Writing

How Learning the Ins and Outs of Writing Ruined Me…and How to Not Let it Ruin You

Once upon a time I had a story to tell. It took me two years to tell that story and I’d never taken so much joy in anything before.

If you’re a writer, you can probably relate.

I was an amateur, I was ignorant in the field of writing fiction. Not in a bad way. More in the high-apple-pie-in-the-sky-hopes kind of way. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

When I finished that book, I sought to further my knowledge of fiction. And that’s when the wild fire began. I spent two years of nothing but research. Researching fiction, writing, grammar, history, and what works for other authors. I learned a lot. I’ll admit it, shamefully…I’ve learned more from teaching myself in the last two years than what high school and college combined had failed to teach me.

I learned plot, characters, storylines, climaxes, backstory, Mary Sue, the oxford comma, theme, structure, antagonists, protagonists, stereotypes, goals, motivations, dialogue, outlining, setting, style, and the ever elusive symbolism. And that’s just skimming the tip top of the aspects of fiction. Of what you need to know to make it in this business…

Of what I failed to carry out for years.

During my research there were many times I attempted to write a novel.

Go to jessalyse.com to read more.

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Faith, Family, Fiction, and Fitness: How to Balance Life as Writer

I found out the hard way that you must–and I cannot stress that word enough–you must have balance in your life.

No matter the career without balance there’s very little chance for genuine happiness, and even peace.

A few years ago there was a stretch where I got so comfortable with my writing that I didn’t do much of anything else. And I’ll humbly admit that I still experience those days. Sure, we probably all will at times. That’s okay.

But a lack of balance can be unhealthy when it becomes a daily pattern. Here are some ways to help balance your life that I hope can encourage you.

  • Faith. This one comes first on the list of priorities. Like the airplane safety instructions that advises you to put on your oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs, you cannot expect to be a light for Christ if you’re neglecting your spiritual life. You have to make time for your relationship with God before anything else. What is the point of risking your walk for the sake of your career or even your family. If you truly want to have a relationship with Christ, then you have to actively pursue one.

Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you… –James 4:8

  • Need some inspiration? Make it a priority to spend time in the Word as soon as you wake up in the morning, if you don’t already. Set an alarm on your phone to help you to remember to pray throughout a busy day. Download the Bible App and check out the scripture of the day for a fun reminder. Make it a point to take away at least one important lesson from your Bible study each day; don’t just read the Bible, learn it; quality is better than quantity. You could even try Verse Mapping, something I recently took an interest in. If you’re truly concerned about the lack of time you spend with God, then don’t just consider these things. Do them. If you feel a small urge on your heart to crack open your Bible and look up a quick verse, don’t write it off. Just do it. Make an effort, because without the effort you won’t get results.
  • Family. In my opinion, most people would agree, family falls on the list right below faith. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the person I am without my family by my side. We aren’t perfect, but God perfectly chose each one of us to make a family that serves and delights in Him. It’s not hard for me to spend time with my family since I love them so deeply. I very much look for any opportunity to spend time with them, whether that means watching a movie with them or taking a Sunday drive through our hometown (but not during football season.) Family is very important to most people and usually isn’t a hard priority to balance.
  • Do you find yourself struggling to make time for family? If you keep a schedule, actually make time in your day to spend with your family. Whether it be one family member or the whole clan, pencil them in. Don’t devalue your loved ones by pushing aside your time with them for something that you think is more important. If something else comes up, don’t let it be your family that has to miss out on spending time with you. Because believe me when I say nothing on earth is more important than family. Make a date with your spouse. Go bowling with your kids. Cook dinner for your parents. And watch a movie with your siblings. Whoever you call family, whatever it is you’re interested in, just do it. If you’re on the lazy side and don’t keep a schedule (like me) then make an effort to show your family you love them. Steal their chores šŸ˜‰ Give them a hug. Share a smile. When you get that incredibly annoying urge to argue, try something crazy for once and don’t argue. Just stay silent, even if you have to bite your lip. Take a moment to listen to what they have to say, even if you don’t agree with it. And more than anything else, make sure you actually say the words “I love you.”
  • Fiction. Okay, I know not everybody writes for a living, but that’s what I do (actually it’s not a living yet, I don’t technically make a paycheck, but I’m not giving up.) Whether you’re a writer, a doctor, a teacher, a student, a cashier, a bank teller, or a fast food cook, you have to balance work just as well as every other priority in your life. Sometimes this isn’t a hard one if you work a nine-to-five. For some of us–especially those of us who work in their pajamas, hehe–it may be a little bit more difficult. I have three waves of advice for different careers, so here goes.
  • Writers: For the professional procrastinators (like me) you may need to start a schedule to keep up with your work; keep a calendar, set your alarm, write in a notebook what you have planned: your daily routine, your meetings, your achievements. Even more than that, write down your goals and with all the self-discipline you can gather, work towards those goals. For the professional non-procrastinators, you probably don’t have a hard time getting to work, and you might not even have a hard time leaving work, but even if you do, be sure in the process of balancing your life you don’t overdo it. Keep God first, family second, and work at the #3. It doesn’t mean you have to slack off or miss out on your goals. It doesn’t even mean that you can’t have the occasional late night/early morning writing/plotting/reading/editing streak that makes you want to sleep-in and overdose on coffee, but don’t let that become your career. Remember to make time for God (keep a Bible nearby to your writing area) and time for your family (take your laptop, book, or notebook to your family room and at the very least work in the same room. It may be distracting or frustrating, but before you do nothing at all, at least sit in the same room with them.)
  • Nine-to-Five’ers: For any other career–and I carefully lump these together–take time to enjoy what you do. First of all, if you’re not in a job you love, I strongly encourage following your dreams and passions with equal amounts of prayer. If you don’t love your job but you also don’t have a choice, ask for the Lord’s blessing or ask Him to help you see the blessing every day. Buy a pack of sticky notes and write one good thing about your job or life every single day and stick them where you can see them. Pessimists might find this hard to do. Optimists are probably staring wide-eyed at the computer screen right now with a stack of sticky notes in one hand and a pen in the other. If you love your job, love it in doses. Keep in mind that this is a guide as to how to keep things in balance. So in reaching each topic, I award nine-to-five’ers with this: love your job, but don’t love it too much. In other words follow closely to keeping God first and family second. Schedule your work and stick to that schedule, even if it means turning off your cell phone when you leave work and come home. Make a time slot for everything and keep everything in its time slot.
  • Stay-at-Home-Moms/Dads: This is very much the category in which I’d like to be placed. Unfortunately, I’m only listed under writer. But I do know stay-at-home-parents well. This can be a full-time job no different from a nine-to-five’er. In reality this is a 24/7-365 job–with sleepless nights and unpaid overtime. Tough. But like any other job, your time parenting also needs balancing. This might surprise people, but when you put parenting into this perspective, you might see stunning results. Moms and dads, don’t forget to spend time with God. Make that difficult effort to wake up an hour before the kids to spend time in the Word alone. Or if you’re up with that baby, keep your Bible near your rocking chair or crib. If you have older kids, spend time teaching God’s Word to them. Do Bible studies or hands-on lessons that are helpful to the visual learners. Making time for your kids probably isn’t a hard one for the stay-at-home-parent; but making time for your spouse may be a different story. I can’t for the life of me remember who said it (so if you’re reading this then thank you so much for saying it,) but a woman once said that she made it a point to save her energy throughout the day so that she can spend time with her husband. When I read that, my eyes were opened to a whole new version of what a marriage looked like. She went on to say that she would put off the small things throughout the day that could wait or that weren’t that important in order to spend real time with her husband instead of saying she was tired or had a headache. So take this advice parents; make time for your spouse. Don’t get yourself bogged down. If you’re tired, take a nap when the kids go down for a nap. Finding time for your spouse should be no different from finding time to go to the grocery store. Plan a date night and make sure you actually go out on a date (movies, dinner, a walk, or just a board game at home snuggled on the couch.) Don’t forget to be selfless when it comes to your spouse; make an effort to do what he likes to do and make an effort to try the things that she likes. It may not be the most pleasant, but you’d be surprised by how the other person begins to show a selfless, giving attitude when you do it first. Also, and this is for married eyes only, mind you: make sure that you save some “special alone time” for you and your husband or wife. This is even a Biblical matter, so take it to heart. (1 Corinthians 7:5)
  • Fitness. Last, but certainly not least. This one is probably going to be ignored a lot of the time. I can say for a fact that I’ve been ignoring this point for the past six months or so. I was on a roll in my getting-fit-spree and had lost ten pounds when I sprained my ankle and confined myself to the couch for 8+ weeks. I mean, honestly, I didn’t need to be on the couch, but I had a terribly hard time getting back into my exercising groove. And here on the week of Thanksgiving, I’m still having a hard time eating healthy. (Although I do have plans for December.) But, needless to say, fitness is definitely one of those things that needs to be folded into the mixture of things that needs balancing when it comes to life.
  • So here are my tips for fitness: Set a goal. Do you want to lose major pounds? A few pounds? Get in shape so you’re not out of breath after taking the stairs? Get into a certain pant size? Whatever the goal may be, write it down and make it realistic (meaning don’t be hard on yourself by saying I want to loose 600 pounds when you only need to lose 10. I would even recommend not putting a deadline on your goals because when you get closer to that deadline and see slow results then you’ll get tempted to give up. Don’t do that to yourself.) Eat healthy. That should probably be the first thing you want to do. It’s not always easy skipping over that piece of chocolate cake or vanilla ice cream, but it goes hand-in-hand with getting fit. Get outside. Even if your main exercise equipment is located indoors, hit the trails sometimes, even if it’s just walking outside to get your mail. Move. Get out of your desk chair and walk from one end of the house to the other. Push yourself. Just do it and don’t let yourself think twice about it. Personally, when I think too long about stuff then I tend to over analyze things and that usually leads to justifying bad choices. Get into a good exercise program. The Nike Training Center (NTC) App is free on the android (not sure about the iPhone and whatnot) but it’s a great exercise program with a virtual coach and timer, not to mention videos that instruct you how to do the moves. I use used this one, it’s good if you want to get in shape and loose pounds but I’ll warn you that it’s brutal. If you really want to sweat then get this one and you’ll see results within the month. For something less brutal you could try jogging, walking, or swimming. Whatever your fitness fave is, get into it. Make a goal and work towards that goal, even if it takes a lot of time. Starting now is better than missing out on it later.

