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

Pondering Punctuation

Pondering Punctuation

Pondering Punctuation

That paragraph—the one I have just written—is pristine. Perfect. Pedantically precise even. Or so I thought. My computer program disagrees, emphasizing its point of view with a bright, green underline. I right-click the mouse. The computer’s angst shouts at me, declaring in no uncertain terms that my carefully chosen words are but a mere

FRAGMENT! (consider revising).

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating with the exclamation mark. It exists only in my imagination—something my computer lacks. I don’t blame the computer. It is locked into a particular set of parameters. It obeys the rules of grammar, or rather, the rules of its programming. It cannot interpret the context. It cannot see the big picture; the one where I, the author, have chosen to shorten the sentence to a fragment.

FOR IMPACT.

A computer’s expertise extends to punctuation, not creativity. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a die-hard fan of perfect punctuation. It is the body language of the written page. What’s more, punctuation’s power to prevent cannibalism is unrivalled. For example:

‘Shall we eat Grandma?’

vs

‘Shall we eat, Grandma?’

Pixabay Image by Sarah Richter Art

Here are a few punctuation marks I placed in a document this morning:

Let’s see my computer dispute that creation according to its programmed punctuation rules!

As I ponder the power of punctuation to clarify meaning or to create nuances that improve the way a story unfolds, I realize something: Our Creator punctuates our personal progress according to His intentional, creative plan.  And,

The divine Author of Life punctuates perfectly.

I, on the other hand, am inclined to operate like my unimaginative computer, getting frustrated when God shortens my plans with a divine ‘full-stop’.

I can be impatient with His semicolons too. I don’t want to look or wait for additional information. I want to know it all now! As for colons … oh boy! When faced with a list of several things He wants to complete in me before we move forward, I’d rather skip a few in my eagerness to embrace an exciting new ‘sentence’. I want a green light so I can race ahead. I’m all too inclined to frustrate my Author by flagging a green underline and whinging, ‘fragment (consider revising)’.

But here’s the thing. We don’t get to do life over. No edits. No second or third or sixteenth drafts. Our life stories sit on the universal page, the book of life, exactly as we throw them down. Which could mean absolute disaster if they were ‘published’ as they stand. How could my life story possibly bring honour and glory to the Author of Life? Or reveal His good news story as is?

Praise God! Hindsight reveals He has been actively editing my life’s story all along, adding essential punctuation marks to slow me down, make me pause, emphasize the important things, stop me blundering on into danger, extend me, talk to me, shout a warning, cause me to question my actions and ideas, make me ponder… and His grace has coerced and confined my foolish detours into parentheses, rendering them irrelevant. What a relief!

My mother told the story of a letter she had written to my father when they were courting. At the end, she had added a postscript which contained a row of punctuation marks and the words, ‘I’m not sure where the punctuation marks should go, so I’ve put them all here. You can put them in the right places for me.’

I think I’ll take a leaf out of her book and trust God to punctuate my life according to His big picture. How about you?

This blog (with comments) was originally published on Christian Writers Downunder, February 2015.

Hats, Posts, and Literary Landscapes

Hats, Posts, and Literary Landscapes

Hats, Posts and Literary Landscapes

It was May 2014. It was also high time my husband and I gave our garden some much-needed attention. We felled weed trees, removed deadwood and spindly branches, trimmed the overgrowth, and carted several trailer-loads of green waste to the tip. Despite the hard yakka and the potential for danger implicit in our task, the only casualty was my gardening hat—its brim and bonnet ripped asunder as an inevitable consequence of its age. I’d had that hat for forty years.

In the way of writers, that hat got me thinking about the many hats writers wear. After all, writing is not the only thing we do. ‘What!’ I hear you gasp. You know it’s true. Life is filled with demands. Even readers put their books down (albeit briefly. Never make a habit of it innocent) when life demands it. But writers do landscape their text with experiences gleaned while they’re wearing other hats. My gardening hat only lasted as long as it did because I’m an occasional gardener, not a professional landscaper.

The post on which the hat sits is another casualty of time, displaced by a tree root. I confess, my trusty made-to-measure crowbar still awaits the day I’ve strength and energy enough to replace that post. It wouldn’t be the first posthole I’ve dug. I hefted that crowbar to hollow out holes in the ground for eighty-eight garden and retaining wall posts on our property. Here are a few writing principles I gleaned from my landscaping experiences.

The corner post (in the above corner under the rose) was my first. Hubby measured, marked where to dig and I went for it. I dug a whole lot wider and a whole lot deeper than I needed to, wasting time, effort, and concrete. I applied moderation to subsequent digs.

Principle learned: Preparation and research are necessary, but don’t get carried away with interesting, but unnecessary information. Likewise, the first written draft is rarely perfect. It requires extra time and effort editing. Practice leads to improvement, both in technique and result. Even those first drafts seem to get better the more you write.

