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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Taking a Chance, Reaping a Treasure!

In October 2009 I took a chance. I shoved back my fears and the million voices in my head that shouted repeatedly,"You've lost your marbles!" I boarded a red-eye from Orlando and, for the first time in my life, landed in Minnesota. That’s in the United States. Who knew?!

I pointed my rental car north in snow-turned-rain and set off on a new adventure. A short while later, I walked into the retreat center on the banks of the Mississippi River. Too early for the conference. Too late for a nap. I wandered over to the room where we’d be meeting soon. There I saw the one I’d come so far to meet in person.

With an ear-to-ear smile, Susan May Warren greeted me as if we were long lost friends. Indeed, our friendship that began online and on her Monday night chat had become a face-to-face encounter.

Others filed in and our journey began. I pulled out my prose and exposed it to the world. Or at least to a few strangers. Fellow writers, just like me.

In three all too short days, a bond formed between us. Today we are affectionately known as the Ponderers. Not one of us is alike. We are all sizes, ages, backgrounds and from every walk of life. We live in every area of the country… and in each other’s hearts.

We pray, laugh, grieve and celebrate together. We’ve written over 500 pages of online messages to each other. Good ones, funny ones, informative ones, sad ones.

My dear Ponderers have published, lost loved ones, suffered serious illness on foreign soil. We’ve changed jobs, won awards, moved across the country. The chance I took won me a priceless treasure. Precious friends. Comrades in arms.

Have doubts about writing? Hesitant about going to My Book Therapy Retreats? Yeah, I know the feeling. But why not take a chance on yourself, on your prose and your future? You, too, could receive a treasure that will last a lifetime! It’s wonderful to have friends who ponder!

Reba J. Hoffman

Friday, February 25, 2011

What Do You Do When Your Story is Stuck Going No Where?

I was seriously stuck. Can you picture it? Twenty-seven degrees--cold--and rainy in rural Texas and I'm in a big, blue Ford F150 truck ... stuck.

Okay, well not literally.

My story was stuck. You know, when something just doesn't feel right? Well, it didn't. My story felt boring. Flat. Uninteresting. I didn't feel any "umph!" in what I was trying to write. What was worse -- I didn't know how to fix it.

What to do? I called my friend Michelle Lim and she brainstormed with me. Did I mention it was after 1o:00 PM? I definitely think a Starbucks gift card will be heading somebody's way.

I looked at the plot outline until 3:00 AM. It still didn't "feel" interesting enough. So, I picked up James Scott Bell's book, Plot and Structure. I heard a couple of my Ponderer buddies mention what a good book this is. So, genius that I am, I ordered it. A real genius would have opened it and read it before now.

I've gotten half-way through the book and sharpened my highlighter twice. There is a ton of good advice in Plot and Structure. One of the things Bell wrote really stuck out to me. He recommends writing something you are passionate about. Bell's exact words were, "Find an issue that makes your cheeks red."

Hmmm, red cheeks? That image makes me think of gatherings with my five siblings and our families. We are often loud, boisterous and passionate in our arguments ... um, I mean discussions.

Ask yourself: What are you passionate about? What life experiences made you feel the way you do? Can you take those experiences and make a story out of them? Would the market you are writing for find the story interesting -- interesting enough to pick up your book?

Happy writing!

~Alena T.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Writing Conferences or Writing Retreats: What's the Diff?

I'm very excited. No really. I am.

Today I leave for the airport hotel where I'll enjoy an evening with Handsome, my hubby. Thursday morning I'll get up early and catch a plane to Tampa where I'll be attending the MBT Deep Thinkers Writing Retreat.

"What's the difference between a conference and a retreat?" you ask.

My answer would be, "About 200 people."

At a conference, like Quad Cities Christian Writers' Conference or QCCWC, there will be approximately 200 people. There will also be several instructors, some mentors and perhaps an editor or two. You'll learn some amazing things there and interact with some great people. The instruction will be impeccable and the food, trust me on this one, will be outstanding. Even for a small conference you will find very little lacking, even compared to the larger conferences. (Larger conferences can run upwards of 600+ attendees.)

