Why I Can’t Do Everything

Duh. Because I’m human, not super-human. That’s why I can’t do everything.

That’s the easy answer, but it’s true. Yet, I must not really believe it because I still try to do more than is humanly possible to accomplish in a day, week, or month. I suppose I took to heart that sage wisdom about aiming high because even if you fall short, you’ll still end up among the stars.

Anyhow, I try to take on more than I can reasonably get done…and then beat myself up with guilt for not marking everything off my list. I could set the bar lower, but I’m a recovering perfectionist who thinks that the world is watching and judging me based on my performance. (At least I’m past the feed-the-baby-and-change-diapers stage of life.)

Case in point? This overwhelming feeling of hypocrisy when sharing practical advice and wisdom with other authors. I’ve written a comprehensive set of blog posts about a wide variety of topics and will likely compile them all into a book to make it easy for others to get access to all of the information and possibly earn a little cash on the side to support my writing obsession. However, over and over as I wrote about these wonderful and often easy ways to promote books and juggle all of the marketing while still writing…I felt like I was staring into a mirror with a wagging finger aimed my direction. I couldn’t help but see all the things I should be doing. Should be, but I’m not.

It doesn’t just happen in my writing world. I’m also striving for balance in all areas of life, yet can’t help seeing undone projects and goals everywhere I turn. From my squishy muffin-top-ish waistline to the dust-covered and cluttered scrapbooking table to that teetering pile of books I’ve been meaning to list on Amazon to generate a little more spending money. I could devote hours to one area, feel a sense of satisfaction in a job well done…then turn around and get smacked in the face with guilt over all the other things still to do. Not to mention the new things that snuck onto my proverbial plate—like the weeds in my flower bed—while I was occupied elsewhere.

Want to know why I can’t do everything? Because I’m human. And there will always be things to do. It will never all get done. And there’s freedom there. Not the freedom to give up completely, but the freedom to be realistic.

Even if it won’t all get done, I can still be about the business of doing. Even if I never reach that lofty goal I’m aiming at, I’ll still end up further than if I had never tried. So the better question to ask is did I make progress today? Did I take a baby step or two in the direction I want to go?

I may not be able to get everything done, but as long as I made some sort of measurable progress today, I’m giving myself permission to relax and enjoy the journey.

Quieting the Noise So I Can Think

I hear voices. I wish they were just the characters of my latest work-in-progress clamoring to share their opinions about a recent plot twist. But, no. Lately I’ve been hearing the voices of doubt and confusion and guilt to the point they’re blocking out the true voices of faith, wisdom, and peace. While I’m still learning to listen, I’m also quieting the noise so I can think.

The source of all this mental turmoil is a silly book. Well, not exactly a silly book but a story that I’ve been working on since the very beginning of my fiction-writing journey. The glimpse of a late-night diner waitress through a window while driving sparked a short story idea which grew into my first never-to-see-the-light-of-day manuscript and a few ideas about secondary characters who could turn the diner world into a series. I got connected with other fiction writers who soon critiqued my story about waitress number one back into a dusty drawer. However, in an experiment, I wondered if I could write an interweaving story about all three of the waitresses I had dreamed up…and that story was runner-up in a big contest in 2009.

Awesome. Except publishers had their women’s fiction slots filled for years and one agent kept asking me about my overall story question. (A question I had no idea how to answer at the time.) A writer friend suggested that I could pull the story back apart into three separate books and try to write them as straight romances. It felt like a lot of work, so I shelved the whole project and moved on to write two unrelated manuscripts.

Then on a whim, I picked up the character arc of waitress number two thinking—erroneously—that it would be easy to add the hero’s point of view amidst the existing scenes and slam-bam have a short novel length romance. It took more work than I thought but I was happy with the resulting story…which won the same contest in 2014…received requests for proposals and full manuscripts…and was also rejected over and over.

Since then, I’ve rewritten complete sections, rearranged scenes, deepened characters, revamped the opening, and continued to pitch the story idea to editors and agents. And continued to get rejections, with the “good” news that I’m open to resubmit if I rewrite it again.

