A Blessing for Writers

I spent my weekend at the Breathe Christian Writers Conferenceone of my favorite things EVER. I had the immense privilege of writing a blessing and prayer for this community that has given me so much and I just wanted to share it with you in lieu of a blog post today. I think this is something that can bless all creatives out there.

Last year we closed the conference with a statement by James Scott Bell:
“We are the storytellers. We bring the light.”

This year has proven time and time again that we are still called to this. These are dark and divisive times where the light is more desperately needed than ever before.

Each of us was called to this noble task ahead. How do we know we are called? We have been saved. And we are also called to share what we have been graciously given.

To adapt the words of Alvin Plantinga for the sake of us writers:
“We who are Christians and propose to be writers must not rest content with being writers who happen, incidentally to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian writers. We must therefore pursue our projects with integrity, independence, and Christian boldness.”

This is the charge I give to you, writers!

May we continue to encourage one another onward:

To create with integrity—knowing that to create costs, but that we have been called to create nonetheless.

To create with independence—knowing God has given us work that only we can do with the experiences and burdens he has bestowed to each of us.

But most of all to create with Christian boldness—to know that whether we write for an audience of believers or not, or even an audience of one, we have not been given a spirit of timidity, but one of courage.

We go out from this place to tell the truth in our stories, poems, songs, essays, scripts, letters, emails, even our ephemeral social media musings. We go out to invite the world to sit at the feet of our God and listen.

All great liturgies end with a sending, so may I pray with you to send you out?

 

Lord,

I thank you for this gathering where we may join together and affirm the gifts and words you have given to us. You have placed each and every person in these seats with great purpose and I thank you for the call you have placed on these lives.

May these souls leave here encouraged, connected to one another and even more deeply connected with you.

As we journey from here, do not let us shy away from the words you have given us to write, but instead let us push past resistance and sit down to our desks, our notepads, our computers and let us write. Let us write with the boldness you have granted each of us. Let us remember that courage follows obedience and not the other way around.

May the fruit of our worship and our writing be that which gathers, unites, and blesses.

Let us be a body that encourages one another when the truth seems too heavy, when the audience seems non-existent, when the deadline looms too quickly, when the enemy shouts too loudly, and when the words seem too few. Let us build one another up, pushing one another toward you—the giver of words, author of our lives and creator of the ultimate story.

We write because you write. We create because you create. We tell because you have saved.

Protect us as we leave this place. Give our words a place to land. Give our hearts a glimpse of home.

We thank you again, Father.

In your name,

Amen

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Under Deadline

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After a crazier summer and even crazier fall, I decided it was finally time.

Once the last of the 2016 Breathe Conference was buttoned up and packed away, I set my sights on a quieter form of hustling. It was time to finish the novel.

In case you didn’t know, I have been working for seven years on the same novel. I love this story and it is that love that has sustained that seven years, but it’s time. I’m ready to wrap it up, to bring these characters the ending that they’ve been meant to have.

Seven years. It is time for a year of jubilee.

So I set a goal for myself: complete the first draft by December 24. That was the date I was struck with the idea seven years ago and that is the date I want to bring this ship back into harbor. (That’s funny because it’s a pirate novel. (Yes, I am writing a pirate novel.))

To help hold me to my goal, I decided I needed some skin in the game.

If I don’t meet my Christmas Eve goal, I owe two of my close writing friends $25 bucks a pop. During the Christmas season. It’s not going to leave me destitute, but that will hurt a little.

I’ve also been telling people about my goal if they ask about my writing. The more people that know, the more people I have to answer to if I don’t make it. Or the more people I have to celebrate with when I do.

This is a take-no-prisoners time in my writing. And it’s not easy. Some of the stuff I’m cranking out isn’t great. But I’m learning to push through, taking notes on what to change in the second draft, resisting editing in the current stage. The work may not be strong now, but at least it’s there.

This has been my mindset. I’m starting to see it pay off, but I’m still concerned I may not reach my goal.

At this stage in the game, I am so grateful for a community to hold me accountable and boundaries to help guide my output.

What are you putting in place to help you reach your writing goals?

