Category Archives: Writing

For History’s Sake, Write Your Life

We’ve all heard the refrain that history is written by the victors, and as such, the entire story can never be told.

In a society where the loudest people get all the attention, and biases in news agencies grow more obvious and prevalent, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for those not in the literal midst of important events to know what’s true and what’s false.

I don’t recommend we ignore important events, but I do recommend we do our research, and see if we can find people who were there to get their perspective of what happened. And not only one person, but more than one, and from all sides. The truth will eventually be found.

Discernment is key. And honesty.

Yesterday’s devotional focused on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) who “wrote books that shed a true light on what was happening behind the Iron Curtain.”

Without him and others like him who wrote and spoke fearlessly and honestly about what happened in their country, it’s likely the truth of that time would never have been revealed.

We must do the same.

With all the furor over so-called offensive statues with regard to the Civil War, and calls to rename everything because some people find it offensive is not only silly, but dangerous. As ugly as our history is at times (and no country can claim otherwise), destroying it is equally as ugly. If we’re not honest and open about our history, we can never learn and grow from it.

And where does it end? Will we now destroy the writings of people who lived during that time, because what they wrote offends some people?

Who ultimately gets to decide what’s offensive anyway?

Plenty of people find our founding documents offensive, including the Constitution, simply because it was written by people who did what many consider terrible things. Who wrote them is unimportant compared to the document itself. Should we ignore the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because he cheated on his wife?

But I get off topic.

We live in interesting times, sometimes dangerous times. If we don’t chronicle them, and do so with complete honesty, our children will never know what we accomplished — both good and bad — and they will in effect never learn from either. History will then be guaranteed to repeat itself.

It might anyway, but that’s another entry.

I believe that world literature has it in its power to help mankind, in these its troubled hours, to see itself as it really is, notwithstanding the indoctrinations of prejudiced people, and parties.

— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Words of War

As a writer, I’m supposed to love words. Every single one of them, even if they’re offensive. In fact, offensive words require more protection than those that don’t. If we erase offensive words (which are in constant flux anyway. What wasn’t offensive yesterday can be offensive today), we erase what makes us human, both the icky and the beautiful. After all, if we don’t acknowledge that which makes us evil, we can never change and bring about good.

Yet I am as human as the next person. While I can’t think of a word I hate, there are many phrases I do hate. Some of them are due to overuse, clichés if you will. I am guilty of using them as much as the next guy, but I find we use them because it’s more of a habit which requires little to no critical thought. A verbal knee-jerk reaction – to use a cliché.

One particular cliché raises my hackles every time: I’m entitled to my opinion.

I have and never will tell anyone they are not entitled to their opinion, let alone try to take away their ability to express it. Admittedly, some of my statements can be inferred that way, but is that my fault, or the reader’s? Maybe both, but this entry is to explain why, just because someone infers that I don’t want them to speak out, in my case it’s never implied. I will always welcome opposing views, because whatever the subject matter, at least it’s an opportunity to learn something new – and I could very well be wrong in my suppositions. Like I’ve said before, better to be wrong for a moment than be wrong for a lifetime.

I also think people use that statement as a way of shutting the door on a conversation or debate. It’s understandable, granted. Sometimes we don’t want to engage in debate. We simply want to express our view and walk away.

However, when we do it on a public forum, we have to expect others want to – and will – respond. That’s why it’s called social media.

Freedom of expression is a swinging doorway. It means that while people have the right to express themselves, other people with differing views also have the right to respond.

When someone says, “I’m entitled to my opinion,” for me, it’s attempting to shut that door and lock it, or make it swing only one way, so people on the other side can’t get in. Now if they want to say, “We’ll have to agree to disagree,” or, “I understand your opinion, but I don’t share it,” or some other variation thereof, that’s different. While both effectively end debate, it’s not telling the other person to shut up, as if their opinion has lesser value because it’s different.

It’s my love of words that makes me so sensitive with how they’re structured and used. Words can be weapons that hurt and destroy as easily as they heal, inspire, and encourage. Like a loaded firearm, we need to be eternally aware and vigilant on how we wield them.

What Matters

What Matters

I received an email congratulating me for signing up at http://www.writing.com, a website for writers who want to review and be reviewed by other writers, twelve years ago today.

Twelve years. It seems like a long time, but at the same time, not long enough.

I wondered at how much I have accomplished in that time, and I felt a little twinge of almost regret. When I started here, I had the singular dream of being published. Now, twelve years later, I’m still unpublished (mostly).

Have I wasted those twelve years?

Then I read the next email. Someone kindly reviewed one of my items:

Hello vivacious [my username on the site] ,I’d like to wish you a very happy account anniversary, may you have a magical day. I chose this item to review for your anniversary because I thought the title and the item description were very curious. I think this poem is very short on words however it packs with it a powerful message in which I totally agree with.

