Monday, January 25, 2021

The Mission of Your Writing

By Cindy K. Sproles

I attended an intense writing class a couple of years back. It’s true that a good writer never stops learning, and I want to always present my best work, so you can imagine my surprise when the first comment from the instructor was a question. What is your mission statement? I was here to learn strong fiction writing. A mission statement?

This was never something I considered for my writing. We have one in place for our ministry and for our conference, but a personal mission statement for my writing just never occurred to me.

It’s a nerve-racking moment when you’re put on the spot to answer a question you haven’t pondered. Amid other Christian writers, I wanted to be sure I had the spiritual aspect known, but that’s when the instructor threw me for a loop. It’s a given we are here because we want to write for God in some aspect. So, move beyond that and think deeper. There went my easy mission statement.

In fact, our homework was to devise our statement for the following week. I can’t lie, it wore on me the full hour and fifteen minutes it took me to drive home, but it was one of the best writing lessons I’ve learned in a long time.

What compiling a mission statement taught me:

*To be prayerful about the work I claim to give to God – It’s easy to be a Pharisee and proudly tell the world we write for God. The question is, do we really? Do we pray over every work and ask God’s guidance or even ask if the work we are doing is within His will? It was definitely food for thought. Learning to listen to the still soft voice that guides us, leads us to words that make the perfect impact.

*To focus my writing on a deeper personal level – Taking time to consider personal experience, more intense learning, and stepping up to the plate to improve my work. It’s easy to fall into a comfortable writing place, never challenging ourselves to take our writing to the next level. This needed to be included into my statement as a commitment to further my skills.

*To commit to producing work daily – This is a biggie. Life happens to us all, but life at its hardest is not an excuse to stop writing. Often, writers grow frustrated and feel life’s trials have grown too overwhelming. I recently spoke with a friend at a conference who’s penned over 40 books. As we talked about writing despite the things that happen, he told me how he turned out three best-selling books as he walked his mother through hospice and into heaven. “Writing during Mom’s illness, drew out emotion and words, even phrases, I didn’t know I had in me. To this day, those three books are still the most remembered of my works.” Valuable insight. Keep writing, despite . . .

*To set goals – I’ve never been a goal setter, or one who wrote my goals down, but the one time I attended a business conference and was asked to write down my personal goals, I learned something very surprising. My personal goals were not for the business at all, they were to be a writer. I went home, spoke with my director, let her know my focus would be on writing, and I would be stepping aside. And step aside I did. That spring, I attended my first writers’ conference. It took writing down my goals to not only visually see them, but to come to grips with what my heart’s desire truly was.

*To remind me of the race I am called to run – I can see now, writing a mission statement not only helps me focus, but it holds me accountable. Accountability is important for us in every aspect of our lives. Reading this statement daily continually reminds me of the race I run and strive to finish not only in my spiritual life and relationship with Christ, but also in my earthly life.

Who would have thought compiling a mission statement for my writing would be such an important facet to my career?

Take time to think through the real reasons you write. Be it to earn a living, share stories, or something you do as a sideline. Allow your statement to bring into focus the desires of your heart as a writer.

The mission statement of my writing career is multi-faceted. First and foremost, I want to be mindful of the gifts and pathway God has set in place for me. I pray I might write words that impact the lives of others. I choose to place before the Father every work I do, be it large or small, simple or complex, and that the goal remains – to always be a glory to my God. I will have an attitude of graciousness, a teachable spirit, and a heart to continue to strive to learn and challenge myself to be the best I can be in my work – for God asks me to present my best to Him. I commit to use my gifts daily, even when it is hard, knowing that God refines me by the fires through which I may walk and that with continued effort during trials and my dependence on Him, He will fully use me to His glory. I pray He will bless my work. I am called to write, to daily seek the words God has stored in my heart, and to continually strive to complete each task and every story. And I understand that personal accolades are nice, but what is most important is that the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart are acceptable to Him. By daily striving to meet the goals of this statement, I will grow in creativity and in skill to produce excellent work, through Him who gives me strength.

Write your mission statement. Make it personal. Make it a challenge to your spiritual life as well as your professional life, and then place it at the feet of Christ. You will be amazed at the ways you will grow as a writer. 


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


Cindy K. Sproles is the cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries and the director of the Asheville Christian Writers Conference (ACWC). She’s an author, popular speaker and teacher at conferences, and a writing mentor. Cindy serves as the Executive Editor of ChristianDevotions.us, Inspire-A-Fire.com, and is the Managing Editor for SonRise Books and Straight Street Books with LPB Books/Iron Stream Media. She is the author of Mercy’s Rain, Liar’s Winter, and What Momma Left behind. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com.

 


 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Writer, It’s a Matter of Trust


By Andrea Merrell

“I’m skeptical,” the woman said as she sat across the table from me at a writers’ conference during an appointment. “The rules keep changing. I just don’t trust the process.”

