Friday, March 29, 2013

When It's Hard

Some days you wake up, and it's hard--not the getting out of bed or the morning routine necessarily but facing the day in its entirety. Whether it be due to work or the lack thereof or guests coming or some insurmountable project, some days are like that. Life must be done, but it's not going to be easy. On those days, it's just hard.

I don't have these days a great deal, and when I do have them, I tend to know why. I can pinpoint the source or my angst and misgivings, usually down to the event or item on the to-do list. Once that thing is accomplished, the day just seems to be exponentially better, regardless of anything happening to warrant its improvement--other than being done with the task, circumstance, or event in question. 

I think you all know what I mean, and I think we know how to face this. I don't need to provide an action items list. All I need to do is tell you the truth and encourage you to remember it.


You got this, so get to it. Those who love you have your back, and if you fail they'll cut you slack.

That's it. Bada-Bing.

Yeah, life is tough some days. You are human. You can struggle. You can hurt.

When it's hard, accept it. Own it. Embrace it. Then show it just how hard you hit back.

Have a great weekend full of love and sincerity. Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

3 Places from Where One Should Write

Some days I find myself writing from the wrong place.

I write from my wallet. I write from my insecurity. I write from my anger. Or my pride.

These are not the days I produce my best work. In fact, the work on these days is often useless. The tone is off, the language is vapid or dense, and the content is nothing but word count. I can tell that my heart's not in it. It wreaks of falsehood.

While trying to procure a 9-5 gig, I've basically lived life as I would as a full time writer. I've failed plenty, but I've also developed a few useful habits. If I had the chance to support my wife and me through the written word, I think I am capable. I would love to do so. But the writing has to be honest. When it isn't, it's lousy; there's no getting around that fact. If I'm not writing from the right place, I'm heading in the wrong direction.

I've found three "sweet spots" from which my best work comes, and I would encourage you to do the same. See below:

Write from your Head. 
There's an adage that goes "write what you know." I agree. I have tried to write what I have no business writing and in doing so have churned some pretty lumpy butter (case in point). This is not to say you can't write about a place you've never been or person you've never met, but you need to write from what you know about that place or person. If you want to write about London, and you can't visit there or don't know a thing about it, then go there in your mind. Go there through a book. Go there in photos. Go there through film. Then develop an informed construct of it and take the reader there. I believe that a good writer ultimately takes their readers to the writer's version of a given place anyway, but having some knowledge about that place (or era, or person) is necessary to give the reader a vivid and useful experience.  Fill your head with that noun, and then embellish it to the nines when sharing it with your readers. Let them know what you know.

Write from your Heart
What's your passion? What moves you? Makes you cry? Makes you care? Write about those things or, at least, write what affects them. Another old adage is "the writer's job is to move the reader, beginning with him/herself". That's the rub, folks. That's actually the point at which I found myself confident in sending out reader copies of Stronghold. Once I was tense where I designed the book to be tense, renewed when I intended the book to renew, and invested from front to back, I knew I was ready to hand over the car keys. Now granted, I wrote the thing and I may have been filling in a gap or two that could have tripped the average beta reader, but I know that from a base level, from prologue to epilogue, I put myself through the experience that I want readers to have with the book. I know from whence that journey came--and it was not from the wallet or my insecurity.

Write from your Gut
If you've been doing this for any amount of time, you know what works when you read it back to yourself. Out Loud. When it counts. Please do this with your work. Read it aloud like you would to a crowd whose paid $100 bucks a head to hear you. If it's tough to read, difficult to say, or confusing, fix it. Your ability to do this is a sense you develop, not unlike the manner in which a basketball player shoots the ball with accuracy and grace. Oh, and if you're just beginning, don't worry, once you digest a metric ton of content and start to create your own prose, your gut will get a feeling for what works. Trust this. You may think the visual you've painted in words is artistic and beautiful and poignant, but if your gut tells you that 10 out of 10 readers who aren't your mom are going to laugh at it, trust that sense. Your gut is saving you from a later time when someone will tell you they hated that description and your gut is going to wrench upon itself with embarrassment. Your gut does not want this, and it will save you from yourself and these comments more than you can imagine. On the flip, if you're gut tells you something is good, you can count on it and fight for it. Now, that doesn't mean every sentence or idea; in fact, it oftentimes means one sentence in a chapter, that one sentence that makes you stop and go, "Yeah, that's me right there. And it's good. I wrote that. I want more." Note: If you are not getting a few of these in your writing project, get to revising. You need them. You need the sentences or ideas that strike you, the author, as new, perfect, and essential every time you stumble on them during your rewrites. These moments serve as your "gut check". They say to you, "Hey, you with the neurosis, you aren't as bad as you think. You got something here. Keep at it." When your gut tells you that, you know you've got the goods.

