Grow Your Writing through Critique Groups

Grow Your Writing through Critique Groups

A good critique group can help you go farther, faster in your writing journey. In today’s Writers Authors on Fire podcast, John Vonhof interviewed me on critique groups. We covered everything from how these groups function, how to form or find one, and how you can grow with the help of a group.

If you’d like to know more about forming or joining a critique group, follow the link below to  Writers Authors on Fire. If you have any questions about critiquing or forming a group, leave me a comment below.

 

096 – Elizabeth M Thompson

Prayer: The Foundation of a Writing Life

Prayer: The Foundation of a Writing Life

Hands in prayer over keyboard

By Elizabeth M. Thompson

Years ago a friend shared with me that her co-worker always bowed her head to pray before tackling her workload. This simple act was the catalyst for my friend accepting Christ. It was also the catalyst for me, as a new believer, to begin praying over my work each day.

When I left the corporate world and embarked on the adventure of full-time motherhood, I relied on this habit more than ever.

I’ve long understood the importance of praying first, before I work, before I act, before I speak.

So, why do I charge ahead with my writing sometimes? What makes me think I can write anything of value without first seeking God?

This morning I’m reminding myself (and you, too in case you need a reminder), to stop and pray before putting words on the page. To ask not only for God’s favor on our projects this week, but also to invite Him to the process–that we might write with Him and not just for Him.

 

Lord, please keep us focused on you. Help us to fully engage with you, seeking only to please you and bring glory to you in our writing.

Please give us words that meet our readers’ needs–words of encouragement, exhortation, and inspiration.

Give us courage to write from our most tender places. Those parts of us where your Spirit is at work.

Protect us from the devourer of dreams and infuse our words with creativity, power, and grace.

Amen

 

Michele Zumwalt: Ruby Shoes

Michele Zumwalt: Ruby Shoes

In Ruby Shoes, Michele Zumwalt invites readers into her struggle to overcome prescription drug addiction. Michele gives readers hope that they too can overcome the stronghold of addiction. Her story is a powerful testimony of what God can do with a surrendered life.

Maybe you have a very personal story you need to share with the world, too. Maybe your testimony can help pull others from despair and defeat. I hope this interview with Michele will nudge you to get your story written and published so it can bring hope and healing to readers.

Addiction to prescription medications is all over the media lately. How big is the problem?

Let me start by saying how much I appreciate the chance to talk with my friends at Inspire Writers.  I have so much respect for what you do and I’m truly honored to talk with you.

Prescription drug addiction has recently been called an epidemic in America by the Department of Health & Human Services. Americans are only 4% of the world’s population and yet we take 80% of all narcotic prescription medications. More people die every year from prescription drug overdoses than from car accidents. Every 19 minutes, someone dies from a prescription drug overdose and as a Law Enforcement Chaplain in Sacramento County, I know. I’ve done far too many death notifications and witnessed too many preventable deaths just in our county alone.  Since 1999, the number of narcotic prescriptions in the US has quadrupled.  That’s why I wrote the book, Ruby Shoes: Surviving Prescription Drug Addiction, to bring hope to a hopeless situation.

How did you become addicted to prescription drugs? How long were you addicted?

Like almost everyone who becomes addicted to prescription drugs, I was caught off guard by the addiction. Most people become addicted because of an injury or some type of chronic pain problem. I developed headaches in college and started on opiates to treat the pain.

There’s nothing social about prescription addiction. No one goes to a bar to take some prescriptions. It’s all very benign and clinical. The doctors prescribed it, and so it’s safe, right? The problem is that prescriptions are taken at home alone and when we get in trouble with these powerful drugs, we are alone with the problem. I became addicted very quickly and struggled with this addiction for years. It almost killed me.

 

At what point did you know there was a problem with your prescription drug use?

There were several ominous warnings, but I can remember one time in the hospital when they were preparing to run an MRI. I had developed a fever, which I later learned was drug fever from chronic use of opiate medications. That day in the hospital, they gave me a heavy dose of Demerol on top of what they had already given me. I overdosed and had a grand mal seizure.  When I awoke, the doctor said they would do the MRI the next day, but if there was nothing on the scan, they would have to consider that perhaps all these medications were the problem. At that point I said a prayer. I asked God to let them find something, anything, on the brain scan. As absurd as it sounds, I would rather have had six months to live with the drugs than to consider a life without them. By that point in the addiction, it was as if they were going to ask me to live in a world without oxygen. That day, deep in my heart I knew that I was in real trouble.

