November 30, 2011

The Working Writer's Daily Planner - Susan Barclay

I imagine December will be a blur as our family prepares for the Christmas holidays. It will be challenging to find time to write, but I still hope to get some writing done. A tool that will hopefully help is one that I discovered last year around this time: The Working Writer's Daily Planner published by Small Beer Press.

Self-described as a "calendar made by writers for writers", this is a potentially "powerful motivational tool and concrete proof of [one's] commitment to write." I add the word "potentially", since it definitely helps if your planner doesn't get lost in a pile of papers! (ahem)

For several months of this year, this planner was indeed helpful. It would have been helpful the whole year, but for its disappearance from July through October. (I know, I have a clutter problem). Each week has a "double-page spread with  a handy list of upcoming deadlines. Every month has a planning page." There's also a simple but effective Submission Tracker; lots of information about upcoming contests, opportunities to apply for grants and residencies; writing prompts; reading lists; etc.

Last year this was on my Christmas wish list and purchased for me by my ever-loving husband. He doesn't like to buy me clothes (anyone out there relate?), I'm not big on jewellery or perfume, and my lips might like chocolate, but my hips won't. This is one gift my husband could be sure met both my needs and wants. I just learned that the Trade edition of this was cancelled this year and scheduled to be released as a Lulu.com black-and-white print and ebook only, so I guess I'll be getting it for myself instead of asking for it as a gift. My husband will have to come up with another idea. Or maybe I'll ask him for Pick Four, the updated version of Zig Ziglar's Performance Planner, or The Writer's Digest Weekly Planner. Anyone tried either of those?

What's on your writer's wish list, and/or what tool have you found most helpful in the process of writing?

[For more of my writing, check out my website at www.susan-barclay.ca

November 29, 2011

InScribers Review: Introducing NetGalley - Ruth L. Snyder

One of the best ways to improve our own writing is to read excellent writing.

Writing book reviews and posting them on our blogs or websites is a great way to get more traffic and ultimately more followers. In the past few months I have been enjoying doing all of the above - reading excellent writing, improving my own writing, posting book reviews, and getting more visits to my blog. NetGalley is my newest writing resource.

When you open a NetGalley account you are able to enter your personal profile including information about the type of books you enjoy reading, interests/skills you have, the blog or website where you will be posting reviews, and your Twitter account. After you enter your profile you are able to access the NetGalley catalogue of books. They have many of the newest books being released by a variety of publishers.

You can search the catalogue by date of release, genre, or publisher. (There are several publishers who specify they will only accept Canadian reviewers.) If you find a book that looks interesting, you send a request to the publisher. Usually within a day or so you will receive email notification regarding whether the publisher is willing to allow you access to the book or not. If access is granted, you can download the book in one of several different ebook formats. (If you don't have an e-reader, you can download the PDF version and read the book on your computer.)

Once you have read the book, you can decide whether or not you will provide a review. (Obviously, you will want to write reviews for most of the books you read, otherwise publishers may not give you access to any more books. However, if the review is negative, you may want to send it directly to the publisher instead of posting it on the internet for the whole world to read.) If you decide to do a review, you notify the publisher on NetGalley. Once you have written the review you can post it on your website or blog and then also post a copy directly on NetGalley with a link to your blog or website.

Check out NetGalley today. "Try it; You'll like it!"

Ruth L. Snyder

Check out Ruth's blog on education matters
Follow Ruth on Twitter

November 28, 2011

PUNCTUATION MATTERS - Bruce Atchison.

What difference does proper punctuation make? If you want your work published more often, then it does matter. This is no guarantee of publication but using correct punctuation is a big step in the right direction.

I've been taking a course called Punctuation Review from Creative Writing Institute since the end of September. For the first time in my life, I'm grasping rules which remained impenetrable throughout my junior high and high school years.

Additionally, I'm now beginning to understand all those English terms that my Language Arts teacher fired at me forty-plus years ago. Why? My adult perspective, my desire to master these writing tools, the fact that I'm able to learn at my own speed - these factors are what assist me in understanding the details of writing well.

I cringe whenever I re-read articles that I submitted in the past, even as recently as last spring. This is because I used to base my understanding of punctuation rules on conjecture and half-remembered lessons. No wonder most of my articles were rejected.

Editors may seem like cruel ogres when they reject our labours of love but these folks usually have good reasons for their decisions. Because of the steady avalanche of submissions, they need a literary smelting method to divide the gold from the slag. Proper punctuation, especially if it conforms to the publication's style manual, shows that the writer is serious about easing the editor's workload. This also shows that considerable effort went into the piece.

Though this course is tough enough to make my brain whimper, I persist in beating these punctuation and sentence structure concepts through my skull. The glamour of story or poetry writing is missing from this course but I know it will improve whatever work I tackle in the future.

In addition to being a member of InScribe, I've self-published When a Man Loves a Rabbit (Learning and Living With Bunnies) and Deliverance from Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School). I hope to have How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity in print some time in 2012.

Read more about them here. You're also welcome to contact me directly for more information.

November 27, 2011

Swooping with Hope - Denise M. Ford

Today I welcome Advent, the season of waiting for the celebration; I join in the tradition of lighting the first candle on my Advent wreath and I embrace HOPE.

