Irony

Irony 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?

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Setting Goals

Setting goals – it’s one of those things that we all think we understand, and of course it’s especially popular at the beginning of every new year. We set these goals with all sorts of good intentions, but it normally doesn’t take us long to abandon them altogether.

Why is that?

One reason, I think, is that while we are generally determined to do better, we are often less enthusiastic about being better. Of course we want to achieve that level of success, finish that book, lose that weight, etc. We just aren’t as thrilled about having to do the work it takes to get there.

The other reason, I think, involves a simple lack of clarity. It amazes me how often people set goals that are either outrageously unattainable (I’m going to write a book a month for the next 12 months!) or so vague that they can’t be measured (I’m going to save money this year!)

So how do we fix these problems?  How do we change our patterns so that the goals that we make become achievable as opposed to forgettable?  How do we help ensure that we’re setting ourselves up for success instead of failure? What can we do differently today that will change our outcome tomorrow?

Well, everyone’s different – what works for me might not work for you. But here are a few general guidelines that have helped me along the way:

1. Get Specific. This is one of the simplest things that you can do to help make your goal achievable. If you’re serious about a goal, then you should be able to specifically define what qualifies as success in your mind. Do you want to save money? Great – how much? Do you want to get healthier? Do you want to write more? Well, that’s wonderful, but what does that ACTUALLY mean in your mind? If you can’t tell me that, then you don’t have a goal, you have an idea. Ideas are nice and all, but you can’t achieve ideas. You can’t work toward ideas.

2. Try setting goals that you can meet all on your own. In other words, don’t put your success into someone else’s hands. This can be a hard one to face up to, because so many of our goals involve approval or acceptance by other people. But when our goals involve decisions that we aren’t empowered to make, we can end up feeling like failures just because of other people’s choices. So if you want a better job – don’t make “getting hired”  your goal. That’s not in your hands. But set goals that will make you a stronger candidate for the job you want, and set goals for how and when you will go out there and apply. Do you want to sign with an agent? Well that’s not a great goal, because at the end of the day it’s not up to you. But you can start SUBMITTING to agents – and that’s the type of thing that you can control and plan.

3. Set goals for habitual change, not end results. This isn’t an absolute must, but if you’re the type of person who forgets about your goals 60 or 30 (or let’s be real, 10) days in, it will help to keep you on track. Instead of setting the goal of loosing 20 pounds, try setting goals to change what you eat or increase you exercise. Instead of saying you’re going to finish your book by the end of the year, why not set a daily writing goal – one that’s manageable – and try sticking with it for a month or two? You’ll be surprised how those small daily successes will keep you motivated, and at how quickly they will lead you to real results

4. Build gradual increases into your goals. I love those people who decide every January that they’re going to run 5 miles every day and stick to a strict raw-vegan diet from now on. I love them, but I don’t believe them, because most of the time those types of extreme changes aren’t sustainable. What is sustainable, however, is change that comes in gradual increases. So rather than deciding that you’re going to write 5,000 words a day every day, why not go for gradual change? Set a low goal for January, one that’s easy to achieve – maybe you’ll decide to write 200 words a day or 1000 words a week. And then decide that on February 1st you’ll change it to something more challenging. And then do it again in March. These kind of gradual changes give you time to adjust your life to fit the goals that are important to you.

5. Only set goals that you want to meet. There is no bigger setup for failure than the goal that you don’t actually want to achieve. We set these goals out of a sense of obligation or guilt, but deep down inside we don’t care if they never happen. News flash – those goals are not only pointless (because let’s face it, you’ll never actually do them) but they’re also incredibly harmful to the goals that you actually want to reach. They clutter your plate, so to speak. They weigh you down unnecessarily. They stifle your momentum and steal your focus. None of those things will help you to reach the goals that are important to you. So this year why not do something radical and get rid of the goals that you don’t actually care about.

