A Time to Plan, A Time to Harvest

The moment I hit the send button, I knew I’d fallen off the wagon; the wagon of planning and harvesting. Last week I sent out the same blog, “Move On, So God Can Use You” twice. I knew that it had been posted, but when I noticed it in the draft box of WordPress, I thought oops, I didn’t hit send. Yet, I had.

Then I realized I had not implemented or followed through with the advice I’d gathered over the last few months, if so I wouldn’t have skipped a week of posting or sent the same post twice. Proverbs 11:14 indicates that without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances (The Message). And I try to seek good counsel that helps me continuously sharpen my saw, such as creating an18-month plan to pursue my career goals.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, she suggests making an 18-month plan for your workplace goals. But I don’t have a permanent workplace, so my new skill as a writer, speaker, and adjunct lecturer is applying for grants, fellowships, and residencies. Nick Flynn, author of The Ticking is the Bomb, also recommended I apply to and accept as many invitations as possible.

This new skill requires planning and research. When I begin to research, I’m consumed. This can be good and bad. The good part: being invested in the project. The bad part: forgetting my other responsibilities and deadlines. In order to stay focused, I started, but did not complete, an editorial calendar for angchronicles, suggested by Michael Nichols’s grow on purpose. He suggests creating an editorial calendar to write consistently and regularly. If I’d followed through, I would not have sent that blog twice—can you tell I’m annoyed? More than annoyed, I’m convicted, according to Proverbs 15:22 “refuse good advice and watch your plans fail; take good counsel and watch them succeed.” I failed to set up an editorial calendar, and for the last few blog posts I’ve stayed up all night writing it. Ugh.

Another useful harvesting tool, I’ve acquired, but haven’t put into action is changing my writing habit. In Writer Unboxed it is suggested that if you are a slow writer, I am, then write drafts faster. For me this is not so easy. But to gather more crops, I have to speed up.

I’m planning to harvest advice, so my crops will be fruitful and ripe, not repetitive and stale. 

Do you have some helpful advice?

Today’s Prayer:

Father, Send us wise counsel, teach us to listen, and remain diligent as we plan, fail, plan, succeed, fail, and plan some more.


Why are you following me?

Thursday morning a student asked, “Ms. H, do you teach 102 in the fall?”

“Summer session,” I said.

“Why not the fall?” the student asked.

I said, “Tenure-track and full-timers have priority.  I could teach eight o’clock.”

Another student said, “I’ll register for that class if you’re teaching.”

I grimaced. Why did these students keep following me from remedial, freshman composition, to introduction to literature? I had students in past semesters do the same. I’d encouraged them to try another instructor, get a different writing perspective.

Yet, many, at least 15% continued registering for my class, and showing up enthusiastically, despite my strict rules, tough grading, and excess writing assignments. It was as if we had a continuous relationship.

I confess at the beginning of each semester my introduction goes something like this: “This is a sixteen week relationship. You’ll check out my style of teaching, I’ll check out your style of learning. You will either like what happens in this classroom or despise it. Either way I don’t care. It’s possible you’ll think I’m crazy. I am. Just to clear things up, I’m weeding out the deadbeats; I dislike all my students equally. However, if you are unhappy with my technique, withdraw and withdraw early, so you can get your money back.

Later Thursday night, I metamorphosed into a student. The professor and I walked across campus chatting about the AWP Conference while heading toward her office to discuss my manuscript critiques.

One the first day of this class, Building the Novel, five out of nine students had sat under the tutelage of Elizabeth Elasmi, author of Bone Worshipping, last semester. I refused to another class with the same instructor. What more could she teach the second time around? However, nine weeks into our student-teacher relationship, Elizabeth, aka Liz, had challenged my craft, pushing me out of my comfort zone.  When I pushed back, she did, too, gingerly.

As an instructor, when students pushed back saying, “I didn’t learn that in high school.” I leaned in, not so, delicately. “Learn or stay where you are. Every class should take you to a new level.” And many rose to the task using language, crafting sentences, and researching topics they had moaned about. Simultaneously, as a postgraduate I emulated the undergrads hungry for more, energized with each comment the instructor placed on my paper. How can I improve? ( Note: this hunger applies to a small percentage.)

