simplyjan

A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Archive for the category “Writing”

Did I Really Do That?

As I read through my twitter feed this afternoon, I ran across this tweet from @jenluit:

Hey,#runners #runnerds, my weekly #whyirun series has an opening for tomorrow. Scheduled post isn’t coming. Anyone want to share?

Obviously this tweet wasn’t meant for me. I mean, I’m not really a runner. I run/walk. Slowly. And I’ve totally wimped out in this latest heat wave. And I’ve never entered a race. Well, I walked the Cooper Bridge Run once. And I’ve walked two MS Challenge Walks – each one 50 miles in 3 days. That was an accomplishment I’m proud of, but I’m most definitely not a runner.

Plus, I’m not really a writer. Not really. I just write blog posts. And sermons. And newsletter articles. And pastoral notes/letters. And a gajillion emails. And Facebook status updates and tweets. That’s about it.

Before I realized what they were doing, my fingers hit “send” on a tweet they typed totally without my permission:

@jenluit If you ever want to hear from a slightly overweight, slow run/walker who has never run a race, but runs anyway, let me know!

What?! Who wrote that? This not-really-writer volunteered to write about being a not-really-runner for a regular series for runners on Jennifer Luitwieler’s blog. For tomorrow. And she said yes!

So if you want to hear what this wannabe writer has to say about being a wannabe runner, tune in tomorrow. In the meantime, check out Jennifer’s book, Run With Me: An Accidental Runner and the Power of Poo.

What Good Writers Do

good writers

Remember these posters from elementary school? I used to believe that good writers did all these things and if a writer did all these things, they were good. Now I’m not so sure. Sometimes the best writers are the ones who break the rules. I suggest the following revisions to the elementary good writer rules.

What Good Writers Do. . .

1) They think about their topic. More often, they don’t know what they think about a certain topic, but they still write. Sometimes it’s by writing that you discover what you think.

2) They scribble. They doodle. They scratch out words. They make word maps. The write furiously fast so they don’t lose a runaway idea. They are rarely neat.

3) They pay more attention to drawing word pictures than they do to observing every single rule. They learn the rules to pass freshman grammar. They scrap the rules to create new stories, emotions, and settings.

4) Finger spaces made our handwriting neat and readable, but good writers know that neatness doesn’t count – at least not in the beginning. (See #2 above.)

5) They read it over and over. Then they change words, shift scenes, tighten phrasing, and correct mistakes. In the end, they scrap 75-80% of what they wrote and start again.

6) They ask, “How can I make sense of ___?” Then they write until they do.

Dear Diary . . .

Before there were blogs, there were journals. And in them we’d write as we really were, not as we wanted to appear. But there comes a day when journals outlive us. And with them, our secrets.

Elizabeth D

I just finished reading Nichole Bernier’s debut novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. It is a novel about Kate, a woman who inherits her best friend’s trunk full of journals after her friend’s tragic and untimely death in a plane crash. Elizabeth wanted Kate to have the journals because “she would know what to do with them.” Kate spends the summer reading the journals, beginning when Elizabeth was just a child recovering from a family tragedy up to the present. She comes to realize how little she really knew about her friend, and maybe how little she really knows about anybody. After all, we are all guilty of carefully editing the parts of our stories that we share and of donning socially acceptable masks to wear in public.

As I read the novel, I kept remembering the prayer a Montreat workshop leader once shared:

Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, please throw my journals in the lake.

What do you do with your journals?

I started keeping journals at a young age. I only had one official diary. It had a plastic cover that was supposed to look like wood grain. And of course it had a lock. In it are my first recorded dreams of being a writer – just like Laura Ingalls Wilder, you know. I kept that diary for years and years, but I don’t remember seeing it anywhere in my last move, so it may be long gone. I kept other little notebooks, too. I remember a tiny Kaiser Fertilizer note pad that I used to take to my “hideaway” beside our house on Boulevard. It was a narrow strip of land, the brick house on one side, the neighbor’s shrub hedge on the other, and a cedar tree at either point. Those were my Harriet the Spy days. There wasn’t much to spy on at Mrs. Todd’s house next door, so I mainly made up stories about what could be happening over there to make life a little more interesting.