However, consider a retreat and you'll find a few distinctions.

The first distinction you'll find is that a retreat usually has about a dozen people attending. This gives you a chance to really get to know your fellow attendees. Great friendships have come out of such gatherings. The Ponderers for instance. The teaching is completely hands-on. At Deep Thinkers, 12 of us will have five days with authors Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. You'll not only get personal attention, but time to show off your work-in-progress (WIP). This is the place to get immediate feedback and help for those pesky questions that crop up.

The late-night brainstorming sessions also cannot be beat. I've learned far more at a retreat than I've ever learned at a conference, so I'm one of their biggest advocates. Give one near you a try.

Here are just a couple coming this year:

April 29-30, Location TBA

(Details and Registration TBA)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Julie Lessman: Pondering Passion with a Purpose

Julie Lessman personifies fiction, faith, and friendship. I met Julie in the bookstore at the 2009 ACFW conference in Denver. It was my first ACFW conference, and I literally did not know one single attendee. I was looking for a historical romance for a friend, and Julie graciously offered to help me find one. She suggested several books, and then someone said, “What about your books, Julie?”

Surprise! This sweet, down-to-earth friend, hanging out with me in the bookstore and showing me everyone else’s books, was not only a published author; she was in the running for ACFW Debut Author of the Year (for A Passion Most Pure) the next night! She assured me she could not possibly win against such a talented group of nominees. I laughed and told her if she was included in that group, she must be talented as well, meaning she absolutely could win. And suddenly, in my heart, I just knew she was going to win and I told her so. I’m pretty sure she thought I was crazy. Until the banquet, when they called her name and I got to say, “I told ya so!”

It was a thrilling night for me, watching someone I had just met, someone who had been so genuinely kind and encouraging just a day earlier, be publicly recognized for her achievement and talent. Since then, she has gone on to write and publish more novels, and those novels have won more awards. I recently learned that her newest release, A Hope Undaunted (the first in her “Winds of Change” series) ranked #5 on Booklist’s Top 10 Inspirational Fiction for 2010 and I asked to interview her. She not only agreed to the interview, she offered to be available to answer your questions for a couple of days as well!

CONTEST ALERT!! Post questions or comments Monday, Tuesday, and/or Wednesday. We will enter your name once for each day you post for the drawing on Wednesday night. The prize package includes a signed copy of the Julie Lessman book of your choice, and a $10.00 Amazon gift card so you can buy its sequel!

Welcome, Julie! Some of our readers may not be familiar with you and your fabulous “Inspirational Family Saga/Romance” novels. Would you share a little bit about yourself and your writing journey?

Well, I’m a baby boomer (how’s that for side-stepping the age issue?) married to a man who makes me feel like I’m living my own personal romance novel. I have a 27-year-old son and an OB/GYN daughter-in-law (for whom I prayed since my son was a baby). I also have a 23-year-old daughter in her 2nd year of law school who hates to read (and, yes, it’s true –I paid her $20 just to read the first chapter of my debut novel A Passion Most Pure. I’m happy to say it hooked her, and the rest of the book and the other two didn’t cost me a dime! J).

My writing journey began at the age of 12 after reading Gone With the Wind when I first penned 150 pages of what today has become my debut novel A Passion Most Pure. Fast forward almost forty years later to July 2001 when I was sitting in a beauty parlor reading a Newsweek magazine cover article about Christian entertainment. It said Christian books, movies and music were on the threshold of exploding. My heart jumped, and something in my spirit said, “It’s time to finish your book.” I started writing A Passion Most Pure one month later, finally selling it to Revell 4-1/2 years and 45 rejections later. I am proud to say that despite those painful rejections, A Passion Most Pure went on to win the American Christian Fiction Writers Debut Book of the Year in 2009.

I read in another interview that you joke that you are the Queen of Rejections. Here on the Ponderer blog we’ve talked a lot about rejections and negative feedback. How did you cope with your rejections, and what kept you moving forward?

