The Plan, The Thing, and The Other Thing

The Plan, The Thing, and The Other Thing

The Plan, The Thing, and The Other Things

I like a plan that comes together, don’t you? We all have them. Nicely thought out, supported by research, consultation, and advice, organised and actioned consecutively. A successful plan deserves to be celebrated, gratitude expressed for answered prayers, amazing helpers, and wonderful coincidences where things fell into place in the nick of time, modest recognition of your contribution received. Does that describe your usual experience?

If you answered ‘Yes’, please, oh please, tell me how you do it? I am keen to know because, after years of having one plan after another hijacked by circumstances beyond my control, I think I have lost that plot! Unexpected obstacles thwarted my every move. Nothing happened in a timely manner. Wise advice eluded me when I needed it most. My prayers seemed to ricochet. Without encouraging words from family and friends, I’d be a mouldering heap of blithering self-pity right now (as opposed to the tongue-in-cheek purveyor of philosophical rhetoric on how life really works that I’m trying to pull off here).

I felt like the protagonist in an experimental first draft, the arc of my character development ruled by an unruly pendulum. Who would write me into such a frustrating story? What malevolent writer would drive their precious, bookish creations to the brink of insanity or destruction to reveal truth or uncover meaning or purpose or … Oh. Yeah. I get it, now.

I get it because it’s good writers who do things like that.

And a Very Good Writer wants to write my story—and yours.

A Good Writer whose eyes saw my unformed body, and all the days ordained for me were written in his book before one of them came to be. (Ref Psalm 139:16 NIV)

A Good Writer who knows the plans he has for me, to prosper and not harm me, plans to give me hope and a future. (Ref Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

I get it because I know that Good Writer has a purpose: that in all things he works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Ref Romans 8:28 NIV)

And the plot of his story ends very well for all who trust him to write it because, ‘He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade … you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.’ (Ref 1 Peter 1:3-4, 8-9 NIV)

Are you frustrated by thwarted plans and a confusing life script? I encourage you to hang in there (that’s what I’m trying to do) and trust that God has both the process and the outcome covered. After all, given the longevity and ongoing sales record of his written word, he is clearly an excellent author with a proven track record.

Here’s the thing: Although my plans go awry, my life has purpose and meaning because God created me with his purpose in mind.

Here’s another thing: Discovering his purpose, then walking in it, is proving to be a very grand adventure. It has high stakes and unexpected twists and turns, but it promises an awesome outcome.

And here’s another thing—a concept I learned while attending a Queensland Writers Centre Express Year of the Novel Course led by Veny Armanno—a useful tool for analysing a plot and simplifying or distilling a story into a synopsis. Posited by Tony Earley, the concept says a story need two pieces: The Thing and The Other Thing.

As I understand it, ‘The Thing’ is your story’s central idea or premise which, on its own, may be interesting or relatively mundane, even familiar. For example: Girl meets boy and falls for him.

‘The Other Thing’ is the approach, the twist, the extraordinary thing that gives your story zing, and takes it to another level. For example: The boy is a righteous alien from Krypton and way too busy saving the world from evil to court a brash, female journalist who is forever getting into trouble, but court her, he does. (Yeah, I’m a fan of Superman. And feel free to jump in on the allegory.)

Long story short, I’m trusting my Good Writer to carry me through life’s twists and turns. I’m kinda looking forward to the ‘zing’ that takes me to another level.

Have any interesting things (or ‘Other Things’) rocked your world recently?

 

(Adapted from my CWD blog published February 2017)

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Never Underestimate

Never Underestimate

Never underestimate

As part of my Creative Writing studies, I completed numerous ‘Quick Writing’ exercises based on various verbal prompts and images. Here’s one of those prompts and my response to it:

Every day of the week, between 7:00 am and 8:00 am, Vince and Jack arrived at the park bench with their newspapers. Every day they grunted a greeting, sat, and read. Every day, between 8:00 am and 9:00 am, as one finished reading his newspaper, he would fold it, tuck it under his arm, stand, mumble a farewell and leave.

Sometimes Jack left first. Sometimes Vince left first.

Jack didn’t know Vince was an inventor whose ingenious creations languished for want of entrepreneurial investment. Vince didn’t know Jack was a lonely millionaire who intended to bequeath his millions to an animal shelter because he had no family and no friends.

Vince could have become like a brother to Jack. Jack could have enabled millions of people to benefit from Vince’s inventions.

Could have, should have, would have …

Didn’t.

