by JP Robinson
Thank you Candace Waller for your feedback!
Author: Myama M. Locke
Most writers who have “day jobs”, families, and other obligations find that making time for completing writing projects and freelance writing opportunities quite the challenge. How do you find the time to entertain the muse, much less to produce quality work? As a writer, adoptive mother of two children, Social Worker, photographer, and facilitator, I have had to be very intentional about time management as well as what I will say yes and no to. I have also had to make the most of my writing and giving my best attention to the page.
I am currently working on two books within two separate genres. This requires quite a bit of intentionality and focus. I also spend a lot of time reading, which while it is helpful can be distracting. I choose to map out specific times and locations to write throughout the week, versus trying to write every day (which for me is virtually impossible). I choose mostly weekends to spend time at coffeehouses or in my office at home, finishing projects and hitting the writing process hard. Throughout the week, I free write so I can keep myself on track with both books and to satisfy the desire to write.
My children understand that quiet time is part of our home life, which helps them to tap into their own creative endeavors while I am working on my own. I have heard many writers talk about the challenges of maintaining a family, while living a creative life. I believe that being intentional with your family will help them understand and contribute in many ways to your writing life. I don’t shut my girls out of the writing process. Instead, I try to encourage them to work on self-expression through creativity. This helps me to stay focused and teaches them the importance of creativity in daily life.
Having a “day job” can either be viewed as frustrating to the writing life or par and parcel to the writing life. I choose to view it as fuel for what I am writing about. I work as a Social Worker, and many of the topics in my novel and in my non-fiction work centers around what I do in that field. When writers use their observation skills, they will find that even in the most mundane daily jobs, there is much to glean from to use in their projects.
Life happens to us all; however, so does good writing, when you are serious about paying attention to it. It is truly about intertwining the two. Let’s be intentional about our writing!
Vulnerability can be dangerous in the same way water is dangerous. Like water, vulnerability can be the source of cleansing and renewal or it can be the source of drowning and death. But there is something else that is more dangerous than taking the risk of vulnerability, and that is silence.
As an African American woman who loves my African American sistas, I have learned that we are often silent about what hurts us the most. Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes refers to this epidemic as a “Deadly Silence.” She writes:
“Perhaps nowhere in society is the StrongBlackWoman more ubiquitous than in the Christian church. The church reinforces the mythology of the StrongBlackWoman by silencing, ignoring, and even romanticizing the suffering of Black women. Rather than offering a balm to heal the wounds of Black women who cry out about their pain, the church admonishes them with platitudes such as “God won’t give you any more than you can bear” and “If He brought you to it, He’ll bring you through it.”
Acclaimed Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston was also a black woman acquainted with suffering, and she understood that we, as African Americans, could not be silent about our pain because silence would be the death of us. By swallowing the poison of our pain, we die a slow death, and for black people in America it seems as if nobody notices. As another artist wrote, “The heart dies a slow death, shedding each hope like leaves until one day there are none. No hopes. Nothing remains.”
Knowing the pain, history, violence, and silence that have shaped the African American narrative infuses how I read the Scriptures. I come from a marginalized and oppressed people group that was enslaved for more than three hundred years, so I try to imagine the helplessness and hopelessness that the Hebrew people felt as an entire generation of their boys were thrown into the Nile River. What would be worse: knowing that the actual genocide took place, knowing that people in positions of power in the empire stood by and said nothing, or knowing that nothing would be done about this loss of innocent lives—that justice would not be served?
This is a painful narrative that is quite familiar to African Americans. Murder by the state. Silence. Then nothing. The heart dies a slow death. The painful reality of this death emotionally cripples us, and black people have been conditioned to say, “Thank you,” and take our lethal doses with a smile.
