The Power of Children’s Story – Frederick Buechner


To step through the looking glass, to pass through the wardrobe into Narnia, to attend the birthday party of Bilbo Baggins is to reenter the world of childhood more fully than is possible any other way. It is not just a matter of being reminded how strange and new and promising everything was back then, but of experiencing it all over again.

Regardless of how many times you have read the books you loved as a child, the elements of surprise and suspense are always present, so that right up to the last minute you can believe that Scrooge will go on being miserly in spite of everything and that Dorothy may never find her way home.

To us, as to the child, the happy ending always comes as an unexpected gift from on high. It is the deepest truth that children’s books have to tell. Possibly it is the deepest truth there is. – Frederick Buechner

The Best Stories


Ted Dekker quote

There is one kind of literary device so heavily used in the Bible that many people unintentionally take it for granted. Figurative language. Metaphors and similes and other kind of analogies. Word pictures. …The Bible contains whole books filled with poetry. … God is infinitely intelligent, and since he is the one behind all this figurative language, we must assume that it was and is to this day one of the best ways, if not the best way, to communicate and understand truth.

But what is figurative language, except language that allows the reader to see a figure in his mind and imagine that the subject at hand is like that figure? …

God leans heavily on the human imagination when communicating with humanity. In fact, the use of mental images is God’s primary paradigm for illustrating truth, both through the writers of the Bible and through Christ’s use of parables. – Ted Dekker

A friend of mine, an avid reader like myself, commented that his favorite authors are those who write fiction in addition to nonfiction because they make the best use of analogy and metaphor. They paint a picture with words, bringing those words to life in the mind of the reader — whether writing fiction or nonfiction.

If you’ve been a writer for any length of time, you’ve likely heard the adamant claim that, as a writer, you must “Show, don’t tell.” If you’re in the earlier stages of your writing life, you might still wonder what exactly that means.

Showing instead of telling means painting a picture, using words to open the senses and letting your reader use imagination to fill in the spaces. It means using sensory and descriptive language to wake the reader’s senses. Sights. Smells. Sounds. Tastes. Touches. Textures. It means you’re not using thick, dense wording to explain some vague concept. Instead, you’re telling a story.

If you’re a parent, one of your favorite activities with your children is likely reading them a story, often a story that you loved as a children and are loving anew with your own child. If you look back at that childhood, one of your favorite memories might be listening to your mother or father read or tell you a story, the more realistic and exciting the better. We love stories. It’s in our DNA … or in our soul.

I love fiction, and I’m fascinated and awed by authors who have the ability to portray a story with realistic characters, show the events with sensory language, and weave in truths of life and love, sorrow and hope, loss and redemption, sacrifice and grace. The best stories invoke a glimpse into those pieces of our heart and soul that are so real we recognize them even in the most imaginative tales. They ring with truth. We can see traces of ourselves and of a greater story unfolding all around us. Most of all, the best tales reveal traces of the Author. Of the Greatest Story ever told.

A Story Worth Telling


Frederick Buechner quote

The Christian faith … is not a theological idea or a religious system. It is a series of largely flesh-and-blood events that happened, are happening, will happen in time and space. For better or worse, it is a story.

It is well to remember because it keeps our eyes on the central fact that The Christian faith always has to do with flesh and blood, time and space, more specifically with your flesh and blood and mine, with the time and space that day by day we are all of us involved with, stub our toes on, flounder around in trying to look as if we have good sense. In other words, the truth that Christianity claims to be true is ultimately to be found … not in the Bible, or the church, or theology — the best they can do is point to the truth—but in our own stories.

If the God you believe in as an idea doesn’t start showing up in what happens to you in your own life, you have as much cause for concern as if the God you don’t believe in as an idea does start showing up.

It is absolutely crucial, therefore, to keep in constant touch with what is going on in your own life’s story and to pay close attention to what is going on in the stories of others’ lives. If God is present anywhere, it is in those stories that God is present. If God is not present in those stories, then they are scarcely worth telling. ~ Frederick Buechner

What we all hope, I think, is that eventually … somehow … we have a story worth telling. We create a story worth telling. But so often what we fail to see is that the story is being created, written, today. This moment. In the meeting that lasts far too long or in the child who wakes up far too early on a weekend (and wakes everyone else in the household). In the perfect job that downsizes unexpectedly or the perfect relationship that is suddenly far from perfect. In the gray-eyed man holding a cardboard sign on a wintry day.

