TBR . . . Later

IMG_4635Just when I think I have it under control, my TBR pile inexplicably grows. Well, I say inexplicably, but that’s not entirely true. I know why it grows. There’s a plethora of interesting looking books out there, and I lack self-control. But it’s more than that.

With the Thanksgiving holiday I found myself looking forward to four precious days off work. Four whole days to read, write, and get caught up on writing projects. I wanted to be honest with myself so I lowered it to three days. After all, Thanksgiving Day would put my focus on my family not my to-do list. I was blessed to spend the day listening to laughter and conversation with my entire family. It was more than a fair trade off with not being able to get work done.

Friday, I managed to complete a blog post and remind people on my social media feeds to check out the Literary Feast Facebook Fiction Party I’m participating in on Monday. (If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can do so at https://www.facebook.com/events/283923535583862/.) I also responded to some commenters on a guest blog post I did this week. And even though I refuse to Black Friday shop in town, I managed to finish over half my Christmas list through online shopping.  However, I struggled with a headache all day which left me unable to focus for actual writing or reading.  That’s day two.

Today, I admit I got distracted. I’ve never been a fan of cleaning, but I do want to decorate for Christmas in the coming weeks. I can’t do that if my house is a mess. So, I dusted and vacuumed and organized the front room in my house in preparation for our Christmas tree. I’m not putting it up today, but I did get my snowmen set out. And because we need to eat, I did my grocery shopping. I have to say I’m a fan of online shopping with same day pick-up. I shopped this morning and will go pick everything up this afternoon. Day three is half-way over, and I’ve not accomplished much.

Tomorrow I have church and an anniversary lunch for my in-laws. That will take a huge chunk out of the day. I know there won’t be a lot accomplished in the writing or reading departments. Then, it’s back to work on Monday. Four precious days off work, and I’m not going to have a lot to show for it.

Part of me is frustrated at myself for taking it so easy these last few days. I had a lot to accomplish. I’m working on book three and waiting for new edits from the publisher on book two. I’ve written a Christmas devotional and memory journal, and I’m planning a Christmas get-together as a trial run of how it will work as a women’s ministry tool. I needed to get things in order for that next weekend. I’m part of a group planning a women’s retreat as a ministry and fundraiser for our local church camp. I needed to get some work done on that as well. My posts for Monday’s Facebook party should already be written and scheduled. They aren’t. My list doesn’t even include reading the next book to review, but it should.

Then I think of the story of Mary and Martha. I know it related more specifically to giving ourselves so fully to preparing for Jesus that we miss our chance to really be with Him. But I think there’s an everyday message too.

I spent time with my husband, children, and grandson these last few days in addition to my parents and in-laws. We laughed a lot, and I watched my sons play with their nephew. His face lights up when his uncles are around. I spent a normal afternoon taking a walk at the mall with my mom and my grandmother. Her struggles with age and dementia left her needing a change of atmosphere yesterday, and I needed to get out of my house for a bit too. I decided to go with them, and knowing Granny’s days are diminishing, I’m glad for that memory of an ordinary afternoon with her.

I could have spent my time on my to-do list. I could have spent it on doing things. Those things need done, and they’re good things. Instead, I chose to spend it with the people I care about. And I think it’s like Jesus told Martha. Choosing the people is choosing “the good part”.  Everything on my to-do list and my TBR pile can be taken care of later.

Write Stuff Wednesday: Hidden Stories

old-farmhouse-2535919__340“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” Orson Scott

There’s a small dilapidated house down the road from my grandmother’s house. The wood siding has long since faded and worked loose from the house. Shutters hang in crooked lines refusing to give up their final hold on the window and plunge to the ground. The porch is in shambles, and the yard is overgrown. I wonder why the owners don’t tear it down. It doesn’t serve a purpose.

Still. It draws and keeps my attention. The dark windows pull me in to find the house’s story. It’s the story of an old farming couple, shriveled through years of manual labor in the hot southern Illinois sun. It’s the story of disappointment, a childless couple with no one to care for the home they worked so hard to create once they’re gone. It’s a melancholy story that is as beautiful as it is sad.

