About a year ago, I got a call to be a part of this project called What’s Your Mark?. My friend Jeremy Cowart had been asked by Zondervan to photograph twenty or so people that they decided were making a significant mark on the world, whether big or small.
And they were asking me to write the book.
Well, once I scooped myself off the floor and recovered from the shock of it all, of course I said yes.
So all last spring, I got to call or sit down with these people and interview them about their mark on the world. And y’all? It broke me. In like a million different and beautiful ways.
I talked to almost thirty people – from Ellie Ambrose, a high school student who has raised tons of money for a school in Africa through creating Ellie’s Run, to Bob Goff- author of Love Does, Katie Davis- author of Kisses from Katie, Gary Haugen- founder of IJM, Dan Cathy – CEO of Chick-fil-A, my sweet friend Ann Voskamp, powerhouse attorney Shannon Davis, twitter lovely Claire Diaz-Ortiz, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, and the list goes on and on.
I was so nervous somedays before I picked up the phone that I would lay on my living room floor and pep talk myself into bravery and then dial before I could change my mind. But in the end, this is a project I am so so deeply proud of. I loved getting to turn these interviews into moving and inspirational pieces of writing [I hope!].
Not only it is interviews of people who are making a mark, throughout the book is the book of Mark from the Bible. [say that sentence a few times fast…] We did that because we believe that there is no greater mark on the planet than the mark left by Jesus.
I think of What’s Your Mark? like a field guide, something that you can set on your coffee table or in your bookbag or in your purse to remind you to be brave and leave a mark on this world. With graduation coming up, I think this is a perfect little $10 gift for anyone that you are hoping goes out into the world and makes a massive difference.
Earlier this week, I sat down to dinner with Jeremy and some other friends, including Laura Lasky – one of the heroes of the book. I brought along a few copies of the book for Jeremy to sign and I got Laura to do it while she was there too! Oh, and I signed it too because, ya know, I wrote it.
[Laura is soooo lovely. And her story is amazing. Check her ministry out for sure.]
In honor of What’s Your Mark? recently releasing, I’m going to give this autographed copy away!
Update! Laura texted me and said Solace will also ship some CUPCAKES to the winner! WOOT!
So you get an autographed copy of What’s Your Mark? AND cupcakes!!
All you have to do is leave a comment below saying why you’d like to win. Then I’ll have my human random number generator decide a winner by Monday!
A few months ago, I got an email from Bianca Olthoff inviting me to Florida in January to sit, for one day, with twenty women leaders under the wisdom of Christine Caine and Joyce Meyer.
Yes. THIS Christine Caine.
Yes. THAT Joyce Meyer.
Trust me. I was sure she had the wrong email. I was like, “Did you mean ANN Voskamp? I know our email addresses are close to each other….” But no. For some crazy reason, they meant me.
I jumped at the chance. As my career continues to grow, I could think of no two women I’d rather learn from and model after than Chris and Joyce. [Except Beth Moore. Obvi.]
The twenty women and I sat in a hotel conference room around a U-shaped table as Chris and Joyce sat in front of us and just discussed what it is like to be a female leader and in ministry and how to be a wise human.
It looked like this from Bianca’s point of view. It looked like this from Jennie Allen’s point of view– and I was sitting beside Jennie. I wish I could show you my view, but my computer has eaten all those pictures. Here’s the only one I can find- because it was in my text messages to my parents being like, “LOOK AT ME EATING LUNCH WITH JOYCE MEYER, Y’ALL!”
[I look that serious about once a fortnight. You would too if you were listening to Joyce Meyer. AT YOUR LUNCH TABLE.]
Bianca wrote a beautiful post recapping what she learned, but I wanted to share with y’all my biggest takeaways from those eight hours listening to Joyce Meyer. But I must be honest, I have SIXTEEN pages of notes that all look like this, so I am still processing through what I learned.
So here are some great takeaways that I think any of us can apply to our lives as women and women in ministry. These are thoughts and quotes from Joyce and Chris.
And y’all? I slimmed down my notes A TON. It was such a rich and fulfilling day. I learned things from those women, and the others in the room with us, that have changed how I live and do my job and treat ministry. I read through my LOTS AND LOTS of notes about once a week, including the personal things we discussed that Joyce and especially Chris really spoke into.
