What I Learned at Mount Hermon


Or, an attempt to encapsulate infinite amounts of wisdom in less than 800 words.

My Accommodations
My Accommodations

Mc Nair Wilson, our keynote speaker, inspired us as creative people to:

  • Be yourself. What do you do best? Who are you, really?
  • Take risks. Just start something. Everyone fails. You have before, you will again. Don’t fear it.
  • Challenge assumptions. God expects us to live in more abundance.
  • Stay Curious. Do what people think can’t be done. God’s name is I AM and He is holding you.
  • See differently. Write a story no one has written before. Do. You.
  • Be confident. God’s on your side.
  • Tell the why. Pay more attention to life.
  • Remember that Jesus showed us humor, humility and humanity.

About editors and agents.

Practice talking about your manuscript. Agents and editors expect you to be nervous so don’t fear them. Know your story well. Be prepared to answer their inquiries and be willing to ask them questions too. If an agent or editor has to tell you no, it isn’t personal, it’s about the right editor at the right publishing house at the right time. Don’t give up!

About the craft of writing.

The Scenery
The Scenery

The four D’s:

  • Desire sets our protagonist on a particular path that pulls the reader through the book.
  • Distancing happens with each conflict that knocks her off the path.
  • Denial is the point when it seems that our character will never attain her desire.
  • Devastation goes beyond denial, pushing our character back to the beginning.

A boring or confusing story is actually a symptom of a writer not having a concrete desire with high stakes for each of his main characters. We can approach our story with this simple formula:

   Protagonist wants (action words – verb) so that (specific result or outcome).

For me, it’s actually much harder than it seems. Being specific propels the character through the story, but that same specificity feels elusive to pin down. I’m still working on it.

  • Use restraint and control with our words. (Rein ‘em in boys!)

Our sentence structure needs to keep the tension taut like a rubber band during our story. Too many words weigh our story down and alleviate the tension. We may lose our reader. Make it easy for our reader to remain engaged. Anything that stops the action (or forward momentum) is a reason for our reader to stop reading.

  • Use sentence rhythm.  (Who knew?)

Our sentence rhythm needs to match the beat of the action in the scene. The sentences should reflect what is going on in our character. High action or nervous tension?  Use short sentences. Complex sentences make the reader wait to get to the action. Don’t make your reader wait. There is a fine line between suspense that engages the reader and frustrating our reader by not giving enough detail. Each sentence should answer a question and raise another one.

  • Show, don’t tell. (We’ve heard this before, right?)

We want our reader to feel the scene not just read about it. Use all five senses and chose your words and their placement for the greatest impact. Split up descriptions and place them strategically to show without stopping the action. Add emotion by showing it in the dialogue and action of the characters without explaining or naming it.

And finally, about characters.

One of Many Bloomers
One of Many Bloomers

Point of View

Pretend there is a camera attached to the side of your POV character’s head. He can’t see himself (don’t cheat with a mirror), only what he would be looking at or thinking. Limit your point of view changes to new scenes. You personalize your characters by the way they perceive a setting or scene.

Dialogue

Knowing your characters intimately will help you create real dialogue that shows who they are without tags. Try taking out all the speaker attributes and see if you can tell who is speaking. Use action wherever possible and only add in “he/she said” when necessary to avoid confusion. Long, uninterrupted speeches aren’t natural. (Okay, maybe only for me …just ask my husband). Keep it short.

One parting note…

My mentoring group teacher, Brandilyn Collins pointed out to us that when we evaluate our own writing, we judge it based upon the same level of craftsmanship with which we wrote it. Therefore, find a more experienced critique partner (or professional editor) to help you discover the deeper issues you may be missing in your writing.

Phew. I made it. Only 760 words.  And that was only the first day. (Just kidding)DSC_0052

Any tips you’d like to share with the group?

Do I Take Responsibility for Others?


Last week we talked about our compulsion to step in and take responsibility for others. We do this out of an unhealthy feeling that something bad will happen if we don’t. Most likely, we developed this sense from living in unsafe situations, especially as children. As we identify these patterns, God can free us from those places where we feel stuck.

What happens to others when I take over?158

We may not realize the severity of the patterns we’re choosing; we may feel sorry for another person; we may feel an unrealistic burden of guilt or we may be afraid that their actions will hurt us. Whatever the reason, even if they all apply, the outcome is not good for either us or them.

When people are relieved of consequences, their hearts grow hard, and they feel entitled.

God uses consequences to help us. No one likes to deal with tough consequences, but the reality is that laws exist. A cause has an effect. We don’t ignore natural laws, like gravity. No one would consider jumping off a ten story building without expecting to die. The law of gravity makes us fully aware of the result of that choice and keeps us from making it! In the same way, God’s laws help turn us around so we can know good instead of harm.

Why then do people expect there to be no consequences for choices they make?

Shunning responsibility, many count it the teacher’s fault for a bad grade; the police officer’s fault for a speeding ticket; the bartender’s fault for a drunken car crash; or the spouse’s fault for their partner’s affair. As long as people avoid responsibility, and we alleviate the consequences of their actions, we get in the way of the good God wants to bring to them.

