Write Along Beside Me (a long post about getting started)

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(Image from Edie Melson)

(Image from Edie Melson)

“How’d you get started with your writing? And how’d you get published?”

I finally decided to blog about my writing detour since I’ve been asked these questions so many times.

A lot of people write, so I’m not unusual in that regard. A lot of people get published, so I’m not unusual there either. I am a little unusual, however, in that I’ve been published sans a degree in English or journalism and without initially knowing anyone in the writing industry.

Getting published is challenging enough with a degree and with connections, so, without either one, how’d it come about?

God’s been all over it, of course, but that’s not what people are asking about. Most of us know we don’t accomplish anything without him by our side. The fact is, though, for writing and publication to happen, we have to be all over it too.

I never intended to be a writer. I intended to open my own counseling practice. It wasn’t until a friend talked me out of my plan that I changed direction. She said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to sit all day in an office and listen to others’ problems.”

Here’s what she didn’t say, but probably wanted to, “You have enough problems of your own. Don’t be a counselor.”

Around that same time, two things were going on.

The first: I was studying Experiencing God, a Bible study about paying attention to where God’s working in our lives.

The second: It didn’t matter where I was, who I was talking with, or what we were talking about, family, friends, and strangers would out-of-the-blue say, “You should write about that.”

So, I did.

I wrote a book about raising teenagers. I was sure readers wanted to get their hands on a poorly written account of drama, bragging, and preaching. I didn’t get ahold of my writing or myself until a neighbor volunteered to read the 100-page manuscript. She returned it with tire marks on the pages because the day she picked it up, she drove off with it on the back of her car and it blew all over the highway. She handed it to me, apologized about the dirty pages, and said, “I let a writer friend look over it. She said you might want to swim in a pool before you try the ocean. You know, maybe write for magazines and newspapers before you try for a book, but I really like the quotes you included.”

In that moment, I felt determined to learn the craft of writing. I thought, “I’ll show her.”

The problem is, it’s a long, laborious process to proving someone wrong when it comes to writing right. Or should that read “writing well”? Anyway, it took time, but I eventually progressed from misguided motivation and showed up to do what I thought God had in mind all along. He flung open the doors. I’ve written hundreds of articles and blog posts that have been published in dozens of local, regional, and national publications. I’ve also had the opportunity to ghostwrite for local, regional, and international personalities.

Your story will be different, but all writing requires much of the same footwork. Hopefully this encourages you to show up and do the hard (and very rewarding) work of writing for yourself, for God, and for readers who need to hear your stories.

Here’s a little about my story and some bullet points to go along with it.

I drove to Greenville, S.C. to attend my first writing workshop about writing and illustrating children’s books. I had written a book for children some years earlier as part of an assignment for a counseling class. Since a friend took the time to forward the information about the event, I imagined it was a sign that the book would arouse attention. Instead of a book contract, I ended up with a flyer about classes on newspaper and magazine writing (you know, poolside writing before the ocean). The instructor was an editor in Greenville who had written for major publications like the New York Times.

For six weeks, I drove four and a half hours one-way to learn how to write right. The editor/instructor announced she needed freelance writers for three regional newspapers. When she didn’t publish me before Christmas, I signed up for six more classes. The second time around, not only did she publish my first article, she assigned me a column in all three papers, and hooked me up with other publications in Upstate S.C.

“There are two kinds of writers – writers who are bad and writers who keep learning,” she said. Here’s a list of things I do to avoid falling prey to “bad writer.”

  • Attend classes, conferences, and workshops. Last year, I returned to Greenville for another six-week class.
  • Find a mentor. I paid for critiques, as well as insider tips about being accepted by publications like LifeWay, from a well-known writer who presented at a conference I attended.
  • Blog regularly. Okay, so I blog irregularly, but do as I say.
  • Sign up for writing sites that post jobs daily. Continue to submit writing samples and clips for assignments that fit my writing style and my interests.
  • Familiarize myself with magazines and submit writing samples for publication.
  • Read inspirational books like The Artist’s Way and informational ones like The Associated Press Stylebook. Read blogs about writing, social networking, marketing, and sound business practices by people like Michael Hyatt, Rachelle Gardner, Steve Laube, and Edie Melson.
  • Connect with other writers, mostly online and in critique groups, but also in local networking groups, workshops, and at conferences.
  • Drive to Wilmington, N.C. to meet with a critique group for information, improvement, and encouragement. I cherish, instead of challenge, their feedback, then I return home and edit. My editor/instructor reminded us again and again, “Writing is rewriting.”
  • Write and submit stories. Sounds obvious, right? I can’t tell you how many writer friends I talk with who either aren’t writing or have never submitted a story. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said I was a writer when I wasn’t writing.
  • I sometimes drag myself out of my comfort zone and write something that makes me uncomfortable.

