Another New Year’s Resolution Post

NCWA - NY Res (1)Yes, I went to my writing group’s first meeting of the new year. Yes, we did talk about New Year’s resolutions.  But this time it was different.  We weren’t concerned about writing them in just the right way to make them achievable.  Instead, we went around the table and when we shared our 2020 writing goal we also shared why that goal was particularly important to us and told each other what the main obstacle was that might prevent it from happening.

Interestingly, the word “time” was brought up at each turn.  So we decided to drill it down.  Why couldn’t we find the time? Yes, we’re all busy, but if our writing project is important to us (and it must be since we’re in a writing group) then what was really happening? What kept us from the often-sacrificial commitment?  Interestingly, it mostly came down to fear.  What if I carve out an extra 30 minutes in the day to write, but I’m still not productive?  What if I make a two-hour appointment with myself each week to work on my book, but it’s never accepted for publication?  What if I make the effort but continue to be interrupted or get writer’s block?  Is the commitment of my valuable time worth it?

Each of us acknowledged our root reason, said it out loud, and got a realistic view from the others.  We were strengthened for our journey and each reminded that God has given us a gift and the desire to share that gift.  What a release!  The next thing we did was commit to being accountable to each other for our specific writing goal at the first meeting of every month, with failure totally allowed but excuses completely not.

I left the gathering recharged, not burdened down.  Now when I put off sitting down at my computer to work on my novel, I’ll remember my fellow writers encouragement that there are never too many books in the world and I’ll remind myself how many low-selling books I happen to love (if confessing the root reason behind my own procrastination to my group helped, confessing it here should help even more!).  I’ll remember the complicated way God brought me to begin my writing journey.  I’ll also remember I made a commitment and have a monthly check-in. I have been strengthened and empowered in my resolve and reminded I am rooted in love and not fear.  

So yes, this is another New Year’s resolution post but, hopefully, one that will help you make it through the “February Forget Your Resolutions” test.   I encourage you to find a group or a person to share your writing goal for 2020 with and be accountable to them.  Tell them why it’s important to you and be brave enough to drill down on what might keep you from attaining it. And if you’re willing, I’d love for you to share your writing goal in the comments section – whether it’s a brand new goal or a holdover from last year or last month.  Let’s encourage one another on our journey.

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Pamburnbrightprofileela J. Dickey is the Coordinator for the Northwest Christian Writers Association Blog.  She is a speaker, writer, personal consultant, and training facilitator. Founder of Burn Bright Coaching, she draws on her background as a personal and career development coach, certified corporate trainer, and ordained minister to equip her clients and audiences to discover and pursue their life’s purpose — personal, professional, and spiritual — to help them Burn Bright.

Back on Track

TrainAs I write this post, I can hear a train whistle echoing in the distance and it seems an appropriate analogy of the resurgence of the Northwest Christian Writers Association Blog.  After lying dormant for a time, it’s getting back on track and making its presence known.

I’m honored to be the new coordinator for the blog and I’m excited to be part of this important resource.

The main goal for the blog is to be a go-to source for the writing world at large and extend the NWCA’s reputation for excellence.

It will be a place to find extended information on events, meetings, and learn more about NCWA members.  It will also contain articles about various writing journeys, tools we can all use to improve our writing, tips on getting our stories published from all the sides involved, and other topics related to our writing.

Where will this information and encouragement come from?   From authors, editors, publishers, and others in the writing profession who have knowledge and experience in their fields and lives.   This includes members of the Northwest Christian Writers Association.  Not only do we want to provide resources for our members in their writing journey, but we also want members to be a resource for others.  You need to do what you do best —  write.  Write about the tools you find most helpful, write about what you do to overcome writer’s block, write about what you’ve learned in your journey of publishing your work, write a review of a great workshop or conference you’ve attended.  There’s so much knowledge you have that can help others, so dig deep and write. The NCWA blog needs you to add your unique voice.

If you want to write, but can’t think of a good topic, I can provide you with a few from which to choose.  How about a bio of another NCWA member or reviewing an on-line video?  There are plenty of ideas.

Why should you personally consider being a guest writer?  There are benefits for you personally, here are just three:

  1. Publication
    Getting your work to the reading public and adding to your writing portfolio is always a good thing.
  2. Name Recognition
    Build your expertise, reputation, and your brand even before you publish your current work in progress.
  3. Get your own website more visitors
    If you have your own website and/or blog, writing for another blog can drive more visitors to your site.

There are certainly more benefits.  I’d love for you to share in the comments section other ones you think are important.

Even if you choose not to write any guest blog posts, you can still partner with us.  You can read the blog on a regular basis, make comments, and reshare posts on your social media.  It helps reach more readers and more contributors.

