Writing

Words

Blue Heron

I probably shouldn’t tell you this. Not when y’all might be still forming your opinion of me, and I don’t want it to be: Poor Erin, she’s sparsely populated in the brain cell department.

Then again, you might as well know the truth.

It all started in my childhood, when our family took a vacation to the wonderfully secluded Chippewa Flowage. Big lake, pretty trees, good fishing. You get the picture.

We rented a cabin on a little peninsula, where we could look out the windows and see a world of flora and fauna. Those were the days before YouTube, cell phones, and video games. Nature was our playground.

Anytime someone’s voice rang through our cabin, “There’s the heron,” you betcha we kids raced to the window to get a gander. There the bird would stand—splendid, stately, wild. King of his territory like the lions I’d seen on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. (No cable TV back then either. With all of five channels to choose from, we thought Wild Kingdom was some pretty cool entertainment.)

I’d watch the heron in silence, awed to share the peninsula with this magnificent creature.

Somewhere in those magical days, the words there’s the heron tucked themselves into my heart. A treasure from days gone by.

Fast forward to my adulthood. My parents buy a home on Lake of the Ozarks. I visit a lot because, you know, I still like nature. And fishing.

One day Dad and I are out tossing crank baits at dawn. The boat sways in the dance of the current. I breathe in the aroma of our surroundings. It never gets old for me—water, leaves, rocks, earth, all tinged by a hint of decay outmuscled by an eternity of renewal.

Along the misty shore I see a shape I recognize.

There’s the heron.

Well, not the same one from the Chippewa Flowage. I mean, it’s thirty years later and we’re three states away. I doubt his territory is that big.

But this guy is every bit as magnificent. I’ve seen him several times over the course of my visits.

I stop cranking my lure to watch his lithe form stalk the shallows. He eyes me back. In a heartbeat he goes airborne, his wings beating powerful strokes through the sky.

Half an hour later, Dad and I putt-putt the boat to another favorite fishing spot three coves away. We settle back into the rhythm of cast-and-crank, and I see my bird pal again.

There’s the heron.

This time he ignores us until we drift within forty feet of him. Then he takes off, his throaty squawk scolding us on his fly-by.

Dad and I don’t spend much time in that cove either. We hit our next hot spot a couple of miles downstream, and low and behold, there’s the heron.

Boy, that bird gets around.

I watch him lift off from the roof of a dock, soar right over my head, and then land on the other side of the cove. No sooner do I turn forward again when another swish beats through the air.

I pinpoint a big bird heading my way.

The heron?

Wait, how can he fly by me again? He’s still on the shore behind me.

But it is a heron coming straight at me.

My mouth hangs open, and I blink a few times like that’ll jump-start my cerebellum.

There…are…two herons?

Heron number two settles onto a dock’s ramp a little way ahead of us.

A telltale squawk splits the air and another bird—apparently one that had been perched in the shadows of the ramp—peels into the sky.

Three herons? The last vestiges of my childhood paradigm burst like a big ol’ balloon on a hot barb of reality.

I mean, duh. It’s a very big lake. How could I think there would only be one heron?

Ooh, wait. Another epic revelation. I bet more than one heron visited our peninsula on the Chippewa Flowage too.

I’m going to blame this monolith of stupidity on words. There’s the heron. I accepted and absorbed the implied message without ever thinking it through. I’d like to blame Marlin Perkins, too, with all his talk about predator territories (do herons even have territories?), but the guy’s passed on now, so that doesn’t seem fair.

I count the birds again, all three, and feel like such an idiot that I can only double over laughing.

Dad looks my way, then scopes out the shore to see if I’ve bulls-eyed someone’s flowerpot or something with my lure. That’s the general cause for sudden outbursts—in whatever form—from the back of the boat.

When dad catches sight of my lure floating forgotten in the water, he turns back to me, his forehead creased because I’m pretty well cackling now. Inanely.

Hmm, admit to the great heron fallacy or have Dad think his daughter is part hyena?