I think this is an easy to understand and very special poem. it makes me feel like I am glad to be alive and that I am but a child being guided through life by an all powerful God. I did not see any mistakes with your writing.

Thank you for sharing this item with me I appreciate your talent, you keep writing and I’ll keep reading God Bless You

The item in question I remembered was a poem, but that’s it. After looking at the date I added it, I knew why: 2006. Eleven years ago.

It’s short enough, so here it is:

These are not my words.

This is not my voice.

These hands are not mine.

Count this not as wisdom from me.

Only to God.

Only to God does this all belong.

These last twelve years were not a waste. Quite the opposite. I’ve touched many people here (figuratively speaking). I’ve made many friends that I keep in contact with both here and on other sites. Perhaps my words have encouraged and even blessed others.

Best of all, the review and the poem together smacked me across the face (figuratively speaking). It was God’s way of not allowing me to feel sorry for myself. My words matter. I matter, because he created me.

Regardless of how many years of my life passes, God will use me in ways both seen and unseen. Whether my own lofty dreams come to pass In the time or ways I want and expect them to is not important as far as eternity is concerned. What matters is that God’s will be done when it needs to be done. Not too soon, and never too late.

Expanding Empathetic Horizons

I tried to find a synonym to "horizons" that started with an "e", because a little alliteration for a title is always kinda neat methinks. Alas, I found none.

Aristotle theorized that people who read fiction in particular are better able to understand and experience life, and empathize more with their peers.

Several studies have shown his theory has credence: The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction

What I found most interesting in the article was how the mere mention of a word such as cinnamon or other smells lights up the part of the brain dedicated to smells as if that person actually smelled it. The same goes for how fiction describes characters, their thoughts and how they interact with other characters and their surroundings. Our brain activity when reading reacts as if we're engaging with actual people.

So if we want a more empathetic society, we need to read, and encourage others (children especially) to read more. It doesn't have to be fiction only, because some non-fiction is written in the same way as fiction such as describing the world around them, and interactions with others.

God's genius is obvious here, because he not only designed our brains to learn language at an early age, but the desire to share our lives and experiences through that language, whether written or spoken. He did so, because of our inherent need to understand the world around us, ourselves, and each other.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do.

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little." —Anne Lamott

A Single Spark

I set a goal of writing every day with the help of "The Writers Devotional" by Amy Peters. First week in, and I skipped Thursday and Friday. I'm not off to a good start.

However, after reading Friday's focus on biography and Saturday's focus on what books to read, they tie together well enough to combine them into a single entry.

Why do you write? Is it to entertain with a great story, to improve a person's life with a self-help book, or perhaps encourage people to improve their life through fiction?

Another question (and if you don't write for others), what's the one book that changed you the most?

Friday's biography focused on George Orwell who wrote Animal Farm and 1984.

Aside, and a bit of useless trivia: George Orwell came up with the title 1984 not necessarily because he was prescient, but merely switched the year of when he wrote it in 1948.

His books serve as cautionary tales when governments run amok that still today have a wide readership. They are nearly timeless, and show that power will always corrupt no matter how we try to guard against it — and always will at the expense of entire populations.

Friday's focus on what book to read was "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson. It was about the dangers of the insecticide DDT. Because of her book, the chemical was banned.

Neither author expected to see how large of an impact their words would have. Unfortunately for Orwell, he never saw how much of an impact. To quote Carson, "It would be unrealistic to believe that one book could bring about a complete change."

Yet that's what so many writers want, and need. Writing is daring to pour our heart and soul on the page. It is an act of bravery to let others read our writing, because doing so we risk people stomping our soul into slippery red goo when it's rejected.

My first novel I wrote out of discontent. Not like Orwell with his overarching fear of where society is headed, or the more immediate dangers of scientific or technological advancements like Carson. My frustration stemmed from science fiction leaving out — or being outright hostile to — the existence of God, and Christian fiction focused almost solely on romance with little to no fantasy and science fiction.

I'm still having problems finding an agent/publisher for that novel, because the Christian publishing market is still slow to accept science fiction of my variety, and most of the mainstream science fiction market doesn't want anything to do with religion. Because of that, I'm more focused on finding an agent for my mainstream science fiction novel.

I'm not out of options, though. I can still self-publish my first novel, but I'm not as yet willing to put in the work (and money) required for it to succeed. I'm lazy that way. Does that mean I don't believe in my story as much as Orwell or Carson? That's a good question that will require some serious thought.

More questions that need answering: How much do I want my words to impact my readers, and how important is that to me? What — if anything — am I willing to sacrifice to see it through?

"In a time of universal deceit—telling the truth is a revolutionary act." — George Orwell.

