Prepping for Life (Part 1)

“Calling transforms life so that even the commonplace and menial are invested with the splendor of the ordinary.” (Os Guinness, The Call)

My seventeen Professional Writing seniors are closing in on the end of their careers at Taylor. I’m privileged to be teaching what our program calls the “capstone” class — three credit hours together to “cap” their time at Taylor U and their time in our major.

It’s a daunting class — and this was the first time I’ve taught it.

From the start, I knew the class needed to have a writing element, it needed some self-inventory, it needed some interview and job hunt practice and information, and it needed some “adulting” conversations. Three solid weeks, 3-1/2 hours per day. And I wanted all of it to feel practical and meaningful and purposeful.

And that’s what I’ve tried to do.

One day, we talked about our “callings,” considering the definition in Os Guinness’s classic book. How calling can be to many types of work, not just “Christian” work per se. How calling can be simply to finding splendor in the ordinary. How calling can change the world in small ways. How calling, with the acknowledgement of a Caller, gives meaning to life. That was the initial part of our self-inventory.

Then we did what one of my colleagues calls “the red thread.” Each student went through all of the classes taken at Taylor, noting what they liked and didn’t about each — trying to understand how they like to learn, how they learn best regarding type of class, type of instruction, type of content, etc. This traces a “thread” that serves to remind them of the many types of information and skills they’ve gained across these four years.

A highlight was a bus trip to Grand Rapids to visit Zondervan Publishing House, RBC (Our Daily Bread and Discovery House Publishers), and lunch with author Travis Thrasher. The students were encouraged that many of the folks in jobs they hope to have got there in convoluted ways while learning much about themselves along the way.


The Zondervan folks were incredibly welcoming, even offering us a panel discussion. They shared with my students about their pathways to their “dream job.”

taylor students

In the lobby at Zondervan. The mission statement applies to my students as well.


Travis Thrasher has gone from being an employee at a publisher to being a full-time writer. We enjoyed hearing about his fiction writing and ghostwriting.



At RBC (Our Daily Bread and Discovery House), we learned about their incredible worldwide ministry, got to see their printing presses in action, and heard from two editors who told about their pathways to where they are today.

The takeaway? Be patient. Try on a lot of jobs. Learn what you can wherever you are. Network with people and let them know the kind of work you’re looking for.

And this was pretty much just week one. I’m excited to watch my students get excited about their possibilities for the future. They are well prepared to become publishing professionals.

Stay tuned for more adventures in Professional Writing capstone!


Just a Smell

It is just a smell.

Something in the air as I walk across campus. It strikes with subtle but unmistakable force. It makes me stop, sniff.

It isn’t Chick-Fil-A or the lunch aroma from the college dining commons.

In fact, I can’t pinpoint or describe the smell; it is simply in the air. Closing my eyes, the smell has transported me. I am at Houghton College, walking the sidewalk that encompassed the quad, a new freshman, terrified, lonely, missing my family, worried about being a failure, that I can’t cut this whole college thing.

Now, as I stand on the sidewalk surrounded by the buildings of Taylor University where I teach, I am not here — I am traveling in time. I am not a publishing professional and faculty member. I am an eighteen year old with no fashion sense and big glasses and low self-esteem. A girl who doesn’t know what she wants to major in or why she’s at college or who will be her new friends or if she’ll have friends at all.

Standing here in these passing moments, I open my eyes and see a a lone student slouching toward me, eyes downcast, heavy backpack, sad face. My heart goes out to him. I know, in that moment exactly how the young man is feeling. Exactly. I am right there with him. Overwhelmed with distress from four decades ago.

I want to grab him, to hug him, to tell him it’s all going to be okay. He’ll figure it out as each day goes by. Tell him that God will be faithful. Tell him to just take it a day at a time, a step at a time.

But of course, I don’t. I can’t. The young man walks by. I sniff again and return to the present. But I vow that any moment I can, I will tell these dear students with their wide eyes and their fears and worries that it will indeed be okay.

