Flowing

The Internet is the world’s largest copy machine. At its most fundamental level this machine copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the Internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied dozens of times in an ordinary day as the cycle through memory, cache, server, routers, and back. Tech companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. If something can be copied – a song, a movie, a book – and it touches the Internet, it will be copied.

 

– Kevin Kelly “The Inevitable”

The Affliction That Must Not Be Named

Toward the end of the Year of Pretending to Write a Book, an interview on All Things Considered caught my attention. The man being interviewed was described as a consultant and counselor to creative people struggling with the Affliction That Must Not Be Named. He knew about this malady because he is a writer himself.

 

He talked about his work with musicians and screenwriters and novelists and painters. I was uncertain if he might have great wisdom to share with a butler and general yardman who was pretending to write a book, but I listened anyway. Listening to people talk about writing was as close as I cam to participating in the literary life in those days. Listening to someone talk about writing was the only thing that made me feel like a writer.

 

I sat down to listen on the cool hardwood floor outside the room where I was supposed to be writing.

 

– Robert Benson, from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”

Living Revision

Revision’s bad reputation is based on stereotypes and misunderstanding. As soon as we pen a thought, we’ve already revised an invisible, intangible wisp inside our head into visible, tangible print. Something changes. Like any creative act, writing creates simultaneously inside and outside the creator. Writing helps us receive what experiences have made of us and make something of these experiences, which is how the Jungian Ann Belford Ulanov describes the source of all aliveness. Revision brings us and our work to life. Isn’t this why we initially fell in love with writing? Writing moved us and what we wrote moved others. Writing revised our world.

When we segregate revision from idea generation or journal writing or drafting—when we assume revision is for the professionals, and especially when we imagine revision to be devoid of exploration and surprise—we do a disservice to the creative process. Revision—reseeing—begins when we pen our first thought and continues through the drafting and development of a work, into and beyond publication. Revision is the dynamic, relational work of creating and being created. Isn’t this also the work of love?

 – by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

A Contribution to the Literary World

– by Robert Benson

 

At the beginning of a new book, I find it easier to write if I do not think about the fact that I am attempting to write a book.

 

Who in the world needs another book anyway? There are thousands of good ones already, and some of the best ones have not been read by very many people at all.

 

A day spent reading Annie Dillard or Graham Greene or John LeCarre or Thomas Merton or Doris Grumbach or Frederick Buechner can convince anyone who wants to write that the good stuff has already been written and, in fact, so marvelously written that anything else by anyone else, including me, borders on being audacious at best and pretentious the rest of the time. Last week while reading Buechner, I realized that if I wanted to make a contribution to the literary world, I should do his laundry and mow his grass so that he would have more time to write.

 

– from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”

Searching for Home

 – by Frederick Buechner

 

I receive maybe three or four hundred letters a year from strangers who tell me that the books I have spent the better part of my life writing have one way or another saved their lives, in some cases literally. I am deeply embarrassed by such letters. I think, if they only knew that I am a person more often than not just as lost in the woods as they are, just as full of darkness, in just as desperate need. I think, if I only knew how to save my own life. They write to me as if I am a saint, and I wonder how I can make clear to them how wrong they are.

But what I am beginning to discover is that, in spite of all that, there is a sense in which they are also right. In my books, and sometimes even in real life, I have it in me at my best to be a saint to other people, and by saint I mean life-giver, someone who is able to bear to others something of the Holy Spirit, whom the creeds describe as the Lord and Giver of Life. Sometimes, by the grace of God, I have it in me to be Christ to other people. And so, of course, have we all-the life-giving, life-saving, and healing power to be saints, to be Christs, maybe at rare moments even to ourselves. I believe that it is when that power is alive in me and through me that I come closest to being truly home, come closest to finding or being found by that holiness that I may have glimpsed in the charity and justice and order and peace of other homes I have known, but that in its fullness was always missing. I cannot claim that I have found the home I long for every day of my life, not by a long shot, but I believe that in my heart I have found, and have maybe always known, the way that leads to it. I believe that George Buttrick was right and that the home we long for and belong to is finally where Christ is. I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it.

Straight from the Authors – Part  2

In this article Angela Scheff from the Christopher Ferebee Agency interviews several amazing authors—Lisa Whittle, Jonathan Merritt and Leeana Tankersley—who describe their writing process and what surprised them about the publishing process.