Are you up for an encounter with writing?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – If so, get ready for a beautiful, frustrating, gratifying, scary, procrastinating, delightful, angering, exhilarating, disheartening, uplifting, and life-changing experience that I wouldn’t trade for any other career. I’d love to hear about your experience on paper.

On the side: A great read about writing right, The Difference Between Good Writers and Bad Writers by Jeff Goins.

Afraid of Africa (a post about callings, a post about courage)

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“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Joseph Campbell

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Joseph Campbell

Lis and her husband relocated two weeks ago to Tanzania, Africa. She asked for prayer to lighten her sadness about leaving behind belongings, friends, and family including her three-year-old granddaughter who calls her Lolly. She asked for prayer to calm anxieties about things like plane crashes and Ebola. And she asked for prayer because it’s scary to move to Africa.

She’s now settling into a routine, but not like one we have. Her luggage hasn’t arrived, the toilet and sink overflowed into her new-to-them home, and both the refrigerator and washer stopped working last week. Despite all this, Lis committed to Africa because she’s committed to God.

Her faith was evident when she returned home to say goodbye to her parents before leaving for two years. It was evident when she got vaccinations that threatened to make her sick. And it was evident when she packed the bare minimum because that’s all she was allowed to take.

Her faith was most evident when she posted photos of her final goodbyes with her daughter and granddaughter.

“If she can leave behind the life she loves and physically relocate to Africa, surely I can sit in the comfort of my own home and tackle my own “Africa” (writing a book). What am I so afraid of?”

I thought it might help to share –

  • I’m afraid of being judged. I’m pretty sure some of my feelings aren’t theologically sound, but they’re part of my story.
  • I’m afraid of being misunderstood.
  • I’m afraid there won’t be enough time for relationships while I’m writing and editing.
  • I’m afraid my story will come across as pathetic rather than powerful.
  • I’m afraid I’ll sound like I’m blaming (especially my parents) because sometimes I am. There’s a fine line between telling what happened and whining.

So, why write the book?

Because I think God is calling me to this “Africa,” and because I saw for myself (in photos) how Lis came alive holding one of the children she’s now ministering to.

I want to be that kind of alive.

What’s your “Africa”? What’s stopping you from starting?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Dear God, I’ve started and stopped, started and stopped … until now. I’m finally convinced the book is our project and now is our time.

On the side: Thanks for the photo and the inspiration, Lis. I love you.

Giving Voice to a Silent Killer (a blog post about suicide)

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“Writing is a struggle against silence.” Carlos Fuentes (Image from iStock)

“A diagnosis is burden enough without being burdened by secrecy and shame.” Jane Pauley  (Image from iStock)

Our phone conversation left me teary. Our daughter said the news about Robin Williams’ suicide scared her. It made her think of me. Her comparison was disturbing, and oddly comforting. If I could choose an actor to be like, it’d be him.

In the aftermath of his death, Robin’s family, friends, and colleagues confirmed his kindness over and over by posting on Twitter things like, “A gentle spirit,” “Nicest guy I’ve ever worked with,” and “Robin had time for everyone.”

His roles in movies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Dead Poets Society were too convincing to be called “acting.” So was his performance during Good Will Hunting when he compellingly repeated to Matt Damon, “It’s not your fault.” (It’s a powerful clip if you can get past the language. I could.)

I went back several times to the theater with a handful of tissue to hear him tell me that same thing, “It’s not your fault.” I’d sit alone on the back row during afternoon matinees and sob. I’ve since watched the scene on my laptop hundreds of times.