Drawing on the train analogy once more,  I’m asking you to add your experience and expertise to the long line of cars that are lining up and pulling out of the station towards our destination.

Ready to get started?  Click here for submission guidelines

Have a question?  Feel free to ask them in the comments section.

Want to be assigned a topic?  Send an e-mail with your request to:   blog@nwchristianwriters.org

WELCOME ABOARD! I look forward to working with you and sharing your story.

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Pamburnbrightprofileela J. Dickey is the Coordinator for the Northwest Christian Writers Association Blog.  She is a speaker, writer, personal consultant, and training facilitator. Founder of Burn Bright Coaching, she draws on her background as a personal and career development coach, certified corporate trainer, and ordained minister to equip her clients and audiences to discover and pursue their life’s purpose — personal, professional, and spiritual — to help them Burn Bright.

 

Refresh Your View of Thanksgiving

Do you remember the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving?

Is it still taught to children in elementary school classrooms across the country?

Maybe it’s tucked so deep beneath the Halloween decorations and the Christmas preparation that the details are dim and no longer inspiring. Can you even find a picture of pilgrims kneeling on dirt, praying to God with Native Americans standing in the background? I have panic attacks thinking about how much of our heritage I’ve set aside or forgotten to keep alive for my family.

 

At least we can bring out those cleverly painted wooden plaques we buy at Home Goods and Target with italicized words like THANKFUL, and BLESSED, or WELCOME HOME! to remind us to reflect on virtues we often neglect in the normal course of a year.

This year as we mention names we remember around the Thanksgiving table, let’s attach a specific memory to those names. We can keep people from fading into dusty scrapbooks and storage bins in our family histories.

For example:

 

 

“I’m thankful for our friend, Clint Kelly, who recently achieved his eternal reward. Clint loved well and well-loved. He served NCWA faithfully and tirelessly for thirty years. He leaves us a legacy to carry forward through the next generation.”

“I’m thankful for the Godly heritage of our country’s founders, who wisely and prayerfully drafted documents delineating freedoms and rights for citizens not found nor protected in other societies. The words THANKFUL and BLESSED merely scratch the surface on this topic.”

“I’m thankful for each member of NCWA, who moves the ball of The Greatest Story Ever Told, down the field another few yards each year. For the leaders who have served for decades, and for those who are bravely suiting up for the first time this year, set on the offensive line, creating new game plans, to help the whole team win.”

Whether you celebrate with paper turkeys on your door or pilgrim candles on your table, you’re an important piece of our unique national day of Thanksgiving.

How will you use your time, your words, and your influence to encourage others to remember what it means to be truly thankful?

Write it all down. It might make a great book!

 

 

If you’re a writer or a reader in the Seattle area, please join us for the December monthly meeting.

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Jill Esau is the President of the Northwest Christian Writers Association and oversees the annual writers conference the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal. The conference this year is May 15-16, 2020, featuring Mary DeMuth. Esau is the author of Start and Grow Your Faith-Based Nonprofit.

 

 

You Have No Hero Like Lenin

In 1988, during the waning days of The Cold War, I was a young Air Force Captain attending Squadron Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. One of our guest speakers was a Soviet Union Exchange officer who espoused at length the superiority of the way of life in the USSR.

He went on at length how we could not understand his country because we had nobody in our culture like Lenin, the revolutionary who served as the first Chairman of the Soviet Union. He lectured about what an inspiration Lenin was to his people. That Lenin’s framed portrait was in a place of honor in every school classroom and office. How his statue graced the center of any respectable village. Even Lenin’s body had been preserved in a glass sarcophagus in Red Square and on exhibit for nearly three quarters of a century.

Lenin pm2

The Soviet officer said, “You Americans cannot understand the Soviet Union because you have no hero like Lenin.”

At this point another Captain enduring this talk leaned over to me and with one whispered word blew the Soviet’s argument out of the water. He said: “Elvis.” Unfortunately, Americans worship many things: celebrities, status, and in the case of some, Elvis.

But as writers who serve Christ first, do we pursue the status, fame, respect, and trappings that we believe are part of being a successful writer? Or do we pursue our calling as people of faith who seek to bring people closer to God? Some of us will have the opportunity to influence many people through our writing and speaking. For others, it may be an audience of only a few, or even one. But if we influence only one person, remember that one person matters to God. Christ said that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to pursue that one lost sheep. That one person should also matter to us as we pursue our calling.

So let us write and speak not for our own status, or glory, or false gods like Lenin and even Elvis. Let us pursue it for Christ, the true God.

 

TweetWhether your audience is one or a thousand, write for the glory of the Lord.

