In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Donita Bundy and Alison Joy look back on the writing year that was, look forward to the writing year that’s coming, and look up to the One we write for. An honest conversation with some vulnerable moments, full of encouragement for Gracewriters living in a difficult world.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, writing and publishing blogger at smallbluedog.com, and Gracewriters founder
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of the Armour of Light urban fantasy series.
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children.
Topics covered in this episode:
- Taking the time to remember achievements and moments of God’s grace in the past year.
- Being honest about the hard times and disappointments.
- Planning ahead, but with humble and open hearts.
- Gracewriting is more valuable than ever.
Click the image to buy on Amazon, or find other options at Alison’s website.
Click the image to buy on Amazon, or find other options at Donita’s website.
Click the image to buy on Amazon, or find other options at Belinda’s website.
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Hit subscribe on your favourite podcast player so you never miss an episode and find show notes, useful links and a full transcript at gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, the year that was and the year that’s coming.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. I blog for writers at smallbluedog.com and you can find links to all my blogs, books and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood teacher living in south-east Queensland. I have four adult children and am a mad-keen photographer. I write romance under the pen name, Alison Joy and you can find out more about my books at alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. For the past 20 years, I’ve been using my theology degree to underpin my preaching and more recently, to inspire my urban-fantasy series, Armour of Light. You can find out more about me, my books and all my other projects at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: As we begin a new year, we decided to look back to remind ourselves, and look forward to seek inspiration and possibility, and look upward to remember who we do this for and how God continues to be involved in our Gracewriting.
How about we start looking at some of the wins first because it’s so easy to forget them, isn’t it? We forget just how much we did achieve. We look back on all the crumbling ruins of the year that was! And we forget that there were actually some pretty amazing things that God did and involved us in.
Alison, would you like to go first? What were some of your achievements in your Gracewriting in 2022 and that could be actual visible progress and achievements or it might be more subtle things like a change in attitude? It can be anything you like to nominate.
Alison Joy: Well, the first thing is I’m still here so that’s a big plus! And I’m still writing even though I’ve had a bit of a discouraging year but I’m still here and I’m still turning up. So, I guess that’s a big win as far as I’m concerned.
I did manage to get a new laptop this year which has made a huge difference for my writing, research, everything, podcasting especially, as you girls would have noticed. That was a big thing really, for me.
I didn’t get to where I was hoping to be in terms of the number of books but at least I’ve achieved something so it’s not like I didn’t get anything out there into the real world. So, that was good.
So, I got one book published and one novella done by the end of the year and I’ve got one book and one novella waiting to go to be edited so that’s something.
Belinda Pollard: I think publishing a book and a novella are pretty amazing achievements for a year!
Donita Bundy: That’s huge!
Alison Joy: I know. It’s the comparison thing.
Belinda Pollard: Yes! Why do we… we compare ourselves to the wrong people. You’re comparing yourself to the person who publishes three books a year and they’re comparing themselves to the person who publishes seven books a year and they’re comparing themselves to the person who publishes 20 books a year and we’re all feeling insecure and inadequate and nothing’s ever enough. And in fact, we’re doing amazing things. Amazing things!
Donita Bundy: I’m the one who didn’t quite get a published book out this year so I’m looking at you guys, “Oh my gosh! You had a book out. You’re ahead of me!” That’s awesome!
Alison Joy: But your books are about twice the size of mine, Donita!
Belinda Pollard: Oh, stop making excuses! You did a fabulous thing.
Donita Bundy: You got a book out, Alison! Woohoo!
Belinda Pollard: Congratulations! Donita, what about you?
Donita Bundy: Like I just confessed, I didn’t get a book out this year. I have wanted to but it was a really tough year. A really tough year and I felt like I was under the pump from a lot of different angles.
However, I work with an amazing group of people in my region, Somerset Writer’s Group and I managed to get a book out, a compilation book, from our year’s work from 2021 and that’s a huge achievement. It’s a beautiful book and we’re really proud of it. So, we got that out. That was really good.
But for me, I think, probably the biggest achievement was a change in attitude. Like I said, at the end of the year I was under the gun. I had a lot of things outside of work and writing coming at me and I really had to pare away and I’ve been looking and praying about paring away stuff that’s unnecessary and just focusing on what’s a good thing to do and my purpose.
