Why Writing a Book is Like Building a House

Hi friends~ you know I’m writing a book, yes? Oh, you didn’t? Well~

The practical and helpful volume-to-come is titled “Living the Season Well-Engaging Your Family in All of Christmas.” The heart of Living the Season Well is helping parents and grandparents find ways to slow down and simplify Christmas, embracing not just one single day of presents, but making room for God’s presence. In LTSW I share from my own Evangelical perspective what I’ve learned about church year traditions and observances, providing ways for families to adopt or adapt the ideas. My own experience of becoming acquainted with liturgy of the church year has helped re-focus my approach to the season of Christmas–that is the message I have to share.

I began my book-writing process a few days after Christmas last year and am looking to launch in October of this year.

Besides having a book that is ‘under construction’, we have a window project that began last year right after Thanksgiving, which is also in process. In fact, we have ladders placed as a permanent fixture in front of our house, waiting for the day when my husband can get back up and finish the installation of new siding. In the meantime I’m grateful for the cover of our birch trees that are filling in with their leaves, hiding a view of our construction zone from the street.20170515_124619

We have had another project under construction for five years–the roof on our back deck. But life keeps getting in the way, in challenging in cheerful ways. All of this got me to thinking about the process of writing a book and how it might compare to building a house. I’m not a contractor, but I think the comparison fits.

A few months back I wrote about Seven Things I’ve Learned About Writing a Book. Here are seven more discoveries–how writing a book is (sort of)like building a house:

Step 1–PLANS–the blueprint

First there is an idea, a revelation, if you will.

You draw (or write it) down–penscratching on a napkin back or use pencil scribbles in a web of words

The message is refined. You’re ready to begin.

Step 2–FOUNDATION–the bedrock 

Are you sure there’s a need for this book?

Research, gather facts, be willing to learn

Lay the groundwork in your mind of what you’re going to ‘build’

Step 3–FRAMING (2×4’s providing structure)

This is the skeleton, a place to hang your words

Write an outline, use bullet points,

Number headings and a. b.c…..; use the whole alphabet if needed

Step 4–BUILDING (the walls, sheetrock, plumbing, electrical)

Write, write, write.

Write some more. Pound that keyboard, use that eraser.

Flesh out the picture you have in your head

Step 5–APPLIANCES/FIXTURES (the finishing touches)

Revise, revise, revise.

That’s all. Things are looking much prettier.

See all that shiny-ness? (think stainless steel)

Step 6-FINISH (painting, decorating)

Choose a book cover

Write the Acknowledgments

Send your words to a designer

Hold your breath and pray

Step 7-HERE’S THE KEYS! (your house is ready)

Introduce your book to the world and invite people to come and see what you saw.

Take lots of pictures of your book warming party

Thank the crew who helped you with the project

(and buy new pencils; you never know when another idea may strike!)

*~*~*~

Will you join me on my writing journey? I’m gathering a book launch tribe of 75 folks and would love to have your help, especially if  you’re on social media often. The book campaign begins August 15th. Email me at jodyo70(at)gmail dot com if you’d like to take part and I’ll send you the schedule and more info. I’d be ever so grateful. (Or leave a note here in the Comments).

Thank you!

 

 

 

How to Live Hungry

I was going to subtitle this, “Will Jesus Still Love me if I Don’t Have ‘Quiet Time?” ‘cause I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately.  Don’t get me wrong—I’ve studied Psalm 119—I know God’s word is the compass for my life, that I can’t live without it.

But sometimes life goes in a different direction.

I remember the days when I was able to sit outside on my deck for an hour at a stretch, maybe three times a week, and just listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speak. I wrote and wrote and wrote what I heard in those whispers on the wind to me.

I recall sweet moments at my desk reading Scripture or perusing a favorite devotional—Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, Charles Spurgeon. The words seemed to light up the page, resonating deep in my spirit.  Time after time there would be an ‘aha’ moment when I sensed God’s presence and His pleasure as I sat to soak myself in the Word.

