Wednesday, February 24, 2016

When there's a Giant Crack in your Windshield and Bird Poo on your Car. - By Deanna Fugett

Have you ever felt like such a massive hypocrite you want to box your own feet in cement and throw yourself into a lake?

Yeah, me too.

Being a Christian is hard, there’s no doubt about it. Some days we have good days, where it’s like golden sunshine and rainbows blasting out of the top of your head. And other days, somehow a slimy, depressing monster of horror is slithering and creeping around your home, only to discover the monster is you. And sometimes that horrible monster will shape shift and some sunshine will shoot out of her head and she will tell someone sweetly “God is love. I will pray for you. The world is fully of sparkly happy people. Be like them,” only to turn around, full monsterness emerging from the darkness, as she screams bloody murder at your children. What a Hypocrite.

Just the other day my children and I were noticing how the crack in my windshield has gotten so big. It now spreads from one side of the windshield on the driver’s side, about halfway through to the other side.

“How in the world did that get so big?” we asked.

It started months ago. A small little chink in my windshield by some random big rig truck passing by. You know, the ones that shoot rocks out under their tires. Yeah.

My husband saw the tiny little imperfection and looked at me, “That’s right in your line of vision isn’t it? Maybe we’ll get the windshield replaced.”

I laughed, “No way, it’s so tiny, that’s not a big deal at all.” It was true. I barely noticed it.

That tiny chink grew a small one-inch crack trailing from it. Still, no biggie. Whatever. It happens.
Then one day, on a frigid morning, I put the window wipers on (with my super heavy duty antifreeze window wiper fluid that instantly melts ice – if you don’t’ have this-- you need to get it. It’s freaking awesome) and as the wipers went back and forth across the glass I actually saw the crack grow.

Wipe. Grow. AH! Wipe. Grow some more. AHHHHH!

I stopped the wipers. It was shocking how the crack grew longer before I could get the wipers turned off.  It did it twice, in inch long spurts. This crack, that had been so tiny, was tiny no more. It happened so fast. So suddenly.

Sometimes that’s like our own sin. We start off with something small. Insignificant (to us, not God). Maybe it’s just a little lie, maybe just a half-truth, maybe we flirted with that guy at the gas station only to look down and notice the wedding ring on our finger, maybe it was just a catty thought toward another female. I don’t know, but we thought it was nothing. God wouldn’t notice such a small sin, would he? But after a while those ‘small’ sins aren’t so small anymore. Now they’ve morphed and grown into monster-sized sins. Soon, our own sins have cracked into a massive blockage in our vision, in our lives. We feel like we can never go back, never be the same.


Nothing is impossible with God. No matter how BIG we’ve let our sins grow, no matter how far-reaching, how much they’ve blocked our view of the world around us, no matter how deep or how wide the sin has stretched, God can and will help you stop it, if only you ask.

This got me thinking about the neighbors and their tree of never-ending bird poo. The poor guys. There’s a dad and two sons who live there. They all have nice cars and they all take pride in their nice cars. The huge hunkering tree out front was the perfect nesting spot for hundreds of birds who liked to land there for rest. And each and every day, these guys cars were covered in bird poo.

I don’t think I’ve ever lived next to people who hand wash their cars as much as I’ve seen these guys do. They’ve only lived there for a couple years and at least FIVE times they attempted to chop down this tree. All unsuccessful, until the fifth time. They were finally able to chop all the branches off. The tree still stands, about 30 feet up, but all the branches on the top are missing.

It makes me sad they cut such a beautiful tree, but on the other hand, I understand all their frustration over the last two years. Constantly getting rid of the bird poo.

Now just humor me for a moment and think of our hearts like cars, and the poo like sin. If we let our cars get exposed to the birds, is easy to get covered in poo. If we constantly let our hearts get exposed to sin, it’s easy to see how we can get covered in it.

