Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Too Many Words

I nanny for three girls, the youngest of which is six years old. "The Princess," as I will refer to her in all blog postings, is about halfway through her second week of first grade. I take care of her and her sisters ("The Drama Queen" almost 12, and "The Diva" almost 9) about three afternoons a week. The older two are pretty good about doing their homework without too many problems. Sometimes they'll ask me to help them with their homework, and I realize that I am, in fact, a dunderhead when it comes to elementary and middle school mathematics (What does commutative mean? Seriously...I have to use the dictionary to do 4th grade math?), science (Laws of Motion? All I know is that I get in trouble with the law if my driving motion is too fast), geography (how am I supposed to know why it's called the Tropic of Cancer? No, I'm pretty sure you don't automatically get cancer if you go there), and pretty much everything else.

Anyway, I can easily help "The Princess" with all of her homework, since most if it is still on my level. Right now, she's just coming out of kindergarten (and a long summer break in which I did not make her practice her writing/reading enough), so she's practicing writing simple words like "a," "at," "the," "me," etc.

The past two days I've asked "The Princess" to do her homework. You'd think I was torturing the child. She comes home from school and starts complaining about how long it will take her to do her homework. She eats a snack. She stalls. She sits at the table. She stalls. She cries. She stalls. She pounds the table with her head--literally. I try to reason with her, but she doesn't seem to grasp the simple concept that if she'd just go ahead and START her homework, she would be done with it sooner. Homework that would take her about 10 minutes becomes an hour long ordeal.

The other day, I was trying to help her start her homework. I suggested she write some of her words down. It was a list of 10 words, all four letters long or less. She looked at me helplessly and dramatically exclaimed, "THAT'S TOO MANY WORDS!"

At this point, I really made her mad by busting out laughing. She demanded to know why I was laughing. I said to her as kindly as possible, "Sweetheart, I have written three grown-up chapter books. Don't tell me that this is too many words."

Anyway, I've been taking a break from writing for a while. I have about a week left of it, and then I'm going to have to start trying to get my first book published again. I'm going to have to send out query letters. I'm dreading this.

I have the temptation to look up at God helplessly and exclaim, "THIS IS TOO HARD FOR ME!" Only I'm not too mad when He laughs kindly and says, "But, sweetheart, nothing is too hard for me."

I know that I'm going to sit down to start sending my queries. I'll want to cry. I'll want to pound my fists on the table. I'll want to complain about how long it'll take me to find an agent. I'll want to make up excuses not to try. I'll want to go through every possible reason why I'll most likely not get published. "I'm an unknown writer! No agent will want me!" "My writing is unusual and probably sucks." "I don't know what I'm doing! Why did I think I could do this?" "What if aliens invade the planet and erase every copy of my book, and then steal my brain so I can't write it all over again!?"

The thing is, if I would just sit down and trust God and GET IT DONE, it wouldn't be such an ordeal for me. So I still ask for prayer. The reading break I've taken has been immensely helpful and refreshing. Now it's time to work again. There aren't too many words; I just have to be dilligent to do what needs to be done.

Lord, let not my hands be idle, nor my heart be unstirred.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I'm supposed to be taking a break from writing so that I can read and reevaluate my writing goals. Of course, I've cheated a little bit. A couple of short story ideas have come to my mind. Though I've tried to rein in my enthusiasm, I have written a little bit on both of these stories.

Last night was one of these times. I only wrote a few paragraphs, but something interesting happened. It's a strange thing that has happened before, but it always takes me by surprise. It always serves to both strengthen me and humble me.

Let me back up a bit before I continue. Let me just go ahead and back up about a decade, give or take a couple years.

When I was about nineteen, I had a crisis of faith. I'd been a Christian for about ten-twelve years; I'm one of those people who isn't sure exactly when I was saved--but I think it was somewhere around the age of seven, even though I wasn't baptized until I was nine. But at nineteen, I wasn't sure what I believed about God anymore. I wasn't sure what I believed about anything anymore. There finally came a point when I shut myself up in my little brother's treehouse (seriously, the only place I could find privacy) and left notes for my family to leave me alone until I was ready to come out. I took with me my Bible, a notebook, a pen, and all my doubts and questions and fears. Then, I did business with God.

