The Power of the Short Story

Today’s guest writer is Deborah Clack, who is a native Texan and nonrecovering chocolate addict. A high-school AP history teacher for 10 years, Deborah earned a master’s degree in education and was awarded Teacher of the Year for Arts in Education. Now she creates award-winning stories of her own with endearing characters and a hard-fought romance. She asks her heroines, as well as her readers, to dig deep, play hard, and laugh often.

Deborah can lip-sync the heck out of Barbara Streisand’s “Jingle Bells” and is a fan of the original romantic suspense movie Star Wars. She lives in the Lone Star State with her family. You can find her on The Social Media, where she pretends to be an extrovert. She would love to connect with you on deborahclack.com.
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Have you ever received a piece of writing advice, and mentally rejected it out of hand, even as you nodded and smiled politely?

Eight years ago, when I started writing, several people advised me to study short stories. Never particularly interested in reading short stories, I couldn’t picture how mastering them could help me write my 90,000-word contemporary romances. Ignoring their wisdom, I went on my way and put all of the words on my pages until my heart was content.

Fast forward five unpublished books later and out of the blue, God nudged me to write a piece of flash fiction. A super fun meet-cute swam around in my mind, but I didn’t know how to dive into the short story length.

Two hours into an FBI-worthy search through my computer files, I struck gold and found old conference sessions on crafting flash fiction. I wrote the piece and submitted it to a contest, thinking that was the end of my short-story career. My focus returned to those all-important books I was writing.

A couple of years and numerous manuscript rejections later, I slammed into all that became 2020.

Each of us has a story about what happened to our creativity last year. Some authors were machines of productivity. For others, getting words on a page required exponential energy. Many questions arose about how the pandemic might affect the publishing world.

With so much out of my control, what could I do in the meantime?

The disappointing cancellation of writers conferences brought an unexpected blessing in the form of free online seminars and reduced rates to Zoom conferences.

I took every class I could fit into my schedule. Even if I didn’t think the topic applied to me. In a podcast, Thomas Umstattd, Jr. and James L. Rubart suggested authors should read a craft book, then write a short story that applied the newly learned concepts. Rinse and repeat with another craft book. Again with the short stories! But what a brilliant, low-risk idea. We don’t have to invest in a 90,000-word novel to learn a new skill.

I also attended an online seminar by the talented Tina Radcliffe about writing flash fiction romance for Woman’s World magazine. Her fascinating class showed me that my love of all things romance could be put on a page in short form, if only I would try.

Writing an 800-word story meant that words cost more to use. My focus sharpened. I became more disciplined with character backstories, more deliberate in my use of setting. This skill set bled into my longer manuscripts. I didn’t understand the value when I started this journey, but God knew this was something I needed. He also knew it would take time.

What would you do if God sat down with you, looked you in the eyes, and asked, “Will you wait for my plan?” What if He said to you, “I promise I’m going ahead of you in this journey. Each step you take, rejection you receive, silence you hear, is for a purpose. Will you wait for Me?”

Would you tear up your self-imposed calendar? Would your expectations fade? Would your spirit calm?

The timing piece of the publishing process is not ours to know. But it’s ours to experience. It’s ours to embrace. For me it was old conference recordings. A nudge and a contest entry. A pandemic that made me stop to learn different skills. Free professional development I would never have chosen for myself. A mentor who said three words, “Why not you?”

And a mighty God who knew eight years ago when I started writing books that an 800-word story would be my first publication in today’s issue of Woman’s World magazine. Writing in a story form I knew nothing about, to an audience I hadn’t considered, for a readership I never would have met on my own.

I don’t have any idea what God’s plans are for my 90,000-word books. What I know is that He walked me down a purposeful path I would not have known to explore. And I could not be more grateful.

Keep writing. Try new things. Nothing is wasted.

What about you? Have you tried anything new lately? I’d love to hear where you are on the journey.

65 Responses to The Power of the Short Story

  1. Avatar
    Shirlee Abbott January 14, 2021 at 4:07 am #

    Not “new lately,” but a clear change in direction. Life experience brought me alongside adult Christians who struggled to read. I helped them, I encouraged them, but I didn’t think there was anything more to do. Then God said, “write for them too.”

    About half of American adults read below the 8th-grade level. God challenged me to craft every blog post, every devotional, every Bible study and even my book in progress into an easy-reader format. In affirmation, he sent an middle-age new Christian my way, one who struggled to read. I looked in stores and on-line for Bible studies at his reading level and came up empty. Everything I found was insultingly childish. Now I carefully craft every project to convey adult thoughts at a 5th-grade reading level. I invite reluctant readers to the Bible study table.

