Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Writing Journey - Three Lessons I've Learned

Sharon Randall & Me
“My stories run up and bite me on the leg. I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.” Ray Bradbury

Don’t you just love Ray Bradbury quotes?

I’m often asked how I became a published writer. I used to wonder the same thing about writers, as if some mystery existed only an elite few were privy to. 
I wrote sporadically as a hobby for years. I could never quite figure out the publishing game, nor did I have the time. With the invention of the Internet and home computers, publication seemed possible. My dream, like many writers, was to write a novel. 
I’ll share a quick overview of my writing journey and three important lessons I learned in the process.
Ø  Walk through open doors, even if they’re not in your genre or master plan.
In the summer of 2006, I noticed a murder-mystery writing contest in my local newspaper already in progress. It was a once-a-month feature for a year. After reading the sixth installment, I thought, “I can do this.” So I wrote a 1,000-word chapter and submitted it. I was so used to rejection letters, I was flabbergasted when the feature editor called to tell me I had won. I had enough forethought to ask if I were eligible to enter again. Sure, go ahead, was her reply. Much to my surprise, I won the next five months. 
The following spring, I wrote an op-ed piece for the newspaper about a debacle involving a development project practically in my backyard. A developer had purchased the lot to remove its large berm because he needed the dirt for another project. His plan then was to market the bulldozed lot as build-to-suit. An unsightly crater remained where a beautiful hillside had once stood. My neighborhood had unsuccessfully fought the zoning change that allowed this to happen. My stance was—destroying natural resources to create build-to-suit lots does not constitute progress. 
I didn’t anticipate the hornets’ nest I would uncover by writing this piece. The newspaper had a call-in forum at that time, Straight Talk, where anyone could anonymously share opinions on different topics and then they were printed in the newspaper. I learned the lesson of having thick skin. I was labeled naïve, a tree hugger, anti-development, and accused of having a not-in-my-backyard mentality. Some folks wrote letters to the editor. It was suggested I move somewhere else that would suit me better since I obviously didn’t understand how this town works. Though these folks were in the minority on the subject, favorable support was drowned out by their voices.  
Another feature soon followed in the newspaper with a local middle school honors Science class debating both sides of the issue, which stirred up the Straight Talkers again. I was thrilled when my fifteen minutes of fame finally ended, and I could fade into obscurity once again.
Ø  Go where writers gather.
A few months later, I attended a charity function with speaker and award-winning columnist Sharon Randall. I love her nationally syndicated column because she’s from North Carolina and writes in a down-home relatable manner. I also was fairly certain representatives from the newspaper would be there. I had no game plan other than enjoy the evening, maybe get a moment to talk with Ms. Randall, and learn something about publishing. I waited until everyone else had gone through the reception line. While Ms. Randall and I were talking, the managing editor of the newspaper (who had been eavesdropping) walked up, extended his business card to me, and offered to let me freelance for the newspaper. He’d remembered me from the op-ed piece. I pretty sure I babbled something incoherent and thanked him. I began writing features for the newspaper soon after. 
Any time my local writing group hosted a published author for a workshop, I attended. I met Lynette Eason in 2008, when she was writing her fourth book for Love Inspired Suspense. She has now written twenty books. We became friends and her advice has helped me tremendously in my growth as a writer. I met Cecil Murphy and other published writers through local workshops, as well.
Ø  Resist “branding” yourself.
The newspaper features I wrote led to my first book-length ghostwriting opportunity, an autobiography for a local Christian singer/songwriter. This in turn led to another non-fiction ghostwriting opportunity, which I am writing now. 
So, I started with a dream of writing a novel. How has that worked out? I’ve completed two fiction manuscripts, one of which recently placed second in the national RWA Emily Contest. I anticipate having good news to share on this front in the future. 
Meanwhile, I’ve published three dozen articles, fiction, non-fiction, devotions, and of course, this blog for the past year. 
I hear writers say they only write in one genre. That’s fine, if you can’t muster up interest in other areas. However, be open to opportunities God may provide to sharpen your writing skills, build your writing credits, and create a network. 
When I reflect over the last six years and the wonderful path God wove, I couldn’t have planned that particular path myself. If I had insisted on writing only fiction, specifically a novel, likely it wouldn’t have succeeded. I needed the other writing experiences to hone my skills and build my writing credits. 
I could share so much more, but I’ve written enough for one post. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, I hope you’ve gleaned some inspiration in your quest to become published. 
Do you have an anecdote to share about becoming published? I’d love to hear it.
God bless,

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Turning Stones To Bread

“The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Matthew 4:3

In our quest to faithfully serve God, the danger is in becoming too involved in worthy causes that detract from our individual ministry purpose.