I have a stack of spiral notebook from my early years of teaching and marriage. I have a few more from the days when my marriage was bad. I quit journaling for a long time when I discovered that my ex-husband had taken one of my journals and made copies of it. That felt like the ultimate of betrayals. I wouldn’t write at all again for a long time.

I finally started writing again after we were separated and I was in therapy. It seems I was quite adept at telling my therapist what everybody else in my life thought and felt, but I didn’t have a clue about what I thought or felt about anything. A good therapist (and an author’s husband), he gave me a writing assignment. Spend at least 30 minutes completing these statements: “I think . . .” and “I feel. . .” The first few times I tried it, I threw the notebook across the room in frustration. Then one night I woke up at 3 a.m. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I turned on a lamp and picked up my notebook. I wrote nonstop for over three hours. Surprisingly enough, I thought and felt a lot of things once I allowed those thoughts and feelings to have a voice.

I kept up the journaling for years. Sometimes I used plain old notebooks. Sometimes I chose pretty journals. Sometimes I filled them up. Sometimes I wrote on only a few pages before starting a new one. I keep thinking there is a magic journal and a magic pen out there somewhere – the ones that will effortlessly fill pages with an astonishingly good novel or memoir. I haven’t found them yet, but I am still looking.

journals

A sampling of some of my journals. My very favorite one ever is the angel journal on top. I filled every page in green ink. 

In December of 2004, I started blogging. Blogging has been a game-changer for me. At first I didn’t think anyone would read what I wrote. I thought it would be a lot like a regular journal, only online. I was shocked – and a little scared – when people did read it. And they responded! I wrote anonymously for years. Slowly I let the anonymity go. Finally, after much thought and fretting and nail-biting, this summer I went totally public. Church members, high school friends, cousins, parents, colleagues, and total strangers can read what I write and know exactly who wrote it. Amazingly scary. Amazingly exhilarating.

There is such a difference between journaling and blogging. I lost it when I discovered my ex-husband had taken, read, and copied my journal. Yet now I blog openly, where anyone who chooses can read. Of course, I edit myself more carefully here than I would in a private notebook. But there is more to it than just that.

In an interview with Dani Shapiro, Nichole Bernier had this to say about journals and blogs:

The evolution of blogs has always been interesting to me. In journals, people are working through questions looking for comfort and insight, essentially asking themselves, What would the wisest person I know advise me on this? It’s a conversation with the best part of oneself.

Blogs can be many things — entertaining, poignant, cathartic. But even with the most sincere of intentions, blogs are crafted with the consciousness of another reader. It’s the difference between a candid photo and a portrait. Not much in our world is truly private anymore, which makes journals all the more rare.

I rarely journal anymore, although I keep a journal pretty close at hand almost always. Rather than recording emotions, personal experiences, and other typical stuff of journals, I’m much more likely to record quotes, jot down funny/poignant things I’ve heard or seen and don’t want to forget, or brainstorm lists and ideas. Sometimes I miss the old-fashioned journal, the candid photo of writing. Even so, the lake may be a good final destination for my journals one day!

I’d Like to Introduce You…

Great writers share. Not just their own knowledge, ideas, and expertise. They also share the work of others and credit them accordingly. ~ Jeff Goins, 15 Habits of Great Writers, Day 10

I follow so many wonderful writers. Some days it’s hard to keep up with them all because my Google Reader, Facebook, and Twitter feeds just explode with greatness. So much talent! So many good ideas! I would like to share with you a few of my favorites. (In addition, of course, to Jeff’s blog, linked above!)

Creativity/Inspiration/Writing

Jon Acuff’s Blog – Jon was first known for his blog, Stuff Christians Like. It’s still going strong and I’m a regular reader, but I especially enjoy his blog on writing, creativity, and social media. My dream is to one day make it to his Quitter’s Conference.

Karen Salmonsohn – I’m not sure how I stumbled upon this blog, but Karen’s images and quotes never fail to inspire me. I’m a visual learner/remember-er, so her blog is like magic for me. She inspires the kind of creativity that makes me think it’s okay to make up words I need, like “remember-er.”