 

How did you finally break free from the addiction?Ruby Shoes

My family intervened and put me in a treatment facility in Orange County; but honestly, it took years for me to come to terms with this problem. I didn’t feel like I fit anywhere. I was angry and resentful. I spent many years in and out of recovery. In Ruby Shoes I tried to provide the reader details about this life-and-death struggle. I believe every prescription addict faces it before they finally surrender. My final surrender came when I almost died in the ICU at Mercy Folsom Hospital. God saved me, even from myself. Chapter Eight, “What a Gift – Those Ruby Shoes” describes the turning point for me. I needed to know how much God really loved me. In my most broken and sinful place, He loved me completely. Just like Dorothy from Oz, no one could save me. My family couldn’t do it for me. I had to surrender this problem myself. I had to find and wave my white flag.

 

What advice do you have for someone reading this interview who realizes their use of prescription drugs is out of control? What can they do to escape the tornado of addiction?

The first word in the First Step is “We.” We can’t make it alone. Alone, is how we die. Together, is how we get better. Reach out and get help. Call any 12-Step support group, church, or hospital. You can even call me. My number is 916-439-7775 and my email is michele@zumwaltinc.com

 

How will reading Ruby Shoes: Surviving Prescription Drug Addiction help readers who struggle with addiction?

The Wizard of Oz is used as a metaphor to help readers relate to being lost in the strange world of addiction. That feeling of being trapped in another world with no way to get back home is the very essence of addiction. Ruby Shoes is my story about a devastating prescription addiction tornado, being lost in a foreign world, chasing brooms for fake saviors like Oz, and finally remembering the precious Gift that takes us HOME.

This book offers a personal account of the horrors of prescription addiction and a biblical, 12-Step, life application solution to the problem. Ruby Shoes takes the reader on a discovery journey that leads them to a much better place than where they began. My prayer is that those tormented by prescription drug addiction would discover they do not have to suffer alone any longer. They don’t have to die and become another sad statistic of prescription drug addiction. After reading RubyShoes they will know, if I can get better, anyone can.

Since my book launched a few months ago, I’ve been talking with people all across the country with similar stories of desperation.  We don’t have to continue to die in record numbers from this problem. Together, we can find our way HOME to Him.

 

Was this a hard book for you to write?

Yes, but two things made all the difference in keeping me strong, motivated, and what I’d call “writing with a purpose.” First, I had so much love and encouragement from my family.  And second, I knew that this was what God was calling me to do. My mother, Dr. Donna Perry wrote the foreword. You would love my mom. She has helped a great deal in the editing process, but more importantly she encouraged me to share my story and inspired me to do it for the Glory of God. My entire family, my husband, father, mother, and children have all been involved in everything from proof-reading to book signings. We all see this book as a ministry to help people and God has a role for each of us to play.

 

In a 12-step program, you had anonymity. No one outside your recovery group needed to know what you were battling. Was your decision to go public difficult? Were you ever concerned about “coming out” about the topic?

No. After so many years of working as a Law Enforcement Chaplain and seeing so many senseless deaths from prescription addiction, each year more than the last, I knew this story of hope needed to be told. The loss and devastation of so many lives gave me the courage I needed to trust God completely and not worry so much about what my husband calls, “the look good.” We just decided to use this book to speak the truth, trust Him, and love and serve all His children.

 

Tell me about your writing process.

Writing begins and ends for me with prayer. So, I started by asking God about the idea of telling my story. There’s a short story in Chapter One about how He, very directly, answered those prayers for me one day. Then, I began a process of intentionally praying for the audience. This was years before the book was finally published, but God already knew who would read it someday. It’s comforting to know that long ago, I spent so much time praying for each person reading my book today. God has a plan and a purpose for each life.