Liz and I convened in her office. She opened the manila folder and discussed three pages of notes regarding my manuscript. “Good structure, great tension. Description of food leaps off the page.” She talked about my characters in real time, explaining what character fell to the background, needed more development and were magnetic.

“Angela, normally a first draft lacks structure; however, your novel has structure. I suggest revision focus on craft like the pieces you’ve crafted in class.”

Her genuine interest in my project, in my skill titillated me. Previously, I’d wrestled with boredom in writing workshops anxious to bolt out the door. I enjoyed studying with Liz, I told her so. I had planned to enroll in one more class with her in the fall.

I guess this is why at least 15 percent of my students follow me from class to class. I care about how their writing extends beyond the classroom into every day life, future projects and other classes. I tell them so, honestly and truthfully. “It’s important to know how to communicate in writing.” I do not burden them with busy work, every assignment links to another assignment. I don’t teach what i think they should know, but what they don’t understand. I lift their spirits after placing a D on their essay, saying, “Next time slow down, proofread.” and asking, “What stumps you in the writing the content or the mechanics?”

When I think of them and how long I’ve wrestled with writing, I laugh at God’s sense of humor.  In the fourth grade, I dreamed of living in a log cabin and writing novels, yet, I did not plan, hope or desire to stand in front of a classroom and teach. Perhaps, this is my learning method: to teach and learn twice.

God knew I needed a double dose, after all Proverbs 16:3 and 9 states, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans,” and “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

Do you trust that God knows what’s best for you?

A Writer’s Buffet

A Writer’s Buffet

Sometimes you have to step out on faith and out of your comfort zone. That’s what happened this past weekend as I packed my suitcase, filled my gas tank and headed to Boston for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference and Book Fair.

Although excited to attend, trepidation set in days before departure. How should I strategize? What was my purpose? In September, I attended a conference strictly for fiction writers—I planned two novel pitches for editors and agents, signed up for workshops, and paid for scheduled meals. However, 12,700 people versus 700 made a vast difference, as well as more than 100 panels to choose from and 700 exhibits to visit. At AWP, once you registered, you go where you want when you want—a writer’s buffet. (And buffets are my least favorite eatery, too many choices that aren’t always appetizing.)


The week before my adventure, my professor said, “I’m excited you’re going to the conference.  That type of setting is too large for me. I heard there’s lots of information that you will come home with.”

Later, a classmate said, “Be careful, you’ll spend all your money on books.”

The following Tuesday, two days before the conference, I queried two colleagues about AWP. One suggested attending the readings and another advised networking at the book fair.

Thursday morning, two hours before leaving, I tweeted AWP for first timers. Advice: don’t attend too many panels, get out of the conference hub and see the city sights, have a purpose.

Armed, I headed off sans expectations, unlike the September conference in which I expected to garner a book contract, rub shoulders with agents, and increase my writer’s circle. (I spent an entire rent check on that conference.) My goal spend no money, collect information regarding teaching, publishing and connect with black writers. As Rev. John Simon said from the pulpit, “When you have an opportunity be prepared although it’s preferably to be prepared even if there is no opportunity.”

And in three days, I did just that. At the teachers and women’s caucus I met creative writing program directors of two-year colleges, collected business cards and potential teaching positions. I also learned that two colleges are implementing AFA writing degrees.

Thursday evening, I scoped out the conference center. The book fair was on three levels and all the panels. I’m not good with maps, so I decided to wing it. Rucksack on my back, and tote bag in hand I whizzed through the first floor book fair collecting information and observing. A good nugget is wordnik, a fun online dictionary. After the woman’s caucus, I attended a reading and discovered Word Farm a Christian Literary Publishing Company. The business manager told me about Slant, another larger company. Next, I delighted in the words of master poets Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott. I teach Walcott’s poems. Two writing tips: poems come in the silence, and let the work surprise you. I skipped the after party.

