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bird by bird

Bird By Bird: A Timeless Writing Resource

“‘So why does our writing matter again?’ they ask. Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.” –Anne Lamott, pp. 237

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott should be on every writer’s shelf. Her advice offers encouragement through an honest discussion of what writing is like. Lamott sits her reader down and shares her experience as though she were chatting over a cup of coffee. As she shares, she addresses the feelings of anxiety, discouragement, and even jealousy that almost all writers face at some point. In doing so, she reminds us that we’re not alone in our struggles. We all hit the wall on occasion, and it’s possible to keep going despite those setbacks.

Throughout the book, Lamott gives insight on ways to improve our writing. She offers advice on how to write better dialogue, how to stay motivated, and how to find a writing group. But mostly what she provides is inspiration to persevere. Every piece of insight resounds with encouragement (even while Lamott acknowledges the hardships of being a writer). And that prompting to persist, paired with her pithy advice, makes the book well-worth reading.

So here I want to share three of my favorite tid-bits of advice from the book:

1. “Dialogue is the way to nail character” (pp. 67).

In both her chapter on characters and her chapter on dialogue, Anne Lamott emphasizes the connection between the two. She argues that creating one line of strong dialogue that rings true captures your character better than a whole page of description (47). What a character says, or doesn’t say, or how he says it tells the reader how he thinks and what he cares about. Dialogue gives us insight into the personality of the people we read about and brings them to life. And therefore getting to know our characters is vital to creating good dialogue.

(*If you’d like to learn more about how to create strong characters and great dialogue, you should consider checking out Write2Ignite’s Master Class in September!)

2. “The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty” (pp. 178).

Lamott’s chapter on writer’s block focuses on the truth that all writers experience dry periods. Sometimes we get burnt out and our creativity stops flowing the way it usually does. Lamott says that the best thing to do when we reach these moments is to accept the block, the empty reality, so we can fill up again (pp.178). Her advice is practical: “Do your three hundred words, and then go for a walk” (182). Write a little each day to keep up the habit but then focus on activities that nourish you. Replenish your creativity rather than trying to eke out ink from a dry pen.

3. “You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be a writing” (pp. 202-203).

Bird by Bird includes an entire chapter dedicated to writing as giving. Our works-in-progress, she says, “teach you to get out of yourself and become a person for someone else” (203-204). In order to write well, we have to pour everything we have into our writing. And in doing so, we have a chance to act as hosts for our readers, to welcome them in and offer them a feeling of connection (204).

This is especially important for us as Christians. If writing is our calling, then we should be willing to give it all we’ve got. Our words should be for God and for others, not simply for ourselves.

Final Review:

I could go on a while longer, pulling out clever quotes from Lamott’s book. But instead, I’ll simply recommend you pick up a copy for yourself.

Bird by Bird isn’t an earth-shattering text holding the key to the inner sanctum of writing. Instead, this book offers solid advice to steadily improve. It offers relatable accounts of the difficulties of writing and an honest assessment of what it’s like to be published. Lamott encourages us that while writing probably won’t bring us fame or fortune, it does carry with it its own rewards. Her whole book, start to finish, reverberates with the cry, “Just keep going.”

I give her book 4 1/2 out of 5 stars, if you’re looking for a rating.

What books have been encouraging you lately?

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time writer, and full-time bookworm. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.

Write Through the Pain: The Why, How, and Results

“All the best parts of art come from pain turned to celebration.”

-Natalia Kills

When life’s circumstances put you in a rut, a hole, or even a deep pit of despair and loss, we have a powerful tool at our disposal: our writing.

Pain is a universal aspect of life that visits all who dwell on the earth. I’m sure many of us wish pain didn’t exist, but it has a beautiful way of binding people together, revealing truth, and making us stronger.

If you’re going through a time of grief, depression, or frustration, I urge you to keep that pen handy.

Why?

Heart-wrenching seasons expose emotional nerves. It’s as if you feel everything at a deeper level. Emotions become as visceral as they’re ever going to get. Recording how these raw emotions affect you can help you describe them when they aren’t as fresh.

Every story needs conflict. No one likes to go through the conflict themselves, but if you’re a writer, you know that it’s essential for an engaging story. Everyone likes reading about triumph and victory over an enemy of some sort, even if it’s an emotional one. Without it, your story will be a bore.

