success

What My Book Has Taught Me

 

I finished this round of edits for ‘Hating Jeremy Walters’ on Saturday. WOOHOO!

It’s been about 3 years now since I first started working on this story, 7 months since I started this round of edits. And the process of writing HJW and this blog has taught me some pretty interesting stuff.

  1. How to step out in faith and rely on God for something I can’t do on my own.

In late May last year, I had 3 chapters of my second draft written. I’d taken a writing break for 6 months after burning out while trying to work full-time and write.

Then I got an email that I’d finaled in a competition, which announced the winner at a September writing conference in Dallas. It was a great chance to go to a conference and talk to agents, but I knew I’d need a finished book for that.

Which meant I had about 12 weeks to write 60,000 words and a book proposal.

I had never written half that fast before. I kinda expected my head to explode from stress after week 3. But God got it done.

2. Keep God at #1, don’t make success an idol

This is something that’s always been a tug-of-war for me. But this blog has really helped, first in processing my thoughts about it, and then as a practical example.

When I first wrote this blog, I put an effort into getting the word out there about it. I had about six times more readers than I did last week.

Then I put it on a hiatus, and when I took it up again this time, I decided not to ‘market’ it. I just didn’t have the time. Therefore, my readership is much smaller.

The thing is, I’ve enjoyed the process just as much this time, if not more. And that’s really helped me to see that while I’ll enjoy the process of trying to make my book as successful as possible, I’ll have just as much fun if I sell 500 copies or 50,000. It’s no reflection on me as a person, and if it didn’t sell a lot, it just means I’d try a different strategy next time.

3. Edits are not as terrible as they first appear.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re still terrible. But they are possible.

And when I got a looooong letter from a freelance editor telling me all the things that needed to change in my book, I wasn’t sure if it was  possible.

But again, trust in God and a lot of persistent effort got us there. And my book is so much better now because of it.

So, thanks for travelling with me on this journey! There’s still much further to go; Hating Jeremy Walters could need a lot more work, still. And then there’s the other three writing projects currently in a Hunger Games match for supremacy in my head. 🙂

But it feels like a victory every time I hit a milestone.

So, thanks for your support!

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Figuring out success

God’s challenged me this week not to make success an idol.

I’ve been getting a little stressed lately, just over the thought of possibilities in my writing future. Stuff like the edits will be endless, no publisher will like my book, and once I get published my career will tank within a couple of books.

All of those thoughts really been pounding through my head. That’s not from God. And that’s faithless. I need to hand that over to Him.

I write for two reasons: enjoyment, and obedience to God.

So where does stress factor into either of those two things?

Think about it: why would God want me to write? It’s not like He can’t think up His own words. No, God doesn’t need me to write at all. But He wants to take the journey with Him. And He wants me to learn to trust Him.

And what do I define success as, anyway? A relationship of love, trust and obedience with God. That may include a great writing career, a mediocre one or none at all.

My job is to simply do my best, and walk with God through it all.

How God Strengthened my Identity

God's been strengthening my identity

©CreationSwap/Dawn Lamper

 

I’ll admit it; I like to be the best.

Whether it’s beating my friends in a game, coming up with the top idea at a work meeting or winning an award, being the best at something—no matter how small—feeds a deep-seated belief in me.

It says, I am not Most People. 

Throughout my life I’ve striven to be better than Most People. Most People aren’t careful with their money. Most People aren’t diligent about spending regular time with God. Most People don’t bother to turn their ideas into a book. A lot of advice I hear sounds like, ‘most people do this, but you should do that’. And I do. I’ve become proud of it.

But that attitude has crippled my identity. Especially as a wannabe author.

For a long time I’ve equated being like Most People, to failure.  I shouldn’t be like Most People; I should be better than that. I know better, I try harder, I work smarter.

But keeping that (very arrogant) mindset while trying to become an author is … well, it’s soul-crushing. This industry is so hard to succeed in. Even if I become part of the tiny minority that scrapes some profit from a book, the percentage of authors who have a long-standing career is even tinier. Looking at this big, scary industry, I’m overwhelmed with the fear that I will turn out to be Most People after all.

That fear has driven me to write more, learn faster and stress repeatedly. Failure is not an option, but if you judge a writing career by my (ridiculously high) standards, it’s not only possible, but probable. And if my identity as a successful person, a person who’s better than Most People, is tied to my writing career, then my own dream is a massive threat to my identity.

This is something God’s been working on in my heart ever since I decided to start seriously working on my first book, at the start of 2013. I’ve blogged about it throughout the year. Every time I investigated what it takes to get published or ways to promote my work, I’d feel panicked. Every time I tried an idea and it didn’t pan out, the pressure increased.

God repeatedly told me that success is not measured by numbers, but by obedience. And I could acknowledge those truths in my head, but my heart usually just muttered something under its breath and sulked off.

But lately, I’m starting to notice change in myself. The more I consider the idea of self-publishing (not that I’ve decided anything yet), the more I’m okay with not having my name plastered across every Christian bookstore. If God doesn’t plan for me to make money from my writing, that’s alright. If my career is short-lived, that sucks, but it’s okay as long as it’s part of His plan.

