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Writing For Your Life Today

Intensely private

Three qualities make the genre of spiritual memoir unique: The spiritual writer uncovers, probes, and honors what is sacred in his or her life story; the writing process itself is a means to spiritual growth; and the end product makes the experience of the sacred available to the reader.

The heart of spiritual memoir is intensely private. It is an intimate conversation between the writer and a great mystery. In traditional spiritual memoir, authors even veer from the story to praise or address the sacred in prayer. “How hidden you are,” Augustine wails in his Confessions, “you who dwell on high in silence, you the sole great God!” Teresa of Avila felt God waiting for her story, addressing God from the outset in her Life of Saint Teresa: :”I pray Him with all my heart for the grace to write this account…The Lord, too, I know, has long desired that it should be written, but I have never been bold enough to begin. May it be to His glory and praise.”

from “Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, Skinner House

Defining exactly what their customer wanted

Recently a high-end resort hired us to help them clarify their message. Like many companies, they were experiencing an identity crisis. Their marketing collateral featured images of their restaurant, front desk, and staff. It all looked nice, but unless they were trying to sell their buildings, they weren’t exactly inviting customers into a story.

What their customers wanted most, actually, was a luxurious, restful experience. After StoryBranding their resort, they changed the text on their website from long stories about themselves (which positioned them as the hero) to images of a warm bath, plush towels and robes, someone getting a massage in the spa, and a looping clip of a back-porch rocking chair against the backdrop of trees blowing in the wind along a golf course. 

They replaced the text on their main page with short and powerful copy: “Find the luxury and rest you’ve been looking for.” That became the mantra for the entire staff. This phrase was posted on their office walls, and to this day you can stop any team member from the sous chef to the groundskeeper and they will tell you their customers are looking for two things: luxury and rest. Defining exactly what their customer wanted brought clarity and camaraderie to the staff. Each member of the staff then understood his or her role in the story they were inviting their customers to engage in. 

from “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller

Wisdom: God’s Mind Coming to Us

Wisdom enlarges understanding and sharpens viewpoints. Wisdom discerns between similar options. Wisdom builds a memory of examples to help guide us. 

Wisdom is God’s mind coming to us in tiny increments that we can comprehend. In fact, wisdom itself is fine evidence of God-with-us.

You may not feel close to God right now. But can you savor the wisdom stored up in your life? The wisdom that has soaked into your way of thinking and acting is one manifestation of God that is quite active in you. And close to you—so close, it has become your own mind thinking. 

I acknowledge, God, that you have already nurtured wisdom in me. Help me see it.

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

Who had convinced us that faith was a competitive sport and that only one team could win for all eternity?

by Barbara Brown Taylor

That first field trip opened a whole new folder of questions for me, both as a person and as a teacher of young persons. Is it better to read about a religion in a textbook than to risk actual contact with it? How would I feel if a group of students visited my church and treated the holiest things inside it like oddities? Can anyone who visits a sacred space remain an observer, or does one become a participant simply by entering in? Does taking part in the ritual of another faith automatically make you a traitor to your own?
The most troubling question of all was why my religion seemed so much less gracious than Dr. Acharya’s religion did. She seemed to be an exemplar of it, and her hospitality was impeccable. She welcomed all of us to join her at the high altar in her temple without asking what we believed. She enlisted the priest to offer special prayers for us. She did not distance herself from those who snickered. She did not take anyone to task for refusing the prasad. She opened her arms to us from beginning to end. If there were any problems with the visit, they came from the religious worldview of her guests, who had been taught to be very careful about who and what they embraced. I stewed about it all the way home in the van. Why was my crowd so defensive? Who had convinced us that faith was a competitive sport and that only one team could win for all eternity? With an attitude like that, who could blame a neighbor for sensing that Christian love was mostly charitable condescension?

– from “Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others” by Barbara Brown Taylor – HarperOne

Worth the Wait: How You Can Still Focus While Being Patient

By Dr. Mollie Bond

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.

Ecclesiastes 7:8

Have you ever been in a situation like this? You are at home, sitting on the couch. Then you get up and look out the window. Then, back to the couch. Maybe you’ll try to read a book; Maybe not. Set down the book. Look out the window. Wonder if the clock is going backward. Wonder if you should call.

All to see the installation truck come 30 minutes later than anticipated.

