Monthly Archives: December 2017

Spiritual Fatigue

With 2018 less than two weeks away, one can’t help but take stock of the previous year, what we accomplished, and didn’t accomplish, our pains and our joys. We also look toward our goals and hopes for the next year.

One of my goals is to avoid politics (it’s an off-year election in the States, so I expect things to get almost as heated and divisive as both 2016 and 2017, if not worse), and spend little if any time on social media.

A few times this last summer, we camped at a local lake called Lake Tschida. With the heat and drought, however, the lake bloomed with blue-green and slimy algae that few dared to swim in. I was not one of them.

That’s what social media feels like to me lately. Just perusing it with all the vitriolic politics and constant hate and nasty insults to those who simply disagree on a particular subject feels like swimming in a bathtub-warm, and algae-choked lake. I leave feeling slimed, emotionally and sometimes spiritually drained.

In 2016, I took a full year off social media except my author page on Facebook and other writing sites. Not only did the spiritual ick leave me, but I wrote many blog entries and finished three languishing novels. All told, I wrote over 200,000 words in those twelve months.

I hope to meet or exceed that number this year.

First I need to write my 2018 Lenten devotionals which are due by the end of January. I’m not stressing about those, though. Yet.

My other writing goals are to write more entries here on multiple subjects, rewrite my fantasy, and perhaps submit it to ACFW’s Genesis contest. As with the First Impressions contest, while winning is great, the real benefit is the judges’ critiques. Having outside opinions of my work can only help me improve my skill.

My other writing goals are to continue to submit queries to literary agents (four down, fourteen to go of my current list). I’d also like to write and submit more short stories, but we’ll see. I’ve started two so far, but am having trouble finishing. I think it’s due to my spiritual fatigue. I lose both motivation and confidence when I’m so drained.

But I am also an eternal optimist. Having endured spiritual angst multiple times already, I know it’s a seasonal thing, and like every time before, I’ll get through it and hopefully a little wiser in the end.

Oh. And read. A lot.

If this be my last entry for 2017, I pray you have a stress-less holiday season, and 2018 ends up the best year ever for all of us.

And the Results Are . . .

On a whim, I decided to submit my latest WIP (work in progress) to the yearly ACFW (acfw.com) First Impressions contest. Contestants submit their back cover blurb of 500 words and the first five pages of their WIP.

In November, I discovered my story made the finals along with two others in my chosen category.

Two days ago, I received the phone call that my story won. Was I excited! Making the finals to start meant that the judges believed my story was good enough to continue on, and to win is a writer’s second-best validation (The first is for readers and/or publishers to actually purchase said story).

Aside from winning, the best part of the contest is the judges’ score sheets and comments on the submission. The score sheets ask questions such as:

• Did you want to keep reading more when you reached the end of the five pages?

• Did the author hook you in the opening page, enticing you to keep reading?

• Was the dialogue engaging and interesting?

Even if my story hadn’t won, the comments and score sheets are invaluable. I now know — in general — the story’s strengths and weaknesses. None of it came as too much of a surprise, because I know what my weaknesses are. Although I did discover my weaknesses aren’t as weak as they used to be, such as too little detail while at the same time being too wordy.

In short, taking all the comments into consideration — especially where the judges agree — I have one more major edit to go, and it might be ready for submission to prospective agents.

Sins of The Christian Voter

I’ve heard a lot of talk to the effect of: “How can you call yourself a Christian for voting for that candidate?”

From both Christians and non-Christians alike.

Let’s use Alabama’s most recent senatorial election as an example. Of the two main candidates, one is pro-life and an alleged sexual predator. The other has no sordid accusations, but is staunchly pro-choice.

The Christian is faced with a hard choice: Vote for the alleged predator who believes life at all stages deserves protection, and the second candidate who thinks abortion should be legal up until birth, but was never accused of preying on young women.

This Christian voter needs to decide which sins the candidates have committed is the more and least egregious.

The Christian can also not vote, or write in a better candidate. Perhaps a third party choice if one is listed.

