Sheer Will

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I spoke with a thunder cat today–millennial for you old people–who told me a story of how he’d decided to give up on a pursuit because it proved to be “just too hard to accomplish”. I tried to talk him into giving his dream one more chance, citing his youthful age, the technological wonders of today’s culture and the promise of a fulfilled future once his dream was realized. After all, at 22 years old, adulting was surely just beginning.

Nope. He wasn’t buying my particular brand of encouragement. Maybe I should have packaged it in skinny jeans and served it over a trap beat. At least then he might have given it a serious listen. I left the young man, discouraged at his lack of self confidence, his apathetic attitude and (most of all) his lack of stamina.

I remember my grandfather telling me, he fought hard for civil rights so that one day his grandchildren and great grandchildren would have the equal freedom to pursue whatever they desired. He said we’d have to work hard for the goal, but the opportunity would be there for the taking. All we would need is focus and sheer will.

Sheer will’s got me up at 12:13AM tapping away at my computer. Sheer will keeps me glued to my piano and drum machines on a regular basis. Sheer will keeps me grinding on the job, making it possible to complete every task I’m assigned. It’s an unstoppable tenacity, that keeps the feet moving forward.

Funny side note: today I pulled up on my job, hopped out of the truck and was greeted by Jerry–the site foreman.

“There he is,” Jerry says, to no one in particular. “I need to shake your hand.”

Jerry starts walking my way, pulling a worn leather glove from his arthritic right hand. We meet with genuine smiles and as strong a handshake as the old man can muster.

“What’d I do,” I ask.

“That’s just it. I can’t explain it. I knew there was something about you, from the first moment I met you on Tuesday. In all of my years working projects for *AJAX Company, I’ve never seen a problem get resolved as fast as you getting involved. I mean never! You’ve got something special, son. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s there. I see it.”

I smile and say, “It’s Jesus, Jerry. All honor is given to Him. I can’t do anything without Him.”

Jerry’s face went blank for a split second, before he flashed an embarrassed smile. “Well, I don’t know much about that…but you’ve got something!”

Sheer will, says “Go another route, but make it to the destination”. When you’re ready to give up, sheer will says, “Try one more time”. It pushes you further, when you have nothing left.

Why do I continue to do what I do? Simple. I don’t know how to stop. Even when I want to quit, I can’t turn it off.

Finish that book you started.

Go back to school and finish.

Complete the song you started writing some time ago.

Try one more time to learn that new skill.

Fight against that cancer until you have nothing left to fight with. I believe in you.

Whatever it is, don’t give up.

 

* AJAX Company is, in fact, a fictional name to protect the identity of the actual company *

Tom(a)to – Tom(o)to

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It’s 12:20 am in Lincoln Park. Now depending on your perspective, it’s either late night or early morning. Did I waste a day, or am I getting an early jump on a new day? Isn’t that what life really boils down to? Perspective.

A guy loses his job. In his mind, the world just came to an end and now he has to figure out what to do next. At the same time, a girl loses her job; same position at the same firm. In her mind, this is the perfect opportunity to chase after a fresh start. Perspective, friend. It’s all about how you look at life.

The old saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. I believe that works if you have an optimistic slant on life. Things don’t always work out the way we plan, but we can react to change in difference ways. In the end, it’s all about how you see things playing out.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my book published and going live on Amazon. It hasn’t broken any sales records but…I’m celebrating the realization of a dream come true. Every writer wants to see that finished product available to the public right? So, is it a commercial failure or a private success?

You say tomato; I say tomoto.

Those Pesky Words

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Writers often “see” a scene long before it’s written. There’s where the problem lies. It happens to me all the time! Unfortunately, my vocabulary falls laughably short of my imagination’s ability to frame action. Often, my frustration manifests like this:

Billy pointed the gun and yelled, “Don’t make me use this!”

* Nope*

Billy’s shaky hand lifted the pistol and aimed at the officer. “Don’t make me do it, man,” he yelled.