I go for the whole, sordid, Marlin Perkins truth. Dad gets a good laugh too.

Funny how words have the power to influence my perception for thirty years. Not just words like the heron, but other words too. Like in junior high when that kid I didn’t even know looked me in the eye and said, “You’re ugly.”

Some part of me still believes that.

Somehow I let the words sink into my heart. Not on purpose. It just happened.

If only I could simply erase them.

Instead, it’s a painstaking process to dig them out, to replace them with words of truth.

God says I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. God says He beautifies me with salvation. And God says it’s His words—all of them—that I’m to let sink deep into my heart.

That’s actually pretty comforting, because He’s given me a whole Bible filled with truth to absorb. It ought to be easy.

But it’s not.

These days I do a lot of thinking about words. They scroll across every day of my life. If I don’t want some snot-nosed junior high kid defining the messages I take in, then it’s my job to filter those words.

No, it’s my responsibility.

The messages that sink deep into me—into my trials, my joys, my pain, my growth—shape who I am and who I become. (Click to tweet this) And ultimately they shape the message I project back to the world. Yes, in the words I write, but even more so in what I say and do. Because even if I weren’t a writer, I’d still have a message. I believe everyone does. It’s the story of our lives, lived out for everyone to see.

And stories are powerful things.

I want mine to be shaped by God’s words, not the world’s. I want my story to be His. I want to sift through every corner of my heart and know for certain that God has planted my message. Because then I know it’s steeped in grace, sown in truth, and nourished in love.

And it will bloom, ever and always, for His glory.

 

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I wrote this article for the January 2015 edition of Book Fun Magazine and reprinted it here for y’all.

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Henry’s “Hikyoo” AKA Haiku

Apparently because I’m a writer, my dog Henry has decided that he’s a writer too. Only he’s taken up poetry because he says that’s classier. Here’s a video of his debut Haiku.

And here’s a link to my debut book, Surviving Henry, which does not contain any poetry but it IS funny.

What reviewers are saying:
“I laughed through the whole book…”
“One of the funniest books I have ever read…”
“Henry’s antics and Erin Taylor Young’s humor had me laughing until the tears were trickling…”
“Put this on your must read shelf!”

Click here to see more Henry Videos!

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How Home Videos Helped Me Get a Book Contract

video camera

Who would’ve guessed that when my son asked for a video camera in third grade, his movies would one day help me get a book contract?

It’s funny how things work out.

Let me rephrase.

It’s funny how God works things. I bet he delights in watching us put the pieces together, in seeing our wide-eyed wonder as we realize how perfect his design was from before day one.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. How did my son’s movies help me get a book contract?

After working hard on my craft, writing the best book I could, revising that book a million times, getting an agent and revising some more, the videos then helped garner interest in the book.

They were funny, and I write humor. They were about our dog, and the book was about our dog. They were an innovative way to market, and I needed all the innovation I could get. My platform was, how shall I say it?

Stinky.

Editors who got the book proposal followed the links I provided and watched the videos. And laughed. And said things like, “What a great marketing appetizer.”

Within two months of sending out the proposal, I got an offer.

It seemed strangely sudden after working so long to break into publishing. Those years (yes, years) felt like trying to chip a hole through Mount Everest. With an ice pick.

But God is in the business of doing impossible things. We’re simply in the business of being obedient.

That doesn’t mean we do nothing. It means we keep moving forward with whatever marching orders God gives us. It means we look for creative ways to solve our problems and inventive ways to tackle our tasks. It means we keep growing, working, and trusting.

No matter what mountains rise before us.

We serve a limitless God who daily stuffs our backpacks with the resources we need for each leg of the journey.

It might be a home movie your kid made. Or maybe a craft book you read eons ago suddenly sparks a new direction. Or maybe it’s a conversation with a friend who has just the right words at just the right time.

Today, here and now, with the tools God gives us, we can chip away at our mountain.

Because you know what?

Today might be the day we break through.