Next, I prayed for an approach to tell the story in a way that people, some of whom have never been addicted, could relate to the struggle. The idea of using The Wizard of Oz as a metaphor came to me during one of those prayers.  The actual writing of the book was done in much the same way. I would pray about a story or an idea and then write it. Usually, I didn’t even know where it would go in the book. At some point, God began to help me see the chapters and how the stories fit into the chapters. There was great deal of writing, perhaps a whole second book, which didn’t make the final cut.  All of those stories, I collected into a folder I called, “Cut from Ruby Shoes.” I don’t know what God wants to do with all that writing, but I know He is the Master of taking our messes and making them messages. So, don’t ever throw your writing away.  You never know what He’s up to next. J

 

How long did it take to write this book?

The whole process from the beginning prayers to final publication took about six years.  It’s a small book, only about 40,000 words, but it’s my first book and, as you know, it is a very personal story. This was my journey with Jesus and He didn’t rush me.

 

What obstacles did you overcome while writing Ruby Shoes?

Mostly, I just had to get myself out of the way. I keep trying to make the story more general in nature, trying to be inclusive. For example, talking in general terms about my higher power. But in the end, my mom reminded me that I needed to tell my story, even if it’s not for everyone. So, I wrote it true and now I know, that it is for everyone.  We all get lost sometimes, lost in food, spending, shopping, even Netflix or Facebook. We all wander away from God.  Sometimes we feel trapped or so lost that we know we might never get back home. But, we’ve all been given a free gift–Jesus. He died for all of us. No matter what happens, He has given us a precious gift which takes us Home.

 

Were there any surprises along the publication journey?

If you feel that your book is God-Inspired, never take no for an answer. For months after my manuscript was complete, I approached many agents and publishers. I heard nothing at all. So, we took the self-publishing leap of faith and I’m so glad we did! I was surprised that Ruby Shoes launched as the #1 Hot New Release on Amazon in all three categories. As I write these words, four months since the launch, Ruby Shoes is the #3 book on Amazon’s Best Seller list in the Christian Recovery and Counseling category and in the top 10 Best Seller books for Substance Abuse Recovery. The self-publishing world has opened the doors for every writer to reach his or her audience.

If you have a passion for what you are doing and you love marketing, which I do, (it was my major in college) then you have the opportunity to write a best-selling book! I’ve also been amazed at how, when you are called to write, God puts all these other people who are called to write around you. I’m pretty sure He does that because He wants us to love and encourage each other as we seek to do His will through writing. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:11) It’s the we thing again.

 

What advice do you have for an aspiring author who has a deeply personal story to share?

Pray. Seek His will in this and in everything. If you have a deeply personal story to share, it is very important to have people in your life who keep you honest and who support and encourage your writing. Surround yourself with other Christian writers who are trying to do the same thing. Finally, remember that our broken world NEEDS your story. We need more Christian writers to demonstrate how it’s done…not perfectly, but with perfect forgiveness and love. I’m praying for my fellow Inspire Writers as we seek to demonstrate God’s love and mercy for this broken world. May our works inspire others to seek and do His will and may we always remember to give God the glory. (see Matthew 6:33)

Ruby Shoes is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble

What questions do you have for Michele? Join the conversation in the comments section below.

——

beth_thompson brightElizabeth M. Thompson hosts weekly Open Studio writing times in her home because she loves to write in a quiet house filled with other creatives creating. When she’s not reading, writing, or serving writers, she can be found along the American River, pedaling her bike, paddling a kayak or walking hand-in-hand with her husband Mike. Elizabeth blogs about overcoming on her website and can be found on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to connect with her.

Writing Past the Doubts

Writing Past the Doubts

I’ve just broken through a 3-day writing slump. For three solid days I couldn’t write a cohesive sentence to save my life, which thank God, was never threatened.

37323112_sLast week I committed to a writing project that I’m very excited about. I also committed to work with a mentor to (finally!) dust off a project that stalled out a few years ago. These two writing decisions brought me a brief episode of euphoria. I re-worked my schedule to accommodate them and bellied-up to the keyboard ready for adventure.

And you know what happened?

Doubt.

Suddenly, I was hammered by it.

All the voices in my head formed a choir that serenaded me day and night. “You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good. Baby you’re no good!”

And you know what I did?