 

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WRITING? WHAT DO YOU DISLIKE MOST ABOUT IT?

 

LW: I love the process of seeing the book unfold and turn into a complete heart offering. I see it much like painting a picture, which at first doesn’t look like much, but in the end, it’s a beautiful creation. I love the idea that the words God uses my fingers to write will help people—that always blows me away. Most of all, I love what happens between God and me while I’m writing and how He teaches me things I desperately need to learn.

 

I dislike the headspace I have to pop in and out of in order to still do daily life in the midst of trying to create. Coming in and out of writing is hard for me—I get consumed by a thought and then suddenly, I have to go to my son’s ballgame and have small talk with people. I find that challenging!

 

JM: I like the freedom. Every occupation has trade offs. If you’re a writer, you’re probably giving up money. Writers don’t make tons of cash, especially at first. If you’re a writer, you’re probably giving up security. Most writers don’t have a regular paycheck. If you’re a writer, you’re probably giving up serenity. The job is hectic and you’ll attract your share of haters. But if you’re a writer, you’ll gain a measure of freedom. If you value that—and I do—then you might enjoy being a writer.

 

LT: When I was 9, my parents divorced, and somehow I could not shake out that experience any other way than writing. I was intuitively drawn to writing, which both comforted me and saved me. I wrote poems about huge Clydesdales. I wrote about my broken heart even though I don’t think I realized it was broken. I was in shock and my system was stunned and I wrote.

 

Whether it was my own words or the words of someone else, I have been met so deeply and entirely by words. Certain voices and books have whispered my own truth to me when I could not name it for myself. I have laughed and cried along with perfect strangers through the portal of narrative, which always serves to remind us of both our wounds and our wonder. And I can think of no greater honor than to get to do that, too. To offer the simple loaves and fishes of my life and see if there might possibly be a moment of divine multiplication and nourishment that occurs. This is what art does for the human soul. Through truth and beauty, art sets us free. It saves us: word by word, image by image, line by line. God, I love that.

 

Working alone is probably writing’s biggest gift and biggest curse for me. I think God is often trying to get me to hush and stop squirming and retire my thinking cap that I am so attached to. He wants to partner with me in this work, but I am so often wanting a white board and a strategic plan and long boardroom table full of really smart people who can figure out my entire career for me.

 

Instead, God uses writing to quiet me down—which I both treasure and resent.

 

Over the years, God has rallied an incredible team around me and continues to do so. Agents, editors, readers, a therapist—it takes a village. And so I’m making peace with the solitary time—even though it’s not my first instinct—because I know it’s one of the ways that God gets me to hold still.

 

WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT THE PUBLISHING PROCESS?

 

LW: How much of an intricate process it really is. It’s a lot of waiting, more waiting, and working diligently on all ends. Writers sometimes have a hard time saying we have a “real” job when we write books. Writing books is a business and a job, like everything else. I realized that fairly quickly when I began to write. I don’t have trouble saying I have a job anymore.

 

JM: How long it takes. I think most people who are unfamiliar with writing assume that books pop onto shelves in a matter of months. Not so. Most books take 18 to 24 months to create. Some take longer. The author has to come up with a good idea, turn that into a professional proposal, find an agent, shop the project to publishers, wait for offers, negotiate a contract, research and write the book, endure the editing process, and then navigate the tricky waters of marketing, publicity, and sales. It’s grueling. Writing is not for the faint of heart or the impatient.

 

LT: The publishing process requires a multitude of skills. Sometimes it feels like writing is 5% of the job and the rest is a magic combination of marketing, promoting, publicizing, speaking, selling, pre-selling, appearing, blogging, tweeting, posting, boosting, networking, filming, recording.

 

Truly, all of those efforts are required, and I think some people find this very energizing, but I tend to find this confusing. I’ve been surprised at how turned around I feel sometimes, unsure of where to put my best energy.

Sarah Arthur’s Top Ten Tips for Getting it Done

– by Sarah Arthur

 

Q1: What is that one thing you must start/finish/work on? (Or, to put it in graphic terms, if you were to die in an epic car crash this afternoon, what would you regret never having finished?)

Q2: What’s keeping you from getting it done?

