Thoughts from an Author-in-training

The other day a friend asked me if writing a book is really any different from the other writing I’ve done? She knows that I’ve been writing church curriculum lessons for the past four years, contributing to devotionals occasionally, writing weekly blog posts, and getting to do some other cool writing gigs.

At times those projects have felt hard.

And then I started writing a book. A “for real” book. Not the sweet attempt at a book I made three years ago when I was blissfully unaware of writing rules such as perspective, point-of-view, or the fundamental rule of show-don’t-tell. No, back then I just sat and made words fill up a page.

But, by what can truly and only be defined as an act of God, someone in the publishing world saw the potential of the story  within my sad attempt at a manuscript and chose to take a chance on it. To help me write the story God allowed me to see, and then share it with the world.

And then it all got real. Really real. Scary real. Overwhelmingly real. But awesomely real.

So when my friend asked me if there was a difference between “normal” writing and writing a book, my answer was this:

Imagine that everyday you sit in your family room and lift some light weights while watching tv. You are quite proud of yourself for staying so fit and working out. Everyday you lift those 3 lb weights and feel really good about yourself. But then one day, someone invites you to try an advanced aerobics class. “I workout,” you think, “I can totally do this.” But then the class starts and within 2 minutes you realize you are in way over your head. This is nothing like lifting 3 lb weights while watching tv. This hurts. This is hard. This isn’t going to end anytime soon. And you can’t do this on your own.

For me, that sums up the difference between book writing and other writing. Maybe it’s not like this for anyone else. But for me the stakes feel higher. The subject matter requires constant research. My writing skills need beefing up. And I often get up exhausted from my makeshift desk. (Seriously, my “desk” needs help!! But who has time to go desk shopping??)

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Writing is not for wimps! (Yet, who has time to really go workout when you’re trying to write a book while your kids are at school???)

I am so grateful to be working with an incredible collaborator. She is so talented and so knowledgeable. I just love how God has provided me with a team of people to help me do this huge thing He has called me to do.

That is so like Him isn’t it? He calls you to do something that scares you, that is bigger than you are capable of, but then He provides for you. Often through another person coming alongside you.

I am learning so much during this process: How to build a story arc, then tweaking the story arc, developing characters (and learning how to honor real people portrayed in the story), how to show and not tell, and so much more. I am loving every second of this process, even though it is intense and at times downright hard.

And I am so grateful to all of the people who are coming alongside me and helping me write this story.

A writer’s life can get a little isolated at times. I can’t exactly invite people over to watch me write (well I guess I could but that would just be awkward). It’s hard to meet up with someone for lunch, because what if inspiration strikes and I’m on a roll and have to cancel? I am constantly thinking of story ideas and placement and so I’m often there but not there in a conversation.

I had kind of fallen into faulty thinking of “I must do this on my own.”

But God has graciously shown me that writing the story He has laid on my heart is not a call to a life of isolation. It is a call to reach out to others. To collaborate. To allow others to encourage me. To receive that encouragement. To look up sometimes. And to engage in life. And I think my writing will be richer because of it.

It’s just another reminder that we were not meant to live this life alone. We were created to live in relationships. First and foremost with God, but also with each other.

Is there someone you can reach out to today? Encouragement you can offer? Even just a smile for someone? Do you need to allow others to encourage you? It can be hard to accept help, but what a gift it can be. Let’s bless each other in some way today!

Much love,
Jen

Facing a rising storm is a little easier with good friends beside you

 

 

The News I Can Finally Share

This time last year I was preparing for my first writing conference. I was finishing my first manuscript. Printing my first business cards. And learning how to do my first One Sheet.

I then experienced my first rejection, and first questioning of my dream to become an author.

Yet just a few months later—and only through God’s grace, mercy, and sovereignty—I was able to have my first phone call with a literary agent (and first freak out before said phone call). A few months after that first phone call, I was overjoyed to receive my first contract with the same literary agent (who I absolutely love!).

Then came my first phone call with an actual publishing company (and subsequent major freak out before said call!)

Along with those amazing firsts have come some other not so amazing firsts: my first terror inducing fear about not achieving my dream of becoming an author; my first paralyzing fear that I may actually become an author; the embarrassing realization that I had no idea about such things as point of view, perspective, or story arc—all proof of the fact that my background is in counseling, not writing. My background and lack of professional writing qualifications have continued to fuel an undercurrent of fear. Fear that causes me to perpetually think that surely someday someone is going to figure out I’m not really qualified to write!

But thankfully God’s calling trumps our qualifications.

So I sit here now still trying to absorb a huge and overwhelming first: my first publishing contract!

I have signed with Tyndale House Publishers (I still have to squeal when I write that!)

