Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Every day, some new article on how to maximize productivity lands in my inbox or appears as I scroll through Facebook. The one I got yesterday promised me that if I followed this person’s plan, I could have an entire day’s work done by 9 a.m., just as all those other suckers (read: those not on “The Plan”) were beginning their day.

I’m sure whoever devised the plan and the marketing for it actually believed this might be an appealing thought. And maybe it is for some people, but all it made me want to do was go back to bed. 

bed

Now, I could be more productive and I could use my time more wisely during the day, no question about that. But do I want to pay hundreds of dollars to figure out how to pack every moment so full of activity and scrabbling and doing that not a single second is “wasted” (meaning, spent doing nothing but daydreaming, napping, contemplating life, having a coffee with a friend, or just plain being)? Umm, no.

As Charles Stanley once said, “God’s voice is still and quiet and easily buried under an avalanche of clamor.” If God’s voice is still and quiet, and I long to hear God’s voice, doesn’t it follow that I need to be still and quiet myself, at least once in a while?

Instead of following one of the many “plans” I see advertised every day, I prefer to draw my life lessons from my dogs, new additions to the family. Now those puppies know how to just be.

dogs1

They’re not puppies, actually. They’re 8 years old or, in people years, a few years older than I am, so in my book they have earned the right to slow down a little. And while they do love to walk and play and be scratched and cuddle, when no one is available to do these things with them, they are perfectly content to flop down wherever they may be and relax for a while.

dogs2

When I get stressed, or overwhelmed by work, or exhausted by my to-do list, I like to stop and just watch those dogs, the happiest, most relaxed beings I know on the planet, for a few minutes. They remind me that it’s actually okay to slow down sometimes. That rest is good too, not just for the body, but for the soul. A few minutes with them and I can take a deep breath and get back to work. 

dogs4

I may not get a day’s worth of tasks done by 9 am on a regular basis (or ever, actually) but when I do get back to it, I can generally finish whatever I absolutely need to get done that day, and do it with a smile on my face and a lot less tension in my muscles. And, frankly, that’s plenty productive enough for me. 

Press on, my friends.

Press on,

Sara

 

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Thanksgiving is not a Feeling

Sometimes I just plain don’t feel all that grateful. Which is to say, at certain times the very few things I am currently experiencing in my life for which I am not terribly thankful overshadow those many, many blessings for which, if I could get over myself, I would be enormously grateful.

The problem is, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have no right to indulge in that kind of selective thanksgiving.

As C.S. Lewis put it, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”

If I am feeling ungrateful (and the very use of the word feeling should send up a red flag that my current state may not be rooted in either absolute truth or right perspective) it can only be because I have lost sight of the purpose of thanksgiving in the first place.

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Of course I should be grateful for the innumerable blessings I receive on a daily basis – life, clean air, health, drinking water, food, sight, hearing, family, friends, a free and safe country, and so many other things I don’t have room or time to include in this post. And I should also give thanks for those things that I may not immediately consider blessings until I remember that a blessing from God is anything that draws me closer to Him (which can include illness, loss, financial hardship, or any number of challenges and heartaches in life).

However, true thanksgiving is not about what I have been given. In fact, it isn’t really about me at all.

As it says in the Psalms,

“I wash my hands in innocence
and go around your altar, O Lord,
 proclaiming thanksgiving aloud,
and telling all your wondrous deeds” (26:6-8)

and

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving” (69:30)

So then, thanksgiving is not about the one who is grateful so much as it is about the one to whom gratitude is owed. And it is far less about what we have been given and far more about the giver Himself, who He is and what He has done.

cross

Thanksgiving is not trite words spoken around a table loaded with food, it is an offering, not just of praise and thanksgiving, but of ourselves. True thanksgiving not only reveals itself in feelings and words, but in obedience. As the psalmist reminds us, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (50:23)

Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in this Thanksgiving weekend, whether we feel particularly thankful or not, still we can offer wholehearted gratitude to God and say, along with the psalmist, “I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High (7:17).

Press on, my friends,

Press on (and, to all my fellow Canadians, Happy Thanksgiving!)

Sara

 

 

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One Person at a Time

I always say that, for an author, writing the book is the easy part. The next hardest is getting someone to publish it, but by far the hardest part of all is getting anyone to even hear about it, let alone buy it.

Marketing and self-promotion are the bane of my existence. Like most writers, I would prefer to just write the book, hand over the manuscript, and let someone else take care of all the promotion, the way that it was done in the good old days.