6. Keep track of your progress. This is so important for anyone who has a goal that’s going to take a while to reach. If you don’t have a plan to reach your goal, you won’t meet it. But just as importantly, if you don’t STICK to your plan, you’ll fall short in the long run. So revisit your goal on a regular basis. Look at how you’re progressing, and celebrate your incremental victories. It’ll keep you focused and motivated throughout the year.

7. Make adjustments. Listen, life is going to throw you curveballs this year, the same way it does every year. That’s just how it works. Some of the goals you set now will happen more quickly and easily than you expect. Others might suddenly become impossible as a result of unforeseen circumstances. That’s all fine. Don’t throw in the towel when things don’t work out. Don’t stop pushing just because you’ve already done better than you’d expected. Make adjustments to your goals throughout the year if you need to. It’s ok to redefine success as you move ahead. That’s part of life, part of growth. If we all stuck to our original goals the world would be full of princesses, ballerinas, fire fighters, and doctors. That wouldn’t be such a bad world, but you get the idea …

I hope these tips helped! Comment below and let me know what you thought. What kind of goals are you setting for 2015? What tips or tricks have worked for you? What important piece of advice did I leave off of my list? Let me know!

Improvement is Impressive

As a natural part of my latest book writing effort (Dream Chasers: Living in Pursuit of a God-Sized Dream) I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what stops people from running after their dreams. One of the biggest obstacles that I’ve noticed is how intimidating it can be to look at the sheer amount of work, effort, or time that would be required. We look at where we are, compare it to where we want to go, and throw our hands up in despair before we even start. Or even worse, we start along the journey to our dreams, but get discouraged and give up when we see other people advancing faster than we are.

But the thing is that the road to attaining our dreams is just that – it’s a road, a journey. And like any journey, the farther you want to go, the longer it can take to get there. That’s easy to say, and harder to remember – especially in this instant-gratification culture that we live in. So to help myself stay motivated and moving forward, I’ve developed a new motto: Improvement is Impressive.

Let me give an example of what I mean. I have always been the least athletic person in a very athletic family. My family is full of triathletes, marathon runners, martial artists, and general jocks. Christmas get-togethers, as you can imagine, involves a lot of chitchat about training regimes, upcoming events, and sports injuries – none of which applies to my life. They talk about doing things that I just can’t imagine enduring. I have one cousin who runs 10 or 12 miles at a clip in order to train for her next marathon.

But when I recently decided to get myself back into some semblance of fitness, I started by walking. Walking is a very effective way to ease yourself into exercise, but it’s not exactly glamourous. It’s slow, low impact, and time consuming. It’s just not an impressive achievement – especially not compared to the incredible things my family does on a regular basis.

So how do I keep myself motivated? By reminding myself that my improvement is what’s most impressive. That’s something that I can push for – something that’s quickly and repeatedly attainable. I can’t get myself out of the house with thoughts of the marathon I’m nowhere near running – not on a regular basis. I can’t push myself to run 10 miles when I’m still getting used to walking 5. But what I can do, what will keep me dedicated, is the idea that I can do better today than I did yesterday. I can improve my time, my speed, or my distance. I can take advantage of the day and use it to get a little bit better. If I commit to doing that every day, it will eventually take me where I want to go.

This idea is something that we can apply to any area where we want to see change. We may not be able to do it all at once. We may not even be sure that we can ever get it all done. We may be so far behind our peers that we can’t imagine catching up, let alone soaring on to new heights. But if we take our eyes off of the impossible distance that we still have to travel, and focus instead on the steps that lay right in front of us, we will find it much easier to take that first step.

So no matter what your dream looks like, find a way to move forward today. You don’t have to take great strides. Baby steps will do. But make it a point to improve yourself today, and then do it again tomorrow. Improvement is an impressive thing.

