But That’s Not in My Plan!

Sometimes things just turn out differently than we plan. That’s life. But, if you’re like me, such unexpected changes to the plans tend to upset us.

For example, whenever we’re heading out on a trip, I like to make a list of everything I need to pack so I don’t forget anything. (Yet, I always manage to forget something! I once had to buy practically a new wardrobe because I left my suit bag hanging in the closet at home. My wife still insists that I did it on purpose.) I also like to have a schedule: a specific time of departure to which I adhere religiously; a timetable with definite milestones that we must reach at precise times; planned necessary stops for food, gasoline, bathroom breaks, etc.; and a definite time of arrival. Any deviation from the plan creates frustration.

But it seldom works according to my plan. Things happen. The stops take longer than expected because we have to wait longer than we should at the fast food joint. The bathrooms are crowded (or we have to do the janitor’s job for him before we can use them). Or we have car trouble. The more such disruptions to the plan, the greater the degree of frustration that results.

I must admit, however, that sometimes the best things have happened when the unexpected disrupts my plan. At the moment of the disruption, I might not know how it will turn out, but afterward I might see that the revised schedule or itinerary or event actually worked out for the better. I think that’s what’s called a serendipitous moment.

That has sometimes happened with my writing. In fact, it happened just a few weeks ago.

From the beginning, my original plan for my four books has been that my promotion and marketing efforts would focus on only two of them, Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries and Teacher. A third, Look Unto the Hills, would receive much less attention because it is a collection of memoirs of my early personal life (childhood, in fact), and I knew there would be little public interest in that. And for the fourth book, A Goodly Heritage, I intended no marketing efforts whatsoever, having written it for only my own children, my two siblings, and possibly a few other close relatives who might (might!) be interested.

That was MY plan. And then something happened to change that plan. I received an e-mail request from the editor of Southern Writer magazine. She wanted to “push” one of my books, but neither of the two that I would have expected. She wanted me to write an article on how I wrote and researched A Goodly Heritage. She wasn’t interested in my family; she was interested in sharing with her readers how to write a “family legacy.”

Who knows how this article will turn out or what may result from its publication? Perhaps nothing at all will come of it. Nothing lost. On the other hand, it might open other doors for my writing that I could never have imagined, things that weren’t on my plan.

This is often the way God works with His children. His Word tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9, Amplified).

But He also tells us about His plans for us: “For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace, and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome” (Jer. 29:11, Amplified).

Have you had a sudden change in your plans? Rather than allowing frustration to ruin your day, seize the new opportunity and make the most of it. That’s what I’m slowly learning to do. Let’s learn together!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

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The Family Just Keeps Growing!

News Flash! Dateline North Carolina–Thurs., April 5, 2018

We’re grandparents again! Our daughter Rachelle gave us Number 7 yesterday morning. That makes five granddaughters and two grandsons.

Dakota Grace Anderson was born via C-section at 7:43 a.m., Thursday. (Because the parents moved down to North Carolina from Wisconsin last summer, we told them that she’s South Dakota!) She weighed in at 6 lb., 15.7 oz. and measured 20 in. Mother and baby were doing as well as could be expected as of this writing. Because Dakota had some fluid in the lungs (common for early-arriving babies), she was on oxygen to flush it out, so she might be in NICU for anywhere from a few hours to up to 72 hours.

We’re not old enough for this! But the responsibilities are great. We’re praying to have a good influence on each of the seven grandkids. With the geographic distance, that’s more difficult, but. . . . We’ll do what we can and pray for opportunities.

Late-Breaking News!

And this late-breaking news about another of my “babies,” my book Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries: 73 major university libraries (both U.S. and international), historical societies, and museums have now purchased copies. (Harvard actually purchased two, one for the main library and another for their HCL Technical Services library!) May the Lord continue to bless its sales in His perfect timing. I also have a couple of other book manuscripts “in embryo.” May He see fit to place them with a “good home” soon!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

More on Getting Started

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. But taking that first step is, admittedly, often hard. Harder for some than for others. Especially hard for some writers. And at some point for all writers.