All of which has led to my current paralyzing mental chaos after being rejected once again. What should I do with this story? These people?  The series potential? This award runner-up and then award winner that’s going nowhere? Should I do the work in order to keep knocking on the traditional publishing door or make this the first in an indie-published series of my own? Should I start fixing it based on the input from the last rejection letter or should I get the advice of a few beta readers to see what they would suggest? Should I try submitting it to a couple small presses as-is or add another 10,000 words in order to meet the guidelines of a different publisher who would be a great fit? Do I even like these characters anymore and would I want to invest more years into their world? Should I toss the whole thing in the trash and call it a painful learning experience or should I…?

In the middle of all of the noise, I heard a whisper in my soul.

Be still. Set this aside and quiet the noise. And in the silence, I am finally able to think clearly. I’m reaching the finish line on a non-fiction project so that’s obviously my first priority. Then I need to dive back in to revise the rough draft of a book that will come after my next release in February. By the time that manuscript is ready and that series completely written, then—and only then—will it be a good time to decide which writing project to pursue next. God knows if, when, and how this story will have a voice of its own.

In the meantime, I have permission to wait.

Shut Up and Listen

Do you know anyone who talks more than they listen? Someone who asks the same question over and over without ever hearing the answer?

While these types of behaviors are somewhat understandable—and unfortunately common—coming from my special needs daughter, I had to shake my head the other day when listening to a call-in radio show. More like I wanted to scream at the caller to shut up and listen.

The woman on the line had gone to the trouble to call in and sit on hold for who knows how long until the host had room in the rhythm of callers and advertisement breaks to put her on the air. With millions of people listening in, she presented the dilemma requiring the sage advice of the host. Except, unlike the countless previous callers to the show, she never stopped talking. And it wasn’t like her problem was that complicated since she started repeating herself about the third sentence. And kept on repeating herself while the host politely…and then not-so-politely tried to interrupt her monologue.

“Hey, lady. You called me, so do you want to know what I think?”

She finally stopped talking and the host gave her and the nation a practical and wise solution to her trouble. But as the show moved into another commercial break, I had to wonder if I’m ever like that lady when I’m talking to the One who has all of the answers.

When I pray, am I so busy dumping my complaints or concerns that I never stop to listen? Am I fixated on getting through all of the items on my I-promised-I-would-pray-for-you list before I run out of time? Do I really think I need to tell God all of the ugly details and feelings about a situation before I am ready to hear a solution?

My focus this year has been on learning how to abide. To stop striving or doing but rather to be still and know that He is God. To stop talking and complaining and arguing…and simply listen.

The possibility that listening is integral to abiding, reminded me of the prophet Elijah in the desert who discovered that God often speaks in a still small voice. Or an earlier time when the boy Samuel awakened to a voice in the middle of the night and responded “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:1-10)

 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. ~ John 10:27 NIV

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” ~ Isaiah 30:21 NIV

Listen and silent are made up of the same letters. Think about it.

And then this thought I found online: God gave us mouths that close and ears that are always open.

As crazy and noisy as my life can get most days, it’s that much more important that I make time to shut up and listen.

Leave a Mark For Eternity

I can be a bit of a clutz sometimes, especially when I’m tired, overwhelmed, or distracted. Which, thanks to a crazy day job project, is how I spent much of last week. As a result, I ran into things…and now have the bruises to prove it. Of course, in the moment of impact, I remember thinking “that’s going to leave a mark” but today as I look at the swirls of purple and yellow, I can’t remember exactly what happened.

I only know that I’m changed (even if it’s only temporary) by the encounters.

A week ago, our pastor talked about leaving a legacy in the context of a living a generous life. However, one of his points was that we leave a mark on the lives of everyone we come in contact with. Good or bad. Encouraging or critical. Kind or dismissive. And whether or not it fades or lingers, there is a mark.

Between the sermon and saying goodbye to my oldest son as he headed back to college after Spring Break, I found my mind wandering to an incident in the past where that same son left a mark…on his sister, our kitchen, our memories, and in the minds of all the other parents I shared the story with.