 

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Interview With Literary Agent Karen Ball

Karen Ball

As a kid, I loved to watch episodes of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom where they tagged and tracked animals to learn their habits. When I started on my writing career, I wished there were a way to do that with editors and agents. Sadly, they frown on people shooting them with a tranquilizer gun, and tracking these elusive creatures can get you pegged as a stalker.

However, Karen Ball, who’s been in the publishing industry for 30 years, developed fiction lines for major publishing houses, edited the books of amazing authors, is an accomplished author herself, and is now an agent with the Steve Laube Agency, was willing to let me interview her. Perhaps to lower the need for stalking and so forth. Although, as it turns out, she’s more than capable of defending herself.
(Note to criminals: She’s packing.)

Karen ShootingKaren Ball at the Range

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
So, here’s our conversation about agenting, publishing, conferences, and some personal stuff too, because don’t you want to know what kind of mischief this little cherub perpetrated?

Is it just me, or does she still look like this??
Is it just me, or does
she still look like this??

ETY: All right, fess up. What did you do as a kid that got you in trouble?
KB: Made up stories. About everything. Getting a straight answer from me was impossible. In fact, my older brother, Kevin, likes to say, “It’s not fair. When we were kids you got in trouble for telling lies. Now…you get paid for it!”

ETY: Did you come to Christ as a young child or later in life?
KB: I think I did so in the womb. Christ was always there in my home, in my mother’s smile and my father’s hug. In the laughter we all shared and the honesty when dealing with hard issues. In the grace we were given and the mercy we extended. I can’t remember a day without Him.

ETY: I hear you took Karate lessons as a kid. What drew you to that?
KB: Actually, no, I took them as an adult. A few years after Don and I married. I’d heard it was a great way to get fit, as well as a good way to protect yourself. Since I was doing a lot of traveling by myself for work, I wanted to have that ability. LOVED it. Competed in tournaments and even won a few.

(Right. So y’all might want to take note of that. Even if she doesn’t shoot you, she can still hurt you with her bare hands.)

ETY: What do you love about the publishing business?
KB: The sheer chutzpah it takes to write or publish a book. There’s no way to know if a book will do as well as you hope, or if it will take off and become a blockbuster, or if it will die on the vine. ANYTHING can happen, regardless of how hard or how little you work. In fact, I wrote a couple of blogs for the Steve Laube Agency blog on that very thing…
When You’ve Done Everything Right
When You Don’t Do Anything At All

ETY: Describe your typical day.
KB: First thing I do in the morning is read the Word. I need to immerse my head and heart in God before I step into the day. Then I need COFFEE! Once I have coffee in hand, I map out what I’ll do for the day. And 9 times out of 10, as I’m doing that, something happens to make the map moot. There really is no typical day. Since I’m doing both editing and the agenting, I’ve got a multitude of things going on at once. So in the course of a day I could be on phone/video calls all day long, or working on proposals, or editing several projects at a time, or getting ready for a trip. I’ll say this for it all: I never get bored!

ETY: What do you like best about agenting?
KB: The synergy of working with my clients, helping them refine their projects, and finding the right publishing homes for them. It’s like I get to be a matchmaker, and I love that!

ETY: What do you like best about teaching at writers’ conferences?
KB: That I’m serving those who love words and want to share God’s truth in their stories.

ETY: Have you always liked speaking and teaching?
KB: Good gravy, no! I used to be terrified of speaking in public. I threw up every time I had to do it. Now, it’s as comfortable as sitting in my recliner at home. Amazing how doing something over and over can make it a part of you.

(All righty then, pay attention all you writers who hate speaking—there’s hope, ’cause y’all know how great Karen is at speaking.)

ETY: What do you feel are your strengths as an agent?
KB: The fact that I’ve been on both sides of the desk, as a traditionally published author, as an in-house editor, acquisitions editor, and executive editor, and now as an agent. Also my ability to tell when a book or writer has promise. I’m also strong at strategizing and brainstorming.

ETY: What one thing do you wish every unpublished writer knew?
KB: That being a writer isn’t about getting published. It’s about being obedient to the task God has given you, and that’s to write.