It’s a very different story from the one birthed by the abandoned farmhouse near my in-laws house. The simple white house is newer in style. White siding is dingy but still intact. Large, glass windows stare out at me without shutters framing their dark depths. Another farming family lived here. They worked the land but with more modern conveniences. They shared meals with their children around a large kitchen table. There was laughter and love, but there was also discontent.

As the children grew, the life of the farm didn’t offer enough to satisfy. Though it left their parents with no one to carry on the family legacy, each child chose to leave for more lucrative lives in the city. The couple worked their farm, selling off bits and pieces to make up for the bad years, until their bodies could take no more. The home was reduced to a house after their deaths, and the land waits for a time when the children can agree on the proper way to dispose of it. It’s the story of the loss of a way of life and a lack of appreciation for all it held.

Two empty houses. Two different stories. But they’re each only one of many that could be told. Who knows where the truth lies? These are simply the stories I see first when I look at the two houses. What do others see? Two empty houses.

This is why I write.

The stories I see are different from the stories anyone else may see. And some people may not see them at all. That’s why writing is important. We can share stories others can relate to but not otherwise get to hear. We can put life back into empty houses.

But it doesn’t end with story-telling or houses. As believers, we each have a different story. We also have unique ways of approaching life. Just as writers need to see stories in the world around them, believers need to see the lives of the people around them.

We’re called to be salt and light to the world. We’re called to reach into the lives of others and change them through practically showing them the love of God. To do this, we must see their story. With empty houses and a laptop, I can imagine a story and shape it to fit my desires. With people, we need to dig deeper and find the truth. What do they need? How are they hurting?

When we see these things, we can act on their story. We can give love in an unlimited number of ways that will speak to their need. We can show them God through joining them in their story for a time.

And the beauty of it is, the people in need aren’t the only ones like empty houses. Each of us is a unique house on our own. When I step into someone else’s story, I bring my unique perspective, my own story into theirs. I can minister to their needs in a way that is different than anyone else.

This carrying of each other’s burdens, sharing in their joys, and showing them God’s love in practical ways is a believer’s calling from God. Not everyone may look at an empty house and come away with a story like a writer does. But seeing and responding to the stories of others is a trait every believer should cultivate in order to live their faith each day.

Write Stuff Wednesday – Writers Write

“This is how you do it: You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.” – Neil Gaiman

There are days when writing comes easily. I’m perfectly rested. Focus is my middle name. I have nothing pressuring me for my attention other than my work in progress. My time is my own, and I make use of it. The words flow, and the story comes as naturally as breathing. Those days are like a perfectly wrapped Christmas present opened to find an equally perfectly picked item inside the paper.

Then come the days when you open the gift and realize the giver merely wrapped something, anything in order to have a gift. You were an afterthought worked in at the last minute. It’s a box of chocolates for the one who everyone knows has been dieting for a month or an iTunes gift card for the person who has an Android phone. Those are the times when no matter what you do, the story doesn’t want to flow from your brain through your fingertips and onto the screen. Your amazing story idea stalls in the middle of the telling. You write, but it simply doesn’t feel right. Doubts creep in. Maybe you don’t have another story in you after all.

Good days or bad, a writer does one thing. They write. Even when it feels bad. Even when it is bad. They write. We write. We bask in warmth of the days when it’s that easy. We fight our way through the difficult days knowing that there is no mistake that cannot be edited out. We continue in hopes that the sun of successful days will soon shine on us again. Through good and bad we keep writing  and growing stronger through the journey. We do it because we are writers.

It’s this same attitude we need to bring into living our faith each day. How do we be Christians? We get out there every day and live like Jesus lived. It’s as easy and as hard as that. We’ve been given the instruction manual and the perfect example in Jesus. Some days godly love flows easily through our actions. Our priorities are ordered by God’s word. Keeping God’s commands don’t seem like a burden at all.

Then come the days when we just can’t seem to rein in our thoughts or control our attitudes. We are in a funk, and it shows. The difficult people push our buttons, and the last thing we feel like doing it loving them with the love of God. We realize selfishness, discontent, anger, deceit, or pride has taken root in our hearts. We want to do good, but we find ourselves giving in to temptation. We feel like failures of the faith.

