how to avoid the pitfalls they’ve become prey to, these people tug on our emotions. Even those who don’t exist outside the pages of their books have the power to make us both laugh and cry with them. For the time we lose ourselves in the pages of their books, we allow ourselves to treat them as if their stories are real. We allow them to impact us. That’s why they touch us in this way.

If people from the past who we’ve never met and people who aren’t even real can touch us in this way, how much more power to touch others is contained in each of us. Think of those in your life who have left a lasting impression on your life. Was it their kindness that moved you? Their strength and faith in times of testing? Or was it the joy they passed on to everyone around them?

What part of their character stood out so distinctly that it reached into your life and changed you?

Now think about your own life. When other people look at the story of your life what do they see? If we’re honest with ourselves this can be a scary question. There are times in my life that what others would see would be the last thing I would want them to see. In the most difficult times in my life, I’m not sure they would have seen strength, faith, or peace. Instead, would they have seen exhaustion or anger or even depression?

I wish with all of my heart that I could say otherwise, but I’m afraid I can’t. When we read characters’ stories, we get to see the whole picture. We don’t have to wonder why they act out. In fact, because we’ve seen the root of their pains we can even understand where their behaviors are coming from. We see what they overcome, and the character they portray in the end has even more impact.

Often, when people look into the story of our lives it is only for a few short chapters. They see only the part that directly touches their lives. It’s sad. When they see only the beginning or middle of story, they don’t get to see the finished product. They don’t get to experience the end results of how our circumstances shape our character for others to see. They miss the part that should have the biggest impact.

It’s a lesson we should remember when we consider the people who come into our lives. We may not be present for the beginning of their story. We may not see the circumstances working in their lives. We only get to glimpse the rough stuff of the character building process. We see the results of the refining fire they’re going through. And what we see at that time may be ugly. But it’s important to remember it may not be the end of their story.

We don’t have to like or excuse people’s bad behavior, but we aren’t powerless either. We can pray for them to grow through whatever circumstance is trying to shape them. We can pray for God’s truth to guide them into the character He desires them to exhibit. And sometimes, God can even use us to come alongside them for a time to help encourage them in the way they should go. We may never see the end result of their struggle, but we can pray that God uses their current situation to bring about such a strong, godly character in them that those who come into their story at a later time can see the beauty of their character and be touched by it

Write Stuff Wednesday: I am an Author

“I literally cannot remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer.”- J.K. Rowling
I relate to this quote in a very real way. Like Rowling I always knew I wanted to write. And now that I am not simply a writer but also a published author, when people ask me what I do, I say without hesitation, “I’m a receptionist.”

Why do I answer this way? I’ve never aspired to be a receptionist. It was never my goal in life. It’s what I do to pay the bills. It’s not a bad job. I enjoy the people I work with. But it isn’t what I’ve always dreamed of doing.

If being a receptionist isn’t what leaves me feeling fulfilled and writing is, why does the phrase “I’m a receptionist” slip out so easily? Why wouldn’t I jump at the chance to proudly proclaim, “I am a writer”? Maybe it has something to do with paying the bills. As an author just beginning her writing journey, I don’t make a lot. My income comes from my 8-5 job. The bills I pay are done so with the money earned doing the job I never intended to do.

Or maybe it has to do with the amount of time and energy I spend as a receptionist. I don’t bring work home with me, but 10 hours a day, five days a week are spent going to and working at a doctor’s office. With 24 hours in a day and 7 of those spent in sleep, only 7 hours a day are available for writing. Those 7 hours are whittled away making meals, cleaning house, or spending time with my family and friends. A majority of my waking hours are spent doing the things a receptionist does. Maybe the old saying, “You are what you eat” translates into “you are what you do most”.

Whatever the reason for my hesitancy, it’s false. Words are my passion. My ministry, my purpose is to encourage and challenge other believers through what I write. Whether or not my income is generated through it, whether or not I spend every hour in my day but 1 doing other things, I am a writer. I am an author. I need to own that identity. It is who I am.

I’m also a Christian. Scripture says as such I’m an alien to this world. I don’t belong here. Yet the same struggles can happen in my spiritual life that happen in my writing life. I have to live in this physical world. I have to deal with the messes created by my sin and the sin of others. I need to eat, sleep, and have shelter of some kind. I have to interact with and relate to others. My life is lived 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on this earth.

But this day to day life isn’t who I am. My struggles don’t define me any more than my successes do. I do the things I do because I have to survive. Living my physical life demands a lot of my time. Sometimes, the everyday becomes so demanding I forget that scripture tells me this earth is not my home. I forget that I am more than a conqueror, victorious over sin, forgiven, a child of God, an ambassador for Christ, and every other description in scripture of those who God has redeemed. The knowledge of all these things is in my head and hidden in my heart, but I fail to live like it sometimes. I forget to be who God made me to be even living in the middle of the mess.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think maybe it’s a struggle for a lot of us. We find ourselves getting world focused instead of God focused. We give so much to the physical side of life that we forget to honor and grow the spiritual. Even though we’re still living according to our beliefs, we become wrapped up in who this world says we are instead of claiming the truth. It’s time to remember that we belong to God with all the truths that belonging includes. It’s time to make the truths of God the identity we cling to and proclaim every day.

By the Book: Think about your favorite description of who you are in God. I’d love it if you’d share it in the comments. Then, spend some time in scripture finding out who God says you are.