Even though I knew why my daughter was afraid (she knows I mask pain with humor), Robin Williams’ death isn’t the one that terrified me. It was Harriet Deison’s suicide that kept me awake at nights.

After reading every article I could find on her, I’d imagine talking her out of driving across town in her Lexus to a gun shop where she shot herself inside her car. I’d imagine our conversations about hiding how we felt so others would think we were okay because we wanted desperately to be okay. I’d imagine helping each other step outside our depression and into the Light. I still wonder why this beautiful 65-year-old woman, a preacher’s wife at a prominent church in Texas, committed suicide four days after Christmas. I wonder why her husband, her daughters, and her grandchildren weren’t enough to help her choose life.

But, then, I think maybe I know.

My husband and I call it “The Dark Place.” It’s where I’m convinced family and friends don’t want to hear about my despair, but I’m desperate to talk about it. It’s where I beg God to show up, but he’s quiet, almost like he was never there at all. It’s the place where I’m overcome by pain, yet the pain of suicide seems practical and peaceful. The dark place is not just my closet where I curl up, it’s the thoughts I curl up with … the ones that say, “It is your fault.”

Until the movie Good Will Hunting, I couldn’t put into words what was wrong. The “it” (that I didn’t want to be my fault) was not being able to fix or fit into my family of origin. The “it” was not feeling safe and protected because I wasn’t. The “it” was having emotions that overwhelmed my family and me because none of us wanted to face what had happened and what was still happening.

The scariest part, even when it hurt, was I couldn’t stop living up to my title from high school as “Most Dependable.” I took responsibility for my family’s insanity because they wouldn’t. I also kept it a secret because maybe they were right, maybe it was my fault.

After Mom threatened me with boarding school because “all you do is cry,” I tried to stop feeling and talking about my depression and fear. I tried to stop making a big deal out of nothing (like sexual abuse) and taking things personally (like Dad staying away nine months out of the year). I tried to convince myself it was safe to love and lighten up even when my uncle who abused me ended up in a padded room at a mental hospital. But I couldn’t do it. Death sounded safer than life and suicide seemed the only way out since I told myself I was too unstable to leave.

Get over it. Yeah, I tried that too.

Here’s where I’m supposed to neaten up my blog post, let you know God’s the answer (he is, but I’m not preaching because talking-tos didn’t help me), and tell how I stopped wanting to kill myself. Like my daughter says about solutions, “I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it.”

I can offer some hope, though. Robin Williams and Harriet Deison saved me a little bit. My kids, my husband, my friends, and even my family of origin saved me a little bit. Most importantly, I’m saving myself a little bit by writing blog posts like this one. I hope if you’re in a scary place, this blog post saves you a little bit.

“Writing is a struggle against silence.” Carlos Fuentes

Is there something you need to share or something you need to do to save yourself? If so, it may save others a little bit as well.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – To heal, we must allow ourselves to feel. And some of us also need to talk about the feelings even if others don’t want to hear them. And this, my reader friends, is why I write. Thanks for letting me talk.

Click the link for an inspiring article and video sent by my daughter right after Robin Williams’ suicide. Going Public with Depression is by CNN’s Kat Kinsman.

Click the link to read the obituary of Harriet Deison.

Click the link to read a compassionate account by Steve Blow of Harriet Deison’s life and death: For Harriet Deison, a life to admire gave way to a death beyond understanding

Too Good for My Own Good (more about suffering, more about acceptance)

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He must become greater; I must become less.  John 3:30 (Image from iStock)

He must become greater; I must become less.
John 3:30
(Image from iStock)

Although suffering is inevitable, Sunday’s sermon shed light on how often we suffer unnecessarily. Our stubborn will is the cause. We put something other than God in the place that he set aside for himself.

Our will goes something like this –

We worship intelligence only to end up feeling stupid.

We worship beauty only to end up feeling ugly.

We worship success only to end up feeling like a failure.

I knew before the sermon’s end what I worshipped – being a good person. It never crossed my mind (until now) that being good was anything but admirable.

The sermon put an end to my asking why I’ve felt unlovable no matter how many times I’m told “I love you.”

It put an end to my asking why I’ve felt ashamed, never mind all my attempts at being perfect.

