What two or three things would you do differently if you were starting your publishing career today?
Since I was 58 when my debut novel was published, I’d have to say, “Start earlier!” But on the other hand, I can trace back through thirty-three years of ministry in radio—a good portion of my adulthood—and see that God prepared me, informed me, deepened me, worked on maturing me (that process will never end), created empathy in me, and accomplished untold other prep work in me before I ever signed my first contract.
I would apply myself to better and more efficient filing methods if I were starting now. Not only do we have greater access to tools that help us accomplish that goal these days, but I understand all too well what it’s like to have bins of material that need filing, scraps of paper with a brilliant idea buried under other scraps of paper, and what it’s like to waste time re-researching a bit of information I already have somewhere in the office. And this is coming from an author who has a “decent” filing system. I’m working toward becoming more streamlined now, uncluttering the paper jam of my life. That too, I wish I’d started sooner.
What one issue makes you struggle the most as an author? How do you handle it?
By necessity, because of the many facets that accompany publication—marketing, reader communication, research, development, editing, planning, interviews, conferences, speaking—and because, like many authors, I have a day job too, finding the sweet spot in time management is always an issue. What is most important for this moment? Some people have a word of the year. This year, I felt led to adopt a three-word phase that has often helped guide me in time management decision-making. My phrase for 2016 is “More of Less?” The question mark is there intentionally. Throughout the day, I ask, “Do I need more of this in my life or less of it?” It’s been an exercise that causes me to approach every assignment and every request with greater intentionality. And when I ask the question, I’m asking both myself and God…and listening for His answer.
What one issue ignites your passion? Does your passion fuel your writing? What would you do with your life if you didn’t write?
My writing tagline, but also for my life, in its extended version (my tagline, although let’s say my extended life, too!) is “I can’t unravel. I’m hemmed in Hope.” Landing on that tagline was like coming home to harbor. It seems to fit what I believe, what I practice, what I write, and what I long to pour into others. The stories I’m compelled to write are not all happy-happy-joy-joy stories. They’re careful, intimate, sometimes raw peeks into the very real struggles humans face, and sometimes the ones we don’t want to admit—like the character who isn’t sure she wants to be around her husband that much in retirement (Song of Silence from Abingdon Press). But hope isn’t just the last paragraph of the final chapter. It is woven throughout the story, even in the tough parts, because that’s what God does. He hems us in hope so we can bear life’s ravages—emotional, financial, health-wise, spiritual—without unraveling.
If I didn’t write, I would find some outlet where I could continue to encourage people with the irresistible wonder that God has created hope for every situation we can face.
And I’d consider editing or coaching other communicators. Or…take on more speaking opportunities for women’s events.
Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.
I’m just now getting serious about the benefits of setting a timer to create boundaries for writing and intentional breaks for moving and accomplishing the non-writing facets of this business. I’m finding my rhythm in about twenty-five or thirty-minute block of focused writing interspersed with ten-minute blocks (the recommendation is five, but ten works better for me) in which I keep myself from writing (unless in the last throes of a deadline) and force myself to walk around, unload the dishwasher, exercise, check email, put a stamp on an envelope, tidy the family room… Anything that is not actual writing. I implemented the plan—my home-tweaked version of the popular Pomodoro Technique—in the last two weeks of a very tight deadline. My productivity increased, and I felt as if I were still engaged in home life, rather than completely ignoring it. The body needs to move, but if I sat at my computer until the work was done, I never would move. The work is never “done.” And that is a natural frustration to my personality type. I’ve made it a regular practice now. It’s bringing a sense of energy to my writing, greater efficiency (although I had to DO it before I was convinced it could), keeps me from endless minutes or more staring at a blank screen because I’m eager to get back to the manuscript, manages distractions in a positive way, and also manages my guilt for what I in the past wasn’t accomplishing when in writer mode.
What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?
Life. More specifically, listening to life.
The kind of stories I’m compelled to write are inspired by listening to people’s heartaches, the story of their struggles, and watching for where that intersects with God’s story.
I find ideas—whether for fiction, nonfiction, or devotions—by staying alert and looking for the story in any small incident or observation.
One of my first fiction instructors had us create a paragraph in fifteen minutes centered on something in that room. “What item?” He said, “Pick one. It doesn’t matter. There’s a story everywhere you look.” I’ve taken that to heart and found it not only true but empathy-building.
What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn’t have to be one of your books or even published.)
I don’t look the type, don’t fit the profile, but I was challenged to write a Spoken Word piece for a specific sermon our pastor intended to preach the following Sunday. He wanted a Spoken Word on the Old Testament Joseph and the story of his going from a literal pit, thrown there by his brothers, to a place of prominence where the salvation of his nation depended on his forgiving his brothers. I had a heavy schedule at the time and told him, “I’ll try. But if it doesn’t come quickly, I’ll have to say no.” Within an hour, I emailed the piece to him, and reread it as if seeing it for the first time. An “in the zone” experience.
Since then I’ve done two other Spoken Word pieces—one for Christmas and one for Easter. I can’t say I’m “proud” of them, but that I am blessed to have been given the challenge, and stirred by how God poured His thoughts into me when I approached as an empty vessel ready to be filled.
It also reminded me of the power of poetry, and its importance in communicating deep truths. Sometimes when I’m in a rut in my writing, I’ll stop and read poetry. It restores my infatuation with the beauty and musicality of writing, the love of language, and the power of story.
What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?
I’m one of those writers who needs a title to inspire me as I write. It’s so much more difficult for me to create chapters, plots, characters, if I don’t have a title in mind, even if it isn’t the final title the publisher and I agree on.
What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course)?
My heart swells with joy when I read a note from a reader or a reviewer that shows they “got” what I attempted to communicate through story. But more thrilling than that is a reader whose life was enriched, comforted, encouraged, or newly hemmed in hope because of their connection with something I’ve written. It means I got out of the way so God could say what He wanted to say.
Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in hope through her novels, novellas, nonfiction books, articles, and devotionals, drawing from 33 years of on-air radio ministry. Ruchti has 17 books in print, and her books have received numerous awards and nominations.
One of Ruchti’s greatest joys is helping other writers grow in their craft. To that end, she has served as worship and devotions staff and faculty for the Write-to-Publish conference and teaches at other writers’ conferences across the country and internationally as opportunities arise. She also serves as the professional relations liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers.
To keep up with Cynthia Ruchti, visit www.cynthiaruchti.com. You can also follow her on Facebook (Cynthia Ruchti), Twitter (@cynthiaruchti), and Pinterest (cynthiaruchti).