All part of a story. Your story. My story. What is being told? What is being written down?

What am I writing? Do I even recognize it as a story? Or a random jumble of experiences? Sorrows and joys. Meaningless and coincidental. It takes no skill to let the days fly past, turn the pages of the calendar, switch off the alarm and stumble into the morning without recognizing the story unfolding.

But then something happens. A sunburst of sorrow. Or a moonlit moment of magic. And suddenly the words are clear. And the Voice Who speaks them.

But only for an instant. As if a veil was lifted … just for your eyes to see. Just for that moment to experience.

But something about it lingers. A thread hemming the days that continue to fly past. They’re not meaningless, the sorrows and the joys. It is a story. A thousand stories. A million. And yet one. Overarching and underwriting every moment. Every experience.

And in them all, God is present. Or seeks to be. And that presence makes every story worth the telling.

Mid-Conference Confusion


rays of light through the forest

Writer’s Conference Series, Part 2

Four am. I woke up to the van’s alarm. At a writer’s conference in a lovely mountain setting, I knew the sound might disturb the occupants of nearby cabins. I jumped up to switch off the alarm, checked out the window to make sure the van was secure, and settled back into bed. I had a good two hours of sleep ahead, three if possible.

But my mind refused to comply. It was early morning on the third day of the conference. Questions jumbled into my head. “Where do I go from here?” “Is my book ready?” “What else should I do?” “Which agents should I follow up on?” “How do I know I’m making the right choices?”

How do I know I’m making the right choices?

I tend to be a perfectionist. This trait can be good, and it can be bad, depending on what I’m applying it to. When I’m editing the work of another, it is good to have a high level of professionalism. I have never heard back from an author whose book I’ve edited with a comment like, “You’ve given me way too many comments for improvement” or “I think you over-edited my book.” I’ve also never received negative feedback, and clients are usually very happy with my edits and suggestions.

But when it comes to my own writing, specifically my long-term works (aka books), my perfectionism can be a problem. Anne Lamott’s statement in Bird by Bird comes to mind:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life … I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

So I’m not really afraid of dying. But I’m terrified of making the wrong decision about my manuscript. I got the idea for my current work in progress (WIP) in 2012. In 2013, the first draft was complete. Since that time, I have revised and rewritten it after input from friends, other writers, and even an editing client or two. But it’s still not ready. So while finishing the manuscript, I have been thinking about other aspects of the writing process … particularly the publishing.

And I keep drawing blanks.

These days a question for a lot of writers is, “Should I traditionally published or self-publish?” I am not going to delve into that topic here, as it would be a blog post on its own (coming soon). But it is one subject I’ve spent hours of time reading, discussing, and praying about … for the last three years. It still is not clear.

Another question that has risen time and again is, “Should I get an agent?” And on its tail, “How do I know who the right agent is for me?” A fair bit of air time during the conference was devoted to the topic of agents, and my thoughts grew muddied and confused. I’ve been considering the subject for two years now. And it still isn’t clear. (Another upcoming post.)

I had also spoken to an agent the previous day who mentioned that the particular style of book I’m writing is … well, he gave me the word picture of a funnel. Hundreds, thousands perhaps, of writers producing those types of books. They cannot all be published, especially the traditional route.

So that morning, thanks to a rabbit and a car alarm, I tossed. I turned. I rearranged my pillow. I rearranged my blanket. I thought. I prayed. And I grew more confused. I began to cry, as quietly as I could.

“Why,” I asked the Lord, “after so much time trying to find clarity, am I still not sure? I don’t even know how to find the right path for my book, much less which direction to go to publish it.”

It seems silly writing about it now, crying over my book. It’s not like I got a rejection letter or a negative critique. My own thoughts and obsession with making the right choice had me in a tizzy. I knew I had to get to the core of what was bothering me so much. And it came to me.

I was afraid.

Terrified of going in the wrong direction and regretting it later. What if I self-published and ruined my chances for traditionally publishing? What if I signed on with an agent and later discovered he is not the right one? What if? What if?

