I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, December 30, 2011

No Longer a MBTWriMo Rookie: 8 Things I Learned Through MBTWriMo

Our 2011 MBTWriMo event? Now history -- but I'm so glad I did it. Though I've been an English teacher for years, when I heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I was too smart to crank out the ridiculous number of words required daily to qualify. After all, how could that produce quality? I feared producing something closer to the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest of the worst novel openings based on that author's 1830 effort:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents -- except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies . . . )"

That contest's website inviting "Wretched Writing Welcome" is one I don't want to win.
But the MBTWrimo Celebration is a more manageable horse. In fact, I didn't get bucked off and mostly enjoyed the ride. If 2011 MBT WriMo participants planned and followed a synopsis at all, we reached some destination goals. And participating taught me several important things:

  1. What I previously believed was my maximum daily word count wasn't. In fact, I frequently went far beyond it. The actual needed daily average of 1677 words is quite passable -- discovering that alone is worth my MBTWriMo effort.
  2. Constructive thinking and mulling ideas over before writing does produce more written words when we sit before our computers.
  3. Speaking of computers, if you are close to replacing one when November rolls around, do it before MBTWriMo.Changing horses midstream means getting wet -- as I did. Side note:Check your  monitor's brightness because too high a setting can cause eye strain and/or headaches. 
  4. If your eyeglasses/contacts prescription needs changing, don't do that midstream, either. Arrange before or after -- not during. 
  5. Hit Save often. Email manuscripts to yourself (and/or friends.), place in Dropbox, plus back up on an external drive back up. You'll be glad you did. Don't ask me how sad you'll be if you don't . . .
  6. Strengthen your writing muscles slowly, like guitar players build up finger calluses for playing. And once you reach 50k words and type "The End," do it with a grand flourish and a smile.
  7. Thank the Lord for his inspiring help.
  8. Rest.
If you participated in NaNoWriMo or MBTWriMo, I'd love to hear the secrets to your success -- what you learned during November 2011. If you didn't, what did you learn along the writing road during the past year? 

Delores Topliff

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year, New Adventures!

What a wonderful year we had together over the last year with each other and our readers! Thank you all faithful readers of the Ponderer’s blog. I pray that you will experience the closeness and friendship that we share in our unlikely group of friends. Truly, our relationship is like no other. And, as a writer, you need a group of crazy, funny, supportive friends from all over the country who you can go stay with as you travel… oops, I meant to say folks who can pray for you. .

I just wanted you to know I’ll be stepping away from the Ponderer blog microphone for a short recess. As the Member Care Coach for My Book Therapy, I’m buzzing with new and exciting projects to help writers live their dream. We’re all so excited about all the new adventures.

I’ll be back before you know it. Until then, if you really miss me, you can catch my blog posts every weekend on the MBT Flash blog. If you like what you’ve read on the Ponderers blog, please tell your friends. I’m sure they would want to enjoy it as well.
Thanks for all your support to the Ponderers, to me, and to your fellow writers. There is no greater gift to give a writer than to read their words.

Until I return, may you have a story in your heart and words to silence that evil cursor on the blank computer screen.

Reebs

Reba J. Hoffman

Monday, December 26, 2011



Question.
What do you want God to say when you arrive in heaven?
What do you want your children, spouse, family and friends to say about you?
Although this is not a traditional “goal” question, the answer tells what’s most important to you.
Focus on those things to accomplish this year.
For me, I want God to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful to run your race with endurance. You raised your children showing them to love me. You loved your spouse, my son, with all your heart. You nurtured the gifting’s and talents I put in you. You were a witness in the quietness of your walk and service to me.
I want my children to say, Mom loved God, us and loved to laugh. We had fun together. Trust me that alone will be a miracle, since right now my mantra is, “Finish what you start!” and, “Who left the kitchen a mess?
So, what’s important to me?
Time with my children. One of my goals: to finish my degree. While it’s important, I have to temper it with my desire to raise my kids for God. So, instead of taking a full course load, I will only take six hours.
Time to minister to others. Instead of administering and teaching in Nursery I & II, I work at the Latte Bar and serve as a Prayer Partner. It still allows me to still serve, and pray for others but the additional time commitment is minimal.
Time with my husband. While he appears to be this guy that can do anything, he does need me. Especially as we have a family business to run. Always easy? NO. Worth it? Yes.
Time to share gifting’s and talents. God has given me the desire to help people and make them smile. It’s in the little things. He’s also placed in me a desire to share the gospel through stories. To do this, I need time. So I say “No” often. Not always easy, but definitely necessary.
Did you notice anything in common? TIME. We all have the same amount of it, and we must all choose wisely on how we spend it.
2011 is almost in your rear view mirror and 2012 is in front of you. What’s important to you? How will you accomplish it? What can you do different this year to help make it easier to accomplish? What tools will you need? What can YOU change to make your goals a reality?
My friend Beth Vogt’ wrote about focusing on a “theme” for the year, check it out at:http://mbtponderers.blogspot.com/2011/12/dont-make-new-years-resolutions-choose.html.
Blessings!
Alena Tauriainen

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Some Gifts Cannot Be Purchased at the Mall

Photo Credit

At the moment, my life mirrors the old Christmas lyrics, “making a list, checking it twice”. Did I get something for each one? Was it enough? It made this Ponderer do a little pondering about all the hustle and bustle over gift giving.

How did it start? Is it worth it?

Gift-giving started with God himself, and He gave the ultimate gift on the very first Christmas. “For God so loved the world that He gave….”

