How to Move to the Next Stage in Your Creative Career Sooner

“Our job in life is not to be successful, but to be faithful.” — Billy Graham

Image courtesy of wiangya at
Image courtesy of wiangya at

You have a dream or calling. You have failures and too few successes. You harbor resistance and discouragement. You ask yourself, “Will I ever be a __________?”

My question was: Will I ever be an author?” Instead of God dropping at my feet everything I needed to succeed, He grew me in several stages. Most likely, you’re in the right stage now. But if you understand how stages work, perhaps you could move to the next stage sooner than you think.

All Stages Have Steps in Common

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Image courtesy of samuiblue at

1. You have an image of what success should look like.

2. You try something. Let’s call it Something Now.

3. You get lazy when Something Now gets hard or doesn’t succeed.

4. You feel guilty for procrastinating and try a modification of Something Now: Something Else.

5. You get better at Something Else and enjoy a success.

6. You notice different facets of Something Else and have the urge to know more.

7. You think, “Now, I’m on the fast track!”

Image courtesy of hin255 at
Image courtesy of hin255 at

8. You look ahead and see what experts say is a necessity for success: Necessity. You think:

a. Necessity requires way too much work.

b. Doing Necessity takes all the fun out of the art.

c. I’m good enough at Necessity.

9. You become proficient at Something Else, but you’re not moving forward.

10. You think, “Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this work.”

11. You reconsider Necessity, grudgingly or hopefully.

12. You learn more about Necessity and begin to embrace it.

13. Bam! You’re in the next stage.

The next stage works similarly to the last stage. A caution: If you jump to a Necessity two or more stages ahead, you may become overwhelmed and experience a setback. After I attended a marketing session as a novice writer, I stopped writing for a short time.

Example: My Stage 3

Image courtesy of anankkml at
Image courtesy of anankkml at

Before Stage 3, I stacked up partial, bad manuscripts. Then, I self-published two books of short stories. I had some non-monetary success. So I finished Novel 1, an inspirational historical romance, and secured an agent. The novel was rejected. That’s when I entered Stage 3.

  • I pictured a novel on a bookstore shelf with my name on it. So, I switched to the inspirational romantic suspense genre.
  • Novel 2’s rejection letter said the idea was good but my writing was substandard.
  • Although I’d just retired to write fulltime, I redecorated our house.Remodel
  • Finally, I listened to my guilt and wrote Novel 3.
  • I improved my grammar, sentence structure, and other “surface” writing.
  • I received better scores on contest submissions than for the prior two novels.
  • I was on my way!
  • Novel 3’s rejection letter said the idea was good, but the balance among the spiritual, suspense, and romance elements was lacking.
  • On an author email loop, experienced authors mentioned classes and books on plot and characterization. Studying these seemed overwhelming and no fun. I would simply try harder.
  • Novel 4’s rejection letter was a repeat of Novel 3’s. I struggled to rise above my doubts about God’s calling on my life.
  • We moved away to a remote community. I read writing craft books and went to conferences and workshops. I wrote and reworked the plot and the characters of Novel 5, an inspirational romance.
  • Bam! I moved to Stage 4, where I received a contract on Novel 5, Calculated Risk.

In Stage 4 I started Novel 6. With novel 5 coming out, I grudgingly no longer resisted learning social media and marketing.

What is the activity in the next stage of your creative career that you’re resisting?

How You Can Make Your Writing Idea Work

“I had a terrific idea this morning, but I didn’t like it.” — Samuel Goldwyn


Problem: Have you searched for an idea for writing a blog post, article, or story? I have. Have you come up with nothing? I have. Or have you disliked the idea you came up with? Bingo!

Here’s what happened when I decided to practice what I preached. I used the brainstorming method I posted in: Brainstorming: Make Your Worst Idea the Most Unique Solution. I hope my experience helps you.

Finding the idea:

I jotted every phrase that popped into my head for a list of 30 ideas. After perusing the ideas, true to the method, I selected the worst idea: carved roast beef.

Image courtesy of Daniel St.Pierre at
Image courtesy of Daniel St.Pierre at

Carved roast beef? I stared at the phrase and then returned to the list, hoping I’d see a worse idea, because carved roast beef was like having no idea. But I’d said the method worked, and I had to be true to my claim.

So, I did the second step. I put aside my need and simply brainstormed things connected to carved roast beef: rare, slices, aroma, seasoned outer crust, etc.

I closed my brainstorming notebook. The challenge tired me. I needed to get downstairs to my grandchildren whom my husband and I were to babysit for a couple of days. Through the day, my stomach sunk a little more each time I thought of my challenge. I reminded myself to trust God.