Emily Dickinson, one of my favourite poets, described hope beautifully when she wrote:

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all.

Picturing a ruffling of feathers stirring up energy and enthusiasm in my soul is like a deep breath surging through every fibre of my being. It’s as if I can sense tiny wings forming within, lifting on the current of my intake of breath. Hello Hope, you feel so grand!

Like so many of my friends and family members, I want hope this Christmas season. But I don’t want soft simple flutters; I want a frenzy of motion that swoops in like the flock of waxwings that visited our backyard the other week.

One moment I contemplated in silence, the next I countered in shock. I witnessed whirring wings with practiced precision pushing their body into perfect position. Waxwings descended from every direction to delight in the delicacies of the shriveled crabapples. I thought I had stumbled upon a crisply choreographed routine as I watched them take turns, soaring from precarious perches on nearby branches, then contorting and stretching to surround a prized morsel and bring it within reach.

Joyful chatter arose from the waxwings as they merrily encouraged each other to join the feast. As if they had booked the backyard as their banquet site, they boldly boasted to each other as they stripped the crabapple tree to bare branches. Unlike any musical performance I had attended, this one inspired me with its rising crescendo. A rising of wings, as if the conductor had signaled the strings of the orchestra, as if the momentum alone would transport all to another level. A rising, a moment of hope.

Then as quickly as they came, they flew away. Later, my dog, Dusty and I walked outside to inspect the tree. Over to my right I heard the similar song from before, but offered in a quieter, gentler tone. Looking up I saw a bird grasped firmly to a swaying branch. I noticed the yellow tip of its tail feathers, the brush stroke of red on its head; I welcomed the waxwing with a wondering nod. It stayed there as Dusty and I headed inside. It’s singing accompanied us like a hopeful refrain repeating its rhythmic message.

It reminded me of the simple song I like to sing to myself as I start my day. My paraphrased version is from a song I learned while teaching Bible school one summer. I try to remember to sing it daily, to focus my thoughts, to continually hold hope within my soul:

Good morning Lord, it’s a beautiful day!

Good morning Lord, I’m going your way!

This Advent I’m welcoming hope’s enduring presence by reinforcing this hopeful refrain with the image of the lone waxwing singing merrily on its perch. Like the waxwings that wait for the celebration of the feast to come, I want to embrace both ways to honour hope within me. Sometimes I want it to slowly rise like soft feathers unfurling on a gentle breeze, but other days I want it to shake with anticipation as it purposely positions its feathers to align them for a powerful swoop. Then the celebration will begin!

Good morning Lord, it’s a beautiful day!

Good morning Lord, I’m going your way!

To read Denise's personal blog and writing website go to: www.walkingwithDustyandDee.com

November 26, 2011

My Writing Life Reviewed - Karen Toews

Looking back.

I've never been a prolific writer, but some seasons my efforts have been more consistent than others. One of those "others" has been the last five, six years - a space where my writing life has been an on-again, off-again practise. I wasn't happy that it had come to that wobbly flow of stops and spurts. Topic ideas wasn't the problem - they just seldom landed on the page. The desire and discipline to develop them into something worth reading didn't often happen.

That pattern took a small, but important, shift in 2010 when I started contributing monthly on this Inscribe Writers Online. Sometimes my post has been late or published in spite of my not being completely satisfied with the piece. But having an assignment, a deadline, a readership - that's what I needed to get the groove going.

Coming into 2011, my plan was to support that small momentum. In conjunction with developing my new business in natural nutrition, my goal was to launch a blog: a mission accomplished - with many thanks to my patient and blog-savvy daughter and son-in-law.

The present.

So the "blog-baby" is birthed. Content is "key" so posts have to be written but that's just part of sustaining this needy "child". The small writing momentum I was prepared to nurture has become a pushing and shoving match - manoeuvring through a foreign technical landscape and stretching my creativity for design and formating.

As fellow bloggers know, visiting and commenting on other blogsites helps build your own site and a network of online connections. This is good. What doesn't help is the sense of intimidation I feel, looking at "how professional" these other blogs look and "how come I didn't think to set up my site that way?" Or the most discouraging: "I have no clue how to make my side bar blocks (...or something else) look like that!"

I am gratified - readers are visiting, they're submitting comments. The discipline and challenge are giving me a sense of writing purpose, inspiring me to continue, helping shape other business ideas.

Looking ahead.

In Do the Work, author Steven Pressfield states, "A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor the genius or the madman. It's only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and over think and hesitate." This summer, with three of our grandkids living with us, I was able to observe this "having an idea to do something and just running with it." Whether it was physical play or for designing everything from doll clothes to cardboard castles to painting pictures.

Am I going to be able to "run with the dream" I have for this "child"? Is it really worthwhile, making a difference for someone? What about other writing desires - maybe a longer piece of work, maybe a (whisper) book?

Today I read Philippians 4:6,7. "Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

I'm not privy to the full picture of my 2012 writing life, but I have an idea. My heart is open to the bigness of God's creative power and design. My resolve is not to compare myself with others. My prayer is that I will know His leading - and His peace - as I do the work and move ahead.




