The Editing Process

Oh, editing. Oh, how I hate/love thee. I love editing my stories because it means that the hard, tedious work of writing a first draft is done. The story is complete. The plowing through and just trying to finish is done. That being said, I also hate editing. Because who wants to go through and read the same two hundred pages over and over again for hours, days, or even weeks on end? Not me. That being said, I have found several ways to make the editing process easier and I’d love to share them with you today! Especially if you, like me, are a little weary of the editing process. Hopefully this will lighten the load for you a bit.

First, go through your story and start off by checking for any surface-level grammar and punctuation mistakes. The number one mistake first time authors make is assuming that no one will care if their work is full of typos and errors. No one cares as long as it’s a good story, right? Wrong. These mistakes can make or break a story. If you’re having problems finding these mistakes on your own (especially if you’re still in middle or high school and worry that you won’t catch all these problems yourself!), I recently discovered a great proofreading softwareonline that can catch these problems and fix them for you! It’s called Grammarly, and it’s great for writers who want to check their grammar, search for other vocabulary words, or improve your text. If you struggle with the proof-reading aspect of writing, or just want a second set of eyes to look over your writing, I would highly suggest looking into this program to clean up your work.

Second, take a break between your first draft and your round of edits. Too many writers try to jump right in on the editing process before they’ve really given themselves enough time to get unemotionally attached to this story. Think about it. You’re about to destroy this book. You’re going to cut it apart, reassemble it, and then stitch it back together. That’s kind of hard to do on a story that you’re mentally attached to. So it helps to take a break for a week or two and set the story aside. Work on something else for a while. Or, if you’re really feeling daring, go out with some friends and just forget about writing for fourteen days. You will survive, I promise. And when you come back to that story, you’ll be viewing it from a fresh perspective. The same way a prospective reader would. You’ll be able to cut and fix things you’d never thought you could touch before. And your story will come out stronger because of it!

A third activity you might want to try is reading your book out loud. Sometimes you’ll find things that look fine on the page sound terribly cramped and awkward when read out loud. Chunks of dialog are suddenly corny. Beautiful poetic musings have turned sentimental and melodramatic. Vivid descriptions are actually dry and boring word vomit. Just reading through scenes aloud can open your eyes to so many of these problems.

And finally, have fun while you edit. Listen to upbeat music. Eat snacks. Show scenes to your friends and family members and ask their opinions on it. (Or, if you’re really brave–ask the opinions of strangers. They’ll probably be way more honest!) Remember that all the stress of the first draft is finished and that you’re one step closer to having a completed novel. That’s a reason to celebrate!

Hopefully this helped you all this week. I’m hard at work editing Book #3, so hopefully I can keep some of these things in mind as I work like crazy myself this week… Sigh.

-Rachel

 

Sources of Inspiration

Inspiration is such a funny thing to talk about because really, how am I supposed to give you a list of places I go to for inspiration when the very word is supposed to refer to something unexpected and wonderful? The beautiful thing about inspiration is that it’s found in the most curious places and always fills you with delight and awe. You’re left with your head just spinning from one lovely thought, poem, picture, or song. And you might never feel the same way about that particular thing in the same exact way that you do in that moment, but somehow you move on inspired to create something equally beautiful.

That being said, even though I full-heartedly believe that inspiration is random and unexpected, there are a number of places that I have found to be consistent sources of this “unexpected inspiration” for me, and I’d love to share them with you today! Hopefully your creative soul will be touched by one or more of these places just as I am.

First off, I’ll start by saying that one site I don’t usually go to for inspiration is Pinterest. I know this sounds shocking, especially since I’m on Pinterest a lot! But I don’t go to that site seeking to be immersed in a world of inspiring thoughts and feelings. I go there to laugh, to shop, and to feel hungry and overweight. But there doesn’t seem to be much realness on Pinterest. With every amazing picture I’m left thinking, “Yes, but who are these people? Why should I care if the light hits them just right or if he’s the perfect height for her to rest her chin on his shoulder?” Even a beautiful freckled face suddenly feels uninspiring and lifeless when you don’t know the story behind the eyes staring back at you.

I’m all about learning people’s stories. And so I learn about people and who they are.

Surprisingly enough, I don’t read any writing blogs to find inspiration or advice. The only book I’ve ever read on writing is “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott, and while it completely changed my world, I’ve never really read anything else. I’ve written advice for Go Teen Writers before, which is obviously a fantastic site, but once again, I don’t ever go there for inspiration or ideas.

There are only three websites that I can think of that continually inspire, change, and challenge me as a writer. And none of them are novelists. And none of them ever give advice on writing, or talk about characters or settings or even fiction. They just write about life. And document it. And to me, nothing could be more inspiring.

