Friday, March 28, 2008

Recharging Your Creative Side

Today's guest blogger is Brenda Jackson. I wanted Brenda to tell her story here because her struggle sounds so familiar to me--and because it has a happy ending. I'm looking forward to that Yee-haww moment, myself! Here's Brenda:

Thanks, Robin, for inviting me to take a spin here in the land of perseverance!

About me: I took up writing screenplays with a friend in 2002. I highly recommend writing at least one screenplay in your life to flex a different set of writing muscles. One screenplay quarterfinaled in a national competition. But after 3 years, I learned screenplays were not my passion and began pursuing my ultimate dream – a career as a novelist. My heart’s desire (Lord willing) is to become known as the author who writes “Westerns With An Arizona Brand.” I’m currently working on my first 3 book series but don’t know when they’ll be ready to pitch (to editors – not out the door.) :)

A career as a novelist is not an easy path. I just went through a 3-4 month creative dry spell that sucked the life out of me. I couldn't write a word on my novel if someone threatened to shoot me, due to a combination of reasons: a pneumonia/asthma/creeping crud that refused to die, puppy raising (if you ever want to feel absolutely inadequate, try raising a puppy after not having done so in years). Worst of all, in the months leading up to that dry spell, I did not take care of my creative side – Artist’s Date style (if you haven’t heard the reference, check out Julia Cameron’s “The Right To Write” and other books).

The WORST feeling in the world is the times in our spiritual journey when it seems God has left us - that sense of absolute abandonment at the height of our trials.

I think the next worst feeling is wondering if you're ever going to be able to write another word again, wondering if your writing dreams might as well be dead.

Well at last my dry spell is OVER! YEEHAW!!!!!!

I'm back to eagerly looking forward to writing sessions, to those impatient moments at work when I stop and say "man, I can't wait to go home and write!"; to those times when your mind catalogs research tidbits and scene ideas, etc.

Several things helped me break that dismal cycle, like: going to Pueblo Grande Museum last weekend (dedicated to teaching visitors about the ancient Hohokam Indians), going to a Civil War in the Southwest event, seeing “The Bucket List,” and beginning to read James Scott Bell's "Plot & Structure."

Granted, time, money, and the calendar do not always permit flitting from one event to the next. But simply going to your local park can recharge your creative batteries. I also learned last weekend there were a ton of museums in the Phoenix metro area that I did not even know about!

The moral of the story is, do NOT make the mistake of starving your creative side. It's easy to do what with being caught up with the day job, the kids, the bills, etc etc. But it is far more costly in time to ignore the creative part of ourselves than it is to spend a little time each week (or otherwise regularly) making sure the creative juices are healthy and well-tuned. I hope I don't go through that again for a long time.

And I hope you all never do!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Waiting and Running and Fainting

A few days ago, I posted that I was on a journey this year to find God's will for my writing. In response, Melanie Dickerson asked a good question--am I being proactive in my quest for publication, as well as sticking it out and learning to wait.

I'm glad Melanie asked, because I talk so often about waiting, but I'm not sure I've talked about how active we're supposed to be while we do. Kind of reminds me of the old saying, "God helps those who wait, as long as they work like the dickens while they're waiting." Actually, I've cleaned that saying up a bit, but the general meaning of it is good.

One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 40:31: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." (KJV) Notice it's talking about people waiting upon the Lord, but at the same time they're walking and running and needing all kinds of energy. These folks are active!

So yes, to answer Melanie's question, I think I'm working pretty hard on writing and submitting. I don't talk about those efforts all that much. Maybe I need to so I won't give the impression I think we should sit back and wait for good things to drop in our laps.

In the meantime, in thinking over this question, I wondered if my problem isn't the opposite. It could very possibly be I'm just plain lazy. Seriously! I think I would prefer to sit back and wait. I'm exhausted. I've been writing steadily and submitting for decades, but I've really made myself buckle down the last couple of years. In 2006, I wrote a novel in eight months. That may not sound like much to you, but for me, it was amazing. My previous record for turning out a manuscript is three years. If I stay on track this year, I will have produced three manuscripts in three years. I like that accomplishment, but I can't say writing is as much fun as it used to be.

So maybe God just needs to give me a good kick in the pants and tell me to stop whining and being so lazy. Actually I am seeing a lot of myself in those whiny children of Israel as God drags them out of Egypt to the Promised Land, kicking and screaming the whole way. I'll tell you more about that soon.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sad News From Our Little Blogging Community

If you read this blog often, you've no doubt seen comments from someone named "Kathleen." I actually became acquainted with Kathleen through this blog. She's been one of my most faithful readers and supporters, and we've become good friends. Yesterday I received some sad news. Her father, who has been battling Lou Gehrig's disease, passed away.