Sometimes I like to stop right there for a moment. He loved, and He gave. I think that it’s pretty well impossible to not give if you truly love. Oh, it doesn’t have to be expensive gifts or even material gifts at all. 

My mother has modeled this to me with her specialty of giving the right gift to the right person at the right time. Some of these gifts have cost thousands of dollars, but some have cost only a phone call or a brief note sent through the mail.

Let’s consider, for a moment, some of the gifts that could mean more than the latest gadget or newest style. How about the gift of time? It’s one thing to rush into a store and grab a gift for a grandmother, but maybe she would appreciate a visit even more—just some time to reminisce about old times or hear all the up-to-date news about the family.  

I’m not saying to forget about the material gifts, but maybe this Christmas, as we consider the One who God Himself gave, we can add to our list some invaluable gifts such as encouragement, support, and kindness.

Please share with us any non-materialistic gift you plan to give or have received this year! 

Everyone who comments will be entered in a drawing for a copy of Lisa Jordan’s new book Lakeside Reunion!

Merry Christmas!
Teri Dawn Smith

Monday, December 19, 2011

A lowly Shepherd

I have a lot of respect for church members who volunteer to take fifty kids, aged kindergarten through fifth grade, and turn them into a memorable Christmas pageant each year. In our church, the kindergarteners were always cast as the sheep, and the second through fifth graders got to be the angel choir, meaning, first grade was the big year.

The first graders got to be the wise men, shepherds, Joseph, and…Mary. And I was ready for my big debut. I could cradle a doll and lay him in the manger. The white robe and blue headdress would certainly fit me. But then the cast was announced.

A shepherd? There must be some mistake. A drab brown robe and staff? Standing far from baby Jesus, in the midst of the kindergarteners, aka, sheep?

I was heartbroken. I’d never get to be Mary. Never debut as the starring role in our Christmas story. When my mom picked me up that day, she could see the disappointment on my face. I didn’t want to tell her. At least there were only three wise men. Shepherds were the leftover kids. A shepherd was a nobody.

Tears spilled over as I finally confessed.

I’ll never forget what my mom said to me that day. She reminded me God chose to announce his Son’s coming to shepherds – just like God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus. Each cast member was specifically chosen, specifically cast in the Christmas story, by God Himself.

She reminded me nobody was unimportant to God. Certainly not the shepherds, some of the very people Jesus came to save, some of the very first people who had the privilege of worshipping Him face-to-face.

As Christmas approaches and you reflect on the Christmas story this year, remember God has chosen and cast you for a specific role in His Story. He has chosen you to write the story on your heart. Even if your novel is never the “Mary” of published Christian fiction, there is no shame in being a faithful shepherd, either. Nobody, and no story, is unimportant to God.

Merry Christmas,

Amy

Friday, December 16, 2011

Keeping Christ in Christmas



Many years ago, when my husband and I were new believers, we tried to figure out what holiday celebrations should look like through a Christian worldview. We'd grown up in households where holiday traditions focused on popular secular themes, ranging from scary jack-o-lanterns to cute bunnies and their colored eggs. The Christmas season was in a class of its own, heaping with materialism, Santa, reindeer and snowmen. Now, we desired to honor the true meaning of Christmas in our home. But what did that look like?

Throughout the month of December, we emphasized Jesus' birthday and omitted Santa Claus. We read the Christmas story often. But we still had a Christmas tree and stockings. We still watched treasured holiday specials. We sang carols together and drove around looking at Christmas lights. Were we focusing enough on the Christ Child?

As I shopped in the local grocery store with my five-year-old son, Daniel, one day, I noticed an elderly man, wearing a red flannel shirt over his large, pot belly. With his full, white beard and long white hair brushing his collar, he looked like an off-duty Santa Claus. I turned down an opposite aisle, hoping to avoid what seemed like the secular epitome of Christmas.

Only Daniel spied him.

Daniel pointed. "Mommy, look." His voice laced with awe.

I searched for words to explain why this man wasn't St. Nick.

"That man," Daniel said, tugging on the leg of my jeans, "looks just like Moses."

Seems like I didn't have to worry about Santa overshadowing Jesus in our home.

Do you struggle to keep Christ in Christmas in the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, our materialistic culture? What is your favorite family Christmas tradition?

May you have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

~Roxanne Sherwood

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rum-Pum-Pumming Along

Recently, I took a poll to find out when most people start listening to Christmas music. Did you know this is a hotly debated topic?

On one hand there are those who finally put their CDs away in February, but have their iPods all loaded up with Christmas music again on July 1. Then there are those who will not pull out the twinkle lights or listen to carols or even think about Christmas until the dishes are cleaned up from Thanksgiving dinner. I have a theory that these are the people you need to stay away from on Black Friday—it can’t be healthy to keep all that Christmas spirit pent up for so long!


There’s something special about Christmas music. The old songs bring warm fuzzy feelings and reminders of dashing through the snow as a child, then gathering around the tree with your grandparents and cousins. The new songs sometimes put a different light on the familiar message.

One Christmas song I never liked is Little Drummer Boy. I mean, all those rum-pum-pums might have been fun when you were in first grade, but after a while it’s just annoying. Am I alone here?

But then I heard this version by MercyMe. It didn’t seem that unusual at first. The rum-pum-pums were still there. They pepped it up a bit, of course. But then, the build-up: I played my best for Christ. I played my best for Christ…After that, it quiets down. No more rum-pum-pums. Just this:

Then He smiled at me.

And that’s the end. Because really, what more do you need after that?

