Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Tuesday Tidbit: I’m almost ready to publish my memoir!

Look at this! After formatting all 42 chapters (or is it 43?) of my new memoir, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go!, I just formatted the epilogue. Woot! Woot!

Now I need to format endnotes, glossary, author bio, acknowledgments—those things that go at the end of the book.

—And tweak the stuff at the beginning of the book, like Table of Contents.

—And resize photos to be sure they’ll work for the book and the ebook. That could take me a while.

—And do final copyediting.

—And buy ISBN numbers.

And then my cover designer can get to work. He says it might take up to three weeks.

So now you know what I’m up to these days. It’s a super busy time, but I’ve been having so much fun.

It won’t be long before I can hold a real book in my hands—and you can, too!

Check out my Facebook Page for Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go! and my author page on Facebook, Linda K. Thomas, Author.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

In light of current tragedies, how can your memoir inspire hope?

In light of current tragedies and heartaches—wildfires, drought, floods, ongoing mass shootings, a dysfunctional government, farmers reeling over low prices and loss of sales because of tariffs, children separated from their parents—how can your memoir offer hope to people who so desperately need it?

At times like this, the following well-known tale takes on new relevance:

A shipwreck survivor, alone on a desert island, prayed for God to rescue him.

He built a hut and waited for God to answer.

Day after day, he prayed. But one day his hut burned to the ground.

Devastated, confused, he cried out, “Why didn’t God rescue me? Why did He let my hut burn down? Why? Why?”

The next day a ship arrived and rescued the man.

“How did you know I was here?" he asked the captain.

“We saw your smoke signal,” he answered.

Several years ago, Cavin Harper told that story on his blog at Christian Grandparenting Network. His perspective was spot-on for memoirists, whether writing for children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or a broader audience.

Cavin wrote:

“Our grandchildren need to know
that no matter what may come,
God knows how to make smoke signals
and rescue us in our troubles.
How do you communicate words of hope
to your grandchildren in the face of tragedy
and senseless violence?”

As much as we long to live happily ever after, bad stuff happens to good people. Like Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.”

You’ve experienced your own shipwrecks and burned huts, haven’t you? Tragedies and sorrows, maybe even violence, crime, abuse. I’ve experienced my own heartaches, too, and somehow you and I survived.

Your readers long to triumph over their own shipwrecks and burned huts. What stories can you write to help them? What, specifically, was that “somehow” that led you to the other side of your tragedy?

One of my favorite Bible passages is Psalm 77 in which Asaph spoke of crying out to God. “When I cried out in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out my untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.” You’ve been there, right?

Poor Asaph said he was too troubled even to speak. I’ve been there, too.

Maybe you recall weeks or months or years when you, like Asaph, wondered, “Will the Lord . . . never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful?”

You remember that desperation, don’t you?

Next comes the part I like best. Asaph says, “This is my anguish; But I will remember . . .” (v. 10, NKJV). “I will remember the works of the Lord.” He determined to remember.

The NIV Study Bible footnote points out that this was Asaph’s “Faith’s decision to look beyond the present troubles—and God’s bewildering inactivity—to draw help anew from God’s saving acts of old.”

That’s it! We hold on for dear life by remembering what God did in the past.

And, like Asaph, we make a deliberate decision to trust God’s faithfulness based on His previous faithfulness to us. We make a deliberate decision to believe that even if God seems mysteriously absent, He is working on our behalf.

Think back to a trying situation. Perhaps God seemed absent, but later you discovered He’d been busy arranging a way for you to survive. And you went on with your life, and it was good.

Asaph, in the next chapter of Psalms, writes:

“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done . . . which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they, in turn, would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God. . .” (Psalm 78:4-7).

Isn’t that what our memoirs are all about?

Remember Cavin’s words:

“Our grandchildren need to know
that no matter what may come,
God knows how to make smoke signals
and rescue us in our troubles.
How do you communicate words of hope
to your grandchildren in the face of tragedy
and senseless violence?

