Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: If your life's not a “perfect, bright-shining example,” should you write a memoir?

Sooo...... Your life isn't a "perfect, bright-shining example," in the words of Oswald Chambers.

In case you need a reminder, 
no one's life is a "perfect, bright-shining example." 
We've all messed up, time after time after time. 

That's why God's grace is so important! 

Make a conscious decision: 
Write stories that celebrate the mercy 
and grace and kindness 
God has given you!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Maximize your stories’ power by including reflection

“…Memoirs are much more than memories put to paper….
Memoirs are comprised of two important elements:
scene (narrative) and reflection.
Without reflection, you do not have a memoir—
you have a vignette or series of vignettes
that describes events,
but does not imbue the events with meaning and relevance.
Meaning and relevance come from reflection.” 

The beauty of memoir shines brightest when the author reflects on the meaning and relevance of his or her experiences.

I’m talking about a willingness to make time to return to your story’s key events, to decode, to analyze, to rethink: What did you learn about yourself? How did the experience change your life? What new person did you become?

Your life’s story is much deeper and higher and wider than the story that’s on the surface. Probing and questioning and unraveling will help you discover significance you probably missed earlier, and discovering that can be life-changing for you as well as for your readers.

In writing their books, at key points in the story memoirists step aside to write segments of reflection. Good writers avoid simplistic “and they lived happily ever after” fluff.

For the benefit of (a) your readers and (b) yourself, take plenty of time to discover the core—the heart, the soul—of the significant events in your story.

Keep this in mind, however: You might not know the real significance until you’ve written your story and have taken time to mull it over. That process could take days, or months, or even years.

Let me show you what I mean. Below are excerpts (for brevity’s sake) from a piece I wrote several years ago (for my memoir-in-progress with the working title, Oh, God, Don’t Make Me Go, Don’t Make Me Go!) I’ll stop along the way to make important points:

Rural South America

February, 1978

I trudged up the steep hill, dusty red. It was only 7:45 in the morning and already sweat ran down my forehead and back. I looked forward to reaching level ground at the top and turning left toward my office, but first I would stop at the post office.

Every day I delighted in peeking into our cubbyhole and finding mail from loved ones in the U.S. That had always been the best part of my day.

But today, like so many days recently, my stomach knotted at the thought of what I might find in our mail slot. Would today be the day? Would we get our financial statement from two months ago and learn the bad news?
I rounded the corner at the top of the hill and stepped into the cool shade of the post office. I reached into our cubbyhole. Yes, this was the day. My throat went dry as I unfolded our financial statement.

Two months earlier, my husband, Dave, had fallen mysteriously ill. There we were, at the end of the road in the middle of nowhere, working with Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). We had no doctor, but we had a nurse. Alarmed at Dave’s symptoms, she insisted he had to go to the capital city for prompt medical treatment.…

… The doctors eventually sent him back home to us, but not before he had run up a bill of $400. That was a huge amount back in the 1970s, and it was $400 more than we had.
We were not paid employees of SIL. Nobody was. Instead, we depended on donations from people back home, which they sent to our California headquarters and earmarked for our family. Sometimes people sent money every month but others sent donations only occasionally—so we never knew our financial status.

That was further complicated because it took two months to receive our financial statements from California and find out how much money we had. We’d always lived within our means, with a lot of effort, but we never had a surplus and certainly not the enormous amount of $400 for Dave’s doctor bills. And that’s why my stomach knotted on the way to work, wondering, “Is this the day we’ll get our financial statement and learn we have no money left for food and rent?”
Now that dreaded day had come. I stood in the post office, financial statement in hand. My eyes skimmed down the alphabetical list of donors. To my surprise, among the B’s was a name I’d never seen on our list before: Bill and Marion Best. I’d grown up in their church, and I’d babysat their kids a few times, but I hadn’t seen them for years. My eyes ran across the page to see the amount they’d sent. It was $400, the exact amount of Dave’s medical bills.
“Wait a minute,” I said to myself. “Dave’s bills were incurred two months ago.” I checked the date the Bests’ money had arrived in California: just days before Dave’s illness. How could they have known?
I fought tears. How could this have happened?
God tells us, “… Before they call, I will answer….” (Isaiah 65:24). Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). Yes, even before Dave got sick, even before we knew we’d have a need, God worked in the Bests’ hearts to meet our need.

I ended my vignette here the first time: I had discovered what God was doing on my family’s behalf in the midst of our worrisome experience. As a result, I no longer looked at those Bible passages from merely an academic standpoint because I had personally experienced the message of those words: I had experienced God at work.

