Home >> Write from the Deep Podcast

179 – God’s Questions for You! with Guest Eva Marie Everson, Part 1

Spread the love

God's Questions for You with Guest Eva Marie Everson on Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungWe often talk about the questions we have for God, but do you realize God has questions for you? Questions that will rock your faith and world. Questions that will draw you into a more intimate relationship with the God of the universe. Join us and Guest Eva Marie Everson, who discovered this amazing journey of questions as she researched prayer labyrinths. God is inviting you to walk the path of questioning with him, and you’ll never be the same…

About Eva Marie Everson

Eva Marie Everson is the CEO of Word Weavers International, a CBA bestselling author of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books, and multiple award-winning author and speaker. She is the director of Florida Christian Writers Conference and a frequent speaker at writers conferences and women’s events. Eva Marie and her husband make their home in Central Florida where they are owned by a cat named Vanessa.

Thanks to our sponsors on Patreon, we’re able to offer an edited transcript of the podcast!

Karen: Hey, guys, welcome to the deep today. We’re just delighted to have you here because we have a guest: Eva Marie Anderson. We’re so happy to have you here, Eva!

Erin: I get to introduce her! Eva Marie Everson is a CBA bestselling and multiple award-winning author and speaker, and she’s got stuff like being a Christie Award finalist, a Silver Medallion winner, a Carol, several Maggies, Golden Scroll Awards. The list goes on and on. Inspirational retailer’s choice, on and on, you guys. 

She also is one of the original five Word Weavers members, which began way back in 1997. Now she’s the CEO of Word Weavers International, and that serves writers primarily as a national and international group of critique and educational chapters.

Eva Marie also serves as director of the Florida Christian Writers Conference, which I know you’ve heard us talking about before. In 2022, Eva Marie was awarded the Yvonne Layman Legacy Award and the AWSA Lifetime Achievement Award. She is a graduate of Andersonville Theological Seminary and the Tzemach Institute, and we are just delighted to have her with us today. Welcome, welcome, Eva!

Eva: Thank you, thank you!  

Erin: Of course we’re going to start with our favorite question. What does the deep mean to you, Eva? 

Eva: Hmm. I’m so glad you asked me that. One of my favorite Scriptures, and I think this answers the question, one of my favorite Scriptures comes from Philippians when Paul said, “I want to know Christ.” Then he goes on into this explanation. He says, “Yes, to know the power of his resurrection. And to participate in his sufferings…” And then he says, “Becoming like him in his death.” 

For me, that is so multilayered, but that is about going deeper and deeper and deeper into your relationship and in love with Christ. When you want to know everything about him, not just the good stuff, you know, the power of his resurrection. That’s good, we like the power. But then also to participate in the sufferings and to be like him in his death. That’s getting down to the nitty gritty, and for me, that’s going deep. 

Erin: Yeah. 

Karen: Amen. 

Erin: What you said made me think of Philippians 1:29, “So it’s been granted to you, Philippians, to not only suffer for him…” You know, it’s like, this is a privilege. You get to suffer. Not only do you get to know him, but you get to suffer with him. And what was your verse reference? 

Eva: Philippians 3:10. 

Erin: I love it. Very cool. All right, so here’s the thing, you guys. I have been reading this book called The Third Path: Finding intimacy with God on the Path of Questioning, and it just so happens to be written by our favorite award-winning author here that we’re talking to.

I have really been enjoying this book because it talks about finding intimacy with God. Here we are in December, thinking about Emmanuel, thinking about God with us. That’s all about intimacy and all about relationship. 

I think this is just such an interesting book, and we’re going to talk talk more about it, but let’s just start here at the very beginning. This book is talking about prayer labyrinths. Explain to our listeners what in the world a prayer labyrinth is and why are you interested in them? 

Eva: Why am I so interested? Well, one of the things that I read some time ago was that a labyrinth is a path with a purpose, and I thought that was really cool. You know, it’s different than a maze. A maze is designed to confound and confuse you. You take a path in and then all of a sudden there’s a wall and you’ve got to turn around and go back and figure out which way to go to get to the center. But not with a labyrinth. It’s a clear path.

It is a curved path, but it is a straight path, if that makes any sense. It’s leading you straight into the center and then right back out again. I say straight, not really literally straight, but there are no barriers. You don’t have to concentrate on, “Uh oh, did I just make a wrong turn there?”

There are no wrong turns. There are just curves. It keeps curving into the center and then curving back out. But how I got interested in prayer labyrinths, it happened I think maybe in 2016 or 2017. Somewhere in there I was at the Blue Lake Christian Writers Retreat in Andalusia, Alabama. It’s held in a Methodist camp that is rustic, to say the least. They have indoor plumbing, but… 

Erin: That’s good!

Eva: Of course my idea of roughing it is sleeping on the sofa at The Ritz. But it’s just, you know, very plain, ordinary. You walk in, here’s your room. It’s got a bed, it’s got a desk. It’s got, I don’t think any dresser or anything. It has an open closet and a tiny little bathroom with a shower stall and that’s it.

It’s cement block. It’s just very plain and ordinary, so there wasn’t anything about it that stood out to me. And I noticed while I was there at this conference, spending very little time in my room, I noticed that there was a folded eight and a half by eleven sheet of paper on the desk. Didn’t pay any attention to what it was, not at all.

