Writing for an Audience

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Photo Credit: Auditorium by Ayla87

I started blogging because I needed an audience. After journaling for no one but myself for fourteen years, I needed to start thinking about writing for others, especially since I wanted to write and publish my memoir. I realized I had been self-centered, or writer-based, all those years. What’s more, I realized my previous education (even though I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English), had not helped me with the transition to writing for meaningful audiences. But now that I was serious about publishing a book, I had to become more reader-based.

If you’ve done any research on the publishing market, you know that being reader-based is essential to (traditional) publishing. If you’ve done that same research and you had an English education like mine, you might have concluded that many English teachers must not be writers—in the sense of trying to publish their writing.

Most of my English teachers gave me dead assignments, or what my thesis advisor called “orphaned texts” to write: papers that were not meant to go anywhere beyond their desk. My advisor also termed these assignments “autonomous texts”—texts that had no communicative element, no audience, and no purpose. This was in opposition to a superior type of writing situation: the rhetorical situation.

Last week I introduced my composition students to the rhetorical triangle—a way of thinking about writing that places a text in context of a specific speaker, audience, and topic. The major lesson is that if any element of the triangle changes, the text must also change.

Learning to think of writing this way—as a communicative act—has been changing my own writing dramatically. And it has tested me. First, on this blog, I have been forced to confront the self-pitying nature of so much of my past writing—and with that, the uselessness and counter-productivity of said writing. Considering my writing through the lens of a prospective audience has forced me to look in a mirror, as it were, and has helped me clear away the dross of my thoughts for current and future projects. The benefits of blogging have included even more healing for myself while looking in that “mirror,” and a push toward meeting my real goal of book publication.

Incidentally, I’ve just received my editor comments back on my memoir manuscript, which are further propelling me to write for an audience. I’m glad I had the training of eight months of blogging to prepare me to think about meeting the needs of book readers.

Trish Ryan’s assessment was great, pushing me to make some difficult changes I sensed I might need to make, but that I wasn’t emotionally ready to make earlier. I hope I am ready now. Time will tell as I enter the revision stage. Providentially, Trish told me I sent her the manuscript at just the right time to get feedback and intervention. I was glad to read that. I knew I wasn’t done with this project at first draft’s end, but I was at a point where I needed an experienced reader and writer to coach me to stretch limits for my intended audience.

Some of her best advice relating to audience was to lay out my story chronologically. Touché, as I had tried to bury or bypass some hard emotional scenes. I needed her to tell me that the audience needs more facts of my background to understand all the feelings I divulge throughout. She also urged me to err on the side of action versus reflection to keep things moving for readers. She said setting up a more complete background to my story in the beginning would help diminish the need for so much reflection later—readers would better understand my actions with the appropriate lead-up.

With her feedback, I am better equipped to revise my book for my audience, which will mean cutting out some material that was personally revelatory but not globally relevant. Though this may be hard, having  had an audience of one see and validate those parts of my story has heartened me to the task of cutting them from the final draft. (The tougher job now will be revisiting and writing those difficult parts of my past that need to be in the book).

So the final takeaway for this post? We writers, if we want to be published, and even if we just need to heal, need various audiences to push us to self-reflect on what we’re really accomplishing with our writing—and push us to take sometimes difficult steps. In the end, I believe writing for an audience is making me both a better person and a better writer, and it can do the same for you.

Ready or Not…Bring on the Baby!

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5 1/2 months along

It’s finally starting to hit me: my baby is going to be here in just a few months. And I’m starting to feel a little panicky.

I thought I was doing well, keeping emotions in check. At least, it didn’t feel like I was any more emotional than usual. I’ve always been one to cry easily at a movie scene, or even a melody. So when I find tears welling up these days, I don’t necessarily blame pregnancy.

The exhaustion, though. That has to be pregnancy’s fault, right? Or maybe just an incidental collision of events piling up all at once?

Two Thursdays ago, life went haywire. It started with my doctor’s appointment, where I learned I was having a baby boy! It progressed to the ICU, where my father-in-law was having high-risk emergency surgery. Then it opened onto the waiting room, where I was furiously typing up last changes to my first memoir draft because, wouldn’t you know it, that day was also my deadline with my editor. Later that day found me trekking up to the airport to pick up my mom, who was spending the weekend with us.

