Of Mice And Christian Writers

Did you know that if you boil a mouse, its skin falls off and you can reconstruct the bones?

Award-winning author Joyce Magnin

No? Me neither. And like me, you probably could have gone your entire life without knowing that morbid piece of information, but I bet you never forget it – just like I won’t forget the very memorable and inspiring workshop on writing that award-winning author Joyce Magnin gave at a meeting of Lancaster Christian Writers this past Saturday (May 19, 2012).

The ‘mouse’ tidbit came up while discussing quirky and eccentric characters. The inspiration for Joyce’s off-beat characters stems from her own quirky personality and her mother, who was a special woman and who encouraged Joyce, even if that meant allowing her to experiment on a dead mouse. I don’t know about you, but if my mother had discovered I’d boiled a dead mouse in one of her pans on the stove, she would not have been calm, cool and collected about it! But Joyce’s mother was, and in the process, helped Joyce grow to be confident and true to herself.

Listening to Joyce was a real treat! I laughed a lot and learned a lot about what God has to do with our writing, which was the theme of her workshop.

Highlights of Joyce’s presentation:

  • The truth is we are children of God; we are beloved; we are sisters and brothers in Christ. We must embrace who we are in Christ first and foremost.
  • Once we accept that God loved us so much He sent His son to die for us, we should also accept that God loves us and has given us a gift – writing. He wants us to use that gift.
  • If God is in us, He’s in our writing. Don’t stress about conveying the message of salvation or teaching the gospels. God will lead the reader to the truth He wants them to find. To me, this was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders!
  • Writers have an incredible responsibility to share the truth. Joyce suggested that writers are like pastors in between Sundays. During the week, we turn to books, magazines, blogs, articles, devotionals, television and movies for education, encouragement and inspiration. Writers have many opportunities to minister with their words.
  • God gives us the ability to write, but it’s not enough to be born with it; we must practice and develop our writing skills. When success comes, and Joyce warns that success will come in God’s time and that we may have to wait, but when we succeed, we should remember not to turn our eyes from God, and instead remember to be humble and give God the glory.
  • Once we’ve accepted the truth and developed our talent, we must then fine-tune our technique. It’s okay to want positive feedback on our creations and it’s beneficial to our talent and technique to hear constructive criticism. We grow as writers by reading, writing and critiquing.
  • So, what does God have to do with writing? The answer, in a word, is…everything!

Final encouraging words from Joyce –

  • God created us for His story.
  • We are a part of His narrative.
  • We are all characters in His creation.

I highly recommend –

My Cure For Insecurity

Greetings to my fellow insecure writers! As we gather together on this sunny spring day, I have a question for you – are you just insecure about writing or like me, are you insecure about pretty much everything you do?

Photo Credit - Martin Ruegner

If there was a support group for everything I’m insecure about, I’d have a meeting every day of the week. Marriage, motherhood, running, writing, blogging – you name it; I’m insecure about it. I lack self-confidence so much that sometimes I wonder how I’ve managed to accomplish anything in my life. By rights, I should still be living at home with my parents.

Do I suffer from temporary bouts of insanity that cause me to take chances?

Most days I know I’m not crazy. So there must be something else that is stronger than my insecurity. Something I’ve just always taken for granted.

So what is it that gives me the courage to pursue my goals and dreams?

Today the answer is obvious – faith. Like with everything else in my life, I thought I was insecure in my faith too. But my life has proven me wrong. When I look back on the risks I’ve taken – scuba-diving lessons, going 9 hours away to a college where I didn’t know anyone, signing up for my first marathon, getting pregnant – I can’t help but wonder, what in the world were you thinking?

When there are decisions to be made, my mind goes in a million directions and experiences a multitude of emotions, including doubt and insecurity, yet my heart never wavers. I have the confidence to act because I have faith in God. I know in my heart that whatever I do, I do it with God – He will see me through.