When we come out on the other side of darkness, we tend to have more clarity, revelation, and inspiration. Keep track of what you’re learning and feeling during this time, so you can share the impact down the road if you have the desire to do so.

How?

You might be asking, “How can I even think about writing when I’m too hurt to even function?”

It’s possible that during your pain, you may be more numb than anything and even menial tasks become difficult. Nobody said you have to produce a masterpiece while you’re feeling this way. You don’t need that added pressure.

As a writer, I’ve found that I process things better when I write it down and articulate what’s been swirling in my head. It’s as if my thoughts and emotions find rest when they’re able to land on the page instead of floating around my soul with nothing to hold onto.

It could be as simply as making a few notes on how you feel or writing down a few prayers on index cards. Or, if you’re like me, spilling everything into my journal so I can get it out and visit it later.

The Result?

Now for the fun part! Once you’ve successfully come out of the shadows and into the sun, it’s time to really write.

Not every story has to be about you, but let’s face it, a little bit of you can be found in every one of your stories. You can bring everything you’ve ever faced in life and bring it to the table of ideas. Once there, you can sift through all the options of what to do with them: blog posts, short stories, poems, novels, you name it!

Hidden in our experiences, good and bad, are avenues for conflicts, character arcs, and powerful images that will one day turn into a beautiful, relatable, and helpful story for your readers.

When in pain, write on!

How does writing help you in your most difficult seasons?


Leah Jordan Meahl is an up and coming Christian author. She writes for both the rooted and the wandering faith through her blog www.meahltime.com. She recently published her first novella, The Threshold. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her singing in the car as if nobody’s watching. James 4:8

 

Finding Comfort in our Crisis with Les Misérables

Do you hear the people sing?

Do you hear the people sing? song and scene from Les Misérables

Do you hear the people sing?

Well, no. But I do hear fears expressed and complaints a-plenty! There was trouble during the French Revolution, and there is trouble today in the form of a virus — the coronavirus.

Although many are in dread of the contagious enemy, we as Christians know we have nothing to fear. Why? Because we have embraced a fact the world has not fully come to grips with —

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hope and honesty

Barking with The Big Dogs: Hope and Honesty for Children

“It is necessary to be hopeful to write successfully for children, yes, because children themselves are generically hopeful, but the quality of hopefulness is not an immature quality.” -Natalie Babbitt ( pp 42)

Natalie Babbitt’s book Barking with the Big Dogs is a collection of her essays and speeches written over several years. In all the various topics she focuses on, from types of fantasies to critical thinking to childhood itself, there are two major themes that pop up repeatedly: hope and honesty.

Hope is woven into the very nature of children’s books. Babbitt kicks off with an essay on happy endings and explains that children’s literature contains a quality of joy adult fiction lacks. In fantasy for kids, the belief that the world can and will be better is proven true. What is a happy ending if not a proof of hope? The villain can be defeated, the ordinary child can be a hero, and the world can be saved. Hope and optimism reign in children’s literature.

Does this mean that children’s books must present utopias?

Absolutely not. Natalie Babbitt claims that when authors try to write perfect worlds, they instead create worlds that are, “patently artificial, a placebo, lacking. . . consistency with the author’s philosophy” (37). In order to escape the one-dimensional depictions of life, Babbitt explains that authors need to write with “as much honesty and skill as we can muster,” (40).

She argues that we need to write stories that have flawed characters and flawed worlds, because flaws are part of human nature. But she also writes that we need to write authentically within our worldview. If we try to write what we don’t believe, we rob our stories of depth.

Herein lies the important message for Christian authors. For Christians, a huge part of writing truthfully is writing hopefully. Hope and honesty go hand in hand for us.

Natalie Babbitt misses this connection between the two. She writes, “it seems a peculiarly contradictory thing for the Bible to say in one place that truth is liberating when in another place it puts hope on a level with faith and charity. . . For hope and truth don’t always go together” (108).

However, hope and honesty are inseparable.

As Christians, the truth we cling to is our hope. God overcomes our greatest fears with His power and promises. The hope of eternity stands in defiance to death, the promise of God’s provision quiets our daily worries, and prayer itself brings us to God’s throne when we face trials.

Babbitt views as a contradiction something she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t recognize a solid hope. Her hope seems to be simply defined as the belief in possibility. She writes, “Life is infinitely more interesting when we can believe in the possibility of something wonderful just over the next hill” (110).