ETY: Number one problem in manuscripts people send you?
KB: The writers haven’t put in the time to refine their craft. I’d say around 95% of what gets sent to me is rejected because the writer’s craft is not at the level it needs to be for me to offer representation.

ETY: What do you wish everyone knew about you before they submitted to you?
KB: If I say I don’t represent something, like children’s books, that means I really and truly don’t represent them! Please don’t think that if I’ll just read yours I’ll change my mind. I won’t. The issue isn’t how well you do something, it’s how well I do something. I don’t know the market for picture books or children’s books. Never had kids. Have never worked with those categories. Have no interest in them as an agent. So I’m of no use to you if you write books that are in the categories I don’t represent. So please, please, PLEASE don’t send them to me.

ETY: What is the most challenging thing about being an agent?
KB: Dealing with clients’ disappointments. I so want my clients to find good publishing homes and to be able to focus on their craft and not worry about anything else. But the course of publishing seldom runs smooth, and too often people are disappointed. That’s hard, for them and for me.

ETY: What do you wish your clients would start doing, stop doing, and/or keep doing?
KB: I wish they’d stop doubting themselves. They are gifted writers and I’m blessed to work with them.
I wish they’d start resting in the fact that God gave them this task of writing, that He’ll equip them to fulfill it, and that their careers are in His hands. They just need to do what they know to do, and be patient.
I wish they’d keep writing the wonderful, emotive, powerful books they’re writing!

ETY: What do you want your epitaph to say?
KB: We saw Christ in her actions, heard Christ in her words, felt Christ in her love.

Folks, I’ve only known Karen for a couple of years, but I’ll say this. I truly have seen Christ in her actions, heard Christ in her words, and felt Christ in her love. She’s the real deal.

 

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The Book Contract Story Part IV

Surviving Henry Book Cover

“PubCo” (AKA Publishing Committee, or Pub Board): A big scary meeting at a publishing house.

Remember the editor who first receives the book proposals? Who sifts through her boundless stack, pores over the writing, debates a book’s marketability, scrutinizes the premise for defects, and then brings a “yes” proposal safely through a tough editorial committee where only a few select book ideas can move on?

Well, they move on to the last gauntlet: PubCo. A Himalaya of a hurdle that makes all the others seem like speed bumps.

PubCo is where the editor presents a proposal to all the publishing company big wigs—VPs over sales, marketing, editorial, etcetera, etcetera, right up to the head honcho himself—who make the final decisions about what is published and what isn’t. Everybody important who can ax an author’s dream in two is there to, well, ax an author’s dream in two.

And lots get axed.

But a very short list of proposals live on to receive a beautiful, wonderful, exhilarating offer of publication.

Just getting a chance in PubCo is a huge deal, so the editor often informs an author’s agent before the meeting. The agent then gives an appropriately polite, diplomatically pleased response.

Then the agent tells the author, who gives this response: PUBCO!!!!???? REALLLLLLYYYY??? AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

And then the author and agent celebrate together because there just might be a contract coming at the end of that meeting.

In light of the months and months and months all this takes, I’m not even thinking about my proposals when my agent Karen calls me for a video chat three weeks after we’d pitched the books at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference (read the whole story here). Karen has this I-told-you-so grin on her face and informs me that the dog book is going to PubCo. Then she sits back and waits expectantly for my jubilant yell so we can celebrate together.

I frown at her. “PubCo? Why?”

Karen stares at me like I’m daft. “Because the editors love the book and want to publish it.” She has that make-the-slow-person-understand tone.

“Huh.” My grunt is half-studious, half-baffled. After all, the book has that fatal flaw (whatever it is). Surely it’s doomed to sayonara city.

Karen gives up on a normal response from me. I feel bad that I let her down, but my bewilderment is constipating my emotions.

A few weeks go by and I’ve forgotten all about PubCo. I mean, these meetings happen like once a month. Or maybe once a quarter for all I know. No telling when I’ll hear something back. Then I get a video call from Karen when we’re not even scheduled to meet. I have no clue why she’s calling.