Now the pressure to crack the secret of book marketing is decreasing all the time. And thank goodness for that, because it was getting heavy. I want to simply try my best, be obedient, work hard, and then watch my career go in the direction God wants it to go … whatever direction that is. If He plans for me to reach 50,000 people, that’s what will happen. If it’s 500 people, that’s also what will happen. Neither option makes me a better or worse person.

All that matters is my obedience.

 

No ministry, no career, no man. Great plan? Part I

God's teaching me about contentment regarding my work, ministry and boyfriend situations.

Photo by Silas Nelson, sourced from CreationSwap.com.

Career, ministry or spouse.

I didn’t realize it till last week, but all my life I’ve judged people’s success against those three criteria. If you have at least one of these things, you’ve got something going in your life. Got two or three? You go, girl! (Or guy. 🙂 )

But none? What are you doing with your life?

Now I’m realizing that I’m one of those people.

I’ve always expected that the closer I get to God, the closer I get to meeting a great guy and God ‘doing great things’ through me. After all, that’s what everyone tells you. ‘Run hard after God and one day you might find someone running beside you’. ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Phil 4:13 NKJV). ‘God has a great plan for your life’.

All good advice, when taken the right way.

I wasn’t taking it the right way.

In my mind, a great relationship with God + His timing = dreams coming true in one way or another, even if it’s not how I expect. I’d go to ‘God stuff’ to get to know Him better, but at the same time I was scanning the room for potential husbands and dreaming up the plot of my best-selling book. Suffice to say, God usually didn’t get 100% of my focus.

But on Saturday, as I joined with a group of 20-somethings on a mountain to seek God together, a question popped into my mind. What if my journey with God takes me away from the path of marriage and publishing contracts?

Everything suddenly looked a whole lot less glamorous.

What if God’s great plan for me involves boring everyday stuff that no one appreciates? It might accomplish great things from His point of view, but it’ll look ho-hum on earth. There could be no recognition. No one asking how I had the faith to accomplish such a thing. No career to be proud of. And no husband—or at least not for a long time.

Am I as motivated to seek God then?

Saturday showed me some big truths about my motivations. God told me I need to be content with just Him, and trust in His plan—even if I can’t see how it all fits together.

Then on Tuesday, God drove the point home.

I had been waiting to hear back about a job I’d applied for. I really wanted it, and I thought I was going to get it. And then they gave it to someone else.

With my current work situation, packing supermarket shelves is a very real option. One I don’t like. And still with no man. Still with no ministry. And with no indication that things will turn around.

What’s the point of that kind of life?

I’ll be honest, I had a mini meltdown on Tuesday. I cried on the phone for an hour to Mum, who told me to go get chocolate and watch my favourite TV show and not think about it for a few hours till I’d calmed down. Good advice. It worked.

After sitting on it for a few days, God’s reminded me of a few things:

1. He knows what He’s doing. He’s King. If he says I need to pack supermarket shelves for the rest of my life, I should pack them with a smile coz that’s where He wants me.

2. My pride runs deeper than I thought it did. (Which pride usually does. If we were humble enough to be aware of it, we wouldn’t be proud.)

3. Whether or not my life has meaning is not tied to how spiritually impressive my life appears. God may be more pleased with a pensioner than a mega church pastor (depending on their respective attitudes).

4. God knows what this feels like; He experienced the full spectrum of human emotion on earth. He understands, and He’s with me. (See Heb 4:15)

5. All things considered, it’s not the end of the world. A lot of people are far worse off. Suck it up.

So, here I go. Off to a life where I don’t measure up by my own standards. One where God keeps peeling my fingers back off my pride and my expectations.

One where I keep learning what full surrender to Him really means.

 

Keep an eye out next week for Part II!

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God, What Do You Call ‘Success’?

If everything in life went as planned and you achieved your idea of ‘success’, where would you be in five years’ time?

Photo sourced from Every Stock Photo by familymwr, used under licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

Photo sourced from Every Stock Photo by familymwr, used under licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

In my Day Dream Land, by 2019 I’ll be 27 and a well-known author of several novels and maybe some Christian living books. My writing career will be financially stable and growing, my readers will write to me and tell me how I’ve changed their walk with God and newbie authors will look to me for advice (which I will benevolently bestow).

Like I said, this is Day Dream Land.

God had me thinking about motivations the other day, and a possibility smacked me in the head. What if God asks me to keep my day job forever and release all my writing as free eBooks under a pen name, eliminating any money and recognition?

Yikes. I’ve never thought of myself as someone motivated by cash or fame, but that scenario sure took the shine off my ‘success’.

I’m not saying I will publish everything I write anonymously and for free. But all options are on the table; I’m following God’s leading here, not my own. Would I be happy if I had to let go of my definition of success for His? What is God’s definition of success?

I found it in the examples of David, Ruth and Joseph in the Bible.

