Blessings of Abundance

I often get down on myself for not meeting writing goals. Didn’t hit 1,000 words. Didn’t write a single word. Didn’t blog for five days. Didn’t finish my crits for my group. And so on. Then comes the other points of reality that stab at the fledgling indie author. No sales today – this week – this month. No reader magnet downloads. No comments on my blog posts when I do post.

Oh, woe is me.

This describes many indie and trad authors lives. At least with trad, there is more than just the author on the team to create and promote (but all authors, indie and trad, bear the weight of most if not all marketing unless you’re of the Tom Clancy status). We mope and whine and then somehow pull ourselves together the next day with a fresh cup of coffee, a hearty breakfast, and an attitude to again conquer the world.

How much we take for granted.

IMG_7580In the United States, we are so very blessed with the abundance of fresh meat and produce and clean drinking water. This morning I biked to my office, chose from among 20 or so different varieties of coffee from our office machine, and dined on chicken breast and raw carrots (yeah, not typical breakfast food, but I’m on a sort of health kick).

As I sat at my office computer pondering today’s #8AMPrayer tweet, still moping about my Amazon Author Central stats, I stared at the chicken and the carrots and the coffee.

I hadn’t even given thanks for them.

I took them for granted, hung up in my “first-world” problems.

I can do better.

I tweet the #8AMPrayer every workday around 8 AM Central to help center myself on the true purpose of the day – serving Him. Sometimes I am late with the tweet, but always when I do tweet I have moments like today when I realize the blessings I have and the opportunity to be a blessing for others.

Lord, let us appreciate and give thanks for these blessings and pray for the elimination of hunger and thirst worldwide. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

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It Takes a Community

Whatever endeavor in life, community multiplies the efforts providing results that cannot be achieved alone. Yesterday, this smacked me in the face – hard.

Because of a calendar mistake I made six months ago, I nearly missed an event I was supposed to be at – in this case, a technology conference (that began at 7:30) for which I was manning the booth for our company. Well, it was at 9:59 AM when I received a text from a colleague that asked if I was fine because as he wrote, “I see you did not make it today.” I texted back within a minute “Make it where?” and right after I sent it, I realized with horror what he referred to.

I had mixed up the days.

I thought the vendor portion of the conference was the second day, not the first.

I had blown it.

IMG_7563I called my colleague and he assured me he thought it would be fine to set up so long as it was before lunch. The conference center hosting the event was about a 40-minute drive – add in driving home from the office to change, I made it onsite in just over an hour and set up in a few minutes. As it turned out, the planned morning break for attendees to visit the vendor area never really materialized. In the end, I missed very little.

Had I not been active in my professional community, I would not have built up the relationships whereby someone would have noticed my absence and reached out. If I had played the game alone, I would have only realized my error by arriving the next day and finding the vendor area empty.

IMG_7568After the conference day ended I returned to my office, dimmed the lights in the common area, grabbed a beer left over from the afternoon networking event, and enjoyed the view of the old town square – all while realizing just how blessed I was to be an active participant in community.

Writing is the same. We cannot create literary masterpieces without input from colleagues, editors, and beta readers. We need each other as we hone our craft and our works, else we never reach our author potential.

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.

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