Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jim Watkins: The Man Who Wrote the Book on Humor

Are you ready for some fun? I have invited Jim Watkins, an award-winning humor writer to join us today, and he graciously agreed. The above is not Jim's graduation photo.
Jen: Jim, your writing style is very easy to read, flowing naturally. I remember you saying, “If something is easy to read, it was difficult to write. And if it is difficult to read, it was too easy to write.” Can you explain this statement, please?

Jim: First, thanks for letting me visit your blog. What a privilege.
Second, the problem with writing is that anyone with a third grade education can write. That’s why, as an editor, I see so much bad prose and poetry—and why this big, mean editor rejects 99 percent of what he receives unsolicited. The secret to writing well is rewriting—and that takes blood, sweat and tears.

Anne Lamott, in her writing book Bird by Bird, explains, “I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.”
Finding Forrester is a wonderful movie about a grumpy old author (Sean Connery) who mentors a wannabe writer. He tells his student, “Write the first draft with your heart; the second draft with your head.”

“Easy reading,” then, is the result of very hard—and heartless—rewriting. It’s cutting lengthy, run-on sentences down to 15-words or less. Reading it out loud to see if it “sounds” right. Asking a grumpy old author to honestly critique our work.

Jen: Did you pursue a writing career, or did it jump out and grab you?

Jim: By second grade, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I felt the suspension of disbelief was stretched too thin when the real-live puppet Pinocchio became a real live boy. So I rewrote the ending having the wooden puppet die a painful, prolonged death of Dutch elm disease. (At that point, I’m sure my parents and teachers weren’t sure if I’d become a writer or a life-long patient at a psychiatric hospital.) I later went on to become the editor of my high school paper, worked at a Christian publishing house as an editor during college, and then dabbled in writing while holding down a real job. Since 1988 I’ve been writing and speaking full-time.
Many child development experts claim one’s profession is determined in elementary school. One bit of advice I’d offer, then, is actually a P-A-T answer to the question of “What do I want to be when I grow up?” What is your passion? For what are you being affirmed? and what are your talents? When passion, affirmation and talents line up, that’s what God has created you to do with your life.

I hope you wrote that last sentence down, friends--Jen

Jen: You have won awards for your books, yet you say that’s not where you find your identity. When you look in the mirror, where does your esteem come from?

Jim: Yes, I’ve won a Campus Life “Book of the Year” award, a Christian Retailers Choice award, an Amy Foundation award for using Scripture in a secular article, and four Evangelical Press Association award for editing, but let’s total those up: seven.

Compare that to 365 days a year since 1988: seven vs. 4,015! Awards can’t motivate and encourage you more than a few days at a time. So for the other four thousand days, I need some other motivation to get out of bed and make me sit in front of a computer for eight hours. And most important, I need something more substantial on which to build my identity and esteem than fleeting awards.

If my identity is built on being an award-winning author and speaker, what happens when I don’t win an award? When I get a rejection slip? When I don’t get invited to a prestigious conference. My identity gets bloodied and battered. But here’s what I cling to from Brennan Manning's wonderful book Abba's Child.
“Make the Lord and his immense love for you constitutive of your personal worth. Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. God's love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth.” That's another keeper!--Jen

Jen: Let’s talk a little about humor, which you wrote the book on, since your latest book is entitled, “Writing with Bananas Peels: Principles, Practices and Pratfalls of Writing Humor.” You employ a lot of funny business in your writing. Am I wrong in assuming most people appreciate that? Has your sense of humor ever gotten you into trouble?

Jim: I actually wrote a paper in graduate school called, “Effectiveness of the Use of Humor on Persuasive Messages in Print.” It cited university studies claiming that “humor attracts attention in all types of persuasive messages.” Humor connects with an audience and thus lowers the reader’s defenses.

And, yes, there have been times my humor has gotten me into trouble. But if you know your audience—and their boundaries—humor is a powerful, persuasive tool.

Notice he hedged the details of trouble he's been in...

I am offering as a prize this week your choice from three of Jim's books: "Writing with Banana Peels," "Squeezing Good from Bad," or "Writers on Writing." Please leave a comment with your email address to enter the drawing. If you come back Friday, you may enter a second time. You have until Tuesday October 6th at 4:00 p.m. I will post the winner the 7th.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Wrestling with Time

Do you wrestle with time, trying without success to manage it? I heard these words in my heart recently:

" You have enough time to do all I've called you to do, with time left over to relax. What have you added?"

