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Recently I received a very lovely compliment. After responding to a friend’s email with a long one of my own, she emailed again and began with the words: Thanks Jo-Anne. You always put such a lot into your letters. You write generously. I was so glad she felt that way, because I do love to let people know their emails have truly been ‘heard’ and taken seriously. Yes they do take time to write, but in my opinion it is time well spent. And of course I simply love writing anyway.

Her response reminded me of another writer friend’s comment when we first began emailing each other. She so appreciated my emails, she told me – she hated ‘those two-liner things’ and always felt ripped off by them! So while some, including myself, may think my emails are far too wordy and wonder why I don’t get straight to the point, others seem happy that I write ‘generously’.

But not all of us like writing, I know. For some, it is a chore to be avoided. But there are many ways to reach out to others with generosity. Perhaps you are able to share your finances with others who need a little help, just as Jesus himself urged us to. Recently, in gathering material for my current non-fiction book, I read through my old journals and noted the way God has cared for me over the years through the financial generosity of others. I was reminded of a young single girl who was convinced God wanted her to pay for me to attend a three week prayer ministry school, costing several hundred dollars. At first I felt terrible taking advantage of her offer, but I did – and I have been grateful ever since for the insights this school gave me. She knew God was preparing me for something during this school – and she was right. And I know she felt blessed by the way God has used that gift she gave me many times over since then.

And what about our abilities and expertise? It can make such a difference if someone will walk beside us and share the knowledge they have gleaned over the years. When I was first starting out as an author, another much more experienced author very generously helped me with information and introduced me to her own contacts. I valued that so much and now try to do the same for others. What a joy it is to do this and know I have saved someone hours and hours of trying to find out the same information I was able to give them so easily!

Then there is our time too – that most precious of commodities in our busy world. How special is it when someone is prepared to sit down with us and truly hear what is happening in our lives? In writing my current book, I have thought in particular of the many, many hours my special spiritual mentor spent talking with me over the past fifteen years. How generous she was with her time – and how much I owe her for the amazing impact she has had on my life!

In 2 Corinthians 9:6, Paul writes the following:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

I have found this so true in my life. And I am determined to continue being as generous as possible in my email writing and with whatever other resources God has given me.

How about you? Are you living life generously?

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How many things are you able to focus on at the same time? Are you expert at juggling any number of balls and not dropping a single one? Or are you a little like I was yesterday when I tried to answer a question at the same time as signing one of my books? Much to my embarrassment, I made a mistake writing my own name!

Right now, however, my writing challenge is a little bigger than spelling my own name correctly. Recently I reached that delightful stage yet again of checking through two different novels at the same time, while also planning out my next book, writing blogs and preparing talks.

So why edit two novels simultaneously? Well, it so happens that, having just handed my sixth novel over to one of my expert manuscript readers to check, I needed to consider her comments carefully and put the relevant changes in place. Then last week, my publisher emailed me the print-ready version of my fifth novel, ‘Heléna’s Legacy’, due for release next month, for one final check before going to print. My challenge then is to remember who is who in each novel and also what these characters did along the way. And all the while I will have to guard against thinking ‘No, this character wouldn’t have said this or that – it’s all wrong!’ and wanting to change things drastically, only to realise I have a different character from my more recent novel in mind.

But I’m also into planning my seventh book – this time a work of non-fiction. I know I have to get moving on this, if it is going to see the light of day within the next two or three years. Yet my weekly blogs are also important to me – and of course I always want to prepare well for each speaking engagement.

And that’s one reason I’m in awe of our amazing God, the Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe, who is all-powerful, all-knowing and present in all places – who is in fact the ultimate ‘multi-tasker’! Our God, the Alpha and Omega, was there at the beginning of all things and will still be there at the very end, as Revelation 21:6 tells us. And in those intervening millennia, God has watched over his people, and will continue to watch over us all at one and the same time. Unlike me, God does not get mixed up and forget us, his ‘characters’, or the stories of our lives. In Luke 12:6-7, we read Jesus’ own words to his disciples:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God, Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

I’m so glad that while God is busy looking after you, the same is true for me! I’m so glad that while God is shaping the story of my life in a way that is unique and just right for me, this same God is concurrently writing yours. And I’m so glad that, in God’s perfect author hands, all of these stories will flow well, deal with all the devious twists and turns of the plot along the way and reach their desired conclusion in a most satisfactory manner. We are worth more than sparrows to God. We are not forgotten.