    • Avatar
      Crystal Caudill January 14, 2021 at 5:14 am #

      That is wonderful!! Such a needed ministry. I just prayed for your endeavors.

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        Shirlee Abbott January 14, 2021 at 1:26 pm #

        Thank you, Crystal. I hope legions of writers join me! The need is great.

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      Terri Robinson January 14, 2021 at 5:19 am #

      What a fantastic idea!! Thank you for sharing!

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        Daphne Woodall January 14, 2021 at 6:38 am #

        Love it Deborah! Actually I got the same message through Thomas Umstattd Jr.’s “Obscure No More” beta course.

        Short stories were not my normal reading material so I went looking for those written by the greats like Flannery O’Connor and Louisa May Alcott. I found some jewels.

        I’m working on a couple now. I enjoyed reading of your success in having one published. Congratulations.

        • Avatar
          Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 6:55 am #

          Daphne, thank you so much! I have heard great things about that class. I am so glad you found some jewel short stories to inspire you. I would love to hear more about your short story journey as you get them on paper. Blessings to you!

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          Peggy January 15, 2021 at 9:40 pm #

          Daphne,

          I’m a fan of short stories, and if you haven’t read “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Stephen Vincent Benet, and “Desirae’s Baby” by Kate Chopin, you might consider those. “Desirae’s Baby” shows how setting of a story can become almost like a character.

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        Stacy Simmons January 15, 2021 at 4:36 am #

        What a fantastic blog post, thank you Deborah. I love how you listened to Jesus’ nudging. Have a beautiful day!

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          Deborah Clack January 15, 2021 at 5:17 am #

          Stacy, thank you so much! I am grateful for the nudging, but also grateful to have writers like you surrounding me on the journey.

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 5:30 am #

      Shirlee, this is so inspiring! What a testament to you how you followed God’s leading, and what a testament to Him how He had such a powerful plan in the works. Thank you so much for sharing.

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      Linda Riggs Mayfield January 19, 2021 at 4:47 pm #

      Shirlee, What a wonderful post! I, too, recently had a drastic change in direction involving literacy, but quite different from yours: I was invited to take a job as an adult student and tutor recruiter. (Did I actually just type “tutor recruiter”???! :-D). A young woman from our church is adult literacy coordinator in our local community college. She wrote a grant to hire a recruiter and got it, then nobody applied for the job. She said every time she prayed about it, I came to mind. We were only casually acquainted, and she had no idea that I had taken on a job at a bakery that had about gotten the best of me, physically, and at that same time I had begun thinking, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore!”

      The day after she called and asked me to apply to be the literacy recruiter, my doctor diagnosed tennis elbow and said, “If you were 30 years younger, this wouldn’t bother you; but you’re not.” That wasn’t exactly hopeful for a future in the bakery job! The college offered me the recruiter job, I gave my two weeks’ notice at the bakery, and it has been wonderful–in a year when other schools are not meeting their grant goals due to covid, we’re on track for both adult students and new tutors for them. My boss said as soon as she hired me she began getting numerous other applicants. That literacy job offer was answered prayer for my boss, my family, and me, and maybe some of the learners and tutors I’ve helped recruit! What a joy to facilitate the opportunity to learn to read!

  2. Avatar
    Crystal Caudill January 14, 2021 at 5:13 am #

    Congratulations, Deborah! I’m so blessed to read your experience. And I whole heartedly agree with crumbling your calendar and trusting God with the timing. Some of the things you said were some of the same things God has spoken to me over this journey. Praying your journey continues to move forward in powerful ways.

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      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 5:35 am #

      Crystal, I love that God has been showing you some of the same things. Thank you so much for sharing. Sometimes the path can feel isolating, but we are all in this together. I’m so glad to be in this with you! Praying for your journey, as well.

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    Terri January 14, 2021 at 5:24 am #

    Deborah, what an encouraging article!! In reading the memoirs of one of my favorite authors, I found that she started writing short stories, and several were combined for her first novel.
    This gives me inspiration! Thank you!

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      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 5:39 am #

      Terri, I’m so glad you’re here on the blog today! Isn’t it interesting all the ways people can use short stories? Thank you so much for sharing. Praying for you today.

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    Joy Becker January 14, 2021 at 6:45 am #

    Thank you for sharing this. You are such an inspiration.
    I have been a high school English teacher and always loved the short stories. I am so glad you are published!
    I have gone back and forth on finishing my novel for young adults. I know there is no market out there. I know they have stopped reading.
    I will go on with it and pray for the best. I know God has his timetable for me.
    I also am writing a journal entry each day of this walk I have with Him. This is a way to learn what I am thinking. It amazes me when we start writing, how much we learn.