At the end of the conference, I’d packed my bags and was rolling them out of the door, and I looked behind me to make sure I hadn’t left anything. 

Erin: Good plan.

Eva: I see that piece of paper and the Holy Spirit said, “Pick it up.” 

I mean, I heard it as clearly as I hear myself speaking right now. “Pick it up. Take it home.”

I didn’t know what it was, but okay, I picked it up and brought it home. About three days later, I was emptying out my purse and I found that piece of paper. Apparently, it was about a prayer labyrinth that was at the conference center. One that I didn’t know anything about simply because I hadn’t taken the time to look at the piece of paper.

But this particular prayer labyrinth had four paths. My first thought was, “Well, I’ve heard of prayer labyrinths but I don’t really know what they are.”

When I don’t know what something is, I’m a research hound. I love to research. So I began to look them up. I grabbed my journal and a pen and started writing what prayer labyrinths are and really how far back they go.

In fact, I’ve had several people say to me, “Aren’t they very new age?”

No, actually they’re very old age. They go way, way back to the earliest mothers and fathers of our faith. They were designed to not just center you, but to recenter you. To give you that moment of just concentrating on walking the path and being specific about what you’re thinking about and meditating on as you’re heading toward the center. 

So this particular labyrinth had four paths. The first was the path of silence, which is very important and not something that is easily grasped in our day and time. The second path, as we’re circling around toward the center, was the path of memory. The third path in this particular labyrinth was the path of prayer, followed by the path of questioning. 

Again, as I kept researching this and journaling what I was researching, I did enormous research into silence. Then, you know, kind of figured out what the path of memory is, just kind of when you’re talking about, like, “This is what’s going on in my world, God…” And then for the path of prayer, “These are the things that I need to chat with you about.”

I felt that, I hate to say this, but I felt they did it wrong. 

Erin: All those ancient people, they messed up…

Eva: The prayer should always be the last thing. I felt that the questioning should come third. So I did a little flip flop on that. I just assumed, and I wrote in my journal, well, I’m assuming this is questions that I have for God. 

Now I had at that time three questions for God that I don’t believe will ever be answered this side of glory. My number one question, just to give you an example of what I’m talking about, is, “Why me?”

Erin: Yeah. 

Eva: “Why did you love me so much that you pursued me?” I was a mess. I didn’t deserve to have him die for me. Which leads me to the second question, “Why did it have to be so violent? Why did it have to be so horrific? Why couldn’t you just have eaten a bad apple or something? Why did it have to be under this Roman persecution and be a Roman crucifixion?”

It was just so brutal. I’m just in awe that God would do that for us. That he would pursue that. First of all, that he would send his Son to die in that brutal way. But then secondly, that having done that, as if that’s not enough, he pursues us relentlessly. That he pursued me, as big a mess as I was, just will always be a question. It’s gonna be hard for me to understand my own value in his eyes.

There was one other question that’s just really maybe too intimate for me to go into. But I wanted a prayer labyrinth after all that research. I wanted my own labyrinth. But, I live in Florida and I live in a part of Florida where we have zero property line, so there is nowhere to build a labyrinth.

Now, I actually live up against a conservation area, so technically I’m thinking that, well, my husband could probably go out there and design a prayer labyrinth in the backyard. But we also have alligators, snakes, and so on. 

Erin: You do not want to meet an alligator along the path of questioning!

Karen: Well, those are things to contemplate as you’re walking. “Why, Lord, did you create alligators?” 

Eva: Right? It’s like, don’t let your small animals out the back door, kind of thing. You’ve got fox and bear and other animals. So I’m thinking, “No. No on this.” Because the last thing I want is to be walking and meditating with the Lord and have a black racer slither across my my path. That would not be good. 

Then I thought, “Hmm, we live in a cul-de-sac and there’s a tree in the middle of the cul-de-sac, and I could just walk around the tree a couple of times per path.”

But then I pictured my neighbors calling the authorities.

Karen: “She’s lost her mind…” 

Eva: “She’s just walking in a circle and every so often her mouth moves…”

Karen: “I think it’s witchcraft…”

Eva: “Send the men with the white jacket…”

Then I just continued writing and I thought, “While I’m writing this, why can’t I journal the labyrinth? Why can’t I sit down every day, and have my time of silence, grab a Scripture and meditate on that. And then my path of memory is kind of like, ‘This is what’s going on inside me today. This is what’s happening, this is how I feel about it, God.'”

Then I can go into the path of questioning, and I’ll write my three questions down for the Lord, and then move on to prayer. 

Well, we got to day two of this, and I was very excited until I got to the path of questioning. I thought, “This is going to be very monotonous because these are not going to be answered this side of glory. I’m not going to sit here and write the questions every day. I’m just going to end up going, “Ditto.” You know, like, “You know what they are…” and just leave it at that. 

But as I was writing all of this, I heard the Holy Spirit again speak to my heart and say, “Not your questions. My questions.”

I wrote, “What questions do you have? You’re omniscient. You’re all knowing. What questions could you possibly ask?”

Then I heard the answers. “Where are you? What is this thing you have done? Where did you come from and where are you going? What you want? What do you want me to do for you? Where is your faith? Why were you afraid?”

The questions go on and on and on. 

