A Tightrope

Writing is a tightrope because on the one hand we are told as Christians not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and on the other we are told that as writers we should talk about ourselves so audiences can identify with us. By being vulnerable we can draw readers in and so help them benefit from our life and work.

 

John Stott, the well-known London pastor, writer, and speaker who died in 2011, was famously reluctant to say anything about himself. Though his books sold millions and he spoke to thousands all over the world, he almost never said anything about his own life. Stott navigated the tightrope by simply getting off it. He remained staunchly Bible focused. That is clearly one valid way to resolve the issue. As noted earlier, however, we can benefit greatly from writing directly about ourselves, telling stories about ourselves, writing in first-person singular. Doing so can be an exercise in remembering. And when we remember, we have an opportunity for confession and for thanksgiving to God.

 

from “Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality” by Andrew T. Le Peau, Intervarsity Press

It’s Okay to Make a Scene

 

 

from “Your Story Matters”
by Leslie Leyland Fields

 

Sometimes it’s hard to write about something we know well. We all have pieces of our lives that are so familiar to us, we don’t even know what we know. And then we assume our readers know what we don’t know we know. We skip some of the pieces they need to see, hear, taste, touch to be there with us. And our knowledge and experience is not always verbal. It may be a body knowledge. It might be a vocabulary of muscle and tendons. So it was for me. I had to stop, engage my body in the composition of those pages. How did I stand in the skiff? How did I first step into those hip-high rubber boots? How did I lean over to catch the net?

So I started. I started writing scenes of my first time actually working with my husband in the skiff. I was writing fifteen years later from that first day, but I had journals, and those early memories were sharp. I remembered the process of getting dressed, with layer upon layer of sweat shirts, hip boots, rain pants, finally layered so thick and heavy, I could hardly walk. Kind of a backwards Pygmalion story, the real person submerged under inches of fishing gear.

Then I thought of my first snack and bathroom break on the water, on an eighteen-foot open boat. There’s no latrine, of course, on a boat that size. We worked all morning until it was nearly lunchtime. Duncan and his father, DeWitt, brought out the snacks from under the seat—candy bars and pop. For their bathroom break in the skiff, they asked me to turn around. For mine, I was dropped off on a rocky ledge. But it wasn’t quite that simple.

But you don’t care about any of that, right? I don’t either. I just gave you information. I told you what you needed to know, but you weren’t with me. I just gave you words about a time and a place far from wherever you live. So let me try again, this time as a scene:

It’s almost noon now. We’ve been fishing for four hours. I sit wearily on the wooden seat, looking at the fish on the floor of the skiff. There must be five hundred of them, all fat and shiny. The waves slap and slosh our skiff from side to side. I’m hungry. And I need a bathroom break, but how does this happen in an eighteen-foot boat? There is no cabin on our little wooden peapod. It’s just a glorified rowboat afloat on a great Alaska sea.

DeWitt sits heavily in the bow, his black-green raincoat mirroring the dark water below. “Well, I guess I’ve gotta shake the dew off my lily,” DeWitt intones in a gravelly voice. I can hear his Oklahoma accent, though he left forty years before, during the dust bowl. He grew up poor, picking cotton and working the land. Now he works the seas, but he moves awkwardly in the boats and never seems at home on moving water. Except now.

I smile at Duncan and DeWitt and turn around. When they’re done, it’s my turn.

“Let me off on that rock over there, Duncan.” I point to a cove with a shelf of rock jutting out. In a moment we are there, the skiff rising and plunging in the waters swirling around the rocks. I’m nervously perched in the bow, ready to spring overboard at just the right second. My hands twitch as they grip the rail. I’m motionless but breathing hard.

“Jump!” Duncan yells as the nose of the skiff rises in the foaming surge.

“You’re not close enough!” I shoot behind me. I see DeWitt sitting calmly beside Duncan as if we’ve done this a hundred times.

“I can’t get any closer! Jump!” he shouts as the boat gurgles and sinks now in the trough.

I can’t leap that distance in all this fishing gear. And if I miss? How did a simple bathroom break become a life-and-death endeavor?

 

Good Habits: Choose Your Influences

 

Every day I am formed. Situations, pressures within and without, and my own fears and desires shape me through conversations and mundane activities such as commuting or preparing a meal. Much of my situation is already determined; for instance, I’ve committed to a marriage, and I’m an employee, and those two relationships will form me, day in and day out.

