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As You Search for an Agent

Today I want to encourage you if you have questions about finding a literary agent to represent your manuscript and take care of you during your writing career. My new agency, Illuminate (formally DJ Jacobson), walks you through what agents are looking for.

Click right here to check it out! Or go to http://illuminateliterary.com/submissions/

What I love about this submission page is this: they tell you exactly what to do. Illuminate provides a nice template to follow that you can download to build your proposal. I highly recommend this template. I’ve sold several books using this very template. My favorite part of this template is when they ask for the compelling one sentence that tells the agent and publisher what your book is about. It’s the best way to focus your message.

I hope this blog inspires you or a friend to get started on the next step of your book publishing dreams.

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A Plan for Prayer

When I think about what I would want for myself in the next 5-10 years, I would say I would want to develop most in the area of prayer.

More and more, I’ve finding opportunities to teach and write on what I’m learning about prayer. Maybe I have another book in me after all!

The first thing that I would teach others on prayer is that there’s no part of our lives that goes unseen or uncared about by God. I love that God “formed the hearts of all and considers everything they do” (Psalm 33:15). I believe He wants us to talk to Him about anything and everything as a loving Father. You know when a child comes home from school and you want to hear about his or her day? You want details. You want to know everything. That’s how it is with God. In the words of teens around me, it’s like God says, “OK, girl. Spill the tea.”

My plan for prayer involves taking the time to tell God everything. It takes time, too. And then I need time to listen to Him, too.

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Something of Majesty

Today I reframed how I’ve been thinking about the mundane and tiring tasks associated with running a household. The moment happened while reading Proverbs 31, in particular these verses about the “wife of noble character” in verse 25-27. We read this about her:

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Something about that word “dignity” caught my attention because my tasks that very moment were far from dignified. You know those undignified moments of cleaning up things (I won’t mention details) or when you’re dragging the leaking trash out or when you’re taking care of all the things you wish you didn’t have to do? Where’s the dignity in it? In fact, I look the opposite of dignified. I’m not clothed with dignity; I’m in workout clothes with unbrushed hair.

But, when I noticed that word “dignity,” I smiled. I looked it up in my Hebrew dictionary, and that word there is the very same word used to describe the majesty and splendor of God Himself. It’s a word that’s very close to a perfect and marvelous kind of beauty. That’s what this woman has.

With this kind of majesty about her, she doesn’t parade around like queen or demand attention. Instead, look at her! She watches over the affairs of her household. I think of her doing all the mundane tasks of running a household. We learn in the proverb that she’s the kind of woman who stays up late working. She’s doing all kinds of side hustles, too. And the whole time, she knows she’s clothed with a particular kind of majesty–from God himself. It’s not the tasks she’s doing that make her majestic; she’s majestic already, so she can do anything required of her, no matter how simple or tiring. She’s just doing the work of running the household, and she’s laughing at the days to come.

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Sometimes You Slide Along

On the icy driveway this morning, I find myself skating along in my slippers. It’s the only way to travel on ice. You can’t run. You can’t even walk without your legs flying out from under you. So you slide along.

I call out to my family about the treachery of the driveway. Once safe in the car, the slow, careful travel continues. We pass by an accident. We spin our wheels on ice. We barely move along the road behind all the other morning travelers.

The whole commute–from icy driveway to school and back–takes double the time. And when I’m back to my driveway, I exit the car and begin my skate back to the house.

Some days are like this. Some years are like this. Conditions aren’t right to move quickly, to run along with the warm wind and sun on your face, or to even walk without effort. Sometimes, you must get by and play it safe. It’s the season for caution and for waiting, for inching along and for a little danger. So it’s a different walk. You’re trusting God more as you deal with these new life constraints, whatever they might be.

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The Unanswered Questions

In graduate school, I took a creative nonfiction class where the professor offered a fruitful writing prompt. She asked us about our “unanswered questions” that still linger in our lives. These questions–about people, place, events, unresolved mysteries, or anything else that comes to mind–might then shape a short story, essay, novel, or longer memoir. When you begin with an unanswered question (How did this happen? Why did this work out like this? Who was this person? When did I first think this way?) you write in order to learn and discover something. You sift through an experience to make sense of it, to make meaning, to provide closure and connection.

I love this writing prompt because, at least in this class, we could use it to produce a genuine piece of nonfiction–the true account that begins with something in our lives we still wonder about–or we use the curious question to begin a work of fiction where the characters must resolve our question. Either way, I loved the prompt.

I thought about that prompt today as I allowed myself to indulge in the possibility that it’s time to write some fiction. Where would I begin? What questions do I still have? What needs resolution or further inspection?

Maybe this prompt will start you on your own journey to write.

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A Scripture Passage to Memorize

I’ve been stuck this morning on the beauty of Psalm 71:14-18. It’s a powerful passage, especially for someone growing older. It’s from a writer who looks back on God’s constant faithfulness while looking ahead to hope in the Lord.

As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long—though I know not how to relate them all.  I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.

I love that the writer knew he would praise God more and more–all day long, in fact. I love, too, the impulse to declare to the next generation. How vital! I’m working on memorizing this passage as a promise and inspiration to continue to declare, to proclaim, and to most of all hope.

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A Desk of One’s Own

I bring marvelous news: I now own my very own writing desk. It might not matter to anyone else, but to a writer, it matters! It matters!

As perhaps the finest object I now possess, this writing desks contains within it an entire network of personal history, friendship, and artistry that now provides the literal and metaphorical foundation of my writing life.

I still can’t believe it. I’m pinching myself. I’m writing from this desk at this very moment.

