Writer, Will You Go Anywhere God Calls You? The Problem IS the Path
Warning: This post is for Christians only.You can read it if you want to, but don't get mad if it's too religious for your taste!
Now, for those of you who are still reading, here's the question that's on my mind: Are you willing to go anywhere God has called you? (Tweet that.
I've been reading Erica Wiggenhorn's
Bible study of the first twelve chapters of the book of Acts titled The Unexplainable Life
(Moody, 2016). In Acts 8:26, an angel tells Philip, who was one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus, to:
"Go South to the road--the desert road--that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza" (Acts 8:26, NIV).
About this, Erica writes:
For Philip to take the route the angel suggested meant heading into the middle of the desert. With no means of transportation, this could easily mean death. Once Philip obeyed this unexplainable request, he now became led solely by the Spirit. God is so merciful, isn't He? Asking Philip to head out to the middle of the desert was completely contrary to anything logical. Philip was an evangelist. Who would hear the message in the middle of the desert? Was he supposed to preach to the sand? After witnessing such revival in Samaria, I'm sure Philip was eager to go to another largely populated city to see what God might do there in the hearts of the people. But God sends him an angel telling him to head out into the middle nowhere. (page 164)
There Philip meets an Ethiopian who becomes a believer in Jesus and is baptized on the spot. Then Philip is miraculously whisked away instantaneously to Azotus. But that unnamed, probably bewildered, Ethiopian continued on his journey.
Again, from Erica's book:
Look at the incredible intricacy of God's timing. One seeking heart, one page of Scripture, and one willing servant of God resulted in the gospel being spread to an entire nation! God sent Philip completely out of his way to present the gospel to one solitary individual...
This eunuch's request to understand God resulted in the truth of the gospel being brought to another continent. (pages 164-65)
I'm writing this on a flight to Los Angeles. I never started out to be a screenwriter. That crazy idea came about ten years into my writing journey. It took another ten years after that for me to actually start. Now, another eight years later, I'm flying to Los Angeles to meet with people about my screenplays.
I never would have dreamed I'd be doing this. (Tweet that.
) Talk about God doing immeasurably more than I could ask or imagine...
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen" (Ephesians 3:20, NIV).
I'll admit some frustration in publishing. I haven't got the books written (yet) that I've wanted to write, let alone not yet getting the book publishing contracts I've wanted to get. I'm not where I envisioned I would be this many years into my writing career. Why? I ask myself that often. I guess "life" intervenes. Plus, there are practical reasons, such as learning how not to constantly under-estimate how long things will take to complete. Or how much time we actually have to write.
I work hard five to six days a week. I'm in my office early and stay late. And yet... projects remain unfinished.
What about you? Does this feel familiar?
But honestly, part of the reason, when it comes to book publishing, that I haven't written as much as I wanted to is because of this "side" journey of film and screenwriting. But when you get right down to it, this "side"journey isn't really that at all. It's right where the LORD
has directed my steps to bring me. When I trace the steps I've walked on my writing journey, I never could have done this or gotten here on my own. (Tweet that.
)I could not have orchestrated this. Where I'm at now is more than I could have ever asked or imagined.
I recently discovered an interesting television show on the Sundance channel on Sunday mornings. It's called Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter
. Each show is a panel discussion with five or six Hollywood professionals, such as producers or directors or actors or writers. They discuss the challenges of their respective jobs, what they've learned, who their heroes are, etc.
On one episode, Greta Gerwig, writer and director of the film Lady Bird
(with five Academy Award nominations) talked about the problems that came up on set as she was directing. (Tweet that.
) She concluded that (this may not be the exact quote but it's close): "The problem IS
Interesting. How often do we, as writers or other creative professionals, strive against the problems? Buck against the obstacles? Perhaps, like the characters in our stories, we should see the obstacles in our paths not as roadblocks, but rather as directing us to the right path. (Tweet that.