Celebrate Your Story

A photo by Thomas Kelley. unsplash.com/photos/hHL08lF7Ikc

I’ve been a writer for eleven years now. (Don’t do the math. It’s embarrassing.) In those eleven years, I have learned many things. Among them:

  • You should not send your entire manuscript to an award-winning author even if they have befriended your high school self and gave you their email address. That’s not why they gave it to you.
  • Sometimes those with more experience are wrong about your work. (Most of the time they are probably right, but sometimes their not.)
  • Read the classics. If you don’t want to do that, it is because you live under a rock where you’ve believed they are boring your entire life. You’re wrong. They are not boring.
  • Liking boys just because they said they like to read is an okay thing to do. Believing you will one day marry a boy just because he says that is an ill-informed belief.
  • Sometimes you will like your made-up people better than your real-life people. That’s okay for a couple hours, but don’t make that a permanent state of being.
  • You should send your first three chapters to the kid in your fiction workshop class who is unexplainably excited about what you’ve written.
  • You should also ask the girl who sits next to you in that workshop about her opinions on your characters, especially since she’ll still talk to you after reading what you’ve written. They are both good eggs and will be some great cheerleaders.
  • Don’t get discouraged when older writers get published when they’ve been doing this a shorter time than you. You’re 18 and you’ve got time.
  • Go to the conference your professor recommends. It’s going to change your whole perspective on the calling you’ve been given.
  • Don’t let the guy who doesn’t think art is a valid life calling get you down. But also stop dating him. First boyfriends aren’t supposed to be last boyfriends anyway. There are plenty of other mistakes to make once college is over.
  • Someone’s opinion on Oxford commas is a good litmus test for starting a friendship (namely, if they have one.)
  • Writing is hard and sometimes the time isn’t there and sometimes the words aren’t there. Don’t freak out. It will not always be hard. You will learn to make the time. The words will return. Breathe in, breathe out. That’s all you’re in control of.

These are just a few of the pitfalls and strange lessons of my writing journey that I’m celebrating. I owe a lot of these lessons to the Breathe Conference and the community I have come to know and love through it.
We celebrate the conference’s tenth anniversary this year and I want to invite you in to that. If you are on a writing journey, let’s celebrate it on October 7 & 8. James Scott Bell will be there as will a whole other host of great writers.
Register today and I’ll see you there!

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Emerge

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So there’s been some radio silence on the blog. It has been for good reason. I’ve been involved in multiple weddings this summer and am still trying to meet a November deadline for the first draft of my novel.

It’s been a busy season and I am realizing the value of self-care, not only physically and emotionally, but creatively too.

The sermon at my church a couple weeks ago was extremely encouraging. I’ve heard Don Perini give this talk a couple times and I wanted to pass it along that you may be encouraged as well.

Enjoy!

Living Life by the Word Count

photo-1434030216411-0b793f4b4173It is with great shame that I confess that I have been working on the same novel for seven years.

It’s not that it’s really taken seven years to write, I’ve just taken my own sweet time with it. And granted, within those seven years, I’ve completed high school, began and completed an undergrad, started a business, gave up on said business, joined forces with a friend’s business, got a practically full-time job to supplement my work with the business, moved a couple times…

I really can go on with my excuses.

But I got sick of the excuses and really have figured it’s almost time for a year of jubilee. I am ready to be freed from this project.

I still love what I’m working on, but it’s just time for these characters to have their story in total and for me to move on.

So this is the year. This novel will be written.

But how?

By keeping a word count.

I’ve blogged a couple times about writing in community and I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am for those I get to do my work beside. and I’m so grateful for the small team helping me complete this novel. Because it does take a village some times.

At the start of this year, I decided I needed to have some skin in the game and get this book done. I have two close writing partners who will be holding me accountable this year. My goal is to have the draft completed by November 23, 2016. If it’s not done by then, I owe them each $25.

MyNovel timeline-Should I need an extension, I will be taking them both out to dinner in which I’ll need to spend the complete $50.

So that’s my “punishment” but how do I avoid having to pay it?

By sticking to a word count. I have committed to writing 1,500 words a week until June, when the word count will grow. I have three times in my week designated for writing. I am not allowed to leave the manuscript until my 500 words are written in each session.

It’s hard. Sometimes that 1,500 mark is a struggle. Sometimes I get only shit writing out of it. Sometimes there are plot holes, but I need to just keep moving and save them for the editing process. Sometimes I don’t make the goal.

But the goal stands none the less. And I’m encouraged week in and week out whether I make it our not.

The word count rules the day right now and there is fruit coming from the labor.

Have you set a word count for yourself? How do you motivate yourself to stick to it?

