October 30, 2014

Undaunted - by Susan Barclay

This month we've been asked to share and confront our fears. As a writer, what am I afraid of?

I've pondered this question and concluded that I have two basic fears: 1) that I won't finish (and therefore, my stories will never gain a readership), and 2) that what I have to say has no real value.

You may remember from a previous post that I've been working on my novel for quite a few years. I was hoping that this would be the year I'd finish it so I could move on to the next stage of getting it ready for publication, but a couple of major things have happened to make that improbable. Even for the pieces I have finished (i.e. picture books), it's been a while since I've submitted, and you can't get published if you don't send stuff out. Is it fear of rejection that forestalls me? No, I can handle rejection - each one brings me closer to success - it's finding the time to do the task. At the moment, time for myself is a commodity of which I don't have much.

As to the value of what I have to say, I mean eternal value. For sure, there's no real lasting value in the books I've written for preschoolers; they're cute stories, intended purely for entertainment. Nor is there lasting value in two of the three romancey short stories or one of the two Chicken Soup for the Soul stories I've had published so far. While there is something to be said for giving the reader a momentary escape from the daily grind, or in bringing a smile to her face, as a writer who is also Christian, God is the audience I wish to please most. Is He pleased with my more frivolous pieces?



There is a popular phrase today. You see it often on the back of pick-up trucks:
No Fear
I think of the reason I need not fear:

I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lordwho made heaven and earth! (Psalm 121:1-2, NLT)
I know I've taken this out of context, but it still applies. I don't need to worry about whether or not I finish the work. If the Lord wants my words to go forth, He will equip me to make it happen. He will give me the time I need; He will give me life and breath and skill. Yes, I need to use all that wisely, to steward it to the best of my ability. And if I don't complete my novels and stories, I still need not concern myself. God has other spokespeople He can use; no doubt many of them are more competent than I. Why should I care if He uses them instead of me? It's not about me. It's about glorifying Him.

Aha. When we fear, we are focused on ourselves, not on the One we claim to serve.

As for worrying that my work has no eternal value: when I think about it, my novel and other short stories (in other words, my works in progress), do have important (though I hope non-pedagogical) messages for the reader. A writer and teacher of writing once noted - "you have something to say." So perhaps this 'fear' is largely unfounded. And if God is the giver of stories, as He is the "maker of noses" and "giver of dreams" (Rich Mullins references), won't He ensure that, as a writer who seeks to honour Him, I write accordingly?

There's another well-known phrase we read on bumper stickers:

No Jesus, no peace/ Know Jesus, know peace
Whether we're writers or from any other walk of life, we cannot fear when we have the 'peace that passes understanding' (Philippians 4:7), the peace of Christ.  His perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

I recently watched the movie Divergent with my family. If you haven't seen it, perhaps it will be a spoiler to learn that, in order not to be found out, the main character, Tris, has to face her fears by thinking like someone who is Dauntless. A person who is fearless, intrepid, and bold, according to the definition at Dictionary.com. Tris has to learn to use the tools that are around her instead of depending on her own 'divergent' thinking.

This is true for us as writers as well. When we feel fear, we need to overcome it, using the tools at our disposal. We need to remember that Christ lives in us, and as such, we have access to peace. We need to remember what God says about who we are in Him. We need to know Scripture, so we can face our accuser and our doubts. We need to trust God, who is our provider.

There are two songs that speak especially well to me on these subjects, one is contemporary, the other an oldie but a goodie. I leave them with you and hope they help free you from today's fears, and tomorrow's as well. 

God bless.

For more of my writing, please visit me at www.susan-barclay.ca and www.notesfrominnisfree.blogspot.com

October 29, 2014

Showing up and being obedient - Ruth L. Snyder

Greg McKitrick and Marcia Laycock at Words in the Park
After getting up at 5:15 on weekday mornings, I look forward to sleeping in on Saturday mornings. But not this Saturday. My husband didn't look pleased when I informed him I would be away the whole day. My children are never happy when I leave, but they were excited about going to spend the day at Grandma's farm. We all had breakfast together and were out the door by 8:30.

I was supposed to meet Bobbi Junior at 11:30 at Words in the Park. "Lord," I prayed, "You know I feel like I'd rather be home today. Go before me. Give me the strength and wisdom I need." Before I left, I made sure I printed out driving directions. Everything went well until I arrived where the driving instructions told me to exit onto Sherwood Drive - it was closed due to construction. I drove to the next exit, praying that God would guide me. I don't drive in Sherwood Park very often and only know a couple of the main roadways. I knew that I had to go south-east, so I found a road that looked like a main thoroughfare and turned east. At the next stop light I scanned through the driving directions again and noted the venue was just north of Wye road. I needed to go further south. A couple turns later, I was delighted to see a sign that read "Sherwood Drive" - I was back on track. "Thank you, Lord!" A few minutes later I pulled into a parking lot and looked around. The Strathcona County Library sat directly to the left of the parking lot; I was right where I needed to be. Bobbi already had most of the display set up when I arrived at our reserved table at 11:35.

