Yeah, yeah, I know—you’re scratching your head right now, thinking: okay, she’s finally flipped over the “edge” (pun intended). But wait—I actually have a method to my madness, both with the blessing of “do-overs” and “clown noses” and the connection between the two, so bear with me, please.
You see, I had the privilege and pleasure of co-teaching a writer’s workshop a few weeks ago with a very dear friend, Patti Lacy. Now if any of you have ever met Patti, you know she is an incredibly talented, sweet, laid-back ex-teacher turned author who, during a brief mental lapse, invited me (an over-caffeinated drama queen) to co-teach a fiction workshop with her at the Green Lake Writer’s Conference. Regrettably, Patti couldn’t be here with me today because she’s been traumatized by the twelve stacks of hand-outs I brought to the class (yes, there were actually twelve!) and is currently in rehab.
Seriously, we had a blast and between Patti and her wonderfully relaxed attitude and another author/speaker/humorist, Mary Pierce (also known as “the Laugh Lady and one of the funniest human beings I’ve met besides Mary Connealy), I came away learning WAY more at that conference than any of the students I taught.
What did I learn, you ask? Well, despite my intense anality (and yes, it is a word, created just for me, I think), I learned to take a deep breath and not to take things SO seriously, a lesson taught VERY well by both the laid-back Ms. Lacy and humorist Mary Pierce, who actually made us where clown noses. Yes, you heard me. But as stupid as I felt, it worked—easing the tension in my neck when we all looked around the room and laughed at each other. In fact, it tickled me so much, that I put my clown nose on again right before I opened my hotel-room door that night, surprising my husband who, lo and behold, laughed too! Need I remind anyone that laughter is good??
And … so are do-overs. You know, a chance to redo an action, redeem yourself, make it right? In some ways do-overs are just like clown noses—they ease the tension in your back, they allow you to take a deep breath and release it in a chuckle, and they give you a second chance to focus on what’s really important—honoring God with an attitude of trust and peace and joy rather than dishonoring Him with one that is crazed and stressed and riddled with fear and doubt.
And so, in the wonderful spirit of do-overs and clown noses, instead of posting the Seeker blog I had hoped to post today entitled “THE TEASE … Great Scene/Chapter Endings to Lead Your Readers On,” I will post that blog on Wednesday, Oct. 6, when we celebrate The Seekers birthday month. We’ll have little mini-critiques of your scene/chapter endings at that time just like we did in July on your hook openings during my blog entitled THE PERFECT PICKUP LINE … Or How to Hook a Reader, along with several critique and book giveaways.
Why? The reason is that TODAY I am doing a “do-over.” 1.) Because I ran out of time on researching/writing the above blog and would rather smile (i.e. clown nose) rather than stress out, 2.) Not all of the Seekers got their examples to me ahead of time (hint, hint), and 3.) Because the ACFW Conference is NEXT WEEK and I felt a very strong nudging to repost my CPR blog that talks about what I would “do over” if I were attending a writer’s conference for the first time.
For those of you who have already read this CPR blog, I intend to make today’s post worth your while by giving you my top five “do-over” wishes as far as my writing in the hopes they will help you ward off some of the regrets I have on my publication journey. In addition, today’s winner will have his/her choice of a 5-page critique by me OR a signed copy of either my new release A Hope Undaunted or “The Daughters of Boston” book of your choice. Simply leave a comment stating some of the things you would “do over” if you could, either in your writing life or your life in general, so we can all benefit from each other’s “do-overs.” Good luck in the contest, and be sure to leave a spam-free e-mail address such as janedoe(at)seeker(dot)com, and good luck!
MY TOP FIVE WRITER DO-OVERS (IF I COULD):
1.) Go for an agent first/publisher second. I wasted two years and about 31 rejections on unagented queries to publishers, some of which took as long as three years to reply. In fact, within six months of signing with my agent, she sold me to a publisher whose slush file STILL contained an unagented proposal from me requested at an ACFW conference two years prior!