Rachelle Gardner – Rachelle is a literary agent. Her blog offers a treasure-trove of opportunities to learn more about the writing/publishing business. When the day comes I need an agent – and I hope that will be sooner than later – I pray I will find one who has a mentor’s heart like Rachelle.

Spirituality and Religion

RevGalBlogPals – I’ve been a member of this web ring since its infancy. Through it, I’ve met many amazing people – men and women, some in ministry and some not – who have hearts and pens of gold. For me to name specific blogs from the ring would be like trying to name a favorite child. Just can’t do it!

Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary – I put Jamie very high on my list of bloggers I’d love to meet and have coffee with one day. Who knows? Maybe it can happen since she and her family will be coming back stateside soon after five years of missionary service in Costa Rica. Jamie’s honesty and humor, coupled with real-life faith, make this blog worth your time.

Naked Pastor – Sometimes I think David Hayward spies on me. There have been so many times when his cartoon for the day or his latest Sophia drawing have reflected my life and struggles.

Rachel Held Evans – This is one brave, articulate woman. Her posts will teach you something new, make you think again about the things you thought you knew, and draw you into deeper conversations about faith.

Photography

Writing as Jo(e) – Technically I’m cheating here, since my connection with Jo(e) came through RGBPs. I think it’s okay to cheat since some of my favorite posts of hers fall in the category of photography. She has an eye for beauty!

Charleston Daily Photo – Joan Perry lives here in Charleston and posts amazing photos from this region. Her blog has given me new eyes for seeing my surroundings, especially when walking in historic downtown.

Ashley Sisk – Ashley’s blog is the home of Scavenger Hunt Sunday. This photo challenge is open to everyone and is so much fun. Even if you aren’t interested in taking pictures yourself, drop by to see her masterpieces as well as those who link to her blog for the weekly challenge.

In Real Life

I saved the best for last – bloggers I know in real life. There is an added dimension to reading a blog when you interact on a personal level with the writer. These women are smart, strong, creative, and inspirational. I’m proud to call them my friends.

Cathy’s Voice Now – I count Cathy as one of my very best friends. She’s also my best cheerleader, motivator, and deliverer of a swift kick in the pants when I need it. Her story is nothing short of amazing. I’m so happy she made the decision to share it. It will change lives. Mark my words.

Ordinary Wonders – Anita and Stacy, two of the three authors of Ordinary Wonders, are also writing buddies who graciously opened their writing group to me. Anita has published a number of articles/stories and is gifted in mentoring other writers. Stacy, who is also a hospital chaplain at MUSC, has a powerful memoir waiting for the perfect agent, editor, and publisher. I’ll be able to say “I knew her back when” once her book in on the shelves of our bookstores!

Angie Mizzell – Okay, so I’m cheating again. I haven’t actually met Angie face-to-face yet, even though we live just across town from each other. Still, we’re practically blood kin!!! Just ask her! And that IRL meeting? It’s happening soon. Right, Angie? (I’ll hold Cate for you! I might even give the cutie back – eventually!)

A Little Bird Told Me

little bird

Sometimes I feel like my study at church is actually a tree house. The young tree outside hasn’t grown tall enough yet to cover my second story window, but it is tall enough to show sufficient greenery to make me feel like I’m perched on a limb. Today I had a lot of company in my tree house. These two birds and about four of their good friends congregated on the window sill, chirping excitedly about something. One little fellow was particularly interested in what I was doing inside. While the others looked out over the church parking lot, he peeked inside, tilting his head curiously from side to side. I was working on my sermon, trying to bring order to the messy thoughts I’d collected over the week.

“Will this illustration work, or is this other one better?” Chirp, chirp!

“So the second one is better?” Chirp!

“Is this part too boring, too drawn out?” Chirp!

“Yeah, I thought so. I need to change the wording.” Chirp, chirp!!!

“Oh, so I should cut it then?” CHIRP!

“Well you could be nicer about it!”

My chirping editor flew away with his buddies, apparently satisfied that his work was done. Whether people like the sermon this Sunday or not, do you think they will believe me when I give credit (or criticism) to my feathered editor? Because really, a little bird told me!