But good or bad, we don’t give up. We keep coming to God in repentance for our failures. We turn back to Him and find not only forgiveness but also strength for the next battle. We bask in the good days, not because we’re so great but in praise of the One who gave that day to us. We glean lessons from the bad days, and we find our faith stronger because of it. We do it because that’s what believers do. We are followers of Jesus, and to be that we must keep following.

Write Stuff Wednesday: What I Need

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” –Virginia Woolf

An author friend of mine used this quote on Facebook this week as she shared about her new space dedicated to her writing. It caught my attention, and so I did what any good author does. I borrowed her quote for my blog post.

On a side note, Linda Fulkerson has four fun and creativity inspiring adult coloring books for writers available on Amazon. If you enjoy coloring, quotes, coffee, or a combination of the three you’ll enjoy her books. I have one myself and have pulled quotes from it for Write Stuff Wednesday more than once.

Anyway, back to the quote at hand. I think it resonated with me because of my own writing journey. Starting out I wrote in my room, lounging on my bed. With a house full of kids, it was the only place I could call mine. Even sequestered in my personal space, the noise of television, music, game systems, and arguing children chose to disregard my very real walls of separation. This was initially the reason I started writing to music, a practice I continue to this day.

As my family grew up and my children started working, I moved from my room to the living room couch. I had to contend with my kids’ frequent trips to the kitchen for snacks or into the utility room to do their laundry. Trying my best to block out everything that was not writing I plugged in my headphones and kept my eyes fixed on the computer screen as much as possible.

My bedroom and living room writing arrangements were less than ideal. I did the best with what I had available because I had to write. In September, things changed. My oldest son married and moved out leaving his bedroom empty. Tonight I write this post from my office. It houses everything I need to write in peace and comfort. The simple act of having my own space has increased my productivity and given me greater opportunity to keep my writing business organized.

My office makes up the corner in an L-shaped trio of rooms. The other two belong to my two remaining sons. If you have teenagers, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that I still have to deal with noise, but that’s okay. The difference is amazing.

My biggest struggle in writing has changed along with the changes in my family. Now, instead of a room of my own, I deal with lack of funds. Teenagers are expensive. I have no choice but to work a full-time non-writing related job to help pay the bills. There are nights when I come home too tired to write. There are nights when no matter what I do I can’t make enough time to write on my work in progress, blog, market, and continue to learn about the business of writing. If only I had the funds to stay home and write full-time. How much more could I accomplish? How much faster would projects be completed?

It’s frustrating and discouraging. But still, I keep going. It may not be the way I pictured it, but I’m getting to do something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little girl. I’m getting to carry out the purpose I’ve always felt God had for me. And if what I do encourages or challenges one person in their faith, then it’s worth all the difficulties.

The decision to keep on despite the hurdles is one that I find I have to carry into my faith walk too. I want to be able to spend my time in ministry and not just my writing ministry. There is so much I’d like to do, but I have to weigh each thing carefully due to a lack of time. But the issue is more than a simple shortage of time. It’s about my expectations versus God’s reality.

I want to be stronger in my faith. Spiritual growth is important to me. An increased and deepened prayer life appeals to me. I know how I’d like those things to happen. I’d like to be able to spend more time in detailed study of God’s word and enjoy closeness with Him that naturally springs for my time with Him. It happens that way sometimes, but it’s not been my experience the majority of the time.

My faith has grown and my prayers have deepened more often through the devastations of life. I’ve felt closest to Him when I’ve had no choice left but to lean on Him completely. I’ve learned first-hand the truth in “counting it all joy” and considering “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Though I never sought to go through hard times, I’ve seen God do pretty amazing things in my life because of them. I just had to keep on despite the frustrations and disappointments.

Whether in faith or in writing, it’s important to remember reality may be different than the dream. It’s not a reason to give up when frustration sets in. We choose to keep going because what we’re doing means more to us than what we’re going through. One day maybe we’ll have the room of our own and the money to go with it. Until then, keep putting pen to paper and faith into action.

