Monday, October 4, 2021

Writer’s block? No problem. You can still work on your memoir.


Writer’s block: You know how to write. You want to write. But for some reason, you can’t write.


Take heart. Everyone gets stuck from time to time. Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charlie Schultz, and Mark Twain struggled with writer’s block, too.


If “writer’s block” describes you today, don’t despair!


I have good news for you:


Writer’s block is temporary.


And here’s more good news: You can still make progress on your memoir.


This is your opportunity to spiff up your already-written segments, those chapters still in rough draft form, those beautiful stories that will someday—soon, we hope!—be compiled as your memoir.


By “spiff up” I mean to tinker, to rearrange, to polish—to revise.


Revision is not punishment,” says veteran writer Donald M.Murray in The Craft of Revision.


“Writing evolves from a sequence of drafts,” Murray says. “Scientists . . . experiment . . . . Actors and musicians rehearse. Retailers test markets, politicians take polls, manufacturers try pilot runs. They all revise, and so do writers. Writing is rewriting.”


Professional writers know the benefits of revision.


So . . . Be like the pros: If you’re stuck with writer’s block, use this time to revise the chapters you’ve already written.


Revision, Murray says, is “re-seeing the entire piece of writing.” That’s so important.


This is your opportunity to re-see what you’ve written. Re-seeing will show you where, specifically, to revise.


Revision involves checking punctuation, grammar, spelling, diction (word choice), sentence length, rhythm, conciseness, organizing, and so on. I suggest you consider each separately as you evaluate your rough draft.  


If you’re stuck in writer’s block,

this is a perfect time to revise because

distance and time are a writer’s friends:

They do wonders for objectivity.

The fresher the story is in your memory,

the harder it is to catch things you need to change.


Today, let’s consider clarity.


Clarity depends . . . on your ability to put information together so that readers know at every point where they are, where they’ve been, and where they seem to be going,” writes Peter P. Jacobi.


“When we read, our minds work in linear fashion. We cannot grasp jumps and jerks or even the sudden shifts of scene. . . .” Jacobi continues. “We [readers] have to be moved carefully, smoothly, through the [story].”


Donald Murray encourages a writer

to read a rough draft the first time

as the maker of that piece,

and then read it again as a stranger

as someone reading the piece for the first time.

Good advice, Don!


So, put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Does your vignette or chapter make sense, or does it cause confusion?


Does your story have “jumps and jerks or . . . sudden shifts of scene”?


Look for gaps:

Did you leave out information

readers need to know?

If so, they’ll have trouble grasping

your story’s message.


Remember, it’s not in your story

until it’s in black and white on your page.


Strive for clarity.


Also remember: “Revision is not punishment.”


Enjoy making your revisions!


Monday, September 20, 2021

Writing about God’s interruptions in your life

Do you like interruptions? I don't.

I make plans. I have a schedule. And long-term goals. Dreams. And I don't want anything or anyone to disrupt me. 

But, of course, interruptions do come into everyone's lives and sometimes they are epicespecially if the interruption comes from God!

In retrospect, we can recognize that God's interruptions were major turning points and opportunities for learning and maturing.

Have you thought about writing in your memoir

about your interruptions?

Recently I wrote that life's interruptions can resemble earthquakes.

Have you ever felt an earthquake?


I experienced Seattle’s 1965 earthquake. People felt it across Washington, British Columbia, Idaho, and Oregon. The 6.5 quake (some officials called it a 6.7) lasted 45 seconds, and that’s a long time for an earthquake of that magnitude.


And the earth’s eerie roar lasted even longer than that.


Sometimes life can feel like an earthquake. Without warning, a jolt rocks your world. What has seemed solid and predictable and dependable suddenly lurches and crumbles. And even when the shaking stops, the jarring trauma rolls on.


And the eerie roar lasts longer than that.

Years after the Seattle earthquake, my husband burst through our front door and announced he wanted us to move to South America so he could teach missionaries’ kids.