Feeding the hungry is a good thing, but has God called you to spend several hours a week in a soup kitchen? Serving the homeless is a noble cause, but has God called you to volunteer at a homeless shelter?

After Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness following his baptism, he was hungry. The first thing Satan tempted Jesus with was food. Turning stones to bread would have not only solved Jesus’ hunger but many others. Surely he was sympathetic to the needy in his community. Yet Jesus refused Satan’s offer. 

Jesus didn’t lack empathy for the hungry—It simply wasn’t what God had called him to do at that point in his ministry. Throughout the Gospels, we see examples of Jesus feeding thousands rather than sending them on their way after he preached.

Satan will present service opportunities which are charitable yet divert from a more important ministry in that moment. If we’re not careful (or prayerful), we’ll jump at every opportunity to serve, even if it diminishes our capacity to fulfill the role God called us to. 

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.”Matthew 13:24b-26.

The flower in the photo above is a daucus pusillus or in lay terms Wild Carrot or Rattlesnake Weed. According to legend, it can be used as a poultice for a rattlesnake bite. Weeds serve as food in the animal kingdom. Like many weeds, this one produces a beautiful flower. 

Weeds can be both destructive and beautiful at the same time. Left unchecked, they choke out vital crops for man. The same is true when we participate in activities, however worthy, when we’re called to do something else for that season in our life. 

The purpose of the enemy sowing weeds is to reduce the Kingdom harvest. 

Are you busy turning stones to bread while the enemy sows weeds in your ministry field? Is the Kingdom work you were called to do getting your leftover time and talent? 

If you feel overworked, overcommitted, or stressed, ask God for clarity in your ministry. Perhaps you’re right where He wants you for spiritual growth. Perhaps not. He might point you in a different direction. 

As we go to the Lord in prayer this week, please remember previous requests including several for employment. Continue to lift up Courtney, Karen, TC’s father-in-law, and Piper’s family battling serious health issues. Remember those who requested prayer for difficult family situations and mental illness including depression. Please pray for one another as we share the Gospel with the unsaved. 

If you have a prayer request, leave it in the comment section below or email me confidential requests. My contact info is under the heading above marked “Talk to Me.”  

Enjoy our song this week,"Revelation Song," by Phillips, Craig, and Dean, as you go to the Lord in prayer.

  God bless,

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Creating Characters

robin's nest in my backyard
“Actions, looks, words, and steps form the alphabet by which you may spell character.” Johann Kasper Lavater (Swiss poet)

What a beautiful sunny day here in South Carolina! Our state motto is "Dum Spiro Spero,” which means: “While I breathe, I hope.” The motto matches the beauty I see outside my sunroom window this morning.

The photo on the left is from a maple tree in my backyard. The eggs have finally hatched, but the mama bird won’t let me get close enough to snap a good photo.

Welcome to Writers’ Corner. I hope you’ve all had a successful week of writing. Let’s talk about creating characters today. Writers visualize their characters and usually have a good sense of how they look and what makes them tick. However, the challenge is in realizing your reader is not a mind reader. Sometimes new writers overlook thorough characterization because they forget this.

Two major elements exist in creating believable characters. Characters possess both physical and emotional/spiritual traits.

Physical Traits
Is your character a red-head, brunette, or blond? Does he/she have blue, brown, or hazel eyes? Does she wear stiletto heels and mini-skirts? Does he have tattoos and like leather vests?

What kind of vehicle does your character drive? Maybe a motorcycle, a red Corvette, or a four-door family sedan? Perhaps one character is rugged, while another is dainty. Show it through their mannerisms.

A character will reflect the region they’re from. A Southerner speaks differently than a New Englander. Teens look and speak differently than adults.