What about you? Are you "detoured" too? Or are you right where you're supposed to be, even if you're not where you planned to be? (Tweet that.
Are you fighting the direction you're going? Or could it be the LORD
is directing your path? Are you willing to go wherever the LORD
wants you to go, wherever God calls you? Even if it's different from where you thought you were headed?
Yeah, me too. I'll see you out there ... on the journey.
New Year Planning to Get Your Writing Done This Year
I was talking with my friend, Sherry, recently when she asked me if I make goals for the new year. She's a home-schooling mom with fewer kids to school for the first time in many years and she was planning what she wanted to accomplish with her writing this coming year.
As it happened, I was just thinking along those same lines, so we had a conversation about what I do which seemed helpful, and even fun, for Sherry. So I thought it might be helpful to you too, or at least inspire some new ideas and fun ways to keep your writing goals ever before you this year. (Tweet that!
New Year Planning
Her original question was: "So do you plan out a writing schedule and what projects you want to complete each year? That's what I'm in the process of doing."
Yes, at the first of the year I plan what I want to accomplish during the year. I don't so much make a schedule, just a to-do list.
Back when I was freelancing more magazine articles, my annual goals looked more like submitting or querying a certain number of magazine articles monthly. But several years ago now as the magazine market began to dry up--at least the paying, print magazines--or shifted to non-paying online markets, my querying and submitting to magazines waned.
That shift led me to more book writing and delving into screenwriting. With bigger projects in the works that take longer to develop and produce, I needed a place to write down which projects I wanted to work on. I needed to ask myself just how much I could accomplish in one year? And of all the half-baked ideas, or half-written projects, which one(s) did I want to focus on this year? Which could I complete? (Tweet that!
With all the other stuff that gets in our way as writers -- the email and the social media to build our author platform and/or to promote our books or whatevers that are already out there for sale -- plus the correspondence and the workshops we need to prepare to teach and the conferences we're going to attend... Actually accomplishing the writing part of our jobs can get edged out, take a back seat, be put on hold until we have a block of uninterrupted time without all this small niggley stuff nipping at us. (Tweet that!
) Time when we can actually concentrate and get some writing done is hard to trap. It's not just me. Or you. For most writers I've talked to, the deeper into this journey we get, the less time and energy to write we have. (Tweet that!
What helps me: The List
. Seeing that list of what I want to work on, and hopefully complete, this year.helps me stay on track.
Usually the list is longer than I can accomplish. But it helps me hone down to what's really important to me to do. And also to focus in on which projects are the most ready to write or to complete.
I Use a Big White Board
Several years ago I purchased a large white board. Originally I used it to map out the first stories I was working to develop. But I learned that didn't work so well for me because I couldn't take the story off to reuse the board again without losing everything I'd worked on! So that white board was out of commission for several years with a story I never completed figuring out and so never wrote.
I finally took a photo of all my work on the white board in order to preserve it to use later if I wanted to, and then I could feel free to erase it all. I won't do that again.
Now that my white board is free again, I've used it for several years to list what I want to do each year. My white board is also 2' x 3'. And if you're going to go buy one, spend a little more money and get one that's magnetic.
|Some of the magnates I've found.|
Besides being great fun, you can do a lot with magnetic boards. You can buy multi-colored magnates to hold notes. (Sherry said she uses sticky notes but sometimes they stick to the cat and get carried away.) You can also get magnates with clips to hold multiple papers or other items. I even found some magnates that are small cork boards with one pin in each of them. There are all kinds of fun and colorful magnates to use on your white board.
While you're at the store, pick up a multi-pack of different colored dry- or wet-erase markers. As creative people, we like multiple colors. They inspire us. So splurge a little and get whatever inspires you. For the best price, pick these up during the back-to-school season. This year I found a package of "2 in 1" with each of the four markers having two colors, one at each end.
Also get some white board cleaner because even the dry-erase doesn’t come off easily after it’s been there a while.