The ground beneath my feet felt like another major earthquake had struck and I literally fell to the floor. (You can read about it in my memoir, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir.)


In the following months, the eerie roar rumbled on.

My dreams and plans had taken a hit.

My sense of where my life was headed had fallen apart.


What I didn’t know then was that interruption—the earthquake that my husband (and eventually, it turned out, that God, too) sprung on me was meant for good.


I would later learn that some of my dreams and plans weren’t the best for me and my family. They needed to crumble down in ruins.


But I didn’t comprehend that then. Instead, the stuff of earthquakes—like crumbled bricks and debris—covered me. It was dark down there. I felt bruised and broken. Alone.


I was only 27 years young. The old me now wishes I could have told the 27-year-old me that I could live a good life even after earthquakes and loss and the shock of it all.


In fact, those three years in South America

were the best of our lives!

I praise and thank God

that He interrupted my plans!


As Christine Caine said,

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place

you think you’ve been buried,

but you’ve actually been planted.”


That was true for me. What started as a devastating earthquake ended up being a mountaintop experience.


God’s interruption turned into

one of my life’s richest blessings.


How about you?


Think of the ways God has interrupted your plans. What detours did He place in your path? What curveballs did He throw at you?

And what stories can you include in your memoir about God's interruptions?

  • Did you welcome God's interruption, or resist it?
  • If you resisted it, what eventually convinced you to do what He was inviting you to do?
  • What obstacles and fears and worldliness did you have to overcome in order to carry out His task for you?
  • How did God's interruption show you your plans weren't His best for you, and that He was steering you in a different and better direction?
  • In what specific ways did God's interruption prove to be a divine appointment, a major turning point in your life?
  • How have God's interruptions led you to love Him increasingly with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (the most important—the foremost, the greatest—commandment, Mark 12:28-30, Matthew 22:36-37)?

Put your stories into writing! Remember:

Be careful never to forget

what you've seen the Lord do for you.

Do not let these things escape from your mind

as long as you live!

And be sure to pass them on

to your children and grandchildren.

(Deuteronomy 4:9, NLT)

We, your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank You forever and ever, praising Your greatness from generation to generation (Psalm 79:13b, NLT).

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Refuse to take the lazy route


Chuck Swindoll writes about “people who go through life with their eyes closed. They look but don’t really ‘see . . . they observe the surface but omit the underneath . . . they focus on images but not issues . . . vision is present but perception is absent. . . .


“Remove insight,” Chuck continues, “and you suddenly reduce life to existence with frequent flashes of boredom and indifference. . . . Please understand, I do not mean to be critical of those who cannot go deeper . . . but of those who can but will not.”


Chuck concludes: “Open your eyes! Think! Apply! Dig! Listen!” (Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life)


Chuck’s message is perfect for those who write memoirs.


Many a time you’ve heard me emphasize the importance of introspection and reflection when it comes to writing a memoir. Of digging deeply.


But it’s hard work to make time for all that contemplating and assessing.


And all too often we’re in a hurry to get our stories in print.


However, I urge you to do what Chuck says: “Open your eyes! Think! Apply! Dig! Listen!so that you can write multi-layered stories based on not only what happened, but what it all means—what you learned and where it all led.


What do you recognize now that you overlooked in the past?

What do you know now that you didn’t know before?


And this is so important: What was God doing?


What new places did God take you—

emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually?

In hindsight, what new opportunities did He give you?

What lessons did He teach you?

How is your relationship with Him different now?


Sit quietly with your story and imagine God sitting there beside you. He’s eager to help you dissect your past and make sense of it.


Listen for what He might tell you. Watch for what He might show you.


Often He surprises us with what He helps us piece together. What new person are you now as a result of your past experiences and your examination of them?


If you want to uncover the profound parts of your story,

you need to invest in reflection and introspection.

Go deep. Refuse to stay in the shallow end.