Also, while we were there, Bianca was at work getting folks to record podcasts for Christine. Jennie and I did one together about being in ministry as a single woman and as a married woman. I laugh too loud, repeatedly, but no one is surprised about that. If nothing else, you get twenty minutes of the two of us and Jennie really says some super wise stuff and I attempt to do the same.
I am so deeply grateful to Bianca and Chris for inviting me and to Joyce for her words. Also, we had an incredible dinner conversation that night that has forever changed how I view women in ministry and to those eight women around that table- including Jennie and Chris, I say thanks.
I have three emails waiting for me, all asking the same question.
It’s one of my favorite questions.
“Annie, I want to be a writer. Will you tell me how to do it?”
Yes, yes I will.
Actually, I can’t.
I mean, I can tell you some tips and ideas, but here’s the truth- every journey is different. Every writer friend I have had ended up here, wherever “here” is, through a unique set of ups and downs and brave moments and tears and long hours at a computer.
There are lots of blogs you can be reading about how to be a writer and how to improve your skillz, your audience, your influence, all of it. And those are good things to do- read about this career.
Let me suggest a few:
Also, check out my list of favorite books on writing.
But if you just want to talk about how to be a writer, here are a few basic tips that I think will help you get started:
1. Read a lot. And read a wide variety of things. When I am writing non-fiction, I am reading fiction. When I’m traveling, I’m reading non-fiction. Our writer’s group is reading poetry. I love magazines. The best writers are the ones who fill their brain with words.
2. Keep a notebook with you. Because some of the words you read will jump off the page and you’ll need a place to record them. Sometimes really stellar sentences for your current project will come to mind and if you don’t write them down, you will smack your forehead multiple times later in the day trying to remember it.
3. Start writing. You don’t have to wait for a publisher or a person to tell you to work on a project. If that’s what you are waiting on, here it is: WRITE. If there is a story or a lesson or a book hidden in you, find it and let it out. I have two books completely written that have never seen the light of day- but the dream was in me, so I wrote them. Will something happen with them? Hopefully. But for now, they live on my hard drive and in my heart. I write every day whether I’m on a deadline or not. Because I’m a writer.
4. Go to writer’s conferences. My first conference was a one-day event in Atlanta from ACW. [They are a great resource, by the way.] There are tons of conferences available for people who want to be writers, speakers, bloggers, whatever. Go to them. I met my first agent and many of my dearest writing friends at writer’s conferences. Also, there is no better motivation to do your work than sitting in a room full of people DOING what you are DREAMING about.
5. Pitch to magazines. Every magazine has an online presence and many of them take submissions. Start getting your name and your work out there. On websites that have articles, look for “submission guidelines” to figure out if you can write for them. I started by sending submissions to Relevant Magazine‘s former sister magazine Radiant, created by Cara Davis. [It was good, I’m sad it is gone.] One of the editors, Corene Israel, believed in me and published my stuff before anyone else did. I will thank her in every book I ever publish.
6. Join/start a writer’s group. You can look on MeetUp.com to see if there is a writer’s group in your area. I think there is no better way to see if your work is on track than to have others who are doing the same type of work read it. I meet with three other women- two prose writers and a songwriter- about once every other month or so. We read books together about writing and share whatever we are currently working on.
7. Pray. Every day. Pray for your writing and your words. Pray that God would open all the right doors and close all the wrong ones. And then believe it when that happens.[Notice I didn’t talk about building your platform or networking or connecting with your favorite author for an endorsement of your book. All that is well and good, but the truth is that if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write first. All that will come in time. Think first about honing your skillz and hearing God when you write, then think about the biz side later.]
Want an example of someone to watch? Amanda Williams. Amanda started a blog because she wanted to write about her family, and then as she continued to write and get involved in the blog community, people took notice. She was a community leader at the Influence Conference and is now a contributing writer for She Reads Truth and Deeper Story. She’s invested some money into her career- building a beautiful website, attending conferences, etc. The right doors keep opening and someday, I bet we’ll be reading her book.
So those are my basic thoughts on where to start if you want to be a writer. As I said from the beginning, there are a lot of steps and everyone’s story is unique. Just trust God. Be brave. Be open to new experiences and people.
. . . . .
Do you have thoughts on being a writer? Other blogs that people should read? Books your recommend? Conferences? Share on, friends. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
In 2006, my former college roommate and good friend Eve gave me a notebook.
When she handed it to me, she said, “I think you should use it to write your book.” Writing was a new idea for me at the time, and to have someone [besides family] so quickly stand beside me and encourage me to write meant so much.