I was very honest with God about everything I struggled with. Even with all the blessings in my life, for some reason, I just couldn't find a reason to keep believing in what I had always known to be true. So then I told God, "I don't think I can believe in You anymore."

I was an atheist...

...for about ten minutes.

I sat alone in that treehouse trying to contemplate what this new life of disbelief would mean for me. I discovered it was kind of boring.

So I picked up my notebook and started flipping through it. I'm not even sure why--probably just because it was there and I wanted something to do. My eyes fell upon a poem I had written probably about a week or two prior. I read the words and had the unusual realization that I had not written that poem.

It was in my handwriting. I remembered the occasion when it had been written. I remembered sitting out and watching the sunset and taking the pen into my hand. I remember moving the pen across the paper. But the words of that poem were foreign to me; the words of that poem were beautiful. It was a poem of praise and wonder and simple, pure love.

And I didn't write it.

So I got down on my knees and shed tears of joy for the knowledge that I had a reason to believe. God had not abandoned me as it seemed. Rather, He was trying to teach me something through a dark period of my life by seeming distant. He wasn't really distant. I believed, and my faith became stronger than it had ever been before. God wrote through me.

He still writes through me today.

Let's come back to the present now.

Last night, I only wrote a few paragraphs on a short story. When I looked back over the words that had come out of my pen, I read such truth in them. I knew that I had not written them.

Now, I have been told that writing cannot be a Spiritual Gift because it's not listed as a Spiritual Gift anywhere in Scripture. I'm not sure where I stand on that. I don't know if the Spiritual Gifts listed in Scripture are the only ones that a person can have. I don't want to speculate too much on that, because honestly, I don't think it really matters.

For whether or not my writing is a Spiritual Gift or not, I know for certain that there are times when I'm not the one in control of my writing. It's both humbling and inspiring to know that I'm not the one in control. It means that I can't take credit for it, but it also means that I don't have to worry. If God is in control instead of me, then that takes a huge burden off of me. I can't do anything without Him, but nothing is impossible for Him.

And just as I'm confident that He is writing through me, I'm confident that in His timing, He will bring my writing to completion. He is using me; He is using my writing. He will use me; He will use my writing. I don't know if that means I'll get a literary agent and a huge book contract and have a huge following. I don't know if that means I'll go to a lowscale publisher and just have a few faithful readers.

If one person comes to the knowledge of Christ through my writing, if one person comes to a stronger realization of who Jesus is, if one person gains strength or encouragement or a greater understanding of the truth through what the Lord has written through me...

...it will all be worth it.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I AM a Writer

I was at church the other day, when I happened to spot my friend Heather. I walked up to her and gave her a hug, as I tend to do. She hugged me back, then turned to one of her friends who was visiting.

"This is my friend Ruth," she said happily. "She's a writer!"

For some completely bizarre reason, this caught me off guard. I think I did a double, perhaps even a triple take before finally nodding to Heather's friend. "Yes," I replied uncertainly. "I'm a writer."

I've been writing since I was about eight years old. True, I've only been seriously writing for the past nine years or so. I've only been actively writing for the past four years or so. I've only been purposefully writing for the past two years or so. Even so, I should be well accustomed to the fact that, yes, I am a writer.

The thing is, when I meet new people, I don't typically introduce myself as a writer. If they ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I work with kids. Maybe, if we talk long enough, I'll mention my writing. I wonder why that is.

There's probably several explanations. I don't always like the reactions I get from people when they first learn I'm a writer. Some are really nice about it, and some TRY to be nice and fail. What bothers me the most is when people hear I'm a writer and immediately say, "Oh, wow! Will you let me read your stuff?"

Um...that just makes me feel as though that people think I'm not ever going to be published. Yes, you can absolutely read my stuff, once it's available for the you and the rest of the world to read. Ugh, seriously...it's such an awkward question for an aspiring writer to be asked. It's almost as awkward as the question, "So what do you write about?" Shudder.