That’s not the end of the struggle, however. Once the choice is made, the Christian has to decide to never reveal the choice, or openly support said chosen candidate.

This is a difficult one. By staying silent when unfair criticism of chosen candidate arises, the Christian can continue to remain silent, or risk being counted as (and accused of) supporting either sexual assault or infanticide.

Most Christians expect criticism from the worldly no matter what they do. After all, the world hated Jesus first (see John 15:18).

What Christians don’t expect is to hear such vitriolic criticism from fellow Christians. Aren’t they all members of the body of Christ, united in a common cause and inseparable?

Here’s how I see it.

Government is a secular institution. Any person we vote for is a fallible, sinful human being, and they seek to occupy an office equally secular in nature. It’s neither a religious nor spiritual occupation. Therefore, I think our standards shouldn’t be the same as voting for a new pastor or priest at a church. The qualifications and expectations are too different.

Aside: Do we all want good, moral people to lead us? Absolutely! Still, even moral people are flawed, so no matter how good they appear, they are still sinful (That and what society considers moral is in constant flux). Voters, Christian and otherwise, are too often faced with deciding which candidate holds to their own world-view the closest — the least of evils to use a cliche. Perhaps not vote at all, and let the chips fall where they may.

What concerns me is how willing so many Christians are to judge, condemn, and divide over political lines.

Paul warned us against divisions in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, and how we’re all parts of a single body with different roles to fulfill in 1 Corinthians 12.

When we allow the world generally, and politics specifically, to divide us, the Body falters, and we lose both sight and effectiveness of our mandate to lift up others and spread the Good News. Those we seek to save instead laugh at us. Because of our petty and public arguments, and the constant finger-pointing, we deserve to be mocked.

The only remedies are to quit mixing in politics when discussing spiritual and Godly matters (especially in public), vote our conscience (including not voting at all), and remain silent about both our choice, and the choices others make. Let God judge the heart and intent of the voter, because the rest of us are far from qualified.

In other words, watch for those planks instead of scrounging around for specks (Matthew 7:5).

Never Complain . . .

About being bored, or out of stuff to do.

I learned that at an early age. I once told my mom that I was bored, and she eagerly eliminated that boredom by giving me chores to last at least the rest of the day.

Same goes for my job. I tell my boss I’m out of work, and my desk is soon drowning in incomplete projects.

My last entry I complained about how my motivation and desire to write had waned, and that no idea seemed good enough to start, let alone finish.

I received this email today:

Hi Andra,

I help coordinate a team of devotional writers who periodically (and hopefully more frequently in 2018!) write short devotions to encourage faith development and unity at Legacy. As I was pulling together information for next year’s Lenten Devotions, your name came to mind. I recalled that writing was a passion of yours and wondered if you might want to help out with the next round of devotions?

Here’s how it typically works:

1 I obtain Bible focus/sermon planning information from pastoral staff

2 I develop Scripture focus for devotions (number of devotions vary-for example we usually have 33 Lenten Devotions about 5/each week of Lent) and create document for writing assignments

3 Writer’s Group is invited to sign up for specific devotions

4 Devotions are written by individual writers and submitted for review and grammatical edit

5 I submit entire project to JoAnn for design and printing

Attached are some guidelines that might answer some initial questions, but feel free to let me know what questions you have. Does this sound like something you’d enjoy?

Of course I agreed, even though I haven’t written devotionals in a while.

I had to chuckle, though, because the opportunity showing up right after my last entry seemed too coincidental.

I’m reminded of a short conversation between Sherlock and his older brother, Mycroft from the BBC series “Sherlock.”

Mycroft asked Sherlock, “What did I tell you about coincidences?”

“The universe is rarely so lazy.”

I replace “universe” with “God,” when coincidences like this happen. Today I was also reminded of how my mom would invariably give me something to do when I was bored.

I think God heard my complaint and thought, “She’s not writing, and not liking not writing, so I need to give her something to write about. Here you go.”