Each character should have their own identity. This will be reflected in how they dress, as well as their demeanor. The Andy Griffith Show is a good example of this. Barney and Andy are polar opposites, yet they share Southern traits, clothing styles, and the same basic moral principles because it fits within the setting and storyline.
Give your characters real-life habits like chewing gum or nail biting.
Emotional/Spiritual Traits
Characters most often reflect their values and those with whom they associate. However, be careful not to create a character so moral they have no flaws or so flawed they have no redemptive quality about them. Either way, the reader has no incentive to keep reading because they can guess how the story will turn out based on this perfect character.
Is your character a struggling or backsliding Christian? Maybe they’re not saved at all. Do they have trust issues from previous broken or abusive relationships? Consistently show how the character grows from the first page to the last. Whatever spiritual or moral issue they struggle with should be resolved over the course of the book.
Even a subtle trait like being impatient versus patient will show in how quickly someone responds, like jumping out of a chair or remaining in a recliner upon receiving news. Just like in real life, one character might have a meltdown while another stands stoic in the face of adversity.
Perhaps a character loves hanging out at the mall—or they loathe shopping and will wear clothes until they’re almost threadbare.
Remember, character traits should have balance, and unless the traits enhance the character in the reader’s mind, don’t overdo them. No one wants to read about gum smacking or shopping when more important things should be progressing the story.
Take a look at your WIP. Are your characters as clearly defined on paper as they are in your mind? If you’d like an in-depth lesson on this subject, visit Camy Tang's website to purchase a 35-page character worksheet.
Now, I want to hear about your writing week. Are you on target for what you hoped to accomplish? Are you having a problem you’d like me to address in a future post? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jesus Commands Our Destiny

View from my backyard
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:8-10
 A few weeks ago I drove past my son’s high school. The electronic sign out front caught my eye as it scrolled announcements. Graduation June 1. My son doesn’t graduate until next year, but suddenly, all the emotions of this eventuality overwhelmed me.
Life is perpetual. As much as we’d like to slow our children’s rush to adulthood at times, it’s not possible. Moving forward into the unknown is scary, but it’s the only option—for them and us.

As Christians, we’re called to walk the path the Lord created for us. Sometimes the path is rocky, steep, or meanders frustratingly slow. We blindly walk as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did, not knowing where the path leads but believing in the One who directs our steps.
“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7
Faith walking isn’t easy. Turning loose of our children isn’t easy. Trusting God for the right job or your health isn’t easy. But faith not exercised ceases to exist. We are heirs to His promise. Praise God! 
We live in earthly tents, but like Abraham, we look forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 
What are you trusting God for today? I’d love to pray with you about it. Please leave your requests in the comments section below so others can pray or email me confidential requests.
A praise report from Courtney’s FB status, the young mother with a cancerous brain tumor we have been praying for: 
WE GOT A GREAT REPORT!!!!! The spot of concern that was zapped 2 months ago with radiation, is dying off and the scan shows no new areas of growth. The doctor was very pleased! God is so good and I couldn't be any happier than I am right now! Thank you for the prayers, love and support. It means so much!
Every two months Courtney has repeat MRIs to check treatment progress. Please keep her in your prayers as she continues chemotherapy.
Prayer requests from previous weeks include job losses, home/farm foreclosure, depression, and difficult family situations. Also pray for Karen with leukemia and TC’s father-in-law with cancer. 
As we go to the Lord in prayer, take a few moments to worship Him with “In Christ Alone” by Natalie Grant. If you’re struggling spiritually, let the Holy Spirit minister to you through this amazing song.
“In Christ alone, my hope is found...” 

God bless,

Monday, May 21, 2012

How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?

“There will NEVER be a time when enough is enough. I want to live no matter what.”~Robin Gibb (when asked by doctors to what extent they should go to save him).

Last month singer/songwriter Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees appeared to have beaten the odds. Doctors had declared him cancer free after undergoing grueling treatment for liver and colon cancer. He also suffered from the same ailment that killed his fraternal twin Maurice in 2003, a twisted intestine. Subsequent surgery weakened Robin further. He relapsed with pneumonia and slipped into a coma.

His last musical accomplishment, the Titanic Requiem, a classical masterpiece written with son RJ to commemorate the Titanic’s 100th anniversary, was performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra April 10, in London. Robin was set give what would have been his last performance. The project, which he credited with saving his life during months of grueling chemotherapy, was performed without him.

I listened to the song he would have sang, Don’t Cry Alone, on his website. His haunting vibrato lent a chilling effect to the lyrics and melody.

After a bedside vigil from his family, which included music played and brother Barry singing to Robin, he emerged from the coma twelve days later asking for ice cream. Doctors declared his recovery remarkable. The rejoicing was short-lived. Tests showed Robin’s cancer had returned, and he never regained his strength lost from being in a coma. He died yesterday at the age of 62.