Here's What I Put On My White Board
I use different colors for different categories. For example, since I want to write both film screenplays and books, I use different colors for each of those categories. I might use blue for screenplays and green for novels. I use a different color, like maroon, for the list of e-books I wish to complete this year.
On my white board I also note important dates as they become available, such as deadlines for submitting writing projects or entering screenplay contests.
For really important items that I want to be sure I don't miss, I use a bright, alarming color -- such as red -- so that note doesn't blend in with everything else.
Blues and greens and even maroons give me a sense of calm. Red makes me pay attention.
Like my cork boards where I plot out my stories, I do not mount my planning white board to the wall. It can sit on my table or file cabinet, or even the floor, and lean against the wall. I leave it loose so I can lay it down to write on and carry it around to different work spaces when I need a change of space.
|Still on my to-do list.|
I cannot tell you the great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction it gives me to put a big check mark on my white board when something listed there is finished! Each check-off is truly something to celebrate.
Again, my list usually has more items on it than I can accomplish. But it challenges me to do more than I would if I didn't have those goals and wishes always before me as the seasons and the calendar days tick away.
In the End...
Have you ever heard the saying, "If it's not on the schedule, it won't get done"? (Tweet that!
) My white board makes me look at my projects and consider when
I'm going to schedule each one and get down to the business of making it happen. It makes me plan. Without it I drift from project to project without ever finishing
any, or I daydream days away wondering what I'm supposed to be working on.
At the end of each year, or the beginning of the year, I update my white board. I can celebrate the erasing of all the check marks -- that is, all the projects I completed.
Then I revise the entire board for the new year. I evaluate if the projects left up there, unfinished, are still priorities. If they are, they are no doubt more developed or more ready to write. With the other priority projects finished, these can move up in priority on the list.
|Magnates and colors and fun!|
Sometimes there are projects that I've lost interest in, or are lower priorities compared to what has happened in the year I just finished.
Sometimes, like with my e-books, the list stays from year to year with me promising myself I'm going to complete them this year for sure
! And yet other priorities take over again. But they are still important to me so they stay on the list. Maybe I'll get them done this year. Again. Maybe.
My board also has helped me get a sense of just how much I can get done in a year and what is unreasonable for me to expect of myself. This has been invaluable. (Tweet that!
) I do try to write one new screenplay each year. This requires fully developing the story, which takes time too. And I want to write one book a year -- whether nonfiction or fiction. I know I can do this much, plus some other smaller projects. My white board has helped me figure that out.
I hope your new white board can do as much for you.
How do you plan your writing projects for the new year?
What do you hope to accomplish in your writing this year?
2018 Challenge: Mature as a Writer and/or Storyteller
On January 1, 2016, I challenged writers to "Go Rogue"
and use our power as writers to push the envelope for good. This year I've been thinking about how I might challenge writers for 2018. What's on my mind this January 1, 2018, is for each of us to mature as a writer and/or a storyteller. (Share that.
I'm thinking about this because recently I've seen comments from writers, people who wish to write, writers who wish to get their books or articles published, as well as screenwriters who'd like their scripts produced, that reveal their work might not quite be ready. I can tell by what they say that their writing has not yet matured to a place where it is publishable or producible because of comments that reveal the don't understand genres or the differences in what publishers publish or producers produce.
Discovering we're not "mature" in what we do is hard to take. I know because I've discovered myself there at times. I can see in my past where I thought my writing had matured, and yet I was not seeing the publishing results that I wanted. Now, looking back with the distance of time, I can see how my writing just wasn't ready yet. I couldn't see it for myself at the time. I thought I was mature. Have you ever thought about why we always think we're mature and then later realize we're not?
Maturity, I think, can be deceiving and elusive -- even for writers. (Share that.
) Doesn't it seem that wherever we are in life, we think we're mature?
