Saturday, November 1, 2014

Seeing Grace

Occasionally, my visits to my memories turn negative.

Rather than seeing the many, many good things I've experienced, trivial hurts from my childhood and teen years swell in importance. Why did that happen, anyway? Why did I say that? Why did they?

The other day I was in one of those particular moods, frustrated with my life and feeling a little lost.

I was stopped in my tracks by a reminder to look at the good things in life. I began to wonder what my life would look like if I truly did that, and I came face-to-face with the grace of God afresh.

I know from the Bible that I'm supposed to forgive and not keep dwelling on past wrongs, but it was too easy to see that as a blessing for the one who wronged me, and not for me. Sure, it's great for them if I don't hold things against them.

But no. It's good for me, too! As a human, I can't force myself to completely forget whatever little wrongs others have done me. But I can choose to not dwell on them! It's like picking up the tapestry of my life and shaking off little pieces of extra fabric clinging on, covering the pattern.Yes, God used even pain and frustration to build me into who I am. Yet I don't have to dwell on the hurts--I can let them go and heal.

The thoughts of God are truly beyond anything we understand (Isaiah 55:9). They're so much better.

Through commanding us to forgive, He is showing grace to the one who hurt...

...and the one who is hurting.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My Take on Pursuing Writing: Part 4

Here we are at last. The final step in our journey!

Step Three: Represent

You've learned about writing. You've written something that you hopefully love. You've even been through all the work, frustration, and joy of revisions. Now we're on to the step that begins to take writing from our hands and turns it into a co-labor with another person.

You're going to represent your book/article to an agent.

Represent: A Little Background

So you know why a literary agent is important, I'll explain a little of what I've gleaned in the publishing world.

You don't just send your book to a traditional publisher.

No. No no no. Most of the large traditional publishers do not accept any unsolicited manuscript submissions. They don't know who you are and so if you send them something, they won't pay you any attention.

So it's your job to get the attention of an agent. Once you have an agent, they are the ones who can present your book to publishers.

In looking for a good agent, the most important tip I've heard is to not try to get an agent that asks for money up front. The agent should get paid when your book sells. Not before. Do your research on agents. Make sure you find one that has a good reputation.

So now that that is out of the way...

Represent: Thoughtfully

So you've searched and found an agent with a good reputation. Before you try to get their attention, read about them. Make sure they represent your genre of literature. Make sure they're accepting new clients.

Read their submission/query policies until you could quote them. You're about to make a business proposal of sorts, so make sure you're doing it right! If you ignore their policies, they have no obligation to pay attention to you.

Represent: Through the Internet

The way I started looking for an agent was through online submissions. Each agency and agent is a little different, so create a query or submission that adheres to the proper policies.

Represent: In Person

Far more frightening than hitting send on a query e-mail is talking to an agent in person. Through writers conferences (check out for info on a great annual conference) you can get the opportunity to pitch your book to an agent who is literally sitting right across the table from you. You have 15 minutes to make your impression.

This is exciting and terrifying at the same time. Remember, though, that your chances are higher to get an agent when you meet him in person than when you query online.

This is the end of our road....

This is as far as I can take you on the road to publishing, because this is where I am. I've read, written, revised, and represented.

What do I do now until I get an agent?

I keep going. I keep learning and working and representing until one day, I'll write a book that will be published.

I hope these articles will help those of you making the journey with me to get even a bit closer to publishing!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

My Take on Pursuing Writing: Part 3

So, horridly late (sorry!), here's the third installment of my series on writing.

Part Three: Revise

Yes, this is a dreaded word when it comes to writing. You've spent hours and days fighting to get thousands of words onto the pages of your book/article/whatever. Hopefully, you're excited about what you've written. But now you have to go back and change things.

Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.

Revise: Big Picture

When you were in the writing stage, did a certain scene feel out of place?  Do you think you could strengthen the story if you added a plot element?