There is a lone Gibb brother now. No more Bee Gees, except in our memories and in the beautiful harmonies they produced.

I became a huge Bee Gees fan in 1977, along with many others. However, they’d been producing music and number one hits for two decades and continued long after disco died. With more than one thousand songs in their songwriting catalog, hundreds of other singers have benefited from covering the brothers’ songs.

Bee Gees songs are experienced with the heart, with a smile, maybe a tap of the foot, or for those more uninhibited, a few dance steps.

At 12 years old, along with millions of adolescent girls, I dreamed one day I’d marry a Gibb brother. (Okay, stop laughing long enough to finish reading this.J) Two major problems existed with my dream. They were married and 15 years my senior! And did I mention they didn’t know I existed? LOL.

Beyond that, they inspired me musically. I learned to play the piano and perhaps would have pursued a music career had life not taken me in a different direction.

Despite success few bands or songwriters can claim, including five songs in the top ten on Billboard charts in the same week, tragedy followed the Gibb family. Robin and his first wife were among few survivors of a train wreck in the 1960s. They helped pull scores of victims from the wreckage. He was never the same afterwards and had a sense of desperate mortality that drove his music.

Youngest brother Andy died in 1988, at age 30, from heart disease brought on by years of drug use. Father Hugh died four years later on Andy's birthday from what the brothers described as a bitter, broken heart, having never gotten over Andy’s death. Maurice died in 2003, from cardiac arrest after doctors failed to diagnose his twisted intestine properly and it ruptured. Oldest brother Barry suffers from severe arthritis triggered by back surgery more than a decade ago.

Along with Barry losing all three brothers, mother Barbara Gibb, age 91, now has the heartbreaking task of burying a third son. She recently was quoted as saying she believed her family was cursed much like the Kennedys in the U.S. (Ironically, the Kennedys suffered a tragic death this week, as well.) Robin himself lamented recently that perhaps the Gibb family tragedies were karma for their success. Sometimes it appears some families suffer more loss than others, particularly families like the Kennedys, but more than likely it is just that—a perception. We notice it more when tragedies occur in high profile families.

The lesson is—though none of us know how our days are numbered, we know they are. Therefore, those days shouldn’t be wasted. Matthew 25 outlines that we’ll answer for our talents used or wasted. Romans 14:12 says we’ll give an account of ourselves to God.

“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God. When it comes time to die, make sure that all you have to do is die.”~Jim Elliot (martyred missionary)

Despite the successes we enjoy or heartbreaks we suffer, each moment of life is precious.

What I’ll remember most about the Bee Gees is the music they created for five decades, the joy they shared through their music, and the inspiration I gained from them.
The Measure of a Man
Not - How did he die? But - How did he live?
Not - What did he gain? But - What did he give?

These are the things that measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.

Not - What was his station? But - had he a heart?
And - How did he play his God-given part?

God bless,

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Crafting A Story

I’m often asked two questions about writing: Where do you find ideas for stories or articles? And, how do you create an opening sentence/paragraph?

Whether fiction or non-fiction, story ideas surround you. Inspiration is best drawn from life. Yesterday’s blog post about the hummingbird in my garage is a good example. This summer, a devotion I wrote about spider webs and sin will appear on the Christian Devotions website.

Don’t overlook or discard even the simplest life experiences to create a basis for an article, devotion, or fiction character. Almost anything can be used as an analogy to a scriptural principle.

Are you raising a special needs child? Caring for an aging parent? These are relevant subjects in Christian publishing. How-to articles on topics such as home schooling or money saving tips for one income families are marketable.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it, anyway—God provides many of my ideas. When I don’t have a clear-cut subject to write about, I pray and an idea comes. As you gain experience, the process becomes easier. Do I ever get writer’s block? Sure, but so far, prayer has fixed it.

One caveat to this is, if I start stressing about ideas, it’s often a sign I’m overcommitted and need to take a time out.  

As a new writer, I used to agonize about how to start an article or story. Now I just throw my ideas onto the page and see what appears—kind of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Then I can organize those thoughts into a cohesive piece.

For fiction, I learned the acronym CCR (conflict, conversation, revelation) at a writers’ conference. CCR can be used sometimes for non-fiction. Begin your article/story with one of these elements and the rest will flow.

Suppose you sit beside a couple in church, at the doctor’s office, or the DMV. (You’ll hear many interesting things there!) Fiction writing is similar. You’re eavesdropping on your characters’ lives. Build characters from these daily experiences, create plot points, and maybe even discover a conflict or conversation to open your story.