If you want to know true perseverance, take a look at Kathleen's family. I've only known them for a short while, but they're special people. Kathleen and her mother have been taking care of her father at home. Not only that, but Kathleen's sister has some tough health issues, so they've been looking after her, too. Through all these difficulties, they've exhibited an attitude of patience and love that truly inspires me. I never met Kathleen's dad, but she told me stories about how he reacted to the various stages of his disease, with patience and cheer. He must have been a wonderful man.

I'd like to ask everyone to pray for Kathleen and her family through this very difficult time.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

When Perseverance Goes Bad

Is perseverance sometimes a bad thing?

Well, if you use the term “perseverance” correctly, maybe not. According to, perseverance is “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.” Furthermore, the word is “regularly used in a favorable sense.” The idea, then, is that if you’re persevering toward some destination, you’re striving for something worthwhile.

But what if you’re mistaken?

I started thinking of some of the persistent souls I’ve seen on the news. People who dangle themselves in a glass box from a crane and see how long they can sit inside it, that sort of thing. Their only goals are getting attention and maybe ending up in a record book. So are they persevering—or just plain nuts?

I went to Guinness World Records online and did a search on the word “longest.” I came up with all sorts of interesting results. For example, Wesley Pemberton has the world’s longest leg hair. It measured five inches on August 10, 2007. (My mother’s birthday. Just think, while I was goofing off, partying with my family, Wesley was making history.) Maybe this isn’t a good illustration of perseverance, however. Wesley probably didn’t have much choice in how long his leg hair grew.

But then there’s the longest tattoo session, which “lasted for 43 hr 50 min, achieved by Stephen Grady and Melanie Grieveson.” Now, that required some endurance! Or questionable judgment. Perhaps both. Same goes for Bernie Baker, who at age 66 was the oldest known male stripper. Sure, he may have been persevering when other, younger male strippers were giving up. But the question is—why? Worthy goal? Probably not.

I’m bringing this up because I don’t want to be another Bernie Baker. I want my destination to be worthy and real, and I want to go about getting there the right way.

I'm on a journey this year, and I've decided to invite you all along. For a long time I hesitated to let you know about the fleece I'm laying before God this year, because I was afraid I would discourage you. But it's really not a discouraging journey.

Remember my verse for 2008: "Show me your intentions so I will understand you more fully and do exactly what you want me to do." As a part of praying that, I've asked God to show me things so clearly that I can do things differently next year. I believe he will either let something so encouraging happen with my writing that I will know I'm on the right track. Then I will stop torturing myself with doubts. Or he may show me it's okay to take some time off. He may give me a new direction for writing--or for living.

Wherever he takes me, it will be good. When you run a marathon, you have to pace yourself, and I'm excited to discover whether God's going to tell me to speed up and head for the finish, or slow down and enjoy the scenery.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Top Five Reasons Why...

...I haven't blogged lately.

5. I took on some extra working grading essays on a test that college students in Georgia must pass before graduating. I did approximately 150 of these in less than a week. By the time I finished, I felt a little disoriented and confused, although I learned a lot of things. For example, apparently there's an old saying that "modesty is the best policy." You can learn a lot of "life lesions" even if you're home schooled. And "quiters never win." Those sentences were in the good essays.

4. Here's a picture of my next reason:

Dave is going to redo the floor in our bedroom, so we had to move everything out. Obviously we left one of Wendy's toys, but that's about it. We moved the furniture and everything else that wasn't nailed down into the basement. The mattress and box springs were the most fun, especially since the box springs wouldn't fit down the stairs and had to be carried around the house.

3. I could hardly move because of sore muscles. (See excuse #4.)

2. I was in a very crabby mood. I emailed a friend of mine about the week I was having, and I think it scared her. So I decided not to inflict that on y'all.

1. I've run out of things to say. Well, almost. I can tell you about one interesting thing I saw today. Here in my hometown we have a yearly Cherry Blossom Festival. People tend to go a little nuts painting things pink, but today I saw the winner. Some folks were out walking one of those big standard-sized poodles, and they had dyed that poor dog pink. Not a soft baby pink. I mean flaming, hot pink! I wish I had had the camera.

I wonder if our groomer would like to try to dye Cera pink.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Announcing My Blogaversary Contest

It's my first blogaversary!

Actually, I'm jumping the gun a bit. According to my records, I made my first blog post on March 20 of last year. I planned to celebrate on the 20th and announce a contest in celebration. But I just haven't been able to think of anything to blog about this week. I figure, when in doubt, give something away.

Those gift cards are always a favorite, so I'm doing that again. On April 2, I'll announce the winner of a $25 amazon gift certificate. All my subscribers will have one entry. If you'd like another entry, leave a comment on THIS POST no later than March 31.