During your revisions, you'll want to make several big picture sweeps through your manuscript. This will be a start-at-the-beginning and don't-stop-until-the-end kind of project. Don't get bogged down in these revisions. If there's a detail you can't work out, make a note for yourself and then come back to it. Later. After you're done with the big picture.

In a big picture revision, look for things like:
  • Character inconsistencies: Did your normally cheerful character snap at another character for no reason? Bad idea. Either give the character a reason for his or her action or change the action.
  • Weak plot: If you aren't even buying into certain aspects of your plot, think about adjusting them. Cliche plot element? Try to fix it.
  • Easy details: I'm not suggesting you ignore details in a big picture revision. Try to focus on the structure and key elements of your manuscript during this revision, but if you see a typo ... please, just fix it now.

Revise: Details

In a detail revision, try to fix:

  • Typos and Grammatical Errors: Don't expect someone else to fix your problems for you. Agents and editors aren't interested in doing things you should have done yourself.
  • "Research Details": I didn't really know what to call these, so I'll have to explain. I would call anything you have to research a "research detail." In a novel I wrote, I had a character in juvenile corrections. I had to do some research to make sure I was using the correct terminology and I was being accurate to the scenario I had created. If you wrote a scene and were making up terms or historical details or the like, go back now and research. Don't slack off here!
  • All the "Ick":  Do you ever write a scene and just not like it? Is the description of the landscape too long (if you're asking this question, the answer might be "yes," by the way)? Is the dialogue forced? Take the time to wrestle with the details that don't flow correctly.

Revise: However Works for You

Though I think it's best to get your main story under control before getting to the details, you may think a detail revision needs to be done first. You might want to do three big-picture runs before ever touching the details. You might do a little bit of each all at once.

Revise in the way that works for you. Read agent blogs (have I mentioned I love those?) when they talk about revising. Find a plan, and stick with it. Revising isn't easy, but it can be more exciting than you'd dreamed to make a tricky scene work or see some of the messy parts of your book pull together. Your hard work in revising will prepare you for the fourth and final main step of pursuing writing: Representing.

(Part four will come soon ... I promise!!!)

Friday, August 29, 2014

My Take on Pursuing Writing: Part 2

Last Thursday I talked a little about one of the first steps I believe a person should take towards writing. Click here to read my article about, well, reading.

Today we're talking about my second recommended step, which is probably the one a lot of you think about when you dream of writing a book.

Part Two: Write

Yes. Simple as that. Write. Here are a few quick suggestions for writing your book in a way that won't drive you crazy later.

Write: Good Grammar

As much as you may or may not love the study of English, a basic knowledge of spelling and grammar will make your life a lot easier. I don't recommend trying to write perfectly on your first draft, but do yourself a favor and don't ignore your grammar entirely.

Write: A Good Plotline

Your book won't be perfect on the first draft, but it will be better if you've done some reading and have a good plot developed. If you let your plotting go unattended, your book might end up a mess that you can't fix later. I think of it like a bridge. You want your plot to soar over the waters of ... um ... boring-ness. But if you let it sag on the first draft, you may never be able to restructure it well enough so that it will support your readers. Yeah. I think I can at least pretend that was a good analogy....

So that's that!

Write your book! Do it well the first time, but be prepared: no first draft is a finished product. Next week we'll talk about the third step of writing: Revising! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Take on Pursuing Writing: Part 1

I remember when I thought that getting a book published would be a matter of A) writing a book, and B) submitting it to a publisher, who would gladly accept.

Sadly (or not so sadly), that’s not how it goes.

I’ve learned quite a bit about the traditional publishing world since then. Today I’m going to give you the first of four “stepping stones” that I’ve taken in my pursuit of writing.

A few things to mention before we get too deep into this conversation. First off, the steps I give you are in an order I think will be helpful, but they may or may not actually be in the order I did them. :-)

Now that that confession is out of the way, one more thing. Don’t take anything I say as law. I’m still trying to figure all this out myself, but I’m hoping here to give you the benefit of what I’ve learned. 

