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Writing For Your Life Today

Your Creative Calling

When you respond to your creative calling, you are doing something that is necessary for the world. It may be necessary in big ways-say a series of newspaper articles that can help shape the consciousness of a generation. Or it may be necessary in small ways-perhaps a charcoal sketch that brings you, the artist, healing. But art is not a luxury. Creative works are called out by cultural and personal needs that are too deep and intuitive to be obvious every time. We know, for instance, that music helps us in ways that we can’t always describe. Poetry and patchwork quilts are also appealing to us at an almost subconscious level. It’s difficult to quantify such quality. It would be impossible to do a spreadsheet analysis of how artistic work helps us.

Any creative work, “artistic” or not, is coming from a deeper place and answering deeper needs that cannot be named easily. In this respect we have to have faith-faith that what we do, whether an arrangement of flowers or a mathematical proof, is worth our best energy.

 

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

 

If Something is Not Interactive, it is Broken

All devices need to interact. If a thing does not interact it will be considered broken. Over the past few years I’ve been collecting stories of what it is like to grow up in the digital age. As an example, one of my friends had a young daughter under five years old. Like many other families these days, they didn’t have a TV, just computing screens. On a visit to another family who happened to have a TV, his daughter gravitated to the large screen. She went up to the TV, hunted around below it, and the looked behing it. “Where’s the mouse?” she asked. There had to be a way to interact with it. Another acquaintance’s son had access to a computer starting at the age of two. Once, when she and her son were shopping in a grocery store, she paused to decipher the label on a product. “Just click on it,” her son suggested. Of course cereal boxes should be interactive! Another young friend worked at a theme park. Once, a little girl took her picture, and after she did she told the park worker, “But it’s not a real camera – it doesn’t have the picture on the back.” Another friend had a barely speaking toddler take over his iPad. She could paint and easily handle complicated tasks on apps almost before she could walk. One day her dad printed out a high-resolution image on photo paper and left it on the coffee table. He notices his toddler came up and tried to unpinch the photo to make it larger. She tried unpinching it a few times, without success, and looked at him, perplexed. “Daddy, broken.” Yes, if something is not interactive, it is broken.

 

– from “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

 

Using Fiction to Explore Spiritual Reality

 

by Steve McCutchan www.smccutchan.com

THE BIG PICTURE

Have you ever hit your thumb with a hammer? If so, you experienced a critical factor that contributes to many of the problems in the world. When you hit your thumb, at that moment the only reality in your universe is your pain. To get help, you have to step back from your pain and see the bigger picture. Maybe it is to get some ice for your thumb or ask someone for a band-aid, but you can’t do that if you stay focused on the pain.

AND GOD SPOKE A WORD

We are all familiar with the creation story in Genesis where the earth was without form and void (utter chaos) and God spoke a word and order began to emerge out of that chaos. Perhaps the creation story can serve as a parable for how God can work in our society to bring order out of chaos.

In Walter Brueggemann’s Israel’s Praise, he develops the idea that words create worlds. It is not the objective experiences we have but the way we interpret those experiences that constitute the world in which we live. If my mind is filled with medical terms and health statistics, then I see events as relating to the world of health. If I am a chef who continually is reading about new recipes, then I see food in terms of taste. If the words that dominate my life are dollars and debts, then I see food in terms of cost. In lay terms, the words that fill our lives become the spectacles through which we see and interpret the world of experiences around us.

In our confusing and anxious society, people are too close to the pain to get any perspective on their options. They feel helpless–trapped–a victim. Their lives, at that moment, have no order or direction. Like your hurting thumb, they are focused on the pain.

We can use our capacity to write fiction to help people, including ourselves, to step back and see the bigger picture. We regain their power to exercise choice. We are no longer just a victim of the institutions and conditions around us.

BEING CREATIVE WITH CRISIS

Words have the power to both create and destroy. Probably the worst maxim ever devised was, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Words can hurt people, and frequently once spoken, the damage is difficult to repair. However, words can also help people explore the future, heal our fractures, and resolve crisis. Words can also help us create a future.

HOW TO LISTEN

The problem with our ideological splits today is that we have lost the capacity to listen to each other with any anticipation that we might learn from the other person.

Jesus told parables to engage people in thinking about issues. When the lawyer asked Jesus who was his neighbor, he could have given a straight definition. Then the issue would have been whether the lawyer agreed or disagreed. Instead, he told a story that engaged the lawyer, and continues today to invite our reflection.

DISCUSSING ABORTION

Let me use abortion as an example. Regardless of your position on abortion, if the subject comes up, do you first find yourself looking for clues in the opening comments about which SIDE the person is on? When you are in the discussion, as the other person speaks, do you find yourself only half listening while you try to decide what the best counterargument will be? Do you enter into such conversations assuming that someone will win, and someone will lose the argument? Do such discussions tend to build community or divide people into camps?