But I wonder about those folks like myself who find themselves in a season where quiet time is pretty much non-existent. I’m writing a book, shepherding a small group of like-minded writer folks, editing for others and caring for my kids via phone calls and texts that come all hours of the day. I need to be interruptable for that; I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, what about this question—is there really a divide between sacred and secular? A time that is not God’s (if we belong to Him)? Is He more pleased with me because I take time for studying the word or reading a devotion? Or is He okay (because He knows this season of my life) if I lean into Him when I can, stay hungry for His presence in all the hours of my day?

My son has a new job in a Frito-Lay warehouse (yay for all-you-can-eat Doritos) and he works 60 hour weeks these days. Even on a regular day (i.e. 8 hours) his moments of alone time or quiet time vanish as he communicates with his wife or nurtures his five children. His thirst is there for God’s word—he has a seminary degree, steeped in Scripture inside and out–but the chances to drink are few and far between.

Or what about my niece’s husband, new dad of two, who works nights, sleeps days and hugs his wife and babies in between? Where or how would he, could he, find moments to spend with Jesus? Would it be before or after worship practice, where he plays drums and/or guitar?

Or what about the baristas at Starbuck’s who get up at oh dark thirty to make sure our coffee-fueled world goes on? There are plenty of Jesus-loving espresso-making folks out there—how do they manage to fit in time with God?

And is God worried about that? Really?

Here’s what Oswald himself had to say about “quiet time”; May 12th ‘My Utmost for His Highest.’

“Your god may be your little Christian habit— the habit of prayer or Bible reading at certain times of your day. Watch how your Father will upset your schedule if you begin to worship your habit instead of what the habit symbolizes. We say, “I can’t do that right now; this is my time alone with God.” No, this is your time alone with your habit. There is a quality that is still lacking in you. Identify your shortcoming and then look for opportunities to work into your life that missing quality.

Love means that there are no visible habits— that your habits are so immersed in the Lord that you practice them without realizing it. If you are consciously aware of your own holiness, you place limitations on yourself from doing certain things— things God is not restricting you from at all. This means there is a missing quality that needs to be added to your life. The only supernatural life is the life the Lord Jesus lived, and He was at home with God anywhere. Is there someplace where you are not at home with God? Then allow God to work through whatever that particular circumstance may be until you increase in Him, adding His qualities. Your life will then become the simple life of a child.”

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Shaping the River Into Words

“My heart bursts its banks, spilling beauty and goodness.  

I pour it out in a poem to the king, shaping the river into words:”

Psalm 45:1, The Message

~*~*~*~*~*

Some people are artists who process their world through paint and pen, fabric, clay, paper. Thoughts become images or design, an expression of what’s inside or what inspires. Others are musicians, turning their experience or expression into lyrics and orchestration, poetry put to harmony and melody.

My experiences and ideas pour out in words providing a way to rein in my random, swirling thoughts.  Perhaps the swirling is because I am currently seated on the couch surrounded by other voices–poets and writers whose work inspires and informs my life. I am seeking for a way to borrow some of their expressions to describe my own because sometimes I’m not sure what I think or feel until I read it in the lines of another writer’s words.

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God gave me the Psalm 45 verse above many, many years ago when He confirmed my calling as a writer. I didn’t want to own it for many years, but I can trace the path of God’s hand on my life as a witness that this is so; I am beginning to live into that calling more each day.

~*~*~*

Psalm 34

I cannot tell a story more profound/than stars, a single blade of grass/a lilac breasted roller/painted by Your hand/all designed in perfection/for your pleasure

I ponder bones, flesh, blood/coursing through vessel highways/mechanics beyond human ability/eyes of sea green/topaz/aquamarine, variety for beauty’s sake/and glory shines.

-Karin Fendick, “Ashes to Glory”

~*~*~*~*

Life has been very ‘big’ lately; a new baby joined our family on Sunday night, a grandson turned 11 the same day (and he forgave me for wishing him a “happy 10th birthday” on his birthday card.) A dear friend is experiencing the gray days of loss as she mourns her father’s death and deals with her mother’s grief. My daughter is carrying her own kind of grief and seeking healing for the loss of yet another baby who has gone to Heaven, her fourth.

cropped-56a1f-dsci0354.jpgJune threatens to burst its banks with color and birdsong, skies the color of a robin’s egg and late evening views that put the most sparkling orange jewels to shame.  Sometimes it’s all too much to rein in, as if my senses can’t quite grasp the sights, colors and sounds. I need a better vocabulary to speak of what I see.

