What I’ve learned lately … with Jennifer Hudson Taylor

I was added to an online critique group soon after joining American Christian Fiction Writers a few years ago. Jennifer Hudson Taylor was part of that group, and taught me so much by her comments! She’s now a published novelist with Abingdon Press; her debut novel, Highland Blessings, was released in 2010 and her follow-up, Highland Sanctuary, releases this month. We’ll finally meet in person when she joins the faculty at our local writers’ group conference in November. In the meantime, I’m she’s able to stop by to share with us here today.

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Micro Progress is Still Progress

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

 

How many times have you heard someone say, “I take two steps forward, and one step back.”

This cliché was born out of frustration. Most of the time we feel like we’re being pushed back. It isn’t a step we’re actually taking with purpose. It’s unplanned and it breeds discouragement.

The good news is even if you feel like you’re back where you started, most of the time you’ve learned something in the process or God may be protecting you from being in a place at the wrong time. There is a reason for everything—even when we can’t see it.

Recently, our family has been going through many things. My father-in-law passed away from cancer a month ago and at the same time my mom was battling a different kind of cancer. We knew he wouldn’t make it, but were assured hers was caught in time. Cancer is a kind of illness that takes a while to overcome or succumb. It not only wears out the ones battling it, but the loved ones trying to surround their loved one with strong support.

I was frustrated that I couldn’t take time off from work for every visit to be with my mom and help her make decisions. I had to rely on the info she relayed to me, hoping she had heard correctly and wasn’t forgetting something important in the midst of her distress. Yes, I may be a published author, but I still have a full-time job with a boss who owns my time during those 40 hours each week. My time is not my own, and I struggle with this concept—especially when I feel like I’m needed elsewhere.

During this time I had to let go of some things such as canceling a trip to a writer’s conference where I was scheduled to present three workshops, took a sabbatical from some blogs, stopped scheduling events and book signings for my new book release. These were temporary setbacks, but my family was much more important. The only thing that nagged me was falling behind on my word count each week because I had signed a contract that I would finish a book by a certain time, and I was already stretching myself to meet this contract obligation in my already limited schedule.

I’ve always been taught to meet my obligations no matter what it takes, so a bit of anxiety began to set in when my word count dropped until there were a few days with no word count. But I didn’t give up, and kept plugging away at what I COULD do. Guess what? By the end of September, I’d written 20,000 words—more than I’d planned by 8,000 words.

I can’t explain it, but what I learned is that if we are faithful in the small things, God will multiply our efforts. Pennies saved can become hundreds saved if we keep adding to it. We have to keep sowing seeds, and let God give the increase.

 

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-8)

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Jennifer Hudson Taylor is an award winning author of historical Christian fiction set in Europe and the Carolinas and a speaker on topics of faith, writing and publishing. Her work has appeared in national publications, such as Guideposts, Heritage Quest Magazine, Romantic Times Book Reviews, and The Military Trader. She serves as the in-house Publicist at Hartline Literary Agency and co-owns Upon the Rock Publishing, an e-publishing/publicist company. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys spending time with family, long walks, traveling, touring historical sites, hanging out at bookstores with coffee shops, genealogy, and reading.

 

Making a Difference — Transparently

One of the teachers and keynote speakers at the Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference was Cecil Murphey. In case you’re not familiar with him, Cec is a New York Times bestselling author and international speaker who has written or co-written more than 100 books. Some of his best known titles include Committed But Flawed, 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven Is Real (with Don Piper), Touchdown Alexander (with Shaun Alexander), Gifted Hands and Think Big (with Dr. Ben Carlson), and Rebel With a Cause (with Franklin Graham). He’s a former pastor, missionary, and teacher, so has a wealth of experiences to draw from for his writing.

Cec lives in metro Atlanta and has been a mentor to our local writing group for several years, so anytime we get to see him or hear him teach is a special treat. One of the many things I admire about Cec is his transparency — he’s the same Cec wherever you see him and whoever he’s with, whether he’s teaching a group of new writers, catching up with fellow authors at a conference, or sharing his heart and wisdom from the platform. He’s also one of the most generous people I’ve ever met, and funds numerous scholarships for Christian writers to attend conferences across the country each year. I’ve benefited from those scholarships twice myself. 🙂

He spoke one morning during the conference on “Write His Answer … Transparently.”