I can testify to it.

It is just a smell. But how powerful the memories it evokes. It gives me a mission, for it reminds me that four decades ago I, too, was slouching along a sidewalk, overwhelmed, deeply distressed, trying to figure out life. God walked with me each step of the way.

All it took was a smell.

The Joy of Coordinating a Writing Conference

This past weekend (August 4-5, 2017), we held the second annual Taylor University’s Professional Writing Conference at Taylor University.

Last year, 2016, we did our first conference. We started with zero dollars and hoped that we’d break even or perhaps have a little extra to have seed money to hold a second conference. We didn’t know if we’d make it or not … until about two weeks prior to the conference when a flurry of activity brought us above our minimum (100 attendees) and encouraged us that we were meeting a need and should hold another conference.

Which we just did.

And this time? We got to 120  … 130 … 140 registrants, plus 20 faculty and staff, and suddenly my behind-the-scenes self was worrying about having large enough rooms for breakout sessions. So I closed the conference registrations (and still let through about 10 more people who begged) and held my breath that we’d have enough space.

THEN, our main session room was determined to not be ready, so we scrambled for another room and another breakout room. Thanks to staff at Taylor U, we moved to another room (holds 190, so we were tight but had close fellowship), and located another large-enough breakout room.

Then our folks arrived. Sessions began, keynoters encouraged, faculty taught, one-on-one meetings went on in the Campus Center, books were bought, snacks were consumed, staff people ran around, and while I used the passive voice here nothing was passive at all. It was proactive, energized, encouraging, and … from my perspective … so much fun!

It’s always terrific to get to communicate and rub shoulders with authors and agents and acquisitions editors and editors in the industry — some I’ve known for years, some I’ve known of, and some I’m getting to meet for the first time. They prepare talks and handouts, they sit on panels, they talk individually to conferees in one-on-one appointments, they stay overnight in college dorm rooms — simply because they love writers. All of them are amazing professionals with a heart for helping and encouraging.

And conferees? We couldn’t do a conference without those amazing people who set aside the time and money to come to a two-day conference. These folks were appreciative, which makes it all worthwhile!


In addition, I had wonderful staff (former Professional Writing students) who spent two days running (which, as writers know, is not part of our general activity). They helped me put together conference packets, they ran to the store to purchase 160-people-worth of snack items, they checked on technology in the breakout rooms prior to each session, they got water for speakers, they ran extra copies of handouts, they carried boxes … they basically did whatever I asked them to.

And they made me laugh.

I couldn’t have run this conference without them.

Thanks guys.

If you’ve never attended a writers conference, get thee to one! They’re a great place to be with like-minded folks, discuss the craft, be encouraged, and fill your tank for a few more months of lonely writing. Conferences happen all over the country (and world) at all times of the year. Look here and here and here for some listings of conferences.

And, of course, you can always consider the 2018 Taylor University Professional Writing Conference. We’ll be here!


5 Notes to My Younger College Self

Well, another semester nearly done (being back in graduate school and doing adjunct teaching has suddenly put my life in the “semester” track again). One more semester to go in graduate school and the MA will be mine! One more final and I’ll send another batch of students out the door and on their way.

I realized last night that some of my new Ball State grad school friends are graduating and moving on. I said good-bye to one who’s heading to her doctoral program in another state in September. I was just getting to know her! And several of my Taylor students are graduating. This will be the tough part of teaching. Getting to know students, investing in their lives, and then letting them go. (It’s too much like being a parent!)

credit: istockphoto
credit: istockphoto

I’ve been thinking a lot about the dichotomy of being–at the same time–an old(er) graduate student and a professor of students who are my children’s ages. So here, for what it’s worth, is my advice to my younger self about how I would have done school differently if I knew then what I know now (and next week, advice to others, old like me, who are thinking about heading back to school).

