Impossible Conclusions: Life in Shades of Grey

“Not all those who wander are lost.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m gradually learning to embrace the fact that life’s greatest questions really have no conclusions.

Bradley Harris of Memphis, TN, is my editor, and, moreover, my greatest teacher. Once again, his editor’s notes have given me more than sound writing advice. They’ve given me a lesson in life.

Two weeks ago I sent Brad the final never-ending draft of my first non-fiction book. In the final chapter, I’d unknowingly drawn a conclusion I suppose my subconscious believed would give encouragement to the reader and set up a call to action for living a better life.

Puerto Cayo Manabi

Captured by Dana, me, wandering in thought, in Puerto Cayo, Manabi, Ecuador.

Brad’s notes challenged the conclusion, and the very notion the book required a tidy, happily-ever-after ending. And I knew immediately he was right.

And thank goodness for his profound advice; for without it, I might never have survived the last 24 hours – one of the most confounding days of my life.

“The yearning to know What cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of man.” ~ A.W. Tozier

My days are painfully predictable. I get out of bed around 3 a.m., write, drink coffee, research, go to work and come home exhausted to hit the bed around 7 p.m. Yesterday’s schedule was typical. It was just greyer than most.

After a 4 a.m. blog post, I scanned my WordPress reader, something I almost never do. When I randomly stopped by Holly Michael’s blog I found she’d nominated me for an undeserved award, and said some very kind things about my work. You may view Holly’s inspirational site here: http://wp.me/1Gxnc

Anyone else would have been thrilled, but it set into motion an entire day of questioning the priorities in my life. And that really doesn’t take much for a 46-year-old guy who’s well into mid-life crisis

So the day begins at 3 a.m. wondering about the possibility of “life’s calling” as a writer.

Next up, around 4:30 a.m. I get a blog post notification from www.laspalmasecuador.com – a pictorial update of a home we’re building in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. The progress is amazing. Dana and I love everything about Puerto Cayo – particularly the business potential, and the opportunities to build a meaningful missional community there. Something very grey from 5,000 miles away is screaming to me, but with a grey, clouded clarity. You may view yesterday’s post about that news here: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-yA

By 4:30 a.m., it’s already an emotional morning. My wife says she’ll pray for me throughout the day. My best friend, knowing my confounding situation, sends me a note that says “go with your gut.” What he doesn’t know is that my gut’s the very thing that scares the daylight out of me.

I finish the routine and make the 10-minute drive to work, and think of my dad who passed away in February. I wish I could speak to him, but he’s not here. And I cry most of the way to work.

Tuesday 8-5 is spent preparing for the next day’s business trip to Thayer, MO. I’ll embark on that trip about 4 hours from now. The thinking time on the road will be precious, and for that I’m grateful.

Five o’clock and I’m waiting in line at Domino’s Pizza. My mind races through the events of the day, and all the writing projects on the schedule. There’s a manuscript to complete, then two more books to finish the trilogy. Then, I predictably wonder what comes after that?

Brad’s notes immediately come to mind: Why draw a conclusion? The most important things don’t require a black and white answer.

This side of heaven, the most important questions in life are inconclusive.

So now, another project stands on the sideline. I’ve purchased the domain: www.theimpossibleconclusion.com

What I’ll do with it stands in the shadow of greyness for now.

You may view posts on my secondary blog at: http://wp.me/2tJ80

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Writing for Boris

At the outset of writing my first book, I decided to take an unconventional approach to drafting the manuscript.

Before the first keystroke was typed, I sold an editor on the book’s topic and was fortunate he agreed to edit my work in progress, rather than as a finished draft. The benefit was learning how to correct my mistakes early on rather than repeating them endlessly through a 40,000-word body of work.

Bradley Harris of Memphis, TN, is my teacher, mentor, counselor, advocate, nemesis and friend. Before meeting Brad, I thought I was a good writer. That’s what I thought, anyway.

Early on, Brad’s typewritten editor’s notes introduced me to a fictional reader. Brad called him Boris. Occasionally, Brad gives me an account of Boris’s reaction to my work.

I can picture Boris this way…

Boris is a multi-faceted reader. He’s a Christian-atheist-agnostic – a citizen of the world, skeptical, cynical with a short attention span. He’s intellectual, not easily impressed, and frequently puts my book aside for a scotch rocks. Sometimes, he’ll come back to the book. Other times, he’ll toss it aside.

The point is, Boris is every reader.

By our very nature, our upbringing, our limited life experiences, and the culture in which we live, as writers we have shortcomings, blind sides and a plethora of limitations.

I’m a 46-year-old Christian, who’s lived his entire life in the South with limited exposure to the vastness of the world. The very nature of who I am intuitively causes me to write for people who are well – just like me. Boris helps me break outside the mold.

