Sorting My Priorities to be Priorities Again

Journal, Writer's Articles

Dear Friend,

It seems that many people are swamped with work these days. Be it school or normal career work. As for me, I could not escape my own mountain of writing projects. I’ve always wanted to write a post on priorities; however, the right time for it didn’t come until recently.

A few months ago, I was going through a difficulty, and subsequently took a break from my own writing. After God brought me through my challenge, He eased me back to writing. Weeks later, I found myself buried in the mountain pile. Before I completely lost myself in it, He reminded me that writing should be treated as a job, instead of something that threatens to take His place and permeate every aspect of my life. I wanted to slap myself. How could I forget that?

And a few weeks ago, I told my mother I would do a certain project after I completed a writing task. She replied,

“Your work is never-ending.”

She was right. Just like secular work, my writing doesn’t “ends”. So why was I overwhelmed with it?

The problem lies with my priorities.

It was important that I settle this as soon as possible because they surround my personal walk with the Lord. I prayed, reflected on my priorities, and arranged them by macro (the big picture) and micro (within writing). My list of macro priorities showed what should be most important in my life.

Macro Priorities:

1. God

2. Family

3. Friends and people

4. Work (secular and writing)


I needed to ensure that God is always first in every aspect, that I’m protecting my quiet time with Him, and that I’m trusting everything into His hands. As a result, everything else naturally fell in their place. Then I asked Him to sort out my micro priorities within writing. He then reminded me of the list I wrote right after my difficulty.

Micro Priorities:

1. Letters for Book F

1. Fiction writing once letters for Book F are completed

2. TCK Ministry and blogging

3. Editing lessons, reading to give feedback, and guest writing


My problem was that my mind shifted from Him, and was fixated in completing my projects that they all became equally important. Before they could consume me, I surrendered them to Him, returned to the list He intended, and gave each moment to Him.

I reminded myself, priorities are something that I need to make a conscious effort to trust the Lord with each day. I shouldn’t have taken them to my own hands and assume I could handle them by my own strength. The truth is, I can’t because I’m not perfect. But Jesus Christ is, and I have His Spirit with me.

As days passed, I did not strictly follow the writing list because I was sticking to His leading. At times, He wanted me to rest from my letters and work on a blog article, or give feedback to another writer. Other times, He wanted me to pause from writing and spend time with my family and friends. And sometimes, He wanted me to encourage someone who needed it.

The writing list that He sorted became a reference for me when I have no clue on what to do next. I also found that ultimately, everything on my lists surrounded Him. And currently, I’m not overwhelmed by life anymore because

Christ is in the center of it.



Very Sincerely Yours,
Clarissa Choo-Choo Train

P.S. A friend of mine wrote an article on productivity which encouraged me greatly. It is not what you might expect it to be. I expected it partly because I read several of her writings before. Anyhoo, you can read it here if you’re interested.

P.P.S. I’ve started a small section called Snippets of Truth. A snippet is a bite of the Bible, a simple lesson which you can read from the homepage. It’s also open for anyone who wants to contribute. If you’re interested, contact me.



~

Clarissa is a vessel used for Christ’s glory. Although she’d lived in four countries, Heaven is her only Home. She desires to sow His seeds, and to serve third culture kids, teens, and writers. Peek into her Christian TCK Email Ministry. Or read more posts.

New Updates on My Journey

Journal

Dear Friend,

Much has happened in my life for the past six weeks. And today, I can finally type my own blog post. The last article was drafted in June actually. The draft and the two guest posts helped me when I needed it. Thank you for your articles, Katja and Breanne, and I thank the Lord for His perfect time. If you haven’t read Katja’s personal writing journey and Breanne’s TCK article on citizenship, please do so.

Currently, I have a mountain of writing projects and non-writing related tasks waiting for me. I’ll thus be posting blog articles twice a month starting from this week. If I can’t, I’ll post as and when I’m able to. Here are quick updates on where I am in my journey:

Writing

I’ve returned to blogging, and Book F (written to maintain contact with my close friends). God willing, I may resume my fiction projects after I completed several letters for Book F. Other than that, I’ve resumed drafting articles to be submitted to other channels.