You might have more fun, and it might result in a better community, if you approached the subject through fictional stories that engage each other.

There are several ways that you can set up this experience. It can take place in a variety of configurations of small groups–within a congregation, among a group of friends in a home, among several clergy, or even among several congregations some of whom can be either in a different state or country.

ROUND ROBIN WRITING

For example, five clergy friends, and they have agreed to participate via Internet to write a story. To create an orderly process, each is assigned a number–Participant 1, Participant 2, Participant 3, Participant 4, Participant 5, and Participant 6.

Each of you agrees to participate in jointly composing a fictional story addressing the topic of abortion. You provide an initial story setting. Perhaps it’s a female seminary student who wants the perspective of two experienced pastor friends who hold slightly different perspectives. You provide names and a brief description of the three characters, and the triggering incident that brings them together for a conversation about abortion. Maybe they meet in a coffee house or at a retreat.

Participant # 1 (probably you) will complete the initial prompt that begins their conversation. After that, each participant in the order of his or her number will only be able to offer a one or two sentence response. The short response of each participant can be from one of four possibilities.

The sentence can build on and continue the initial speaker’s comment. The sentence can be spoken by the second character as a response. The sentence can describe an action by one of the characters. For example, “The pastor stood up and removed a book from his bookshelf.” The sentence can introduce a third minor character to the scene. For example, “The secretary entered the office with a tray with cups of coffee.”

Each participant must develop a sentence or two that has integrity with the previous sentences and scene. If the participant thinks the conversation is going in the wrong direction, this person can always have a character give voice to that concern.

There are several advantages to this process. One, it eases people’s discomfort of feeling like they don’t know how to write because anyone can write one or two sentences.

Second, no person or ideological position controls the direction of the story, but all are dependent on the others.

Third, even if they are fictional, the discussion involves live people and not just an abstract theory.

Fourth, it allows the topic to move beyond one person’s strong opinion.

Fifth, it builds anticipation for how the story might develop.

Sixth, as it proceeds, you will build community rather than divide it because all of you are developing the story.

Agree that each person will forward the additional sentences within twenty-four hours. That allows for one complete round within a week, with one day of Sabbath rest. By the end of two months, eight rounds, you will consult with each other as to how long you will continue.

If you agree to compose your story on a service like One Drive, or Google doc, you will be able to keep your story together where all can see it as it develops. After you have completed the first round, you may want to alter the rules and allow each person to add up to a paragraph or two. Always agree that whatever wild turn you take must build on the previous contribution.

My booklet, Using Fiction to Explore Spiritual Reality, http://bit.ly/FictionSpiritual contains a variety of ways to use fiction in engaging people and communities to examine the issues in life. If you are interested, contact me at [email protected]

TRY IT, YOU’LL LIKE IT

Revision Is Not Editing

Not to blame our English teachers—I was one—but most of our rotten assumptions about revision originated early, with a teacher’s red pen. Remember your first ventures onto the page? Chances are they were met not with questions, conversation, or imaginative prodding but with corrections. When our early readers reacted to spelling rather than content, they taught us that content is static. When they assigned a grade to our work, they taught us that others’ judgments determine the value of our thoughts. The occasional request for revision usually meant a chance to fix mistakes.

This is why people think revision means correcting typos, considering word choice, or restructuring sentences. As a result revision seems dull, mechanical, and perfectionistic. All the fun—the buzz of invention—is over.

But that isn’t revision; that’s editing. By addressing the text’s surface rather than probing the depths of content and craft, our early teachers taught us to attend to the mechanics of language at the expense of substance. That heaviness we sometimes feel toward a rough draft, as though the words are carved in stone, is the unfortunate result of these early lessons. We can’t imagine why a draft should change, or how.

 

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

5 Reasons why a writer of color should certainly attend the Publishing in Color conference

by Natarsha Sanders

I had the opportunity to attend the Publishing in Color conference sponsored by Writing for Your Life. I chose to attend this conference because I am a writer and I wanted to meet other writers of color. You should attend too. Here’s why:

  1. Build relationships with other writers.

It has been well said that writers are introverts. So, the idea of being in a room full of other introverts with a shared interest should put the introverted writer at ease. This small, intimate setting is ideal for you to glean. No worries about awkward attempts to start and/or maintain a conversation. However, you just might find someone with whom you want to exchange ideas and maintain contact. I certainly did.

  1. Learn how to hone in on your craft.

Your comfortable place in writing that allows you to offer your absolute best: words, sentences, prose, poems, articles, devotions, curricula. Niche. To whom are you writing? Audience. You will be strategically and systematically guided through various exercises designed to lead you to your niche and your audience. I certainly was.