Now that’s some multi-tasking, don’t you think?

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Yes, I was asked this question last week – although it wasn’t worded exactly that way! It occurred during a conversation with our four-year-old granddaughter and went something like this:

Olivia:    ‘Nanna, do you work?’

Nanna: ‘Yes … I work right here at home. I sit here at my computer and write my books – that’s my work.’

Olivia:    ‘No, but do you go out to work like other people?’

Nanna: ‘Well, I don’t go out to work – but I still work!’

My answers didn’t seem to satisfy our granddaughter. Obviously in her mind her Nanna didn’t have a ‘real’ job at all. Yet she isn’t alone in her opinion, I’ve discovered. Some time back, I was asked another similarly intriguing question:

‘We know you write, but what do you do?’

And then there was the form I had to fill out recently that asked about my employment status. Am I self-employed? Well … yes. Do I work fulltime or part-time? Hmmm! Why is there never a category for more than fulltime, which is where writers who spend many long hours at the keyboard would fit?

In her book ‘Walking on Water’, American author Madeleine L’Engle describes a ‘New Yorker’ cartoon depicting a woman opening the door to welcome a friend to her house. The friend notices a man there working at a typewriter, with a large manuscript piled on the desk beside him. The friend then asks, ‘Has your husband found a job yet? Or is he still writing?’ I am left wondering exactly how the woman responded! Madeleine L’Engle also tells the story of a businesswoman who asked her about her royalties, at a time when she was at last doing quite well in that regard. When told this, the businesswoman remarked, ‘And to think most people would have had to work so hard for that!’

So where does this leave me? Well, I could sit here feeling sorry for myself, as I put all my heart and mind and soul into preparing four talks I am scheduled to give in the next four weeks and simultaneously try to write my current novel and plan out a workshop. I could nurture great resentment at the lack of understanding out there and the devaluing of the whole creative process in general. I could try to be superwoman and prove myself on all fronts, looking for a ‘real job’ to hold down while I seek to produce my next ‘great Australian novel’. Or I could simply laugh it off, knowing my granddaughter at least couldn’t be expected to understand, and develop a thicker skin about it all.

But I believe there’s an even more positive way forward. I believe I need to remind myself that God has called me to spend these long hours writing and preparing talks and that I need to be faithful in responding to that call. I need to view this vocation of author and speaker as an absolute privilege – one in which, after all, I get to be ‘me’ and feel completely fulfilled, whatever the tangible rewards or lack thereof. I need to remember to throw myself into it all with a full and grateful heart, as Paul reminds us:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

So whether we have a ‘real job’ or not, let’s remember our ‘audience of one’ and perform our hearts out with great thankfulness!

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Already I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked if my latest novel ‘Jenna’ is really my own story. Whenever I hear this question, however, I honestly don’t quite know how to answer. At one level, it is not ‘my’ story at all. For starters, my character Jenna is in her mid-twenties, has dark, curly hair and lives in Adelaide – which cuts me out on all counts! Also, when the story begins, she is a youth leader at her local church – a role I have never had. Then she gets engaged to someone who … but I don’t want to spoil the story for any of you who plan on reading it!

And yet, at another level, ‘Jenna’ is my story. It is in fact lots of different parts of my story – little snippets from here and there taken totally out of their original time frame and context and melded together to form a new and unique narrative. But it is also various other people’s stories – again snippets I have heard or read about or watched unfold. And then around and through and above and below all that are the characters and events completely from my own imagination, with the result that it is difficult even for me, the author, to tell now where fact and fiction begin and end.