But I am not without hope. We see from Moses’ story that God hears the cries of the oppressed. God enters our pain, through our suffering, even in the silence. If healing is to come, then this pain must be named and confronted. We cannot look away. With every truth-telling moment, we can better discern what these moments reveal about our history, our authentic selves, our leadership journey, and our hope for a better future. Only then can we challenge each other to join in God’s great work of justice, redemption, and reconciliation. If healing is to come, then this pain must be named and confronted.
*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
– by Lindy Thompson
If the earth is going to tremble,
if the trees are going to move,
if ancient boulders are going to tumble down –
give me my people.
If the waters are going to rise,
if the familiar is going to change,
if uprooting is unavoidable —
give me my people.
If I must drink from the cup,
if I must taste the tears,
if I must feel the wound —
give me my people,
give me my family,
give me the people of God.
By Chanté Griffin
“Write a book about race and Christianity.”
God’s words hit me as strong and thick as the Ghanaian sun under which I sat.
Still, I still questioned their legitimacy, partly because I felt unqualified. At the time, the only bylines to my name were the ones I had amassed during college: a poem about Ebonics published in Stanford University’s Black Arts Quarterly, and a couple of news stories completed during my internship at the Claremont Courier, the closest city newspaper to the Claremont Colleges.
“If you’re really telling me to write a book, Lord,” I volleyed back, “then have someone else tell me, too.”
Looking back, I recognize that this “fleece” wasn’t only about not feeling qualified; it was about wanting to do everything perfectly, including hearing from God. But thankfully God works through our insecurities and our imperfections.
One week later, this time stateside, one of my students, Karla, looked me square in the face and said, “You should write a book about race and Christianity, you know— like Doug Schaupp’s Being White book, but the black version.” (Backstory: Karla was one of the students I worked with as a university chaplain with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Doug Schaupp was an InterVarsity colleague who had written a book about race.)
When I heard Karla’s words, my eyes bulged externally as my spirt leaped internally.
Okay God, I whispered internally, I hear you.
Always the “A” student, I started the book project almost immediately. One evening, after a long day of meetings, I sat down with my laptop, opened up Word, created a document, and…stopped.
I don’t know how to write a book, I thought. I have no idea where to begin.
I researched local writing programs and located a memoir writing class through UCLA Extension. It was a bit pricey, but seemed perfect. Right before I was set to register, my mom recommended I check out my local community college. “You can usually find the same classes, but way cheaper,” she advised me. She was right, as moms usually are. I enrolled in a Memoir writing class, led by Professor Joe Ryan, who also taught at the University of Southern California. Thank you Jesus for university level classes for community college prices!
That community college class introduced me to the fundamentals of good writing. I knew nothing about writing (outside of how to craft a basic news story and the lessons my high school English teacher had drilled into me). I made every mistake newbie writers make: I told the story in chronological order, I named every character, even if she wasn’t important to the story arc, and I started every sentence with “I.” In short, I didn’t understand that non-fiction writing is as much about shaping a story as it is about telling the truth. I discovered that although memoir is true, its truth is shaped.
Eagerly, I took the class a second time, only this time as an Independent Study course. My writing improved, and I rushed to finish the first quarter of the book. I was on a roll, excited to be doing the thing God had told me to do. I didn’t realize then that sometimes God puts us on a path, only to take us off it.
“Stop writing the book,” God told me.
Like a defiant teenager, I kept going, mainly because I’m not a quitter. I refuse to be one of those people who say they’re gonna write a book but never finish it, I told myself.
“Stop writing the book,” God told me again.
But again, I kept going because I had been accepted into VONA Voices, a prestigious summer writing workshop co-founded by Pulitzer Prize author Junot Díaz.
“Stop writing the book,” God told me a third time.
This time I listened. After the workshop, I set the manuscript on my bookshelf. Disappointed and sullen, I pleaded with God, Please let me know when to pick this up again.
On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchman who insisted the young boy, carrying only an iced tea and a pack of Skittles, was up to no good.
August 9, 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed.
November 23, 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed.