All because of the one thing they did share: a failure to communicate.

Never underestimate the value of a good discussion.

I sat down intending to write this blog on a totally unrelated topic (to do with ‘the individuality of your voice’) when the memory of this particular writing exercise sat down beside me, tapped my heart, then rapped me over the head like a rolled-up newspaper and insisted I use it instead.

So, I suspect that, for whatever reason, someone out there needs another kind of prompt: my gentle encouragement to connect.

Perhaps there is someone you’ve wanted to chat to for ages and, for whatever reason, you haven’t managed it yet. Why wait? Pick up the phone and call them. Better still, invite them to join you for coffee, or a walk in the park.

Perhaps you need encouragement to connect with like-minded people, or, say, to attend a writers’ conference. That can be a great place for good discussions. Or perhaps there is a letter you’ve been meaning to send, one that will break the ice so your writing/publishing/networking boat moves forward? Today might be the right day to put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard and make that connection. (Preaching to myself here!)

Perhaps you need encouragement to connect with someone who can help you in some other way. Honestly, I find it so difficult to ask for help. I’ve been more thoroughly inculcated with the message that it is ‘more blessed to give than to receive’ than the one that says, ‘ask and you will receive’. Perhaps that underscored the problem I created for Jack and Vince in a moment of quick writing madness back in 2012.

Back then, I needed encouragement to find and join a writing critique group. Back then, someone I had never met in person invited me to come along and join in regular discussions about writing. And back then … I did it. I went to meet five strangers … and received five wonderful friends. I’ll never underestimate the value of creative, fun-filled shenanigans again!

Image by Nattanan Kanchanaprat from Pixabay

There is no doubt in my mind that discussing the pros and cons of my writing with other writers has helped me hone my craft and grow as a writer. Doing the same for them has … helped me hone my craft and grow as a writer! (‘More blessed to give than receive’ still rings true.) There is immense value in the mutual support offered by groups like Christian Writers Downunder. Being connected really does help.

I think I’ll finish this post with a ‘homework’ exercise our writing critique group tackled in April, 2014, one that I’d filed beside my story of Vince and Jack. Our prompt was, ‘What does your writing group mean to you?’ Perhaps you could share your response to that question as a comment below. Here’s what I wrote:

Quirky Quills is

larger than individual idiosyncrasies

the sum of corporate wisdom

the strength of forged metal alloys

the flexibility of seasoned allies

 

a cohesive, healing ecclesia

a hug for brain and heart

a canvas prepared for inspiration

brushes dipped in holy ink

 

a catalyst for action

a treasure-trove of friendship

a creative, vocal ensemble with

an infinite, lyrical repertoire

 

and the heartbeat of my social redemption.

Quirky Quills (Nola, Janelle, Sandra, Mazzy, Kirsten, Adele) celebrating the launch of Nola Lorraine’s debut novel, Scattered.

So … why not try to make that new connection?

PS: If you happen to connect with a millionaire called Jack who has money to bequeath struggling authors, please, by all means, feel free to introduce us. smile

 

Blog and comments first posted on Christian Writers Downunder September 2016.

Blessings in Gleaning

Blessings in Gleaning

Blessing in Gleaning 

I’m sure I am not alone in my belief that the best stories are layered with treasures. Some are obvious. Others await discovery. Every reader is, in a sense, a treasure hunter. Not all seek the same treasure, or look for it in the same way, or value the same things. Which means … the potential to glean a reward from time spent reading is … unlimited. How exciting is that! A thousand readers can read a story, and still leave rich pickings for the next thousand. And every reader that finds a literary treasure will likely return to that particular field again, eager to … glean.

I’m pretty sure the first time I heard the word ‘glean’ was when my mother read the Bible story of Ruth and Boaz to me from Egermeier’s Bible Story Book when I was young. (The illustration below comes from that book.) The Book of Ruth has all the elements of a great love story. It starts with the tragedy of Naomi losing her husband and both sons, shows how the care and obedience that Ruth, a Moabite, showed to her Hebrew mother-in-law combined with Ruth’s own initiative to help them overcome adversity and receive a blessed future through Ruth’s marriage to Boaz. A neat epilogue reveals that this ‘stranger and an alien’ received a place in the ancestry of King David. 

I recently unearthed another treasure in this story … the principle of gleaning.