It put an end to my asking why I’ve felt unkind even though my husband says over and over, “You’re the most caring person I know.”

How did trying to be good turn out so bad?

It’s pretty simple when I apply the sermon’s formula – I worshipped my own goodness only to end up feeling anything but good.

I put my goodness before his Godness, and nothing good comes from that.

What’s getting in the way (no matter how admirable you deem it) of your relationship with God?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – I’ve wanted to get out of my own way for some time now. Thank you, Iain, for the sermon. Thank you, God, for the shove.

On the side: I’m posting next about Robin Williams and suicide – a man and a topic that deserve to be talked about.

What Died? (more about suffering, more about acceptance)

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“There’s nothing more depressing than having it all and still feeling sad.” Unknown  (Image from iStock)

“There’s nothing more depressing than having it all and still feeling sad.” Unknown 
(Image from iStock)

I’ve spent nearly a decade grappling with Dad’s death and with the death of thoughts that I had control over my now 36-year marriage. Both losses left me feeling lifeless.

When friends said grief takes time, I nodded. However, I knew this was more than being sad that Dad was gone. It was also more than letting go of the control I tried to have over my husband. Something else died and it scared me that I didn’t know what it was or how to revive it.

I prayed every single day for more than three fourths of those years.

I prayed for energy and motivation to write and exercise and live life as it came. I prayed to focus on myself instead of staring at what others had done to me. I prayed to know what died so I could begin accepting it was gone and move beyond days that were dark and heavy.

Prayer didn’t work (meaning it didn’t make the pain go away). 

Neither did gratitude lists that included seeing my first article published, celebrating our children’s wedding and engagement, and sharing a precious granddaughter with the world. The more good that happened, the darker and heavier I felt for not feeling grateful.

Neither did advice about my attitude, attempts to diminish my pain in the light of others’ more devastating pain, or my own self-contempt for not being able to shake depression.

And neither did attending church, reading positive passages, or talking to family and friends who looked sympathetic, but confused. Their expressions said, “Now, tell me one more time why you’re feeling sad and lost?”

I almost stopped trying to explain because I didn’t know myself what was happening. That was, until I tried one more time.

“Nothing’s motivated me like trying to get it right with you and Dad,” I said to my husband. “Sick as it sounds, struggling for your attention and Dad’s approval got me out of bed every morning.”

He heard me. 

I heard myself.

Since burying my dad and my marriage (as I knew it), I’ve been missing my sickness. I wrote in my last post that suffering serves a purpose, but suffering is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Instead of learning and being changed by suffering, then moving on, I’ve tried to revive it by staggering too often into the past, flirting with fear and self-doubt, and throwing pity parties. Not that I’m saying this party girl is finished, but I’m over-the-top relieved to know what died – my suffering that masqueraded as purpose. When I’m ready, life is waiting.

And so is more suffering and I’m okay with that.

Are you smack dab in the middle of your sickness, your struggles, and your suffering? Are you feeling more dead than alive? I hope this post offers some answers, some optimism, or at least lets you know you’re not alone.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – It takes what it takes for each of us. I’m grateful to be at another crossroad where I have insight and hope and choices, and, yes, awareness that there will be more suffering.

On the side: In hindsight, some of the things I listed – prayer, gratitude, church, reading, and sharing with family and friends – did work (meaning they made my days feel gentler, they moved me forward, they grew me up), just not as quickly or as dramatically as I wanted.

Here’s additional reading about suffering from A Holy Experience, “The 1 Unlikely Secret to Hold Onto When You’re Sad.” 

Too Much Suffering, Not Enough Fluff (about suffering and about acceptance)

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"Your greatest ministry will likely come from your deepest pain." Rick Warren (Image from iStock)

“Your greatest ministry will likely come from your deepest pain.” Rick Warren
(Image from iStock)

“God is more concerned about our spirituality than our comfort” came to mind during Sunday’s message about the purpose of our struggles. At first, I wasn’t anymore thrilled about the sermon than I had been the quote. After all, I just want to be happy.

I contemplated only writing light-hearted, fluffy posts. You know, so I’d be known as the happy-go-lucky blogger, but, then, I didn’t have much to say about that.