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 7:00 am #

      Joy, thank you so much! I love that you teach English- I am sending an email to thank one of my English teachers today. You are a gift to those around you. And what a wonderful thing for you to be journaling about your writing. What a powerful way to see what God is doing. Keep writing the stories on your heart.

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    Mary-Lynn Chambers January 14, 2021 at 7:04 am #

    Hello Deborah,
    Thanks so much for sharing your journey and for reminding me that God is in the midst of the unpublished as well as the published works. I actually love to read short stories, and I have even written a few. However, they have been filed away rather than being read by others. You have given me food for thought!
    Blessings on your next step in writing!
    Mary-Lynn

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      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 7:39 am #

      Mary-Lynn, thank you so much for your kind words. How fun that you already have some short stories tucked away! Praying you find blessings when you dust them off. Thank you for being here on the blog today.

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    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 14, 2021 at 7:49 am #

    This may be a contradiction;
    you may think me out to lunch,
    but I think the shortest fiction
    often packs the hardest punch
    because the arc must be defined
    with brevity to make it clear,
    and word-choice needs must refined
    for each chosen’s word’s so dear,
    bestowing characters with verve,
    sparkle to each jewel-like scene
    that it does not dawdle, swerve
    from the author’s golden mean,
    and small in stature, burning bright,
    fills the reader with delight.

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      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 7:52 am #

      Andrew, this is wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing. I’m over here smiling at my screen.

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    Kelly January 14, 2021 at 7:58 am #

    Deborah,

    You are amazing! What a wonderful testimony of your trust in the Lord and understanding of his role in your writing life. What a wonderful reminder to all of us creatives to keep spinning stories. We cannot control how or when the Lord will bring them to readers, or even which ones He’ll choose to share with the world—but we know the Lord has a plan for each and every one of us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give you hope and a future. (Her. 29:11)

    I’m so happy for your success with the publication in Woman’s World! Keep writing and may the Lord continue to bless your faith.

    In Christ,
    Kelly F.

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      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 8:10 am #

      Kelly, thank you so much for this encouragement! Yes. Isn’t it interesting that we write and don’t know which stories God will choose to share with the world? But those unpublished works are still quite powerful. Sometimes I think the unpublished books are the ones that God had us write just for us, as a gift from Him. Blessings to you. I am looking forward to the stories you get to share with the world.

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    Kristen Joy Wilks January 14, 2021 at 8:20 am #

    Nicely done, Deborah! I love it! I do enjoy the occasional foray into short fiction. I’ve written flash fiction for a few magazines, but you have reminded me that I haven’t written a short story in quite a while. I should try another! As for dipping my toes into something new, I recently completed my first chapter book. I’ve tried to write chapter books in the past, but they have always ended up as middle grade novels, ha! With a word count of 10,000 words or less, I kept over writing for the 6-10 age group. But finally, after much careful outlining, I achieved my long-sought goal. An 8,000 word manuscript! It was exciting to learn a new skill.

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 8:27 am #

      Kristen, thank you so much! And thank you for sharing about your work. I love that you have been writing different kinds of stories. It sound like you’ve found great value in each length. Congratulations on meeting your goal! Blessings to you!

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    Donna January 14, 2021 at 8:46 am #

    Thank you! What a blessing!

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      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 8:59 am #

      Donna, you are so welcome! Thank you for the encouragement. I am so glad you stopped by the blog today. Blessings to you!

  10. Avatar
    Allyson West Lewis January 14, 2021 at 8:52 am #

    Deborah,
    As I am blessed to know personally, I can proclaim your awesomeness! This is a great post about the power of story. Well done!

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 9:02 am #

      Allyson, oh my goodness. Thank you so much! I am so grateful for you and the wisdom you have given me on the journey. Blessings to you, friend.

  11. Avatar
    Bruce Long January 14, 2021 at 9:33 am #

    Hey, Deborah, you sound like a very intelligent person who would fun to know. I admire your tenacity and your communication skills. Sounds like you did a lot with creative stuff in high school! I pray God’s best for you.
    Bruce L

    (Your dad)

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 9:39 am #

      Dad!!! I am laughing out loud over here!! You are hilarious! Thank you so much for all of your encouragement over the years. I am so proud to be your daughter. I love you.

  12. Avatar
    Cindy Fowell January 14, 2021 at 9:40 am #

    Thank you, Deborah, for pointing out the benefits of writing short stories. Especially in regards to learning new crafts techniques. Now to give it a try.
    Blessings in your work!