…and this way…

Today, with many lessons learned, I’d submit most Christian writers’ significant limitation is that they are, in fact, Christian. We see the world through our profound belief for what’s right, good and pure. And that’s all well and good but…

What good is a “Christian” book that appeals to Christians only? People just like us?

Is not the world our mission field?

The best Christian book may just be the one that appeals to a Buddhist, a Hindu or an atheist. Is my love so strong for my own beliefs that it should be shared only with others who think just like me? What purpose would that serve for the greater good?

Boris is every reader. Today, not a single sentence is written without consideration to Boris’s reaction. If my words turn him off and he never picks up the book again, I’ve lost him. The better approach is to push him just far enough to think. Right to the edge of his comfort zone so that he might put the book in his lap for a moment, ponder, and return for more intrigue.

It’s a fine line, and a slippery slope.

Each of us as Christian writers have a certain set of values – a belief system. It’s not our job to impose our beliefs on others.

It is our job to maintain our integrity, speak truth in love and push all readers, both Christians and non-Christians to the edge of their comfort zone. To raise questions in their own mind, and go beyond our work to seek out their own truth.

The Christian life is not designed to make us comfortable. It’s a life of never-ending questions, discomfort and the realization of this truth:

The most dangerous of us all is the one who believes he grasps God‘s truth, gets it fully, and is completely comfortable in his own faith.

…and especially this way.

Thank goodness Boris came into my life. I’m a better writer because he reads.

For related posts on writing and editing please see: How to Write Copy that Kills: Part 5: Pursue @ http://wp.me/p2bjEC-nX This post includes links to a series of writing-related topics.

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It’s Been My Vicarious Pleasure

(Bloggers Note: This is the second in a three-part series about why I’m taking a break from the blog. It’s pitiful I love the blog so much, I had to say goodbye in three parts. Oh, the humanity. While on break, I’ll be wrapping up the manuscript to my first non-fiction work, Light Wins.)

That’s me with the long socks and short shorts. Oh, we all look that way. I’m #34. Long ago in 1981 this team went 30-6, won a conference championship, and many coaches called us the best junior high team ever in the state of Arkansas.

A long time ago, I was a fair high-school athlete, especially on the basketball court.

Leave me undefended on the left wing from about 25 feet and there was a good chance the ball would find all net.

No matter the noise volume in the gym I could always hear two voices clearly – my coach and my dad. Dad was a big fan. It took me a few years to realize each Tuesday and Friday night, he was re-living his youth through me.

I now have the pleasure of doing the same. My 10-year old Sophie, is a strong swimmer. She’s competitive and hates to lose.

Sophie and me, checking the results of her 100m backstroke. Yes, I’m a vicarious Swim Dad.

Just this weekend, she and three other girls set a conference record in the 100m freestyle relay. There’s no greater thrill than watching Sophie power through the water. She’s my girl.

And while I’m a huge fan of Sophie’s swim team, I’m also a loyal follower to many of you in the blogosphere. I’ve seen several bloggers go to “rockstar” status in the last few months.

Each of you is movin’ on up to the east side, and it’s been my great thrill to watch.

Cristian Mihai – Launches his latest work, Jazz, tomorrow. I’m a fan of Cristian’s and he offers great insight into the world of writing and promotion. View his work at: http://wp.me/283PT

Truth and Cake – Rian rocked the wordpress world making Freshly Pressed twice in three months. If there were an award for blogging style, she might be number one. View her work at: http://wp.me/2h9ol

Catherine Howard recently published More Mousetrapped, her sequel to Mousetrapped. Aside from her books, Catherine may have the best information in the blogosphere when it comes to self publishing. View her work at: http://wp.me/K3Dz

Lesley Carter’s Bucket List Publications is approaching 6,000,000 hits. That’s SIX MILLION. She’s inspired people, including me, to live out their adventuresome dreams. View her work at: http://wp.me/1Mebw

And there are so many more who have given me inspiration through their work here on wordpress.

I want to thank you all for allowing me to live vicariously through you.

I don’t care if I get “rockstar” status, but it’s time to finish a work I started nine months ago. As I take break from the blog for this unknown quantity of time, I’ll continue to follow you guys and cheer you on in your victories.

You may view the first post in this series here: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-st and there’s a post today on my secondary blog at: http://wp.me/p2tJ80-4F

Maybe I’ll see you on the east side one day soon.

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Mile 25: Visualizing the Finish Line and vaya con dios (for now)

(Blogger‘s Note: This is the first in a three-part series, “vaya con dios for now” about my decision to put the blog aside for a time. It may be a week, a month or several. There’s no map to follow. I’ll continue reading the posts of my many friends and admiring your great work because you inspire me. In the meantime, I’ll be glad to host guest posts while on sabbatical. Feel free to submit your idea any time along the way. ~ steve)

***

Not too many years ago, I was consumed with weight loss and running.

