Monday, May 28, 2018

Writer, Shift Your Focus


By Andrea Merrell

I’ve met with many, many wonderful people at writers’ conferences over the years. In fact, I just returned from an overnight trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference (BRMCWC) in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, where I chatted with several ladies in the coffee shop.

One question that seems to pop up quite often is what these attendees hope to gain from the conference. The answers vary, but all seem to relate to doing.

  • I have a book in me, and I have to get it out.
  • I need the world to hear my story.
  • I entered a contest and hope to win.
  • I need to get a contract and get my book published.
  • I’m seeking an agent.
  • I’m trying to network and build my platform.
  • I’m trying to learn as much as I can.
  • I’m planning to meet with as many industry professionals as possible.

Each of these answers is important, but they’re all about doing. As I was driving up the mountain, a sermon on the radio caught my attention. The speaker was talking about how we are so tied to our to-do list that we forget to create a to-be list. He shared a few items on his to-do list, then admitted how difficult it was to examine his heart and come up with what he wanted to be instead of do.

Because my book, Marriage: Make It or Break It, was a finalist in the Selah contest, my drive to the conference was primarily to attend the awards ceremony. But even more exciting for me was the thought of seeing and spending time with so many of the wonderful friends I’ve made over the past ten years. As I continued to listen to the radio message, my thoughts turned to my career and how I could apply the man’s powerful words.

I prayed, Lord, there are so many things I want to do concerning my writing and editing. My list is long. But more importantly, what do I want to be? Here are a few of my thoughts:
  • I want to be a godly woman and good example.
  • I want to be a woman of integrity.
  • I want to be someone others can depend on.
  • I want to be a positive influence.
  • I want be an encourager.
  • I want to be generous.
  • I want to pray for others.
  • I want to be a person who helps others succeed and reach their God-given destiny.

If you’re a writer, especially one who is just starting out on this wonderful journey, allow God to mold you as you take one step at a time. There will always be many items on your to-do list, but maybe it’s time to shift your focus and concentrate on who you want to become as you travel this road.

I will always treasure the certificates and awards I’ve received, but above all, I will treasure the friends God has placed in my life and the wonderful way He continually works in my heart to make me who He created me to be.

Take delight in the Lord, 
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 34:7 NIV

What are the desires of your heart? Create your own to-be list. God will honor your efforts, and He will bless you in ways you can’t imagine.


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Monday, May 14, 2018

Writing Regrets


By Henry McLaughlin

After several years on this writing journey and from talking with others on the same path, I’ve found six things I wish I had done differently. Maybe you share some of them.

1) Following trends instead of my heart
We all have stories in our hearts. Stories that we need to write. Sometimes it’s for our own inner healing. Sometimes it’s to share something we’ve learned with others. It’s that story that simply won’t let us go. It’s the story that keeps drawing us even as we write something else.

And there are trends in the marketplace. The temptation to write what’s trending is strong because it seems like a sure pathway to success. One thing about trends is they change. That’s why they’re called trends. Related to this is by the time we finish our novel set in the current trends, we’re out of date. The trend has passed.
If our story is compelling and well written, it will sell no matter what the current trends.

2) Not investing more time in my writing dream
There are times in our writing journey when we can’t invest more time in our dream. Family, health, finances and a slew of other things can plunge us into crisis, and we have to step away from writing to deal with it. These are those times when we must adjust our priorities.

Once it’s resolved, it’s time to reconnect with our writing dream and reconnect with the writing community. This means investing time and sometimes finances. Making time to write is crucial. We also must invest in improving our craft through books, classes, conferences, and writing groups.

One of the benefits of this investing is we build our network. We meet people who instruct us, who become our mentors, who become friends and encouragers, who share this writing journey with us, who are there when this journey is at its loneliest.