When You’ve Failed Yourself

photo-1429051781835-9f2c0a9df6e4I’ll be the first to admit that I have not written nearly as much as I would have liked to in the past year. New and more hectic life rhythms, a maddening case of writers block, more pressing writing projects—oh don’t worry, I’ve had excuses.

I just thought I’d be closer to finished with this novel than I am.

I can go ’round and ’round beating myself up, but that doesn’t put more words on the page. Actually, I found it was making it worse. I would berate myself for not making the time or procrastinating when I had the time. Once I was actually writing, I would be extra critical of what I had put down.

I was getting no where.

When you have failed yourself, it’s so easy to retreat further and further into yourself. It’s easy to avoid the tension or the vulnerability by just not doing. And that’s where I was at.

I had to learn to fight not only for myself, but for my work. And I had to fight dirty. This was not a chance to give up. This was a chance to power up.

My previous process had me doing light edits as I went. When I was producing lots of work at a quick rate, that worked well. I was able to clean enough as I went to not have to do heavy lifting during the actual editing process.

Once I was not producing chapters very quickly, it became difficult to ignore some things and easy to just skip straight to heavy edits. I was bogged down and nothing was good enough.

I had to learn to be okay with the mess. To promise myself I could sit down and fix it—but later. I just had to put my head down and keep rolling.

I also had to force myself to write.

There’s a saying that returning to a creative project after a while is like entering a cage with a lion. You need to climb inside and tame the animal. The more often you do it, the less intimidating it will be. The less often you do it, the more scared you will be.

In the process of beating myself up, I had begun to avoid my work. I finally had to suck it up and climb in the den to tame the beast. I had to sit myself down in a chair and make myself write 200 words before I could leave. Slowly, I was able to up that word count until I no longer had to force myself.

When you’ve failed yourself, it seems so easy to give into the failure altogether. But this is a battle cry, my friend! You may have failed yourself yesterday, but today is a new day. It’s time to pick up and carry on.

Your Gift is Not Broken

So most likely you had an experience involving a gift in the past week. You tore into the paper and revealed some new something that someone who cares about you chose for you with care. It was a great moment. You’ve been using it all week.

And it probably wasn’t broken when you received it.

I mean, at least in my experience- unless it’s a white elephant gift exchange – you don’t usually unwrap a Christmas gift, look at the giver and say, “Thank you!… Now you’re sure this isn’t broken?”… At least I hope you don’t.

I’ve talked about my involvement with the Breathe conference in a few previous posts. This past year, I sat in a session by the fabulous Tracy Groot and was given a gem of a thought that I’ve been chewing on for the past couple months:

“God has not given you a broken gift.”

Think about the power of that statement. But before you even do that, think about how you view the gifts God has given you.

If you’re like me, you may have been told you are gifted in a certain area, or even many areas, but you don’t quite believe it. I’m not a prodigy. I’m not famous. I’m not perfect. So my “gift” isn’t super great or anything. It just kind of is.

We act as if the gifts given from God are the ugly Christmas sweater great aunt Pearl made us… The one we’ll never use, tucked back in the crevasse of the closet.

But get this: God is the giver of good and perfect gifts! (Matthew 7:10-12)

To discount the work and the passions he has given is to discount the gifts he gives.

For me, I am not a perfect writer. By any means. (If you’ve stuck around Bohemia long enough, I’m sure you’ve noticed.) But I have a gift and a calling and I must be faithful to that because it is not a broken gift despite my brokenness. It is a gift I have been given to cultivate and grow in.

What gifts have you been given? Have you been believing the lie that that gift is broken? What does it mean for you to dwell in the truth that you have been given a good and perfect gift?

NaNoWriMo and Priorities

Happy November!

If you’re like me, you weren’t sure you were going to make it this far, but here we are.

Last week, I promised to tell you what’s up so here’s the biz:

For the first time in a while, not a lot is up. Things have slowed down with my marketing business so I can have a better balance of work and play in light of my new job.

Since my schedule has been so jam-packed with work for the last two months, I haven’t really had the time to invest in the relationships I need to or even take in what’s been going on in my life.

In light of some recent circumstances and big changes, I would like to reorient myself and sort through some things with God.

Something that’s also been pushed to the back of the closet is my novel. Last month, I was so convicted that if I am really called to be writing this book, then I better sit my butt down for more than five seconds and finish the thing. I am excited to get back to the novel and have been starting to think through next steps. It’s exciting and a little frightening and I am ready for the adventure.