Finding time to write

I’ve been reading a lot (or at least it seems like a lot) recently about the synergy of creativity and routine – specifically about how people are most effective when their creative output is structured by habit. Since I’m a writer, my reading on the topic has included several recent blog posts and articles about the benefits of having a writing routine. All of the best writers (so they say) had routines. They would wake up at the crack of dawn and start writing – finishing their day’s work around noon.  They would walk every day before they wrote, or lock themselves in an office all day long with nothing but a notepad. They would wake up every night at midnight and write until the sun came up. They did the same thing every day, and their genius flourished. blah blah blah

Yeah, … I don’t know about you, but that’s SO not me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the comfort of the routine. It certainly makes sense to me. I have always been a creature of habit, and there’s something about going through the motions of what you “always” do that helps to focus, ground, and settle the  mind. It’s just that this kind of routine-building has no connection to my reality.

You see, my reality doesn’t include the will (or the energy) to wake up super early and get instantly productive. I don’t have 5 hour blocks of time to sit at a desk and pour words onto a page. I work full time. My commute is long. And my evenings and weekends are always jam-packed with church functions, Bible studies, special events, little kids’ birthday parties, community service programs, meetings, seminars, get-togethers, dinners, and 4 hour phone calls with mom 🙂 What little time I spend at home is normally busy with the thousand little administrative tasks that I have accumulated over the years. Update a database? Sure. Send a weekly report? Why not. Write a children’s church lesson? Of course! None of these things take a lot of time, but they’re there, and they require my attention, and each one of them chips away at the little time that I have when I am both 1) home and 2) awake.

I’m not complaining – I love my life, and I wouldn’t choose to live it any other way. But it doesn’t leave me with a whole ton of free time to dedicate to a structured writing program. It certainly isn’t predictable enough for me to schedule consistent writing time. So to me the idea of blocking off a time in the day, or even a space in my apartment that is solely dedicated to writing seems a little far fetched.

So during a recent phone call my BFF/SNOO (Best-Friend-Forever/Support-Network-Of-One) was asking me about the progress of my latest manuscript. When I told her that it was almost finished she asked me a very simple question that’s been rattling around in my head ever since: “So when do you actually find the time to sit down and write?”

In the moment I was able to give her a quick and messy rundown of how I manage to get words on paper. But the question has stuck with me, because I think it’s important to know how and when I get my writing done. I decided to share it here, because I think it might be helpful for other people with crazy schedules and zero free time to see what I do to keep myself productive.  So here’s what works for me. If something here resonates with you, feel free to steal it. If not, that’s fine too – we all have our own processes. But at the very least I hope it helps you to think about your writing habits, and where you find time to get your writing done.

1. I write at night. Night-time seems, in my life anyway, to be the only time when any writing gets done. It’s the only time when I’m likely to be home, sitting in one spot, and relatively undisturbed. I don’t have a specific time set aside for writing. I’ve noticed that it normally starts not long after I walk in the door – but that can be any time between six and midnight, depending on the day. The key, for me, is to get at it while I’m still UP from my day, before my mind starts slowing down and unwinding. I’m not sure why, but I have always found writing to be a high-energy activity. It always seems to involve jumping up to grab a cup of coffee or a snack. It often means typing as quickly as possible before I lose my train of thought – and maybe even throwing both fists in the air as I read back what I just wrote and find it sounds just as good on paper as it did in my head (we’ve all done that, right? …. Hello? Wait, where did everyone go?) The point is that it takes energy – and that energy is easiest to find in the evening, after my day is done.

2. I know what I want to say. The biggest advantage of writing in the evening is that I’ve had the whole day to think about my work and where I want to take it. I don’t spend hours pondering my manuscript, but it does sit in the front of my mind as I go throughout my routine. As the day goes by I pick up little bits of inspiration, random ideas, points that I want to make, phrasing that I want to use, or new insights I’d never considered. I store them all away in my head so that when I finally sit down to write, it’s not a matter of trying to come up with something to say. It’s more like pouring out onto paper everything that’s been bottled up in my head. Somehow it always seems so much easier that way.