David spent years on the run from King Saul, wondering why God promised to give him a kingdom only to make him a fugitive. Ruth left her family and country for a life of poverty in a foreign land. And Joseph was sold as a slave, unjustly imprisoned and then forgotten about for years. All three endured circumstances that they didn’t expect, and that no one would call ‘successful’. Yet all three remained faithful in the midst of their difficulties. And today they are some of the most highly honored people in the Bible.

If you read the rest of these people’s stories, their lives did come good in the end. But they weren’t honored as Jesus’ ancestors because of their eventual promotions. No, they were honored because they were committed even when life sucked. They were available to God at all times and they were obedient in all circumstances. They loved God above money, status, comfort and even family.

Because of that, Ruth has a whole book of the Bible written about her. David was called ‘a man after God’s own heart’. And Joseph saved his family and the entire country of Egypt from starvation.

So what if I never earn the admiration of readers? If I never make a living from my passion? The greatest names in the Bible achieved astounding success—though it wasn’t always recognized by the world—simply by being faithful.

 

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Mark 8:36 NIV

To read the stories of David, Ruth and Joseph, look up 1 & 2 Samuel, Ruth and Genesis 37-50 in the Bible.

Who else do you know of who didn’t fit the usual definition of ‘success’, but pleased God anyway? Leave a comment!

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Step Two is a Killer

Background - 3D notebook with the points marked in the list

There are eighteen inches between my head and my heart, but sometimes it feels like eighteen miles.

I’ve only recently started to comprehend that just because I know something, it doesn’t mean I believe it. Not in a way that affects my actions, anyway. For example, after twenty-odd years of knowing that God is trustworthy, I discovered that I Don’t Trust God. And last week I published a guest blog post claiming that I Don’t Want to Succeed, because true success is found in God. But was that really true? This week I’ve gotten frustrated with a lack of ‘success’ in my productivity, my writing and growing my author platform. Even though I should know better.

So what’s been missing? I’ve had the lightbulb moments; I have the knowledge necessary to change. That’s Step One. But as it turns out, that’s not enough. It’s Step Two that’s really the killer; I have to follow through with action.

Not rocket science, I know. It’s actually pretty obvious that change requires action. But I don’t think I’m alone in this situation—not by a long shot. Many people get stressed, lose their tempers, give in to negative thoughts, aim for the wrong goals… the list could go on. And I’m not talking about one-off incidents.These behaviors are consistent patterns in our lives. Yet we know we should trust God, count to ten, think positive and put God above all else.So what are we all missing? Step Two.

For me, Step Two involves not expecting knowledge to automatically translate into change. It means adjusting my thought patterns. And it requires recognition that this is not a five-second decision, then ‘poof’: I’ve changed. It’s a process, and it takes work. And that leads me to the all-important Step Three: asking God for help.

The Bible is clear; we are as capable as jellyfish in the desert on our own. But, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. (Phil 4:13 NKJV) Doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s possible. With God’s help, I can remind myself of His truth when I start to feel stressed or frustrated. I can take time out to spend with Him, let go of my worries, and replace them with peace. I can recognize negative thoughts when they start and hit them out of the park.

So what about you? Think for a minute. What is that thing you do that you wish you didn’t? Have you ever had an epiphany, but later realized that things are still the same? Maybe it’s time for Step Two. (And Three.)

I Am Here

Do you ever feel forgotten? Alone? Insignificant?

lonely child 5

Sitting in my office each day, typing out stories that no one has read yet, I do. And that adds pressure. I feel pressure to finish and get published as quickly as possible, so that all this effort will mean something. I want people to read my work and hopefully come closer to God. I want to accomplish His work and please Him.

And I’ll admit – though this doesn’t sound spiritual at all – I want to get paid. I love my part-time job and I feel like God is telling me to stay put and keep writing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about the financial implications.

It looks like getting published will solve all these problems. But the other night, God reminded me of the truth.

I AM HERE.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my post, ‘Waiting, Self-Doubt and Heroes’, I talked about people in the Bible who have had to wait – Abraham, Joseph, David and Jesus included. Yet while I recognized that waiting is normal, even an honor, I still felt like I needed to accomplish some ‘success’ before God would be pleased with me. I felt like He wasn’t with me in the waiting.

I should have known better. Actually, I did know better – in my head. Sometimes it takes a while longer to trickle down into my heart.

Almost a week ago, God dropped this one on me: “I am here”. And now I feel so relieved. God is here now. Not when I get published, convert a friend or do some other good deed. He is beside me in the present. In the waiting. And if my heart is in the right place – seeking Him – then He is already pleased.

The implications are enormous. The pressure is off; I don’t need to rush. I can let go of my frantic drive to accomplish something and embrace His peace. And it’s good.

With my previous mindset, I was limiting God. I didn’t think He was working because I couldn’t see it. So I strove to get myself to a place where God would use me. And I ignored the fact that God’s work is often unseen, and that it is always happening. Even in the waiting.

So now I’ll ask for His help to remember His truth: He is always with me and is always working. And I’ll pray that He keeps showing me areas where I need more reminding.