The Angel on the Road

I am fortunate to be able to ride my bicycle to work when the weather allows for it. At about five miles each way, I get in a cardio workout while saving gas, plus the enjoyment of the outside. I can’t do it every day even if the weather is nice as my schedule does not always allow for it, but I do ride when I can.

IMG_7557This morning I planned to expand my ride to swing by the gym for a short weights workout. For me, it was more about testing the feasibility of the idea than anything else. This increased my mileage to work by only about three miles. It was a beautiful, clear morning, ride temperature about 60 degrees, and light traffic as I planned the journey before rush hour. What could go wrong?

I need to step back to about three weeks ago when I was prepping my road bike for the first ride of the season. I had foolishly left it standing on its tires in the garage instead of putting it up for the winter in the basement on its rack. When I wheeled it away from its parking spot near a stepladder, I discovered the front tire was flat. No problem, as I’ve changed tires (well, tubes) before.

The last time was several years ago.

I began by unhooking the front brake cable and flipping the quick release. Except the quick release did not live up to its name. Despite prodding from pliers, I could not move the release handle. Whatever. My bike shop is a mile from my office. I’d take the bike there on the way to work and get it tuned up for the year. So far, so good.

Except I kept meaning to practice how to change a tire. For several years I promised myself to do so, yet never did. The time caught up with me, of course, on a busy highway on the way to the gym with a front flat. I wrestled with the thing for 45 minutes, finally turning to a YouTube video to figure out what I was doing wrong (oh, inflate the tube a bit, put in tire, mount tire on rim, not my method which I’m not even sure what it was).

I was about 95% done when an SUV pulled over and a woman about my age came over to render assistance. She was a cyclist as well, and in short order we finished the job. I thanked her, calling her my angel. In reality I was really a few minutes away from finishing myself but I appreciated her being there to provide assistance and assurance I was doing the job correctly.

What does this have to do with writing?  Well, yesterday I tweeted about the necessity for writers to strive for excellence in the trade. I’ve seen writer’s tweets that contained embarrassing errors – not typos, minor misspellings, or fat-finger mistakes, but writing “to” instead of “too” or “advise” instead of “advice.” Just because it’s Twitter doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for excellence on that platform as well.

I did not achieve excellence in my cycling preparation. A lesson learned. Maybe before I hit the road again I’ll practice what I preach in other aspects of my life.

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Writing to Serve

IMG_7540I took this selfie before rehearsal for the second of five Easter services at my church. This is my fourth year singing in the church choir. We are a worship choir, not a performance one, meaning we focus on our church’s goal to help people become more fully devoted followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

That’s not to say, though, that we don’t strive for excellence – we do. Several weeks of rehearsals one night a week together and listening to MP3s and studying our written parts during lunch, in the evenings, or whenever we can find time is necessary to create the worship atmosphere we strive for. Every church is different, I know. Then there are the pre-service rehearsals, a full set before the first (Friday) and second (Saturday), then a warm up Sunday. This picture is as we’re getting set to begin the Saturday full set run through.

Christian fiction writing is similar in the desire for both service and excellence. For me, my writing mission mirrors the church mission, to help people become more fully devoted followers of Jesus. Of course I also strive for excellence. When we, a group of 80 or so mostly (or solely) amateurs in the choir sing together, we sound professional because we want that excellence, not for ourselves but for those in the seats.

I want my writing to launch to that same level of excellence for the same reason, to benefit the readers. It’s a long, arduous process to conceptualize, write, and market a book. I admit I’m not the best at the latter but am learning. I have to, because I genuinely believe my story can help others, but only if I can get it in the right readers’ hands. To that end, I continue to strive for excellence, not for me, but for them, and Him.

Leaving Darkness, about leaving depression through faith, is available at major online retailers.

Photo by Greg Schaffer

 

Christian Bible = Fiction?

Today I received a response to a tweet, a snippet of a review of my Christian novel Leaving Darkness – “This is a very nice book of Christian fiction.” The response: “Christian Bible = fiction.” aaron-burden-113284-unsplash

My first reaction was “is that really necessary” but then I realized the opportunity to discuss something I’ve been wanting to address for some time.

I have found that many non-believers require evidence of the truth of the Bible first if they will accept it as God’s word. I get that. I’m a science nerd, grew up big on astronomy, and hold a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a MS in Information Systems Project Management. Postulate theory, then prove said theory to establish fact – the scientific method.