  1. Gain access to industry experts.

Publishers, agents, and authors. Oh my! Have you ever attended a conference at which you had to wait in line for hours to get an autograph? Ask a question? Take a picture? Purchase material? Well, that will not happen at the Publishing in Color conference. Professionals with multiple decades of experience in the writing industry are at the conference to present on their area of expertise. They answer all the questions. I certainly got answers.

  1. Scholarships available.

There are scholarships available to offset the cost of registration for conference attendees. You need only apply. The conference conveners are so committed to helping writers of color find our voice and platform that they will help us get to the conference. I certainly appreciate it.

  1. Engage in one-on-one conversations.

Again. Industry experts showed up just for you. No really, they came to have individual conversations with you because they are interested in your work. At the Publishing in Color Conference you have the unique opportunity to engage in conversations that specifically address your needs. So, for the introvert who still does not want to ask a question out loud in a room of introverts, you get to ask your question in your individual session. This all happens at no additional cost! Catch? Certainly not.

 

Planning a Launch

The first thing anyone planning a launch has to do is sit down and take inventory of everything they have at their disposal that might be used to get this product in people’s hands.  Stuff like:

  • Relationships (personal, professional, familial, or otherwise)
  • Media contacts
  • Research or information from past launches of similar products (what worked, what didn’t, what to do, what not to do)
  • Favors they’re owed
  • Potential advertising budget
  • Resources or allies (“This blogger is really passionate about [insert some theme or connection related to what you’re launching].”)

It is essential to take the time to sit down and make a list of everything you have and are willing to bring to bear on the marketing of a project. Aside from racking your own brain, one of my favorite strategies to kick off this process is simply to ask your world.

 

– Ryan Holiday, “Perennial Seller”

 

Seek First God’s Kingdom

 

from “Adorning the Dark” by Andrew Peterson

 

I recently had a good, long phone conversation with a singer-songwriter about that grand old subject, Getting Started in the Music Business. He’s recorded an album but hasn’t yet taken the leap into full-time music and was asking me for some advice on the matter.

The problem is, I don’t know what kind of practical career advice to give, because what worked in my case might not (and probably won’t) work for you. I loved a pretty girl in college. I also loved to make music. I was freaking out because I thought I had to choose between her and the songs, until late one night my old friend Adam said, “If God wants you to play music, dummy, you’ll play music whether you’re married or not.” So I married the girl.

You don’t need a record contract to serve God with your gifts. You don’t need to move to Nashville. You just need to stay where you are, play wherever you can, and keep your eyes peeled. You never know what might happen. One of the most fortuitous meetings in my life (my old buddy Gabe Scott) happened because I said yes to a 3:00 a.m., $40 gig at a junior high all-nighter. Gabe and I have been making music together now for more than twenty years.

But in the end, what did I do? I moved to Nashville. I got a record contract. It wasn’t because I was some wildly successful indie bard, but because one guy heard my songs and believed in them enough to let me open for his band. What on earth do I know? The doors open. Walk through them.

The best thing you can do is to keep your nose to the grindstone, to remember that it takes a lot of work to hone your gift into something useful, and that you have to learn to enjoy the work—especially the parts you don’t enjoy. Maybe that’s the answer to a successful career. But I know far too many hard-working, gifted singer-songwriters or authors who work their fingers to the bone and still have to moonlight at a restaurant to make ends meet. Every waiter in Nashville has a demo in their back pocket, just in case. Me, I waited tables at the Olive Garden for three months before suddenly finding myself on a tour bus wondering how in the world that happened.

So do you wait tables? Sure. Do you make the demo CD? Maybe, but don’t bother carrying it around. Do you work hard at your craft? Definitely. Do you move? Quit your day job? Marry the girl? Borrow the start-up funds? Sign the deal?

Here’s what I know in a nutshell: Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. Early on, I didn’t always seek God’s kingdom first, and Lord knows his righteousness was only on my mind for a minute or two a day max (I think I’m up to three, maybe four minutes now). That simple Scripture draws into sharp focus the only thing that will satisfy us in our desperate seeking for what it is that we think we want. We may want something harmless, but if it’s out of place, if it comes before the right thing, then what’s benign becomes malignant. We want the wrong thing.

So boil it all down. Chop off the fat. Get rid of the pet lizard, because you can’t afford to feed it anyway. Wrench your heart away from all the things you think you need for your supposed financial security, your social status. Set fire to your expectations, your rights, and even your dreams. When all that is gone, it will be clear that the only thing you ever really had was this wild and Holy Spirit that whirls about inside you, urging you to follow where his wind blows.

Written in Blood

 

The following meditation is from a talk on the occasion of the presentation of the Whiting Writers’ awards:

 

I WISH THAT I had told my writing students to give some thought to what they wanted their books to make happen inside the people who read them, and I also wish that I had told them what Red Smith said about writing although I suppose it is possible that he hadn’t gotten around to saying it yet . . . What Red Smith said was more or less this: “Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein”—another hematological image. From the writer’s vein into the reader’s vein: for better or worse a transfusion.