What does it mean to ‘glean’? The dictionary says it means to gather slowly and laboriously, bit by bit, to gather (grain or the like) after the reapers or regular gatherers, or to learn, discover, or find out, usually little by little or slowly. In Leviticus chapter 19, the Bible reveals the principle of gleaning is an expression—a demonstration if you will—of holiness, as those who produced a harvest deliberately left gleanings behind for the poor and the alien to gather. Boaz’s obedience to this God-given principle released God’s blessing not only on Ruth, but upon himself; one could say that theirs was a union of holiness from the moment they met.

What does ‘gleaning’ (and Ruth’s experience of it) have to do with writing? Here are a few grains of inspiration I’ve gathered:

Ruth started from a position of desperate need, but instead of complaining, giving up, or becoming bitter, she took the initiative and went searching for something that would improve her situation. The writer’s road is not an easy one. It can be lonely and fruitless at times. Discouragement is understandable but, like Ruth, we can choose to take the initiative and search out fruitful connections (like Christian Writers Downunder) and gather nourishing solutions.

When Ruth found the field of Boaz, she recognised the value of his gleanings. Over and over and over again, I have benefited from the rich gleanings ‘left behind’ by writers and editors who already know how to produce a bountiful harvest. I have learned to return again and again to safe, productive fields … especially those which demonstrate Godly holiness … to glean from those blogs, links, social media posts, newsletters etc that are filled with wisdom and inspiration. These nourish my ability to also sow seed so that others may glean from my fields, thus spreading and perpetuating the harvest and the blessings.

Boaz was blessed, not only for his generosity, but also because he encouraged Ruth to return to his field to glean. Boy, did that produce interesting results! When Boaz shared freely from his wealth and substance, he reaped far more than a good barley harvest. He gained a wife and together they produced an amazing family legacy. To all those faithful bloggers and sharers of writerly advice and wisdom who just may, occasionally, wonder if all those freely offered gleanings are worth the time and effort it takes to produce them, I offer my heartfelt encouragement and appreciation. I pray that, like Boaz, you will be blessed, sustained, renewed … and made famous throughout the land. (We are writers, after all!)

Have you, like me, discovered safe, holy, productive fields from which you’ve gleaned writerly wisdom and nourishment?

 

Blog and comments first posted on Christian Writers Downunder May 2016.

Make it Happen

Make it Happen

Make it Happen

The early strains of my authorial inclinations arrived twenty-eight years ago, as song lyrics. Words to worship the living God rode the wings of melody straight into my spirit. Was that exciting, or what! Each new song shone with possibility. I scribbled them down, determined which chords supported the melodies, and typed up my treasures with their chords hovering happily above them: C, Bb, F#, Am, C7dim etc. Dainty letters and symbols, aren’t they? And any musician worth their salt would have no trouble knowing what chords to play. But knowing when to play them? Or what tune to sing the words to? That was a problem. You see, although I could compose the tunes, and even understand the harmonies, I had never learned to play a musical instrument (beyond a wooden recorder), nor had I developed any fluency in writing musical notation. The music might have been within me, but my ability to communicate it to others was limited.

Mind you, I wasn’t completely without options. I managed to produce music scores using computer programs, but the gap between my expertise and that needed to produce a finished article good enough to get those songs ‘out there’ seemed too wide to bridge on the budget I had. I leaned towards compromise; I told myself that even if nobody else ever heard or sang those songs, it was okay, because God heard them. He received my personal expressions of praise and worship every time I sang them, and at least He and I were blessed. And that was true. It also gave me an easy way out, especially once I heard a pastor suggest that if our plans or the operation of our gifts and talents faced huge obstacles, or seemed thwarted by circumstances, we should probably ‘put those things on the shelf, and leave it to God to make them happen’. Hmm. Really?

All these years later, I am convinced that the pastor’s advice, albeit well-meaning, was dubious, if not downright flawed. Why? Because that kind of advice made it easy to give up, and easier to blame ‘God’s will’ for anything and everything that could’ve, should’ve, would’ve but didn’t happen. Thankfully, at about that time, the Holy Spirit highlighted some verses from Psalm 68 in the Amplified Bible (yes, he made it loud and clear) to me, including:

  • Verse 11: ‘The Lord gives the word [of power]; the women who bear and publish [the news] are a great host.’ Yes, that’s how it is, punctuation and emphasis included!
  • Verse 19: ‘Blessed be the Lord, Who bears our burdens and carries us day by day, even the God Who is our salvation! Selah [pause, and calmly think of that]! I did ‘Selah’. Then I wrote a song based on that verse as a consequence of my meditation.
  • Verse 28: ‘Your God has commanded your strength [your might in His service and impenetrable hardness to temptation]; O God, display Your might and strengthen what You have wrought for us! Was I tempted to give up? Yep. But just look at the order of that verse. First, God commands our strength. Then the psalmist implores God to strengthen what He has wrought for us. I figured, if it was good enough for King David …
  • Verse 35: ‘O God, awe-inspiring, profoundly impressive, and terrible are You out of Your holy places; the God of Israel Himself gives strength and fullness of might to His people. Blessed be God!’