I think another reason why I don't automatically tell people I'm a writer is that I'm still getting into this mindset that this is the life I want. I want to be a writer--nay, I want to be an author. The two words carry slightly different meanings. I can be a writer right now, but I can't truly be an author until I've gotten something published. And honestly, the idea of being an author, while exhiliarating, is also quite frightening. It's work; real work. I didn't really understand that until I started looking into it. Even if I snag an agent, I'm going to have to continuously write and meticulously edit and probably do some publicity/marketing stuff--yikes. I have no idea what it all involves, because I'm not there yet.

But I need to get into that mindset.

So my challenge for myself is that I won't be surprised when friends introduce me to people as "a writer." ...in fact, I'm going to take that one step further and try to introduce myself as a writer. It's part of my identity, and I really need to start acting like it.

Friday, August 13, 2010


My friend James Cogdill has written a book called Project 19: The Blazer Saga, which is for sale at www.blazingbushpublishing.com I have not read it as of yet (just ordered my copy), but I've read his other books. He is an excellent storyteller. His stories are imaginative and well-written. He's particularly good with action sequences (which I'm slightly in awe of, because my action writing tends to be one of my weaknesses). I highly reccommend that you go to www.blazingbushpublishing.com RIGHT NOW and purchase a copy of Project 19: The Blazer Saga. You should also buy copies for all your friends and family members...even your crazy Uncle Steve.

I have a feeling that the name James Cogdill will become much better known in the near future. Wouldn't it be cool to say you were reading him before everyone else? Yes. Yes it would. So buy his book. Kthx!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Romance and Writing

I don't like Jane Austen.

Well, that's not entirely true. I've never actually met Jane Austen to know if I like her personally or not. Rather, I should have said that I don't particularly like the writing of Jane Austen.

People are usually pretty shocked when they learn this about me. I get all kinds of interesting reactions:
"But...but...but...you're one of those Englishy writer bookish types. You HAVE to love Jane Austen."
"But...but...but she's JANE AUSTEN. All women love Jane Austen. You're a woman. It's like an unwritten law that you must LOVE JANE AUSTEN."
"Um...maybe you should read some of her stuff again, because I just don't understand how someone couldn't like Jane Austen. EVERYONE loves Jane Austen."
"*Sigh* There's just something wrong with you, Ruth."

The last statement is probably entirely true. There is just something wrong with me. And that's all right. You see, I am an Englishy writer bookish type, but that doesn't mean I have to like Jane Austen. I DO have an appreciation for Jane Austen's writing. I understand the humor and the social aspects of her writing. I admire her for being a professional female in a time when it was practically scandalous for a female to be a professional. The problem I have with Austen is that I just don't like romance for the sake of romance.

Romances are so predictable. Couple meet. Couple has problem. Couple resolves problem (or the problem is somehow resolved for couple). Couple lives happily ever after. I grew up on Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and all the other happy Disney stories. It didn't take me too long to realize that life doesn't work out like a Disney movie. People don't always live happily ever after. While I still love the old Disney classics, I think I've just gotten too old to embrace romances that I didn't know as a child. I can't take them seriously. A plot that just revolves around two people and their romantic relationship is just...boring...to me.

With that being said, I don't hate romance. In fact, stories WITHOUT romantic elements are usually just not that interesting to me (there are a few exceptions, but not many). I love it when there are two characters who find each other and fall in love within the course of their dealings with some other situation or situations. I DO like happy endings. It's just the whole concept of romance driving the whole story that I can't get past. I like romances WITHIN plots, just not as the plot itself.

For instance, my favorite book A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, is NOT a romance. It's YA science fiction/fantasy. However, the story is greatly embellished by the connection between the main character, Meg Murray, and her unlikely friend Calvin O'Keefe. Without their close friendship (and eventual romantic love), I would not like the book nearly as much. The romance makes the story better, but it doesn't make the story.

In every major project I've written so far, there has always been a romantic love story woven somewhere into the plot. The love story, however, is not the driving force behind the story. There's always something bigger happening. Romance is great, but I believe it should be something that embellishes a plot, rather than being the plot itself.

