On Writing in Public

Awhile back, I started a series for writers, or maybe more accurately for people who want to be writers but haven’t done a lot of actual writing. I intended to post every week but then I got into a course about blogging and decided to redesign and rehost my blog … more on that later. This design is temporary, and I’m excited about what is to come. Meanwhile I’m adding the next post in my “stop thinking about writing” series. Step one was Write Every Day. Step two, Write With a Plan. Next…

#3: Write in Public

Get your words out there. Our world today is so full of opportunities to write publicly, there is no excuse not to. We live in the age of the internet and social media, where expressing yourself in a public setting is only as difficult as a tweet, Instagram, status update, or blog post. Pick a public medium and start writing. You can write on Facebook if you feel safer posting so only friends and family can see it, but I prefer something more public than that. On Twitter, you must express your thoughts in 280 characters or less. I find that is enough for a complete, fully developed thought, including hashtags, usually without abbreviations. It was a little more difficult back when the limit was 140 characters, but still possible. You can also start a blog and write several paragraphs on your chosen topic. If you choose to write on Twitter, I’d recommend tweeting at least once a day. If you blog, once a week is usually enough. 

Other ways to write publicly include freelance writing, posting stories in author forums, joining a community writing group, or even commenting regularly on someone else’s writing blog. The Books and Such blog has a whole community of writers that regularly react with their posts. Whatever you choose, commit to be consistent. You will discover and hone your voice through public interaction even faster than by writing in secret.

Grow your tribe. As you write more and more publicly, you will begin to gather some people who relate to your words and your voice. You may have friends and family who read what you write simply because they love you. You may be involved with groups in your community who will relate to your writing. There will be others you may not even know yet, who appreciate what you have to say and how you say it. You may connect with other writers through a variety of mediums and circumstances. You may find a niche among people who love the same things you do. There are some people who call this growing a platform or an audience, and those are both good words. I prefer another popular term for this process: growing your tribe.

Your tribe will become invaluable during your writing process. They will be your first readers, your free editors and proofreaders, your sounding boards, and your cheerleaders. Sometimes they may even be your harshest critics, whose words haunt you and compel you to write better and overcome obstacles in your path to success. They keep you accountable whether or not you ask them to. In those times when writing is the last thing you want to do, someone in your tribe will ask, “How’s your book going?” or “Have you blogged lately?” 

Once you give your words wings and send them out into the world, your tribe will be the jet stream that carries them farther than you can yourself. If your books are published traditionally, they will buy them enthusiastically and send you pictures of them on the shelf. If you go the self-published route, they will post about your books on social media and review them on review sites. They will read and comment on your blog, and possibly share it with others. They will do marketing for you because they love you and what you have to say, and you can’t put a price on that.

Your tribe may start out small, only twenty people or so, or if you are an influencer your tribe may already be very large. Either way you should seek to grow your tribe whenever you can. 

Get comfortable with discomfort. Ah, comfort. We seek it out in our houses, our relationships, our food. Comfort is an old friend, a warm blanket, a relaxing soak at the end of a long day. It goes hand in hand with security and often is one of the most important things in our lives. It can be so important to us that we choose it at our own expense, whether it costs us time, money, effort, or even success. 

Some success gurus out there preach that comfort is the great enemy, that success always lies outside our comfort zones, that comfort should be abandoned in the pursuit of excellence. However, for many of us, comfort is the desired object of our lives. So does it really make sense to abandon it in order to achieve it?

Sometimes.

Comfort is not the enemy of success. It can be our motivation for success. But along that path, we may find that we need to give up some momentary comforts in order to clear the path that leads to what we really want. So take a look at some comfortable things that might be holding you back from writing. How many of those things are within your control? Focus your efforts on changing what you can control and change, because it’s a waste of time and mental energy to fret about what you can’t. Do you need to make a mindset adjustment, or find a new environment to write, or maybe give up one hobby or activity in your life in order to dedicate more time to writing?

