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Writing For Your Life Today

Creativity: Raw Material

It’s such a temptation to treat creativity as something extra, isn’t it? When I’ve done all my work and taken care of my family and straightened the house or office and done my good deed for the day—then, if I have time and energy, I’ll do something creative. 

Humans are made in God’s image, and one of the ways in which we are like God is our ability to create. We take raw materials and make wonderful things: solid business plans, flower arrangements, meals for family and friends, works of art. Creativity is inherent to our daily activities. So, as you do your work today, examine it for its raw materials. Then reflect on this thought: What will this material become?

Prayer: Creative God, move through my ordinary tasks today, to make them beautiful.

 

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

How to Tell When You’re Halfway Finished

 

I enter a mild depression in the middle of every book I write (or edit, for that matter). I’m in too deep to back out, yet I cannot see the end and I’m just not excited anymore. Because I know this about myself, I now take this depressive period as a good sign; it means I’m halfway finished! I don’t worry about it or try to ease it; I simply keep going, because I know that I’ll work through it in a while.

 

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

 

God Redeems Our Work 

 

A few years ago I realized with a thud of dread that I had about a month to come up with the songs for a new album. I had two, maybe three ready to go, which meant I needed to write at least eight more songs, preferably ten or twelve. Some people start a record with forty or fifty in the queue and it’s the producer’s job to help the writer narrow them all down to the ten or twelve that will comprise the collection. Even when I was in college, spending every spare minute writing because it helped me avoid schoolwork, I didn’t have that many songs in the queue—ever. I’m so distrustful of my own abilities, my tendency is to abandon a song (or at least shelve it) as soon as I stop believing in it. It’s possible, I suppose, that that method thwarts the output, never allowing a sloppy song the chance to grow into a good one, but after twenty years I might as well stick to what I know. So in a couple of months, six weeks, maybe, I knew I’d be in the studio with a producer, shaking hands with the drummer and bass player, teaching them the basic layout of a few songs. I should have felt some anxiety about it, but I didn’t, mainly because there’s a last-minute rush of creativity that accompanies every project, the way Jamie used to nest like a madwoman in the weeks before each of our children’s births. (Never underestimate the power of a good panic to summon a song.)

One of them appeared while I was walking our woods. It arrived in the key of G, a 4/4 ballad that felt like something by British songwriter David Gray. I sang the first few words at the piano during a rare moment when Jamie and the kids were all out somewhere. (Never underestimate, either, the power of a quiet house, a few minutes in the half-light of late afternoon, when there’s no fear of being overheard, when one can make a fool of oneself with abandon. King David may have danced through the streets of Jerusalem—but that’s something I can’t imagine doing, not for a million bucks.) I sang the first line, mumbled the rest, changed the chords underneath, and landed on a phrase that felt solid and meaningful, and at once I could imagine the dim shape of the finished work. A car pulled up the drive and the moment was gone, but I had a nibble—enough to tell me there were fish in the pond.

I walked around our home, over the stream by way of the wooden bridge that my son Asher built, up around the old dam and the empty pond, down to the pasture with the stone wall, thinking, thinking, thinking about what verse two might be. I started with the same few words of the first verse, then changed it up enough to suggest a parallel idea, and by the time I hiked past the statue of St. Francis near the bend in the trail, there was another possible verse waiting to be sung at the piano—but not until I happened upon another miraculous moment of solitude when the house was empty.

At the risk of repeating myself, this is how it works. It’s not magic. It’s work. You think, you walk, you think some more, you look for moments to hammer it out on the piano, then you think again. A few days later I thrust the unfinished song upon Skye and Jamie, apologizing in advance for the discomfort such a performance would cause. That little performance is a crucial stage in the making of a song. You hear the song’s weaknesses because you’re able to listen to it through their ears. It’s like taking your mom to a film you love, and only then realizing how offensive the language is. But it also exposes the song’s strengths, if there are any. And this one, thank God, felt in the end like a proper song. A Song. An idea was introduced, a feeling conveyed, a response evoked. Weak and wobbly as its legs were, the thing took a few steps and held its ground. When the performance was over I ducked into my bedroom with a glimmer of hope.

Eight more to go. Eight more battles with fear. Eight more leaps of faith.

Do you see how God redeemed, and continues to redeem, the broken and selfish motives that drove me here? How all those fears that bang around in my head are gathered, sifted like wheat, and then turned into something better than self- expression, self-preservation? I’ll probably always be self-conscious, so the battle to make something out of nothing at all will rage on, and I’ll have to fight it in the familiar territory of selfishness until the Spirit winnows my work into something loving and lovable. I’m no longer surprised by my capacity for self-doubt, but I’ve learned that the only way to victory is to lose myself, to surrender to sacredness—which is safer than insecurity. I have to accept the fact that I’m beloved by God. That’s it. Compared to that the songs don’t matter all that much—a realization which has the surprising consequence of making them easier to write.

