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Writing For Your Life Today

Our favorite verses

In the Christian New Testament, Jesus himself admits that he does not know everything there is to know about God. When his disciples ask him to tell them about the end times, he gives them a harrowing description that includes everything but when. “But about that day or hour no one knows,” he says, “neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” 

Passages like these protect God’s autonomy, but most of us prefer those that grant us special privilege. For Christians, the most potent one is John 14:6, in which Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Here is the bedrock assurance that Christians alone have access to God. But why is this verse more important than one that comes two chapters earlier in John’s Gospel? “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me,” Jesus says in John 12:44. Maybe my hearing is off, but those two verses sound different to me. So why do so many Christians know the former saying but not the latter one? Could it be that our favorite verses are the ones that make us feel most right?

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

Writing our way into the mystery

Spiritual memoir entails moving forward by writing what we don’t know-writing our way into the mystery. “I haven’t a clue as to how my story will end,” Nancy Willard writes. “But that’s all right. When you set out on a journey and night covers the road, you don’t conclude that the road has vanished. And how else could we discover the stars?

Consider a simple memory that haunts you. Make two lists: what you know and what you don’t know about the memory. What items from each list interest you most? Write a short paragraph reflecting on the two items.

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

External, internal and philosophical problems

Let’s look at how some successful brands we all know about have positioned the purchasing of their products as the resolution to external, internal and philosophical problems.

TESLA MOTOR CARS:

  • Villain: Gas guzzling, inferior technology
  • External: I need a car.
  • Internal: I want to be an early adopter of new technology.
  • Philosophical: My choice of car ought to help save the environment.

NESPRESSO HOME COFFEE MACHINES:

  • Villain: Coffee machines that make bad coffee
  • External: I want better-tasting coffee at home.
  • Internal: I want my home coffee machine to make me feel sophisticated.
  • Philosophical: I shouldn’t have to be a barista to make a gourmet coffee at home.

EDWARD JONES FINANCIAL PLANNING;

  • Villain: Financial firms that don’t listen to their customers
  • External: I need investment help.
  • Internal: I’m confused about how to do this (especially with all the tech-driven resources out there).
  • Philosophical: If I’m going to invest my money, I deserve an advisor who will thoughtfully explain things in person.

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

Competition turns out to be less central to the history of good ideas than we generally think

The pattern of “competition” is an excellent case in point. Every economics textbook will tell you that competition between rival firms leads to innovation in their products and services. But when you look at innovation from the long-zoom perspective, competition turns out to be less central to the history of good ideas than we generally think. Analyzing innovation on the scale of individuals and organizations – as the standard textbooks do – distorts our view. It creates a picture of innovation that overstates the role of proprietary research and “survival of the fittest” competition. The long-zoom approach lets us see that openness and connectivity may, in the end, be more valuable to innovation than purely competitive mechanisms. Those patterns of innovation deserve recognition – in part because it’s intrinsically important to understand why good ideas emerge historically, and in part because be embracing these patterns we can build environments that do a better job of nurturing good ideas, whether those environments are schools, governments, software platforms, poetry seminars, or social movements. We can think more creatively if we open our minds to the many connected environments that make creativity possible.

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson – Riverhead Books

Imagination – by Frederick Buechner

EVEN A THOUSAND MILES inland you can smell the sea and hear the mewing of gulls if you give thought to it. You can see in your mind’s eye the living faces of people long dead or hear in the mind’s ear the United States Marine Band playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” If you work at it, you can smell the smell of autumn leaves burning or taste a chocolate malted. You don’t have to be asleep to dream dreams either. There are those who can come up with dramas laid twenty thousand leagues under the sea or take a little girl through a looking glass. Imagining is perhaps as close as humans get to creating something out of nothing the way God is said to. It is a power that to one degree or another everybody has or can develop, like whistling. Like muscles, it can be strengthened through practice and exercise. Keep at it until you can actually hear your grandfather’s voice, for instance, or feel the rush of hot air when you open the 450-degree oven.