MP900387863After two days babysitting, my younger grandson asked me to read Creepy Carrots!, words by Aaron Reynolds and pictures by Peter Brown. This book is a Caldecott Honor Book. I thought, what an off-the-wall idea, and it worked! No wonder it received the Caldecott honor. So fresh, so unique, and a great twist to the ending. This is what a book needs, whether a children’s book or an adult book. Pop! I had my idea for my blog post. Thank you, Lord.

A great story is like carved roast beef.

(Vegetarians and vegans, I apologize.)

I realized a Carved Roast Beef could offer a word picture for ensuring I wrote a great story:

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at
Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at
  • The rarer the story idea the better.
  • Like the pleasing aroma and taste of seasoned crusts on either end of a roast, the story beginning and ending should delight readers to read on and to close the book satisfied.
  • The scenes between the beginning and end are like succulent slices of roast beef revealing meaty events of the plot all the way through. Each a work of art in itself.

Then, I could encourage my blog readers to pick up a book on the craft of writing to help them serve up a tasty story for their readers. I could list my favorites:

  • Hooked by Les Edgerton
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
  • Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
  • From the Inside…Out by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck
  • Kiss and Tell by Susan May Warren

Okay, so this is the story post within the how-to-make-your-idea-work post. The question I’d like to see answers to is:

Why did the last great book you read delight you?

7 Tips to Create an In-home Retreat for Your Friends, Family, or Associates

“What I do best is share my enthusiasm.” — Bill Gates

Image courtesy of sirikul at
Image courtesy of sirikul at

You want your critique group, your family, your scrapbooking group, or your Bible study members to spend special time together. You want the experience to be more than a party. You want to bond. But organizing a retreat seems overwhelming.

Whether your house comfortably sleeps 2 or 10 guests, with a little enthusiasm you can create a meaningful getaway in your home. Here are basic tips to help transform your work into a fun experience.

DayDreamTip 1. Before getting into details, dream what the experience might look like.

This is the fun, creative part. The experience won’t mirror your dream, but it’ll set the basis for your preparation. Imagine:

  • your family members away having fun at grandma’s or at the scouts’ camping trip;
  • your guests rearranging their lives in order to come to your retreat;
  • you coming across to your guests as calm and welcoming;
  • your guests conversing around inviting food;
  • your guests laughing during fun activities;
  • your guests having down time to recharge; and
  • everyone absorbing inspiration and renewal.

Tip 2. Make sure your family members are away doing something they enjoy.morning golf 01

During a recent retreat I hosted, my husband stayed with my brother-in-law and played golf. Knowing he was happy, I focused on my guests.

Tip 3. Attending is work for your guests, so minimize their help and expense.

When I slip into a spa, I don’t tote brownies I’ve baked. Before the retreat your guests are already working on such things as:

  • travel,
  • child or adult care,
  • animal care,
  • work delegation, and
  • other responsibilities.

It’s not wrong to have your guests share the workload. But I’m reminded of one guest’s exasperating travel. I was glad I hadn’t asked her to be responsible for one meal.

Tip 4. However, encourage guests to do one or two simple tasks beforehand that put them into the retreat mindset.

Image courtesy of BrandonSigma at
Image courtesy of BrandonSigma at

Have them:

  • select a devotional to share,
  • collect items in a shoebox that represent things about themselves for an easy introduction exercise, or
  • think of something to share concerning the theme of your group.

At the recent writers retreat I hosted, we each presented a challenge in our novels for the others to brainstorm. If your guests are knitters, they might demonstrate knitting techniques.

Tip 5. Lower your stress level; keep food preparation during the retreat light and easy.

For some hosts, guests helping in the kitchen is stressful. Following recipes is difficult when guests chat with you. Preparing food ahead frees you to have those wonderful chats.

Image courtesy of nuchylee at
Image courtesy of nuchylee at
  • Prepare freezer-friendly-stick-it-in-the-oven dishes ahead of time.
  • Include healthy options. Fresh fruits and raw vegetables are easy.
  • Bake a variety of cookies beforehand. They make good lunchtime desserts and snacks and don’t use refrigerator space.
  • Employ buffets of make-your-own garden salads, sandwiches, or taco salads. Easier for you, and allows guests to select items they like.

Guests have special food needs? Relax. I enjoyed perusing gluten-free recipes online. The cookies and meals I chose were so tasty and easy I served them to everyone.

Tip 6. For enrichment, plan activities around your group’s theme.

  • Have guests share Tip 4’s activities.
  • Show theme-related, how-to YouTube videos you’ve previewed.
  • Do your themed activity together, if possible. (Knit, write, scrapbook, study the Bible)

MP900387329Tip 7. Plan flexible activities that include exercise and recharging. 

  • A walk.
  • Bocce or Badminton
  • Free time for naps, reading, or one-on-one conversations.
  • Picnics in the fresh air.

These are the basics I’ve learned that keep my guests and myself cared for and renewed.

What has made a small retreat special for you?