THE WRITER’S THREE PRIORITIES

 

 

One spring I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was privileged to hear Jane Yolen speak. Yolen, the author of over a hundred children’s books, identified herself as a Jewish Quaker. She spoke on the hazards of addressing spiritual questions in books for children, explaining that children’s book buyers are primarily public schools and libraries, which tend to shy away from spiritually inclined literature. Nonreligious publishers are often unwilling to take on material that might prove controversial. Yet as Yolen pointed out, children ask spiritual questions: Where did Rover go when he died? Why do some people attend church and not others? Who is GOd? Yolen argued that we do wrong by our children when we censor stories that might aid them in their seeking. 

 

After Yolen’s lecture a member of the audience asked, “To whom do you think children’s authors should be accountable for the moral quality of their books?” The questioner was concerned that indoctrinating content might wind up in her children’s hands. Yolen responded fiercely, “Every writer has three respondsibilities: first to the story, second to yourself, and finally to your audience. 

 

I often think about Yolen’s three commandments. Although they apply to all creative writing, they hold particularly true for spiritual memoir. Thinking first about the audience rather than about the story or about yourself is a frequent but misguided habit among beginning writers. At some point (about draft three or four), it’s important to be accountable to your audience. You want your story to be welcoming, accessible, gripping, and transformative. Considering your reader’s response helps you construct a story that accomplishes these things. 

 

But through the early stages of writing, your primary audience is yourself. Write to satisfy you. If you think first about your readers (about what you have to teach them, whether or not they’ll buy the book, or if they will like or condemn your message), you begin to mold your writing to your expectation of readers’ reactions. You do a disservice to yourself when you avoid risky topics or skirt deep levels of honesty.

 

What intrigues me about Jane Yolen’s priorities-and why I believe them to be particularly relevant to spiritual memoir-is her placement of the story first. What does it mean to be responsible to the story? For writers of spiritual memoir, story is not something born of the imagination or of history; it is the very stuff of our lives. It is the aching and questing of our souls. Although seemingly mundane, ordinary experiences contain within them a vivacity, a sense of wholeness, and a will beyond our own. In other words, our spiritual stories bare the world’s holiness. This ought to be obvious, but religious traditions of all persuasions have a tendency to canonize certain stories and certain people’s lives. In the process of honoring these stories, we forget to honor the revelatory qualities of our own stories. When memoir writers are responsible to the story, they nor that which is vital and true-the spirit-within their experience.

When you are chatting idly with the neighbor and she asks you whom you’re writing for, it’s easier to say “readers who are struggling with grief” than it is to say “me!” But there is a third, more subtle answer-one that is at the source of your drive and conviction: “I write for the story itself.” Of course, you don’t say this to the neighbor because she would think you’re crazy. Writers rarely even acknowledge it to themselves. But the answer is there nonetheless, prodding writers along. How many hundreds of times have writers declared, “My story needs to be told”? And it does-for its own bare sake. We are compelled by our encounters with pain, doubt, rebellion, and revelation to dialogue with these memories and release them from the bonds of our bodies onto the page. Even an unpublished, unread memoir exerts influence on the world. Stories, in and of themselves, matter.

 

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

Creativity: Name Your Gift

 

 

The LORD spoke to Moses: See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. Moreover, I have appointed with him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have given skill to all the skillful, so that they may make all that I have commanded you.

—Exodus 31:1–6

 

Part of our formation as spiritual people involves the gifts God has placed within each of us. 

 

What are your gifts? Are you an artist? Good with money? An expert organizer? A personality that attracts young people into stimulating conversations? A person who has a strong but gentle way with children? The ability to teach or instruct? A knack for solving problems?

 

Name one gift that you recognize in yourself and bring it to God in your prayer or meditation.

 

God, I recognize this gift in myself: help me nurture and use it well.

 

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

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

 

Five Wonderful Rewards of Rejection

 

by Xochitl Dixon

 

In An Introduction to Christian Writing, Ethel Herr wrote: “Writing without an audience is therapy. Writing that reaches an audience is communication.”