What more do I need? Not the twenty or so books on my Christmas wish list. (Although it doesn’t hurt to hope, right?) Not new clothes or a new car or a new book contract. I need to strive to do my absolute best for Christ—for my audience of One—and let His smile be more than enough reward for any and all of my labors. Like Casting Crowns says in Lifesong, I want to sign His name--or give His smile of approval--at the end of each day, each year that I live. 

I’ve shared about this song before, although not on this blog. But with the rapid approach of 2012, I need the reminder.

So what about you? Is there a Christmas song that speaks to you every time you hear it? And, just because it’s fun to debate this…when do YOU start listening to Christmas music?

~ Jenness Walker

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Christmas Memory


Once upon a time there was a little girl who awoke early one Christmas Eve and found that Santa had yet to arrive.

My daughter.

“Mommy, Daddy. Santa didn’t come.” My little girl pushed out her lower lip as I glanced at the clock.

Four a.m.

My husband and I pulled ourselves from our slumber and realized we had fallen asleep while waiting for the right time to slip the many packages under the tree, eat the cookies so ceremoniously set out the night before, and stuff the stockings that hung from the mantle on the fireplace.

Always quick with a reply, my husband said. “Santa must have been very busy last night. He’s probably just late.”

I let out a long sigh and wondered how the gifts stashed in our closet would make it under the tree since she was now very much awake.

With a twinkle in his eye my husband said. “I'll tuck you back into bed for a little bit. I’m sure he’ll be here before long.”

Gee. Thanks hon.

He carried her into her room and tucked her into bed then went through the usual routine of surrounding her with a dilapidated Cabbage Patch doll, her favorite bunny, and an assortment of other well-loved stuffed animals. As I, Santa's newly nominated helper, went straight to work.

Just before I deposited the last few gifts under the tree, I gave the leather strap adorned with jingle bells a tug.

“I hear him!” My daughter’s voice drifted in from her room.

“Go look.” My husband, the tempter, said.

“Can I?”

I smiled. What kid wouldn’t want to see ole’ Saint Nick hard at work--especially one still young enough to want to believe.

“Sure, go ahead.” My hubby tempted her again.

Silence hung in the air for an instant. I could almost hear the debate going on in her head.

“What if he sees me?” She asked.

I could hear the wanting in her voice. The desire to see the jolly elf and the fear that if she did…then what? I choked back a chuckle and played into the ongoing conversation by rattling the doors on our fireplace.

“He IS here!”

“Go peek through the door.” My husband chuckled. That wicked man, tormenting our daughter like that!

“No! If he sees me he might not leave any toys.”

Afraid my daughter would rise to her father’s temptation, I hurried through my task and rattled the fireplace doors once more. Followed by another tug on the jingle bells, I then slipped back into bed.

“Do you think he’s gone?” She asked.

“Why don’t you go look.” My husband said.

After a long pause I heard the click of her door followed by a squeal. “Mommy, Mommy. Santa came. I heard him!”

***

That, my friends, is one of my favorite Christmas memories. Our daughter, the innocence of a child and her willingness to believe, made for a beautiful memory.

What is yours?

May God bless you with abundant childlike faith during this holy season.

Jennie Atkins

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chucking Chains Christmas-style

Fact: This dude creeps me out... 

He’s Jacob Marley’s ghost from the 1984 George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol. Love the movie, but I’m guaranteed at least one nightmare each December after my annual viewing. The scariest part is where he ties the scarf around his head, then floats out the window. Freak-y. (If you haven't seen it, here's the clip on YouTube. Skip ahead to 8:48 and you can see Marley tie his scarf and float away...eeek!)

My sister and I used to act out the whole scarf thing. Word to the wise: the look does nothing for a person visually. Can you say triple-chin?

In addition to his jaw-tightening scarf and raggedy clothing, Jacob Marley lugs around a bulky chain. Anybody who’s seen any version of A Christmas Carol, or gone all literary and read the actual novel, knows Marley’s chain represents all the bad things about his life on earth – greed, selfishness, his uncaring attitude toward the poor, etc.

Here’s what Marley says to Ebenezer Scrooge in the movie about his chain:
I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link and yard by yard. Is it’s pattern strange to you or would you know the length of the strong coils you bear yourself? It was as full, as heavy, as long as this seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it since. It is a ponderous chain! 
According to Marley, he carried around in his afterlife the misdeeds of his earthly life. Being a Christian and all, I tend to think Marley’s got his eschatology a bit wrong. Still, Marley’s words are tugging on me this week.

See, I’ve been lugging some things here in late 2011. Some of it’s related to my writing life—insecurity regarding my current WIP, frustration at my lack of time, impatience, stress. I have a few other luggings too—more personal, nothing terribly life-threatening, but they're there. And at the moment, they feel heavy.

Writing or otherwise, temporary or deep-rooted, the worst thing about these “chains” is this: They keep me focused on me. They keep me from loving, serving and enjoying others. Frankly, they turn me into Scrooge pre-ghost hangout.

But I want to be like Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of the movie when he jumps on the bed yelling, “I'm as giddy as a drunken man! I'm as gay as a schoolboy!" Except I'd probably use updated lingo. And I wouldn't be wearing a nightcap. 

I want to throw off the things like worry, anxiety, stress, insecurity which blur my outlook. 

I want fresh, God- and others-focused vision. 

And I don't care how motivational poster-y it sounds, I want to soar. (In fact, that's my word for 2012. More on my word choice another time.)

And you know what…I don’t need a series of ghosts to show me how. 