Think of a young child telling her Mom, "I can do it myself!" and struggling to tie her shoes. Or a first grader who is so much more mature than a kindergartner. What about the senior in high school who is so much more mature than a sixth grader, or a college senior who is light years ahead of that high school senior. By the time we're twenty (or thirty...or forty) we're sure we're really mature now. And we are... comparatively.
But maturing never stops as long as we're on this earth. And writers are no different.
I'm sure wherever we are, we think we're mature. And we are... comparatively. As long as we've continued to grow. But we also thought we were mature writers two years ago and, if we've continued to write, we have matured more. Then, of course, we think we're really
mature now! Two years from now, what will we think? That we weren't really as mature of a writer as we thought we were?
So, what's my point? My point is, as writers we need to continue to mature -- in our ability to write well, in our ability as storytellers, in every way -- so that at some point we will cross that elusive line that puts us in the place where we are finally published or produced. (And even then the maturing should not end.) (Share that.
How do we get there? I can think of three ways all writers can continue to mature in their writing. There may be other ways to mature in our writing, but without doing these three consistently, I don't believe any writer can mature. (Share that.
It is impossible to mature as a writer without actually writing. Occasionally I meet a wanna-be writer who is studying and preparing but who thinks he won't write until he knows enough that whatever he writes will be a success. Like riding a bicycle, you can't learn how to do it without actually doing it -- and failing.
Don't be afraid of failing in your writing. It's all profitable because it's all training on the road to success. Rejection of your writing when you submit it is never fatal. (Share that!
I don't think it matters what you write: articles, books, fiction, non-fiction, screenplays, short stories. Just write. If you're not sure where to start, write something short, like an article, a 1,200-word true story for Chicken Soup for the Soul
, or a short fictional story. Write a children's book, either fiction or nonfiction. Any of that is great training for writing longer pieces like novels, novellas, or non-fiction books.
We learn and mature by writing.
Study writing. Study story and story structure and how-to write books.
Study publisher's guidelines and writers market books to learn what they want to publish. Study grammar and good writing.
Take a workshop online or attend a writers conference
. Get out some old tapes or DVDs of workshops and listen to them again.
Get a new book about writing (or get one off your shelf you bought but haven't read yet. I have lots of those.). Which overlaps with the next section...
If we want to mature as writers, we cannot neglect learning from others who are ahead of us. Writers must make time to read.
Read what you want to write.
If you want to write for magazines, read the magazines you want to write for. (Or, if you love reading a certain magazine(s), that's probably a good market for you to write for!)
If you want to write novels, read novels in the genre you want to write in. Learn from them. Pay attention to how the author did things, like how she presented information, introduced characters, gave backstory, grew suspense, did dialogue.
If you want to write screenplays, read screenplays
If you want to write children's books, you should be reading them
Read how-to writing books.
I'm building a collection of writing books and products that I recommend. Find my recommendations in Dianne's Online Store
There are so many great blogs out there it can be overwhelming. Here are a few of my favorites:
On writing books:
On marketing books:
On writing children's books:
Finally, join Goodreads Reading Challenge
and challenge yourself to read more this year. I love tracking what I get read each year. That helps me read more. I didn't get nearly as much reading done last year as I wanted to. I want to step it up in 2018.
I hope this coming year is a wonderful year for you of growing and maturing as a writer and/or a storyteller and making your publishing dreams come true.
#Writers, here's a challenge and helps for maturing in your #writing this year. (Share this.
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Holidays - A Writer's Interruption?
It's that "wonderful time of the year" again. December. Christmas is crowding in and crowding everything else out.
I used to get frustrated with holidays - any of them throughout the year. They are such an interruption to writing and usually come when I'm on a roll.
I'm changing my attitude. Holidays are good. God gave us holidays for a reason. (For you purists, yes, I know God didn't give us Christmas in the same way he gave the Israelites Festivals and holidays
. But he gave those holidays and set the example.) Holidays are a time to slow down. Or stop. To think. Remember. Remember what is important. Be thankful. Re-evaluate. Re-focus.