Ah, yes, Queen of Rejections! Anyone who attended the 2005 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference will remember me as the poor slob who waved her hands wildly in the back of the room when Brandilyn Collins asked who had the most rejections in a year. I won hands-down with 19 (at that time) and went on to garner in excess of 45 (both agent and publisher rejections, including three received after I signed a 3-book contract with Revell Publishing!). Even my agent Natasha Kern blanched a bit when she first signed me, realizing after the ink was dry just how many times I’d been rejected. I believe the word she used was “daunting.” But apparently not too daunting for her amazing skills as an agent because she landed me a 3-book contract in the first six months.

How do I cope with rejection? Well, now it comes in the form of 1-star reviews from readers who do not approve of my edgier style of romantic passion, which I have to admit, made me cry in the beginning. My first 1-star review started with the sentence, “this is simply a horrible book,” but after thousands of glowing e-mails from avid readers and100s of 5-star reviews, I now take the bad ones in stride. One blog reviewer said she put one of my books down halfway through because "In my opinion, smut is smut. Even if you slap God's name in it on occasion it's still smut." Now, I have to admit that one hurt a lot, demeaned me, made me feel like a bad person (judgment) and actually had me ranting and raving to my husband, which is something I haven't done in a long, long time. You see, it was that mindset that turned me into a Bible-burning agnostic before I came to Christ at the age of 23, so it struck a real nerve with me, I'm afraid.

BUT ... there is only one way I deal with criticism like that or any criticism for that matter, because for me, it is a matter of keeping my heart clean before God so my prayers are effective (the prayers of a righteous man availeth much). As much as I didn't want to (and I didn't!), I prayed for that reviewer above until my teeth ached, and then I prayed some more—that God would bless her and heal her if she has issues that made her react so strongly to my book. But trust me, I am also praying about what she said—seeking God to do what my favorite Scripture asks Him to do: Psalm 139:23-24—Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Please tell us about your newest release, A Hope Undaunted, as well as the other two upcoming books in the Winds of Change series!

Although the “Winds of Change” is a brand-new series, it does continue the saga of the close-knit O’Connor family from the “Daughters of Boston” series, picking up with the youngest daughter’s story at the tail end of the Roaring 20s into The Great Depression. Anyone who has read “The Daughters of Boston” series knows that Katie O’Connor is a spunky, sassy little girl with a sharp wit and dry humor, but never more so than when she butts heads with her childhood nemesis, Cluny McGee. I have to admit that A Hope Undaunted is my favorite of all my books so far, and I am very proud to say that it came in at #5 on Booklist’s Top-Ten Inspirational Fiction for 2010. Here’s the jacket blurb:

What happens when the boy she loved to hate ...becomes the man she hates to love?

The 1920s are drawing to a close, and feisty Katie O'Connor is the epitome of the new woman—smart and sassy with goals for her future that include the perfect husband and a challenging career in law. Her boyfriend Jack fits all of her criteria for a husband—smart, good-looking, well-connected, wealthy … and eating out of her hand. But when she is forced to spend the summer of 1929 with Cluny McGee, the bane of her childhood existence, Katie comes face to face with a choice. Will she follow her well-laid plans to marry Jack? Or will she fall for the man she swore to despise forever?

I recently completed book 2 in the “Winds of Change” series, A Heart Revealed, which releases this September and tells the forbidden love story of Sean O'Connor and Emma Malloy. Here’s my jacket blurb for that:

The ring on her hand belongs to one man …

but her heart belongs to another.

As a battered woman, Emma Malloy fled Dublin for Boston ten years ago, seeking shelter for a heart badly bruised by both her husband and guilt. But when she falls in love with Sean O’Connor, a man who wrestles with demons of his own, fear and shame almost destroy her … until she is finally set free by a heart revealed.

I am currently working on book 3, Steven O’Connor’s story, tentatively titled A Trust Restored. Steven will be a tall, brooding G-man-type modeled after Elliot Ness (a la Robert Stack from the Untouchables), who not only battles crime with a vengeance, but also the guilt and regret of a painful past. Since all three of these books take place during The Great Depression and Prohibition, there’s a wealth of historical interest about this exciting era of speakeasies, dance marathons, gangsters, G-men and era criminals like Bonnie & Clyde and Al Capone.

