Tag Archives: Christian writers group

Why All It Takes Is 5 Minutes

It may come as a shock, but I’m easily distractible.

It’s not something I’m proud of. Especially knowing how much my work depends on writers showing up and keeping up despite the battering hurricane of demands and requests that fly in through every open window.

It can grow dark quickly underneath the pile of debris atop the little flame of a writer’s voice.

To be seen and heard is always a fight.

Yet maybe being seen and heard doesn’t have to be the goal. Maybe sharing what’s been given you that day in the 5 minutes you have to share it, the flame will shine a little more, and the light will reach out into the dark it’s intended to reach.

Burn, little guy. Burn.
Burn, little guy. Burn.

I know from painful experience how selfish and pointless it can seem to spend much time in a private place that brings you and only you such joy. Especially if so many people depend on you. The responsibility and duty of “real life” can sap the love and light right from you and leave you dark and cold.

But if God’s love for us burns white hot, wouldn’t he want us to forget all else but the true “real life?”

That’s the premise of the novel I’ve been writing over 10 years about a young man who sells his soul for a chance to change his past. It’s been growing in me and growing with me for ages, waiting as I figured out what to do with it and how to write it. It’s grown and shaped me unlike any book ever has, and it’s still not done. But I’m going ahead and opening up about my process now because I can’t wait to share some of the jaw-dropping lessons it’s taught me as I’ve strived to show up between school, raising 2 kids and full-time editing books for publishers.

Jaw-dropping, I tell you!
Jaw-dropping, I tell you!

Some days it’s felt so pointless. But 5 minutes a day adds up. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to write a book this way. And maybe it isn’t–no one said it was good–but for years now, I’ve gotten up and for 5 minutes (which sometimes turned to 10 and 15), I’ve forgotten everything else and reveled in my dream world. It’s changed me, and it’s continuing to as I pull the disparate pieces together and learn to slowly fight back against the crush of too-great demands and urgent life, giving it the best I have, which often isn’t enough, but it doesn’t matter.

God is in it.

Unlike anything else, my book has shown God’s love to me. And I know it’s true because it’s been simple even when it could have and should have been mind-numbingly complex. In the end, I’ve believed the premise, that he wants me to forget everything else but that knowledge of his love. And in 5 minutes a day, I’ve found writing a book can teach you plenty about that.

Every day, I’m hopeful for what it’ll reveal next. If you know what I mean, give me a witness….

For the Higher Purpose,


What If All We Need Is 5 Minutes?

This is an experiment for a class I’m teaching Feb 1: The inaugural 30-Day YWG Story Course at Facebook. Since I’m teaching it, I figured I’d try a taste of my own medicine…

Just 5 minutes together, uninterrupted, in succession.

It seems like a luxury. A luxury I shouldn’t crave and yearn for like homemade lemonade in the desert.

I have the lemons…

This kid gets it.
This kid gets it.

Lemon 1: Work. It’s all-consuming. Just to keep up with the bare minimum takes all I’ve got most days. And that’s not a complaint because I love what I do and if it wasn’t hard, I know I’d get bored. But it’s a lemon.

Lemon 2: Writing. The demand to give myself entirely to it, to escape into the ether with the fantasy I didn’t choose but was chosen by, it speaks and sometimes shouts, to the point where keeping my mind on the task of editing becomes herculean.

Lemon 3: Writer’s group. I manage and moderate a writer’s group site and struggle to keep up with the work load. It, like all the other lemons, is fun and among the most rewarding things I’ve ever been a part of. But, it’s demanding.

How many lemons does it take? Can someone tell me? Anyone...?
How many lemons does it take? Can someone tell me? Anyone…?

I’m not even going to list the other lemons. Because honestly, as it is, there’s a lot more than 3.

We all have a lot more lemons than we really want.

I was talking with a friend recently about this challenge of accepting everything that comes at us, much of it tough and pock-marked and sour-smelling. Naturally, being the spiritual paragons that we are, we gripe and resist and want to crow off the deck about how unfair and how we deserve and why can’t life send flowers?