Write your stories!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Tuesday Tidbit: Your suffering and ashes—and gold and pearls

Consider including a story in your memoir about suffering through something horrific, only to find a good outcome.

Think back to a time you experienced the weight Richter wrote of, a burden that threatened to undo you—but in the end, it led you to “pearls.”

Job knew about such suffering. He wrote that God “knows where I am going. And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold” (Job 23:10 NLT). 

A long time ago, in Streams in the Desert, Mrs. Charles E. Cowman said of that verse, “When the fire is hottest, hold still, for there will be a blessed ‘afterward;’ and with Job we may be able to say, ‘. . . I shall come forth as gold.’”

She also says “It takes eleven tons of pressure on a piano to tune it. God will tune you to harmonize with Heaven’s key-note if you stand the strain.”   

And God said, “I will give them a crown [of beauty] to replace their ashes, and the oil of gladness to replace their sorrow, and clothes of praise to replace their spirit of sadness” (Isaiah 61:3, NCV).

What experiences come to mind when you read these verses?

Someone needs to know your story.
Someone needs to learn how you endured
and found that blessed afterward.
Someone needs to know specifics
about how you came to possess
your gold and pearls, beauty, gladness, and praise.

Write your stories!

There you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

“Disturb us, Lord, when . . . .”

You want to change your readers, not just entertain them.

Be sure at least some of your memoir’s stories challenge your readers to think.

Make them question. Challenge them to stretch, to look under the surface, and wrestle with issues.

Move them to examine their assumptions and expectations to see if they’re valid.

Write stories that will give readers a holy discontent with things that are not right in their lives—not to make them wallow in guilt, but to offer them better options. “Come close to God, and God will come close to you. . . . Purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. . . . Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor” (James 4:8-10, NLT). Also see John 14:27.

Write stories that will give them a holy discontent with the ways of the world—trinkets and meaningless mindsets and pursuits—so they can live lives of substance and purpose. Think about what Jesus meant when he said, “You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world” (John 15:19). Also see Romans 12:2.

The following prayer teems with ideas for such vignettes in your memoir.

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrive safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our effort to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
Attributed to Sir Francis Drake, 1577

Did Drake’s prayer give you ideas for stories to include in your memoir? I hope so!

Look at the first couple of lines: “Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves.”
  • What does “too well pleased with ourselves” mean to you, specifically?
  • What past events come to mind?
  • When were you too pleased with yourself?
  • What were the results of that mindset?
  • Why would/should we pray for God to disturb us over that attitude?
  • What lessons can you share with your readers?

Look at the next couple of lines: “Disturb us, Lord, when . . . our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little.”
  • What does dreaming “too little” mean?
  • When did you dream too little?
  • What was the result?
  • Why should you have prayed for God to disturb you over your wimpy dreams?
  • Tell your readers the lessons you learned and how you could have done things differently. In this way, you are mentoring them.

Sift through your memories for stories that illustrate “Disturb us, Lord, when . . . we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore,” and when we focus on “an abundance of things.”

Then look at the third stanza.
  • When did a different you dare more boldly and venture into wilder seas where, as a result, storms showed you God’s mastery?
  • What can you write about discovering the stars?
  • You’ll want to explain what the following mean: “wider seas,” “storms,” “God’s mastery,” “losing sight of the land,” and finding “stars.”

Conclude with your thoughts about the final stanza.

Remember, writing your memoir is not just a hobby. It’s a ministry.

God can use our story to guide, inspire, encourage, influence, motivate, and empower.

“Sometimes a particular story, or version of a story, is so potent,” says Ayd Instone, “that it becomes so interwoven in our lives that it defines the direction our life story takes and modifies behavior. . . . [For example,] I’ve seen teenagers who changed the direction of their lives to become teachers after seeing the film, The Dead Poets Society.”

In a similar way, your memoir can change your readers.