“When you open up and become real, you’ll begin to connect with people,” Cec said. “There’s something wonderful about letting people know who you are. Being authentic is where you make the difference.”

Cec was talking to us from a writing perspective, but I think the same philosophy holds true in every corner of life. Nobody wants a fake friend. Nobody wants to play games, trying to figure out how much of what someone says is true. Nobody wants a surface-level prayer partner.

Instead, we want to know that the people we feel closest to are being honest with us. We want to know we’re not the only ones having struggles. We want to know that when someone says they care, they mean it.

In other words, we want — dare I say crave? — transparency.That’s not to say we need to bare our souls to the cashier at Kroger, but people want to know that the people around them are real. I think that especially holds true with Christians, where we sometimes have the misguided idea that we’re supposed to always have our “perfect and fine” face on for the world. If that’s all the world sees, they’re not seeing the real us that God helps through each and every day.

I do better with this on some days than on others, and in some situations versus others. But it’s my goal to put that transparency into practice more every day. How about you?

The Editor Scoop

When you’re at a writers’ conference, one of the best ways to learn what editors or literary agents want is to attend open forum-type sessions where they answer questions. We had a few opportunities at the Philadelphia Conference to sit in on panel discussions with literary agents, magazine editors, and book editors.

During one of the sessions, book editors were asked to share their greatest struggle in working with writers. Here’s a sampling of responses from the 10 editors present:

  • Working with unteachable writers. Every writer should always be willing to take constructive comments and learn how to become better.
  • Not being clear on communication. Don’t read too much into emails – approach the other person directly if you think there might be misunderstandings.
  • Finding the 40-45,000 word book desperately struggling to get out of an 80,000 word manuscript.
  • Ministering to a writer with a fragile ego. Criticism is meant to make you better at what you’re doing, but editors have to share comments delicately.
  • Receiving material from an author who isn’t as prepared as he or she should be. Really check your research and other information for factual errors before submitting to an editor.
  • Receiving a book proposal that says the project is aimed for “everybody.” Take the time to shift from writer to reader to know who the manuscript is really for.
  • Intellectual and spiritual arrogance – a writer who doesn’t allow for teachability or improvement. Recognize that you aren’t perfect … yet. 🙂
  • Being a dream slayer. An editor so wants you to be good – be the best you can before submitting.
  • Not following submission guidelines. The material might be good, but the editor will pass on it because it doesn’t fit their guidelines.
  • Seeing authors who want to be published so desperately that they follow the bandwagon instead of their passion.
  • Dealing with the “new mommy” mentality. Becoming published and spreading the word about a book is a lot more work than some authors expect. Some authors just want to see their name on the cover and aren’t committed for the long haul, so their “baby” never makes it past the crib.

So, what do you writers/authors think about these? Do any of the comments surprise you? Learning new things every day …

Philly Conference Recap: Better Than Deserved


I’m back from the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers conference, and have narrowed my current state of mind down to two adjectives: exhausted but exhilarated.

Going to a conference (especially one that lasts several day, like Philly) will wear you out – body, mind, and soul. You’re probably sleep deprived from the get-go after spending hours to polish and prepare everything you hope to share with editors or agents during appointments. Your mind works full-tilt during the entire conference because of all the information you’re trying to absorb during keynotes and workshops. Your emotions can soar during praise and worship time, bottom out after an appointment that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped, then soar again when a different editor offers you a contract on the spot (it never hurts to dream, right?).

But a conference also gives you the tools you need to become a better writer and make your story the best it can be. It introduces you to people who “get you” – because, let’s face it, not everyone understands that all the voices in your head don’t mean you’re crazy, or that a cemetery visit really can be a fascinating research trip, or that you really do need to get up in the middle of the night to write that idea down because it’ll be gone with the sunrise.

I saw some friends from other conferences, traveled with two friends from my local writers group, and met new friends along the way. I had really encouraging appointments with some faculty and learned great things in workshops. I met God during worship times. And, as always, He was better to me than I deserved through those scheduled appointments and “divine” appointments that continued until we were at the airport Sunday morning. This isn’t the time or place to go into details, but I’ll sum it up by saying He just blows my mind.

How has He been good to you lately?