Of course, the good old days also involved writing by hand or pecking out letters on a typewriter, and actually having to get up off your chair and go to a library to do your research, so it’s a bit of a trade-off. In any case, those days are gone. Thankfully, there are a lot of resources available now to help with this. I am currently taking a course on the best way to market my work. One of my assignments this week was to find a quote that inspires me in my writing. The one I chose for the promotion part of my work is:

“Even when you are marketing to your entire audience or customer base, you are still simply speaking to a single human at any given time.” – Ann Handley

That idea changes everything for me. One person at a time I can do. One other human being who might have a need that my writing can meet. One other man or woman I can interact with, talk to about what is on my heart and his or hers, share my life, faith, and words with. I love the idea of that.

Early on in my writing career, I was encouraged to imagine one reader for my work, the one person I am telling the story to, the one I hope to reach and impact and hear back from. That makes crafting the story much easier, and the same concept applies to marketing. In a world where interacting virtually is the norm, at least imagining a face-to-face encounter with one person who might get something out of reading my books is an incredibly valuable exercise.

two women sitting in the cafe chatting

It takes the whole idea of marketing from trying to sell something to a bunch of nameless, faceless consumers to something that feels a lot more like sitting down for coffee with a new friend, chatting about what each of you has to offer the other.

Even I can handle that.

Press on, my friends.

Press on,

Sara

 

 

 

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A New Thing

At the writing retreat I attended a couple of weeks ago, one of the speakers read a verse from Isaiah 43 that I have been pondering ever since: Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

As with most jobs, I’m sure, writing can feel like a lot of old things happening over and over: rejection, editing, revising, more editing, writer’s block, more revising, more rejection etc., etc. But every once in a while the new happens – a new idea for a book or a scene, a new contract, new book, new covers. And the new somehow manages to make all the old well worth it.

Today I am celebrating receiving the first hard copies of The Seven Trilogy with the new covers (and a new title for Book 2):

Seven Trilogy - front covers

Although the books came out in 2015 and 2016, today they feel brand new and I’m excited to see what will happen with them now.

Other new things to celebrate with my work? The release date for my next book, the first in a trilogy currently titled The Night Guardian Series, is now June 2019, so watch for more updates on that as the time approaches. As well, I am planning to launch a newsletter (no pun intended) soon that will come out monthly and be short, sweet, hopefully funny and a little bit inspiring as I share my life, faith, work, and family with anyone who might be interested. I’ll let you know how to sign up to receive that as soon as it’s ready to go.

It is easy to get weighed down by the old, by the mundane. But if our eyes are open to see them, God gifts us with glimpses of the new all around us–the sunrise every morning signalling a new day, the changing colours of the leaves outside my window, signs of a new season beginning, births and weddings, photos coming back from the Hubble telescope revealing the existence of universes we never dreamed existed–so many things that provide clear evidence that He is a creator and always at work doing “a new thing.”

And these new things are the reminders that give us hope as we talk to others or listen to the news and are burdened by all the old stories of injustice and suffering and death. They are the promise from God that one day all things will be put right, will, ultimately, be made new.

Seven Trilogy - spines

Just like the covers I am celebrating today (and yes, I agree, they do look pretty good hanging out with all those other great books and authors).

Press on, my friends,

Press on,

Sara

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The Actual Greatest Love of All

For three days this week, I attended a writer’s retreat on the beautiful conference grounds in my city. It was a wonderful time of reuniting with old friends and making new ones. As it always is, it was a joy to gather with others who share both my faith and my passions.

pen and Bible

It was also a time of being gently pushed out of my comfort zone. At one mealtime, a small stone with a single word carved on one side and a Bible verse on the other was left at each place, meant to be used as a writing prompt. Near the end of the retreat, we were encouraged to share a piece inspired by that word. I did manage to both write something and muster up the courage to get up and share it. Although it was raw and rough, and still is, I read it to my fellow writers and I will share it here:

I rolled the stone over and over in my palm. The one word engraved on its side was meant to inspire me to write, to capture the essence of those four letters in a few hundred words. Problem was, the small word on the side of the rock was far too big to encapsulate in a few hundred words, or a few thousand.

I glanced at the words on the stones of the fellow writers around my table. Forgiveness. Joy. Strength. Also not easy concepts to capture in a page or two of writing, but a little more achievable. Hmm. No one sat at the place two seats over. From where I sat, I could see that the word on that stone was Peace. Now that was an idea I could write about. Peace like a river. Peace in the midst of the storm. The word conjured up endless possibilities and pithy proverbs. Could I stroll by, on the pretext of grabbing another helping of roast beef and gravy, and casually scoop it up without anyone noticing?