Some may argue that the Bible has passed analysis in many disciplines. A few examples off the top of my head include the discovery of archaeological finds in the Middle East, the Shroud of Turin, the Crown of Thorns (recently in the news because of the Notre Dame fire).  Others may argue the opposite – the archaeological findings only show that historically there may have been a man named Jesus of Nazareth, the Shroud of Turin has been carbon-dated to the middle ages, the Crown of Thorns came out of nowhere hundreds of years after the Crucifixion – valid, well-thought out arguments to disprove the Bible.

Here’s the issue as I see it though – you cannot, and will never find conclusive proof if you begin on the foundation of “prove it to me.” From John 20:29: “29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed;blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Yes, John goes on to note that Jesus performed many other miracles as “proof”: “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” However, that returns to the circular argument that if you do not believe the Bible is truth, then you won’t believe what John wrote about those signs Jesus performed as proof.

The bottom line as I see it: you first need faith, then you shall find proof, not the other way around. If you begin to read the Bible to find proof first, you won’t. But if you approach the Bible with an open mind and heart that the truth may lay within, you will. For me, as I’ve grown in faith, I see tangible proof of the truth of the Bible daily.

Now, I’m not going to profess I understand all of the Bible – I don’t. Jonah in the belly of the whale? Hard to swallow (pun intended). Talking donkey? Pretty difficult to accept based on scientific knowledge alone. That’s where faith helps to augment – not replace – lack of understanding. An interesting observation though is the stronger my faith becomes, the more I see the proof that skeptics seek but cannot see.

I respect and understand the view of the responder to my tweet and appreciate the opportunity to expand on my faith. I also welcome respectful responses to this post. What do you think? Does beginning with a walk of faith and an open heart lead to conviction of biblical truths, or does the The Christian Bible = fiction?

NIV Bible quotes from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Manuscript Critiques

I’ve begun to work with a critique group with the American Christian Fiction Writers to both help find issues in my WIP and to assist others. Often when we write we become blind from familiarity to both simple and not-so-simple mistakes that others may pick up on. We are burdened by the entire vision of the story in our minds, and if we don’t successfully translate that vision to words, we haven’t succeeded in our goal. That’s where a critique group provides value.patrick-tomasso-71909-unsplash.jpg

This is the most formal such group I’ve participated in to date. All undergo a week of training to ensure that there is complete understanding of the processes and expectations. After that the critiques begin – first the writer critiques others’ submissions, then they submit.

I have found this to be an extremely helpful and supportive group. I have so far critiqued six submissions and received five for my first submission. All comments provided value for which I am appreciative. While I was unsure at first, now I am eager to submit more.

Perhaps too eager.

At lunch I prepared my next submission, chapter two of my novelette Childhood. The feedback from chapter one influenced my review, as it should. I made changes, small at first, then more significant, then to the point of splitting chapter two into two chapters. Finally, I stopped, removed my fingers from the keyboard, and leaned back in my office chair.

I was rushing the process, and the writing suffered.

I was reminded of a small yet significant lesson today – don’t rush for the sake of an artificial timeline. I would like to finish the novelette in a month, but a rushed lackluster manuscript is much worse than a polished one that took three times as long to complete. I’m not racing against anyone but myself. My goal is quality, not quickness, so the next submission will have to wait – be it a day, two days, or longer, whatever it takes.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

The Balance of Power

Yesterday I saw a tweet in the #writingcommunity that asked about abandoned writing concepts. I do have one that has sort of haunted me for 30-plus years. Maybe haunted isn’t the right word, but I feel as if I haven’t finished something. I touched on it last month, a novel titled The Balance of Power. That was my most significant abandoned writing concept, one I may return to.

As I have several projects in various stages (a novelette nearing completion, a novel that pc7rRgyRiI have just begun, and a relaunch of possibly two titles), taking on another project now would be foolhardy. Yet I am drawn to find the scraps of loose leaf and spiral notebook paper that comprised this improbable tale of a Soviet takeover of the United States. I think I know why, as well. The Balance of Power was my first complete manuscript.

I never tried to find a publisher or an agent for the manuscript for a few reasons. First, I didn’t want to go through the hassle of typing it up, though I did try a few times. Once was using a product called Electric Desk, a very early word processing (and I think spreadsheet) software package. Even if I could find those files and the original software (on 5.25 floppies), they would be useless. I have no way to read the ancient media (not that I have any confidence that after 30-plus years the data would still be intact on floppies).

Bur what I do have are the original penned scenes. Many hours of labor when I was in my mid-teens still exists beneath my house in some basement box, abandoned.

Maybe it’s time to revisit it.