Your Daughters of Boston trilogy takes place in Boston in the early 1900s and WWI, and your new Winds of Change series in the Roaring 20s and Great Depression. How do go about researching the history and geographical locations for your books?

Well, when it comes to research, I’m no Bodie Thoene, but then she’s married to a historian, so she’s got a leg up! I have to be honest, though, my passion is more character- and plot-driven than historical, although I am keenly aware that historical accuracy is key in winning the confidence of historical fiction readers. My publisher, Revell, is excellent at keeping me honest on this point, from time-appropriate phraseology and words (I have seven on-line dictionaries I use, two of which are Etymology Dictionaries) to the historical feasibility of key plot points (sigh, my editor is married to an Irish historian!). Also, one of my prayer partners is exceptional at details that everybody else misses … like my reference to chocolate chip cookies in a 1916 scene when chocolate chips weren’t invented until the 1930s. Whoops! J

So now I am faithful to my research, doing it mostly as I go along and primarily via the Internet. I have tons of websites that I mark as favorites, but two of my favorites are http://www.fashion-era.com/index.htm for clothing and hairstyles and The Online Etymology Dictionary at http://www.etymonline.com/. For me, The Online Etymology Dictionary is crucial for ensuring that the words I use are historically accurate for the era. In addition, I keep a “historical facts” file for each book where I cut and paste info to be used later. I also recently had a conversation about research with good friend, Patty Smith Hall, and she highly recommends contacting the Library of Congress for a wealth of information, which is a great suggestion.

I have a million more questions I could ask you, but I know you have deadlines (not to mention a job and a family!) so I won’t. But as we are closing, is there anything else you’d like to share?

Thank you, Heidi, for hosting me on your blog. It’s been fun! And I LOVE to hear from readers, so they can contact me through my Web site at www.julielessman.com, either by sending an e-mail via my site or by signing up for my newsletter at http://www.julielessman.com/sign-up-for-newsletter/. My newsletter is chock-full of fun info on my books and there’s always a contest featuring signed book giveaways. Also, I have a cool feature on my website called “Journal Jots” (http://www.julielessman.com/journal-jots/), which is a very laid-back, once-weekly journal to my reader friends that would give your readers an idea as to my relaxed style of writing. Then finally, I can be found dailyat The Seekers blog (http://seekerville.blogspot.com/), a group blog devoted to encouraging and helping aspiring writers on the road to publication. Thanks again, Heidi, and God bless!

Thank you, Julie; it was my pleasure. I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to spend a little time pondering with us!

READERS: Don't forget...Post your questions and/or comments between now Wednesday night. We'll enter your name up to three times in the drawing for a signed copy of the Julie Lessman book of your choice, and a $10.00 Amazon gift card!

~Heidi Larson Geis

Friday, February 18, 2011

What to do when entering your novel feels like this…

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to work on my novel. So long, in fact, that I’m feeling, well…rusty. Uninspired. Thankfully, I’m part of a local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers, MN NICE. This month, our very own Julie Klassen shared about using setting to evoke mood an emotion in our writing.

She had us do the following exercise that was developed by the late John Gardner, recognized in his lifetime as the leading creative writing teacher in the United States:

A middle-age man is waiting at a bus stop. He has just learned that his son has died violently. Describe the setting from the man's point of view WITHOUT telling your reader what has happened. How will the street look to this man? What are the sounds? Odors? Colors? That this man will notice? What will his clothes feel like? Write a 250 word description.

Okay, so now I’m feeling rusty, uninspired…and bad for the guy on top of everything else! But when I stopped trying so hard and simply started describing the bus stop from the man’s point of view something magical happened.

Words came.

The bell had the audacity to jingle above the door to the coffee shop behind the bus shelter. Two women leaving the coffee shop laughed together like nothing in the world had changed. On any other day, the aroma of the roasted beans might have chased away the bus exhaust that seeped into his woolen coat. But not today.

Yes, the words are rough. But they are words. And as I created a setting for the man at the bus stop, slowly, steadily, a story formed around him. Of course the man’s son, a solo around-the-world sailor had died off the coast of Madagascar in a sailing accident. Or so it seemed. Until the man at the bus stop sifted through the package on his lap…

How would you describe the bus stop? Where does this description take you? How can you use similar tricks to get past the brick wall in your novel?