During that visit, I was still trying to piece together my syllabus and assignments for the new class I was hired to teach just one week prior. And to top it off, that same weekend I hosted a women’s prayer retreat at my house to launch the last three-month Straight 2 the Heart prayer group before baby comes.

Mix in some family problems that arose after the weekend, which took my focus completely away from the class I had to teach and the writing I should have been doing, and you have the makings of a very edgy pregnant lady.

This week some friends kindly dropped off some baby things, and now I find the guest bedroom (where my college-age niece stays on Tuesday nights) being dismantled by my hubby, who suddenly got the crawl to work on the nursery. His “crawls” come in spurts, though, so he typically tears up something only to leave it in disarray for days, weeks, or months.

Today I came home from my writers’ group to find him laid up with a headache, the baby room/guest room in no better shape than before I left, and all of a sudden, I’m on the brink of tears because I don’t know where to sit down and just do some of the personal writing I haven’t had energy to do for several weeks. Suddenly there is no room in my house that can accommodate me because every room has a problem we’ve put off fixing for all the years we’ve lived here. The baby room has just put me over the top.

Suddenly I’m feeling like I’ll never have a room to myself again. I just want one room, darn it, that I can control. But the mess created by living human beings constantly intrudes on my desired place of sanctuary. My office, for instance, doubles as the dining room, and any time we have company, I have to interrupt my creative process to clear space.

Woe is me, right? What a problem. It’s hardly a problem. We have a very large house, and with some reorganization, we can figure this out. (As you know from previous posts like this one, and this one, I just happen to detest things like cleaning and organization.) What is the real problem, then?

Maybe I feel life surging too suddenly out of control, and I fear that, after baby, there will be no going back. He will be a wonderful, blessed addition to our lives. Just…how will I handle it all?

Like I’ve handled everything else, I will handle it with my Father’s help. I will handle it by letting Him handle it. I’m sure everything will be fine.

After such a crazy couple of weeks, maybe I just needed to get a little emotional. I needed to remember I don’t always have to hold it together as if these emotions are not ransacking my body and mind. I needed to pray, and write, and even cry a little.

Tonight I came to the library to find a clear desk space on which to clear my head, and now I feel better already.

Ready or not, I say, “Bring on the baby!”

 

 

Some Keys to Being Freshly Pressed

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Photo credit: “Key” by debsch

After achieving the feat of being Freshly Pressed, a sort of fear can set in, along with  negative thoughts like these: “I’m going to screw up!” “My next effort won’t be as good!” “I’ll disappoint all these new readers!” Happily, I’ve only had these feelings mildly, and they’re not sticking around. Instead of fear, I mostly feel hope. Rather than daunting me, the Freshly Pressed Status has buoyed my confidence as a writer (a writer whose work people want to read!), and it has encouraged me.

The Surface Answer

So, you want to know how to get Freshly Pressed? (Before last Tuesday, I wondered that, too.) The easy answer is that you just have to keep writing and hope one of your posts gets picked. On the day produced my “pressed” post, I was just doing my regular thing. I was praying and reading the Bible like I do every morning, then I started scribbling about the issues my prayer time had revealed to me. I let the writing sit for a weekend, and then on a busy Tuesday when I almost didn’t think I’d post, I tweaked a bit, paired it with a picture, and posted. It was one of the easiest pieces I’ve published, in fact, because I didn’t expect much out of it—not like some past posts I’d edited into mincemeat (hoping to be “pressed”).

It was a complete and total surprise when, three hours later, my inbox greeted me with: “Congratulations! You’ve been Freshly Pressed!” For the next few days I soaked up the extra comments, likes, and follows—and thanked God for blessing me when I wasn’t even asking.

The Deep Answer

Maybe that’s a key to receiving blessings: to stop trying to force them.

I think back to the small string of writing successes I’ve had so far. (You can liken my writing to whatever dream you’ve carried for most of your life.) In all honesty, when I’ve succeeded in writing, I wasn’t much expecting it. Conversely, when I’ve most expected to succeed, often I’ve actually flopped.