So, what are you waiting for? Get writing (from the right places, that is).

Oh, and as always, thanks for reading,

Monday, March 25, 2013

Memorization: Amos 5:14-15

Simple. Biblical. Beautiful.

Seek good, and not evil, 
that you may live; 
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, 
as you have said.
Hate evil, and love good, 
and establish justice in the gate; 
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

This is not from Proverbs, not an admonition toward wisdom. This is one of Israel's prophets calling her back to the simplest of pursuits. I do not need to say much else. I love it.

I memorized this as a cadence and said it over and over and over. It never got old.

Never will.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 22, 2013

On Flippant Jests

We all jest. We all make flippant comments. Well, most of us do, anyway. Some folks have matured to the point that they realize some humor is worth going unsaid, and they see no need to make a joke or comment at another's expense.

I am not one of these folks. In fact, I can remember occasions specifically wherein my flippant attempt at laughter met with another persons' hurt; and despite the laugh that was earned, the shame I felt after the fact was not worth the cost of hurting a fellow human being.

And, frankly, the strange thing is that up until recently, I would have seen nothing wrong with the jesting of another in and of itself. In fact, I might have encouraged it. I happen to take myself far too seriously, and a good ribbing is useful for me to be a bit less severe in regard to my pride and self importance.

However, I have discovered of late a very strange phenomenon--that inasmuch as the singular jab or jibe is easily excusable and forgotten, the constant assault of such barbs adds up quickly; and in doing so, pierces the heart in a very different type of way. While one layered back-handed compliment can hit a person quickly and specifically, a series of flippant and vapid remarks piled upon one another from multiple parties create a festering and lingering wound that one cannot easily place.

You ask yourself "Why do I feel so poorly about my weight today?", and while you cannot pinpoint one hurtful world, you can remember that persons A, B, D, and H all said something over the last week. You cannot even remember the words they said, but you can remember--very vividly--your feeling at the time the comment passed their lips, and while no singular event made an impact in and of itself, the series of them compounded into a feeling that (a) none of the speakers intended and (b) is likely an inaccurate reflection of reality.

I bring this up not because I have recently been victim of such an inadvertant assault (though I might have been were I not self-aware and proactive about processing these things) but more so because I know, in my heart, that I have not only been the cause of such hurt feelings but also that I am of the personality type that I could continue to be that jesting person in the future if I fail to keep myself in check. These days, I tend to run a split-second cost/benefit analysis before each joke I make. I ask, "Is the laugh that will be wrought by this action or phrase worth any cost to its hearers in terms of truth, goodness, beauty, and virtue?" If the answer is no, I tend to refrain; and despite the amount of jokes I toss into the wind, I self-censor quite a bit. If the answer is yes, the jest will not have a detrimental effect, I run with it, say my piece, and laugh afterward.

But I find I can easily misread the count in my cost column, not knowing that a listener will be affected more deeply than I had thought. And while my comment may not be the straw that breaks the camel's back, it can be that third or fourth bushel full that makes the next step that much harder for the person to take.

I am trying to be more mindful of this, and I will need to do so as I continue living. Part of the gig of loving folk, you know--valuing their esteem more than my own cleverness (and anyone who knows me knows I greatly overvalue my own cleverness). How bout you?

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

This Is Why We Have Publishers.