-Amy Lindberg

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

When Did You Become a Writer?

With seven children, it’s not often that I’m in a waiting room (or anywhere else) alone. So I don’t often experience the opportunity to observe strangers, or “people watch,” as my mother likes to say, and make up stories about their lives, which has been a pastime of mine for as long as I can remember.

Pat Trainum’s wonderfully humorous Ponderer's post “You Might Be a Writer . . .” got me wondering when I became a writer.

Was it when . . .

. . . I won a first chapter fiction contest? Did that make me a writer?

Or before then, when . . .

. . . I actually entered a writing contest?

Maybe, when . . .

. . . I stopped hiding my fiction from my friends and finally declared, “I am a writer.”

. . . or way back when I tried imitating Beverly Cleary’s teen books like Fifteen and Jean and Johhny and wrote a few chapters of a romance — while I was in junior high.

Or . . . did I become a writer much earlier than that?

Our family was one of modest means. But I went to bed hungry only as a punishment, not because there wasn’t food in the house. I grew up in a lower-middle class neighborhood, where we were fortunate to have what we needed without too much of keeping up with the Jones next door, who were also lower-middle class. The toys for four children in our family mostly fit into one large, wooden toy box, but my sister and I also owned a foot-high stack of paper dolls, which we played with for hours.The Dress Shoppe with three sisters and their lavish wardrobe. Snow White, the Seven Drawfs, and the Prince. Ten children in native costumes from around the world. Barbie. You name it: If it was printed in the late '60s or early '70s, we probably had it. Heck, we even had The Addams Family.

The elaborate stories I created for my paper characters may have been my first foray into fiction.

Or maybe the Barbie dramas I enacted?

Or possibly the stuffed animals and dolls I played with.

Maybe I’ve been weaving stories around whatever cast of characters I found on hand for as long as I can remember.

What do you think? Must you be a published author or have acquired an agent to call yourself a writer? Are you a writer if you write every day or actively pursue a writing career instead of merely think of writing as a hobby? Is it when you take your craft to a new level and treat your work, deadlines and writing time seriously?

Tell me, at what point did you become a writer? What events influenced you?

~Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, February 14, 2011

Friendship and Valentine's Day

Since today is Valentine’s Day I could write about fragrant red roses, romantic candlelight dinners, or even how to plot a romance between our story’s hero and heroine, but I’m not. Besides, Suzie does a much better job at the latter than I ever could. (Check out the 7 Scenes Every Romance Needs.) I choose instead to honor the friends that I’ve had in my life.

In the Bible, Jesus openly wept at the grave of Lazarus. John was known as the “disciple whom Jesus loved." God gives us friends -- some for a season, some for our whole life, and some for a specific purpose.

Here is my list:
I thank the Lord for two very special people who are now with Him. One, a friend since grade school, died of cancer at the of 30, but during her brief time here she stood beside me during some of the darkest times of my childhood. The other, my husband’s brother, the brother I never had, also died very young. I, like Jesus – wept at his grave. I can’t wait to see both of them when He calls me home!

I have two life-long friends, who I met when our girls were but infants. We have walked a long road together, through the good times, through the hard times. We’ve shared laughter and tears, and lots and lots of secrets! ;-) You know who you are – I love you dearly.

To a wonderful friend who I worked with for 15 years – I miss seeing your smiling face. To those I’ve met a church, at writers groups, at work, and anyone else I missed – I count all of you as a blessing in my life.

To the Ponderer’s, a group of women that God has banded together, prayer warriors, encouragers, burden bearers. I love the uniqueness each one of you brings to our group. I thank God for you and the relationship only He could have created between all of us.

To my husband, my very best friend – I love you more than I need to breathe. And to God – my guiding light, my Savior, but most of all my friend – I am nothing without you.

Jesus understood the need for friendship: He loved his friends, prayed for them, wept over them and saved them. He does the same for us.

To all of you - Happy Valentine's Day!