I simply need Christ. 

The best Gift ever came to earth 2,000 years ago, but He's as here now as He was then. And He's all about setting us free from the chains of doubt, insecurity, stress, worry, you name it. No need to lug that stuff around in the afterlife...

And with the real Holy Ghost's help, no need to lug it now.
  
How about you? Are you lugging anything around? What better time to throw off the weight than during the Christmas season?


Melissa Tagg
www.melissatagg.com

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Awareness of His Touch


Imagine having so much faith that knowing a single touch of Jesus' garment would be enough to heal your infirmities. Or knowing without a shadow of doubt that God had complete control of your life.

But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me." Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace." Luke 8: 46-48 NIV

How many times do we go through our days, placing God lower and lower on our list of priorities, but at the first sign of trouble, we're quick to shove Him to the top? Yes, I'm guilty of that. Sometimes I have shaky faith. I worry. I fret. I spend too much time "what iffing." I get frustrated because I know my will may not be in alignment with God's will.

As a parent, I have to make decisions that meet the needs of my children. Those choices may not mirror theirs. That's how it is with God. His will may not match my will. Now, instead of praying for my will to be done, I've been praying for Him to change my heart so it's in alignment with His will for my life.

I need to be stronger in my faith. I need to remember He has a plan and a purpose for my life. His will rules over my will. If I walk by faith, and not by sight, I will have peace about being in His will. I want the faith of those who knew a single touch would be enough to heal them. I want the Awareness of His Touch in every facet of my life.

So for 2012, I have prayerfully chosen faith as my one word.

Your Turn: Are you aware of His Touch in every area of your life?


Lisa Jordan
www.lisajordanbooks.com

Monday, December 5, 2011

Things I Learned In


Just this morning a friend made the comment that I only had two weeks before starting my annual Christmas trips.

TWO WEEKS!

That can’t be.

December 1, and for that matter January, was just yesterday. What happened? I just realized I barely have time to finish my Christmas shopping before I leave—forget about all those things I listed in January that I wanted to get done this year. Things like:

  • Finish my WIP
  • Make headway on my new book
  • Get my website up and running with at least 20 posts in the can
  • Make an author page on Facebook
  • Learn how to use Twitter
I didn't actually do any of those things. I came close to the first and last ones: I'm maybe 75 pages from having my WIP polished and ready to go and I have 26 days left. As for Twitter, I'm tweeting and retweeting but haven't yet grasped the reason why I'm doing those things. Maybe in 2012.

But 2011 wasn't a wash--I did learn a few things. Among other things, like how important it is that each chapter has, not just a hook, but a SHARP hook.

S=Stakes (Why will it matter if the hero/heroine doesn’t reach the goal of the chapter)

H=Hook=Hero/Heroine Identification (Continue to connect the H/H to the reader give her/him a reason to care)

A=Anchor (Let the reader know where your H/H is in each chapter--you know, the 4 W's)

R=on the Run (Start in the middle of the problem, maybe interview your character to see what they are feeling as the chapter opens)

P=Problem (how does this chapter handle the Story question)

For more information, check out Susan May Warren’s book From the Inside Out (on sale here at a discounted price), or her articles at My Book Therapy.

But the most important thing I learned: everything is in God’s hands. Whether or not I’m published, even whether or not I write. He gives me the words and I write them back to Him.

Otherwise, I’m just babbling. Wishing each and everyone of you a Merry Christmas!

Oh, and my word for the year is: Listen

Pat Trainum
www.lovefaithandmurder.com
www.ptbradley.com
http://mbtponderers.blogspot.com/
@PTBradley1

I asked God to teach me patience and He gave me a book to write

Friday, December 2, 2011

Don't Make New Year's Resolutions: Choose a Word for 2012


Yes, I know it's December 2.
I should be blogging about Christmas.
But my thoughts -- some of them -- are turned toward January 2012.
Fast forward with me for just a moment. I'll let you get back to your Christmas carols and tinsel and lights, I promise.
2012 will be the seventh year since I gave up the whole New Year's resolutions rigmarole. Last January, I blogged about how much I didn't miss compiling a list of my dos and don'ts for the year, knowing I'd most likely lose it before mid-February. It's so much easier to focus on one word for the entire year than try to keep track of an entire list.
What were my words in years past?


  • 2006: gratitude (I kept a gratitude journal and found my "glass-half-empty" attitude revolutionized.)
  • 2007: simplify (A severe illness turned this word into survival. I embraced simpler things in ways I never imagined.)
  • 2008: content -- as in "be content with such things as you have" (Hebrews 13:5) (I bought a lot less that year!)
  • 2009 & 2010: forgiveness (I had a lot to learn and unlearn about forgiveness.)
  • 2011: hope (A word I clung to when life hurt or when my heart ached for others who were hurting. There were times I could have asked "Why?" Instead, I asked myself, "Are you going to abandon hope?" My answer: No.)
As in years past, I started searching for the word for 2012 back in September. I started listening. For what? I listened for repetition as I prayed. For repetition as I read the Word. When God repeats himself to me, I sit up and take notice. 

The word for 2012? Trust.

To be honest, that's a scary word for me: trust.

And then, just the other day I thought of this equation: Hope + Trust = Faith.

I haven't settled on the accompanying Scripture for 2012's word. (There's always an accompanying verse.) And there's always a visual of some sort too -- a photo, an ornament ... something that is a visual reminder of that year's word. Haven't found that yet. But I am confident I will. 

So ... before you turn your focus back to checking your Christmas list, before you focus on now ... consider this invitation: Don't make any New Year's resolutions this year.