I previously blogged about hooking a reader from the opening sentence/paragraph of your WIP. It’s a must, if you don’t want an acquisitions editor to toss your article or manuscript into their slush or rejection pile. Here’s the example I wrote for the Hook 'Em post that also reflects CCR.

You said you wanted to be a father,” Katie wailed.
“But not like this. Not now.” Steve shifted, twisting the brim of his hat between his hands.
“If not now, when?”
His eyes narrowed. “After we bury your husband.”
She sniffed. “But he isn’t dead…yet.”
I opened with all three.
Revelation: Katie’s pregnant.
Conversation: dialogue between the two characters
Conflict: Steve doesn’t want to be a father. Katie’s husband is still alive. 
Just so you won’t think the worst of me (haha), here’s the second part of the conversation from Hook ‘Em:
Katie touched Steve’s arm. “You promised to take care of me.”
            “Fatherhood wasn’t part of the deal.”
            “I’ll be a widow by the end of the week.” Her hand tightened around his arm. “Tell me what I’m supposed to do.”
The baby’s father is likely the dying husband, though we don’t know that for sure. This leads me to a revelation—I don’t always know what my characters will do. They morph into whatever they choose sometimes. I follow basic Christian principles and won’t violate those, but otherwise, my characters do as they wish. 
Once you’ve established who your characters are, allow them to have a conversation that would naturally flow from their situation, even if you end up moving it to another part of the book or story. The important thing is simply start writing.
With non-fiction, consider your article’s objective and try to craft a sentence that hooks. At times I’ve been stuck and started writing what I knew would become the third or fourth paragraph, but it forced me to start. Write what you know, the facts, and craft the story around that. Try not to over think or engineer something profound. Start writing and the sentence you’re seeking will usually evolve.

A good hands-on writer’s workbook is the “Writers Advance! Bootcamp 2012 Marching Manual” available on Amazon. I attended the bootcamp in February. This was the first conference where I received my class handouts in a workbook format. It is chock-full of fiction and non-fiction worksheets and industry information like writing query letters, your author bio, social networking, writing as a ministry, editing, basic elements in a novel, plotting, and many other subjects.

Those who’ve followed me for any length of time know my motto: If you can’t attend a conference, good writing resources are the next best thing. 
Now, I want to hear about your writing this week. Do you have a solution for writer’s block? Share it in the comments below. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Invisible Wall

“A flash of harmless lightning, a mist of rainbow dyes, the burnished sunbeams brightening, from flower to flower he flies.” John Banister Tabb

Last summer, I walked through my garage and heard a noise coming from behind the window blinds. It sounded like an oversized bumblebee—or a miniature power tool. Along with the hum, I heard a tap, tap, tap. The little creature was beating itself to death against the closed window, when he only needed to back up and exit the way he came in—through the open garage door.

We have this problem every summer. No doubt, the hummingbirds are attracted by anything red in the garage. They hover around my van’s taillight trying to discern if it is a food source.

Hummingbirds are the only bird that can fly backwards. I could list many amazing attributes about this beautiful creature, but no matter how magnificent, its design is also limiting. One trait in particular—fear, causes the hummingbird to ignore its God-given instinct to simply back out of a situation it shouldn’t be in.

Horrified that the bird would tap the window until it died, I grabbed a rake. After several careful attempts to free the bird without stressing or injuring it, I guided it away from the closed window back to the open garage door. Was it relieved? I doubt a bird has the capacity to feel relief, but it went on its merry way, to the next red bloom or taillight that caught its attention.

Sounds familiar. How often do we insist on following a path in pursuit of something that turns out to be a counterfeit blessing, much like the taillight is to a hummingbird? We see the end of the path—the objective we’re after—so we keep beating our head against the invisible wall to reach it. Though we could take a step back and reassess our objective and the means to achieve it, we refuse to do so.

God grabs our shirttails and tries to rein us in. We try to wriggle out of His grasp.

“But, God, I see the prize. If I try hard enough, work hard enough, sacrifice enough, I’ll get there. Don’t pull me back. Here’s a better solution—Remove the invisible wall.”

Because we know best, right? And removing the barrier would be best.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
Challenge yourself to take that step back into the arms of God. Trust Him to get it right!