I’ve heard it said that if we ask God for patience, he will place us in circumstances that teach us to be patient. It’s an example of “be careful what you with (or pray) for.” God just might say yes.

The best part of writing devotions is it forces me to study the Bible more, something I’ve lacked of late as well. Writing devotions will help me learn, study, further build my relationship with God, and perhaps help others do the same.

That’s my hope anyway.

Since I’ll be writing the devotions for someone else, I don’t know yet if I can share them here. I’ll try, though. If not, maybe I’ll write more than I need to. We’ll see.

“I Hate Writing. I Love Having Written.”

Quote by Dorothy Parker.

I can relate to this, especially recently. For the past month, I can’t seem to write a single blog entry. I had also hoped to write 50,000 words in October, and I barely surpassed 10,000. I started writing two short stories, but have yet to finish either.

My lack of writing boils down to a combination of lost interest and motivation, and a waning confidence. I don’t know where it comes from except to say that the more time passes with no writing, the more I believe I lost whatever skill I’ve gained, both in my writing ability, and finding interesting subjects to write about.

In short, I suck at this whole writing thing, and to share even a single word is to embarrass myself and waste readers’ time.

What I need to do is shelve my unfinished short stories in favor of finishing the second draft of my latest novel. I entered the first few pages to a contest for which I should hear how it fared within the next two weeks. Although it made it to the finals, I’d like it to win. The prize amounts to little more than bragging rights, but I’m okay with that. If I ever decide to seek publication for it, winning a contest will hopefully pique an agent or publishers interest when they might otherwise pass it by.

It’s not a big deal either way, because an agent once told me, winning a contest is based largely on comparing the quality of the entries. Saying my book is the best out of a lot could mean nothing more than mine was only slightly less mediocre then the other contestants’. It still has to stand on its own merits when read by others, whether my chosen audience or publishers/agents.

In the meantime, I need to submit another complete novel to agents. The question is, since one novel ready for submittal is science fiction, the other is fantasy that could work for either the mainstream or Christian markets. Not all agents take both mainstream science fiction and Christian fantasy. I may have to decide which audience is more important to me.

You’d think as a Christian, the choice would be obvious.

But it’s not. Does God want me to write books for Christians alone where Jesus sits front and center, or reach out into the world? Not to preach, though, because my mainstream novels contain little by way of Christian faith. At least overtly. Several of my characters believe in God, but they don’t preach or try to convert. They simply believe in a Creator, a power beyond their understanding, but worthy of worship anyway, however quietly.

Writing is hard, because it’s a skill in need of constant practice, just like any other artist or musician. “Use it or lose it,” as they say. It also requires constant thoughtfulness, to ever ask the question: is this interesting, and not only to myself? Aside from well-written, is it informative, or entertaining? Both? Neither?

Because we writers pour so much of ourselves into our writing, there’s the constant fear of rejection, of not being good enough. With every word we succeed in writing, we feel like we’re taking one more step closer to an abyss. We think that by not writing, we can avoid falling into that abyss with no bottom, no light, and no way out. That abyss is obscurity, of failure. Of learning beyond all doubt we wasted our time trying to develop a skill, but in the end will never be successful at it. It’s the fear of finding out we will never be good enough. Better to dream in blissful ignorance.

And yet, whenever I do push through those fears and insecurities, and finish a blog entry, short story or novel, I realize I didn’t careen into an abyss after all. While the story may not be publishable at first, it’s at least finished. That alone is an accomplishment.

Yet knowing I can succeed, because I have succeeded many times, why is it still so hard to finish?

Maybe it’s what Dorothy Parker said. Oftentimes we prefer the destination to the journey. To skip the lengthy step of bloody, heart-wrenching work.

After all, how many of us who have traveled long distances look forward to the many hours on the road, on the water, or in the air verses arriving at our chosen destination?

Unfortunately for the uncertain writer, the journey matters most to the reader, not the destination. If it didn’t, all stories would contain the first page and the last with nothing in between.

It’s the in between parts that invites people to read, and keep reading.

It’s also the part writers hate the most.