I grabbed my Bible and a ruler, and I began to go down the columns, looking for the question marks. I spent a year, maybe a year and a half, just poring over questions and writing my answers back to God and growing deeper and deeper in love with him. And my relationship became more and more intimate.

As it was getting about to a year and a half of doing this and not mentioning it to anyone, just doing it, it was about time for me to teach at the Blue Ridge Writers Conference. This is up in North Carolina. I was talking to Edie Melson, the director, and I said, “This has changed my life as a writer and I would love to be able to take this and teach this.”

She said, “Let’s do it.” 

So we did a continuing class, and I only allowed twelve people in. I thought I would be lucky if I had five. I ended up with a wait list. Every year, I have a wait list. I’ve taught this all over now. One of my greatest joys was teaching it at Mount Hermon, teaching it at Blue Lake, where the whole thing started, of course. Teaching it at women’s retreats and things like that.

I was having lunch with Rachel Hauck one day, a New York Times bestseller, and one of my dearest friends, and she said, “Where’s the book?” 

I said, “Where’s the book?” 

She said, “You’ve gotta be kidding! You’ve gotta share this!”

And I said, “Okay.” But that meant I was going to have to pick out the questions I thought would lead to a new path and that was a path that people could walk and then start their own journey. So I pulled twenty-six questions out of the Bible, out of the hundreds of questions that God asked, and I wrote The Third Path. 

Erin: You said that this specifically changed your life as a writer. Can you give us some examples? What has that done for you as a writer? 

Eva: Well, it changed me as a writer because it forced me to go deeper and to think differently. To see myself differently. To understand in ways that I had never understood before that God gave me this talent for a reason and that he didn’t give it to everyone.

You know, we can all sing, but we can’t sing well. We can all draw, but we’re not artists, right? We can draw a stick figure, but we’re not necessarily going to draw a Monet or a Rembrandt or a Van Gogh. And we can all write words, but we’re not all writers. We’re not all publishable. 

For whatever reason, my whole life, looking back on it, I realized I always saw in word pictures. I realized I always thought in word pictures, and I thought in story, and that that was a gift and that it was not to be taken lightly, nor was it to be abused. But in order for me to fully understand that, I had to go to some really deep places and sometimes some dark places, because some of the questions are hard. They’re not easy.

Even some of the easier questions hit hard. For example, the question “What do you want?” or “What do you want me to do for you?” which are two separate questions that Jesus asked. I’m like, “Mmm, you want me to be honest?”

Erin: Yeah. 

Eva: I got to that question and I’m writing it down as if it’s coming from God to me: “What do you want me to do for you?”

My first response is, “Do you want me to be honest? I mean, you know, that? Can I tell you that?” 

Karen: As if God didn’t already know! “I’m God!” 

Eva: Even like we see each other, and we say, “How are you doing?”

“I’m good. How are you?” And actually the answer is, “It’s horrible. My life is horrible. Thank you for asking.” But we don’t say that, right? We don’t answer truthfully.

Erin: Yeah. 

Eva: We just put on these fronts, these airs. We have these pat answers. But when God says, “How are you?” like he asks Hagar, in his second meeting with Hagar that we know of, I think it’s in Genesis 18—first one’s in Genesis 16, but in Genesis 18, Ishmael is dying under a bush, and he comes to Hagar and he says, “What’s the matter Hagar?”

“Oh, nothing.” You know…

Karen: She was a Christian in church. “Oh, nothing. Do you need help with food today or…?”

Eva: “Doing fine, doing fine. My son’s over there dying under a tree, but other than that, everything’s great…”

But what I love about that question is not only did he care, but he called her by name. So when I wrote that, I wrote, “What’s the matter, Eva Marie? What’s the matter?”

Because every day of our lives, something is the matter. There’s something that’s weighing heavy on our hearts every single day. And God’s like, “Well, tell me.” 

Erin: What do you think is the barrier? Obviously we struggle with this. Why do we struggle? Why do people struggle to know what they really want or to admit it? Especially writers. 

Eva: Yeah, well, you know, we certainly don’t wanna reach for the stars for heaven sakes. But isn’t that what happened with blind Bartimaeus when Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Blind Bartimaeus could have said, “I want enough money to get through the week. I want people to quit picking on me. I want enough money to get through the month, the year.”

But he went for broke. “I want to see.” 

Because if he could see, everything else could be given to him. So he went absolutely for the stars. “What’s the best you got for me, Jesus? That’s what I want. I want to be able to see.” 

Jesus healed him and he could see.

Karen: We’re so conditioned to not tell people what we really want. 

Eva: That’s right. 

Karen: We’re afraid that we’ll seem prideful. We’re afraid that we’ll seem ungrateful. There are fears, and I think those fears come from the enemy. He plants them inside of us because he doesn’t want us to recognize that when the God of the universe is coming to us and saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” it’s not a trick question. It’s not like he’s waiting for us to give the wrong answer and then he’s gonna pull the rug out from under us. 

God doesn’t work that way. He knows what we want before he even asks the question. But what he wants from us is our honesty. Our gut level, transparent honesty. 

Eva: And maybe a little conversation, you know? 

The interesting thing is, I have my “What do you want me to do for you?” answer. I was teaching this in Northern Arizona at a writer’s group and I said, you know, this is what I want. And this man sitting way in the back called out, “Why?”

Well, I hadn’t explored that yet. So I had to go back and kind of re-journal, and say this is what I want and this is why I want it. Now let me be honest about that. 