I was not just afraid; I was paralyzed by fear.

But at least I had seen it. Now what could I do about it? My tears refused to cease as I asked God to help me. I didn’t want to be afraid anymore.

I felt the urging in my heart: Go back to the beginning. The beginning of what? And then I knew. The beginning of my writing journey for the book. It was an experience that had left me in tears in the parking lot of my college campus. That day, sitting in my car, I had begun to write. And those words were the dawning of the book.

A promise was its core. “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me.”

Self-publishing. Traditional publishing. Blog posts. Facebook posts. With an agent; without one. My mission remains the same. It isn’t really about the questions. Yes, study. Yes, research. Yes, do the homework and the cost-counting. But when all is said and done, I am called to one purpose.

I write to lift up the Cross.

Measuring the Worth of a Word


words

We’re one month into the year. Each week, each month, each season, seems to fly past more rapidly than the one before it. Often with fewer things to show for the time gone by … at least it seems. But perhaps more depend on how we quantify accomplishments and deeds. Perhaps it’s not a matter of word count reached on my latest Work in Progress, or whether I manage to write a blog post per week. Perhaps it’s not about Facebook page likes or blog followers. Not even about works completed, or published, or copies sold.

But then what is it about? If my worth is not determined by my gains in the world of writing (or teaching, or whatever my chosen world), then what measures success? How can I know my life is worth the living and breathing, the laughter and crying, the wins and the losses, if not by the quantifiable methods I so often cling to?

What determines my worth?

Maybe the better question is, who determines worth? And maybe, when I’m brave enough to ask that question, I will find the courage to admit that I already know the answer.

That success by measurable means is far less satisfying, and far more fleeting, than many would admit. That worth is not always a thing determined, but it is intrinsic. That He who calls me worth calls me precious. Calls me loved. And He does not keep count of manuscripts completed or submissions accepted. But He numbers the hairs of my head, He stores the tears I cry, He bids me believe in my worth. More than sparrows. More than lilies. More than the accomplishments I claim as the days turn.

It’s February. One month of 2015 is gone. Soon this month will be past too … and the next. And the next.

God help me make the most of every moment, but to remember that what I make of a moment and what You make of it are not always the same. Let me see the days through Your eyes, that at the end of them, I lived for moments of truest worth. In the Name of He who is worthy, the Heir of all Things, amen.

Reading Leads to Writing


unfinished story

A “Word Fitly Written” often begins with a word read. … Usually more than a word. An idea. A concept. Something that reaches from the written page into the soul and whispers a truth or invokes an emotion. Words read that inspire the writing of more words, the exploring of other truths, the creation of other emotions.

When I am inspired to write, it is most often a result of reading. Not everything I read urges me to write, but many things do. When I read something that mirrors my thoughts or exposes an undiscovered piece of my soul, I feel the need to explore it further. This naturally leads to writing about it.

The art of writing, someone once said, is the art of discovering what you believe. There is something enlightening, sometimes cathartic, at times painful, about writing. Especially when we are honest with our emotions and in our words.

This past year, 2014, I kept track of the books I read. It was the first time I ever wrote down the title of each book I read in a one-year period. At the beginning of the year, I also told myself that I would make a change, adopt a new habit, or try something new as a result of each book I read. In other words, I would not allow it to be mere words on paper, but I would strive to make them a part of me somehow. I would choose to develop and grow as a result.

I haven’t been so faithful in that, although I wrote down some good ideas and copied a few great quotes. I haven’t allowed myself enough time to reflect as I read. After all, it’s been a full year. A busy year. A good year.

In total, I read 50 books this year, almost 13,000 pages. Keeping track of them through Goodreads made a difference in helping me finish some of the books I began … as did the idea of reaching that “round number” of 50. “Meeting” some authors also helped.

I feel blessed to have discovered a few “new” authors, so often like reuniting with old friends. Every time a book, or a chapter, or a page inspires me to write a page, a chapter, or a book of my own, I am grateful. Grateful to the author who was the source of the inspiration, and to the Author of every life story, and the Source of all inspiration, creativity, and beauty.

Happy New Year! Happy Reading … Happy Writing.