Greg McKitrick, a member of InScribe, was assigned to the table next to ours, even though we had not requested being together. A young fellow was at the table on the other side. Marcia Laycock arrived half an hour later and added her books to the display. As she was setting up her books, the young fellow's parents dropped by.

"This is my swear at the world," the young fellow said, holding up his book.

His parents nodded and smiled.

I bit my lip. Obviously our world views were vastly different."Lord, calm my fears and give me the words you want me to say to this young man."

The fellow's mother handed him a large poster to put on the wall. He was having difficulty getting it straight.

"I can help if you want," I said.

Soon the poster was hung. He offered Marcia and I chocolate bars as a thank you. We made small talk. I discovered he works as a luggage handler at the local airport. I shared a funny story I'd heard about a GPS system guiding a sleep-deprived woman onto the tarmac. Marcia continued the conversation by sharing what she was learning from her play-writing course.

People dropped by. Several mentioned they had heard about InScribe and they wanted more information. We handed out copies of FellowScript along with membership brochures. Some avid readers asked about our books. In the process of talking with them, I shared about The San Francisco Wedding Planner books I'm writing with four other writers. Later, the young fellow asked me more about what it was like to write with so many other people. He was fascinated by the possibility, but said he didn't think he could work with so many other authors. He left to fulfill his appointed reading from his book and his mother took his place at the table. I shared that her son had been interested in the wedding planner project. She asked a couple questions and then purchased both of the books in the series. After she purchased them she told her friends about them. I teased her about being my marketer.

"I can't wait to read your books. I'll let you know what I think."

"I look forward to your input."

As I thought about the event later, I realized that in other settings I would never have started up a conversation with the young man or his mother. I know that God had a special appointment for me on Saturday. All I had to do was show up and be obedient.

October 28, 2014

... But Deliver Me From Bureaucrats by Bruce Atchison


In spite of my being almost blind, I consider myself wondrously blessed. Thanks to the heavenly Father, I have a beautiful house in a tiny hamlet. It's so peaceful here that I feel like I'm on a permanent writing retreat. Furthermore, I get up when I feel like it, eat when I want to, and I have no physical boss breathing down my neck.

So what's wrong with all that? When I was laid off from the federal government in 1995, the personnel worker placed me on unpaid leave for two years. I received disability pension cheques each month from Sun Life and the government. The reason for the unpaid leave was so that I could have two extra years of pensionable income.

Since I'm still permanently disabled, having lost my left eye to a hemorrhage in 1988, Sun Life sends me a letter each year to confirm that I'm still disabled. Canada Pension Plan, on the other hand, audited me in 2003. My case worker wasn't happy with my doctor's note and the tax forms I had to send in. I never did find out why that was. After ten months, my case worker said in a letter that I was approved to remain on CPP disability BUT warned that I could be audited again at any time without prior notice.

The sword of being investigated hangs over me, even though I haven't received that dreaded telephone call again in more than eleven years. As a result, I worry that I could be cut off from half my pension money at the whim of a distant, dispassionate bureaucrat.

I'd love to be free of that worry but it's the price I pay for being on disability. When I was laid off, a job skills counselor suggested that I should take up freelance writing after I showed him tear sheets of fan magazines which published my music reviews. I also showed him the government newsletters in which my articles about recycling appeared. This seemed to me a golden opportunity. I could write at home while doing what I loved.

Freelance writing and being an author hasn't paid well. Nevertheless, I'm glad I have the freedom to create without the pressure of making a living. Even so, I still live with the haunting suspicion that the next phone call will be my case worker in Ottawa with bad news about my pension.

While I can, I'll spend the next seven years and two months searching for writing work, writing short stories, and promoting my books. I shouldn't worry but I do. Even so, I know intellectually that the heavenly Father will work something out for me. Now that knowledge needs to work its way into my heart.

October 27, 2014

What To Do When Our Writing Goes Up In Flames? by Melanie Fischer

What do you do if your hard work goes up in flames?

Be thankful for smoke signals.

It is better for ones writing piece to go up in flames and give off a smoke signal, than for it not to give off anything at all. It is easy to get wrapped up in the pain of rejections and miss the blessings which lay within them.

We writers tend to fear criticism and rejection, yet it is through this that we have the greatest opportunities for growth. When we pay attention to the signal that rejection is giving off, our skills develop in ways they could not otherwise do so. "Mistakes" give us chances for "retakes". Life's speed-bumps allow us to slow down when we may be spinning out of control. And, the long routes are the most scenic ones.

Maybe it was not God's timing. We certainly do not want to go against the Lord's time, which would cause greater grief than a rejection letter.

Maybe the words which were penned needs to go deeper. There is a tendency to keep our message shallow when we are digging into sensitive topics--depth has much greater impact on the reader.

Maybe the words that you thought you wrote for others, was instead, a message that you needed to hear.

No matter the reason why a piece is turned down, pay attention to what signal it is giving off. This is the way to learn, grow, stretch, strengthen and become who the Lord has created you to be. If you receive a rejection letter, you can crumple it up and use it to wipe away your tears. Or, you can fan the flames and receive clear smoke signals in order to understand how to be the best steward of this gift of writing that you can possibly be.

Jeremiah 29:11
"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."