Without holidays time just spins past and we risk not even noticing. (Tweet that!
So December is a time to analyze what we've done this past year and where we're going in the next one. Are we going to get done the goals we set at the beginning of the year? Or is it another year to be disappointed? Goals unfinished. Writing projects undone.
Some of us have been doing this writing-thing for a while. We've seen many Decembers roll around in our writing lives. It can feel like December after December of unmet goals turn into years gone by and the writing projects we set out to do years ago remain unfinished. (Tweet that!
When I started out in this gig, my big dream was to write a novel. Guess what is the one thing I have not done? (Well, I've written a few unpublished novels. I've learned a great deal from writing those.) I've written more than 300 published magazine articles and short stories, hundreds more online articles, six nonfiction books, contributed to twenty more books, and have written five feature-length screenplays. But not a publishable novel.
Can you relate? Does this feel familiar? What's a writer to do?
How to Accomplish Your Goals
Then the next logical question is what do we do about it? As I look ahead to this next thirteen months - December through next year - here are my thoughts about it at this moment:
1. Make a new plan.
I never subscribed to that "write every day" rule. (Tweet that!
) I much prefer to have a large chunk of uninterrupted time when I can concentrate on a big project. But I never get there. I've always thought I needed to get everything else done first so I can enjoy my big special project. But I never get everything else done.
Time for a new plan. I'm going to take the advice I've heard often and try to write every day. I know the word count will add up. I know I'll be chipping away at that big goal.
Does this strategy sound like it can work for you?
2. Reevaluate your schedule
What has cluttered up your time? All that "everything" I mentioned in #1 above is just stuff. Yes, it's stuff that needs to be done. Email and platform-building and marketing, oh my. But you know what? It can wait.
I'm putting my writing first this next thirteen months. Not "everything else." (Tweet that!
3. Start a New Job
Writing is a job. It's our work. Our career. (Even if you have another one with a paycheck.)
So I'm going to claim my most creative time for my writing. And I'm going to guard it.
My most creative time is first thing in the morning. (That is, after I read my Bible for a bit and feed the cat and give her her insulin.) If I start with Facebook, email, or something else it eats up my time. By 10:00 other things come into my world that demand attention. I need to get writing done before then. Ignore all else. Even the phone.
What is your best, most creative time? How can you block off and guard that time for writing?
One day a week I must go out of town. Okay, that's worked into my schedule. I make up for it on Saturdays.
What must-dos are on your schedule? How can you work around that to still get your writing time?
Like a job you show up for or get fired. That's what writing should be. Honestly, I think most writers should be fired. (Tweet that!
) They, or we, are not doing our jobs. Do you want to keep your job as a writer? Then get to work. (I'm talking to myself. Mostly.)
4. Make new goals.
Monthly. Weekly. Daily. We know how quickly the end of the year rolls around. Again.
Do you make yearly goals? I do. But obviously these must be broken down to monitor how we're progressing.
My new "write every day" goal does not have a word count attached. I have no idea how many words I'll write each day and that's okay for now. I'm making progress. (Tweet that!
Also without a deadline attached is research. I want to do research for some projects I've had in mind for a long time. I've always felt January is a good time to do that but I've yet to get it done. This January, I'll try again.
What new or renewed writing goals are your going to make?
5. Never give up on your Dream
Don't they say dreams come true in December? Renew your dream. Your Christmas wish.
For me, I'm renewing my dream of writing a novel.
What's your renewed dream?
Let's work harder than ever before through the coming months to make our dreams come true. Let's put words away in a manuscript like savings in a bank and watch them build up. (Tweet that!
) Remember I'm right there with you, saving toward the same goal. I hope my Christmas gift to me next year will be a finished novel.
6. Be grateful for what has gone before
All that other writing is not wasted at all. It was learning. Even those unpublished novels I've written were learning projects.
- Articles taught me how to put words on paper and how to communicate thoughts coherently and succinctly.