So, Stronghold is done. The final polish is complete (until the inevitable proof-polish after my next beta reader finishes it). The book is ready.

Well, all except for the cover. And the formatting. For a number of different platforms. In both digital and print.

Oh, and the fune-tuning for each of those platforms. Oh, and of course the proof-read on the printed version before conversion to any digital format can be done.

Oh, and...never mind.

This is why publishers will not be going away, at least not anytime soon. I am finding that creating the text of a novel is only the first step toward releasing it. There's this little stage between the two called production. The author pours his or soul into a blank page, but then those pages needs to be re-formatted for maximum readability. Once upon a time that meant offset printing for hardback and, hopefully, later paperback editions. Now it usually means at least the latter plus a number of digital formats, all of which have their own nuances.

Publishing houses have people that do this. Self-publishers do to. Themselves.

I can see why some folks refuse to take the self-pub route and continue their pursuit of traditional publishing. Other than the increased legitimacy of being able to say, "A professional publishing house thought my book worthy of publication", the individual can also boast, "and they are doing all that non-creative, tedious work of formatting, which requires a huge amount of time and energy--time and energy, I, the author, will now have to write." Yes, there is some wisdom there.

Formatting is messy. Fonts. Spacing. Page breaks. Section breaks. Margins. Tabs. White space. Indents. The list goes on and on, and when one is doing all this by himself or herself for the first time, the frustration and complexity is compounded by always second-guessing what is truly the best choice. Funny thing is, on some subconscious level, we kind of know. We've read enough books (hopefully) to know how spacing should dictate pace on the pages and how certain fonts feel more comfortable than others. But finding that answer takes some trial and error, to be sure.

If nothing else, this process has been a stretching one. I am becoming far more appreciative of books. The fonts that are used, the manner in which their are laid, the way space is utilized to assist the reader, providing guidance for the experience. I am hoping these new concepts I have learned will translate into my own production method and thereby enhance my readers' ability to pour through Stronghold. I guess we'll see come May (oops, did I just let something slip about the release?)

Thanks for letting me vent for a few...back to the drawing board. Or notepad. Or whatever it's called for writers.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Repenting from Religious Habit toward Heartfelt Relationship

Two weeks ago I wrote on Joel 2:11-13 and several attributes of God expressed in that passage. Last week, I continued those thoughts with a brief look at Hosea 6:6, looking further at God's character. Today I would like to indict myself in regard to that second passage and use the first to do what I think I must. Funny how things work out.

But what do I even mean by this? Well, I have been very good at maintaining my sacrifices and burnt offerings lately. I've been getting to church, speaking about Christ with others, reading the word, praying, memorizing Scripture, and setting funds aside for our tithe. Congratulations, me....I'm religious.

But am I relational, as God desires? Is my love of God deepening?  Am I finding my satisfaction in him? Am I growing in relational adoration, or am I becoming stagnant?  Am I providing him the sacrifices and burnt offerings without pursuing steadfast love and the knowledge of God?

Well if I were, then I don't believe I would be asking the question. I know I have not for several days. I have begun that age old practice of letting my intentional actions become institutional habits and thereby lose their meaning. How sobering is that? Here I am, two weeks in a row, writing about the depth of Scripture and its meaning and value, only to awaken one day and realize that my passion for the Lord has dimmed recently to mere patterns of behavior--accepting self-discipline rather than discipleship as an adequate form of following Christ.

Ergo, I return to Joel 2:11-13, and I think of the Lord's commanding invitation, "'Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. Rend your hearts and not your garments.' Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster." Indeed. Even typing those words, I feel a rising in my heart--a longing to know that God.

But the question is how? When the usual actions that are intended to deepen the relationship have lost some of their power for whatever reason, what does one do? Perhaps this is a good time to consider the idea of "rending one's heart" and how that manifests itself in daily life. Perhaps this is a good time for mourning sins. Perhaps its a good time to fast, to renew and better remember a spiritual hunger through the experience of earthly hunger. Good food for thought heading into a new week.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, March 16, 2013

March Links

Here's a crop of the best or most interesting articles I've read in the last few weeks! Enjoy

On Writing
Formatting a Clean Manuscript
A short list of key items to check before submitting your masterwork for review!