3. I write in short bursts. I admire people who can sit and write for an hour without checking their email. Really – I admire them. I also sort of don’t believe them. Or at least I don’t believe that I could be one of them. I don’t have the concentration or the willpower to say I’m going to write for an hour uninterrupted. What I can do it write in short, manageable clips. I timed myself once and discovered that when I’m actively writing (assuming I know what to say and how I want to say it) it takes me about 10 minutes to put together 200-250 words of prose that I actually like. That is a quick burst of productivity – and even I can manage to concentrate for 10 minutes. So instead of trying to find an hour to write, I grab the little pockets of wasted time that I can find. I’ll write uninterrupted while my pasta cooks, or I’ll sit down 15 minutes before my favorite TV show comes on. With short, specific deadlines and one eye on the clock, I can produce a lot more in a much shorter time than if I’m trying to fill an hour. Often that little burst of production is all I need to get myself into the groove, and from there it’s easy to keep going (during commercial breaks, of course).

4. I pick (and embrace) a frame of mind. I have two different approaches to my writing – and when I say different I mean they are polar opposites of each other. The first I call “Jump Around” and the second “Hunker Down.” Every day, before I write, I ask myself “What are you doing today, Paula? Are you going to jump around or hunker down? Answering this question honestly helps me get into the headspace to write in a way that’s in harmony with my frame of mind. If I’m Jumping Around, its usually because I have a dozen little nuggets of information that are dancing around in my head that need to get on paper before I lose them. It involves (as you might guess) jumping from section to section, or even from chapter to chapter. This mind frame is all about getting ideas on paper and fleshing them out, but has little concern for transitioning or even finishing each thought. This kind of writing is often fun, inspiring, and energizing. Hunker Down, on the other hand is a mentality of plowing through to get something done. It has its own motivations, its own sense of productivity, but it requires that I be in a specific mood, or it turns into a giant waste of time. I normally find myself hungry to hunker down when I’m closing in in the end of a chapter or on a day when I’m lacking any specific inspiration. That’s when I’ll sit down, read through what’s there, and add the nuts and bolts that turn what I have into a coherent argument or idea. It’s not very inspiring work, but it’s solid, it’s practical, and it gives me an incredible sense of accomplishment.

5. I “Paint by number.” In case you haven’t figured it out, allow me to state for the record that I am not a linear writer. I cannot start at the beginning, continue through the middle, and then finish at the end. To me that is the most tedious writing process imaginable. It gets boring, I lose my train of thought, I start feeling stale, and before you know it I’m stuck. No thank you! I prefer to start at the beginning and to write until I get bored, and then skip ahead until I find something that I’m inspired to stick with. Of course, this kind of writing requires a very solid outline – otherwise things can get wildly confusing and unfocused. But as long as the structure is already there, I have no problems working on multiple unconnected sections of my book at the same time, starting them where I feel like it and writing until I lose interest. I have developed a handy highlighting system to help me keep track of where I’ve left off – hence the painting by numbers (don’t be jealous … you can totally steal this. I don’t mind a bit!) Sometimes I think my work looks more like modern art than a manuscript.  But it works for me, and that’s the point.

6. I have a daily word count. There is no better way to feel productive (and actually BE productive) than to meet a minimum daily word count. I’m obsessive about my word count. I have a dedicated spreadsheet where I track it by chapter – in part because it’s an easy way to judge my progress, but mostly because I’m a giant dork. My daily minimum is small – just 1000 words, but once I start writing I can’t really stop until it’s met. So the very first thing that I do when I’m going to sit down to write is to reset my daily count so that I can track just how much I’m about to write. That spreadsheet stays open, and every time I run out of things to write I stop and update my totals to see how far I’ve come. On days when my writing is flowing, I can plow past my goal in less than an hour. That’s an awesome feeling, and when I’m in the zone I have no problems doubling or tripling up. I’ll keep writing until I feel like I’m done. But not every day is a good writing day, and there are times when every sentence is painful, and finding enough words to string together seems impossible. On days like those, I’m thankful for a low count, and I stop as soon as I reach it. But that’s ok. I feel no guilt. My goal may be small, but meeting it every time I sit down to write is the most surefire way I know to keep myself writing.

