Will Your Writing Outlive Your Life?

outlive-your-lifeMy favorite author is Max Lucado. He is a New York Times best-selling author with over 70 books to his credit for the inspirational market. A few years ago, he wrote another life-changing book entitled, Outlive your Life. Just how do you outlive your life? The answer may be suggested in the book’s subtitle: You Were Made To Make A Difference.

The premise of this energizing book can be summarized with a question. Are you living your life with such positive impact that even after you die your life will influence others? It’s a sobering, yet, motivational concept. It got me thinking about you and me as writers. For example, you could ask yourself a similar question. Will your writing outlive your life?

In other words, is there anything you can possibly write today that is powerful enough, penetrating enough, to influence others tomorrow, the day after that, and years from now?

One of my favorite quotes on the power of the written word is by Scotland born, Gilbert Highet, a mid 20th century teacher of humanities in the United States. He revered authors and books as depicted in his sentiments below:

These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice…and just as the touch of a button on your set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart.

Stephen King, in his book, On Writing, referred to this concept as a kind of telepathy. He used his own book as an example. He referred to the words he was writing in the book in 1997 and how they would speak to readers in the future. Those readers, at least one of them, was me. I read his book in 2015, just a few months ago, and his words struck me with the same impact he intended when he penned them 18 years ago. I felt like he was speaking to me in the present. It was like Highet’s words. I felt like I called “into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space [to] hear him speaking to [me] mind to mind, heart to heart.”

Will your writing outlive your life? The truth is you may never know if the words you craft today will engage the hearts and minds of others in the future.

But isn’t that one more reason to write them?

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For more on this topic in this blog, type “Why the World Needs Writers” in the search bar at right.

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Published in: on July 12, 2015 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How Does Changing Where You Write Inspire What You Write?

James C. Magruder -- Writing in Home OfficeWe all have an office where we write. OK, maybe not an official “office,” but at least a space, a spare bedroom, a nook or cranny, or a cave that we’ve carved out of our living space to do the one thing we enjoy most; write.

 Yet, sometimes we can’t jump start our creativity in this allocated space. Why? It’s too routine. It makes us feel like we are “at work,” “on the clock,” under pressure to produce, or it’s simply too dull or uninspiring. Now what? Change writing environments.

Write somewhere else. Write where you feel less predictable, less claustrophobic, and less confined by your thoughts. (I wrote this blog post in three different environments; in my car under a shade tree, a reading room overlooking the woods and in my home office. See photo above.)

How does changing where you write help inspire what you write? Here are five ways my writing benefits from changing writing environments:

·       It enlarges my perspective. By changing scenery, I free up my thinking and broaden my perspective. I see the big picture and look at the writing assignment with a wider frame of reference.

·       It releases pressure. Since I usually select a tranquil environment to write (like a lawn chair on the shores of Lake Michigan), I feel more relaxed, less inhibited by the assignment, and free to express myself without reservation.

·       It silences my “inner editor.” As I feel less inhibited to write by the lake, I noticed I have also silenced my inner editor. I write much more freely and refrain from editing while I’m creating. (For more on this subject, use the search bar at right. Search for one of these keywords “Silence Inner Editor.”)

·       It adds clarity to my thinking. One of the biggest benefits of changing writing environments is the overall clarity it adds to my thinking, and subsequently, my writing. Invariably, my thoughts crystallize and I have a better idea of what I want to say and how I want to say it.

·       It fuels momentum. Now that I can think more clearly, I’ve silenced my inner editor, I don’t feel under pressure and my perspective is enlarged, I write with greater momentum. I write faster, accomplish more and say what I intended to say.

If your mind is stuck and your writing is stalled, try changing writing environments. You might even try two or three environments for one assignment.

Changing writing environments will not only inspire what you write, it will underscore a simple fact you should never forget; you’re a writer.

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Published in: on September 19, 2013 at 7:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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Inspiration for Writers from Chicken Soup for the Soul

CSS Inspiration for Writers (2)Rejection is part of every writer’s life. You can’t avoid it, deny it or ignore it. But you can grow from it, learn from it and sell it. Whoa! Wait a minute. What did I just say? Sell rejection? That’s right. I recently sold two articles on this subject.

