Month: January 2016

Scope – my fave word du jour

Today, my favorite word is scope. Not in terms of oral hygiene products, and not about lenses (as in telescope & microscope).

I am referring to a meaning that is probably less interesting to most people.

Less interesting than mouthwash or microscopes? You may be thinking, “I might not finish reading this one.”

“Chasing rabbits” is what weary attenders of meetings hope a printed agenda will prevent, because nobody likes long meetings that waste time. The agenda is designed to keep everyone who’s in the conference room on task and remembering what the meeting is supposed to accomplish. That’s scope – deciding what something encompasses and what it doesn’t encompass.

Scope today has me picturing a giant jigsaw puzzle.

What’s the first thing most people do when starting to work a jigsaw puzzle? You’re right. They go for the border. The border tells you how big the puzzle is going to be (which is important if it ends up being wider than your card table), and it gets you started, both spatially and with color cues, in knowing what areas of the picture go where.

I’ve been piecing together the borders of 20 puzzles, each puzzle having about 4,000 pieces. The “pieces” are words, and the “puzzles” are chapters. If you think creating an end product of 80,000 words sounds scary, then you can see why I really need scope to define what does and doesn’t go inside each chapter.

Take chapter three, for example.

This morning I spent more than an hour at my frequent breakfast haunt, Panera Bread, organizing some 30 strips of paper into what will be chapter three of The Wrong Type of Love, my second novel manuscript. The first thing I did was to review which basic phases of action would make up the chapter. (Scope.) Then, it was relatively quick to read the snippet of plot or dialog on each strip of paper and place it in one of four stacks – which pushed my coffee and my “pumpkin muffie” to the opposite side of the table. But, I’ll be honest with you. In these days of frenzied writing it’s not about the food and drink nearly as much as it is about the time, place, atmosphere, and opportunity. Thank you, Panera!

I told my husband that this book feels like a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and every day I am getting maybe three or four pieces into place. He said, “Yes, dear.” (I jest in part; the truth is he supports me 100% in this.) Writing a novel is a long process that takes dedication, and organizationally it is requiring all of the skill I have developed since making A’s in grade-school English. What a stimulating challenge to map out the chapters, to decide tentatively what the scope of each chapter is, and eventually to make each scenario exactly what I need it to be, one word at a time. Ultimately, if something can’t land inside the established border, it doesn’t get to be in the puzzle.

It took me six months (July to December of last year) to know the characters and the plot details for this sequel to my first fiction manuscript, Bend in the High Road. I added notes constantly, making up names and life situations, realizing that if my bride has bridesmaids, then those bridesmaids must have names and some kind of relationship with her. If “Raymond” has a gift for sharing his faith in Jesus in an enviable, natural way, then Raymond needs to make a memorable appearance in the home of his new friend, Lee, and the members of Lee’s household who might be described as “nominal Christians” need to hear one or two things said by Raymond that get their attention in a life-changing way.

Now that I know who everyone is and what’s going to happen to them – six months in the making, remember – the fun part has started, and it is truly the most fun I’ve ever had as a creative writer. My goal is to have chapters three and four written by February 1 and the whole manuscript ready to submit by summer or early fall. As a rolling snowball gets bigger and bigger, my joy in the opportunity to write a second work of Christian fiction grows and grows!

“Nobody else could think of them”

I am in a flurry of productive writing on my second novel. I took typewritten pages to the gym Tuesday night and pedaled away while using a pencil to mark plot ideas as happening early, midway, or late in the story. I was sad to learn that my new Fitbit Flex, a Christmas present, doesn’t count the pedals’ rotations on a stationary bike as “steps” toward my goal of 10,000 per day. Bummer. But the pedaling was good exercise, even if I didn’t get credit for it. Anyway, there wasn’t much else I could do on gym equipment and work on my book at the same time.

My kids and my husband may outstep me this week, but I have to write when the writing is happening. And, boy, is it happening! When I printed all my notes a few days ago, it came to 36 pages. Now it’s 52 and counting.

In the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a would-be inventor played by Dick Van Dyke is having serious problems with every one of his projects: a flame-powered jet-pack that fizzles before launch; a vacuum cleaner that pulls up the entire carpet, not just the dirt; and a batch of hard candy – every piece having little holes that aren’t supposed to be there.


Frustrated after trying to explain his strange-looking machines to an attractive woman, the inventor asks his children, “Do you think your father’s a crackpot? Do you think I’m a lunatic, wasting my time on a lot of silly inventions?”

“But they aren’t silly,” Jemima protests. “They’re wonderful!” And Jeremy points out, “Nobody else could think of them.”