So what about you? What are your writing routines? Where and when do you find the time to get it all done? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Proof Copies: Do I REALLY need them?

Yes.

We could end it there and call this the shortest blog entry I’ll ever write. But that wouldn’t be much fun, would it?

So let’s talk for a while about WHY you need proof copies of your book.

We’ll start with a few basic presumptions. We’ll presume that you’ve written your manuscript, that you’ve re-written it several times, that you’ve had it edited (hopefully professionally!) and made the necessary changes. We’ll presume that you’re releasing a paperback and that you’re industrious and decided to do the page layout and formatting yourself.

Are we all on the same page? Good.

Given these presumptions, how long would you guess you’ve spent staring at these words on your computer screen, even after you’ve finished writing them? Over the course of your many drafts and edits, how many times have you read over the same words? The answer is many – you have spent many many hours reading the same 70,000 words many times over.

And that, my friend, is the main reason why you need physical proof copies of your book. The problem isn’t that you’re lazy or stupid or sloppy.  You’ve read through every word of your book over and over again to catch even the smallest mistake, but that creates a whole different problem.

You see, the human brain has an incredible capacity to translate actual information to meet its own expectations. Have you ever read that email that gets forwarded around every few years where the letters in the words are all jumbled up, but you can still read it because the first and last letters are in the right place? Or have you ever glanced at a sign quickly and done a double-take because you think it says something wildly inappropriate? On closer examination you will probably discover that the actual words on that sign aren’t what you thought you saw. This happens because our minds work as our own visual Universal Translators (no Trekkies here? Would a Tardis reference be better? … No? oh never mind!) The point is that the brain is very good at taking the mixed up visual data that our eyes capture and fitting it into the empty slots of what we EXPECT to see. It’s a kind of mental shorthand that enables us to understand what is being presented to us even when it is visually incomplete or incorrect.  The more familiar we are with a visual cue (sign, symbol, word, sentence, etc.) the more easily we recognize it, and the less work our brain has to do to translate.

That’s a very handy trait under certain circumstances, like when reading signs on the side of the highway or skimming through your facebook feed.  It’s a lot LESS handy when you’re attempting to do something like proofing your own writing.  The more time you’ve spent on a text, the more familiar you become with it. The more familiar you become with it, the more likely your brain is to implement its handy-dandy visual translation trick when information is incomplete or incorrect.  That’s why you can read a sentence very carefully on more than one occasion and never realize that there’s a word missing.  This is doubly true if you are constantly looking at the information in the same format (in a Word document on your computer screen, for instance).

So how do you trick your brain into turning off this less-than-helpful superpower? The key is to find a way to make the words less familiar. Take them out of the setting that you’re used to seeing them in. Force your mind to actually engage with the text, rather than allowing it to see what it always sees. There are ways to do this before you get to the “proof copy” stage of the book-making game. Printing out your manuscript is one way of doing it.  Putting it in a drawer for a month is another. Both of these ideas work because they take away the familiarity factor. Words on a page read differently than words on a screen. Words that you haven’t seen in a month read differently than words you worked on yesterday.

But let’s say you’ve done that a half-dozen times or so. Do you still need to order a proof copy of your book?

YES

Because this is the only way that you will see exactly what your consumer will see.  And for whatever reason, things that didn’t stand out to you while you were formatting your text or editing your manuscript will become glaringly obvious when you see it in on that magical 6×9 page, held in your hand, and flipped through for the first time.