I believed them. In fact, I helped them build a case against me. I remembered every rejection, tough critique and bad grade I ever received. It’s amazing how the mind works. I forget why I walked into the garage, but can recall with perfect clarity every criticism that’s come my way.

For the past 24 hours I thought of all the ways I could graciously wiggle out of my writing projects. After all, “I’m no good!”

Then, I decided to fight back. I put my pen to the pages of my prayer journal and cried out for help. I asked for renewed passion and for a little inspiration to get me over the hump.

And you know what happened?

I sat down and wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

The words flowed effortlessly and landed on the page as though they belonged there. I wrote thousands of words including a chapter, an outline and a couple of blog posts. Tomorrow I’ll finish my submission for the Inspire Forgiveness anthology.

The euphoria is back! I just needed to pray and write.

What do you do when you’re assailed by doubt?

beth_thompson brightElizabeth M Thompson hosts weekly Open Studio writing times in her home because she loves to write in a quiet house filled with other creatives creating. When she’s not reading, writing, or serving the Inspire writers, she can be found along the American River, pedaling her bike, paddling a kayak or walking hand-in-hand with her husband Mike. Elizabeth blogs about overcoming on her website and can be found on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to connect with her. Be sure to stop by Prayers4Writers every Wednesday evening from 6pm PDT/9pm EDT on Twitter. Use #writetoinspire to join the conversation.

Peer Promotion: 7 Steps to Promoting a Book

Peer Promotion: 7 Steps to Promoting a Book

Excitement is growing at Inspire. Several of our members have books coming out this month and many more books will be released over the next few months.

13208387_sWe are having fun with launch parties, book signings and celebrating the successes. One of the questions I hear among our writers is “How can I help get the word out?”

In response I am listing seven things we can do to promote our friends’ books:

1. Pray for the ministry of the book. We write with a purpose of touching hearts and changing lives, which can only happen when the message is read. Inspire writers pray for each other’s projects, asking God to put them in the hands of readers who can benefit from the messages or stories being published.

2. Post book reviews. After reading your friend’s book, consider what you liked best about the content, style, and message, and write a brief review. Then post the review on Amazon.com, GoodReads.com,  Christianbook.com and BarnesandNoble.com. Readers rely on reviews to make purchasing decisions. Your honest review will have a positive impact on the sales of the book.

3. Blog to promote the book. By posting a well-written interview and/or book review on your blog, you can help generate interest in your friend’s book. Include a book trailer if possible.  You can increase interest by offering a free copy of the book. Don’t forget to mention the book in comments you leave on other blogs as well.

4. Tweet to get the word out. Twitter provides a great forum for peer promotion, allowing you to post brief, pointed tweets about the book or re-tweeting what others say about it. You can also re-tweet posts from the book’s author. If the book is mentioned in an article or review, you can tweet it out to the world. Tweet quotes from the book to whet the appetites of your followers. Then be sure to invite them to book signings.

5. Create a buzz on Facebook. Update your status with a positive comment about the book and “Like” the author’s page. Post quotes from the book. Invite your Facebook friends to a book signing. You can also give away a copy of the book on your Facebook page. Your small efforts help build a big buzz.

6. Distribute marketing pieces. Carry promotional postcards or bookmarks with you. Pass them out whenever the opportunity presents itself. Give them to your local bookstore manager and church librarian. Ask them to carry the book. Distribute a speaker packet to a church leader, ministry director, pastor—whoever makes decisions about speakers. Present bookmarks to your book club and encourage them to read the book. Personally recommend the book to a friend (or lots of friends!)

7. Help with the Book Launch Party or Book Signing event. I recently attended a book launch that was hosted by a dear friend of the author. The party was a huge success! The friend put the same care into the party as she would a baby or bridal shower. Every detail was perfect–and the author was relaxed and enjoyed her guests. Maybe you don’t have time to throw an entire launch party, but there are many things you can do: Invite friends to attend book-signing/book launch with you. Provide refreshments for the event. Offer to help with book sales at book-signing. Create a gift basket for a door-prize drawing. You can also host an intimate gathering in your home for a meet & greet with the author.

Your enthusiasm about your friend’s book can make a difference in getting the word out. Employing these seven steps will make your peer promotion efforts more effective.