Instead, pick a word. Just one word. And then focus on embracing that word, living that word, for the next 365 days starting January 1, 2012.

I'll be back in January to check and see how many of you decided to choose a word for 2012! I promise you, it's life changing.

Merry Christmas!

Beth K.Vogt


*The photo for this post is a picture of a recent "Praying in Color" session of mine. I've really enjoyed praying in color since I learned about it this summer. For more information, check out the book Praying in Color by Sybil MacBeth. You can also check out her blog

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hard Work: Being Grateful for the Chance to Grow as a Writer


 Two years ago God put me in the right place at the right time to attend the first My Book Therapy (MBT) StoryCrafters Retreat and become an original MBT Ponderers. God also aligned circumstances so I could attend this year’s retreat, where I gained even healthier respect for Susan May Warren's, aka Susie, writing craft books:  Inside ...Out, Book Buddy, Deep and Wide, Kiss and Tell, and all the future books whose pages I hear rustling even now. Working hard and moving forward, this is my new favorite song variation: “I love to go a-pondering, along the story track, and as I go, I love to sing, my Book Buddy in my pack . . .”

You know how we think we know subjects until we’re tested? This most recent Storycrafters tested me as I attempted an opening scene for my first ever historical fiction. I had focused more on historical accuracy than on being a novelist. I produced a literary-flavored historical lecture and got caught red-penned. You know, like when you bite into something expecting one flavor and totally get another? Like when my accomplished baker friend confused her sugar and salt containers and her beautiful cinnamon buns tasted like debris from the Dead Sea?

Good historical writing balances fact and fiction—like that needed to stay upright on a unicycle. And good instruction helps us master rides to spin gracefully around any writing ring.

What’s your challenge? What balance do you need? Susie Warren, Rachel Hauck, and the My Book Therapy team offer more inspiration, encouragement, prayer and mentoring per square inch toward writing goals than any group I know of—and I’m a college English prof who’s attended beaucoup writing seminars and workshops.

Joining My Book Therapy’s team gives full access to constantly increasing tools from the best writing community out there. These sharpen our skills, point us to the Lord for inspiration and purpose, sending us toward goals with the whole team cheering to produce polished results for the record books—not to mention the great friendships, prayers, and stay-in-touch caring of other member/players along the way.

Remember, writers, life without God is like an unsharpened pencil...it has no point! 

What are you doing to make sure you're the best writer you can be?

~Delores Topliff


Monday, November 28, 2011

Once Upon a Time



Once upon a time, there lived a fair writer who dreamed of reigning over the Writer’s Kingdom. She toiled night and day to perfect her craft. Her charges read and admired her words. They bowed and lavished her with compliments when she waltzed through the immaculately sculpted gardens or in the village bookstore.

On the day the princess was to take the throne, the ceremony was interrupted by an ugly ogre who forced his way into the palace. In his hand he held the parchment containing the very words the princess had written by candlelight in the watch tower. Tears of love and passion had smeared circular blotches on the parchment.

“Rubbish.” The ogre shouted. “These are the worst words I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading! You have butchered the King’s language and defiled this parchment. You are unfit to rule the Writer’s Kingdom.”

“But, but I worked all my life for this moment.” The princess meekly offered. “I deserve to wear the crown.”

The ogre took the pages in his hand and flung them at the princess. “With these words, you only deserve to be strung up by your toes and stoned until dead.”

Fiery red bubbled up her neck and onto her cheeks as the Princess tried to understand why she was so close, and yet so far away from ruling the Writer’s Kingdom. At long last she asked, “Who are you ogre?”

The evil wretched being approached her, laughing and taunting her. “I am YOU!”

“But, but I don’t understand.”

“I am every fear you ever had. Every doubt you had in your ability to write. The words I speak are those that trampled through your heart all those nights you sat with a quill. I am only repeating the words you so eloquently spoke.”

The princess covered her face with her hands as the crowd gasped and shrieked in horror. She knew the ogre was right. She did not believe in herself. She had doubts about being able to rule over words. While she should be thinking of how she was going to rule the Writer’s Kingdom, she allowed herself to believe she would fail. Her ugly thoughts prevented her from taking her rightful place in the kingdom.

The moral of the story? The thoughts you entertain will affect your career as a writer. If you want to rule, make sure you think good ones!


Reba J. Hoffman

Friday, November 25, 2011

36 More Days!


36!!!
That’s how many days are left in 2011.
Are you asking yourself the same question, I am?
Where did the year go?
I set goals in the beginning of 2011. Have I accomplished all of them? Um. No. Definitely not. In fact there are some I haven’t even touched.
There are thirty-six more days in this year though, so I’m going to press in and see which one of the goals I can finish.
Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t accomplished it all.
Stop. God loves you as you are. He is your biggest cheerleader. And because he’s God, he’s also right beside you as you take each step in your journey. He’s the encourager that never sleeps. He’s the friend you can call 24-7. You never get his voice mail or a busy signal when you call him.
So my friends, what steps can you take towards accomplishing some of your goals for this year? Are you ready to start planning for next year?
What concrete steps can you take towards your goals?
Did you want to finish your rough draft this year?
How many chapters can you realistically finish? Take a look at your schedule and see what you can fit in.
Record those shows you normally watch, get up earlier an hour earlier, go to bed later and fit in an hour of writing? or use your lunch break to write?
Did you want to lose some extra pounds?
Try to fit a few more work-outs in. Take the stairs when you can. Join a friend and go walking or jogging. Get a couple of audio books on writing craft and listen while working ou.
Remember, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us! Let’s do this!
Blessings!
Alena Tauriainen

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What Happened to Thanksgiving?