Continuing my thoughts on this topic from my two previous posts (https://dlpedit.wordpress.com/2018/03/23/how-to-be-a-high…ersistent-writer/ ‎ and https://dlpedit.wordpress.com/2018/03/27/the-time-to-act/ ), I’d like to offer for your consideration the following two quotations, each by a famous, successful author.

Louis L’Amour: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Some of what you write will, undoubtedly, be garbage, but you can remedy that when you go back to edit your work. After all, didn’t someone else say, “The writer’s best friend is the trash can?” (This quotation reminds me that I have downloaded on my Kindle several of L’Amour’s novels that I must get around to reading. Someday.)

William Faulkner: “Don’t be a ‘writer.’ Be writing.”

Many people want to be known as writers, but they don’t want to do what is required to warrant that title, which is to write! They’re more than willing to talk all day about writing, what they’re going to write, what someone else ought to write, etc. But they don’t write.

Now you know what to do. So what are you waiting for? Start writing!

(Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson)

 

The Time to Act

A Chinese proverb states that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But when? No time like the present! Do it now!

One of the problems I (and, I dare say, many other writers) face is getting started. Once past that initial hurdle, the words begin to flow. There’s no guarantee that they will flow indefinitely or without interruptions, but I’ve learned that I must write while they are flowing. I must redeem the time. Now.

James Gifford, executive director of the Jesse Stuart Foundation, noted that Stuart “wrote furiously, like a man killing snakes.” Stuart had to get his stories down on paper, so he wrote quickly. He had “a tireless work ethic” and, as one critic stated, “wrote like a force of nature.” He wrote the 703 sonnets of Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow in only eleven months, 42 of them in one day while sitting in a church cemetery. But that resulted from his acting on his ideas.

Much of my writing requires quite a bit of research. Some of my knowledge comes from what I already know or have experienced, but most of it requires research because I don’t know everything that must be said on my topics. (As one of my favorite practical philosophers, Will Rogers, put it, “We’re all ignorant; just on different subjects.” And even in our area of “expertise,” we don’t know even a fraction of that!)

So I must read, dig, and study, mentally putting it all together into a coherent form around a solid skeletal structure before I can begin writing. But one of my greatest problems is knowing when to stop researching and start writing. The amount of information on almost any topic is seemingly endless. One source turns up multiple additional sources that I feel compelled to peruse, and those turn up additional information, which, in turn, forces me into still more avenues of discovery.

If I allow myself, I can get lost in all the information gathering and never get around to writing what I want to share. That’s when I must force myself to set aside the books and articles and online sources and get busy producing the end product. And that takes discipline.

And I’m not alone with this problem. Other writers also are more than willing to talk about what they’re going to write “some day.” They can tell us a lot about what they are studying or researching and planning to do “one day.” But they never seem to get to the point of acting on that information or those plans. It might be a family history, a book about some momentous event in their lives, or a novel that they’ve been cogitating for years. They find endless excuses for not taking that first step toward writing and publishing. So it never gets done.

Augusten Burroughs revealed to an interviewer for The Writer (April 2017) the cure for this debilitating condition: “Stop thinking about all the reasons you have not to write your memoir and what people in your family might think and just get busy writing it. . . . Stop thinking about writing, stop reading about writing, stop worrying about writing, and just actually sit in one place and write something.”

It’s as simple as that. And as one Patch the Pirate (Ron Hamilton) children’s songs says, “Do it now. Don’t delay. Don’t put it off till another day. Go ahead; begin it. Right this very minute. You’d better do it now!”

