Monday, May 20, 2019

Poured Wide or Drilled Deep?


By Yolanda Smith

Have you ever had a question simmering in the recesses of your heart when suddenly God turns up the temperature, and you find the thing has approached a rolling boil? You know He’s trying to help you latch on to a new thought or challenge your modus operandi, and the question or idea will not let you be.

Here’s the question that keeps pouring, like a river, over the jagged rocks in my brain: are you spread too thin?

And the cry of my heart: Yes! But how do I fix it, Lord?

The answer comes—two simple words—and sets me on a journey to search it out: Go deep.

Skimming

At the moment, I seem to be running a three-legged race all by myself. While writing this post, I’ve been frantically scouring a recent read so I can share a poignant story from its pages with you. It’s ironic that the book is about slowing down, being intentional, and GOING DEEP. And while I’m skimming through chapter after chapter, the frenzy of activity is clashing with the words that leap from its paragraphs. Words like silence, intentionality, observe, contemplate, slow, depth, imagination.

Although I write notes when reading nonfiction, this time I failed to mark the single most mind-boggling tidbit that has stuck with me long after I closed the pages. Since I can’t find it, I’ll have to paraphrase the information, which, fair warning, will be underwhelming.

When one gallon of water is spread to its thinnest molecules, it can cover an area of nearly five square miles. It would be difficult to see, and beyond that it would be ineffectual for any real purposes. However, if the molecules of that same gallon of water were stacked end to end, it would form a straw that would reach all the way to the center of the earth. The same gallon has the ability to be spread thin, but it is also capable of reaching extreme depths.

This left me wondering, am I being poured wide, or drilled deep? Am I scattered too far to be effective?

The writing industry is a paradox. As writers we are to give away the deep wisdom and secrets others haven’t discovered or can’t articulate for themselves. But that requires us to be living a deeper life. How is this possible when we are expected to possess a working knowledge of all aspects of our discipline including craft, platform building, marketing, speaking, networking, and small business practices? All at once we’ve been stretched too thin, negating our ability to impart anything helpful or insightful.

All the Things

I have the type of personality that wants to do all the things. I’m desperate to read all the books, learn all the hobbies, play all the instruments, collect all the animals, and be friends with all the people. I’m the kind of gal who chases a full-on passion pursuit, which is why my life often looks more than a little lopsided.

How this translates to writing life:
  • read all the books on craft
  • listen to all the writing/marketing podcasts
  • subscribe to everyone’s newsletters
  • sign up for all the webinars and courses
  • hang out in all the Facebook writing groups
  • choose dozens of critique partners
  • stalk learn from all my favorite authors
  • attend all the critique groups, workshops, and conferences
  • apply for all the memberships

After listing all that, I’m tired.

It’s tempting to hop from one new and shiny thing to the next. But in a culture full of clutter (because we like to buy the next trendy thing, then pile it in a corner once it loses its shine), downsizing and minimalist living are becoming increasingly popular. And why not? Decluttering is therapeutic.

Downsizing

So, is it possible to downsize our writing lives? Declutter our inboxes (unsubscribe until it hurts)? Outsource our weaker skills? Cull our commitments?

  • What if you only attended one conference this year, but went home and actually reviewed all your notes, rewrote those notes, listened to audio recordings, and made application of one or two key ideas?

  • What if you found one or two favorite podcasts and listened to the entire chronology over and again until you could teach the information yourself?

  • Would it be possible to zero in on a couple of top-notch craft books and study them cover to cover, picking them apart like a textbook?


One of the teaching pastors at my church suggests finding a handful of books—outstanding, impactful ones—and rereading them every year to mine the deep riches one read-through will never uncover. This goes against my nature. I want to read the latest releases so I can keep up with current bookish conversations.

What does it mean to do one thing well, going deep, no skimming allowed? I’m not one hundred percent sure yet. I have a vague notion of what the destination should look like, and the journey involves a swim upstream. But really, I only know how to take the next step in front of me. It involves sitting still and being quiet.

Do you feel stretched too thin, or are you good at living the deeper life? What wisdom would you offer for those of us trying to sort through the differences?


*The book mentioned above is The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski


(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, winnond, and Stuart Miles.)


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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The View from the Pew


By Denise Loock

Suppose you had a choice between listening to a lecture from a stodgy, arrogant professor and chatting with an amiable, supportive friend at a coffee shop. Easy decision, right?

Readers make that choice when they choose Christian nonfiction. No one likes to be lectured. Therefore, authors who adopt a conversational, sympathetic tone when they write generally have more impact than those who choose a didactic tone. Effective nonfiction writers step down from the pulpit and sit in the pew with their readers.

As Merriam-Webster notes, gracious words are “marked by kindness and courtesy” and “markedly considerate of another’s feelings.”[1] That doesn’t mean gracious words are flattering or wishy-washy. In fact, the Bible condemns such speech (Psalm 12:2–3; James 1:8). Grace-laced language conveys the “truth in love” in a respectful, honest manner (Ephesians 4:15).