Next, I contemplated asking for prayer so I’d be more happy-go-lucky, but God didn’t have much to say about that.

Finally, I contemplated what God did have to say and it wasn’t about happy-go-lucky, although I’m sure he has nothing against our happiness. It’s just that, from what I keep hearing, our priorities are often times not his priorities.

The sermon and the quote offered insight into our suffering and an explanation as to why we don’t need to run from it or pray it away, even though I continue to try both. We’re supposed to be changed by it.

God’s obvious concern about my changing over the past nine years has left me wondering if he had concerns for anyone else’s spirituality, but of course he does. He has big plans for us all, even though I’ve been focused on the pain that I equate with God’s punishment. Painful events have led to painful thinking.

Suffering, however, is not about punishment, although it is sometimes a consequence as the result of our behavior. Suffering is a mirror into which we catch a glimpse of what’s inside of us. No, Facebook doesn’t cut it.

Suffering is for our own good and for a higher purpose. Our time here is designed to help us stop edging God out (ego) and, instead, start edifying him. Unfortunately, most of us are hard headed and some of us are hard hearted.

What gushes out during the tough times is what’s been inside all along. Usually it’s a combination of love and fear, grace and griping, humility and entitlement, meaning we all need the changing power of suffering.

What are you suffering through? How is it changing you?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Here’s to graciously walking through our suffering and being changed from fluffy-seeking to faith-finding.

On the side: Beth Vogt also wrote a blog post this week about suffering. Click here to read In Others’ Words: Wrestling Match.

We Give God Way Too Much Credit

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"The first step in natural healing is responsibility.” Richard Schulze

“The first step in natural healing is responsibility.” Richard Schulze

When I say I stubbed my toe, I mean I jammed it going 5 miles an hour into yet another cement block that got in my way. Tripping over one in a Wilmington parking lot is how I broke my nose

I was tempted to excuse the accident with a statement like “God wants my attention.” I thought about all the times I’ve attributed unpleasant experiences to God teaching me lessons. Indirectly, I guess it is about learning because that’s how he designed our world. If I’m honest, though, the accidents and ailments likely have more to do with how I’m living (or not living) my life. And how I’m learning (or not learning) those lessons.

Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, my “don’t take anything stronger than Tylenol” and “only go to doctor in an emergency” mentality began when an ob-gyn prescribed medication so I could get pregnant. The problem was, I was already pregnant and, under those circumstances, the medicine was unsafe.

I agonized until I got in with another physician. It just so happened that on his staff was a nurse midwife who didn’t shave, drove a VW van, and grew her own food before organic was the fad. Meeting her (and being a hippy at heart myself) began a journey to natural childbirth and an interest in natural health and healing.

I had no idea how to nurture that interest until someone suggested Louise Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life.

Before that introduction, I was familiar and comfortable attributing my accidents and ailments to being God’s will. Or blaming bad luck and bad genes. Or ignoring how much my emotional mindset and spiritual condition factored into my physical wellbeing.

I think we all sort of know we’re answerable for more of what happens to us than we want to take responsibility for. We say things like “I’m sick over the situation” or “I feel like I’m trying to get sick” or “I made myself sick.” We say about others, “They brought it on themselves.” But when it’s time to do something about not making ourselves sick, we come up short.

Expecting total good health and an accident-free life is unreasonable. Awareness, however, is reasonable. This is where Hay’s book comes in helpful. During a mishap or illness, one of the first things I do is check the emotional diagnosis in You Can Heal Your Life. Hay wrote more than 50 pages to address problems, their probable causes, and new thought patterns for healing. Many times, physical problems show up before we’re aware of emotional and spiritual turmoil.

I’m not suggesting we eliminate God’s help or medical help, but that we take responsibility by helping ourselves.

My blue and aching toe? Toe problems represent “the minor details in the future.” Bruises indicate “the little bumps in life and self-punishment.” Hay suggests positive self-talk like the one for self-punishment, “I love and cherish myself.”

Are you experiencing accidents and/or physical ailments that need your emotional and spiritual attention?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – When things go wrong, we tend to credit God and the lessons he has for us to learn, when, in fact, the lesson might be to take our share of the responsibility.