No matter if our windshields are cracked to pieces and our car is covered in poo, there is a Great Mechanic waiting and willing to fix all our problems. To change our windshields, to mend them and replace them with an unblemished ones, to wash clean the poo, the crud, the sin from our hearts.  He loves us. We are never too filthy or broken. He wants to cleanse us and make us new.

We just need to ask.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

An Audience of One

It can be exhausting trying to get published. It’s not enough to produce a quality manuscript, find an agent, and sign a contract with a publisher. Nowadays, many agents won’t even consider taking on a new writer who doesn’t have a significant presence on social media. That means you’ve got to expand your profile.

The options are endless. You can have a personal blog, author blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, Pinterest boards, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr. There are so many avenues to get your name online and in the public eye. And there aren’t enough hours in the day to keep on top of all these platforms!

On more than one occasion I’d find myself panicking that I’m not “out there” more. How am I going to get noticed if I don’t promote myself? What if I find the perfect agent and he or she doesn’t feel like I have enough pull with the public? What if I can’t figure out my ‘brand’ and I end up spinning my wheels? These and other anxious thoughts would flitter through my head.

Then I’d get myself all in a dither with my head spinning every which way, and my hand gripped in a permanently cramped position on my computer mouse as I clicked on this and that.

And then there are the writer sites. Fifteen ways to write better scenes! Twenty-one things to avoid at all costs in character development! One hundred tricks to get your manuscript in tip-top shape! And whilst I believe authors should always strive to better their craft, I noticed I’d started spending more time reading the ‘how to write’ articles than actually writing!

This would set off another flurry of doubt. Gak! What if I’m missing something? What if I’m doing it all wrong? What if my opening line (the hook!) isn’t hook-y enough?!?

And I realized, somewhere along this journey of seeking publication, I’d lost sight of what was really important.

And that was not writing an amazing debut novel which made best-seller lists, won heaps of awards, and got turned into a movie, preferably a trilogy.

I mean…that would be nice. But that’s not why I started writing.

I started writing because God put a story in my heart.

Honestly, this whole thing was more His idea than my idea. Sure, I’ve always loved to read and write. But I thought of it more as hobby than anything serious. Something fun to do in my spare time rather than something God gifted me to do. I don’t think I’m the only one who's had some inspiration from God either.

Because I believe God has gifted each of us in a particular area. It’s up to us to figure out what that is and then, as 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, do it all for the glory of God.

I stopped doing that. Instead I fell into trap of thinking it was all about me and my efforts.

I’m not the first person to do this.

I was reminded of how easy it is to have a wrong attitude when I read through Genesis.
Then they said, “Come, let's build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”

Does this story sound familiar? It’s the Tower of Babel. Some folks got together, built a tall tower, and God confused their language so they couldn’t communicate with each other.

Now, whilst the context of the narrative is people in rebellion to God, I believe there’s a truth in here that can apply to Christians as well, especially a Christian author. It’s not that hanging out on social media or blogging or following how-to sites is rebellion. Not at all. But our ambitions can sometimes get a little off.

Look at the verse again to see one of their motivations.

Fame. They wanted their name to be known. Remembered. They wanted to have an impact on the world in which they lived. But they went about it the wrong way. They didn’t ask God, hey, what do you think we should be doing next? Instead of looking to God to direct and sustain their efforts, they were determined to do their own thing, build their own tower. Fellow blogger, Robin, mentioned when we were discussing this post how ironic it was that the builders wanted to be remembered, but no one remembers their names.

Now in a similar vein, I don’t know any author who doesn’t want his or her work to be well-received and popular. Who doesn’t want to be remembered?


We have to keep in mind that it’s not our efforts that are going to count in the long run, it’s whether or not we’re being faithful to the vision He’s given us. We could have a million Twitter followers, a blog that gets hundreds of comments and likes, an amazing best-seller, but if we’re not doing it all for His sake, then it’s simply a waste of time.

We have to understand we are really writing for an audience of One.