Ouch. And thanks. Please show me what I've added, Lord. Then show me how to eliminate it, so I am resting in You, not wrestling with time.
P.S. Please return Wednesday and Friday for a fun interview and book givaway with humor writer Jim Watkins.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Is It Okay to Say This?

Frustrated by a bout with writer's block, I whined to the Lord,
"What is happening here, Lord? I know I'm a good writer..."
Wait, what did I just say? I know I'm a good writer. I know I'm a good writer. Hmm... And it flowed so freely from my heart, too. It wasn't all that long ago that I began feeling comfortable with saying, "I am a writer." Now I'm saying, "I know I'm a good writer."

At first I was shocked that I could so boldy declare to God: "I know I'm a good writer." However, the more I pondered my statement, the more confident I became.

I take no credit for my writing ability; it is a gift given me by the God of all grace.

If a person gave me a present I wouldn't say, "This is the ugly car Jennie gave me" or "Come see the sorry excuse for a hutch the Jones' bought us for Christmas." I would exult in my gifts, relishing their beauty, grateful for the relationship that prompted such an outpouring of love and generosity.

So, go ahead. Not only is it okay to tell the world, "I'm a writer." It's perfectly fitting to tell the Lord, "I'm a good writer. Thanks to You."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Susan's Horrible, Awful, Very Bad Day

Our dear friend and fellow blogger, Susan Reinhardt is having terrible trouble with her computer. She called me this evening, asking that I apprise everyone who follows her. Please don't think she forgot about you; she is working on the issue to get up and running asap.

I'm sure Susan would appreciate your prayers. Most of you know she is a widow who recently became unemployed, and is trying to live on her unemployment salary while she hunts for work. Being forced to purchase a new computer at this juncture in her life would put extra strain on her finances. She could use a big dose of grace tonight. And we know where to go for that! Will you join me at the Throne?

Thanks and love,


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Favor

May I ask a favor, dear friends?

My DH is attending his 4oth high school reunion this weekend, and I have been looking forward to pigging out on writing for three glorious days. I'm even taking Friday off of work. However...

Since last Friday I've been fighting this stuffy head, not-feeling-my-perky-self demon. And I hate the thought of missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime for some serious BOC time to work on my WIP.

Would you mind praying for me? That God will heal whatever is wrong, and that I can make some great progress while my hus is away? I'll so appreciate it.

And shoot me some prayer requests of yours while your're here. I'd love to pray for you.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Perfectly Silly

“Go lay down on the bed for a minute; I want to tell you something.” I’ve never heard an audible voice from the Lord, but His insistent call to my heart was impossible to ignore.
“What? Right now, Lord? I am in the middle of cleaning house, and still have a hundred things to get done before Adrienne and Barbara arrive. Can’t you tell me whatever it is while I mop the floor?”
“No. You need to be still in order to hear what I have to say.”
“Oh, all right.” I gritted my teeth as I rushed to the bedroom, plopping on the bed. It was difficult to listen when the cobwebs taunted me from the ceiling. I slammed my eyes shut.
“What is it, Lord?” I grumbled, wanting to get this conversation over so I could finish my mopping. As usual, I’d piddled all week, then tornadoed through Saturday to get my house in order. It wasn’t the Lord’s fault, but I blamed Him anyway. He was interfering with my plan.
“Jeanette, you are trying too hard to be perfect and impress people. You’re not fooling anyone. By the time Adrienne and Barbara get here, you’ll be an exhausted mess.”
“But Lord, You are perfect, and the Word says to imitate You. I even know where that verse is: Ephesians 5:1.”
“Yes, but I am not a perfectionist. There’s a difference. I am too realistic to think you or anyone else will ever be flawless in this life. You frustrate yourself when you strive to make no mistakes, or to give the impression of perfection. My job is to be perfect. Your imitation of Me is to love others and be kind to them. Pretending you never fail, whether at housework or any venture, is not love. It’s unreality.”
“Okay, Lord. I see I’m acting silly¸ not trusting You to help me clean my house, trying too hard to impress my friends. I repent. Thanks for the correction.” As I bounded off the bed to return to my mop, I heard His final word:
“Any time.”

