Writing thoughts and questions

The writer’s conference I attended last March became a catalyst to take my writing off the back burner and make it a priority. I had a list of ideas for further writing, but one topic most on my heart and the most developed so far: encouraging women to read the Bible and dealing with some of the problems (distractions, busy schedules, etc.) that keep us from God’s Word. Different sources I’ve consulted say that a non-fiction book should total somewhere between 30,000-50,000 words. I have 24,000 so far!

One of my biggest writing roadblocks was making time. Every piece of writing advice I have seen says to make a schedule to write and keep your writing time sacred. But that just doesn’t work in my situation with caring for my mother-in-law at home, having caregivers and hospice people coming in and out (never knowing quite when some of them will be here), having a son working at home and taking online classes at home, and a husband who started working some days from home just about the time I decided to focus on writing. I was distressed for a while, but I knew that if God wanted me to write now, He’d help me find or make a way. Finally the idea came to focus on my writing as much as possible when my husband is away from home and then to spend the time he is here working on my household tasks. Even though this schedule isn’t the same each week. it has helped me make more progress with less stress than the hit or miss style I was working under before.

Several weeks ago I submitted a guest post to a particular site. The site owner sent back several helpful editorial suggestions. Sometimes writing just flows, and sometimes almost every word is a struggle. This was one of the latter times. I spent more than two weeks of my available writing time revising. The end result was immensely better than what I had sent originally sent in, but I was discouraged that the process was so laborious and took so much time. If a 1,000-word blog post took that much time, how long is it going to take me to finish a book? Around that time I came across a blog post on What 20 Famous Authors Had to Say About Rewriting. A couple of samples that most spoke to me:

Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it. ~Michael Crichton

More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina. ~John Irving

I have rewritten–often several times–every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers. ~Vladimir Nabokov

Those and other sources I read encouraged me that rewriting is just a part of the process.

I’ve had moments of thinking, “I love this! I want to do more!” and other moments of, “What was I thinking? Who am I kidding?” But, from what I have read, those roller coaster feelings are pretty normal.

I had also started following some blogs and Twitter accounts for writers. While they were helpful in many ways, I got discouraged after a while reading every single day “Here are 20 things you MUST do or you’ll never be a successful writer.” So I cut back on some of those. There is still a lot I need to learn, but I am taking it in smaller doses and working on a bit at a time. I’ve started a Pinterest board for articles and memes about writing.

I’ve also been wrestling with some of the following issues:

  • What name to use. There is already an author by my name who writes on water birth (something I know nothing about). Should I just use my name and trust that readers won’t mix us up? Or should I include my middle or maiden name or initial? I asked Facebook friends, and no one cared for the middle initial, but they were split pretty evenly between adding my middle or maiden name. I’m not crazy about using a three-word name, but it might be best.
  • Everything I read says an author needs an online presence, a platform, before submitting a manuscript for publication. Publishers want to make sure you have something of an audience already. At some point I’ll make a separate author Facebook page, and I will probably use my Twitter account as is, since I don’t use it for much now except linking blog posts. But I wonder if I should create a new blog or use this one. On one hand, though this blog isn’t viral by any means, I do have some readers. I’d hate to start over with a new blog. On the other hand, when I started blogging, blogs were more informal and neighborly. I love my little hodgepodge blog, but I wonder if a “professional” blog would work better for an author platform. I would probably still keep this as a personal blog.
  • What should I do about book reviews? I write them because I love talking about what I have read and want to share these books with others, who hopefully will love them, too. And while I am not nitpicky or hypercritical, I want to be honest if a book contain problems (mainly bad language, risque scenes, or iffy theology, but sometimes poor writing). Some of you have told me that you buy books based on my reviews, so I want to be especially careful that I am not steering anyone into problem areas without at least a heads-up. But would it seem unprofessional as a writer to criticize another author’s work? I once read a particular new book based on the recommendation of a favorite author, and the writing was some of the worst I had encountered. I felt I had been deceived and wondered if all authors recommended each other’s books unreservedly. I couldn’t honestly do that, but maybe the solution is just not to mention the books I have problems with.   If I kept this as a personal blog, I would probably continue with book reviews as I do them now. If I transformed this into a writer blog, I might create a separate book review blog.
  • For tax purposes, do writers file as self-employed, or do they form a company (an LLC, my husband suggests, but I have only a vague idea what that even is. One more thing to learn…)
  • If I “crowdsource” and ask for opinions or ideas on a blog or Facebook page, and I use one of the ideas suggested, do I owe the person who suggested it anything other than a mention in the book’s acknowledgements? For instance, the title I had always wanted to use for this book has been used by someone else recently. The editor who critiqued the few pages of my manuscript at the writer’s conference did not like the alternate title I came up with. I’ve jotted down some other ideas, but nothing really grabs me yet. I’d love to get some feedback, but if I ask for it in a public way, I’m not sure what the implications are. Perhaps if I present it as a contest, and offer the winner a free copy of the book (or something), that would be sufficient?
  • If you quote from someone’s blog, do you need to ask them first, or just attribute them properly?
  • What about those quotes all over the Internet from famous people that you can’t find a source for? They’re just recorded in lists of quotes, but further searching doesn’t reveal an original source. Can they be referred to just as “as quoted by C. H. Spurgeon” on this site?
  • I’d love to find a critique group of not just new writers in the same boat I am, but with experienced authors as well. A couple of authors who were at the writer’s conference are involved in Word Weavers, and they have a local branch. So that might be a possibility, though there is a fee. Both the critique at the writer’s conference and the editorial suggestions I mentioned in regard to my guest post have shown me how valuable it is to have a more experienced person’s eyes to take a look at my writing and provide feedback.