Typical marmot.
Typical marmot.

And really the problem is time. Time to do it all. Time to spend 5 minutes uninterrupted, in succession on just one thing.

So to combat the continual theft of my time and sanity, I propose every day to write for at least 5 minutes on a topic that pleases me. Yesterday, it was “When All You Have Is 5 Minutes” and how that’s how life is, so you take it and find out it’s enough, because like with most things it turns you don’t really know anything.

I suspect I’m not the only one who doesn’t always use the 5 minutes he has to write because he thinks 5 minutes is a lemon…

The point is: who cares? So it’s a lemon. It’s not what we’d choose. But everyone gets lemons and life is about using the lemons you have. It’s about starting on the lemonade and serving as many people as you possibly can.

And that requires getting on the path and staying there for 5 blessed, uninterrupted minutes in succession.

And then doing it again tomorrow. Even when you don’t want to.

So have some lemonade. I whipped it up in 5 minutes from what I had available. Hope you like it. Can’t wait to taste yours.

What lemons are you currently scowling at?

The Power of Critique

So critique groups. Good or bad?

It's like asking if publishing is good or if a book is good. Of course the answer's yes and no. Like everything else. It always depends on the people in them.

And just like everything else, what you get out of them is largely dependent on what you bring to them. Know someone who didn't like The Shack? Maybe their theology caused them to bring something different to it than someone without that filter. The same people are now angry at Rob Bell for Love Wins even though it's nothing Don Miller didn't say before, a little differently, maybe less pointedly in Blue Like Jazz.

But after I experienced disillusionment as a 19-year-old kid, I wondered if disappointment with God is a universal, that necessary moment when your eyes open and your innocence falls away and you know that God is not always going to save you from the worst attrocities life may bring. Everyone gets to learn this eventually. Even believers and the faithful. Life happens. And the point is to recognize that even still, God is always good.

So I believe it's a "writer fundamental" that what I'm able to bring to my writing is largely dependent on my willingness to accept that life will bring pain. And this is not bad, not to be fought off, but embraced as the gift it is. Fear of pain is instinctual, elemental–those who deny it, deny the very thrust of existence. But facing the fear of that pain, peacefully but forcefully, is at least one essential benefit a good critique group can offer.

This week, I'm working with one of my favorite future authors who's writing a genre western romance (what? That's not strange–one of my favorite books is Redeeming Love. Okay, maybe it's strange). I've encouraged her to trust her abilities, to let herself feel the fear of failure and to courageously believe in her inevitable success anyway. At the OCCWF conference a couple weeks ago, author Simon Tolkien claimed that a big part of his grandfather's success was because he had spent years studying language–words, their meanings and origins–and this allowed him to know how his characters spoke and how that defined them. 

I'd argue that this is what every author has to do–study words, learn, and respect that training. And a good critique group encourages a healthy respect for the symbols of words, their meanings, listening for where your "translation" is inaccurate or not revelatory enough.

Does this involve fear? Yes. But can you face it with courage?

Some authors discredit critiques, which is understandable. It's nearly impossible to find a good group that understands what critiques are and consistently applies their full attention and effort to it. It's often hopelessly idealistic to believe you can find an honest, dedicated, knowledgable group of writers who can regularly meet to thoroughly discuss your work. Especially within 30 miles of you.

Maybe they don't have to be within 30 miles.

A professional editor knows how to fix the things that need fixing. And a good critique group can point those things out. Where it's slow, redundant, and even not fully developed yet, a critiquer who's well-read, knows you, and appreciates the process of writing (through having done it themselves and having read the best books on craft) is worth a fortune. Professional agents are good readers as well, though until you've risen in stature a bit, you won't likely be told what isn't working. You need someone you can trust, who gets both what you're trying to do and what you need to do to pull it off and get peple talking. This could cost you a bit out of pocket. But that's why I started YWG and it's proving that just like a great book, what's truly valuable doesn't have to cost what it's really worth. Is it worth it to you? I don't know. It's not perfect and there's work involved. But I do think it's worth it to check it out–there's no charge to read the critiques.

