Well, folks, I've been struggling. Sometimes I think that the outward struggle to write is related to the inward struggle of faith. The weaker I feel in Christ, the harder it is to write. I have to cling to the fact that He is strong in my weakness. And feelings just don't matter when it comes to God.

Whenever I have those times when I feel like I'm in that valley where I just don't "feel" God at all, I tend to say that I'm "walking through Egypt." (I probably got that from Clyde Edgerton's book Walking Across Egypt.) The point is, it's like being in a desert and looking for water. When I am able to say that I'm "walking through Egypt," it helps me to hold onto the faith that I will eventually get to the other side and that God and I will connect again; that I'll get to the top of the mountain and have that sweet communion that I just can't seem to grasp when I'm in the midst of seasons like this.

Despite the fact that I'm in a dry desert, pretty much alone, Egypt can have some really awesome moments. There is, in fact, mail delivery in the middle of my Egyptian desert. God sends me postcards. They're not letters, because they don't take long to "read," but they are little bitty "hellos" that God sends to remind me that I am never, ever alone.

This morning, I was driving to Atlanta Bread Company (where you should have figured out by now that I typically like to write on Fridays) in the middle of a good ol' Georgia spring rainstorm. I was just about to change the radio station when "East to West" by Casting Crowns came on. That song has meant a whole lot to me at various times, but a new line grabbed me today and, when it did, the tears just smacked the backs of my eyelids. "I'm not holding on to you, but your'e holding on to me." Even now, sitting here in ABC, my eyes are welling up. There just aren't words for what that spoke to me, what it's speaking to me now. That even in Egypt, when I feel so spiritually weak that I can hardly hold my head up, when I've fought and fought to see the face of God and felt like He's just not there (even though my head knows He is, my heart could use a good shot of Him), that even though my grip may slip, He's never going to let me go. Never. Feelings don't matter; truth does. And the truth is that God loves me so much that He will never let me go. Such love. Such love for me. Wow. I needed that love.

I especially needed it when the next song came on. (I got a two-for-one deal today.) Chris Sligh's "Empty Me." (Never realized he was on "American Idol." Huh. Learn something new every day...) I've been struggling lately with what God wants and what I want and how to tell the difference. I forget, sometimes, to lay my writing at God's feet and to say tell Him to have His way with it. I forget to let Him do the writing. I get a great idea and want to run with it. I get too many ideas and don't know what to do with them. I get overwhelmed and frustrated and in a hurry and... and... and...

And then I hear Chris Sligh on the radio:

"Empty me of the selfishness inside
Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride
And any foolish thing my heart holds to
Lord empty me of me so I can be filled with you."

Yes! Oh, yes! Sometimes it just makes sense. When it comes to this novel, when it comes to anything I write, even this blog, Lord, empty me and fill me with you. Take away my poisonous pride and fill me up with You and what You want. Pour Your words out, Lord, because You know where they are going and You know what You want to do with them. So when I get overwhelmed and I get confused and it all feels like too much, then "Lord, empty me so I can be filled with you."

I must warn you before I begin that there will be brutal honesty running amok in this post.

I must also tell you that whenever I hear the phrase "running amok" I flash back to my college days when my friends and I would pile into one dorm room to watch "Animaniacs." Yakko, Wakko, and Dot would often run around chanting, "Amok! Amok! Amok!" Sorry... I just had to share that.

Back in October, I typed the last word (pause for me to go roll on the floor in hysterical laughter) of my first novel. A little editing, a little tweaking, and I figured it was showtime! Let's get this baby into the hands of some waiting publishers! Well, that's what's called ignorance. Ignorance on the part of the new novelist. I'm raising my hand, because I'm guilty. For some reason (and I really do know better) I just assumed that my edited rough draft would be enough. Uh, no, darlin'. That's just an edited rough draft. Now the revision comes along.

Revision is a little bit like finding out that your baby novel needs a whole lot of amputations and transplants. Too many pages. Not enough conflict. The list goes on. I've spent about two months asking God what to do. Shorten or lengthen? Add or subract? New characters or old? I've never doubted that I've got the right story, but the telling has just never set well with me.

Well, Friday night a week ago, I woke up at straight-up midnight (how's THAT for some symbolism?) with a scene in my head. I didn't want Samantha to drag me out of bed to write her a scene, but I let her. And that led to a whole new round of praying: what is that particular scene all about? Because, I'll tell you... it changes everything.