On Friday, I hit the book fair at 9:30 a.m. I pitched my fiction and non-fiction ideas to magazine editors, acquisition editors and gathered sample magazine, literary journals, press guidelines, and catalogs.  This time my aim was to see if these outlets were a good fit for me. I learned that at the September conference—an editor, agent and publisher have to be a good fit for writer. I was not shy about asking for complimentary items. So many good books to buy, but I had to say no. Throughout the day, which ended at 10:30 that night, I prayed, “Lord, where do I go next.  What do you have for me here.”

In the hallway, I bumped into a young woman I had met at the Women’s caucus, we exchanged emails and she encouraged me to join VONA/Voices, one of the first writing workshops for writers of color. Another writer said at VONA they get us. No explanation needed. I took her card.


By three o’clock, I had a swollen head, one editor remembered an essay I had submitted two weeks earlier, and another editor requested a query. Now, nothing may come of it; however, the mere fact they were willing to listen and not brush me off was sensational.   While eating my homemade sandwich, I met Michael Warr, black poet from San Francisco. He’s working on a fabulous project about poetry and justice.

At 7:30 p.m., exhaustion kicked in. I exited the conference center and got on the Boston train. I had planned to walk the cobble stone streets, but the early morning snow morphed into slippery slush.

Saturday morning, I packed my suitcase, checked out and got lost driving to the conference center. A good thing, I ventured through the financial district, hit the seaport, and spotted a larger than life bottle of milk.


I returned to the conference. This time, I’d had enough. Three hours at the book fair and no panels was my limit.  Just like a buffet, there’s only so much you can digest.

This conference set this writer on fire.

Part 2: Making Room for God, From No Reservations to the Lakehouse Bed & Breakfast


Sweet home Alabama.

Now that I had arrived safely in Elba, Alabama, the next stop: Florala for a Friday night event, and then a Saturday drive to Panama City Beach. I had no clue of the distance between Elba, Florala and Panama City Beach, nor did I have hotel reservations in Florala when my mother said that’s too much driving.

At 4 p.m., we set off to reach our destination before nightfall sans a place to rest our head. Additionally, we waited for my cousin in Florala to call us back with directions and an address.

In the parking lot of Subways, I checked my telephone for hotels. One night stays, pricey.  Finally my cousin called with directions. I asked her about hotels and she paused.

“I didn’t know you had planned to stay,” cousin Hazel said. “I would invite you to sleep at my house, but I haven’t cleaned and I’m leaving early in the morning or Pensacola.“

I heard the trepidation in her voice. As the event planner, she needed to arrive at six, two hours before her guests. She said, “Come on, I’ll arrange a place for you to stay.”

“She’ll arrange a place at friend’s house,” my mother predicted.

“Maybe, she’ll let us sleep on the floor,” I said.

“It’s an adventure,” my mother said. “God’s in control.”

“I did fly first class, unexpectedly,” I said.

We set off standing on God’s promise.

I’ll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country. I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take,
 make sure they don’t fall into the ditch.
These are the things I’ll be doing for them—
sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute” (Isaiah 24:16, The Message).

Five minutes across the Florala city line, my cellphone rang. Hazel asked our location, afterwards she Elba florala WELCOME.instructed me to pull over. She parked next to us. After family hugs, she said, “Check-in is at 6:30 p.m.”

We followed Hazel to her home. A beautiful home with room enough to house us. Again we sat and chatted about distance relatives.  As a writer, Hazel and my mother told stories about family members that were characters in novel, a family saga. This reminded me of words of a famous author, “A good writer has a storyteller in the family.”

What a blessing to sit with two wise women with family stories, that I could fictionalize in a novel sequel.

Family storytellers.

Family storytellers.

At 6:20p.m., we headed to Lake House Bed & Breakfast. The owner welcomed
and escorted us to one king size bedroom and one queen on the first floor.


“The house is empty tonight,” he said. “Check out is 11 a.m. And what time would you like breakfast?”

I met Hazel in the hallway and asked if we should pay now or in the morning. She simply replied, “All has been taken care of. Just enjoy.”