 

Inscription from one of my first “books,” circa 1980. Editors & co-authors take note: this has not been a self-fulfilling prophecy (all of the time).

I’m not naturally inclined toward getting my writing done. So what I’m presenting comes after fifteen years in this business. We are fully competent adults at getting things done in other areas of our lives (e.g., running errands, mowing the lawn, parenting, ministry), and yet writing is this BIG MYTHIC THING that paralyzes many of us. We assume that inspiration will strike, and that’s when we’ll write. But most of the time, writing doesn’t just happen. As Anne Lamott says, it’s “a debt of honor” that either we keep by getting our butts in the chair, or we don’t. (Here’s a great interview with Anne Lamott about this and other aspects of writing.) In short, most of the things that keep us from sitting down to write are internal, not external. With that in mind, here are

Sarah’s Top Ten Tips for Getting it Done:

  1. Prioritize your writing as more than just a hobby. If you can’t shake this project, it’s probably because you are being called to write it; and if you’re being called then it’s worthy work: it’s a job. If you think of it as a “job,” budget your time and finances accordingly.
  2. Set aside designated writing time / make an appointment with yourself. If you have a dentist’s appointment, do you go? In my family this takes serious heroics (dentist’s appointments and writing) especially regarding childcare, but we make it happen because it’s important. It’s my calling, my job.
  3. Accountability. Tell your loved ones & friends what you’re doing. Your goal is to have at least two people ask you in the next few months “How is the writing going?” Join a class or a writer’s group (even if it’s virtual). Or, like I do, meet with a friend for a writing date once a month: the goal is not to read & critique each other’s work, but to put your butts in the chair and to know that you’ve written nonstop for two hours at least once this month. Since your friend is counting on you, you’re more likely to show up.
  4. Think in small chunks. If you have it in your head that you are WRITING A BOOK it can be overwhelming. Instead, give yourself word counts or page goals or sections, and don’t feel like you have to complete one thing before you can chronologically move on to the next thing. One small bit at a time.
  5. Think like a binder or a scrapbook, not like a finished book. Yet. Here’s where it gets real for me: I write in Scrivener, which operates on a binder concept; but you also could create an actual 3-ring binder for your project. That way you can move material around, write non-chronologically, tackle the Acknowledgements if you’re stuck on something else (invent people to thank, if you have to), and not get hopelessly lost in endless word processing documents that are impossible to navigate.
  6. Set deadlines. Even if they’re arbitrary, based on personal benchmarks (e.g., “I want to have this drafted by the time I’m ____” or “by the next writing conference.”), deadlines are super motivating. Especially if money or treats are involved.
  7. Hold your work loosely. No combination of words should have the power to bind you–not even your own words. If you can’t “kill your darlings,” do what I do, which is give them a Time Out (lift that tricky paragraph or episode or story into a separate section of your binder, or into another document). And then move on to the next thing. You can always come back to that material later if you think you might need it. (You won’t, but it can be comforting to think it’s still there if you might.)
  8. Think outside the desk. Changing where you write might be the break-through that you need (a coffee shop, a different location of your house, the kitchen table, your bed, someone’s cabin). Frederick Buechner wrote for a season in a Sunday school classroom of a church. I once finished a manuscript by escaping to a friend’s guest house for a week. Another author I know takes her fifth wheel to a campground and drafts her next novel in 1-2 weeks. ONE-TO-TWO WEEKS. Okay, ignore the insanity of that timeline and focus on the campground, where no one cares if you’re antisocial, as long as you silence your dog (my advice: don’t bring your dog); and everyone, not just the novelist, looks like they haven’t showered. Also, give yourself permission to take a break from the work: do something else entirely, something mundane, like fold the laundry. Your subconscious is still working, and sometimes you might have a breakthrough while you’re not working on the work you’re supposed to be working on.
  9. Write as if you’re someone else. At heart, writing is not about expressing yourself (mucho bad writing has entered the blogosphere with that in mind); it’s about forgetting yourself. Maybe I’m weird, but when I pretend I’m someone famous (like Anne Lamott or Maya Angelou or Frederick Buechner or C. S. Lewis) my words are suddenly competent or funny or eloquent or articulate. If we write like the “masters” of our craft, eventually we can begin to improvise on their style and develop our own. But this takes time–and it takes reading many voices, reading all the time. Oh, and one slightly embarrassing side note: often when I edit, I read the manuscript out loud with a British accent. Yup. Amazing how intelligent your words can sound–and how obvious those moments of bad grammar can be–when it’s Hermione Granger saying them.
  10. Give yourself permission to pick the low-hanging fruit while it’s ripe. Sometimes–rarely, but sometimes–inspiration will strike, and you have to write while it’s pouring out of you. So do what you need to do: take personal days or sick days, eat the awful snacks that keep you going, stay up till 4 in the morning, whatever it takes. The farmer doesn’t apologize when the strawberries are in, right? So harvest that stuff. Right. Now.

