Thursday, December 26, 2013

Your words could take up residence in someone’s soul

"Someone needs to tell those tales….

For each and every ear it will be different,

and it will affect them in ways 

they can never predict

From the mundane to the PROFOUND

You may tell a tale that 

takes up residence in someone's soul

becomes their blood and self and purpose

That tale will move them and drive them 

and who knows what they might do because of it, 

because of your words

That is your role, your gift." 

Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

God’s fingerprints

“In the moment, 
it can be hard to see where God is leading us,
but looking back 
we often see his fingerprints.”
Richard Stearns,
President, World Vision United States

Stearns captures what memoir is all about, especially what SM 101 is about: Looking back over life—inspecting, reflecting, pondering—and discovering God had us in His hands all along, and His fingerprints are all over everything.

Take joy!
Write your stories!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What do you want your memoir to do inside your readers?

Sometimes one sentence 
packs more punch than a whole blog post, 
so here’s the message I have for you today:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Suspense, yes. Melodrama, no.

Life includes suspense. Good stories, then, include suspense.

Your memoir needs suspense. Hook your reader and make her eager to know the outcome—but make her wait for it. Suspense implies an uncomfortable waiting mixed with impatience for a good resolution . It arouses curiosity. It keeps her reading.

Today we continue with these all-important  ingredients for your memoir: Suspense. Tension. Conflict.

Becca Puglisi at Writers Helping Writers explains how she discovered the difference between conflict and tension.

A critiquer had returned one of Becca’s manuscripts and had noted, several times, the need for tension. “Where’s the tension?” and “Add more tension.” (Becca’s manuscript was fiction but remember: Many fiction techniques are important nonfiction techniques, too.)

Becca said, “No tension? What’s she talking about? The main character was just abandoned by her father. Her best friend was attacked by racist pigs. The family farm is about to go under.… There is conflict ALL OVER the place, so how can she say there’s no tension??”

Becca was puzzled but eventually recognized that conflict and tension are not necessarily the same thing. She adds, “Although the terms are often used interchangeably (and they CAN be synonymous), they aren’t necessarily the same.”

Conflict is when a character has a goal but an obstacle prevents him from reaching it.

Tension, on the other hand, stirs up the reader’s emotion, grabs hold of him, and makes him care about how the story will end—and it keeps him reading. Tension, Becca says, is “that tight, stretched feeling in your belly that makes you all jittery. That’s what you want your reader to feel.…”

Click on this link to read more of Becca’s Conflict vs.Tension.

So how do you stir up your reader’s emotion?

Your own emotion—excitement, fear, joy, doubt, wonderment, or awe—will impact your readers’ emotions.

“Emotion is an involuntary action:
The best stories in the world
always have an emotional appeal.
They inspire the audience to act, to think,
to laugh, to cry or to get angry. …
If an audience is moved to feel something,
they become more emotionally invested in a story
based on that connection.”
Slash Coleman

How much tension should a writer include?

Every scene should have tension, FaithWriter’s Lillian Duncan says, sometimes big, sometimes little. “It may be internal or external. It may be real or imagined, but there should be a sense of unpredictability in every scene.…”

Lillian offers this word of caution: Melodrama is not a mark of good writing. Avoid overwriting. “Keep your ‘flowery’ writing to a minimum.”

Click here to see Lillian’s checklist on how to avoid overwriting. It includes:
         Word choices
Exclamation points 
         Too many adverbs and adjectives
Emotional reaction equal to the event
Cut every unnecessary word

Read more at Lillian’s Writing Suspense. Many if not all of her fiction techniques also apply to nonfiction. 

Related posts:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Your memoir: make suspense reader-friendly

Suspense, tension, conflict. They are must-haves for your memoir. They draw readers into your story, make them care about you, and keep them reading.

Last week I shared a Chip MacGregor quote that I’ve been putting into practice in one of my rough drafts: I’m trying to make suspenseful passages more reader-friendly. Chip’s message: Readers don’t want to waste time in your long, drawn out moanings and groanings. They bought your book because they want to know how you solved your problem.

“Readers don’t buy books that ponder problems. They buy books that offer great solutions to problems. So offer solutions. Tell me what the answer is to my problem.”  He says we should go ahead and “set the stage by revealing what the conflict or problem is,” but (my paraphrase): Get on with it. Don’t wallow in your drama. Condense your drama. (Chip MacGregor, Memorable Words; emphasis mine.)