Full of Character with Beth Wescott

welcomeToday I have the unique opportunity to introduce you to an author whose journey is only just beginning. It’s a chance for each of us to get to know her and even a little about her characters before we get to read her book. Let’s welcome Beth Wescott, author of Meadow Song. Please check back for more information on the release date and genre of the book.

What character from the books you’ve read has impacted you more than all the others?

As a member of the Dutch Underground during World War 2, Diet Eman risked everything to help Jews escape death or imprisonment by the Nazis: her identity, her life, her freedom, and the man she loved. Her true story is told in the book Things We Couldn’t Say.  She wrote in her diary, “…When you are a Christian and profess that God is almighty, there is no single area of life from which you can eliminate God.” Her faith, courage, and sacrifice touched me deeply.

I think you may be the first person to answer that question with someone from a non-fiction book. It’s a great twist on the question, and after reading the quote I can see why you find her inspirational.

What character you created was the easiest to write? The hardest?

I think that Blythe Chambers, the little girl in my upcoming novel Meadow Song, was the easiest. As to the hardest, male lead characters, Jack Chambers in Meadow Song, making them strong, yet vulnerable and realistic.

It is a hard balance to achieve sometimes. I can’t wait to find out more about them. Scripture is full of real people who had character to spare. Which one do you most relate to or enjoy reading about?

In recent years I’ve come to appreciate Nehemiah. He had the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt in fifty-two days! A strong leader and man of faith, he let nothing distract him from his purpose. He committed each step to God in prayer and stood firm against his enemies.

We tell kids all the time to chase their dreams and work for their goals. But how often do we encourage them to seek to make God’s purpose/plan their dream? I think we’d do a lot better is we were more like Nehemiah, seeking God’s will in all we do and then following it with tenacity. Great answer to the question!

Do you plan your characters and their backstories before you begin writing or are you as surprised by them as your readers?

I’ve done both and see value in each. A character’s backstory is a tool to use in directing the character’s actions, reactions, and relationships. But like real people, a character may do the unexpected. I view an outline the same way, as a tool to help structure your novel. As in life, the unexpected happens. In my opinion, planning gives you more flexibility. The backstory and the outline are not written in stone (I know that’s a cliché). Sometimes I’ll begin writing, and then do a backstory on the characters.

I always enjoy seeing the different paths writers take to get to the same destination. Sounds like your story development path may twist and turn from time to time. I think that makes the process more fun! 

If someone wrote a movie about you, who would you like to play your character? Why?

A movie about me? I read books more often than I watch movies, so I’m not familiar with many actresses. I suppose I’d prefer an actress who understands the Christian worldview. I’d like to meet her, get to know her.

Thank you for sharing about yourself and your writing process. I look forward to being able to share more information about your book as it becomes available. 

Write Stuff Wednesday: Grow

grow“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King

Reading is my superpower. With the current fascination with super heroes, statements of an individual’s superpower aren’t unusual. Everything from hobbies to activism is touted as superpowers. But in this case, it’s a little bit true. For a writer, reading has power.

In order to grow as a writer, all the successful writers agree, you must read. Currently tucked in amid a plethora of Christian fiction is a book by Brandilyn Collins on creating characters. I want to read it not because I know nothing about creating characters but because there is always something new to learn on the subject. There’s always a tip or trick or different perspective that I can incorporate into my writing to make it better. As I writer I read because I want to grow. There will never be a time when I’ve learned all there is to learn.

And my lessons aren’t only found in books on the craft of writing. I find inspiration in addition to pleasure in the pages of fiction. In reading well-written stories, I expose myself to writing techniques without conscious effort. I’m not trying to learn. I’m simply enjoying the story, and my brain captures lessons on technique and style and characterization I don’t realize it’s taking in. Even an occasional poorly written story isn’t a total waste as it drives home the things I want to avoid in my own writing.

In accepting the idea that I don’t have it all together as a writer, I create the environment and drive to become better than I was yesterday. I don’t stop with reading and understanding concepts about writing. I apply them to what I write and in doing so, my writing is strengthened. Reading becomes my superpower to better my writing.

But reading is more than just a superpower for writers. It’s also a spiritual superpower. There’s a whole chapter in Psalms (119, in case you’re wondering) dedicated to the benefits of God’s word. The New Testament tells us scripture is good for teaching us, correcting us, and training us in the ways a righteous person should think and act. Scripture is our way to get to know God and understand our relationship with Him. Scripture gives us direction, encouragement, strength, and conviction (both the “I know I am wrong” kind of conviction that leads us from sin to forgiveness and the “I shall not be moved” kind of conviction we need to stand strong in our beliefs).

As believers in 2018 we have an unheard of number of ways to grow in our relationships with God. We can listen to godly music everywhere we go. There are numerous Christian books and movies. Christian speakers and teachers pack conference halls to hear their messages. These are wonderful tools we have in our lives as Christians, but they can’t compare to the word of God. They are the tributaries, but God’s word is the source they spring from. It is what gives their words meaning and power.

Scripture also gives meaning to our actions and power to the way we live. It transforms us into something new, something closer to the image of Christ, as we let each word soak into our souls. Time spent reading God’s word is more than a mere superpower. Reading scripture is a believer’s supernatural superpower.

By the Book: As a writer, do you spend time growing through reading? Feel free to share a favorite book in the comments. As a believer, do you spend time through reading God’s word? Feel free to share a favorite verse in the comments.