The first two are photographers blogs–Kitty Gallannaugh and Kristen Morris. I don’t know if either of these ladies have ever written a word of fiction in their lives, but their words inspire and move me. The way that they describe life with all its moments of sunlight and laughter and scraped knees and bugbites is beautiful. The way they describe love and family and the relationships between people who are just stumbling through life together. It’s raw and honest and that’s what makes it so inspiring. There is so much truth to be found in the everyday tales and photos of normal people.

Ann Voskamp’s blog is also a daily source of inspiration for me. Like Kitty and Kristen, she’s not a fiction writer. She’s just a mom and a farmer’s wife who sees the world through eyes full of gratitude and wonder. She understands the beauty in life and just wants to open the eyes of others to it as well. Anytime I need a reminder that God is at work and that everything is going to be okay, I read Ann’s blog. It never fails to comfort and inspire me.

Most authors will cite books as being sources of inspiration, but I find that so many books are just depressing, tedious, and boring. I went through a stage my senior year of high school where I hardly read at all, because no books seemed worth reading. Even so many of the great classics that had once seemed so important felt sad and depressing. And so I became a kid again. I started re-reading the books that thrilled my soul when my world still revolved around training wheels and popsicles and hayrides in the fall. And I found that the most inspiration was found between the pages of the fairytales and adventures that had been on my bookshelf for over a decade. Because they suddenly seemed all the more true now that I was practically grown up. “Peter and Wendy” made me cry because I realized that I had passed the age of flying off to Neverland–that I was bound to eventually anyway-and that I now had to take on the responsibilities and adventures that came with being an adult. And that realization was a key theme in my second novel “Chasing Jupiter”, and it continues to move and inspire me now.

I also find that my soul is moved very easily by music. Music has such strong potential to change and inspire us. And so I always find my writing style and personality reflects whatever music I have been listening to lately. With Interrupted, I mostly listened to Michael Nyman’s “The Piano” soundtrack and old WWII love songs. My writing was such a sweet and salty mixture of sadness and peaceful joy because of it. And while I wrote Chasing Jupiter, I listened to non-stop Frankie Valli, Dion, and Ray Charles. So that book definitely reflects the sunny, doo-wop feel of the music I was inspired by. And with this third book, I’m definitely listening to a lot of old bluegrass tunes, as well as the mellow sounds of bands like Angus and Julia Stone. Which means the book is going to have a very melancholy, earthy feel. It’s actually pretty amazing how much of an influence music can have on your tone and style as a writer. So choose what you listen to carefully and let it carry you through your stories!

But at the end of the day my number one source of inspiration is found in my everyday interactions with family, friends, and strangers. I realize that every person I come into contact with has a story to tell. And so I try to make conversations. Ask questions. Learn about and study people. Just about every single book or story idea I’ve ever written down didn’t come from a photo of a pretty girl in a floral dress or a beach at sunset. It came from a conversation. Or an observation. Or a moment of revelation.

It really doesn’t matter where you find your inspiration. Be it blogs, books, movies, music, people, or Pinterest. But always follow your instincts and write it all down! Don’t let a single moment get away. These are what stories are made of.

-Rachel

Getting Published

The most common reason why people email me is to ask me one single, burning question: “How do I get a book published?”

I hate it when people ask me that.

Okay, okay, hate is a strong word, but it does concern me a bit that this seems to be the number one obsession of writers everywhere. No matter how young or old, experienced or inexperienced, talented or disillusioned–everyone just wants to know how they can get their book printed and distributed for the world to read and enjoy. And so they email me asking about agents. They email me asking if they can submit their book directly to a publisher. They email me asking for suggestions for editors and companies and they press me for answers on how I managed to be published at such a young age and under such unusual circumstances.

Everyone wants to know the secret to being published. As if publishing is the single most amazing thing that could ever happen to a writer. As if publishing opens up worlds to success and fame and not having to go to work or babysit toddlers or make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch anymore.

Usually, I bite back my urge to tell these people that they don’t need to worry so much about publishing. That there’s really nothing they can do right or wrong that will secure or disqualify them from having a place in the world of publishing. That at the end of the day, it really just comes down to raw talent and God’s timing and whether or not the book you’ve written is worth printing. And so I tell them to find an agent and to be patient and to keep working and that, when and if the time is right, God will work things out.

What I really want to tell them is this: Being published will not be the highlight of your life.

I’m dead serious. It probably won’t even be on your top ten list of the greatest moments you will ever experience. It will probably bring you happiness, and you will most likely get to experience some cool things, and you might have incredibly cool moments where you’ll want to pinch yourself at the amazing blessings God has laid before you.