It was a Saturday morning and I awakened to the giggles of my two toddlers across the hall. As I drifted in and out of that lazy half-dozing state, I remember thinking how blessed I was to have my husband snoring beside me and two happy children, even if our daughter would face challenges throughout her life. For today, it was a good day.

I must have fallen back to sleep, because the next thing I remember is hearing a knock on our bedroom door and the cries of my daughter. I bolted out of bed and rushed over, opening the door to find my pajama-clad kids standing there, one behind the other. At least my trouble-making son looked completely normal as he grinned over the top of his crying sister’s head. A head of dark hair with a pool of white liquid at the top. The same white that streaked her face, her hands, and as I later discovered, her entire torso underneath her zippered footie pajamas.

I snuggled the crying girl while interrogating her brother. All he said was “paint” before disappearing back in the direction of the kitchen. I followed with trepidation and learned first-hand how much liquid could come out of the half-used bottle of Wite-Out correction fluid my husband had left on the table where he’d been drawing up football plays. In addition to the Exhibit 1 puddle and streaks decorating my daughter, my son’s activity had left a mark on the papers, table, chairs, floor, and walls as he had apparently poured, painted, and then paraded around the room shaking additional spatters from the bottle.

I’d like to say that his decorate-my-sister-and-home tendencies dwindled, except there was a Vaseline incident a week later that finally removed the last white flecks from her hair, a finger-painting-on-faces-and-walls incident when he broke into my craft closet, and a year later a curly-cue trail of chocolate syrup throughout the entire house. I guess you could say that my son knows how to leave a mark.

Thankfully, as he grew, he began to direct those energies into sports and friends, leaving marks of a different kind in school records, mentoring relationships, and character awards. Which brings me back to the idea of leaving a legacy.

My daughter didn’t appreciate the kind of mark her brother left with the Wite-Out, just like I don’t appreciate the bruises I picked up during a rough week. Those marks hurt and stain. However, there are other kinds of marks–positive marks. Marks that change the trajectory of a person’s day, week, or life. The kind of marks that could change their eternity if it helps someone to believe in God’s love and plan for their life.

Even the smallest encounter with someone else can mark them with an improved attitude, a smile, and the energy to keep going. Other encounters can spark a train of thought or encourage the pursuit of a forgotten dream. And when we realize we are vessels filled with God’s love, we can intentionally pour out, dab, or scatter that love wherever we go.

That’s the kind of mark I’m determined to leave on the world.

Guest Robin Bayne – Hidden Secrets

Dear readers, from time to time I ask others to share their stories of faith, hope, and love in order to encourage us all. If you have a story to share, you can find my guidelines under the Connect tab. In the meantime, welcome Robin Bayne!

Hi, I’m Robin Bayne.  My March release, “Reunion At Crane Lake,” is actually an updated, revised version of my earlier book titled “Cougar Lake.”  When I first wrote the story years ago, the word *cougar* meant an exotic wild animal, not an exotic wild woman pursuing younger men. So….. I changed the title and updated other aspects of the story, like adding cell phones and other technology.

But another aspect I really couldn’t change was one of the characters having a tattoo.  I wrote the story before switching to writing inspirational (Christian) fiction, and though I don’t like tattoos it really worked for this character.  As I updated, I decided to have her regret getting it and feel thankful it’s very small.  She wonders if the hero will think less of her for having it, and keeps it hidden. She knows it’s an accepted practice these days, but admits it wasn’t the right decision for herself.

Today’s column by “Dear Abby” answered a man who wrote in about his wife secretly getting a tattoo. After 32 years of marriage, she did this behind his back.  It’s not the actual tattoo that bothers him as much as the secrecy surrounding it. He’s hoping she will apologize and discuss it with him and repair the trust he feels has been broken.

In real life we all have hidden aspects of our past, things we regret doing or not doing.  We can’t go back and have a re-do, so we learn to live with our mistakes and not continually beat ourselves up. We ask for forgiveness and resolve to do better in the future.  If you’re willing, share something in comments from your past.  Also leave your email for a chance to win an ebook.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.   See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”   Isaiah 43:18-19

Robin Bayne is the award-winning author of 17 novels, novellas and short stories.  She lives in Maryland with her husband of 26 years, and works a day job in community bank lending. Visit her at www.robinbayne.com.