How about you? What writing project have you been putting off for whatever reason(s)? Now is the time to act on it. You don’t know what might happen tomorrow. It might never come for you. Take the first step of that journey of a thousand miles now. Today. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

How to Be a Highly Persistent Writer

Jordan Rosenfeld, author of numerous books, including A Writer’s Guide to Persistence, offers the following good advice for writers who want to last over the long haul. (I’ve summarized her advice in my own words.)

  • Don’t worry about success; just write. The success will take care of itself.
  • After submitting something, don’t just sit around waiting. Get busy writing on the next project.
  • Take chances. Who knows? Something you submit at great risk might be accepted and bring great rewards, not the least of which will be publication.
  • Don’t be a lone wolf. Collaborate on something.
  • Be willing to say no to some opportunities. The ability to do so indicates that you know your boundaries and standards.
  • Don’t always do things “by the book.” Risk doing things in unusual ways.
  • Be passionate about your work. “Plant your own roots of purpose deep in the ground of meaning.”

Author Talk (Part 2)

At the recent authors forum in which I participated, the moderator asked us several thought-provoking questions. I summarized my responses to two of those questions (What influenced you to write? and What has been your greatest joy in writing?). In today’s post, I’ll answer two more of those questions.

1. Where do you get ideas for writing?

In a word, LIFE. Experience. What happens to or around me. That’s a virtual–no, an actual–cornucopia of possibilities. I might overhear a piece of conversation, someone’s observation, a quip, etc., and it sets me to thinking about and developing it into an article. Or perhaps there’s a subject I know nothing or little about, and I begin to research it. And then I develop an urge to share what I’ve learned with others. Since I’m not a big talker, the natural medium for such sharing is the written word. One of my daughters gave me a mug on which is printed a summary of my idea mill: “I am a writer. Anything you say or do may be used in a story.”

2. Why have you not entered genres like drama, fiction, or poetry?

A rule of thumb is that one tends to write what he most often reads. I read primarily nonfiction. Within nonfiction, I read mostly historical, educational, or biblical topics, so that’s what I tend to write. Knowing the need to read widely, I do try to read fiction occasionally. In fact, I have an annual goal of reading at least one novel–not that I always achieve that goal!

Truth be told, I have dabbled at fiction and poetry, and the results have been dismal. I also dreamed of playing major league baseball but got no farther than being a cow-pasture pitcher. (I didn’t even have a sandlot to play ball on when I was a kid.) I’ll stick to what I know and continue to work at improving what little talent I have in that area of writing.

If you weren’t able to attend the author’s forum and be one of the people who asked questions from the floor, perhaps you have one you’d like me to answer. If so, contact me, and I’ll try to answer it in a future post.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Author Talk (Part 1)

Last Friday, I participated in an authors forum, or “talk,” during which the moderator asked seven or eight questions of the three of us who were on the platform. For the benefit of any readers who were unable to attend and might be interested in knowing my responses, I’m summarizing two of them here and will address two others in a later post.

  1. What influenced you to write?

The initial impetus was my frustration as a second-year teacher with students who were unwilling to exert an effort to learn. As a form of therapy, I vented my frustrations on paper. After getting home from a particularly trying day in the classroom, I wrote of the problems I faced and then read the results to my wife. After I had done that repeatedly for several weeks, my wife tired of hearing it. She said, “Either submit it to someone for publication or–whatever! Just don’t read it to me again!” That hurt my pride and challenged me to submit it to The Freeman, the flagship publication of the Foundation for Economic Education. Much to my surprise, the editor accepted and published it as “Help Wanted: Laborers.” More recently, my first book, Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries, was the result of a desire to know about the subject and the inaccessibility of information on it. The most recently published book on the subject was written more than 70 years ago, and I thought that it was time that more recent findings were pubLished in one source. The publisher, McFarland, agreed. (I wish that more readers would, too!)