Recently I waited for the person to come and install our internet. If you’ve gone without internet, you’ll agree it’s much harder than you think. The reason for the delay was legit, but it tested my patience. I hope I displayed more patience in that situation than in others. If I did have more patience, then it came from one activity: writing. Displaying patience while writing is like waiting for internet when you really need it.

Plenty of classes and seminars exist to help discover the publishing and writing industry (and most of the great ones are here on this site). Degrees exist to help hone the craft. Groups provide accountability and encouragement. But where is the lesson on how to be patient and not stalk publishers? I would like to see that checklist, please!

To be patient means to be active while waiting. I learned that from my mother who is a saint and my picture of perfect patience. She isn’t lazy, but she isn’t idle either. She builds, plans, shapes; And then she sees the flowers bloom, or the stew reach perfection, or the relationship strengthened.

I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of patience in other people, too. As a writer, many have gone before us with stories of rejections, years passing in waiting, and the forever string of edits and requests. And the conclusion of their story is the contract, the agent, the book. It is a picture of actively waiting.

Years ago, at a conference, I found out that the Hebrew language has several different words for waiting. For example, Psalms 27:14 says, “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” The “wait” in this verse means, “to bind together (by twisting)” in Hebrew. That reminds me of my mom. Always busy, always patient; Creating a tapestry by twisting and building with focused energy. Patience pays off when idle hands are kept busy; And more than busy—focused on the goal. Actively waiting is biblical and necessary in patience, and in writing.

Another passage helped me understand the value of actively waiting and staying focused on my writing. Psalm 37:7a, which says, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him….” This “wait” denotes whirling. It is a different word from Psalms 27 but still translated as “wait” in English. Both words lead us to think about spinning and creating. God’s proactive waiting takes work, time, and creativity.

And it’s not just patience that a writer needs to successfully wait. The element of focus must also be present.

Can I share with you how I know writing has increased my focused patience while I was waiting? It’s a ten-year long story. Shortly after my divorce, I dove into writing as a tool for healing. I had lost my job at the same time, so there was plenty of time to write. I would write for hours in the morning and then work at my part-time job in the afternoon. It was great. I finished a full book during that season and was consistently posting each week on a blog.

Like most, I attended a writer’s conference that showed me the value of a platform. I found there were others like me; I found my tribe. I learned about how to share an elevator pitch and I learned how to approach publishers who were all kind to me in those early days with their suggestions.

From there, I wrote another book. This one targeted a specific audience, and I sent it to the publisher from the conference who had requested a proposal. I got my first rejection and wore it like a badge of honor. This publisher showed interest in the project, but my proposal needed some help. If I had sent them a second version, I could have possibly been published in my late 20s. Instead, I got shy. I got busy and unfocused because it was taking too long. I didn’t wait.

Ten years later, after a successful career as a grant proposal writer and the completion of a dissertation, I still get grouchy if I don’t write for myself. I can’t sleep until my thoughts are inked. Paper is my release of emotion, thoughts, and understanding.

So, I had to pick up the dream again. I wrote yet another book. I sent in yet another proposal. I received yet another rejection. I couldn’t be patient to send the same proposal; In my naïveté I allowed one rejection to speak for the entire industry. I had racked up three books, three rejections, and no contracts. This time, rather than pitching in the towel, I decided to test my patience. I actively waited, using the time to focus on building my network.

During the time of binding, twisting, weaving, I had lunch with a former CEO of a publishing house. Of course, you don’t talk to someone of that stature without mentioning that you’re a writer. And, of course, she was polite and asked me what the books were about. I gave my three elevator pitches, and one seemed to be of legitimate interest. She gave me some houses to consider and we parted ways.

I did submit a proposal to another publisher—the one that just needed polishing ten years ago. I submitted it on a Saturday and got a response on Monday for more of the manuscript. By Friday, I had a contract to consider.

While my story won’t be like yours, or anyone else’s, what I hope you glean is that actively waiting is worth it. Patience produces perfection. Faith follows focus.

So, stay focused, actively creating, and dare I say, patient. Keep writing. Enjoy the journey. While you are waiting for that next rejection, that next edit, that next year of hope, continue to hone the craft, attend classes, and encourage others in your group. You know why? Because you are just waiting anyway.