For me, I shifted from a passive writer. Someone who was seeking permission to write or try to find time to write and I feel that I’m confident that I’ve actually moved into more of an active writer and it’s my right to do that and I am now putting it first every day. I’ve decided that that is my priority, my focus, apart from God and family. Writing is what my goal is.
Every morning after my bible study and prayer and journalling, I go straight into the manuscript for my next book.
I had wanted to do NaNoWriMo again, the National Novel Writing Month. I did it the year before and succeeded in the 50,000 but at the end of year with school and everything else, the end of school year where I work, it’s too chaotic. So, I extended my NaNoWriMo and I made it a TriMo, a trimester. WriTri, I call it! Writing Trimester, and so, I set myself the goal of achieving 85,000 words in three months.
I started at the beginning of November when everyone kicked off the NaNoWriMo. So, I’m just shy of 77,000 and at the time of recording I still have a couple of weeks and so I’ve hardly got anything left to go – 7,500 to get to the end of my first draft.
For me, the biggest victory, I think, was in the midst of all of that chaos and trial, finding the anchor and where I sat in the midst of it, in God, and claiming an active writing identity rather than the passive, and that’s created a big shift in the way I see myself in the day and because of that, it’s the first thing that goes into my day, I’m actually seeing how I can pick up other stuff, as well, that I had thought I needed to give away.
Belinda Pollard: Yes. Can I say, too, knowing personally some of the challenges that you faced last year, Donita, the fact that you now have a book on the verge of publication and another one on the verge of completing a first draft, is extraordinary. Extraordinary!
Donita Bundy: I’m happy!
Belinda Pollard: And they’re fabulous books, too.
Donita Bundy: Thank you!
They are really books that get to the heart of things that we, as Christians, in a fallen world in the end times, really need to be thinking about. We were just discussing before we started recording that we’ve been in the end times for 2,000 years but it does feel a bit more like, as Donita said, we’re getting more to the pointy end.
I think you’ve both done amazing things.
Donita Bundy: What about you?
Belinda Pollard: With my fiction writing, I really wanted to work on my ability with characterisation and distinctive dialogue and I did, somehow, in a completely chaotic year, find some time to work on those things.
I did an online course with Dean Wesley Smith called Writing with Depth, early in the year and it was really interesting some of the things that I got out of that. I mean, he’s not a Christian writer or anything. He actually writes gritty, pulp fiction type of stuff but he’s a very successful writer and the course gave me more confidence and courage to write the way I want.
Because I write crime novels, mainstream crime novels, and what I’d done when I first published my first novel in my series, Poison Bay, was that I had been people pleasing and trying to do all the things that everybody on all the blogs said you should do in a crime novel like start with a big bang and get everybody right in. And Dean Wesley Smith says you can actually do 2,000 words with no plot, just embedding people into the characters and I thought, “Really?! Like, a pulp fiction writer says this?” because this is what I want to do and so it was like being released to actually do the kind of writing that I want to do.
I’ve been rewriting Poison Bay because I’ve received some other advice that because I write my series slowly then what I should do when I release the next book is promote Book 1. Every time I release the next book promote Book 1. I wanted to make it stronger. And I actually managed to finish the rewrite of it last year in amongst all the chaos and I did it in tiny little time slots, 20 minutes. I thought, “You can’t get anything done in 20 minutes,” and then I thought, “Well, I haven’t got anything else,” and I did it in 20 minute timeslots and it’s rewritten and it will be published soon.
I’ve also had a book called Meet the Real Jesus, that I wrote for a British publisher way back in 2001, and it’s a book of bible devotionals on Luke and Acts. I’ve had the copyright back for five years and been thinking, “I must do something with that. I must do something with that. I must do something with that,” and of course, you just roll from one utter chaos to another. And then my mother was having a significant birthday and she said, “You know what, I don’t really want to have a party but if I do, I would like to give all the guests a copy of your book if you can get it out in time.” So, I had a deadline.
Donita Bundy: Pressure!
Belinda Pollard: I had motivation, I had pressure and somehow, I got that book out. So, that’s pretty exciting. It’s only a little one but it’s important to me.
There we go again, downgrading the achievement, “It’s only a little one.” Don’t we all do that?
Alison Joy: I think I remember you saying you had to rewrite some of it because you’re a different person to when you first wrote it.