I met my husband in college, ran and finished two marathons, have an amazing little girl, have stories published, have finished two A-Z Challenges – all because I relied on God. I think the only reason it’s so clear to me now is that I spent a month fully engaged in His Word. Reading the Bible, studying different characters, meditating and praying over what message to convey in my posts has opened my eyes to the true value of my faith and all it has helped me do.

It’s okay to be insecure about everything else, as long as I’m firm in faith and sure of God, who banishes my every insecurity with His own incredible, amazing and unshakable confidence.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

Proverbial Meditation (An A-Z Challenge Extra)

Throughout the month of April for the A-Z Challenge, 1st Writes, my writer’s group blog, has been meditating on Proverbs. Each day a member of our group writes about a Proverb containing a word corresponding to the letter of the alphabet for the day. Even members who don’t blog have written interpretations of the Proverbs. The entries in the series are short, inspiring and refreshing to the spirit – with the possible exception of today’s entry!

Today is the letter ‘V’ in the Challenge and the word of the day at 1st Writes is ‘Vomit’ – found in Proverbs 25:16 (If you find honey, eat just enough— too much of it, and you will vomit). Surprisingly, nobody in our group volunteered for this word! So I gladly reluctantly signed up. Even more surprising, I actually came up with two (maybe one and a half) different meditations on a word so repulsive, just hearing it triggers my gag reflex.

The first meditation posted on 1st Writes ponders gluttony in blogging. Is it possible to be a ‘blog glutton’?

My second contribution is shorter and quite possibly more of an observation rather than a reflection.

 

At times in our writing, using a word with negative connotations is the best way of attracting an audience and getting our point across.

To me, the best use of the word ‘vomit’ in a title is  – Comment Vomit: How Not To Leave Comments by Melissa who manages two blogs – Adventuroo and Momcomm.

It’s one of her most popular posts ever, in part, I’m sure, due to it’s title, which doesn’t repulse, but shocks and intrigues. The post was so popular it spawned a badge that reads – This is a comment vomit free zone. The graphic on the badge is a cute little cloud opening its mouth and spewing forth a cute, colorful rainbow. The pleasant graphic helps soften the harshness of the word while maintaining its power. It’s so wrong and right at the same time.

While musing about the word ‘vomit’ for only a few seconds, after thinking – ‘pregnancy’ and ‘gross’, I remembered this post, which proves it’s a memorable title!

A Mother-in-Law’s Gift

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 15:58 NKJV

Have you ever been eating in a restaurant and overheard a conversation?  Above the sound of the clinking of silverware against plates and the murmur of voices, I heard the following exchange between two middle aged women:

“My mother-in-law and I got along great for 20 years.”

“Now you don’t?  What’s changed in 20 years?”

“She moved to our town.”

I was reminded of the many jokes based on the idea that mothers-in-law are manipulative, bossy, interfering women.  It’s a common theme in our culture that the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship is filled with conflict and resentment.

Thankfully, my relationship with my mother-in-law, Bette, is the complete opposite of the negative stereotype.  Ours is based on mutual respect, love and appreciation.  It’s a joy to spend time together.

One day when we were in the car on our way to the hair salon for our monthly “beautification,” as Bette laughingly refers to getting our hair done, while stopped at a red light, Bette casually mentioned, “The pastor’s wife is going to have a Bible study for writers.”

I could tell she thought I should go, but she’d never say that.

Bette knows that I often lack faith in myself, especially in my writing. Her mothering instincts extend even to me, and she tries her best to build me up.  But she never forces her opinions on me; instead, she gently offers suggestions “…as raindrops on the tender herb, and as showers on the grass” (Deuteronomy 32:2 NKJV).

Photo Credit - Pawel Gaul

“I think it will be interesting,” she added as the light changed and we began moving.

“Yes, it sounds different,” I responded noncommittally.  Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the salon and, in her wisdom, Bette dropped the subject.

But I didn’t forget about it.

I had never attended a Bible study before and was unsure about trying it, but since I’ve seen how the church, especially Sunday school and Bible study, has enriched Bette’s life, I thought it might be worth a try.

When she brought the idea of Bible study up again, I surprised her by saying that I was going to go.