November 24, 2011

The "Figures" Take Precedence — Lynda Schultz

History books tend to emphasize facts and figures. Although I am a history buff, particularly if it has to do with submarines, warships and airplanes, my next history book is going to focus more on the "figures" of the story than on the cold, hard facts.

Several years ago I was challenged to take on a writing project for the mission with which I have worked for the better part of thirty years. Fellowship International will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year and the senior staff thought it would be good idea to tell our story.

Rose and Mario Bruno, Italy
It's not that the story hasn't been told before—in bits and pieces. Our beginnings have been documented in This Dominion His Dominion, by Leslie K. Tarr (1968), in The Fellowship Story: Our First 25 Years, by Dr. J. H. Watt (1978) and most recently in A Glorious Fellowship of Churches, edited by Michael A.G. Haykin and Robert B. Lockey (2003). But this will be the first time that our story as a mission will stand on its own.

By next spring, the writing of the book needs to be finished so that it will be ready for release in time for our national convention, Fellowship 48, in November 2012. It wouldn't be such a daunting task if the facts and figures of history were all I needed to record. But my vision for this book is a much more personal one. I want people to experience the joys, sense the pain, work through the challenges, acknowledge the losses, and feel the heartbeat of the people who have been part of Fellowship International for the last fifty years. To do that depends, not so much on my writing skills, but on the willingness of our missionaries and alumni to be transparent and willing to share their journeys in print.

Kathryn and Rob Fleming, Japan
I've contacted every missionary and alumnus that I can find. Slowly the stories are coming in. My Thursdays and Fridays, days regularly dedicated to the work of the Communications Department of The Fellowship, will be heavily bent toward the book over these next months. There will be midnight oil to be burned I am sure.

My biggest fear? I do not want to fail my colleagues or the Lord by telling the story poorly so I pray that God will be my skill, be my words.

My greatest joy? I praise God for the opportunity to tell the story behind the movement, the story of the men, women, and children used by God to give Fellowship International faces behind the those cold, hard facts.

November 23, 2011

New Journey - Dorothy Bentley





I've had the craziest adventure since the end of September. That is when I attended a Willow Creek Leadership Summit (by recorded simulcast). After the first day, I lost my column (I'd been writing for over seven years in a general market newspaper). On the second day, we were given a pottery shard to write something on while we dedicated ourselves to God's service.


Shortly after, I became extremely uncomfortable serving in Youth and had to quit.


God had taken me up on my offer.


I've had to lay my novel writing on an altar, just like an Isaac. And I am mainly blogging about my walk with Him.


He's been purifying my heart. I haven't got a clue where He's taking me or the next step on this crazy journey, but I am trusting Him to lead.


He is teaching me to hear His voice.


I somehow found an incredibly useful book to help in this process:


Finding Divine Inspiration - Working with the Holy Spirit in Your Creativity, by J. Scott McElroy.


He teaches how the process works, hindrances, the importance of operating within Christian community, and he includes some helpful insights from creative people, such as Jars of Clay and News Boys lead singers, a writer, a painter, and others.


Well worth it.


Anyone can write.


It takes a calling and purification to write for the King of Kings. It's difficult, and frightening, and painful, but nothing else matters.








http://potscrubbersjournal.blogspot.com



November 21, 2011

The Unwrapped Gift - Sulo Moorthy

Writing is surely a God-given cherishable gift, and what we make out of it is our gift to God. Whether we write to sell or write for mere pleasure, the words we put on the paper or onto the computer screen  have the vigor and longivity to last beyond our time and expectation.

Imagine a  world without writers and the thought itself would turn us, the avid readers to function like zombies. A night sky without stars, a garden void of flowers and butterflies, telephones without dial tone would equal such a world. Writers bring inspiration, enthrallment and enthusiasm that invigorate the soul to expand and explore the unknown. To realize that as a writer I play a part, however small or big that may be, in the grand orchestra of creativity, make me want to weep with joy and take my call seriously.

As writers, we are called to write first. Getting published and selling come later with effort and persistance. Sometimes, the fear of rejections, and failure in promotion prevent us from putting the pen onto the paper. Competition in the Writers' Market and elevation of some published authors to the celebrity level make unpublished and wanna-be -writers to easily give up on their dream of becoming authors.

King David, nor his son Solomon wouldn't have imagined to have their prayers, psalms or proverbs to be in print or for them to last till this century and beyond. They sought no agent nor researched any markets  to get their work published. Neither did Oswald Chamber, the author of My Utmost for His Highest spend his time on promotional tours and book signing. He lived only for a short period of 43 years, but his book has endured far beyond the author's death in 1917. With God, anything can become possible.

I've experienced both the joy of seeing my work published and the frustration of seeing my work returned in the mail in my handwritten self-addressed manila envelopes in the past. There were days I sat glaring at the computer screen with words refusing to be released from my creative brain. And then there were days I had rolled out of my bed at dawn to note down the words that were rushing down from the same side of the brain. Weeks of no writing, but all reading had occurred at times when inspiration seemed like estranged spouse living distance away. Acceptance from editors and deadlines for submissions only coaxed me to sit and write in the past. But not any more.