2. What has been your greatest joy in writing?

It’s always good to find a check in the mail and to see one’s byline on a book cover or magazine article. But I must admit that my greatest joy in writing has been learning that something I have written has been a blessing or help to someone. To hear someone say, “I really enjoyed that article” or “I learned something from your work” or “That really encouraged me just when I needed it most” makes all the research and writing efforts worthwhile. One particular incident especially encouraged me. I was walking back to my office when I was a textbook author, and I happened past a young Korean college student who was eating her lunch al fresco. Just as I passed her, she glanced up and said, “Hello, Mr. Peterson.” Surprised that she knew my name, I stopped, turned around, and returned her greeting. “How do you know my name?” I asked. She explained that she long had wanted to be a teacher, and one of her high school teachers had read all of my articles that had been in Journal for Christian Educators, translating them for her until she could read them in English for herself. Such encouragement, and the prospect of helping some other young teachers, led to another of my books, Teacher.

Next time: Answers to the questions Where do you get ideas? and Why have you not entered genres like drama, fiction, or poetry?

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Mile Markers

We’ve all passed them on the interstate. They’re ubiquitous. We can’t miss them, but we seldom notice them. We note them only when we’re in trouble and might need to refer to one to direct help to our location. We’re just too involved in our journey to notice them more than then.

I’m referring to those narrow, vertical green signs along the shoulder called mile markers.

Today, this post is sort of a mile marker for me. It’s not much of a mile marker to many bloggers who have been at this longer than I have. Maybe I’m just a late bloomer.

Be that as it may and for what it’s worth, this marks my 200th blog post since I began this blog on September 4, 2015. Much like what happens when I’m driving, I happened to glance to the shoulder during my writing journey and noticed this mile marker. It flashes past and becomes history as soon as I hit the “publish” button. Then the journey goes on as though the marker never existed. But for a brief moment, it made me reflect.

Why Did I Begin Blogging?

I had read and heard the “experts” say that every author must have a blog to gain “credibility,” to build and expand a “platform,” and to “brand” himself or herself. (Hmm. Doesn’t branding involve getting burned?!) I had only days earlier signed my first book contract with McFarland for Governing the Confederacy. (Only they changed my title to Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries, which I thought was too long and ponderous and uninteresting for an effective title. But they were the “experts,” so that’s how it hit the market.)

I’ve never been much of a salesman, especially when it involves promoting myself, so even the baby step of starting a blog stretched me well beyond my comfort zone. I’m still uncomfortable doing so.

Has My Blog Achieved Its Purposes, Accomplished Its Goals?

I don’t know, but probably not if measured by the standards of those who presume to know. And judging from the successful blogs I read, I’d have to agree. I’ve gotten a few “likes” and fewer comments, and I have a couple of faithful followers. (They’re usually the ones who comment.) I have no idea whether it has led directly or indirectly to any book sales.

Judging by the number of readers, most “experts” would say that my blog is a failure. Agents, editors, and publishers want to see a lot of followers and shares. They judge the size of an author’s market by those magic numbers. Without them, they won’t consider the author’s works, no matter how well written or timely. Or, if they do, they won’t devote a lot of time or money marketing them.

The Positive Benefits

But my blog has accomplished a couple of things. First, it has forced me to write regularly, according to a self-imposed schedule. That is a big part of my journey. I determined (based on what the “experts” said) to post something twice a week, every Tuesday and Friday. Those self-imposed deadlines, the mile markers along the writing roadway, forced me to come up with things to write about. I don’t know if readers have found my subjects to be interesting, but those subjects interested me–at least at the time I wrote about them.

Most of my topics have related to historical events or historic characters. Sometimes they were about writing, editing, or publishing. Sometimes about educational issues. In a few instances, I’ve even forced myself to post something about my articles or books. And I’ve learned, unsurprisingly, that it’s much easier and more natural to write about those other topics than about myself or my writing products.