The first article was entitled, “Writing through Rejection.”  The second article, “A Writer’s Vow” was sold to Chicken Soup for the Soul—Inspiration for Writers. (Available at bookstores, Barnes & Noble, bn.com and Amazon.com on May 21, 2013.)

When I look back over my writing career, it occurs to me that I have sold more articles on rebounding from rejection than any other subject. Obviously, rejection occurs less as our writing careers advance but we are never exempt from it or immune to it.

When you consider how universally rejection strikes all writers, I’m reminded of three things to learn from this stubborn and unsympathetic teacher.

1) Never listen to the voice of rejection. Listen to the voice of reason. (Every rejection moves you a step closer to publication.)
2) Writing isn’t just something you do, it’s who you are. (So, even if you feel like quitting, you can’t.)
3) The best way to work through rejection is to write through it. (Never let rejection stall your writing momentum.)

In my article, “A Writer’s Vow” found in this new Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I talk about how I created my own writer’s vow to help me never succumb to rejection again. Have you considered creating your writer’s vow?

Besides, why should you fear rejection when you can write about it—then sell it!

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Chicken Soup for the Soul—Inspiration for Writers will be available in bookstores, Barnes & Noble, bn.com and at Amazon.com on May 21st. This book features 101 motivational stories for writers by your fellow writers. It covers rejection, finding inspiration, facing your fears, how to make time to write, the healing power of words, mentors who mattered, writing tips, time management strategies, personal ups and downs in the business of writing and how writing changes lives. Want to pick up your writing, pick up this book.

Published in: on May 2, 2013 at 9:40 pm  Comments (4)  
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Write to a Writer

thank-you-cardsAs an inspirational writer, I am always looking for inspiration. I found it this week on another writer’s website, Nathan Bransford. (See link below.)

Just what inspired me? Bransford decided he was going to write thank you notes to five authors that inspired him to be a writer. In his words:

None of us would be who we are today without the influence of the books we’ve read throughout our lives. And for those of us who are writers, books have shaped us so much we have chosen to write them ourselves and hopefully leave behind works that resonate with a new generation of readers.

“As a way of giving thanks, I’m going to hand-write thank you notes to five authors for the impact they’ve had on my life.”

Great idea. Now imagine receiving one of these thank you notes. I once thought that a published author wouldn’t blink an eye at what a random reader (like me) thought of his work. Guess again. We all, regardless of our accomplishments, want to be appreciated, feel significant, and enjoy the affirmation that comes when our work strikes an inspirational chord with our target audience. It’s not accolades we seek, but focused feedback that our writing influenced, enriched, informed, inspired or entertained our readers. That vital feedback motivates us, validates us and carries us like a current back to the keyboard.

Oh, the power of praise! Oh, the hope that a well-timed word of encouragement brings. It has been said that “words of encouragement, skillfully administered, is the oldest therapy known to man.” I write this blog to inspire other writers, like you, to press on when discouragement, or worse, disillusionment comes knocking.

I have included the link to Bransford’s blog below so you can see how brief, but pointed, his thank you notes are. Click the link to see his March 20, 2013 post. (www.NathanBransford.com) Give it a quick read and ponder his idea.

Then next week, take Bransford’s challenge and participate in his Thank A Writer project. It just may be the most inspirational thing you write all week. Best of all, think about how good it’ll feel to inspire a writer who inspired you.

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The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement.

Blog entries are posted every other Thursday.

You may contact Jim Magruder at:  jcmchips1@yahoo.com.

Published in: on March 28, 2013 at 9:40 pm  Comments (3)  
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Night Writer

bathroom1I didn’t want to wake up. And I certainly didn’t want to write. After all, I was in a deep sleep. But my muse moved me. In fact, it poked, prodded and almost pushed me out of bed. I didn’t ask for it. I was minding my own business when my dream morphed from senseless to significant. In my dream, I was suddenly rewriting the prologue to my novel. Words flowed like a river. (Words flowing? It must a dream.) Then, in the midst of the dream, I told myself to wake and write down the words.