So there you go. Jessica’s Guide to Balancing your Life. I never promised to give you the secret to easy living, but I hope something I’ve said can encourage and inspire you to help keep balance in your life. But like I did say at the beginning, balancing your life gives you a good chance at genuine happiness and peace.

Because when your life isn’t in order then you find it hard to sleep at night. And when you find it hard to sleep at night then you accidentally put potato flakes in your coffee maker. And when you accidentally put potato flakes in your coffee maker then you accidentally drink potato flakes with your sugar-water. Don’t drink potato flakes with your sugar-water. Get your life in balance today. šŸ˜‰

Being Still

Things have slowed down a lot in the past week. A lot.

I’m not a very patient person. Sure, I have patience with just about anybody. I don’t mind counting the days until Christmas or my birthday or beloved Valentines day. I don’t mind waiting for my husband, and marriage, and a family.

But there are some cases when I can get antsy. Like now.

Nanowrimo is over for me. Like I said before, if I can’t get it right to begin with, then I usually give up. I did great on the first two days but I kind of got sidetracked with a past novel, and of course with my daily routine and prior engagements, I really didn’t have time to write 50k words in one month. It’s no excuse, I realize. But there it is. I’m still writing, but just not for Nanowrimo.

Either way, in the past week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. And praying to go along with that thinking. And I know that there’s a lot more praying in my very near future.

I get this way sometimes. It’s one of those chapters in my life where I feel God putting on the brakes. Things get slow for me. Terribly slow. Like almost snails-pace slow. My mind starts to ask questions…you know. Who am I? Where am I going? What is God doing in my life right now? I usually know the answers, and even if I don’t, then that’s where I do my praying.

I know that God is taking me somewhere right now, right here in my waiting. I get antsy when I can’t get to that special place on my time. Those are ugly words paired together. ‘My time’ usually doesn’t mean anything. Because, after all, ‘my time’ isn’t His time.

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. –Isaiah 55:8-9

I love those verses. They’re like music to my ears. To me, this passage goes hand-in-hand with the one in Jeremiah.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. –Jeremiah 29:11

I’m the kind of person who has to have a purpose. In everything that I do. I have to be doing it with a purpose. I can’t just lug myself to some random place and do something just to do it. Which is why I’ve never handled a nine to five job very well. I like purpose. Even if that means volunteering my services somewhere, I want to be getting something done.

So you’ll understand when I say I get antsy when the Lord mentions the word ‘wait.’

Not that I don’t take delight in waiting. I do. Very much so. It’s like a mini vacation. But it goes back to this; waiting is like being quiet and being still–at least in my spiritual life–and when I’m quiet and still, I don’t see progress and I don’t see purpose.