“God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with Him.” Jim Elliot

Please leave your prayer requests in the comment section below. If you have a confidential request, my contact info is above. Past requests include:
·      Unemployment and potential home loss/foreclosure
o   Tony and Betty
o   Mike and Karen
o   Anonymous
·      Health – Pray specifically for healing, comfort, strength, and wisdom in treatment for
o   Courtney, young mother with cancerous brain tumor
o   Karen, leukemia
o   TC’s father-in-law who has cancer
o   Several people with depression and other mental health issues
·       Difficult family situations, including salvation of children and freedom from addictions.
·      Christian singer/songwriter Aaron Shust’s infant son Michael who has Down’s Syndrome had reconstructive heart surgery Monday. He came through the surgery and is off the ventilator. Please keep the Shust family in your prayers. Aaron’s wife Sarah shared a journal post with the same premise I used a few weeks ago—laying your Isaac on the altar and trusting God’s plan. Her post only takes a moment to read. I hope you are as blessed as I was by it.
Take a moment to enjoy this song by Rich Mullins, "Hold Me, Jesus."

God bless,

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Redundancies - Part II

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster. ~Isaac Asimov

Welcome to Writers’ Corner. I’ve had a busy week writing, critiquing, editing, and in my non-writing job, medical transcription.

What about you?

I want to take a moment to address my email subscribers since I received a question this week pertaining to email. To access this blog from the email, click on the title of the post. You’ll be directed to the blog where you can leave comments. This is especially important on prayer Wednesdays when we receive prayer requests and pray for others. Also, if you can’t access the YouTube video on the prayer post through email, go to the blog. Thanks!

In the body of many posts, I embed website links of referenced articles. Click on these (highlighted like my title) to be redirected to the article.

If anyone else has questions regarding the technical aspects of my blog, let me know, and I’ll try to answer them.

One of my pet peeves is also something I’m guilty of—writing with redundancies. I’ve blogged on this subject before, but I see redundant word combinations often, even in published writing. So, I decided to touch on the subject again. Read through these examples, then see if you can identify others in your writing. Tighten your manuscript by deleting them.

absolutely essential
armed gunman
could possibly
drop down
sit down
stand up
end result
hurry up
joint collaboration
over exaggerate
still remains
visible to the eye
unexpected surprise
temper tantrum

Most writers overuse favorite phrases along with redundancies. Once you identify your overused word/phrase, simply do a “search” for it on your computer (the F5 function key in MS Word). Either replace the word with a synonym or delete it. Many times, the word isn’t needed when looking at the sentence context. As a novice writer, I discovered Southernisms creeping into my writing. Searching for words like “just” helped me to realize “just” how much I used them. J

The winner of the free critique from last week’s post is TC Avey. She describes her WIP as an adult thriller (I think that's the word I have decided upon). It is pre-apocalyptic of the Left Behind Series and has the big brother tone of an Ayn Rand novel.”

Sounds exciting, TC! My contact info is at the top of this blog.

Take a moment to leave a response to the following prompt.  I look forward to reading everyone's comments.

I write because…

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

There Is None Like You

In many areas of understanding, none so much as in our understanding of God, we bump up against a simplicity so profound that we must assign complexities to it to comprehend it at all. It is mindful of how we paste decals to a sliding glass door to keep from bumping our nose against it. ~Robert Brault

God is difficult to explain because no words are adequate. Yet in everything I see and do, He’s there. Maybe Mr. Brault’s explanation is the best. We try too hard to explain someone who, though complex, is easily understood—if we’d just open our hearts and minds.

Every night, as the sun begins to set and a cool breeze rustles through the trees, my husband, my son, and I take a walk around our property with our Australian shepherd in tow. God is everywhere we look, in every nuance, sound, and scent we experience. Yellow-and-white honeysuckles trailing on vines, baby birds in their nests crying for food, spring rabbits playing leapfrog with each other—all bear God’s handprint. A supernatural quality transcends our minds and envelopes our senses when we become submerged in nature.

“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” Job 42:3b-5
On last week’s post, a comment was posted by Monica. The song by Casting Crowns, Praise You In This Storm, was a song she played repeatedly when her daughter passed away. I visited her blog and read her story, "Where is He in the Storm?" God’s grace and mercy shines through this young mother. Please take a moment to read her story and be blessed.

This was how she described her low point:

We were literally in debt, losing our home, our daughter passed away, our marriage was being hit, my relationship with my children was not what it used to be. I was in the midst of a STORM and I DID NOT KNOW WHEN IT WOULD END!! I went to GOD but did not hear Him nor see Him.
Monica lists four things God did to teach her and bring her out of the storm. I hope you’re as blessed by her story as I was.