Second, writing a twice-weekly blog has forced me to plan. I can’t wait until the last minute and then just throw something together. Oh, I’ve posted a few things serendipitously, such as quotations that struck me during my reading or when something unexpected happened or came to my attention. When “the muse” spoke to me most clearly, however, was when I had a planned schedule, a prepared list of topics, each tied to a specific date that just happened to coincide with a Tuesday or a Friday. These were the items on the itinerary of my journey. Once posted, each became another mile marker passed, little noticed and insignificant.

The “experts” would probably say that I’m being too transparent here. But I’m just telling it like it is.

Mile marker 200 is now behind me. MM201 is approaching. I don’t know how many more such mile markers I have to pass during my journey. No one but God knows when or where one’s journey will end at one’s final destination. I only know that I must keep “driving” on my journey. I must write. I don’t know how many people are following me; I know that a lot of people are ahead of me, and a lot of people are passing me, progressing faster in their writing careers. But I just know that I must write regardless of numbers. That’s my calling. I’ll leave the numbers, the results–the “likes,” the “shares,” the “followers,” the sales–with God. After all, He is the only Judge of true success.

In yesterday’s sermon, our pastor hit the nail on the head and offered this food for thought: If glory goes to you, it’s not going to God.

Soli gloria Deo!

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

 

Lessons Learned: Writing

For the last 36 years (since my first article was published in 1981), I have been learning the art and craft of writing and the “tricks of the trade” of publishing. To paraphrase a certain insurance company, I’ve learned a lot (much of it the hard way) because I’ve seen and experienced a lot. And I’m still learning. Perhaps you can relate to some of the things I’ve learned. Here are a few of them but by no means all of them.

  1. Study the markets before you submit. When the first article I ever submitted was accepted and published and I got that check in the mail, I was hooked. I began cranking out article manuscripts right and left and submitting them so often that the postal clerks and I were almost best buds. But then reality struck: I began finding more rejections than junk mail in my mailbox. That’s when I realized that something was wrong. I wasn’t studying the markets and tailoring my submissions accordingly. When I began to do so, the acceptances became to creep in. Even some articles that had earlier been rejected found a home and were published.
  2. Rejection is not personal (usually). Publications have needs and guidelines, and those needs change over time. Sometimes the changes are seasonal. Sometimes they are topical. And sometimes they are philosophical. When the rejection reads, “Doesn’t meet our needs at this time,” we should take it at face value. In a few instances, however, maybe you and the editor just don’t hit it off. Or your writing isn’t quite up to the bar that publication has set. But those instances should be rare. Even if the rejection IS personal, move on. There are other publications and editors out there who want and need what you write. Forget the bad experience and create good ones elsewhere.
  3. Editors change. This point goes along with the previous item. Editors tend to move around a lot. If you have a good working relationship with an editor, work to stay on good terms with him or her. But realize that one day–sometimes sooner, sometimes later–that editor will move on. Be ready for the new editor and brace yourself for rejection–then move on. I once worked with the same editor at the same publication for nearly 25 years. He published almost everything I submitted. But he eventually retired. His replacement rejected everything I submitted. My writing hadn’t changed. The editor did. I submitted my work elsewhere, telling myself that he and the publication’s readers, not I, were the losers.
  4. Not everyone will rejoice at your successes. People are funny. One day, someone will cheer you in your writing efforts, but as soon as your work is published, he or she suddenly becomes sullen and silent or begins to find fault with your writing. I think it’s the result of a big lump of envy and a dash of jealousy that prompts the change. If you’re excited about your writing success, I hope others will be, too. But don’t count on it.
  5. Be faithful to your calling. If God has called you to write, realize that He does not use the same measuring stick for success that people use. He rewards faithfulness in performance, not outward results. This truth is hard to swallow when you’re getting rejection slips, but faithful persistence promises and pays an ultimate reward. Keep at it. All in God’s time and in His medium of exchange, you’ll see success.