Reunion At Crane Lake:

Colt’s memory is returning after the accident that ended his career. Now he wants to take over his family’s inn, but he’ll have to partner with his former fiancée to be able to afford it. He’ll need forgiveness to make that happen. Tia’s goal is clear: to return the inn to its former grandeur. And she’ll even work with Colt to do so. But like the inn, their relationship needs a lot of work. He broke her heart…can she ever trust him again?

Buy on Amazon

Check out Robin’s blog or find her on Facebook

Still Growing After All These Years

The more I know, the more I realize I have no clue. That’s why I’m still growing and continually learning new things in a variety of different ways. Like a plant, growth requires taking in the nutritional information, absorbing it until it’s fully understood, and then stretching out to apply it in new and different ways.

Whether it’s financial strategies, trusting God more, writing craft, marketing strategies, health tips, or parenting, I’ve still got a lot to learn. And while I haven’t been in a formal class in years, I’ve developed a plan that’s working for me.

First, I’ve got a loaded bookshelf. Yes, I’m a writer with a fiction addiction that accounts for a lot of my, ahem, market research shelves. However, I’ve also got a stack of non-fiction books about starting a business, marketing, leadership development, personal development, Bible studies, and other faith-based topics in addition to the obvious books about the writing craft and editing.

But a stack of books does nothing unless I read them. Plus, non-fiction can’t simply be speedily read for enjoyment. It must be digested, pondered, underlined, highlighted, and stewed over. And then it must be applied, often by shutting the book and picking up a pen to journal or brainstorm a list of ideas.

That’s why I schedule reading time in my normal routines. Those faith-based books are the perfect complement to my personal quiet time when I already have my prayer journal handy to record the truths I’m learning. The evening is another time when I’ll instead pick up a business or leadership book and read a chapter before bedtime with thoughts to ponder as I drift off to sleep. And when it comes to my writing craft books, I tend to binge-read as I prepare to start a new manuscript or when it’s time to roll up my sleeves and edit. Not only do I learn something (or be reminded of something I forgot), it’s the perfect time to practically apply the lessons.

With my stacks of books, I’m always reading something and mulling over what it means before figuring out how to incorporate it into my daily life. Except, as much as I love to read, I don’t have time to sit and read for hours even for the sake of learning.

That’s why I love podcasts. Using the app on my iPad mini (or you could just as easily use an app on your phone), I’ve subscribed to a variety of different podcasts. Financial advice from Dave Ramsey. Personal growth from Brian Buffini. Novel marketing advice from James L. Rubart and Thomas Umstaadt Jr. is downloaded beside spiritual thoughts to ponder from the guys at The God Journey. Writing tips are as easily found as social media marketing tips or even healthy exercise accountability. If you can think of a topic, someone out there is talking about it.

Then, once I’ve downloaded plenty of episodes (and most of those happen automatically since I’m subscribed to various shows), I just turn off the radio and press play when I’m in the car. The carpool commute becomes a learning opportunity. Same with cooking dinner or washing dishes or folding laundry. And—a handy tip I discovered by accident when trying to rewind a few seconds—I can speed up the speaker to talk at 1 1/2 times normal speed. That’s still slow enough to understand and absorb but takes less time to communicate the same information.

So far, I’ve got lots of information being loaded into my brain through books and podcasts, but I’ve got one more favorite way to learn. In person from real people. (Although in person might be figurative sometimes.) Whether it’s my local writer’s group or an online video-teaching-with-chat-room community I’m part of, there’s power in learning the craft together and collectively brainstorming solutions to plot or character problems. The virtual contact via email from my personal critique partner and the editor from my publisher also continue to teach me specifically as issues relate to that manuscript. Women’s Bible studies, small groups, conferences, and even webinars are all ways to ask questions and get answers from real people.

Actually with access to all this information, you’d think I’d already be done learning everything I need to know. But no. I’m still learning and I’m still growing into the wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, mentor, writer, and child of God that I should be.