Next, consider what you have refused to do in the past. Fill in the blank: “I’m not a _____ person.” Why not? What is your reason for not doing something? Is it a legitimate reason, or just stubbornness? Sometimes if you choose to do that thing you don’t do, you find something you’ve been needing to do for a long time. In the past few years I’ve started challenging myself to take on some of those things I’ve always refused to do. Once, I did planks every day for a month. I did burpees every day for a week. I added push-ups and jumping jacks to my daily workout. I made Rice Krispie treats, and they were delicious. I made pie, and pizza, and lasagna, and pretty cakes. I got on Pinterest, and that certainly changed my life. I even joined Planet Fitness after swearing for years I would never join a gym and laughing at anyone who suggested it. We get so comfortable with all the things we say no to. I’m not suggesting that you say yes to everything. But maybe, every once in awhile, say yes to something.

I’ve embraced discomfort as a necessary part of the pursuit of my dreams. I’ve known people who simply told me they were comfortable with who they were and the life they lived, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Contentment is a valuable quality. But if you dream of being something more than what you are today, you must get comfortable with discomfort. Writing in public may be uncomfortable at first. Sometimes writing can feel like bleeding your soul onto a page. Letting someone else read those words takes vulnerability and courage. It may be uncomfortable, but it is necessary. Take a step outside your comfort zone, and then another, and another, and soon you may find yourself traveling the road toward your dreams.

More On Time

Time is a concrete absolute. Minutes pass, the sun changes position in the sky, seasons change and time marches on. Lately I’ve noticed how fluid and subjective our perception of time is. We’re so familiar with this concept that it’s built into our language. Time flies when you’re having fun. That line took forever to move. I lost track of time. Continue reading “More On Time”

On Film Scores

I like to listen to film scores while I write. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. They’re dramatic and usually instrumental so they inspire dramatic thoughts without a lot of distraction from lyrics. I mean, I love lots of music and lots of artists, including Adele and Josh Groban and Pentatonix and Rend Collective, but there’s a time and a place for those. (Adele: Sad love stories. Josh Groban: Angsty love stories. Pentatonic: Fun. Rend: Spiritual thoughts. You get the idea?) Film scores are good general writing music to block out the silence of home or whatever annoying stuff they’re playing at Starbucks. Continue reading “On Film Scores”

On Exercise

One decision really can change your life.

Notice I said it can, not that it will. I’ve made lots of decisions, only to fail in the follow through. Last year, however, I made a decision that I stuck to with commitment and determination, and it really has changed my life. I decided to start exercising.

Let me be clear: I hated exercise. It was hard, it hurt for days later, and I’m really clutzy and uncoordinated, so just figuring out how to do exercises the right way is a real challenge. But I didn’t like the fact that it was hard to carry my 18-month-old son up and down the stairs in our house, and that I couldn’t walk around the block without huffing and puffing. I also hated my jeans size and my arms. Most of all I hated my arms. My arms were the breaking point. Maybe no one else noticed, but to me they looked like unsightly blobs just sort of hanging off my shoulders. Not pretty.

Toward the end of May, I saw one of those 30-day challenge things in my Facebook newsfeed. You were supposed to join this event and do three exercises (squats, push-ups, and leg lifts) every day and BOOM, you’d have toned arms, abs, and legs for a summer of shorts, tank tops, and swimsuits. So here’s the one decision I made: I decided I hated my arms more than I hated exercise. I didn’t do anything drastic. I didn’t join a gym, or even that event. There was an image that had a calendar and three exercises for every day. So I stole the image (yep. I did) and committed to it. I’d heard it takes 21 days to form a habit so I thought if I exercised every day for a month maybe I’d just keep exercising for the rest of my life and create a healthier existence for myself.