3) Letting others define success
Success is unique for each of us. Finishing a book is a success for some. For others, it’s a multi-book contract or a NY Times bestseller or a movie deal. And, in reality, except for finishing the book, we have no control over any of these. In essence, we let others define our success. We need to define success for ourselves and put all our energy into it. If we allow others to define success, we’re sunk. Their standard isn’t ours. We’ve been given a dream and a calling. And a responsibility to fulfill them. Chasing someone else’s definition of success will cause us to lose our way.

4) Not stretching my writing muscles
We have to grow as writers. It’s part of learning our craft and developing our talent. I write in different genres because each challenges me to tell my story in a unique way, using techniques special to that genre. Now I write contemporary and science fiction and fantasy. I’m also writing flash fiction, short stories and novellas. Each provides insights into how I write, insights I can apply to all my writing and to how I mentor and teach others.

5) Listening to negative voices in my own head
I don’t know about you, but negative voices in my head are a fact of life. Voices that tell me I couldn’t write a line of dialogue if my life depended on it. Voices that tell me my plot is crap, my characters are stereotypes and my story world is unbelievable.  Voices that tell me I’ll never be published again.

There are other voices in my head as well. Voices that tell me I’ve been called to this writing journey. Voices that tell me I’ve been gifted with talent and ability to write and to write stories that will impact people for the better. These are the voices I need to ensure I listen to.

6) Letting others derail me
We’ve met these people. And not just in our writing. They could have been the coach or dance teacher who told us we’d never make it. The teacher who treated us as the dumbest kid in the class. It could be a parent who told us we’d never amount to anything. They sowed the seeds of a negative self-image. An image we sometimes reinforce with our own negative self-talk.

On our writing journey, these are the people who never seem to have an encouraging word for anybody. They seem to find some flaw in our writing and pick at it until we bleed. Their motivation is not to help, but to cast themselves as better than us. Jealousy drives them. They have to win, even if it means putting others down.  down.

They’re like the negative voices in our heads.

We decide who we’re going to listen to.

What’s on your list of regrets?

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Stuart Miles, and Cooldesign.) 

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Tagged as “one to watch” by Publishers Weekly, award-winning author Henry McLaughlin takes his readers on adventures into the hearts and souls of his characters as they battle inner conflicts while seeking to bring restoration and justice in a dark world. His writing explores these themes of restoration, reconciliation, and redemption.

Besides his writing, Henry treasures working with other writers and helping them on their own writing journeys. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. He regularly teaches at conferences and workshops, leads writing groups, edits, mentors, and coaches.

Follow him on Facebook.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Writer, Be Yourself


By Andrea Merrell

We all love role models, and everyone needs a good one in his or her life. The danger comes when we spend all our time and energy trying to emulate that person (or persons), forgetting our own unique gift, talents, and abilities.

Pastor and author Bob Gass says, “When you devote your life to being like somebody else, you risk becoming something God doesn’t want you to be.”

The truth is our heroes and role models have their own set of weaknesses, character flaws, and blind spots—just like we do. But we can become so enamored with their notoriety and accomplishments that we fail to see those things. We also forfeit our individuality and miss the personal path God has set out for us.

Besides, there’s a lot to be said for walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. While we’re looking at the end result, we have no idea of the literal blood, sweat, and tears they have put in to make it to where they are today. If we knew the challenges and difficulties they faced and overcame during their journey, we might not be so quick to want to walk in those shoes. It takes hard work and lots of perseverance to get ahead. When we start out as newbies, we have a lot to learn. And that learning curve has no end.

One author says, “Some of the lessons God teaches us may be similar, but another person’s purpose, gifting, journey, and time frame will be different from yours.”

Writer, you are unique. God has called you because you have a story to tell, whether it’s in a devotion, article, blog post, or novel. He uses your personality, your background, your experiences, your training, and even your likes and dislikes to mold and shape the words He wants you to write. 

Be yourself. Find your voice. Step boldly into your calling, and let God open the doors of opportunity for you that only He can open.

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)

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