Sure enough, I woke. The words still fresh in my mind, but I’m warm and cozy. I must negotiate with my body to rise.

“Get up and write this down before you forget it,” my muse tells me.

“No, I’m warm and comfortable,” I argue with myself.

“Get up now or you’ll forget your ideas by morning.”

“No, I won’t forget!”

“Yes, you will!”

“No, all I have to do is remember a keyword and I’ll recall the entire idea,” I insist. I roll over and glance at the clock. It’s 3:00 am.

My muse is annoyed. “Get UP. You’ll forget the idea by morning—just like last time.”

I stand my ground. “No, I’ll remember this time.”

“Seems to me you’ve wanted to rewrite the prologue to your novel for a year. Now is your chance. But, if you’re not going to get up, sweet dreams.”

“Thanks. Now let me sleep.”

My muse pauses, and then speaks. “Did you know you have pen and paper in the nightstand?”

“OK, OK, I give up! You win.”

I slowly roll out of bed in the darkness, wife sleeping soundly. I grab the pen and paper placed in the nightstand for just this occasion and lumber to the master bath. Hunched over the side of the tub, I sit to write.

The words flow smoothly, just like my dream. I squint to see them beneath the shadows cast by the dim nightlight. I wonder if I will like what I’ve written in the morning hours. After all, the “next morning” is a cruel critic.

My feet are bare and cold on the frigid tile floor. And the tub doesn’t exactly warm my butt. After I capture my thoughts, I waddle back to bed. Soon, I’m warm and cozy but my mind continues to run.

My muse pokes me again. “Change that opening sentence, I’ve got a better idea.”

“No, it’s fine as is.”

“OK, but it won’t get you published.”

“Look, I’m tired. It’s good enough!”

“Isn’t the opening sentence the most important sentence in any book? Are you content with good enough? Hmmm, wonder how many agents are looking for something just good enough?”

“That’s not fair. I got up once already.”

“Didn’t you just blog about the importance of writing great opening lines?”

“F-I-N-E! I’ll get up.”

And so, this night writer gets up with pen and paper and writes again. An interesting thing happens. The second experience is better than the first. My ideas feel more alive and alluring. I sense I was meant to write them. With some editing, they just might help me sell this novel.

As I climb back into bed, I realize that good ideas can strike anytime—day or night. When they do, run with them, not from them. Give them voice by rising to greet them. Edit them in the fresh morning light.

I’ve been waiting for this idea for over a year. It came to me in the night watches before the light of day. I was ready, if not willing, to greet it. And while I don’t know if this idea will help land an agent, I do know this:  It’s better to listen to your ideas than to argue with them. Especially, when they insist on talking to you in the dead of night.

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The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement.

Blog entries are posted every other Thursday.

You may contact Jim Magruder at:  jcmchips1@yahoo.com.

Published in: on March 14, 2013 at 9:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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When is the Best Time to Write?

Sunshine--Google It’s a question every writer faces. When is the best time to write? Is it:

A)   Early morning before the world is awake?

B)    Mid-morning after three cups of coffee, your senses are stimulated and your body is vibrating?

C)    Early afternoon after a productive morning and you’re on a roll?

D)   Evening when the kids are asleep, your mind is clear, and you’re ready to claim “your time?”

E)    None of the above.

While the answer is different for all of us, I want to suggest the best answer is:  E) None of the above. Why? Because I believe that the best time to write might be, well, when you’re not writing.

Since all articles or novels begin with a core idea or concept, the writing process begins in the mind before it begins on paper. Developing and recording the idea comes later, when we sit behind the computer.

The best time to write then can occur anytime or anywhere. For me, the best time to write can be driving home from work listening to music, reading at my local Barnes & Noble, conducting an odd job round the house, or during a shower.