I know I’ve talked to God a lot over the years about my dreams. Heck, he was aware of these goals even before my birth. But when I started chasing them in the beginning, it was like I wanted God on call, ready to answer at the moment I asked. I was selfish (not that I’m a saint today, but I’m slowly learning patience). I wanted to be published, and I wanted it when I wanted it, in the way I wanted it.

Some Instructive “Flops”

In 2010 I prepared a manuscript based on my “oh-so-interesting” teenage journals and figured this just had to be my first book. After a pause in the project, during which time I encountered some pushback from one of the main “characters” in the memoir, I realized maybe this sensitive material wasn’t yet “book-ready.”

In 2011, when I was re-entering graduate school with the dual goals of professing and writing, I identified a PhD in Creative Writing program one hour away from me that I thought would be “so much better” than the bland rhetoric program I was currently in. So I fretted my way through months of manuscript and application preparation, then lay awake at night with knots, willing and wanting so badly for this to work out—only to be rejected a few months later.

In 2012 I tried again, this time a distance MFA program that specifically catered to writers of faith. This, I was sure, was the vehicle through which I would make my plans—my plans—happen. Only, I didn’t get in.

Today I’m not sorry I attempted that now-dead manuscript and those fruitless applications. I think it was good for me to try, especially since I felt God nudging me toward writing and I didn’t sense him expressly forbidding those things. Where I went wrong was becoming too bull-headed to recognize that God had other, better ways to make my dreams come true besides those few paths I could see.

Doing Our Part, Letting God Do His

So it is with any endeavor. Maybe we don’t exactly know if the thing we want is the same thing God wants, but we feel it might be. In that case, I believe our part is to work faithfully—do our homework, hone our craft, practice it, and perform it to the best of our ability (so we are not presuming on God)—but after we’ve done that, we should let go and let God.

When we live our lives like that, quietly and diligently doing those things that (to the best of our knowledge) God has appointed us to do, we might just be pleasantly surprised one day when our faithful efforts pay off. Since I’ve made writing a part of my daily routine (and dropped those arbitrary, self-imposed expectations, such as “the writing has to result in X”), I’ve had a few of those pleasant surprises, including three published (and paying!) magazine articles, a co-book project, and most recently a Freshly Pressed blog post.

It’s fun to get good news when you’re not expecting it. That’s not to say we shouldn’t expect good things from the hand of God. We should.  But we shouldn’t try to dictate what those things will be. As I’ve learned, God has a vast storehouse of blessings for me that I’m not able to see—and it’s bigger and better than anything I could ever come up with.

Today my prayer is that I will faithfully do the task God has given me while letting God be God, trusting that he will reward me according to his promises and for the purpose of his glory. If you need to get re-centered on what really matters today, I recommend reading Psalm 119 in its entirety, as I did this morning.

Dear Lord, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Fulfill your promise to your servant, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 119: 36-38)

The Playground Kiss (A Rare, Funny Memory)

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Source: drpinna.com. Apparently, these days a little girl can get the police called for pulling a stunt like this!

What do you find when rooting around in your memory? And do you do this often, or only when together with family or friends?

As a memoir writer, it is my job to sift through memories, but sadly, that’s not always a fun task. On the other hand, when my husband’s family gets together to excavate their collective consciousness, there’s no end to the laughs.

I can only hope my family will get to that point someday, too, but for now, I take hope from a recent realization: Namely, my memory seems to have these gaps—huge gaps—from my childhood.

Anyway, we were at my nephew’s Kindergarten graduation recently, and that jogged my memory back to my own early elementary life. Sitting there pregnant, I started to have memories of me around that age, and I wondered if I really wanted my kid to go to school.

Because suddenly, I was remembering how I’d been scarred by school—specifically, my rejection by many of the girls in my class.

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Source: stopbullying.myupsite.com

“Honey, I don’t want our kid to go through that,” I worried to my hubby later that night, explaining how recess used to strike terror in me like class time never did.

“Oh, you’re just assuming it will be the same for our child as it was for you. But you’ve never been comfortable in social situations.”

“Oh really?” I prickled.

“I mean, you’ve gotten somewhat better…” he amended. “But that’s just your personality. Most kids like recess.”