Here are six principles to keep in mind as you write:

1. The goal of Christian nonfiction is to edify, to build up. The best way for authors to do that is to adopt a gentle, encouraging tone. Avoid second-person commands: you should, you ought to, you need to. Use first-person plural inclusive phrases: we often neglect, we sometimes think, we assume. Use first person singular for negative statements: I sometimes treat God like a vending machine, making demands and expecting him to respond immediately. Using first person puts the author, not the reader, in the squirm seat. Use questions to pull the reader into the conversation: Do you ever have trouble believing God cares about your problems?

2. Use simple language. You’re probably not a biblical scholar or a seminary professor, so don’t pretend to be one. Avoid religious jargon (Christianese) that presumes every reader’s spiritual background is similar to yours.

3. Check for statements that suggest a know-it-all or been-there-done-that attitude: “I know exactly how you feel.” No, you don’t. “I’ve learned to always pray before I leave the house.” Every time? “I don’t doubt God’s goodness anymore.” Never?

4. Convey that you’re still learning, still growing. After all, none of us will ever achieve a perfect relationship with God or with other people this side of heaven. God doesn’t airbrush the vileness of sin or the failures of his followers. The Bible contains the high and low points in people’s lives. Moses was not only a valiant leader but also a cold-blooded murderer. David was not only the sweet psalmist of Israel but also an adulterer. These examples remind us that we need to admit our shortcomings and failures so readers don’t get the idea that authors have achieved some level of holiness unavailable to the rest of us.

5. Add personal experiences to help readers apply scriptural truth to their lives, but keep the spotlight on the Word of God. Personal experience can’t be used as the test of truth. Focus instead on promises that God guarantees.

6. Be inventive and insightful. Have you attended church most of your life? Did you go to Sunday school when you were a child? If so, you may have heard dozens of sermons on trusting God and loving your neighbor. But even if you aren’t a lifelong churchgoer, Scripture passages such as Psalm 23 and John 3:16 may be familiar to you. When you think of forgiveness, Joseph comes to mind. When you think of faith, you see Peter walking on water. If that happens to you, it will happen to readers too. So present fresh insights about familiar stories and introduce practical applications for unfamiliar passages.

Sit in the pew with your reader. You’ll both learn more that way, and if you’re not standing in the pulpit, the reader will be more likely to get a clear view of God.





[1] “Gracious,” Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, online version. Accessed 19 April 9019, http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com/unabridged/gracious.

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Stuart Miles, and Phil_Bird.)


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Denise Loock is a writer, editor, and speaker. She is the editor for The Journey Christian Newspaper, which reaches over 60,000 online and print readers. As an assistant editor, she helps Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas produce high quality, engaging inspirational books. She accepts freelance editing projects too. Contact her at denise@journeychristiannews.com or info@digdeeperdevotions.com


Monday, May 6, 2019

Heaven's Library


By Andrea Merrell

I’ve just returned from PENCON, a wonderful conference for editors and proofreaders. This conference is a division of the Christian Editor Network and was held in Nashville. What a great time of fellowship and learning.


One of the guest speakers was Robert Hudson, author of the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. His keynotes and workshops were amazing, but one statement he made stood out to me. It was about the library of heaven and all the books that were waiting to be written.

As writers, sometimes we struggle to come up with stories that will encourage and entertain our readers. Many times we feel as if it’s all been said, so what could we possibly contribute that would be fresh and new? Even the Bible says there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NKJV).

Think about a classroom of children who are given the assignment to draw a certain object. It might be their house, an animal, or the school playground. What you might expect would at least be some similarities between the drawings, but that is never the case. Each one shows the child’s unique way of expressing himself. As you study each one, you see the subtle nuances—and sometimes the significant ones—that make each drawing special.

Writing is the same. While several of us may tell a similar story, we tell it in our own unique way. Our words are colored by our personality, perspective, background, experiences, beliefs, and even our likes and dislikes. In other words, there is room for all of us as writers.

God doesn’t just love, He is love. He not only creates, He is creativity. Look at the variety of beautiful landscapes and brilliant colors, not to mention people. The good news is He has formed us in His image and placed that creativity within us.

Consider for a moment the library of heaven and all those books waiting to be written. One or more of those volumes has your name on it. It’s a story that only you can tell. It may not sit on the shelf of a bookstore or even be sold on Amazon. It might be a poem, a devotion, a blog post, or article. Perhaps it’s a prayer or letter of encouragement to a friend. Whether it’s an in-depth Bible study or thank-you note, God has a purpose for whatever He puts on your heart. For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NLT).

John 21:25 says, There are so many other things Jesus did. If they were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books (MSG). Most of us view the Bible as exhaustive and thorough, but there is evidently so much more that could have been written about Jesus.

And there is so much more for us to write. God is waiting for each of us to do our part. Are you ready?

(Photos courtesy of Blogpiks.com and Stuart Miles.)

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For more information on PENCON or the Christian PEN, visit ChristianEditorNetwork.com.