TCK Email Ministry

It’s continuing as usual by God’s grace. Any other update will be sent through the emails. Although they’re for Christian TCKs, any Christian would find them applicable. You can read sample letters here. If you want to receive emails every month, you can register here.

Content Editing Lessons

The editing lessons I’ve been taking taught me significantly in both crafting and editing. Also, I’ve been reading other writers’ projects, and giving them tips to help improve their craft. I subsequently learned a lot from all of these, especially from my mistakes. Funny how that works.


And there you have it folks! How about you? How are you doing in your journey? And do you need me to pray for you?



Very Sincerely Yours,
Clarissa Choo Choo Train

P.S. You may be wondering why I post in letter format. I started using Dear Friend and Very Sincerely Yours in the letters I wrote to my close friends (Book F). Then I decided to use the format in my blog, and articles published elsewhere.



~

Clarissa is a vessel used for Christ’s glory. Although she’d lived in four countries, Heaven is her only Home. She desires to sow His seeds, and to serve third culture kids, teens, and writers. Peek into her Christian TCK Email Ministry. Or read more posts.

Guest Post: Trust God With Your Writing Journey

Guest Posts, Writer's Articles

Dear Friend,

Welcome aboard as we chug on this writing journey of our guest writer and friend, Katja H. Labonté!



I always was fascinated by words. I loved books all my life. Learning to read was hard for me, though, but after I learned how to read in French I taught myself some in English, and then my mother taught me how to read and spell—a disheartening and difficult process! I started making up stories as a child, thinking up and narrating the happenings and backstory of my dolls. It wasn’t long before I graduated to making up stories in my head and telling them to myself. It was a lot longer before I actually wrote my stories down, though. Believe it or not, I was an atrocious speller and it frustrated me that I couldn’t spell the words in my head. So for the longest time, I simply copied down, word for word, lengthy passages from other books and strung them together into a story, with my own misspelled words tucked in between to lead from one to another. I kept up that habit until I was all of sixteen years or so.

My first story written all out of my head was a little story entitled Louis, or, the King’s Great Favour which I wrote for a short story contest in a magazine. I then wrote a second story strongly based off the first called The Sowing, which was essentially the same characters and setting, just a different storyline. The second story I ever wrote out of my head was an attempt at a novel named Mary Lacey. I got through three chapters and abandoned it at chapter four because I couldn’t figure out what kind of wallpaper my character would have on her wall. I still have all or most of that story left, as well as some story notes. It wasn’t all bad; I still have a very soft spot for two of the characters. ;P

I was about 12 at this point, and here was where I met a girl who was four years older than me and writing actively—real novels as well as short stories. I made this girl my model and determined I would be just like her. So I started writing. My first project was a short story collection of about 20 stories set during the Scottish War for Independence against England (I was obsessed with Sir William Wallace and Scotland at the time—not that much has changed, haha). I then started a 5-book series set in France during the First World War. My model had started a blog where she posted all sorts of writing advice and tips, and I did everything she said that I could do. I experimented with character questionnaires and outlines and all sorts of writerly tricks. I had a lot of ideas. But unfortunately, I could never get my stories much further than 5,000 words. 14,000 was a real miracle when it happened once. 12,000 was my highest goal.

And this was a problem, because my model was involved in National Novel Writing Month and churning out 50,000 words in a month. I really wanted to do NaNo. I was really obsessed with that. I also really wanted to write 50k in a month. And I really wanted to self-publish a novel, because my model self-published two.

By then I was following quite a few authors and writers and still learning a lot and picking up a lot of information. That hateful, alluring NaNo was everywhere, as were the 50k, 60k, and even 70k word counts. And here I was with my puny 500-12,000 word stories, which the authors dismissed as “short stories” or “flash fiction.” Not even “novellas.”


Writing became an obsession.



I neglected my chores, neglected my family, neglected everything except writing. I was very touchy about my writing, bursting into tears and bitterness whenever anyone questioned it or threatened my writing time. My attitude was pretty stinky. I was very bitter because my life wasn’t as good as all those other lucky authors. I was just plain envious and sulky and depressed. Especially during November—NaNoWriMo time. I was a solitary writer, too. My family and friends sometimes knew a little about my writing, and sometimes they read it and praised it, but overall, I was alone. But I kept writing, because it did make me happy. I kept participating in writing challenges and got so excited when people commented about my stories. At one point I had an email thread where I sent monthly updates of my writing to various family and friends, and sometimes they answered. Once I even won a writing contest. I got one unfinished novella of over 15,000 words. Another finished one of over 14,000. My short stories did get onto the internet at one point when a blogger posted them on her blog, and people liked them. I kept meeting new writers online.