In the past five years, I haven't submitted my work for any publications other than the devotional column for Fellowscript until 2010. However, the written pages of my journals testify that the writer in me is still alive, even if it chooses to hibernate for days from time to time. In the recent months, I've got into the habit of amusing myself by writing out my reflection on scriptures into poems. I doubt anyone with a poetical eye would consider them as real poems. Yet, that wouldn't stop me from writing for my pleasure and God's.

It has been an year since I started a writers' group for the women at our church. The short span of my writing life makes me no expert to lead the group with admirable writing talents. Yet, with God's strength and guidance from the book, An Introduction to Christian Writing, I, as a fellow rider on the writing path, try to lend a hand to pat, motivate and to share what I've learned from my writing experiences. 

The women in the group love to write, but lack the time to write like any other busy moms working full-time outside home. Motivation to write rather than critiquing their work is all they need at this time and I try to do that in the best way I could. Their writing more than mine becomes my priority in this season of my writing life, and  when I do that, I find myself motivated to write more and write better. It's truly a double edged blessing.

It took awhile for me to admit to myself I'm a writer. Now that I'm convinced that as a writer I play a part in the vast arena of creative world, I can't quit, but keep on writing whether my work sell or not.

November 17, 2011

Life In A Suitcase by Bryan Norford


Remember opening a suitcase at your destination? Contents packed too tightly for recognition? Socks stuffed in shoes, screwables poked in loose corners, last minute dumps screwing up the rest! Worse jumble still, if two people pack the same case! Or, heaven forbid, you find it’s someone else’s.

You try to set out garments so they are recognizable. It’s almost as bad as missing luggage—at least then you can buy new clothes! They look good. But cheaply bought, they soon look shabby. You retrieve lost luggage with relief. So good to unpack, iron and hang the real clothing attractive and orderly.

The Bible is like a suitcase. Contents often packed too tightly to be easily understood. Goodies packed in unsuspecting corners. Numerous writers pack differently. Some place their contents in methodical fashion, others lay it in as it comes. Some cram their stuff in panic or stress, others lay it in more leisurely.

Today’s writers are, or should be, the unpackers. Like good teachers, they sort and present biblical truths with clarity. They untangle difficult material, iron out apparent discrepancies, bring together similar materials, and provide access to what we need.

Without this, many find the Bible's contents a dense, impenetrable muddle once the covers open. Many will open the wrong suitcase. There they find cultural garments that fit poorly, fall apart after use, or are too revealing! Some will find these materials convenient, fitting their lifestyle or agenda. These garments supplant interest in longer lasting spiritual clothing.
 
There is one further move necessary to show off the Biblical content. Clothes show best when worn. They sell best when adorning models or advertisements. Writers must exhibit the truths they espouse.




Christianity will always be a counter culture, at odds with its social environment. It’s appeal is not in strutting laws and rules, all cultures do that; but in wearing the garments of salvation: compassion, grace, patience, love, faithfulness and forgiveness.

This dress stands out in a crowd more concerned with self-serving status than servanthood. For “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
 

November 15, 2011

Writing Goals - Tracy Krauss

This month we were encouraged to blog about our current writing goals. I'm all for goal setting, but I think one has to be realistic about this 'writing gig'. My overarching goal is to write full time. Whether this takes place sooner (as in the next year or two) or later (when I retire from teaching) depends on a lot of different factors. I've heard from some very reliable sources that it isn't easy to make a living as a writer. In fact, even some authors that have managed to gain a fair bit of notoriety and success in terms of book sales still need to continue to 'work' at something else. It doesn't mean it can't be done, but a realist isn't going to quit their day job to pursue their writing career.

Fortunately, I do have some other options. As a teacher, I can always supplement my writing income as a TOC (Teacher on call a.k.a substitute) if I ever choose to spend more time writing and less time teaching. As well, my children are grown and my husband has a good job, so in a few years time we might consider the possibility of downsizing so that I could spend more time on my writing. These are big 'what ifs' however, and only time will tell if these options become a reality.

In the mean time, I have several other writing goals that are easier to attain and that have results that can actually be monitored.At the beginning of 2011 I set a few goals for myself that I am happy to say I have reached. One was to acquire an agent. Up to that point I had been 'agentless', and although I have two books in print and one more coming out at the end of this month, there is still a certain negative stigma attached to a writer without an agent. After pursuing several leads and sending out queries, I gained the interest of agent Steve Hutson of 'Wordwise Media' and signed a contract in September for my manuscript WIND OVER MARSHDALE. Hooray!

Another goal for the year was to increase my blog following to 200 by end of the year. (I started the year with about 60.) Again, I'm pleased that I reached that goal a few months ago. Perhaps I'll try to double it again by the end of next year. Of course there have been lots of other general 'promotional' goals, like increasing my Facebook fanpage likes, and trying to utilize other social networking better, but one person can only do so much, right?

Another goal which I am rather excited about was finishing a series of paintings for an illustrated children's book that I want to get published. This is a personal project based on a song my mother used to sing. I started the paintings about three years ago, but then stalled out on finishing them. (I had about half of them done and then lost my enthusiasm for the project ...) I took up brush and paints again this summer and finished the rest. I now have seventeen 16"x20" acrylic paintings to use as the illustrations for the book, ready and waiting for whenever I get the money to complete the project. (Or find an outside publisher who is interested.)

