The Relevancy of your Faith

The Relevancy of your Faith

disappointments

Note: This post was originally posted in December of 2013, but I felt impressed to repost. Feel free to share!

I’ve watched one or two of those reality shows that gather some of the brightest and gifted minds in the entertainment industry for a game of show; those who have fallen by fame’s wayside for one reason or another and are now attempting to make their second or third resurgence via reality TV. (The genre is a forgiving haven for those cast from the spotlight.) We are always asking, whatever happened to…

After a few painful episodes of this show and that one, I came to this realization: mere talent is not the main variable to success. Being the smartest or most gifted person in the room is become less and less a deciding indication of your escalation to fame. Do such things give you an advantage? Yes, sometimes. But often they are the greatest hindrance.

Those people that believe they are particularly bright, gifted or beautiful or have some kind of peculiar and intriguing talent usually rest in that very talent. They rely on it like an eagle does its wings. And when it fails, the fear settles in as they flutter around seeking Plan B. And no I’m not seething with jealousy or any kind of envy. I am just an observer.

Most of us have to confess our fears and insecurities upfront before we experience any kind of success. Our fears are daunting and undeniable and have to be dealt with head on. For that group of exceptional they can hide it for years behind the glossy beauty of talent and gifts. This is not to say that the rest of do not possess some kind of gift. I believe we all do. But for the majority no one hears us flawlessly playing Beethoven’s Fifth at six years of age, most of us aren’t 6’2 at 12, dunking shots off of grown men. No, for most of us we have to seek and find that place where we fit.  We have to work hard and face so much failure we threaten to quit every day.

It is here that our faith becomes the most relevant factor. It becomes the single most undeniable force; this is the fulcrum for our success. It is the Plan B for the most talented but necessary for us all.

Consider this: more than 300,000 books are published in the U.S. each year; and that is not including e-books. To sit for days, weeks, months and sometimes years at a keyboard with the sincere hope and belief that within that haystack someone besides our parents, siblings and spouse will find us takes some kind of faith. There will be many times where this feeling of ridiculousness will overwhelm you and you will question the validity of your project. And you will press through. Writer’s block will leave you stumped and confused. And you will not give up. Sometimes, you will count time vested as time wasted. You will blow this off.

And when the work is done, they will tell you that the real work hasn’t even begun. You’ve got to market that baby, they will say. You will sigh and roll your eyes and huff. Then you will get to work. You will read; how to publish a book in 30 days; 21 ways to double your Twitter followers in a week; Five thousand Fabulous Facebook Followers. A tiny voice will whisper that it is all gibberish and worthless. And you will initially be convinced to believe it (some of it will be), but quickly realize that doing nothing will result in eminent death of your project. And then your faith will push you, prod and demand from you.

And finally when you have done all that you can do your faith will compel you to release the reins. It is then you will see it clearer. Your marketing will make sense. Those who are needful to you will become more apparent. And most importantly, your faith has moved the hand of God. And He my friend is the most relevant factor of all.

Man in the Arena

Man in the Arena

Just a little inspiration for a Tuesday….

 

roosevelt_quote

 

 

Don’t worry about the ones who question your reason for doing what you do. Go at it with all you’ve got.

1muhammad ali

Painting of Muhammad Ali by JaBrion Graham

The world needs to hear what you have to say.

 

SPEAK

 

Your Novel’s Characters are Real People

Your Novel’s Characters are Real People

I love having conversations with people who have lived exciting lives; they’ve leapt from waterfalls with an 80-foot drop, fought Texas Longhorns and lived in the Sahara. Ok, I don’t personally know any of those kinds of people. But I do know those who, are in unconventional living situations, overcame fierce personal battles and are living their dreams. It is always interesting to talk with them.

funny bullfighting

 

But honestly what I love more are those conversations with ordinary people, on ordinary subjects. You know, they are unpretentious, unassuming souls living their lives in simple fashion. It is from these people that I’ve learned the subtleties, the idiosyncrasies that make people who they are. For the most part it has been these folks who have taken precedence in my work. Their mannerisms are not calculated or contrived; they are simply being themselves. If you can capture the essence of this group in your writing you can create clear, vivid pictures of any character you develop. In these people lay the core of who we all are—even those waterfall jumping, bull-fighting folk.