"Great storms announce themselves with a single breeze, and a single random spark can ignite the fires of rebellion." – Bishop from the movie Ladyhawke

Saying It Right

Everyone needs a method of expression. Some express through painting, dancing, singing, music, mathematics or simply through speaking to others.

I am good at math, and liked to draw and paint when I was younger. I even liked to dance and sing, but I never tried to be good enough to do it in front of others.

Speaking, now there's a talent that I never had. I always say that God didn't connect my mouth to my brain. Growing up, when I had a thought, I could never express it how it formed in my mind. If anything it came out the opposite of how I intended.

For instance, my grandmother gave me a silver and turquoise ring when I was about eight or nine. Maybe ten. I noticed the price in black marker on the inside said "$10." For a turquoise ring. I thought, "Wow, I expected it to be worth more than that, because it's so beautiful. Grandma got a real good deal on it."

What came out of my mouth: "Wow, this ring was cheap."

Grandma was not impressed, and in fact felt (rightly) insulted. She said, "Well if you think it's cheap, you can give it back."

I was shocked that she got angry, and couldn't understand how I hurt her feelings. After she calmed down, we talked about it, and I was able to explain better what I meant. I also realized how my words hurt her feelings.

There are countless other instances, and even today I find myself eating my feet.

Another instance was in 1st or 2nd grade. All the students took turns reading part of a book out loud. When it came to my turn, I stumbled over the words to the point a boy sitting next to me said, "Don't you know how to read?"

Apparently the teacher noticed as well. She recorded me and called my mom to replay it. She was concerned enough that she believed I needed to be placed in a class for the learning disabled.

My mom put the kibosh on that by saying, "Can my daughter read, and comprehend what she's reading?"

"Yes," the teacher said.

"So she can't read out loud. That's not a learning disability."

My mom didn't tell me any of that until years later, and for a long time, I wondered if something was wrong with me when it came to reading out loud. After a while, I realized it was because my brain was reading faster than my mouth could keep up with. Hence the stumbling. Even today I have to concentrate on making sure my eyes and brain read at the same speed as my mouth. I don't always succeed, and I admit it's frustrating.

I hope no one asks me to do a reading of one of my books if ever I get published.

Writing, on the other hand, for some reason that came easy, even at an early age. Now as I look back, I'm grateful God didn't give me the ability to speak well. It forced me to find another way to express myself, and writing became (and still is) my outlet. Most everything I write, especially when writing from my heart and soul, comes out on paper how my brain envisioned it. That's not to say it doesn't need editing for spelling, grammar, and concision (I tend to ramble), but the meat and bones are there. The best part is I'm rarely misunderstood. Not as often as when I talk anyway.

"The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say." –Anais Nin

When The Little Voice Speaks . . .

Listen.

Ignore the one that yells.

One of my favorite scriptures is when Elijah ran to the wilderness to escape from Jezebel’s death threat after God had destroyed 500 of Baal’s prophets.

His own faith had taken a strong hit, and he wanted to die, for he felt as though he had failed the Israelites, and because people sought to kill him anyway.

And [the Lord] said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” – 1 Kings 19:11-13

Almost a year ago now, an agent I spoke to at the ACFW conference wanted me to send the first three chapters of my novels (three of them). After a few months, I heard nothing back. Six months later, still nothing.

Many have suggested that if you don’t hear back within a certain amount of time (unless their submission guidelines say different), it’s appropriate to email said client to verify they received your submission.

After six months I thought, “Perhaps I should send the agent an email.”

But that little voice I learned to trust a long time ago told me not to. So I didn’t. Every few weeks or so, I once again asked myself if I should. Again, the voice said no.

I figured it was God’s way of telling me to forget about it.

I received this email a few hours ago:

Andra,

As we are coming up on conference season, I wanted to thank you so much for allowing me the time to read, research and consider your proposal. Unfortunately, at this time I’m going to pass on offering representation. The concept is strong and I like your writing, but I feel I am not the best agent to take this product forward into the marketplace.

I wish you all the luck on your journey to be published!

When I saw who the email came from, I admit my heart thudded a few times. For five seconds I gleefully entertained the idea that said agent agreed to represent my books.

As you can see, not this time. I still liked the email, though, especially the first half of the last sentence. I responded thusly:

Thank you so much for the response and comments. It’s always nice to hear positive (and negative for that matter) feedback on my writing, so I appreciate you taking the time to do so.

All the best to you and yours.

So was that “still small voice” God’s way of telling me to wait? I think so. Sure it resulted in news I didn’t necessarily want, but at the same time, it’s teaching me patience, and to trust that God’s timing isn’t the same as mine. The fact the agent liked both my concept and my writing gives me a boost of confidence I sorely need. Perhaps that was the point.