January 11, 2008

A Balanced Diet for Christian Writers - Violet Nesdoly

It's the beginning of another new year and with many of us obsessing about our new diets (or lack of them) allow me to suggest a few menu items for the writer in each of us.

Bread and Wine

My Utmost for His Highest
by Oswald (and Binnie) Chambers

Next to the Bible, this little devotional by Oswald Chambers (and painstakingly compiled by his wife Binnie after his death) has done more in the last few years to shape my outlook as a Christian than any other book. Interestingly, I discovered it through fiction – Jan Karon’s Mitford books, where you’ll recall Pastor Tim often quotes from O.C.

The meditations characteristically take a view which runs counter to the popular wisdom of how to succeed – in life and as a writer. In that vein, however, they ring true to Kingdom of God principles (‘The great reversal" Eugene Peterson calls them in The Message). As a result this little book has rocked my world more than once as it has put me face to face with the fact that success by the world's standards (in whatever my chosen field of endeavor) holds no weight with God. Highly recommended for daily consumption.

(Note: I see there is an "Updated version in today’s language" available. I’d say nix on that! Chambers’ interesting use of language is one of the things that makes this book so appealing.)

Comfort Food

This is my current favorite book in the "hold my writer’s hand" category (Bird by Bird, Page After Page, Writing Down the Bones would be similar). Ms. Goldberg has spent a lot of time teaching writers. In this book she shares what she’s learned on her own writing journey as well as what she’s discovered from helping others. The result is an intuitive and sympathetic read.

Her thesis is that there are three facets of the writing process, beyond the physical act of putting words on paper or monitor, which must be in balance for the creative process to have free flow. These are percolation, revision and going public.

I found the first section on percolation especially encouraging. It put into words what I have often felt – that something was happening on my current writing project even when I wasn’t physically at my desk. In this section of eight chapters Ms. Goldberg brings out, among other things, the necessity for balance in the activities of living (vs. being permanently glued to one’s task chair), the value of input from books and other media, and the importance of being aware of one’s own creative processes. She suggests strategies to aid percolation and advises giving oneself permission to take the time needed to let ideas grow organically.

Editing is one of my favorite activities, so there weren’t as many aha moments for me in the six-chapter "Revision" section. But again in the final "Going Public" six chapters of the book, I felt understood as I rarely had before. Here Goldman discusses reasons for and against going public with writing. She uncovers the dangers of going public too soon and shows how unmet expectations may be the cause of feeling blocked. She exposes the folly of hoping to get emotional needs met by the responses (to our writing) of others and, conversely, the sometimes-ignored fact that writing kept only to oneself is also self-defeating.

Each chapter ends with a section called "Practice" which includes a variety of exercises, both writing and physical (the latter seemed yoga-ish to me and some were a bit off-the-wall).

All in all, this book helped me understand the inner machinations of my writing self. I’d recommend it to writers of any genre, with any amount of writing experience.

Creativity Candy

This hand-held gadget promises to activate the creative juices of writers, artists, actors and storytellers alike. It’s a sturdy cardboard circle thing with, on one side recipes (e.g. "Whine and Cheese": 1 Starter, 6 Words. Complain to your heart’s content about something) and on the other, three circles with slits that dial up to‘words,’ ‘starters,’ and ‘settings.’

Here are the instructions on the spinner:
1. Get a scrap of paper, watch and writing tool.
2. Dial up a recipe.
3. Turn the 3 wheels on the flip side to reveal the ingredients for your stories.
4. Set the timer for 10 minutes...create your story.

I’ve had mine for a while (....and haven’t actually used it – gulp). But I will, I will – as soon as I find a few minutes to play!

(This post was originally published on my blog November 12, 2005. My apologies if you've seen it before.)


  1. Neat ideas. O.C. is definately a must-read (you're making me want to dig my copy out again!). The Goldberg book sounds very interesting as well... must see if the library has it! :)

  2. Hi Violet,
    These books sound nourishing, delicious,and low-calorie. I'm looking forward to finding and reading them! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Good ideas and I like the diet presentation. Thanks for the book suggestions.


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