Write Stuff Wednesday: Why

why-2028047_1280“Maybe it won’t be famous. Maybe it won’t be a movie. But that’s not why I started it. And that’s not why I’ll finish it.” – Ryan Reudell

Maybe one day my books will be as famous as those by Karen Kingsbury or Melanie Dickerson. It would be amazing if a production company approached me about making one of my stories into the newest Hallmark movie. (I don’t know if you know this about me, but I love Hallmark movies. All of them. Not just the Christmas ones.) I recently saw a social media post about another author on that path right now. Congratulations to her! I hope it’s an awesome experience for her.

That could happen to me too. It would be wonderful if it did. But I can live my life as an author and consider myself successful even if neither of those things takes place. Why? Because that isn’t why I write. I come home from my 8-5 job every day to spend my evenings working on marketing, blogging, and my newest manuscript until long after I should be asleep. My reasons are simple. I love to write, and I feel like God wants me to use whatever talent I have in that area to help encourage others in their faith. Writing is a way I can encourage and challenge others that I might otherwise never get to meet.

If my books never reach the popularity of Karen Kingsbury’s books or get made into a movie, it’s okay. I’m doing what I feel God would have me do with the interests and talents He has given me. I’m sowing whatever seeds of faith each story contains, and I trust that God will allow those seed filled stories to make it into the hands of whoever needs them and grow what He wants in their lives. If He chooses to bless my hard work with a best seller I’ll be ecstatic. If not, I’ll trust Him and keep writing.

By the Book: What talents has God given you? Have you ever asked Him if and how He wants to use them?

Write Stuff Wednesday: Writer’s Toolbox

tool-box-2124616_1280My son recently moved out. I now have an office to write in. It’s a room set up exactly like I want it. My office may be different than one you would design. I have a comfy chair and ottoman. You might prefer a desk. My chair faces the window. You might find that too distracting. I have three jars filled with various candies (one is chocolate, one is caramels, one is fruit flavored) to snack on when the urge strikes. You might prefer celery. (But really who would prefer celery?)

I have everything I need to write in my office. I have whiteboards to keep notes on. I officehave bookshelves full of the books I’ve read and my TBR pile. I’ve got a cork board with notes about potential reviewers pinned to it in a pleasing pattern of colored index cards. I even have a diffuser to fill the air with whatever scent I fancy that day.  I have everything I need to write productively.

But the smallest word in that sentence makes all the difference. I. My office is not set up for you. You might be completely uncomfortable in my office. You might stare out my window and fail to look back to the computer screen. You could fall asleep in my comfy chair. My office might not work for you, but it is amazing for me. It’s one of the best tools in my writer’s toolbox.

Some of my tools are meant for the writing part of being an author. I love the Write Track site. It encourages my competitive side and keeps me on target with my word counts. My tablet is great for researching information without coming away from what I’m writing on my laptop. I’m part of a writing group that encourages and critiques my writing. And I have shelves full of books dedicated to helping me become a stronger writer. I’ve found all of these tools helpful in my writing journey.

fallBut there are other tools I use too. I discovered the importance of these tools after receiving a contract for the publication of Faith’s Journey. These tools I’m less comfortable with, but my proficiency is quickly improving. These are the tools needed to market my book and grow my audience. My author page on Facebook helps me stay connected to readers and other writers. WordPress allows me to have my own web site and blog. Canva and Pixabay are amazing resources for designing publicity from social media advertisements to postcard invitations for book launch events. Social media sites I’d given little to know thought about before Faith’s Journey was published are now easily accessible from my phone.

I need all these tools and then some in my efforts to be a successful author. And I can’t just have them. I have to use them properly for each tool to be beneficial to me. It can be overwhelming. “I just wanted to write!” There are days that frustrated cry comes from my mouth. It’s usually after I spend an hour trying to develop the perfect advertisement or post only to have it not work out at all.  If I were more proficient with the programs I could accomplish my goals with ease. I’m not. But I’m not giving up either. I keep learning and as I do, each project becomes easier to create. I become more comfortable with the tools in my writer’s toolbox, and they enable me to do exactly what they were designed to help me do.

There’s a lesson here for living our faith too. We also have tools of the trade in our Christian lives. We have scripture, prayer, Bible study groups, small groups, church services, fasting, and fellowship. And this is by no means an exhaustive list. Just as the tools in my writer’s toolbox can help me be the best author I can be, the tools of our faith help us be the people God would have us be. These tools can help bring us peace in our storms, encouragement for the days when nothing seems to go write, direction on what our next move should be, and correction when we stray from the path.