The wall at the front of our property was 600mm high, which meant postholes needed to be 700mm deep to hold firm in our ‘plastic’ soil profile. Natural springs under the footpath moistened the subsoil there, making it easier to dig. Behind the house we had to dig 1200mm holes for our 1000mm high walls. But there, thanks to a hefty cut-and-fill, the ‘surface’ was already one metre below the topsoil level. The only way we could break through that clay, was by first soaking it with water.

Principle learned: A short story is different to a poem is different to a novel is different to a magazine article. Each requires materials, scaffolding and structure of the right type, size and shape for the genre. Lessons learned writing in one genre enhance writing technique and positively inform a variety of other writing formats.

As much as we loved the look of our round Koppers logs, they were difficult to work with. They had to be planed and chiselled and shaped to fit together and to fit the curve of the uprights. It was easy to get discouraged when progress was slow and tedious. Being prepared to try something different for the side and rear walls of the property allowed us to finish the job sooner and worked just as well.

Principle learned: Don’t get stuck in a rut. If the current writing (or any other) project is dragging on and going nowhere, try something different. A pleasant surprise may result. Varying the vista can bring fresh insights and enthusiasm.

Not everybody appreciates a garden, or a piece of writing, or any creative offering, in the same way. We didn’t plant retaining wall posts to feed termites, but the little beggars happily devoured some of ‘em anyway. I may not rejoice when the neighbourhood mutts water our front retaining wall, but my dog loved neutralizing their efforts.

Principle learned: Who knows, others may enjoy unexpected benefits from your efforts. Of course, you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Any project—writing or otherwise—can seem daunting and overwhelming at times. Don’t get so stressed by the size of the project that you forget to enjoy the process. One day, you’ll look back and think, ‘Wow! I did that. And I enjoyed myself! I am awesome!’ and you’ll be right.

You can read an earlier version of this blog, with comments, on Christian Writers Downunder, May 2014.

My Coach and I

My Coach and I

My Coach and I

‘Last piece of assessment—complete! Happy dance!’

Those words, posted as my Facebook status over eight years ago, marked the final strides of a marathon I began in 2011, when I enrolled in Tabor Adelaide’s creating writing program. For seven words that were so easy to type, winning the right to type them took much disciplined effort, many taxing training sessions, and even more unruly bouts with angst.

Writers constantly line up at the starting blocks. Sometimes we’re running a fast blog sprint or a 200-metre short story dash. Some jump hurdles by writing outside their comfort zone; others embark on a cross-country exploration of history or memoir. Long distance bravehearts pace themselves to finish that novel, or series. Some of us are crazy enough to try a literary decathlon.

One thing is certain—every race takes preparation, inspiration, dedication, commitment, and the support of others. We’re more like relay runners than individual athletes. We pick up the literary baton and run with it, producing the best text we can. Our fellow writers, friends and family members urge us on from the sidelines. Editing moves the text forward in an effective slipstream. Publishing increases its momentum through polished presentation and aggressive marketing. All this, just to get that important baton to—not the finishing line, but its starting position! It’s our readers who pick up our literary batons and run with them. Our task is to make sure they enjoy the run, making it a win-win experience for all.

To be honest, when I signed up for this creative writing gig, I envisaged more of a fun run than a marathon. I wanted to try tertiary study and creative writing seemed far more appealing than … well, just about everything else I could think of. Tabor offered external study options and dedicated, qualified lecturers. My choice to enrol seemed like a no-brainer—until that first day in February 2011, when I sat alone at my computer, sporting a stylish set of headphones as my new fashion accessory, poised to listen to the orientation lecture. As I positioned the mouse on the starting blocks, ready to click ‘play’, the enormity of the task ahead exploded like the shot of a starter’s gun. I was off and running, but did I have the wherewithal to reach the finish line? Maybe. Maybe not.

What I needed was a strong, central motivating factor, a personal coach if you like, to inspire me as I ran. In literary terms, I needed a strong chiasmus, a central point of intersection to connect the beginning of my study story with a successful conclusion. As I tackled my first assessment task, a chiastic poem, the perfect Chiasm offered to become my writing coach:

And after that study marathon? The practical application of all the wonderful things I’d learned beckoned me forward to the next starting line … and the next. Submission opportunities for poems, creative non-fiction, short fiction, devotions … blogs to encourage fellow writers … novel outlines called me to the starting blocks. Each new race would require renewed enthusiasm, more preparation, and stamina. Could I keep going?

So far, the answer to that question is yes—thanks to the consistent training and input I receive daily from my faithful, enduring Coach, who also has a passion for words, pictures, and the positive potential in people.

This post (and original comments) was published on the Christian Writers Downunder blog in February 2012.