What about you? What are you learning this week to keep you still growing? How do you learn best? Would you prefer an in-person class, an audio podcast, or a physical book?

Be Still And Know

He says, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10 NIV)

As I’m discovering more about what it means to “Abide” this year, I keep coming across this word “Still” and it’s honestly bugging me. Because I’m an overachiever. I like to make a list and then get things done. Check off those boxes and leave a wake of completed projects behind me.

If I sit down to watch television or a movie, I get fidgety unless I’ve got something else to do like use my phone to check on Facebook or pick up that crochet project. Even reading a book sometimes induces guilt so I’ll start walking while reading.

I guess you could say I’m a get-it-all-caught-up-and-then-I-can-relax kind of girl.

Except a bout with chronic fatigue syndrome when my oldest two were preschoolers taught me the importance of regular rest for optimal health. So I’ll take a nap…and then jump right back into the crazy. But I’m finding I need more than a nap. More than finishing the checklist and clearing the mental desktop. More than decluttering the space around me. More than filling my soul with creative goodness. More than slowing down a little to truly engage with my family.

I keep finding myself constantly working to open doors in my writing career and even more so when it comes to all the marketing involved. Striving. Seeking. Yearning. Trying. Doing.

And in the middle of my perpetual motion, the Vinedresser whispers to this hyperactive branch…Be still. Don’t just slow down, stop.

But stillness is more than simply not moving. It’s also a place of deep silence or calm. A place of quiet where I can listen. Really listen until I discover that God is God whether I get my list accomplished or not. He will be exalted whether my latest book gets finished this week or next month or even this year. And as I’m still, I begin to really know God in a deeper way.

“In quietness and trust is your strength.” ~Isaiah 30:15

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” ~Exodus 14:14

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” ~Psalm 130:5

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way…” ~Psalm 37:37

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” ~Psalm 40:1

(And in case you’re like me and need help learning how to be still…) “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” ~Psalm 107:29

What about you? Are you a hyperactive branch like me or have you learned to be still? What does it look like to “be still and know”?

Six Writing Lessons From Crochet

I’ve been editing a novel…which also means I’ve been procrastinating.

And in the disguise of looking like I’m actually doing something, I picked up an unfinished crochet project. Not anything especially fancy like a delicate baby afghan for a niece, but rather one whose sole purpose was to use up extra yarn and provide another warm throw to use while watching television or a movie on the couch. Or even better, while reading a book.

But as the stitches added up, I noticed a few things that applied to that novel I should have been working on instead.

1) A large crochet project like a blanket is actually the sum of multiple small parts that follow a pattern. Whether using chunky yarn or a delicate thread, the stitches become rows which then become blocks (or in a very simple pattern, one giant block). Not to mention, there are different or additional stitches for creating the edging border or connecting the smaller pieces together. Crochet patterns are like a different language to the new crafter, but once knowledgeable, an experienced crafter can dissect even the finished product and duplicate it.

And writing? Well, words become sentences which become paragraphs, then scenes and chapters.  There’s a beginning, middle, and end to the story. An inciting incident, a quest, obstacles, a big black moment, an epiphany, a battle, and a perfect ending. Romance adds an additional layer of pattern to the story from boy-meets-girl to first kiss to proposal. There’s nothing wrong with having a pattern because it simplifies the complicated huge project down into doable smaller steps.

2) Different colors create the most beautiful images and designs. Whether a stitched heart on a plain background or a repeating pattern of colors, the alternating variety results in visual interest. Some colors blend together perfectly while some stand out from the crowd, making the end product either a soothing blanket to lull an infant to sleep or a bright energetic stuffed animal for a child’s playroom. And some colors remain from beginning to end while some only appear for a short time, then are replaced.

The colors in a novel come in the form of different characters, alternating points of view, the inclusion of the villain’s thoughts, or even the addition of a subplot or secondary character that doesn’t run the entire story. The same basic story pattern becomes unique through the creator’s choices of color through the characters and even the pacing of the scenes.

3) Given enough practice, crochet stitches transform into automatic motions. I remember when I started, I had to keep thinking about how to hold the hook and yarn, and repeat to myself the steps to yarn over, pull through one stitch, yarn over, pull through two stitches and so on…all while my hands were cramping from the overuse of small muscles. Until the day I didn’t have to think about how to do a double crochet stitch anymore and could concentrate on the bigger picture or pattern instead.

The same is true of writing, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Instead of needing a scene checklist, some craft elements come more naturally. You begin to feel the rhythm of a dialogue exchange and know when an action beat or internal thought might be needed. The more you write, the easier it becomes, thereby allowing your mind the freedom to try something new or bigger with the story.

4) Mistakes are easy to spot if not as easy to fix. The longer I crochet, the easier it is to spot a place that doesn’t look right. A place where my yarn tension was too tight or too loose…or where I either added an extra stitch or skipped one. Once I diagnose the problem, it’s a matter of unraveling the threads back to that point, fixing the mistake, and then moving forward again.

Diagnosing a plot or character problem also gets easier with time as I can sense where the story went off the tracks or the pacing got too slow…or the story got boring because it lacked the right amount of tension. The good news about writing is that while I go back to fix mistakes, I don’t automatically lose all of the writing that followed…just might need to tweak it a bit here or there to blend with the new changes.

5) There’s a peace in the monotony that allows creativity to flourish. Once I got past the learning curve, crochet was something I could do while talking to a friend, watching a movie, or simply relaxing while letting my mind wander hither and yon to solve all the world’s problems. It can also become a time of prayer or even reflection on where my life is headed or how far I have come in the past year or two.

When it comes to writing, there is creative flourishing in the middle of monotonous or thoughtless tasks. In fact, I find my best ideas and brainstorm plot solutions while walking, driving, or even washing the dishes. Sometimes it helps to step away from the writing project and embrace the monotonous while you allow your brain to keep tugging on those threads until you discover how one random piece here could connect to something over there. Other times it even happens when I’m in a writing rhythm of a scene and fresh ideas start “pinging” with sudden inspiration.

6) A finished project requires that loose ends be woven into the whole. Every time you switch skeins or colors, there are small dangling ends of yarn that distract from the beauty of the project. So, even when you think you’re done, you’re not. Of course, you could take the time to weave them in as you go along, but that slows you down. I tend to wait until the end to pick up the hook and weave those ends underneath other stitches until everything is neat and tidy.

When it’s time to edit, my job is to pull those necessary threads into place throughout the story line and make every sentence, scene, and chapter into a satisfying whole. Sometimes I know exactly where those loose threads are, but usually it takes the objective eye of a critique partner, beta reader, or the editor at my publisher to point out a detailed list of all the spots that need a little more attention.

The list that sent me into procrastinating mode in the first place. Except, with a little time away embracing the monotony of crochet, I figured out several solutions to the story problems and was actually eager to get back to work on the book.

Now, after finally turning the revised manuscript for Focus On Love back in to my editor, I’m planning to curl up to read a good book while snuggled under the warmth of my new blanket. While there, I’ll not only celebrate how all the threads of the story came together so neatly, but also begin to dream about the next story.

Meet My Critique Partner Laura Hilton

Longtime readers of my blog may have an inkling of how long I’ve been on this writing journey, but here’s a quick recap. I started writing in 2005, beginning with non-fiction articles and two book manuscripts before turning my attention to fiction. My first attempt at a novel in 2008 was truly awful but the rewrite in 2009 actually went on to be Runner-Up in ACFW’s Genesis contest. That same year I started blogging…and connected with the critique partner I still have today as I’m working on my seventh fiction manuscript. Laura Hilton is the first person to see my stories now and it’s a pleasure to share a bit of her amazing journey with you as well.

What do you remember about us becoming critique partners? What were you looking for?

I discovered you in Scribes (just one of the many benefits as a member of ACFW), I think, when it started … I read some of your chapters and loved your style of writing and you reciprocated by critiquing my chapters and you were exactly what I was looking for in a critique partner without my even knowing what I was looking for! I just knew I was sick of the “Yes crowd” who found nothing wrong. I needed someone who stretched me.  

