Happy New Year!

New-year-party-favor-clipartNo, I haven’t lost my mind (although some of you might disagree). Yes, I know it’s early September. But this time of year, this day after the US holiday of Labor Day always feels like a second “new year” to me.

When I was growing up, the first day of our new school year fell on the Tuesday after Labor Day. I remember those sleepless nights, the anxiety about starting a new grade, having new teachers, classes filled with kids I didn’t know, had I picked the right outfit to wear, etc. Then, I went through it with my own kids (now grown), worked in a profession that revolved around the school calendar, and now in my older years, am involved in activities that break for the summer and resume after Labor Day. Life always feels like it gets put on hold during the summer.

I no longer experience the anxiety I did when younger, but I love the cyclical flow of the days and months that come with the fall and look forward to it. It’s a time when I re-examine the structure of my days and re-evaluate my priorities and projects. It’s a time of new beginnings even as I look toward the December holidays and end of the year. It’s a time when I feel like I have a second chance to do the things I committed to do in January, but which have fizzled out as the year progressed.

Maybe you feel like you’re in the same boat, with unfinished business and a lack of progress in areas you’d hoped would be further along by this time. It’s never too late to begin again. Every day that the sun rises is an opportunity for a fresh start. And since it comes up every 24 hours, we receive a clean slate, another chance. Whatever we accomplish is something that would not have happened if we hadn’t started over and tried. As Dory says in the movie Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming.” One inch, one action, one step at a time will do it! Come on this adventure with me. We’ll finish the year strong–together!

Oh, and by the way,

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(I’m re-committing to writing one picture book manuscript a month and editing an existing picture book manuscript. What will you do? Send me a comment or begin following this blog and I’ll email you a list of 10 actions I’ve found helpful to get myself “unstalled” and moving again.)

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Three Years Later–And the Time Is Now

X profile photoYesterday. July 24. A red-letter day, at least for me. Three years ago, God blessed me with a miraculous healing, snatching me back from the brink of a double lung transplant. In truth, I celebrate this blessing every day, thanking Him for His grace and mercy to me.

These three years have passed so fast. God continues to bless me with good health and even continues to improve it. At the last visit with my pulmonologist, a pulmonary function test showed that I am now breathing as well as 90% of all normal people. Compare that to the 39% I was at right before my healing! The pressure in my pulmonary artery is also in the normal range. My doctors are still a bit mystified, but have accepted the reality of my situation.

As for me, what has happened in the past three years has gone far beyond the physical. During the ten years I was sick, the Lord taught me many things: trust, deeper prayer, joy–just to name a few. Those lessons have continued as I have redefined my life and searched the heart of God for what He wants me to do now that I am healthy. I am grateful every day that I serve a God who speaks to me through His word and whispers to my heart as I come before Him in prayer. He wants me to be in relationship with Him, He wants me to know Him and does not keep Himself secret or hidden from me.

I’ve known since my healing that I was supposed to write about it. But I still had lessons to learn and to grasp the vision He had for my book. After all, one does not sit down and write a book about marriage while still a newlywed or a parenting book right after giving birth. Just like in those situations, there is a learning curve. I needed time to process what happened and find my way, with His help and guidance, into this restored life.

The Lord has revealed to me this summer that I’m ready and confirmed it to me in a number of ways as I have sought Him. It is both exciting and a bit scary to be facing the reality of this project. I can no longer just talk about it–I must DO it. It is always daunting to face a blank page/screen. I’m already discovering that I must be diligent about using my “shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of the enemy” (Ephesians 6:16). And the enemy has been firing those arrows at me in the form of fear, insecurity, distractions, discouragement, etc. The devil does not want me to give God glory and is doing his best to prevent it and keep me quiet.

Sometimes I forget to put up my shield and those darts hit me, especially when he’s being sneaky and hoping I won’t notice his attacks. But this project belongs first and foremost, to the Lord, and I will not be thwarted, especially when He gives me the strength to do all things in Him (Philippians 4:13). When I was still sick, I promised the Lord that I would give Him the glory. I did it then, and I intend to continue doing just that.

I’m still learning and will continue to do so on this side of paradise. I’m so thankful that I’m not doing this alone. With the Lord at my side and guiding my words, it will come to fruition. Stay tuned!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Weaving and Writing

Weaving 2
I’m in the process of learning how to weave. As I’ve worked my way through the learning curve, the phrase “weaving a story” has taken on a whole new meaning. If you’ve never tried weaving, here are some of the highlights.

• The longest and most intense part of the process is in the preparation.
• No matter how careful you are, threads will get tangled, sometimes hopelessly, forcing you to cut them out.
• Threads will twist when you least expect it.
• If you don’t press hard enough on the beater to keep the rows close together, you’ll end up with holes in your work.
• It’s easy to get confused as to which way you’re working, especially when you have to stop and pick up your work later.
• When using a variegated thread (as I am), you don’t know what the finished product will look like until you’re finished.