But at the end of the day, being published won’t make you feel any better about yourself as a writer. You’ll feel less talented, in fact. You’ll read reviews that will rip apart your stories and criticize any God-given talent you thought you had. You’ll face the embarrassment and shame of people you know not caring for your story, or mothers saying in front of you that they’ll never let their kids read your books because you had two characters go on a date and they don’t approve of that. You’ll sit on your bed with your laptop in front of you, racking your brain for even one pretty, witty, or just semi-interesting line and find that your brain is a complete wasteland, devoid of anything worth putting on paper at all. You’ll read over your past books and cringe, and write terrible scenes that make you wonder how you can even call yourself a writer, and face the utter humiliation that comes with realizing that there is a typo in the work you published that is now being read and noticed by thousands of people all over the world. You’ll still have bad ideas, crappy first drafts, and moments when you feel like you’re the worst writer in the entire world and completely unworthy of anything good anyone ever had to say about you.

After all is said and done, being published won’t make you feel anymore popular or successful than you were before. People will certainly say nice things to you, and you’ll definitely have days where you feel like you’ve got it made since you’re not flipping burgers at a McDonald’s two miles off the freeway. But you’ll still meet people who are prettier, smarter, and more talented than you are. You’ll still have moments of envy, and self-doubt, and you’ll find yourself wrapped up in the grace of Christ everyday. Because, even if you’re a published author, you’ll still be just as sinful and messy and scrambled as everyone else is. And no matter how far you go in the book publishing world, nothing will change or hide those imperfections.

Even if you manage to get a book published, you might never strike it rich. Your first book will probably barely buy you a ten-year-old used car. You might not ever make enough to easily pay for college. You’ll probably have to work a second job, or go out of your way to creatively find ways to make being an author work for you. You won’t be rolling in the dough. You’ll have to say no to expensive trips or amusement park passes or pretty vintage dresses sometimes. You’ll work just as hard as everyone else and even if you love what you do, there will still be moments where it feels like you work far too much for far too little. And in those moments you will have to content yourself with the blessings God has laid before you and learn all over again not to covet the easy and luxurious life of others.

When your life is over and all the beautiful moments you’ve ever experienced will have passed you by, publishing a book will not be the highlight of your years on this earth. I can pretty much guarantee that it won’t even be on your top ten list.

So never, never write for the sole purpose of being published. Never waste a single second fretting about whether or not you’ll “strike it big” and “land a publisher” and “become a famous author”. You might, or you might not. That’s not where your happiness should rest.

Write because you love to write. Write because your heart yearns to express itself through stories and tales and words. Write to get better, not to get published.

The second most-asked question I come across in interviews is what my purpose in writing is. Sometimes I’m tempted to just teasingly say that I decided to become a writer simply because I’m good at it. And that would be the truth. But beyond that, I just really wanted some way to capture how beautiful and frustrating and unexpectedly exciting life is, and I wrote it down for all the others who view it that way too.

I know all this probably sounds so conceited and narcissistic, since I am in fact a published author and God has given me a really great opportunity that He holds back from so many people. So please accept this information knowing that I am in no way trying to sound boastful or arrogant. I am amazingly blessed and thankful that I’ve been able to publish books and have these great experiences as an author. But at the end of the day, I can honestly rest in the knowledge that I never set out with the primary goal being publication. Why?

Because being published isn’t a destination. It’s just a pit stop on the real path we writers are on. We aren’t writing for an audience–a printing press–a publisher. We’re writing because we just want to document those real note-worthy moments in our lives. Because we can’t think to do anything else but pour out our hearts through words and phrases and pictures that describe what God is doing in our lives. We want to capture every smile. Every kiss. Every tiny hand wrapped around our thumb and every sun sinking behind the pine trees in our backyard.

Writers are published not because they are the most dedicated or experienced or hardworking people in the industry. Writers are published not because they’ve been trying for thirty years or because they filled out a query letter exactly right or because they have all the qualifications for crafting a fantastic book.

Writers are published when they create works that resonate. When they can craft stories that speak to readers in a million subtle ways that even they don’t realize sometimes. This is why so many published authors come across as frazzled or rude or disinterested sometimes. It’s because publishing was never really a destination for most of us. We write because we love to write, and we stumbled into the publishing world because others enjoyed what we had to say.

There is no key to getting published. There’s no direct highway you can hop on to take you to the road to fame and fortune and publication. All you can do is write. All you can do is look around and soak up life. Write about what you know, what you love, and what you believe. Write to get better.

When the time is right (and probably when you’re least expecting it), you just might get published. Or you know what? You might not. It’s hard to think of it that way, but that’s life. Some people seem to win, and others seem to lose.