On the other hand, we can play downplay our suspense too much, according to K.S. Davis.

She teaches her students (both fiction and memoir writers) to beware of a “failure to sustain key moments.” Key moments: moments of tension and suspense and emotion.

In some of her students’ rough drafts, Davis discovered key moments “were just going by too quickly.” To remedy that, she advises, “…Writers, don’t be afraid to slow down and ‘linger.’ Make sure you are devoting sufficient space to the ‘key moments’ in your manuscript so that they register with your readers. Your writing will resonate much more clearly and vividly if you do.”

She says we “give the moment sufficient emphasis” by using dialogue, summarizing unspoken thoughts, and using nuance. (Read K.S. Davis’s full blog post, Lessons in Lingering.)

So, the combined message from Chip and K.S. is this:  Find a healthy balance in writing passages of suspense and drama and emotion.

You might be saying, “Easier said than done!”  I agree. Here’s what I’m doing and perhaps you’ll find it helpful, too:

I’m crafting a couple of versions of my vignette and playing around with the drama—condensing, reorganizing. (I’m so glad we live in the days of computers instead of typewriters! Back in the olden days, if we wanted to change just one word or comma on a page, we’d have to retype the entire page!)

After tweaking, I’ll set the manuscript aside for a week or so. Later I’ll take a fresh look at it and by then I should be able to see what works and what doesn’t.

What about you? What advice can you share about finding balance between too much drama and not enough? Leave a comment below.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sneeze post: Suspense

Sneeze post?! What’s a sneeze post?

Think of a sneeze. It distributes “stuff” in various directions.

A sneeze post “simply directs readers in multiple directions at once,” says Darren Rowse at ProBlogger.

Think of a sneeze post as a roundup, a collection. If you don’t like the thought of me sneezing on you, think of me handing you a bouquet.

Today’s sneeze post is a collection of quotes and links about suspense.

Your memoir needs suspense: It hooks your reader and makes him eager to know the outcome—but makes him wait for it. Suspense implies an uncomfortable waiting mixed with impatience for a good resolution. It arouses curiosity. It keeps him reading.

Let’s look at this important ingredient for your memoir: Suspense. Conflict. Tension. Friction. Anxiety.

Here we go! Ah…ah….CHOOOOO!

Tension is “an essential element of any narrative worth telling. A plot without tension is a flat line, a life with no rises, no dips, no anima. Life, by definition, involves tension.… Tension is the medium in which we breathe every day.” Dan Allender

“A nonfiction writer needs to establish conflict right away.… [But] unlike a novelist, you can’t dwell on conflict. Nobody wants a book that defines their problem for them.… I’m looking for a book that will offer me a solution.…” Chip MacGregor  

“Conflict is good: Stories boil down to conflict. We crave that tension and a barrier between the hero and what he/she is seeking. That’s what separates a good story from just an anecdote that may be told at the water cooler.” Slash Coleman

“… Conflict has to occur not just on the larger scale … but also on the smaller theater of the character’s inner life.… Include the outer battle (the physical reaction to the conflict) and the inner battle (the psychological and emotional reaction to events).” K.M. Weiland

“… The cliffhanger is a striking event that happens at the end of an episode, chapter, scene, or season of a story. It leaves doubt in the reader’s mind—usually regarding the fate of the protagonist—and all but forces them to come back to see what comes next.… You want each ‘scene’ to lead your readers deeper and deeper.” Robert Bruce

At FaithWriters blog, Lillian Duncan offers ways to work tension into your stories. Here are a few to enhance memoir:

Introducing unpredictability

Ending chapters with a cliffhanger

Facing a time limit

Foreshadowing (hints of what is coming, or might come, in the future)

Throwing out a red herring (diversion)

Keeping stakes high

(Read more at Lillian’s “Writing Suspense.” Many if not all of her fiction techniques also apply to nonfiction.)

Find the drama in your story and highlight it, but keep a proper balance.

“Stories are about balance. A tale in which there is no conflict is going to be just about as boring as watching condensation dissipate. But a tale that never pauses to let its characters (or its readers) catch their breath is boring in its own way. We have to find ways to adjust the level of the conflict. We have to give our characters a chance to slow down and get their thoughts gathered.…”  K.M.Weiland

Next time we’ll look at more tips. For now, look over your rough drafts and find ways to heighten suspense. Have fun doing it.