“Oftentimes insight into what all has transpired comes later and in layers,” writes Beth Moore. “One of the many gifts of aging in a walk with God is that you can look over your shoulder and see that some pieces of the puzzle really did end up fitting. Yep,” she says, “this makes sense. Surely didn’t at the time.”


As a memoirist, then, your job is to recollect, reminisce, identify, contemplate, review. And snap puzzle pieces together.


Beth Barthelemy asks herself

and we memoirists would do well to ask ourselves

Am I willing to sit in silence

highly uncomfortable for those of us who are new to it

in order to hear the voice of God?


Tuesday, August 31, 2021

“Count your blessings backward”

Sandra Clifton was desperately in need. In her discouragement, she cried out to God, “Are You there?”


Sandra seemed to hear God answer, “Count your blessings—backward!


Think about that! Count your blessings—backward!


And so she did—Sandra began to examine her past, to remember what God had done.


In doing so, she discovered God had been guiding and providing for her even though she hadn’t detected it.


“I realized what God wanted me to understand: that He had been at work all along, setting up circumstances to bring His will to pass in my life. Recalling previous blessings and answered prayers reminded me of this truth. It is what David meant by ‘encouraging himself in the Lord.’


Sandra continues, “Tracing our blessings backward shows us the ‘pattern’ of God’s involvement in our lives. It allows us to see that the very obstacles we face today could be the things that set us up for His blessings tomorrow.”


“Today’s blessings are a result of the Father’s masterful orchestration of people and events,” she points out.


Sandra’s message is a glorious one, 

and it’s also what writing a spiritual memoir is all about.


We memoirists devote ourselves to remembering what God has done in the past. “‘Remember’ is the most frequent command in the Old Testament,” writes Mike Metzger.


We examine what happened in the past, we ponder, we take a broader, wider, deeper, higher look.


We search for God’s fingerprints.


We look for patterns in our lives.


We reflect in a deliberate way.


We connect the dots.


We trace our blessings backward

What a superb, blessed experience that can be!


What do you need to remember today?


Think back on your conversations with God—and write about them.


Remember how He confirmed His direction for your life—and write about it.


Remember what you committed to Him, remember the Bible verses that inspired you to make that commitment—and write about all that.


Remember your joy in setting out—and write about it.


Remember all the ways God walked hand in hand with you when you stumbled through rough spots, through dread-filled times, through your anguish—and write about it.


Remember raising your hands in surrender to God, trusting Him for His best outcome for your life—and write about it.


Remember the ways He brought you to a new and good place—and write about all of that.


And take joy in your writing!


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Stewardship of stories: Mental illness and Sparks of Redemptive Grace

“There have been many times when our family has found itself in the midst of an adventure . . . like the time we were in rural Africa and the rugged airstrip where our tiny plane had just landed was actually too short for the return takeoff,” writes Catherine P. Downing, author of Sparks of Redemptive Grace.


“It was a bit scary as we watched the pilot work through various plans to extend the length of the runway. He concocted a number of configurations for adjustments and finally we were able to leave.


“It’s a story I love to tell (and in more detail), and there are many, many more.


“In fact, for all of us, our lives are composed of a series of stories that string together and provide markers for our memories and moments.


“We have stories of childhood pranks (like when my older brother dared me to sit in my second birthday cake, and I did), teenage dramas and vacation fiascos.


“For families with loved ones dealing with mental illness, our stories are of a different nature. We are hesitant to tell them for many reasons. Some are too painful, and we just don’t want to remember them.


“Others are too personal for ourselves or our family member. Then there is always the fear of stigma, or the dangers of self-pity.


But there is value in our stories,” Catherine says. “They help others get a truthful picture of the realities of mental health difficulties that can tear down stigma.


They comfort and counsel other families going through similar situations.

“And, if faith and prayer are running themes, then many of our stories tell of the goodness of God’s love, provision and protection.


“In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells His disciples, ‘You will be my witnesses.’