Finally, I joined the NaNoWriMo challenge again this year, with the goal of writing a 50,000 word manuscript from scratch during the month of November. So far I'm on track. I'm about half way there and this is the halfway mark in the month, but I've got a long way to go.

I think it's a good idea to have some very specific goals (finding an agent; increase blog following to a certain number) with an actual timeline attached. These kept me on track for this year when I might have given up. On the other hand, broader goals are also necessary. They are the stuff of dreams, and as writers, I think we all have a bit of the dreamer in us ...


What are your goals and how have you attained them?




November 13, 2011

Remembrance Day Thoughts - T. L. Wiens

I watched my friend, a WWII vet live on the battlefield years after the war was over. The too real nightmares never left him and his life never got beyond the horrors of the battlefield. He was a mechanic and worked on the tanks. He told me that usually when a problem arose, it was bodies stuck in the tracks jamming things up. He had to pull them out to get the thing working again. This time of the year, we're told to remember those who gave their lives. My friend me aware there are many living dead--men and women that never moved beyond the war and what they experienced.

How sad to have done the job and won the freedom for your country and never truly experience the joy.

November 12, 2011

I'll write the appies - Violet Nesdoly


I'll write the appies

Though I have laboured long
over the hot stove of fiction
slow-roasted the plot
peeled and cooked the characters
tossed point-of-view and dialogue
whisked lumps out of theme and motivation
and at last presented my creation
garnished to be page-turning

I prefer to work
on the poetry course
try to make each hors d’oeuvres
a playful experiment
every bite-sized creation
so surprising and intriguing
the reader can never stop at one.
Then I get to leave the kitchen early
because I’m done.

© 2011 by Violet Nesdoly

*************
With much of the writing world involved in NaNoWriMo, I decided to join in the writing frenzy, but in a different way. I have challenged myself to write one poem a day each day of November.

To help me do that, I refer often to the various poetry prompt sites I have bookmarked. The inspiration for "I'll write the appies" (my poem for November 4th) came from this prompt on poet Adele Kenny's blog The Music In It.

I'm posting an assortment of my November efforts here—so come on by, if you like, to sample some more canap├ęs. 

- By Violet Nesdoly

November 11, 2011

Writing and incarnational discovery–Stephen T Berg

We live in a violent world. That's hardly a secret. We have been formed by a culture of war and violence, the nature of which we often keep wilfully hidden from ourselves. But today, we intentionally remember war, so that we can in some way dispel it, so that at least violence of a global scale, can be named and thwarted. And we hope that in the naming, in the remembering, something like grace and peace may appear.

And yet, as Flannery O'Connor has said, "Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them." And so in O'Connor's fiction, violence and the grotesque act as the cudgel to awaken the sleeping (that's us) to the reality of something like an intrusion of grace.

Of course violence is never the cause of grace, but it can, in its great distortions of social solidarity and communal life, reflect back to us our own propensity toward envy and rivalry, and in this uncovering, perhaps allow us the grace of seeing ourselves as we truly are—which is, if it happens, an occasion of mercy.

A writerly goal I repeatedly come short of, which is never less a goal, is to stay awake to those intrusions of grace and occasions of mercy, and so perhaps to seize them. For as long as there is language, as Bonny Way and Kathleen Gibson have outlined below, there is a desire to get at that meaning through honest reflection and a need to communicate it clearly. And the closer we can come to the nub and nut of things through true communication, the more set in relief grace becomes. And the closer the personal reflection, the more universal the meaning. For that, after all, is the nature of our Incarnate world, which the nature of violence attempts to usurp.

I have a notion that as Christian writers, writing for this kind of—if I can call it—Incarnational discovery, is at the bottom of most of our goals. For if it isn't, I suppose we're simply adding to the heap of informative tracts and very little to the meaning of things.

Of course as lofty or flighty as this sounds, it's only through the "habit of art," (Maritain) that we come to apprehend and then relay these meanings. For as we writers sit down to write out some vague and fleeting idea, we are immediately thrown into the practical question of form. And its through the daily habit of wrestling with this most basic aspect of writing where a discovery is made, a true thing found.

And as O'Connor has said somewhere, writers ought to be able to discover something from their writing, if not, there's little chance the reader will.

www.growmercy.org

November 10, 2011

Communication is Key - Bonnie Way

In university, I took a biology course to fulfill the science requirements for my Arts degree. It was not a course I looked forward to. Biology was my best science in high school, but my marks were just good enough to get me into university. Fortunately, I had an excellent professor and a friend to study with, but what got me through the course was my writing skills.

The exams had two parts: a multiple choice section and a written part. The multiple choice questions were specific. More specific than I knew. I couldn’t keep the Krebs’ cycle in my head long enough to get to the exam. What I could do was write. As an Arts major, most of my exams were written. I could write a whole essay on something I had only the foggiest idea about. And because I could write, I passed the course.

Communication is key in our world today. If we cannot communicate the information we know, it doesn’t matter what we know. Miscommunication or unclear communication can result in huge blunders or great confusion. As an editor, my job is to make sure that concepts and information are clearly communicated to the intended audience. As a writer, communication is my job.

