November 30, 2016

Writer's Hiatus by Susan Barclay

October 2014-December 2015 were pretty dry writing months for me. It wasn’t so much that the brain juices weren’t flowing, but that my life became busier. My mom was living with us, and my daughter’s friend, Karen, also lived with us during the summer, leaving me with little time to myself. I’m one of those writers who need to work in complete silence. My mom and Karen don’t know what silence is.

So… time goes by. Karen moves into an apartment with friends in September 2015; my mom moves back home in January 2016. I feel like a newbie writer again, or as my kids might say, a noob. How and where do I begin?
Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. -St. Francis of Assisi
These words mean a lot to me. “Start by doing what’s necessary.” What’s necessary is for me to begin writing – something, anything. I begin by creating a new blog and posting regularly. That seems small and fairly non-threatening. I share the news with my old blog readers and my Facebook friends. That’s as much exposure as I want during this time of “sprouting new leaves again.”

Next, I "do what's possible." I pick up my novel, which if not on the computer would be gathering dust on a shelf. I go back to the beginning and start editing as a way to remind myself of the story and to do the nurturing that begins after a gestation period. No matter how many times I return to page one, I always find ways to make the work better. My brain cylinders have been firing even if my fingers have been resting.

Suddenly I am "doing the impossible." I’m writing new material – new sentences, paragraphs, chapters. I never stopped attending my writers’ groups, but now I’m participating more fully and feeling more engaged. There’s work to be done, additional changes to make, a challenge to be embraced. It’s exhilarating. Would I have been open to all of this had my earlier work not come to a halt?

I’m not sure. And so I am grateful for the respite and repose. It’s not as if nothing was happening with my writing during this period; it was all just happening behind the scenes, and I was unaware of it.

Recently I came across two very affirming thoughts I’d like to leave you with: 
The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are. -J. Pierpont Morgan
You don’t want to break forever. Sometimes, as in my case, you don’t have a choice as to the length of time you take off. Other times, you do. When you do, take the proverbial bull by the horns. Decide to move forward, then act.

Remember this also:
Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity. -Louis Pasteur
It takes tenacity to be a writer. Don’t let a little thing like a hiatus deter or discourage you. Use the time to let thoughts and ideas percolate. Then return and take the world by storm.

November 29, 2016

Showing Up Says It All by Bob Jones

Our mile long procession neared the cemetery. Riding shotgun in the lead car was my vantage point on a cold November afternoon. I had time to observe the trees lining the rural road, bereft of all greenery. Their lifeless branches matched the sombre mood of those traveling to a graveside to lay a nine-year old boy to rest. His twin brother proudly served as a pallbearer, helping to carry his sibling.

My mind was stripped bare by the sudden and tragic passing of a child I had never met but now could not forget. Family, friends and children huddled together against the chill under a grey sky. All ears were on this minister listening for words that could somehow make sense out of the senseless.

That’s when I am laid bare.
Words fail and the ones that do come sound hollow in my mind.
But speak I must.
With the words come tears.
We bow in prayer.
“Our Father in heaven…”
The casket is lowered into the earth.
Classmates of the boy have written loving words on strips of paper that they attach to ribbons tethering green balloons – his favorite color.
Together the students count down from 3 and set their balloons free.
We return to our vehicles, faces and hearts numbed by the cold.

Afterwards, a reception graciously hosted by the family, offers hot drinks, homemade sandwiches and baked goods – comfort food. “Thank you for your help. You were comforting.”

When words fail, showing up says it all. Laid bare of adjectives, nouns and verbs presence is a gift that speaks clearly.

To write with presence is the outcome of vulnerability.

Brene Brown observes, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” (Daring Greatly)

There is more than a little comfort knowing that showing up gives opportunity for new leaves to sprout again.

Trees, barren of leaves in November are not without hope. Springtime will come. Sprouts will green up.  Life will come.

Writers, barren of words in the Novembers of our souls, are not without hope.

Write on.

Robert (Bob) W. Jones is a recovering perfectionist, who collects Coca-Cola memorabilia and drinks Iced Tea. His office walls are adorned with his sons’ framed football jerseys, and his library shelves, with soul food. He writes to inspire people to be real, grow an authentic faith in Jesus, enjoy healthy relationships and discover their life purpose.

November 28, 2016

Fair Well MS DOS - Bruce Atchison

Like many older folks, I began using MS DOS back in the early nineties. Learning its commands was difficult but I managed to do so. At the time, I bought WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS because my IBM clone didn't have enough memory to run Windows 3.1. There also weren't screen readers capable of operating in Windows at that time.

My old PCs and WordPerfect served me well for more than fifteen years. With both tools, I wrote many freelance articles and my three books.

