5 Questions You Might Be Afraid to Ask About Writing

June 21, 2016 • By

Now that my first novel is almost here (it’s currently in the formatting and cover design phase), I thought I’d try to answer a few questions about the writing and publishing process from my experience. I’ve had the privilege of visiting with other aspiring authors and certain questions seem to come up over and over again.

Here are the top 5

How do you come up with ideas to write about?

The main concept for “Son of the Age” came from growing up with an absentee father. I had to learn what it meant to become a man without my dad around and I know that’s true for many other men. So, in this case, the idea came from my own life. “Write what you know” is a mantra often spoken by writers. If you can turn a personal experience into an engaging story, then you’ve got gold because you already know what’s happening inside your character’s head. Think about what you’ve been through, and what you’ve learned, and start there.

How long does it take to write a book?

It really depends. Initially, I had a goal to write 1,000 words a day and be done with the first draft in two months. Unfortunately, 1,000 words felt overwhelming so I skipped a lot of days. It took me almost three years to write the first half of the book because of that. When I lowered my daily word count to 250, I got the second half of the book done in three months! The moral of the story is to set goals that you’re likely to keep and you can probably get it done in less than a year.

How do you keep your thoughts organized?

“Son of the Age” started with a bunch of ideas and a loose thread to follow. I use a writing program called Scrivener. It allowed me to write in a non-linear fashion. I had a folder for each chapter and, when I got an idea, I’d drop it in the appropriate folder. It was like adding clay to a statue a little at a time and, when I was done, I had my statue. Whether it was a work of art or not remains to be seen! If you’re even THINKING about writing, I would highly recommend that you give Scrivener a try. It’s used by professionals everywhere and I wouldn’t try tackling a book without it.

What do you do when you’re stuck?

Sometimes you’re just not sure how to get from point A to point B and sometimes you just don’t feel inspired. That’s when I would go for a walk. Unplugging, stepping away, getting some fresh air, and removing distractions does absolute wonders. When you let your brain relax, it comes up with some amazing solutions to your problems! On many of my walks, I would listen to instrumental music that fit the mood to my story. The experimental/celtic improv CD “From Silence” by Dave Bainbridge and Troy Donockley became the soundtrack to my book and listening to it while I walked unlocked idea after idea for me.

Are you going to self-publish or publish traditionally?

I get asked this one a lot. Initially, I was going to submit to publishers but, when I heard that traditionally published authors have to do their own marketing and promotions just like self-published authors do, I decided that I would rather do all that work for a 70% royalty instead of a measly 15%. I attended a writers workshop recently, taught by a very successful author of 130 books. When I asked him what the advantage of a traditional publishing deal was, he said, “The prestige of saying you’re published by Random House.” I’m OK without that. The other thing I’ve enjoyed about self-publishing is having full creative control. My novel has quite a few personally inspired elements to it and I couldn’t imagine letting a publisher mess with them.

So those are just a few things I learned from my writing journey thus far. I really hope they help. If you have any questions about writing or publishing your own book, feel free to leave it in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.


21 Days at the Crack

May 20, 2016 • By

One of my friends calls it the “butt-crack of dawn”. I laugh each time she says it. Now I know why she calls it that.

Last month, I was watching a TED talk where a presenter talked about how getting up at 4:30 every morning changed his life dramatically. He talked about how he was more productive, had more time, was able to improve his health, and enjoyed socializing with his friends more. It was entitled, “How Waking Up at 4:30am Can Change Your Life”.

So, I decided to give it a go. I’d get up at 4:30 for 21 days and rake in the benefits of productivity, rich friendship, ridiculous amounts of time, and tighter buns and thighs.

The following is the good, the bad, and the ugly of 21 days of getting up at 4:30am.

The Good

The main benefit of getting up at 4:30 was that I was able to spend time in prayer and Bible reading, uninterrupted every day. Sitting in the overstuffed chair in our living room, praying and reading while the sun rose was really nice. I never missed a day the entire 21 days either. Big bonus!

Most days, I was able to get my work done early. On average, I was able to call it a day around 3:00pm. That’s three hours earlier than usual. That left me with time to do things I enjoy before working on family responsibilities. I did some writing, some drawing, and a little napping.

