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Posts Tagged ‘write’

Yes, I was asked this question last week – although it wasn’t worded exactly that way! It occurred during a conversation with our four-year-old granddaughter and went something like this:

Olivia:    ‘Nanna, do you work?’

Nanna: ‘Yes … I work right here at home. I sit here at my computer and write my books – that’s my work.’

Olivia:    ‘No, but do you go out to work like other people?’

Nanna: ‘Well, I don’t go out to work – but I still work!’

My answers didn’t seem to satisfy our granddaughter. Obviously in her mind her Nanna didn’t have a ‘real’ job at all. Yet she isn’t alone in her opinion, I’ve discovered. Some time back, I was asked another similarly intriguing question:

‘We know you write, but what do you do?’

And then there was the form I had to fill out recently that asked about my employment status. Am I self-employed? Well … yes. Do I work fulltime or part-time? Hmmm! Why is there never a category for more than fulltime, which is where writers who spend many long hours at the keyboard would fit?

In her book ‘Walking on Water’, American author Madeleine L’Engle describes a ‘New Yorker’ cartoon depicting a woman opening the door to welcome a friend to her house. The friend notices a man there working at a typewriter, with a large manuscript piled on the desk beside him. The friend then asks, ‘Has your husband found a job yet? Or is he still writing?’ I am left wondering exactly how the woman responded! Madeleine L’Engle also tells the story of a businesswoman who asked her about her royalties, at a time when she was at last doing quite well in that regard. When told this, the businesswoman remarked, ‘And to think most people would have had to work so hard for that!’

So where does this leave me? Well, I could sit here feeling sorry for myself, as I put all my heart and mind and soul into preparing four talks I am scheduled to give in the next four weeks and simultaneously try to write my current novel and plan out a workshop. I could nurture great resentment at the lack of understanding out there and the devaluing of the whole creative process in general. I could try to be superwoman and prove myself on all fronts, looking for a ‘real job’ to hold down while I seek to produce my next ‘great Australian novel’. Or I could simply laugh it off, knowing my granddaughter at least couldn’t be expected to understand, and develop a thicker skin about it all.

But I believe there’s an even more positive way forward. I believe I need to remind myself that God has called me to spend these long hours writing and preparing talks and that I need to be faithful in responding to that call. I need to view this vocation of author and speaker as an absolute privilege – one in which, after all, I get to be ‘me’ and feel completely fulfilled, whatever the tangible rewards or lack thereof. I need to remember to throw myself into it all with a full and grateful heart, as Paul reminds us:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

So whether we have a ‘real job’ or not, let’s remember our ‘audience of one’ and perform our hearts out with great thankfulness!

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Already I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked if my latest novel ‘Jenna’ is really my own story. Whenever I hear this question, however, I honestly don’t quite know how to answer. At one level, it is not ‘my’ story at all. For starters, my character Jenna is in her mid-twenties, has dark, curly hair and lives in Adelaide – which cuts me out on all counts! Also, when the story begins, she is a youth leader at her local church – a role I have never had. Then she gets engaged to someone who … but I don’t want to spoil the story for any of you who plan on reading it!

And yet, at another level, ‘Jenna’ is my story. It is in fact lots of different parts of my story – little snippets from here and there taken totally out of their original time frame and context and melded together to form a new and unique narrative. But it is also various other people’s stories – again snippets I have heard or read about or watched unfold. And then around and through and above and below all that are the characters and events completely from my own imagination, with the result that it is difficult even for me, the author, to tell now where fact and fiction begin and end.

It’s true too that I am the author of my novels – the creator of these characters and this storyline. I bring them to birth – I give them names. Maybe I even ‘play God’ a little at times, creating the odd one or two in my own image, or part thereof, allowing them to respond to situations as I probably would – or at least think I would. And no doubt this is a natural thing to do – after all, I’m told we write best about the things we have personally experienced. So in this regard, is my character Jenna perhaps really me?

