Written by Barbara Baranowski
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
John 15:1-2 (NIV)
The beautiful ivy had crawled up through the ground after winter’s cold and was overtaking our sturdy wooden fence. I needed to remove it. So, on a beautiful spring day, with gloves and clippers, I headed out to trim. The vine was solidly and deeply rooted in the dirt, but I was able to pull the runners away from the fence. I hated trimming those beautifully variegated leaves. To me, ivy gives a sense of antiquity and strength. As the day ended, I looked at the carpet of cuttings on the ground and breathe a sigh of relief that the job was nearly complete. When I finished the next morning, I noticed how dead the trimmings were after only one night.
Jesus cautioned believers to live in Him for the same reason. His words resound with the same thought—apart from Him, we can do nothing for His kingdom and do not become what He has created us to be. If we are like sturdy branches growing in Him, the Vine of Life, we will understand that the pruning, while sometimes painful, is necessary for us to grow in love, trust, and service for God, leaving us to be an ever-bearing, vibrant part of His kingdom. However, as the leaves of the ivy vine die apart from its strong source of strength, we too will quickly die spiritually if we remove ourselves from prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with believers and in our case, too, other writers.
As springtime brings new growth and the earth becomes rejuvenated with beauty, let’s take stock of our spiritual and writing life. Are we a dying vine or a vibrant part of the Lord’s
To a non-writer, it might seem that writing a memoir is easy. You know what happened—just tell the truth.
Here’s a passage from a good writer that is on point.
The passage is on page thirty of the novel Lila by Marilynne Robinson. The protagonist of the novel is a young woman who scarcely ever talks, whom the reader does not yet know well. She is sitting, virtually silent, with an elderly minister in his kitchen, drinking coffee. He has just told her an event about angels.
She said, “I liked that story.”
He looked away from her and laughed. “It is a story, isn’t it? I’ve never really thought of it that way. And I suppose the next time I tell it, it will be a better story. Maybe a little less true. I might not tell it again. I hope I won’t. You’re right not to talk. It’s a sort of higher honesty, I think. Once you start talking, there’s no telling what you’ll say.
Read that last sentence again—Once you start talking, there’s no telling what you’ll say.
Most people don’t suffer under the burden of being writers. Truth in writing is more complicated than most people understand. Once we writers start talking—writing—there’s no telling what we’ll say.
What we writers say is for the good of the story we are telling. The good of the story we are telling becomes our motivation, which is paramount. Truth notwithstanding.
If the need of the story is for its protagonist to step off the porch and to trip over the cat, then that is what the protagonist does—even though the truth of the incident was that it was the bottom step of the inside staircase, and it was the dog.
Lila is a novel. Fiction is one thing; memoir is another. I write memoir. It’s harder.
For one thing, the people you write about in memoir are still alive, or they may be, and they have a right to privacy—which is true even if they’re dead. For another, you yourself have a right to privacy, even when you seem deliberately to have opened yourself up to scrutiny. But the main difficulty about your memoir is that your memoir is not about you. Your memoir uses you to support its real subject. Its real subject is your theme for writing.
What are you writing about? Not you. Frankly, no one is much interested in you except a few friends and relations. It’s your theme that is of general interest—you hope.
Let’s say your memoir’s theme is how pet ownership has opened up your life to greater awareness of God. In that case, it really doesn’t matter if the accident was prompted by the porch and the cat or by the stairs and the dog. Either is relevant to the theme.
However, you know that it was the stairs and the dog, but you’re going to use the porch and the cat.
That’s the truth trouble, right there.
Why do you use the porch and the cat? You write that it was the porch and the cat because, later in your memoir, at the climax of your theme—when the awareness of God comes vividly upon you—that event actually did happen on the porch.
You decide you’ll use the porch and the cat for the accident so that your memoir, as a whole—rising as it does toward the God revelation—can occur on the porch, where it really did occur. That’s the best way for the revelation scene to be literarily cohesive with the accident event.
It’s not easy.
How do you balance?
Or do you serve each of these needs at the same time by using techniques of fiction, without stepping across the line into fiction?
Readers of your book want to be excited by your memoir, not because it is about you, but—because of the gift you have made to them of your theme—it is about them.
Yes, you are providing detail about your life and your events, but their attraction to your memoir is that you have allowed them to think about themselves in new ways. Their lives and their events have been affirmed, or tested, or questioned, or balanced by what you have said about yours.