I decided it was risky to shelve something difficult or challenging in the hope (or presumption) that, if God wanted to, he’d make it happen. I decided it was better to trust him to strengthen me and help me make it happen. As a consequence, I’ve learned to maintain a very large ‘pending’ file—and check it regularly. Had my stubborn and tenacious streak not underpinned my decision to persevere, in spite of many obstacles, I may never have been surprised (and delighted) to hear a congregation singing one of my songs at a church I visited some twenty-three years after I wrote the song.

While none of my songs were ‘published’ in the traditional sense, over the years a number of them were heard, and sung, by a wider audience than God and me. What’s more, writing those songs seeded my passion for writing poetry and lyric essays, which I have had traditionally published. Two of my poems were published in CWD’s Glimpses of Light anthology. I love the spirit behind the following comment from the anthology’s acknowledgement page:

‘Glimpses of Light began as an inkling of an idea last year … At first we put it in the ‘too hard basket’, but the idea just wouldn’t go away.’

Wouldn’t it? It might have …

  • if our dedicated Editors, Jeanette O’Hagan and Nola L Passmore had shelved the idea before it got off the ground. But they didn’t.
  • if the many authors who contributed stories and poems had buried their creative talents at the back of a shelf and left them there. But they didn’t.
  • without the encouragement and effort of everyone who helped to make that project happen. But encourage and help they did.
  • if the enemy’s plans to prevent these ‘stories and poems of imagination and hope’ from reaching the hearts that would be inspired and healed by them had succeeded. They haven’t so far.
  • if God had not answered our many prayers for wisdom, guidance, strength, and protection, time and again. But He did. And guess what? Glimpses of Light HAPPENED!

Now, the music of hope fills the pages of an anthology. Our ability to pass hope on to the world is only limited by the good intentions we shelve and the actions we don’t take.

Why not re-establish a link with your own projects that have languished on the shelf, or in the too hard basket? At the very least, relocate them to a pending file, at least in your mind. Then trust God to strengthen you, to help you see them through. As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. What have you got to lose, other than a shelf full of clutter?

Blog and comments first posted on Christian Writers Downunder Dec 2015.

Just Write

Just Write

Just Write

I was enjoying a program called Bargain Hunt. Contestants purchase antique and/or collectable items at one location then sell them at auction hoping to make a profit. One of the objects was an autograph book from the 1930s which had a series of sketches and illustrations spread across its pages. It was both personal and share worthy. I confess, I felt a tinge of jealousy—the most advanced drawing in my autograph books was a heart, drawn over a folded corner, with the instruction, ‘Do Not Lift’. When you lifted the corner, (as of course you were meant to do) the heart split in two as the words, ‘Now youf broken my heart’ appeared. Spelling was not the author’s strong point. Then again, he was only seven at the time. And yes, with or without his signature, I still remember his name.  

It’s a long time since I’ve seen autograph books for sale. They’re not so fashionable these days. As a child, I received three of them, from three different people, for the same birthday. Must have been a sale! I decided to invite everyone—family members, friends, even friends of friends—to write in the blue one. I made the brown one more exclusive, inviting contributions only from those people who were very special to me, mostly members of my family. I put the pink one away to use later.

The thing is, an autograph book is meant to have things written in it, so I wasted no time ensuring that happened. In two of them at least. Because of that, I have some wonderful gems of encouragement and inspiration and a whole lot of silly ditties that still make me smile—like this one:

1 1 was a race horse,

2 2 was 1 2,

1 1 1 1 race 1 day,

2 2 1 1 2.

(Hint: read one, one, two two etc)  

 

The pages in that book are well-worn and falling out. The one I put away for later? It’s still pristine. And mostly empty.

What’s the takeaway from this? In the blue and brown books, I have good writing and bad. I also have a whole lot of wonderful memories. Some of those words are the only link I have now to childhood friends. The pink autograph book that I put away for later? It reminds me that, when it comes to writing, good intentions that are not acted upon create a whole lot of blank pages.