But…

We have to keep in mind, that just because we’re in the waiting doesn’t mean God isn’t at work.

Be still, and know that I am God. –Psalms 46:10

There’s going to be plenty of time for the storms and the trials. There’s going to come a time that I’ll need to call out to God in total faith and desperation. But right now is not that time.

Right now is the time for me to sit back. To listen. To admire Him in the reign of His glory and grace. To observe Him and learn from Him. Like a student in the middle of class, I need not ask questions, I need only to watch and attend to His words. I’ll cherish these simple moments and hold tight to them during the fiery tribulations.

These moments where I can just love Him for who He is. Where I can praise Him and worship Him in the abundance of His truth.

He’s moving me. I can feel it. Physically and spiritually. He’s at work.

It’s like being on an elevator.

You step inside and the doors close. The only sign that you’re moving is the gentle jolt that your heart does when you move in any one solid direction. It’s quiet. It’s calm. There’s no outside world staring you in the face (usually.) It’s just you in the moving box. And the only evidence that you’ve moved is when the doors open wide and you’re suddenly in an unfamiliar place.

That’s where I am right now. I’m just in a moving box, dangling over nothing but air, and no idea what floor I’m going to arrive at. But I’m in His hands and I have the utmost faith in His plan. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I want what He has to give me, no matter how small or how grand it is. If He wants to bring me to a strange and scary place, then I’ll go. And if He wants me to wait quietly right where I’m at, then I’ll do that too.

I’m at His mercy. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

For Thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness. For by Thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall. As for God, His way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: He is a buckler to all those that trust in Him. –Psalms 28:18-30

God, Football, Writing, and Love

What do these things have in common?

Well, me. This is a short post on the things I love and why I love them. Maybe you can relate.

Now, I can’t say that’s the order in which those things are prioritized in my life. God of course comes first and foremost. But after that it’s a three way tie between football, writing, and love.

I was not born into a family of Christians. My parents knew God but they weren’t living for Him. When they finally decided to make that commitment, I was still very young and those moments were pressed upon my heart. I was baptized at the age of eight, on my own volition. I’ve loved Him and lived for Him ever since. I’ve had my ups and downs. My highs and lows. I’ve been overwhelmed by His glory and grace, and I’ve ignored His calling when it wasn’t convenient for me. I’ve doubted Him, I’ve questioned Him, and I’ve blamed Him.

But somehow, someway He has always waited on me. He has forgiven me and poured mercy over me when I least deserved it. He has smiled when I returned to Him, even after the shortest amount of time or a matter of months. He has never denied me when I questioned His existence, even when He had a right to. He never punished me when I blamed Him for the direction my life was taking based on my own mistakes. I don’t know how, and I’m not sure why, but He has always, always loved me. A love so passionate and gracious that I will never be able to make sense of it. I’ve tried, and I can continue to try. Or I can stop trying and just simply love Him back.

Which brings me to my next interest: love.

I’m not sure why, I assume it’s just the way He made me, but I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. I started reading Christian romance novels from a young age. Bittersweet, by Cathy Marie Hake, was the first romance novel I read at fourteen. It was then that I made some very important decisions about my future that I have never regretted. But, needless to say, I was hooked. I’ve been reading Christian romance novels ever since, and the Lord has taught me amazing things about love, and romance, and purity, that I’d never even considered.

I’m an emotional person who tries to cover up the heart on her sleeve, but my sappy side can’t help but show when it comes to romance. Whether it be a movie, or a book, or a talk show, or the conclusion to October Baby, I’m giddy for a sweet story. Something gentle. Something innocent. And the less it has to do with physical intimacy, the more I enjoy it. That’s just the way I’m built.

And of course, that’s part of the reason why I write.

I do write romance. Lots of it. And my characters are a little different from other normal characters you might read. But I can’t help but toss a little bit of love into whatever story I’m writing. Whether it be an all out conflicting romance or just something subtle that you don’t realize until the end, if it has my name on it, love will probably be there.

I’m your typical author. I’ve been writing stories ever since I received my first notebook. I’ve been telling tall tales since I could talk. Long before I knew what plots, and climaxes, and scenes were, I was putting them together in a not-so-organized fashion. My love for words has bloomed over the past ten years or so, and I’m beginning to dream of the day I’ll become published. I’ve tried to stop writing at different times, but I just can’t stay away for long. I always come back. I think I always will.