Belinda Pollard: Exactly. There’s nothing in it from when I wrote it 20 years ago that I theologically disagree with or anything like that. It was more just the layers that you add as you go through more things and as you get older.
For example, the woman with the flow of blood. When I wrote about her in 2001 I didn’t have a chronic illness myself and now I do, and you see things differently and it just added some extra layers to the way that I talked about that.
What about the struggles and frustrations of the previous year? What were the things that were hard? What did we endure? What did we learn through that? Was God present even when things were tough?
Donita Bundy: I listened to a wonderful sermon in our church recently about how we strive. We strive to be who we think we should be, achieve what we think we should be achieving as children of God and as Christians in the workplace and in our family. We’re striving all the time and it’s exhausting.
I think that’s where I was falling down is that I was so busy trying to do all the things that I thought I was supposed to do. How can I fit it all in and how can I be a wife and a mother and a daughter who cares – I care for my mother – how can I do all this and be in the workforce? I really, in my depths, feel called to write. I have this yearning to write and when I don’t do it, it almost hurts. So, how do I make it happen?
But I’ve found that in the last term of last year I hit the wall and came back up with this realisation that the resting in God actually produces more fruit.
Belinda Pollard: He’s so much kinder to us than we are to ourselves. I keep getting that again and again and again. You just crack the whip and drive yourself onwards and God says:
Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)
We’re not good at doing that in our society.
Donita Bundy: No.
Belinda Pollard: I’m not good at it. I know you’re not good at it. How are you at it, Alison? How was your year of struggles?
Alison Joy: Felt like I was stalled. Does that make sense? Stalled and just not getting anywhere and getting frustrated and finances are always an issue in our household. For something like that, you need money to be able to put books out and I felt like: why am I taking all this time to write when I can’t get anywhere after that because I don’t have the finances.
One lovely supporter of mine that was at my book launch actually took me aside after I’d said something that I actually, probably should be improving my mindset about the whole thing.
There’s a program here in Australia that the government runs called the Self-Employment Assistance Program and I had applied for that and I had hoped to get a year’s worth of mentoring and that sort of stuff. If you jumped through all the hoops and you meet the requirements you get a payment from the government.
I applied for that and nothing was working. Every time I rang up, I got a different person, they told me a different thing and it just turned into a debacle. I’m going, “Okay God, am I supposed to persevere through this or is this your message to me that this is not what I should be pursuing? How do I know which it is?”
I’m actually a bit of a photographer and I get asked, occasionally, to do shoots for people. I do a lot of volunteer stuff so I said, “Well okay, if I do photography and actually maybe get a little bit of money for that, then I can direct that back into my writing.” And then what do you do? Does that mean you spend more time working on that than working on your writing? You just go round and round in circles.
Donita Bundy: What about you, Belinda?
Belinda Pollard: I’ve had a pretty awful year as well in many ways. I had a lot of ill health last year with a chronic illness and I found that particularly hard because I tend to value myself through productivity and achievement which, of course, is not what, as Christians, we should be valuing ourselves as. And yet, nevertheless, it’s what I tend to value myself through. I’ve just felt like I didn’t have much of that.
It was financially difficult because I could only work part time. I had very little physical energy to write.
But some good things that came out of that was that I found that I became more genuinely dependent on prayer and on God. Would I say, “Yay,” for having a dreadful year because of that outcome? Maybe not and yet, maybe yes. Maybe yes.
I’ve also lost… the freelance editor that I’ve worked with for years on multiple projects is no longer freelancing. There was a lot of grief and destabilisation around that and, “Oh my gosh. Who am I going to get to replace her?” But also learning that God is in charge, even of that situation, and that He has a purpose even in that and that she was not my foundation, He is. So, it’s been another disruptive thing but also God’s turned it for good.
What about plans for the New Year? Alison, have you got writing goals, learning goals, spiritual goals, perhaps?
Alison Joy: You know I’ve found out if I actually put the goals out in public they tend to implode spectacularly! I just have them written down and I don’t actually say anything, I actually have a better chance of achieving them!
I thought I did quite well with my newsletters but then I let my blogs absolutely slide which I didn’t realise and my website needed updating. It’s trying to find which balls to juggle and it doesn’t matter and you juggle the balls and you don’t realise you’ve dropped a few. Trying to find the ones that you need to pick up, you need to run with and that might be a learning challenge for this year.