So those are some of the “behind the scenes” thoughts and issues I’ve been grappling with on the writer’s front. Some answers I can probably find with a little more research; others I just need to ponder a while. If you have any thoughts about anything I’ve written here, I’d love to hear them!

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

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A Writer’s Survival Kit

When I got back from the writer’s conference I attended, a dear friend who had prayed for me while I was there, while I traveled, and especially while I was sick there, gave me this Writer’s Survival Kit. I thought it was such a sweet, thoughtful and clever idea, and I wanted to share it with you.

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I loved all of it, but I think the stress relief is my favorite. 🙂

Takeaways From a Writer’s Conference

Last week I told you about attending the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference. This week I want to share some specifics I learned.

Writers make time to write. I was astonished to learn how incredibly busy everyone was. Each writer had several irons in the fire: family, books, multiple organizations, blogs, newsletters, and more. No one is luxuriating at a resort with nothing to do but write. Michelle Cox shared in the Lightning Learning sessions that she writes in 25-minute increments, a manageable goal. In addition, getting up and doing something else for a few minutes keeps writers from developing physical problems from sitting at the computer too long. Larry Leech told of one woman homeschooling several children who wrote for ten minutes at the top of every hour during the school day. If this is something God wants me to do, He will give me wisdom to discern how to make the time.

Writers learn. Writers are expected to know how to self-edit, format according to preferred standards, understand point of view, and myriad other aspects of writing long before they submit a manuscript for publication. Not knowing these things is seen as lazy, so I need to research, self-educate, soak up and glean all I can about the craft of writing.

Writers read. Most writers are readers, but writers are encouraged to read for more than pleasure. Nancy Lohr with Journeyforth suggested reading about the craft of writing, reading to see how other writers put together their work and what techniques they employ, reading books in one’s own field of interest, reading fiction even as a nonfiction writer. Craig von Buseck and Les Stobbe encouraged reading books like the one we want to write, both to see what’s already out there and to find our own unique approach.

Writers start small. Many of the speakers emphasized that writers rarely publish a book right off the bat with no previous writing experience. We were encouraged to start with writing articles, newsletters, blogs, etc., which will help us gain experience, write for an audience and receive feedback, work with deadlines and specifications, etc.

Writers are teachable. Candy Arrington emphasized the need for writers to be teachable and flexible. She and others encouraged joining a critique group so we can help each other with our blind spots, mistakes, clarity, etc.

Writers have a target audience in mind. Writing to our target audience keeps our writing focused. In addition, publishers want to know the target audience for marketing purposes. Sarah Bolme helped me clarify that my target audience does not have to be a certain age group: it just has to be the people who would have a particular interest in or need for my subject matter. “Adult women” is not a narrow enough target.

Since coming home from the conference, I started following a few of the speakers on Twitter to keep receiving tips and information. I also started reading:

The Write Conversation blog by Edie Melson. Edie is one of the coordinators for the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference. She was one of the speakers for the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference, but, unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend any of her sessions. Her blog is considered one of the top writing blogs, and I have already learned a lot from it.

Writer’s Write.

Writing and Editing.

Have you attended a writer’s conference? What was your best takeaway from it? What other sources do you read to keep inspired or to hone your writing skills?

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday)

My First Writer’s Conference

I mentioned in Friday’s post an adventure. I spent Friday and Saturday at the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference!

I had read about writer’s conferences, but attending one was a distant dream. I had never heard of this particular one until Mary mentioned it in a Facebook group we’re both in. I was surprised to see that the conference would take place in a city where I had lived for twelve years. That would take away the anxiety of traveling by myself to a strange new place. Plus it was just overnight, not several days. It seemed smaller than some of the others I had heard about, which would not be so overwhelming as some of the bigger ones. I didn’t think we’d be able to work around my mother-in-law’s care so that I could attend, but my husband said he could be home, and he encouraged me to go. So I did!

Authors, editors, and publisher representatives made up the faculty who presented the workshops. I had read one of the authors, heard of one other, and knew one of the publisher representatives years ago when she was on staff at my sons’ school, but everyone else was new to me. I came away with many of the faculty’s books added to my TBR list.

Four workshops divided into eight sessions each, covering topics like a writer’s social platform, managing time to write, self-editing, storytelling, plot, character arc, book proposals, publishing, and so much more. I wish I could have attended the majority of them! The one most beneficial to me was Craig von Buseck‘s “Fiction Techniques in Nonfiction Writing.” He explained that even though nonfiction informs, persuades, and inspires, it must also entertain or engage the reader, or else the reader will put it down. My writing sometimes tends to be “Just the facts, ma’am,” which might work for a Wikipedia article, but not a book. I gained both ideas and inspiration from Craig’s workshop for fleshing out my writing.

Todd Starnes was the enjoyable keynote speaker, and two panels covered editors’ pet peeves and publishing trends. Friday night after the last session we all divided into genre groups with faculty members available to answer questions.

A “Lightening Learning” session was both fun and informative. All of the faculty were stationed at various tables, and conferees went in small groups from table to table, changing tables at the blow of a whistle. Each faculty member had three minutes to share their favorite writing tip. Though all the tips were beneficial, one faculty member gave me a great idea for narrowing down my target audience.