You’ll have to work hard to make it happen,
but you can do it!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tuesday Tidbit: Hemingway’s advice for you

“Don’t be discouraged because there’s a lot of technical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it,” said Ernest Hemingway, advising a beginning writer, Arnold Samuelson, age 19.

“It’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.”

Read that last part again: “so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.”

You want readers to enter your story, to experience your story alongside you. That’s how your story can make a difference in their lives. That’s how God can use your story to inspire, heal, and mentor your readers.

Work hard to make your memoir that kind of memoir.

Join (or form) a writing group. Critique each other’s manuscripts.

Attend writers’ conferences.

Study the best writing books available, like On Writing Well by William Zinsser, The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long, and Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington.

Follow the best writing blogs, too. I recommend the blogs in the right column.  

To make your memoir the very best it can be, you’ll need to make revisions and edits, but it will be worth it in the end.

Pray about your writing and rewriting. Ask God to guide your work and use your finished memoir to bless others. 

There you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Writing about when your darkness turned to light

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person,” said Albert Schweitzer. “Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Read those two sentences again and pause to think:

How many times has your light dimmed and faltered, only to be rekindled by a spark from another person?

In what ways did God arrange events to bring that person into your life?

Maybe he or she was a neighbor, or a grocery clerk, a fireman, a four-year-old, a librarian, a conference speaker, your best friend, a new friend, or even a stranger you never saw again.

Back then, you might not have recognized God’s efforts to bring that person into your life, but it’s not too late!

Be deliberate. Make time to remember.

Ponder what happened. Snap the puzzle pieces together. Connect the dots and notice the ways God hovered close, using that person to lighten your burden, to rekindle your light.

Uncover it, even if it takes weeks or months.

Here’s a suggestion:

Make yourself a working document, a three-column list, one column for your dark events, a second column for the people who shared their light, and a third column to make notes about specifics that come to mind.

Some, if not all, of those incidents are stories to write in your memoir.

When you write, dig deep. And deeper. Refuse to skim over the shallow surface of life.
  • What did you learn about yourself through both the dimming of your light and the rekindling of it?
  • What new and better person did you become?
  • As a result, how did your life change?
  • What did you learn about God?
  • How did the experience strengthen your faith?

When you write about those experiences, you are saying, like David in Psalm 18:28, “My God turns my darkness into light.”

2 Peter 2:9 speaks to those chosen by God, set apart, belonging to God, for a purpose: “that you might declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Just think!
Through your memoir you can pass on to others
the light someone gave to you!

It can reach into the lives and hearts and minds
of those whose lights have dimmed and faltered.

Your memoir can rekindle a spark
that can grow into bright flames of light.

Wow! Just Wow!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tuesday Tidbit: How to describe key characters in your memoir

What can you do to fully develop your memoir’s key characters?

Here’s a suggestion. Study how other writers have done it—look through memoirs, novels, newspapers, and magazines.

Studying such resources can be a fascinating and rich time of learning for you.

But here’s a word of caution: Choose to learn from only accomplished writers. Don’t waste your time reading trashy stuff!

There you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

“You leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences”

Maybe your place soothed you, maybe it roughed you up.

Your place, its geography and culture, impacted how you think—and even how you speak.

“How hard it is to escape from places!
However carefully one goes, they hold you—
you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences,
little rags and shreds of your very life.”
(Katherine Mansfield, English writer)

Perhaps your place’s weather impacted your appearance. And maybe even the way you work.

For example, after living on the equator for 11 years, where blazing heat forces people to move s-l-o-w-l-y, I’ve concluded that my most significant place, western Washington, and the Pacific Northwest’s cool, clammy climate, allows folks to accomplish a lot more than a hot climate does.

The geographical factor, in turn, influences and persuades when it comes to philosophies, accomplishments, and lifestyles. In Seattle, I rubbed elbows with others that high-energy region begat:

Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft (Bill Gates went to high school in our part of town), Costco, Boeing (I grew up a five-minute walk from Bill Boeing’s property and, as a kid, took many a hike through his woods), Nordstroms (I went to school with one of the Nordstroms).