However, I can choose to include influences that will help shape me into the person God created me to be. I can choose daily prayer, regular conversation with people who encourage and teach me, and engagement in a community that helps me live out my faith. I can ask myself to list right now the influences I have already brought into my life that will help form me as the person I want to be.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, which influence might I seek on a regular basis?

 

 

from “small simple ways: an Ignatian daybook for healthy spiritual living” by Vinita Hampton Wright, Loyola Press

What Should I Say in the Bio Section of My Proposal?

– by Angela Scheff

 

We were recently asked about what specifically should be included in the author bio section of your proposal. While it does sound a bit foreign as you’re writing it, the standard is to write it in third person. This might also make it a bit easier to talk more about yourself. As we’ve said it before, your proposal is not the time to be modest. 

Start with your writing credentials—your previously published books or those you’ve contributed to or even articles online. Next move to relevant information. If you’re writing on a specific topic, is there anything you’ve done that makes you an expert on it or gives you credibility? List any degrees or schooling or workshops you’ve taught or even volunteering opportunities that are relevant. Finally, include personal information, like where you live and your family details.

The key with an author bio is to keep it professional as well as personal. Those reviewing your proposal like to be reminded that you’re a real person who is qualified to write. It’s also helpful to have a long bio for your proposal but to have a short one on-hand too, in case it’s requested. That’s the bio that goes on the back of your book or included in any interviews.

I recommend taking a look at different authors and see how they handle their bios. What’s on the back of their book and at the end of online articles? What do they include on the author section of their blog? Does it make you want to read what they’ve written?

Finally, when you’re done with your bio, check out some additional things you can include in your proposal to help the publisher get to know YOU better—things like an author photo and/or video.

 

Revision Includes Generation

Rather than leading readers down the narrow path of a first draft, you can continue investigating the wilderness, growing more familiar with your material, before you invite anyone along. Early on it’s important to ask, “What more do I have to say about this subject?” Our initial seeing comes from just one of many angles. What else is worth visiting in these woods? Sometimes adding new material expands the breadth of our story; more often it fills empty spaces within the bounds of the story. Regardless of how long-winded a first draft may be, we can always increase our awareness of the story’s significance—its inner life. Generating more material helps.

 

from “Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice” by @Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew @Skinner House

Discernment: How Do I Discern?

 

 

Discernment does not seem to come naturally to a lot of people. We make decisions all the time based on the moment’s emotion, sensory overload, pressure from others, whatever seems easiest, and so on. For major decisions, we apply more reason and search the heart a bit more, and probably ask others for advice.

Like any other personal quality or virtue, discernment can be developed through intention and practice. A first step is to look at your past decisions and ask a couple of questions:

• What factors do I rely on most when making a decision—how I feel, what makes the most sense, what is most positive financially?

• What factors do I tend not to include when I’m in discernment mode—intuition, spiritual aspects of the situation, advice from people I consider wise, my general direction or personal mission?

Prayer: Holy Spirit, help me become more conscious of how I make decisions.

 

from “small simple ways: an Ignatian daybook for healthy spiritual living” by Vinita Hampton Wright, Loyola Press

Set your sights higher than finding your voice

 

The goal of writers is not complete originality but to take the past and give it a shake, a fresh look that helps us see reality differently and better. Our task is not to destroy the past but to build upon the past.

And what does our tradition tell me? That I am not at the center of the universe. I am not the goal of the ultimate quest; goodness, truth, and beauty are. We aspire to these for the sake of others as well as for ourselves. Whatever encourages people to be their better selves, to be more closely connected to reality, to delight in creation—this is our noble aim in writing.

Sometimes we have to go through the bad, false, and ugly to get there, and sometimes that rotten stuff is in me. This can be a fruitful source of creative material. Sometimes we have to bring the evil of the world to light in order to defeat it. But inner darkness is not our final aspiration, even if it is authentic.

Writing is not merely an inward, self-referential exercise. It is, or should be, outward. Writing can help our therapy, but we shouldn’t expect to publish it

Set your sights higher than finding your voice. Set them on making the world a better, truer, more beautiful place

from “Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality” by Andrew T. Le Peau, InterVarsity Press

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