By the way, if the feedback is positive, I’ll be sure to take bird seed next week as payment for services rendered – and as a bribe for future help!

Why I Write

How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” ~ E.M. Forster

keyboard

Reflecting on a book about journaling, Diane Mackinnon had this to say in her blog post today: “My thoughts go in circles when I am just thinking them, but there is something about the implied dialogue of journaling that allows my thoughts to move forward and resolve when I write them down.”

That is a good description of why I like to write. For me, it works something like this. Something happens: typical life encounter, seeing a TV show, reading my Twitter or Facebook feeds, a current event. I take it in and respond to it, usually first at a gut level. Literally. I feel a knot in my stomach (if it’s bad), a heaviness in my heart (if it’s sad), a sense of giddy lightness (if it’s exciting)… You get the picture. I feel things first – almost always. Unfortunately, I’m a slow processor. I can’t always verbalize immediately why I feel bad, sad, excited, or mad. So I think about things to try to figure them out. But like Diane said, my thinking pattern tends to be circular. I have a hard time getting past the obvious. It’s frustrating.

So when I am feeling something particularly strongly, you’ll probably find me with at the keyboard writing it down. When I write, I start with the obvious. “I can’t believe she said that! That hurt! Why was she being so mean?” I spit it all out and keep going. Pretty soon I’m able to move in another level. “You know, she looked to be on the verge of tears herself. That’s unusual – she rarely shows emotion like that. I wonder what she was feeling.” I’m beginning to get a little distance from my emotions. It’s amazing what a little objectivity can do for you. “I think she said those things because she really does care. She thought I didn’t get what she was saying, so she said it more forcefully. Maybe she wasn’t being mean. Maybe she was being protective.” 

A part of me wants to think that this only happens with journal writing. “Serious” writing should be much more mind-driven than gut-driven, right? To some extent, that may be true, but I tend to think that most writing originates in this way. Something happens. We respond to it on a gut level and want to understand and explain why. Maybe we do that through journaling or blogging. Maybe we do it through personal experience essays or memoir. Maybe we tackle it through a short story or novel. Regardless, writing is ultimately a grand exercise in figuring out life and sharing what we learn. Really – how can we know what we think until we see what we say?

A Matter of Perspective

perspective (Hubris Press Present Tense)

On December 8, 2004, I started a blog. I wrote under a pseudonym, assuming that it would provide me with enough anonymity to give me the courage to write something that someone else might read. And a few people did read. Not many, but a solid circle of new internet friends was formed.

Then I got a little bolder. I told my brother about the blog. Now it’s one thing to write when the people reading your words aren’t people you see and interact with daily. It’s completely different when someone you know well is reading. My brother has been really cool about it. If he thinks I sound like an idiot, he is at least keeping it to himself!

Over time, I’ve inched out a little more and a little more. I will post links to my blog on Twitter sometimes. I created a Facebook group for sharing links to blog posts. I’m not yet comfortable putting the links on Facebook for everyone and his brother  to see, but the group is slowly expanding.

Something happened about six weeks ago that completely blew my mind. My stats blew up one day. I had more views in one afternoon than I’d had in all the previous month (or two) combined. It happened again the next day. It’s happened on a few occasions since. I don’t know where the traffic is coming from or why, but wow!

Combine the occasional jump in stats with the fact that my blog is slowly being discovered by people outside my handpicked “safe” group. A new pastor/colleague/friend in town mentioned my blog to me after our joint Easter Sunrise Service. I didn’t realize she was a RevGalBlogPal until that moment. That’s great! I’m thrilled to have another RGBP so close by. A church member who kept my kids for me last night while I attended my writer’s group mentioned something to me that she only could have known if she had read my blog. That’s cool! It’s impossible to keep life compartmentalized in the world of social media.

I have mixed feelings about becoming more public, though. When you are pretty much anonymous with only a handful of people reading your words – most of whom don’t even life in the same state – then writing feels pretty safe. The internal mean censor will occasionally even go to sleep. But when other family members, community members, and church members begin reading, writing becomes a lot scarier.

