Done: Five Minute Friday

I’m back at it!

Every Friday I like to join a band of inspired writers over at Five Minute Friday.com. There is a weekly link-up posted here with a prompt for a blog post. The goal is to write on the topic for an uninterrupted five minutes. This week the topic is done. Check out my break-up letter with Worry, a long-time companion and a disloyal friend of mine.

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Dear Worry,

I am so done with you. You’ve hung around too long battling my mind and injuring my soul. After the past six months I’ve realized that by letting you into my life I have only made things worse. When I thought you were the only thing I could control I clung to you like a cat on a limb. But you’ve let me down hard. The wounds barred into my skin threatening to scar.

You see, with every chance you had you inflicted fear. At times I was paralyzed and choosing a direction was impossible. In the thick of the battle, though, I heard the still, small voice of a God who never left me.

When darkness closed it’s grasp around my mind the light was never forsaken. When your weight sat upon my chest I was being held. When trouble came knocking and pain was agonizing there was a Healer in my midst.

Now I know that when I’m afraid you aren’t my only option.

There’s a God who is watching over me providing the way out. I don’t need to suffer any more. He is ready to offer me the peace I desperately need. His respite is mine for the taking.

So, Worry, this is my good-bye. We’ve grown rather close these past few months, but our relationship is an unhealthy one. It’s not me, it’s you. I’m calling it quits. This journey has been a lot of things, but most importantly it’s done!

The Ameri Brit Mom

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The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction (Week 3)

I’m really enjoying this book about the art of writing Christian Fiction. This is the second book by Jeff Gerke that I have read, and I think the man is a genius.

I am a writer for many reasons. I choose to spend my time articulating stories because I enjoy it. It’s a hobby that I continue to learn from.  So many books out there are to help me become a “flawless” writer. Gerke takes me to a humble, teachable place to show me that there really is no “arrival” as an author.

Writing is a journey much like the one of faith that I’m walking. It’s a lifetime of learning and practicing. It’s a road filled with obstacles and trials. It’s a rewarding hobby. And it’s important to keep an open mind and heart throughout the whole journey.

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Be Teachable

After years of crafting stories and (maybe after publication) it is easy for a writer to feel like they hold all the keys to the craft of writing. Their work is complete. Editing is not necessary. And if you bring up a mistake you might as well be talking to a wall. This is a description of a prideful writer. This is someone who believes that they have arrived at perfection and there is no room for critique or remarks at that destination. These people are hard to work with, and unless they are already successful they rarely attain the goal of publication.

Humility is the key.

Learn to accept advice. Roll with the punches. Don’t deny the fact you are human.

It can be uncomfortable to pour your heart and soul into a project only to be told it is not good enough, but you have a choice. You can choose to heed the advice of someone who has read your work or you can ignore their words and assert that there is nothing wrong with what you have written.

At the end of the road the humble author always wins. Not only do they find themselves achieving big goals, but they also better their craft in the process.

I was at this crossroads a few weeks ago. The book I’ve written was sent to a favorite author of mine. She did some critiquing of my work, and like the student who failed his English essay she sent it back with all of her markings coloring my manuscript red. For a millisecond I contemplated throwing the whole thing away and finding a new hobby. After reading the comments I realized that she was right about many of my mistakes, but none of them were detrimental to the story itself. I had made my fair share of grammatical errors, but I chose to work through them and learn from the process instead of taking a prideful stance against her wisdom.

As a result my story is so much stronger now. What once was a word and story dump is now a refined piece that I am proud of.

Stop Being Teachable

“You cannot please everyone and be a good writer.” (Gerke 30)

After much learning about fiction writing we eventually get to a place where we have to start producing. For some, it can be crippling when they look at the long list of dos and don’ts. Many rules are contradictory to one another and the fear of messing up can keep you from ever finishing a project.

At some point you need to examine the information you have gathered and decide for yourself what your writing voice will look like. You have to swallow the fear of imperfection and press forward, confident that your informed writing style will appease some group of writers. It’s impossible to adhere to everyone’s advice. Once you reach the point where you are ready to turn out the product you get to make the decision about which critiques you will take into consideration and which you will chose not to include in your edits.

When it comes to forming your own voice consider the books and types of writing you prefer to read. Examine that writer’s style in-depth, and then make some decisions for yourself. Ultimately, a heart of humility is what helps us to develop our style and craft as a writer, but a little confidence can go a long way in uncovering your unique voice.

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

The Art and Craft of Christian Fiction (Week 2)

I’m pressing forward in my work to modify my Christian Fiction manuscript. It’s a secular story with Christian themes of forgiveness, redemption, and love. My hope is that in studying this book by Jeff Gerke that I will be able to add some touches to that story that take it beyond a “feel good” tale to one that is steeped in the glory of God.

I’m not out to write a religious story. My hope is to lead my reader to God without having to hold their hand the whole way. I want to leave room for the reader to draw connections and to see for themselves how God has restored the brokeness that my characters face.

So I’m picking up this book my husband bought me for Christmas and learning lessons each week from it that will help me in these edits to my book.

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The Invisible Novelist

“You want her to love the story, not the storyteller.” (Gerke 17)

This chapter takes me back to a moment of humility. I had written (what I thought to be) the most illustrious story. My word game was strong and even I was a little impressed with myself. I submitted the piece to my online critique group expecting an immediate response of, “This is going to be a bestseller.” You can imagine my disappointment when I received my feedback in the form of red slashes all over the place.

I felt wronged. “They just don’t understand good writing.” I thought to myself. Pride knocked on my door and I invited it in.

But when I read through their comments and suggestions I felt like they had kicked me in the gut. The critiques were right. I was wrong.