Until you realize: Being published isn’t a victory. It isn’t a win. But living life well? Viewing the world around you with eyes full of wonder and curiosity and recording what you see in words that are honest and raw and truthful? Ending your life with a pile of memories of the true highs and lows and twists and turns that God has sent your way? That’s what really matters. That’s what you hang your hat on.

Life’s not about being a published author. Life is just about living.

-Rachel

Book Updates

Hey, everyone! It’s been a while since I posted some updates on what’s going on in my professional life, so I thought I’d do a little update and get you all caught up!

First off, have you followed me on Google+ yet?? I was getting a lot of requests from readers asking that I start a Google+ page for the blog, so I decided to heed your advice and get on yet another social media bandwagon. If you follow me there, you will be updated several times a week with blog posts, video blogs, photos, and other bookish news and events. And if you haven’t yet, you can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and  Youtube. (Phew! All the sites, right?)

I was super surprised to find out that my photo and book review were both found in last month’s copy of “World Magazine”. Somehow, everyone forgot to tell me that was happening. I got a Facebook message from one of my friends in Portland explaining that he nearly choked on his bowl of icecream while casually flipping through World Magazine, shocked to find my face smiling back at him from the pages. So of course I looked it up myself and–yep!–it’s true. I’m in there! Not sure if you all can get a past copy of the magazine, but you can read the review here.

It was also a huge honor this month to be featured on the Writer’s Digest site, talking about “How I Got My Agent.” Writer’s Digest is also giving away a copy of my first book, so if you didn’t win big this week in my giveaway, try your hand there to win “Interrupted”!

A lot of readers have also been asking (ahem–begging!) for details on my third book and I am happy to say that I am very, very close to announcing more details on that very, very soon. I know–it’s killing me too. Patience, my pretties… All good things to those who wait.

And that’s all I have to say about that. (Forrest Gump quote for the WIN!)

-Rachel

Birthday Thoughts + Giveaway Winner

Well, I’m eighteen today. It’s crazy, because half the time I hardly feel older than ten or twelve, and other times I feel like I’ve been an adult for ages. But the reality is that while today is an amazingly special day, I’ve realized this past week just how blessed I am every single day of my life.

I went for a run with my dad and sister this morning and while I was huffing and puffing through mile number two, my dad came up along beside me and said something that kind of shook my world. “I was thinking,” he said, “About just how blessed you are. You know, when I turned eighteen, both of my parents were already dead. I had three younger sisters and a house to take care of, and I was just trying to get through college, screwing up just about every opportunity I was given in life. I’m thankful that’s not the life God gave you.”

And it hit me. I’m really thankful for that too.

I challenged myself this week to do something new. Inspired by the wonderful Ann Voskamp’s blog, I decided to start an ongoing journal of one thousand gifts I receive from the Lord just about every day. I really only listed a few things each day (I’m still very, very slowly working my way toward one thousand) but each and every little moment God gave me this week was recognized with a new kind of gratitude and appreciation.

Things like waking up on Monday morning and suddenly feeling inspired to send handwritten notes to five of my closest friends. And getting sweet texts and phone calls from those very friends later on in the week just affirming their love for me and being able to thank God for the relationships He has given us.

Things like singing at the top of my lungs at a Taylor Swift concert with my mom and two sisters. Glancing out of the corner of my eye through the smoke and the lights and the confetti and the thousands of dancing and screaming fans and seeing my eleven-year-old sister’s face just glowing, her freckles standing out against her smiling cheeks.

The moments when I got to play cards with piano students, unexpectedly received extra bacon on my sandwich for waiting in line “patiently” at my favorite café, and read almost one hundred sweet birthday wishes from people I don’t even know from all over the world on my blog.

Receiving gifts like cards, cupcakes, and the amazingly sweet journal/scrapbook that one of my favorite people in the world, Elaini, made for my birthday. And getting to add photos of some of the best days of my life to its pages and reliving the smiles and laughter and inside jokes we share.

Having a handful of friends over the night before my birthday and making a giant fort/bed out of pillows, blankets, and sleeping bags. Watching old movies from our childhood like “Scamper the Penguin” and eating cake and the largest container of icecream I’ve ever seen in my life while we talk through the movie and laugh at every little thing imaginable.

The memories that were made this week alone with my very best friends–the boys I grew up with and have known since they were in diapers–eating tater tots and cupcakes and laughing until our sides hurt and then lying on the ground and staring up at the ceiling fan and playing the cheesiest country songs known to man and singing at the top of our lungs.

Waking up this morning and seeing not one, not two, but three texts from amazing friends who thought of me at MIDNIGHT, of all times, and wanted to wish me a happy birthday.