I think the wisest thing for me as the author is to stop worrying about all this. As I wrote ‘Jenna’, I felt I was putting into words something worthwhile and something God wanted me to say. And I hope and pray that everything I have written brings God honour and glory, as well as challenging and encouraging my readers – and yes, entertaining them. Recently I read again the words of Psalm 139:1-4:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord

God perceived my very thoughts as I wrote ‘Jenna’. God was aware of my motives and in fact knew every word I was going to write, even before I started. God was with me as I wrote, I am sure of that. And my task was to listen well and to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (Gal 5:25) as the story unfolded.

I hope I did that. And I hope and pray my readers forget about finding ‘me’ in the story and instead discover something more of God in it all.

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Not long ago I was driving home from the city when a large sign painted roughly on a fence caught my eye:

A life lived in fear is a life half lived

I jotted it down at the next red light and then thought about it all way home.  It brought back memories of my own mother, whose life at times was quite overruled by worry and fear about many things and who, as a result, found herself limited in what opportunities she could grasp and what experiences she could fully enjoy.  It also reminded me of a poem by Davna Markova I was given many years ago:

I will not die an unlived life,

I will not go in fear

Of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,

To allow my living to open to me,

To make me less afraid,

More accessible,

To loosen my heart

Until it becomes a wing,

A torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance:

To live.

So that which came to me as seed,

Goes to the next as blossom,

And that which came to me as blossom,

Goes on as fruit.

I want to ‘inhabit my days’ too, don’t you?  I want to be fully the person God intends and has gifted me to be and not to be limited by fear of what might or might not happen.   I don’t want to get to the end of my life here on earth and realise how much I missed out on because I was unprepared to take a risk or two and step out into new territory for God.  Only to ‘half-live’ our lives seems such a waste to me – and to be honest, almost an insult to our God who created us.

Yet sometimes when I’m confronted with a particularly daunting challenge, I do feel that old fear I observed in my mother rising up in me as well.  And it’s then that I have to take a deep breath, remember I am being held in the incredibly loving arms of God and step out in his strength, knowing God will never let me falter and fall.   After all, I have the Word of God on that.  In Psalm 34:4, David testifies:  I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears, while in Psalm 27:1, he states confidently:  The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?   

I want the seed of the gifts God has given me to germinate fully, to blossom into something beautiful that will touch and encourage others, and to bear much fruit under God’s hand, just as the poet expresses above.  I might not be the most gifted or the most widely read novelist on this planet, but at the end of my life I want to be able to look back and say that at least I tried.  At least I took up God’s challenge to write, pouring my heart into the characters and storylines I created, labouring as best I could to reveal more of the heart of God to my readers.

And who knows?  Maybe, by God’s grace, there will even be the ones and twos whose lives have been touched and changed as a result.

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Possibly the only thing I am disappointed about with the study I have finally acquired for myself in our home is the fact that when I look out of the window beside my desk, what meets my eye is the ugly fibro wall of the neighbour’s garage and the paling fence between their property and ours.  Yet this morning, when I looked out, my eyes travelled upwards and I realised I could see the tops of the trees growing in the park on the other side of our neighbour’s house.  And high up in the branches of the tallest tree there I saw two birds.  They were perched precariously on two of the topmost slender branches, seemingly unperturbed by the fact that these branches were swaying markedly as the wind blew them and as they bent under the weight of the birds themselves.

I returned to my Scripture reading for the day and a few moments later read these words from Luke 13:18-19:

What is the kingdom of God like?  What shall I compare it to?  It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden.  It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.

As I reflected on this, I realised that I can choose to view the words I will write in the hours ahead of me this morning – or any day – as mustard seeds.  I ‘sow’ them, if you like, as I carefully choose which word to use and blend them together with others in whole sentences and paragraphs.  I read and re-read, trying to find the right combination that will convey exactly what I feel needs to be conveyed at that particular point and through that particular character.  Often I end up deleting what I have written and begin to ‘re-plant’, this time in a different way.  All the while, I am hoping that the words I write will combine with the whole, each in their own individual and important way, to form a story fashioned under God’s hand – perhaps even a story that will touch people’s hearts and lives and hopefully bear fruit for the kingdom.  And daily, as my story grows, I continue to craft it and fine hone it, shaping it in the way that best conveys the seeds of truth it contains, as far as I am able.  And as I do, I try to stay close to God, so that God’s very Spirit will somehow draw my readers to find their place in the story.  Perhaps they will rest there for a moment, perching on the branches, as it were, regaining strength and being challenged to spread their wings yet again and continue their own journey of being who God intends them to be for the kingdom. 