Erin: Yeah. 

Eva: And not just, “Well, it’d be kinda cool.” 

But more like: “What do you want me to do for you? I wanna be able to see.” 

“Why.”

“Because I’m blind. Because if I could see, I wouldn’t have to beg on the side of the road every day of my life. If I could see…”

I mean, do you remember that when Bartimaeus first was calling out, “Son of David…”? He was literally saying, “You’re the Messiah. Messiah, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

What were the disciples and all the people around him saying? “Hush! You’re bothering the Rabbi. You’re bothering the Master.” 

Karen: “You’re bothering the rabbi. Stop it. Don’t do this!” 

Eva: “What are you thinking?”

Erin: What’s so interesting is that they were trying to shame him, really. “You don’t deserve to talk to him.”

Karen: Right. 

Erin: I think that still sneaks in. Like we still have that shame that came way back in the Garden of Eden. Like, why do we still think God’s gonna pull the rug out from under us? Because somewhere, way back when, even Eve thought that. You know, “Oh, God’s holding out on me. I can’t eat that fruit because then I’ll be like God…” 

How can we get rid of that shame? I think one of the great things about asking these questions, going through this and being honest, is that it really helps us take a look at that. “Why do I feel ashamed? Why do I think God’s going to think this or that about me? Why am I so afraid?”

Eva: Like he doesn’t already know. 

Erin: And he does. But the key is we don’t. 

Eva: That’s it. That’s it. I mean, until somebody said to me, “Why?” I had never explored the reason why I want this. 

When I did explore the reason, it opened up a whole new room of other questions and future answers and more conversation with God on this. You know, it’s like, “Okay, yeah, we got the surface down here. But now let’s go a little bit deeper. Let’s go on. We’re gonna go a little bit deeper and a little bit deeper.”

Karen: Wow, guys, I don’t know about you, but this conversation has been amazing and inspirational. The good news is we’re going to continue it in our next episode, so make sure that you tune in. You don’t want to miss what else Eva has to share with us. 

Erin: That’s right! 

Guest @EversonAuthor helps us explore the questions God has for us––questions designed to draw us into a deeper relationship with the God of the universe. #amwriting #christianwriter Click To Tweet
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

What question is God asking you today?

BOOK BY Eva Marie Everson

The Third Path: Finding Intimacy with God on the Path of Questioning by Eva Marie Everson

The Third Path Finding Intimacy With God on the Path of Questioning by Eva Marie Everson

THANK YOU!

Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

This month we want to give YOU a gift: a discount on one of our online Going Deeper Workshops called PREPARE YOUR HEART TO BE A WRITER. We want you to have a foundation of trust and truth so solid that nothing will shake you on your writing journey—and nothing will derail you from the task God’s given you. For the month of December, instead of $49, you can get this course for $20! That discount is our gift to you for all your support in listening. Who doesn’t love a sale with all the inflation happening around us? So if you have a writer on your Christmas list, or maybe you want to gift yourself, check out the course at https://writefromthedeep.teachable.com/

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!

STAY CONNECTED

Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.

178 – Get Focused! Part 2

Spread the love

Get Focused! Part 2 Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungFocus is something we do on a number of levels. From the overall picture to the daily minutiae of life and our writing journeys, we are constantly deciding what to focus on. How do you know what is most important in your writing career and what is just a distraction or poor use of your time? We’ll help you figure that out!

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

In the first episode of this series, we talked about how to achieve focus at the highest level—a lifestyle level. That was all about making values-based decisions about what activities and commitments you do and don’t want to have as part of your life. Check it out if you haven’t heard it yet. It’s a good backdrop for everything we’ll cover in the rest of this series.

Today, we’ll be talking about developing focus at the career level. 

For those of you who are just getting started in your pursuit of writing a career, or some form of ongoing publishing, you’re probably hearing advice like: Improve your craft, settle on a genre, create a website, build a newsletter list, get on social media, find more followers, get a marketing plan, study the publishing industry, find an agent, find a publisher, figure out how to indie publish…

It’s overwhelming. Trying to do too many things at once divides your attention, creates stress, and makes it hard to do any one thing with excellence.

Those of you in the midst of a writing career face a multitude of competing possibilities as well. How do you sort through it all? How do you know what area to “focus” on first, or what to focus on each day? 

Not surprisingly, the same type of answer we gave in our first podcast about focus on the largest scale also applies to this “career-level” scale of focus. You have to make decisions.

The 2 List Strategy for Creating Focus

 In an article about focus by James Clear, he talks about using the “2 List Strategy” to create focus. Some people call it the “25/5 Strategy.” Several sources on the internet attribute this strategy to Warren Buffett, but there seems to be some controversy as to whether that’s really true. In any case, the strategy is worth considering.

In the 2 List Strategy, you start by writing a list of your top 25 career goals. This strategy is easiest to employ by those of you already in the midst of a writing career. If you’re in the beginning stages of writing, we’ll talk about a modified version of this for you in a bit. 

If you’re in the midst of a career right now, then make your list. Your top 25 career goals. You’re going to need to devote some time to this. Pray about it. Ponder it. Brainstorm. 