 

 

Dennis Brooke

Dennis Brooke is a former USAF officer and the past President of the Northwest Christian Writers Association. He has written for Focus on the Family, Toastmasters, and Combat Crew Magazines. He tells stories at www.DennisBrooke.com

This talk was the meeting devotional at the June, 2014 NCWA Meeting. 

Extravagant Subsistence: Restocking the Writer’s Shelves (and Soul)

 

Leslie with fishOur freezer is nearly empty. We’ve eaten all of last year’s fish and meat, which constitutes a near emergency. Tomorrow I’ll close my computer, ignore my writing deadlines and head back out by bush plane and boat to an island in the Gulf of Alaska where I’ve worked in commercial fishing with my family for 35 years.

We were so busy with the commercial season this summer we didn’t have time to put up our own fish for the winter, the wild salmon that will feed us luscious Omega-3 saturated flesh weekly through a long season of dark.

We also harvest berries, venison, halibut and sometimes caribou. Putting up our own food stores, which goes by the shorthand term “subsistence,” is a normal and necessary part of most people’s lives in rural Alaska.

“Subsistence” is defined as “The action or fact of maintaining or supporting oneself at a minimum level.” In Alaska, however, where a subsistence lifestyle is as common as wool socks, it’s evolved into almost the opposite concept. We don’t hunt and fish and grow and harvest simply to live—we engage in subsistence to live well.

We have access to cellophane-wrapped factory-farmed meat like everyone else—but it is expensive, saturated with antibiotics and hormones, and has been shipped a very long way to get here. We prefer to harvest wild-grown meat from our own piece of the land and sea. It’s one of the reasons we live here.

This last week I began another kind of subsistence:

I started re-reading Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s wise and extraordinary novel. Her profound musings on the worth of life, as spoken through John Ames, an elderly pastor, remind me how empty my writer’s pantry has become.

The authors who have sustained me through the decades—Frederick Beuchner, Annie Dillard, Richard Wilbur, Eugene Peterson, Walter Brueggeman, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Emily Dickinson—have become strangers of late supplanted by blogs, social media, and research for other writing projects. These are all quick, short reads full of good information, but I’ve been achingly hungry without knowing it.

I realize that my writing life is little different than my food life. I’m often so busy on the commercial end of the work—the marketing, creating the next book proposal, the social media—that I forget to do the real subsistence work. While I’m as tempted as anyone else to spend my time feeding on strategies to garner audiences and master social media, ultimately, I’ll starve on such a diet.

“Fifty-seven Ways to Grow Your Platform,” while helpful, will do little to awaken mystery, stir my imagination, provoke paradox, unearth wisdom, deepen my humanness, all of which is why I began to write in the first place. I realize if I maintain a steady diet of techniques, I’ll soon be setting an impoverished table for not only myself, but also for my readers, who come themselves needing sustenance.

Subsistence work is not easy. Rather than grabbing cellophane packages of meat and fish from the meat counter, I have to go out into boats, I have to use knives and muscles, I have to cut off heads, pull out guts, spill real blood.

It’s a physical engagement with the material world. Reading the best writers is not unlike this. It takes more effort to read longer works. Blood will be spilled there as well as we wrestle with the deepest, hardest and most profound stories of dying and living. But this is how we will subsist and be sustained as writers for a very long time.

When I sit down to my first meal of grilled salmon this winter, I will remember where it came from, how it felt in my hands. I will be so well-fed, I will want to write about it, and will set the table for others to join me in the feast. I hope my work will feed others as well as I have been fed myself. With some labor, and yes, some blood, it can happen.

What kind of reading are you returning to for “extravagant subsistence”? How can we make more time for this kind of reading (and for sustaining physical labor)?

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Leslie Leyland Fields is the author of 8 books, including The Spirit of Food, Surviving the Island of Grace, and her forthcoming book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers. She lives in Kodiak, Alaska and is a national speaker and a contributing editor for Christianity Today magazine.

Click here to visit Leslie’s website.

A Note to Young Writers: Honor Your Obscurity

 

Leslie's picRecently, I spent time with two younger women, both of whom had just released their first book. Sarah and Andrea are both fine writers whom I expect will continue to write and publish books. In the short time I had with each of them, I dumped all my writing and marketing advice, talking about websites, blogging, Facebook, twitter. But I forgot to say the most important thing of all: honor your obscurity.

We know if we’re to be published in any form, we need a sizeable audience. And that most of the time, we have to find that audience before the first book contract lands on our desk. Once it does, and the book is out, we’re tasked to keep racking up bigger numbers.

But how do we catch the eye and ear of a world that so often chooses the flippant, the crude, the gaudy spectacle over the good, the authentic, and the true?  We may pray as Jabez did:

woman-praying-parodic“O, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” (I Chronicles 4:10).