My prayer for each of you today is that you pause to experience God in His creation and find peace often elusive elsewhere.

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. ~C.S. Lewis
Prayer requests from previous weeks include:
·       Unemployment (Several people have requested prayer in this area.)
·       Home foreclosure
·       Health issues – Please pray specifically for healing, comfort, strength, and wisdom in treatment.
            Karen – leukemia
            Courtney – cancerous brain tumor (repeat MRI this month)
·       Difficult family situations including children
·       People seeking God’s will in particular decisions
Please leave your prayer requests in the comment section or email me with confidential requests. I love hearing from you!

Our song this week is "In the Garden (There is None Like You)," by Watermark.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mental Health Awareness

“There are many people out there who are suffering and have nowhere to turn for help or are afraid because of the stigmas placed on mental health.” Brandon Marshall (Chicago Bears wide receiver)

May is National Mental Health Awareness month.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 4 people in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental disorder. Someone in your life, possibly yourself, may be battling depression or another mental illness. The purpose of my post today is to help eliminate the stigma of seeking treatment and discussing mental wellness as we do our physical health.

I blog frequently about life’s trials and how to deal with them spiritually. It’s not unusual to experience a bout of depression linked to psychosocial issues such as unemployment, grief, home foreclosure, and broken relationships. We all struggle with stressors that knock us down.

But when you go down and stay down, it’s time to seek help. If you’ve tried talking with your pastor, a close friend, or counselor, and you haven’t improved, get medical help. Depression can be physical in nature. If you’re experiencing symptoms of major depression, contact your family doctor for a physical that includes lab work. While you’re getting checked out physically, discuss possible treatment options of medication and/or talk therapy with a licensed mental health counselor.

Stigma should not prevent someone from seeking help to improve their quality of life. Mental illness does not diminish a person’s worth any more than diabetes or cancer does.

Brandon Marshall, quoted above, wrote an op-ed piece this week after retired NFL player Junior Seau’s suicide. Mr. Marshall openly shared his own treatment for depression and his belief that stigma prevents people, especially sports figures, from seeking help.

The subject of mental illness holds personal meaning for me. My sister Michelle battled severe mental illness for twenty years before her suicide seven years ago. I’ve written about her on my blog and in an article, "Opening A Window to Understanding," for my local newspaper three years ago.

My mom suffered with depression for several years when I was a young child. She overcame it with counseling from our pastor and prescription medication from her family doctor. She also made lifestyle changes, some of which are listed below from HelpGuide.Org. Check out their website for additional strategies and treatment options.

  • Exercise. Regular exercise can be as effective at treating depression as medication. Not only does exercise boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals, it triggers the growth of new brain cells and connections, just like antidepressants do. Best of all, you don’t have to train for a marathon in order to reap the benefits. Even a half-hour daily walk can make a big difference. For maximum results, aim for 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity on most days.
  • Nutrition. Eating well is important for both your physical and mental health. Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day will help you keep your energy up and minimize mood swings. While you may be drawn to sugary foods for the quick boost they provide, complex carbohydrates are a better choice. They'll get you going without the all-too-soon sugar crash.
  • Sleep. Sleep has a strong effect on mood. When you don't get enough sleep, your depression symptoms will be worse. Sleep deprivation exacerbates irritability, moodiness, sadness, and fatigue. Make sure you're getting enough sleep each night. Very few people do well on less than 7 hours a night. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours each night.
  • Social Support. Strong social networks reduce isolation, a key risk factor for depression. Keep in regular contact with friends and family, or consider joining a class or group. Volunteering is a wonderful way to get social support and help others while also helping yourself.
  • Stress Reduction. Make changes in your life to help manage and reduce stress. Too much stress exacerbates depression and puts you at risk for future depression. Take the aspects of your life that stress you out, such as work overload or unsupportive relationships, and find ways to minimize their impact.
If you’ve been depressed for more than a few weeks or symptoms are interfering with daily function, please call your doctor today and start incorporating the above suggestions into your life.  Hope exists for improved mental health, regardless of your situation now.

Is your life impacted by someone with mental illness? The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an excellent support network. Please take a few moments to look over their website.

If you’d like me to pray for you or a loved one, please email me or leave a comment, whichever you’re most comfortable doing.