The short version of the story is that I woke up one day, stepped on the scales and weighed an unbelievable 248 pounds. And as my personality tends to do at certain points in life, I said, “That’s enough.”

It began with a strict diet, and a few weeks later I walked to the mailbox down the street. Next thing I knew I’d made it 3 miles in 30 minutes and the pounds melted away.

December 5, 2006 at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. I had no idea there was a photographer anywhere in sight and wouldn’t have cared anyway. This photo was taken at Mile 25 and all I cared about was rounding the corner to see the finish line.

A few months later, when I hit the 10-mile mark, a new goal emerged and I realized the elusive 26.2 marathon (with a LOT more training) was doable.

It’s the curse of an obsessive-compulsive-self-competitive personality. You choose to do something until it nearly kills you.

And even though a new goal was born out of the effort to lose weight, the first goal was achieved. Obsessive-compulsiveness took me from 248 to 165 in about nine months.

***

Now, it’s one thing to run 10 miles. It’s an entirely different thing to tackle the 26-mile marathon. It’s the equivalent of walking around the block and then thinking to one’s self: “I think I’ll climb Mt. Everest.”

My best estimate is that I trained just more than 6,000 miles in running three marathons over an 18-month period.

I read a lot of books about different ways to train, and one of the techniques I adopted was visualization.

When a runner has trained up to 10 miles, the 26 seems insurmountable, so she must learn to visualize herself crossing that finish line. If you can teach your mind to see it, you can do it because the mind and the soul can overcome that to which the body says “no.”

On every morning’s training run, my mind would actually see my feet crossing the finish line. I could see what I was wearing, think about how it would feel (in theory) and visualize my family and friends congratulating me at the end with a medal around my neck.

***

Over the course of a 26-mile race the mind has lots of time to think, and in my first marathon (the St. Jude Memphis Marathon) there was a point somewhere around mile 20 where my heart began to ask my body a lot of questions.

  • What in the world were you thinking?
  • What are you trying to prove, and to whom are you trying to prove it?
  • Don’t ever do this again.

It’s a good thing really. The questions a first-time marathoner has for himself around mile 20 are a good mental distraction at the point where the body experiences total depletion and continues on with heart when the body has nothing left.

So you just keep running.

Miles 20 to mile 25 of the St. Jude Memphis Marathon were an excruciating experience, but at 25 the pain went away and all I wanted to do was finish.

***

Nine months ago, I began writing a book, and the manuscript’s now about 75 percent complete. I think it’s a good work with some value in the marketplace. Things were going along well for a few months, and then I became distracted.

During the study of how to publish a book successfully, I came across this notion many have that an unknown author (that would be me) must have a successful social media platform to even have a chance of breaking through the publishing fog.

So I took a break from book writing and became a student of the platform.

And I found I loved the platform building as much, or more, than the book writing.

It’s a terrible thing to have an obsessive-compulsive-easily-distracted-move-on-to-the-next challenge type of personality. But that’s my problem, and hopefully not yours.

***

I love the blogosphere and everything about it. I truly do love it. Nothing thrills me more to see I’ve had a reader in a country I didn’t even know existed. It’s an honor to be read by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

But oh, the distraction of immediate self-gratification vs. the long-term project that awaits in an 8-inch thick folder in my office, and in the jump drive’s tiny confines.

The last few weeks of blogging have been great fun. Ideas for posts seem to come from everywhere I look. Readers seem to have enjoyed certain pieces, and my ego’s been bolstered.

But this could go on forever.

***

The first book in my Light series is at mile 25. For a time, the writing depleted me and I asked myself all kinds of questions. I wrote a good bit, but allowed myself (not without reward) to become blog distracted. It’s time to refocus and visualize crossing the finish line for Light Wins.

I can feel the final push. The finish line’s just a mile away.

(Next Post: Thanks for Letting Me Live Vicariously Through You.)

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What Would it Look Like if…

1. Church denominations and political parties ceased to exist and everyone just came together for the common good?

2. A group of “rockstar” bloggers came together, adopted a cause, and created a movement that changed the world? Though I’m not a rockstar blogger, the opportunity is here: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-oF

3. Bookstores experienced the same demise as video stores, movie theaters and daily newspapers?

4. The bureaucracy of international adoption was eliminated, streamlined and kids from around the world found loving homes?

5. We returned to the founding principle that our country welcomed the “huddled masses yearning to be free?”

6. We eliminated the death penalty for our own people since, as a nation, we do not endorse the torture of prisoners of war? I just don’t get that.

7. We could buy U.S.-made cars that got 70 miles per gallon? Did you know that we produce such vehicles here now, that can be sold only in the European and South American markets?

8. The major oil companies abandoned their investments in foreign oil fields and flocked to North Dakota where many believe the oil resources there far exceed everything combined in the Middle East?