To grow as believers we need to find out what tools are available to us, and we need to learn how to use them. Some may feel more comfortable than others, but we keep learning and trying. Some tools may seem more useful for a time, but that doesn’t mean the others aren’t important. I can’t use my thesaurus to create a social media advertisement. That doesn’t mean my thesaurus is useless. It just means I need Canva for this project and my thesaurus for creating variation in my writing. Know which tool is best for which circumstance and don’t be afraid to use them.

Whether in writing or faith, we don’t have to rely on our meager abilities alone. To be the best we can be we need to learn and grow. We need to pick up the tools we’re given and use them to get the job done.

Write Stuff Wednesday: The Blank Page

notebook-1194456__340“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” – unknown

There is nothing more daunting to a writer than the blank page. It’s before the story gets its start that the voices of doubt can be heard the loudest. Sure, those voices continue through the first draft, the edits, and even the final copy. I’m not sure they go away even after publication. But in that empty white space that begs to be filled, doubt likes to race in and take up residence.

What if my story isn’t good enough? What if I don’t have enough story to fill all the blank pages? What if I can’t find a publisher? What if I pour my heart and soul into this only to find out I should have stayed a cashier at the grocery store? What if my perfect opening line is a boring cliché? What if I get writer’s block? What if? What if? What if?

There are people with a desire to write and a story to tell that never do. They allow the “what ifs” to drive them from the path they’re on. Giving up before they even have a chance to start, they walk away and the world loses a story that could only be told by them. Even poor writing can be overcome. Classes and workshops can help shape and grow the ability to write. The only thing that can forever keep someone from writing well is if they never pick up the pen to begin the writing journey. To be writers we must face the empty page, take up the pen, and write.

The blank page can attack in other areas as well. In our journey as Christians the blank page is seen when God calls us out to something more, something unknown. Imagine Peter with his fellow disciples in a boat on the stormy sea. This wasn’t a luxury liner that barely feels the waves crashing against it. The disciples weren’t facing minor turbulence that threatened nausea. They were in a storm in a basic, run of the mill boat. Oars and sails were its propellers. It was largely at the mercy of the weather.

Waves threatened. Wind beat against it. The water churned beneath them. Just being in that boat would have been unsettling if not for the fact that most of these men were used to the sea. If you look at other scriptures, even being familiar territory didn’t stop the disciples from worrying when a storm threatened to capsize their boat. I’m not sure this storm would have been any different. Then, in the middle of this storm, Jesus approaches walking on the water. Impulsive Peter asks Jesus to let him meet Him in the waves. Jesus agrees. Peter begins to face his blank page and steps out of the boat. It doesn’t take long for him to realize the waves and wind haven’t stopped in deference to his act of faith. The blank page stares back at him as chaos swirls around him. Peter chooses to put down his pen, leaving the blank page for another time. He looks away from Jesus, and he begins to sink. It is only by the mercy of Jesus that Peter was saved from the sea he was so focused on and distracted by.

We can’t be too hard on Peter. We’ve been there. God’s Spirit whispers in our hearts asking us to do something, go somewhere, or speak to someone. He puts a purpose or ministry in our heart. He leads us to a place where continuing on means facing uncertainty. He asks us to have faith. Like Peter, we face our blank page of faith. The times are sweet when we can say we picked up the pen and faced the fears with obedience to God’s gentle nudging. But how often do we start off thinking of how wonderful following God’s path with be only to let the unknown swirl like chaos around us distracting us from what we know to be true? How often do we take our eyes off Jesus and start to sink until God in His mercy chooses to rescue us despite our lack of faith?

Whether it’s in our writing or our faith, it is time. It’s time to become what we dream of becoming. For the writer this means picking up the pen and putting words on that blank page. For the Christian, it means seeking God’s will and going boldly in the direction He leads even when it’s full of unknowns. It’s time to get past our fear of the blank pages in our lives and choose instead to fill them with the stories only we can tell.notebook-1194456__340

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.

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.

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.