It started off easy enough, something like 10 squats, 10 leg lifts, and a couple pushups. To be clear, at that point in my life I couldn’t do one pushup. I tried. Not even one. I could do a few of the girly modified ones from my knees, so that’s where I started. And oh my, I hated it. I hated it every day for a month. I remember thinking that 21 days is not long enough for me to form a habit, because I did it for 21 days straight and still hated it and would have happily given it up. But I was starting to see results. My arms didn’t look so bad. My waist was coming back. I don’t wear shorts, but I could have and not been totally self-conscious. I thought it might be worth it to keep going and see if I could maybe get back into my smaller jeans. The challenge was to get up to 100 squats, 100 leg lifts, and 40 pushups by the end of June, and I didn’t do that. I leveled off at 50, 50, and 20. I was motivated, but not that motivated! After a couple months I started getting bored so I added in some videos a couple days a week, and a few more exercises. Like burpees. I don’t know why I started doing burpees, and I still hate them, but I can do them and they seemed like a decent challenge so I kept doing them.

After about three months, I woke up one morning and realized I don’t hate exercising anymore. It’s been a year now, and I think I kind of like it. I exercise in the morning, before my kids wake up, because I just can’t do it when they’re around. I’ve tried and it’s impossible. And I never exercise for more than half an hour because that seems excessive. I have friends who do the gym thing and that’s cool. I don’t want to see other people working out and I don’t want them to see me, and I don’t like equipment or monthly fees, and occasionally I can be highly self-motivated, so I just keep doing the home thing. I mix it up, talk to friends or look on the internet to find ways to change my routine when I get bored. I have a yoga app (FitStar Yoga) that I really like and use a few times a week, and I just started a new app (the 7 Minute Workout Challenge) that is going well so far. Just this morning I did 10 real pushups and I felt like a rock star. And although I’ve slacked off here and there during the holidays or when I had the flu, for the most part I continue to get up and do my morning exercise routine about 3-5 times a week. A year later, I can carry my kids around and lift cases of water in the grocery store, I’m wearing smaller jeans, I’ve lost maybe five pounds, and I don’t hate my arms. Success!

Sometimes all it takes is one decision, with commitment and follow-through, to change your life. What are some decisions you have made? Or need to make?

On Being the Master of My Domain

As I’m sure you all know, I’m naturally a humble, unassuming person, even quiet and shy at times. (And if you really know me, you’ll know there is some sarcasm in that statement, too. But it’s mostly true. Or partially true. Sometimes) But there are times in life when it becomes necessary to say, Hey look at me! I’m awesome! For me, this is one of those moments. Because I have registered a domain name. See it there at the top of the page? www.allisonduke.com. See it? Awesome, right? Now all I need is an awesome website to go with it. And maybe something to sell. Like a book, or editing services, or something like that. Oh and maybe I should blog more often. Yeah. That would be good.

So there you go. Tell all your friends. And if anyone wants to volunteer to help me figure out the awesome website part, please email me or comment below. 🙂

On Christmas Music

So far this year, nothing makes me feel more grinchy than Christmas music on the radio. I love Christmas, and I love Christmas music. Well, most of it. There are a few songs that I just don’t like, and most of them would fall into the category of “Christmas classics.” The worst of these offenders is that old-timey hit from Burl Ives, Holly Jolly Christmas. Every time the fuzzy-vinyl recording starts up (which is every time I have the radio on in the car, even if I’m just driving ten minutes to the grocery store) I have to turn it off. Even my four-year-old daughter knows I hate that song. She asked me about it the other day.

This is not a rant against the secularization or commercialization of Christmas. It’s nothing as anti-cultural or sanctimonious as that. This is all about my personal preference. One of the Christian radio stations I listen to starts playing non-stop Christmas music at the beginning of November, and the other one I listen to started it last weekend. And when it comes to Christian contemporary music, these stations have a good thirty years of songs to pick from. There are always several new Christmas albums from Christian artists that come out every year. So why is it that just because it’s Christmas, they feel the need to suddenly start playing these seasonal classics that have nothing to do with Christ? If I wanted to listen to mainstream Christmas music, including those awful vinyl recordings of Silver Bells and White Christmas as well as stupid newer songs like All I Want For Christmas Is You, I could listen to a mainstream station. They’re playing all those songs, too.