Be blessed,

I'd love to hear how you cope with keeping your motivations right!  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Secret To Really Good Descriptive Layering

By Robin

Lucy's blog post last week has me thinking about my own first draft, how much it's changed during revisions, and how I got it from there to here.

Writing a novel is, I think, like building a house. When you begin you have little more than a vision of how it will look when it's done. You're not thinking yet about paint color, counter tops, rose bushes, or crown molding.

All you know to do is take a shovel in your bare hands and break open the earth by writing these magical words on a blank page: Chapter One.

I had a lot to learn about writing when I began, but I wrote at a fever pace with a self-discipline I can only attribute to God, dumping everything from the shovel into my story, lumps, roots, and all. I guessed at some of it, skipped over things that were beyond my imagination, and a few months later, I was finished. I held it out with pride to my first and dearest beta reader, my sister.

She was polite about it, I'm grateful to say. But when I look back on that first draft, I see nothing but wall studs, sub floor, and ceiling rafters. There were so many gaps in the plot. The setting was vague, and could have taken place anywhere. I had written a bevy of under-developed characters with under-whelming problems.

But it was done, and that's not for nothing. Studs, flooring and rafters are good and necessary components, after all. You can't move to the next stage without those foundational things in place.

In the last two years, I've been adding layers to the foundation. Plumbing, electrical wiring, and yes, crown molding.

My story gets better, richer, with each revision.

Take this excerpt from the first draft:

“Wait.” She stopped and pulled on his hand until he turned to face her. “I’m not entirely sure this is a good idea.” She knew she should say this but she had longed for this moment and could not be sure how emphatically she would refuse his offer if he persisted.
“What is it?”
“My father.”
“He disapproves?”
Disapproval was an understatement. He expressly forbade exactly what they were about to do. Mara had not set out to defy her father but no amount of obedience had yet earned his approval. She’d always followed his lead and done as she was bid and it seemed to make no difference to him. "Father can’t know,” she said quietly.

It's not bad, but it's not great either. Lots of "telling," right? Do you have a picture in your mind? Probably  not.

Now compare it with this:

"I don’t think I can.” She pulled her hand from his grasp and let her empty fingers drift between them in the air made thick by all the words she couldn’t say.
"Why not?”
“Father.” She gulped and fixed her eyes on the buttons of his shirt. She hated the sound of the word coming from her mouth, the obstacle it created.
He gently opened her fingers, which were still curled in mid-air as if they held something in them. He pressed his flattened palm against hers and slid his solid fingers between her slender ones until their hands were clasped.
“He can’t know,” she said.
She could feel his smile without looking up at him because the air between them grew thinner somehow, simpler

Can't you see the tension and tenderness in their hands? You "see" the male character too, even though all she really describes is his buttons.
This did not come to me during the second revision, or the third, or fourth. It will probably morph again before I'm done with it. I can't say exactly when the moment sprang to life in my mind. There's no easy way to do it, no switch to turn on.

But there's a secret to writing really good descriptive layering, and this is it:


I know it sounds contradictory, but it's true. Just as the architect can only improve his design by looking up from the draft board and taking inspiration from nature, other designs, and other designers, the writer must also close the laptop and take in the world around him or her.

I've gotten into the habit of doing these 4 essential things to facilitate and feed the creativity needed for descriptive layering.

1. Live your life. 
-Go out to dinner: notice the scraggly, chewed fingernails of the waitress. There's an unusual character description.
-Do the dishes: take note of the stinging cut and the way the blood pools on the counter when you accidentally slice your finger on the knife hidden beneath the suds. How do your kids react? Your spouse? This is all useful writing material, despite the difficulty typing for the next few days.
-Spend time maintaining your home: pull weeds and watch them pile up, shriveled, dead and useless next to you. There's a useful metaphor there, I'm sure.

I could go on and on. Your characters are living their lives in their world, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, watching. You need to do the same.