9. To quote Rodney King: “We all just got along?”

10. Martin Luther King‘s dream really came to pass?

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How to Get Blog Hits When You Sleep

“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art, and working is art, and good business is the best art.” ~ Andy Warhol

***

Years ago, in the world of self employment, I was fortunate one of the most successful local businessmen I know was willing to give me an audience on certain occasions to solicit his sage advice.

He’s one of the wealthiest men in Arkansas, diversely entrepreneurial and a wealth of knowledge.

Out of respect for his time I would call on him only when I needed advice the most.

Crashed at 7:30 p.m. on the Fourth of July 2012. It was a long day.

In passing one morning, he said this:

“The key to making real money is to learn how to make money when you sleep.”

Ever since, I’ve aspired to master the art and science of “making money when you sleep.” It’s surely something to think about.

I’ve never made a dime from a blog post. But my three blog sites do have a future monetary purpose. They’re a platform designed to build a community of followers (more importantly friends) for a book release in the coming months.

And for the record, I just purely enjoy being a part of the blogging community.

But as the release of Light Wins approaches, I’m taking the platform building process more seriously – with a more strategic approach.

And I’m learning more about how to get blog hits when I sleep.

Writing Always Awaits…

Here are just a few things I’ve learned:

  • You must go beyond writing and hitting the “publish” button.
  • You must become a student of your blog’s metrics.
  • In studying your metrics, you can determine which days, which hours and which parts of the world draw the most attention to your posts.
  • I write early in the morning. My posts are usually complete by 5 a.m., but I don’t publish until around 6 a.m. It seems my readers read early in the morning before they go to work.
  • Readers also view published posts via social media during their lunch hour, at the end of the work day and during the evening.
  • My metrics indicate that Sunday, Monday and Friday draw the most attention. Saturday posts are a crapshoot.
  • Promotion of your blog posts via social media is a science where you must draw a fine line. Your goal in blogging is to become a commodity of information to which people look. But beware the danger of over-exposure. Be purposeful in when, and how frequently you promote via social media. It’s easy to post too frequently and get overlooked.
  • Aside from word press blog followers, my best success comes from promotion through Facebook and Twitter. I do roll my posts into Linked In, but the results are minimal.
  • Twitter promotion is an art. It’s a fast-moving medium and a challenge to get noticed. You must be creative in your short Twitter tease for someone to take notice.
  • Use every short link possible in your post. Refer readers back to previous and related posts you’ve written. My goal is to get readers caught up in a web where they’re not just looking at one post, but clicking through several on each visit. It’s measureable, and you can see it working.
  • Show respect to your followers, likers and those who comment. If they’ve taken time to read your work, it’s the ultimate compliment, and I do everything I can to return the favor.
  • Establish a “predictable” publishing cycle. I expect my daily newspaper to arrive in my driveway every morning around 5 a.m. Your readers may expect the same of you. As a blogger, YOU ARE are a publisher with the potential for a wide-reaching impact. My posts can generally be expected at 6 a.m., noon, and sometimes if I’m bored, around 7 p.m.
  • Topically, you can carve out a niche, or go with diversification. Some bloggers have huge success with advice on writing, self-publishing or photography. Others simply chronicle their life on a variety of topics. Both work, and both have their benefits. I try, with moderate success, to do both.
  • Be consistent in your categories and tags. Most of my posts are categorized in the topics of writing, books and publishing. And I always tag my own name and the name of my book. If you show up in the same place frequently, others will know better how to find you.
  • And follow the advice wordpress gives. Limit the sum of your categories and tags to nine. If you go beyond that, your strategy may not work. I always go with three categories and six tags, and almost always get the placement I desire.
  • When you have an idea for a post, write it down and put it in your pocket. It’s easy to forget a great idea.

For me, it’s a cheap thrill to get out of bed and find I’ve had a hundred views over the night. It’s just one of the things that gets my day off to a good start.

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How to Kill Blogger’s Block: Just Live Your Life, Man.

Over time, I’ve seen a number of bloggers, authors, etc., talk about their challenges with writer’s block.

It’s a rare thing for me, but I have experienced it. From my desk, the bigger challenge is finding the time to write all there is to say.

Lately, it’s been a huge challenge. Not the block, but the block of time I need.

And the challenge has manifested itself from the simple approach of not caring too much about it and just living my life.

When I quit caring and just live, the writing possibilities become almost endless.

The life experience really is the writer’s palette (that sounds way more sophisticated than I really am) and living life well allows us to paint some beautiful pictures.

Living my life a couple of years ago during a bucket-list check in Yellowstone National Park, Montana.

Just recently…

Finding it hard to put things in words?

Writer’s block got you pinned to the mat?

Go live your life, man. Go live your life.

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