So how can we make sure we are communicating clearly—as mothers, as writers, as employees? Written communication gives us the opportunity to check for clarity. Even a quick email should be double-checked before the SEND button is hit. Here are a few hints for checking your writing (whether email, articles, or other documents) before it goes to its audience. 
1. Read it aloud to yourself. You may want to make sure the room is empty before you do this (though your two-year-old may not care), but it allows you to hear awkward constructions, errors, run-on sentences, and other problems you may miss by just reading the document. Read carefully. Pause at commas and periods. Run out of breath? Your sentence is too long. Does a pause feel awkward? Maybe it is incorrectly punctuated.

2. Give it some time. If the document isn’t urgent, put it aside for an hour or a day or two and look at it later. This will let you “forget it” and see it with fresh eyes. You may catch mistakes that you did see as you were writing.

3. Have another person read it (critique groups are great for this!). If they are confused or uncertain, fix it. Perhaps in explaining it to them, you’ll discover a better way to express it. They may also be able to catch spelling or punctuation errors that you missed. 
Communication requires constant work but improves with practice. Pay attention to how those around you communicate (especially if you write fiction and need dialogue ideas!). Just remember that even if you don’t know everything, you can communicate clearly what you do know.

~ © Bonnie Way, http://thekoalabearwriter.blogspot.com


November 09, 2011

Writing On A Slant - Shirley S. Tye

You've probably heard it said that when a person's handwriting slants downward it's a sign they are sad, tired, or ill. If the writing slants upward, the person is feeling happy, energetic and well.

Lately, my writing has been slanting downwards despite two writing successes this year. My children's middle-grade novel was short-listed in a contest. My friend's novel which I ghost wrote was self-published by my friend. Many who have read her book have enjoyed it; in fact, some have said they couldn't put it down. Both achievements should have been celebrated. But for a year, I've been in a slump; everything I've tried has fallen apart. I'm feeling discouraged and these two "accomplishments" only added to my list of failures. Through my sad eyes, I viewed being short-listed to mean "close but no cigar" and "here's the big looser". And hearing all the compliments about my friend's book made me jealous that my name wasn't on the cover. God forgive me.

Sure I'm feeling discouraged now but I'll be up soon. I still have plans and there are other paths I'd like to explore.

First of all, I'm making corrections and improvements to the novel that was short-listed. Next time it's submitted, it'll be a winner and be published.

Second thing I'm working on is a play. That's a totally new genre for me but I'm learning about playwriting and will boldly try it. This past spring, I had an acting part in a comedy play and was told by many that I did a very good job. That experience taught me what works and what doesn't work for amateur theatre. The director, who I worked under, is also the President of the Executive at the amateur theatre in town. Since he was pleased with my acting, I feel confident that he'll at least read my play. That'll be a big step forward on the learning curve.

This summer, I began work on a romance novel. It's another unfamiliar genre for me but I thought I'd give it a go and see what happens. I like new adventures.

Yes, I'm beginning to feel hopeful. My writing is developing an upward slant again. Praise the Lord!

November 08, 2011

The Truth About Personal Essays - Kathleen Gibson

We are honoured to have Kathleen Gibson guest post for us today.
 

A few times (countable on my fingers, thank God!) over my decades as primarily a personal essayist, someone who may share a memory I’ve written about has accused me of either telling half-truths, misleading truth, or an outright lie.

Delving deeper, what I hear is, “That’s not the way I remember it!” Siblings with shared memories encounter this frequently. I call it the sibling-story-squabble. As the Synoptic Gospels demonstrate, no two people—even no two disciples—tell the same story the same way.

Nevertheless, comments like that always cause me to stop and check both my motives and my memory. Sometimes (and this has happened more often than I can count on my fingers!) I need my memory adjusted regarding unimportant details—colours, numbers, comments, times, etc. Things that don’t change the thrust of the story, but may make at least one reader feel the work is more accurate. I’ve gone back and adjusted plenty of details like that over the years.

But the strongest objections to my personal essays have come not because I forgot the true colour of the carpet, or didn’t include a name, or called evening, morning, or 1993, 1994. They come primarily because, though our memories may be almost identical, our interpretations are vastly different.

"That's not the way I see it!" is usually how those discussions start. Oh, dear.

I have never changed a word where interpretation is involved. “Thank you,” I say. “Your perspective is valid. But it’s YOURS, not mine, and I need to be true to the thoughts and memories that have camped in my soul.”

Personal essay writing is vastly different from straight journalism, where the driving motivation is (or should be!) objective, unbiased and fair reporting, with opinions garnered from as many points of view as possible. Things get a little fuzzy sometimes, but though it may include quotes and references, the primary medium of the personal essay is subjectivity: the experience of the essay writer and their interpretation of that experience.

If you’re a published personal essayist, you should know (if you don’t already) that at some point, someone will object to you publishing an experience involving them, even to the point of trying to stop you. But regardless of who else they involve, the files stored in your heart and memory belong solely to you. They are yours to recall, yours to discuss, and yours to convey to others as you please. But so too, are the consequences for doing so wisely or unwisely—and that may include accusations of slander or libel.

Choose to publish sensitive essays with care and prayer, considering others’ hearts and the motives of your own. Always ask, “Would I want my worst enemy to read this?” Because sure as dandies have lions, that enemy will find it, and know how to use it against you.