- The nonfiction books taught me about publishing and the marketplace and selling books.
- Contributions to 20 books gave me confidence and standing in the writing and book world.
- Screenplays taught me story structure and building characters and worlds and, again, writing and communicating coherently as well as telling a story succinctly.
All of this learning has been necessary for me to get to where I know I can write the novel I've always wanted to write. So here I am. (Tweet that!
It has been a long journey - more than 25 years of a writing journey for me. But all of it has brought me here. And now I can't wait for the new year. I'm already writing daily. I've already started my novel. I can't wait to see where this leads in the new year.
But first, I'm grateful for the interruption of holidays.
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3 Magic Questions for Writers that will Strengthen Your Story
This past summer I had the opportunity to take an online workshop called "The Master Screenwriter" from Derrick Warfel
, a film producer. In the workshop he shared some wisdom from Paddy Chayefsky
, a three-time Academy Award winner for Best Screenplay.
This is about STORIES
- so it's not just for screenwriters but also for novelists, short story writers, or whatever story you're writing.
Chayefsky kept three questions taped above his typewriter. Derrick Warfel said it's amazing how many scripts he sees that don't answer these basic questions. (Tweet that!
) He said if writers would answer these three questions, they'd be a long ways ahead of most of the other writers out there.(Tweet that!
If you are participating in National Novel Writing Month
, check your story now and see if you're answering these questions.(Tweet that!
Whatever story you're writing, maybe you need to stop now and consider these questions to make your story stronger. (Tweet that!
So what are these three magic questions?
1. Who is your main character?
Obviously this is not just the character's name, but who they are as a person. Their weaknesses and strengths. Their experiences. Their fears. It might include their job. Or their family. Or their connections.
This is not just make up quirky character traits time. This is making wise choices about who this character needs to be to carry the story. (Tweet that!
2. What does he/she want? (Very badly!)
In every story, the main character must want something. This drives the story forward. If your character doesn't want something, and want it badly, this is a warning sign. (Tweet that!
It may mean a lot of things (that I haven't thought of), but one thing I've thought of that it might mean is that you're going to have a passive main character. By "passive character" I mean a weak character, which is uninteresting in a story. Nobody roots for a passive character.
A passive character is one whom things happen to. But that character doesn't actually do anything. They don't get mad. They don't get up and fight back. They are passive. They just sit there. They are a victim. Everyone feels sorry for a victim, but we don't root for a victim until that person gets up and fights. Beware of passive characters.
For more about passive characters, see my blog post from November 1, 2015: Writing Stories: What Your Story Needs - Part 1
3. What's keeping him/her from getting it?
Finally, whatever your main character wants, there needs to be a barrier to him or her getting it.(Tweet that!
) It could be a big evil person or monster. It could be something monstrous in nature, such as big storm or natural disaster. Or it could be something within themselves which they need to overcome. But there has to be something or someone standing in the way of your main character getting what they want. Otherwise, they'd just go get it and the story would be over (and pretty boring), right?
So what about your story-in-progress? Have you answered these three questions? If not, maybe you should stop now and find the answers. I can pretty well guarantee you'll have a stronger story if you do.
Need more help? Try this:
Think of your favorite novel, story, or movie and answer these three magic questions for that story. Here are some suggestions. How would you answer these questions for:
- The classic story "Cinderella"
- The story, novel, or screenplay you're writing now.
Here's an example:
The movie: Die HardWho is the main character?
A hard core, street smart New York cop visiting Los Angeles where the other cops don't know him.
What does he/she want?
He wants to reconnect and reconcile with his wife who moved to LA to take a great job.What's keeping him/her from getting it?
The terrorists who have taken over the skyscraper where his wife's office is holding its Christmas party and have taken everyone, including his wife, hostage.
Now, how would you answer these three questions for your story? (Tweet that!
Do you find these three "magic" questions helpful to you as a story writer?
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