It’s as if a bright light turns on for Caractacus Potts then. “That’s right!” he exclaims. “That is right! Nobody else could think of them!”

When Potts’ confidence is ebbing, that remarkable observation by his son turns low morale into high expectation.

“Nobody else could think of them.” That exactly expresses how I feel about pouring my writing talents into fiction just now. Nobody else could have imagined and written Joan Ryan’s offbeat adventure in the Tennessee mountains, and nobody else could tell the story of her son’s engagement with its unexpected complications (a story that’s just about to get “real good”).

You certainly could argue that there are enough novels being written already – if you are small-minded, that is, and if you would also say there are enough people in the world already, so why does God go on creating amazing, unique, gifted, purpose–filled individuals every day?*

*I think I just accidentally wrote an eloquent pro–life argument!

You could tell me there are plenty of Christian fiction writers out there, established, with skill, talent, and experience, and you could ask me why I aspire to get into that mix, being “no match for the competition.”

Or, you could see that scenario entirely differently, as an open door with kind folks ready to welcome and to mentor – and that’s exactly what you would see if you had access to the encouraging group emails and the personal messages I have received as a new member of ACFW, Association of Christian Fiction Writers.

No, I don’t know if my duo of novel manuscripts will get serious notice in the Christian fiction world or in the broader field of literature. But I do know this: nobody else could think of those stories.

And I know this, too: it is huge fun making up characters and dreaming up what they do and say. It’s entertaining and it’s a great exercise of intellect, imagination, and intentional application of the Bible. It is an immensely-satisfying way of offering my gifts, setting them out in faith for God to use as He sees fit.

That brings me to you. Never forget that God created you amazing, unique, gifted, and purpose-filled. Nobody else could think your thoughts or have your ideas. Nobody else could fill your place! That’s why you’re here.

I hit the car horn and blew it


Here is the photo I promised, of my completed paper chain that shows what it takes to be a real peacemaker, inspired by Sunday school lessons from Charles Spurgeon’s sermons on the Beatitudes.

I couldn’t possibly search further for New Year’s resolutions. No tangible achievement such as weeding out my closet or getting a book published remotely compares with the character improvement represented by the list below. The chain has 36 links, and I sure wish I could see myself nailing 3 of them per month for the next year, with no backsliding:

Listening, understanding, praying, interceding, sympathizing, forgiving,

Putting others first, not standing on your rights, submitting, giving thanks,

Holding your tongue, obeying, training, instructing, honoring, blessing,

Rejoicing, getting along, being in harmony, not being conceited, overlooking,

Doing what is right, feeding, giving drink, overcoming, not judging,

Not looking down on others, not being a stumbling block, edifying, unifying,

Being kind, compassionate, humble, gentle, patient, and loving.

Shortly after I published the original article on this topic (find it under Menu – “Peacemaker – a tall order”), rush-hour traffic on a Friday evening set a hurdle in my path. I did not clear the hurdle with a serene expression on my face; no, no. Instead, I temporarily “lost my religion” as the superlative frustration of driving among inconsiderate drivers is so apt to make one do.

You’ve been there. You’re first or second in line, waiting your turn at a busy intersection. You watch helplessly as one, two, or three drivers turn left on red, unlawfully “sneaking through” behind someone else who started through on yellow. You fume. You shout or you mutter. You are justifiably angry at those lawbreakers, and you also resent all the other drivers who placidly watch this law violation and accept it as reasonable behavior and aren’t offended by it because they are going to do the same thing themselves, the next chance they have.

On my way to a Sunday school Christmas party, I was waiting to turn left where the arrow was staying green for a ridiculously short duration, long enough to let only about two cars go on a turn. Meanwhile, people turning left out of the street I wanted to enter were equally frustrated and were blocking the intersection by starting through when they weren’t sure they could make it entirely through.

Finally, my tiny window of time came around. I proceeded – on yellow – and I had to wait for an intersection-blocking pickup truck to move a little farther forward before I could get past it. And that’s when I blew it. Literally and figuratively. I just couldn’t resist pressing my car horn to let that truck driver know I didn’t appreciate his being in the space it was my right to occupy.

“Not standing on your rights,” Betsy. My conscience told me immediately that I had just violated one of the rules of being a peacemaker.

Yes, 2016 can be a year of learning, of trying, of wanting, of failing and trying again, to be a real peacemaker.

Will you look at the list again and see if two or thee of the traits jump out as ones that don’t describe you at the moment? Will you ask God to keep them fresh in your mind, and will you pray about whatever or whoever seems to “get your goat” in those areas? Believe me, God does hear and answer!

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9 (NIV)