Dr. Mollie Bond is a writer, coach, and nonprofit professional. During the day, she’s using her doctorate in nonprofit leadership by fundraising for Lutheran Community Services Northwest, an organization that cares for vulnerable populations in the Pacific Northwest. She also serves on the board of Providence Heights, a second-phase step for women on the brink of becoming homeless. By night, she’s writing for various publications, including, Grant Professionals Association, and others.

Mollie’s first book will be published in 2021 for people who are separated from their spouse due to marital struggles. Visit Facebook and search for HopelesslyHopefulBooks to read her weekly blog posts and stay current on the book launch.

Small Windows

This sets up a weird tension between the small window of my classroom and the small window of my phone. Which is giving me a better picture of the real world? Are the headlines in my newsfeed truer than the ones in my local newspaper? If I trust what I see on my phone more than what I see out my window, what does it mean to believe that the real world is not where I live?

– from “Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others” by Barbara Brown Taylor – HarperOne

Customers are much more motivated to resolve their inner frustrations.

Customers are attracted to us for the same reason heroes are pulled into stories: they want to solve a problem that has, in big or small ways, disrupted their peaceful life. If we sell lawn-care products, they’re coming to us because they’re embarrassed about their lawn or they simply don’t have time to do the work. If we sell financial advice, they’re coming to us because they’re worried about their retirement plan. It may not be as dramatic or sexy as Jame Bond going to Q to grab the latest high-tech spy weapons, but the premise is the same: our customers are in trouble and they need help.

By talking about the problems our customers face, we deepen their interest in everything we offer.

What most brands miss, however, is that there are three levels of problems a customer encounters. In stories, heroes encounter external, internal, and philosophical problems. Why? Because these are the same three levels of problems human beings face in their everyday lives. Almost all companies try to sell solutions to external problems, but customers are much more motivated to resolve their inner frustrations. 

from “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller

Writing Critique Checklists

Following is an outline I use when preparing writers to critique one another. This outline breaks down the type of feedback according to the stage of the work. Of course this applies specifically to writing but it can give you some ideas for how you might outline forms of critique for other kinds of creative work.

At every stage, ask these two questions:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the genre/format?

Early Stage: Forming the Idea

When a work is in the early stages, you don’t want input that will interfere with the formation. For instance, you don’t turn over an early draft to someone and ask him or her to go over it with a red pen. Early draft is not the time for corrections to grammar and sentence structure. There’s a chance you will totally rewrite the piece anyway and eliminate the troublesome sentence or the phrase that doesn’t work. A thorough, technical critique at this point will merely frustrate you.

So in the early stage, talk about the general idea. If you do hand over an early-draft passage from this work-to-be, ask these sorts of questions:

  • What’s your general emotional reaction to this idea?
  • Is it interesting?
  • Where are you most emotionally engaged?
  • What do you think the point is, or where do you think it’s going?
  • Where do you want more?
  • Where do you want less?

Intermediate Stage: Putting It Together

Once the idea is pretty solid and you’ve produced quite a bit of raw material, it’s time to start shaping the piece. The intermediate stage will probably involve a lot of rewriting, filling in passages and rearranging material. Because it’s a time of revision, you can afford to ask more dangerous questions:

  • Is it easy to follow, or are there places where I lose you?
  • Where do I need to provide more information?
  • Where do I need to trim some fat and provide less information?
  • Does the tone welcome you? Does it put you off in any way?
  • It is compelling?
  • At what point does your interest flag?
  • Have I found the right beginning/end?

Final Stage:Fixing It

When you’re in the final stage, you’ve done about all you can do. You have rewritten, restructured, rethought and reimagined this piece. You have checked the spelling, grammar and other technical aspects. And at this point you are probably sick to death of this thing.

It’s time to call in someone who will now be more ruthless than you have the objectivity to be. Now any red mark is fair. When you turn over a work for this type of critique, it’s usually good to say, “I’m taking two weeks off from this, so take your time and mark it carefully but don’t call me in the meantime.” This final stage critique is the perfect opportunity for you to take a long-needed rest and to not think about the work. While you’re getting some R&R, your critic will be evaluating the following:

  • tone
  • pacing
  • emotional engagement
  • sentence structure
  • grammar
  • spelling
  • transitions
  • anything that jars the reader
  • anything that doesn’t flow well or that is unclear
  • tension/release
  • promise/delivery
  • good on the ear?
  • author tics

“Author tics” is my term to describe the mistakes that are common to a particular author.

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

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