It’s true too that I am the author of my novels – the creator of these characters and this storyline. I bring them to birth – I give them names. Maybe I even ‘play God’ a little at times, creating the odd one or two in my own image, or part thereof, allowing them to respond to situations as I probably would – or at least think I would. And no doubt this is a natural thing to do – after all, I’m told we write best about the things we have personally experienced. So in this regard, is my character Jenna perhaps really me?

I think the wisest thing for me as the author is to stop worrying about all this. As I wrote ‘Jenna’, I felt I was putting into words something worthwhile and something God wanted me to say. And I hope and pray that everything I have written brings God honour and glory, as well as challenging and encouraging my readers – and yes, entertaining them. Recently I read again the words of Psalm 139:1-4:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord

God perceived my very thoughts as I wrote ‘Jenna’. God was aware of my motives and in fact knew every word I was going to write, even before I started. God was with me as I wrote, I am sure of that. And my task was to listen well and to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (Gal 5:25) as the story unfolded.

I hope I did that. And I hope and pray my readers forget about finding ‘me’ in the story and instead discover something more of God in it all.

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Next month, my fourth novel ‘Jenna’ will be released by Ark House.  In the last few weeks, I have discussed various changes with the editor, written a whole new first chapter and re-written certain other parts of the story to fit in with these additions and alterations.   When both parties were satisfied, the novel was formatted and returned to me for checking, after which further corrections needed to be put in place.  Currently, the whole novel is being proofread yet again and the final version will then be returned to me to approve for publishing.  This whole process is extremely time-consuming yet nevertheless essential.  After all, I want to ensure my novel reaches the reading public with as few mistakes as possible.

So what happens to any current writing project I might have while this editing and re-writing takes place?  Well, it invariably ends up being sidelined – at least for a short while. Yet even a brief break is enough for me to forget what my characters have already said and done or how they are likely to think or act in a particular situation.  The thread has been lost and I have to take time to go back to the beginning and immerse myself once again in ‘the story thus far’.

But then, just as I feel I have a good grasp on what needs to happen next, I am pulled away yet again.  I have several speaking engagements coming up and I must start thinking and praying about what to say.  Don’t get me wrong – I love speaking and enjoy preparing talks.  But this is an entirely different ‘ballgame’ from writing novels.  So I head to the left a little in my brain and endeavour to come up with something that, according to what type of audience I am speaking to, will inform or challenge or entertain.

And of course there is also the actual arranging of speaking engagements.  Yes, my publisher does some of the ‘larger scale’ promotional tasks, but the bulk of it is up to me.  So I find myself emailing places where I have previously spoken or perhaps testing the waters with new places or people – undoubtedly the most daunting challenge for me of this whole writing journey.

So how can I juggle all these aspects of my writing journey and continue to move forward in a productive, focused way?  The encouragement of friends and family is highly important, but without a doubt, it is God who enables me to keep everything in balance and who inspires me to persevere in it all.  This morning I read Psalm 92:14-15:

[The righteous] will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

I don’t feel all that old as yet – and there are so many more things I want to write about.  So it is wonderful to feel encouraged that I can go on bearing fruit for years to come!  But it is even more wonderful to know that the Lord will always be my firm and sure Rock – in fact the perfect ‘fulcrum’ for my balancing act of being an author.  If God is at the centre of all I do, then I know I can be at peace, whatever is happening in my writing and speaking world.

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Anyone out there of an inventive frame of mind?  I would love to get hold of an inexpensive tracking device to attach to my three published novels, so I can see where they end up!  Of course, it could be a little demoralising if they were tracked to a rubbish bin somewhere or face down half-read and covered in dust under a bed or – worse still – unopened and long forgotten in some dark corner of a bookshelf.  But I have heard some interesting stories about where my books have got to and can only hope and pray there are more I know nothing about.