When we’re not writing, our subconscious often does the writing for us. No wonder so many writers keep a notebook by the bed, in their purse or car. For example, I’m writing this blog while I cleaning my home office. Yes, it’s true that the words you are now reading were later transcribed from my mind to my computer but they were initially crafted in my head until I had time to write them down. So, this blog post idea came first, the “mind writing” came second, and the transcription on paper came third.

Agatha Christie, the renowned British crime writer of 66 detective novels did much of her writing in her mind. When was the best time for her to plot her detective novels?

“The best time for planning a book is when you’re doing the dishes,” she confided. Good advice from someone the Guinness Book of World Records hails as the best-selling novelist of all time. She sold four billion copies of her novels and is eclipsed only by William Shakespeare and the Bible as the world’s most widely published books.

But how do you actually write when you’re not writing? Start by thinking about your idea or topic daily. What do you really want to say? Develop your central message, then develop the characters, setting and situation in which to deliver that message. What publications publish this type of article or novel? What voice is necessary to tell this story? Carve out 15 minutes a day to think about your subject. Ask yourself where can this idea go? Is there a market for it? How big? Understand exactly who you are writing to. Is the idea viable? Has it been done before? How is your idea unique in plot, characters, and angle? Is it mainstream enough? Relevant enough? Timely enough?

Once the idea passes these basic test questions, then daydream about it more. Take a drive, listen to music that inspires you, check out a Starbucks and let your idea brew with your coffee. Meander about bookstores to ignite inspiration. Plot it out in your head.

Finally, let your idea incubate a little more until it starts writing itself. You’ll know when to transcribe it from your thoughts to paper. When the time is right, let it pour out of your head. Capture in on your computer. What do you do when you get stuck? You begin the real work of outlining, writing and rewriting but by now you have enough momentum to keep going.

So, the next time you need to flesh out a new idea for an article or novel, remember the best time to write may be when you’re not writing.

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The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement.

Blog entries are posted every other Thursday.

You may contact Jim Magruder at:  jcmchips1@yahoo.com.

Published in: on January 17, 2013 at 8:27 pm  Comments (6)  
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Is Your Writing Worthy to be Read?

Here at The Writer’s Refuge, I’ve talked a lot about striving for excellence in our writing. And, obviously, excellence demands not only that we write but that we edit, rewrite, let it cool, and possibly rewrite again. As I mentioned in my last blog post, it’s always about producing our best work; earning the right to be read.

There are no legitimate shortcuts. Yes, there are time-saving techniques, but no shortcuts that would devalue this craft. No matter how you cut it, writing is demanding. And while the words come easy at times, we all know they seldom roll out of our head in the right order. Thus, we find ourselves in this endless cycle of rewriting to reshape our thoughts.

Elmore Leonard, an American novelist and screenwriter specializing in crime fiction and suspense thrillers said it best regarding writing with excellence without ever mentioning the word.

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip,” he quipped. Could it be said better? Our goal is always to be read, not to satisfy our ego, but to satisfy our readers’ needs, be it entertainment, enjoyment, information, advice, wisdom or humor. So, wouldn’t it be nice if our readers read our entire piece—skipping nothing? If so, it’s fair to impose upon yourselves a standard that demands our writing be worthy of being read. Every page, paragraph, scene, sentence, and word carefully chosen; each earning the right to be read.

Is your writing worth this? How do you make it so? We’ve talked about the mechanics of this in the following three posts: Give Your Writing a Sound Check (9/19/2012), How to Write Faster (8/15/2012), and To Outline or Not to Outline (5/16/2012). See monthly archive at right.

This blog post is not about the mechanics of excellent writing. Instead, it’s simply about your commitment to write superb prose. To take a gut check, ask yourself these questions.

Do you enjoy rewriting as much as writing? How passionate are you about ensuring that nothing you write is skipped? Will you strive to write that well? Will you edit yourself that ruthlessly? How many times have you written the opening sentence to your novel? Once? Twice? Twenty times? How unique is your plot? How predictable is your ending? All tough questions. Each designed to measure not just our writing ability, but the intensity of our will to write well.

