Why I Write

zEdges cover with awardOn discouraging days you calculate the time it took you to write a book, divide that by the amount of money you made on it, and moan about writing being the poorest paying job on the planet. You wonder why you put yourself through all the work and ups and downs of writing for publication. Yet something deep within you wants to start planning the next book. Why? You are a writer.

To be fair, writers are not the only ones who feel this passion to create. Quilters search for patterns, dig through fabrics, plan, dream, measure, cut, sew, quilt. Few of them would make minimum wage for hours spent. Classic car guys seldom restore old cars purely for the money it earns them. Athletes, musicians, gardeners, and cooks strive for excellence rather than dollars.

I feel this when I write, yet as a Christian writer there is something more. I feel it when:

  • a 9-year-old girl says, “I read your book ten times. It taught me what I should be like when I moved to a mission field with my parents.”
  • a new reader finds my book and says, “Your book deeply touched my heart and life. There are so many parallels between my life and your novel.”
  • a missionary says, “I’m using your ESL Bible studies and one of my students just got saved.”
  • I don’t hear from readers, but know that God has led me to write and “my labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58)

Writing books is a risky business. It doesn’t come with guarantees. I look to the Lord to lead me from project to project, do my best to write and promote, and leave the results with him. Most often I don’t see how God may be using my writing, but once in a while I catch a glimpse that God is using my writing in more ways than I can see. This is one of those weeks.

If you’ve been following me at all you know that the Lord led me, a few years ago, to write Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story. Mary was a godly Christian woman from Marshalltown, Iowa who was providing childcare for an 11-month old baby when the baby quit breathing. Though Mary administered CPR and called 9-1-1, within a day the child died. Before long Mary was charged with first-degree murder. Some of the doctors were convinced that Mary had shaken and slammed the baby because of certain injuries that cause medical experts to diagnose shaken baby syndrome.

Editors and agents wouldn’t touch this story because they felt it happened too long ago and Mary wasn’t a celebrity. But Mary, her lawyer Steve Brennecke and I felt the Lord leading us ahead. We published this book in November of 2013. This story has moved my own heart as I wrote it and others have told how it has challenged their faith. Mary has spoken at quite a few events since then, some of them with secular audiences, to show how God worked in her story.

We wrote this story to give God the glory for the amazing things he did in Mary and Steve’s life, but we also wanted to shine the light on an American legal problem that continues today. Medical experts are using controversial interpretations of medical findings to accuse or convict innocent people of child abuse or murder. Each year hundreds to thousands of parents or caretakers are accused, and sometimes convicted, of child abuse because of unproven medical theories. This kind of evidence sent Mary Weaver to prison. Later she was completely exonerated, but we want our book to spotlight the problem.

In the last few months, two total strangers wrote to say their sons had been accused of abuse in similar situations.

This week we see a bit of progress. A coalition of accused families has launched a petition to be presented to Congress asking for an objective evaluation of today’s medical guidelines for diagnosing child abuse. This is a beginning of challenging mistaken medical assumptions that has endangered innocent families for decades. Mary, her story, and our book is one small part of that effort.

That’s why I write.

See the book trailer here.

If you would like to know more about this petition, check out these sites:

The petition itself: http://tinyurl.com/InnocentFamilyPetition

A companion website: https://protectinginnocentfamilies.wordpress.com/

List of example cases: https://protectinginnocentfamilies.wordpress.com/cases/

 

 

 

 

Finding Time to Pursue your Passion

writing resourcesLet’s say you have a passionate interest you want to pursue, but can’t find the time to do it. Maybe it’s more than just a fun hobby. Maybe it’s a ministry that you feel the Lord is leading you into.

For me it was writing. I believed God wanted me to do this, but I had to find time to do it along with being a mother and missionary wife. How do you find the time to pursue your passion?

These things help me to prioritize my time and decide which ministries to take part in.

Make the time.

Lee Roddy says, “We tend to do what is most important to us and make excuses for the rest.” If you feel the Lord leading you into a ministry, but don’t have the spare time to pursue it, this may be where you need to start.

I realized that most regularly published authors don’t find spare time lying around and use it to write. They look at their schedule and responsibilities and carve out time to write.

Thirty years ago I wanted to write for Christian publication. I felt God wanted this too. I had an article accepted in 1978 and three more in 1979. Then in 1980 my husband and I took our 10-month old daughter to Taiwan. We spent two years in full-time language school. During that time our second daughter was born. Those days I truly had no time to write. I did have three articles accepted in 1982, but I wrote very little during those days. But the clock was ticking and I knew my time would come.