1. Create Specific Goals

You want to be as specific as possible with the goals you list. For example, rather than listing, “Increase my newsletter list,” choose something like, “Add 100 names to my newsletter list every month.” Rather than saying, “Create a backlist of books so I can more effectively advertise,” say, “Create a backlist of twenty books so I can advertise rotating discounts.” Or whatever.

2. Create Goals You Have Reasonable Control Over

It’s also important to pick goals you can reasonably control. So rather than listing, “Get on the bestsellers’ list,” instead list, “Execute an advertising campaign that would help me make a run for the bestsellers’ list.” Obviously your intention is to get on the bestsellers list, but you can’t control what other books come out the same week your book does, and you can’t control what others spend on their marketing campaigns.

Rather than saying, “Win a Christy Award,” which you can’t control, opt for something you can do to improve your craft, such as, “Read a book on dialogue and incorporate those new techniques in my next novel.”

3. Choose the 5 Most Important Goals

Once you’ve made your list of 25, go back and circle the 5 most important. Again, take your time with this. Pray about it. Seek counsel from wise people. Then choose 5 by circling them.

4. Focus on Your 5 Most Important Goals Until They’re Done

Now you have two lists. One list has the most important 5, and the other list has the remaining 20, which admittedly are also important otherwise you wouldn’t have listed them, right? But the key is that you’re only going to focus on those top 5. The top 5 are on your to-do list until they’re done. 

Guess what you should do with your remaining 20 items? Nothing. Nada. Zippo. Zilch. In fact, rename the list to: The Avoid At All Costs List.

It’s easy to get tripped up on this step. We’re tempted to think that we’ll work on those other 20 intermittently or in our spare time, because they’re not as urgent but they’re still important. Therefore, we still want to try to put some effort into them. 

That’s an understandable temptation, but that is exactly the wrong idea. Remember, if you want focus—and this is true on any level of focus—you have to make choices. You must decide what to say yes to and what to say no to. To focus on those top 5, you need to say no to those 20 other things. 

Remember, saying no is not the same thing as saying never. No means “not right now.” Not until you finish those top 5. After that, you get to create a new list of 5. Or, as you complete one thing on your top 5, you could move one of those other 20 things up to the top five, so you would have an evolving list. 

Also, you should be reevaluating your list regularly because things in our lives—and in the marketplace—constantly change. 

The benefit of all this list-making is that it helps you make a commitment. In another article by James Clear, he writes, “Basically, if you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.”

Another benefit of this list-making is that it helps you avoid overwhelm. It gives you permission to NOT focus on those other 20 things, and that gives you peace of mind. Those things aren’t forgotten, they’re just safely tucked away for now. 

Focus for Newer Writers

If you’re a newer writer, you still need peace of mind. You still need 2 lists. But, thinking in terms of career goals can be a minefield at this stage because many of those goals will require lots of smaller goals to be completed first. You can’t sell any books until you write them, and you can’t write them well until you’ve honed your craft, and so on. 

Instead of making a list of career goals, brainstorm your top 25 goals using a shorter timeline. For example, what do you want to accomplish by this time next year? Or in two years?

Some ideas to list might be:

  • Go to a writing conference
  • Write a short story
  • Find a critique partner
  • Finish the first draft of my novel
  • Read a book on self-editing

Once you’ve made your list of 25, you’ll follow the same process we talked about for the more established writers: You’ll pray about your list, seek counsel from others, and then circle your top 5 goals. And you know what to do with those remaining 20 items: Say NO to them for now.

Remember that we’re following God in this endeavor, and he rarely gives the whole picture at once. That’s why prayer is such a crucial part in this. If he’s leading you to prioritize something—meaning to put it in your top 5—and it’s something that doesn’t exactly make sense to you, that’s okay. He has his reasons. Be obedient.

The 80/20 Strategy for Creating Focus

The 2 List Strategy is just one method of finding focus. It’s one method for picking what to say no to and what to say yes to. There are certainly other methods. For example, Gary Keller wrote a book called The One Thing which has another great perspective on how to focus.

One of the things he says in his book is how many of us fall into believing myths about productivity. One important myth he refutes is the myth that “Everything is equally important.” Everything is NOT equally important. To back up that statement, Keller points to the “80/20” rule, also called the Pareto principle, that says 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. If everything were equally important, we’d get the same results from everything. But we don’t.

How can we apply this information? We find the things in that 20% category of effort and keep saying yes to them, because that produces the greatest results. The things in the unhelpful 80% category of effort are the things we want to say no to.

How will you know which 20% is creating those terrific results? Measure as best you can. 

Some things are objective and easily measured—marketing results for example. If you find that the majority of your sales come from your newsletter list and very few sales come from, say, posting regularly on Facebook or Twitter, then you’d want to focus on your newsletter and free yourself from the burden of social media. Focus on doing the things that give you high impact results. If you enjoy social media, considerate to be just a fun thing you do, and keep it in the time you set aside in your life for fun or socializing.

Some of the measuring we have to do is more subjective. For example, do you find that when you write cozy mysteries the words flow easily and your critique partners say they enjoy your stories, and sometimes they even forget to critique? Yet when you work on the epic fantasy you feel committed to, it’s a slow grind that produces less exciting results? Is this subjective or objective? A little of both perhaps. But it may well be a sign that writing cozies is in your 20% of effort “wheelhouse,” and writing the epic fantasy is a less effective use of your time. 