A few months after I’d written that ending, however, I realized that deeper lessons awaited my discovery, hidden beneath the surface, so I dug down and here’s what I added to the original ending:

It’s important to understand that God doesn’t promise to solve all our problems even before we know about them. He says He knows what we need even before we do, and He even says, “Before they call, I will answer,” but His answer might be, “Wait a while for the solution,” because sometimes God needs to work in our hearts, and maybe other people’s hearts, before we are ready for His answer. God might not have nudged the Bests to send their $400 when they did. Or perhaps He could have nudged them, but they’d put it off for a couple of months. Or maybe God had altogether different ways of meeting our need, but here’s the point I learned: He hears our prayers and when His time is right, He provides.

That was my second ending, but a few months later, after writing other vignettes, I spent time pondering and reflectingnecessary ingredients in memoir—and to my surprise I recognized a pattern in my stories and therefore a pattern in my life. In doing so, I had discovered additional significant lessons, so I added to my vignette’s ending (which I’m still tweaking):

So why had my stomach knotted over our medical bills? Because I doubted God’s desire to help. Looking back over my life, I now see a pattern: Too many times I doubted God’s willingness to help me. I had been viewing God as a fair-weather friend—fickle, unpredictable—someone I could not always count on through thick and thin. Now I’m ashamed of that attitude. It must hurt God so much for me to doubt Him. And come to think of it, my attitude must deeply offend Him.

Imagine! Suspecting God of being untrustworthy! Yet He patiently keeps showing me that He is trustworthy. I am a slow learner, but a major turning point occurred once I recognized my pattern of doubting God. Since that day in 1978, my faith has been more settled than before: I am more relaxed in God’s love, and with His help I am trusting Him more and more.

That’s what I meant at the beginning of today’s post: The beauty of memoir shines brightest when the author reflects on the meaning and relevance of his or her experiences.

Recognizing God’s involvement in your life transforms you and deepens your faith for the future. But God also uses your stories to bless, heal, and encourage your readers.

Here’s the key: You must take time to reflect, to dig deeper:

What patterns did you discover—patterns you hadn’t noticed before?

What did you learn about God? Do you now have a better understanding of His involvement in your life? His purpose for your life? How did your experience strengthen your faith for future challenges?

As a result, what new person did you become?

Dig deeply to discover what God has done for you, 
in you, through you—
every day, every step of the way, 
through the best of times and the worst of times.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Polish your writing skills at a writers conference

Cecil Murphey says, 

“If your New Year’s resolution 
was to learn how to write 
or to become a better writer, 
one of the best decisions you can make 
is to attend a writers conference.”

In March, Cec will be the keynote speaker at the Blue Lake Christian Writers Retreat held at Blue Lake Camp in Andalusia, Alabama.

Cec is a man I studied under at a writers conference a few years ago, a man with a most remarkable heart and extraordinary skill. He has authored or co-authored more books than any other living writer—135 books and counting. Several have been on the New York Times bestseller list for years at a time.

In addition to two keynote speeches, he will teach three workshops (see below) and will take appointments for one-on-one mentoring.

Cec’s three workshops are Ghostwriting, Memoirs and Autobiographies, and Writing About the Hard Issues.

In his workshop on memoirs and autobiographies, Cec will teach the difference between the two and how to write both.

I can’t think of a better person than Cec to teach a workshop on Writing About the Hard Issues. This dear man has experienced more than his share of hardships—and yet he has survived and thrived and now loves to help others do the same. The conference website describes his workshop this way: 

Because of the pain and the trials in your life, 
you have a message 
that can offer healing and encouragement 
to others
But to write about them effectively 
you must relive the experiences 
and allow old emotions to emerge
We’ll discuss how to make these feelings work for you 
to deeply impact readers.”

Give serious consideration to attending this retreat. It could change your life and your writing.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

We don’t know what we don’t know about publishing memoirs

If you plan to self-publish your memoir (rather than publish in the traditional way), do your best to make it professional. (Too many self-publishers fail to do so nowadays.) Promise yourself you’ll publish a memoir that’s of professional quality!

Writing coach, publisher, and author Brooke Warner says, “There are so many things authors omit…because they don’t know what they don’t know.”

To remedy that, Brooke says those who wish to self-publish “must be a student of publishing.”

It takes a long time to become a pro, but we all can be students of publishing. The more we study and apply what we learn, the more proficient we become. With the help of others, we can publish a book of professional quality.

And Brooke Warner helps writers do just that in her blog and her book, Green-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of Publishing.