For Christians, hope is so much deeper. We know that something wonderful lies over the next hill. We know that the God of the universe is sustaining His creation. The son of God came to bring us life, and He’s coming again soon. His resurrection is the promise that everything broken will be renewed. A new heaven, a new earth, and a life forever with Him. What greater hope could we ask for?

Therefore, since we have such hope, the only honest way we can write is with that same joy. Hope and honesty should define Christian fiction.

Perhaps more than any other authors, we have the ability to write happy endings authentically. We believe in the greatest happy ending the world will ever know. The ultimate defeat of evil, ordinary people chosen by God for great tasks, and the world forever saved.

As we enter Easter week, may we reflect on the incredible hope that Jesus has brought to the world. May our hope and honesty in our writing be a light in the darkness.

Book Review:

What about the book itself? Natalie Babbitt’s essay collection wasn’t what I expected. While the essays usually focus on discussions around children’s literature, they also tap into Babbitt’s philosophy on life. Her words are instructional at times, but are more personal at others. If you choose to read this book, pick it up as an opportunity to hear the perspective of a fellow author. You’ll learn far more from her words if you view it as a conversation rather than as a lesson.

Overall, I give her book 3  1/2 out of  5 stars. She makes some strong points, but there are still lulls in the book, as well as points that seem out of place or repetitive.

Researching for Historical Fiction in Bath, UK

I had the privilege of visiting England the last week of February — one of my favorite destinations before the coronavirus situation became a deterrent for travel.  I am so grateful! Since I am a historical fiction author, researching the location in person is a real treat, as you can imagine!

The day after I arrived in the UK, and before my week-long intensive Bible course began (the main reason for my visit), my teen friend Mariah and I headed to Bath on a local train to do a bit of research at Sally Lunn’s. During my last visit, I discovered a tidbit of information that led me to write about Sally. More later . . .

The Sally Lunn bun (the size of large hamburger buns, but with the texture of brioche) was excellent — worth risking a reaction to my gluten intolerance. I couldn’t come to Bath without enjoying one! I would describe it as the best hamburger bun you have ever tasted. Hopefully, that’s not offensive to a Brit. Here is a pic of my daughter five years ago when we first experienced this culinary delight. In my story, which I tentatively have titled, “Soli’s Saving Grace,” I bring to light a purely fictional crisis that inspired her to create her bun recipe.

The top of the bun is on the right, and the bottom section is on Olivia’s plate. It is so large, that you must use a knife and fork. Since the bun is as light as a feather, it is no problem to eat both parts in one sitting.

This time, I asked for both. Although the server happily agreed, she seemed a bit perplexed. Evidently, very few people ask for both. Leave it to the Americans to want more! Isn’t this a lovely tearoom? You can feel the history seeping out of the walls.

We finished our lovely meal and headed down to the basement, where a small museum is located. I wanted to revisit the tiny historic exhibition which inspired me five years ago. At that time I found a little sign tacked into a wooden cabinet. It noted Sally Lunn was probably a Huguenot girl named Solange Luyon. That tidbit of information is all I needed to let my imagination run wild! Hopefully, someday, you will read Soli’s story in print.

Next, we visited Bath Abbey, where my character, Soli, flees for refuge. Last time I was in Bath, we were not able to tour it, so I was thrilled when I realized it was possible!

 

So, my reason for visiting the Abbey, other than enjoying the architectural beauty, was to ask a question: Did the Bath Abbey indeed offer refuge for Huguenots who came knocking (did they?) at their enormously imposing wooden doors?

The card given to me by the priest

I found a priest who had time to chat with me. I was surprised to discover he had Huguenot roots himself. Small world! But, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to answer my question. But he did refer me to the archivist who works at the Abbey, and on my way out, I was given a card.

Just what I needed. Now that I have all this time on my hands, due to the #covid-19 crisis, I will email him this week. Who knows what that will uncover!

So, that was my short day trip to Bath for research — quick but productive.  If you are interested, here is a link to my blogpost about my trip to Charleston, SC for Huguenot research.

For a more in-depth look at the city of Bath see my blogpost.

I have two questions for you:

Which era of history is the most fascinating to you?

How is the Covid Crisis affecting your writing habits?

I’d love to read your comments below!

 

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