You see, this is one place that I want to be me. I don’t want to be Pastor Jan, or Mama Jan, or (fill-in-the-family-relationship) Jan. I want to be myself, even if “myself” might be lazy, or controversial, or un-pastor-like at the moment.

So . . . more people than ever are reading my blog, and that’s GREAT!

So . . . more people than ever are reading my blog, and that’s SCARY!

It’s all a matter of perspective.

I Survived the Lion’s Den

Yesterday I entered the lion’s den, totally transformed it, and lived to tell about it. Okay, so I really entered the junk room over the garage (a.k.a. Lacy’s room), cleaned it out, and survived the experience with no ill effects beyond aggravated sinuses and some sore muscles.

When we moved into this house, we believed it was a four bedroom house. Turns out that the fourth bedroom, the FROG (finished room over the garage), is poorly insulated. Therefore it is too cold to for sleeping in the winter and too warm for sleeping in the summer. So naturally it turned into the junk room.

When Rookie joined the family two years ago, Lacy, our old lady cat (now 15) decided that she deserved a room of her own. She had no patience for unpredictable, hyperactive puppies. So the junk room became Lacy’s room.

LacySweet Lacy-Lou

So imagine it – two years worth of boxes of seasonal and/or outgrown clothes, bags meant for Goodwill, children’s toys that were outgrown or confiscated, extra “supplies” (i.e. stuff that is too good to throw away, but apparently not really needed because we never use it) . . . junk, junk, junk. Throw in a couple of cat litter boxes (Lacy is sometimes visited by one of the other family cats), forget to dust or vacuum for, well, a couple of years, and you’ve got a horrible mess. I would have taken a before picture, but I was too embarrassed to record such mess for posterity.

The kids are home for spring break and I’m taking some needed post-Easter time off. Yesterday, the junk room was my project – a 9-5 nasty project.

The thing about this room is that is has a nice little nook with a window that would make the perfect writing nook. I’ve coveted that nook since we moved here. You see, I don’t have a writing spot. I’m usually propped in the bed, or sitting on the couch, or sitting uncomfortably at the dining room table. Each place has other purposes and other distractions. Oh, to have a room of my own. Or at least a nook of my own. Needless to say, with two years’ worth of clutter and dust, that wasn’t happening.

Now. . .maybe it can. But first I had to sort through the stuff: my junk that I didn’t want to deal with so I pushed aside and forgot; my kids’ junk, most of which is either trash or no longer age appropriate; decorations that I’m too exhausted after the holidays to put away properly; the mess made by living things that share my life. So much to sort through, organize, deal with, clean up, or discard.

Isn’t that the way it is with writing itself though? There are so many things that get in the way. You know, stuff that we don’t want to deal with that ends up crowding out creativity. Things from the past that are no longer useful. Physical and emotional energy that you burn parenting and working. All the stuff that comes when you let other living things into your life and space. It can get as messy and cluttered inside our heads and hearts as it is outside in our junk rooms. 

Sometimes you just have to enter the lion’s den and fight through all the junk that you find there. Once you’ve sorted through it, organized it, cleaned up, and discarded what really needs to go, you find there is room to breathe. And where there is room to breathe, there is room to create.

nook 1A.W. makes great window decoration.

Or at least one can hope.

Brilliant, Simply Brilliant!

Brilliant ideas for blog posts, writing projects, and even sermons – I have them. Yes, I really do. They come in the wee hours of the morning when I half-awaken to change positions or pull the covers tighter. I’m not exactly awake, but I’m not exactly asleep either. As I settle back down in search of real sleep, my mind percolates introductory paragraphs, perfect story illustrations, memories I had forgotten. They seem, in that groggy state, so very promising.

Brilliant ideas come when I’m driving. I enter the “zone” when I drive. I’m aware of my surroundings, but if you pass me on the road, please don’t expect me to wave because I promise I didn’t even notice that it was your car I just passed. I write in my head and keep pushing the internal repeat button in hopes that it will become ingrained enough I won’t forget.