I sighed. Maybe I should just trust that the right stone with the right word had found its way to my place at the table.

But love? How could you possibly write paragraphs on love without sounding corny, or trite, a little too Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts? The word is liberally applied in our society—we love everything from our family to our country to pizza with extra cheese—using the same four letters for each.

rock4

In Greek, there is more than one way to say love, each conveying a different type. Agape, meaning unconditional love, God for mankind, Philia, or the love that exists between close friends, Storge, the love that grows between family members, and Eros, or romantic love. The distinctions are helpful, and could really be useful in English, possibly with the addition of one for the love of pizza or maybe chocolate.

But my assignment won’t be written in Greek, and neither was the word on my stone, so I was stuck. The lyrics of a myriad of schmaltzy pop songs floated through my head. Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. All you need is love. When a man loves a woman. Crazy little thing called love. None of which, in my opinion, come close to capturing the true meaning of the word, likely because its overuse has rendered the word virtually meaningless.

Then two lessons from my childhood Sunday school lessons flitted in, driving out the musical drivel, thankfully. God is love, and greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Ah. God is love, and what Christ did on the cross, that was love. No wonder I can’t find the words to express it; love–true, unconditional, Godly love–is inexpressible. It is not a word carved in stone, it is the Word hanging on a tree. For me. For all fallen humanity. Love isn’t a four letter word, it is the essence of God. It is the ultimate act of sacrifice and redemption. The word hasn’t lost all meaning, it gives meaning to everything and everyone in existence.

So what do I do with this now, this tiny word printed across a small rock? If I truly grasp that God is love and in love he gave himself for me, what can I do but love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love my neighbour as myself?

Because what matters is not how we say that little word, it is how we live it out in our lives.

                                                                                                Press on, my friends.

                                                                           Press on,

                                                                           Sara

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Just Tell Me Why

A few years ago, my daughter and her friends were standing in their schoolyard across from a dollar store. They noticed a teenaged woman running out of the store with a big bag in each hand. As she hurried across the parking lot, several items from the bags spilled onto the ground. The young woman ignored them and kept going, to the road and across the street. When she reached my daughter and her friends, she stopped for a moment and blurted out that she’d been caught taking things from the dollar store and did anyone want any of the items. Thankfully, they knew enough to refuse and watched her as she rushed down the sidewalk and disappeared around a corner.

My daughter and the other kids decided they should do something, so they went across to the parking lot picking up all the items. They returned them to the store and explained what they had seen. The manager was grateful and thanked them profusely.

Later, as my daughter told me the story, she stopped at this point, looked thoughtful, and said, “I know what she did was wrong, but I actually felt really sorry for her.”

When I asked her why, she replied, “Because all the stuff she stole was for a baby.”

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The entire story changed here, with the introduction of a plausible (and heart-wrenching) motivation for the crime. Clearly the teenager was a frightened new mom, desperately trying to provide for her child. Although her actions were undeniably wrong, it was difficult not to feel sympathy for her, as my daughter did.

The same thing happens with our characters when we write. Motivation for actions,  questionable or undeniably evil, can explain, if not necessarily excuse, those behaviours, thereby creating at least a tiny amount of sympathy for the character. And that sympathy is imperative in order to develop a multi-dimensional character that the reader can relate to, at least in some small way.

And maybe taking motivation into account can help to understand and empathize with not only the characters we are reading and writing about, but the people we encounter in our everyday lives as well. Something to consider, anyway.

Press on, my friends.

Press on,

Sara

 

 

 

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Judging a book by its Cover

My latest romantic suspense series, The Seven Trilogy, came out in 2015 and 2016. The books received great feedback, including a 4 ½ star, Top Pick rating from RT Reviews. They were finalists for several awards, including two Daphne du Maurier awards for excellence in suspense, and a Carol Award. The second book in the series won the Word Award for best inspirational suspense novel in Canada in 2016 and book three won a Cascade Award for best published contemporary fiction.
I was equally thrilled and mystified by what was happening with the books.
Thrilled by the great critical response, and mystified that the starred reviews and awards did not translate into sales. I conducted a poll recently in an effort to discover why. More than a hundred people responded, and about ninety percent told me what I had long suspected, that the problem was …

For complete post, go to https://wordservewatercooler.com/2018/06/04/judging-a-book-by-its-cover/

Press on, my friends.

Press on,

Sara

 

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