The contest is one way of saying thank you for hanging out with the Queen this year. I can't believe all of you folks that I wouldn't have known if I hadn't started this blog. (What a convoluted sentence that was. I wish I could say my writing skills have improved.) I've even met a couple of you in person--like Sally at the ACFW conference. And Kathleen and I discovered our common love of crafts and have met to shop for fabric and sew. (Some writers get together to write and critique. Not us. We can critique online.)

As you've probably noticed from my blog posts, I have a tough time with discipline and time management. So I'm pretty darn proud of myself for sticking with this for a year. I've also posted three times almost every week, which was my original intention.

Again, thanks so much for playing along! I couldn't have done it without you. (And thanks to my friend Felicia for that wonderful word, blogaversary. I don't know whether she made it up or got it somewhere else, but I love it!)

Friday, March 7, 2008

If This is Really So

Some people talk about having a life verse. I usually have a verse that serves as my "theme" for a year or so at a time. While doing my daily reading a couple of weeks ago, I came across what I believe will be my verse for 2008--Exodus 33:13.

At this point, Moses has already led the Israelites out of Egypt, and they've started their trek across the desert. God speaks to Moses personally, allowing him into his presence like no other man. And yet, at one point Moses becomes frustrated and confused. The Lord has told him time and again that Moses has found favor with him, yet he says, "Please, if this is really so, show me your intentions so I will understand you more fully and do exactly what you want me to do."*

That's my verse. After all these years of pursuing my dream of writing, I struggle more now with the question, "Is this really so?" than ever before. Maybe because the journey is getting so long. (And who knows more about long journeys than Moses!) The thing I'm asking about--wondering whether it's so--is a little different from Moses' question, of course. Day after day I wonder, is my writing a calling from God? Is it something he wants me to do? Or it is just a dream, a desire that has no more importance than a longing for a vacation in Hawaii?

This writing business takes loads of time and energy. I have limited reserves of each. I need to allocate those resources wisely. When I'm pulled away from my writing for the crisis of the day, I feel tremendous guilt. Immediately afterward, I wonder why. Most of the "crises" seem to be things God would want me to handle. In fact, I often feel guilty WHILE I'm writing, because I'm neglecting something else.

If God truly showed me that He wants me to write, that it's not just a whim, I think my energy and devotion to it would increase. Maybe after the crisis du jour, I'd find the energy to stay up a little later and write, anyway. On the other hand, if I could just figure out once and for all that writing is a joy and a hobby, but no more important than my knitting, then I could skip the guilt when I'm called away. I could just enjoy the experience whenever I could get to it.

So like Moses, I'm praying this year, "Show me your intentions so I will understand you more fully and do exactly what you want me to do."

* New Living Translation

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Oh No, Not Again!

My brain is fried tonight. Dave and I just did our tax returns. So I don't think I'll be able to come up with anything particularly profound or inspiring to tell you. Instead, let's just have a little fun at my cats' expense.

Last week it was time to go to the groomer again. I have to have their hair cut once a year because it gets so matted. (Because they won't behave and let me comb them.) You may recall that last year, bad, bad Cera gave the groomers so much trouble that they only managed to shave half of her. Would you believe...

Yes, that's right! She did it again. No toenails clipped, no bath, just half of her hair cut off. Doesn't she look proud of herself?

She would almost look like one of those show dogs that prance around with bizarre, intricate hair-dos if hers were only symmetrical. I can't adequately show you how bad this looks in a flat photo, but on one side she's completely bald. On the other, her hair poofs out about halfway down.

Last year, I drew some profound insights from Cera's shenanigans. This year I don't have the heart. I will say, though, that if anyone illustrates perseverance, it's my Cera. She may only weigh eight pounds. There may be three or four hundred total pounds of groomers trying to hold her down--and those groomers may come from the dominant species on Planet Earth. But they give up before she does every time!

One last photo. This is Wendy--who is nicer and does give up:

If you want to see how she looked before, take a look at this post from December.

Maybe I understand why Cera fights the groomer, after all.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Explaining Weird, Scary Message

A couple of subscribers emailed me today saying they received what was alleged to be one of my posts, but it had the scary title "Blogger 403 Forbidden." This title makes it sound like either a) I'm Blogger 403 and I've done something so heinous that I'm forbidden to use the service anymore or b) my message is Blogger 403 and it's going to destroy your computer.

I'd like to assure you that neither is correct. Still not sure exactly what it does mean, but here's what Feedblitz told me: "Apparently last night some Blogger / Blogspot blogs returned "403 Forbidden" errors instead of the publisher's content. It's Blogger's issue, not ours... (and let's hope that whatever ailed Blogger last night is now working again). "

I'll second that. Anyway, hope no one was scared away by the creepy email. I'm also not sure whether anyone got the actual post, "Wendy Picks a Winner." Click on the link if you missed it and would like to see my cat picking the winner of Rotten Reviews & Rejections.