Let me tell you – I am a meticulous person, and if you’d asked me at the time of submitting my book for printing if I’d needed a proof copy I probably would have laughed. But I ordered a proof copy anyway. And a week or so later, when I received it and read through it, I was SHOCKED at the errors that I found. It wasn’t that there were so many – but they were so blatant, so obvious, that I couldn’t fathom how I’d missed them! There was even one on the first page. How mortifying is that?!?

So if you’re planning on self-publishing your book take my advice – order a physical proof copy before you hit that “publish” button. Believe me, it’s better to wait the extra week or two and find the typos yourself than it is to skip that step and have those typos found by readers. Remember, it only takes one or two glaring errors to convince a reader that they are dealing with an inferior product. And that’s not the impression you’re looking to leave, is it?

Createspace Customer Service: A Horror Story

Here’s the thing, I love Createspace. I love their website. I love how easy it is to get the books printed there onto Amazon. I love their pricing – I mean seriously, you CAN’T beat their pricing. I love their proofing options. I like pretty much everything about Createspace, except for one thing …

Their customer service stinks.

Now I don’t want to scare anyone off of their service, so please read the following story with an understanding that I’m still using Createspace to this day. I’ll probably keep using them for a very long time, even with their crappy customer service. After all, Createspace is an entirely automated system, and 99.9% of the time you don’t need any customer service. But for that 0.1% when you DO need to deal with someone, let this be fair warning:

A few months ago I helped a pastor at my church publish a book. I used Createspace for her project because (as I’d mentioned before) I like them a lot. Originally I ordered her one copy of the book so that she could see the finished product. It turned out beautifully. Then we ordered a batch of 50 so that she could give them to some of the people in the church. Again – we had no difficulty. The books were beautiful. Everything was awesome.

But then demand started to grow – people who weren’t computer savvy wanted to be able to buy copies of the book in the church bookstore. So we ordered another batch of 50. And this time when we got the books the covers were dark, oversaturated, and … well just ugly.

So I went online and found the Createspace customer service page. There was no phone number, but there was a fill-in-the-form-to-send-an-email complaint section. So I used it to send them a message, explaining the problem (including pictures of the original printing of the cover together with the latest batch, so that they could see the difference) and asking why it happened and what could be done about it.

In response I received a generic form email saying that they were sorry to hear about my problem and could I provide them with additional information. I clicked on the link that they included only to discover that it sent me to the exact same fill-in-the-form page that I’d originally used.

I thought it might be a mistake, so I filled in the form again, and explained in my message that this was the second time I was sending it.

The response? The same generic email saying the same thing and sending me to the same page to fill in the same form!

By this time a few days had passed and I was starting to fume. So I filled in the form a third time, and this time I expressed how much this was “NOT OK!” (my exact words). And when (before I received a reply email) I was prompted to complete a survey about my customer service experience, I took advantage of the opportunity to let them know how frustrated I was.

This time my response was from a real human being – a customer support “specialist” who wrote to me in real-human-English as opposed to computer-generated-boilerplate-lingo, and had a name and everything! She apologized for the inconvenience, acknowledged that from the picture I’d sent, it seemed that there was a severe variation in the covers, and then asked me to send her the book id #s from a few of the books in the latest batch so that technical support could look into the problem (“You’ll find it right under the bar code on the very last page of the book” she said).

Now, at this point the books were at the church, and so I had to wait a few days until I could get back there to look.  But that didn’t really bother me, since I finally felt like progress was being made. However, when I finally got one of the books in my hand I was confused to discover that there was no book id, no bar code, nothing at all on the last page.

So the next morning I emailed my customer service representative to explain the problem that I was having and to ask, basically, “what now?” and “am I an idiot or something?” And a few hours later I opened a freshly-received response from Createspace only to find ANOTHER BOILERPLATE EMAIL asking me to fill out that SAME STUPID WEB FORM and requesting PICTURES (remember I sent them with my very first request) and THE BOOK ID#s (which I had just informed them I couldn’t find!).