 

Though not all writers have the desire to publish, some of us feel led to share the words God gives us to write. Communicators who choose traditional publishing quickly discover that rejection is an inevitable and invaluable part of our writing journey.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I know that every no, not yet, and not here stings. But receiving those answers can become easier and even exciting, as God adjusts our definition of a successful communicator.

 

God can help us recognize the following rewards of rejection:

 

  1. Our first rejection proves we had the courage to risk taking that initial step of faith.

 

Modern technology provides opportunities to share our words with readers through self-publishing, blogging, or posts on social media. But if the Lord steers us toward traditional publishing online, in magazines, or in books, rejections can become signs of obedience and answers from God.

 

If the Lord says no, we can be sure He has reasons. Instead of giving up, we can seek support through a network of likeminded writers and ask God to help us continue to improve our craft. He’ll give us the courage and faith we need to obey when He reveals the next step He wants us to take, even if it leads to another rejection. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

 

  1. Rejection prepares us to risk failure with courage and strengthens our faith.

 

Failure is not a final destination. Failing can be a good thing that doesn’t need to be feared . . . when viewed as a learning opportunity that can initiate growth. Years ago, I encouraged my youngest son to try something difficult, explaining every rejection is a notch in our experience resume.

 

“You don’t understand, Mom,” Xavier said. “You’re used to rejection.”

 

After a good giggle, I assured him God can use rejection to toughen our armor on the road of preparation.

 

When we’re prepared to face failure, even when we’re afraid, we’re strengthening our faith-muscles every time we try again. (Hebrews 10:32-39)

 

  1. Rejection keeps us on God’s perfectly planned path.

 

In 2001, I asked God to help me share His truth and love to the ends of the earth. I prayed for guidance, finished my first children’s picture book and my YA novel. I accepted every submission opportunity the Lord provided. Each rejection and acceptance directed my steps toward studying nonfiction writing.

 

God’s deliberate delays and detours equipped me for the unexpected privilege of serving as a devotional writer for Our Daily Bread Ministries . . . fifteen years after my 2001 prayer.

 

That YA novel won an award for best unpublished teen contemporary fiction in 2017, but remains unpublished. That children’s picture book lost in its category in that same contest, but was contracted in 2018 and will be released on August 4, 2020.

 

Trusting the Lord’s preordained plan requires patience and submission to His yes and His no. Our surrender and obedience can lead toward learning and publishing opportunities we never dreamed possible, in genres we never planned to explore. (Proverbs 16:9)

 

  1. Rejections reveal and can adjust our motives.

 

When we place pleasing God above our desire for publication, every rejection becomes a loving redirection from the Lord. We’ll experience discouragement and will need to process disappointment. But our reactions when God doesn’t give us what we want will reveal our true motives.

 

As we delight in our relationship with the Lord, He changes the desires of our hearts so that we want what He wants. By inviting Him to take charge, we’re loving God and trusting He loves us, understands our weaknesses, cares about our dreams, and wants the best for us . . . even when that best includes rejection. (Psalm 37:3-4)

 

  1. Rejection helps us rely on God, as He redefines success as surrender to His will.

 

Working on a project, whether it’s a 230-word devotion or a 230-page manuscript, requires determination, diligence, and dependence on God. The writing process is physically and emotionally tough. I face fears, doubts, and insecurities every time I start a new project, reach the mid-point, submit, edit, and submit again. I’ve talked to multi-published and award-winning authors who assure me I’m not alone.

 

Every rejection reminds us of our smallness, our weaknesses, and our need for complete dependence on and submission to God. (Psalm 40:1-8)

 

“Success means loving God so much that we write whatever He puts on our hearts and let Him do with it whatever He designs.” (Ethel Herr, An Introduction to Christian Writing)

 

Praying for our readers throughout our process reminds us our purpose reaches beyond ourselves. When we worship God through writing, we can place knowing, loving, and serving Him first. If we allow Him to, the Lord will align our steps with the pace and path He has planned for us.