How about you? What’s your top ten list for getting it done?

Finding God in the Cereal Aisle

– by Donna Owusu-Ansah

At the time I am writing this, my daughters—six and four—are playing with wooden blocks. It is one of those beautiful moments where they are playing together, scheming together, dreaming together and building together. They are using their minds and hearts and hands. Imaginations are running wild. They are putting their thoughts into actions, failing and trying again and again and again and again. They are laughing. There are moments of silence. Together. And this is a joy to witness. It is a holy endeavor. Their blocks have become something beyond the wooden squares that they were manufactured to be.

My husband would look at them and say, “Oh. They’re just playing blocks.”

I see something more.

And this is the task of the prophet—whether one who preaches, one who writes, one who dances, one who creates visual masterpieces, one who teaches, or one who organizes and protests. To see beyond the present reality to fashion a world that embodies, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven[1] The prophet is one who sees beyond sight, until that sight becomes seen and experienced by all.

In all likelihood, I have probably been seeing beyond sight all of my life, as I have been a writer and visual artist all of my life. However, I formally learned to see beyond sight as a student at the Theological School at Drew University. During my tenure at Drew, there was a January Intensive course offered titled, “Ministry and Imagination” taught by Rev. Dr. Heather Elkins and Rev. Dr. N. Lynne Westfield. I quickly recognized that our instructors were women who saw beyond sight. (After my first course, I took every course they offered together.) In Ministry and Imagination we were stretched to do heavy theological reflection beyond textbooks. I can recall one January when Heather and Lynne convened class at a snow covered cemetery. An unusual, but appropriate place to gather and meditate on the Apostles Creed: he descended to the dead. Some sat silently at tombstones, breathing deeply, listening. Some read, piecing together stories of lives in poetry and prose. Some painted on the snow with clover, salmon, and plum colored sand—a reminder of how fleeting life is. We honored the dead, but also with sight beyond what our eyes could see, imagined the rest of the creed— the dead rising and resting eternally in the presence of God.

Heather has a unique way of seeing beyond sight. I often joke that she could take you to the supermarket and you would find God in the cereal aisle. What I mean was that Heather has a penchant for seeing the holy in every day life. She has a seeing beyond sight. And through her be-ing, she inspired me, and a host of others, to open our eyes to God, not just on Sunday morning in church, but everywhere. Everywhere. This was new for me, as I came from a traditional and religiously conservative African-American church that mostly relegated God to a Sunday morning, inside the stained glass windows, kind of experience. There was a clear distinction made between sacred and secular. So, when God was seen outside the stained glass windows it was mostly in what would have been categorized as holy, sacred, and sanctified. But these distinctions didn’t sit well with me. I identified with the Psalmist’s questions in Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”[2] I riff with the Psalmist, “If I play blocks with my daughters, you are there; if I dance, shimmy, and shake as Beyonce trills in the background, you are there. If I listen to the wisdom of cocoa-skinned gray haired sisters, if I protest the unjust killing of black and brown people at the hands of police, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”[3] In other words, if I ascribe to the doctrine that God is omnipresent, and I do, then why wouldn’t God be in the cereal aisle?

We find God in the cereal aisle. We experience the holy mystery amid the whole grained goodness. We see beyond the sight of the fluorescent lights and perfectly lined cardboard boxes. And then we hear it, “Clean up on aisle three!”

We are back to reality and the cereal boxes become just that. Ordinary cereal boxes.