We had an opportunity to submit an outline and the first ten pages of a manuscript for a critique before the conference, and during the conference we had a fifteen-minute appointment with the person who critiqued our work. That was a humbling experience, but then that was somewhat expected. We can’t improve our writing until we see what we’re doing wrong.

We also had the opportunity to sign up to meet with a faculty member for at least one 15-minute session just to ask questions, share our project and get feedback, etc.

Before the conference when I was trying to determine whether to spend the time, money, and emotional energy to go, I looked over the workshop topics and thought, “You know, I could read about most of this in books or online.” And though that’s true, and though I am sure I will read more, the conference sessions helped distill some of these topics down to their most important essence. Besides all the information and inspiration, one of the biggest takeaways from the conference was encouragement. It’s hard sometimes to know when or how to bring up writing in everyday conversation, but at a writer’s conference, everyone asks what you’re working on, and no one thinks you’re silly or self-promotional. Plus, at an event like this, editors and publishers are encouraging and instructive. They know we don’t know everything we need to and they’re there to help. But once you submit a manuscript to them, you’re down to business, and they expect you to know the ropes. Meeting a variety of editors and publishers gives you some sources to pursue when you do get ready for those steps. It was also encouraging to meeting others at various stages of the writing journey.

And since this was a Christian conference, two of the themes that continually emerged were prayer and responsibility. We need to seek God at every step in the writing process and ask others to intercede for us. And we need to remember that all we do is by His power and grace and for Him. If writing is a calling, we’re responsible to obey God’s call, and if it is a gift, we’re responsible to develop it for His glory.

One other plus for me was meeting Mary Hill at Maryandering Creatively! I have been participating in her Literary Musing Monday for some time now, so it was great to meet in person.

Before the conference Mary had also pointed me to Edie Melson’s The Write Conversation. Her sidebar contains a wealth of information about preparing for a writer’s conference, an invaluable help to me. Edie was also on the conference faculty, and I was sorry to miss her sessions. But I’m delighted to find her site and glean the information there.

I had let a couple of you know privately that I was going and asked for prayer: thank you! I had not traveled by myself since I had to drive from Spartanburg to Knoxville to house-hunt before our move here almost eight years ago (and since college days before that!) I am not a good traveler anyway. During the trip as well as before and after, I kept thinking, “I can’t believe I am doing this!” Excitement battled with fear, anxiety, and even dread at some points, but excitement won out, and God gave me peace. Everything about the trip itself went well: God kept me safe on the road and in parking lots. I spent all of Saturday morning sick in the hotel room, and I was sorry to miss those sessions. I had considered going home once I felt well enough to drive. My dear husband offered to drive up with my son so that he could drive me home and my son could drive his car back, but I didn’t think that would be necessary. I texted a friend to request prayer. I’m so thankful that I felt well enough to attend the Saturday afternoon sessions, as those were the best of the conference for me.

I also enjoyed just the aspect of getting away from everyday responsibilities for a while, and the quiet hotel room provided a counterbalance to all the new experiences and being with so many people. I’m so thankful to my husband for not only allowing me and providing for me to attend but encouraging me to and taking care of things at home while I was gone. It’s not easy being the sole caregiver for his mom, so I appreciate his being willing to do that for a few days.

My emotions definitely hit highs (“Maybe I really can finish a book!”) and lows (What was I thinking?!“) But I came away from the conference challenged and encouraged to move writing from the back burner. I have a lot of work to do, but I gained some good ideas, more direction, and more awareness of what needs to be weeded out. I tend to be wordy (in case you haven’t noticed… 🙂 ), so I need to tighten up in some areas and flesh concepts out in others. My head is still spinning and I am still processing much of what I learned.

If you enjoy writing, I’d encourage you attend a writer’s conference! I am already hoping to attend next year.

Special thanks go to Linda Gilden for organizing everything, for her patience with this newbie, and especially for her warm and encouraging tone in everything she did. Thanks to all the team who helped everything go so smoothly! Great job!

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Faith on Fire)

“Edgy” Christian Fiction

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“Edgy” Christian fiction is becoming an increasingly hot topic among authors and readers. Those for it contend that stories need to be realistic for people living in the real world with bigger problems than the color of the church carpet. Opponents say that Christian fiction, of all places, should be a safe haven from objectionable elements in literature.

I think, as do many I know, that we should take our cues from this as well as every facet of life from the Bible. Yes, the Bible is different from a novel, but even in our novels we can operate within its parameters.

There are certainly edgy people in the Bible: harlots, polygamists, thieves, liars, evil kings, adulterers, murderers, zealots, and so on. And edgy situations abound: a man rapes his half-sister and in return is murdered by his brother; a man cuts up his murdered and abused concubine in pieces and sends her out to the various tribes of Israel to drum up support for revenge; a woman seduces a young, naive man; a king sees a woman bathing and takes her to himself though they are both married, then arranges to have her husband killed in battle; a woman has been married five times and is living with a sixth man.

But nowhere in the Bible are any of these situations written in a way to entice people to sinful thoughts in the reading of them. Profane men are shown to be such without spewing profanity. Sexual sin is portrayed in ways to show how it came about and how the people were tempted, but not in enough detail to cause arousal in the reader. Violent scenes are not written with gratuitous detail.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in an unsaved family with a father who used bad words (in three different languages! It was humiliating and embarrassing as a child when I said something at a Hispanic neighbor’s house only to find out it was an offensive word. Thankfully I don’t remember what it was.) So it doesn’t necessarily shock me when I hear people say those words. But when I read them, they float around in my head, and I don’t want them there.