Anyone is, of course, welcome to disagree. I know a lot of people do. I mean, after all, there IS just something wrong with me.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Some Confessions, A Calling, and A Cry

This is long. I make no apology. I have a lot on my brain and need to dump it somewhere. So I'll dump it here.

I care too much about what other people think of me. This sin probably contributes a little to the fact that I'm just now starting to attempt to get my writing published. It's not the only reason. In fact, sometimes I wonder if I'm even ready to try to get anything published at all.

Recently, someone was talking about giving birth. I have never given birth and probably never will. I'm only 30, so at this point I could still potentially get married and have kids. But, I'm really adverse to the idea of walking around nine months with a living creature growing inside of me, only to have to painfully squeeze it out in front of some weird doctor(s). The idea of a C-section is even more appalling--actually being awake while said weird doctor cuts you open. Eww. No thanks. I love kids and have a huge heart for adoption, so if I do get married, kids aren't out of the question--I'm just not big on the idea of having my own.

Anyway, I started thinking about my writing, likening it to having a child. For far longer than nine months, I've been carrying around this child. I conceived it about nine years ago. It's grown and developed quite a bit. I started having some contractions. I thought I was finally ready to deliver, so I started looking around for someone to help me deliver--a literary agent for my midwife. I'm starting to have some doubts to that. Perhaps I wasn't really having contractions. Perhaps they were Braxton-Hicks contractions that led me to believe I was ready when I wasn't.

I'm still not sure if I'm ready to do this. Part of the reason I went ahead and sent out some queries is because I started sensing that some people thought I was stalling out of fear. So I went ahead and sent out some. I'm not saying that the only reason I proceeded was because I cared what other people thought, but that was at least part of it. I care what people think.

And here's where I get really honest. I'm not sure how many of my perceptions are true, or how much I just invent out of my own self-conscious vanity, but it hurts me to believe that there are people out there that think that writing is a foolish pursuit. And I do believe that. I believe that there are others who judge me because I actually dare to believe that the Lord has given me this work to do.

Writing isn't church work. It's not an obvious ministry. It isn't like going overseas and working with orphans or unchurched people. It's not like teaching a Bible study. It's not like handing out food to the homeless people downtown. And I perceive, either correctly or incorrectly, that there are people in my church and circle of friends who think I'm batty for even wanting to do this. Whether or not my perceptions are correct, it matters not. The fact of the matter is, I'm sinning by caring too much about what other people think. If the Lord has called me to this, then it will happen. If He hasn't, I need to trust Him to show me that and lead me to what He wants. I do believe He has called me to this. I believe that, in His timing, there will be fruit to the work I'm doing. The figurative child will be delivered, and the child will be something God can use. It doesn't matter whether anyone agrees with me and my vision or not.

Another sin I have is vanity--which is related to the caring of what others think. A lot of people have asked why I don't sing more in church. I'm in the choir at my church, but I'm aware of the fact that I could probably do solos. I'm too well aware of that fact. The reason I don't ask to sing solos or make it more apparent that I can sing well is because I know how vain I am. I like to sing to praise God; I like to sing because the Lord gives me songs and the grace to sing. My fear is that if I get the chance to stand out too often, I'm going to be tempted to sing to glorify myself. My writing is no different. I fear that if I have success with my writing, I'll be tempted to praise myself instead of God.

The amazing thing about this process of trying to get published is how humbling it is. The Lord is incredibly faithful to humble us if we ask. I've been asking that for the past couple of weeks, and I've been seeing it in many aspects of my life. Working with kids gives me plenty of opportunities to be humble. I can't say I've always been the most humble this past week. Jesus said in Matthew 10 that if you offered a cup of cool water to a little one in His Name, you would not lose your reward. I have lots of opportunities to give cups of cool water to little ones. Sometimes I do it a lot more graciously than others. At the end of the day, I get to reflect on how I treated those kids, and on how much I have to rely on God to be gracious.