In her book, Listening for God: A Ministers Journey through Silence and Doubt, Renita Weems focuses a chapter on the Christian liturgical season known as ordinary time. She writes, “The mystery is presumably over. The ordinary resumes. And believing hearts are left to grapple for themselves with the silence of God. Or so it seems, that God is silent. Perhaps it’s humans who are speechless for those thirty weeks.”[4]

Ordinary cereal boxes. Ordinary time. Where is God?

As I learned in Ministry and Imagination, God is present everywhere. Even in the seemingly mundane and banal, the Holy mystery endures. However, often in these moments hopelessness and apathy can set in when silence and speechlessness carry on for too long. This is why I write. I write to remind myself and my readers of the beauty that lies beyond what the eye can see. I write because the adage, “no news is good news” does not ring true and we need good news—the prophet Isaiah declared it and Jesus reclaimed that declaration. I write because the rhetoric of our day is far louder than the silence and speechlessness, and our world needs words beyond what it hears and sight beyond what it sees.

 

[1] Matthew 6:10 (NIV)

[2] Psalm 139:7 (NIV)

[3] My interpretation of Psalm 139:8-10

[4] Renita J. Weems, Listening for God: A Ministers Journey Through Silence and Doubt (New York: Touchstone Books, 1999), 64.

How to Approach a Literary Agent for Representation

– by Tim Beals, Credo Literary Agency

After writing a book proposal that includes two or three sample chapters, make a list of agents that seem appropriate for you and your work, using the resources provided above. Do not send unsolicited proposals or manuscripts to agents; send a query email first. A query is a message to an agent that describes a piece of writing and asks if the agent would like to see it (see “How to Query an Agent” below). Make your inquiry by email. No snail mail or blind phone calls. You may write to as many agents at a time as you like—eight to ten is typical—but send the emails individually, not to a group list. Address the recipient by name.

Expect responses in one to six weeks. Be wary of agents who take longer than six weeks. If an agent does not respond to your query, which is common, forget about them. You may assume you are being deliberately ignored.

Send your book proposal only when requested by an agent. If several agents ask to see your work, email it to the one you like most, along with a brief note thanking the agent for their interest and reminding them of their request to see your manuscript. (If an agent requests your project while another agent is looking at it, say so straightforwardly and offer to show them the piece if you cannot work something out with the other agent.) If an agent turns down your query or proposal, merely thank the agent for his or her time and consideration and move on. Continue this process until an agent agrees to represent your project.

How to Query an Agent

Here are seven tips for being professional, friendly, and effective when making that all-important first contact with an agent.

  1.     Write to an agent by name, or by name and title (for example, Karen Neumair, Senior Agent), not merely by title or agency.
  2.     Do not use Mr., Ms., Mrs., or Miss unless you are sure of the person’s gender, marital status, and preference. Instead, write “Dear Karen Neumair.”
  3.     Make your query brief. It may be (and should be!) as short as two or three paragraphs. No more than one page if submitted as an attachment; no more than two page views if included in the body of your email.
  4.     Begin your query by introducing yourself. Include any relevant information about yourself, your credentials, and your writing—any significant writing awards or fellowships you’ve received, any significant and clearly related advanced study in writing, and your previous publications on the same topic. Be sure to list your previous relevant sales and publications; if you have several, stick with the major ones. In either case, only mention the ones likely to impress the agent.
  5.     In a separate paragraph, explain your project. Mention the title and a few words of description. If it is nonfiction, explain its theme, audience, approach, purpose, overall content, and how it is distinctive from other books on the same topic. If it is fiction, write a very brief plot synopsis. Be sure to explain what makes your piece unusual or what special experience you have had that informs it.
  6.     Do not mention any of the following in a query:
  •  Who has read and rejected the piece.
  •  What anyone else has said about the piece (unless it is a well-known published author).
  •  How long and hard you’ve worked on the piece.
  •  Acknowledgment of others for their assistance.
  •  Any admission that the proposal and samples are in less than ideal shape. (If they still need work, don’t send queries to agents yet!)
  •  A request for comments, criticism, advice, or instruction.
  •  How thrilled you would be to see your work in print.
  •  Anything about your life not strictly relevant to your submission.
  •  The rights you wish to sell.
  •  How much money you want for the piece (or any discussion of price or payment).
  1.     End your message by asking if the agent would care to review the proposal, and thank them for their time and consideration.

Get in touch!