*Blah!*

Before Officer O’Maly could react, Billy trained the Glock sites square at his forehead. “Don’t make me shoot you,” Billy shouted.

*ARGH!!*

You see what I’m sayin’? I can see this intense scene from half a dozen differing angles, but I struggle to find the right words to make you–the reader–feel the emotional suspense! This kid is pointing his gun at an office, ready to squeeze the trigger. The challenge is conveying that moment.

The less-is-more rule works in many different scenarios, but there are times when you need that perfect combination of colorful adjectives and adverbs to bring a scene to life. I don’t necessarily believe your words have to be intellectually gigantic, but they should be chosen in a manner that will draw your audience into the fray of the action. A lot of times, I’ll keep my scene building short and sweet before returning later to bulk it up. That first strike-out up yonder is a good example. It was short, sweet and boring.  But, for me as the writer, I needed that as a starting point.

Don’t be afraid to write skimpy sentences. Hey, that’s what drafts are for. Write those thin lines to get that story moving. You can always fight with pesky words to fatten up the scene description later. Just remember not to go overboard with the descriptors. There is nothing worse than this:

Billy’s sweaty, shaky left palm tightly clamped the polymer beaded grip of the Glock 19 Gen 4 pistol. He slowly raised the cold steel barrel toward officer O’Maly’s receding hairline temple, before the policeman could adequately react. Sternly, Billy pronounced, “Don’t you make me blow you away, cop!”

*REALLY?!!!*

Those pesky words, I tell ya. Use with caution, but keep on writin’ Wordsmiths.

Faith’s Challenge

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Believing For Greater Things In 2016 is the vision of River Of Life Assembly Of God church (Belleville, Mi.) this year. We are taking to heart, “faith the size of a mustard seed”, and believing that this will be a year of awesome praise reports, phenomenal testimonies and evidences of God’s movement in the lives of individual families, as well as the body of our church. God moves mountains for people, by faith.

We all harbor dreams. Some are small, while others are the size of 747 airplanes. I think the disconnect between witnessing some dreams fulfilled and others deferred lies in the strength of one’s faith. Sure, God won’t answer every prayer we toss up willy-nilly; I get that. But, I also believe that some prayers are just waiting to be answered. God simply wants to know if we will believe, by faith, for their fruition. That’s just my opinion. Dreams are often sideswiped by our perception of reality’s boundaries.

Logic challenges faith. My best friend is one of the smartest guys I know. He’s always been an overachiever, from the time we were 9 years old, right up into our 40s. When Eric sets his mind to a task, it’s done, before the first stroke of his hand. Someone possessing that type of drive would have no problem believing for greater things, right?

Wrong.

Eric, knows the intricate boundaries of reality so well, that his own understanding sometimes limits his ability to focus on God’s omnipotent power. He has a difficult time spiritually proclaiming, “Lord, I don’t know how you’re gonna do it, but I’m believing you can and will do it for me, simply because you love me.” It’s a heart thing, friends. It’s not enough to simply speak the words. You have to believe it in your heart. That’s faith. It challenges the culture and reality as we know it.

Honestly, I think that was God’s intention all along. Most times, faith defies logic. We’ve seen the shows or heard the reports of doctors who have declared statements such as, “I don’t understand how this happened. Medically, it makes no sense. Someone must be watching over you.” I’ll bet that in many of those instances, if we were able to go back and see everything, we would find prayer warriors believing by faith on behalf of the miracle recipient.

Did you just flinch when I said that? I saw you. You know who I’m talking to.

That’s the problem with doubt. It leaves little room for faith to do what it’s meant to do. Did you know that Jesus returned to his own home country, and was unable to perform miracles–except to lay hands on a few sick people–because of their lack of faith? That fascinates me! The bible says, in Mark 6:6 that he marveled because of their unbelief. Jesus Christ marveled at the unbelief of the people! That actually makes me wonder how many times I personally threw away blessings from the LORD, because of my own unbelief due to lack of faith. Think about it for a moment. I really don’t care if you’re a believer or not. For one brief moment, I dare you to force yourself to think about this statement:

“What if I actually believe it can happen, for once?”