They are drawn into your memoir by this. But they stay inside your book because of what you have revealed to them about them.
Each draft of your story perfects your story, while each draft is a little less true. That’s because once you start to write your story, there’s no telling what you’ll say.
Written by Dikkon Eberhart
Don’t skim your eye down the words. Go back and say the words. Say them with measured solemnity, four syllables to each word. Sixteen syllables all together.
You are praising the Lord. This is the Gloria in excelsis Deo that you are pronouncing.
It was late morning on the eve of Christmas Eve. I called my wife at the church. Since she and I came to Christ six years before, she had been our pastor’s secretary. I was checking in, concerned about errands I needed to finish while I was out on the road. We spoke briefly about the errands.
Then I asked her when she planned to come home from the church. Uncharacteristically, she did not know. Usually, she knows. Usually, she knows because she knows what tasks she must finish. Usually, she responds with a time—an hour, two hours.
But this time, she was vague. It was odd of her—my wife is not a vague person, about time or about anything else. “I don’t know,” is what she said, and she said it with a puzzled intonation, as though she wondered why she did not know and yet she said it anyway. I was puzzled, too, when I hung up.
I thought perhaps I should call her back, to ask if she were all right. I thought perhaps I should question her tone of puzzlement, which suggested she did not feel in charge of her time that afternoon. But I did not call her back. I had errands to do.
Here’s what I learned later. After I hung up, an hour or two passed at the church. My wife was alone. She finished tasks. There is always a task to finish on a secretary’s desk. But, puzzlingly, she did not formulate a plan for the finishing of her tasks and for her getting home. Then the church’s door opened and a man entered whom my wife had never seen. The man introduced himself and asked if the pastor were in. The pastor was not in.
The man seemed puzzled by the circumstance that the pastor was not in at the church. “But God told me I must come to see him now.”
“Well, would you like me to make an appointment for you, for later?”
“But God told me I must come to see him now.”
After all—this is how my wife reported the conversation to me—after all, the man was puzzled himself. He had done what God had told him to do. Now, it was the pastor’s turn.
The pastor had left the church not long before, with several plans in his mind. He had not been certain which of the plans he would undertake. He would let my wife know which plan he would undertake, he said, when he knew himself.
My wife dialed the phone. The pastor answered.
“There’s a man here,” she said, and she gave his name. “He says he needs to see you.”
“I wasn’t certain about your plan.”
“Well, I haven’t selected the plan yet. I don’t know why. Right now, I’m eating lunch.”
The pastor thought for a moment. “Can he wait ten minutes?”
My wife looked at the man. “Can you wait ten minutes?”
She turned back to the phone. “He can wait.”
“See you in ten.”
In ten minutes, the pastor arrived at the church. He and the man went into his office. Two hours later, the man accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord, and his name was written in Glory.
Late that same night, on the eve of Christmas Eve, my wife and I relaxed on our couch. The house was aromatic with baking gift breads. The Christmas tree was lit with white bulbs, wax candles burned among our mantel display of spruce boughs and red balls, and twinkling candles were alight in our windows so that, as my mother told me when I was a child, if the Christ Child should need a place to lie down, He would know by our candles that He would be welcome here.
My wife had explained to me the odd events of that afternoon—the man puzzled why the pastor should not be at his office when God had indicated that he would be, my wife puzzled about her inability to manage a time to return to our house so that she was available just at the right moment to make that telephone call to our pastor, our pastor puzzled that he had not selected among his plans for the afternoon so that he was, at the necessary time for the man, just eating lunch.
My wife lay back on the couch and put her feet in my lap. In silence, I stroked her feet. The wine was red in my glass, and white in my wife’s. We listened to Susan Boyle sing Hallelujah. The words of poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen filled the room.
We are busy people, she and I, with several jobs between us—retirees who still work hard, and I had a new book coming out, a memoir recounting my life as the son of a poet father—a father whose poetry molded my relationship with our Father.
Relaxing on our couch, weary after days and days of heavy work for both of us, nearing the completion of our Advent anticipation of a miracle—humbly trying to experience our anticipation with patience—the beauty of the season and of the Christ lights overthrew me. I wept.
My wife looked her question, but gently: this was her emotional husband.
“It’s beautiful,” I said.