I’d thought I’d come up with a really good lead magnet for my newsletter and then I realised that the novella that I wrote was actually very Christian based but most of my books aren’t at this stage so I thought it doesn’t match as well as it could so that means I’ve got to come up with something else that I can use instead.
And then working on the attitude with the finances and stop being so negative about it and trying to say, “Okay God, you must’ve got this in hand. I can’t see a way out of it but you’ve obviously got a plan there.”
Just keep writing and see how I go with that.
Belinda Pollard: What about you, Donita?
Donita Bundy: I’m pretty excited. Out of the remains of last year…
Belinda Pollard: The steaming pile of wreckage of last year!
Donita Bundy: At the time of recording, I am moments away from publishing Book 3 in my series. I consoled myself with the fact that I got it off my desk and handed it to the proofreader on 31st December. So, it was out of my hands in 2022! It is now back. I will very shortly be publishing Book 3 which I’m very excited about. And then my goal is to publish Book 4 and change my schedule for publication so that it doesn’t always come down at the end of the year when everybody is just overwhelmed. It is not a good time to be doing this.
Learning goals – last year I preached through a series on spiritual warfare which I learnt a lot through. It came out of what I had been learning through writing my series, Armour of Light, and what spiritual warfare is for the Christian and so, that was kind of like the theological side, the study side, of the writing the novels and the fiction side of it which, for me, worked hand in hand. I do a lot of research and then out of that write the fiction.
This year I’m studying through the Psalms and I’ve never been someone who’s really connected with them and I know that a lot of people do and that there’s a lot of gold in there. So, I’m taking the time to pull them apart, phrase by phrase, and look at words and what the Psalms are really saying and what was going on in the world of David and the other Psalmists. And so, I’m going to be turning that into a new teaching series for this year.
Also, as I study that, I will be able to use that to feed into my fiction writing, as well. And that’s where my blogging will come from and my preaching will come from, that study I’m about to start in the Psalms.
Spiritual goals – it’s the same as always. Just to glorify God, number one, and how I do that in the context in which I live and where I am and who I’m with and just that I might grow closer, ever closer, and glorify Him in what I do and say. More likely with me, what I don’t say. So, that’s an ongoing life lesson!
Belinda Pollard: Having been blessed by many of the things you have said, Donita, I would challenge that summary but I do know what you mean. Yes.
Donita Bundy: The gift of offence.
Belinda Pollard: There’s one of the Psalms that says:
Put a guard at the door of my mouth. (Psalm 141:3)
Donita Bundy: Yes. One with a flaming sword. You can’t get everything right all the time and not all lessons are easy to learn. So, that’s probably my spiritual goal. Glorifying God by keeping that guard on duty.
Alison Joy: Belinda, what about you?
Belinda Pollard: Well, I’m hoping to finally publish this second edition of Poison Bay. There’s been, actually, some hold-ups in it that are not based on me but there have been some hold-ups. And also, the second book, Venom Reef, is completed so it’s waiting for me to get… Poison Bay is the blockage in that supply chain! And I’m hoping, maybe, I can get started on Book 3 in that series this year, as well.
I’m hoping to rewrite some more of my devotions that I wrote for Scripture Union because I’ve had some of those other rights returned to me. So, there’s probably people out there listening who have published various things over the years and maybe you’ve got the rights back. Keep your mind open and think about some of those because the work’s been done and maybe it can help someone else.
I keep getting people asking me for my online courses which are just not getting completed! I’ve got a series called, Strengthen Your Book… Strengthen Your Book, Strengthen Your Structure, Strengthen Your Description, Strengthen Your Characters and I just really need to get those done. And I’ve also got one on memoir writing and one on blogging. They’re kind of all half there and I just cannot get them across the line because every time I start to make progress, a piano falls out of the sky and lands on my head! Why does this keep happening? But I know that you know what I’m talking about because the same thing happens to all of us.
And I also want to be going further with more detailed bible study and praying constantly through the day instead of just in little arrow prayers and more stop-a-moment and be deliberate prayers. Particularly when I’m working on some of my client’s books that are quite important spiritually and when I’m working on my own writing. Trying to stop, be deliberate, remember we’re in a battle, remember that we serve the living God and recalibrate the direction of my gaze, I think.
Donita, what do you think about Gracewriting? Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture? Is it still relevant?