Or does it? I was reading/working through Jeff Gerke's How to Find Your Story when God opened up the heavens and dropped TRUTH right onto the pages of my neon green notebook. This book that I've written? Ah, Jodie... that's book two. Samantha's story is much deeper, much harder, and it has to start before the first line of what you've written. See, Sam's started to figure it all out by the time the finished book opens. Poor girl, she's got to get dragged through the mud and to face some serious demons (in herself and in one other person) before she can even begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The reason I could never figure out what to do with the third third of the finished book is because it had nothing to do with what God wanted me to say. I just refused to hear Him tell me that the first six hundred times He tried. I wanted to do it my way (aka "the easy way").

So why'd God let me write book two first? Because Sam's story is personal to me. And He knew that--nine months ago--I would have dug in my feet and never, ever written what He is now asking me to write. I would have never set myself down in front of the computer and written one word. I'd have been as rebellious as they come, screaming at him that I wll absolutely not go there! My God is a smart God... He led me to this place gradually and when He knew I'd be willing.

So, now I know where I'm going. The signs are posted. And I'm excited again. I debated erasing all of my earlier waffling back-and-forth posts, but then I decided not to. I'm going to be as honest as possible about the writing process, even when it highlights my own arrogance, ignorance, and indecision. One thing God has taught me is that somewhere, somebody else is feeling the same way. It's nice to know you're not alone...

I feel stupid right about now.

Stupid and confused.

I wrote Going in Circles, which turned into a volume one called Stalling Out and half of a volume two called Going in Circles. Now I'm wondering if I'm a wimp and I shouldn't have just gone into the original mega-volume and found 30,000 words to chop, leaving it all one book. I don't know what to do, I don't seem to be getting any clear direction on it when I pray about it, and I'd like to pitch at Blue Ridge in two months, so I sort of need to figure this out right now! :-)

And then I started "studying the craft." I'm taking ACFW's "Unputdownable" class (Meredith Efken is awesome!) and I'm reading Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel. All of this makes me want to chunk what I've written so I can start it completely over. I'm starting to question the very things I loved about my book just a few weeks ago. Aargh!

Is too much knowledge a bad thing?

This is something I should have done, oh, nine hundred years ago. One of the benefits of ACFW and other writers' organizations is the critique group. Mine is made up of five wonderful women and me. I think I'm in love with them all already. Such sweet, wonderful women who share the ups and downs and nerves of writing! Yay!

I have stood in awe of these other five women this week (our first week of actually reading and critiquing each other's work). I never realized that I use the word "just" in every other sentence. I never realized that I can get a little bit adverb-happy, which is a bad thing. You'd think it'd be a downer to have someone look at your work and go, "Uhm, this is wrong," but it's actually the greatest thing that's happened to me as a writer. I mean that. I have no idea why I hesitated so long except that God has His timing and maybe, just maybe, He wanted the six of us together.

And yes, I know I used the word "just" in that sentence. It's okay sometimes!

Final word... if you are a writer and you are reading this, get your rear end out there and join a critique group. You can find one online, you can find one at Barnes and Noble, you might even be able to find one on Craigslist (thought I probably wouldn't recommend that particular avenue). Just do it. You'll wonder why it took you so long.

Okay, so there's this commercial on TV for men's hair coloring that just rakes on my nerves. In it, a guy strikes out with a beautiful young woman because he's "Mr. Graybeard." When she turns him down, the "announcers" chorus, "REEE-JEC-ted!"

Well, as much as I hate that commercial, I've been hearing that one word, spoken in that exact annoying way, in my head for a large part of the day. Why? I got my first rejection today. Agent #2 declined to represent me.

Am I bothered? Honestly, not at all. I told my husband that I actually feel like a "real" writer now because I've had a rejection. Silly, isn't it? But it feels good to get the first one out of the way. I knew it was coming. I knew no one gets an instant and enthusiastic "YES" to their work. Rejection is part of the writing life, and it's almost cool to get the first one. Almost.

I also have a serious, deep-down peace about it. This was definitely not my agent. God let me know that the instant I got the email. This was not His direction. I'm good with that. I want to be spot in the middle of his path and it's okay that this agent wasn't it.

Besides, I have a bonus awesome thing that one of my very best friends in the world said to me on Friday. She made my year. Ready? She recently read my book to content critique it for me and she said I made her cry. That tripped me slam out. (Of course, she was pregnant and hormonal at the time, but still...) I love her for telling me that...