But I Want Success Now!
The great lie of the overnight success and some rational thoughts about real writing as an ongoing venture.

How to Maintain Steady Book Sales
A great article regarding the ongoing process of post-release marketing.

7 Things Confident Writer Don't Do
This is a solid list to review for your own mental health.

How to Promote your book when you're scared
A solid bit of encouragement for the aspiring publisher.

On Ministry
Don't Feel Qualified for your Calling?
How to respond to self-doubt when you feel led by God toward great works

A Sweet Legacy I Savor
John Piper on Scripture Memory

Seven Things to Pray For Your Children
Great recommendations from Desiring God Ministries

Here Come the Radicals
Biola Grad Matthew Lee Anderson Assesses the current "radical movement" among young evangelical pastors.

31 Ways to Maximize Efficiency in your Home Office
Some great tips on developing an in-home workspace.

Photos of Children from Around the World with their Most Prized Possession
A fascinating look at children and their stuff.

Friday, March 15, 2013

On the Internet Rabbit Hole

Do you ever go on a social network like Facebook or Twitter, click a link, read the article, see another link, click the article, read that one, see another--I think you know where I am going with this. That internet and its confounded rabbit hole.

It works like this for me: I go online for a specific purpose: e-mail, check facebook, or pay a bill. Two hours later I find myself on a site of which I have never heard, reading about something in which I am interested, but not that interested.

I usually don't do this anymore, but I did it on Sunday Night when I was intending to edit Stronghold, so I thought it worth reflecting further on the experience. It's not that I think running down the rabbit hole is dangerous in and of itself--although it can be, and I have stumbled onto things I really wish I had not. My real problem with doing this stems from the fact that I'm not in college anymore, and I don't particularly want to spend my time listlessly due to a lack of focus and self-discipline. I am an odd bird. If I say to myself, "I'm tired, and I am just going to spend an hour relaxing and looking at movie news and toy releases" I have no problem using that time for that relaxed purpose, but I hate it when I do it unplanned--when I intend to write a half dozen e-mails and find myself having written none three hours later but having read numerous interviews about movies I'm not even that interested in seeing.

I know my bait, too: Simple lists about movies or toys always get me started. For some reason, I have lost the ability to see a links like "Top Ten G.I. Joe Figures of the 80s" or "15 Lego Sets we Want to Own" or "Minimalist Posters for Major Tentpoles Blockbusters" and not click on them. Funny thing is that I don't think I really care what other peoples' top ten G.I. Joe Figures of the 80s, and I am also not a huge fan of minimalism.

But I do care about relationship. I care about validation and connection. I think that I value these lists because when I agree, I feel a little less like a nerd--or at least, I feel like a nerd with good taste. I have many wonderful friends, but none of them are die-hard toy fans like I am. I think this is directly connected to my formative experiences of playing with toys, unintentionally developing my storytelling sensibilities by doing so, and as such valuing toys as creative tools well into adulthood. None of my buddies really has this type of connection to their toys, but apparently many folks on the internet do (the valuing of collectibles, I mean). As to movies, I think we all love movies, but opinion varies so widely now that when I see a list, I really want to see if the writer and I agree. When someone posts "Five Movies that Challenged my Belief in God" and the writer and I had the same experience in some of our choices, I feel like we both did our job and watched the film well. Like we have connected through cyberspace somehow.

I don't know. I am sure that a plethora of studies have been done about this sort thing and people much more qualified than I have come to much more solid conclusions about why we humans do this. I just thought that after this most recent bout of finding myself three hours on the internet with nothing to show for it, I should pause and consider why it happens. I have no great plan to avoid next time, other than awareness, I suppose.

How bout you?  Do you have topics that take you down the internet rabbit hole? How do you feel when you do?

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

One More Polish...