I’m not sure when exactly, but at one point I began to follow Amanda Tero. The first post from her blog that I ever read was this one. Ow. That hit hard. I knew it was exactly what I needed, though I didn’t like it—at all. Being the people-loving person I am, I went and read all her blog archives… and fell upon this post. That one hit even harder. In my heart, I knew that was me and I knew I should also give my writing up and stop making it such a god to me. But I did not want to give up my writing. So I kept on, in spite of the hurt and anger.

Again, I don’t know when. But finally, I began to let go of my writing, slowly. I began to admit that it was okay if my story wasn’t like other writers’. I began to see that I didn’t have to be like my model. I was I, and she was she, and we both had our own lives and God had put me where I was for a reason. I began to allow that there was more to life than writing. In short,


I finally gave my writing back to God.



November was still very hard for me. But overall, I was happier and healthier. I kept learning all I could. I kept writing. But I had finally learned that it was okay that I was different.

Around this time I participated in the Young Writers’ NaNoWriMo and wrote an 18k novella, which made me really happy. Adding to that a ton of short stories, I ended up with over 40k written in a month. Which made me very happy. The next spring, a writer I knew invited me to her Camp NaNo virtual cabin. That April, I wrote 40,682 words in 30 days, and it was all on the same story, Chords, which was not even finished. The odd thing with Chords was that it was the first time I really tackled a tough, real topic—hanging on to hope when there seemed no hope left.


After all my silly little stories, God laid a real message on my heart and I shared it. And it felt so good to finally write for Him instead of for me and just kind of toss Him in as an afterthought. 



My dazzling goal of 50k in one month was suddenly much closer. I had a story which I thought was good enough to publish, as well as real fangirls and a writing club. I kept writing until I was at 45,000+, and then I hit a wall. I couldn’t figure out how to end it. Two of my friends offered to alpha-read it. When I got their responses, I was crushed. My beautiful baby wasn’t good enough to be published yet and was crammed full of flaws. I was angry, bitter, and discouraged. Instantly I dropped the story and quit writing. I kept half-heartedly saying that I needed to finish it, but never did until in May or June of that year (2019) a sweet friend offered to read my book and give me some encouragement. I woke up the following morning to a ton of compliments and fangirly comments. I was so happy—but still didn’t have the courage to fight through my disappointment and pick the book back up.

For Camp NaNo July, I went back to the same cabin and started a random short story. Inspiration left as suddenly as it came. I slogged on for a while, and then suddenly decided to finish Chords. My goal was to reach 45,000 and my dream was fulfilled—Chords ended up 46,526 words.

At this time, too, I posted a short story to a blog, and a well-known indie author liked it so much she requested me to publish it so she could review it that December. Of course, I complied and unofficially published it by making the PDF available on my website. In December, true to her promise, she reviewed it on her blog. I was thrilled. The story even ended up on Goodreads!!

I was supremely happy. My old dreams were coming true. I had a (sort of) published book, I had a fan club, I had almost reached my dream of a 50,000 word book. And that’s when God decided to bless me even more.

I randomly began a flash fiction one night. From a 1k goal it snowballed to over 19,000 words. By then November was near, and NaNo was looming up. I decided to finish Broken for NaNo. 

And Broken did it. We passed 30k—40k—50k—60k—and raced on to almost 90k. My dreams were realized. I wrote over 50,000 words in less than 30 days, and I wrote a complete novel that had passed my higher goal: 70,000 words.

Oh, God was so good. With this story, He hit one of the biggest of my problems: bitterness. I was an intensely bitter person. My MC was as well. And as I wrote my MC’s story to forgiveness and letting things go, I realized I also had to do the same.


And God helping me, I began to let go of my bitterness. 



I kept puttering around with stories. Chords had some sequels lined up and I was working on that. Then June rolled around and NaNoWriMo began to push unbiblical lifestyles and opinions so hard that I deleted my account and wrote a post in protest. As a result, many Christian authors banded around me and my friends on this issue and we ended up creating a virtual writing camp for Christian girls/ladies.