Novels will by their nature share more descriptive detail than a Biblical narrative. Good authors know how to draw a reader into a scene and make them feel and experience what the characters do. But that is the very reason Christian authors need to be so careful with sexual or violent scenes. We need to take responsibility for the fact that we’re putting thoughts, images, and ideas in people’s minds and make sure they’re not the kind that lead the reader into a lustful or lurid state.

I don’t object to edgy people or situations in books, depending on how they are handled. I can understand a person is foul-mouthed without hearing the words. I can understand a person succumbing to sexual temptation without details of bodily form and feeling. I can appreciate a violent scene, such as a murder in a crime drama or a battle scene, without descriptors like eyes bugging out, blood spattering, etc.

In addition to how such scenes and people are described and what images those descriptions put in our heads, another factor is how the situation is treated in the novel. For instance, in searching for something in my blog recently I came across a forgotten book review for a story that included a suicide. That happens, so it’s not in itself an objectionable situation in a Christian book. But in this particular novel, it was treated as the only thing the character could do, and more than that, right and sacrificial and even heroic, when Biblically it is never regarded that way. “Thou shalt not kill” certainly applies to one’s own life as well as others. There is a difference between taking a bullet for someone and aiming that bullet at yourself. Suicide is the ultimate taking of your own life into your own hands and the ultimate lack of faith in God to handle one’s life circumstances as He sees fit. There were Bible people who wanted to die, but they left the actual process to the Lord. Suicide is a tragedy, and I can understand its happening in a story, but I think it’s wrong for a Christian book to condone it or present it as a good thing. Similarly, the tone, consequences, and character responses to profanity, sexual sin, and violence can convey that those things are not right without devolving into preachiness and judgmentalism.

I think it actually takes a great deal more talent to portray certain scenes without going into unnecessary specifics. One of the most violent scenes I ever witnessed on film just showed the victim’s feet, kicking at first and then lying still. No blood, no gore, but the effect was chilling. “Less is more” applies in a number of these areas.

I do want to encourage Christian authors that readers don’t want insipid, plain vanilla plots and we do want authentic, full-bodied, real characters and believable circumstances. I know it’s hard sometimes to know where the line is, but it’s possible to write great and realistic Christian fiction without crossing it. I know; I’ve read it. And I’d love to read more.

Related posts:

Why Read? Why Read Fiction? Why Read Christian Fiction?
The Language of Christians
Sexuality in Christian Fiction
The Gospel and Christian Fiction

(Linking with Thought-provoking Thursday) and Literary Musing Monday)

 

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Our Church Ladies’ Booklet

Last week when I mentioned the blessing of having a chunk of uninterrupted time in which to work on our church ladies’ booklet, someone asked in the comments what kinds of things I include in it. As I started answering and my answer became longer than I intended, I thought maybe I’d expand it into a blog post. I’m always a little wary of doing things like this – I know Scripture says we’re not to make a “show” of what we do for the Lord. But I enjoy seeing and reading about other people’s ministries, and I don’t ever suspect them of having wrong motives in sharing it. So I mean this in the same vein.

The booklet started several years ago when visiting my in-laws in another state. My m-i-l had a few copies of a booklet her ladies group did. I really liked it, asked if I could take a couple of copies, showed it to my pastor back in SC, and asked if I could do something similar for our ladies. He wanted a preview of the first one I did, and after checking it out said to go ahead. I did one for almost ten years there. Then when we moved to TN, after being here a couple of years, our pastor’s wife asked me if I’d like to compile a ladies’ newsletter for our church here. I showed her what I had done before and asked her what features she would like in it, and I have been doing that booklet for almost 4 years now.

The booklets in each of those places has been slightly different. The one at my mother-in-law’s church dealt mainly with group news and activities, with a few inspirational poems or paragraphs here and there. These days with e-mail notifications that can get to everyone so easily and explain details fully and in a timely manner, there is less need of “group news” in a booklet or newsletter that only comes out once a month. But sometimes it’s good for that kind of thing. They also included recipes, tips, birthdays, anniversaries, and even a “classified” section for selling or seeking items. I’ve been hesitant to include birthdays and anniversaries in our current booklet for fear of hurting someone’s feelings by accidentally leaving them out.  But if you have a way to keep on top of that, especially with new people coming in, that could work well.

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Ladies booklets from my mother-in-law’s church

I’ve written here before of how missionary biographies have blessed me. One former church whose ladies’ group had officers had a lending library for the ladies’ group, and the librarian used to tell about one or two of the books each month. So I incorporated that idea into the ladies’ booklets I have done, and each month have either a brief biographical overview of a missionary’s life or an excerpt or scene from their lives. I call that section “Those Who Have Gone Before.” I used some of those for the 31 Days of Missionary Stories and 31 Days of Inspirational Biography here on the blog.

In one of our ladies meetings at our church in SC, we had an open discussion about spending time in God’s Word. The fact that we all had various struggles with doing so – either making the time, or avoiding distractions, or getting into a rut, or engaging with the text vs. just running our eyes over the page, etc. – led me to start a column in the booklet called “Women of the Word.” Sometimes it’s encouragement in one of those areas, sometimes it’s a devotional or a result of my own Bible study, sometimes it’s an excerpt from a book or blog post along those lines. I’ve kept this and the “Those Who Have Gone Before” column in the booklet for our church here in TN as well.