Holly Jolly Christmas isn’t the only song I turn off every time I hear it. There are “Christian” Christmas songs that I hate, too. Christmas Shoes and Happy Birthday Jesus come to mind. Like I said, it’s not really about the content of the lyrics, it’s just about what I like and what I don’t. I know, I should just make a Christmas mix CD for my car (yeah, it doesn’t have an MP3 player option) and make my own playlist to listen to at home and just stop whining. But hey, I have a blog, and that’s what blogs are for, right? And sometimes I get bored with my own music selections, too.

Who’s with me? Who else wants to turn on a Christian radio station and just hear Christmas music, no matter what time of year it is? Any other musical grinches out there?

On Reading the Bible in a Year

July 1st is an important day for me. Long ago I gave up making resolutions to start the new year, because sometimes, to be honest, just surviving the new year is an accomplishment enough. I mean, the holiday season is a thrill ride and I love it, but when it’s over I just want to sleep. So then in July, I wake up and realize that half the year is over and if I want to get something done I’d better get it started. That’s what July 1st is for.

Several years ago, I was making my July 1st goals and I asked myself, “By this time next year, what is something that I really want to accomplish?” As is often the case halfway through the year, I was feeling a little down and I really needed something I could commit to and that I would really feel good about finishing. It occurred to me that I had never actually read all the way through the Bible. I had started several times, always at the beginning of the year, but had always given up on it at some point. Usually it was in Leviticus or 1 Chronicles, although once I persevered through the One Year Bible for about a year and a half when I got hit with Ezekiel and Revelation at the same time, and I just couldn’t finish. Anyway, I had just gone through a study by George Guthrie called Read the Bible for Life and one of the things we were encouraged to do was to actually read the Bible. I know, crazy, right? So I printed out the chronological plan he suggests in his book, stuck it in my Bible, and committed to it. I don’t know if it was because of that particular plan, because I really needed a “win” in my life, or because I fell in love with the Word of God, or perhaps because of all of that, but I finished it on June 30th of the next year. By then I had an iPhone and the YouVersion app which has all kinds of plan options that make it easy to read and check off every day, so I just picked a plan and started again. Today starts my fourth year of reading through the Bible from July 1st-June 30th.

It’s not hard to read through the Bible in a year. It only takes 3-4 chapters a day, which for me means about 10-20 minutes, six or seven days a week. I’m not talking about intense study or anything, I’m just talking about reading it. Study is important too, but it’s amazing what God has done in my life and my relationship with Him when I simply take the time every day (or almost every day – I do miss some days) to read His word. I have a new appreciation for the way the Bible is written, for the truth it contains, and for the way it all points to God’s amazing work of salvation.

You don’t have to believe the Bible is true in order to read it, but it helps if you do. And if you do believe the Bible is true but you haven’t read it, and I mean all of it, then why not? You don’t have to have an app or a special Bible or even a checklist or any other excuse. Get out your Bible and start reading. You can start at Genesis 1:1 and read straight through, three or four chapters a day. You can start in the New Testament, Matthew 1:1, and then read the Old Testament. You can get fancy, pull out three bookmarks or index cards or random slips of paper, and read two chapters in the Old Testament, one Psalm or Proverb, and one chapter in the New Testament. Just read the Bible. Start today. And then next July 1st, we can start over together.

On the Zombie Apocalypse

An important lesson to remember in life is this: Follow-up is key.  My last post, On Being a Pastor’s Wife, was my most-read post so far this year. So it only makes sense that I would follow up that post with a topic I’m equally passionate and expressive about: the supposedly inevitable zombie apocalypse. Yes, there is some sarcasm there. I give you permission to groan.