For instance, recently a friend told me he bought my second novel ‘All the Days of My Life’ at a conference around two years ago.  He was reading it on the plane home to Tasmania when he got into conversation with the passenger next to him.  Now this passenger had a very interesting ‘fellow passenger’ on his far side – a cello!  Apparently this gentleman had booked a seat especially for it – he was a member of an orchestra and wanted to keep his cello in sight.  On discovering this man had nothing to read, my friend promptly gave him my book, since a cello features quite prominently in it!   An interesting story – but it has left me wondering.  Did this man like it – or did it end up in an airport bin somewhere?

I know for sure the very first copy of my second novel found its way by plane to Iraq.  A friend was returning to her community work with Kurdish widows and wanted something to read on the way.  After she finished with it, it was lent around to fellow workers and eventually given to an American girl who loved it.  Again I wonder though – did it end up being taken back to America with her?  Or is it destined to wander around in Iraq forever?

Another friend also recently told me a story involving a plane trip.  She had grabbed up my first novel ‘Heléna’ in a hurry as she left home to attend a funeral in Coffs Harbour.  On the return flight, she noticed the young girl next to her looking curiously at the book.  Eventually this girl commented that her name was actually Heléna and wanted to know where she could get a copy.  My friend had a wonderful conversation with her, told her all about the book and gave her the details of where to buy it.  Another lovely story – but again I am left wondering.  Did this girl eventually get hold of her own copy?  Who knows?

I am aware of others who have bought my novels to read on planes and then left them in various countries with the family or friends they were visiting.  I currently know of copies in England, the US, Canada, Turkey, South Africa and the Netherlands.  But I also heard recently that one of my novels was seen in a second-hand bookshop here in Australia, while another was for sale on ebay, labelled ‘first edition – signed by author’!

I am just curious.  I don’t really need to know where my books have gone.  After all, God sees them and I pray will bless those who read them, whoever and wherever they are.  My role is to put my heart and soul into the writing of them and try my best to get them out there – then leave the results in God’s hands.

But a tracking device would still be neat – don’t you agree?

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Take a moment to sit and reflect on your life.  Really reflect, I mean.  What drives you and motivates you?  Who or what is at the back of your thoughts, as you go about your day?  Is it your work itself – is that what gives meaning and purpose to your life?  Is it your family or friends?  Is it your hobbies and pastimes perhaps?  All of these are key parts of our lives – but what if one or more were taken away?  Is there something underneath or beyond it all that would still make life worth living?  Who or what holds supremacy in life for you?

You know, sometimes I think we believe we’ve answered this question for ourselves, only to find that over time, our priorities begin to change and the lines somehow become a little blurred.  We embark on a whole new part of our lives – perhaps marriage or children or new career or retirement – fully believing we have everything in the right balance.  But then gradually we experience a vague dissatisfaction or disquiet, even perhaps frustration, as we go about our days.  What has happened?  What have we perhaps lost sight of, even if momentarily?

I say this with feeling, because I have to keep a watchful eye on this myself.  As a writer, I can easily slip into believing that my novels, plus the accompanying speaking and promotional work, are the ‘be all and end all’ for me.  And that can lead me down a rocky path fraught with danger.  For starters, it leaves me open to huge self-doubt when bookstores decide not to stock my books or when the novel I’m working on refuses to come together or when the speaking engagement I hoped would emerge doesn’t.  Don’t get me wrong – I love being an author and all that comes with it, but in the end, that can’t be what I live for.  It can’t have final supremacy in my life, otherwise I will find myself on shaky ground.  Instead, as I was reminded of so powerfully from Scripture this morning, for me Jesus Christ has to be the one who remains supreme.

In Colossians 1:17-18, we find these words:

He [Jesus Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

In everything.  That means, for me, every part of my life – including my writing.  Once I get that straight, things begin to fall into perspective again.  Then I know who I belong to, I know who I’m really writing for, I know who tells me my true value – and it’s not publishers or booksellers or even my readers!  They are all very important to me – but I can’t stake my life and my wellbeing on their opinion of me, however wonderful it is.  With all my heart, I want Jesus Christ to be Lord of my life, to have supremacy over everything else.  After all, he made me, he knows me through and through, he loves me unconditionally, he died for me – and he is completely trustworthy.

How about you?  Who or what has supremacy in your life?

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