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Writing For Your Life Today

Rational and Efficient Advertising

A rational, efficient advertising campaign involves two key things: knowing how much a customer is worth to you (or a customer’s LTV – lifetime value) and knowing how much it will cost to acquire that customer via the advertising you intend to use (or CPA – cost per acquisition). When ego is stripped from the equation – “I like seeing that billboard of myself on the way to the office each morning” – all that remains is whether the math works. Does this Facebook ad drive sales in a revenue-positive fashion? Are we sure that this TV commercial is driving sales, and at what cost? How many ads can we run until we start to see diminishing returns?

 

– Ryan Holiday – “Perennial Seller”

Out of the Great Hodgepodge of Your Life – by Frederick Buechner

The word fiction comes from a Latin verb meaning “to shape, fashion, feign.” That is what fiction does, and in many ways it is what faith does too You fashion your story, as you fashion your faith, out of the great hodgepodge of your life-the things that have happened to you and the things you have dreamed of happening. They are the raw material of both. Then, if you’re a writer like me, you try less to impose a shape on the hodgepodge than to see what shape emerges from it, is hidden in it. You try to sense what direction it is moving in. You listen to it. You avoid forcing your characters to march too steadily to the drumbeat of your artistic purpose, but leave them some measure of real freedom to be themselves. If minor characters show signs of becoming major characters, you at least give them a shot at it because in the world of fiction it may take many pages before you find out who the major characters really are just as in the real world it may take you many years to find out that the stranger you talked to for half an hour once in a railway station may have done more to point you to where your true homeland lies than your closest friend or your psychiatrist.

– from Secrets in the Dark

Revision Changes the Writer’s Role

If a first draft is a private romp in the woods, consequent drafts teach us about the flora and fauna, the geology, the contours of the landscape. Our intimacy with the subject deepens. Our respect grows. We find that the best route through the woods is likely not our first path. Only toward the end of a lengthy revision process, once we thoroughly know our material, ought we turn our attention to the needs of our readers. Revision transforms the writer from explorer to guide

 

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

 

 

The Three Hats

On a shelf in the little room where I write, there are three hats.

 

The first one is a black beret. If you could see me walking through the neighborhood wearing my beret and carrying my sketchbook, with my beard and my sunglasses and my sandals, you would say to yourself, “Now, there goes an artist if ever there was one.” “And a right stylish artist at that,” some might say. I hope someone might say that.

 

The second hat is a sun-faded, well-loved, and well-worn New York Yankees baseball cap, my gamer from the last year the Yankees won the World Series. Gamer is the proper name for the new hat you buy at the beginning of the season. You wear it the first time you watch your team play in the new season, or the first time you listen to the team’s game on the radio, and always when you are going to bump into a Red Sox fan and you want to make a point.

 

The third hat is a brown fedora. When worn at the correct rakish, Indiana Jones angle, it makes a writer feel like a million bucks. The fedora suggests that I, the man underneath, am a man to be reckoned with, a man of action and decisiveness and clarity. [I revised the previous sentence, because the proofreader pointed out a grammatical problem with the original. Ok?] A man who can make the tough calls and will do so gladly.

 

One of the tricks to making a book is to know which hat you are wearing while you are working on the different tasks required to make your book come to life.

 

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

Openness: Open on Purpose

 

 

Most of the time, becoming “open” or receptive is thrust upon us by situations that stretch us and take us outside our comfort zones. We are invited to openness when we must work with colleagues from different backgrounds, personality types, or ethnicities. We are invited to openness when we travel to other countries and cultures, or when a different sort of person enters our family through marriage or friendship.

 

We can become open, however, before we’re under pressure to do so. I can invite a colleague to lunch or coffee to get to know her better so that my heart will open more willingly to her differentness from me. When I travel to a new city or country, I can focus on learning rather than judging and complaining about how different things are from my home country. Or, in my own home, by myself, I can read a book or magazine that expresses a political or religious view that differs from my own.

 

God, I choose an open stance toward you and toward others today.

 

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

 

A Matter of Life and Death

by Andrew Peterson

 

When I was a freshman in high school I got a Yamaha scooter for my birthday. Actually I bought it for a few hundred bucks earned from my job at the grocery store. The birthday present was my dad’s acquiescence to a year’s worth of begging and badgering for permission to buy the nerdy little thing.