I’ve never understood our culture’s obsession with zombies, vampires, ghosts, and various other paranormal undead/immortal creatures. I like to keep my fiction and reality very clearly separated, for the sake of my own sanity. It drives me crazy when people bring up this zombie apocalypse thing like it’s something that will actually happen, as though we need real strategies for how to survive it and conquer the walking dead that are out to eat our brains or whatever it is that zombies supposedly do. The images are horrible, the very thought makes my stomach turn, and I generally like to point out Hebrews 9:27, “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (ESV). So there. Clearly, zombies are completely fictional, made up by some crazy people for some sort of sick entertainment or to horrify children and women with appallingly vivid imaginations. The “inevitable” zombie apocalypse will never, ever happen, as I have frequently and emphatically declared in conversations and on social media.

Then, as part of my daily Bible reading, I came across this fascinating description in Zechariah 14:12, “And the Lord will send a plague on all the nations that fought against Jerusalem. Their people will become like walking corpses, their flesh rotting away. Their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths” (NLT). Eek. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds a lot like zombies. I should probably note that when I pointed this verse out to my husband, a pastor and Bible scholar, he rolled his eyes and shook his head. However, that verse has forced me to rethink my dogmatic belief that the zombie apocalypse will never, ever, happen.

And now for a word on biblical interpretation. It is possible to take any singular verse of Scripture, or an isolated passage, or a few scattered verses that seem to deal with the same topic, and make them say just about anything. In support of zombies, one could also point to the passage in Ezekiel 37, where the prophet records his vision of a pile of bones becoming a great army, or the brief, strange account of graves being opened and many bodies coming out and appearing to people immediately after Jesus’ death in Matthew 27:52-53. I think it’s important to point out that none of these passages (or any others you might know about that I’ve missed) are actually about zombies. I believe Ezekiel is painting a dramatic visual of the fact that when it comes to restoration, God is capable of anything. The passage in Matthew shows some of the immediate, powerful, literally earth-shaking effects of Jesus’ death on the cross. And Zechariah is pronouncing judgment on the nations and restoration of the nation of Israel. Of course, that passage is actually apocalyptic, so the zombie plague is, in my opinion, a possibility. It could be suggesting something like biological warfare or nuclear fallout, which Zechariah obviously would not have understood, but he could have described the effects. Or maybe it’s symbolic, a picture of something that won’t actually happen, but which warns of the seriousness of opposing the people of God. Zionists could read the passage and declare, “See! Don’t mess with Israel!” The fact is, the Bible talks about a lot of things, but it’s not about zombies. So to build an entire zombie doctrine on this one verse would be foolish. This is why my husband rolled his eyes. It’s important to be very careful when interpreting Scripture.

That said, the Bible does provide abundant fodder for a fertile imagination. I’ve also caught references to what I believe are dragons and unicorns (prompting additional eye-rolls from Greg). It’s amazing what you catch when you actually read it. I’m just a few days from finishing my latest year-long read-through of God’s Word, and it’s always interesting when I find things I don’t remember ever reading before. The book of Zechariah has some fascinating parts to it. Even if you don’t have time for careful analysis and and study, reading through the whole Bible every year is a worthwhile endeavor, and I highly recommend it. I’m going to start a new plan on July 1st. I’ll post the link if anyone is interested in joining me.

So, I have to admit that a zombie apocalypse might actually happen someday. Does it matter? Probably not. Do I care? Definitely not. Am I going to start stockpiling weapons and planning how to defend my family and my brain? No. If it does happen, or if something similar happens, from what I read in Zechariah it will be part of God’s judgment on his enemies, so I’m safe. Whew.

On Being a Pastor’s Wife

Every once in awhile something will come out in a magazine or on the Internet about all the things pastor’s wives deal with, and when that happens, I’m always tempted to write a blog post. Today I’m succumbing to the temptation. So here goes.