A week before Halloween I dashed into Walmart for candy. I had to walk through the Christmas candy to get to the tiny section of Halloween candy. Just a few days prior, the entire aisle had been filled with Halloween candy, but now, it was reduced to a few shelves. What happened to Thanksgiving?

At the beginning of November, my mom went to the dollar store to pick up harvest-themed paper plates for a get together. The harvest stuff had been replaced by Christmas. What happened to Thanksgiving?

Yesterday I stopped at a store to check out the yarn selection and found all of the harvest/Thanksgiving things put in a 50% off clearance bin. Christmas music serenaded customers as they shopped. What happened to Thanksgiving?

I understand retailers like to get a jump on the holidays, but Christmas decorations in July? Seriously?

I love Christmas. It's one of my favorite holidays, but I think we need to pause and reflect on the holiday that comes at the end of November that seems to get a passing nod between Halloween and commercialized Christmas--Thanksgiving.

With Thanksgiving approaching, we have so much to be thankful for. Not just one day out of the year where we gather around the table, but every day God's table is laden with an abundance of blessings.

Among cooking, welcoming family, and scanning those Black Friday ads, take time to say thanks for all God has provided. But don't limit your thanks to just one day. Be thankful every day, and find the joy in all circumstances.  

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! 
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
~Psalm 100:4

Your Turn: What are you thankful for? How are you spending your Thanksgiving holiday?

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Biggest Loser

I’m a loser.

With just nine days left before the end of November (and a big holiday weekend between now and then) it has become painfully clear I will not be a winner in the 2011 NaNoWriMo. And I was so optimistic back in October!

So here I am, 70% through the 30 days of November, with a mere 5% of the 50,000 words necessary to succeed. So, if 59% is an F, what letter do I get for 5%?  It feels suspiciously like failure.

Failure. I don’t like it. What happened?

Well, I spent one weekend of November with my husband at Fusion, a children’s ministry conference. I spent three days learning new ways to help the children in our community better understand how much they are loved by their Heavenly Father.

In addition, I celebrated my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and attended my son’s first football banquet. I spent some quality time with the three beautiful redheads (Allison, Jeshua, and Kaylin) who call me Grandi and love my spaghetti. I spent Friday nights with good friends, sharing dinner and watching Fringe.  

I baked chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin bars, and snickerdoodles for my boys. I made dinner for my family almost every night. I read my friend Lisa’s first book, Lakeside Reunion.  I helped my husband with his Algebra homework. I even made my first pie.

But I didn’t write.

In thinking about today’s blog, I ponderered success and failure and writing. I thought about a few of the writers in the Bible and realized they were also some of the Bible's biggest failures. 

Moses. He killed a man, and he disobeyed God in the desert. Then he wrote the first five books of the Bible.

David. He committed adultery and had his lover’s husband killed. But he was a man after God’s heart, and he wrote some of the most beautiful poems of praise and thanksgiving.

Paul. He persecuted the early Christians and kicked against the goads. And then spent the rest of his life preaching the gospel to the gentiles and writing most of the New Testament.

As Amy wrote in her Friday blog, we’re all in different seasons. I really wanted November to be my “win NaNoWriMo by writing 50K words” season, but God wanted it to be my “focus on the people I love” season. And no matter how I kick against the goads, God’s way is always the best way.

If I look at November through God’s eyes and His plan for me, it was a success. I am thankful that He is in control, and I'm thankful for the opportunities He gave me this month to love my family. In fact, I wouldn’t trade a million best sellers for the experiences I shared in November with the people I love.   

Now, bring on JanNoWriMo!


I realize my last three blog posts have contained a recipe. I thought I'd make it four!   =)

Pumpkin Bars
3 eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 29-ounce can pumpkin (NOT Pumpkin Pie Mix)
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup butter, melted
2 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
 ¾ tsp baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp clove
1/8 tsp cardamom

For Frosting:
4 ½ ounces cheese cheese (not light), softened
¾  cup butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
Pecans halves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl whisk together eggs, sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin, oil and butter. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, and cardamom. Stir into batter until well combined, and mostly smooth. (Don’t over mix.) Pour batter into an ungreased 15x10x1-inch baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool before frosting.

For frosting, in a medium bowl, combine softened butter and cream cheese using a mixer. Work in the powdered sugar with the mixer. Finish by blending in the vanilla. Frost and cut into bars. Garnish  each with a pecan.

~Heidi Larson Geis

Friday, November 18, 2011

Seasons

I’m thinking that most of you are probably 28,000 words into your NaNo novel by now.

I’m not.

Sometimes I feel like this forlorn little leaf. Like I’ve fallen off the tree prematurely, while the rest of you are NaNo-ing for the glory of God from the heights of a massive oak.

The first day of November at least I took the time to log my word count. (Never mind it was zero.) The second day I had good intentions of logging my word count. (Never mind it was still zero.) However, I forgot. Honestly. By the third day, let’s just say, I’d given up all together. (And yes, word count was still zero.)

Am I lazy? Uncommitted? If I want to trudge down guilt trip lane, I’d say, definitely, yes. But, at the same time, I have a new appreciation for the seasons of life.