I don’t know what the quality of the writing is – my expectations are low. But what I do know is that, for my personal history, The Balance of Power represents a milestone in my writing career, though I could not have recognized it at the time. For that reason, and for me, alone, I think I need to return to that manuscript. It has been on my mind for the last month, and the tweet just confirmed that I have become interested in revisiting the past. A crappy, unsophisticated story? Probably. But it’s mine. Perhaps, in today’s world of self-publishing ease, I shall fulfill my 16-year-old self’s dream and publish The Balance of Power. No one may read it, but it will be there for all to see – as the Greg of 35 years ago dreamed about.

Hammer and Sickle image from http://clipart-library.com/sickle-and-star.html

Today is the Day!

This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24 New King James Version (NKJV)

Today is the day! It is the day the Lord has made! We only have today – yesterday has passed and tomorrow has not yet come. Embrace today!

This is one of my favorite snippets of scripture. The abundance conveyed in sixteen words is incredible. For within directs both our gift and our purpose for all of our lives, because our life is a long string of individual days.IMG_7520.jpeg

Human nature is to fail. We are not perfect, and never can be. Yet our sins must never distract our focus on serving the Lord every day as a gift to Him for providing the day for us. Mistakes and bad decisions are forgiven therefore we shouldn’t dwell on them. We should rejoice!

The pre-sunrise early morning speaks of the promise of the day. Everything is new and fresh. We have not yet addressed the stresses of the workday. I am guilty of often jumping from bed to shower to car to work without stopping to give thanks for this day and to promise that I will utilize the talents also gifted to me to serve. That’s a primary reason why I tweet the #8AMPrayer every workday, to remind myself not to forget my purpose here.

Obviously, that extends to writing. I recently read a tweet that promoted the idea that fiction should entertain and not contain a message or a lesson. That seems like a waste of a great opportunity – why not strive for both? The written word is a powerful influencer, a tool a gift from God. For me, I choose to offer it back as a gift in my writing, be it an 80,000 word novel, a 10,000 word novelette, or a 140 (or 280 now) character tweet.

I stated this before – a Christian fiction writer has a responsibility to advance His kingdom. That goes beyond entertaining. Today is the day He has made – I rejoice in the opportunity to help others through writing this day!

Bible quote from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Picture by Greg Schaffer

Why I Quit My Job So I Could Write More

Heh – when I logged onto WordPress this evening, I had no idea what I was going to write about, then saw I had saved this title two weeks ago. Present Greg thanks Past Greg!

It’s true, in a way – I quit my job so I could write more, but that was one part of the equation (yay, a cliche and I’m only on the second paragraph). I was in charge of information security for a decently sized community bank and I could have remained in the position for many more years beyond the five-and-a-half I had already served – maybe even to retirement. It was a comfortable existence. But God had other plans for me.rye-jessen-1145106-unsplash.jpg

On the professional side, the message I received was that while I was using my talents well, I could apply them more effectively. Small and midsized businesses don’t have access to the information expertise Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) bring, so we provide part-time virtual CISO services that fit their budget and risk tolerance. I’m using my talents more for service while still earning a living.

On the writing side, I am called to write Christian fiction novels, as I’ve mentioned before, but it wasn’t always that way. My first two novels are more fantasy with some Christian elements and some non-Christian ones. I struggled to find writing time, and quitting my job was supposed to provide more bandwidth to write.

Here’s the odd part of all of this. I am working harder in my professional field than I ever have before, and yet I have more time for writing. How is that possible? My making this move, I’ve eliminated several time-wasters:

Commute – I cannot begin to calculate how much time I’ve wasted in traffic. Podcasts and audio books can only go so far. For awhile, I rode a commuter bus to work and was able to then write during the commute, but the conditions were not ideal.

Now, my drive is less than five miles each way in light traffic. I could have kept my home office and reduced my commute to zero, but I found that I accomplish much more outside the home office.

Meetings – It’s a fact of corporate existence – meetings. Meetings to discuss meetings. Meetings to examine output from meetings. Meetings just to hold regular meetings. Meetings that you don’t need to be in. Sure there are productive meetings, but in hindsight looking back on my career probably 50% of the time I spent in meetings was wholly unproductive. Now all of my meetings are productive, because my clients pay by the hour.

Low-Value Projects – This relates to meetings, as all projects hold meetings to discuss progress. But when those projects are not significantly advancing the core reasons why you’re employed, all activities associated with the projects, including meetings, become an exercise in checking boxes. I once sat through a series of meetings on designing policy templates, including the type and size of font. Is that really an efficient use of a senior executive’s time? See the “pay by the hour” comment above.