So we write. We write good stuff. We write important stuff. We write silly stuff. We even write stuff that seems pointless until, when we least expect it, the words remind us of something worthwhile from a moment in time that cannot be retrieved. Oh, but wait! Yes, it can—because you wrote it down! A lifetime later, that moment is with you to relive and enjoy. 

My dad wrote this in my autograph book:

‘As you travel through life, try to make the things that could be, the things that are, lest at the end of your life you look back with regret and see only what might have been.’ 

I took his advice to heart. When it comes to being a writer, I was a late starter. But at least I started. It’s no longer a ‘might have been’. Sometimes it’s hard work. Sometimes it is pure delight. But at least it is.

So, I encourage you to write. Good stuff. Important stuff. Silly stuff. Stuff for others to read. Hey—this is a blog for writers. I’m supposed to do that! But not as a harsh taskmaster. I encourage you to write because you love it. Write because it’s fun. Write because it fulfills you. Write because one day, someone might read what you wrote and discover a wonderful gem of encouragement or inspiration. Or perhaps they’ll burst out laughing at something silly and their day will be less tedious or trying. Or maybe they’ll say, ‘Well if she can do it, so can I,’ and something positive is perpetuated. Give your ‘might have beens’ a chance to germinate.  Haul out those blank pages … and just write.

Blog and comments first posted on Christian Writers Downunder July 2015.

Called by Name

Called by Name

Called by Name

One of the great joys of having children is the fun of choosing their names—or it becomes a joy once you get past the wrangling (as in ‘will Great Grandpa Gatsby ever forgive us for calling our son Scott Fitzgerald G.?’).  

When my husband and I chose names for our children, we opted for meanings which represent our prayerful desires and prophetic blessings for them, believing that every time we call them by name, our prayers and blessings are reiterated. How delighted we are that our adult children embody the very blessings we bestowed.

Name choices are significant for writers too. Character names, book names … we have to choose names more often than the average Jo. I have written stories with characters that seemed to name themselves. Other times I’ve gone searching for the ‘right’ name. Often my choice is influenced by the meaning of the name.

Sometimes, we rename ourselves. There are numerous blogs and articles on the subject of pseudonyms and the reasons authors choose them. I was happy publishing under my own name, until I wrote THAT story; one that had to be written; one that begged to be published; one that spoke to the power of God’s grace to heal victims of physical and sexual abuse; one that spoke of the overwhelming responsibility every adult has to protect our children from predators; one that challenged the wall of silence that has kept many adults, myself included, isolated in a room of pain, filled with unspeakable memories.  If only that story was fiction. But it wasn’t. It was the all-too-true story of my childhood.  

Writing THAT story was also a turning point for me; one that brought healing as I wrote it, and more healing as I shared it with my siblings. So, did I really need to publish it? As I prayed and agonised over that question, the answer was a clear yes. Not because the world needed another story about abuse. But because there can never be enough stories about the power that positive action, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation have to overthrow evil and release healing, wholeness, and goodness again. You see, the man that abused me as a child, died the same day he truly repented of his sins against me; in his place, I received a loving father who would also be a wonderful grandfather to the very end of his days. For that reason, when my story, Releasing Rainbows, was chosen for publication in the inaugural issue of Snapdragon, A Journal of Art and Healing, I used my pseudonym.  

I prayed much about that name choice too. After all, God’s an old hand at name-changing: Abram/Abraham, Sarai/Sarah, Jacob/Israel and Simon/Peter all had name changes at his instigation. In each case, their names were changed to reflect God’s calling and plan for their futures. God had a bigger vision for them than they or their parents had had. He wanted to call that future into being, and keep calling it in until it blossomed to his glory. With that in mind, I chose the penname Mazzy Adams; Mazzy which means ‘precious’, and Adams to represent all humanity; a new name to call into being a specific hope and purpose: to write stories which will bring blessing, encouragement, healing, wholeness and goodness to every precious person that reads them. After all, God is in the business of making people new again.

How do you choose names for your literary characters? Do you consider the meaning and blessing (or curse) inherent in those names? Have you thought of using a penname, perhaps one that speaks God’s calling into your work? God himself is known by many names; each represents his perfect qualities present and active as his name is uttered. Great Author of Life, will you please write your perfect desires into our literary lives too?

 

Original blog with comments posted on Christian Writers Downunder June 2015