A huge smile spread across her face.  “I prayed so hard over whether to suggest it to you or not.  I’m so glad I did,” she said happily.

“I’m glad you did too,” I smiled back.

Her simple suggestion of joining the writer’s Bible study turned out to be a wonderful gift.  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I’ve always lacked confidence in myself, believing that what I write is not interesting or important to anyone.  But these negative feelings changed after the very first night of Bible study.

We were reading different scriptures, including 1 Corinthians 15:58, and suddenly it hit me: God has given me a gift and to honor him I must use it.  I may dismiss my writing as nothing special, but I can’t deny that what God has to say through my writing is worthy of sharing, that my “labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

I would never have come to this realization if it weren’t for that day in the car when Bette suggested I join the writer’s Bible study.  There I met other people who enjoyed writing and found in them support, inspiration, and most importantly, confidence.

I thank God for my mother-in-law and her willingness to “mother” her grown daughter-in-law!

***

Today’s Bible Blogger is Naomi. The Ruth and Naomi relationship inspired this piece I wrote and submitted to Chicken Soup for the Soul. It wasn’t selected for publication, but c’est la vie!

Remember that there’s still time to enter for a chance to win Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven, where my story about my Grandma Bone was selected for publication. Just comment on the post below! Comments close tonight at midnight (eastern standard time).

A-Z Insecurity

With the A-Z Challenge just weeks away, I must confess I’m a bit more than nervous. As of today, there are 942 blogs signed up to participate. Will Pocketful of Playdough be number 943? I just don’t know.

Last year I signed up for the challenge with just a little over a month of blogging under my belt. It turned out to be a wonderful learning experience. I met a lot of great bloggers and gained a lot of followers. But it was hard work.

Blogging everyday wouldn’t be as nerve-wracking if my entries were short and sweet, but my idea for this year’s challenge is complicated and would require research, which I have yet to begin. My intentions were to start early, but we all know what they say about best laid plans. I came up with the idea back in October and here it is March and I’ve only given my theme a few seconds thought –insert big heavy sigh here.

Perhaps I could sign up and figure out a simpler theme that would require no research, but then I’m not really challenging myself and I’ve failed before I even began. Since Christmas, it’s been a challenge just to blog once a week. How can I gain the confidence to take the leap and commit to blogging every day?

Actually, I’ve taken the leap with my other blog — Bible Bloggers, which came about as a result of last year’s challenge where I blogged every day as a different Bible character. I’m looking forward to doing that again because I gained a deeper and richer understanding of scripture. Writing those blogs expanded my creativity and enlightened my soul. I feel the need to continue the series in my heart, not just my head. My goal was to have a series of blogs by Bible characters written prior to the start of the challenge, and while I do have a slight head start, I’m nowhere near close to having those completed, which just adds to my insecurity about signing up Pocketful of Playdough.

At this point I believe I will continue to work on my Bible blogger entries. If I can finish them by the start of the challenge, then I will sign up Pocketful of Playdough, but if I haven’t finished, then perhaps it is best to not sign Pocketful of Playdough up. A-Z is a big enough challenge with one blog, let alone two!

Have you signed up for the A-Z Challenge? Have you written your entries? Do you have a specific theme in mind?

Words For Writers From My Running Muse

My writing muse hightailed it out of town around Thanksgiving -for the sun and sand of the Caribbean no doubt. I haven’t heard from her since – as evidenced by my lack of an IWSG post last month and my infrequent blog updates. Writing muse is a flighty muse who comes and goes as she pleases. She is nothing like my running muse who never takes a day off. He’s a drill sergeant who wakes up every day and starts barking at me to run. The only time he ever took a vacation was during my pregnancy – but that’s another post for another support group.

My running muse never lets up!

Running muse accepts no excuses. Raining, snowing, freezing or sweltering, no weather is too bad for running. When I tell my writing muse, I’m too tired to write, she says, “Oh you poor, dear. Just rest now.”