 

If imagination plays a major role in the creation of literature, it plays a major one also in the appreciation of it. It is essential to read imaginatively as well as to write imaginatively if you want to know what’s really going on. A good novelist helps us do this by stimulating our imaginations—sensory detail is especially useful in this regard, such as the way characters look and dress, the sounds and smells of the places they live and so on—but then we have to do our part. It is especially important to do it in reading the Bible. Be the man who trips over a suitcase of hundred-dollar bills buried in the field he’s plowing if you want to know what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about (Matthew 13:44). Listen to Jesus saying, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew11:28) until you can hear him, if you want to know what faith is all about.

 

If you want to know what loving your neighbors is all about, look at them with more than just your eyes. The bag lady settling down for the night on the hot-air grating. The two children chirping like birds in the branches of a tree. The bride as she walks down the aisle on her father’s arm. The old man staring into space in the nursing-home TV room. Try to know them for who they are inside their skins. Hear not just the words they speak, but the words they do not speak. Feel what it’s like to be who they are—chirping like a bird because for the moment you are a bird, trying not to wobble as you move slowly into the future with all eyes upon you.

 

When Jesus said, “All ye that labor and are heavy laden,” he was seeing the rich as well as the poor, the lucky as well as the unlucky, the idle as well as the industrious. He was seeing the bride on her wedding day. He was seeing the old man in front of the TV. He was seeing all of us. The highest work of the imagination is to have eyes like that.

 

-Originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words

Is there a deeper story?

Before music went digital, Tower Records promoted their chain of record stores using the tagline “No music, no life.” Not only did the tagline help them sell more than a billion dollars in records each year, but they sold thousands of bumper stickers and T-shirts featuring the tagline to fans who wanted to associate with the philosophical belief that music mattered.

Is there a deeper story your brand contributes to? Can your products be positioned as tools your customers can use to fight back against something that ought not be? If so, let’s include some philosophical stakes in our messaging. 

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

Straight from the Authors – Part  1

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 how it has changed over time.

 

WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE? HAS IT CHANGED FROM BOOK TO BOOK?

LW: It always starts in the same way: a thought, something I’m learning, or a recurring theme in my own life, research online through social media and a blog (to see if people are feeling the same way or have the same need or issue), building the structure of the book (title and chapters), taking notes on my phone from daily thoughts, observations and inspiration from the Lord as they come, randomly, plugging it into the book, then going back through, reading for flow, saying it better, and general editing.

 

I’m a stretched mom of three with a busy speaking schedule and daily life, so when I write depends largely on the season (for example, summer with the kids at home is a hard time for me to keep a strict writing schedule). I’ve learned to write fast when I have a dedicated chunk of time, and thankfully, the Lord has been faithful to show up with the inspiration much of the time.

 

But I’ve also experienced what every writer has at one time or another—the dreaded writer’s block, which I’ve learned to embrace and wait for a better day with better words instead of pushing something that isn’t going to work, anyway.

 

This has always been my process, though the initial thought has been sparked in different ways and under different circumstances. I can honestly say I’ve never gone into a book with the thought, “I’m going to write a book.” It’s always a spark in my heart and mind that eventually turns into a book, based on what I sense others also need to hear.

 

JM: It has definitely changed over time. I’ve really moved from a “concept-driven” approach to a “content-driven” approach. That is, I try to start with the content I have—stories, points, thoughts, experiences—and form a book out of that. I used to start with an interesting concept and then go find content to fill in the gaps. Most writers I meet have concept-driven processes for books, but those books are far more difficult to write.

 

LT: I’ve learned how to hold my own hand through the writing process, developing tricks that work well for me. Here are a few:

 

– I always pre-arrange assignments with myself.

 

I never sit down at my computer without pre-arranging an assignment with myself first. If I don’t have an assignment before I sit down, I will waste so much time and energy getting started that I will exhaust myself before I’ve even begun.