Remember: Your stories are important. 
Your stories can bless individuals, families, 
communities, town, nations, even the world. 
They can change lives for eternity. Write your stories!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Do you know your memoir’s theme?

Are you following Spiritual Memoirs 101 on Facebook? 
If not, you’re missing a lot of important, helpful, inspirational stuff! 

By definition, a memoir has a theme. Memoir is not autobiography. Memoir is only a slice of life in which your stories relate to a specific theme.

A memoir could be about your life as a chef in a Scottish castle and how the experience turned your life in an unexpected, but better, direction.

Or you could write about your life as set designer in Hollywood and how that taught you the difference between fair-weather friends and true friends.

Or your life as an abused spouse, how you found the courage to start a new life, and how you became an advocate for other abused people.

You could base your memoir on the same theme as Spiritual Memoirs 101’s theme: Remembering what you’ve seen God do for you and your family, and being sure to tell your children and grandchildren (see Deuteronomy 4:9 and 6:4-9, for example).

Base your memoir on a theme:

—highlight a universal value or struggle
—illustrate a timeless truth or quest
—address issues all humans wrestle with.

Themes: forgiveness, compassion, justice, honesty, integrity, tenacious faith, generosity, courage, respect, overcoming timidity, keeping your word, receiving and giving grace and mercy.

Another idea: You could slice your life in a different direction and write your memoir about a specific time period. My memoir, Grandma’s Letters from Africa, covers my first four years in Africa. Within that time period, the book has a couple of main themes—it deals with universal struggles, timeless truths, and issues many humans wrestle with.

In other words, a good memoir “always connects the reader’s heart with a deeper truth.” (Jeff Goins, “Three Rules to Write World-Changing Memoir.”)

Your memoir’s theme will convey the message you want your readers to take with them. Your theme lays out deep truths you hope they will apply to their lives.

Do you know the theme of the memoir you are writing?

Dr. John Yeoman says, “If you can’t sum it up in a proverb, you don’t have a theme.”

Are you looking for some proverbs? Universal truths you’ve lived? Wisdom quotes you’ve lived? Bible verses you’ve lived?

Here are a few one-liners and quotes I’ve collected recently. Perhaps one or more will work for your memoir’s theme.

"In the moment, it can be hard to see where God is leading us, but looking back we often see his fingerprints." Richard Stearns

“The more one does the more one can do. “ Amelia Earhart

“If things are tough, remember that every flower that ever bloomed had to go through a whole lot of dirt to get there.” Barbara Johnson

“… Reframe setbacks as opportunities….” Sarah Young

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  Paul in Philippians 4:12

“Selfishness … keeps us in a spiritual playpen.” Elisabeth Elliot

“Don't put limits on what you and God, together, can do.”

“All around you people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely. But dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance, just don't tiptoe!” Shane Claiborne

“If you live gladly to make others glad in God, life will be hard, risks will be high, and your joy will be full.” John Piper

“What if this is a critical moment? What if this very thing, this very decision, is the most important piece of the puzzle comprising my purpose?” Beth Moore

“There’s a time to mourn and a time to dance.”  Ecclesiastes 3:4

“If you were to think of yourself the way I [God] think of you, how different you would be.… If you were to think of yourself as I think of you, how glad, how healthy, how satisfied you would be.… It is My desire that you know My thoughts toward you
that your eyes be opened
and your mind enlightened
that you may know and understand.”  Marie Chapian 

“If a person is ever going to do anything worthwhile, there will be times when he must risk everything by his leap in the dark.” Oswald Chambers

"We trust in all the love of God does; all He gives, and all He does not give; all He says, and all He does not say.... Let us be content with our Lord's will, and tell Him so, and not disappoint Him by wishing for anything He does not give." Amy Carmichael

“Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. Oh! The places you’ll go!” Dr. Seuss

“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” Arthur Golden

"Living a life of faith means never knowing where you are being led. But it does mean loving and knowing the One who is leading." Oswald Chambers

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid... the Lord your God goes with you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” Mark Twain

“The woe and the waste and the tears of life belong to the interlude and not to the finale.” F.B. Meyer