Jennie Atkins

Now it’s your turn. What friendships shaped your life? Touched your heart? Lifted your spirit?

Friday, February 11, 2011

While You Wait

Right now I’m in the waiting room. Well, not literally. I’m actually at home on my couch in my pjs, frantically trying to make sense of the notes I scribbled for this post. But as a fellow writer, I’m sure you know what I mean.

Writing is a waiting game. You send your baby out into the scary world, and then you get to just sit there. Is your coping method devouring an entire box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts? While that might sound tempting right now, you’ll be in need of a new wardrobe when conference time rolls around, so I’d like to offer a dozen alternatives.

1. Work on a new story idea. Look through newspapers. Do some research. Write! The best way to beat the waiting room is to get lost in a new story.

2. Brainstorm ways to keep your project alive if it’s rejected. Did you run into an editor at a conference who might be interested in taking a look? Or, with just a little tweaking, could the story fit as a sequel for your newest idea? If you get rejected, the sting won’t be as bad if you have a plan already in place to be excited about.

3. Work on your online presence. Go ahead and write some extra blog entries for emergencies or to schedule in advance. Spruce up your blog design. Update your website or, if you don’t have one, surf the web to get some ideas for what you’d like on your own site when you do get one.

4. Tackle a non-writing-related project you’ve been putting off. Been wanting to paint that yard sale table a light turquoise? What better time than while you’re waiting? You’ll have a new surface on which to sign your contract when it comes. :-) Or maybe you need to hold your own yard sale or do some deep cleaning or organize your photos. Stepping away from the computer can be refreshing.

5. Read one of your favorite novels again. Dissect it. What does the author do that pulls you into the story so much? Is there a way you can incorporate that into your next wip?

6. Spruce up your proposal essentials. It’s too late to change what you’ve sent in, but is there a way to make your bio more intriguing for the next time? Have you had any brilliant marketing ideas come to you in the middle of the night? Go ahead and work them in. Your proposal will look that much better next time.

7. Organize your writing materials. What about making a character notebook? You could keep lists of names you like for main characters, for villains, for last names. You could make a list of names you’ve already used. I remember not really getting into this one book I was reading because I was halfway through and still wondering whether a secondary character was the heroine from another of that same author’s story. Nope. Just the same name.

Hunt for the perfect picture to use as your inspiration for your hero. Post it where only friends who understand the whole weird author thing will see it. Otherwise things could get a bit awkward. (Yes, I do know this from experience.)

8. Write an article or short story to submit to a magazine. Yes, you’ll be waiting again, but they don’t take nearly as long to write, and those Writer’s Market books are so inspiring to look through.

9. Do you know a teacher? Or are you brave and willing to call a school? What about seeing if they’re interested in you giving a creative writing workshop for one of their classes? Hey, it would give you something else to put into that awe-inspiring bio of yours. And you just might have fun while you’re at it!

10. Reach behind you. Give a less experienced writer a hand. You could offer to critique something, do some extra brainstorming, take them out for coffee and talk shop.

11. Read great novels, craft books, writing blogs, archived classes from ACFW, etc. If you’re always striving to be better, you won’t have time to fret over the proposal or manuscript that’s out there in the wild blue yonder.

12. Get the focus off yourself. Write notes of encouragement to other writers. Send thank you notes to those who have mentored you. Let your parents or spouse or pastor or crit group know how much you appreciate them. You’re a writer. Use the written word to bless others.

Remember, once you hit “send” or drop your manuscript into the mailbox, it’s no longer up to you. Your story is in someone else’s hands…and Someone Else’s. What better place to leave it?

So let’s discuss! What are you waiting on? What do you do while you put in your time in the waiting room?

~ Jenness Walker

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fun when the freak-out's done.

About this time last year I nearly hyperventilated for the first time in my life. Not because Jack Bauer was once again attempting something insanely heroic (or heroically insane?). Though I will admit to clutching a throw pillow 'til my knuckles turned white during my weekly dose of 24 back then. Yeah, 2011 just isn't the same without Jack.

But seriously, my bout of “I think I need to do the paper bag breathing thingy” had nothing to do with television and everything to do with my first writing contest experience. Two contests, actually, with matching deadlines.