The wind is still buffeting that tree I can see from my window, even as I look now.  But the birds are gone.  May you too go out into your world today, strengthened by God to sow whatever ‘mustard seeds’ you have been given.  And may you face whatever you need to with peace, hope and joy, as you seek to play your part in God’s kingdom.

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I wish I could tell you the number of times people have shyly come up to me after I have spoken somewhere to tell me they would like to write a book too.  Some have a clear idea of what sort of book they hope to create.  Others, however, are much more vague.  Some, I suspect, like the idea of being published, but not all the hard work needed to get there.  But for the majority, it’s more that they can’t seem to allow themselves to actually name their dream, to commit to a goal they believe in their heart of hearts they will never attain.  So it would be foolish – a waste of time really – even to try.  Better to forget about it and go and do something useful.

My heart goes out to these people, because I felt like that myself once.  Before I began writing seven years ago, I had wanted to write for at least twenty years and often talked about it with my family.  At one stage, in desperation, one of our daughters gave me a pile of books on how to write, accompanied by a homemade bookmark, bearing the inscription ‘Write your own!’  However, it took the ending of a ministry I loved, followed by six months’ break, before I finally realised that the moment had come in my life when the dream to write and the call of God were in fact one.

It happened like this.  I was holidaying in Turkey and was sitting reading Isaiah 42 in my bible one morning.  I had read verse 9 – See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare – and noted in my journal that I knew my old role had gone but now I truly wanted to hear the ‘ new things’ God had for me.  Then I read on – and stopped in my tracks at verses 18-20:

Hear, you deaf, look, you blind, and see!  Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send?  Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the Lord?  You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing.

Yes, it was a strong challenge – a rebuke even – but so patient and kind too.  It was as if God were saying with a big sigh: ‘Come on, Jo!  How many times do I have to show you?  Go home and start writing the book!

Well – I did! That was what it took for God to get through to me that yes, it was okay to write – that this, in fact, was what I was being called to do at this stage of my life.

So what is God calling you to do?  Is it perhaps the very thing you’ve been dreaming of doing all your life?  Could God in fact be giving you permission to bring your dream to reality?  …  Could you possibly have a book in you too?

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Who would not want to be a novelist?  Why would anyone ever want to be anything else?

Most days, I have the privilege of sitting down at my computer in my own little ‘novel kingdom’, revisiting what I have previously written, catching up on what my characters have done and then hatching further plans for their futures.  I can even change their names, if I decide their current ones don’t suit after all.  With one or two flicks of my finger, the ‘find and replace’ function of my computer is activated – and Steve is no longer Steve but Josh, or Sue has now miraculously become Jan and has a whole new identity.  Perhaps they have even moved cities as well – perhaps they have acquired a new partner or even an entire new family.

Writing can be fun.  It can be life-giving and oh so satisfying.  I have power – power to make characters do and say certain things, to react in certain ways, to experience wonderful, happy times as well as go through great valleys of grief.  But be warned – characters can sometimes take on a life of their own!  At least, my characters have.  Sometimes they have surprised me no end or shocked me or even made me so proud of them and the choices they have made.

And I have to own up.  It is a fact that one day, when out enjoying coffee with my husband, I urged him to drive home quickly, so that I could see what my characters had been up to while I had been out!  Sad – but very true.

It helps to be crazy to be writer, I have often maintained – especially since the episode I have just described.  It helps me handle the unexpected insurrections of my characters when they rise up in revolt or attempt to sort out their own lives, without even so much as a by-your-leave.  It helps me come back day after day and stick at it, sometimes deleting everything I wrote the previous day in disgust before beginning again, at other times losing track of reality and writing for hours without a break.  It helps me deal with the fact that, barring the dream that one of my novels might become a bestseller, I will make very little money out of writing.

But I will keep on persevering.  After all, not everyone has been given this same privilege as I have to write, to create, to share my heart and hopefully God’s heart with others.  I know God is with me on this crazy writing journey.  And that’s all that matters.

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