In 1985 my daughter started kindergarten in a nearby city. Every day I drove her to school, dropped her off, then went to a nearby storefront church. I pulled out my typewriter (no computer yet) and spent the morning writing. That gave me five mornings a week. I wrote articles and short stories specifically targeted toward a particular take-home paper market. That school year I had 15 articles accepted for publication.

That year I got a good solid start in writing for Christian publication. After that I usually tried to write one article or story a month. Some years we travelled on furlough back in the States and I had almost no time to write. But as we got back into our schedule each time I carved out some specific time period to write. Now that my girls are married and away from home I still have many ministry obligations, but this season of life brings me more freedom to arrange my schedule and work on writing.

Focus.

Sometimes I run into people who really want to write for publication. I talk to them about getting started and they show a lot of interest. Later I run into them and they never quite got around to writing something specifically aimed at any particular publisher.  What is the problem? They really do want to write. They also want to quilt, scrapbook, homeschool, join an aerobics class, skydive, kayak, and raise wild turkeys. (Something like that anyway.)

Focus. If you are trying to do too many things at once you probably won’t get far with any one thing. What are you willing to give up to focus on your new pursuit?

Get Creative.

You may have to multi-task. You may find you can think about your new endeavor while you cook dinner, wait in the doctor’s office, or clean house. You may have to work after the kids are in bed or during your lunch hour.

I often think about my story while I fix dinner. (Now you know why I sometimes find things in odd places in my kitchen.) I work out plot problems while I take a walk. If you want to pursue this new activity badly enough, you will find time somewhere.

Three Questions

Years ago I heard writer Pat King speak at a conference on finding time to write. With small children at home she had to be creative. She suggested three questions to ask yourself before you take on a new responsibility. These questions have helped me through the years when I have to figure out what to put into my schedule and what to leave out.

1. What is it that only I can do?

Some things I need to do because no one else can do them. Only I can be a wife to my husband and a mother to my children. Some jobs in our ministry I need to do because no one else knows how to do them or is in a position to do them or will do them.  If a job is important and no one else can do it, I may need to.

 2. What is it that someone else needs to be doing?

I can play the piano, but if I play at all the services while other pianists don’t play, I keep them from having an opportunity to play. If I teach all the classes, others will not learn to teach. I may need to step back and allow others to serve so they can develop new skills. Some jobs I could do, but if I don’t, someone else can step into that job. That may be a good thing.

3. What is it that no one needs to be doing at all?

In churches and other organizations we often keep adding new programs without taking old ones away. At some point we may need to analyze activities and drop them from the schedule entirely.

If you are looking at your own busy schedule and trying to figure what to leave out, these three questions may help you.

Becoming a Mentor

apprenticeI am rich. I grew up in a Christian home with two parents who loved each other. They taught me about God and hashed out spiritual issues with me. God led me to a husband who had been raised in a similar way. We raised two daughters. When it came to parenting, we naturally knew what to do about many things, because we had watched our own parents.

Of course. That’s normal and natural. But what about people who grow up without the advantage of Christian parents or godly examples? When they become Christians, they may struggle with issues that rich people like me find easy.

About twenty five years ago some men in one church realized their need for spiritual mentors. They came from unsaved backgrounds and struggled to meet many of life’s difficulties. So they asked some older men in their church to mentor them. They wanted to be Christian husbands and fathers, but didn’t have role models to help them. Sadly, the men who were more mature in the faith turned down this great opportunity. They decided that no one had helped them, so they would let these younger men figure things out for themselves.

Many parents could greatly benefit from a Christian mentor who would help them understand what good parenting involves. Should I spank or not? What do I do when time-outs don’t work? Do I have a right to tell my children what to do? What if my child doesn’t want to go to church?

I am rich in other ways. My husband and I have served on two different mission fields. We studied different languages and cultures up close and personal. We experienced victories and defeats and moved past them. We learned about missions first hand and by talking to fellow missionaries. We don’t know all the answers, but at least we know many of the questions. God didn’t allow us to learn all this just for ourselves. He expects us to share what we’ve learned.

Missionary apprenticeship programs have given us opportunities to mentor a number of young people considering missions for their future. Church ministry allows us to draw from our experiences to help families in crisis.  We share Scripture and our perspective and help people see things from a different angle. I want to use this blog to share ideas about ministry as well.