It was a funny looking machine, not much more substantial than a bicycle, but it topped out at a mind-blowing 35 mph, which to my delight was fast enough to get hurt. I drove it to school and was immediately the object of much ridicule—internal ridicule, that is, because I have no memory of anyone ever actually ridiculing me. But memories of self-consciousness abound and I’m sure I projected all sorts of judgmental stares and mutterings from my friends, many of whom drove 4×4 trucks and had ATVs at their disposal. But that little scooter might as well have been a magic portal for all the escape it provided.

After I puttered home from school and dropped off my book bag I would ride that thing like a cowboy on his trusty steed all over the back roads of Lake Butler. And in a little town like that, back roads were easy to find. Because I was (and still am) a very private person, I usually struck out for the least populated parts of town, far away from the stares of the townsfolk. Most often, I drove north to the lake, turned right, and headed a few miles into the country along the east side of the lake, where at the Arnold farm I took a left onto a sandy road that led into the pines of the Wildlife Management Area. Those roads crisscrossed and wound and rambled for miles, and eventually connected to the highway on the opposite side of the lake, several miles away. It was easy to get lost, but if you drove for long enough you’d eventually spot the swampy lake shore or a familiar crossroads and make your way either back to where you started or at least to a highway that would lead you safely home.

One afternoon I brought a blue folder that held several pages of blank notebook paper. I had a Bic pen in my back pocket. It was cold—cold for Florida, anyway—and by the time I found my way back to the hard road near the Arnold farm the sun was setting. On the north side of the road there’s a wide field bordered by a dark wall of pine trees, and at this time of year there was soybean growing in bright green rows. Over that field and beyond the veil of pines I caught sight of a blazing sky and stopped the scooter in the middle of the road, tingling with some awareness of holiness, of rare and unlooked-for beauty. I steered the scooter off the road and through the gate, then drove carefully between the planted rows till I found a suitable spot, aware of how conspicuous the scooter’s head- light must have been from the distant farmhouse. I turned the key and silenced the pleasant purr of the engine, then removed my helmet and flipped down the kickstand, easing it into the dark soil. I sat down between two rows and pulled the pen out of the back pocket of my Levi’s as I opened the blue notebook. I looked up at the sunset, which was already changing colors. I was wonderfully alone, and yet the air was charged with a strange light that suggested anything but aloneness. I tried to write down what I saw, and what I felt, and what the holy presence that was bringing about the evolution of color might have been telling me. Every time I looked up from the words on the paper, the sky looked different, and I tried to get it all down—all the changes, all the beauty, all the life suggested by the fading day and the brightening of the clouds. The colors were azure and lavender, not just blue and purple. The clouds were feathery and flaming, not just soft and yellow. In a way that I had never experienced before, the loveliness of the light demanded new adjectives. In a way that I had never experienced before, I felt God’s presence as a pleasant fire that called for obedience and energy and expression.

You have to understand: I was at the time enraptured with comic books and fantasy novels. I had never read Annie Dillard or Frederick Buechner or (other than Narnia) C. S. Lewis. I had no context for the kind of writing that attempted to capture in words either the burning beauty of a Florida sunset or the God who had lit the fire. But I filled a page with words, with weak and overwrought sentences; like a juggler who kept fumbling I scratched out words and wrote what I thought were better ones, aiming at something excellent even as I was aware of how pathetically short I fell. It didn’t matter that I would probably never show anyone what I had written, though I admit I harbored a wild hope that this page of words was important somehow, even if it would only ever be important to me. I saw something beautiful, felt something profound, and was compelled to express it on paper. I spoke aloud to the presence that designed this frame, the God of the Bible that first imagined pigment itself, sheepishly at first, then with increasing boldness as I became convinced that no human was eavesdropping. The loneliness of the dark field was a prerequisite for the company I felt. These words were between you, Master, and me. (I am aware even now on this wintry afternoon in Nashville of that same presence reading over my shoulder, and am obliged to acknowledge his patient and peaceful attention.)

When the sunset had played itself out and the first stars of evening shone, I closed the notebook, slipped the pen back into my pocket, and straddled the scooter. I listened to the silence framed by cricket song, then with regret that the moment was over, kickstarted the Yamaha. I bounced out of the field and onto the smooth tarmac, then sped home only realizing by my sniffles that tears had come to my eyes.

A few days later, my parents found the notebook and read my words. I was intensely embarrassed, and though I don’t remember telling them so, it felt as though someone had seen me naked. They didn’t make fun. They probably encouraged my writing. But I still felt violated. The words weren’t for them—they were intended to be for myself and my God and so I vowed to be even more guarded with my deepest thoughts. This was something precious and private, and the next time I wrote something like this I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone, sometime, would read the words and pass some sort of judgment on them, or on me.