I wept for Cohen’s spare, elegiac poetry. I wept for Boyle’s easy voice. I wept for the still, calm beauty of our decorated home. I wept for giving gift bread to our friends, bread which my wife had created. But mostly I wept that, on the eve of Christmas Eve, the Lord Himself had used my wife and our pastor for His own purpose, which was to bring another soul to salvation—that godly using, which had puzzled each of them, as their planning of their day was set aside.
Written by Barbara Baranowski
Are you thinking about attending a writers’ conference in 2017? Here are some tips from my own experience.
I left the American Christian Writers’ Conference ready to conquer some “giants” of Writerdom, including lack of time and fear of rejection. The instructors, as always, delighted me with their wealth of information and inspirational words. And, as always, I felt armed to do battle. But, I also knew another giant was awaiting me on the drive home and would follow me into the house. That was the hardest one for me to escape. I call him “Big Blue.”
Recognizing the Giant
After a writers’ conference, “Big Blue” walks into the house with me, and as I place the wonderful materials near my computer, whispers to me that I won’t see those inspiring attendees for another year. I can hear him laughing at the thought that I would open my newest notes or leisurely peruse new materials. He reminds me of the time and energy it takes to develop writing skills. I brush him off, but he sits near me and notes how solitary I seem. Some may call him post-conference blues or depression. I’m not sure if this is a classified condition, but it happens when I leave a conference feeling so inspired, yet so empty of those relationships and people I’ve been with—people a little “strange” about the lure of writing, like me. Lately, however, I recognize his voice immediately and have developed some ways to banish him. If this happen to you, I recommend these giant-slaying tips.
Share Your Experience
Share what you did at the conference with someone, even if you have to speak to yourself. Don’t keep the excitement and positive experiences bottled up. Call or email a fellow writer. You may inspire others, but more importantly, you reconnect to your own excitement. Often a speaker addresses more than writing techniques. Did one encourage you to a deeper prayer life? Share the inspiration you received. Did an article or book writer relate an unforgettable experience that motivated or inspired you? Pass along those words to comfort and hearten others. At many conferences an attendee list is given. Network your experience, but also network your feelings.
Seek Immediate Writing Opportunities
Look for writing opportunities immediately following the conference. Check with your church newsletter, bulletins, community papers, or send off that article which you have been clutching with insecurity. Open your market guide and go on a writer’s “shopping spree” in search of the publication with needs that match your work. Take on the challenge of defeating the giant by hurling the stone of enthusiasm.
Review Your Notes
Review the conference notes that you worked so hard to get and listen to any tapes you bought. Remember how the speakers’ words satiated your writer’s hunger and energized your spirit? In the same way, let the lessons energize your writing. By doing so, you will relive the excitement and be encouraged to continue. Highlight the notes that have special meaning to you and apply them immediately to your writing.
Make Use of Freebies
Probably your muscles strained as you carried home heavy bags leaded with wonderful catalogues, periodicals, and writers’ guidelines. Look carefully through them and anticipate gaining insights about the publications. File them by type for future reference, and review them often.
The Next Mountaintop
As soon as possible, make plans for your next conference. Regenerate the excitement. Look forward to new lessons and friends. After all, the next mountain top experience is just around the corner.
Post-conference blues can become a time of growth, or post conference greens, as I now like to think. These days I have learned to walk out of the conferences with only my writing friends. I leave “Big Blue” behind. Who needs him?
For some conference opportunities see our Writer Opportunities page.
Written by Dikkon Eberhart
Dad was prominent as a poet. When I was young, I longed not to be a poet.
I’d be anything—a quarterback, an FBI agent, a ship captain. But in my soul, I knew I would be a chip off Dad’s block. Alas, I was a word-smith, too.
So I watched Dad, to learn how.
Read, read, read.
Read any style, content, genre, author, date—it doesn’t matter.
“We pour our souls into these words, Dikkon. You need to learn to identify writing that’s worth that effort and writing that’s not.”
Once, after Dad breezed through an erotic novel I showed him, drily he responded, “Chaucer did it better.”
“I can’t write it,” I moaned, regarding my short story assignment in high school. “It’s too hard!”
Dad caught Mom’s urging eye, put down his pipe, and asked me, “What’s your story about?”
“When they’re choosing up teams, the boy wants to be picked first but maybe he won’t be.”