I'm also experiencing this humbling in my writing. I've queried about ten agents, and gotten back eight respones. All were rejections. The rejections themselves are not so humbling; they're what is to be expected. What's humbling is that I'm now confronted with the arduous task of assessing the rejections I've received and rewriting the queries I've sent and trying to figure out how and who to send my next queries to--if I'm even ready to do that at all. (Forgive the run-on sentences!) I obviously do not know what I'm doing and need guidance. I need grace. I can't do this on my own.

This brings me to my cry.

Last night, I attempted to start a book that is described as "Christian Fantasy" (Dragonspell by Donita K. Paul). I fell asleep two pages into it, not because it was that boring, but because I was THAT exhausted. I'm actually looking forward to reading more this afternoon. But in the front cover of this book, there are little quotes from other authors giving "praise for Dragonspell." I was reading some of these last night before starting the book, and one quote caught my attention: "No one will ever be able to read this and doubt that Christian fantasy is a viable genre for spreading God's Word." --Christine Lynxwiller (president of American Christian Romance Writers)

Now, I'm still trying to get over a lot of my prejudices against "Christian writers," and so I'm not sure how much I can trust the opinion of someone who is president of a group called the American Christian Romance Writers, but that really is neither here nor there. The important thing is that the quote so moved me last night that I had to pause for a few moments and burst into tears.

I want my writing to elicit that response in people. I want people to read my work and think that it's something that could draw people to God and to the Gospel. I believe that it's not only possible (all things are possible with God), but that the Lord has called me to this very thing. And the cry of my heart is that the Lord would do something big--not with me, but with my writing. The cry of my heart is that He will get the glory for it. The cry of my heart is that lives will be changed because of this work the Lord has given me to do.

And I cry out, begging for your prayers as I try to be faithful to what God has given me to do. I pray that I will only be concerned about what God wants, and not give a second thought to what other people may or may not be thinking. I ask that God will direct me in this uncertain process and this uncertain stage of my life. If there's an agent He wants me to have, He will provide that. If He wants me to market this book towards a more Christian audience, He will reveal that to me and open the doors for that to happen. If He has something else planned that I can't even imagine, then that will happen, too.

I'm learning that trust and obedience live in a completely symbiotic relationship. You can't obey without trusting, and you can't trust without obeying. If I trust God, that's going to be fleshed out through obedience. There are so many things that beg for our time and attention--so many needs to be prayed for. I am still foolish enough to ask that you add this to the many things that you pray for. I ask that you would pray for guidance for me as I seek to trust and obey God. I ask that you would pray that His name be glorified in my writing and my work. I ask that you would pray for the right timing and the right marketing and the right avenue for my writing to make maximum impact on the people God wants to reach.

I don't understand what God is doing, but I understand that He is doing something. I'm not sure if these contractions are the real deal or not. What I do know is that even if it's not time to deliver, God is using this "child" to teach me a lot.

Thank you so much for reading this (I know it was long). Thank you for praying. I am very much a weak fool, and I'm very much in need, but the God I serve is able to provide beyond anything I could ask or imagine. As wild as my imagination is, that's a pretty exciting concept.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Out of my Mind

My mind is a pretty frightening place. I spend a lot of time there. It's practically unavoidable. I mean, I have to spend twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with myself. It's not easy.

Lately, however, I've realized that I need to get away from myself occasionally. I've been trying to discipline myself as a writer, but, as I often do, I've put the cart before the horse. I can be disciplined as a writer, but I become unbalanced in other areas if I don't first try to be disciplined in more important things.

In this past year, I've completed one book that I started last year, finished the editing on another book that I started nine years ago *hides head in shame*, and somehow managed to begin and complete another book (in the period of slightly less than two weeks--an act of God, no doubt). I'm still doing some editing and writing. I'm attempting this query letter thing. I've been fairly disciplined in the writing stuff. I've also been disciplined in my diet/exercise and have consequently lost about 40 pounds since January of this year. I guess the world would look at me and say, "She's not doing too badly in the discipline department."