 

As traditionally published authors, we will continue to work through the wait and feel the sting of every no, not yet, and not here, no matter how much experience we gain. But we can also learn to recognize and appreciate the wonderful rewards of rejection.

 

 

Xochitl Dixon, author of Waiting for God: Trusting Daily in God’s Plan and Pace (2019) and the children’s picture book Different Like Me (August 4, 2020), serves God as a speaker and contributing writer for Our Daily Bread (2015-Current), Guideposts’ All God’s Creatures (2018-2021), Second-Chance Dogs (2018), and God Hears Her (2017). Celebrating the differences and sameness of God’s beautifully diverse family, Xochitl promotes loving God and others as He loves us. She enjoys serving Jesus with her service dog, Callie, encouraging writers, hanging out with her husband, Alan, and sons, AJ and Xavier, and connecting with readers at www.xedixon.com.

 

 

Bad Decisions

 

 

Bad decisions, made on my own;

You would have thought I would have known,

Without assistance from the Lord,

No chance to succeed, no reward.

 

Bad decisions, made with a friend

Or colleague on whom I depend;

Was not sufficient to prevent

A catastrophic accident.

 

Bad decisions and poor advice,

Credentials that could not suffice;

I should have gone to God in prayer

And done my research so he’d share

 

In my decision making time,

He would have opened the sublime,

But when my life was demanding,

I leaned on my understanding.

 

Bad decisions made on my own;

Everyone thought I would have known,

Not to try without the Lord,

Without his assistance, no reward.

 

– from “Daily Resurrections: 53 Poems for Personal and Spiritual Development to Enrich Your Quality of Life and Relationships” by Orlando Ceaser 

 

New Dawn

 

by Kevin D. Parish

 

Blessings cascaded down the mountain

Spreading far and wide across the land

Heaven was behind this glorious deed

God, The Holy Spirit, and Son of Man

 

Beautiful singing was heard all around

As the word bore witness to this wonder

Trumpets could be heard

A pleasing sound

Beneath the rolling thunder

 

Redemption, salvation and confession

aplenty

From the lips of the sinners and the

saved

The Trinity has come down to earth

As a new dawn crests on the day

 

– from What Words May Come: Poetry of Faith 

GUIDEPOSTS CALL FOR AUDITIONS – All God’s Creatures devotional

All God’s Creatures devotional

 

Guideposts Books Editorial is looking for a few excellent authors to contribute to a unique annual devotional book called All God’s Creatures. We are looking for animal lovers from diverse backgrounds who can write daily devotion entries that bring together our love for animals (all kinds of creatures—not just pets) and our love for God in refreshing, inspiring, and uplifting ways.

 

Each devotion is about 350 words total, and includes the following elements:

  • A title
  • A short Scripture quote, followed by reference and Bible version, that serves as the basis of your devotion.
  • A true personal story of you or someone you know and a memorable encounter with an animal that made an impact on your or his/her life with a spiritual takeaway (250 to 275 words). The best devotions will bring the reader along with you in your discovery, as if a trusted friend is sharing his or her story.
  • A short closing prayer, quote, Scripture, or other encouragement. (Avoid instructing the reader, except perhaps to consider or meditate on some facet of the devotion.)

 

To audition, please submit three devotionals as Word or .rtf documents, using the guidelines above. Your pieces should showcase your voice, your affection for your animal subject, your approach, and your ability to communicate spiritual takeaways derived from your encounters with an animal. Be sure to include your name and contact info in each document.

 

If you are invited to be part of the team of writers for the All God’s Creatures devotional, you will be assigned several devotions and paid $75.00 per selected and published devotion on a work-for-hire basis. Guideposts will retain full rights to each paid devotion.

 

Please direct inquiries, questions, and submissions to Jon Woodhams (jwoodhams@guideposts.org) with All God’s Creatures Audition in your subject line. Deadline for submissions is March 12, 2020.

Get in touch!