“Our loving God will turn your mourning into joy, comfort you, and exchange your sorrow for rejoicing.” Jeremiah 31:13

“Do it trembling if you must, but do it!” Emmet Fox

“The opposite of faith is not doubts, it is unbelief.” Mike Trenier

“The Lord has heard your weeping. He has heard your cry for mercy. He accepts your prayer.” Psalm 6:8-9

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, champagne in one hand, strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, Woo Hoo! What a ride!” (Various versions of this quote are attributed to various authors, including Indian Larry The Ryan Clan)

“Faith is not necessarily the power to make things the way we want them to be; it is the courage to face things as they are.” Ronald Dunn

“Write today's worries in sand. Chisel yesterday's victories in stone.” Max Lucado

“Time is nothing to God. Prayers were offered years ago and God answered the soul with silence. Now He is giving the manifestation of the answer in a revelation that we are scarcely able to comprehend.” Oswald Chambers

“Banish selfishness.”

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face... You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

"Sometimes your medicine bottle has on it, 'Shake well before using.' That is what God has to do with some of His people. He has to shake them well before they are ever usable." Vance Havner

“...What we resist in life is often our biggest opportunity to learn and grow!” Jody Stevenson

“Oh, the things you can find if you don’t stay behind!”  Dr. Seuss

“When your world falls apart, when your life spins out of control, when your worst fear materializes, when the unspeakable, unthinkable becomes a reality, when your life turns upside down, God is always with you, holding you by your right hand.” Psalm 73:23

Here are three posts to help you pin down your memoir’s theme:

Better Memoir Writing—Two Tips for Conveying Theme Effectively,” by Denis Ledoux

Why Your Story Needs a Theme,” by Amanda Patterson (She offers three steps to finding your theme.)  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Structuring your memoir: Are your vignettes defying you to organize them?

“Now comes the hard part: how to organize the … thing,” says William Zinsser.

Perhaps that’s where you find yourself today, wondering how to structure—how to arrange—your vignettes into a pleasing order.

Vignettes: Assorted memories written as stand-alone accounts. Essays, each related to your memoir’s theme .

When structured well, your collection of vignettes will tell a complete and satisfying story.

“Most people embarking upon a memoir,” Zinsser continues, “are paralyzed by the size of the task. What to put in? What to leave out? Where to start? Where to stop? How to shape the story? The past looms over them in a thousand fragments, defying them to impose on it some kind of order. Because of that anxiety, many memoirs linger for years half written, or never written at all.” (William Zinsser, How to Write a Memoir; emphasis mine)

Zinsser nailed it. My pile of vignettes has been lingering for too many years. Recently I’ve worked on several old pieces, revising, polishing, and trying to organize them, but stringing them together—finding just the right arrangement for them—is puzzling. Zinsser nailed it again: So far, my vignettes are defying me to impose on them some kind of order. How about you?

Let’s take a closer look at structuring. (Don’t miss Your memoir’s structure: think of it as your helper.)

Structuring is creating a framework for telling your story so it will have maximum impact on your readers.

"Structure is a selection of events from the character's life stories that is composed into a strategic sequence to arouse specific emotions and to express a specific view of life." (Robert McKee, Story; emphasis mine)

Finding that strategic sequence—that’s my quest. Yours too.

OK then, what are your choices for assembling your vignettes into a strategic sequence?

Perhaps the most obvious choice would be arranging them chronologically. See my previous blog post, “Where are you from” and your memoir’s structure.

Assembling your vignettes chronologically, however, might not be the best way to tell your story. For example, you could organize them by themes. If you choose a non-chronological structure, be sure to read Your personal timeline will help your memoir’s readers.

I found a helpful blog post written by PJ Reece entitled How to Create a Story Structure to Die For.

PJ writes fiction and screenplays, but her technique works for memoir, too. Jon Franklin presents a similar structure idea in Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by a Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner.

Over the past twenty years, PJ has discovered that “a conventional story is actually Two Stories. In the gap between the two lies the Heart of the Story.” And “in that dark heart of the story, the hero will experience a death.”

“Death” can be defined in various ways: failure, despair, loss, disappointment, betrayal, or an obstacle, among others. “…Failure and disappointment are integral” to stories, PJ says. “Loss and disenchantment are central to a good story.”