 

I couldn’t agree with Red Smith more. For my money anyway, the only books worth reading are books written in blood. . .

 

Write about what you really care about is what he is saying. Write about what truly matters to you—not just things to catch the eye of the world but things to touch the quick of the world the way they have touched you to the quick, which is why you are writing about them. Write not just with wit and eloquence and style and relevance but with passion. Then the things that your books make happen will be things worth happening—things that make the people who read them a little more passionate themselves for their pains, by which I mean a little more alive, a little wiser, a little more beautiful, a little more open and understanding, in short a little more human. I believe that those are the best things that books can make happen to people, and we could all make a list of the particular books that have made them happen to us.

 

– by Frederick Buechner; Originally published in The Clown in the Belfry and later in Listening to Your Life

 

To make the most of our time on earth

If, as people commonly say today, our brief lives are simply “the dash between the two dates on our gravestones,” what hope is there of investing that brief dash with significance? There are truths that no one can answer for us. We must each face them alone. Our own mortality is one of them. How challenging to stand and ask as Tolstoy asked himself, “What will come of my entire life? . . . Is there any meaning in my life that will not be annihilated by the inevitability of death which awaits me?” And how terrible to come close to the end of life and have to say with

Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich, “What if my whole life has been wrong?”

In short, our human challenge is to make the most of our time on earth and to know how to do it. Time and space are the warp and woof of the reality in which we live our brief lives as humans, but they are different. When Alexander the Great asked Diogenes if there was anything he could do for him, the flinty old philosopher answered famously, “Stand out of my light!” We can occupy part of space exclusively and block someone else’s access, but no one occupies time exclusively. Time is our “commons,” the open and shared ground for all who are alive at any moment to enjoy together.

More importantly, we humans can conquer space, and we do so easily and routinely with our bulldozers, our cranes, our smart phones, our jets, and all the shiny achievements of our technological civilization. But we cannot conquer time. Time does not lie still before us like space, for it is within us as well as around us, and it is never stationary. It moves, and in one direction only—onwards and unstoppable. In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, philosopher and rabbi, “Man transcends space, and time transcends man.”

Importantly too, the comparative ease of our conquest of the world of physical space disguises a vital fact: our conquests of space are always at the expense of using up time. We are spending our time even if we twiddle our thumbs and do nothing, and energetic activism does not solve the problem. We can build “bigger and bigger barns” or bigger and bigger empires, whether political or commercial, but there is always a day or a night when life ends, and then, as Jesus of Nazareth warned, “your soul is required of you” (Lk 12:20). Which means that the time we have spent in doing anything is the real cost and the proper key to assessing whether we have gained or lost and the effort has been worthwhile. However effortless-seeming our accomplishments, we always pay for them at the expense of our greatest challenge and the most insoluble mystery of our lives—time. “What does it profit a man,” Jesus also declared, “to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mk 8:36).

 

Taken from Carpe Diem Redeemed by Os Guinness. Copyright (c) 2019 by Os Guinness. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. https://www.ivpress.com/carpe-diem-redeemed

The Jury of Twelve

While I wandered my way through my favorite sections of my favorite bookstore one evening, a voice over the public-address system announced that the acclaimed southern novelist Doris Betts was about to read from and answer questions about her new book. I confess to knowing little about her or her work. But the woman to whom I am married and her book club friends—a dozen or so of the smartest women I have ever known, by the way—rave about her. So I wandered over to the place where famous writers read in the hope this not-nearly-as-famous writer might learn a new trick to make him better at the craft.

 

After Ms. Betts read from her book, she took questions from the audience. Most of the questions were about characters and plot lines from previous books, questions asked by people who had been reading her novels for years. I kept listening because she was such a delight to listen to.

 

At some point I began to lose concentration. Probably I was surreptitiously glancing around the store to see if any of my books happened to be visible on the shelves, hoping that maybe even one or two might be face out, and so I did not hear the next question. But Ms. Betts’s answer came to me as clear as a bell. And a door of some sort opened for me.

 

Ms. Betts said that when she writes, she writes for a jury of twelve. It was an entirely new notion for me. She went on to say that some of the same people are always in the jury. At least one of her parents is always there, because she wants to please them. Permanent seats are marked for an old friend or two as well. She fills the remainder of the seats in the jury with specific people she wants to hear this particular story—a neighbor, a friend, a teacher, another writer, a reader who wrote her a letter, a character from a previous novel who was modeled after someone she knows. Then she writes the book to them and for them. Maybe even at them on some days, if I may bear witness from my own experience.

 

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

 

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