It’s a desk crafted from the wood of the towering white oaks from my husband’s grandparents’ home—technically quarter sawn to reveal the beauty of this wood. I love that I have a piece of family history here.

When my husband learned that the trees needed to be cut down, he claimed the wood for future woodworking projects. And he asked his woodworking friend, Horst, of deLorenzi Custom Woodworking, to build this beautiful desk. When Horst delivered the writing desk, I loved it immediately. He fashioned it after a classic “library desk” look. How fitting for me! Horst has been a dear friend to Ashley and me for over a decade, and that fact that he made this with his own hands—in a way he knew I’d love—makes this desk so special. There will never be another desk like this ever in the whole wide word. It’s a truly original object.

It’s the desk I’ve been waiting for. Maybe for my whole life.

I’m one of those writers who always loved to see photographs of writers in their writing spaces, and I longed for the day I might have a grand space—an actual desk of my own, made for me, just for me. What kind of writer might I be with a desk so fine?

I think about the history of my writing here. The desk invites reflection. First, my father’s desk in our home in Ft. Lewis, Washington where I practiced the very handwriting for which people always compliment me. When we moved to Alexandria, Virginia, my father turned one of my closets into a desk. He attached a board into the closet that served as the prop for my first Brother Wp-3400 Word Processor. I typed my poems there. I typed my college application to the University of Virginia there. I loved that word processor where I learned to type as fast as my words could form. At Virginia, I sprawled out upon the college-provided dorm room desk, this time with a real computer and printer. Here, the poems turned into longer short stories and essays that shaped a whole philosophy of writing and living. Graduate school meant writing in coffee shops, in libraries, and on old aluminum desks in the basement. It meant marriage where my desk crammed into the tiniest bedroom possible–next to carseats and cribs–so that when I scooted out from the desk, I was now on top of the bed.

Oh, the desks! Desks from garage sales and Target. Desks formed from kitchen tables and counter tops as little feet dashed around me. I wrote anywhere I could, on any surface, with any tool.

But today, I sit here. It’s a new moment and, perhaps, a new me. I run my hand along the wood. I lean down to smell it and to welcome it here. And then, I write.

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3 Ways to Restore Creativity

After all this time, I’ve learned a few things about creativity, and I hope this list encourages you.

1. We sometimes limit creativity to mean only one thing (writing a breakout novel, overflowing with wisdom in some area, or feeling inspired to produce something in one category). But creativity, like water, takes many forms. When I feel blocked or burned out in one area of my creative life, I don’t try to write something inauthentic or forced. That’s why some of my blogs might feature just a photograph or just a few sentences. I often must wait hours (or days, or weeks!) before I feel anything like creativity bubbling up. But I’m learning not to despair in times of a perceived creativity drought. I think this: Maybe God is directing my creativity to think of original ideas in the form of parenting, cooking, friendship, fashion, home decorating, my spiritual life, marriage, or even pet care. Creativity is all about making new connections, producing something beautiful for others to enjoy, or dreaming up something new in your life. If you feel creatively blocked in one area, picture a dam that’s creating a reservoir of ideas for another area of your life. You might become a photographer this week instead of a writer, for example. Dip into those creative waters to foster creativity in another area.

2. Ask yourself what in your life enhances or drains creativity. If I looked at you and asked, “What do you think is draining your creativity right now?“– something would come to mind. What is it? Can you limit exposure to that thing? And, on the flip side, let me ask, “When you were most creative, what was happening in your life?” Something just came to mind. Were you walking in the woods more? Were you taking photographs? Were you resting more? Were you with a certain group of people who inspired you? Were you eating better foods?

3. Go back to the most basic and unglamorous forms of creativity: problem solving. Write down a few problems or burdens in your life, and then begin to problem-solve. This is highly creative work that we often forget about. Problem solving includes reframing the problem (maybe it’s not actually a problem but an opportunity), asking yourself what’s in your power to change, and thinking of little steps you might take to solve this problem. Start with just a few problems, and see how creative you become!

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Loyal to One

My aloof and highly mysterious cat Merlin desperately needs a good brushing. But one can hardly see Merlin much less catch him in one’s arms. He hides. He slinks around. He bathes peacefully and rests soundly on the far side of the room (and often behind something for protection). It’s always a celebration of some rare visitation when Merlin saunters into a room. We exclaim, “Look! It’s Merlin! Look everyone!” So mostly, we don’t see Merlin.

Merlin: the cat who fights imaginary enemies, whose anxiety mandates he scurries when human footsteps come anywhere near him. He cowers if cornered. Poor Merlin!

My husband alone somehow earned Merlin’s trust and affection. Late at night (and only if my husband is alone), Merlin arrives to the scene to pace along the rim of the couch where my husband sits. Then, as if abandoning himself to the waves, like a suicide fall, Merlin goes limp to topple into my husband’s lap in a supreme act of surrender. Only then might we brush this adorable and beautiful cat.

This afternoon, while my husband was away, my girls and I attempt a mission to lure Merlin into submission. We must brush that cat! We try to sedate him with catnip, tempt him with cat treats, and trap him in our loving circle in the living room where we sit with brush in hand. Merlin will have none of this. He pauses and eyes us suspiciously. I snap a photo. Then he runs to hide.

Nothing we do can entice him. He knows his true master and where his loyalty lies.

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Learn from the Younger

When you raise teen girls, at least mine, you learn about skincare and makeup and hair care. You let them advise you—with all their expertise—on everything you need. I’m no longer the wise one in these areas. But I admit, it’s so fun to learn.

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