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?

What I’ve Learned Lately … with Jodie Bailey

Today I’m kicking off a new column that will appear on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month – What I’ve Learned Lately. One of the best things about being a writer is meeting people at conferences or through online groups who can be mentors, cheerleaders, and – ahem – motivators when needed. I’ve invited some of these wonderful people to share about some things they’ve learned, whether they’re related to writing, faith, or some other corner of life.

My first guest blogger is Jodie Bailey, whom I met at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference a couple of years ago.

A little intro … Jodie Bailey is an avid reader and an aspiring beach bum. She is a stubborn child who resisted God’s calling for two decades until He hit her over the head with a Beth Moore Bible Study book, and she finally figured out He wanted her to be a writer. When not tapping away at the keyboard, she watches NCIS reruns, eats too many chocolate chip cookies, wishes she were at the beach, reads with her daughter, and follows her Army husband around the country. Visit Jodie online at www.jodiebailey.com.

And now, here’s Jodie, with a lesson I still need to learn every day myself.  🙂

 

Two years ago, I went to my first writers’ conference. And I had no idea what I was doing.  Get this… I was driving six hours to a place I’d never been before, where I knew not one single soul, with a novel God had already told me not to pitch, all because I heard my “dream” agent would be there.  If that wasn’t a recipe for disaster, I have no idea what would qualify.

It was about five hours into my drive, while I was happily singing along to Colbie Caillat,  when THE VOICE spoke.  (No, it was not an audible voice, but humor me here.)  Want to know what it said?  It said, “Choose now, Jodie.  This conference is your make or break.  Either writing will be your hobby, or writing will be your ministry for me.  Choose.”

Whoa.  There is nothing like God laying it on you when you are only one hour away from the gates of Never Been Here Before.

After the most amazing week of my professional life, I got back into my car and drove home, amazed by God.  On that drive, I said, “Know what, God?  This is for real.  I choose to do it for you.”  Right there, I surrendered writing to Him and promised to take it as seriously as He wanted.

I would love to tell you I kept that vow.  Know what I’ve learned?  Surrender is a daily—sometimes a “minutely”—occurrence.  It is not something to do once and for all.  Because after I made that decision and vowed to give it all to God, I picked it right back up and tried to do it all in my own power.  Sometimes I pick it up for a day or so.  Recently, I spent about four months doing it all on my own.  Guess what happens when you do it all on your own.  Nothing.  At least not for me.  You want a massive case of “can’t think of one single word to write?”  Tell God you’ll handle this next book and He can take a break.

God recently had a little sit-down with me.  He actually gave me a list of ten things I need to consider about my life.  Some things were blessings He’s given me.  Some things were convictions I need to work on.  One big thing was this:  Discipline is an act of worship.  God called me to be a writer.  When I sit myself down at my desk and press the power on my computer, what do you think He wants me to spend my time doing?  I’m guessing it’s not exploring Facebook.

When I turn on my computer to get to work for the day, the greatest act of worship I can perform is doing what God created me to do.  God created me to be a writer.  He gave me a talent to use or lose.  He gave me the time to put words on paper.  It is a high honor from Him, and one I should not take for granted.  When I—when we—allow ourselves to become what He made us to be, when we do what He called us to do, there is no greater way to praise Him.