Perhaps you can relate.

Scripture tells us the skies have speech without a sound. Silent stars, magnificent, rolling clouds, cobalt blue sunrises. flaming orange sunsets shout with their own words, “there is a Creator.” After God made the world by His word He sent Jesus to become the living Word. John 1 says that Jesus ‘dwelt among us.’ How is that possible? How can the Word dwell among us, live with us or in us? I believe one way He does that is through what we say, speak, and write. Our words have power to bring peace to someone, to provide joy or comfort and create a way for someone to say, “that’s exactly the way I feel.”

“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”    -Anais Nin

I’m living in a more cautious place these days as I reckon with the power of that gift to open a window for others to see God in a different way or provide a vessel to carry their own expressions when life gets too big.

My heart bursts its banks as I pour out my words to the King who has entrusted me with this one voice I have. My prayer is I will carry it well.

 

May, March and April in Books #ReadUpstream

In keeping with the inauguration of the #ReadUpstream movement, I’m going to speak a little about what I’ve been reading and maybe entice you to do your own reading ‘upstream’; i.e. choosing classics and good books that speak to your heart, even if no one else is reading them. More about the origin of #ReadUpstream is here.

~*~*~*~*

When it comes to those things that bring me joy, I’m not sure whether I fancy birds or books more. Perhaps equally. I have books with ‘birds’ in the title melding those two—a love of reading and a fascination with my avian friends. There is much I learn from both—life lessons from the birds, echoing God’s message of carefree, trust-filled living and lessons in the lines of the many books that populate my home.

I often am reading many books at one time, which is why the title of this post is “March, April and May in Books.” There are many books that continue to engage me, but I will attempt to whittle down the list to include some of my current favorites.

  1. Fierce Convictions—The Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, Karen Swallow Prior

I first learned the name of Hannah More in the film ‘Amazing Grace’ (2006) about William Wilberforce and his campaign against the slave trade. There was a small part played by a feisty young woman named Hannah, whose name I catalogued for later. The later arrived with the release in 2014 of this book by Karen Swallow Prior, Professor of English at Liberty University.

Hannah More’s life was set in the backdrop of Bristol, England in the early 1700’s, a historical period that was the height of the slave trade in Europe. I’ve only just begun reading how Hannah and her sisters started a school for women, an outright novelty for the day and age, as well as learning of the unheard of practice for her to spend time–imagine this–writing in a place of her own-mostly poetry. This particular privilege was made possible by the allowance of kind benefactor who was a previous suitor.

Hannah and I have much in common—a love of writing and reading and a background in education. Of course, the part we don’t share is an experience in opposing the slave trade. That tale is ahead of me in this book and I look forward to reading it.

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Home-A Poem in Three Parts

Beginning

Years and miles evaporate

like the morning’s ocean fog where

the strong, bright gleam of

friendship holds true.

Holds true like trees that have

weathered decades of sun as we

weathered our own wearying

waves of life, lapping at the edge

of our friendship, threatening

to erode the years of tears

and laughter, the breaking

in between.

In between we hold on, reach

out past the yesterdays touching this

day as we raise high our glasses,

crystal etching the air, the sound

like a chime announcing

we are still here.

Middle

I threw myself at roaring rolls

of foam and froth, abandoned

my limbs skyward as I jumped

the tops of broken, bowing

breakers, exploded in laughter,

surprised after all these years that

I still know how to dive when needed,

that my body remembers the bounce

and bob of moving water and most

of all, recalls the healing taste of salt,

the wondrous sky-blaze balm

that is the sun.

End

The melodious midnight insistence

of cricket backdrops my sleep.

I drift into memories of summer

nights when this accompaniment

was the only sound, a lullaby

for my youthful self; I rest

with a song.