I don’t doubt your skill to write, but I encourage you to insist that your skill be fueled by passion.

When it comes to writing with excellence, to ensure that you “leave out the parts people skip,” let your mind follow your heart.

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Note: The Writer’s Refuge will now be published every TWO weeks on Thursday.

Published in: on November 15, 2012 at 2:36 pm  Comments (1)  
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How to Take Your Writing Temperature

With any artistic endeavor there are levels of passion. I know you’re passionate about writing, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. But just how passionate are you?

Have you ever taken your writing temperature? Here are four questions to ask yourself to take your writing temperature and see if you have writing fever.

Do you feel compelled to write every day of your life? You know what I’m talking about. You can’t explain it but there is this irrepressible urge to write. It’s an urge you can clearly identify. It’s an urge to say something; not for the sake of saying it, but for the sake of the audience that needs to hear it.

It’s a compulsion your family and friends see in you but can’t possibly feel. It’s like non-writers are deaf but you can hear music. “Can you hear that?” you say, but they respond with only a blank stare. When you attempt to explain your impulse to write you can’t make them understand. Instead, they smile and give you a look that says, “We’re happy for you.”

And every day you fail to write something, anything, you feel a twinge of guilt. Sound like you? Then you’re running a temperature—for writing.

Does writing dominate your thinking? Do you have a strange craving to write on napkins? Do you have a notebook by the bed? In your car? In the kitchen, den and spare bedroom? Heck, do you have a notebook virtually everywhere you go?

Isn’t it odd that you always have a pen in your pocket or a half dozen in your purse? Have you noticed how much you love the feel of a pen in your hand when you’re away from your laptop? Or that you have more ideas to write about than you have time to write?

Do your friends or family say writing defines you and shapes your life? As you jot ideas down on a napkin your family and friends pretend not to notice. When they glance at you, they raise their eyebrows, and think, “He’s at it again.”

While they don’t always congratulate you on your published pieces, they see your passion. They’re not sure if this strange compulsion is just a hobby like say, woodworking or knitting, but they concede that it defines you, shapes you or controls you like an addiction, albeit a healthy addiction.

Is writing a fire that consumes you? The best way to know how passionate you are about your writing is to see how you respond to the rejection mill. When you’ve had just about enough of this fruitless labor and you decide to give up. That’s when you’ll know your true writing temperature.

If the day after you officially call it quits, you feel the fire start to burn inside again, you’ve got writing fever. Relax, it’s not fatal but there is no cure. The only thing you can do is continue to treat this chronic condition with daily doses of writing time. Rest if you must. Wait patiently for publication. Achieving your dreams is just down the road.

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The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement.

Blog entries are posted on Thursday.

You may contact me at:  jcmchips1@yahoo.com.

Published in: on July 12, 2012 at 7:16 am  Comments (3)  
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The Best Measure of Your Writing Success

How do you measure success in your writing career? That’s easy. If you write fulltime you measure success in dollars & cents but if you’re writing part time, like the other 90% of us, you have a different measure of success.

Many of us have a tendency to compare ourselves to the writers we like most or read most. Big mistake. If you are reading them regularly they are undoubtedly members of an exclusive club called, what else, “bestsellers.” Nothing wrong with comparing yourself to them but you set the bar too high and reality is at a much lower altitude.

This is an easy trap to fall into. It happened to me. It started subtly at first. I started reading Nicholas Sparks’ debut novel, The Notebook. Then, Message in a Bottle, followed by A Walk to Remember, A Bend in the Road, and so on until I read 14 of his 17 books. I became so familiar with his writing style that I thought, “This isn’t so hard. I can do this.” So I tried it.

Our differences quickly emerged. He wrote complex love stories and artistically weaved multiple subplots throughout the story. My first novel, honestly, was rather linear, moving from point A to B simplistically and minus the captivating subplots save for one. His characters were strategically flawed, vulnerable, and unpredictable. Mine were a little too predictable, stiff, and like most first novels, were like cardboard cutouts. Naturally, he got a million dollar advance on his first novel. I’m still waiting for mine. Most of his books are bestsellers and have been adapted for the silver screen. Mine? Let’s just say I need to find more time to crank out more work. My lone advantage over Sparks? Editors still write to me. He no longer gets rejection letters.