Hmmm. I can’t sort this all out now, meaning I don’t know where our kid will go to school. But I went to bed disappointed that my most prominent memory from early elementary was that painful sting of rejection. I also realized I hadn’t spent much time writing or thinking about my early years, and I hoped doing so would turn up some forgotten gems—and some laughs, like my in-laws enjoy.

So, as I lay in bed, I kept rooting around in my memory. There must be something funny in there, somewhere. Then, I found it.

A Rare, Funny Memory

On that same playground where I remember so often standing on the outside of the circle, I also remembered becoming bold, empowered. I remembered first grade, or the only time I have ever openly pursued a man (well, in this case, a boy).

I don’t remember when it started, or why I thought it a good idea, but for a week or two that school year, before the teacher told me to stop, I became a man-hunter. I spotted a boy I wanted—let’s call him Aaron—and every day at recess I commenced chasing him…past the monkey bars, around the sandbox, under the swings…all in hot pursuit of a kiss.

Poor guy. He was terrified of me, and one day the race, or the stress, gave him a nosebleed. Kindly, that day I desisted.

But one day I finally caught him, cornered him, and bent over his cowering figure. I remember thinking, as I went in for the kill, that it didn’t feel as satisfying as I thought it would, kissing my victim. I suppose it’s that I would have liked the object of my affection to reciprocate, just a little.

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Anyway, later that day later in class, my teacher, an overweight Trunchbull type, called me out in front of everyone else—in her stern voice and with her lightning eyebrows, she told me to stop chasing Aaron. And I, now terrified, could only stutter, “Y-y-y-y-yes, Ma’am.” It was enough for me, the embarrassment of being publicly chastised.

Aaron didn’t talk to me for the rest of first grade. And then I switched schools for second grade, and when I came back to third grade, he’d also transferred schools. And I’ve never spoken to him since. I wonder how he remembers those moments? If he comes to my ten-year class reunion this summer, I just might ask him. (After I apologize for my appalling behavior, that is.)

In case you didn’t catch it, this story is funny because of my personality now. Docile and quiet, everyone says. What got into that little girl to become a playground terror for a time? Or should I really be asking: What went out of me after that day?

Ever after that, I was never bold enough to send so much as a signed note to a crush—not before he first showed interest in me. So a lot of my crushes—actually most of them—sprouted, withered, and died, all within the confines of my heart, with no one else to witness the damage. I learned to keep it in. Maybe I learned that openness about love was embarrassing?

Coda

girl at pool

There is a coda to my playground story that makes it even funnier, at least in an ironic sort of way.

The summer after first grade, I was swimming with my brother at the community pool, with lots of other elementary kids there. And unbeknownst to me, I was about to get my just deserts for attacking Aaron.

There was another boy in my class—let’s call him James—who had a crush on me, but I thought he was about the grossest boy on the planet. Before that day, I’d never paid him any attention, and may not have known his true feelings for me. He, too, was a quiet child. But after that day at the pool, I would know without a doubt. He, too, got the devil in him, at least for a day.

Suddenly, he started chasing me. Around the perimeter of the pool, in the shallow end, in the deep end, and back again. I couldn’t turn my back for a moment because there he’d be—that big nasty boy—and he wanted more than a kiss!

Though it seems like this went on for hours, it could’ve lasted only minutes. All I knew was I felt trapped, and desperate. I couldn’t get away from this boy, and no one would help me! All they did was laugh!

In the middle of the afternoon, he caught me in the shallow end, cornered me, and caved in on me. His arms and legs wrapped around me like tentacles, and slowly I felt my breath escaping, as if the life were being sucked out of me.

I was thrashing my arms and legs, trying desperately to escape my attacker—and then, suddenly, he released me, and swam away. And that was the end of that. We hardly ever spoke again.

What is the lesson to be learned here? I’ll leave that for you to decide—and comment on. My job was just to turn up a funny memory. Do you think I succeeded?

The Writing Life, Pregnancy Edition

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Photo Credit: AsToldByLisa.com

Seeing as how pregnancy has reduced my life to mainly eating and sleeping these days, my new writing strategy is to divert all remaining energy to my memoir (which means, sadly, fewer, shorter blog posts). Nothing like a taskmaster baby to put a deadline on your project!

