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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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

Announcement: Author Forum and Book Signing

I have been invited to participate in the Author Forum and Book Signing activity during the 2017 Homecoming and Family Weekend, October 12-14, at Bob Jones University. The Author Forum will be held on Friday, October 13, at 2:00 p.m. in Levinson Hall on campus.

The Author Forum will be moderated by Dr. Ray St. John of the English Department. (I am not sure which other authors will be participating in the forum, but I will post that information as soon as it becomes available to me.) From 3:00-5:00 following the forum, authors will be at their respective book tables to interact with visitors. I would like to invite any friends, fans, or blog followers who are in or will be visiting the Upstate of South Carolina during that time to stop by and say hello. I will be featuring two of my books: Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries (McFarland, 2016) and Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught (2017). They will be available at special Homecoming prices.

I look forward to seeing many of you there.

How Many Words Are Left?

The other morning, while I was toiling through my regular routine on the treadmill and struggling with arthritis-pained knees, toes, and wrists, I found myself looking at the bookcase on the opposite wall. There, on the top shelf, were several anthologies and other books that include some of my own writings.

That set me to thinking of how many articles I’ve written. Those thoughts made me realize that I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words over the years since the first article I ever submitted was published back in 1981. One thought led to another.

Behind me, I remembered the huge notebook filled with tear sheets of my published articles. (I say remembered because I didn’t turn to look at it. I once learned a painful lesson about trying to turn around and run backwards on a moving treadmill, and I’m not fool enough to repeat that session!)

As I continued my morning run, warm (very warm!) and dry on a cool, rainy day, I wondered how many words I still have in me. Because we are each given a set amount of time in this life, and, knowing that we, like David, should pray that God would “teach us to number our days” (Psa. 90:12), it seems only natural that we should also ask Him to teach us to calculate our production in whatever our field of service might be. In my own case, it was first in teaching and now in writing and editing. So I wonder how many more words I have left in me to write.

Do I have another book left in me? Perhaps a couple? None? How many more articles are in me?

The question is not how many more writing ideas I have left in me. Those are a dime a dozen; they’re in every direction I look and in everything I read, see, and do. (And even if my idea well did happen to run dry, myriad people are more than happy to volunteer their ideas that they think I should write about!) The issue is how many of my  ideas I will actually be able to express in words fit for public consumption. Correction: it’s actually how many of those words will editors find acceptable to share with their readers. Without editors willing to buy and publish my words, no number of written words will amount to anything. To make a difference, there must be willing editors and willing readers. And that is the rub.

My mind was racing faster than my feet. The pace of the treadmill decreased, but the incline increased dramatically. As I huffed, puffed, and perspired, I asked myself the next logical questions: What will my last written words be? And will anything I’ve written have made any difference?

I know how I read. Whenever I pick up a magazine or newspaper, I skim and scan. Seeing an interesting title or headline, I might read the lead paragraph. If my attention is not immediately arrested, however, I move on to something else. I don’t have time to waste. As the librarian’s t-shirt read, “So many books, so little time.”

I probably read more than the average person, but I rarely read a complete article unless it really grabs me. If it does, I might even print or photocopy it for possible later use.

But most readers skim and scan even more loosely than I do. And we all forget so quickly. Someone once said that yesterday’s newspaper is good only for wrapping fish or lining a birdcage. Today, we don’t even wrap fish in newspaper, so its value is even less.

Can you name even one article that has made a lasting difference in your life? On the spur of the moment, I can think of only one, an article titled “The Tyranny of the Urgent” (about how we allow urgent demands to crowd out the truly important things of life), but I can’t remember its author’s name or which publication it was in.

Today, we suffer information overload, and we forget so much more quickly and easily. Can any words really take root in our lives to the point of making a lasting difference? Will any of the words that I write make any difference to anyone else?

Only one author’s words have the infallible promise that they will live eternally and make a lasting impression and difference in their readers’ lives, and those are God’s. He said, “My word . . . shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).

If written, my words might not get published. If published, they might not be read. If read, they might not be remembered or make any difference in anyone’s life. But it’s nonetheless my responsibility to write them, whether many or few. What happens to them after that is beyond my control. As Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson said, “Duty is mine; consequences are God’s.”

Jesse Stuart, another writer-teacher, encouraged fellow writers to persevere:

And if men thwart you, take no heed.

If men hate you, have no care.

Sing your song.

Dream your Dream.

Hope your hope.

Pray your prayer.

So I write. I don’t know how many words I have left in me, just as I don’t know how much longer my life will last. But I simply do what God has called me to do and leave the results with Him.

Freelance Writers Appreciation Week

Someone recently brought to my attention the fact that this week was Freelance Writers Appreciation Week. I use the word was because the week is now almost over; another weekend is upon us.

My first thought was that some poor, struggling freelance writer, feeling sorely underappreciated by editors who persist in rejecting his or her work, had come up with the idea for the special week, no doubt in collaboration with other wannabes in his or her writers critique group.

dsc_0508I actually don’t know who came up with the idea for the week-long commemoration or what the underlying motivation was. It did, however, set me to thinking.

Every freelance writer, at some point, feels unappreciated or underappreciated. No one but another writer knows what goes into their business. Other people–nonwriters–seem to think that precise, mind-enlightening, soul-stirring, and emotion-laden writing just flows effortlessly from the writer’s pen (or, to be technologically correct in this twenty-first century world, computer).