The Bad

I was fine for the first 5 to 7 days. Sure, I had to go to bed earlier because I was tired earlier, but that’s to be expected. After about a week, though, I was tired all the time. Morning, noon, and night, I was exhausted! It felt like someone had drugged me and I just couldn’t seem to seem to get my energy level up, no matter what time I went to bed or how much caffeine or sugar I consumed.

My writing tapered off, my desire to work around the house was gone, sex required too much energy, and I zoned out when it was time to work. It got worse and worse until I felt like a zombie all day, every day.

The Ugly

It hit me hard on the second Sunday of the challenge. While I was speaking at our church, I realized that I couldn’t “read” the audience. Normally, I can get a sense of what’s sinking in and what’s not and I can adjust my pacing and emphasis accordingly. That morning, I was flying blind. It was a scary feeling, and I just wanted to hand the microphone to someone else.

I had a hard time reading other non-verbal communication as well. I felt paranoid, like I was offending everyone. You know those dreams where you show at school in your underwear? That was the feeling. Really weird!

Eventually, those beautiful early morning devotions turned into quick devotions, then morning nap. The whole challenge just didn’t work out for me. Maybe if I didn’t have kids, or a wife, or a life outside of my job. For now, I’m getting up at 6:00. I may have lost my mid-afternoon fun times, but I can feel my sanity returning.

I’ve added the TED talk below. If you decide to take the challenge, let me know how it goes for you!

Family, Fathers

The Power of Fathers

May 6, 2016 • By

You’ve probably heard before that this is a fatherless generation. 20 million children live in homes without fathers.

This is a reality that is leaving a gaping wound on our society.

Every summer, our church sponsors a camp for abused and neglected foster children called Royal Family Kids Camp. We work with social services to bring 25-30 kids (age 6 to 11) to a camp in western Illinois where they get to be kids without the fear of abuse or rejection. Some of them have been beaten, some of them have been molested, and some both. Of all of the campers that I’ve met since we started the program, I have yet to meet one with a biological father in their lives. It usually leaves me with thoughts of breaking dads’ kneecaps.

As a person who grew up without a father in the home, I know what it’s like to try to become a real man without a dad to show you how. The feelings of vulnerability and insecurity were sometimes crippling. When a friend’s dad attempted to molest me, I wished more than anything for a father’s arms to run to but they weren’t there. When I was bullied, I didn’t have a dad to tell me how to handle it. When the guys all talked about sports or cars, I was clueless. It was by God’s grace that things weren’t worse and I remember that every time camp rolls around.

I recently came across some startling statistics about growing up fatherless:

Children from fatherless homes account for 63 percent of youth suicides, 71 percent of the pregnant teenagers, 90 percent of the homeless and runaway children, and 70 percent of the institutionalized juveniles. They account for 85 percent of the children with behavioral disorders, 80 percent of rapists, 71 percent of all high school dropouts, 75 percent of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers and 85 percent of all youths in prison.

Wow, if those numbers don’t move you, then check your pulse. Fatherlessness is a pandemic with far-reaching effects.

So, what can be done? Well, I don’t think the answer is to fold our arms and expect dads to step up to the plate. Truth be told, most absentee and deadbeat fathers will always be just that. I’m not trying to be cynical, it’s just the hard truth. I believe that the Lord can change hearts and I believe that some men will come to their senses, but most will continue in their cycles of neglect and substance abuse.

No, what fatherless children need is a miracle in the form of you and of me. They need someone who will play with them, talk to them eye to eye, and be safe and consistent. You don’t have to join the foster system (though that would be amazing) or rearrange your life. You just have to learn to keep your eyes open and let them into your life.

I was blessed to have a couple of men in my life that accepted me as I was, affirmed me, corrected me, and didn’t abandon me when I was being a tool. I believe it’s one of the reasons that I’ve been married for 24 years and my kids still like me (most days).

My prayer for us today is that we pause when we see the lonely, the abandoned, the fatherless. That we won’t be too quick to be about our business, and that we’ll walk with them long enough for them to see what a good man looks like and lives like.

Let’s be the miracle they need.