After a few years of doing this in SC, I began to think we could use some encouragement along Titus 2 lines about our roles, responsibilities, and character as Christian women, so I started a column called “Christian Womanhood.” Some of the columns there dealt with marriage, motherhood, homemaking, etc. I haven’t kept that as a regular column in the TN booklet, but I do include some articles along those lines as I have space and feel led.

A big section of the SC booklets were correspondence. Our group sent out care packages for many years to missionaries (before it got too expensive to be feasible) and college students from our church, and we put the thank you notes we received from them in the booklet so that all the ladies could see them. The ladies group here doesn’t send out packages, so we don’t have that correspondence.

In SC I was asked/strongly urged to include a “helpful hints” section. I tried to get the ladies to contribute to this, but with little response (I think we all felt like we needed tips more than we felt we had any to share), so after I exhausted my own small repertoire, I had to go searching for that kind of thing in other newsletters, books, etc. Nowadays with Pinterest and Google, that kind of thing is so easily accessible that I only rarely include anything along those lines in the current booklet I do.

Usually on the first page I include a poem or quote about the season, the month, or an upcoming holiday…though I don’t usually have this much clip art. 🙂

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When I started doing the TN booklet, we had a “question of the month” that I would ask in one booklet, and then ladies e-mailed me their answers throughout the month, and I compiled them in the next month’s booklet and then asked a new question. Some of the questions used were, “What’s your favorite household tip?”, “What characteristic did you most appreciate about your mother?” (in connection with Mother’s Day), favorite Christmas ornament, fall tradition, something bad in your life that God used for good, openings you’ve found helpful in witnessing, etc. I really enjoyed getting to know the other ladies better in this way, but after a while, the response petered out, so I discontinued it.

At the request of our pastor’s wife here, we included a section where we “interviewed” one or two ladies a month. I sent out a questionnaire asking about were they grew up, how they came to TN,  how they came to know the Lord, where they went to school and what they studied, how they met their husband (if married), their children’s names and ages (if they have any), and then some fun questions, like their ideal vacation or day off, favorite restaurant meal, etc. This was originally designed to introduce new ladies to the group, but after a while we decided to include all the ladies, because of course the new ladies don’t know these things about the rest of us – and we don’t even know them about each other. This has been one of my favorite sections of the booklet.

I also started out trying to include a similar questionnaire about the wives of missionaries we support, but only a half dozen or so responded. I am assuming they were just too busy, understandably, or perhaps they were wary of sharing information with someone they didn’t know, though I tried to reference our church and pastor’s name. One year I emailed them about how Christmas was celebrated in their area, and we got quite a bit of response to that. That was fun to put together. I try to periodically put something in as a reminder to pray for them.

And lastly, I include a page of humorous items. Because what’s life without humor. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” after all (Proverbs 17:22).

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I “fill in” the empty spaces with poems or quotes. I have been collecting poems, quotes, jokes, anecdotes, etc., on all these subjects, ever since I started the first booklet, so I’ve got tons of files now. One of my biggest challenges is trying to keep track of what I have used before so I don’t repeat myself

Since I did the booklet for ten years in SC and have had a blog for almost ten years, naturally I draw on a lot of that material for the booklet I do now in TN. But I do edit, update, or revise it as needed. And sometimes I do write something totally new for this booklet – which usually eventually shows up in the blog. 🙂 Sometimes I end up compiling things I have read in books rather than writing anything of my own. I do try to pray before starting each month for the Lord’s guidance and direction in what to include and how to say it.

I use Microsoft Publisher to do these because the screen is laid out like the finished book will be. I do it in what they call the 1/2-letter size, meaning one sheet of computer paper, in landscape or sideways position, is 4 pages in the booklet, so your number of pages will be in multiples of 4. The finished booklet is 8 1/2″ by 5 1/2″. That seemed best to me so it could be easily tucked in one’s Bible, though I have seen other newsletters on 8 1/2 by 11″ sheets stapled at the left corner. I also like that with Publisher I can put a text box or photo box wherever I want them and move them around at will without having to figure out how to “wrap” the text around it. Before I started using Publisher, I used Microsoft Works (way back when!), but I had to print out each section and literally cut and paste the paper sections where each should go and then copy and paste the text on the computer so it all worked out right. Very tedious. Thankfully my oldest son had a copy of Publisher from the church because he did the youth group’s web site at the time, so I could also use it for the booklet. Years later either he or my husband bought me my very own updated copy of Publisher. You could probably also do this in a PDF file – I’ve just figured out how to convert my Publisher file to a PDF but otherwise I have no experience with PDFs. The ladies’ booklet at my m-i-l’s church was 8 pages; the one at my SC church could run from 12-20 depending on what all I included. The one I do now I keep to 12 pages.

I used to do the cover of the booklet with decorative computer paper from one of the office stores until the numbers we were printing exceeded the number of papers in the package. Then I started using frames, borders,  and clip art included in Publisher. Then I expanded by finding free clip art online. I had a few CDs of clip art but some were hard to use.

Ladies Booklets from our former church

Ladies Booklets from our former church

Lately, though, I’ve switched to a full page picture – I think it looks a bit more contemporary. I usually search online for free wallpaper pertaining to the season or holiday of the upcoming month – wallpaper because it’s a bigger photo, and stretching a small photo to try to fit the page doesn’t always work. I always have to crop the bigger photo to fit, but that works out better than stretching a smaller one.