Currently we are remodeling our house to make room for the little bundle of joy we have arriving in February. This means I get home from work, change into grubby clothes, and log another 4-5 hours drywalling and painting. Dinner typically consists of Taco Bell (don’t judge, at least I’m taking prenatal vitamins regularly…) after which I try to play with the puppy for twenty minutes before hubby and I do devotions together. Then he and I unwind and get ready for bed (meaning my head meets the pillow and I’m already halfway through a REM cycle.)

I’m not complaining. I’ve just determined now is not my season to NaNo. Now I know there are Super Women out there raising six kids, homeschooling the oldest five, baking cookies each week, and still carving out time to write. I respect you. Seriously. How do you do it? (No really, I’m about to have one kid, I need to know.)

But, for those of us normal women, it may just not be our season. And that’s okay. (If this is an excuse, please tell me and I will stand corrected. I know you will be honest with me).

Instead, I’ve been asking myself, how can I use November to encourage another writer? Can I drop them a note? Offer to read a chapter and give some quality feedback? What can I do to bless someone else this month?

What about you? How do you carve out time to write? How can you encourage another writer this month?

Enjoy the season (from the ground...or from the skies),

Amy

Image from freefoto.com

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

One Thousand Gifts--A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

It started as a dare.

Could Ann Voskamp--an author, farmer's wife, homeschooling mom to six children, who was dissatisfied, even ungrateful, with her life--count her blessings all the way to 1,000?

She took the challenge, recording blessings each day in a journal she kept on hand.

Not only did she discover thanksgiving--Eucharisteo--but she got a New York Times bestseller along the way.

Pretty nice.

But the thing is, Voskamp would probably say that discovering joy in the moments at hand was by far the more valuable.

Voskamp laments never getting to accomplish her Bucket List like seeing "black-haired boys under straw-brimmed hats fishing" on China's jade-green Li River. Then, she realizes the beauty and wonder all around her. She learns to be content in every circumstance. (Phil. 4:11-12) She begins counting her blessings.

Items from Ann's list:

#1. Morning shadows across old floors
#16. Leafy life scent of the florist shop
#54. Moonlight on pillows
#119. Still warm cookies
#343. Clean sheets smelling like the wind
#362. Suds . . . all color in sun

In her lyrical, fragmented writing style, Voskamp's book isn't a quick read. Her words are meant to be savored, peeled back onion-style, layer by layer, though others may find her choppy style difficult to digest.

Some readers may find the last chapter of the book disturbing as Voskamp describes a love relationship with God using sexual language. Though poetic and metaphorical, it's a bit over the top. Still, Voskamp has inspired me to write my own list and to become more intentional, living fully in this moment.

What blessings will you count today?

~Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, November 14, 2011

The 5 Senses - Do you use them all?

I read in a devotional by Robert Schuller the following:
Thank You, Father, for the beautiful surprises you are planning for me today. So often in my life an unexpected burst of golden sunshine exploded through a black cloud, sending inspiring shafts of warm, beautiful sunshine into my life.

After reading his devotion, I stepped out into the cool night air and turned on my senses, letting God pour his universe into me. The night sky, a blanket of stars, too numerous for me to count sparked down on me. The scent of sage drifted on the night breeze kissing my cheek. The coyotes yipped in the distance as they made their nightly rounds. The taste of peace touched my tongue as I sang out a song to our Lord.

This is the season of Thanksgiving. And if there is one thing I’m thankful for it is the gift of our senses that God has given us. It surprises me daily.

When I use to walk through my gardens in Ohio the scents I inhaled amazed me. The smell of damp loam, the sweet fragrance of a rose, or the spicy aroma of Monarda, tantalized my senses. Now in Nevada, the scent of sage is all around me.

Equally stunning and surprising are the variety of colors I see—the bright red of Pointsettias, the azure blue of a cloudless summer day, or the bright green of new leaves in the spring.

I’m sure you don’t want me to continue my litany. But as writers it is something that pulls in a reaction from our readers. What do you think of when you smell homemade bread? Is it comforting to you? Do you cringe when you hear the screech of tires on asphalt? What do you feel when your fingers caress the softness of babies skin? Is it longing or do you drift into memories of when your children were young?

I thought when I started writing this blog a couple of weeks ago that it would be foolish. Don’t all writers do this? I looked.

They don’t.

Even some of the bestsellers forget to use all of the five senses. So I challenge you to picture yourself in a scene, close your eyes and ask yourself: What do I smell? What can I touch and how does feel? Is it smooth, cold, or soft? Don’t forget sounds you may hear in the scene or in the distance. What little detail can you surprise the reader with? Or create a sense of dejavu? How does it taste? That one is almost always missing.

When you look at your writing style, do you use all of them in a scene? If not, what sense do you usually forget?

Jennie Atkins

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hi, My Name Is Jenness And I'm...

...a reject.

Yes. I totally just admitted that on the internet.

It started as early as first grade, when a story I wrote and illustrated for a class contest didn't win first. In fact, it didn't even get a gold star for effort. And I'd been thoroughly convinced I was top dog in the writing world already!

It continued through high school and college, where short story after short story came back with a "No, thank you" or just a box marked with an x to tell me what I'd done wrong. I received so many, I used to post my rejection letters on a corkboard I jokingly called my Wall of Shame.

Next came the emails and letters from agents after I finished my first novel. Oh, and the bad contest scores. The things we could say about them!

But Beth suggested writing about something I'm thankful for as a writer, and that bulletin board I used to keep of rejection letters is somewhere near the top of that list. Here's why:

1. The rejections were proof that I was writing something! I was actively working toward my dream of being published. I was paying my dues.