“I don’t know! Maybe he isn’t picked first, but maybe he hits the home run. It’s due tomorrow!”
“Try making the story about his thoughts.”
“About his thoughts?”
“Yes. Try starting with the word ‘maybe.’” Dad grinned. “Maybe the story is about maybe.”
So I wrote the story and submitted it on time. Its first sentence was “Maybe I’ll be picked first but maybe not.”
Bring the reader in.
“Do you like it?” Dad asked.
“Not what I asked.”
“Then, no. It’s boring.”
“Do you think maybe the author’s just writing for himself and maybe for his closest friends?”
I hadn’t thought of that as a possibility. The author was a major name in modernist English fiction—the focus of my college class.
Dad pressed on, “Do you think it’s important that you be drawn in?”
“You’re his reader, aren’t you?”
I laughed. “I wouldn’t be his reader, not if I could help it.”
“So…that’s my point. Yes, the reader must come to the writer, but the reader only will come to the writer if he’s drawn in, not forced in.”
“That’s not happening here.”
“So when you’re a writer….”
I nodded. “Bring ‘em in.”
Don’t go to sleep until you know what happens next.
“No,” Dad said. “I don’t believe in writer’s block.”
“It’s my first novel, Dad. I can’t get past the point where I am. You’re a poet, not a novelist. How could you know?”
“What’s the last scene you wrote?”
I told him.
“Go back and write it again.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Doesn’t matter. Probably nothing. But write it again—create it again. Your juices will begin to flow again, and you’ll speed on.”
Turns out he was right—I sped on.
Don’t let it fester.
I called Dad. Two days before, I had finished my second novel, doing its last sixty pages in an eighteen-hour burst of ecstatic—almost holy—writing. “It’s done, Dad.”
“Of course. Get a rest.”
“Of course. So…what’s next?”
“I read it over. I think it’s good. Gotta do some tweaks.”
“Do that. But then—get it off your desk.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t let it fester. Get it out into the world. If you tweak it too much, you could kill it. Now let an editor tell you what to do. ”
HERE’S A BONUS!
A Sixth Thing I Learned
Sitting in our garden, Robert Frost turned to me and remarked, “Dikkon, the work of the poet is to write at least one single poem that they can’t get rid of. They’ll try. But don’t let ‘em.”
© – Dikkon Eberhart, 2016
Written by Donna Willard
Journaling is writing about the journey we call life. Often journaling has meant so much to me because I can release the feelings inside my heart and onto an external piece of paper. It has helped me deal with feelings of depression and anxiety, as well as express joy. Journaling is a release for my soul and has helped me to captivate my thoughts and emotions. It has also been a springboard for many pieces that I have written, including editorials and letters to friends. In addition, journaling is a great way to communicate with God through a prayer, and then later record answers to prayer.
Requirements for journaling include paper, pencil, and the thoughts and feelings the Lord places in your heart. There are many beautiful journals for purchase, but one can, if preferred, just use a piece of blank paper. Some journals have scripture or ideas that act as a springboard for thoughts.
The writer does not have to edit when journaling. That just interrupts the flow of thoughts. Many writers start their writing pieces in a journal. One just needs to express thoughts or prayers for God to begin. It is truly the easiest form of writing for God.
King David wrote his thoughts in journal form, as found in Psalms 22, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?”(NLTB) David’s words start out with deep sadness and end with the joy of future generations hearing about the wonders of the Lord.
We all are on a journey in life. Writing in journal form is a way to communicate ideas from our abstract minds to concrete paper. Whether we write just for ourselves to read or to share so others may learn, journaling empties our soul to paper.
Written by Barbara Baranowski
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
Ecclesiastes 3: 1 (KJV)
Like many writers, I dream of writing without ceasing. I have ideas and inspirations to share and words to write before I sleep. Sometimes, though, God has a different plan for me.
We were packing to take a family beach vacation. We had rented a house and were looking forward to spending time with our family, especially enjoying our grandchildren.
As usual, I packed my writing supplies. I fantasized about meditating on the beauty of the beach, walking the sand at sunset with pencil and pad in hand, and dashing off inspirational pieces. Along with family time, I had visualized a writer’s retreat. How blissful. How unrealistic! A retreat doesn’t happen with family, especially children, around. I had prayed for everything concerning the week, except how the Lord would use it from a writing perspective.