I covered that notebook with scrapbook paper and one of my favorite scriptures [Lamentations 3:22-26] and then I set to work.
And long before Zondervan published Perfectly Unique in 2012, I used the very first page to outline that book in the fall of 2007 – when it was a Bible study for a group of high school girls in my house.
[Skin? I seriously ever considered making “skin” a chapter? Have mercy.]
But the notebook has been used for every manner of writing you could ever imagine.
From jotting down directions [I am 100% directionally challenged]….
to writing jingle lyrics with Ernie Halter….
to planning out my first talk for Winshape camps.
It’s also been used for simple things like to-do lists…
[I must have forgotten to move my files that Saturday in 2008. Oops.]
and notes from classes at church.
But it also houses the more serious things – recapping my trip to Ghana in 2007….
and debriefing from living in Scotland in 2011.
And most recently, I wrote all my notes from interviews that literally changed my life and brought me to tears for a book titled What’s Your Mark? that you will be able to buy soon. [Yes, I got to interview each of these people- it was crazy. I feel so honored to have worked on this book.]
But now, after over six years of writing of every type, my notebook is full.
I couldn’t believe it in November when I noticed I was down to just a few pages left, knowing I had two bios left to write in 2012.
I’ve never known my writing career without this gal around. My writing notebook has traveled to countries and lasted through the years and many words and lots of interviews and bios and dreams- it’s been the center of so many dreams come true.
But it’s full.
So I went shopping. Unceremoniously, I found this lovely green notebook on sale at Target. It’s the right size, I like the lines. My only complaint is that the pages are perforated. That could lead to some frustration sometime in the next six years.
So I bought it. I particularly liked that it matched by writing calendar… until I took a picture of them together and realized they are significantly different greens.
All this to say….
Thank you, Eve. Thank you for believing in me and my dream to be a writer. Thanks for the notebook. In the last six years, I used every page of that puppy. I built a career out of that notebook and God used to you to make that happen. White it may be full, it will never be far from me. It’s like an ebenezer stone– a reminder to me of God’s faithfulness thus far.
. . . . .
Who has believed in your dreams before they ever happened?
Sorry I’ve been MIA lately, friends. And sorry that I’m throwing off your “Annie blogs in the morning or not at all” knowledge today by posting in the smack middle of the afternoon. But I just wanted to pop in and say HERE I AM FRIENDS!
After the small group snoozle that was a total beautiful success, I shuffled the sleepy gals out of my house at 8am and hopped a plane to Austin, Texas.
I’ve never been to Austin, Texas before but based on the fact that I’ve had tortilla chips three out of four meals and I’m currently wearing my favorite outfit [long sleeve t-shirt and shorts], I think I’m gonna like it here.
My friend Jennie Allen brought me to the lone star state to brainstorm and help her prep for her next book. If you haven’t read Anything by Jennie, please gift yourself this book for Christmas. Really.
So here we are, holed up in a downtown Austin guest house, sticky-noting ourselves towards completing Jennie’s next project.
It looks like this.
And then three hours later, it starts looking like this.
That bright light is probably an angel.[Or the sun coming in behind me. Whatevs.]
So we’re in a mid-afternoon slump where Jennie’s brain is fried like our tortilla chips [I’m working her to death, y’all] and so we sit quietly on the couch, check facebook, watch random youtube videos, and blog so you know I survived having ten college girls in my house for fourteen hours.
Hi. I survived. And loved it.
Also, Hi. I’m in Austin. And I’m loving it.
Jennie and I will bust through this brainstorm until tomorrow afternoon when I fly back to Nashville for a weekend of Christmas parties and revelry.
So if you’re wondering why it’s a bit quiet around these parts, blame the sticky notes.
. . . . .
Hey! Here’s one more cool thing before I go…. I’ve figured out a way to autograph all the copies of Perfectly Unique you’ve purchased to give as Christmas gifts!! Pop back tomorrow and I’ll tell you all about it.
So after three Girls of Grace events where I get to talk on how our words matter, I felt a tug. A push. A shove? Probably.
Here’s what the God-shove felt like. I was standing in front of the mirror getting ready one morning, and this question scrolled across the ticker in my mind:
What if this generation killed the mean girl?
I know. Girls have been unkind to each other for generations, we’ve all dealt with it. The Mean Girl even has her own movie and she exists all over the place. It seems impossible to end her reign.
BUT IT ISN’T.
What if teenagers decided to use their words differently? What if they just decided, as a group, to cut it out?