Well, things are really amping to a new level in my life right now. I had a series of substantial and promising interviews yesterday for a job that could result in a steady, rewarding 8-5 for the foreseeable future. If I get this, a great deal is going to change. My project timelines. My expectations. My short term and long term writing goals. All of it. I have been so spoiled with the time I have had writing for the last nine months, and I am now at a place where I honestly expect that reality to change in the coming weeks.

And that has almost nothing to do with this post. Except this: I am going to be entering another reality in the soon, one in which I am a self-published indie author. Yes, regardless of this new work schedule, I am going to release Stronghold before summer, at least on Amazon kindle, if nothing else. I am toying with a few possible timelines, and I will make an announcement by April 3 as to the date when the book will launch. I have some decisions to make regarding the content and strategy for the release, and I hope to make a definitive plan once I get some important feedback.

I feel I am ready, and I feel the book is ready. I've read it a number of times, and I am in the midst of yet another final draft that has gone more quickly than expected. I wrote about this last week, and I have proceeded ahead of schedule and should finish before my self-imposed deadline. My wife has told me that I need to just put it out there and not edit it to death, and she is right. I believe that time is very close.

But that's not what is most important. What is important is this: Stronghold is a good book. I really believe that, and I just finished The Kite Runner so I know what I should be thinking and feeling as I process a good book. While certainly not as good as that other title, Stronghold fits the bill for a solid read, and I am very happy with it from prelude to epilogue. Saying such a thing may sound arrogant and proud, and of course, I am tainted since it is my work, but nonetheless, I believe the statement to be true. I find the reading experience of this novel to be fast-paced, consistent in tone, engaging to the senses, and spiritually resonant.

I have never actually felt this way about anything I have created. Usually I settle for one of the aforementioned strengths, but I believe that Stronghold hits them all. I will not be embarrassed to direct people to it. I am almost ready to let it go and see what happens when readers begin to engage it.

Now, I am sure that after the book is released, I will be told how bad it truly is (if more than 20 friends read it). Until that time and hopefully beyond, I am going to hold fast to my present mindset: Stronghold is a good novel.

I am more than halfway completed with my pre-publishing edit, and then I will give it a final polish for caps, comma's, quotation marks, etc. Once that's done, I am kicking that bird from the nest to let it fly on its own! I think it will soar.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, March 11, 2013

Memorization: Hosea 6:6

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice. The knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Last Monday, I wrote in regard to Joel 2:11-13. I explored the attributes by which God identifies himself in those verses. I am following that post about memorization with this one because this brief line from the prophet Hosea provides some additional insight into God that I believe is excellent "icing on the cake" for the revelations discussed last week.

First, let me provide a little context. In the Old Testament system, sacrifices and offerings were completed as symbolic and meaningful gestures of thanksgiving, repentance, and acknowledgment of sin. The practice of conducting regular, necessary sacrifices and offerings would have been a normal part of the spirituality of a Jewish believer. This would have been a means by which those original believers maintained relationship with God.

But do you see how the Lord informs the Israelites of that relationship's importance above and beyond the practice itself. He does not simply want the them to "go through the motions". He wants committed love. He wants them to know him. And I believe he wants those two ideas to be cyclical--the more we love him, the more we want to know him; the more we come to know him, the more we love him. What a rewarding process into which he invites believers!

Note that these practices in and of themselves are not bad. God does not say "Stop it with sacrificies and offerings" (at least not here anyway. Here he does, though. Oh how he does!). The practices have value, but if mere practices and activities are the basis for your interaction with God, without a desire for intimacy and relationship, they are inadequate. He wants more, and he rewards you with the greatest reward he can give a human being, himself! Love him. Know him. If you do, you'll grow in the former and embrace the latter by default!

That being said, what are the practices that we modern believers conduct regularly to which God may respond the same? Here are mine:

Scripture Reading
Scripture Memory
Church Attendance
Blogging about Christ (rather than Blogging becuase of Love of Christ)

Yeah, I do these, but without a desire for steadfast love for God and others as well as a true thirst for the knowledge of the Lord himself, they are lacking, indeed. How about you?