We got back to my parents house after being in Sanibel Island, FL for a week, and there in the mail was a packet I had been longing to see for weeks—longing to shout about for months.

I found out on May 3rd that Tyndale wanted to publish my book. That moment will forever be a sacred and precious memory for me. I sat in an amazed dumbfounded stupor as my agent told me the news. I thanked her profusely and then dropped to my knees in humbled awe. Tears flowed freely down my face has my arms lifted in worship of the One who has made all of this possible. I felt both significantly unworthy and profoundly loved at the same time. I sat there for an hour. Just taking it all in, remembering, worshipping, being present with the One who all of this is for, about and to. I wanted to shout the news, yet I also wanted to keep the moment private—just a grateful girl and her infinitely generous heavenly Father.

When the tears finally subsided I called my husband and then my parents. We laughed, we cried, we praised. Talking to my dad was especially moving as he was the first one to ever read a word of my book.

I started writing the book back in April of 2014. I would send him each chapter as I finished it, and he would read it and then ask me for more. He encouraged me to keep going, assuring me there was indeed a story here. My mom then took over the editing and proof-reading. Both of my parents were the only ones to read the manuscript before I sent it to my agent. Their support and prayers have been overwhelming.

It is understandable then when not 48 hours after finding out my book would be published, my world was turned upside down when I found out my dad needed immediate open heart surgery. We were told that without the surgery he could have a massive heart attack. Everything stopped. The joy that had permeated my heart, was replaced with fear like I have never known. (see Daddy’s Girl and Where We Are Now)

Life and death matters sure put things in perspective don’t they?

Suddenly, the dream that I had worked so hard for became a bargaining chip with God; “Lord, you can have it all back—the book, the contract, the dream—just let Daddy be ok.”

Of course, God doesn’t operate like that, but my heart was desperate and wanted to do something, anything.

I flew down to be with my dad, who insisted I keep following this path God has laid out for me. And after some of the most scary days of my life, my dad was released from the hospital and began the long road of recovery. He is getting stronger everyday and it has been a joy to be with him this past week.

In fact, he was the one who handed me the packet containing the written contract yesterday. The man who first taught me the power of words, the one who read each poorly written first chapter, the one who is still healing and recovering was the one to hand me my first publishing contract.

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Only God can orchestrate events like that!

I had started to get so frustrated that publishing paperwork takes so long. I had a verbal yes on May 3rd, but couldn’t publicly say anything until the paper contract had come. Everyday I checked the mail at home, longing, wishing the contract would be there. Yet, God knew all along that the moment would be so much sweeter shared with my parents.

I keep hoping to find enough words to convey the deep sense of thanksgiving I have in my heart, but words sometimes fail to convey certain things. I feel as though I will never be able to give God enough praise or thanksgiving for what He has done and is doing with this story of hope He has allowed me to write.

The book is scheduled for a summer 2018 release (which feels forever away, but I know will come very soon!) I will share more about the story as I am able.

I am excited and nervous; anxious and at peace; overwhelmed and overjoyed, humbled and grateful. But most of all I am so happy to publicly declare God’s overwhelming grace poured out on an undeserving but incredibly grateful girl. And I pray that He will continue to write His story through me.

To God alone be the glory!

Much love,

Jennifer Bleakley, author 😉

 

Other links that might be of interest: I am a WriterActively WaitingWhen You Don’t Know What You’re DoingGet Me Outta Here

I am a Writer

“So are you a writer?” she asked with genuine curiosity.

“Uh,” I began with great eloquence, “yes?” (I literally said that in the form of a question!)
Then came the equally eloquent clarification. “I mean, well….I write….words….a lot of words.” Dear Lord! Please stop talking. “I mean, I like to write. I write curriculum….and stories. And oh, and I just got an agent. So um, yes…..I’m a writer?” (Again in the form of a question!)

Why I find this question so difficult to answer, I have no idea. Maybe it’s because writing just seems to be an extension of who I am. I process things through writing, I view everything as a possible story, I even edit my grocery list! It feel less like a job, and more like a lifestyle.

Maybe it’s because saying it out loud makes it sound real, and if it’s real then people might judge my writing and find me lacking.

Maybe it’s because I’m tremendously insecure about not having any kind of formal writing background. My major was biology and chemistry (I thought I wanted to be a doctor), and I have a masters in counseling (I worked as a grief counselor for several years.) I always loved writing, but other than some college language arts classes, I never formally studied the art of writing.

Most likely my hesitation and complete fumbling over the question of whether or not I’m a writer is a combination of all of the above.

But I’m finally starting to realize something. Writing is something God has called me to do and I need to own that calling.  And the fact that I don’t feel qualified is what keeps me completely aware of my dependence on His provision.