When I answer, she’s grinning. “Hey there! We’ve got an offer on the dog book.”

I’d like to say I respond with appropriate hoopla.

“An offer? Why?” I’m genuinely puzzled.

Karen squints at me like she’s trying to see if my brain is still behind my eyeballs. “Because they love the book and think it’ll do very well for them.”

I give the same baffled grunt as before. “Huh.”

Now Karen looks like she’s going to launch herself right through my computer and slap me silly.

In my defense, I’d somehow totally missed the fact that this particular publisher had put out several collections of dog and animal stories.

Karen hadn’t missed that. Not only that, she knew we’d get interest from other publishers as well. And we did.

But here’s the kicker. In the process of providing some extra information that one particular publisher wanted, I SOLVED the fatal flaw problem, which apparently wasn’t fatal after all.

So there you have it. The dog book is not only publication worthy, it gets picked up before the fiction.

Who knew it had a chance?

Karen did.

But even before that, God knew.

He set my path in motion long ago, orchestrating my writing and my rewriting, my rejections and my encouragements until I have the right proposal at the right time at the right publishing company.

It’s funny how we can see these things in retrospect. How we can retrace paths we thought were fraught with dead ends and detours, only to see that they led exactly where we had to go.

Why do we always need hindsight to see how God was working all along?

Maybe it’s time for a new view. Foresight.

God’s got this all under control.

“The Lord Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.’” Isaiah 14:24

Enjoy the ride.

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The Book Contract Story Part III

Proposal

Typing “the end” feels amazing (when it’s the last page of your novel and not some tragic note about the demise of your Oreo package).

Both my proposals are done, my novel manuscript is complete, and my agent and I are at another conference—the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference—ready to pitch my work. Yes, it seems like going to conferences is all I do, but really these shindigs are months and months apart. Everything just moves slowly in publishing.

Anyway, Karen sets up a couple of appointments with some editors and we pitch the dog book and the novel. I enjoy the meetings, which means I’m making progress in not sounding stupid when I talk about myself and my writing. Yay me.

I don’t expect to hear any feedback about the proposals for several months. (I mentioned the glacier speed of the publishing industry?)

This is my understanding of what has to happen next: The editors will put my proposal in their big honkin’ pile of 800 other proposals, and they’ll get to it when they get to it.

Mostly editors sift through their mountainous proposal piles pretty quickly.

The process, I hear, looks like this:

No…no…no…no…definitely not…oh, why would someone even send that?…no…no…no…hmm, a possible maybe…no…not a chance…yikes…never…

It’s not that editors are mean. They’ve been doing this for a long time, and they have a good idea of what can work and what can’t. After they get a stack of maybes, they sift that pile. It goes like this:

Never mind…no…no…what was I thinking on that one?…no…nah…we’ll never be able to sell that…another no…flawed premise…no platform…no…ooh, wait. This one’s a yes.

When they’re done, the yes pile is really, really small, and the rest of the proposals get rejection letters. Then they take their yes stack to editorial committee, where all the other editors in the company bring their yes piles and they decide as a group which ones they’ll pursue and which ones they’ll kick to the curb. Everyone has to be on board, or you get the sayonara story.

And yes, lots of sayonaras happen in the editorial meeting. The surviving proposals are an elite group that have great promise. They move on to the next committee, known in many publishing houses as “PubCo,” where there will be yet more sifting.

It feels like getting a book published with one of these houses is impossible. But then, a lot of things feel that way. But people do get published. They stick with their task, move forward, learn more about the industry, meet people, make connections, work harder yet on craft.

It’s a battle.

But the world is full of hard fought battles. Of feats we’re determined to accomplish. Of trials were resolved to overcome.

There’s no glossing it over. They cost.

They make us think and work and persevere.

But isn’t the sweat and struggle the very thing that makes our victory so sweet?

That makes our feats and trials and ideals so valuable?

That makes us ready, even excited, to face the next challenge?

Bring it on.