If you’re serious about being a student of publishing, you’ll appreciate tips Brooke shared in a recent blog post, The Top 10 Mistakes Authors Make and How It Costs Them. She writes about the following:

  1. Bad book cover and interior book design
  2. Foregoing editorial work
  3. Pricing books too high
  4. Not purchasing ISBNs
  5. Making books non-returnable
  6. Setting the wrong discount
  7. Omitting metadata that matters
  8. Using fake blurbs or endorsements
  9. Not embedding the price in the barcode
  10. Omitting things that matter to book industry people

To study Brooke’s post, click on The Top 10 Mistakes Authors Make and How It Costs Them.

In Joel Friedlander’s recent post, 7 Signs Your Book is “Professionally Published,” he writes, “As the movement to self-publishing has grown…publishing industry insiders urge authors to take the time and trouble to make sure their books are ‘professionally published.’”

He points out that if we fail to do so, others will surely notice that “it’s an amateur production, and that won’t speak well about the care you’ve taken with your book.”

To avoid publishing an amateur product, Friedlander offers the following seven tips, along with helpful links to additional important tips. (Don’t miss them!)

  1. Proper editing
  2. A cover that works
  3. Text that’s readable
  4. Market positioning
  5. Distribution that’s appropriate
  6. A marketing plan
  7. Metadata

You can study Friedlander’s post by clicking on 7 Signs Your Book is “Professionally Published.

Publishing your memoir might seem like a lot of work but be encouraged: Stories are important. That’s why we work so hard to publish a book that’s professional in quality.

Think back: Whose stories, written or spoken:
  • brought you to a major turning point? 
  • Gave you courage to do the right thing?
  • Revolutionized your life?
  • Shaped your values and goals?
  • Kept you from doing something stupid?
  • Kept you from ruining your life, and maybe other people’s lives?
  • Brought you healing and hope?
  • Led you to new opportunities?

You know from personal experience how powerful other people’s stories can be.

Believe this: Your story can impact your readers in the same way.  

Someone, or probably several people, need to know your stories. Make them as professional as they can be. You can do that by networking with pros and being a student of writing and publishing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit—A learning opportunity: Read like a writer

Over at Writing Through Life, Amber Lea Starfire has introduced her new Reading for Writers series focused on memoir, beginning with Beryl Markham’s West with the Night.

Participants will analyze one book per quarter. Discussions will include impressions, tone, voice, pace, structure, the writer’s style, and word choices.

Amber’s goal is to help each of us read like a writer
in order to make us better writers,
and that’s what I want!

 I plan to participate.

How about you?

Click here to learn more about Amber’s Reading for Writers series.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Does your memoir capture God in your everydayness?

Jesus said, “Go tell your family everything God has done for you” (Luke 8:39). That’s what writing a memoir is about!

That doesn’t mean you have to write about only God. That doesn’t mean you must write His name on every page, or even in every chapter.

But your job as a memoirist is, first, to recognize and know that God was involved in all you experienced and, second, to  explain that to your readers, especially in the end, in your grand finale.

But, you might be saying, I’ve lived such a mundane life—just a normal, commonplace life. Nothing noteworthy has happened to me or my family.

If that’s the way you see your life, wait! Ponder Heschel’s words in I Asked For Wonder:

And isn’t Heschel correct? The Bible is full of stories
about God’s involvement in everyday trivialities.

And God has been involved in your ordinary, unremarkable days
Don’t doubt it!

Think about young David,
year after year herding his sheep,
living a quiet, apparently insignificant life.

Yet God joined with him there
and taught him
and prepared him for his future
and inspired him to write those precious Psalms.

(How much poorer our lives would be
without those shepherd-boy’s writings!)

Your job is to peel back layers and dig for those gems—God-things that were happening, which perhaps you didn’t recognize at the time—and when you discover them, you will be full of wonder!

So, write your stories. They are importantif they weren’t, we wouldn’t find instructions in both Old and New Testaments to tell our children and grandchildren what we’ve seen God do for us. Writing your memoir is not a hobbyit’s a ministry!

Keep plugging away. Eventually you’ll finish your collection of vignettes and you can publish your memoir. When you do, you’ll have done what Jesus said—you’ll have told your family what God has done for you and for them.

When you do that, be sure to let us know here at SM 101. 

(On Tuesday, Linda Moore Kurth left a comment 
on her almost-complete memoir. 
Congratulations, Linda! 

How about the rest of you? 
How much of your memoir have you finished? 
We'd love to hear from you!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Start off 2017 with writing!

Have you started writing your memoir yet?
Or are you still procrastinating?

Or maybe you started writing your memoir
but got distracted. 

Perhaps, like me, you set aside your WIP
(work in progress)
over the holidays.

Whatever, it's time to write!

Check out Chloe Yelena Miller's