After the first day, reality knocked on the door of my sandcastle dreams. I loved being with our grandchildren. I planned out treasure hunts, played games, built roads in the sand, and read lots of books. We watched children’s movies and went shell hunting. The only time I could write was early mornings or at night. That didn’t work. I was too tired from playing to plan an article or write a devotional.
I prayed, “Lord, did you bring me to this lovely spot to hear your voice and apply it to my writing, or do you have another plan for me?”
I could almost hear God laughing as He spoke to my heart, “ Child, sometimes I provide writing time for you, and sometimes I place you in the middle of things to write about. With spiritual eyes watch yourself interact with your family—playing with your grandchildren and teaching lessons about Me from the beauty around you.”
I was reminded that this was not the time to write about adventures with the Lord; it was the time to live them. I could write about them later. Learning the importance of discerning writing “seasons” by listening and being obedient to the Lord is as important as the writing itself.
Written by Rev. John Carroll
One Sunday morning, I read in my local church bulletin of the Roanoke Valley Christian Writers’ Group. There was an open invitation to attend the monthly meeting. I had not heard of the group, although it had been going for about a year. I put the date on my calendar, the third Thursday of the month at 6:30 PM. From the first meeting, I could see that this group was for me, exactly what I needed. What did I find there? Five things that I don’t think a Christian writer will find anywhere else. As an aspiring writer, I need all of these desperately.
Our director, Barbara Baranowski, is constantly on the lookout for material that will be helpful to some or all of us. Where else can you find that besides the RVCW?
There are probably few who can be successful without these five benefits I have found in the Roanoke Valley Christian Writers’ Group. I’m sure I can’t. Come as a guest and see if it doesn’t make a very positive difference in your writing life. If you agree, we’ll tell you how easy it is to become a member.
You can find a link to my book, Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 Days, at (http://tinyurl.com/pglf56d ).
Written by April Dawn White of Red Chair Moments
Did King David have a red chair? This off-the-wall thought invades my mind as I ponder God’s Word.
Each morning I drag my little red chair across from God’s throne. Knees touching with the Almighty, I sit and wait for God to breathe a living word into my day.
Today, I read the historical account of Nathan a prophet who reported to King David the words of his revelation of David’s future. First Chronicles 17:16-27 is David’s prayer in response to such a significant blessing:
Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:
“Who am I, Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?
Lord, let the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house be
established forever. Do as you promised, so that it will be established and that your name will be great forever.” (1 Chronicles 17:16, 23-24)
Do as you promised.
Comprised of four words and five syllables, “Do as you promised,” packs a power punch prayer.
Rising from my red chair, I pad into the kitchen, deciding this requires more coffee. I pour another cup of liquid mercy pondering the words “Do as you promised.”
Tugging the handle of the junk drawer, I give it a forceful yank. Why does this drawer always stick? Shuffling through box tops and pencils needing sharpening I find a marker and a sticky pad. I write, “Do as you promised” and stick it to the kitchen cabinet.
Whether washing my hands, reaching for a glass, or pouring coffee, this four-word prayer reminds me, God’s Word is full of promises to His children.
The Bible contains over 8,000 promises. I am clinging to this promise penned by passionate Peter:
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
(1 Peter 5:10, NIV)
After I have suffered a little while, Christ Himself will restore me. Lord do as you promised.
“Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” (Joshua 21:45)
God fulfilled every promise made, every-single-one. It is well with my soul, because God will answer the prayer, “Do as you promised.”
Written by Barbara Baranowski
Do you remember walking through a shadowy doorway in the woods to a lovely meadow? Did you see sunbeams dancing among the flowers, highlighting sparkling dewdrops? The emerald green ferns along a pathway or the sky-blue chicory plants may have beckoned you to reflect on the beauty of God’s creation. Whether we sip coffee made over a camping stove, roast marshmallows at the day’s end, or simply sit in the park on a beautiful afternoon, everything we see in creation invites us to slow down and think of the Creator.
Discover the fullness of God through these short devotional moments. Consider the Master’s design as you pause for prayer and spiritual refreshment. Pull up your outdoor lounge chair, a soft patch of earth, or your comfy recliner, and get ready for a close encounter of the Heavenly kind with God.
Available on Amazon.com, Westbow.com,
or Barbara Baranowski (firstname.lastname@example.org)