We are indeed amateurs, coming in and actually preventing God’s will and saying ‘This person should not have to experience this difficulty’    Oswald Chambers

Perhaps we’ve learned from living in an abusive situation to minimize adverse conditions.

Maybe we believe (erroneously as I did) that if we are truly being loving toward someone, we should ignore their hurtful behavior.

If you are the kid we talked about last week, who’s been hurt by a parent’s actions you probably dismissed their actions because your innocent heart could not make sense of someone you loved and depended on hurting you. The very contradiction of that reality and what a child knows in their heart is too much to comprehend. But, those patterns follow us into adulthood whether we realize it or not.

That same child who transfers guilt to themselves rather than those parents may grow up subconsciously believing that everything is their fault and shoulder the responsibility.

It seems ridiculous that we could live with the belief that another shouldn’t be allowed to endure pain or hardship of any kind, but without realizing it, because of deeply ingrained misconceptions, we attempt to fix situations, bear the weight of their consequences and feel guilty if they suffer.

Unfortunately, when we live this way, we can allow people to become dependent on us instead of God. Their reliance on us as a buffer can keep them from turning to God for direction or in trouble. In addition, they may avoid making choices or think they are immune to consequences for bad choices. Fear of their consequences landing on us will keep us running to bail them out which in turn denies them from experiencing the loving discipline of the Lord.

In the end, we benefit ourselves and others if we can learn to confront them, gently speaking the truth in love whenever we feel that little nudge from the Lord telling us that something is not right. Determining what is our responsibility as God leads us and leaving others to live experiencing a greater depth of life will make us refreshed and free just as God intends.

Have you found yourself trying to fix or feeling responsible for others?

Stuck in Abusive Relationship?


Isn’t it my job to fix this?

Point Lobos, CA
Point Lobos, CA

One of the things that can keep us stuck in abusive or broken (not functioning well) situations is our feeling responsible for other people’s actions. This has been a huge area of struggle for me, and something I’m still working to understand so I can act differently.

Sometimes I feel compelled to take on the responsibility of others. I find myself unable to say no and driven  to jump into situations I have no place dealing with.  The urgency began as a little girl feeling sorry for and responsible for parents who seemed for various reasons to need me to be.

Children depend on parents to make their world a safe, secure, loving place. If that is not happening, it is the nature of a child to question themselves rather than the adults in their lives. A common response is “What did I do to make Mom so angry?” or “If I was a better kid, Dad wouldn’t have hurt me or left us.” Or an alcoholic parent leaves their child to care for themselves and the intoxicated parent. In these cases, children take on a burden that wasn’t intended for them.

I felt guilty over anything uncomfortable that occurred in their life. Now, all I know is a sense of dread comes over me when I’m faced with the choice of stepping into a situation that really is not mine to handle. Certainly, something awful will happen if I don’t take charge, right?

The truth is, harmful things happen if I do take over.

When I take responsibility for others:

  • It piles more on me than God intends for me to handle. I become exhausted and unable to fully give myself to my own responsibilities.
  • It doesn’t allow for the privilege and blessing meant for them.
  • It burdens me with guilt, shame, and/or resentment over the situation.
  • My unhealthy responsibility for their well-being takes the place of a healthy compassion for others.
  • They don’t experience consequences for their actions that can help them grow.
  • It enables them to continue in negative patterns of living.
  • I am acting in place of God in their lives.

Learning to handle only what we are responsible for helps us and others.

Recently, a friend and I were discussing this situation in our lives. We agreed that the compulsion we experience is not healthy or helpful because of how it forces us into situations that leave us feeling stuck rather than free to exhibit the God-given compassion we want to have instead. We recognize the difference and are praying for God to free us. Identifying those situations is the first step. Then we can be aware of how we slip into old patterns. The next time we’re faced with that feeling of dread, we can ask ourselves:

  • Is this piling more on me than God intends for me to handle? Am I becoming exhausted and unable to fully give myself to my own responsibilities?
  • Is it disallowing a privilege and blessing meant for someone else?
  • Do I feel burdened with guilt, shame, and/or resentment over the situation?
  • Is this my unhealthy responsibility for their well-being or healthy compassion for them?
  • Am I keeping someone from experiencing consequences for their actions that can help them grow?
  • Am I enabling them to continue in negative patterns of living?
  • Am I acting in place of God in their lives?

Next week we’ll explore more about what can happen to others when we take responsibility for them or their actions.

Can you relate to any of these questions? How have you learned to only be responsible for yourself?

Are You Ready?


It’s almost here.

The best of the best Christian writing conferences will educate and encourage writers in only two weeks; and it’s practically in my backyard!

There’s still time to register for Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference, but you have to act now.

Watch the video and you’ll see what writers are saying about this amazing conference. (And you can see two seconds – 1:13-1:14 of me attentively listening to a panel of agents.)