(Read more of the book contract story here)

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The Book Contract Story Part II

Erin and Karen at the awards banquet
Erin and Karen at the awards banquet

 

Proposal: A big long document I have to write to convince the publishing company that they should spend thousands and thousands of dollars publishing my book. And just an FYI—when I say they spend thousands, it’s not me they give that to. It’s the managers, editors, sales reps, marketing folks, cover designers, interior designers, administrative assistants, the paper company, and on and on. I mean, they might give me a teensy slice of it in the way of an advance, but writing is NOT a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s not even a get-rich-slow scheme.

It’s a do-it-because-God-is-calling-you-to-do-it scheme.

I’m okay with that.

Not that some writers don’t make a stinking fortune in this business, but those are the folks whose name on the book cover is WAY bigger than the title. At this point, I’d be happy to see my name in any size on a cover.

So, my agent and I work on getting the proposals for my novel and my dog book all spruced up (read the beginning of that story here). I need to revise the dog book, but only if anyone should want to make an offer. I still think it needs…uh…something, and honestly, based on the prior feedback I’ve received, I kinda don’t expect anything to come of it right now.

In the meantime, I’m working like crazy to finish my novel and loving every bit of it.

And something cool happens. I enter the novel in a big contest—the ACFW Genesis—and make it to the finals.

Yay! Except one tiny frightening possibility—the winner has to give an acceptance speech in front of 700 people at the conference banquet.

And I’m stuck wearing a dress.

SO not me, but it’s kinda inescapable.

The night of the banquet, I can barely eat three bites of my dinner. Here’s an idea. Feed us AFTER the awards.

When they finally get to my category, I truly don’t mind when my name isn’t called as the winner. It was all in the hands of God, and I was smart enough to save my dessert, which I can now chow down.

The best thing is a boost in my confidence that pushes me onward. Finaling in this contest feels like a very cool seal of approval. I’m finding my stride with this novel, and my writing journey is gaining traction. I’m excited and growing with every chapter I write, and it feels like my direction in fiction has been well set.

Of course, a curve ball always looks predictably straight until it, well, curves…

(Read more of the book contract story)

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The Book Contract Story Part I

question mark 2

After months and months of writing work, God has led my writing career exactly where I didn’t think it was going. In a good way, though. I mean, it’s like aiming for Disneyland and realizing you’ve arrived at Disney World instead. They’re both happy places.

When we last left my writing journey, I’d signed an agency agreement with the wonderful Karen Ball of the Steve Laube Agency (read the whole agent story if you want to know about that). The plan was to finish my novel and send the proposal out to publishers.

“We need to send your dog book out too,” Karen says during our video chat one day.

I frown. “Technically it’s complete, but it needs a revision. I can’t work on that and finish the novel at the same time.”

“That’s okay. We can still send out a proposal.”

“It needs a BIG revision.”

“If we get an offer, you can revise it.”

Clearly I’m not explaining the situation properly. While the dog book has a great start—enough that even Mr. NY Times agent thought it had promise—it has some sort of fatal flaw that I’m not sure how to fix. I’m not even sure what the fatal flaw is. I only have vague notions from vague comments on previous rejections.

Hey, why don’t I just tell my agent she’s an idiot for taking me on because in reality I’m too dumb to figure out what’s wrong with the dog book.

Umm…No.

“I thought you liked my fiction?” I say.

“I like both.”

“I don’t think any publishers are going to be interested in the dog book in its current form.”

“Yes they will. It’s a great idea and great writing.”

“You’ve only got the first twenty pages.” Right before it crashes and burns because of that fatal flaw I don’t have a handle on.

“It’s good.”

I’m about to disagree, but it occurs to me—should I really be arguing with a person who’s made her living in publishing for 30 years?

But I do need to fess up about my shortcomings. “Okay, we can send out the proposal, but can you please read the manuscript and tell me what it needs in terms of revising? I’m really not sure.”

She agrees, but here’s the funny thing. Before she even gets a chance to read it, I stumble into a fix for one of the issues early in the book. At least it feels like I’ve stumbled into it. But maybe the answers were there all along, waiting for me to discover them.