 

from “Adorning the Dark” by Andrew Peterson

Revision Is New Vision

If revision isn’t what our English teachers taught, what is it exactly? Revision is the work of seeing with new eyes. Creativity is the ability to make new things or think new ideas; it is the capacity to see or make newness. Revision is the flourishing of creativity.

A word closely related to revision is respect, whose Latin roots mean “look back at” or “regard.”  Revision is the work of respecting creation.

For our purposes here, I refer to all drafts beyond the first as revision. But in reality writers revise as soon as an idea pops into our heads. A creative concept changes how we’ve previously understood the world. An initial draft takes that concept and gives it form—revises it—by embodying it in the printed word. When we lead curious, openhearted lives, revision is a natural consequence of growth. Taking revision onto the page allows us to participate intentionally, as active authors of our lives.

 

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

A Writer’s Insides

Voice grows from the nature of a writer’s talent, which stems from innate character. Just as a memoirist’s nature bestows her magic powers on the page, we also wind up seeing how selfish or mean-spirited or divisive she is or was. We don’t see events objectively; we perceive them through ourselves. And we remember through a filter of both who we are now and who we once were.

 

So the best voices include a writer’s insides. Watching her mind feel around to concoct or figure out events, you never lose sight of the ego’s shape, its blind spots, dislikes, wants.  The books I reread don’t seek to record as film does – a visual medium tethered to surface action (these days, in popular film, the flashier the better); nor as a history does – by weighing and measuring various sources and crafting a balanced perspective.

 

To tell the truth, such a memoirist can’t help but show at each bump in the road how her perceptual filter is distorting what’s being taken in. In other words, she questions her own perceptions as part of the writing process. The deeper – and, ergo, more plausible-sounding – writer inquires.

 

– Mary Karr – “The Art of Memoir”

 

A Battle of Ideas

Marketing is a battle of ideas. So if you are to succeed, you must have an idea or attribute of your own to focus your efforts around.  Without one, you had better have a low price. A very low price.

 

– Al Ries and Jack Trout – “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”

 

It’s a miracle anyone writes anything

Our production manager Jock (yes, that was his name) worked with printers to produce our books, since, like most publishers, we didn’t have printing presses. He knew the processes intimately and was fond of telling me, “With all the things that can go wrong in printing a book, it’s amazing the ink ever hits the page.”

What’s true for printers is true in spades for writers. With so many reasons for writer’s block, it’s a miracle anyone writes anything.

Fear and perfectionism, two of the most common obstacles, are an accomplished dance pair. They reinforce one another in seamless motion. Our desire to get things just right does a do-si-do with our fear of what others will think about what we’ve written. Then our fear spins our perfectionism even faster. Dread that readers will discover what we already know—that we are ignorant and that our writing is bland, boring, and bad—keeps us refining, reediting, revising without end, until exhaustion sucks all the ink out of our pens.

Failure to get published, failure to meet one’s own standards, failure to finish, or failure to get many readers once published can, unsurprisingly, be debilitating. So can the failure we feel when criticism comes in response to what we have produced.

Success, ironically, can be failure’s evil twin. One writer I know unexpectedly received critical acclaim and a prestigious book award for his first novel. But he became paralyzed as he wondered how he could possibly meet the expectations this created for a second book. Despite a generous contract in hand for his next work along with active support and encouragement from his editor and agent, he had a terrible time getting unstuck.

Some well-known authors have suffered from such maladies. Harper Lee never wrote another book after her hugely successful To Kill a Mockingbird. Even her sequel, Go Set a Watchman, was written beforehand but sat unpublished for decades. Ralph Ellison was never able to follow up his landmark book Invisible Man, despite writing thousands of pages of notes that he could never turn into a book.

 

Taken from Write Better by Andrew T. LePeau. Copyright (c) 2019 by Andrew T. LePeau. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. https://www.ivpress.com/write-better

Courage: Name Your Fear

Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to keep going despite fear. A soldier fears attack by the enemy and yet moves into battle. A young woman fears that she’s not ready to be a mom and yet welcomes the unplanned pregnancy and moves forward into the months of preparation.

Not all courage is so dramatic. There is undoubtedly a fear hiding in your daily life, one related to your job or your relationships or your physical health. Pause for a moment and try to identify what you fear. Can you also find the courage to choose to move into your day despite it, perhaps with a simple prayer for help?

Sometimes the best prayer for courage is this: Don’t let fear overwhelm me or hinder my ability to do whatever task I’m given.

 

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

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