Current ladies booklets

Current ladies booklets

So….I think that is probably much more than you ever wanted to know about our ladies’ booklets. 🙂 I very much enjoy doing it. Sometimes I wonder how in the word l I ever got the privilege to do so or why anyone would read anything I have to say. 🙂 The couple of years in between leaving SC and getting settled here in TN when I wasn’t writing or compiling one, it was nice in a way not to have to think about it, but I sorely missed it as well, and I was very glad to be asked to do it again.

If you are interested in starting something like this for the ladies at your church, I think the first step would be to talk with the coordinator of your ladies’ group, if your church has one, and your pastor, about what you’d like to include, the format you’d like, etc. At our former church, there was a printer which would fold and staple the booklets, but we had to be selective in how much color we used. At our current church, a printer is used and there is no restriction about color (I’ve asked several times, especially when switching to a full page color cover), but we have to fold and staple them manually. You’ll have to work out the logistics of whether your church can print these. I have no idea about how much it would cost to take them to Office Max or Kinko’s or some place like that, but if your church doesn’t have a printer or copier that can print something like this, and you have money in your budget to take them somewhere to print, that might be an option.

To sum up the types of things you could possibly include:

Member testimonies
Biographies of Christians “gone before”
Group news, calendar of events
Helpful hints or tips
Recipes
Thank you notes
Missionary information
Poems, quotes about the season, holiday, Christian life, missionaries, womanhood, etc.
Devotionals
Birthdays and anniversaries
“Interviews” or “Getting to know you” section
Funnies 🙂

Depending on how big you want the booklet to be, you probably can’t use all of these, and you may change along the way as you see what works, what people have interest in, etc.

There used to be a site online that had missionary biographies that could be printed out as bulletin inserts that I used sometimes for the missionary biography section, but the url I have for those does not work any more. I found the text of a couple of them at christianity.com, like this one on Ida Scudder and this one on Anne Bradstreet (not a missionary, but a believer of note).

One word of caution: just because something is online doesn’t mean it’s free to copy. If it doesn’t specifically say you can use it, it’s best to ask. I’ve never had anyone tell me no when I have asked if I could use something online for a church ladies’ newsletter. And of course always attribute anything like that to its source.

We’ve always made these books available and about all the ladies of the church, not just whatever group meets together. But your ladies’ group will probably be reflected in your booklet. For instance, the ladies’ group of our former church was much more focused on our missionaries than the group in our current church (not that the church neglects our missionaries – our news of and ministry to them is just handled in a different way), so that emphasis showed up in the booklet. Of the ladies’ groups in the various churches I have been a part of, some are very seriously “all business,” some are more casual and social, so that will be reflected in your booklet as well. You might have various people contribute to various sections: I think the lady who took over this booklet from our former church after I left does that.  Personally I find it easier to compile it myself – the times I’ve had others doing parts of it, there was some tension with getting things back in time, etc. I’m not opposed to making it a group effort rather than a personal one, but so far it has just worked out the way it has. We do have some group contribution through the questionnaires and used to through the “question of the month” section. I would be wary of making it an “open mic” kind of set-up, because you have people at various stages of Christian maturity in any group, and it might cause hurt feelings or worse to have to tell someone why you can’t use what they contributed or why you have to correct it.

I’d love to know if your church ladies’ group does any kind of newsletter, what you include, what programs you use, etc.

Sharing With Literacy Musing Mondays.

31 Days With Elisabeth Elliot: Writing By Faith

Elisabeth-Elliot-on

Elisabeth Elliot2

Today I am just taking excerpts from a chapter titled “One Difference Between Me and Sparrows” from Elisabeth’s book Love Has a Price Tag. It has always meant a lot to me as an aspiring writer:

The Bible says the just shall live by faith. The “just” is not a special category of specially gifted or inspired saints. It is the people whose hearts are turned toward God. The people who know that their own righteousness doesn’t count for much and who therefore have accepted God’s. I belong in that category. Therefore the rule for me is the rule for all the rest: live by faith. So I have been pondering, up here in this quiet room, what it means for a writer to live by faith. It was easy enough to come up with some things it doesn’t mean. It does not mean that my intellect need not be hard at work. It does not mean that I trust God to do my work for me, any more than for a housewife to live by faith means she expects God to do her dishes or make her beds. It does not mean that I have a corner on inspiration that Norman Mailer, say, or Truman Capote don’t claim. (I don’t know whether Mr. Mailer or Mr. Capote live by faith–I haven’t come across any comments by either on the subject.)

The great prophets of the Old Testament lived by faith, but they were certainly divinely inspired. Does this mean that God alone and not they, too–was responsible for the work they did? Even though they were acted upon in a special sense by the Spirit of God as I don’t ever expect to be acted upon, they had to pay a price. Each of them had to make the individual commitment when he was called, and to offer up then and there his own plans and hopes (and surely his reputation) in order that his personality, his temperament, his intellect, his peculiar gifts and experience might be the instruments through which the Spirit did his work, or the console upon which he played. All this, even though I am no prophet, I must take seriously.

But there is one other thing that living by faith does not mean. This is the thing that makes me furrow my brow and sigh, because I can’t help wishing that it did mean this. If in fact I have sided with the “just,” if I am willing to work as hard as I can, if I arrange things physically to contribute to the highest concentration and if I discipline myself to sit down at the typewriter for X number of hours per day (even when the fresh perfume of the balsams comes through the windows, calling me to the woods; even when the lake glitters in the sunshine and says, “Come on!”), may I then expect that what I turn out will stop the world, bring the public panting to the bookstores, shine as the brightness of the firmament?

I may not. There are no promises to cover anything of the kind.