Sharing my special with the most amazing, godly, sweet woman I know–my mother! (Did you know we share a birthday???) And for eighteen years that we’ve been able to spend together, celebrating and rejoicing and praising God for the family He’s blessed us both with.

As I sat at breakfast this morning, eating homemade banana nut waffles and listening to my favorite James Taylor song of all time, it really soaked in that every single one of these moments–these memories–these images and thoughts and feelings that have been etched in my mind forever–was a gift. Better gifts than cards, money, or even scrapbooks. They were gifts from my Heavenly Father, showing me just how much He loves and cares about me every single day of my life, not just my birthday.

I am blessed. Unbelievably, ineffably, and undeservingly blessed. Thank you all for making this one of the sweetest, most special birthdays ever. I can’t wait to share with you every up and down that my eighteenth year will bring. Life is such an adventure, and I’m so glad to have an army of supporters coming along with me for the ride!

-Rachel

P.S. I know you’re all dying to know who the giveaway winner was. While I wish I could ship the books to every single one of you, I could only select one winner. And that randomly selected lucky gal is Taralyn Rose!!! Taralyn, I will email you shortly with details about getting you the books. I hope you enjoy! And to everyone else, my next giveaway will be when my Facebook page hits 500 likes, so share the page with your friends to make that date come a little closer!

Knowing God’s Will For My Life

I got a lot of positive feedback from you all on my post from a couple weeks back, “Waiting on God”. One of the questions I received from a reader following the post was this: “How do you know what God’s calling you to do, when it’s time? What if you think it’s His plan, but it really isn’t?”

I can’t tell you how many times I have struggled with this in my own life. Because, the reality is, there is no telephone line where I can just call God up, chat about my plans for the future, and write down notes on where He’s telling me to go. “Yes, I want you to take a right at the book deal, follow it through and stop at this blog post, then pause for a while and expand this area of your life.”

It doesn’t work like that.

The reality of the matter is, unless God supernaturally steps down and has some kind of face-to-face conversation with you, you’ll probably never be able to say with one hundred percent certainty, “This absolutely positively what He wants me to do next!” You’ll probably always have some small amount of doubt and uncertainty of the future. You’ll always be wondering what you’re supposed to do next, and those little freak out moments might never completely go away.

That being said, you can still know God’s overall will for your life and follow it unwaveringly. Because following Christ doesn’t mean having all the answers or always knowing what step comes next. Following Christ means trusting. Listening. Making mistakes from time to time but using those mistakes to draw you closer in your walk with the Lord.

I have found, through studying Scripture and watching God’s hand in my own life, that there are several ways of determining God’s will for my life. Want to hear them? (Of course you do. I just like asking rhetorical questions that no one can actually answer)

The first step to knowing God’s will for your life is understanding God’s role in your life.

Who is God to you? Is He a magical genie sent to grant your every prayer request with the rapidity and thoroughness that comes with being divine? Is He a compass that you consult whenever you’re not sure which step to take and need something solid to back you up? Or is He the Lord of your life?

Understanding who God is just might possibly be the most important key in understanding what His will is for your life. Because once you realize that God is the ruler of the universe–that He is above and beyond everything we can see or imagine here on earth–that He is holy, pure, and righteous–and that our darkened hearts can never really know Him in their truest sinful state… You will understand the richness of the depths of His love. Once you understand how holy He is and how unholy you are, you will finally come to grips with just how much you need Him, not only for wisdom and direction, but for everything!

But the realization that God is infinitely good and perfect and that we are not is closely tied to the realization that through the sacrificial death and resurrection of His perfect Son, we can be counted as holy before God. His love reaches down to us and draws us to Him. And once we turn from our sin and trust in Him for salvation, we have a closeness to God similar to the relationship of a Father and child.

The second step to understanding God’s will for your life is to embrace this relationship of Father and child.

Seek to know God. (James 4:8) Spend time not only reading your Bible, but sitting in silence and meditating on His words. Write down passages that speak to your soul. Pray back praises from the Psalms and other books to God. Worship Him in every aspect of your life, and let that joy that comes from knowing Him fill you every day. Don’t think of God as an unreachable being that can only be reached through confession, priests, or preachers. Realize that although He is the infinite ruler of the universe, He is also your Father. And He wants you to spend time with Him, enjoying His company and soaking up His presence.

The third step to understanding God’s will for your life is learning to trust the instincts He’s placed in your heart.

