Monday, July 19, 2010

Writing is not a Solitary Sport by Katherine Harms

Most people think of writers as recluses. They just assume that writers hide out in attics and the deep woods where nobody will interfere with the torrent of words we need to etch on paper. There may be a few writers who can live and work in solitary splendor, but not many.

We writers know that we need a degree of isolation in order to be productive. I had friends in school who did their homework while watching television, but it never worked for me. I simply could not study and watch “Mash” at the same time. I cannot write and watch television, either. I cannot write and talk on the phone. I cannot write and cook dinner at the same time. Writing may intrude on cooking if I get a bright idea while I am waiting for water to boil, but to start a cooking project when I am momentarily stuck for the right phrase to close a chapter is counterproductive.

Nevertheless, I do need family and friends even though productive writing time requires isolation. I am not always sure they love hearing about what I am doing, but telling them encourages me. Sometimes their reactions to my narrative help me to craft a better story or to find a good resource I would never have thought of on my own. The fact that friends and family will ask me how I am doing with my projects motivates me to be sure I am actually making progress. Human relationships nourish me in many ways. I need them in order to be a better writer.

Recently that truth came home in a deeply special way. I have four friends whom I regard as my circle of mutual encouragement in the Christian faith. Only one of them is a writer. Their place in this circle was established over years of shared prayers and conversations about the challenge of living faithful lives. One of them is currently exploring a new direction in her own sense of call to serve our Lord. We recently spent a lovely summer afternoon talking about the art and gift of discernment, trying to clarify together what she perceives as her next step. In the process, I shared with her some relevant insights I had gained while working on my current book draft. She shared with me, and I shared with her.

The next day, I received an e-mail from her. She said to me, “The Holy Spirit is convicting me to further the kingdom through your writing. Would you like to borrow the Interpreters Bible volume on Ecclesiastes you were looking at yesterday?” That e-mail arrived at a time when I felt very discouraged about my project, almost ready to abandon it, even though the day before it had seemed terribly important. My friend could not know that the enthusiasm and confidence I had expressed to her had suffered meltdown as I sat empty-worded in front of my computer screen the very next day.

When I read her mail, it was as if a cool breeze had brushed my cheek on a hot day. The book in question had belonged to her beloved pastor father, a man who now rests among the cloud of witnesses who encourage all of us in faith. She had brought the collection of books out and touched them lovingly, showing me this fabulous resource that she would use in her own studies. For her to let me borrow even one, even if only temporarily, was a huge risk. What if I damaged it or lost it or who knows what? I realized that in this gift God was telling me that this project is important to him. My friend’s faithful encouragement spoke dramatically of God’s desire for me to get over myself and get back on track to do the work he had given me to do.

My friend could not do the work for me. My friend could not discern God’s call for me. All she could do was to hear and obey God’s message to her. Still, if she had ignored God’s nudge, I might still be sitting in front of a blank screen, or worse, I might be off working on some less important task while my manuscript goes dead. Thanks to my friend and her faithful encouragement, my manuscript is growing and my project is alive and well.

I may put words on paper in isolation, but I know very well that I need my friends. We all need healthy relationships with friends and family in order to be the best writers we can be. Jesus said it very well when he said that the most important things in the world are to love God above all and to love our neighbors. When everybody is on track with that teaching, our neighbors love us, too, and that is a rich blessing for a writer.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Susan Isaacs on Writing

Author Susan Isaacs is currently on tour with her latest novel As Husbands Go.

"Writing is sometimes an art, and it certainly is a craft. But it's also a job. I go to work five or six days a week (depending how far along I am with my work-in-progress). Like most other people, there are days I would rather be lying in a hammock reading or going to a movie with a friend. But whether you're an artist or an accountant, you still have to show up at work. Otherwise, it is unlikely to get done."

The bestselling novelist advises to write for yourself by gazing inward
at what is unique and true in you ... a copy of the article can be found at her website:

Forbes Article - Author Janet Evanovich

It's a Plum deal for Janet Evanovich.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Meet The Author Kyoko Mori

Breathe Books
Wednesday, July 14, 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.

Meet Kyoko Mori the author of YARN: Remembering the Way Home

Yarn combines memoir -- Mori's story as a Japanese woman trying to make a home in the Midwest, and later striking out on her own -- and knitting lore -- its history, meditations on knitting as a loose, intuitive, and forgiving craft. She will read from the book, talk about home-making and creativity, and invite attendees to discuss topics that are so important to smart, creative women: how to live as an independent home-maker and artist who is equally at home alone and with others. (free)

Breathe Books
810 W 36th Street
Baltimore, Maryland, 21211
Susan L. Weis, proprietress

Monday, July 12, 2010

Where Do We Find Miracles?