Another realization I had is that writing is a powerful tool we all need to embrace. I’m not talking about term paper writing, but personal, from the heart writing.

After all:
Writing gives voice to jumbled up thoughts.
Writing about a broken heart often helps to heal that heart.
Writing prayers gives them focus, and serves as a testimony to God’s answers.
Writing about fears exposes them to the light thereby diminishing their power.
Writing about triumphs serves as a beacon to the heart during hard times.

Writing is a part of me; it is a gift God has given me; it is sometimes difficult, but always worth it; and it is something I want to do for the rest of my life.

So  here I go:

Hi, my name is Jen and I am a writer! (with no question mark!)

What is God calling you to do? Don’t be afraid to step out in faith and own it. If God calls you to do it, then you can rest in knowing He will equip you to do it.

So speak it, pen it, live it. But whatever you do-
Just keep writing!

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Waiting is Not for Wimps!

I’ve been giving serious thought to the need for a “Waiting on God’s Timing” support group!!! Waiting is HARD. Waiting on something you feel would be pleasing to God and give Him glory, but is not yet happening is really, really HARD.

One thing I’ve noticed while in this season of waiting, is that waiting involves a lot of quiet time- and quiet time allows for noise to grow.

For me, the noise starts as a gentle hum of questions:
Is this ever going to happen?
Is this really God’s will?
What are people thinking about me?

As the wait continues, the gentle hum escalates in volume to a steady rhythm of doubt:
This is probably never going to happen.
God must be too busy helping other stronger Christians.
If I can’t do this, maybe I really can’t do that either.

Then before long the steady rhythm gives way to a barrage of accusations:
You’re not good enough.
You’re a failure.
God has moved on from you.

Waiting is not for wimps! And while it seems to be such a passive experience, the truth is waiting is full of action and activity.

I feel that in this period of waiting I am doing battle. Real battle. I feel as though an all out war has been waged in my heart and my mind. Doubts and accusations fly like missiles aimed straight for my heart- seeking to destroy my peace and trust in the Lord. Lies seek to beat down truth. Fear sneaks up to attack contentment. Defeat threatens to overtake victory.

What is fascinating is that this battle bleeds into other areas causing me to question many other things. My confidence in all areas of my life gets shaken. Not only do I question if this book of mine will ever be published, but I begin questioning my calling to write in general; my ability to teach others; my parenting skills; the kind of wife I am; even my appearance.

Yet yesterday, in the midst of this great and exhausting battle, came a word from my Commander and King. A word delivered by the sweetest of messengers.

Yesterday morning my insecurities were high and the battle just seemed too hard to fight. Kids were coming into our fourth grade class and while I greeted them with a smile, it felt forced. I didn’t even feel mentally able to teach the lesson (the lesson which I wrote but at the time decided was horribly written and boring!)

As I was praying in my heart- a very deep spiritual prayer that went something like: “Lord, help!” a sweet young girl walked up to me.

“Mrs. Jen, do you remember last week when you asked us to use our Bibles to find 5 truths about what God thinks about us?”

I did remember but honestly I was shocked anyone else did. We had been talking about putting on the armor of God and the importance of the Sword of the Spirit (God’s Word). I told them that satan’s favorite weapons are lies and whispers of doubt. We talked about how he used doubt against Eve in the Garden, and how the minute she questioned God’s goodness and perfect love she paved the way for sin to enter this world.

I told the kids that as they grow up satan will begin to whisper lies to them, causing them to question who God is and who they are to God. I encouraged them to begin reading their Bibles as if treasure hunters searching for the truth of who God is and who they are to Him. As a way of getting them to use their “swords,” I challenged them to write down 5 verses that reveal who they are to God.

This soft spoken girl preceded to share her list with me. I wish I would have taken a picture of it so I could remember exactly what she wrote, because my tears prevented me from seeing clearly. I do know she wrote that she was fearfully and wonderfully made, that she is loved by God, that she is His child, and that He loves to give her grace.

In that moment I heard the voice of the Lord speak right to my heart: “Never forgot Whose you are.”

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I am still in a battle, and I still feel weary, but today is different. Today I remember that my Commander and King is also my Creator and Father. Today I look up into the face of Truth and ask Him to fight my battles. Today, instead of listening to the lies, I will write my own list of truths. Today I sharpen my sword, hold high my shield, and face the enemy- knowing that he must run in the face of Truth and Justice.

Will my book ever get published? I have NO idea. If it doesn’t, does that mean I am not valuable? Absolutely not! My value- my worth does not come from what I do, it comes from Whose I am.

And I am His.

If you are fighting your own battle today, I encourage you to actively wait by writing your own list of truths from God’s Word. Ask Him to show you how He feels about you- to remind you of Who He is and Whose you are.

Much love,

Jen