And then suddenly (are you noticing a pattern yet?) I had an idea for a story. My friends pushed me to write it, so I wrote out the outline and a couple scenes. Then I went back to the beginning and started to write out the story.

This story, The Colour Red, was my hardest yet. It kept driving me back to the Bible to study things. It tackled a message that God had been laying on my heart for a long time: stop judging people based on their job, or their nationality, or their looks. It made me cry with pain and grief and happiness.

It had lots of fangirls but it also created some issues/conflict when some friends disagreed with major parts of the book (driving me back to the Bible). But with this story and its sequels, God made the puzzle pieces snap in place for Chords and its sequels, which for a long time had had an issue that had been troubling me.


The story ended up at 65,000+ words. But by then, size didn’t matter as much as the message. My stories weren’t about me anymore. They were about my God. 



As a young writer, I read a lot of posts about “advice to young writers” and “advice to my younger self.” This is my advice to my younger self and to young writers:


Let go and let God.

Surrender.



When you surrender your writing into God’s hands, He takes you further than your wildest dreams. He fulfills your unexpressed desires. He teaches you more than you ever bargained for. He blesses so much when we just trust and obey.

So quit fighting Him. Surrender your writing into His hands. It hurts, I know. But it’s so worth it. I don’t know where He’ll take you. But I know that when you follow the Lord, He leads your to the exactly best place for you.

Because our God is good.


So trust Him with your writing journey just as much as you trust Him with your life journey. 




~

Image by Katja H. Labonté

Katja H. Labonté is a child of God with a deep love for words, an extreme bibliophile who devours over 365 books in a year, and an exuberant writer with a talent for starting short stories that explode into book series. She is a bilingual French-Canadian, which she finds both a challenge and a blessing, but her name is Scandinavian and causes some interesting difficulties… while francophones are always thinking it’s misspelled, anglophones can’t pronounce it at all. But she loves how it looks when it is hand-written, so she doesn’t complain too often. 

She was homeschooled all her life the Charlotte Mason way and is currently studying copyediting at an online university, which gives her both heart-eyes happiness and hair-pulling frustration. She’s a history nerd with strong British attachments and old-fashioned leanings, and she has many favourite things and loves to talk about them to anyone who’s long-suffering enough to listen. Among these darling things are milk chocolate, heirlooms, calligraphy, grammar & punctuation, laughter, tearjerking books, lists, organized bookshelves, roses, flowing skirts, hymns, and pretty much anything old-fashioned, beautiful, and classy. (Also ampersands.) She also has about a dozen topics she’s excessively passionate about and she longs to tell more people about (hint: that’s why she writes books and blog posts). 

She lives in Canada & spends her days enjoying little things, growing in faith, learning life, & loving people. 

(Updated) Accepting My Slow Writing

Journal, Writer's Articles

Dear Friend,

If I had a weakness as a writer, it would be my slow writing. For a new novel’s first draft, no matter how fast I type, it would take me several months to complete. That is, without pausing to go back and edit. Additionally, considering I write several hours a day, this is awfully slow.

The irony is that I have a typing speed of 90-100 NWPM. Well, copying a paragraph for an online speed test differs from actual writing. The latter involves thinking and transforming ideas into words. And for me, I think slowly. My fingers follow suit. It’s a sluggish process. At least, slower than writers in general.

As a fiction writer, I write slow for first drafts because I plan and brainstorm ten steps ahead while I write. Although I usually have ideas and general outlines before drafting, my stories naturally change along the way. But for drafts after the first, I tend to write them faster than the first. Whereas, as a non-fiction writer, I write somewhat faster than fiction, specifically for snippets of my life (Book F). Because I knew what had happened in my life.

How about doing short pieces like a blog article?

Most posts take me hours to draft, and another day to edit it with a fresh mind. The reason is that I tend to think of each phrase. I did write a few articles within thirty minutes (e.g. My Home Is Not Here). However, rare posts like those occur in the spur of a moment.