I suppose I could call this post “5 Simple Truths About Pastor’s Wives…and Everyone Else” and it would maybe go viral or something. People seem intrigued by this special and rare creature often called “The Pastor’s Wife” as if that is the sum total of her identity. I’ve been described as “not your typical pastor’s wife,” whatever that means. I’ve heard people say, “I forget you’re a pastor’s wife! You’re so normal!” And I’ve also been asked, “So you’re a pastor’s wife? Wow! What’s that like?” And I want to ask, “What’s it like being an engineer’s wife? Or a computer guy’s wife? Or a doctor’s wife?” Because being a pastor’s wife can’t be very different from any of those. Let me clear up some of the mystery: Being a pastor’s wife means being married to a man whose life is defined by his calling. Does that mean my life is also defined by his calling? I don’t know. I’ve never thought of it that way. The way I see it, my life is defined by my calling. Not so different from anyone else, really. It’s just that my calling is to be married to a man in ministry, specifically, to Greg Duke. Right now that calling means I’m a pastor’s wife. It’s that simple. Really.

Please hear my heart: My intent is not to belittle the struggles and hardships that pastor’s wives face. All those things you read in articles and on blogs are true. Life as a pastor’s wife can be difficult and sometimes it’s not very rewarding. But isn’t that just life? Life is hard. In many ways life as a Christian is even harder, like we’re struggling to stay afloat while we swim against the current of the culture. Seeking to be a Christ-following, God-honoring, Kingdom-growing wife and mother brings a new set of challenges every day. Some days I look back over the day and think of all the things I could have done better, things I shouldn’t have said, or things that I should have said but didn’t, ways that I think I failed, and all I can do is thank God that He got me through it and we’re all still alive and mostly unharmed. I am always thankful that I have the resurrection power of Christ working through me, giving me the strength for that swim upstream. And I’m thankful for the roles He’s given me in this life, one of which is the role of a pastor’s wife.

Did I always feel comfortable with the idea of being a pastor’s wife? To be honest, no. I struggled with the idea when Greg first brought it up. But it’s not like he came home one day and said, “God is calling me to be a pastor,” and I groaned and said, “Great. This is not what I signed up for.” I know that happens to some women, but that’s not my story. I always knew I was called to marry a minister, and Greg has been in ministry the whole time we’ve been married. I just thought he’d be a music guy, or a college campus minister, or a church planter. The journey to his calling as Senior Pastor (and currently the only pastor) at Aberdeen Baptist Church is a long story, maybe for another post. But it’s a journey that we took together, and we knew that God was leading us every step of the way. I believe with all my heart that we’re where we’re supposed to be, doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

I am so incredibly blessed. I have deep connections in my community of friends. I have the privilege of investing in the lives of many people around me through prayer, through conversations about God and His Word, through just hanging out and enjoying life. The wonderful people in our church take really good care of us. They’ve watched our kids, taken us out to eat, given us generous gifts when we needed them most – whether they knew that or not. My husband is a treasure and I thank God for him constantly. Sure he’s busy, but he does good work, and although he sometimes has meetings or has to visit with people at times that might be inconvenient for me, and yeah, those middle-of-the-night calls happen and they’re not fun, his flexible schedule allows him time to spend with his family that many men don’t have. Our family doesn’t suffer because Greg is a pastor; we’re blessed because he’s a pastor. And that’s the truth.

So I’m a pastor’s wife. I really think the most important part of that “title” is “wife.” Just like every Christian wife, I’m called to support, respect, and help my husband in any way I can, submitting to his authority over me just as we both submit to Christ’s authority over us. I have struggles, and I have victories. Sometimes I control my temper, my tongue, my thoughts, and sometimes I don’t. I try to be open and honest, but I do have things I don’t tell certain people, and even some things that I won’t tell anyone. I love and adore my kids, but there are moments when I don’t like them very much. I have lots of friends but sometimes I’m lonely. Sometimes I just long for a few minutes of adult conversation. Sometimes I wish I could get away. But most of the time, I’m happy with who I am, where I am, what I’m doing, and who I’m with. This is who I am. If that makes me a unique, strange creature known as a “pastor’s wife,” I guess I’m okay with that. I just have this feeling that I’m really not so different from anyone else.