The thing is, I've not been disciplined in prayer or reading my Bible. As a Christian, these should be the most important disciplines in my life. The Lord has been gracious in dropping Spiritual crumbs to me, but there's a whole banquet that He's set out for me. I've just been too lazy to get up off the floor and eat.

For the past couple of weeks, I've tried to get into the habit of waking up a good hour earlier than usual for the sole purpose of spending time with God. One of the many positive results of this is that the Lord is showing me that I am far too self-focused. I'm an introspective person, which is good, because, well, I'm a writer. But spending too much time with oneself can lead to false perceptions.

The longer I look in the mirror, the more obsessed I come with my own reflection. The longer I look in the mirror, the longer I believe I'm something good. If all I do is glance at others, I fail to see their beauty. I become judgmental of their flaws, forgetting I have a fair few of my own.

As it relates to writing, sometimes I spend so much time reading and rereading what I've written that I absolutely fall in love with it. I lose all objectivity, because I forget there's anything out there besides the words that have come from my own brain.

This week, I've neglected the novel I've been editing. I've put aside any story ideas that want to pop up in my brain while I'm supposed to be doing something else. I've stopped obsessing about the characters in my stories. I'll get back to them eventually. For now, I'm reading other authors' writing. I am about to finish reading one novel and about to start another. And I'll probably read a few more before I'm finally ready to return to my own stories and my own brain.

And I'm not sure what I'll come back to when I finally do return. Maybe I'll come to find some minor flaws in my writing that I didn't see before. Maybe I'll realize my stories really are as good as thought they were (or--dare I think it--even better than I believed). Maybe I'll realize that there's a reason I keep getting rejections--that my writing sucks and I had better take up yodeling (or continue hold out hope for my crappy writing anyway, because, after all, Twilight got published--and did well).

Whatever happens, I'm grateful for the time that I'm spending out of my mind. I LOVE reading (I'd forgotten how much), and this is a great opportunity to get into some great literature.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Do I Want to Be a "Christian Writer"??

I am a Christian. I am a writer. I'm not so sure I want to be known as a "Christian writer" or a "Christian author." There are two main reasons for this.

There is a certain idea I get when someone says the words "Christian author." It is not a good idea. I think of bad romance novels with cardboard characters or sappy stories with no real plot or depth. In fact, off-hand, C. S. Lewis is the only "Christian author" I can think of who doesn't give me that negative idea. I don't want to be a writer that falls into the category of that idea I have of "Christian authors."

On the other hand, there are other authors I'm fond of that also happened to be Christians, such as Tolkien and Madeleine L'Engle. I don't really think of them as Christian writers; they were just writers who happened to be Christian. They were able to artfully weave subtle Christian themes into a story without compromising their art. This is the type of writer I'd like to be.

There is another reason why I don't think I'd like to be known as a "Christian author." If a non-Christian were looking for something to read, chances are, this person wouldn't be interested in reading a work of fiction by a so-called "Christian author." Most likely, the only people who would be interested in reading works by a "Christian author" would be other Christians. While there's nothing wrong with the idea of having other Christians read my writing, I don't want JUST Christians to read my writing. I want my writing to be available for everyone. I want it be marketed to everyone.

After a lot of prayer, I'm beginning to see how little I understand of what God is doing with me and my writing. God's convicted me that I really need to "get skooled" on what kind of Christian fiction actually exists in this world. I've been judgmental of what exists in the realm of Christian fiction. I've been too judgmental to really even investigate. A good friend of mine has suggested several books from the genre of "Christian fantasy" and "Christian Science Fiction"--I didn't even realize those were legitimate genres. I have some research ahead of me (yay reading!). It seems that if there's some groundbreaking going on in Christian literature, it might be a good time for me to try to get in on it. ...foot in the door...

I'm just not sure how the Lord wants me to market my stories. Right now, I'm just trying to be faithful and learn as much as I can. I'll continue to send queries and keep editing. I'll keep asking God for guidance. If you pray for me, my greatest request is that God will get glory from my writing. I'm not sure about all the "hows" that are involved, but I know He's called me here. He isn't finished with this...or with me.