Saturday, August 17, 2013

Writing is My Life

Today when I woke up, I decided to get on Facebook for a few minutes and check my notifications.  I'm part of several writing groups on there that I try to keep tabs on and contribute to on occasion.  In one of these groups, I came across the post of a girl who was frustrated with the fact that there are so many people out there all too ready and willing to bash Writing as a career choice.

I know how this girl feels.  I go through the same thing.  Many writer's do.  And I guess I understand (to some degree at least) why so many people don't see it as what they like to call a "real" job.

It's because writing is different.  Upon first glance, it seems really laid back.  You go into a coffee shop, look around, and perhaps there are a dozen or so writers sitting at a table not far from you, sipping their coffee leisurely and typing away on their laptop keyboards.   Writing doesn't LOOK hard... at least upon first glance.  In fact, a lot of people think that it's something that almost anyone can do... sit at a keyboard and type.  How perfectly simple, right?

Most people don't categorize writing as a "real" job (forget about all the script writers of every movie or TV show you've ever watched, every newspaper article you've ever read, or every book you've ever bought at a bookstore).  Most people think "a real job" has something to do with hard physical labor -- after all, a lot of jobs require this.  Usually there's a time slot in which you have to go to work and clock in, stay at work to work, and then clock out of work to go home.  At some jobs there are offices and computers.  A lot of the time, though, people define a "real" job as working for somebody else who pays you money in the form of a salary or hourly wage.

Of course there are a few successful entrepreneurs out there.  Have you ever watched the show, "Shark Tank" where small business owners from all over the states come in to talk to these big corporate managers (referred to as "sharks") and try to get them interested in their little company?  These little business guys don't come in without some pretty impressive numbers/statistics and past success stories to show.  They've made it on their own so far, and now they are ready to take their companies further, and they are willing to offer shares in the company for the help and money they need to succeed.

But, you know how it goes, right?  Those successful little business men and women are the exceptions. Surely writers don't fall under that category, right?  After all, writers are only sitting down at a keyboard and typing... and typing... and typing.  Anyone can do that.  It doesn't pay money... what's the point?  Writers just need to go find real jobs where they work for someone else, doing someone else' dirty work, and getting paid minimum wage for all of their hard labor.  That's just how life goes.

Well, maybe so.  Maybe writers do need another job on the side to keep them floating in between paychecks, or while they are trying to get their career off the ground.  Currently I have another job on the side, and I'm looking for a second... I'm not going to bash what other people refer to as "real" jobs.  But that does NOT mean that writing is by any means "easy" or "not a real job" or "not a true career".


Because there's this:  If writing isn't a real job and publishing can be termed as "just a hobby", how in the world did all of the books we have today come into existence?  Why do so many people know how to read?  And why is reading so important in today's society?

I have personally come to this conclusion.  Many people don't think of writing as a "job" or "carreer" because #1) they don't understand it, #2) they have never tried it themselves, and #3) even if they have tried it before, they weren't really serious about it.

The serious writers know better.  Writing is not something that you can just "pick up and go" with.  If you are serious about making it in the writing world, the first and foremost thing you have to do is write without complaint and without exception.  Write everything you can think of at any moment that you have to spare.  Even while you're working on other projects, keep thinking about writing and what you are going to write next.  And keep writing no matter what... even when you are tired.  Even when you have no ideas.  Even when you are sick and just want to curl up in a ball and not talk to anyone.  YOU HAVE TO WRITE.

Though writing looks easy, it's actually not.  Writing, like painting, may seem like play at first -- there are all these pretty colors and inspirations floating through the air!  Type them out as fast as you can and hope that it turns into something extraordinary!  But what happens when the inspiration goes away, and you have a deadline coming up, and you HAVE to finish writing this ONE particular scene that you absolutely have no idea what to do with?  What happens when you've finished a rough draft and go back and realize that most of what you've written is crap and wouldn't make it in the marketing world of today, but you still think it's a good story and you know someone will want to read it so you start to re-write?  What happens when you have a finished manuscript in your hands and the only way the public is going to see if is either if you start querying large companies to look at your work or take matters into your own hands and do the whole thing yourself which costs lots of time and money and energy and work???