A POWERFUL QUESTION FOR DEVELOPING FOCUS

Gary Keller also talks about asking yourself a key question: “What is the one thing I can do that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” 

This is a powerful question that deserves time and thought. It can help you narrow your focus on a large scale as well as a very small scale. We’ll talk about this question more in the next episode of this series when we cover focus on a daily, and even a moment-by-moment level. But for now, you can use it to help guide you in what to say no to on a career level. 

For example, maybe you have a lot of email to wade through, and a lot of advertising campaigns you’re overseeing, and you’re putting together information for newsletter swaps, and doing other administrative tasks. If you asked yourself, “What is the one thing I can do that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” the answer might be: hire a virtual assistant. That would make it unnecessary for you to do all those other email tasks because you’ve delegated it to someone else.

That decision helps you concentrate your work efforts on the things that only you can do, which means you’re more focused.

The question “What is the one thing I can do that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” also implies a sense of sequential order. Some things need to be done, or in place, before other things can happen. So you might think in terms of asking, “What must be in place before this goal I’m thinking of can happen?”

For example, you probably ought to settle into a genre before you pay to have a website designed. Or, you may decide to hold up on Amazon ads until after the fifth book of your series is complete so you have more opportunity for return on your investment of advertising dollars. 

You might wait to read that book on how to revise a novel until after you’ve finished your first draft. That way you let your creativity run its course as you write. Then you can set your draft aside, read the book on revising, and come back to your manuscript with fresh eyes and new information.

Maintaining Focus

We’ve talked about some ways to help you find focus in your writing journey. But what about ways to maintain your focus? Aside from saying no to other options, what else can help you maintain focus?

1. Know Your Why and Keep it in Sight

Why did you put this goal on your list of career goals? Why is it important? It’s also good to ask: Is it still important or does it need to be changed? 

Why you do what you do should be a consistent topic of prayer. And keep in mind that God has his own agenda with each season, day, and moment in our lives. Be sensitive to his leading each day, even when it seems at odds with the goal you planned on for that day.

2. Measure Your Progress

Another way to help you maintain focus is to measure your progress. Not for judgment but for feedback on where you are right now. Tracking your journey helps give you a sense of forward momentum, even though some phases will take a while. Some phases might even feel like you’re spinning your wheels going nowhere, but those times still give way eventually—like a traffic jam that finally clears. In the overall scheme of things, you are moving, even if it’s slow sometimes. Measuring your progress helps you see that.

3. Celebrate Milestones

Celebrating milestones another way to measure your progress, and it’s fun! Celebrations give you encouragement and give you positive reinforcement for the hard work that focusing is.

4. Keep a Record

To help you eliminate distractions—and thus maintain focus—keep a record of why you chose to say yes to what you said yes to, and no to other things. Write in your journal: “I eliminated that because…” While it’s good to reevaluate sometimes, and to ask if the “because” is still true, it’s also good to not constantly rehash or second guess your decisions. Keeping a record helps you avoid unnecessary rehashing.

5. Have an Accountability Group

Consider forming a mastermind group, critique group, writers group, accountability group, or whatever kind of group, to help you stay accountable, to celebrate with, and so on. This group can be a great sounding board to help you process your decisions about what you’re saying yes and no to. They can also be a great source of encouragement. God has wired us for relationship. Don’t try to walk the writing journey alone.

6. Love the Process

While we’ve talked a lot about using goals to help you achieve focus, remember that it’s still the process that matters, not the end results. Writing is a journey, and you want to love the journey, love writing. We’re sometimes tempted to say, “I’ll love it when I arrive at this goal, or that goal…” Arriving at a goal is short-lived. It’s a specific point in time. And it’s transient because there’s always another goal to get to.

When we don’t love the journey, we’re in danger of becoming like a person on a road trip constantly asking, “Are we there yet…?”  But when we love the journey, we become partners with God on an amazing adventure that continually has new delights and joys, even amidst the difficulties.

Moving Forward with God’s Guidance and direction

As we ponder, pray, and submit our thoughts, our lists, and ourselves to God, keep in mind Hebrews 12:1.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Move forward with God’s guidance and his direction in what you need to focus on so you can walk in peace and confidence, and with a sense of great reward in our Lord and Savior, wherever the writing journey takes you!

What’s important NOW in your writing career, and what’s just a distraction? Find focus in your writing career! #amwriting #christianwriter Click To Tweet
Books mentioned in the podcast

The One Thing by Gary Keller

The One Thing by Gary Keller a book to help you find Focus

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

What helps you decide what to focus on first in your writing career?

THANK YOU!

Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

A big thank you to our November sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow! She’s a speaker at women’s retreats, and her debut novel Blood Beneath the Pines, a suspense set in the deep South, is now available. She’s hard at work on the second book of the series!

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!

STAY CONNECTED

Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.

177 – Get Focused! Part 1

Spread the love

Get Focused Part 1 Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young - We'll help you find the focus you need in your writing and life!Do you struggle to focus on your writing? You’re not alone. But you can regain the focus you need in your writing and your life. Come learn how!

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

With the busyness our culture and our lives bring us each day, we have a multitude of things vying for our attention. And it’s not just for any given moment but also for any given season in our lives. Urgent demands and expectations badger us relentlessly. This can create a problem that we might not even be aware of as it’s happening: we lose focus. We get sidetracked from what we actually wanted to be doing. And it happens on both a large, life-level scale and a small, moment-by-moment scale.