If you’re following steps one and two, then you’ve reached a place in life where Christ is not just your Savior, but your Lord. He’s the most beautiful and important part of your life, and the desire of your heart is going to be to please Him. Once you’ve gotten your heart and mind in a place where glorifying God is your number one priority, you will have an innate desire to do things that will serve Him. When an opportunity comes up where you can participate and point others toward Christ, you’ll want to do that! And guess what? That’s what God will be wanting you to do. Whether it’s writing, singing, building, sewing, or plumbing–you will be doing it to the glory of Christ.

The final step to understanding God’s will for your life is the realization that, as a Christian, everything you do and say will be used by God to glorify Himself.

You will make mistakes sometimes. Your sinful heart will occasionally cause you to slip up or stumble. But do you trust that God is powerful enough to use even your mistakes and failings to accomplish His will? (1 John 3:19-20) Do you believe that God already has a plan for your life, and that nothing you can do or say is going to mess up what He already has mapped out for you to do for Him? (Jeremiah 29:11)

The beauty of this love, this grace, is that nothing we could ever day or say is beyond God’s control. He is stronger than our frail hearts and confused minds. He is always going to be able to use us, as long as we approach life with the mindset that we long to be used. There will be days when we feel confused and lost. But those are only brief moments in the grand scheme of life. Those are the moments where God is simply telling us to wait. To trust that He is working. That He is always working for our good and our final joy. (Romans 8:28)

The question isn’t whether or not God is working in your life. Because He is working in it. (Philippians 2:12-13) The question is: How are you going to help Him accomplish His will for your life? Are you going to seek to know Him more every day? Are you going to follow the impulses to serve that He places before you? Are you going to spend every day of your life joyfully loving Him and trusting that He is in control, no matter how confusing things seem at times to our tainted eyes?

God has a plan–a will–for your life. And it’s for your good, because it’s to know Him more. That’s right, God’s will for your life isn’t any kind of complicated or convoluted formula that you have to spend every day deciphering through long prayers and fortune cookies. His plan for your life is simply to trust Him, to follow Him, and to spend every moment of every day seeking to love Him more. If you do that, you will be happy. You will be content. And you will know that every desire of your heart will be from Him.

So, I hope this helps. I understand that this is an extremely challenging concept for many–Christians and non Christians–to understand. So I’d love to open up discussion on the topic. Feel free to ask any questions you might have below and I’ll do my best to answer through Scripture!

I’d also like to suggest a great book on this topic. If you are struggling with understanding God’s will for your life, the best book I can recommend would be “Knowing God” by J. I. Packer. The more you understand about God and who He is, the clearer His will for your life will be!

-Rachel

BIRTHDAY GIVEAWAY!!!

This is the biggest giveaway I have EVER DONE! You all have seen me give away a book, or two books, or, on some radical occasions, two books and a bookmark, but never before have I given away EIGHTEEN books!

But this is no ordinary day. Today marks the start of my birth-week. I really think it should become a national holiday. The birth week of Rachel Coker! That’s right. Saturday is my BIRTHDAY! And not just any birthday. My eighteenth birthday. I’ll be a legal adult, ya’ll. Exciting stuff is happening.

So in honor of my birthday, and out of the love in my heart for each one of you, I wanted to do a huge giveaway this week! To show my appreciation for all your kind, encouraging words and support, I wanted to give away eighteen of my favorite books to one lucky winner! These are all books that have inspired, encouraged, and motivated me to become the person and author that I am! Some are by friends (or myself), some by role models, some by classic authors, and some just for fun!

I tried my best to make this as gender and age-friendly as possible. There are lots of children’s books that inspired me in my childhood, as well as great classics that I still enjoy to this day! There are inspiring books on faith and the Christian life, as well as great books on writing and what it means to be an author. Hopefully this is a stash that will help you not only to build your own library, but to further develop your love of the written word!

So here’s how to win.

Comment below with a word of wisdom or advice for me on my eighteenth birthday. You’ve already heard so much “advice” from me, that it’s time for me to get some back! Once you comment, you will immediately be entered in the giveaway.

If you want extra entries, you can do the following:

(And also be sure to use words like “AWESOME GIVEAWAY” and “I can’t believe she’s giving away EIGHTEEN books!”) Make sure you link back to the blog or your tweet doesn’t count.

Follow me on Twitter (@RachelCoker3) and then tweet about the giveaway! Be sure to comment again so that I know you tweeted. (And also be sure to use words like “AWESOME GIVEAWAY” and “I can’t believe she’s giving away EIGHTEEN books!”) Make sure you link back to the blog or your tweet doesn’t count.

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Pin one of these photos on Pinterest, and make sure you comment something about the giveaway! (and then comment below)

Blog about the giveaway! (and then comment below)

There is a maximum of five entries, but feel free to do all of the above! I’d love for you to spread some love about my blog, and hopefully encourage some of your friends to come check it out and take part!