I’d like to tell you this interchange took place last week. It was closer to twenty years ago. I still wrestle more than I should with striving to be perfect. And I still end up frustrated. You too?

When Jesus came and laid down His life for us, He knew beforehand we’d not behave perfectly after we were saved. But He came anyway, because He wanted to make a way for us to be part of God’s family. His perfect sacrifice was the only way to accomplish that.
All our striving to look faultless adds nothing to His gift of salvation. We simply accept it and enter into fellowship with Him.
This isn’t an excuse to be lazy or willfully sin, saying¸ “Oh well, that’s why Jesus died. He knows I’m not perfect.”
We don’t impress God or anyone else when we pretend to be flawless. It’s okay to say, “Oops. That was stupid of me. I am sorry.” In fact, it endears us to others when we let down our mask and admit we are still in the “rough draft” stage. They feel more comfortable around us when we let them know that we know we have faults. Then when we tell them about Jesus, they’ll be more likely to listen.
Someday I’ll be perfect. So will you, if you’re in Jesus. Until then, let’s quit looking silly by trying to appear perfect. Let’s be real.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Saying No: Painful or Wonderful?

Do you have a difficult time saying “no?” If you’re like me, you want to make the people in your life happy. Sometimes following the Lord’s plan and pleasing people cannot go hand­-in-hand, especially if you are committed to writing a certain amount of words per day, or working under a deadline. Or simply staying sane. Aha.

What are some things you’ve had to say “no” to lately? Were you okay saying that, or was it tough for you? Does it get easier the more you say it?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Covering up the Poo-Poos

When our daughter Esther was four she told her grandma¸ “Mommy says we can get a pet when baby-Ron gets big enough to help me take care of it. I would rather have a kittie than a doggie, because kitties cover up their poo­-poo.”

The kids’ first real pet was a black cat named Agape'. We’ve had a plethora of kitties, bunnies, fish and birds since then. All were like family to us. I refer to my current four cats as my “fur children.” I talk baby talk to them, feed them expensive food, and call them silly nicknames. Rocky is Rocks-a-Rooney; Happy is Happy Dappy; Puddin' is Puddin' Pants and Angus is Angie Bangie. Not too creative, but I save that for my writing.

Do you have any pets? How do they enhance your life, or make it crazy? Do you include pets in your stories?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Are you an Addict?

Hello. My name is Jeanette and I am a blogoholic. It started quite innocently. I was given Michael Hyatt’s website and told he had some good “stuff” for writers. Michael is a nice enough fellow, just doesn’t understand us addictive types.

When he encouraged blogging as a means of building a platform, I began. Just a little sip here and there, you know, nothing serious. But soon I was draped over the bar (dark chocolate, that is) with the best of them, blogging into the wee hours, waking up bleary-eyed and confused. *

That’s when I realized I needed help, and someone told me about the hundred-and-twelve step program, Bloggers Anonymous. I hope I can wean off the stuff gradually; I don’t think I’ll survive if I have to go cold turkey. I love to blog too much!

Seriously. I feel horrible that I spend more time blogging some days than I do writing. I check my blog for comments ten or twelve times a day. I pray for my blog followers like they are family—I feel you are; we’ve been through so much together. But if I keep adding sites to follow, using every spare minute to blog, I never will finish my WIP.

Just for the record: What is your ratio of blogging to writing time? Any suggestions for a desperate blogaholic?

* May include some exagerration--aka literary license--to make a better post.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Prize Winners and Patriots Pray

Announcing the winners of the “Prizes for Everyone” contest:

Jessica Janna Andrea Sherrinda Jan Diane

The answer was #4: a book, a set of dishrags, a box of candles, and a mouse. My husband bought chocolate and coffee; I bought the other items. I always give him the opportunity to buy stuff for me; if he says “no” then I buy it myself. Works for our marriage!

Here are the prizes to choose from:

· Purple post it notes, pop-up style
· “Edit Yourself Like an Editor” cd by Andy Sheer
· Ready Made Family, “Love Inspired” book by Cheryl Wyatt, autographed copy
· Mary Engelbreigt magnetic shopping lists(3)
· “Improving Your Word Craft” cd by Keith Drury
· Miss Fortune mystery/suspense book by Sara Mills

If I don’t already have your addy, please email me at and send it to me with your first and second choices of prizes. Congratulations!