Pro authors know early feedback is the best "promotional" money you can spend. But what can't a good critique do? It can't replace the need for a copy editor who will look for grammar mistakes, misspellings, wrong words, weak constructions, inconsistent elements like Suzy being 9 on page 4 and 12 on page 37. Critique groups shouldn't waste time on the minor things until the big things have been addressed. So authors, do not skip this step or you will suffer the consequences. If you're a good student of language, you'll save money when it comes time to hire a copyeditor. 

But just like the earlier stages, this one can be painful. It's hard to give up the pieces of ourselves that are holding us back. We fight for our ignorance and call it personality, style, artistic license. Most often, it's plain prideful stupidity. Sure, readers will accept your incomplete sentences. Even love them. But respect the refinement process. It's not just making your book better, it's making you better as well. And that's the big point.

The artist who demands he has nothing to learn soon finds he has nothing to say.

A powerful critique group is about growth, a shared journey of trust, fear, empathy, hope, and faith. It's powerful because it's built on relationships over rules, on embracing acceptance and peace amidst the striving for what's better. I have been in a few of them in my lifetime, and I can promise you the people you learn to write with will remain lifelong friends.

It's about being your vulnerable, wart-covered self and finding it accepted and improved. And as a bonus, you get to discover the true meaning of gratitude.

One of my critique partners, Rob Stennett has a book releasing today called Homemade Haunting. (I know. I'm a lucky dude.) Rob is a one-of-a-kind genius with character comedy and this time he mixed it into a thriller and asked "If evil is real, what happens when someone doesn't have the only true weapon against it?" If you think it was easy to blend comedy with such a serious subject, you're dreaming. But Rob figured it out and critiques played a hand in that. I'm sure he'd be happy to tell you if you asked. Anyway, get the book (it's only $10), read it and ask yourself how many people it really takes to finish a great book.

Does Your Writers Group Provide These 3 Essentials Every Writer Needs?

Welcome back, everyone. Hope you had a fabulous Easter.

Being a book editor is such a strange job. It has enormous up sides: not requiring me to, say, buy a lot of expensive equipment or be out in extreme elements. I don't have to dig through anything too revolting. At least not physically. But still, it has its challenges.

Chief among those is the fact that everyone I meet wants to publish. And this varies in intensity, often marked by dilated pupils and shortness of breath when I mention what I do, who I've worked for, authors I've helped. In most settings, I try not to mention it because chances are if the person has thought about writing at any point in their life, a little bell labeled "My-Golden-Ticket-to-Published-Author" goes off in their heads. And its particular frequency has a way of pushing the conversation past the more important matters like writing, editing, networking, etc.

Even the best writers need a lot of help ignoring this pesky bell. Especially if they spend any time online.

But once in a while I meet someone who wants to be an editor and I always get excited because I've always wanted to help more authors than I have time for. It's no easy thing sometimes to help authors say what they mean, prove we're worth listening to and that they're not, in fact, full card-carrying citizens of crazyland.

My advice to future editors is this: 3 things. Creating great books (and authors) always starts with the same 3 things, and they all derive from the question, Will this book absolutely force people to share it?

The big challenge with being an editor is that you get to be the one to ask how exactly it will do that. It's a difficult question for authors to accept, let alone answer. But if you can get them to face the question, the rest isn't all that hard. Help an author keep answering that question through every stage of the book process, and eventually what they'll get is an exceptional book.

Will this writing compel sharing? Does this edit improve the chances of sharing? Is this a brand that fills a desperate need or want? And is there someone who would be naturally inclined to enjoy it?