Until XP, I felt that Windows was too unstable to rely upon, especially Windows 98. It was the worst operating system I ever used.

Recently, I find myself relying more on Windows-based programs for my writing. This is because converting from ASCII text to .DOC or .RTF files is a bit of a chore. I had to spend time tidying up improper carriage returns and line breaks. Even WordPerfect 12 for Home was somewhat clunky, in my estimation of course.

As time goes by, I find myself using old technology less and less. I now write with a Windows-based program called Jarte and I store files on USB drives rather than floppy disks. Since the new PCs come without floppy drives, I use an external drive if I do need to read from that old format.

In a similar way, I'm learning new things about our Lord. I've unlearned old ideas which I was taught at a toxic house church. I now know the heavenly Father much better than I once did. This has made a powerful difference in how I pray and study. God isn't the miserly being I once assumed he was. The Holy Spirit is a person and not, as the wicked house church leader taught, composed of departed saints. And Jesus isn't alone in the Godhead as that blasphemous leader claimed.

I now understand that  providence is far more miraculous than the miracles Jesus and his followers performed. So many divergent factors must line up in order for God's will to be done.

Though I still love MS DOS and WordPerfect 5.1, I have grown to enjoy the new technology. In the same way, I no longer view God as somebody to whom I must beg for blessings. Neither do I worry about having enough faith power to satisfy him. Just knowing the real characters of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a blessing.

November 27, 2016

Pick a Vision - by Dayna Mazzuca

As the year draws to a close, this guest post by Dayna Mazzuca really distills down some key questions that we, as an organization, may want to ask ourselves. Please read, reflect, and comment. 

Pick a Vision: Three Paths to Growth for Writing Organizations

by Dayna E. Mazzuca

Our beloved Canadian writing organizations seem to be doing some soul-searching. From surveys to AGMs to reorg’s to requests for volunteers and committees struck to explore possible future scenarios for growth, now seems to be the time of taking stock. I would like to add a thought (or 3) to the discussion going forward.

As I see it, there are three choices to make. What should we do, really?

1.     Are we primarily educators? Are we the community class offering all things writing-related to the person who wants to hone their craft? If yes, then let’s focus on developing the teachers in our midst. Let’s drill down and take a systematic approach to covering the basics of fiction, non-fiction and creative writing. There is always more to learn. Let’s identify those in our midst who do what they do well (label them as fiction, non-fiction or creative experts in their field) and set up cohorts along those lines. If we’re a place of teaching, let’s teach! This is a mandate to make sure everyone is in their groove and mastering their craft. Polish makes perfect!

2.     Or, are we first and foremost colleagues who need time and places to connect and cross pollinate our ideas? If yes this is a more social/professional mandate than the teaching one. It may seem subtle, but conferences, workshops and gatherings of all types would look different for each mandate. For a more collegial mandate, the assumption is people are established in their craft or accessing what they need through various continuing education options. The assumption is that we get together not to grow as individual writers, but to grow a community of writers. This means we need free time, structured interactions and thoughtful ice-breakers. Encouragement to find writers just like us and stay in touch. It means every chapter doesn’t offer critique sessions, but also times to share our writing goals, stay accountable and share resources and contacts. This is a community that wants to bond to be stronger in forming outside connections with the publishing world. This is about putting editors and publishers front and centre (rather than teachers). This is a mandate on the move. Let’s meet!

3.     Or, we can ask ourselves if faith comes first. Are we primarily a Christian group? If yes, then we can focus on building faith in common areas as found in the Apostle’s Creed and actively seek to fulfill the call of God on our writing lives. We can focus on having more prayerful gatherings, with times of sharing, worship, bringing God’s word to bear on our own lives, situations, needs and writing dreams. We can come alongside each other and put our hands on each others’ shoulders and offer to pray. We can elevate our prayer coordinators to be the main speakers at our events. We can seek out speakers and preachers with a strong anointing to inspire us to fight the good fight, finish well and dig deeper theologically in our writing if need be. This is a group that offers people a place to bring their own struggles, celebrations, insights and breakthroughs. This is a mandate to bless. And pray long.

A college-type mandate for mastering craft, a collegial setting to connect as professionals, or a place where Christians gather to pursue their call: these are the three possible paths to organizational growth. Regardless of which we choose to shape a vision of provision around, there is always room for growth within that mandate – and of course, to some extent we’ll do all three, but picking a path is not limiting. Picking a path means we can go forward on that path.

It doesn’t matter which one we pick. It matters that we pick one.

November 26, 2016

In Winter's Dark by Marnie Pohlmann

I awaken slowly, the dream fading with my sleep. I am left discontent. Something is not right. I keep my eyes closed, trying to capture the trail of elusive thought, but it is gone.