I just didn’t know if I could.

Why do I doubt myself?

Am I alone in that?

Or do we all, deep down, question whether God has really given us gifts? And if he has, don’t we still doubt that we can use them effectively?

Like God is somehow going to tell us he wants us to do something, and then not give us the ability?

Sounds ridiculous when I put it that way. Yet it’s easy to slip into that mindset. We think we’re doubting ourselves, but now I wonder…isn’t it God we’re doubting?

Maybe, rather than doubting, we simply need to trust those gifts are there and trust God will enable us to use them according to his purpose.

So how do we do that?

I admit I still don’t know what fixes need to happen before the rest of the dog book takes shape into something with life and purpose and hope. But here’s my plan, and you can use it too, for whatever it is that God has put in you to do that you’re doubting you can do.

We’ll focus on being faithful, on moving forward, on doing our work everyday as best as we know how.

And then we’ll simply believe answers will come in time.

Ability will come.

Fruit will come.

Because this is what Jesus said: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” John 15:16a

(Read more of the book contract story)

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3 Tips for Attending a Conference

Chairs in a meeting room

So another conference is rolling around.

I know. It sounds like all I do is go to conferences. Really, the last conference was in the spring. I’ve just been turtle-speed about posting the whole story.

But I do like conferences, so I figured I’d post a three tips in case y’all go to one. (And I definitely recommend you do.)

1) Make some goals. This comes from the penny-pinching, Bohemian DNA I attribute to my mother. Conferences cost money. You want to make the most of it.

Goals help you choose the right conference for your needs. Are you still learning basic craft? Are you ready for an agent? Looking to pitch to an editor? Choose a conference that provides those opportunities.

2) Prepare. This comes from the sensible, Pennsylvania Dutch DNA I got from my Dad. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, including attending a conference.

Research the publishers, agents, mentors, etc., you want to talk to (‘cause you’ve set goals, right??) and know what materials you’ll need for a successful meeting. If you’re not pitching, make a list of questions to ask. You want to make a good impression, of course, but you also want to get the most bang for your conference buck.

3) Pray. This comes from God’s Word. Pray before the conference, pray during, and pray after. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I’m not talking about the “Oh, dear God, what have I done?” prayers. I’m talking about the kind that acknowledge who’s running the universe.

If God can order the path of every galaxy, planet, and molecule, he can pretty well handle your conference. Trust him to send the right people across your path. And even if you say something stupid to them (I speak from experience here), don’t freak. He can make it come out okay in the end.

And anyway, somebody else will eventually say something dumber.

By the way, be open to God rearranging (without warning) everything you planned under tips 1 and 2. He does that. He’s God.

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Criticism and Why You Need It

An eagle flies

I’m not Hemingway.

Or Tolstoy, or Steinbeck. Or even Clancy, Koontz, or King.

No shock there. But it’s nice if once an a while someone gasps and says, “Really? I’m sure you’re right up there with the best.” This is a good thing coming from your non-writer friends. Or your mom. Maybe your spouse, too.

Your dog’s opinion doesn’t count—he drinks from the toilet.

Encouragement, confidence, and sheer blind belief in you are great gifts for your word-smithing mental health. Most of us writers suffer from a common GI disorder (Gaping Insecurity), and we need those little pieces of kindness to keep us from wallowing in despair.

However, we just as desperately need hard truth, tough criticism, and the nasty red pencil of objectivity. This is what you find in the best of critique partners.

Somebody somewhere has to have permission to push you harder, to make you sweat and bleed on the page, to compel you to unearth every crunchy verb buried inside you.

We need someone to slash our pet words (it’s really not okay to use “smile” 200 times in your manuscript). Someone has to sentence our favorite scene to exile for having no purpose in the plot. And someone has to confront our main character for being irrational, boring, or too stupid to live.

The key here is growth, another mile on the writing journey.

Good criticism walks you forward. Great criticism makes you fly.

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