April 12, 2015, 25-year-old Freddie Gray was murdered.
Alton Sterling was shot and killed July 5, 2016. The next day, July 6, 2016, Philando Castille was killed in front of his girlfriend and her baby.
The murders of these young black men and others like them ushered me into an extended period of mourning for Black people in the US who have been killed by the police and vigilante citizens in dubious circumstances.
So in 2017, when all the Black folks I knew were hurt and disillusioned, and political pundits were trying to figure out how a presidential candidate who espoused racist and sexist views could become President, I began to wonder if it was time to revisit the book., even though by then I had published numerous bylines as a part-time freelance writer, but I still felt under-qualified. I prayed, asking God, “Who am I to write this book? I can think of several other people more qualified, who are also better writers…”
God responded back, “I AM is sending you.”
That’s when I cried and realized—as cliché as it may sound—that it’s not about me.
I was used to being a star student, but this book would be different. God would have to work through my imperfections. Not only that, he would shine through them.
I’m not the best writer, but I am called. I’m not the most qualified person to write this book, but I’m called. Strangely, this sense of call compels me to study the craft of writing and to build my resumé; Four years into my freelance writing career, I hold bylines in almost 50 publications.
Still, my hope rests in the call and the God who calls. This, I’m learning, is the best way to operate—in book writing and in life.
When the people and values that shape my diverse communities are in conflict with each other, I must consider: Will I remain true to my God or true to the native land or continent in which my ancestors were born, or will I remain true to the native land or country in which I was born? My native land wants me to remain true to the American philosophy that I have been taught in my formative years. On the other hand, my people—the black community—have a history of being oppressed by the land in which many of us were born. Where should my loyalties lie, knowing all of that? The black community has also been stripped of our African culture, history, and traditions, and I want to learn what values have been lost from that culture and to understand what values are important to hold on to.
Discernment for the American Christian is determining what is actually of God and what is true only to our native land. Believe it or not, American Christianity looks quite different depending on where and how you worship on Sunday mornings, what stories you read, what voices you listen to, and who you call friend. Our various community shapers can be in conflict with each other, so remaining true to God requires that we analyze the sacred community—the shaping grounds, including what or who is missing from those spaces. Affirming our identity in Christ means that we must wrestle with our community shapers to accept, celebrate, cultivate, and then share what individually makes us unique.
Community is about the places that shape us. Orangeburg, South Carolina, is where I come from. Community is about the people who shape us. When I had the opportunity to deliver the student address at my graduation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Charlotte, I told my family and friends, “I take you with me wherever I go.” Community is who you roll with on this journey called life.
Community is also the environments that we intentionally cultivate and the people we invite to form and shape them. Creating culture and cultivating community is a continuous act of discipline. If you desire to have lasting influence and to implement real change, this is an internal wrestling you must be willing to do, a risk you must be willing to take, and a skill you must learn. Your life may look very different from mine or that of Moses. You have your own stories, relationships, and experiences. The work of spiritual formation requires that you pay attention to how God wants to shape your community.
*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL
Learn more from Natasha at our spiritual writers’ conference in May: https://writingforyourlife.com/writing-for-your-life-spiritual-writers-conference-holland-mi-may-2019/
Originally posted on November 3, 2016 by Sarah Arthur
The day after one of the biggest wins in sports history, with less than a week to go before a contentious presidential election (no hyperlink needed), seems an odd time to be writing fiction. I’m sleep-deprived, for one. And I have a lot of things to say besides inventing dialogue between pretend characters.
I believe this election matters. I have my own considered reasons why and what it could mean for my sons as they grow up. I have written roughly a dozen articles in my head on everything from–nope, I won’t go there (if you know me, even a little bit, you can probably guess). But despite the fact I’m getting ready to launch what could be perceived as my first-ever “political” book in January, I’m not weighing in on whatever happens next Tuesday. I’m writing fiction.