Scars burn across my rib cage, pulling taut my skin and emotions. I huddle closer to the warmth of his body. We curl together in the dark to support one another. It is all the energy we have these days.

He trembles, perhaps from cold. I move my head from his shoulder and lay on his chest. His breathing keeps time with the thump, thump of his heartbeat, and I feel secure. My arm encircles his chest, once so muscular but now reduced to bony ribs. Concern flickers, constricting my heart. I reach to touch his cheek where the soft fuzz of his remaining whiskers assures me he is still the one I love. He twitches, like a dog dreaming in sleep. I wonder if he is reliving needles trying to find veins, or is running carefree in a preferred future. No matter. My thumb rubs along his jaw and he seems soothed.

I open my eyes, expecting to see only the dark of night. Insomnia has been our norm as we keep watch. Yet I am not surprised to see dawn shadows seeping through the thin curtains on the window. Time both hangs in suspension and rushes beyond the clock that measures our days. I hold my breath, attempting to stop time, to stay in this moment of calm.

The curtains riffle and settle with a quiet breeze. Soft gray light casts onto the ceiling. The shadow looks like a giant wing hovering above us. I let my breath out slowly, claiming the peace of this scene. Though days and nights appear black, we are not out in the dark alone, but are sheltered within the dark, like a chick sheltered under the wing of a hen.

Still, I do not rush to start the day, to search for the bright lights of gratitude that can be found even in the darkest pain. I snuggle closer to the one who travels this adventure with me. I am content to rest, to remain in this dark. I will continue to experience all that comes with the gloom.
I wrestle through the swamp of each day, struggling to not sink into a deeper shadow.
I know we remain victorious if we persevere. This part of our journey is unsettling, and even scary, yet I am not afraid. We are sheltered.

Someday, probably not today, but someday, I will write from these depths, so I treasure in my heart this moment of dusky peace amid turmoil. I am safe to experience even this while under the shadow of God’s wing.

Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings!
(Psalm 61:4)

He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
(Psalm 91:4)

Marnie Pohlmann writes about how God’s presence makes all the difference. Read Marnie’s blog, Phosphorescent

November 25, 2016

Hanging in there..... By Vickie Stam

Psalm 138:3 "As soon as I pray, you answer me, you encourage me by giving me strength." NLT

This past summer, I thought the moment for action had arrived. I could no longer ignore the desire in me to continue writing my life stories. The need began as soon as I pulled the familiar blue binder from the shelf in my closet, the one where I had compiled some of my favourite  childhood adventures and the heartaches transpired as an adult.     

Upon leafing through it, I was immediately taken back to those days when I sat at my computer. A good part of my day  slipped by as I plucked away at the keyboard. My life seemed to unfold on the screen in front me.

The art of putting words together to paint a true depiction of my life was something I enjoyed doing even if some of those stories were filled with pain and sadness. My children, family, and friends along with the places I had visited were all described in such a way that would surely help the reader see them in their mind.       

Still, I wasn't sure how to bring those stories back to life once again, especially since they had laid dormant for some time. It had been months since I had attended a writing class. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to sign up for another class or join a writers group, something I had often thought about doing. I had hoped a writer's group would offer monthly meetings in a year round setting, as opposed to a weekly program that was only going to end after eight or ten weeks.      

I began to search the internet, after-all, that had always proved to be the easiest way for me to find what I was looking for even if I wasn't quite sure exactly what that was. Google has been a great source of information for me. Helpful whenever I'm feeling undecided. I simply type a word or question in the google task bar, sit back and wait to see what shows up. 

Scrolling through some of those answers, I came across a writer's group that was an hours drive away but after learning that the attendance from their previous meetings was low, I felt a little discouraged. Three seemed to be the operative number of committed writers. Of course, I had never been part of a writer's group so I must admit that I  wasn't even sure if three was a good number or not. Needless to say, I wrote the information down and kept it handy in the event that I didn't come across anything closer to home.

During my search, I also found a writing class. An "intensive writing class." "Not for beginners." It too was an hour away from home with the premise of 'critiquing' as the main focus. That sounded both exciting and frightening to me. I had never critiqued my fellow classmates writing nor had any of my work ever been critiqued before. Critique means criticism. They go hand in hand, I told myself. I was a little worried about how I might react to negative criticism, but I signed up anyway.

I have to say that rising to the task of critiquing and being critiqued has certainly proved a challenge for me.    

Yet, over the course of the class, I've learned:

-Prayer is very important.   
- Other people's opinion can sometimes come across as very harsh.  

- The tone in which things are said can sting. 

- I need to continually ask God to give me strength to face new challenges.