Thursday, February 27, 2014

Writing your memoir: a way to worship

“Our present enjoyment of God’s grace
tends to be lessened
by the memory of yesterday’s sins and blunders.
But God is the God of our yesterdays,
and He allows the memory of them
to turn the past into a
ministry of spiritual growth for our future.”
(Oswald Chambers; emphasis mine)

I would add to that, “and a ministry for those who hear our stories.”

Your stories might be more important than you realize. They can help others know and experience that God, in his elaborate grace,

heals the brokenhearted,

proclaims freedom for captives,

releases prisoners from darkness,

comforts all who mourn,

provides for those who grieve,

bestows a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

gladness instead of mourning,

praise instead of despair,

for the display of His splendor. 
(Isaiah 61:1-3)

Write your stories: 
Tell others how God has done such things for you. 
He can use your words to bless and encourage others.

Use your writing and your memoir 
to honor God. 
Offer them up to Him as a fragrant offering.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sprinkle gold coins in the middle

Your stories are important. But will anyone read them? All the way through? A few gold nuggets could make it happen.

Your potential readers have countless distractions and they all compete with your memoir.

Just think of it: the Internet, iPhones, movies, athletics, TV, hobbies, texting, exercising, magazines, Twitter, Facebook, friends, chores, other people’s books—and more.

Twenty-some years ago, I read one brief sentence I’ve always remembered:

(Peter Jacobi)

You cannot force anyone to read your stories, no matter how important they are. 

You know what it’s like to sit down with a book or magazine anticipating—even craving—a good read, only to be bored.

And you know very well that story does not have a divine right to be read. You feel no hesitation in dropping it and looking for something better to read.

You don’t want readers to do that with your stories. What can you do?

First, hook them with a killer lead.

Throughout your manuscript, make ‘em laugh, cry, and wait.

Your stories are important. To keep readers reading, pay special attention to the middle of your stories.

Keep them reading by “placing gold coins along the path.”

Don Fry coined that phrase. It goes something like this:

Picture yourself making your way down a narrow path in a thick forest. (I’m picturing one with tangled, soggy underbrush in western Washington’s rain forest.) You’ve been hiking a mile when you spot a gold coin on the ground. You snatch it up and put it in your pocket. You trek a mile deeper into the woods, find another gold coin, and slip it into your pocket. Think about it: Would you keep traipsing through the forest, hoping for another gold coin? Sure! Most of us would hike another mile for another gold coin. (from Writing Tools, Roy Peter Clark)

“Think of a gold coin as any bit that rewards the reader,” says Roy Peter Clark, a master teacher of writing and one of my favorite mentors for decades.

“With no gold coins for motivation, the reader may drift out of the forest.”

Don’t let them drift out of your forest!

Don’t let their interest fade! Scatter gold coins especially in the middle of your stories!

Even the old Bard himself, Shakespeare, gave out gold coins in the middle of his plays.

Clark offers these ideas for developing “dramatic and comic high points,” gold coins to drop within your stories:

  • a small scene (the setting)
  • a relevant anecdote
  • a startling fact
  • a significant quotation

I can think of other ideas:

  • a quirky anecdote
  • a little-known fact
  • an intriguing historical fact
  • foreshadowing an important twist or turning point or crossroads in your story
  • raising a question
  • Can you think of others? Leave your ideas in the comments section below.

In his Writing Tools: 50 essential strategies for every writer, Clark offers practical recommendations:

  • Study other people’s writing and movies for strategic placement of gold coins.
  • If you’re doing research for your stories, recognize gold coins when you stumble upon them and be sure to use them in your stories.
  • Examine one of your rough drafts and notice gold coins—“any story element that shines”—and mark them with a star. Note their placement. Are they in the best place?
  • Study the middle of your story. Does it include significant gold coins—rewards for your readers? If not, write in some nuggets or move them from other parts of your manuscript.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished?"

“Someday, I will die, and all the [books] I dreamed of writing will die with me,” writes Joe Bunting.  

“Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished?”
Christina Rossetti

Sometimes we memoirists get stuck—distracted, uninspired—and we set aside our writing.

Nagging thoughts break through sometimes and remind us we should write, but we stall, we make excuses.

Is that where you are this week?

When you and I get into a slump, first we need to congratulate ourselves on what we have already written!

Next, we need to ask ourselves, Do I want to write my memoir? Do I want to do this for my kids and grandkids and great-grandkids?

If you do, get out one of your rough drafts. Read it aloud. That alone should motivate you to revise for clarity, to add, delete, rearrange, and polish.

Victoria Costello offers this advice for getting un-stuck:

Get off the Internet. Give yourself a time limit for checking email and Facebook and all those other enticing sites.

Post your deadline above your desk. Hold yourself accountable.

Small steps are better than no steps. “… Remember that a memoir is simply a string of personal vignettes. Take small steps and focus on finishing one sentence, one paragraph, and one vignette at a time.”

Borrow juice from other writers. Victoria suggest reading “anthologies of writerly inspiration.” She says, “Reading someone else’s excellent writing inspires the writer in me to get over myself and try some of my own.” (from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Memoir, by Victoria Costello)

Joe Bunting asks himself, “…What books must I complete to die satisfied?”

He asks all of us, “What books do you want to write before you die? …”

The clock is ticking.
Be intentional.
Be disciplined.
Resolve to make at least a little progress: Set daily or weekly goals.

Disclaimer: For review purposes, I received a free copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Memoir.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The power and potential of your words

Words are curious things—merely a series of sounds strung together.

Some words sound strange—even hilarious—words like shtick, onomatopoeia, and algorithm—but each has significance, meaning.

Other languages include weird sounds, too, like clicks and whistles.

In one language group (in Brazil, as I recall), the alphabet includes a sound people make by flinging their tongues out and touching their chins. (I can’t imagine dinnertime conversations! Yikes!)

No matter how odd, those sounds have significance, they mean something to those who speak them and those who hear them.

Have you ever considered how special it is to have the use of words?

Birds don’t have words. Dogs don’t have words. Whales don’t have words. They make a handful of sounds, but they can communicate only a few basic messages.

Humans, on the other hand, have thousands of words:

The Oxford English Dictionary includes a quarter of a million distinct words. And just think—they are ours to use! 

David Powlison estimates a person says around 20,000 words a day, give or take a few. (Speaking Truth In Love, from book description.)

We have more than spoken words: We have written words—merely shapes and scratches on a paper, or black squiggles on a computer screen.

In today’s world, there are 7,105 living languages—they’re still in use—and 696 of them have no written form. Did you know?

Just think how special it is that we have the use of written words. We mustn’t take for granted the impact, the power, the potential of those little black squiggles.

The words we chose, the way we string them together, the sounds they make—they matter, they  make a difference

Words, both spoken and written, express feelings, ideas, and concepts.

Words entertain, comfort, warn, charm, redirect, frighten, inspire, guide, inform, challenge, enlighten.

Words can roar. Words can whisper.

They create scenery, make a heart race, conjure up tastes, cause laughter—and tears, surround with fragrance, recreate textures and touches. 

Words are powerful. They can make a person swoon, melt: “I love you. Will you marry me?”

Words delight, thrill: “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” or “You won!” or “You’re hired!”

Words can destroy, cripple: “I hate you and I never want to see you again,” or “You’re a failure and you’ll never amount to anything.”

Words can discourage, humiliate and defeat, but words can also build up and heal and encourage.

Words can wound, but they can also restore and nurture.

Words matter. My words matter. Your words matter.

Words have a lasting impact.
Let’s use our words carefully.
Let’s use our words for good.