HAPPY PATRIOTS’ DAY TO YOU ALL. Let’s look to the Lord to bless and heal our nation. True Patriots Pray. The government rests on Jesus’ shoulders, not men’s. He is Lord of the United States of America.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Encouraging Quotes for YOU

"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." Thomas Edison

"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say." Anais Nin

"I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business." Michael J. Fox

"Just because something is hard doesn't mean it's not God's will for you. Just because something is hard doesn't mean you can't do it." Joyce Meyer

"God loves us not for our virtues, but for our needs." Paul Tournier

Which is your favorite? Why?

Psst! If you haven't already entered my "Prizes for Everyone" contest, you stiil have 'til tomorrow at 4:30 to enter. See Monday's post.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Prizes for Everyone!

I love giving presents. I have an entire shelf in one closet devoted to gifts. It has filled up over the Summer and I need to clean it off to make room for Christmas gifts.

Are you up for a game where everyone who plays can win one of my super duper presents? (Let's see here, I have books galore--most are Christian romance--a few cds from writers's conferences, post-it notes, and other assorted lovely prizes on this shelf. All you have to do to win one is guess what I bought on a recent shopping trip. Everyone who guesses correctly wins! Ready? Here goes:

1) A pair of jeans, a book, a cd, and a bag of dark chocolate truffles, or

2) A book, a cd, a box of candles, and a bag of coffee, or

3) A set of dishcloths, a box of milk chocolate truffles, a bag of coffee, and a cd, or

4) A box of candles, a book, a mouse for my new laptop and a set of dishcloths.

You have until Thursday Sept. 10th at 4:30 to post your guess. I'll announce all the winnners on Friday. I hope everyone wins! Have a great week as you write for your Audience of ONE,


Friday, September 4, 2009

Publishing: Fruit or Seed?

From my prayer journal one month ago:

It’s all so crazy, Lord, this building a platform. My head is spinning, causing things to fall out my ears. I want to write, and publish, even make some money at it, but all the preparation seems eternal. Help! I need Your perspective.

You are beset by impatience. You want everything today, or in ten minutes. This is the way of the world, but it’s not My way. My way is: till the soil, plant the seeds—many, many, many seeds—wait for rain, pull the weeds, wait for more rain, fertilize, more weed pulling, more waiting, then the harvest. Do you see the progression? Are you willing to do all these to reap your harvest? Or will you pull up the baby plants, never to bear?

And another thing: if you were training for a new job, it would take months, in some cases, years to fully learn the job and function in it at peak performance. Why should an artistic endeavor be less effort and commitment than learning mechanics or bookkeeping?

Publishing and making money are not fruits of your labor—they are the planting part. The fruit is changed lives in My kingdom. Obey Me, follow My lead, and calm down and wait, continually planting, and you will see fruit. You will see fruit.
P.S. I will be visiting my grandkids in Tulsa, OK Sunday Sept. 6th through Wednesday, Sept. 9th. My posts are scheduled, but I may not be blogging much during that time. Love you, Jen

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Winner and Time Thieves

Congratulations to Stina Rose, winner of an electronic copy of Lynnette Bonner’s new release, Rocky Mountain Oasis. Stina Rose, Please send your email address to me at jeanettelevellie (at) gmail (dot) com and I will forward it to Lynnette. I am so happy for you!
Thanks to all who participated in the contest.

And now a word about time thieves:

Everyone wrestles with the monster of overcrowded schedules and time thieves. At a recent writers’ conference I purchased Time Management for the Creative Person by Lee Silber. My only problem is, I don’t have time to read it!

Until I can carve out some time to read Mr. Sibler’s new wisdom, here is a favorite old strategy that’s saved me tons of time:

1. Even if I’m doing nothing the following day but staying home to write, I choose my outfit the night before. Staring into the closet at five-thirty in the morning trying to match a blouse to pants while I’m half awake takes me three times as long as picking something out at eight-thirty the night before.

What are some time management strategies you’ve discovered that work for you? Please share and possibly help a fellow traveler who's struggling this week. Thanks and blessings on you as you write for your Audience of ONE,