Copping out? Maybe. Maybe I’m just an ostrich shoving my head in the sand, as if inventing worlds can help me escape this one. Maybe I’m just exercising a particular brand of elitist privilege that allows me to blithely pursue a superfluous “hobby” while people out there are dying. Guilt, guilt, guilt.
This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. During the three years that my husband and I lived with the homeless in the inner city, I often felt like my job of writing about literature was basically the least helpful thing I could offer anyone. Can a hungry kid eat a book? Is this vocation putting a roof over anyone’s head? (I earn too little for that.) Should I be protesting something? Writing letters to Congress? I gave serious thought to abandoning the writing life altogether.
Yet I would return, again and again, to stories. Books by people like Dorothy Sayers and C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Jane Austen. Authors who wrote during wartime–even some, like Tolkien, from the front lines. Many of them had plenty of things to say about current events, as evidenced by their collections of letters. The poet T. S. Eliot, for instance, was an outspoken conservative who published political essays in the literary journal he founded, while Dorothy Sayers went to bat for women on issues of gender equality. I, for one, love her treatise Are Women Human? but rarely run into anyone else who’s heard of it. And I had no idea Eliot wrote political essays till a lecturer at a conference mentioned it–which perhaps betrays my limited knowledge of Eliot, or perhaps betrays something deeper, something about the nature of his real legacy.
My point? These authors gave the world something. But it wasn’t their opinions on the critical political decisions of their time. It wasn’t their pithy 140-character soundbites that shamed their enemies and changed no one’s minds. Their generation, too, had journalists and politicians and activists who triumphed and failed, some of whom we remember, many of whom we don’t. But what lasted were these authors’ stories.
Back to those three years with the homeless. Toward the middle of our stay, before my husband’s job took us to the suburbs of Lansing, MI, one of our guests had to have leg surgery. She was a recovering narcotics abuser from the streets, as different from me in race and class and life experiences as any friendship I could imagine; and her long recovery stretched the limits of our household’s energy and compassion. She, a bored and demanding sufferer; the rest of us running at top speed just to make sure everyone got fed and deadlines were met and paychecks deposited…God help us.
At one point she had run out of movies to watch, so I brought her my limited collection: the boxed trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, extended editions. My caveats were plentiful: “It’s fantasy by a dead white guy. Lots of white guys running around. Almost no females, and they’re all white except the giant spider. I’m not offended if you hate it.” But she said, “Sure,” so I loaded movie number one into the DVD player and left.
Hours–maybe even days–later, as I stepped away from my laptop to grab some snacks from the kitchen, wafting down the hall came the soundtrack of The Return of the King. It swelled recognizably to the last, most certainly doomed battle before the gates of Mordor; I could practically taste my own remembered tears running down my cheeks. “For Frodo,” came the voice of Viggo Mortensen–then mayhem, Howard Shore’s unforgettable strings, the apparent triumph of evil at the end of all things. But somewhere in the midst of it rose that lone soprano–you know the one I mean–and all of sudden I heard my housemate yelling.
“The eagles!” she whooped, “the eagles are comin’!”
The house rocked with her roars of jubilation. “Thank you, Jesus, the eagles are comin’!”
I once heard Newbery winner Katherine Paterson say to a packed auditorium at the Festival of Faith & Writing, “I want to be a spy for hope.” And now I get it. After that moment in the hallway, my housemate’s joy ringing down the walls, I get it. This week, while following all the manic online activity and joyous enthusiasm around the kickoff to National Novel Writing Month, I get it. After turning to my Facebook community for encouragement–and receiving a flood of moving, hopeful responses–I get it.
Right now, what the world needs is for me to be writing fiction. What my sons need is for me to write stories they will read for themselves someday, long after the next president is gone. Stories for my homeless friends, stories that outlast today’s headlines, stories for my great-grandchildren or whenever the Cubs next win the World Series.
This is why fiction.
This is what I have to say.