Aside from making it a constant practice to study genuinely good writing, the most foundational tool of the personal essayist is truth. Staying true to one’s beliefs, memories, perspectives, and opinions reveals to your readers a developing, live, personality. In this genre, the maxim “to thine own self be true” must be followed.

That’s not ego, by the way. Publishing something that, while truthful, is unnecessarily hurtful to someone else, is. (Don’t ask me how I know that.) Change names and unimportant details, if you must. I sometimes write under a pseudonym, for those reasons.

The intentional personal essay (as opposed to the spill-your-guts social media genre of lazy writing) always serves more than a desire to “let it all out.” It has an agenda, artfully disguised, to move its readers in some way—towards new ideas, opinions, even beliefs. The effective personal essay is always ultimately not about its writer, but its reader.

The more experienced the personal essayist, the more their writing resonates with their readers’ stories. Consider authors like Erma Bombeck, E.B. White, Anne Lamott, Robert Fulghum and Phil Callaway, for starters. Their lives, revealed through the medium of honest reflection, help us see our own in new ways. We spy the truth of our stories through lens of theirs.

Some of my essays, to my surprise, have stumbled into the spotlight of a few major media outlets, some national, some international. I’ve addressed the issues of gay marriage, spousal abuse, lack of integrity in the church, fallen leaders, conservation and politics, for starters. My words have incensed some, and sent others scurrying for pen, phone, or computer to protest or agree, or simply spill out a little heart. I’ve had responses to my articles, books and blog entries from around the world. Even my newspaper faith columns, and 90 second radio spots (very short personal essays) bring some of the same results. The responses I value most are always those that come in the shape of a readers’ own personal story.

Ultimately, even when the details may be a little skewed—the tree a cedar, not a spruce—the medium of the personal essay is all about truth—your readers’ as much as your own.

So tell it already.




Find author, columnist, and broadcaster Kathleen Gibson at www.kathleengibson.ca



November 07, 2011

Out There with Blogs and Book Reviews – Ramona Heikel

This past year of writing has definitely been an experiment and an education. To ease my problems at work with tendonitis brought on by non-stop computer work all day, I started taking 2 days a week off in January of this year. Then I dug out my pen and paper and pursued two of the writing projects I’d dreamed of doing for years.

I’ve been curious about making a webpage, but put off by the belief that I had to learn HTML. And I’d been wondering if I had enough to say to consistently write posts for a blog. So I finally took the plunge and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and inexpensive it was to create a website.

WordPress guided me through each step and their built-in formatting and graphics made me look like a pro. I haven’t succeeding in writing as many blogs as I’d intended, though, partly because I’m trying to keep my topics focused on only a few areas. But I am “out there” and that is a success for me.

For almost twenty years whenever books excite me, I’ve been writing my own personal book reviews, and most of the time it’s a novel that stirs up my emotions. I think it’s my way of preserving the experience of meeting fascinating characters, entering into their world, living through their trials and reaping their inner rewards of revelation and transformation. Sometimes an extraordinary non-fiction book may inspire me to take notes, and I’ll record some valuable insights and perspectives on the Christian faith or various other topics in a review.

I’ve wanted to share that excitement with others, especially because I don’t normally read what everyone else is reviewing. When I find a great book I want to say, “Hey, everybody, look at this gem I just dug up! It’s worth reading!” So when I started my own blog in February, I started posting my reviews of favorite books. I call them “book responses” because they are literally my reactions and aren’t necessarily in the proper format of a review. Sharing these has been a thrill for me.

Then, because I finally had a blog, I signed up to be a reviewer for two publishers and a website. Now I am actually reading hot-off-the-press books and children’s books. One of the genres I am focusing on writing at this time is children’s stories and articles, and reviewing children’s books not only helps get the word out about my favorites, but it also keeps me up to date on what is being published. I have even been sent a book by a children’s author who saw my reviews and asked me to review his new book!

Since I am attempting to write an educational “learning is fun” fiction story for middle grades, I am also reading other books of that type, and I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun. Can I just recommend one? If you are at all inclined toward science or history, pick up Benjamin Franklinstein Lives by Matthew McElligott. It’s a delight from start to finish.

Blogging and reviewing have made this writing year a successful one. My audience has expanded as well as my enjoyment!


Posted by Ramona
Happilywriting.com




November 06, 2011

Writers Unite Inspiration Extraordinaire!


by  Glynis M. Belec
I love my writer's group. When we first formed I was dreading it in a way because I was the one with the most experience, so I thought that everything would fall on my shoulders. Not so. It's been almost two years and I come away after each meeting with a smile on my face.

We are a bit of a motley crew but we all seem to love each other. Let me introduce you and you will see I love them:

Meet Rosemary. I picked to write about Rosemary first because she is my big sister and is the top of the pops in my books! Rosemary doesn't think she can write, but let me tell you she can express herself in ways that can knock your socks off! Rosemary loves to read. She doesn't read a lot of novels; non-fiction is her schtick, but she sure is an expert on...well...everything. She has her Masters in Life and she sure knows what to bring to the table. I am trying to get her to write an article called 'For the Love of Reading."