Story One comprises all the action leading to the hero’s disillusionment,” she explains.

Story One is about a person’s desire for something: a life-long dream, an expectation, a goal—but a complication throws up a roadblock. It can be something internal or external, and it makes fulfilling the dream seem impossible. It’s an obstacle that threatens the hope of achieving the goal. PJ describes it as “.… the chain of events that brings a hero to his knees.” (This unresolved problem supplies the all-important tension and suspense that keep readers reading to discover the problem’s resolution.)

The Heart of the Story comes next. It lies “between the failure and redemption.…” PJ describes it as the “death of the old belief system accompanied by insights into one’s higher nature.” This is where the person recognizes his hopes and expectations were unrealistic. Maybe his dreams were misguided. The time has come to challenge his assumptions. It’s where, PJ says, “most protagonists would straightaway fall into the dark heart of the story and wake-up to the facts of life.”

Story Two is about the resolution. Story Two is the new person that emerges on the other side. He has recognized his delusions and misconceptions and has made corrections. He has dealt with his failure or loss. He knows himself better. He sees his life and his place the world more accurately than before. The process was painful, but he has come out a better man, a stronger, more mature man. He now pursues the right dreams and goals in the right way.

Jon Franklin calls that progression “the odyssey from complication to resolution.”

A story that works, says Franklin, “will consist of a real person who is confronted with a significant problem, who struggles diligently to solve that problem, and who ultimately succeeds—and in doing so becomes a different character.”  (Writing for Story)

So, PJ and Franklin have shed light on the bigger picture when it comes to structuring our memoirs, but the day comes when you must pin down a specific order for your vignettes. 

If you want to arrange them according to theme  (rather than chronologically), William Zinsser suggests that once you’ve written a number of vignettes, “spread them on the floor. (The floor is often a writer’s best friend.) Read them through and see what they tell you and what patterns emerge. They will tell you what your memoir is about and what it’s not about. They will tell you what’s primary and what’s secondary, what’s interesting and what’s not, what’s emotional, what’s important, what’s funny, what’s unusual, what’s worth pursuing and expanding. You’ll begin to glimpse your story’s narrative shape and the road you want to take. Then all you have to do is put the pieces together.” (How to Write a Memoir)

You might be saying, “Yeah, right, all I have to do it put the pieces together. Easier said than done.”

If you struggle to find the structure, “you must rely on blind faith that sooner or later it will appear,” says Judith Barrington. “You may need and enjoy the freedom of relative formlessness for a while—but not forever.”

And even when you think you’ve discovered the right structure, “You must be willing to adapt it, revise it, tinker with it, or entirely rethink it.” (Judith Barrington, Writing the Memoir)

“Entirely rethink it.” That’s a good point. Maybe you’re like me: My vignettes don’t fit into just one memoir. I am dividing my stories into two or three memoirs, each with its own theme and message.

Related posts:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Two resources for you!

Today I have two resources for you.

Here’s your first, good this week only: Angela and Becca at Writers Helping Writers are offering you—yes, you!—help with your story!

They’ve rounded up what they call “a ton (and I do mean a TON!) of fantastic writers” to answer your questions about how to get published, help with a query, first line hook, pitch, platform, online visibility—“with ALL THE THINGS,” they say.

Check out this link at Writers Helping Writers for info on professional advice from a fine group of celebrity authors and editors. But hurry. This offer is good for this week only.

Your second resource is Melanie Faith's Essay Writing with Ease. This five-week course begins Friday, November 1, for people like you writing true, personal stories. (Melanie uses the term “essays” to describe what we here at SM 101 call vignettes or chapters. Bottom line: this is about writing true stories.) Melanie holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, NC.

According to the website, in the workshop:

“… you'll explore your own true stories in prose. You'll study the elements that make great (and publishable) essays, find inspiration in a weekly spotlight essay and prompts, and write and revise your own essays. Enrollment includes e-mail critiques and positive feedback on student writing.”

Click on this link to look into Essay Writing with Ease, an opportunity offered by WOW! Women on Writing.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The clock is ticking. How is your memoir coming along?

“An unfinished manuscript cannot change lives.”

Lee Roddy wrote those words.  He continues:

“Even a finished one cannot minister in a drawer or filing cabinet.
Only in published form
can a book go where you and I will never go,
to people we will never meet.”
(Lee Roddy in the Foreword, Write His Answer, by Marlene Bagnull.)