And yet, here I am, telling you about it.

I’ve spent the last twenty years arranging words, not just with the awareness that someone might read them over my shoulder, but with the intention of having them read. Now, when I write my prayers, when I spot an intense beauty burning at the roadside and am moved to write about it, I obey the compulsion but promptly delete the file. I could fill a book with those deleted files.

If I write something to be sung or read, it’s with a different mind-set altogether, a constantly edited voice, with the eyes of my little town watching the strange boy with the strange scooter and wondering what strange thing he’s up to. I’m more likely to follow the rules—their rules—and I seldom abandon myself to the work at hand with that same childlike effusion of praise.

Has this made me a better writer, or a worse one?

Sometimes I long to escape to the woods again. To be who I was that night in the field, fumbling the ball and still fighting to express back to God the wonder of human praise, to limn some reflection of the gift of light he gave, to speak without fear of ridicule. To sit in the dusk and feel that same lonesome freedom of intimacy with the One who knows me and is— astonishingly—well pleased. To weep without knowing it, to obey the whispered will of the spirit: Look out over the field to your right. Leave the well-traveled road. Quiet the engine. Sit in the fertile dirt and listen. Watch how time changes the light, how steadily the firmament burns. Know that I am with you always, and let that knowledge find life in the best words you can find.

from “Adorning the Dark” by Andrew Peterson

 

Will It Move?

There is a terrific exchange between the great editor Maxwell Perkins – who edited F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, among others – and one of his authors. The author was complaining that one of this books wasn’t getting enough advertising support from the publisher.  Perkins reply – over eighty years old – is still critically relevant to every type of creative. Comparing advertising a product to a man attempting to move a car, Perkins wrote:

 

“If he can get it to move, the more he pushes the faster it will move and the more easily. But if he can’t get it to move, he can push till he drops dead and it will stand still.”

 

– Ryan Holiday – “Perennial Seller”

Integrity: Who I Am

 

A person of integrity is congruent, outwardly manifesting who she or he truly is on the inside. Integrity requires that, first of all, I know who I am; then, that I behave according to who I am. “Who I am” evolves over time through my decisions and beliefs and personal disciplines. To develop my integrity, I pay attention to my growing self-awareness. I make choices intentionally rather than go through my day merely reacting. And I ask myself questions that help me clarify what I’m doing and why.

Today, ask one of these questions, or a question of your own, that gets at the heart of who you are and who you are becoming:

  • “Is this what I truly want to do?”
  • “Does this action reveal what is important to me?”
  • “Am I speaking from my true self—or am I trying to protect myself or impress someone?”

Help me see more clearly who I am.

 

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

 

 

When we write and publish about spiritual matters, we stand in a pulpit.

 

 

We may think we are just journaling in public, writing about our day, and how we interacted with God. Readers may find our experiences and reflections helpful or not. We don’t require or even expect them to agree with us or follow our example. It all feels very low-key, just a way to express ourselves. But inevitably it is more.

 

Even when we just post on social media or blog, we expect and look for others to read and interact.  Otherwise we’d just privately put it in a notebook or computer file and leave it there, unseen by the world. Something just between me and God. Occasionally we may share some of what we write with close friends, a church leader, or family members. However, publishing such thoughts to a wide circle of friends or acquaintances or the public generally is a qualitatively different matter. Why? Because doing so raises issues of spiritual authority.

 

Authority is the power to act granted to us by others. Authority can be positional—like being hired on a church staff. But authority can also be ascribed—granted to us in unofficial ways by others. Anothe way to say this is that authority can come from above (like a president appointing a cabinet member) or from below (like the Dalai Lama who, while living in exile from Tibet with no official office or power, has tremendous worldwide authority). In a previous generation, Martin Luther King Jr. and Billy Graham held relatively minor positions of organizational authority compared to the much larger ascribed moral authority they wielded.

 

Regardless of which kind or how much authority we have, it is derived. We do not give it to ourselves. It is bestowed on us by others (Matthew 8:5-13; John 5:19-23). We may not be famous, but even if only a small group follows us as we “express ourselves,” we bear a responsibility.

 

We write. People choose to listen to us, follow us, maybe even pay money to support us, to hear us speak, or to buy our books. They give us the gift of some measure of authority in their lives. That is a trust we need to handle with care.

 

 

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

 

 

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