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 9:59 am #

      Cindy, thank you so much for reading and posting. So glad you are here. I hope your dive into short stories is filled with hidden treasures. Blessings to you on the journey!

  13. Avatar
    Deena Adams January 14, 2021 at 9:42 am #

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Deborah. Might be the nudge I need to try writing a short story. I’m so long winded. LOL

    I’ve been working on a “short story” to use as a lead magnet for email subscribers and my intended word count of 6,000 ended up as about 11,000 on the first draft. Now I have a “novelette.”

    Congratulations on the publication of your short story. Blessings to you on your journey.

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 10:04 am #

      Deena, thank you so much! I totally relate to being long winded. LOL! Congratulations on finishing your lead magnet- no matter the length!

  14. Avatar
    Hope Ann January 14, 2021 at 10:00 am #

    I kinda did this with flash fiction a year ago. I was struggling with character voices and a friend got me writing a piece of flash fiction a week, just for myself. Some were terrible. Some were pretty good. One got published in Havok. But it did help me to focus down on words and I loved the process too. Speaking of which…it might be good for me to try some of those again, just to refresh my brain.

    Thanks for this article!

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 10:07 am #

      Hope, thank you so much for sharing your process. I love the value you found in those flash fiction pieces. I am so glad you mentioned this. And congratulations on publishing in Havok. Blessings to you.

  15. Avatar
    Terri January 14, 2021 at 10:38 am #

    So wonderful, I am plodding along in life right now. Waiting and waiting, trying to find my avenue to publish. Keeping the faith. Thanks Deb

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      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 10:48 am #

      Terri, so glad you posted here. Hang in there. Sending you a Texas-sized hug!

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    Tina Radcliffe January 14, 2021 at 12:04 pm #

    Congratulations. This is an excellent post and a very encouraging reminder.

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      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 12:18 pm #

      Thank you so much, Tina. Your fingerprints are all over this post. God uses you greatly.

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    Torie Anderson January 14, 2021 at 1:51 pm #

    I’ve kept journals throughout my lifetime which make it easy to go back and find short story material. Journal writing is a great daily writing practice and a great memory catcher. Plus it helps to go back and read them because God will usually give me guidance in understanding why things happened as they did and for what purpose. I’m able to see threads of His prophetic interventions running throughout my life. Whatever I write, it will be for the glory of an awesome God.

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 1:57 pm #

      Torie, I love how you use journaling for different purposes. You have inspired me to take a deeper look. Thank you for sharing!

  18. Avatar
    Len Bailey January 14, 2021 at 2:28 pm #

    Hey you guys! Speaking of short stories, I have a SS coming out Jan 25 with Mysterion Magazine (.com) entitled “Devil Dog”. It’s a Kentucky coalmine ghost story, circa 1945. Pleas let me know what you think! — lbnovelwriter@yahoo.com.

    Thanks

    Len

  19. Avatar
    Len Bailey January 14, 2021 at 2:41 pm #

    Another thing. I had a dead-in-the- water novel (“The Last Mask”–90k words) but couldn’t resurrect it. I wrestled for years and gave up. Having gotten into short stories, I thought of it as a short. I revamped 90k into 6k, and found I had stripped away all the stuff that didn’t work–because I was forced to. As I outlined “Mas” as a ss, it started to take off on me, a lot leaner anf focused–better. As a result, I have “Mask” cooking again on the sideline while I churn out short stories. Hope this helps someone . . .

    Len

  20. Avatar
    Sherrinda Ketchersid January 14, 2021 at 6:05 pm #

    Great article!!! And congratulations on selling to WW! That is huge! I tried several stories for WW but nothing came of it. I did write a novelette (40pages) and had so much fun. It was challenging but did help me to hone the story down to what was really important.

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      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 6:11 pm #

      Thank you so much, Sherrinda! You are so talented – I love that you had fun writing the novelette!

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    Robin W. Pearson January 14, 2021 at 7:40 pm #

    I can already see how powerful your storytelling is—look at the response! God does go before us, doesn’t He? “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

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      Deborah Clack January 14, 2021 at 8:01 pm #

      Robin, you are so encouraging! Amen to that. He goes before us, and I’m so glad He does. Speaking of powerful storytelling, I can’t wait to dive into your upcoming release. You are about to bless so many people with your words.

