notebook-wih-spiral-and-blue-cover-1236579Irony is what happens when you get a brilliant idea for a book on how to get started with plans that God’s given you, you’ve gone through your prep, finished doing your research, and created your outline, but suddenly find that you can’t seem to start writing the actual thing.

This post could also be called “Learning by Doing” “Practice What You Preach” or “Why Am I Surprised?”

So here’s a question for all you people in blogger-land. What do YOU do to get past writer’s block?


Embracing the Unexpected

detour-sign-1141114This may very well be my last blog entry in 2014, and so before anything else I want to wish everyone who reads this a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

But before the year ends I want to tell you a little bit about the whirlwind of a week that just happened to me. I help to run the theater program at my church – we perform skits as a part of our weekly church services. We also put on a few full-length productions every year, normally around the holidays. We’d spent the past few weeks working on a silly, funny Christmas play based loosely on A Christmas Carol, and I was kind of excited about it. But then last Sunday I got what seemed like terrible news – we weren’t going to be able to do that particular show. Without going into too much detail, it became clear rather quickly that we were going to have to scrap the play entirely and start over with something new.

I had a full cast of actors (many of whom had made special arrangements to be in the show) who were excited to perform, a whole bunch of families who were planning on coming, exactly 2 weeks until the show date, and NO SHOW. Given the position I found myself in, you might not be surprised to hear that my first thought was “Where can I get my hands on a new script?” You might also be able to imagine the horror I felt when my pastors suggested that I might want to try writing a show of my own.

Write a show? I had two weeks! The way I saw it, I barely had enough time for the actors to learn their lines, and they wanted me to WRITE them first? Didn’t they know that I wrote nonfiction? Didn’t they know how badly I struggled with things like plot and dialogue? I didn’t even have an idea – I mean, literally, not even an hint of a spark of an original idea for a Christmas play. The whole thing just seemed impossible …

Except that behind the panic (and believe me, I was in a panic) I could see the hand of God pushing me to do this. I knew it wasn’t just my pastors asking me to do something. I knew that this was too perfectly orchestrated to be an accident. I also knew, from personal experience, that just about every time I’ve ever agreed to go along on these crazy leaps of faith I’ve ended up on my feet.

And so on Monday morning when I got to work I got a coffee and locked myself away in my office with a few mindless projects so that I could focus on brainstorming. And only a few hours (and several spreadsheets) later, I suddenly had one! Paula Casill, the girl who’s never had a particularly inspiring idea for a fiction piece in her entire life, suddenly had an idea that she found exciting, one that was big enough for a full-length play, and one that she wanted to write! Was it even possible?

Apparently so! Over the next few days I spent every free moment glued to my computer typing like a madwoman. Some scenes were so easy I wrote them off in one go. Others took thought and time and conversations with actors and re-writes in order to get them sounding natural. There was very little time for things like sleeping, grocery shopping, or communication with the outside world. But by Thursday night it was done – a completed script.

The show isn’t until Sunday, so I can’t say for sure how well we’re going to pull it off, but all early signs point to it being just as good as (if not better than) our first production. Our actors are all on board, and rather than being frustrated with all of the work they “wasted” working on the old show, they’re excited at the prospect of being involved in something original.

But here’s the most amazing part – the play uses a standard “storyteller” dramatic device to make it easier to transition between scenes and the storyteller’s narration was written in a classic children’s poetry style. When the script was finished I looked at it and realized that it is perfectly suited to be adapted into a book. So that’s the new plan! As soon as the show is finished I’m going to start working on the book! Just like that, without even realizing what I was doing, I ended up writing something awesome in a completely new genre!

Why am I telling you this story? Well, for two reasons (and no, neither of them involve patting myself on the back).

The first is this – because I think that there are a lot of people out there who reject and despair at the uncomfortable, out-of-the box situations that happen in their life. They see them as impossible challenges (or at least, that’s how I saw THIS) and that often leads to giving up, running away, or some other form of surrender. But when we can learn to trust GOD more than we trust in our own abilities, these impossible challenges suddenly become POSSIBLE.

The second reason is that I have been reminded first-hand how often God will use our challenges and adversities to expand and bless us. I didn’t come into this December looking to write a children’s book. In fact, I’ve NEVER wanted to write a children’s book. It just didn’t seem like something in my wheelhouse.  But God had plans of His own, and He knew exactly how to use my current circumstances to accomplish His will.

So when the unexpected challenge or the impossible mountain suddenly appear in your life, let this story be an encouragement to you. Don’t run away. Don’t give in to fear. Stand up, square your shoulders, and plow ahead. You never know where that kind of persistence and determination can bring you. I can’t tell you what’s waiting for you on the other side of your mountain, but I can say this much – it’s worth fighting for!

I’m not good at waiting

Here’s the thing – I’m not very good at waiting. I’m good at tasks, at procedures, and at anything that resembles measurable progress. Waiting … not so much. 

And that’s what makes this particular part of the book-writing process so incredibly difficult for me. My first draft is done. I’ve read through and edited it twice. I’ve sent it out to a small group of readers to get their initial reactions, and now I’m stuck (say it with me now) waiting!

This waiting period comes with a strange mix of emotions. After working for months to complete a draft, I’ve just recently gone back to read the whole thing from beginning to end. The excitement to see the complete (if not polished) work in front of me makes me want to hit “publish” already and get it out there. I’m excited to see my work in print, and I can’t wait to share it.

But on the other hand there is a nagging, gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that this book isn’t going to be any good, that I’m going to discover that it needs a complete overhaul or a from-scratch rewrite. The lack (so far) of feedback from my beta readers has me on pins and needles. I’m  half-hoping that their response will be filled with nothing but praise and jubilation, and simultaneously half-convinced that they’ll discover major flaws, gaps, and problems that I, as an author, lack the perspective to notice.

And in the meantime I’m stuck waiting, which (I may have already mentioned this,) I’m not good at doing. So here’s a list of productive, useful things that I can start doing now in order to keep myself busy while I wait:

  • Create a list of things to do to keep myself busy while I wait
  • Start writing the blurb for the back of the book
  • Put together a media kit
  • Begin laying out and designing the book’s interior (using the current draft – I’ll swap it out for a final draft in the end)
  • Assemble and organize my front matter
  • Write my preface
  • Touch base with my cover designer, start talking about working on a mock-up
  • Work on the 3 other writing projects that I’ve put on the back burner while I’ve focused on Dream-Chasers
  • Assemble a list of people who should get a copy of the book once it’s published. Start collecting mailing addresses for them.

What do you do to kill the time? Is there anything I’m missing? Leave a comment below and let me know 🙂