Compare it to an artist who draws a straight illustration (like the kind a developing artist would create) and contrast it to one who shadows and shades to catch the nuances of attitude and demeanor. It is this capturing of character that is crucial our work. It means that we allow people to… be and to express themselves as we watch, listen and take note. It allows us to move away from the cookie-cutter characters based on some T.V. show or some cliché. If you want to know what a dumb blonde is really like, watch one. Listen to what they say. You may find yourself observing a dumb brunette or someone who isn’t dumb at all, but just perceived as such. O.K., you’re writing about Laura’s rapper boyfriend Ty. Well, insist on meeting one (or someone like him). You might discover that when he opens his mouth and speaks that he is not the empty-headed, one-dimensional thug you originally thought him to be but is indeed quite intelligent, maybe even a Yale graduate? Capture the rapid blinking of the eyes when someone is nervous, the way she continuously clicks her nails together or picks at a pimple on her face.

 

Jay's self image 2

Capture the totality of the characters. Write about their scent–too much perfume, the scent of perspiration mingled with fading cologne. Write about how she never gives a full toothy smile as she is hiding some disfigured or bad teeth. Talk about her thinning hair and how she keeps it in a bun but hints of her scalp peek through the thin strands like the moon light through thread-bare curtains.

Am I the only one who looks at people and find myself writing a full-fledge description of their appearance and mannerisms (It’s fun and a little annoying when you can turn it off.)?  Remember unless you are writing about aliens or vampires your characters are real people. And even vampires are real people—sort of.

jays self image1

Do a personalized sketch of your protagonist. What makes him tick? Why is he always angry? Is it because his mother was verbally abusive? Is this why his anger is mostly geared towards women? Tell us about his mother. What was she like? Was she slow moving? Were her words spat sarcastically? Was she condescending? Describe the specifics that make her stand out—or not, for that matter. Show us the relationship between mother and son. Describe how his palms would become sweaty when she entered the room and how he could never raise his eyes to her. Build your character block by block. It doesn’t have to be described in one long expository paragraph (please don’t) Take your time. Interweave it into the story. Have fun with it. And most of all make us believe it!

Is a novel outline only for wimps?

Outline or not to outline has been a preverbal dilemma for ages. Well, perhaps not for ages, but for a very long time. Even experienced writers have their preferences; some swear by it. It is said that John Irving, takes at least a year to outline his novels before he even starts to write the story. Kimberla Lawson-Roby outlines but only after she is well into the writing. Stephen King wings it—the story’s vision in his head.  He believes outlining makes the story feel artificial. Although it is indeed a personal preference, I will attempt to explain the pros and cons of both.

Outlining obviously allows you to organize your thoughts. You can plainly see where you are going. If the plot is veering off a cliff, you’d at least like to know early on. Half way through the novel you don’t have to wonder if John died of Parkinson’s or cancer; if you thoroughly organize you will know. Organizing allows you to see the progression of the story. Depending on how detailed the outline is you can see if your progression is at an even pace. Is it moving too fast? Is it completely stagnant for three or four chapters? Often in our head we get caught up in the writing. We like the sound of our thoughts, the elegant, lofty word choices. In our mind it all sounds so nice. But with an outline you can see if every one of those 20 scenes in one chapter is actually moving the story along. Remember, when writing, every word should be purposeful, deliberate and not just a way to flex our literary muscles. Save that for your personal journal.Wile-P-Coyote

With my second novel, Thursday’s Child, which I am currently editing, I purchased banner paper, hung it on a wall and outlined the entire book that way. It allowed me to see different scenes and jump from chapter to chapter in a glance. Many times I looked at one scene and literally switch it with another to make the story move a little more smoothly. It was easier to see what did and didn’t work and the places where conflict was building or where scenes were falling flat.