It was clear this lady was not there to pitch her book. She needed to vent. So, for fifteen minutes I gave a listening ear and let her vent. She talked about the varied opinions on her writing and how everyone’s guidelines differed. She complained about all the rejections she had received. And she had strong opinions about how her former publisher handled—or rather mishandled, as she said—her project.

She was discouraged and had definitely lost her trust, not only in the process, but in everyone involved. More than anything, I gathered she had lost trust in herself.

The writing and publishing industry has changed dramatically over the past twenty-plus years. And it continues to evolve. Many of the changes are good. Others, not so much. It’s hard to predict what the face of this industry—not to mention social media—will look like in five, ten, or twenty years. And it’s certainly not something any of us can control.

Bookstores are closing at a rapid rate. E-books and audio books are in a race against the print book. And self-publishing has become the rule instead of the exception. Unfortunately, many writers have given up, saying they can’t keep up and can’t compete.

I believe it comes down to a matter of trust. But where should our trust be? Should it be in an ever-changing industry or in the One who gifted us and called us to pen words of life, hope, and encouragement?

I’ve seen doors open for others—and even in my own life—that only God could open. We’re all familiar with Jeremiah 29:11. This is how the Message puts it: I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

God has a plan for each and every one of us. Some say where He guides, He provides. Let’s add where He calls, He equips. When we choose to follow the Lord and use the gifts He’s given to us for His glory, we don’t have to be in control. And we don’t have to understand. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are much higher than we can comprehend. When things look impossible, that’s when God does His best work.

If God has given you words to share, don’t hold back. Trust the gift He has given you. Trust yourself. But most of all, Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV).


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





Monday, January 4, 2021

A New Year for Writers

 By Henry McLaughlin

 

Yep, 2021 is here. As bad as 2020 was it still seemed to fly by. Maybe faster for some than others. It was a year in which we all enjoyed successes and challenges. A year in which we all experienced things we never had before. But it’s behind us now.

2021 spreads before us. Do we view it with dread or with hope? You know, that’s entirely up to us. How we view 2021 is our choice. We decide how we will respond to every circumstance we encounter. Like all years, 2021 will be a year of decisions and choices. I find the best approach to decisions is to seek God first. Not that I always do it, but that’s my goal. Things turn out so much better when I do.

One of the decisions we face as we enter 2021 are our goals for writing this year. I don’t mean resolutions. They are meaningless because we usually forget them by the end of January.

By goals I mean what we want to accomplish this year and how we plan to do it. Without plans for achievement, goals are merely wishes.

Goals need to be specific and measurable: what am I going to do, and how will I know when I’ve done it? And they’re something I have to do. For example, I may set a goal to be traditionally published this year. This is unrealistic because I cannot traditionally publish alone. That requires a publishing house accepting my manuscript. I can’t control that. I can’t achieve the New York Times bestseller list or a Christy Award. There are too many things beyond my control.

What I can control is making my manuscript the best I can make it. Which requires writing and rewriting. It also requires getting feedback from critique groups or writing partners and listening with an open and discerning mind and applying what’s helpful.

Making my story the best it can be might also mean hiring an editor or writing coach. I’ve learned not to assume my self-edited manuscript can’t be improved. Jerry B. Jenkins once said the time to stop revising is when you’re no longer making your manuscript better, you’re only changing it. Knowing that point comes with experience and prayer. When we reach that place, it’s time to seek an editor.

Another aspect of setting goals is achievability. Can I achieve this goal? Do I have the skills and resources? If not, can I obtain them and still meet my timeline?

Maybe we need an interim goal. Such a goal might be to set a word count target. Again, it must be realistic. Writing 5,000 words a day is indeed a noble goal. But how likely am I to achieve it every day if I work full-time, have to take care of kids or elderly parents, or if I have ministry and church responsibilities. 

I’ve learned many things about writing from James Scott Bell. One of the most vital yet simplest is to set reasonable word count goals. And set them for a week, not daily. This allows for slow writing days or no writing days. We have to remember that, despite our best intentions, life happens, and we need to adjust. My writing goal is 2,500 words per week in creative writing—my fiction. I write creatively five days per week. 2,500 words may not sound like much. But if I achieve my goal for 50 weeks out of the year, I will write 125,000 words. That’s a complete novel plus.

One other thing our goals need is a timeline, a due date. By what date will we achieve our goal? Be firm with this. Be firm with yourself to meet it. Yeah, it’s that nasty thing we call discipline, self-discipline actually. An accountability partner is helpful, but they can’t do the work for us. Ain’t gonna get done if I don’t do it. And how else will I know I achieved it unless I know when it’s supposed to be completed?

So, my challenge to you, dear writer, and to myself is set some writing goals for 2021. Make sure they’re goals and not wishes. Can you measure them? When will you achieve them? Will you know when you meet them? Is it achievable based on where you are on your writing journey?

I pray God’s blessing on you as you enter 2021. Let the Lord guide you into what goals to set and how to achieve them. Without Him with you, nothing gets done.


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


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, and mentors and coaches.

Visit him at http://www.henrymclaughlin.org.

Follow him on Facebook.