Part One: Read

Before you sit down and devote hours of your life to writing, know what you’re getting into.

Read: Books about Writing

There are plenty of books that will teach you about writing, but some I’ve found particularly helpful are Plot Versus Character; The First 50 Pages; and Write Your Novel in a Month, all of which are by Jeff Gerke. He gives easy-to-understand, practical advice about how to actually write a book.

Read: Blogs about Writing and the Publishing Industry

This is an area in which discernment is necessary. Please don’t waste your time reading just anyone’s opinions on writing (though, in fact, that may be what you are doing right now :-) ). The best resource I’ve found for learning about the publishing world is blogs by Christian literary agents. Wondering what an agent is? Read these blogs!
When I found out that agents would freely give out information and guidance, I was thrilled. Here are a few links to get you started:

Some Final Thoughts

For someone truly interested in writing, tapping into resources like this could feel like drowning in gold. It’s amazing, but there’s … so much. It’s a lot to take in.
Don’t overwhelm yourself, especially before you’ve seriously begun writing! Pick one or two things to start reading. Interested in Jeff Gerke’s books? Buy one and read it a bit at a time. Pick one agent’s blog and check in on it once or twice a week. See what the writing world is like.
Once you know a little about what you’re getting into and feeling like you have at least a foggy idea about how to begin writing then you’ll be ready to move on.
Check in next week for Step Two: Writing!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Only Now

I used to believe there were a lot of things I couldn't live without.

But I would've told you otherwise.

Recently the knowledge broke on me that I was thinking this way. Before I'd always tried to be a practical thinker. The only things I couldn't live without were God, food, water, and the like. But the last few days the pictures have crept in. All the things I wanted to hold on to. And perhaps the most troubling problem was that it wasn't really things I wanted. It was moments. Days.

I want to sit in the coffee shop near college with my friends. I want to plug in my headphones, listen to my music, and inefficiently write papers while I'm really talking to those around me.

I want to be in a friend's car and watch the leaves just starting to glow spring-green on trees as several of my friends ride down to a hiking spot.

I want to walk down the little wooden steps on a favorite trail and come to the bottom at an abandoned mine site. I want to stand staring into a crumbled building whose only floor is grass and wonder what it used to be.

I want all of it back.

And I can't have any of it. This obvious truth hit me hard, but it was freeing. I can't have a single moment back. I can go to the coffee shop again. Same friends, same music. Not the same moment.

I can hike to the mine again. Walk past the old buildings. But I can't go back in time.

It's the truth for all of us. Just a second ago when you read that last paragraph, you blinked away that moment and it's gone. The only thing left to us is now.

I feel so freed.

I don't have to try to hold on to or recapture something that's past, because it's impossible. I can be thankful, so thankful for the good times. I can look forward to more. I can praise God for how He's used me for His service, and I can try every day to get closer to Him.

But I can be content in what I have--today--without pointlessly chasing after what's gone. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

After these Months ....

It's actually been months since I've written here. Sorry about that, but I've had other things to attend to.

This has been a crazy semester. Academically it has been the most challenging I've known (though my grades were still good!). Friends and ministry have kept my spare time busy as well.

One day very near the end of the semester, I sat down in my dorm room and prayed through the semester.

Sadly, I had some regrets. I've been unthankful this year at school. I've had wrong attitudes and cared more about grades than godliness at times.

After the list of wrongs was finished and repented for, I started the list of my blessings. And was filled with gladness.

God has been so good to me this year. He has given me wonderful friends. My drama team worked together amazingly, and the team members were great friends I really needed this year. I've gotten to take some amazing hikes out into God's creation. And the list went on and on ...

Hopefully soon I'll be able to share more about what's going on in my life, but this is what I have to say today: God is good. He has blessed me immeasurably.