I wanna be a part of that.
I am sure, LIKE SURE, that teen girls could change the world with words. I’m telling y’all. I can see it.
So I wrote a devotional about it.
This devotional is 30 days of how we can use our words better- how it’s done in the Bible, how it should be done in our homes, schools, and yes- online. [oh, I went there. Don’t you worry about that.]
So I rallied some troops to edit and design and make it happen – mainly Kyle, Luke, and Will – and I dove face first into writing this thing. [You may recall my brainstorming session here and the corner of my outline here and working on it here.]
And we did it. In about three weeks. Because we are insane.
[Did I have a book releasing the next week AND I decided to fill my life with writing a devotional? Yes. I told you. I’m insane.]
IT IS TOTALLY FREE.
Because I want you to have it.
And tell your friends to download it.
And share that puppy.
And let’s revolt together.
A letter to my teenage self…..
The longer I sit here, the less I want to do this.
It’s not you, it’s me.
Well, that’s not really true. It’s not me.
. . . .
I wrote this letter once already. And I wasn’t nice. I was mad because when I get the most honest with myself, I’m mad at you. Like, really mad. I’m mad at how you handled things and how you let lies eat you alive and you never told ANYONE. I’m mad for what it did to your family and to your friendships.
Why didn’t you just say? Why didn’t you just tell your parents what was going on in your head? Why did you feel like you had to keep it all inside? I can’t tell you how much hurt and pain [and money spent on counseling] you could have saved if you would have just said.
If you would have just said how ugly you felt.
If you would have just said the things that made you so worried.
If you would have just talked about the things you heard in your head- about your body, your face, your future. All of it.
If you would have just told the truth.
I mean, if I’m being honest, I’m still writing emotional checks for lies YOU purchased. I’m still fighting battles that you should have fought instead of cowering. And it’s not fair.
I like myself these days, by the way. These days are full of truth and fun and joy and beauty.
I like me.
But I’m still not sure I like you.
. . . . .
Then I went to find pictures to use in this letter and I found this one. And I see this face. This sweet face. And all I do is cry.
This girl who always wore a ponytail and balled up as best she could in every picture- knees up, arms crossed – with the hopes of not looking significantly fatter than the rest of her friends, I can’t be mad at her.
I can only apologize.
I’m so sorry. I’m so. so. sorry.
I’m so sorry for how hard these years are for you. I’m sorry for all the ways you feel like too much and all the ways you feel like you aren’t enough.
I want to hug you. I want to grab you by the shoulders and look you right in the eyes and say, “Annie. Sister. Fight. Don’t give into those lies. Say them out loud. Bring them to light. Please. PLEASE.”
But I can’t do that, 16 year old Annie.
And I’m more than sorry that I can’t.
But you know that I want to, don’t you? Can you feel that? Can you somehow know that 32 year old Annie would rescue you in a heartbeat? So would my friends. So would my family. We would all come back there and rescue you.
We both know the truth of the Gospel- how Jesus is a rescuer and a healer and He isn’t bound by time. I’m grateful for that. Somehow, He has rescued you, when no one else could, and He rescues me all the time. And that, honestly, is the air I breathe and the truth that has set me free.
But today, even in freedom, I am sad. What I thought was just going to be a fun letter to the girl I used to be has actually broken my heart.
I’m really sorry.
. . . . .
I just texted Emily, the instigator of all this letter writing biz. I told her this didn’t go the way I wanted it to, or expected it to. [But it is honest, which is everything I wish teenage me would have been.] She said that’s okay. She’s full of grace. It’s kinda her thing. Her book Graceful is Perfectly Unique‘s twin sister- born on the same day.
And it is WONDERFUL. I can’t tell you how much I think you should read it. Really. Go get it. Teenage Annie would have been a different gal if she could have read this book. I’m sure of it.
We are 24 hours from the most annoying AnnieBlogs social media experience of your life. I apologize in advance. I have to tweet and Facebook until my fingers fall off when the book releases… I think that exact terminology is in my contract with Zondervan. So I’m sorry.[It’s not really. But it might as well be.]
But before the most annoying AnnieBlogs social media experience of your life, I want to cover a few topics:
1. Emily Freeman
One of the pure joys of this experience is that one of my dear friends is releasing a book for teen girls tomorrow as well. We’ve talked about it, we’ve cried about it, we’ve laughed about it, and we have many-a-plan together that shall be hatched in the next few weeks.