(1) Take advantage of every opportunity you have to spend time with your professors.

I’ll say it. I was terrified of professors. They were “up there,” I was “down here.” They held my future (or at least my GPA) in their hands. I stayed as far away as I could.

Now that I’ve been a professor, I realize they’re just folks. Of course a lot more knowledgeable about said topic–which is why they are teaching–but many of them chose this profession because they really like students. My son told me he was able to talk more easily with his professors once I began teaching because he realized they are just people who have kids and take out the trash and mow their lawns and even cry sometimes.

Ask a professor to lunch or coffee. Take advantage of office hours to have a chat at some point in the semester. They really love that. They have a lot of life experience that they can impart. Draw from what they’ve learned.

(2) Don’t let fear about the future overwhelm you.

I’ll admit it . . . I wanted to be married. I wanted to have my dream job. And I wanted it all right then (or anytime during the month of May 1980 would have been fine). That moment when you arrive home after those four college years can be the most depressing of your life. “Now what?” Suddenly the comfort of knowing what’s happening in September is gone and the future is an empty road. As a Christian, I can encourage you that the plan is in place and all you need to do is take a step at a time. The road will turn and maybe lead you in unexpected places. Follow it. Of course be wise and strategic, but be open to surprises. God’s plans are way better than our own anyway. And don’t be afraid of being unmarried when you graduate. The right person will come along at the right time. Trust me.

(3) Follow your passions.

I ended up in publishing because I did what I loved. At college, when that moment of declaring a major arrived in the fall of my sophomore year, I panicked. I literally got out the college catalog, sat on my groovy bedspread, and figured I’d find out what Houghton offered. As I read through the majors (Accounting? gag. Biology? puh-leeese. Chemistry? not on your life), something jumped inside me when I hit it: English. “I can read my way to a major? Sign me up.” I followed what I was hardwired to do–love words. I signed up to double major in Writing (once I got to W in the catalog) and never looked back.

My path wandered various directions, but I believe God wastes no experience in our lives. And sometimes it was a few surprises from him that put me in the right place at the right time. I’m passionate about what I do. I absolutely love it. If you follow those God-given gifts, you’ll feel the same. As noted in #2, don’t worry about the detours. If you have to have a job at Starbucks or Babies-R-Us for the time being (I’m looking at two of my beloved kiddos), enjoy it, learn from it, do your very best at it. Keep your passion alive by working at what you love on the side.

(4) Stay in contact with your grandparents (or other significant family members).

And I don’t say this as a new grandparent. You’re busy, you’ve got so much going on, you’re doing your darndest to separate yourself from your parents and get on with your life. I get it. That’s all good and necessary. But please in all of the drama of your friendships and love life and future plans, don’t forget your grandparents. Stay in touch. Call grandma up once in awhile. Give grandpa an update. Those people are gone too soon from your life. Just as I noted in #1 that professors have so much to offer, grandparents have more. They are your blood, your family legacy. Don’t regret never getting to know them. For better or worse, learn about where you come from. Mine their memories. Learn from their experiences. You’ll be fascinated.

(5) Learn about budgeting, saving, and spending wisely.

You wanna be on your own? Living costs money. The better organized you are at keeping track of money and budgeting your expenses, the less stress you’ll have when you sign that lease for the apartment and pay for the cell phone and cover the electric bill and make the car payment and sign up for car insurance and get an internet connection and decide if you can afford to order HBO so you can watch “Game of Thrones.” Some of you may already be way down the road on this, but I beg you to be wise. Put the credit card in a bowl of water and put it in your freezer so you can’t get to it without a waiting period. Don’t run up debt. Live frugally. The time will come when you’ll have more, but don’t expect it right away. You’ll thank me later, just as I thank my parents for their good training.

So, Linda, here’s my advice to my younger self. Some things you did well, some things you could have done better (isn’t that always the way?). But maybe someone can learn from you . . .