Thanks for reading,

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 8, 2013

On Hiding Hurt and Boiling Points

I'm not a very good communicator. I know, seems weird given my writerly endeavors, right? Well, it's just the way it is. The sobering truth is that the communication resulting from my writing comes after several drafts of saying the wrong things, using the wrong phrasing, or committing to the wrong ideas. When I'm under-the-gun in person, I'm a bit less organized. Fortunately, my writing has improved this to a degree, but when it comes to conversations, I still speak with a certain first draft quality.

My worst point of communication is my inability to speak plainly in a moment of being hurt. I don't know how I failed to develop the skill to do so. Usually when wounded by another, I either sulk, erupt with inordinate frustration, or bury the pain and react far more inappropriately later when I hit a so-called "boiling point". I always thought that the last response was the best of the three, that it was curbing my temper and to some degree making me more patient; but in reality it was taking my temper and putting it into a pressure cooker--a place wherein it led me to greater anger and angst.

And when that pot boils over--it pops the lid and sends it soaring without kindness, gentleness, or reason. Something innocuous becomes the focal point of a great debate or intense argument, and oftentimes, I become preoccupied with my failure to react appropriately and, in doing so, further fail to communicate clearly in the present conversation. The event ends in a doubly frustrating catch-22, wherein I am not only angry over the initial items, but also the later item to which I responded poorly, that I responded poorly at all, and the compounded argument that resulted from this dynamic.

I hate it. I truly, truly hate it.

Ultimately, the issue reduces to pride--how often these issue can be traced to that horrible sin. Pride. Always. My wanting control or validation or respect or admiration--pride. When those things are not offered, particularly when I expect they should be, my pride is so horrific and awful. I try to curb it but to no avail; and in the end, I show myself to be a man unworthy of the validation, respect, and admiration I desire. Like I said, catch-22 (or maybe that's irony--I don't know; it's Friday).

But I am not without hope. I can honestly say that these events are fewer now than they were two years ago, which were fewer then than they were five years ago. I still have my moments, and I believe I always will, but they are lessened in frequency now, though their severity can still be great. Thankfully, the Lord is gracious and full compassions, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:11-13). I know that as I continue my journey toward becoming more like Christ and less like "C.J. The Arrested Development Boy" (the behavioral state, not the fabulous show), the more my patience will increase and my pride decrease. The more I pursue Holy Jesus and grow to be like him in character, the more I, too, may display those aforementioned traits and avoid letting the pressure cooker get to a boiling point. I may need to take this one blow at a time, but we all start somewhere, do we not? Yes, I am hopeful indeed.

Thank you for reading, my friends, as always. Have a grand weekend full of merriment and adventure,

PS - I really mean that last part, too. I hope it felt at least half as good for you to read as it did for me to write! Be well, friends.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

5 Tips for Completing a First Draft

Well, I may be unpublished, but as of last Thursday, February 28, 2013, I have three full-length novels sitting on my hard drive. One of these I aim to self-publish by the end of April. The others are both in their infancy, each merely complete to their first draft (and as such unfit for human consumption).

So, enough bragging, right? Well, I wouldn't necessarily call the above bragging, and that's the reason for this post. Completing the first draft of a novel is an accomplishment, yes, but I believe any self-disciplined person willing to make the sacrifice and commitment can do it.

I've been through this three times, and I intend to be through it at least once more before year's end. While my method for completing each of my first drafts has been different, five specific actions have remained consistent across all projects, and I thought I'd share.

1. Purpose in your heart to finish. 
I am taking a phrase from the King James Version of the Holy Bible, when it speaks of the prophet Daniel (from that famous "Lion's Den" incident) who "purposed in his heart" not to feast on the buffet available to him because he knew it would dishonor God. Daniel looked at his life, decided what he would and would not do, then did it. I just love the phrasing, and this idea is the big one. In fact, this idea is the biggest one--purposing to write. I have found that if I do not commit to finishing a work before I begin it, I won't. By my eightieth page or forty-thousandth word, I'll doubt, get scared, get tired, get bored, get anxious, get frustrated, and quit. Believe me. I've done it. At certain points in a novel, a writer must climb over difficult pieces of story that do not feel like they are working, and stopping is much easier than fighting through it. Don't let yourself stop; commit to finishing before you begin. If you start at that solid foundation, you are in good shape.