As such, I’m taking this month to connect with some close friends, take a couple trips, read, think, pray and write like it’s goin’ out of style. With these things being a priority, I am not going to be blogging for the month of November.

I’m not a NaNoWriMo person. I’m not crazy. But I would like to participate in the festivities by taking time this month to invest in my art.

People and art. Those are two of my favorite things in life and I am thrilled to be involved with them both once again.

I already have some great things in mind for December, so please check in again at that point.

Have a wonderful November!

Having Exhaled

This past weekend I had the great privilege of volunteering at the Breathe Conference.

It was a beautiful time to connect with both old and new writing friends and to encourage one another forward in our art.

Part of what I have come to be so thankful for at this conference is the lack of self-importance of everyone. I started coming to this conference as a punk seventeen year old who only knew she wanted to write stories. If the organizers of the conference had just stuck up their noses at the little girl with no clue, I am not kidding, my world would look a lot different right now.

Instead, I was welcomed with opened arms, mentored, and loved by so many awesome writers and publishing folks. They have encouraged me in my writing as well as my career and I am forever for grateful for them and the conference that introduced me to them.

So going to this thing is like meeting up with family. Only great family!…Not drunk/creepy Uncle Phil. It’s like the thanksgiving you wish was real. And it is… it’s just not thanksgiving, it’s a writer’s conference!

I have been writing fiction for ten years. It’s a good chunk of time considering my age, So much has changed and, then again, so much hasn’t. There is somehow a big difference in being a twelve year old writing in her parent’s basement every night after school than being a twenty-two year old writing in her parents basement when she makes the time. There’s more struggle now. More risk.

I am working toward finishing a novel and I’m having to think about what I’m going to do when that happens. It’s a little daunting. There may actually be some action there.

Despite the caution surrounding this area of the future, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for having the opportunity to learn from so many industry professionals, both this year and years past; the chance to connect with some wonderfully encouraging writers; and the context to think through what art is in my life and how I engage that as a Christian. I feel so blessed that I have been given the calling that I have and so honored that God reveals himself to me through the written word.

This weekend was full of lovely reminders and great gratitude.

Thank you to everyone who put this lovely time together and for letting me join your motley crew. Thank you for those willing to share what they’ve learned on the journey with grace and encouragement.

I’ve Got a Crush

Confession time:

I’ve had my eyes on a man for a while.

He’s not exactly my type…if I had a type.  Everyone I know has an opinion about him and not all of them are flattering. And I can understand that. He was kind of a scoundrel.

But there’s something in his brashness that speaks to me; fills in what I’m not, you know? He was an adventurer and trouble. The capital T kind. But he was also an artist.

Some would disagree, but I think he understood something about dealing with words that I want to grasp.

So yeah, I have a thing for Ernest Hemingway.

Seriously. The man was a fox.

Don’t judge. Not all of us are Dickens girls. Plus Hemingway is way better on the eyes.

If you’re a nerdy writer, I’m sure you have your own literary crush. Don’t pretend you don’t. There is that person who’s style differs from yours, or you aspire to be them, or their stories just do it for you. Ernest Hemingway is mine.

I read Ernest’s quotes often. (And yes, I call him Ernest because I like to pretend we’re on a first name basis…) Here are some of the gems I’ve treasured:

As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.

The first draft of anything is shit.

The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.

Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the Romance of the unusual. 

When I’m not sure how to make words, I turn to Ernest.

Unlike me, Ernest didn’t dance around a hard scene. He just put it out there. I’m sure he, like any of us, struggled with getting what was put down right, but he didn’t disguise his troubled spots with flowery prose. He didn’t even know what flowery was.

No, he wrestled until what he wanted to say was simple, straightforward. There for the reader to figure out.

When I get stuck, I look to a sketch I keep at my desk made for me by a friend. (Inspired by my tendency to say “Hemingway was a fox,” she drew Ernest’s face on a fox’s body.) I let Fox Hemingway give me a stern look in the eyes.

My job is to tell my story honestly. And I’ve got his blessing for it to be shitty. But I need to put it down because if I don’t, then I’ve got nothing to work with.
And no, my style is not his style, Nor do I want it to be.
But Ernest knew what he was doing. And he’s taught me a bit on how to make the words.
It’s not dancing the night away in Havana with him, but it’s something and I’m a better artist for it.
Who’s your literary crush? Any writers in your world that have helped make you better from beyond the grave?
I’d love to hear about your influences!