Now that I have T minus seven months until D-Day (delivery!), I feel a new urgency to finish what I’ve started. But this is good. I know how demoralizing working on a never-ending book can be, because that process describes my last literary effort. I don’t want to drag out the current project indefinitely, because the feeling that it could go on forever is deadly to my motivation.

If I seem callous toward the new life growing inside me (because I don’t seem to be thinking much about it), please excuse me. It’s just that

  1. I have a hard time yet believing there’s really a baby in there, and
  2. I think I’m doing us all a favor—baby, hubby, and me—by getting this book out of my bones before baby comes.

Not everyone will understand that, but some of you will. I’ve had the dream of book-making for over fifteen years, but the dream of baby-making? Not more than a year. No kidding. The idea of a baby is a brand new concept to me, almost as new as the actual baby (embryo?) inside me. So I am slowly, let me stress slowly, getting used to it all.

Meanwhile, I am doing all I can manage per day–from 2 to 7 hours so far–to clear room for baby in my brain—by getting out all the ideas and emotions I’ve been trying to deliver for half my life. It’s an exciting, blessed time.

The one thing I can say with certainty about this baby-making thing is that it’s giving me less stress than have most other monumental events in my lifetime. You know…marriage, beginning a career, moving, starting up a ministry. What is the difference? To me, one is a spontaneous process, one that nature guides with or without my efforts (ahem, well, after the initial ball is rolling). But the other events all depended on my active, ongoing involvement to keep moving forward.

This baby? It’s growing whether or not I’m thinking about it, whether or not I’m working on a nursery (not even started), or whether or not I’m buying baby clothes (not even a stitch). I realize that once baby is here, he or she will require my undivided attention. Then it will really depend on me to keep it alive. Then my life will change dramatically. Obviously.

For now, though? I am enjoying God’s gifts to me—time to sit back and marvel at how His miracles don’t require any work on my part (there’s a peace in realizing that)—and time to work on creating my other (brain) child. What a blessed mom-to-be I am!

The Pregnant Post

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This is the picture we sent to our family members to break the news, but it took our seventeen-year-old niece to get it. Everyone else thought we were making a statement about what we were cooking that night!

I myself don’t like pregnant posts—which is why I won’t keep you in suspense. Yes. I am. A post about pregnancy is okay, as long as it doesn’t resort to clichés, so I’ll opt away from discussing the obvious facts of my developing condition.

I do like irony, so I’ll point out that just a few weeks ago when I posted I May Be Childless (At Least my House is Messy), I really wasn’t. But best of all, I love answered prayers, so I’ll give you these lines from my prayer journal on March 31st:

“I know I should be happy in whatever circumstance I’m in—but I guess I’d like to ask for a breakthrough of some sort: a pregnancy, a job, an acceptance letter. I feel like you work through breakthroughs, and events. You also work through hard times and drought. So any of the above could happen, or not.”

When I wrote that, I was just getting back from my Minnesota visit, and my mother-in-law had asked me if I was glad to be back, and I had lied and said yes.

Truth was, I wasn’t excited about coming back to a house that was empty most hours of the day.

I also wrote that I’d figured out why I was having such an aversion to doing housework lately: It was added “alone time” to my “already lone occupation of writing.” It used to be “alone time after people time.” Now it was “more alone time after alone time.”

At the end of that entry, I recorded that I’d gotten on my knees and heard God say, “You are worried and troubled about many things, but only one thing is needful.” So I decided to rededicate myself to the Lord, again (you’ll notice I have to do that a lot—like, daily), trusting that He’d work out the rest of the details.

Over the next few weeks, I recorded hearing God direct me to write…to write about some frustrations I’d been having in certain relationships…write to be an agent of change…use my swirling emotions as fuel…and I did…until I discovered I had a solid draft of that book I’ve been wanting to publish before thirty.

As to my hatred of housework, I heard God telling me I needed an attitude adjustment. He told me I needed to “plan to stay,” as in Jeremiah 23. I needed to trust that God had put me here, to nest, with or without children. Needed to get over my looking backwards to my past. If there wasn’t going to be children, I still needed to get my house ready…for friends and others we can minister to in our home.