Here’s a question for you: What steps are you taking help promote your friend’s books?

_____

beth_thompsonElizabeth M Thompson loves stories–fiction and nonfiction alike. Mostly, she loves God’s story and seeks to share with readers how they fit into it. When she’s not reading, writing, or serving the Inspire writers, she can be found along the American River, pedaling her bike, paddling a kayak or walking hand-in-hand with her husband Mike.

 

Go Write Your Small Story

Go Write Your Small Story

9961207_sIt Takes a Small Story to Make a Big Story Our Story

I grew up in a world of big stories. I am a granddaughter of “the greatest generation”—a generation that lived through the Great Depression and served in the Great War. Most of what I knew about my grandparents’ experiences, I learned in World History classes. I learned about the Holocaust and the atrocities the Nazi war machine wrought against Jewish people and against all of civilization as it marched in across Europe. It was taught clinically, so matter-of-fact. I received the information that way too. The people who lost their lives, livelihood, family members—they were far away people. Another land at another time. Far removed from me and honestly, their collective story was not particularly relevant to my young life.

I memorized the dates and related statistics of events, and the names of the world leaders involved. I listened to my teachers and parroted back what I was taught—acing my exams, but missing the point entirely!

It was Joseph Stalin who said, “The death of one man is a tragedy, but the death of millions is a statistic.” He was, sadly, right.

The collective nature of the big-picture story makes it meaningless. It sure did for me. But the small personal story, the one tucked deep into the larger story–that I can relate too. That I can internalize and learn from. That circumnavigates the wrinkly crevasses of my brain and touches a much deeper place. It touches the place where my humanity lives, where empathy rules and compassion overflows. Where the story and I merge in our vulnerability and weakness, in our determination and victory. It touches my soul, which clings to the values of right and wrong like a rock climber clings to the face of a cliff. Where fear and faith cohabitate, always wrestling for dominance.

The story of Maria Altmann is just such a story. Much like the story of Anne Frank or Corrie Ten Boom, Maria’s story, for me, is the personalization of a much bigger story, the meta-narrative of World War II. This weekend, I was completely captivated as I watched the BBC movie, Woman in Gold with my family. The little story inside the big story, made the big story more real. Personal. Meaningful. Relevant to my life.

Woman in Gold is the story of a woman whose family was torn from her during WWII and in that tearing she was stripped of several very important pieces of her family’s artwork. Most valuable to Maria was a painting of her beloved aunt Adele, that had become the centerpiece of the Austrian art gallery where it hung for over fifty years. In the movie, Maria fights for her rights to the artwork, a struggle about more than the restoration of the stolen heirlooms. She wanted the Austrian government to admit to their wrong-doing. They were culpable in the theft and she needed with every fiber in her being to hear them admit it. She needed someone to stand up and say, “Yes. We did this horrible thing to you. We’re sorry for our part in this ordeal and we’ll restore everything that was taken from you.” She needed the Austrian government to make it right, emotionally as well as physically.

And that’s where her story became my story. I have been in Maria’s situation. Our circumstances of course are vastly different. I wasn’t even born when evil was perpetrated against her family. But I’ve been treated horribly too. And I’ve wanted someone to stand up and say, “Yes. I did this horrible thing to you. I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused you. Let me restore everything lost because of this situation.”

If you’ve lived a few years on Planet Earth, you’ve been hurt like that too. Hurt beyond the ability for another human being to make it right. We all have. That’s what makes Maria’s story our story. The universal emotions that come with injustice and the universal need to be vindicated.

When we write our vulnerable little story inside the meta-narrative of God’s story, we can shake our readers from complacency. We can disrupt their apathy and make them care about the bigger story—God’s story—the one they know about clinically, but haven’t experienced personally, until they found themselves in the words of our story.

In his book Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner says, “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity…that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.“

Your story is important too. Now go and write it!

___

beth_thompsonElizabeth M Thompson loves stories–fiction and nonfiction alike. Mostly, she loves God’s story and seeks to share with readers how they fit into it. When she’s not reading, writing, or serving the Inspire writers, she can be found along the American River, pedaling her bike, paddling a kayak or walking hand-in-hand with her husband Mike.