What should get our time and attention, and what shouldn’t? That’s the question we want to help you answer, so we’re going to talk about focus. What it is, how we achieve it, and how we can maintain it. It’s a big topic so we’ll cover it in a series of episodes.

What is focus?

Let’s start by defining focus. Merriam-Webster tells us focus is:

1a : a center of activity, attraction, or attention

b: a point of concentration

2: directed attention.

In an article on James Clear’s website he writes, Experts define focus as the act of concentrating your interest or activity on something.” What I love about this definition is the idea of concentrating, Merriam-Webster mentioned that as well.

But how do we do that? James Clear goes on to say, In order to concentrate on one thing you must, by default, ignore many other things…Focus can only occur when we have said yes to one option and no to all other optionsin the present moment focus requires that you only do one thing.”

So tuning other things out is crucial to focusing. This is true both on a large scale and on a small scale. We’re going to cover both those scales, but for this episode we’ll concentrate on large scale focus.

Large Scale Focus

On a large scale, you might have trouble focusing on your writing career or on the book you’re currently trying to write if you have a day job that demands you to put in lots of overtime. Maybe you also have children or grandchildren at home who keep wanting stuff from you—like dinner, or a diaper change, or help with homework, or a ride to soccer practice, or a listening ear when things go wrong at school. That’s a lot to deal with.

Or maybe you’ve always wanted to go back to school yourself to finish a degree or get a postgraduate degree. Or maybe you really love being a Bible study leader at church, and they’ve asked you to teach more classes.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things by themselves, but if you try to do them all in this season of your life, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. There are too many large scale objectives competing for your time, attention, and energy. You end up burned out and stressed, and more often than not, feeling like a failure. And it’s not because you’re a terrible person, it’s because you’ve given yourself an impossible mission. 

You’ve got to make some choices if you want to be able to focus on writing. Because the key is focus. Focus—concentration, directed attention—is necessary in order to work to the best of your ability. You can work poorly without focus, but you can’t work at your best level.

Please don’t hear us saying that you can’t be a good mom and a good writer. Or that you can’t have a demanding day job and still be a writer, or whatever. What we’re saying is that you’re limited in time and energy.

How many large scale things can you manage? Which things will that be?

Step one in achieving focus on a large scale is deciding how many large scale things you can reasonably manage, and which ones those will be. When it comes to writing, you have to decide whether writing that book or having some sort of writing career is in fact a goal right now. Whether it’s something you want to commit time and energy to, because that’s most likely going to come at the expense of something else. To say yes to one thing means you have to say no to other things.

Make a list of the things you’re already committed to, or that you want to commit to. It might help your list to be more thorough if you go through the various roles you play in your life. For example, maybe you’re a school teacher, a mom, a homeowner, a leader on your neighborhood association board, and a wife. 

  • How do you feel about those roles? 
  • Which are most important to you? 
  • What are the commitments involved in each role and how much time and energy do they take?

You’ve really got to dig into those questions. To help do that, you need to consider your values.

What are your values?

Your values are just what it sounds like: the things you value. The things you believe are important in life in the way you work, in the way you live, and even in the way you play. Some examples of values are: generosity, compassion, creativity, courage, discipline, justice, joy, teamwork, connection, vision.

Why is knowing your values important?  What you do with your time, and how you do it, needs to align with what you value. If they align, then you will experience satisfaction. If they conflict, you set yourself up for frustration and discontent. 

As Christians, it’s important that our values also align with what the Bible teaches. The Bible is, in essence, God’s “User Manual” for our lives. When we put it at the center of our focus, we can move forward with confidence. If we try to go against it? You guessed it.  We’re setting ourselves up for frustration and discontent.

We found some great resources about values on the internet. One is a worksheet that gives a short list of values and has some great questions to ponder to help you make decisions based on your values. 

Another resource has a more exhaustive list of values that you can look at. It’s nice to have a list of values to help stimulate your thinking. 

Identifying Your Values From Your Experiences

Another way that might help you define your values is to consider three different types of experiences in your life. It’s best to consider examples from both your personal life and your career life. This method comes from another article on the internet.

1) Think about the times you were happiest in your life. 

  • What were you doing?
  • Who were you with, if anyone?
  • Why were you happy? What factors influenced your happiness?

2) Think about the times you felt most proud.

We’re not talking about arrogance here, but rather pleasure in accomplishment, of doing your best, of doing the type of good works well done that God planned for us. 

  • Why did you feel proud?
  • What people shared your pride, if anyone?
  • Were there other factors that influenced your feelings of pride? What were they?

3) Think about times you felt most fulfilled or satisfied.

  • Identify what need or desire was fulfilled. Be specific.
  • Did this experience help give your life meaning? How? Why?
  • Were there other factors that contributed to your feelings of satisfaction? What were they?

The goal, remember, is to identify the things that are truly important to you. The things you value. Think about all those experiences you’ve had and identify the values they represent. You can use one of those lists of values that we linked to to help you. Remember that typically when you’re feeling a deep joy, fulfillment, and a feeling of godly accomplishment, you’re probably doing something that aligns closely with your values.

Values in conflict

For those of you who write fiction, thinking about values may be something you already do with your characters. You ask them what they value, or what they think is important in life and why. Do they value security, for example? And if so, how is that shown by what they do? Maybe your character chooses a career path that provides a high, steady income. Or maybe your character values freedom, so she buys an RV and travels the world working random odd jobs.