You can insert whatever you like for “it” to make it personal. Just do it. Ask the question, and seriously think on it. Two bible verses that help me to constantly put faith into perspective are these:

Psalm 37:4 (ESV)- “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

and

Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV)- “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD guides his steps.”

Faith challenges us to ignore our surrounding circumstances and trust God to do what seems impossible. Today, I challenge you to pick one dream; one prayer; one desire; one choice and focus on it, no matter how impossible its obtainability may seem. Then…I dare you to start believing that God can accomplish it for you.

The Block

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As writers, we’ve all been there. It shows up when you least expect it, and hangs around longer than we want. The block.

How the “hello” are we supposed to hone our craft when the block party shows up? Do you know I sat in front of my computer for an hour the other day, searching for some credible material to write? In the end, I walked away mad.

In the past, I would take on writing small devotionals whenever I was confronted with the block. Nothing would free up my mind like reading scripture. Can I get an amen? But lately, not even the Word has been able to snap me out of this particular funk.

Every one of us has that secret stash of unfinished works we like to revisit, in times of emergency, right? Yeah…that didn’t work either. I have a particular story about a gunfight standoff, I’ve been working on for about a month now. This block has obstructed the creative flow of that story’s plot. I almost scrapped it completely yesterday, I was so frustrated.

So, in the spirit of rebellion against the evil block, I decided to write about it instead. And let me encourage you at the same time. I know it sux when we’re visited by writer’s block, but rest assured you are not alone fellow wordsmiths. I think the key to conquering the block is the hit it hard with the 10-pound hammer of tenacity. When it shows up, write about anything, even if it’s your feelings about dealing with writer’s block. You do that; hey! You win! You’ve beat it!

Writers gotta write, right? So what’s your excuse? Get to it!

Hey! No Take-Backs!

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We all know that one person (somewhere in our circle) constantly obsessing over, “Man, if I could go back and do it over again,” or “If I could go back in time and make better decisions”. Well guess what? You can’t! Hey, there are no take-backs in life!

Last night, my wife and I watched a movie and I heard a particularly clever anecdote. The main protagonist’s boss said to her, “You know, my grandfather had a saying: ‘Life is like a coin. You can spend it on anything you want, but you can only spend it once.'” That was good, and gave me pause to consider how much time we spend dwelling in the past when things don’t go our way.

What’s the point of brooding over setbacks? Time travel is not a reality, so we need to keep on pushing forward despite our obstacles. Can you imagine where we’d be today if both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates stopped forward movement because they couldn’t reach beyond past failures? Yikes! I might be pecking away on a manual typewriter right now.

So, on this 2nd day of the New Year of 2016, I challenge you to leave your past behind. I don’t care if you tried something and bombed spectacularly. Remember the lesson learned, but leave the failure behind. Go forth my child, and conquer!

That is all. Happy Saturday, friends.

Write Intentionally

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Happy New Year fellow wordsmiths! This year, my church is taking on a new vision for 2016: “Believe For Greater Things”. Personally, I plan to not only put that into practice spiritually, but literally as well; especially where my writing life is concerned. So many of us have writing talent. If we refuse to cultivate that talent, we run the risk of losing it. You know what I’m saying? You’ve heard the old adage—use it or lose it.

For years, I’ve limited my writing to moments when the spirit moved me. Sometimes, I would write for seven days straight. Other times, I would pause for seven months without so much as a 200-word blog post. If I truly plan to make noise within the writing community, my writing can’t be sporadic. I have to write intentionally.

So this year, I challenge my writing friends to do the same: write intentionally, family. Take notes of your surroundings; jot down your emotional state at any given moment; write about your day; blog about that dinner your aunt cooked for the holidays; pen song lyrics. Whatever it is, write it—everyday, write something. Everyday.