My process takes significant energy from me. Hence, I would be mentally exhausted after one blog post. From a business perspective, this meant my input is greater than my output. Which may or may not be good. Of course, quality is better than speed. But I’ve written poorly with slowness too. From my view (and probably most writers), the ideal writing process would be low energy input with high-quality output.

At times, I’m disheartened by my slowness. Especially when I give much of myself into a piece, and coming out wondering if it’s worth it.

However, God made something good out of it. He taught me to endure, persevere, and be patient. I searched their definitions from Merriam-Webster (2020):


Endurance
“the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity.”


Perseverance
“continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” 


Patient
“bearing pains … calmly or without complaint”,
“not hasty or impetuous”


Their meanings are rather similar, aren’t they? These are attitudes I’m continuously trying to have. To be more like Christ. On top of that, slowness helped me to be humble, and to trust His timing.

I have a question for you before I finish:


Does it matter to Him if we write slow or fast?

You probably know the answer. It doesn’t. We tend to compare ourselves with other writers who write fast and complete quality projects. But their journey is between them and God. As how your journey is between you and Him. He desires you to give your all, your best to Him (Col. 3:23-24).


“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”

2 Corinthians 10:12 KJV



Very Sincerely Yours,
Clarissa Choo-Choo Train

P.S. I recently encountered another slow writer while I drafted this post (you know who you are). I’m not sure if this is relatable as yours may be a different cause. Nonetheless, thanks for reading.


References:
Endurance. 2020. In Merriam-Webster.com.
Retrieved August 8, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/endurance
Patient. 2020. In Merriam-Webster.com.
Retrieved August 8, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/patient#h1
Perseverance. 2020. In Merriam-Webster.com.
Retrieved August 8, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/perseverance



~

Clarissa is a vessel used for Christ’s glory. Although she’d lived in four countries, Heaven is her only Home. She desires to sow His seeds, and to serve third culture kids, teens, and writers. Peek into her Christian TCK Email Ministry. Or read more posts.

I Wanted to Give Up

Journal, TCK's Articles, Writer's Articles

Dear Friend,

Ever since I started writing seriously two years ago, I’ve entered a battle. Well, a Christian’s battle begins the day they’re saved. Specifically, this relates to writing. One side is the work God wants me to do. The other side is the devil urging me to quit. Both sides have intensified as I continue writing. God wants me to take challenges beyond my craft level, and the latter became louder and stronger. On top of the battle, I’ve been recently struggling to accept that I can’t escape grief in life.

I thought of giving up. I could close my email ministry, delete this blog, delete all my drafts, and stop writing. I didn’t want to move anymore and just stay in one place. But these doesn’t solve anything. Yet, I want to continue for Him. Writing wasn’t my decision initially. My choice was to obey Him.

I was at the verge of breaking when He used a friend, a sermon, and His Word:


“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”

Psalm 91:1 KJV



It was also the whole chapter of Psalm 91. While the battle is on, I trudge on a narrow path up the mountain. But I’m at peace in the midst. I’m at peace because He’s my Refuge, my Fortress, my Habitation, my Deliverer, my Protector, my Shield, my Buckler, my God and my Saviour. I’m at peace I’m under His shadow and His wings. When He’s silent, I won’t fear because


“…he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

Hebrews 13:5 KJV



Now, I’m living with the Lapidary’s hand cutting and shaping me, the fire refining me, and the hammer beating me. This will last for the rest of my life. And as long as a Christian is doing God’s work, the opposition opposes.

The adversary is a roaring lion that wants us to quit because he hates it when God is glorified through a serving vessel (1 Peter 5:8). It’s a battle we go through each day, fighting against the devil’s shoutings. The devil even uses other people to discourage us.

Therefore, make sure you’re wearing the whole armour (Ephesians 6:11-18); continue to trust Him, and He’ll give you strength and peace (Psalm 29:11). Remember, Christ has already won the battle.


“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 KJV



Thus, if He wants me to go through this, I shall continue until I reach Home. The opposition can’t hurt me because my soul’s secured by my Author.


“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:2 KJV



Very Sincerely Yours,
Clarissa Choo-Choo Train


~

Clarissa is a vessel used for Christ’s glory. Although she’d lived in four countries, Heaven is her only Home. She desires to sow His seeds, and to serve third culture kids, teens, and writers. Peek into her Christian TCK Email Ministry. Or read more posts.