2.) Get a platform in place before publication. I wish I had known to establish more of a database a year before my book was released. My agent says you only have one shot at a debut novel, so you have to give it your all—via a loaded Web site, blogs, newsletters, etc., none of which I had until about three months prior to my launch. I attended an ACFW seminar where the teacher said you need to work on this at least 1-1/2 to 2 years prior to a book launch, which, of course, I didn’t!
3.) Pray more and worry less, and do NOT expect publication to be Easy Street or to validate you as a writer. I wish I’d known what an emotional roller-coaster it was going to be AFTER I got published. Like a lot of unpublished writers, I thought all the anxiety and self-doubt would dissipate after I signed on the dotted line. I mean that would validate me, wouldn’t it? Give me confidence as a writer? But I discovered (AGAIN!) that true confidence is not in accolades from your editor or a really good review, but instead in where your heart is with God. HE is my confidence when my sales rankings on Amazon.com are high or low, which is why I CLING to the following Scripture from 2 Corinthians ll:3, praying it almost every day: Do not let my mind “be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”
4.) I would work harder to keep my priorities straight: God, Family, Writing. As Christian writers, we should be desperate to have God’s anointing on everything we write, but if our priorities are out of line with His, there’s a good chance that His anointing will not be there to the degree that it should be. And neither will the peace and joy and good relationship with our family.
5.) Writer shorter books. The longer the book, the harder it is to sell and the more expensive it is to print AND for readers to buy. Also, long books (as much as I love them) tend to scare a lot of readers off. Just ask Anita Mae Draper! (smile)
And now, without further ado, here is a “do-over” of my No. 1 “do-over” concerning writers’ conferences:
CONFERENCE CPR … Julie Lessman Style!
“Are you okay?” Someone shook me hard. I lay there, unable to speak, eyes welded closed.
“Are you okay” the voice came again, louder this time, more insistent. No answer. I felt the press of fingers to my pulse followed by a quick sweep of my mouth, clearing all obstructions. With a pinch of my nose, someone began to breathe life into me while a gentle hand compressed against my chest, finger on my heart …
Okay, just for the record—I did not choke on a piece of chicken at an American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference or ever have to resuscitated in any way. Uh … that is … at least not physically. But emotionally and spiritually? Yep, I was a goner. Cried enough tears that I thought the housekeeping staff would think I was heisting their Kleenex. But something amazing happened to me at the very first ACFW conference I ever attended—I received CPR in a very unlikely manner, and I gotta tell ya, folks—it saved my life. So I thought since we are less than a week out from this year’s ACFW conference in Denver, it might behoove me to share about this life-saving experience I received when the Holy Spirit administered a heavy dose of truly miraculous CPR—Cry, Pray, Repent.
Oh, how I wish, wish WISH someone had told me what I’m about to tell you before I went to my very first writers’ conference in Houston, Texas in 2003. It was the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, only back then, it was ACRW, American Christian Romance Writers. I went by myself without knowing a soul, which is a hard thing to do, as so many of you are aware. Up until that point, I had done everything I could to put me on the path to publication—took fiction-writing courses at the community college, attended small writing seminars and local RWA chapter meetings, queried publishers until I was blue in the face, and entered contests until I was in hock over binder clips.
I knew in my gut that the time had come for me to venture far from home and interface with other writers of my ilk. I mean how difficult could this be? Although by nature I am a recluse of sorts, I have the misfortune of having an outgoing personality, so the word “shy” just isn’t part of my vocabulary. So I smiled and mixed and mingled until my teeth ached and made a lot of acquaintances, but no real “friend” that I felt I could connect with. Everything felt surface to me, and it seemed like everybody I spoke to was either published, had an agent, a contract in the works or fulls being considered.
That night I cried on the phone to my husband, and I’m talking major sobbing! I told him I felt lonely and jealous and like publication would never happen for me. He comforted me and prayed with me and told me everything would all right.
But it wasn’t. The next day I would attend a seminar, then go up to my room and cry, clean my face and go back down to smile some more. That went on all day as the loneliness and jealousy seemed to grow, and that night my poor husband got another earful of long-distance weeping. God love him, he prayed for me and encouraged me and told me to put my hope in God. Yeah, right, I thought to myself at the time, and how is that going to change these waterworks? That night I cried myself to sleep, rivers of tears seeping into my pillow.