So Happy Birthday to me! And enjoy your big gift on my special day!

Giveaway will be open until Friday, September 20th at 10 PM EST. Giveaway winner will be announced on Saturday, September 21st (my birthday!) Giveaway is open to U.S. residents only (so sorry, overseas readers! I will do another giveaway for you all very soon, I promise) of all ages.

Books: “Interrupted” by Rachel Coker (signed!), “Chasing Jupiter” by Rachel Coker (signed!), “Go Teen Writers” by Stephanie Morrill and Jill Williamson (signed!), “The Healer’s Apprentice” by Melanie Dickerson, “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp, “The Air We Breathe” by Christa Parrish, “A Novel in a Year” by Louise Doughty (not pictured), “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Humlity” by C.J. Mahaney, “Selected Poems” by Emily Dickinson, “Kira-Kira” by Cynthia Kadohata, “Cheaper by the Dozen” by Frank B. Gilbreth, “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie, “Radical” by David Platt, “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson, “Peter and Wendy” by J. M. Barrie, “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott, and “Swiss Family Robinson” by Johann David Wyss.

Let’s (Not) Be Serious

If there’s one thing that bothers me about homeschooling, it’s homeschoolers. Because, like it or not, we can be a pretty awful group of young people. We may be polite, ambitious, and smart–but by, golly are we polite, ambitious, and smart! We refer to twenty-two-year-olds as “Mr.” and “Mrs.”, we carry around two hundred page planners in our purses in case we forget about our commitments to volunteer at the library and take those extra calculus classes at the community college, and we debate foreign oil and constitutional rights at the dinner table, in between discussing whether or not wars that happened three hundred years ago would be acceptable in modern society under generals who have been in their graves since before they even sold prepackaged bread.

I say all this with tongue-in-cheek because, surprise surprise, I am a homeschool graduate and am guilty of several of the above grievances. I’ve baked my homemade bread, written my sixty-page thesis, and pondered whether or not I would secede with Texas should worst come to worst.

That being said, I’m not a very serious person. I’m passionate, I’m thoughtful, and I’m deep (sometimes), but I’m not very serious.

I used to think that was a bad thing. I struggled with whether or not it was sinful of me to think that people who spend all their time discussing the original Greek meanings of random theological words and debating utilitarianism are actually wasting their lives away. Was I the one with the problem? Was the fact that it intimidated me to passionately discuss the political views of some guy who died four hundred and fifty years ago a bad thing?

No, I realized. It wasn’t. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a not-so-serious person. It took me years to realize this, and to be quite honest I didn’t exactly come across it all on my own. I was reading a little book called “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton, when God opened my eyes to His views on seriousness, and its many downfalls.

The long and short of it is this: Serious people are by far the easiest victims of pride. Of arrogance and self-importance. Because the deeper you think of yourself, the deeper you actually fall into temptation and sin. (Proverbs 11:12, 16:18, 26:12) We spend so much time developing our own intellects–wrapping ourselves up in our studies of politics, philosophy, and theology. It’s not wrong to learn, or desire to know more about God and the world He has given us! But at the end of the day we take our learning so seriously that the one thing we seem to have a doctorate in is our own vast field of knowledge.

We take ourselves seriously because it is the easiest thing to do, Chesterton points out. We study because we want to be people who know deep things. We debate because we want to prove our own intelligence. And we boast because we want others to realize just how studious and intelligent we really are. It doesn’t take much effort to flaunt, to question, to debate. But how much more humility and character does it take to laugh at yourself? To recognize your own feeble mind and to be able to smile and rejoice at what Christ has been able to do through your silly, fumbling self?

Seriousness is not a virtue. So let’s stop treating it as such.

The beauty of the Gospel isn’t in our ability to learn and grow and impress nonbelievers with our knowledge of theology and church history. We aren’t called to be scholars and lecturers and debaters for Christ. We are called to be salt and light.

Salt. Flavorful. Full of joy, hope, and abiding cheerfulness. Always quick to smile, to laugh, to share an encouraging word. Salting our language with beautiful truths about God and His love for us.

Light. Radiating the beauty of Christ and the grace poured out upon us through His death and resurrection. Open faces and hearts that are always pouring out love to those around us.

There is no room in the Gospel for serious scholars. There is no room for pompous theologians or skilled debaters or even self-righteous homeschoolers. There is only room for broken hearts eager to learn about Christ. There is only space for individuals hungering after God and longing to draw near to Him. There is sorrow and there is worship and there is a sobering realization of what we are apart from Christ. But there is no seriousness.

There is only joy. There are only smiles, and laughs, and love in our hearts.