The artists’ version would go something like, “O, that you would bless me and enlarge my platform, increase my followers, expand my twitter peeps and keep me from publishing harm so I will be famous, free from the pain of falling out-of-print.”

I know these desires. An hour ago I was on a nationally syndicated radio show, and now, against my better will, I’m glued to numbers, trying to measure “impact.” A stranger writes to me immediately after the broadcast and asks how to become a writer and speaker. Another writes to ask how to build a fan base for her blog.

If you want others to read and listen to you, you must listen to others.

Do for others what you want them to do for you. That will not make you famous; but will make you better informed and more humble.

Fame is not what you think.

Admittedly, I am not the best source. My moments of “fame” are modest and sporadic. Fame is often over in a moment and brings more responsibility than freedom. It can pollute or paralyze your writing. I have a friend whose first book shot to the New York Times bestseller list. His agent, readers, and global fan base now hold their collective breath for his next book. “How do I write under this weight?” he asks, with so many others to heed and please.

Honor your obscurity.

This is another way of echoing Bill Roorhbach’s charge to “honor your apprenticeship.”  Value this time of laboring toward your best work with few listeners. This quiet is your wilderness, your blessing. Here you will sharpen your art. Lean closer to the sounds around you, for the fragile people who haunt the forests you watch, for the small voice that whispers names you didn’t know.

man reading

Enjoy the purity of your efforts.

Make art, worlds, and essays out of the sheer love of words, theatre, longing, and hope. Enjoy it now before a publisher fills your notebook with a thousand necessary tasks, few of which have much to do with why you began writing in the first place.

What do you imagine fame will bring?

For me (and for many writers I know) I hope mostly to be able to keep on writing, to keep using “that talent which is death in me to hide,” as John Milton writes. If you’re doing this now, pouring life into the truest sentences you can make, you’re already famous.

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Leslie Leyland Fields is the author of 8 books, including The Spirit of Food, Surviving the Island of Grace, and her forthcoming book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers. She lives in Kodiak, Alaska and is a national speaker and a contributing editor for Christianity Today magazine.

Click here to visit Leslie’s website.

Writing Like Weasels

 

web-sized Fields 8414 5x7In her much-anthologized essay “Living Like Weasels” Annie Dillard locks eyes and brains with a weasel, launching an essay on calling. Weasels teach us how to live, Dillard writes, embodying an instinctive mindlessness, all energies pointed toward their “one necessity.” One weasel latched onto the throat of an eagle and never let go, even in death, its skeleton attached to the eagle’s chest. The essay ends here:

“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.”

It’s a stunning close to an inspiring essay. But the beauty of the language disguises the horror of the scene. The weasel latched onto the wrong bird. His actual death was not likely very poetic. As writers and as people of faith, we’re not as horrified as we might be: death is not our final fear, and we understand the larger metaphor of death. But we needn’t seek it out.

There are so many ways to die as a writer already, I’d like to save us from an unnecessary demise or two with a few simple words:  Choose the right bird. When you discover you’ve chosen wrongly, let go.

This is a simple way of saying that as writers we labor under more than one calling, more than “one necessity.” There’s the calling to write, the sense of being appointed a wrestler with words, a storyteller, even a prophet at times. But there are callings as well to particular projects and subjects. When we don’t distinguish between the two, we’ll find trouble, maybe even death.

In the last twenty years, I’ve let go of a number of essays-in-progress, articles, even book manuscripts. Despite seeking God’s direction—and feeling that I had found it, two book projects I felt very “called” to pursue, ended up withering. As each atrophied, I latched on yet harder, spending costly attention and effort trying to revive them—to no avail.

I did not expect success to meet every writing endeavor, but some losses hit hard. We question our worth as writers; we question our very calling. But we often ask the wrong question. Rather than asking, “Am I really called to write this novel (this essay, this book) right now?” we often ask, “Am I really called to be a writer?”

In these moments, we’re not so much rising on the wings of eagles as we are devoured by our own insecurities and disappointments. We may even stop writing altogether. This is the second death—and the least necessary.

weaselThe weasel operates by instinct alone. We can do better. We can’t see into the future to know whether a project will ultimately succeed, but we can follow our given passions, testing them thoroughly with research, prayer, and rough drafts. If a project falters, as all seem to do at some point, we persevere until—-we cannot.

Then, we pry ourselves loose and let it go. Not easily, and never prematurely, but our bones will stay hinged and our musky flesh will live to choose another subject, another day, one that may indeed send us soaring.

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Leslie Leyland Fields is the author of eight books, including The Spirit of Food, Surviving the Island of Grace, and her forthcoming book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers. She lives in Kodiak, Alaska and is a national speaker and a contributing editor for Christianity Today magazine.

Click here to visit Leslie’s website.