2. I needed it! Some of those rejections kept stories from seeing the light of day that would have eventually embarrassed me. Severely. Some saved a good storyline from being wasted in a slush of prose that needed oh so much improvement.

3. I could see evidence of growth in my writing through many of the responses. I could learn from what wasn't working for the editor/agent, or I could take heart when they indicated they were interested but just didn't have a slot for me at that point. (I don't know if he still does it, but Steve Laube used to include letter grades in many of his rejection letters. Quite handy!)  

4. They helped me to learn to trust God's plan and His timing. One of the very few times I allowed a rejection letter to discourage me was when it looked possible that an agent might sign me on. I wasn't sure we were the right fit, but it would have been just in time for Christmas. And wouldn't that be an incredible present? An agent? But God had someone else in mind, and His plan is perfect. Isn't it so much easier to not stress about rejections when you know He loves you and knows what is best for you?

5. Rejections give you a great excuse to eat chocolate, and who isn't thankful for that?

Are there any particular rejections you've received that you're especially grateful for?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Revisions of the written, spiritual, and, well, closet sort.

<--See that? It’s a photo of my newly cleaned out walk-in closet.

Let’s take a moment to admire my Martha Stewart-like abilities. I’m not sure the photo does it justice. Trust me, this closet is like something from Real Simple or one of those other home organization type magazines. In fact, they should probably feature me in a cover piece. That is, as long as they don’t look in my coat closet…or office closet…or kitchen cupboards.

Okay, boasting over. Cue the confessions: Yes, this closet looks beautiful. Yes, I was so proud of my organizational efforts, I literally sat on the floor of the closet at 1 a.m. admiring my handiwork.

Yes…this late-night project was the result of a writer’s breakdown.

It’s true: I freaked out over the weekend. I decided my current WIP is a joke, the plot’s a mess and the characters as shallow as any one of the High School Musical movies. (Sorry, Zac.) Things just weren’t clicking for Writer Melissa that night. I got frustrated. I didn’t handle it well. And while outwardly I vented by cleaning – admittedly better than snack-binging or head-bashing, sure –  inwardly I thought all the wrong thoughts.

I’ll never write as good as So-and-So.

Mr./Ms. Editor/Agent is going to laugh at the fact that they ever requested my proposal.

I. Stink. At. This.

The thing is, as my mental merry-go-round whirled in a blur of negativity, I knew my thoughts were wrong. I knew I was allowing Satan to lie to me. And I knew what I needed to do to set things right: Pray. Spend time in God’s Word. Take my thoughts captive.

But I didn’t. Instead, I muttered my way through a closet cleaning. (What’s extra sad here is usually, nerdy as it sounds, I love cleaning out my closet. This time? Not so much.)

When I woke up the next day, discouragement still tugged at my heart, but worse was the regret at my mindset of the night before…my failure to take the mature mental path. But God – like He always does when our hearts are open even a crack – reminded me that I always have the opportunity to begin again.

Just like I’ll be revising my way through my WIP in the next month, I have the opportunity to revise my behavior, my thought life, my actions on a daily basis. Just like my closet makeover, God is willing and able to make over me. He is the ultimate Revision-ist, more than able to take what’s rough and sand it smooth.

So that’s what I’ll be thanking God for this Thanksgiving – second and third and bazillionth chances on this road to becoming not only the writer, but the woman, He means for me to be. I pray you’ll find encouragement in God’s faithfulness during the revision process, too.

Let’s chat: How does God encourage you during the revision process – either in your writing or life in general?                                                                                                                   

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Guest Blogger: Tina James Talks Love Inspired Historical


Hi everyone! I’m Tina James, Senior Editor of Love Inspired Historical and Love Inspired Suspense.  I’m here today to chat with you about writing for Love Inspired Historical.

The Love Inspired Historical line offers captivating stories of romance and adventure set in earlier eras, when faith played a major role in everyday lives. From rugged handsome cowboys of the West to proper English gentlemen in Regency England, Love Inspired Historical books sweep readers away to a place where love is timeless. 

If you’re interested in writing a historical romance, now is a wonderful time to submit to Love Inspired Historical.   Since expanding our offerings from two books to four books a month, we have some great opportunities for both new, unpublished authors, and previously published authors.

We are seeking manuscripts approximately 70,000-75,000 words in length, rich in historical details and set in various countries and time periods, ranging from biblical times through World War II.   Our most popular period is westerns, set mostly in the 1800’s.   After all, who can resist reading about rugged handsome cowboys of the West?   But we are also looking for a variety of settings including Regency, Scottish, Amish, and exotic locales.

Some innovative story ideas that I would be interested in seeing include--stories about women pioneers who become doctors, nurses, social workers, journalists, suffragettes, or teachers; stories about bounty hunters; stories about immigrants coming to America; or stories set in Africa or Asia about missionaries.

We are looking for writers who can craft a compelling, highly emotional and historically accurate romance. We want to see unique, engaging writing styles, with likeable and believable characters whose actions are appropriate to their time periods.  We want to see opening chapters that grab the reader’s attention from the first line of the story.

Please see our writing guidelines at www.Harlequin.com to learn more about Love Inspired Historical.

If your author voice, characters and plot fit Love Inspired Historical, I hope I’ve encouraged you to try to write a Love Inspired Historical and submit it to me.  If you’re a published author, we only require a synopsis and three sample chapters.  For unpublished authors, we ask that you submit a synopsis and complete manuscript. You can mail your submission to my attention at 233 Broadway, Suite 1001, New York, NY 10279 or have your agent get in touch with me.

Happy writing!
Tina James