…And here’s comfort. Abel’s name is listed in the Hall of Fame of Hebrews 11. Like the others in that list (and a motley assortment it is), he is there for one thing, and only one thing: the exercise of faith. The demonstration of his faith was his offering. The thing that made his offering acceptable while Cain’s was unacceptable was faith. Faith did not guarantee the “success” of the sacrifice. In human terms it was no help at all. Abel ended up dead as a result of it. But the manner in which he offered his gift–“by faith”–made it, the Bible says, “a more excellent sacrifice” than Cain’s, and qualified him for the roster of Hebrews.

For me, then, for whom writing happens to be the task, living by faith means several things.

It means accepting the task from God…Here is a thing to be done. It appears to be a thing to be done by me, so I’ll do it, and I’ll do it for God.

It means coming at the task trustingly. That’s the way Abel brought his sacrifice, I’m sure. Not with fear, not with a false humility that it wasn’t “good enough.” What would ever be good enough, when it comes right down to it? “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” All that distinguishes one thing from another is the manner of its offering. I must remember that the God to whom I bring it has promised to receive. That’s all I need to know.

It means doing the job with courage to face the consequences. I might, of course, write a bestseller. Most of us feel we could handle that kind of consequence. (God knows we couldn’t, and doesn’t suffer us to be tempted above that we are able.) On the other hand, I might fail. Abel was murdered. Jeremiah was dropped into a pit of slime. John the Baptist got his head chopped off. These were much worse fates than being delivered into the hands of one’s literary critics… Is the faith that gives me the courage I need based on former literary success? Not for a moment. For each time I sit down to begin a new book I’m aware that I may have used up my allotment of creativity. It’s another kind of faith I need, faith in God.

It means giving it everything I’ve got. Now I have to acknowledge that I’ve never done this. I’ve never finished any job in my life and been able to survey it proudly and say, “Look at that! I certainly did my best that time!” I look at the job and say, “Why didn’t I do such and such? This really ought to be done over.” But “giving it everything I’ve got” is my goal. I cannot claim to be living by faith unless I’m living in obedience. Even the miracles Jesus performed were contingent on somebody’s obedience, on somebody’s doing some little thing such as filling up water pots, stretching out a hand, giving up a lunch. The work I do needs to be transformed. I know that very well. But there has to be something there to be transformed. It’s my responsibility to see that it’s there.

See all the posts in this series here.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club: Chapter 9: Writing – Prose and Poetry

Chapter 9 of The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer, which we’re discussing a chapter at a time at  The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club hosted by Cindy at Ordo Amoris, is about writing.

I’m a little late reading and discussing it this week because we had family here until yesterday, but this is one chapter I did not want to miss.

I’ve enjoyed writing since I was very young: poetry as a child and teen-ager, various journals (which I am grieved to say I threw away in my teens), letters, a handful of magazine articles, a few magazine columns, several years’ worth of monthly newsletters for a church ladies’ group, and a nearly 7 year old blog. I’ve always enjoyed expressing myself in that way, and find I can think things through more easily by writing about them. It’s hard to work through a swirling tangle of thoughts, and by writing I can take a strand at a time, pin it down, and then sort through them all.

I’ve often wondered if God might have something more for me to do with writing. For years I’ve had a desire to write a book, but I don’t know if that’s just a personal ambition or something from the Lord. Edith encouraged me by saying, “Writing for the enjoyment of expression – like music or painting – does not need an audience of more than one,” and “If you simply love to write and want to do it, my advice is write. But write without ambitious pride, which makes you feel it is a ‘waste’ to write what will never be published. Write to communicate to someone, even if it is literally only one person. It is not a waste to write beautiful prose or poetry for one person’s eyes alone! (p. 136).

She mentions several homey ways to write: notes in lunchboxes, cards, letters, writing out our prayers and praises to God, etc. She challenges us to write not just for people whose views are similar to our own. I love her description of trying to “formulate something in writing which will give them the feeling that they have been spending the evening with you, toasting their toes at the same fireplace with a pot of steaming tea by their sides while you have talked earnestly to them” (pp. 137-138).

She encourages us, too, that not everything we write will be a “masterpiece,” or “accomplish its purpose, and more than each meal is going to be the ‘perfect meal’ or each painting the ‘perfect painting,'” but each time we write we can do so “in a way which comes across as giving of oneself” (p. 140).

I received a thoughtful, handwritten thank you note this morning, a treasure in this electronic age, and can enjoy the reading of it over and over and the remembrance of my friend and our time together. Some of my treasures are letters, especially those from my mom, who did not write much (she preferred calling to writing), especially now that she has passed on. I have little from my maternal grandmother, who dies when I was four, besides two handwritten recipes, another treasure.

I was reminded, while reading this chapter, that Laura Ingalls Wilder and other writers didn’t start until later in life, and that she wrote magazine columns before books. That encourages me that sometimes things that have to be left on the back burner are more flavorful for their time there. Isobel Kuhn, a very expressive writer, began by writing “circular letters” of the people they ministered to in China for their supporters, lively descriptions rather than bare-faced facts and figures, and out of that grew her writing of several books. That encourages me that writing “where we are” can develop the skills for a wider audience later.

So I am encouraged and refocused, to write as unto Him, to write as giving of myself, to write to encourage others, to write earnestly so as to make the other feel they’re right beside me, and to trust Him for leading, guidance, and grace to write in whatever venues He provides.

And I am so very glad God communicated to us through writing, through the written Word and the Living Word.