Mainly, I want to tell you to buy Emily’s teen book, Graceful. It’s beautiful and strong and she speaks teen like it is her second language. I can’t wait until my small group gets ahold of it. You should get ahold of it too.
2. Angie Smith
Another favorite human in my life is Angie Smith and her book Mended released on Saturday. If Emily and I haven’t already blown your September book budget, I think this is one you should grab.
3. Amazon Review
Starting tomorrow, if you’ve read Perfectly Unique, it would help A.TON. if you would leave an Amazon Review. It has to do with an algorithm and google spiders and science and math and I don’t understand. I just know that the more people who leave their opinions, good or less than, the better off we are because the nerds at Amazon made it that way.
Pretty much, you are my people who have to do the foot work so that the rest of the world know about the book. And I’m really sorry and really grateful. 🙂
4. I’m feeling.
I’m feeling a lot of things. In typical Annie fashion, I’m pretty much running the emotional gamut of super excited to stay under the covers. Your prayers for the next 48 hours would be really appreciated as I attempt to not be a lunatic.
5. Thank you.
I said it before, but I want to say it again. No matter what happens in the next few days with the book, I’m really grateful for you.
6. Get ready.
Tomorrow is gonna be really fun. The internet will be a buzz for sure- between me and Emily and the crazies who love us- it’s gonna be loud. Forgive. Partake. Enjoy. Ignore. Whatever makes you happy.
7. New movie?
You know I don’t end lists on 6, and this gives me the perfect opportunity to ask your opinion. So my friend Heather and I decided that for two hours on Tuesday we are going to see a movie and I am going to ignore the internet. It’s not you. It’s me. It’s the best way to prevent complete lunatic behavior in my life.
So what new movie is out that we should see?
Portland was a blast. I put up a bazillion and one pictures on instagram, so check there if you want to see visual proof of my west coast-ness.
You could also check the official wedding hashtag stream – yes, that is actually a thing- #rushpowerswedding.
. . . . .
So a few months ago, I got some new headshots done. While the old ones that Jeremy did were great, they were two years old and with Perfectly Unique coming out and a few more wrinkles to display, it was time for some newbies.
Also, I knew we were building out AnnieDowns.com and I needed one good shot making a ridiculous model face that I never make in real life. SUCCESS!
I figured I’d kinda give you the rundown of how getting headshots works [at least, for me and in Nashville, so there’s that caveat].
A few weeks before:
A few days before:
Here’s what I did the day of the shoot:
[I really love this girl. So glad we are friends.]
This is my favorite one because I think it looks like me. I mean, they are all me. But that model blue steel biz-nass? That is not an Annie you are going to meet. That’s a different Annie that I do not know very well. 🙂
So that’s how a photoshoot works. Here are a few random answers to questions you might have:
Do you have other questions about this behind-the-scenes-of-author-life kind of stuff? I mean, I figure you guys are my friends and you should get to know whatever you want to know. So ask away![Thank you, Keely, for providing such beautiful pictures and an equally beautiful experience. I’m deeply grateful. I’m always in your tribe.]
And with the second huge launch of the week…..
She’s a beaut, that website. Super similar to AnnieBlogs, on purpose. AnnieDowns.com is mainly meant for people who don’t know me, who google some author their friend told them about [fingers crossed], and want to know about my author life.
AnnieDowns.com won’t change on a daily basis, that’s just here at AnnieBlogs.
Do I need two websites in my life? And while it is true that I’ve been [rightly] accused of being selfish, I hope that’s not what people say about 2-website kind of gals like me. It’s just that people say sentences like, “You are an author now, correct? Do you have a website?” and then I say “AnnieBlogs.com” and they say “Did you say ‘Blogs’?” and I say yes, but being that “Blogs” isn’t my real last name [I know you are shocked at this revelation], it was probably past time to build out AnnieDowns.com.
Run-on sentences are all the rage in 2012.
And listen, if you are anytime ever going to redo your website or your blog, call the dudes at Prolific. This whole experience has been a slam dunk. The internet is a challenging thing to lasso and bring under your control, and while it has bucked at us like a bronco a few times, these website cowboys never fell off.
Have a fun weekend, y’all.
. . . .
ACK! I almost forgot!!
Girls of Grace is doing 25% off of tickets in EVERY CITY…. but you have to buy this week!! So please please find the one closest to you and come hang out!!!
Ok, now. Have a fun weekend. 🙂