So live your life with an ever-increasing desire to depart from this world’s false illusions on what it means to be a serious Christian. Forget about your own intellectual self-importance and fall into the grace and joy that comes with knowing Christ. Laugh at life and embrace every moment with the kind of reckless happiness that causes those around you to wonder at the joy in your heart. If you’re going to be serious, then be seriously happy. That’s what a life lost in Jesus looks like.

-Rachel

EDIT: Please don’t take this post to mean that it’s sinful or wrong to study the attributes of God through theology, to debate your faith with nonbelievers in love and humility, or to think with sobering gravity on the weight and consequences of your sin. The seriousness that I’m talking about in this post is a proud, self-righteous love of our own intelligence. It’s definitely not wrong to, yes, seriously think about our own sin and the consequences of it. But we should rejoice in the sufficient love and grace of Christ and let that joy free us from boasting in our own strength or minds.

Throwing In the Towel

I shut my laptop and went to bed that night with tears in my eyes. Things just weren’t panning out the way I’d imagined them. What had started out as an eloquent, poignant, powerful (I thought) story idea had turned into a melodramatic, dry, and depressing one hundred and eighty pages. I had spent so much time and heart on this story. The characters were so real to me, so special. But as I buried my head in my pillow that night, only one truth was very clear to me. My story sucked.

I’m pretty much the queen of unfinished stories. It’s not that I mean to not finish something, it’s just that none of my books seem to ever reach the lofty goals I set for them when I first start out. Characters fall flat, plot twists get tangled up and boring, and any sense of heart I try to inject into my stories just end up coming across as melodramatic sentimentalism. At the end of the day, I’m a pretty crummy writer. And I never seem to finish anything.

Seriously, I can’t count the number of emails and messages I have gotten from writers struggling with the very same issue. How do I keep carrying on with a story that just seems to be failing? Is it ever okay to give up–to throw in the towel? Does that make me a lousy author?

The only answer I can think to give honestly and out rightly is yes. You are a lousy writer. But you know what? So am I. So is Steinbeck and Fitzgerald and Dickens and Austen. Because I would be willing to bet all my money that if you walked up to any of those literary “greats” and asked them what they thought of their own writing, you’d get this heartbreaking answer: “Hemingway is better.” Or Dante or Chaucer or Hugo. Because every author thinks, deep down, that he or she is utterly failing in some way or another.

We always hate our work. We love our characters, but we utterly despise them. We can’t stand them because they’re not as powerful as we want them to be, or as funny or as brave or as witty. We can hardly bear to read our stories because we see every flaw and error and weakness. We fret over every little detail and when things aren’t working out… We quit.

It’s happened to me time after time. I get frustrated with my stories and so I give up on them. I throw out one idea for something infinitely more promising, then when things don’t pan out, I ditch that story too. I’m searching for the ever-elusive perfect story. The one where everything will pan out just right. Where things will fall into place.

But guess what? That story doesn’t exist.

In my writing career, there will always be times I want to throw in the towel. Days when my writing seems so weak and so flawed. Times when I want to turn my back on the blog, the readers, and the passion that used to burn within my heart. But then I remember. God isn’t calling me to write the next great American masterpiece. I’m not setting out to create literary works of brilliance, or New York Times best-selling novels. My worth isn’t found in the voices of the critics, or the stars printed on the page of a newspaper review. And my value as an author isn’t even determined through my own blinded eyes.

All I’m called to do is write. All God wants from me is my honest, raw best. And that best is never going to be perfect. It’s probably never going to be anywhere close. But I can grow. And I can change things. And in time, I can learn from my mistakes and failings and become a better writer because of them. I may have a few bumps along the road. I may have to give up on stories from time to time, or open myself up to trying out something new. Or I may have to refuse to give up–to keep pushing on even though things seem messy.

At the end of my life, I don’t want to have a memory bank full of regrets. Of failures. Of times when I gave up on things just because I was convinced I’d never do them well enough to amount to anything.

I want to write stories that, although flawed and immature at times, mean something to me. Stories that show my heart and my character and my imperfect, naïve views on life and love. I want to keep developing characters that might seem sentimental and dull to some, but are heartbreakingly real and powerful to others. I want to work hard and see things through, and not worry so much on what others think of the end result.

Remember that story I groaned into my pillows about? I gave up on it. For a while. But it festered in the back of my mind. The characters, although messy, stuck with me. The plot, although it needed work, ministered to my own life and walk with the Lord. And guess what? I went back and finished it. Saw it through to the end. And, Lord willing, it will become my third book. I can’t wait to share details of this story and what it means to me with all of you. Hopefully it will be a testament of why it’s important to never give up–to refuse to throw in the towel–and to keep pursuing the stories God is leading  you to write.

-Rachel