A good idea…

One of the standard things I say when Jim and Jesse leave for the day is “Have a good day.” I really do mean it every day, but sometimes we can say routine things without really thinking about it.

One day as Jesse left for school, I absent-mindedly said, “Have a good idea!”

He responded, “Ooookay?”

Then I caught my mistake. “DAY! Have a good day!”

Sometimes a good idea can make for a good day. 🙂 At least we started the day with a laugh, and had another when Jim later quipped that that’s how Steve Jobs’ mom used to send him off to school. 🙂

Then a while back I was using Jim’s car and the keyless remote wasn’t working, probably needing a new battery. I was trying to figure out how to get in the car and asked Jesse if he remembered the code. He did, but he looked pointedly at the keys in my hand.

I don’t know where my mind is lately. 🙂 I do have several “stray thoughts” I’d love to take time to untangle and sort through. Writing is the best way for me to do that, where I can pull them out and lay them side by side and then think about them some more, whereas when I’m just thinking them through they stay jumbled. Maybe next week…

In the meantime, have a good day…and if you have a good idea while you’re at it, all the better. 😉

Book Review: Unless It Moves the Human Heart

Unless it Moves the Human HeartI’ve hadn’t read anything of Roger Rosenblatt’s before, but somehow the name sounded a little familiar when I first saw the book Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing. The title grabbed me. Anyone who has any aspirations to write has, I think, the desire to touch someone else in some way; otherwise we’d just keep private journals.

Rosenblatt has written and won awards for columns, essays, books, and novels. He styled this book as one of his writing classes. These particular students and conversations are fictitious, but I am sure they are drawn from classes he has taught over the years. Neither the book nor the classes are very systematic: he says later in the book what I had already figured out, that he will come to class with a plan but a question from a student will carry the lesson into another direction. The interchanges do seem more like conversations than lessons, but that probably keeps them more interesting. “I may permanently forget whatever it was I originally planned to say. But it is much more exciting to allow oneself to be swung into a new and foreign path, just as in writing when you find yourself in the midst of the strangest sentence, and wonder how you got there” (p. 116).

He does work various principles into the conversations, the main one being restraint (“if you have the goods, there’s no need to dress them up,” p. 88) and “the preference of the noun to the adjective and the verb to the adverb” (p. 148), but even there he admits that “if I had foisted my preference on Keats, there would have been no Keats. And ‘rosy-fingered dawn’ is a …lot more beautiful than ‘dawn'” (p. 131).

The first part of the book had me thinking, “Wow, this is neat! I’d love to attend a class like this.” The second part had me disagreeing with him in spots.

Some of the parts I especially liked:

In a section on short stories, he says, “You know the character and his or her situation from the opening. You even know what’s likely to happen. The story is about why what you know matters” (p. 12). It struck me that in a sense that’s true of even longer stories and books. Something may be completely predictable and yet still be enjoyed because of what matters in the story.

“If we look like we’re trying to change the world, the writing will sink from the weight of its own piety. But in the best of our work, the idealism is there, like trout below the surface of the water. Of course you want to try to change the world. You just don’t want to show your cards. But look at the world. Who would not want to change it? Books count. They disturb people” (p. 59).

“There’s no purpose to writing unless you believe in significant things — right over wrong, good over evil. Your writing may deal with the gray areas between the absolutes, and all the relativities that life requires. But you still need to acknowledge that the absolutes exist, and that you are on the side of the angels” (p. 60).

“Writing is the cure for the disease of living. Doing it may sometimes feel like an escape from the world, but at its best moments it is an act of rescue. Each of you has his own way of seeing into suffering and error. But you share the desire to save the world from its blights by going deeper into them until they lie exposed. You show up the imperfections of living for what they are. You hope to write them out of existence” (p. 60).

Reading good writers “is like hanging around with a superior mind. You can never equal that mind, but you strive to do your best, and not to embarrass yourself in his presence” (p. 92).

Then there were things I wasn’t sure that I agreed with, like the following:

In contrasting writers to journalists, who have to clearly communicate, the author says “There’s a mystery to the art of writing. You write, yet you don’t always understand what you’ve written. And you’re not always understood. And you’re never fully understood. And this is a good thing– dwelling in and creating mysteries” (p. 74). I can see that to some extent, but I’d think even fiction writers want readers to understand what they’re trying to convey. Some of this kind of philosophizing got a little too metaphysical for me.

Likewise he says of a memoir, “A pure memoir meanders without achieving meaning. It avoids meaning — more like fiction that is real” (p. 88). If he means there’s no symbolism, ulterior motives or infused meaning of the writer, etc., I can agree with that. Yet I wouldn’t say there is no meaning, else no one would read it. There has to be some meaning to the life written about, the things the character did and learned. Personally I’ve drawn a lot of meaning — or maybe a better word would be inspiration — from reading biographies.

“A poet tries to identify a situation or an emotion as accurately as possible…At the same time, the poet knows that perfect identification is impossible, I think that’s where imperfection is the same thing as divine” (p. 129-130). Saying that imperfection is divine seems oxymoronic to me.

This a short book at 155 pages and reads easily. I liked the banter between Rosenblatt and his students and the fact that his representative students were a variety of ages, some even older than myself, rather than just college age. It is a secular book, so there are a few words and illustrations that I would personally find offensive but understand their being in a book like this. I enjoyed the variety of other writings that he referred to, some of which I want to explore further. Overall I found some good instruction and a lot of inspiration and food for thought in this book.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)