I. Freaked. Out.

We're talking epic proportions of losing-it. I was convinced my entries weren't up to snuff. Convinced I wasn't ready. Convinced, in that moment, that everything – my whole just-beginning writing career – hinged on the contest results.

Well, I drank a lot of Diet Coke with lime and ate a couple cookies (or five) and eventually got brave enough to submit my entries. And all was well. (Except for the no more 24 thing.)

But that experience of going all “Meltdown Melissa” on contest deadline day has stuck with me. I learned some stuff about trust and surrender, which I've previously written about. But I also learned something else...something about me. Something, I think, that probably applies to other writers as well.

And that's this: Sometimes we're just waaaaay too serious about our writing. Seriously. :)

Don't get me wrong – writing is a big thing in my life. I want to make a career of it, to excel at it. Which is why I can't get enough of My Book Therapy, am addicted to the MBT retreats, participate in ACFW and a local writing group.

But writing isn't everything. Contests aren't everything. Conferences, networking, retreats aren't everything. And when I get so serious about my writing dream that I lose my joy and peace, then I've made it into something it isn't meant to be.

Writing is so very personal; our stories are close to our hearts. Mix emotions with passion and we're bound to enter heavy territory now and then. Throw in the fact that the publishing biz isn't exactly a whiz to break into, and oh, how easy it becomes for a writing dream to turn into a fun-sucking demand.

But that can't be what God intended when he put a love of stories in our hearts. Sometimes I think we've gotta just relax, close the laptop and remember: This is fun. I love spilling my heart onto the page. I love listening to the voices of my characters. I love crafting a compelling plot.

And when we're tempted to turn all my-whole-life-depends-on-this-serious – when we're edgy about contests, moody about a critique, convinced we'll never see our words printed and bound on a bookstore shelf – maybe that's when it's time to examine our hearts. 

Inevitably, in those take-a-deep-breath moments, I am reminded that joy and peace come from Christ alone. That winning every contest out there, publishing bestseller after bestseller can't compare to the love He has for me. Suddenly, the pressure's off. I can breathe again. The fun is back. 

How about you? Do you ever hit too-serious mode when it comes to writing? What helps you "get your fun back?"

Melissa Tagg

Monday, February 7, 2011

When God Says No

How many times have you told your children "no?" Why? Most likely because you know what's best for them. Your decisions need to have positive impacts for their developments, health, and safety.

God is the same way. He is a loving parent who always answers our prayers--maybe, yes, or no. Man, those no prayers really hurt, especially when it's something we want so badly.

At the beginning of December, the Ponderers made a heartfelt Christmas wish list that ranged from salvation for unsaved loved ones, health issues for loved ones, stronger walks with God, focus for God-directed tasks. Each of these requests has been placed at the feet of Jesus, awaiting those "yes" prayers.

I woke up Christmas morning with my heartfelt wish clamoring in my head. Will my prayer be granted today? The day passed with unwrapping of gifts and laughing with family. As I went to bed, my heart ached, knowing I didn’t get my heart's desire. I whispered, “Why not, Lord?”

In the past month, God has opened many doors. Incredible things are taking place. Prayers have been answered. Despite those celebrations, God has closed several doors too. When I should’ve been soaring from the mountaintop of joy, I spent a week wandering the valley of discouragement.

Even though God said no on numerous occasions in January, and the waiting and wondering left me anxious, He reminded me of His constant provision in unexpected ways. Deep in my heart, I understand he said "no" for a reason. He has a plan and purpose for our lives. How many times have you told your children, "It's for your own good." Imagine God telling that to us.

When God says no to that query letter or manuscript proposal, the rejections sting. Our hearts ache as the doors close on our dreams. We may wallow in self-pity and kick stones in that canyon of discouragement. Take a day to grieve, and then hit your knees and ask God for direction and discernment.

Maybe you’re not ready to submit and need to work more on craft. Maybe the timing isn't right yet. Maybe He has a different agent or editor in mind for your work. Maybe He has something bigger and better in store for your novel. He says no for a reason, and it’s all in His perfect timing.