What happened next is nothing short of supernatural. The next morning, even before my eyelids peeled open, my brain was pelted with hope scriptures in rapid-fire succession:
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. - Romans 15:12-14
And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. - Romans 5:4-6
No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame. - Psalm 25:2-4
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. - Psalm 62:4-6
But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more. - Psalm 71:13-15
Now, first of all, I wasn’t aware that I even knew that many hope scriptures. In fact, they shocked me so much, that my eyes popped open and I lunged for the Gideon Bible inside the nightstand drawer. I flipped it open to the first few pages where they list scriptures by subject and scanned the list for “Hope.” It wasn’t there, so I settled on the scripture for “Fear.” There were only two, mind you, and I quickly paged to the first one: Hebrews 13:5.
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
Come again? What does fear or lack of hope have to do with covetousness and ingratitude? Give me a break, the Gideons have TONS of scriptures to choose from and they choose this???? I blinked several times … and then the Holy Spirit nailed my butt to the wall.
I had spent the last two days of this expensive conference doing NOTHING but coveting other writers’ success and complaining that it would never happen for me. My husband had forked over $800 bucks (airfare, hotel room, conference fee) so I could fly to Houston and instead of being grateful, I was utterly lonely and jealous. Talk about a one-two punch! I fell to my knees and sobbed again, only this time my tears were tears of repentance. I told God I was sorry for being such a brat, and I prayed for every woman that I had been jealous of, that God would bless the socks off of them. I asked Him to change my attitude and give me hope and help me not to be lonely the rest of the conference.
For the umpteenth time that weekend, I cleaned up my face, put on my name badge and squared my shoulders to go downstairs. The elevator opened, and I flashed a smile to the couple in the back and turned to face the door. The woman gently tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re from St. Louis? I live in Illinois, just twenty minutes across the river.”
I turned around and will NEVER forget the look of kindness and warmth in that woman’s eyes—like an angel sent from God. She was an ACFW author named Diana Brandmeyer (who, by the way, has a GREAT new book coming out with Barbour next January entitled Hearts on the Road, so check it out on her website at . Anyway, she invited me to sit with her and her husband for breakfast. Trust me, conference food had never tasted so good!
Later that day, there was a contest for book giveaways. You simply had to write about someone who had positively affected you at the conference so far, and if the ACFW Master of Ceremonies (Brandilyn, of course!) picked your comments out of the hat, the person you wrote about won a free book. My eyes smarted with tears as I dashed a quick note about the kind woman in the elevator “whose eyes radiated love and warmth—Diana Brandmeyer.”
If you can believe it, out of over 350 women and like 2 men (grin), Brandilyn picked a handful of notes to read, and one of them was the note I had written about Diana, which referred to her “eyes full of love and warmth.” My heart jumped with excitement … until Brandilyn read my name instead of Diana’s. My heart froze when I realized I must have written my name down by mistake, thus winning a book for myself instead of Diana. Brandilyn called me up, and I was too embarrassed to tell her the truth, so I intended to return the book after the function was over. Imagine my shock when a few moments later, Brandilyn read another note about a woman “whose eyes radiated love and warmth,” only this one was the note I had written about Diana! Yes, you guessed it—two women who broke the yoke of loneliness off of each other in an elevator wrote almost exactly the same thing about the other. Go ahead, tell me that’s not a God thing!
That conference turned out to be a pivotal time in my career, not only because of the amazing friendship/critique partnership that Diana and I still share today, or even the very encouraging paid critique I received from author Tracey Bateman later on that day, but because of the invaluable lessons that the Holy Spirit taught me from the pages of a hotel-room Gideon Bible.
Yes, contests, writing classes and writers’ conferences are all important tools in traveling the road to publication. But the most important tools needed are spiritual—to keep your heart clean of jealousy by praying for those who incite it, to praise and thank God wherever you are in your journey instead of complaining, and to renew your mind with hopes scriptures instead of despair. Because the bottom line is, “hope never fails” … and neither does He.