And while good editors can provide help in at least two of the three essential categories, a good writers group can help in all three:

1. Motivation.

The first essential element in birthing a book that can change lives is a heart that's fully engaged. Writers who are most productive need daily encouragement and inspiration to continue the hard work of showing up, sticking with it, and continually developing the vision. This is a critical step that's missing in most of the courses I've seen. Each week, I want to send you a new motivational message to inspire you to write what matters most.

2. Education.

Writers need to engage in every step of the book process as though it's the most important step there is. From writing to editing to branding, networking and publishing, the reason a book doesn't sell is a breakdown in one of those areas. And unless authors have a strong understanding of their story and their essential difference, the book won't rise as well as it might have. First, authors need to know how to write words that work better than the rest, and like any creative endeavor, this takes training and practice over time. Each step should build on the last, with solid guidance in editing, building a brand, networking, and choosing best publishing options.

3. Connection.

The final element that's sorely missing for writers today is connection to a larger, engaged community. The trick with books is getting critical feedback on your best efforts at each step to ensure you're on the mark. And when it comes time to release your message, the best way is organically–by letting people put it to use. You don't sell great books, they sell themselves because they're so remarkable. They solve huge problems and inspire people to change. If I was a fancy marketer, I'd call this the Authentic Approach Advantage or something, but it's basically what happens naturally  when you stay focused on helping people all along the way through your own development.

To encourage authors to finish well and excel my new plan is to focus on an online writers group. I'll still help authors individually, but much of it will be through the website. For those who signed up over Easter weekend, I'm grateful for your trust, and I'd like to extend the $10-first-week offer for your entire first month. Anyone else who would like to check it out, your first month will be $10 as well. Who knows, if it gets going well, I may extend that price indefinitely.

I'm learning how to run a website as I go, but I'm still just an editor and my goals for these three categories haven't changed. So if you want to see if YWG can help you produce an exceptional book, I encourage you to come by and see the different kind of community we've just gotten going.

Thanks for reading–I'm always open to any ideas you have for making it better. See you over there!




Why Absolutely Everything Is about the Story

I had this thought yesterday:

Everyone who lives with barriers to belief who has made a conscious negative response about faith has fully misjudged God.

The realization of that stopped me. Somehow I knew it was a glimpse of God’s perspective and his true love for those he misses. And so I stopped and considered it. And no more than a moment later, a fuller picture emerged. And it shocked me:

With unbelievers, there is no other category.

No other category! To know him for who he truly is always = loving him. And that love changes anyone who encounters it. But anyone who has trouble believing or loving, it is  misunderstanding that's to blame. And it's this misunderstanding that's constantly used as our excuse, evidence that he doesn’t exist or isn’t what we want or need. The lack of evidence about God becomes our weapon to use against him.

Can you see the problem?

So what's the solution? Reconnecting. God wants to reconnect. And any writer working to write a true spiritual story has the greatest advantage: story! The method God himself has used to share this vitally relevant truth.

I'd like to humbly propose that reconnecting the disconnected is the grand story of all humanity. It's what it's all about. This is why everything is about story because we're all a part of it, his story of coming and reconnecting. Story is all about the one who overcomes unbeatable odds to achieve what seemed impossible. And it's happening every day, all around us if only we could see it.

Do you ever think about that? Maybe if there was time you would. But I'm wondering if there's time to think of anything but this.

This story thing is so powerful when you think of it as the way God's created us to reconnect. And because it's his, absolutely everything is a part of it, what he created, his world, the lives he spoke into being, the narrative he placed us in. We all want to read his words and know how he reveals himself and reconnects with us. Every true spiritual story is one more piece of the larger unfolding story of reconnection, as infinite as the universe, more evidence that one day it will all be reconnected. Can your story reconnect others with him, show him for who he is? How many need to read it to be reconnected and add their line in the bigger story. And how many of these stories can we find?

Authors of faith, you are royal daughters and sons of the great Reconnector. See your tool clearly. You must tell the story. Provide the escape. End the misunderstanding. Deliver the inspiration.

Crush the lack of evidence.

Open the eyes.

Write for one.