Starting a new project fills me with excitement and anticipation. Sometimes I get to a point where I’m tired of the pre-process and just want to get to the writing. If I skimp on my research, character development, or plot line, it’s not long before I get stuck. Having to stop and do more research, brainstorm new ideas, or sit down and have a heart-to-heart with my main character ultimately takes longer than if I’d taken the time I needed in the preparation stage.

I love my words and stories. I can go off on tangents or fill my manuscripts with words and scenes I think are beautiful and marvelous. But when I objectively look back, I discover a tangled mess. The only solution, painful as it is, is to cut out the sections that do not contribute to the story.

Even with all the planning in the world, my story occasionally takes an unexpected twist. At times, this can add dimension and design. Or, I may find myself trapped in a dead end. Then I must retrace my steps to where the twist happened and fix it.

I need to work consistently on a project. When I continuously pick it up and put it down, I lose that momentum that causes a story to flow. That leads to holes in the plot, disappearing characters, and forgetting where I was headed in the first place.

At times, like during NaNoWriMo, it can be fun, invigorating, and refreshing to just write, not knowing how it will turn out until the end. While this approach does contain some risk, the story may end up being worthwhile, or a piece whose value is contained in the practice and the process. Either way, the joy is in the journey.

I’m convinced that whoever coined the phrase, “weaving a story” must have been both a weaver and a writer. The parallels are inspiring. So, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my weaving . . .

(Pictured above: My loom is warped (threaded) to weave bookmarks, four at a time, as favors for an upcoming convention luncheon. Ultimately, I’ll need to make 100.)

Characters Are Our Friends

Last November I finally took the advice of a friend and began reading the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. While mystery is not my favorite genre, I do choose mystery series that align with my interests such as tea, writing, and knitting. Detective agencies? Not usually in my sphere of interest.

Much to my surprise and delight, I have since sailed through the entire series, thirteen books in all. What enchants me is not so much the mystery, but the main character, Mma Precious Ramotswe. She is strong, loving, intelligent, down-to-earth, and greatly concerned about the importance of maintaining traditional values and morality.

Everything she does, all the cases she solves flow out of who she is. Because of this I feel as though I know Mma Ramotswe personally. I want her opinion on my problems. I want to join her in a cup of tea on her veranda or at the President’s Hotel. I want to sit in on a case discussion between her and her assistant, Mma Makutsi. I want to climb into her tiny white van and traverse roads of Botswana, drinking in the sights of the Kalahari Desert, observing the wildlife that roams freely, and go along when she visits her home village of Mochudi.

I have always believed that the best fiction is character driven rather than plot driven. If I don’t care about the character, then I don’t really care about what is happening. Alexander McCall Smith is a master at this. To be able to create living, breathing characters with whom readers identify, who feel “real” in the truest sense of the word is a rare gift. Now that I’ve finished the series as a reader, I want to go back and study these books as a writer.

I cannot imagine anything better than aspiring to the same kind of character excellence demonstrated by Smith—unless it is moving to Botswana to become Mma Ramotswe’s neighbor.

I’ll send you a postcard when I arrive.

Silver and Gold

As writers we are encouraged to come into the 21st century, making sure our presence is well-represented on all forms of social media, maintain our own websites and blogs, and arrange for an e-book version of our books. Many of us “traditionalists” struggle with this focus on electronic media and are reluctant to let go of our beloved hard copies. Few things thrill us more than the feel of a book in our hands and the scent of paper and ink. But if we are to survive as authors in this “brave new world” we must make some adjustments in our attitudes and activities.

At a recent workshop on building our platform, one writer asked the leader how we accomplish this without sacrificing too much of our writing time. The instructor, Stephanie Keyes, author of a popular young adult trilogy, outlined a sensible, doable strategy that works for her. She stressed that this type of activity helps us to connect with our readers in ways previously not possible. It makes us real and provides opportunities for personal connections with them.

On the other hand, I recently became acquainted with a young man in his early thirties. Steve is well-educated and a voracious reader but unlike many of his generation, does not own an e-reader. Why? Because he loves and collects books, just like us. Steve rarely visits a library. Instead, he feels compelled to own and keep nearly every book he reads. They are his friends, companions, and company. Finding another kindred spirit who shares my passion for books always thrills and delights me. It also proves to me that the demand for physical books will continue well into the future.

Many of us struggle with this great paradigm shift. Many of us are bibliophiles like Steve, yet if we as authors are to survive in this changing industry we need to learn how to reach out to our technologically savvy readers. Too often when such dramatic changes occur, we tend to react with an either/or mentality, forgetting that with work and understanding, we can, and must, strike a balance between the old and the new. Ultimately, it can end up being the best of both worlds. Or, as I like to think of it, the old adage rings true: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

May we all acquire much of this silver and gold.

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