Telling my running muse I’m too tired is not even an option. The response is always the same -“Running will give you energy.” And he’s right about 98% of the time.

No doubt, running muse is an excellent motivator before and during a run:

“You can go faster than this!”

“Speed it up!”

“Just one more mile.”

“Oh, look, a hill! Run it.”

Despite the constant motivation, I sometimes feel insecure in my running because I’m not very fast. To which running muse replies, “Hogwash!” He reminds me that I’m a heck of a lot faster than I was when I first started running and much faster than I was when I started again after my pregnancy break. He also reminds me that speed doesn’t make me a runner. What makes me a runner is running everyday and enjoying it. And since writing muse is on vacation, running muse also reminds me that it should be the same with writing.

Running muse also reminds me that if I am passionate and enjoy writing as much as I enjoy running, then I must take risks. On a recent Monday-evening run a couple weeks ago, with about one mile left of my run, I wanted to get off the main road, but my go-to place to run a few miles without traffic – the campus of a closed school -had the gates up with the ‘Closed’ sign on them. I’m not much of a rule breaker, but (with the encouragement of running muse) I decided to risk it and run through the campus anyway.

After running along the main, lighted and traffic-free road through campus, a security guard stopped me and said politely that when the gates are up, the campus is closed and I’d have to leave. Although, it wasn’t, it felt like a reprimand. My stomach started to  churn like it did when I was scolded by a teacher in school. But running muse wasn’t the least bit bothered by the guard’s words. I got my mile and a little bit more in and no harm was done. So what if the guard told me to leave? I was leaving anyway.

Rejection can sometimes seem a lot like a reprimand to me. The words make my stomach churn and I feel like I did something wrong, like I’ve failed.

“Hogwash!” Running muse barks. I did the right thing by submitting my writing. Just because it’s not selected doesn’t mean I’m a failure. I’m only a failure if I don’t submit. Some risks in life are worth taking, especially in regards to my writing. Rejection just makes me stronger, tougher and better. Rejection is a part of the writing process, just as sore knees and blisters are a part of the running process. The important thing is to never give up and keep writing!

I think when my writing muse comes back I’m going to send her to a boot-camp lead by my running muse. She needs some of his discipline!

Words of Wisdom for 2012

We find time for the things that are important to us. Period.

~ Scott Douglas, Scott’s Original Miscellany, Running Times – March 2011

I always find time to run. It doesn’t matter how hectic life is, I run through it. My goal for 2012 is to make writing as big a part of my daily routine. A day without a run makes me twitchy. A day without writing is just another day -I rarely give it a second thought until I go to bed and realize, “Shoot! I didn’t write today! Oh well.” Commence snoring, which is to say that a day without writing doesn’t plague me with guilt and keep me up at night like a day without running does. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want to add more guilt to my life, but I do want to make writing as important as running so that I will be motivated to do it everyday. Now how do I do that?

Other bloggers have given me some great suggestions in just one word –

Cyndi @ Walking in Grace and Beauty‘s word for 2012 – Focus

Cyndi reminds me to keep my focus on what is truly important – my relationship with the Lord. Running enriches this relationship and so does writing. Through running I grow closer to God and writing brings me closer to Him as well. By focusing on my faith, running and writing become monumentally important and worthwhile pursuits.

Mel @ Adventuroo‘s word for 2012 – Simplify

Mel reminds me to keep it simple and not make writing overly complicated. My everyday writing does not have to lead to a published manuscript. Everyday writing can be simple and straightforward.

Tyrean @ Tyrean’s Writing Spot‘s words for 2012 – Just keep writing and enjoy the journey

To me running is about the journey, not the destination. The very simple act of putting one foot in front of the other soothes frazzled nerves and renews my spirit. It can be the same with writing. Focusing on the simple act of writing and not on publishing the finished product, will go a long way in helping to make writing a daily habit.

Are you an everyday writer who wants to make exercise an everyday habit? Is there a way we can help each other? Can I mail you a slice of my running drive and you mail me a sliver of your drive to write? Do you have a word for 2012?