Nine-To-Five – I have the flexibility to create my schedule as I see fit. This means that often I start the workday at 5:30, take a writing break from 7-8:30, and work until 3:30, then go to the gym, ride my bike, or whatever. When inspiration hits, I can stop what I’m doing (for the most part) and write. You can’t do that on corporate time.

The takeaway? God has given me the opportunity to use my time efficiently. It’s up to me to do so for His glory.

Photo by Rye Jessen on Unsplash

Writing Tools – BookFunnel

A common theme among authors, especially indie authors, is frustration of lackluster sales and exposure. Luck is the product of preparation and opportunity. We don’t know when we will “get lucky” with our marketing efforts, but we can prepare for the opportunity when it arises (or when we create opportunity through marketing efforts). There are many preparation paths.Bookfunnel

BookFunnel is an eBook distribution platform. There are several levels of membership but the basic level ($100) allows for up to two pen names and 5,000 downloads per month – that is the level I signed up for.

I was introduced to BookFunnel when preparing for my first blog tour promotion of my novel Leaving Darkness as one possible method to distribute eBook copies to reviewers. I went a different route as the $100 fee just to allow for distribution I deemed excessive. I didn’t see much value for BookFunnel beyond that – at first.

One strategy for building email lists is to offer a magnet, a giveaway that others may value in exchange for an email address. In that sense it’s not free; you are “selling” for an item of value. Publishers and agents consider email lists as one indicator of the strength of an author’s platform (and therefore marketability). I realized I needed to begin collecting email addresses.

I did not market my first two novels at all out of nativity and ignorance, and am only now working to catch up to where I need to be as an author. I’ve understood the magnet concept for most of my life but its importance from the marketing side never clicked for me until recently. I decided to offer a magnet. but what, and how?

The answer to what was easy – my first novel, Forgiveness. I wasn’t worried about lost revenue from sales impact because there was no sales to begin with (a consequence of that lack of marketing I mentioned). But I believe it is a solid novel that many would enjoy. At the very least, my exposure would increase by the dozen or two that may download it, and I’d have a few email addresses that, ideally, most would convert into fans.

The how to offer the magnet presented a challenge. I opted to try Facebook ads, as I had success building my author page following with ads several years ago (okay, I did try a bit of marketing then I suppose). I was pleased with the initial success as I began to receive signups for my email list in exchange for the download.

Up to this point, I had planned to just email the eBook in the format they specified, but I realized this would take a lot of my time, so I looked at BookFunnel again and decided to try the basic plan. In the end, $60 of ads produced 57 contacts – a nice number, but costly.

It wasn’t until the end of the ad period that I explored BookFunnel further and came upon the promotions section. One author set a promotion theme and invited others to join to fill limited spots (I believe this promotion capped at 26). With nothing to lose and low expectations, I signed up.

My expectations were not only met but exceeded. In 12 days Forgiveness was downloaded approximately 170 times. With minimal effort and zero additional capital, my email list had about quadrupled. No surprise – I’m sold on BookFunnel now. Even if there are no other features that I opt to use, BookFunnel has already proven its value, as far as I’m concerned. Note I have no connection to BookFunnel beyond the customer relationship.

Image snipped from BookFunnel’s web landing page at https://bookfunnel.com/

 

 

Writing on the Road

I find it difficult to write when on the road. I’m only referring to business trips, not vacations, because trips away are just that. But when traveling for the job, I do try to set aside some time for writing activities. Sometimes meetings, conference activities, and the like end early enough to allow for an uninterrupted block of time in the hotel room before retiring, sometimes not.luke-stackpoole-578017-unsplash.jpg

I try to write some in the morning. In addition to the #8AMPrayer tweet (that I don’t always get out at 8:00 in the morning), my goal is to publish my daily blog post by then before digging into the work day. Some days I don’t get to the blog until midday or later. I always try to post something, though, because part of this is about maintaining discipline.

That’s where part of the challenge is. When in a routine, scheduling is much easier. When traveling it is difficult to maintain a routine beyond eating three meals (and even then, sometimes a meal is eaten later, if at all). It becomes all too easy to just put the writing discipline aside.

Addressing a Work In Progress (WIP) is the hardest for me. Unlike a tweet or a blog post, I have to take a bit of time to center my thoughts, get into the story, and relax to begin the creative flow. In the rush of travel schedules, that often is not possible. In those times, I abandon the effort. I’ve tried to push through, often with substandard results. Forcing time to write then becomes a waste of time.

For me, yes, it’s about discipline, but it’s also about patience. As God has called me to write, He will also provide the situations to write in His time, not mine. While I suffer from impatience, He does not, because time has only meaning to me, not Him.

Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash