Friday, May 28, 2010

BRMCWC Lesson #2: Everyone Has an Opinion

After realizing that I didn't know nearly as much as I had thought I knew; I quickly learned that there are as many different thoughts on how to write as there are writers! Don't get me wrong - there are some 'rules' that are fairly universal - like 'Show, don't tell'. But I also found that many of the very successful writers that I met at BRMCWC have very different ideas about the process.

Generally, writers appear to fall into one of two camps: the 'outliners' and the 'ad-libbers' (to borrow a phrase from Don Brown). But even within these groups, I found diversity. Many of the outliners write at length using a variety of techniques to get to know their characters. Some journal. Some interview their characters at length. Some write lengthy biographies of their characters that will never be part of their final work - but will be integral in determining their characters' responses in a given situation.

Similarly, 'ad-libbers', also known as 'writing by the seat of your pants',  generally layout some plan as far as the plot. While they may not sketch out a skeleton and fill in each 'bone' before writing, they invariably have in mind a particular inciting event and a climax.

The bottom line - as a writer, we need to recognize which general camp we fall into, but we also need to realize that even if we are a 'seat of the pants' writer - we still must have a general idea of our plot. If we are an outliner - at some point, we have to move beyond the outline and structure and flesh out the story! Getting feedback and critiques on our work can be invaluable, but as the author we have to decide which feedback to apply and which to discard. We should be teachable, but should also be firm in our convictions. Allow our craft to be polished, but don't lose our unique voice.

"5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does." James 1:5-8

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lessons I Learned at BRMCWC

#1. I don’t know nearly as much about writing as I thought I did.

I learned this lesson faster than the time it takes to run out of breath walking from Rhododendron to Mountain Laurel! From attributions to plot to structure – I learned more than I even knew there was to know. And most of all, I learned that even after all that I took in, I have so much more left to learn.

It occurs to me now that this is a little like our walk with Christ. Before we can be saved, we have to first realize that we do not have all the answers. You have to know you’re lost before you can be ‘found’. Of course, when we first come to Christ, we can sometimes have such a passion and zeal that our words and actions hinder the cause of Christ. Similarly, at our first writer's conference, we can be tempted to think so highly of the masterpiece that we have created that we are perfectly obnoxious to everyone we meet (Oh, Lord, I hope that wasn’t me!)

As we mature and learn, we begin to see a glimmer of how long the road that lies before us is. We get a clearer picture of the immense amount of hard work that will be required of us. We glimpse the painful suffering that it may entail.

And we are faced with a choice.

We can ‘keep on swimming’ as Dory admonished in Finding Nemo. One of my favorite lines of all time and one that I use often.

Or we can give up and walk away. It’s too hard. I can’t do it.

But for me, writing has quickly become more than what I do. It is who I am. Going to BRMCWC was like returning to the mother ship – I am one of them! With apologies to Sally Field, "They understand me, they really understand me!"  Just as once you have accepted Christ, there is a certain rapport that you feel almost immediately with fellow believers. So also is there a kinship amongst writers. We are different than other people.  We are weird.  And that is very good.

As a Christ-follower, you have no option but to continue to live for Him, no matter how challenging it is. So I, having accepted what God has fashioned me to be, have no choice but to press on.

13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

Monday, May 10, 2010

Divine Appointments

I had an appointment this afternoon.  Well, actually, I had two.  One I was fully aware of and one came as a bit of a surprise.

The appointment I knew about was to have my hair done - have to have a fresh coat of color and a new cut for the conference (JUST 6 DAYS LEFT!)  The appointment was set for shortly after work, so I had to run and get a quick bite to eat in between.  Ordinarily, I would probably have run through the drive-thru and eaten in the van - something I do far too often when time is short.

For whatever reason (leading of the Lord, perhaps?) I decided to go to Five Guys - yes, still a greasy burger and fries, but that's not the point!  As I sat down, I noticed a young black man at the table in front of me wearing a Five Guys uniform with a Bible and a spiral notebook opened before him on the table.  He noticed that I prayed over my food before eating and struck up a conversation about the Lord and how He had worked in both of our lives.  It turns out that he is a student at Wake Tech who hopes at some point to go to Seminary and become a missionary.  When I finished, we agreed to keep each other in prayer. 

I never cease to be amazed at how precious it is to meet a brother or sister in Christ - though we are strangers, we share an almost immediate bond.  Our relationship with the Father makes us truly family no matter how different our backgrounds may be.

As I headed to my hair appointment, I was struck by how God had used a stranger to encourage me (and hopefully, for me to encourage him as well) and how often I may be missing such opportunities by zipping through the drive-thru and eating alone in my car.  Yet another good reason to abandon the drive-thru...just to make sure I don't miss any divine appointments.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My Parents Did Everything Wrong

That may sound harsh, but if you believe the media today, that is what one would think.  You see, when I was born in 1966, my parents were supposed to be tuning in, dropping out, and getting in touch with the universe. 

Instead, they chose to raise a family, meet their responsibilities and serve their country. 

While other men my dad's age were protesting the war in Vietnam, my father was risking his life to serve his country. 

While other women my mom's age were 'bringing home the bacon' and burning their bras, my mom was at home raising three children to be responsible adults.

While other people their age were living lives of self-indulgence and 'whatever feels right', they were paying their bills, taking their children to church, and teaching them that hard work has a certain intangible value that cannot be measured.  That we help others most by encouraging them to not give up - not by giving them whatever they want.  That love sometimes mean saying, 'No.' 

Thank you Mom (and Dad) for doing everything wrong!  I'm so glad you did!

Friday, May 7, 2010


"1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. "  Hebrews 12:1-3

So...God has been teaching me about perseverance.  Well, that's a little mild.  God has been smacking me on the head and showing me just how little perseverance I have!  And how my failure to follow through and complete things is starting to show up in my children.  Ouch.....that hurts.

But it's a good hurt.  It's the kind of hurt that you feel when you exercise and push yourself further than you thought you could, and even though it hurts, you know that because of that pain, you are growing stronger.  It's the kind of hurt that we must experience if we are growing in our walk with Christ - or in any area of our life for that matter! 

If we want to grow and mature, we have to face the pain of seeing our shortcomings for what they really are.  We have to be willing to take a long look in the mirror, recognize the flaws, prioritize the work to be done and then get started.  Of course, we can't change ourselves - any improvements we make are the result of God working in us through the Holy Spirit and us just keeping our 'self' out of the way.  That's where I find I've really struggled.  I'm OK with recognizing areas that need work.  I'm full of great ideas for improving myself, my family, and my house.  I'm enthusiastic about getting started!  I'm excited about the results...until I take my eyes off Jesus and put them on me.  Then I'm tired.  I'm too busy.  I have too many things that take priority. I just don't have enough time.

Of course, this ties in perfectly to what He has been showing me about His sovereignty.  Because the end result is not dependent on my effort - He has already prepared good works in advance for me to do (Eph 2:10).  He has already marked off the course for me.  I just need to stay in the race.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Twelve Days and Counting!

In just twelve days I am embarking on an adventure with one of my best friends to attend the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in Asheville, NC!  This is where the rubber meets the road...where we will get a glimpse of what God may have in mind as He is calling us to write, write, WRITE!

I was reminded in my Sunday evening Bible Study of just how thoroughly and completely God is sovereign.  I mean, we know that, right?  We know that 'God is in control', that 'His eye is on the sparrow', and 'He's got the whole world in His hands' but how often I live like 'I've got the power', and I'll do things 'my way!'

Our Bible Study was on Romans 8:29-34 - a full-course meal in terms of digesting spiritual truth.  As we considered several other verses that related God's choice of Abram (for no apparent reason), God's choice of Jacob (for no apparent reason), God's choice of David (for no apparent reason)...well, you begin to get the point!  God chooses us for certain purposes not because we have some special talent or gift, not because we are super-spiritual or holier-than-thou; but simply because He is God and He gets to choose.  Once chosen, He gives us all we need to accomplish His plan.

When my children were pre-schoolers, there were times when I made plans for them that were beyond their understanding.  No matter how I tried to explain the wonders of DisneyWorld to my 3-year-old, she simply couldn't understand what was in store for her.  As I recall, she threw a wild-eyed fit at one point because she did not want to get in the car seat.  I had made the reservations, bought the tickets and all I needed was a cooperative child.  God has a plan for each of our lives too - a purpose that He has worked out perfectly.  We do have an option though - we can cooperate with the plan or be drug along kicking and screaming! 

For a number of years, I have resisted what God clearly showed me was His purpose because I didn't believe that I had the talent or knowledge or right kind of degree or experience or whatever needed to do it.  But God has reminded me that it is not about what I have - it's about being obedient to do what He tells me to do with what He provides.  The results are up to God!