 

I have material, noticings, stories, snippets, phrases, ideas I have collected and I know which one I’m going to tackle before I even sit down. Whether I am writing a chapter for a book, an article for a magazine, or a blog post, I do not sit down without a starting point. It’s just too painful and agonizing and depressing to sit there trying to come up with something that will not arrive. This is a great way for me to sabotage myself and the process.

 

So, I identify one story I’m going to write that day. Or I identity one concept I want to explore. I use my writing time that morning to get as far as I can on my assignment. Often that will lead to the next assignment.

 

– I compose and edit separately.

 

I compose on my laptop and I edit on a hard copy. I am a major disciple of composing and editing as completely separate steps. In fact, I’ve been told these two parts of the writing process call on different sides of the brain, so it makes sense that it would be highly troublesome to try to do them both at the same time.

 

I’ve become more disciplined, over time, about composing as freely and openly as possible, knowing I will come back later with the paper and pen. I find it incredibly satisfying to reward myself for composing by getting a fabulous pen for editing. Bribing is also a major part of my process.

 

– I get the book in front of me visually.

 

Books need both a big idea and content to support that big idea. I have found that if I don’t work on establishing both of those elements, I lose my way and the process becomes convoluted. So I use sticky notes to write down the big idea holding the book together and then I write one sticky note per idea or story that will support the big idea. I fill the sliding glass doors in my dining room with these sticky notes and then I pull one off and that sticky note becomes my assignment for the day.

 

This process has helped me see the entire book in front of me, allowed me to arrange and rearrange easily, and has provided bite-sized assignments that feel doable and never leave me staring at a blank screen (which = death, if I haven’t already mentioned that).

 

The biggest difference about my process now, having recently released my third book, compared to my process with my first book is that I panic less now. I’m not saying I am free from panic, but I trust the process more now. I know that I have an incredible team around me that wants to help my work find an audience, and I know that I can get a book done. I know where I’m going to face murkiness, pitfalls, detours, and frustrations. And I try to get help when I’m hitting up against those places.

 

No one owns God

But there is a deeper message in the sermon at Nazareth, which is that no one owns God. The great religions may possess genuine revelations of God’s nature and purpose. Their most gifted listeners may truly have discerned a divine call to special purpose, both for themselves and for their communities. Traditions that do not speak of God have certainly perceived truths about the human condition and have conceived inspired ways to transcend it. But whatever we mean when we say “God” is not fully captured by any of these traditions. If it could be, it would not be God.

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

Facing the truth about my own story

I’ve come to believe that artists are given the task of healing their culture through their explorations, through their renaming and revisioning of events. It is part of my gift as a writer to unveil the wisdom and redemption within difficult times, to name things accurately so that my community can face the truth about itself. I begin this service by facing the truth about my own story.

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

The space of innovation

This is a book about the space of innovation. Some environments squelch new ideas; some environments seem to breed them effortlessly. The city and the Web have been such engines of innovation because, for complicated historical reasons, they are both environments that are powerfully suited for the creation, diffusion, and adoption of good ideas. Neither environment is perfect, by any means. (Think of crimes rates in big cities, or the explosion of spam online.) But both the city and the Web possess an undeniable track record at generating innovation. In the same way, the “myriad tiny architects” of Darwin’s coral reef create an environment where biological innovation can flourish. If we want to understand where good ideas come from, we have to put them in context. Darwin’s world-changing idea unfolded inside his brain, but think of all the environments and tools he needed to piece it together: a ship, an archipelago, a notebook, a library, a coral reef. Our thought shapes the spaces we inhabit, and our spaces return the favor. The argument of this book is that a series of shared properties and patterns recur again and again in unusually fertile environments. I have distilled them down into seven patterns, each one occupying a separate chapter. The more we embrace these patterns – in our private work habits and hobbies, in our office environments, in the design of new software tools – the better we will be at tapping our extraordinary capacity for innovative thinking. 

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson – Riverhead Books

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