In fiction writing there are two types of story telling. There is the painted paragraph form and the invisible novelist. Painted paragraphs are literary pieces full of carefully crafted prose. In painted paragraphs the author works hard to impress you with language. The problem with painted paragraphs–many readers dislike this form. Readers (generally) pick up a book to hear a story. They want to lose themselves in characters and conflict not in difficult vocabulary and vivid descriptions.

The focus on the invisible novelist approach is to get the reader to forget that they are reading a book. As an invisible novelist you let the plot and characters capture the attention of the reader. You leave your four syllable words out as the author and you draw the reader in so that they forget this story was penned by a novelist at all.

Which method is right for you? It comes down to your purpose in writing.

For me, I write to tell a story. My hope is that my readers walk away with a deeper insight about life. As a reader, I appreciate an invisible novelist and so this should be my goal as a writer as well.

Three keys for writing in this style given in this chapter are:

  1. Keep your vocabulary “normal”
  2. Avoid the bizarre turn of phrase
  3. Stick to said

Understand Your Calling as a Novelist

It is important to understand the market for Christian writing.

Christian fiction is a title generally afforded to books with explicitly Christian content. Those books are ones oftentimes written for the already-Christian. They are aimed at teaching or redirecting the Christian reader. They point to a deeper relationship with Jesus. Their intended audience is generally those already under the influence of Christ.

There is a second category of Christian fiction. This group of books doesn’t get its own shelf at the book store because the books are not advertised as Christian fiction. They don’t fit into the traditional CF box. They may not explicitly discuss scripture. Rather these books take the words and themes of Jesus and mask them behind a secular plot line, non-religious characters, and maybe even a little profanity (you can do that?)

All Christians are called to ministry inside and outside of the church. Most feel a gravitational pull toward one end of that spectrum. And that’s okay.

I can remember sitting in Bible college and learning about being a teacher. So many of the other students described their perfect job as working in a Christian school. Not me. I knew I wanted to land a job in the public school sector. I’ve always felt more drawn to minister to the non-Christian. Not that I don’t see value in the ministry for the already-Christian, but I’ve always felt gifted with the personality and skill sets that mesh well with ministry outside the walls of the church.

That calling has shown up in my writing. And I’ve come to learn that Christian fiction doesn’t have to mean quoting Jesus and including stories from the Bible. Christian fiction can be allegories. It can be creative. It can be secular stories with a hidden layer of Christian themes. It can be a happy ending. It can be an apocalypse. Christian fiction means so much more than a girl meets Jesus for the first time. You may never find my book shelved with the Christian fiction that comes to mind when you hear the genre, but I am a Christian and my kind of fiction is heavily influenced by the God who has gifted me with the ability to write.

The Ameri Brit Mom

One of My Many Hats: Advisor

For the past four years I have had the privilege of advising a Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at the high school where I work. I have been blessed to watch God work in the lives of the students I see on an every day basis. Most public schools are not open to the idea of an organized group of Christians meeting weekly to fellowship and grow together so I cherish this ability granted to me by my school district. We meet in the home of a current student leader and we have averaged this year anywhere from 60-100 students at a weekly meeting.

Wednesday nights are busy for my family. When I was approached and initially accepted the role of FCA Advisor I wanted to be sure to make it a family priority as it is a huge time commitment. Every Wednesday night we go to FCA as a family. My daughter has grown up with these weekly meetings. In the beginning that was a bit stressful, but I have grown to realize that she is getting the influence of great Christian kids and seeing ministry as part of our regular routine. My husband is a big help when it comes to FCA because not only does he help with keeping our daughter occupied and safe, but he comes alongside me to work with kids (especially guys) that he doesn’t even have in class or see beyond Wednesday nights.

As a leadership team we meet a couple of times a month to plan for upcoming meetings. We also meet over the summer to create a calendar and work through the ideas of discipleship. Our leadership team is made up of elected upperclassmen who have a positive influence in the school. The leadership meetings are some of my favorite parts about FCA. It is where I invest the most into the kids. I use this time to teach my students about the importance of organization and prioritizing, but this is where I also do the most of my 1-on-1 ministry.

When it comes to the actual FCA meetings I allow the leadership team to take control. I am there as an advisor, but the leaders actually run the meetings. This is the rewarding part of ministry. I am able to see my ministry in action as the leaders put their lessons and knowledge to work. Our meetings are quite organized to avoid the dead time that can lead to trouble. If you are working with high school students the less free time the better.

An average meeting generally includes: prayer, small group discussion, game, music, a speaker, reflection time, food, and we finish off all meetings with fellowship. We have several special meetings throughout the year like Olympics, Valentine’s Day, Bonfire, Thanksgiving, Cupcake Meeting, and Senior Cookout. Also, we attend an FCA Retreat every fall with other FCAs in the area.

FCA is all about providing a safe environment for students to come and grow closer to God in community. It is not a place of judgement or a place of perfection. The students get an opportunity to be real and ask questions. When we meet as a leadership team I stress to the leaders that our job is not to give advice to their seeking peers, but rather to point them toward God.

Being the advisor of this club makes my job as a teacher so much more rewarding. It provides a gateway for me to invest in my students on a deeper level. It allows me the opportunity to foster strong relationships with students and families, and it helps me become more of a member of the community where I work.

There are definitely times where I feel overwhelmed by the many hats that God has blessed me with, but it is when I begin to tire that God assures me that I am on the right path. I’ve been down a lot lately about how different my classroom has looked this year due to new tests. However, when I think about the way that God brought me to my job and aligned me with the available advisor position I can’t deny his provision and plan for me and my family.