My second God-sized gift in less than 48 hours.

lakehouse BTwo hours after lounging in the sitting room, sipping tea, Hazel returned to the Lake House and gave us a tour of Florala. Then pulled into the driveway of another cousin whom we hadn’t seen in a year.

I knocked on her door. She opened it and screamed, “My cousin from New York.” She slammed the door.

An impromptu family reunion; plans only God could have ordained.

Hooks Cousins

Hooks Cousins night out.

My mother and I by the lake Saturday morning.
My mother and I by the lake Saturday morning.

Faithwalk: The Hungry Writer Prepares for a Conference


The faithwalk. At this moment my walk is like a tightrope. My faith is like jumping off a cliff expecting a net to appear at any second before hitting the ground. Simply, I ‘m a bag of nerves as I begin preparing for the ACFW Conference—American Christian Fiction Writers. It has taken me a few years to get to this conference. And I have the jitters because the first conference 100 writers attended, last year 700. Imagine my trepidation as I mingle amongst the best-selling award-winning Christian Fiction Writers. Imagine my angst as I try to humbly pitch my novel ideas to editors, and make new writer friends. I’m not new to the writing life, but I’m resurrecting a new one.

I’ve been in the writing game for few decades. I’ve have not committed to a fiction or nonfiction category. Nonfiction has paid many bills; fiction has been tormented fun. However, I have committed to being a writer: one who writes. And over the years, I’ve prayed for the Lord to increase my circle of writers including Christ followers, and African Americans. Now don’t get me wrong the writer friends I have and writing groups that have embraced my writing, and me I respect and enjoy. Without them, I wouldn’t know I was writing Christian fiction, a young adult novel or even had potential to pursue writing. Hey this writing thing is tough business and with so many rejections, and so many more writers in the game it’s easy to want to give up.

A few nights ago, I said if this doesn’t pan out in three years, I’m becoming a truck driver. My friend laughed, and then said: “ Angel, you can’t even back up a U-haul truck.” He was right. I thought about that for a few days, and realized if I had as much gumption as Jacob, I couldn’t give up this struggle, until God said so.

I asked for this increase of writers for a closer connection. For example, a few years ago five writers sat down to read and listen to each other work. One lady read her essay about her hair. The other ladies applauded her hair to life metaphors.  Me, on the other hand, had questions about the logistics of the work. Why? I too was black, and could directly relate to hairstyling issues whereas the other ladies were not. The reader was most appreciative of our similar connection.

So, as the Lord began to expand my circle of writers I too became most appreciative of our connections. Take my story titled “Deliverance.” (Started as flash fiction, moved to short story, now in novella stage, I’m sure in a few days it will be a 50,000 word novel.) I digress. I submitted this piece to an online Christian group of writers—Scribes. These readers took note of the redemption, compared it to Hosea and Gomer, Ruth and Boaz. Then I passed the work along to an African American writer and she noted that in 1917 a few of my characters were not born, or in Harlem at that time. She questioned the language of one of the characters, “Really, who says ‘shall.’” She connected to the beauty parlor scenes and was perturbed at the sexual promiscuity of the protagonist. One of the Christian writer’s also commented on a sensual scene questioning, “Don’t you think that’s too risqué for a Christian audience?”

These comments alone make me anxious about my work, imagine as I sit at the table face to face with other writers and editors. Will I make good connections or will I choke? Will I come home with interested editors and book contract possibilities, new writing assignments or will I fail? I distinctly remember author Alice McDermott saying, at another conference: “If you can do anything other than write do it.” I should have thought about driving a truck then.

Since, we all know I’m not truck driving material, check out my post and pictures about the relationship with my car, I’m preparing for the conference with much to consider based on the First Time Orient Digest: a prayer room, the right pitch, editor meetings, one sheets, saying the right thing at meals, not being quiet, not talking too much, meeting and sustain friendships with other writers, business cards, chapters, workshops, comfortable shoes, casual business attire, and the final mantra: I did not waste my money attending this conference.

Well, I’m preparing to jump off the cliff and land in safety net.