In fiction it’s always more interesting if your characters have values that bring conflict. What if your character values freedom but also values love? Now she has to decide between going on the road in her RV or becoming a wife to the man she’s fallen in love with, who must remain in the same town to care for his aging parents. She wants two roles: traveler and wife. Those roles highlight two different values: love and freedom. She can’t have them both. She has to make a difficult choice.

As fiction goes, real life can go, too. Conflict. Choices.

As you think about your values, you’ll find that, like our imaginary character, you have to rank which values are most important to you. It helps to ask yourself, “If I could satisfy only one of these values, which would I choose?”

That’s awful and doesn’t feel fair, but remember that achieving focus on a large scale means deciding not just how many large scale commitments you can reasonably manage, but which ones those will be. Most of us can’t do everything we want to in this life.

Do your commitments reflect your values?

Understanding your values is important because it’s easy to get sucked into commitments that aren’t our passion and don’t reflect what we value most. For example, what if you’re putting in a lot of extra hours at work because that’s the culture there, but those extra hours put you in line for a promotion to a job that is less creative than your current job. You might just drift into that promotion without stopping to think about why you’re working all that overtime and whether you actually want that promotion. 

What if, when you stop to think about your values, you realize you’re working those hours and following your work culture because community is something you value. There’s nothing wrong with that. Unless it turns out that creativity is something you value more than community. Now you have insight into why you’ve been working long hours, and you can make an informed choice about whether you really want to keep doing that. 

Or, what if you’ve been feeling frustrated and dissatisfied with your life because you haven’t been making any progress on the manuscript you’ve been working on? You’ve been too tired after working those long hours. Once you realize you value creativity, it’s even easier to understand your frustration. You may have thought you were frustrated by your lack of energy, when really the underlying problem is a lack of focus on what you value most.

This was a simple example, and we’re not saying that all writers do or should value creativity most highly. These are complicated issues, and they’re hard decisions. James Clear, in his article, says, “Most people don’t have trouble with focusing. They have trouble with deciding.”

Decisions Matter

The decisions you make about what you value and what you commit to matter a great deal. Those decisions become permission. Making a decision means you’ve given yourself permission to take the time to write, for example. You’ve given yourself permission to say no to everything else during that writing time and do just that one thing. Or to say no to that request to be on your neighborhood’s Welcome Wagon committee, or whatever is of lesser value to you. That’s how you foster focus on a large scale in your life.

We encourage you to make decisions like this prayerfully. And look at the way God has made you. You probably won’t get neon signs or a pristine career plan all laid out for you, but you will sense God’s direction if you’re seeking him. He’s not trying to make you guess. We’ve done two previous podcast episodes (episodes 110 and 111) specifically on hearing God if you’re looking for more help with that.

Keep in mind, too, that God has given us all the gift of creativity in some way, shape, or form because we’re made in his image. Writing is a great way for us to live in to the act of creating with God. Even if you haven’t heard a directive from God that “thou shalt write,” there isn’t anything wrong with making the decision to have writing be part of your life unless God is telling you not to, which he might in fact do. 

For more about the question of: “Did God really ask you to write,” we have a special audio recording on our Patreon page called “Did God Really Ask You to Write.” Bear in mind that you have to be a patron for at least one month to get access to that. 

Don’t be afraid to stop writing, or cut back, if that’s what you need to do. We’ve interviewed several writers who’ve felt God leading them in exactly that direction (episodes 152, 153, 171, 172). We encourage you to listen to those interviews for more discussion about that.

Reevaluating Decisions Matters

It’s also crucial to periodically reevaluate our decisions. That’s another way we maintain focus on the things that are important to us. We have to make sure those things are still important. Set aside time, maybe quarterly or semi-annually or whatever, to check in with yourself and see if what you’re doing still makes sense. If your passion is still there. If your values are the same—because those can and do change over time. Life is fluid. 

In your evaluation, ask yourself if you were realistic about the time and energy involved in the commitments you made. Check in with your family, your boss, or whoever is important to you as well. They may have differing opinions about how well you kept up with your responsibilities. Ask yourself if you can take on something new. Or should you expand one of your roles? Or does something have to be cut back or dropped altogether?

The Results

So, the most basic and simple way we develop focus on the largest scale, a “life-size scale,” is to make decisions based on our values about what will and won’t be part of our life. What we will and won’t focus on. Knowing our values, knowing Scripture, praying through our decisions, submitting them to God, all this helps us know why we’re doing what we’re doing, and helps us be sure we’re focusing on what matters most. Then, we maintain our focus by sticking to those decisions. 

In the next episode of our series on focus, we’ll talk about developing focus within your writing career. Between now and then, we encourage you to spend time working through these issues. Know your values, understand your decisions so that your life can have the focus you want it to have!

Too much going on in your life? Struggling to find focus? We can help! #amwriting #christianwriter Click To Tweet
We want to hear from you!

What do you think is the biggest challenge to finding focus?

THANK YOU!

Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

A big thank you to our November sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow! She’s a speaker at women’s retreats, and her debut novel Blood Beneath the Pines, a suspense set in the deep South, is now available. She’s hard at work on the second book of the series!

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!

STAY CONNECTED

Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.