The 2 biggest things I've noticed that serious writers have on their side are their determination and their ability to think.  In fact, thinking is one of our strongest assets... because you don't have a story if you can't think of one, and you'll never finish writing that difficult scene if you don't think of a way to solve your problem.  Speculative Fiction writers are known for creating entire WORLDS and races and new species and rules that all have to work together seamlessly in order for the story to make sense.  And you have to have characters that feel and sound like real people, and act that way too.  All of the aspects in a story have to work together like clockwork, even when something bad happens... You can't break the rules you make for the story, you can't have people breaking character, and even the unbelievable things have to have a sense of believability about them.  Doing and creating all of this does not require ONLY writing (though that is probably the biggest part of it); it also requires lots and lots of researching and studying every aspect of the writing process in order to more fully understand how to write WELL, and not just write something.  (yes, there is a difference).

And as far as determination goes, I've seen so many writers who have been beset by doubters and who have heard over and over that they should forget writing as a career... that it is only a hobby, and that they may never find success.  In fact, I've had people like this in my life too.  But I've watched these writers rise above the condemnation of the masses, and succeed where no one said they could.  It's not such an unheard of story.  In fact, it grows more common every day.  Just look up Amanda Hocking or Joe Konrath if you don't believe me.  Just look up any of the authors that you enjoy reading.  Writers are proving to the world that they are important, and that it doesn't matter what the doubters and naysayers claim, they can succeed.

There is one more thing that comes with serious writing.  It's a sense of being compelled almost to the point of insanity to sit down and ink words onto paper in the form of a story or tale.  Serious writers know this feeling, and they will tell how it haunts them every hour of every day of their lives.  For us, writing is not just a passion... it's a drive.  We simply cannot possibly comprehend a world where we could not sit down for however short a time to write out the stories burbling up inside of us.  We would explode if we were forced to pen them in.  Writers have to pour their hearts, minds, and souls into their writings -- they have to give it EVERYTHING they have, or the work simply isn't good enough.  Writers know this.  It's why we so vehemently stand behind quotes like, "There is nothing to writing; all you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."  This is true.  It's so true.  Serious writers bleed their entire lives into their work, and it frustrates us when others look at our pain-bought triumphs yet can't see the amount of effort and hard work it took to create them. How can people not see the scars we've procured, not notice the pain in our eyes, or the way we have changed while writing something?  People enjoy reading the products of our sleepless nights spent in a typing frenzy when they can simply pick the books off a shelf and go buy them... and yet somehow to them writing is not a REAL job.

Well, for heaven's sake, why not?!?  If you love something enough, and are passionate about it enough, and enjoy it, and are driven to it enough, why can't you learn to make money from it too???  Because personally, I think that if more people decided to choose a path in college that they are apt to enjoy instead of one they think will make them money fast, people would discover that it is possible to make a living off of something that makes you happy, and employers would be more happy with their employees' performances.  

In many ways, writing is much more REAL than people can imagine.  It is much harder than people can possibly comprehend.  It consumes those who follow it as a career choice, and yes, it is possible to become successful at it.  Because writing is far more than just a job, or a career choice, and it's much much more than just a hobby... it's a way of life.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Call to Worship: Following the Leader

Ok, picture this with me now.

It's early Sunday morning, and if your family is anything like mine, you're rushing around trying to get ready for church. Mom is in the bathroom curling her hair and putting on make-up, Dad is rummaging through the bedroom, Brother is grumpy because he had to get up early, Sister is primping for her boyfriend, and the youngest Sister is complaining about having to take a bath and crying over getting her hair combed. You are probably trying to find that one shirt or pair of dress pants that of course are not in your closet or dresser drawers when you need them, and your good shoes are missing. You reach for your second best pair and hope no one at church will notice the scuffs. Everything is hectic rushing and running, and ALL so you can get to church (which is an hour's drive away) in time for the Worship Service.

 When you get to church, everyone meets and greets, talks and laughs, smiles, shakes hands, hugs, and drinks coffee before filing into the sanctuary and either sitting or standing (according to preference) to listen to music. Sometimes you even sing along if you know the words. The person who is on stage "leading" is strumming away at the guitar (or playing the piano) looking about as scared as a deer in the headlights, while the back-up vocalist to the leader's side is rocking out on their mic, totally oblivious to everything around them including the tune and the beat of the song. The kids in the front row are already bored and the girls are playing with dolls while the boys are causing trouble among themselves. The Youth Group are standing where they always do, but only half of the teens are pretending to pay attention or care, and the other half are busy sneaking glances at that one cute guy or girl over in the corner with the confident air and the popular clothes that they have a crush on. A few of them are visiting. Parents all around the room are mouthing the words to the songs, or have their eyes closed as if in prayer though in reality they are mentally going through a checklist of all that has to be done that afternoon and on into the week. And some of the old men in the back are already dozing off. It's a typical Sunday morning.