So, how should part time writers measure their writing success? Simple. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. That includes both the rich and famous and that girl in Apartment 7B. Instead, compare yourself to, well, you. How far have you come on that novel? More importantly, how far has your writing come as a result of finishing that novel? Haven’t written a novel? OK, how far have you come since you started writing? Are you better? Significantly better? Smarter? Have you learned the ropes in the publishing business? How much do you know now that you wish you knew just a year ago? Are you making progress?

Read an old piece of work. Does it make you cringe because you could do so much better now? That says something about how far you’ve come as a writer. Admittedly, these are small steps but if they are moving you forward they are moving in the right direction.

Use yourself as the best measuring device of your writing success. Now, some may disagree with me and say agents and editors are the best measure of your writing success. And while that could be true, if you are not happy with your progress, your work may never get that far.

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What’s your opinion on this topic? Click on the “Leave a Comment” link below.

The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement.

Blog entries are posted on Thursday.

You may contact me at:  jcmchips1@yahoo.com.

Published in: on June 6, 2012 at 8:53 pm  Comments (3)  
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Writing Through Rejection

How committed are you to writing and the writing life?

We all have asked ourselves this question regardless of how experienced we are in this craft. And while it’s true we ask it most in the early days of our writing career, when we’re unsure of ourselves and face a steady diet of rejection, doubt creeps in even when we’re experienced. The level of doubt is in direct proportion to the magnitude of the rejection. If I get an article rejected in which I invested a day, no big deal. However, if I get a book rejected that I invested three years, well, that stings a little more. (Okay, a lot more, and for a long time.)

Rejection on any level tests us. It challenges the depth of our convictions, the clarity of our calling, and the intensity of our passion to write. Just how serious are we about his thing we call “the writer’s life?” It’s an easy question when things are clipping along at a nice pace, but how do you respond when you, and all of your work, hits a brick wall?

That happened to me about a year ago. Everything I wrote went down Rejection Road. I’ve had articles published routinely for the last 25 years. Why the sudden about-face? With all of my past accomplishments I knew I should let this roll off my back but instead I allowed it to get under my skin. It ate at me for a week before I sat down and made a vow. I vowed that I would work through rejection by writing through it.

In fact, I immediately wrote an article entitled, “Writing Through Rejection” and submitted it to a publication.  In the article I made this point:  Every rejection should be a badge of courage for a writer. Although it symbolizes a failed attempt, it doesn’t symbolize failure. Instead, every rejection is an opportunity to test your commitment to your calling.

 I reminded myself that if writing was simply something I do, I could give up and do something else. But writing isn’t merely something I do, it’s who I am. And if a writer is who I am, can I ever quit? Can you?

Last week was my wedding anniversary. I have always marveled when two unrelated facets of my life come together and move my heart. For example, as my wife and I celebrated, I reflected on the vows we made to each other. Regardless of the challenges we would face, the vow would keep us together. I got to thinking about “A Writer’s Vow.” Why don’t we vow to never quit, despite the disappointments, disruptions and rejection typical of a writer’s life? A vow to never give up the call or compulsion to write. A vow to promise yourself that if you fall down seven times you will get up eight? A vow to defeat rejection before it defeats you.

It has been over a year now since I wrote “Writing Through Rejection.” I never heard from the editor. Nothing worse than having an article on rejection rejected.

This week I found a large envelope in my mailbox. Enclosed were two copies of the magazine to which I submitted my article. Inside, my article was published. A check was stapled to the magazine cover. I never saw it coming.

It reinforced my vow. The best way to work through rejection is to write through it.

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What’s your opinion on this topic? Click on the “Leave a Comment” link below.

The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement.

Blog entries are posted on Thursday.

You may contact me at:  jcmchips1@yahoo.com.

Published in: on May 30, 2012 at 11:26 pm  Comments (2)  
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