-c. Jody Lee Collins 2017

 ~~~~~

I recently returned from a 5 day visit to Southern California, the land where I grew up. I spent my days and evenings with family and friends, enjoying the rich, singular experience of a place that is buried deep in my bones. My mind was flooded with memories when I came home and, as usual, poured out into words. (‘Beginning’ first appeared on this blog in September, 2016).

 

 

Five Tips to Grow Your Reach & Your Readers {on blogging}

For those of you who have been reading my words about faith and life for the last few years, the following piece might not be, how shall we say, riveting? The focus of what I share below is mainly directed to other writers and bloggers~

At the beginning of the year, God gave me the word ‘Adjust.’ Boy, has it been an apt descriptor of 2017 (and it’s only May!) Part of that adjusting has been to refine the purpose of my blog–I recently changed the tagline to read, “Encouraging Readers to Find their Voice & Deepen their Faith”. (For those subscribers reading via email, you’ll have to click on over to my blog to see it. I’ll wait.)

My passion IS encouraging other writers to find their voice. Over the 5 years I’ve been blogging, although I’ve no great numbers of followers as the blogsphere goes (I almost typed ‘glogosphere’), what I do have is rich relationships with once invisible friends. And, as a blessing and a bonus, the reach of my words has grown little by little.

Like every other good thing grows–little by little.

Blogging for me has always been about people, not platforms. The apostle Paul’s admonition is to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  That’s where I want to spend my efforts.

So–here are 5 tips on how to grow the reach of your words and your readers:

  1. Talk like yourself–No one else has your voice, your vision or your view.  (click on the ‘Categories’ tab above to find other posts On Voice). We don’t need any copies or clones, we need YOU–your experience in life is the lens that shows us what you see–and we want to see it, too.
  2. Cast a wide net--submit work in multiple places. Here is a list of four places to start with. Scatter joy, as the saying goes, and see where it lands. For a random writer like myself, this is a good approach. If you’re more linear and like deadlines and sequence, still, looking at other places to submit your work is a good idea. One of my new favorite sites for moms is Kindred Mom, facilitated by Emily Allen.
  3. Comment on the blogs you follow–(I only follow a handful of people whose voices add to my life–you need to decide who those people are for you.) Over time, writers notice who’s showing up each week to weigh in and leave comments and connections are formed. Connections often lead to relationships and readers come through relationships.
  4. Participate in Link-ups to meet other writers/bloggers. Weekly ones that I like are Faith on Fire–Lyli Dunbar’s blog and ‘Faith-Filled Friday’ at Missional Women. (Links are below). The guest host/blogger has a particular day that everyone gets to post their week’s work and you can usually add your piece during the week. The protocol is to visit the ‘neighbor’ on either side of your link and leave an encouraging word. These writers will often return the favor, reading your work and commenting. When I began blogging 5 years ago I met many, many people this way, some of whom are actual, real life friends. Comments come through connections.
  5. Engage on social media–Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. I originally thought Twitter had less than redemptive qualities, but changed my mind after going to a panel at a Writer’s Conference where the process was de-mystified for me. The beauty of Twitter is that conversations are 140 characters (not words) long–quick, quick, quick. Once you choose who (m?) to follow (VERY important) it’s like being at a child’s birthday party or high school reunion, with conversations going on 24/7 and you drop in at any time. Instagram is the quieter, gentler version of Facebook and people are vewy, vewy quiet….but it’s a beautiful place to meet people and enjoy some remarkable photography. (Instagram only works on phones and tablets, not computers, by the way.) If you’re not sure how it’s set up, find a teenager.  Once you have an account, you will be able to also search for people to follow, who may in turn decide to follow you. Facebook is well, Facebook, and if you can manage the time you’re on there–a constant battle–it has a tremendous upside to it. The upside for me is the virtual connections that come via conversations which open the door to being able to speak into peoples’ lives–much like real life.

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Nouns-Some Thoughts on People, Places & Things

“…you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink

but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone

but on tablets of human hearts.”     II Corinthians 3:3