They don’t see the inner struggles to discover the precise words, research the subject matter, gain inspiration for one’s own soul, or get one’s emotions stirred to the point of being willing to share those most intimate feelings with readers, risking opposing arguments and even outright rejection for the slight chance that their work might actually be published. I think it was Hemingway who quipped that writing was easy (as many people seem to think); you just sit down and open a vein.

neighbors-helped-neighborsNonwriters see only the author’s published article or short story or book. They don’t see the struggle to find an appropriate venue for the work. They don’t see the efforts exerted, once that venue is discovered, to impress the editor or publisher enough to risk his firm’s money to publish the work. They don’t see the countless rejections that come between completion of the work and an eventual acceptance. Nor do they see the inner struggles of the author as he rereads the rejections time and time again to see if they contain hidden somewhere a faint ray of hope for his or her writing.

“The editor addressed it to me by name; it wasn’t just a form rejection. But, then again, mail merge can do a lot with form letters to make them look personal!”

“She said that it was a promising theme, a good concept. Does that mean that with a little tweaking it will be acceptable, maybe even publishable? Or was she just trying to let me down kindly?”

“The letter said, ‘Try us again.’ Does that mean what it says? Do they really like my writing and want to see more of it? Or are they just being nice, really hoping that they never see another thing from me?”

Neither do nonwriters see the frustrations that result when editors don’t respond to queries, proposals, or completed manuscripts. They don’t reply by the response time stated in Writer’s Market. They don’t respond to follow-up queries after that time frame. They don’t even acknowledge having received the submission or query. They leave the poor writer hanging.

And the writer’s imagination is left to produce innumerable reasons for the lack of response. Some of them are reasonable (e.g., “The editor is on vacation–had a baby–was fired”). Some of them are downright conspiratorial (e.g., “The editor is bigoted against Christians or conservatives or polka-dotted people”).

Nonwriters don’t see the long wait that often follows all the work that is involved in producing the finished piece, submitting it, and receiving an acceptance before finally getting paid for it. Hoping for “on acceptance,” the freelancer generally must accept “on publication.” And that, in practical terms, usually means some unstated time after–often well after–publication. And when it does come, it’s about the same amount that Mark Twain was making back in the nineteenth century.

Yes, I’ve been there. Many times. Often.

So what keeps a frustrated, struggling freelancer going, returning to his or her writing in spite of the frustrations and disappointments? Are we gluttons for punishment or masochists with some strange affinity for getting hurt, disappointed, rejected, and being unappreciated?

underwood-typewriterNo, it’s “The Call.” One who is called does it because of that call–regardless of the outcome. Check what some of the greatest writers have said about writing. Many of them said that they would keep on writing even if no one bought or read their work. Because it’s a calling. Those who quit apparently either weren’t called or didn’t obey the call.

Inevitably, every time I begin to feel discouraged with the results of my writing, frustrated with editors who don’t recognize masterful writing when they see it or who refuse to send a simple e-mail acknowledging receipt of a submission (“Got it. Will get back to you.”), or unappreciated by the reading population, God has a way of reminding me of His calling for me.

Just this morning, in fact, while reading Psalm 37, He spoke these words:

“Trust in the Lord . . . and verily thou shalt be fed” (v. 3)

“Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass” (v. 5).

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (v. 7).

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. . . . Though he fall [have his work rejected by publishers?], he shall not be utterly cast down” (v. 24).

“Wait on the Lord, and keep His way, and He shall exalt thee . . .” (v. 34).

Such patient waiting and resting and trusting is definitely not easy. Neither does it condone sloth or laziness. I must do my part–all the work involved in the writing and marketing process that others never see–and then trust Him to do what I cannot. The work is my job; the results are His.

Freelance writer appreciation begins with the writer’s appreciation of his or her calling and faithfulness to it. God will take care of any other appreciation, so we don’t need to worry about it!

Random Sage Advice from Famous Writers

One learns to write by writing. But it never hurts to have guidance from someone who has already proven themselves successful at the task. Following are some random bits of advice by some of those people. I don’t necessarily agree with their political or economic opinions or condone everything they wrote, but they were successful and prolific writers, so they knew how to write and were successful at it. Their advice is instructing me; maybe it will help you, too.

IMG_0823Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”

Richard Bach: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

W. Somerset Maugham: “Writing is a whole-time job: no professional writer can afford only to write when he feels like it.”

T.S. Eliot: “Writing every day is a way of keeping the engine running, and then something good may come out of it.”

James Michener: “Many people who want to be writers don’t really want to be writers. They want to have been writers. They wish they had a book in print.”

J.J. Rousseau: “However great a man’s natural talent may be, the art of writing cannot be learned all at once.”

Lewis Carroll: “I don’t want to take up literature in a money-making spirit, or be very anxious about making large profits, but selling it at a loss is another thing altogether, and an amusement I cannot well afford.”

John Steinbeck: “Your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person–a real person you know, or an imagined person, and write to that one.”

Alfred Kazin: “In a very real sense, the writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself; the publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratifications, is a curious anticlimax.”

Montesquieu: “A man who writes well writes not as others write, but as he himself writes. . . .”

John Kenneth Galbraith: “There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I’m greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed.”

Burton Rascoe: “What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”