For over a decade Lee’s words have run through my mind on a regular basis.

Recently they were so noisy and persistent that I got out—not just one but two—unfinished manuscripts. I’d stuck both of them in the drawer—on disks and flash drives. I’ve been working on them the past week and it feels good. It feels like the right thing to do. The task is daunting, but I’m persevering.

So the big question is: How are you doing on writing your memoir?

Do you have a manuscript or two in some drawer or filing cabinet?—maybe on an old floppy disk, an old CD or DVD, an old hard drive, a flash drive?

If so, congratulate yourself on what you have already done.

But don’t be content with that because if you leave your stories hidden and dust-covered, they will do no one any good.

Give yourself permission to start with easy topics.

I’ve seen too many people tackle a traumatic story, only to have their still-raw emotions sidetrack them. Inevitably, discouragement leads them to abandon that story and give up on writing their other stories too.

Don’t let that happen to you! Instead, start with accounts of joyful events, delightful people, and the beauty of God’s creation. Include humorous stories.

Gradually move into stories about your harder experiences—how God helped you find a job, for example, or helped you make an important decision. For now, avoid traumatic stories because they tend to slow down your onward momentum.

Give yourself permission to start small.

The thought of writing an entire book can easily overwhelm. Instead, focus on writing short stories— vignettes—aiming at two to five pages each.

Get started on more than one vignette, and tell yourself they’re rough drafts. Knowing they are rough drafts—merely works in progress, for your eyes only—frees you from thinking you have to write perfect, publishable stuff the first time.

As you receive inspiration, over time, you can revise, edit, and polish. If you keep at it, step by step, before you know it you’ll have written a number of stories and you can compile them into chapters or sections—into some logical arrangement.

Lee says, “Only in published form” can your stories have impact, but don’t let that word “published” intimidate you. “Published” can take many forms, and nowadays publishing is easier than ever before.

Start small: Here’s what I recommend (I’ve done this several times): Create your first edition of your memoir by snapping a collection of vignettes into a three-ring binder or scrapbook.

Make your stories the very best you can through good writing and editing (preferably with help from other writers).

Hand your book to someone to read.

When you do that, you will have succeeded in “publishing” your stories. (You can always publish big-time later if there’s a market for your memoir.)

At that point, paraphrasing Lee: your memoir can change lives.

Your stories can go where you will never go, to people you will never meet.

So here’s the deal: You and I must want to write our stories. We must want to invest in our kids and grandkids.

We must see writing our stories is a ministry, not a hobby!

In most cases, if you and I don’t write our stories, no one will. They will go to the grave with us because, after all,

Remember … your children were not the ones
who saw and experienced … the Lord,
… his majesty, his mighty hand.…
It was not your children
who saw what he did for you
in the desert until you arrived at this place.…
Deuteronomy 11:2-7 (NIV)

The clock is ticking. We must be intentional about finishing our memoirs.







Thursday, October 3, 2013

Memoirists want to be noticed, right?

Let’s be honest: Memoirists want recognition for not only our struggles and victories, but also for the effort we put into writing and publishing our stories.

Memoirists dream of book signings, TV interviews, newspaper reviews, blog tours, and speaking engagements. We seek affirmation, admiration, and applause.

But if we are serious God-followers, is public acclaim our primary goal?

In her Bible study, Gideon, Priscilla Shirer helps clarify the answer for anyone called to a “spotlight” ministry—not to just writing, but also to music, drama, leading Bible study, teaching, preaching, blogging, speaking, and so many others.

Abraham, the founding father of the Jewish faith and nation, led God’s people to the promised land. He inspires us still today as the father of all who believe and live by faith (Romans 4:11-12, 16; Galatians 3:7, 9, 29).

God promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, as countless as the sand on the seashore (Genesis 13:14-17; 22:17-18). God also promised that all nations on earth would be blessed through Abraham (Genesis 18:18).

Simply put, Abraham was a giant among the heroes of faith.

Priscilla points out that before Abraham would see God’s promises fulfilled, before he would become a celebrity in the realms of faith and obedience and leadership, he had to concentrate on something not so much in the spotlight.    