2. Commit yourself to a realistic completion date.
Projects are a funny thing. Many people intend to do them, and fewer actually finish them--even fewer finish them in a timely manner. I think what separates this last category from the rest is one simple thing: a deadline. I love deadlines. In a way, they are magical. Before you have one, everything is nebulous, but the introduction of a "must-be-completed by" date, gives you focus, enables you to prioritize, and provides something of a finish line that works wonders on your brain. The finish line or deadline allows the brain to say, "okay, I know I can relax after Date-X; therefore, until that time, I will hustle." If you have never experienced the brain's power to harness its capacities for a given timeframe when it knows the end is coming, you have to. It's fabulous, and it works. Set a deadline.

3. Tell two or more people of your goal. 
Why two or more? Well, if you tell one, and that person either doesn't care, forgets, or passes in the interim, then it's just between you and God, and we all slight God with our weakness daily, so breaking this commitment you made to yourself before him (esp. when it's hard) will likely happen. But when it comes to our friends and families, we tend to be a bit more on point with keeping our word. Also, sometimes we need them to ask us about progress, let us know they are excited, or remind us of our goal in order to get through a project of this magnitude. Besides, if you decide to quit, you are not only letting yourself down but them also, and we all hate doing that. So tell them, at least two but try more (and if you're at a place with God where you can purpose in your heart before him and it sticks, good on you, keep that going).

4. Work daily. 
Accomplishing any major project in a single day is difficult--almost impossible. Spreading the tasks of that project into increments over a period of time is manageable, efficient, and immensely rewarding. So do. Break your book into chapters, word count, scenes or however you choose, but set a requirement daily (or at least 4 times a week) and complete it. Right now, I am putting Stronghold through it's final revision before I publish. I will edit a chapter a day, more if the mood strikes, but never more than one in a single session. I missed yesterday due to an illness-induced, bed-ridden stupor and today because I needed to post, so tomorrow when I am feeling top notch (hopefully), I will complete an initial session for Tuesday's chapter, a second for today's, and a third for the one originally planned for Thursday. Note what I am doing. When I miss a day, I make up for it. Immediately. By Friday, my regular routine will continue and so on and so forth. Do this if you want to write a book. I think six days a week is best. Do a certain amount each day, and do not get too far behind your schedule. You will feel accomplished even before you finish; and it will give you a sense that your book is a forming reality not a vague idea.

5. Be a mythkiller!
Yeah, you didn't see that one coming did you? Frankly, I didn't either, but it came, and I am sticking to it. So, what's a "mythkiller"? Well, one who kills myths, clearly (I thought we were all writers here). But what myths specifically am I telling you to kill? These:
a) I need ideal conditions to write: False. You need conditions in which writing is possible to write. That could be coffee shop, a kitchen table, a bed, or your restroom. It could be at any time of day, and it can be for any amount of time (I use a 20 minute-minimum to constitute a "session"). Just do it where you can, when you can.
b) I need to be inspired. No you don't. Never. Never ever. If you want to complete a book, you need to tell inspiration, "thanks for coming; you're welcome anytime, but I'm not stopping this freight train just cause you stepped off for a new pair of jeans." Say it. Mean it. Write without it. What do you write without inspiration? The truth. Always. Regardless. Tell the truth. You know it, and you don't need a muse to tell you. If the truth is an ogre fighting a cyclops on a bridge (and it often is), then write it. Inspiration will show up after its done shopping at the outlets, and it might even be wearing a new sundress that will give you an idea. Your needing it in the navigator seat is a myth.
c) It doesn't matter if I don't finish. Yes it does, because of points 1, 2, 3, and 4 it matters. You told yourself you would do this. You even set a date. You even welcomed others on the journey, and you have taken steps toward the destination already. If you don't finish, that's all for nothing, and that's a good deal of energy and intention you will waste. So it matters. Finish.