That’s when I lost it.

And by “it” I mean my patience. And with it my cool, and my ability to remain anything close to calm. I’m pretty sure my response was typed in all caps. I know for a fact that it was scathingly indignant, and generally enraged. It was virtually dripping with distain and general contempt at their utter lack of competence. It wasn’t nice …

So I guess I wasn’t that surprised when I went yet a few more days passed without hearing anything back from them. But this time, when I did there was another (different) actual human person on the other end of the email. This one had apparently done her homework. She actually:

  1. Apologized (again) for the problems
  2. Explained why I didn’t find book IDs (these books were outsourced to a different printer)
  3. Explained that they couldn’t do their normal quality checks because of #2
  4. Offered to ship me 50 new books to replace the dark/ugly ones
  5. Promised that they would do everything possible not to outsource any work from our account again (and therefore hopefully avoid repeating the problem again)

As promised, the new batch of books was shipped – and it was beautiful. So it ended up being a completely acceptable resolution to the problem, but frankly it shouldn’t have taken that much time, frustration, aggravation, or screaming on my end to get there. Because in all honesty, if I have to yell at you to get you to do your job, then really … you’re not doing your job.

Has anyone ever had a similar experience? Have your customer service experiences with Createspace been better? Leave a comment and let me know

A Word in the Void

Part 4 of the story of how I got started in writing a book, and the journey I took to finish it:

After a year of writing and editing, I was “enjoying” a long six month hiatus from the entire book project. Truth be told, my biggest enjoyment came from not having to think about the book any more.  I was sick of it.  I had spent so much thought, work, and energy on it that I simply had nothing left to give.  As I said in the last post, it wasn’t like I intended to walk away from it, but I completely lacked the motivation to go back.

It was a weird 6 months.  Every once in a while someone would ask me what was happening with the book.  The question often left me speechless, fumbling for some kind of answer (shocking!)  But I never had anything to say to them, because in all honesty I didn’t know.  I couldn’t tell if this was something I was ever going to want to go back to, or if it was a dead project.  I knew I had written it for a reason, but I wasn’t sure any more if it was ever going to see the light of day.  Every time I seriously considered picking it up again, I felt drained – like it was a black hole sucking down every ounce of my creative energy.

But One of my favorite things about God is His constant attentive awareness of our every thought, dream, and desire.  God knows about the things we dream of.  He knows about the things we’ve lost.  He knows about the places where we’ve tried and failed.  And the amazing thing is that He doesn’t forget!  The passage of time and the accumulation of dust don’t diminish His awareness.  He is always there, waiting for the perfect moment to fill the void that is created by our lack.

That’s what makes Genesis 1:2-3 one of my favorite passages in the Bible: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

There was the earth – formless, lifeless, dark, empty … VOID.  But even then the Spirit of God was there, hovering, waiting.  And all it took was one utterance from God’s mouth to change the entire nature of that void and empty place.

Of course, in our “void” moments it can be so hard to see that way out.  We have such trouble imagining the incredible instantaneous change that can come from our empty situations.  Yes, we KNOW that all we need is one touch of God’s hand, one word from his mouth, but when the waiting seems endless and the darkness is so dark, our knowledge often conflicts with our expectation.

But my favorite thing about this verse is that it tells us that God spoke and there was light.  It was an instant change.  It wasn’t gradual.  You couldn’t see it coming.  In one moment darkness was upon the face of the deep, and in the next, that darkness was replaced with light.

We get so busy squinting at our horizons, looking for the first glimpses of a far off sunrise, that we lose track of how suddenly God’s answers will come upon us.  Or at least I do that … all the time.  You think I’d learn after all these years, right?  That was me though, squinting off into the distance, occasionally searching for a clue as to what (if anything) would become of this year’s worth of work that was now collecting dust on my shelf.  Little did I know how suddenly God would turn this situation around for my good and for His glory!