Where were you at that point in your writing journey?

I was at the point where all I heard was “no” from agents and publishers, and … Dee Henderson offered a free writing evaluation that one of my friends told me about it. My friend was at the same stage as me then and she was told that her writing was good enough to be published. I wondered what Dee Henderson would say about my writing. So I submitted the chapter for the evaluation, and waited on pins and needles for a commentary on what was wrong.

What I got back was the same thing she told my friend. My writing was good enough to be published. I wondered if she even read it and if that was her standard answer to everyone. (It wasn’t.  She was truthful. I didn’t ask her, but I heard from several others who did get detailed reports about what was wrong and why.)

How many manuscripts had you finished at that point or before you got an agent?

Ha. Well, I don’t exactly know. Shadows of the Past, First Love, one that I can’t remember the title of (I have lost that manuscript somewhere over the course of time), Hot Chocolate, First Class Wrong Flight, Presque Isle, Love Offering… I think I actually acquired my agent with Love Offering, but she refused to represent that book because it was a “Hosea/bad girl” type story. And then there was On The Run.

After my first two books (Shadows of the Past and Hot Chocolate) were published with a small press, I went to a conference. I met with a couple big name agents, sure I’d wow them. Instead I got comments like “you need a platform.” I asked what a platform was (I was new) and was told “If you have to ask, you don’t have one.” Okay then. So I was afraid to approach the agent who had expressed some interest in me until some time later. She was the one who eventually referred me to my current agent (who was at that time part of her agency and in charge of ‘romance’).

When we met and started doing critiques for each other, I remember seeing assorted chapters of Hot Chocolate, Presque Island, and actually found an early chapter from On the Run on my computer. But what I remember most was you getting your first three-book contract with Whitaker House and our starting to work through that first Amish book Patchwork Dreams. How many books have you written since then?

Again, I don’t know how many you’ve helped me with. There were several proposals in there that never went anywhere. They might, someday. Maybe. I know you critiqued some of the books I wrote before I was agented as I attempted to clean them up for various publishers. And then of course there were the ones that were published. Patchwork Dreams, A Harvest of Hearts, Promised to Another, Healing Love, Surrendered Love, Awakened Love, A White Christmas in Webster County (all with Whitaker House), followed by Swept Away (Abingdon Press), then The Snow Globe, The Postcard, The Birdhouse, The Amish Firefighter, The Amish Wanderer, One without a title yet coming in 2018, The Christmas Admirer (all for Whitaker House) and Married by Mistake (Barbour Books).

That’s a lot of books and a bunch of characters to have had rambling around inside your head. Oh, and I also remember Christmas Mittens, which you published independently in there too. You’ve become quite the book machine. How many did you write and/or release last year? And what does the schedule look like for 2017?

I wrote about 4 or 5 stories last year. One was released. So far in 2017, I have The Amish Wanderer releasing in February by Whitaker House; a novella, The Kissing Bridge releasing in April with Celebrate Lit; a novella, Married by Mistake releasing in August with Barbour; The Christmas Admirer releasing in September by Whitaker House; a novella, Silver Bells releasing in October in an Indie collection; and maybe another Indie book, First Class, Wrong Flight. That one was supposed to be in a collection released in November of last year but it was delayed due to a few unforeseen problems with a few of the other authors. And then in February 2018 I have the book with the title yet unknown releasing with Whitaker House. Hopefully, there will be more after that.

I’m exhausted just thinking about writing that much but also excited to see new stories arriving in my inbox. I count it a privilege to do my part with a critique now and then to help stretch your stories to new heights. So, what can you tell us about February’s release, The Amish Wanderer?

Bethany Weiss has been fascinated by Silas Beiler since he spent a couple of years in Jamesport, Missouri, before he and his family moved to another Amish community. They hadn’t kept in touch, but she hasn’t forgotten the friendly young man who brought her lemonade and took her home once from a Singing years ago. When she finds a man sleeping in her family’s barn, like Jesus sleeping in the hay, she is stunned to recognize Silas. He’s left the Amish and is backpacking across the country. She talks him into staying, at least until after Christmas.