What have you learned from your writing experiences? Care to share them? I look forward to reading them.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Unfinished Business

For a number of years, every time my wife and I traveled to Florida to visit her parents, as we turned into their street, we passed an unfinished house. The concrete slab had been poured and the walls erected years before. But the structure had no roof and no interior walls. The stereotypical South Florida vegetation had nearly swallowed the structure.

Just last weekend, during our visit to North Carolina to see three of our four daughters, we passed a similar sight. The footers of a home had been poured and the blocks of the foundation had been laid. The sill plates had even been attached. And then construction had halted, and vegetation was beginning to encroach over the unfinished structure.

I don’t know the reasons for the unfinished jobs. Maybe the people ran out of money. Maybe they changed their minds. Maybe they even died without heirs to finish the work. Who knows which of myriad reasons fit these instances. All we know is that people started jobs that they did not finish.

As I contemplated these scenes, I felt a little guilty because I have myself started so many projects that I didn’t complete. Some of them I never should have started in the first place. Others, however, I should have seen through to completion. I think, especially, of writing projects that I began with gung-ho enthusiasm only to see them falter and then end up stuck, uncompleted and unsubmitted, in a box somewhere.

Dr. Bob Jones Sr. used to repeatedly tell the students attending his college, “Finish the job!” I need to apply that mantra to my writing (among other things). How about you? I’m sure that I’m not the only writer who has experienced this problem of unfinished work.

Why do we not finish our projects? For some of us, it’s procrastination. We get sidetracked by other things and end up losing our enthusiasm for the project that we started with such gusto. For others of us, it’s perfectionism. We keep tinkering and tampering with our words, our organization, or some other aspect of our writing, and never getting around to finishing and submitting it. And sometimes it’s our petrifying and paralyzing fear of rejection that stops us in our tracks. We are so afraid of having our work criticized and rejected that we let it sit and rot rather than submit it and let the chips fall where they may.

The cure for procrastination is determination. Just make up our minds to do it! And then follow through with action! For our perfectionist tendencies, we must admit that nothing that anyone (especially not us) writes will be perfect. Even at our dead-level best, we will still have flaws in our writing. When I worked as a textbook author, I was amazed at how the authors, editors, proofreaders, and others involved in the publishing process could go over text, photos, and illustrations with a fine-toothed comb time after time after time–and still the end product contained flaws. At first, I was appalled and embarrassed by such mistakes that slipped through. But then I realized that perfection was impossible and decided that the best thing was just to do my best and let things work themselves out. The sun would come out again tomorrow. The world would not end.

The fear of rejection and criticism, however, is harder to deal with. Some people seem to take great pleasure in searching out and then reporting to everyone who is willing to listen the errors in the work of others. We must get over the fear of what other people think and just do our job, knowing that it will not be perfect, that it will contain flaws and errors.

Easier said than done, I know. But the alternative is even worse. We will never finish any job as long as we fear what others think of it. As I sometimes look back over the hundreds of written products that I’ve created since I began writing for publication in 1981, I find myself cringing at the errors I made and thinking of how I should have written them. But then I realize that had I not tried, had I not done my best and submitted my work such as it was, I would never have had anything published. I’d still be a wannabe rather than a published author. And that’s when I’m glad that I stifled my inner critic and ignored the naysayers and critics (or as Spiro Agnew called them, the nabobs of negativity). And when confronted by their criticism, I thought, Well, at least I got something published. What do they have to show for all their criticism? What have they produced that is worthwhile?

So if you, like I, feel badly about your unfinished projects, don’t just wallow in self-pity; do something about it. Finish the job! Select just one of those unfinished tasks and tackle it, determined to get it done. Do your dead-level best, but get it done. And let the chips fall where they may. You’ll certainly achieve a whole lot more than if you do nothing. And later you’ll be able to look back and be glad you saw it through to completion.

Now please excuse me. I have some unfinished business to attend!

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Books by this author, all available in paperback and Kindle versions at http://www.amazon.com:

Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries

Look Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East Tennessee

Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught (essays in Christian education)