Sue is our English bosom buddy who is the sweetest Christian gal with a rebel streak. She loves to write for children and is not wont to tell us to get to the point. We can always count on Sue to keep us focused and on our toes. Her quirkly sense of humour keeps us smiling and her desire to find ways to love the little people spurs her into writing for the children's market.

Then there is our lovely Janet. Our humble Mennonite member who never went past grade 8 but has a brain equivalent of that far  surpassing University level, writes the most exquisite poetry. She has a way of penetrating the soul with her words. Her understanding of humanity is a Divine gift and her poetical paintings are the most beautiful canvasses.

Barbara has been with us a couple of times and we are hoping she is going to get her memoirs written. Barbara,  bless her soul, is in the beginning stages of Alzheimers. Sue brings her to our meetings when she is up to it. Barbara thought she burned all her journals about her post war experience. We rejoiced last meeting when she told us she thinks she found them.

Betty and Marion are new to our team but I think we are about to be impressed with the wealth of life experiences these gals plan to bring to the meetings. It's good to have a representation from so many different age groups. Betty writes a 'who's who' newspaper column and Marion is an avid reader, too.

A Pinky PromiseHeather wrote a book about her beautiful twin boys and had it self published. She is an admitted SOP (seat of the pants writer) but wrote from the heart. She is thinking about having her book edited and doing a second printing. Heather has a passion for missions and a beautiful smile. She keeps copious journals from her mission trips.


Ashley is our youngest author and we are so proud of her. At 15 years of age she has just had her first novel published. How about that? Her momma and agent, Tracey, always comes to the meetings, too, and although she says she is Ashley's manager and not a writer, she is always happy to participate and asks all sorts of writerly questions. Both Ashley & Tracey share their publishing experiences and everyone learns from it.
Shayne, sweet Shayne...our song writer and faithful listener. He probably feels somewhat overpowered by all the chatty gals. Shayne took one of Janet's beautiful poems and put it to music. That was a wonderful surprise for Janet and for all of us. We love it when he comes through the door with his guitar. We know we are in for a treat.


We love our farmer Caroline. Caroline is one of our newest members but she joined us with gusto. Caroline was eager to tell us about her first article on maple syrup that she had published in a local rural magazine. This past week at our meeting, she pulled out her list of WsIP (works in progress.) Then she read us her letter to the editor. She is an inspiration to us all as she is the one who always asks 'what's for homework?'

Bev is just getting her feet wet, but seems to be enjoying that sense of belonging. We are excited to hear that Bev has a few manuscripts to bring along as soon as she can remember where she put them in her files. I can relate.

Andy and I go way back. He is a former high school teacher and we met about 25 years ago at a writer's course. He was, at the time, notorious for not doing his homework. I hadn't seen him for years but suddenly he appeared at a writer's meeting. So far he hasn't done his homework, but he keeps saying he will!



Last but not least, Amanda. My darling daughter, Amanda is the treasurer, the photographer, scrapbooker, card maker and techno-geek in our midst. Lately she's been getting her feet wet in the writing department, and recently shared a couple of her published clips. The memories flooded back, too, as she pulled out that prize winning book at the last meeting - the one she wrote in grade 5. I remember her prize was a trip to the Author! Author! conference in Guelph and momma bear got to accompany her there so many years ago. I was so proud of her (still am!)

So that's our crew; we meet monthly and the meetings carry on much longer than scheduled most times. God has blessed me mightily by nudging me into heading up this group. I am so encouraged when someone thanks me for giving them a tidbit of useful information. I certainly don't know it all but I love passing on what I do!

If anyone is considering joining or even starting up a writer's support group, I say dive in head first. You just might be surprised to discover the tidbits other like-minded souls will bring to the table!

I am loving the journey.








November 03, 2011

Trust and Press On - Janis Cox


I hate staring at a blank sheet of paper – whether for writing or painting. It is intimidating.

When I haven’t been inspired with any idea just the thought of making a mark on that paper can cause procrastination.

Today in my watercolour art class, after I had put the finishing touches on a test painting for a children’s book, I didn’t know what to do next. I felt lost.









My instructor suggested I try a four stroke painting. The idea is to only make four brush strokes on a page, with four colours. Sometimes this frees up the mind as there is no structure. So I tried it. I didn’t accomplish much of a painting but it might be of use sometime as a background for an idea.











Knowing that I had to write for Inscribe for November 3 put me in a similar position. The topic this month is writing. What could I write about writing?

Usually I write about prayer, or a devotional based on a Scripture I have read. But to write about writing – that became a blank page and I procrastinated.

Until I remembered my art teacher – who said, “just paint”. So I thought I would, “just write”.

Sometimes writing is therapy for me. Certainly when I write in my daily morning journal it clears my head – gets rid of everything on my mind – so I can concentrate on my Bible study lesson.

Other times I write because God has given me something to say. I need to put those thoughts down on paper for myself and possibly for others to be clearer in God’s Word.

And there are times when I just want to make something up – a fiction story – because I feel like it.

What I have to remember during all those times is not to stress about it. Every time I pray for inspiration – God comes through. He is the “author”, not only of my faith but of my life. I can trust in Him to help me with everything I attempt – watercolour, writing and even a new pursuit – tap dancing.

My new way of thinking is to just “do it”. Trust in Him and then press on.