Silas’ family has never been happy living in one area for long, and their vagabond ways are wearing on him. He’s lived in Amish communities all over the nation, moving whenever his daed became disgruntled with the leaders, and he’s looking for some sense of stability. His intentions are to make it back to Pennsylvania and stay with his Englisch onkle and his family—and pursue an education. Will Bethany be the one to bring Silas in from the cold? Or will he continue on his way to his extended family and become Englisch?

I personally can’t wait to read the finished product, especially since your books aren’t the typical Amish stories. I love how your characters face more modern challenges and discover a true faith in God through the struggles. Laura, thanks for sharing a glimpse into your writing journey as evidence that perseverance pays off. And readers, you won’t be disappointed in a Laura Hilton book, so check them out at these links:

Find her books: http://www.amazon.com/Laura-V.-Hilton/e/B004IRSM5Q 

Visit her blogs: http://lighthouse-academy.blogspot.com/  & http://lauravhilton.blogspot.com/ 

twitter: @Laura_V_Hilton

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-Laura-V-Hilton/161478847242512

Pinterest:  http://www.pinterest.com/vernetlh/

Writing As Warfare To Push Back the Darkness


Earlier this year, an agent made a few predictions about the writing industry in 2017 and triggered a great debate about the future of Christian fiction. In a Facebook group I’m a part of, Mary Weber, author of the Storm Siren series, hammered back at the questions with the truth that Christian fiction will continue as long as there are Christians who write. She eloquently stated that we use our writing as warfare. That we personally soak in God’s truth through our personal devotional times and then go out to share Jesus to different corners of the world through the stories we tell. Whether we write fantasy or romance, historical or dystopian, or even for the general market or for the Christian market…our words shine a light into the darkness.

A few days later, a writing group I’m part of discussed how hard it is to even write sometimes. That we get stuck and it seems like life is conspiring against us with distractions and discouragement…yet this is often because we are working on a story that will transform hearts with truth. Almost as if we face a spiritual battle to even bring the words to the page. And that by choosing to power through with prayer, we are actually using our writing as warfare to push back the lies of the enemy.

About a week after these discussions, our pastor shared a prayer from the Global Leadership Summit that the church staff prays daily…and it certainly applies to my work as an author using my writing as warfare.

“God, this is a new day. I freshly commit myself to the role You have invited me to play as You are building Your church in this world. I am awestruck again today that You include me in this grand life-giving, world-transforming endeavor. So today I joyfully offer You: my love, my heart, my talents, my energy, my creativity, my faithfulness, my resources, and my gratitude. I commit all of myself to the role You have assigned me in the building of Your church so that it may thrive in this world. And I will “bring it” today. I will bring my best. You deserve it. Your church deserves it. It is the Hope of the World.”

What is my small role in building God’s church? To demonstrate how God’s love changes everything. To show that true peace is possible in the middle of chaos. That broken hearts can be made whole. That everyone has a place in God’s family if they want it. That we Christians are still wondering, wandering, doubting, tripping, works-in-progress. That God is setting up a Kingdom on Earth and evil will ultimately be defeated.

When I tell the story of a bitter athletic trainer learning to forgive and look past the surface of a person’s skin, I’m offering a glimpse into God’s unfailing love. When an orphaned actress relies on faith to satisfy her parched soul before finding a family to call her own, readers catch a glimpse of that same joy to know that God dances over them. When a disillusioned photographer sees past religious rules to focus instead on the beauty of God’s love… When a desperate diva craving the spotlight finds the acceptance her heart yearns for and learns to sing a new song for an Audience of One… When a success-driven professional learns to serve… When a self-sufficient handyman accepts help… When a burned-out caregiver finds a fresh purpose in life… Or even when a bookworm lifts her eyes to see the real adventure around her…

Every story shines light. Every character discovers something new about God. Every reader soaks up a little more hope for the journey.

That’s why I will keep writing stories of faith, hope, and love. Because I have a lot to say and writing as warfare pushes back the darkness with the truth of God’s love.