Catherine asks: “How have we seen God at work in our lives as we care for our loved one? Have we watched Him, like we saw the pilot in Africa, take an impossible situation and orchestrate a number of configurations for adjustments that lead to a brilliant solution? How have we witnessed His care, presence and power?


Your stories . . . may give other families hope and direction,” says Catherine. “Opening up . . . may garner much-needed prayer. Being willing to talk about the realities of life in the midst of mental illness is a first step in becoming an advocate for new and better health care and legislation.


As believers, we have been given the privilege and responsibility of being stewards of our stories. Let’s be aware of opportunities God gives us to tell of His goodness in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13) and to declare His steadfast love in the morning and His faithfulness by night (Psalm 92:2).”



Catherine P. Downing’s book, Sparks of Redemptive Grace, provides 14 brief chapters sharing one family’s challenges with mental illness. Each chapter overflows with insight, hope, Scriptures and prayers. It’s for sale as an e-book or in paperback. Order copies for your pastor, church library, friend, family, and mental health providers.


Click here to read what others say about Sparks of Redemptive Grace.


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

“Say it,” not as a hobby but as a ministry

Grandmas with Heart has a message that pertains to everyone here at SM 101, not just grandparents! “There is more to being a grandparent than fun and games—there is the handing down of confident faith . . . by being the link between the past and the future.”


“We . . . share with them the history of their family” such as when an ancestor “gave food from his grocery store to families who could not buy food in the depression and saved their lives.”


Stories such as when an ancestor “was hit over the head, thrown on a boat, taken to America and sold as an indentured servant.”


Grandma’s With Heart continues, “We are blessed to share how God worked in the lives of family in the distant past, in our own lives, and help them learn to watch for what He does in their own lives. . . .” 


Family histories “are a way they connect to the past, learn to pay attention to the present, while looking forward to the future.


“They give us a way to help the generations who come behind us trace God’s hands through the lives of their ancestors and know what it looks like to see His hand in their own lives. . . .


Be the link in His chain of love which connects the past with the future.” (Read more at “Be the Link in the Chain.”)


Now, some of you might think

writing a memoir is for other people.

Some of you might question

whether you should write a memoir

for your kids and grandkids.

Some of you wonder

if your life’s stories are important.


At times we all have nagging uncertainties:


Do I have anything important to say?


Haven’t other writers already penned everything significant?


To counter those doubts, hear this:


You’re part of a story much bigger than yourself:

Your story is important.

It’s part of God’s story, and God’s story is part of yours.


Today, to reiterate your stories’ importance, I’m pleased to share words that have stuck in my mind for several years now, words of Edward Paz. Take Edward’s message to heart because it’s true!


“Say it.

Because no one else has said it with your style.

Because no one has said it with your energy.

Because no one has said it with your passion.

Say it.

Because no one has said it to your tribe.

Because no one has said it to your audience.

Because no one has said it to your followers.

Say it.

Who cares if someone else talked about it?

Who cares if someone else blogged about it?

Who cares if someone else wrote about it?

Say it anyways.

The truth is,

if you haven’t said it, it has yet to be said.”

(Edward Paz)


Friends! Wonder no more whether your stories are important.


You have lived stories only you can share.

Your historyyour experiences, your insights,

your lessons learned—are not your own.

They have been entrusted to you by God.


Connect your stories with God’s story—

not as a hobby,

but as an important ministry to your family.



Tuesday, August 10, 2021

For you: Writing tips from memoirist Jessica Cherie Errico

Last week I promised you an inspiring message from Jessica Cherie Errico, author of The Mother Gap: A Daughter’s Search for Connection, the story of her longing for a close relationship with her “driven, classy, alcoholic mother” and the ways God helped Jessica forgive and love her.


Jessica wrote her memoir to help others who have an empty spot, a gap, where love should be. With that in mind, so many of you writers will recognize what Cynthia R. Wallace says:


“Storytelling [and] recalling triumphs of justice and goodness

grows our sense of what could be. . . .

Storytelling can feed not just our healing

but our imaginations of what is possible,

strengthening us for the long road together

as we join in God’s project of restoration.”