Being a writer is a tough slog. I think most of us would agree that what we really want is to have written. The process of writing is hard, even tedious. What we want is a letter from an editor accepting a completed project for publication. It is a major challenge to motivate and trick ourselves into doing the work it takes to get to the goal. One writer said that the key to success as a writer is KBOC – Keep Butt On Chair. I am working on a project right now that has been on my heart for months, and I still think it will be a miracle if I stay on task and finish it, despite the fact that it nags at me every minute that I am not working on it.
Some people think miracles only happen when five thousand people are fed with a little bit of bread and fish, or when a man born blind can suddenly see. I think God works another kind of miracle. The early Christian writer Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” I believe God works miracles that bring us to that state of being fully alive, and I believe they happen in many walks of life, including writing.
Recently my husband and I faced our biggest challenge so far with our sailboat. The auxiliary diesel engine would not work, and we were outside the US in a place where we had no idea how to find a reliable diesel mechanic to help us. We concluded that we had to sail our boat back to the US, a very long voyage, without the engine, just like Columbus or Magellan did. Larry asked me one day, “Do you think we could sail this boat back without the engine?” and I replied, “Well, it is a sailboat, after all.”
Larry’s question was not idle or silly. One reason we have an auxiliary engine is that there are situations in which it is very difficult to maneuver under sail alone. We had always used our engine to get in and out of anchorages or to avoid the necessity of sail management during a storm. Without an engine we could not go into anchorages with tricky entrances, and we would not be able to douse the sails and turn on the engine if a storm arose.
We also needed our engine to charge our batteries. We needed electricity to run our electronic charts and our auto-pilot. Without electronic charts, we had to read positions from a handheld GPS, chart them on paper charts, and draw our course with a pencil. Without the auto-pilot, we had to steer manually 24 hours a day, trading positions at the helm every 2 hours.
Finally, we had always used the engine when cruising after dark. We had made round-the-clock passages before, but always with the engine and auto-pilot. None of our overnights had been longer than 50 hours, but this voyage would be six days under sail without an engine or an auto-pilot.
It was hard to convince ourselves to begin. It was a lot like sitting down to write and discovering sixteen things we needed to do before beginning the real task. We waited through one weather window by convincing ourselves it was too short. We waited through two days of the next weather window by convincing ourselves there was not enough wind. Unlike a writing project, we truly could not stop after we started, but like a writing project, we were beset with challenges to our successful completion. There was too much wind, or too little. An unanticipated current coupled with a lack of wind drove us south when we wanted to go north. We were battered by tempestuous seas, torrential downpours, and a wild ride in the Gulf Stream. We had to use every sailing skill we had ever learned or even heard of before we arrived at our destination. Was it a miracle that we arrived safely where we wanted to go?
I think it is exactly the same kind of miracle that happens when I finally complete a writing project and send it off to the editor I hope will love it. Before we departed on this voyage, we stood on the aft deck and prayed Psalm 62. This Psalm opens with these words:
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

We relied on God throughout our voyage. He kept the promise Jesus made to his followers as he ascended into heaven, saying, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We prayed at the end of each day, and we prayed through our troubles. When we looked up at a roiling wall of clouds filled with lightning and thunder, we prayed for courage. When we couldn’t figure out how to prevent ourselves from drifting onto a shallow bank, we prayed for guidance. When we had exhausted every skill we knew and still had not solved our problem, we prayed. We did not receive any ecstatic visions nor were we suddenly lifted out of our troubles. Instead, God nudged us in a more fruitful direction. He led us to rethink the obvious and see what was not obvious before.
It was a lot like helping a baby learn to walk. When the baby falls down, Mother doesn’t run every time and pick the baby up. Instead, she encourages him to laugh and try again. This is what God did for us, and like the baby, we learned and grew in the process.
The same thing happens when I write. God doesn’t write the piece for me. He doesn’t dictate the words. He inspires me to use to the fullest every gift he has given me. Then, after I have exhausted my gifts and my skills, he leads me one step further. I grow and mature, and like the baby learning to walk, I gain confidence and competence. I become more than I was when I started.
If anyone asked us now what was the best part of our trip this year, I would answer, “The voyage home.” We embarked on that passage due to a problem we could not solve, but making that passage blessed us in ways we could never have anticipated. We learned things we would never have learned if everything had continued to work as expected. It took God’s surprise to yank us out of our comfort zone so we could grow up as sailors. I think it is a miracle when God leads us to use his gifts to exhaustion and then, after we realize we must depend on him, he takes us forward to his wonderful surprise. He leads us to come fully alive.
That is what happens when I write, too. Some projects take me way beyond my comfort zone as a writer. I fidget. I check my email. I remember that I didn’t put cinnamon on my grocery list. I know I need to wade into my writing project, but it is hard. I see my goal, just as we could look at our charts and see our sailing destination, but I don’t see how to get there, just as we could not initially see how to escape a powerful current. I need to pray Psalm 62 and truly wait on the Lord. My own abilities are used up. I have stretched myself as far as I can go. If God wants me to write this project, then he will have to lead me. Like the baby learning to walk, I have fallen down, but like the encouraging mother, God calls my name and says, “Look here. Come to me!”
Katherine Harms

Writers Group - Thursday

Hi All,

We meet every third Thursday of the month, 6:30 p.m., at the Havre de Grace Library.

Bring something you've been working on to share with the group and be prepared to give feedback in return.

Enjoy the attached Notes.

See you on Thursday,