2. Go outside.
Wherever you are, go outside. You may be writing an exotic locale, or a fictional world, but you don't need to be on location to be blinded by sun, or to feel it warm your skin, or to feel sweat trickle down the middle of your back. You don't need to be in the city your story takes place to watch the storm clouds move in, or hear the screeching of cicadas, or smell the sweet earthiness of fresh-cut grass. Yes, you can imagine those things, but something special happens when you're feeling and seeing it, doesn't it? It breathes life into your setting with believable, unmistakable authenticity. Don't miss it.

3. Be intentional.
I have an hour long commute to bible study twice a week. That time is for thinking about my story. The night before, I re-read whatever chapter I'm working on, and I get a place in my head to begin. Maybe it's a line of dialogue. A setting. Part of a scene I've been struggling with. The layering and complexity flows from there during that quiet, uninterrupted time. I keep a notebook with me to jot things down when I get there.
I also go for walks. I use a four mile walking path near my house several times a week, and that time is exclusively for thinking about what I'm writing. I can't begin to number the wonderful literary gems that have come to me during that time. That's when I get to know my characters best.

4. Read good writing.
This is nonnegotiable. You must not neglect reading. You can't. It's unthinkable that a writer who expects to be good would not be continuously learning from the greats, whose contribution to our craft line the shelves of every library. Don't just read things in your genre. You'll settle into a comfortable place, thinking your writing is just fine, thank you, and you won't be challenged and convicted to do the hard work of getting better. And it can always be better.

You're probably reading this and thinking, "All that time! Pulling weeds? Walking four miles? That must take, like...hours! Who has time for this?" True, it's a lot of time away from the screen. But I've discovered that roughly 50% of what I write happens at the computer. The other 50% happens when I'm living my life. Standing in the shower. Folding laundry. Swinging my daughter at the playground. Stirring pasta at the stove. I'm always thinking intentionally about my characters. Real life filters into the story and descriptive layering flows out of that.

I would love to hear some tips and methods you use to enhance the descriptive layering in your own writing. Please leave a comment below.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

First Drafts – the love hate relationship we all need to trudge through.

I’ve been around the writing block a couple of years. Got some of the wind knocked out of my sails a couple of times. I was fortunate enough and learned a few things along the way, too. I find the journey exhilarating and other times, overwhelming and painful. Even newbie writers can relate to those roller-coaster sensations.
My biggest dread—The First Draft. *Enter some scary horror movie tune here, please*

Here’s why, and how I keep going at it despite the love hate relationship.

And maybe, just maybe, some of my babble will convince you to persevere as well!

I’m a slow, S-L-O-W writer. Add time restraints. A full time job, a husband I adore and a wonderful almost eleven month old little tyke that I try to spend as much time with as possible. (Yup- mix in a healthy dose of guilt most working momma’s deal with because they work. Some prefer it; others have to because of obligations.) And I’m left with morsels for writing.

Now, because I’m such a slow writer with limited time to write, I would have loved to write pure gold the first time I open a brand new Word document to start something. I tend to expect that first draft to be the same quality of polished draft. It’s not. I don’t think it ever will be. And to be honest, I’m not sure it’s even humanly possible. Writing takes time, a lot of time, and it gets discouraging. And frustrating. And tiring.

My first draft is lacking. ALWAYS. Holes the size of Pluto gapes at me. Inconsistencies dust it like sprinkles on a cake. I take forever to finish. I lose hope. I panic.

I ponder about shoving it aside and think about starting something else. (Obviously convincing myself that the first draft of something else would be better. It’s NOT.) Or I polish up a piece of completed work that doesn’t need polishing – at least not from me.

I’m one of those writers that hate writing but love the idea of having something written. I moved around a bit in my late teenage years, as a result, I lost my earlier manuscripts. Let’s not go into the details. (Blushes and hangs head in shame.) But I managed to cling to two awful, but completed, hand written manuscripts, and to this day I guard them with my life. I have another three completed manuscripts on my laptop. (Of which two might never see the light.) Ah, the feeling of pure achievement when I peek at them. I seem to forget the time and tears I spend on a previous manuscript to get it into that shape.