Next to family time, the best memories I have in my home are those times when we held our small group Bible study and our Straight 2 the Heart prayer group. God reminded me that my ministry to others (and the growing of relationships) wasn’t done. I’d been blessed with a beautiful home, and no matter the status of our fertility, the house would be used, if I didn’t get in the way.

In a nutshell, God told me, “Write, and be at home. Get comfortable at home.”

That was also the period when He opened my eyes to see all the Friends in High Places I’ve had all along.

When I realized, on May 4, that I was guilty of the sin of ungratefulness (and a bad attitude), I prayed this verse I found in Micah 7:9—“I will be patient as the Lord punishes me, for I have sinned against Him. [My punishment, I felt, was extreme feelings of guilt and uncertainty that were literally upsetting my stomach—maybe it had something to do with pregnancy, too.] But after that He will take up my case and punish my enemies for all the evil they have done to me. The Lord will bring me out of my darkness into the light, and I will see His righteousness.”

I did write. I did get more comfortable at home during those weeks. I decided, “I can do this.” And then, when I wasn’t even looking for it, last week I got the unexpected news: “You’re pregnant.”

Yes, God works both through breakthroughs, and through wilderness experiences. And even though it’s easy to say when things are going well, I’d still like to quote the Apostle Paul to say this: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11). If you’re going through a dark situation today, remember it’s temporary—and the morning light may be just about to break!

Escapist Writing and the Fear of Failure

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Photo Credit: Lusi at rgbfreestockphotos.

You can have the tools, the talent, and the time—but if you have the fear of failure, you might also have a nasty habit called Escapist Writing. And this very habit may be causing you to fail.

In my home office I have a desk, a laptop, and a comfy office chair. More importantly, I have writing skills honed by two English degrees and thousands of pages of practice. I have a rough draft of a book manuscript I’ve been typing up for the last two weeks—which is to say I also have time.

But this week during my prayer times, I’ve also discovered I have a crippling fear of failure—which manifests itself in the type of non-productive, self-obsessed writing I did yesterday. Here’s a summary, to spare you from the entire writing session:

  • Since I’ve begun writing to my roots, I’ve so committed myself to honesty that, when I feel bummed, I write about it. Thus, I vomit out my blues in my journal, and sometimes on this blog.
  • In doing this good thing—being honest, which I think really is a good thing after you’ve been hiding for a long time—I realize I’ve sometimes trusted to emotionalism rather than gospel truth.
  • Worse yet, sometimes a flow of unbridled honesty curbs my thoughts in wrong ways. I’m talking about when I begin to believe negative thoughts like this:
  1. Wow, is this what’s really inside me? I must suck.
  2. Look how pathetic I am.
  3. How can I be an inspirational writer if I mostly write about my barriers?
  4. With such barriers, how can I even get on with my day?
  5. I can’t do this (meaning write for a living). I’m gonna fail.
  • My negative pattern of escapist writing is confirmed by the fact that I get a sort of pleasure in writing about these twisted thoughts.
  • By convincing myself that my mind is too complicated (maybe neurotic), or that I’m too sensitive, or too pathetic, I release myself from any obligation to be a fully functioning adult.
  • By giving free reign to my feelings in my writing, I avoid having to face reality, and I resist taking risks.
  • By writing about why I can’t write, I justify my failure. And I also cause it.

No doubt about it: Lately, I’ve been so honest with myself that I’m starting to not like what I see. And I’m starting to see that letting out all your insecurities is a great way to become more insecure. But maybe this is like re-breaking a broken bone so it can finally heal correctly.

Now that I’ve identified this insidious pattern of escapist writing that masquerades as my friend, I can

  • Stop taking my feelings so seriously.
  • Start rebuking them with God’s word.
  • Tell myself I am not defined by my feelings (and neither is my writing process).
  • Remember that God has appointed for me a work to do (Eph. 2:10), and He wants me to succeed.
  • Pray a prayer like this:

Lord, help me to stop wasting time by escaping from reality in self-condemning writing. Let me write about YOU and YOUR power—your “glorious, unlimited resources” to help me (Eph. 3:16, NLT). Let me not be defined by my fear of failure. And let me get on with the work you have for me each day as the writer, and the woman, you want me to be. Amen.