Pastor-Dad, have you been putting off the start of your memoirs? Momma Tosha, are you ready to start journaling? Tuck, are you ready to start penning your words of wisdom for your sons? Sherry, ready to start that novel you’ve been dreaming of? Kim, is this the year you begin that book you know you’ve got inside of you? Lindsay, ready for round two of your awesome story-telling? Family, the year is brand new! Let’s get started! Let’s do some writin’!

23 Work at everything you do with all your heart. Work as if you were working for the Lord, not for human masters. 24 Work because you know that you will finally receive as a reward what the Lord wants you to have. You are slaves of the Lord Christ. – Colossians 3:23-24 (NIRV)

 

*always*

Keep On Keepin’ On

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"Dear Ennis,
Thank you so much for your submission. Unfortunately I don't feel I'm the appropriate agent to represent your work as the story just isn't right for me.
I'm sure another agent will feel differently, and with the vast array of opinions in the industry, I wish you the best in finding the right representation.
Thanks again for thinking of me.
All best,
Elana"
Rejection number 28. Here’s another…
"Mr. Smith,
Thank you for giving The **** Agency the opportunity to review this project. Unfortunately it is not right for us at this time. Please understand that our opinion is but one and another agent may feel differently.
Danielle ****
Literary Assistant
The **** Agency"

Yeah, so far you all feel the same. That was rejection number 29. How about this one…

"Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, I don't feel I'm the right agent for your work but I wish you success in all your publishing endeavors.
Sincerely,
Ginger ****
Executive Vice President"

That was rejection number 30. Out of a total list of 62 queried literary agencies between the months of September through December, I have received 30 rejections on my book. Why share these failures? Why draw attention to what might be viewed as evidence of a dream that should be laid to pasture? Why not just quit and focus on something else?

Because quitting is exactly what the enemy expects me to do.

I read a true testimony of a cop who wrote a book and queried 90 literary agents, before someone believed in his story. 90 agents. 91 was the magic number.

Famed director Spike Lee won a student Academy Award for one of his very first films, while attending film school. He figured Hollywood was poised to come knocking on his door. But once he figured out no one in the industry cared about his local award, he put his nose to the grindstone and hustled his craft. This year, he received an honorary Oscar.

Stephen King worked odd jobs doing everything from teaching to dry cleaning. And then one day, his agent called to inform him that “Carrie” had just sold for $400,000 dollars.

I am a writer. I don’t care what anyone else thinks or says, because I’m here to tell you that I’m a darned good writer. The rest of the world is simply going to have to catch up with what I already know to be true. So, while the rejection letters keep on coming in, I will stand firm in my belief and passionate about my craft.

You should too. Whatever it is that you do passionately, do not allow the world to take it away from you. Stand firm and keep pressing on. It won’t be long before the world figures out what you already know to be true: when it comes to your craft, you’re a bad muthaf*****!

Keep on keepin’ on.

Looks like I just received rejection number 31.

Real Faith

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God says, “Come this way.”

We say, “Sure; just show me where I’m going.”

God replies, “Just follow me.”

We counter with, “But, where am I going?”

 

Faith doesn’t question God’s instruction. It follows willingly, despite an unseen destination. But, you know us. We have to be able to see where we’re going, otherwise we take issue with the journey. I think that’s why God gave us Hebrews 11:1 which says,

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”

He was reminding us to trust in him, and not in what we can or cannot see with our own eyes. Even when it looks like everything is falling down around us, God guides our steps. We just have to trust in his divine plan.

His ways are not our ways. What we see as disaster, he often uses as opportunity to show us who he really is. Each time we follow him through the storms of life, we’re exhibiting real faith.

The Story Thus Far

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Paraclete’s Promise – Book Trailer

Chapters 1&2

Chapter 3

So, my book has been published on digital outlets such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple for a little over four months now. It’s funny how our minds instinctively yet erroneously decide how our future will progress. I once heard a Christian joke that went something like this: if you wanna hear God laugh, just tell him your plans for your life. Funny.