Cynthia R. Wallace


While writing The Mother Gap, Jessica ran into several challengesas all memoirists do—and she wants to encourage you to persevere as you write your memoir.


So, let’s welcome Jessica!


Hi, Y’all!


I’m writing to you from beautiful Southeast Coastal Georgia, where God transplanted me back in 2011. Yes, He sent this sixty-five-year-old northerner to the south over twenty-two years ago, first to Florida and then to Georgia. I never saw it coming!


Yet, it’s in this land of pelicans, ’gators and curvy marshes that my writing efforts truly launched. What season of life are you in right now? Is God making a way for you to invest time into outlining and crafting a memoir?


Folks often approach me with a desire to write their whole life’s story. I can’t help but think, now that would be a very long tale! When I wrote The Mother Gap several years ago, I started by narrowing my focus to just the relationship between me and my mom.


So, when other people ask for my advice, I challenge them to do the same—to think specifically about what God would have them share. What life lessons, failures and triumphs from their experiences can bless others with encouragement and instruction? A narrow focus is not only critical in the writing stage, but for our reader’s enjoyment as well. Pinpointing your focus is extremely important.


Next, I began writing short chapters of selected memories I had of life with my mother. Writing them chronologically helped me break my topic into smaller sections. Still, I had freedom to change their order as desired.


Some of you might be wondering if you’ll feel overwhelmed by pain and hurt while dredging up past negative experiences. That’s a valid question and a very good reason to be in prayer.


As I wrote, I let raw emotion wash over me. I attempted to “paint” each scene, welcoming my readers into my experience. God loves us so much and is able to guide us by His Holy Spirit in granting and receiving forgiveness. Lean on His grace and trust His desire to bring healing to you.


In my case, much time had elapsed between my difficult childhood and my memoir writing (nearly five decades), so I wasn’t overwhelmed by the pain I shared. In fact, by repeatedly remembering the goodness of God displayed at the end of my story, I felt grounded and hopeful. What joy it was to write the latter chapters and boast about the healing Love of Christ!


The biggest takeaway from attending numerous writers’ workshops is this: to show and not tell. In other words, draw your readers in with descriptive wording that conveys the activity and emotions you’re portraying (using colors, temperature, weather, etc.), rather than merely summarizing the event or scene.


Another challenge in memoir writing is deciding how to format your story so it flows well. Does your story divide easily into sections? Is there a “theme” to bring cohesion to your chapters? This takes much time and reflection, as does selecting a title. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other writers or trusted friends. Share a bit of your story and get their opinions. I did.


If you feel called to write a memoir, you’ll have to overcome obstacles. Knowing this is critical as you begin. It is a big undertaking. However, staying with it, taking your time, and praying for God’s leading will surely result in great blessing


I remember my father’s words to me as I was neck-deep in the project, “You know, by writing all this down, you’ll probably feel much better.” 


At the time, I considered his remark very glib. I wanted to respond, “Sure Dad, you try writing a book about your experiences!”


But, you know, he was right. Once I finished the final draft, I sensed a sweet release and increased hopefulness. Indeed, in writing my book, I discovered many more ways God had shown His love for both me and my mom.


Stay true to your reason for writing your memoir. From the start, my prayer has been that through my memoir, readers will also experience the great blessing of forgiveness in their lives.


A spiritual memoir is a priceless treasure, a gift of wisdom, hope and encouragement. In sharing your life experiences and lessons, you invite readers to consider not only God’s faithfulness, but their own need to know and follow Him.


When we share our stories, we declare the truth of Romans 8:28“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”




Many thanks, Jessica, 

for sharing your experience with us. 

Your words of wisdom and advice 

will help us all to write the stories God has given us.


Jessica Errico is an artist and author. She’s published four books, several articles, and writes a bi-monthly column for the Religion Section of her local newspaper. Visit her website, Jessica Cherie Errico: Author/Artist, as well as her blog of the same name.