  22. Avatar
    Becky Steiner January 15, 2021 at 6:54 am #

    Deborah, this is a really inspiring post! Thank you for it. I have found myself writing what I think others want to read … instead of writing what God has called me to write. It takes some tough nudges from the Lord to get me back on track. And the thing is–writing from my whimsical heart, for kids (and adult kids like me) brings me so much JOY and meaning. I don’t know why I keep veering off track. Anyway, your story and advice are well-timed. Thank you! Many blessings in your writing career.

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      Deborah Clack January 15, 2021 at 1:06 pm #

      Becky, thank you so much for your kind words. And thank you for sharing about your writing journey. Getting off-track is so relatable. I love hearing about what brings you joy and meaning. Blessings to you as you navigate your way to God’s nudges.

  23. Avatar
    Jennifer Chastain January 15, 2021 at 10:28 am #

    Thanks Deborah! Great advice. And actually I’m almost finished with my reader magnet for my website. Only 5000 words but it’s condensed but tells the story and gives subscribers a taste of my writing style. I’ve had to really be more choosy and succinct with my words. A great exercise for my future novels!

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 15, 2021 at 1:10 pm #

      Jennifer, well done with writing a reader magnet! Your readers will love getting a taste of your writing style. Blessings to you!

  24. Avatar
    Debbie Williams January 15, 2021 at 8:17 pm #

    Deb, so proud of and for you. What an honor to appear on this site. And such good advice. While cleaning out old books today, I found a volume titled The Complete Works of O. Henry. Reading and studying this will be my starting place. The edition I have was published in 1953. You were years away from birth, but God already knew your path. He is so good! All the time. I’m blessed to call you my friend.

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 16, 2021 at 10:19 am #

      I am smiling over here seeing your name! You have always been such an encouragement to me. I love that you found that book! I will be curious what you think and where the process takes you. Blessings to you!

  25. Avatar
    Peggy January 15, 2021 at 9:45 pm #

    Deborah,

    Thanks so much for this post. I write devotionals and blog pieces. I submitted a short story for “Chicken Soup” but it wasn’t accepted. It may be that farther down the road it will be.

    It was so inspirational to hear how you realized God’s timing in your writing. Congratulations on getting the story in Women’s World!

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 16, 2021 at 10:22 am #

      Peggy, thank you so much for your kind words. I’m so glad you’re here on this post. Congratulations on submitting to “Chicken Soup.” Putting our work out there is not easy. I hope you continue to do so in the future. God is using you. Blessings to you!

  26. Avatar
    Donna Stearns January 16, 2021 at 1:05 pm #

    My writing journey sounds similar to yours. I’ve been working on a couple of books and book ideas. Recently, I felt what I believe to be the Lord’s nudging to write nonfiction short stories. There was a time I wrote fiction and nonfiction short stories for teens. I’m at a different age and time but I think He may be bringing me back to short stories. Hopefully, my story ends as well as yours.

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 16, 2021 at 4:57 pm #

      Oh, Donna, that is so interesting! I will be so curious to know how this unfolds for you as you follow God’s nudges. Blessings to you!

  27. Avatar
    Kelly Jo Wilson January 17, 2021 at 6:44 am #

    Wow! What an encouraging message, Deb. Thank you so much for sharing this crucial lesson of trust and hope. God is always in control and sometimes guides us into a place we would never see otherwise. Your question about waiting on God awoke my spirit. I need to remember that in the small things everyday. It’s His time, His purpose. And your mentor … Why not you? I think we writers really need to hear that. There are so many lies we believe and let the imposter feeling sneak in, but really, Why not us? God chooses who He chooses for a reason. I can’t wait to see what He’ll accomplish through your stories Deb!

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      Deborah Clack January 17, 2021 at 12:48 pm #

      Kelly, thank you so much for stopping by on the blog. You are so encouraging! Finding hope in the waiting is so important. It’s kind of a battle some days, isn’t it? God uses you for His purpose, more thank you know. Blessings to you!!

  28. Avatar
    Stephan January 20, 2021 at 5:48 am #

    Sixty three responses already, wow, Deborah, and what a fantastic incentive for me. If you can make it with a short story publication, I believe you have the talent for the 90K’s as well. I just read Steve’s post on five reasons why you may never get published, and none I believe fit you!

    I guess its not only about quality but finding the right agent and the right market at the right time. After one has published, it should become easier, if your stories keep on meeting the trends for publication?

    For you, I trust you have reached that stage after your first publication. For me, maybe I’ll have to adapt to popular market trends, and keep those short stories in mind!

    God Bless

    • Avatar
      Deborah Clack January 22, 2021 at 5:00 pm #

      Stephan, thank you so much for your kind words. Blessings to you and your writing endeavors!

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