A respected published author told me,”Don’t expect to get rich off of a single book. The fact is, most people don’t even earn back their initial investment.” I thought that statement was a bit morbid for my taste, and promptly decided to be the exception to that particular rule. But I gotta tell ya friends, this book business is a lot harder to crack than it seems. I’m learning more each day about the fine-line art of salesmanship associated with today’s self publishing business. And believe me when I tell you, you do need to put on your salesman hat if you expect to make a splash in an already oversaturated business. While I have yet to experience any super-dee-duper success (to date, my book has earned about $550 over roughly 23 copies sold), I’m still pretty optimistic on the chances of it landing in the right hands. I really believe I have a great story. I just have to convince the rest of the world of what I already know.

While I wait for the doors to open, let me share a few things I’ve learned to date. Maybe you’re an aspiring author thinking of going the self publishing route.

  1. Count the cost before you sign on the dotted line. Jesus told us to count the cost of what it meant to follow him. You should do the same when you’re thinking of signing with a self-publishing company. Pay particular attention to what is offered in your purchasing price. Is marketing included? Is the contract exclusive? How trustworthy is the author support team’s response time? Things of this nature could be deal breakers.
  2. Take note that writing the book is only part of the game. Since you’re going it alone, you have to be your own marketing team. That is, unless you have a couple hundred dollars to pay for a marketing package offered by your publisher. The marketing is crucial. I spoke with a “Family Christian Bookstore” manager who told me, “I can usually tell who’s done their marketing research during book signings. Some folks will come in here and sit for four hours, only to sell a single book.” If you’re thinking of going the self publishing route, you’ve got to come up with a successful marketing plan. These days, social media is the easiest route to take, to get the word out about your title. It’s still no guarantee, but it’s a start none the less.
  3. Stay prayed up. Yeah, it may not seem like a note worthy point to you, but believe me; it is. If you have a good story and you truly believe in it, you’d better ask God for direction on a consistent basis. If it’s his will, it will happen. Plus, the business can discourage you pretty quickly, so you need the Lord to strengthen you during the tough times anyway. Stay prayed up.
  4. Don’t be afraid to give something away…for free. This is a really tough point for a lot of people and there are many schools of thought on this subject. Some would argue,”I’m trying to sell this thing. I can’t afford to give it away for free!” Well…if you want people to show interest, you’d better be willing to give ’em at least a little taste of what you’re producing. Did you peep the 3 free chapters I linked up top? Be willing to give a little to gain some friends, who just might talk about your product to their friends, and so on. Domino effect. Trust me, you need it to push your book in a self publishing market.
  5. Don’t feel guilty about asking for reviews. This was tough for me at first. I was giving my book away but not asking anyone to commit to a review. Did you know that Amazon is as popular as it is, not because of its own steam, but because of word of mouth reviews? My friend, book reviews and word of mouth will be your strongest advocates when it comes to your self published works. You need people to get interested. If you have a bunch of positive reviews (even a few negative ones), you’re bound to attract more traffic. Don’t be shy. If you’re giving it away, ask for a review!

I think that’s all I can muster at this late hour. But before I hit the sack, let me encourage you friend. I know how hard it is to get your published work looked at and even taken seriously. But don’t give up. Believe in yourself and your talent.

Recently, I gave a book to John Bevere. He just happened to be in Kalamazoo, Michigan while I was there on work (as in day job) related business. I attended the church service he spoke at, and quietly slipped his assistant a copy of my book, with instructions to give it to John at an opportune time. I regularly harass Mitch Albom over Facebook. He’s either gonna acknowledge me one day, or report me for stalking. Jerry B. Jenkins actually sent me a few notes on some things he would change in my opening sentences of chapter 1. Of course, the book had already been sent to print, but the fact that Mr. Jenkins got back to me was very encouraging. James L. Rubart is awesome at returning Facebook messages and giving encouragement. Hey look, these are heavy hitters in the Christian writing community, who put their pants on one leg at a time just as you and I do. And they got their starts off rocky, just like us. So be encouraged, and never give up on yourself.

Oh, before I pass out, I do invite you to check out my free chapters. Sometimes the best motivation is reading someone else’s work. Stop by and visit me sometime also. You can find me on About.Me