Donita Bundy: More so than ever, I believe.
If we are in relationship with Christ, a genuine relationship with Christ and the Holy Spirit is dwelling within us and it impacts our life and who we are and it’s transformative, we cannot help but be set apart from the rest of the world. Because it’s not part of the mainstream, going to church is not part of the mainstream culture anymore and being Christian is not part of the mainstream culture anymore so, to plant the words of grace in our writing, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, whether it’s crossover, for a Christian audience, the mainstream audience, it doesn’t matter.
To plant that little bit of light into what we write could make such a difference to people, to our audience that God brings our writing to.
Alison Joy: As long as there are books to be read, people need to get some hope somewhere along the line, and if it’s through something very direct or something more subtle through the gracenotes, then it’s always got a place and society needs to be challenged.
For me, because I’m writing romance, I’m thinking, watching the way the world’s going, I’m going, “Should I actually be doing this?” But then I have realised people still need, even more so now, a distraction. From my own point of view, I found that from some situations I’ve been through, just to have that little window of opportunity where you can just get away and do something else that’s not connected to everything in the world.
Belinda Pollard: And I think people are going to be seeking the distraction, regardless, and we can have a little bit of an influence. We can be a little God influence in the distraction they seek.
Donita Bundy: But also, Belinda, I think we need to remember the aspect of our writing, those of us who write gracenotes are Christians and we are prayerful about what we write and we are writing gracenotes because we want to share some of that truth and the glory of God and bring that light and grace to people’s lives.
I’m not for one minute saying that any of us are writing scripture or it’s the same impact as scripture but the Word is a living Word. It’s transformative. The bible that we read, the scripture that was written thousands of years ago is alive and transformative. It’s the same Spirit is inspiring us, and we’re asking Him into our work, inviting Him in and through our words so that whomever our audience is we are bringing some of that with us, then what’s to say when our audience, whoever picks that book up and reads one phrase, they might read it and interpret it and it may hit them in a way that we have never imagined or designed or thought of and yet it can have a lasting impact because it is not because of necessarily the words we have written, but it’s the One that we have asked to inspire the words and the fact that we have been faithful and obedient to getting the words out.
Like Alison said, it is a hard slog and you know we all struggle financially and it is not cheap to do the job well but we have been obedient and faithful in getting the words out and we have been prayerful about what we write and the Holy Spirit can take those tiny little seeds and transform lives. And I think it is so important now when we are muzzled and we can’t share that, the Holy Spirit can still work through His word which he plants in our lives and we obediently share. The gift of that in written word is that it’s there to stay.
Anytime, any year, whilst it’s still out there – and those of us who self-publish can leave it out there as long as we like. It is an incredible responsibility and a wonderful privilege to be part of this Gracewriters movement.
Alison Joy: I think the other thing is, apart from the written word, it’s all of our journeys. People talk to us about: you’re a writer and what does that entail, and just being able to either help other people, encourage other people or even from the podcast. It’s not just the writing that’s just the book or books. It’s the whole thing, the whole process, the whole journey of what we’re all going through individually and as the collective.
Belinda Pollard: Fantastic thoughts, both of you. Thank you so much.
How about I pray for us, in the year ahead, and also for the Gracewriters out there listening and the way that God might want to use and work in us and through us.
Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for getting us through 2022 and we thank you that even though the three of us and, no doubt, everybody out there listening, has had challenge after challenge, that you have brought us to this point, that you have used us in different ways, that you have created achievements of various kinds for us that we don’t, necessarily, even notice until we stop and pause and look backwards and think, and remind ourselves, like the Israelites looking back and remembering the Exodus and various other times when you’d been active. We look back and we see that you have been active, that you have blessed us, that you have sustained us and given us courage and kept us going.
We pray for our writing in this year ahead, for all of us. We pray, Lord, that you will show us what you want, how you want us to be writing, what you want us to be writing, when you want us to be writing it.
We pray that you will cover us in the blood of Jesus and deflect all the flaming arrows of the evil one who wants to stop us. But it’s not his decision because we belong to You.
We entrust our lives, our work and everything that we love to You, in Jesus’ name. Amen
Donita Bundy: Amen.
Alison Joy: Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Donita Bundy and Alison Joy, thank you so much for such a great conversation today. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time, and throughout this year, on the Gracewriters podcast.
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