In Seattle, in contrast to equatorial living, people walk fast. They talk fast. There you find can-do entrepreneurial philosophies. Pacific Rim philosophies. Environmental philosophies. Rainforest-dwellers’ philosophies. Loggers’ philosophies. Coffee philosophies. Volcano-survivor philosophies. Earthquake-survivor philosophies. Ferry-rider philosophies.

Your territory—good or bad—influenced your identity and your dreams

Your place whittled you and carved your wings so you could fly into your future and become the person you are today.

Notice how Dr. Linda Joy Myers invites you to enter her childhood through setting, a sense of place. She writes about:

“… living in Oklahoma, in the middle of the Great Plains, in a town that literally was in the middle of nothing but land and wheat and sky. The wind molded us, pushed and pulled us, threw red dirt in our faces, lifted our hair straight up. As children, we had to lean into the wind to walk….

“The golden wheat throbbed against the deep blue sky, all of it was everywhere, there were no boundaries. The wind stoked the wheat into the amber waves of grain of the song, and at night the moon rose, huge and round and smiling over the tiny specks of people that appeared insignificant in all that magnificence.” 

Barry Lopez writes that he was “shaped by the exotic nature of water in a dry Southern California valley; by the sound of wind in the crowns of eucalyptus trees; by the tactile sensation of sheened earth, turned in furrows by a gang plow; by banks of saffron, mahogany and scarlet cloud piled above a field of alfalfa at dusk; by encountering the musk from orange blossoms at the edge of an orchard; by the aftermath of a Pacific storm crashing a hot, flat beach … the height and breadth of the sky, and of the geometry and force of the wind.” (We are shaped by the sound of wind, the slant of sunlight)
“… However we feel about
a particular place in our lives,
or whether the drama that unfolded there
was one of joy or sorrow,
the invitation in writing memoir is this:
explore the personal and other meanings of your place.
Doing so can not only help you locate your story
in a concrete and complex world,
it can help you discover its larger meanings and connections.”

Read that last part again: “… the invitation in writing memoir is this: explore the personal and other meanings of your place. Doing so can … help you discover its larger meanings and connections.”

That’s key in writing memoir: discovering personal meanings, larger meanings, and connections.

So, search for specific words to describe your places—vivid words, distinct words, quintessential words, words unique to that locale.

Here’s a perfect example:

“If we read the Palestinian poet Darwish … we will find ourselves mouthing jasmine, doves, olives, veils, whereas if we read a poet like Marcus Goodyear, we will find ourselves breathing to the staccato of cactus, cattle, tree poker.” (L.L. Barkat)

Are you writing about:
  • a summer in Jamaica?
  • Marching in Vietnam war protests?
  • Falling in love? Or out of love?
  • Watching a loved one die?
  • Giving birth?
  • Sitting with an Oscar-winning actor at a church dinner?
  • Serving meals in a homeless shelter?

Picture those settings as if for the first time. That will help you recapture your sense of place. Use sensory details (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste).

If readers can enter into your story with you, if they can experience your story with you, then your story can be more than words on a pageit can change your readers’ lives.

Related posts:

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tuesday Tidbit: Write your memoir, even if you start small

Have you started writing your memoir yet?

If not, may this Bible verse inspire you to begin.

And if you have begun writing but know you still have a lot of work ahead, you can identify with those words, “small beginnings.” If that term describes you, may this Bible verse comfort you.

Take heart. We all start small—and that’s okay!

In fact, it’s good. Look at the rest of that verse. “The Lord rejoices to see the work begin.”

Now, doesn’t that make you smile? Give you hope? Inspiration? Encouragement? A desire to keep at it?

I hope so. 

Take joy in your writing. You have no idea how many people your story will touch.

There you have it, your Tuesday Tidbit.