I am rich in ideas. God has given me the kind of mind that sees a problem and immediately dreams of ways to fix it.  The need for programs and stories and crafts creates all kinds of ideas in my mind. Sometimes I can hardly switch the ideas off. When I see people who struggle to think of ideas I know I am rich.

Ideas are crucial for a writer, but I probably wouldn’t be writing for publication today without the help of a couple of mentors who showed me the first steps.

Mr. Clarence Townsend, my English teacher at Faith Baptist Bible College taught me how to submit my first manuscript to Regular Baptist Press. Gladys Doonan encouraged me too. Thirty-five years later I continue to write articles, programs, and books for Christian publication. But without Mr Townsend and the late Mrs. Doonan I probably wouldn’t be writing for publication today.

In recent years I have sensed that the Lord wants me to do more to mentor conservative Christian writers into writing for Christian publication. I am a full-time missionary and I work actively at freelance writing. I can’t personally critique many articles and explain what needs to be changed, but I can point to resources to get you started. I offer many writing articles that will help you write for publication. Once a month I write a blog especially for writers. If you have a writing question, you are welcome to leave it in the comment box so that I can address it in upcoming blogs.

This year I plan to chronicle my path to self-publication of a true story which I hope to launch in September 2013. In that way I hope to use my experience to help beginning writers.

God doesn’t provide us with life experiences to grasp selfishly, learning from them but refusing to share the knowledge. What unique experiences has God given you? Will you share what you’ve learned from them? Or will you be like the men in the beginning of this article who felt too intimidated to open themselves to the scrutiny of others?

Mentoring can sound scary. “Who am I to tell someone else how to live?” you ask. “I don’t have all the answers. What if I steer them the wrong direction? If they search my life too closely they’ll see my faults. These young guys are so computer savvy they make me feel like a dinosaur.”

In the New Testament we get a glimpse of Timothy, a young and timid pastor. Perhaps a false form of humility prevented him from displaying his abilities. But Paul urged him not to neglect the gift that was in him or hesitate because of his youth. Paul encouraged him to be an example to others in every way, to mentor the people under him.

Mentoring doesn’t set you up as a perfect authority figure who straightens everyone out. It doesn’t mean you know all the answers or that you don’t make mistakes. It just means you are willing to share your experiences and perspective with others in a transparent relationship.

Ask the Lord to lead you to people who you can help. Then wait for Him to work through you in new and exciting ways.

Coming next week: 5 Ways to Mentor

Why Would Anyone Want to Write?

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write something worth reading or do things worth the writing.”

Ben Franklin said this is the 1700′s. This quote challenges me. When I am dead and looking down from heaven, probably few will remember my name past my family and a few friends. But I long to do something that will leave a lasting influence. Writing can actually live on after the author’s life is over.

My biggest fear in life is living in a way that doesn’t matter much. I want my life to count for Christ. I hope I can encourage people through my writing for many years to come.

Why do you write?

 

Writing takes time, mental effort, emotional energy, and continual work to improve the craft. Why would anyone bother developing skill in an area that paid so poorly and carried such a high risk of rejection?

 

Some write to become rich and famous. A select few actually reach that goal. But most would get rich faster by flipping burgers for takeout.  Even quite successful writers may publish many books and still find that few people remember their name.

 

Some write for the sheer joy of expressing themselves. One thing is clear. If you hate to write, you probably won’t last long in the writing business. But if you have that burning desire to write that just won’t go away, keep reading.

 

Many people want to become published authors. They may read a few writing books and attend a few conferences. But some fizzle when they discover the learning curve to the process and the discipline required to publish regularly. Few will succeed until they have answered this question well: Why do I want to write?

 

I can’t answer that question for you, but I can tell you why I write.

 

First let me start with Amy. When she was six years old her family prepared to go to Taiwan as missionaries. Amy wondered what it would be like to live in Taiwan and prayed that God would help her to make friends in Taiwan.  When she got on the plane to fly to Taiwan for the first time, her family presented her with my book Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World. Here was a fictional girl named Amy Kramer who also went to Taiwan with her missionary family. The real Amy read my book over and over. It helped her know what to expect in Taiwan. She read my book about twelve times in her first term in Taiwan. Then she and her mom wrote me to thank me for writing the book. I get the sense that my book helped her respond to her new life in a positive way.

 

That’s why I write.