Last week I traveled to Southern California, the land where I grew up and lived until I married.  Five days of returning and rejuvenating was definitely good for my soul. Although I often visit there each summer to see my sisters—usually in August–this was my first trip in the month of May. (There are some definite perks to being a retired teacher). I knew the area had seen more rain than ever this year so I was looking forward to green hillsides, rich tropical flowers and blooms of the jacaranda trees.

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I was especially looking forward to eating fresh California strawberries.

As soon as I hopped into my rental car I headed down the freeway to one of the last remaining strawberry farms in the So Cal beach area. The bright colors of fresh produce were a balm to my eyes, if there is such a thing, and the aroma of fresh strawberries jogged a place deep in my memory.20170501_121438

After selecting three baskets of ruby red fruit, one of the farm’s owners and I chatted about changes we’ve seen in the last twenty-five years. The near disappearance of strawberry fields which dotted varying plots of land throughout Orange County, including several acres across the street from Disneyland. Also gone were hundreds of acres of orange orchards; the fragrant smell of orange blossoms on the evening breeze a thing of the past. No more open spaces, just tracts and tracts of homes on the hillsides, crowded beaches and ten-lane (!!) freeways. Yes, the land of my birth had changed drastically.

I was surprised to see signs between the airport and the ocean announcing “Tourist Information Ahead.” The place where our humble (poor) family lived all my growing up years was now a tourist destination. I wondered if there were maps for the movies stars’ houses (or maybe mine?)

Anticipating sunshine, warm temperatures and blue skies, I happily settled in after arriving at my sister’s house. My brother and sister-in-law also joined us for the week ahead. One great joy I had during the week was going out two different mornings to watch my brother the surfing pastor paddle out and ride the waves. (He caught two!) There may not have been any orange blossom fragrance wafting on the breeze, but with my back to the crowds and my eyes on the sea, I was at home; the sand at my feet and ocean view the same as I remembered.

Water and waves still form and crest as they always had. Shorebirds chased back and forth, rocks rolled towards my feet in the drenched sand. The water, waves, birds and shore were unchanged.

~*~*~*

The culmination of our visit was a ‘goodbye house’ party, thrown by my sister on the occasion of her upcoming move. My siblings and I, along with our spouses and children, have twenty nine years of memories in that house–hours in the pool, movie nights together, backyard barbecues. Baby showers, weddings, birthdays–years of special gatherings. Because my siblings are all close in age and went to the same schools, we also shared many of the same friends, some of whom were invited that night.

Life is weird in high school, to say the least. But it’s funny when you’re older how cliques and cool cars and the right clothes pale in comparison to true friendship. My sister had stayed close to a small of circle of classmates whom my brother and I also knew; most of us had been friends for (cough) fifty years. My heart overflowed with gratefulness as folks sat around the living room, desperately trying to follow varying conversations. The decibel level rose and fell, people were sharing photos on phones, telling old stories, laughing at “rememberwhens?”

As I stopped to listen, I realized most of the people in the room–all of the people in the room–had been there for my sister during devastating, difficult times, including a cancer diagnosis and the loss of a child. These were true friends, a rare treasure.

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~*~*~*~*

I thought about how orange trees form and grow only to be torn down, strawberry fields are ripped out, paved over open land becomes freeways….but what remains? Is there anything we can recognize, count on, remember by?

I’m mixing images here—waves and water and friends that anchor us—but I couldn’t help thinking about the Israelites setting up stone markers as monuments to God’s faithfulness over the years. Every time there was a deliverance or God intervened, the people were told to gather stones and pile them in place to remember.  Decades would pass, places would change and grow, populations would impact the landscape but one thing that remained were the markers of the goodness of God.

Sometimes people are those markers. When the land you’re born in is unrecognizable or you feel adrift, friendships that last through thick and thin, good times and bad are like the waves and water—constant, true, powerful when you need them.

No matter where I live or what it looks like, the friends who’ve stayed in place remind me of not only who God is, but who I am and where I am in the world.

Those friends are letters written not in stone, but etched deep in my heart.

 

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