God said He had chosen Abraham to teach his children, family, and household to obey Him, to live the way God desired, to live in ways that are right and fair. “Then,” God said, “then I, the Lord, will do for Abraham what I have promised him” (Genesis 18:19, NIRV; emphasis mine).

In other words, God told Abraham to focus on his own children and household prior to getting involved in the world-changing stuff recorded in history.

Gideon had a similar experience. God told him to save Israel from the seven years of severe oppression they’d endured from the Midianites. God said, “Go! I’m sending you, and I’ll be with you” (Judges 6:14-16).

Gideon probably envisioned himself setting out to save a prominent nation. Maybe he dreamed of getting his name recorded in history books. After all, God called him a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). Instead, God told him to start at home.

God told Gideon, like He told Abraham, to focus on his family before getting involved in the world-changing stuff recorded in history. (See Judges 6:25.)

Similarly, Priscilla challenges us to focus on people closest to us and to listen for what God is asking us to do with and for them.

“Choosing to do our primary work in the smaller, less noticeable spheres and devote our best gifts there is often a foreign thought to us,” writes Priscilla.

Our “innermost circles are often the ones that offer the least amount of recognition,” she says. “This is why so many people try to circumvent them.” (Gideon; emphasis mine) 

Ouch. Priscilla nailed it, didn’t she?

She continues, “God had strategically set Gideon in this family, in this tribe, and in this valley for a reason. He fully intended to call and equip Gideon to affect his closest relationships before moving on to something and someone else.”

Isn’t that an affirmation of what Spiritual Memoirs 101 is all about?

“Always remember what you’ve seen God do for you,
and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren!”
Deuteronomy 4:9

My God and King,
… Let each generation tell its children
of your mighty acts;
let them proclaim your power.
Psalm 145:1, 4 (NLT)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength.
These commands I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
Impress them upon your children.
Talk about them when you sit at home
and when you walk along the road,
when you lie down and when you get up.
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them to your foreheads.
Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:5-9 (NIV)

God might indeed call you to a prominent ministry in which you’re acclaimed for your memoir.

God might call you to book signings, TV interviews, newspaper reviews, blog tours, and speaking engagements.

Perhaps God is calling you to that larger ministry in the same way He called Abraham and Gideon: to start with those closest to you, to nurture them toward becoming people after God’s own heart.

Priscilla’s charge caught my attention. I need to make changes. I want to cut back on activities (like Facebook) that distract me from what really matters—in this case, compiling God-and-me stories for my kids and grandkids.

From two professional circles I’ve been urged to get involved in Pinterest, but now I wonder if that, too, wouldn’t distract me from focusing on those closest to me. I’m praying for God to lead me.

What about you? 

God has strategically placed you in your family, in your tribe, and in your "valley" for a reason.

Have you pinpointed your most important audience and activities? What changes do you need to make so you can focus on what really matters?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

“No memoirist should start … until.…”

“Do you love?” asks Beth Kephart. “Are you still learning to love?”

“It’s a question for all of us, and it’s a question we must repeatedly ask ourselves, especially when we’re writing memoir.” (Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir)

Beth, author of five memoirs, says that if we don’t know what we love,

if we’re not capable of loving,

if we’re focused too much on self (“if we’re stuck in a stingy, fisted-up place”),

if we’re too angry,

if we haven’t allowed grace to take the edge off disappointments,

if “we haven’t stopped hurting long enough to look up and see the others who hurt with us,”

if we “only have words … for our mighty wounds and our percolating scars,”

then it’s likely too soon to begin writing memoir.

Instead, Beth offers this starting point: Make a list of little things that bring you happiness, those things that embrace beauty and goodness and love.

Her suggestion reminds me of Philippians 4:8, “Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about” (The Living Bible).

The Message says it this way: “… You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

Beth advises, “Practice gratitude. Rest assured you’ll be given a chance to tell the whole story soon. But start, for now, with love.” (from Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir; emphasis mine)

Beth is speaking at the Memoir Summit at Rosemont College in Philadelphia on Sunday, October 20, 2013. For info about how you can participate in four free workshops with experts in the craft of writing memoir, click on the link above.

Critically acclaimed young adult fiction writer and author of five memoirs, Beth is also a writing instructor at University of Pennsylvania and a National Book Award finalist. Check out her blog, Beth Kephart Books.

Remember to participate in the book giveaway.
Click here for info.