Then, when I look at the first draft of my work in progress, the crushing reality of all the work still ahead to get this baby mature daunts the excitement. Dims the hope. My critique partners still need to slice through it, because honestly, when I don’t absolutely hate my work, I’m blind and oblivious to my own writing flaws. Writing the second, third and sometimes even a fourth draft, looms. Rewrites and personal edits lie ahead.

But, a first draft—no matter how awful, how raw you find it—is needed to produce something fine and worthy. Without it, you’ll never have anything to work with. A first draft doesn’t need to be perfect. You can improve, fix and polish it once you’ve written it.

There’s a quote by Jodi Picoult I adore, ~ “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

And when the first page of the first draft looms, the wise words of Shannon Hale ~ “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

So don’t despair. Everything worthwhile takes hard work and time.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Silencing the Inner Critic

I completed my first NaNoWriMo this year. And my initial thought was, well, that was a fail. I was supposed to write 50,000 words in one month. I wrote 15,000. 
Here's what happened every day:
I'd sit at the computer with my fingers poised over the keyboard. I'm gonna do this thing, I’d think. Write. Tell a story. Create something out of nothing. I'd type a few sentences, and it all sounded wrong. So I'd go back and delete, cut and paste, write some more. But my words still sounded flat. Like a two-dimensional sun setting over a cardboard cut-out of a mountain range. See. Even that sounds terrible!
And then I'd hear it. The voice. We've all heard the voice. The specifics may vary from person, but the message is the same:
You're no good. You can't do anything right. Your efforts will never amount to much anyway.
It's hard to ignore. The voice that plays like a song stuck on an endless repeat. It sounds so reasonable. So knowledgeable. So sure of itself.
You might as well give up before you do something stupid.
The voice paralysed me. I decided I'd be better off quitting because, you know, I don't want to look stupid. And not trying isn't any worse than trying and failing, right? It's easier even.
Not trying means I could sit on my sofa with a block of Whittaker's peppermint dark chocolate and binge-watch Once Upon a Time. At least I wouldn't have to listen to the voice telling me I'm no good.
It’s not just in writing that I struggle with listening to this voice. It’s in other areas as well. Because I’m my own worse critic. I often look back over things I’ve done – teaching a Bible study, tackling a sewing project, trying out a new recipe – and I’ve thought, well, that was a fail.
And that’s simply not the case.
Except the cauliflower pizza crust. That. Was. Just. Yuck. But I digress.
Believing we’ve failed or we’re going to fail is counter-productive to our true purpose.
We’ve got to learn to tune the critical voice out.
Because the voice is wrong.
Hallelujah, the voice is wrong.
We’ve got to remember that God has set us up to succeed.
Now I’m not saying that we don’t face adversity. We’ve all got trials we go through, and I’m not one to pretend that everything is perfect and problem-free in the Christian life! Discussing trials is a whole different post!
But I love what Ephesians 2:10 reminds us: 
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”
God created us to do good things.
Let that sink in for just a minute.
God created us to do good things.
One of the applications of this verse is that we can step out boldly and confidently in those things He’s called us to do and know that they’re going to be good. He didn’t call us to failure.
The key to silencing the critical voice is to have assurance that what we’re doing is what He’s called us to.
Among other good things He has for me to do, I know that God has called me to write. I know there are ideas in my head that are gifts from Him that only I can express. But when I start doubting His call, I’m much more susceptible to believing I’m going to fail.
We’ve all got tasks we’re called to. We’ve all got good things we get to walk in.
Believe that. Take the truth from the Word of God and mix it with faith. Be bold and grab the opportunities He’s given you.
And that voice will be silenced.
Because God created us to do good things.
Be blessed,

What good things has God called you to do? What have you found to be a good strategy to silencing the critical voice? Share in the comments below.