So, there you have it. It wasn't pretty (even though I threw in that undress at the end for good measure), but it works. If I did this three times, you can to. Truth. Thanks for reading,

PS - If you're in the middle of that first draft, and you haven't done this yet, it's never too late to add tools to your toolbox. Assess where you are in that draft, take these tips to heart and then keep on trucking!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Memorization: Joel 2:11-13

Below is a passage I am memorizing for my 30x30 goals. The passage is striking, and I must admit that its beauty did not become as full for me until I actually began to draft this post and express why I wanted to memorize the text in the first place. Frankly, I have come to value it a great deal more than when I originally began the process of memorizing it. At first I just felt it poetic and God-exalting, but now I feel it also exceedingly useful in revealing God's character. I look forward to sharing those thoughts in more detail, but first let's look into the glorious Words of Scripture:

The Lord utters his voice before his army,
for his camp is exceedingly great;
he who executes his word is powerful. 
For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome;
who can endure it? 
"Yet even now," declares the Lord, 
"return to me with all your heart, 
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments." 
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, 
slower to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; 
and he relents over disaster.

When I read something like this, I fall in love with the Lord anew, and Scripture should produce that response in the believer--like reading a love letter or old note--it should remind you of your original love, adoration, or pleasure in another person and renew it. This passage is so short, but it is so revealing as to the attributes of God:
  • His kingdom is grand and his forces, mighty (his camp is exceedingly great)
  • His works and actions are epic (the day is great and very awesome)
  • He longs for reconcilation, and he offers the solution for accomplishing it (return, fast, weep, mourn, rend). 
  • He is gracious--giving good that is unmerited. 
  • He is merciful--witholding punishment that is deserved. 
  • He is patient (slow to anger)
  • He is full of consistent, rich love in abundance. (steadfast love)
  • And when catastrophe and pain befall his people, whether it be as a result of useful intended discipline or simply the "reaped" result of their own sinful sowing, he hurts with and for them (relents over disaster) 
What a grand God to worship, trust, and know! What a Wonderful One to call Lord and Father!

Don't you see it?

Too often, I fail to. So often we all lose sight of this, of his goodness in spite of our recitative spiritual harlotry. Our confessions and our repentance does not include fasting, weeping, or mourning; we say we're sorry and go about our lives like it is no big deal, but hurting a God this Good is a big deal. If one wrongs a righteous person, we are so quick to judge and rebuke them for it (behind their backs, anyway), but when we spit in the face of a God this good, we shrug our shoulders and say "Whoops. Sorry." Oh, how reading this leads me back to a place of humility before a mighty God.

God is grand; God is wonderful. This God is my God, and I adore him.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 1, 2013

To all of you, many thanks.

As of yesterday, we have been in Delaware for six full months. I can hardly believe that much time has passed. Today, my post will be short, and it is dedicated to all of you.

In Phillipians 1:3, Paul writes, "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you."

I feel very similarly. I am so grateful for you, our friends and family.

Thank you for your comments on this blog and on facebook, your e-mails, your texts, your invitations to meals, and your general encouragement over these last several months. You all know who you are, and you are numerous. Please know that your kindness, generosity, and goodness are cherished, and your spirit of love has affected us deeply. With many of you our relationships have deepened, and with that deepening has grown greater respect and affection.

We have not endured any great or painful hardship of which to speak since our move, and for that I am grateful. The main points of difficulty have been our expectations, our adjusting to the East Coast, and our overall attitudes. Frankly, when we have faced discouragement, uncertainty, fear or doubt, we have been constantly comforted and encouraged by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as well as all of you.

So again and again, a hundred times, thank you.

If you would like to re-visit any of our previous major updates to see through what my wife and I have come, please see below:

It's Been Hard...But Hope Endures
12 Things I Learned in 2012, Pt. 1
12 Things I Learned in 2012, Pt. 2
After Three Months of Unemployment (November Update)
October Update
September Update
Initial Arrival in the Wilms, Dee

Thanks again and have a great weekend, all!