 

OK. That was unusual. Amy “just happened” to be placed in a situation that bore a striking resemblance to my book. But the principal is true on a smaller scale. In 1990 I published a filler with only 125 words in a Sunday School take-home paper. I received $6 for it. The paper was given to adults in about 15,000 churches. Most probably skimmed through my article and threw it away with no further thought. But two people wrote me. The short article on gossip had challenged them. One posted the article on her desk to help her to remember to be careful about her words.

 

A short article sometimes changes more lives than a long book. Decide why you want to write, what your goals are. Then you can figure out how to get there.

 

Where do I begin?

 

You need more than strong desire to reach an audience with your words. When I started writing for publication 35 years ago, you had to convince an editor to publish your work before it ever reached a reader. Today any writer can publish his own blog, even print his own book and offer it for sale. Writers have greater opportunities than ever before, but they also have to work harder to build an audience.

 

Most writers would rather write than learn how to navigate social media and promote their writing. I hate new technology as much as anyone, but at age 57 I’m scared to death to quit learning. Writers who refuse to learn these new skills will severely limit their opportunities and effectiveness and I’m way too young to rot on the sidelines.

 

Don’t be tempted by shortcuts. Good writing takes time and energy to develop. Without an audience, the best writing sputters a very short way. Opportunities to learn these skills abound on the internet. Expect it to take work. Count the cost. Then if you still want to write,

move forward.

 

Next month I’ll give some resources that tell you where to begin. Can’t wait? Read my articles that give writing tips. If your questions still aren’t answered, leave a comment here and I’ll try to point you toward a resource.

 

 

Christmas Opportunities for Christian Writers

Pop a CD in the player, tape a Christmas card to your computer, and get ready to write for Christmas. The holiday may be four months away, but you are almost too late for some Christmas writing projects. Much of the meaning of Christmas is communicated in well-crafted words. A Christmas program, for example starts with words and ideas. Once those are chosen, directors and performers are chosen, decorations and props are prepared, songs and parts are rehearsed, festive refreshments are prepared, invitations are given out, and nervous kids in bathrobes wait in the wings. The final performance demands effort from a host of people, but it all starts with the words. Writers have to work ahead of everyone else’s schedule.

At Christmastime church leaders are reaching out for resources which they can find quickly to meet their seasonal needs. Many churches don’t have time to think of creative new ways to honor Christ or reach out at Christmas. They just need to fill the usual slots with something. The Lord may want you, as a writer, to produce something to fill the usual slots or even create new ones to help your church this Christmas.

How can I meet a need in my church?

It starts with needs, not my feelings. What does my church need and how can I fill that need? I may have a great Christmas idea, but it may not be a good fit for my church.  A servant’s attitude will help me craft my idea to fit needs, rather than just writing what I feel like.

What could you write that your church could use this Christmas? Here is a list of things to consider:

  • a poem for the church bulletin
  • a meditation for the Christmas Eve service
  • a puppet script for Children’s church
  • a skit for the Christmas party
  • a blog for the church website
  • a song for a special number
  • a tract to give with care packages or while Christmas carolling
  • a program for the Sunday School kids

How can I meet needs beyond my church?

Writing a Christmas article allows you to extend your reach beyond your local church. Most magazines, take home papers, even e-zines and electronic publications need seasonal articles. Here again the writer starts with needs. Search for publications that publish the kinds of things you like to write and that use freelance articles. What do they need that you can fill?
If you are serious about writing for publication, you need to begin by identifying markets. Here are two of my articles that may help you. http://debbrammer.com/writers-circle/writing-articles/getting-started-in-publication-1/ and http://debbrammer.com/writers-circle/writing-articles/writing-an-article/ Don’t forget that most publishers want seasonal articles six months to a year before the holiday. You can write the article now, but submit it at the time listed on the writers’ guidelines.

You may also find that you can extend the use of items you have written for your own church. Many years I have written a program to meet the needs of our mission church.  Several of these programs I have been able to sell to a publisher later on because the programs also fit their needs. Others I offer free from my website.  If you can’t find a publisher who will pay for your puppet script you could submit it to an online website that offers their scripts free.  You may be able to use your poem in your family Christmas letter or offer your meditation to other churches in your area. If you have your own blog or website you can offer your pieces there.

Always save your work. You may be able to re-use it in the future. Whether you get paid for your work or offer it free, you can rejoice knowing that the Lord can use your writing in a meaningful way.