But then there’s football, of which I’m crazy about. Where does that fit in? It just does.

I didn’t grow up watching football. Had never paid any attention to it, whatsoever. And for some odd reason, I think it was 2009, my dad flipped over to a college game. Florida verses somebody. Can you guess who the quarterback was? Yep, it was ole Tebow. I think the fact that he was wearing John 3:16 on his eyeblack made me look at football differently than I had before. Somehow I got sucked into it from there. We kept up with it every weekend and then waited patiently during the offseason.

Now I’m all about the NFL, and I’m not so patient during the offseason. I would rather the spring fly by and summer hurry itself up so I can at the very least watch the preseason. I’m an avid Green Bay Packers fan and I vow to go wherever Aaron Rodgers goes. I know more about the game than most girls and although I’m still all woman, through-and-through, I’m not ashamed to say I scream at the TV when someone misses a catch. There’s nothing like it. I can’t explain where I developed this love for football, but somehow it was awakened in me and I can’t seem to make it stop.

So there you go. Just a few things about me that make me who I am.

What are your four favorite things that make you who you are?

Something Stirring Beneath the Surface

Earlier I had a thought that spurred into a tweet and now has snowballed into an all out blog topic.

I’m not sure if writing is my niche or even my calling. All I know is that without it Iā€™m exceptionally restless. #cantstayaway

Despite my daily prayers and often plea’s for confirmation, I’ve never received an undeniable sign from God that writing romantic Christian fiction is what I’m supposed to do. He hasn’t visited me in a dream and given me a solid “yes, this is it.” He hasn’t sent an angel disguised as a stranger to give me a direct answer. I haven’t even come across a verse that says love is the greatest gift–and if you’re a writer then that’s a good too.

Writing is not an easy journey. It’s not easy spending years planning, writing, editing, critiquing, editing, rereading, and editing, and that’s before the publishing process. And even if you make it to publishing, there’s a massive chance that an agent isn’t even going to get past the first paragraph of your work. It’s not easy when you wait for a reply–a rejection notice at the least–and end up getting nothing. It’s not easy being told you have potential but the editor’s need to do some rewriting before your work is ready. It’s not easy when readers tell you you’re wrong in what you’re writing and you should believe in something else. It’s not easy. And there’s very little confirmation, if any, that writing is what you’re meant for.

I’d like to think there are other writers out there, and it isn’t only me, who has doubted their work, doubted where they’re supposed to be in the world. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know.

I know that I have a yearning inside of me to write–to write anything, but mainly romance based on Christ. I know that despite that I’m not a fast writer, I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life writing. I know that when I step away from the keyboard and notebooks that it’s only a matter of days, if not hours, before I have a craving to come back and finish what I started or start what needs to be finished. I know that, inexplicably, when it comes to writing, for me there is always something stirring beneath the surface of my thoughts. Whether it be a story, a character, or a title that turns into a one hundred and twenty thousand word novel, there’s always something stirring.

And I’m certain of this. It was because of His gentle prodding in my heart that I realized my true desire for writing. I know that when I made the decision to get serious about writing romance that He pulled me aside and taught me what real love is. I know that I love Him deeply and I put Him before my writing–and if He tells me to walk away from writing, then I’ll walk away. I know that He has promised me a plan and a purpose and He’ll bring it to pass.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. -Jeremiah 29:11

How about you? Whether you pursue writing as a career or have another dream in mind, can you relate?

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

I’ve attempted it over the years, and failed. Mainly because I’m a perfectionist and when November first turns out to be a bad writing day then so does November second to the thirtieth. Most writers advise against skipping days, even I believe a true writer should write every single day, but sometimes that’s easier said than done.

However, I’m aiming to have a better NaNoWrioMo experience this year. I want to accomplish that 50,00 words without stopping to critique myself or doubting my story. I have to finish somewhere, so I’ll to finish here.

I’ve already completed one manuscript that is still sitting idle in my desk drawer, but I’m not worried about that one right now. I’m retiring it until further notice. I’m already 30,000 words into my next novel and my highest hopes are to use NaNoWriMo to write the last 50,000. And as you can see from the little widget on the right side of my page, I’m setting a goal of a little less than two years to finally call myself a published author. Shouldn’t be that hard, right?

So here’s to sleepless nights, laptop chargers and jump drives, and an unlimited supply of coffee.