I heard a story on NPR today about Roald Dahl, told by his daughter, Ophelia. She said that she remembers riding in the car with her father when he would suddenly have an idea for a story. She said he would pull off the side of the road and write it in the dirt on the hood of the car so he wouldn’t forget it. Now that’s dedication. I’m guessing that he always tried to race the clouds home before the rain stole his ideas from the hood.

Yes, I have a notebook and pen beside my bed. But just like the Palmetto bugs (i.e., cockroaches) scatter when the lights turn on, so do the ideas when the bright lamp intrudes on my dreamlike state. (Goodness. Did I really just compare my good ideas to cockroaches? So much for convincing anyone of my brilliance.)

And yes, I have a voice recorder on my phone. Somewhere. By the time I figure out where, the muse turns shy and escapes, taking the ideas with her.

There is a better way, I just know it. Maybe I need a little pen light. Ideas aren’t scared of a dim little light, are they? And if I went to the trouble of downloading a friendly voice app and putting a widget on my home screen, surely I could start it up discreetly enough that the muse wouldn’t flee, right?

I guess that’s the only way to find out if I’m brilliant or if I’m just (day)dreaming.

Journals

“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, please throw my journals in the lake.”

journals

I went rambling in my antique trunk the other night. It’s the first time I have done this since moving to Charleston 2 1/2 years ago. I’d forgotten about all the treasures I’d carefully wrapped and stored away inside: pictures, cards, letters, knick-knacks, kids’ drawings, diplomas, and journals.

Yes, journals – about a dozen of them spanning the years between 1987 and 2007. Some of them are cheap notebooks. Others are nicer journals. Only a few of them are filled from cover to cover. I love notebooks and journals. Even though most of my writing is done on a computer keyboard these days, I still buy them frequently – all shapes, sizes, and colors; some plain and some fancy. It’s like I believe that if I can just find the right journal the words will naturally flow out of me to fill it. Apparently I’ve yet to find the right journal.

It was an emotional experience to read through these old journals. I tend to write a lot when I’m hurt or confused. It’s my way of figuring out what I think and how I feel. Much of what is in these journals was written during times of personal turbulence and confusion, with a few happy stories and memories scattered in between the angst. I scanned quickly over pages written by me, the bewildered young wife who couldn’t figure out why her husband rejected her. I found a letter I wrote to Anna on the night before I was scheduled to go to the hospital to have my labor induced. I found the photocopied pages of one of my journals that my ex-husband made without telling me. I remember how I felt when I accidentally stumbled across them hidden in the back of a drawer. I couldn’t have felt any more angry or betrayed if he had taken covert pictures of me naked and printed them out. I read over pages written by me, the angry and now defiant young wife who was done with that marriage. I read pages written by me, the dreamer – literally – who faithfully recorded the most vivid, bizarre dreams that visited me often during that tumultuous period. I read pages written by me, the teacher/called to be preacher/wannabe writer, searching for a way to be the me I wanted to be. I read pages written by me, in love again, hurt again, alone again, yet always somehow hopeful that one day things would work out.

As I read my old journals, I wanted so much to be able to talk back to the younger me, to tell her things that the older, more experienced me now knows. I wanted to comfort her. I wanted to shake her and tell her not to put up with the crap she put up with for far too long. I wanted to show her all the ways she was strong back then, even though all she could see at the time was her weakness and her alone-ness. I wanted to tell her to write not just when she is sad, but also when she is happy. I wanted to tell her to always listen to her dreams, for more often than not they are filled with the kind of wisdom we can only receive when our guard is down in sleep. I wanted to tell her that it’s okay to be a bitch sometimes, and that she doesn’t have to feel guilty about going after what she wants, and that the people who really matter in this life will love her even if she decides to go her own way and do her own thing rather than always being compliant. (They wouldn’t always like it, mind you, but they would always love her.) When she was upset about being written up for being insubordinate at work, I wanted to shout, “Hell yes, girl! It’s about time you stood up! And don’t you dare change a thing!” I wanted to thank her for writing down her story because her story does indeed matter.

After a couple of hours of reading, I tucked my journals away in the drawer by my bed – their new home that will make it easier for me to access them. As I closed the drawer it dawned on me that perhaps my older, more experienced self should listen to her own pep talks a little more often.

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