Now tell me friends, what is wrong with this picture? Have you figured it out yet? Have you noticed the lack of interest, the distracted glances, and disrespectful whispers? Where is the reverence? The passion? The fire?

 My friends, this is NOT how a Worship Service should be.

Now, I'm not saying that every church is like this. In fact, I feel rather blessed to have a home church where this particular scenario is not the usual case. But lately I've had the chance to visit a few other churches around my area, and let me tell you, I don't like what I've been seeing. It's not that there aren't people who love God with all their hearts IN these churches... there are! And I know some of them. But my question is, why is this happening in the church in the first place?

And I have come to a conclusion. It's the Worship Leaders.

I'm not trying to condemn Worship Leaders here; I am one, after all (or rather, I have been, and I'm still on a worship team). But there is something in the position title that I think a lot of people overlook. 

Worship Leaders are supposed to be leaders. They aren't just the first ones to sing or the loudest ones... they are supposed to lead a congregation in worship. And believe me when I say, it’s not an easy task. Worship leaders have a lot on their shoulders… they’re not just up on stage to perform; they are up there to bring a body of very different people together in unity in celebration and praise for the Lord most high, and to prepare hearts and minds for the sermon about to be spoken. Worship leading isn’t just singing in front of people; it’s a constant state of prayer where you are not only reaching out with your heart and soul to the congregation and to God, but you are also preparing yourself. You are looking deep inside yourself for your flaws and you are praying for the strength to overcome them. 

And worshiping leading doesn’t just happen on Sunday.

 When my church first started, all of the members of the worship team would get an email early in the week that would give us the songs we would sing on Sunday so that we could practice. Then, early Sunday morning, we would get together to practice before the actual sermon. This worked for a while, but it was confusing… Sometimes people would show up late on Sunday morning for practice, and sometimes the songs wouldn’t “fit” the mood of the sermon or the word that someone had been given, etc… After a while, our team decided to try a different tactic. Throughout the week we would each pray about what songs should be in the service on Sunday in order to best prepare people’s hearts for the sermon and for God speaking. On Friday, the whole team would meet and talk to the pastor about the sermon he felt compelled to give that week. (I usually went early to play guitar and sing.) Then we would write down a list of the songs we had prayed about, pray over the list together, and choose the ones that fit best. After that, we’d go practice in the sanctuary. On Sunday morning, then, we’d do a run-through and have intersession and prayer after practice until people started coming into the church and it was time to start. And not surprisingly, the worship in the services after we started this routine improved not only in the leaders and the musicians up on stage, but also in the congregation.

The point of all that was to show that worship leading is not just a one day thing; it should be happening all week every week behind the scenes, as well as Sunday morning on stage. There are a lot of people who go to church on Sunday just so they can say that they go to church, but Worship Leaders can’t be like that; it’s not just a performance, it’s a way of life. Worship Leaders are called to lead in praising the lord, not just singing. Singing is a gift, but worship is a calling. We must fashion ourselves to be as David was, dancing and singing in front of the lord so hard that people looked at him and called him a fool… but David said, “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”

Worship Leaders! We have to put away our fear of being made a fool in the eyes of the people. That fear is what makes us performers, but not worshipers. True worship comes from the heart, and it is oblivious to fear or worry or care… it is sweet abandonment in the assured knowledge of God’s love and grace for his people and all that he wants for us and all that he has already done. We must humble ourselves and prepare ourselves before God long before we get up to sing and play, because whether you like it or not, people are following our examples. Without God, we are nothing but performers, but with God we are worshipers.

 So this is a challenge to any of you out there reading this. Even if you are not on stage playing an instrument or singing into a microphone on Sunday morning, be a worship leader in your church. Even if you feel you have no musical gift, be a worship leader. For this is the reality; God has called us all to worship, and making a joyful noise before Him does not have to be strictly musical. Worship God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and others will follow your example. And if all the body of Christ lifts their voice in true and heartfelt praise to God, just think of what a beautiful noise Heaven will be filled with!


 1 Chronicles 16:23-31 

 Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!"