I promise you--when God says yes, the exhilaration will be greater than words can ever describe. Until then, keep your faith & trust in God. Savor that no, and allow God’s perfect timing to astonish you!

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

Your turn: When has God said no, but later answered yes? Looking back, can you see the wisdom of His decision? How do you handle no now?

Lisa Jordan

Contest winner: Angela Bell won the iTunes card from Pat Tranium's blog commenting contest last week. Angela, e-mail Pat at ptranium@comcast.net with your contact info!

Friday, February 4, 2011

You Might Be A Writer...With Apologies to Jeff Foxworthy

I came to writing rather late in life--at the age of thirty-five. That's when these people moved into my head and wouldn't go away until I wrote their stories. And I remember wondering when I could call myself a writer. Have you ever thought about how writers really know they're writers? Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter.

You might be a writer…

• If you’re sitting in a family restaurant interviewing a police captain on how murderers get away with their crimes while the diners closest to you edge away…

• If you’re walking down the grocery aisle and people are staring at you and you realize you’ve been working out your latest plot line…out loud

• If you pray for jury duty so you can know what it's like to be a juror…

• If you take pottery lessons for the same reason…

• If this makes sense to you: “I got a request for a proposal from (fill in the blank). They want three chapters and a synopsis, and you know how I hate to write a synopsis. And I’m not sure if I want to resolve the romantic conflict or save it for the next book…

• If you keep a notebook by your bed so you can write the brilliant conversations that come to you in the middle of the night…

• If you’ve ever gotten someone to tie your hands behind your back so you can see how long it takes to get loose…

• If you walked around the house blindfolded to see if your other senses really become heightened…

• If you put the time your Aunt Louise tried to shoot her second husband in your book, disguised of course, and convince yourself that none of the family will recognize her...

• If someone comes up to you and a writer friend in a restaurant and says, “I heard you talking and finally figured it out—you two must be writers. All that stuff you were talking about couldn’t happen for real. Not in this town…”

• If you get depressed because you can’t keep your character from making a really dumb mistake…

• If you spend more money on writing aids and retreats and conferences than you’ve received for your stories…

If you answer yes to any of these ifs, then no question about it, you’re a writer.

Leave a comment with one of your own you know you're a writer if... and I'll enter you in a drawing for a $10 iTunes gift card to be announced Monday. Mention the word ponder, and you'll be entered twice.

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

Photo from unkown source

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

4 Tips to Keep Your Writing In Tune

My 10-year-old daughter Christa stopped me as I rushed by her on the way to move laundry from the washer to the dryer. She played one note on the piano and asked, "Does this sound off to you?"

Since she had a "Doesn't this sound awful?" look on her face, I knew what to say. "I'll call the piano tuner."

When you're revising your writing, think of yourself as a piano tuner. You're tuning your manuscript so it doesn't hit any wrong notes.

Did you learn to play an instrument as a child? The long hours of practice before you hit the right notes were painful, weren't they? Ever listen to one person--just one person--hit wrong notes in a choir? Ruined the entire performance, didn't it?

You want your writing to hit all the right notes. Revising--editing, rewriting--ensures your writing sings. Here are some things that cause off-key writing:
  • Repeated words. If you use the word magnificent in the beginning of chapter one, then it's not welcome in the chapter again. Use VisualThesaurus.com and find brilliant and glorious.
  • Misspelled words. So you earned the "World's Worst Speller" award. That's no excuse for lazy writing. Microsoft Word identifies misspelled words. Or go to Misspelled.com and type in a word. I typed in fraighter and pulled up freighter. Typing in inocent pulled up innocent.
  • Unneeded words. Certain words add nothing to your writing. Delete really and just. Writing: She was really sad is telling and passive. Try: She pressed the palm of her hand against the dull ache in her chest, waiting for tears that never came.
  • Passive words. You've heard it before. I'm saying it again. Replace was, have been, to be with one strong verb. Example: Just three weeks after I found out I was pregnant, Rob and I were taking the trip of a lifetime. Change: Three weeks after the pregnancy stick turned blue, Rob and I took the trip of a lifetime.