I can’t say enough about the wonderful people I’ve met at the conference. I’ve made friends and acquaintances and received some of the best writing advice in the industry.  Authors such as Sherry Kyle, Cheryl Ricker, Karen O’Connor, Kay Strom, Mary DeMuth, Lauraine Snelling, Karen Ball, James Scott Bell, just to name a few! (You don’t mind if I drop a few names…)

New writers, such as my friend and roommate from last year, Miriam Sarzotti, as well a seasoned authors, like Brandilyn Collins, who will be my writing mentor this year, mingle together in class, in worship and over delicious meals.

One of the best values of the conference is the opportunity to submit TWO manuscripts for critique or editor/agent review without additional cost. I’ve gained such valuable input from having my writing critiqued by well-known authors. And even if you don’t get your manuscript in before the conference (which I highly recommend), there are authors/editors available for critiques and questions during the afternoons.

In the evenings, a key-note speaker (this year: McNair Wilson) delivers an inspirational message that encourages you not only in your writing, but also in your every-day life. It amazes me each year how God speaks to every area of my life and ties it all together.

Everyone at the conference believes in you and considers it their privilege to encourage and uplift you. They will tell you the truth about your ability and help you find the right avenue for your particular writing goals.

Whether you consider yourself an amateur writer or a professional, there’s a place for you at Mt. Hermon. I’m thrilled to be able to attend again this year. I hope to see you there!

What’s your experience? Have you attended Mt. Hermon or any other conferences you’ve found particularly helpful?

Getting Well Series – How Do You Rebuild Your Life?


There’s a book in the Bible about a man named Nehemiah. 

Corinth, Greece
Corinth, Greece

He was brokenhearted over the fact that the city of Jerusalem was in ruins, and after praying to God about it, he embarked on a mission to rebuild the walls.

I love this story for a number of reasons. 

First of all, I’m moved that someone saw devastation and cared enough to find out how he could help. I feel this way when I hear stories of people whose lives have been ruined. Maybe it was destroyed by a natural disaster, or because of another person’s selfish action, or even by their own poor choices, but whatever the reason, the ruins of someone’s life solicit a compassionate longing to help them rebuild.

I think that’s how God feels about us.

Secondly, I love that Nehemiah took action. After he grieved for a city that lay in ruins, he asked God to help him and then set out to obtain permission, supplies and a group of people to rebuild the city even though he “was very much afraid.” The king granted him all the time and supplies he needed.

God gives us time and what we need to rebuild. He’s patient.

Next, it encourages me that Nehemiah didn’t give up, even when his group came up against so much opposition. A local official ridiculed and tormented the people, asking them what they thought they were doing. Lies were flung at them to convince them that their efforts were in vain, that their attempts were feeble and inadequate. Too much was ruined. The rubble couldn’t be reclaimed for a purpose.

I’ve heard those same lies so many times.

At one point in my life, I was exhausted from working to hold together my marriage and my family. My strength was giving out because of unresolved daily conflicts, and my determination to stay married in spite of a horribly dysfunctional situation. My children were showing the effects of living under the strain in our home. I was certain that the “rubble” was too much to wade through. Nothing seemed salvageable.

So God showed me this story about Nehemiah.

Finally, I love the story because God has a plan for rebuilding. As I studied Nehemiah’s situation, I saw some applications for my life. For me the plan looked like this:

  1. Fight for my family even if it meant doing things that seemed to tear us apart. I had to separate from my ex-husband for a time in order to allow us to deal with issues. Pulling out of most of our activities became necessary so we could focus on our family.
  2. Concentrate on what God wanted to change in me. Allow God to heal me and leave my husband and marriage in His hands. Success for me would depend on what God did in my life.
  3. Set up a guard against the things that crept in to hurt my relationships with God and my children. For me those things were fatigue, busyness, not making time for them, and trying to figure everything out without seeking God.
  4. Put God ahead of my marriage. I had been setting my desire for the “perfect “marriage ahead of God. I compromised truth in order to keep peace. My fear caused me to push aside things God tried to tell me even when they would have helped me.
  5. Be aware of Satan’s plot to destroy our family. I had to choose to fight for the well-being of myself and my children even when the enemy told me to give up because it wouldn’t be worth it. Recognizing the lies of the enemy is imperative, but not always easy. We have to be so alert. Nehemiah had the people keep a weapon in one hand while they built with the other.

Rebuilding our lives can be scary.

We can’t see all that lies ahead. It’s like driving on the darkest road or in dense fog at night. Our headlights only shine far enough for us to keep moving. We drive as far as we can see, and as we drive, the path is illuminated ahead of us.

Rebuilding happens one day at a time.

We can’t look too far ahead or worry about what will come. Instead we have to trust God to provide what we need for that day. When I look ahead and start to worry about the future, God asks

Do you have what you need today?

The answer is always “yes.” I always have what I need today. When the next day comes, I have what I need again. Nothing surprises God. He’s already seen all of our life and has a great plan for it. We can trust him to bring restoration to every area of our lives. He can make us well if we want to get well.

How is God rebuilding your life? Check out lostcompanion who is tenaciously rebuilding hers…