The outline itself is work, which, I believe is one of the reasons that many authors shy away from creating one. It takes planning and thought, brainstorming and correction. But to have a tangible plan takes at least that aspect out of the work beforehand and lets you concentrate on writing the story, delving into the creative part of the process which is what most of us enjoy the most anyway.  An outline is like having a map for your trip so that you can see the route you are taking and make adjustments before you write it out. It can definitely save on the rewriting.

When I wrote my first novel I did not outline—initially. I allowed the winds of inspiration to take me where they willed. After the first draft, I pulled out index cards and commence to doing a chapter by chapter outline, because the story was getting away from me. This is especially helpful if you have several sub-plots.

Winging it. There’s an entire patch of purist who would not dream of tampering with inspiration by confining their masterpiece to an outline. The vision for the work is in their head. And I get it. There is a certain rush you get from simply going at it, allowing the characters and story to take on a life of their own.  Not know if Weston should die or be kept alive, allowing the story to dictate his outcome. Writers who attempt this should do so because they feel that their writing would seem less authentic if confined to an outline and not because they’re too lazy to take the time to create a plan.

Writing without an outline takes extreme focus and drive because when you get to those moments where you run out of story and are saying, now what you have to push past it until you know what.focus2

Whatever your preference you don’t have to be totally committed to doing it one way. An outline doesn’t have to be scene by scene or even chapter by chapter. It can be a simple, lose guide that gives you broad direction and room to create. And you can always outline all or just some of it. Remember; you can switch up, even if you are half way through your writing. I won’t tell if you won’t.

 

Should Authors Work for Free?

A while ago I planned a book launch affair. It was to be a Wine and Words event and along with a sampling of various wines each attendee would get a copy of my novel, In Three Days, all for one price. Now I know we as authors don’t typically charge for book signings, but this was different. It was to be held at a lovely café and did I mention free wine? The tickets weren’t exactly zapped up at record speed and eventually the event was cancelled.

Recently I got an offer to speak at a luncheon for an exclusive country club in my area. They wanted me to come and talk about my book and experience as a local author. On the invite the PR person asked about my fee. I was absolutely thrilled. Here I was hosting fancy wine events (or almost) and now I was being asked to speak at this opulent club and I’d been an author for all of several months. And they were going to pay meeeee!!

I immediately began doing research on typical fees for authors both new and established. I found rates which I thought were ridiculously inflated and then constantly reminded myself that hey, I’m worth it. I did some more research and found that some authors didn’t charge anything (ha…ha…I’m doing the Snoopy laugh) I finally settle on a “going rate.” After all, he did ask me.

Funny thing, immediately after I submitted my fee I felt this twinge that I should have waited. I never heard back from the guy again.

I can construct a million different reasons to explain these setbacks.  I could go on and on as to why folks weren’t waiting in line for my tickets. And I can find a million more to justify the silence on the other end of the email to the PR guy.  But later, I received some wise counsel (amazing how you always get that after you need it) and remembered some information I’d received from some other established writers with which you may or may not agree. It is as follows:

Most signings of any kind are free. And even if it is an event, such as a book launch where you simply want your friends to come and celebrate, guess what? The wine and cheese are on you. Purchasing your book should be optional. They come to celebrate with you, not pay for you.

Speaking engagements are often free. What?! Yep. I know. Now no one would expect J.K. Rowling or John Grisham to speak too often for free. But most of us do not possess the status and brand of Rowling and Grisham. When people mention our name people will most likely ask “who?” But those guys? Not so much. In the beginning we may do a lot of stuff for free. But really, it is never free. I am a strong believer in the law of reciprocity, or the law of sowing and reaping. Simply put, what goes around comes around. Also, the exposure we gain is priceless. And proving ourselves to what will eventually be our audience is essential. People only tend to invest in the new when the risk is low. Those things that negate risk include: recommendations by others, little or no cost or effort and the likelihood that they will enjoy what is being offered based on preferences.

Free opportunities often breed paid opportunities. Every time you are in front of an audience you are gaining exposure–that, you cannot beat. And as one author/speaker pointed out, as you speak or present your audience may include the answer to your next gig and possibly a paying gig as it did for the author who lent this advice.

The bottom line is that free may be free. But sometimes it is not. And if that statement was confusing just remember that you have to invest before others invest in you.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you.