Writing to Save

” People are motivated to write for a variety of reasons, but it’s the child writer who has figured out, early on, that writing is about saving your soul.”

— The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers, by Betsy Lerner



For Such A TIME As This

I think I keep forgetting that writing a novel takes time, especially when typing with acrylic nails–but some sacrifices must be made for upcoming weddings; friends are worth it.

So I type–click, click, clack, and I think about the stories I have started. This year? Probably ten of them. Yeah. I am on the first page, or the first chapter, and that is it–yet I call myself a writer. Perhaps I am like people in Africa, “I am a teacher. I have the certification, the degree, and whether I do teach or not is entirely beside the point” (a friend today told me that roles/titles/positions are very important to the people of Africa, whether they do what the position requires or not). Maybe I am a pseudo-writer : with acrylic nails.

It’s like a dairy farmer who wears high heels, pencil skirts, and blow-dried hair. Right.

But I guess for such a time as this in my life, I’ll read my books when I get the chance, peck out a few words when they flash into my head, and take little chicken steps: maybe someday out of all these words, books, and chicken scratches a novel will emerge. It may take years. And who knows, I may still be wearing acrylic nails.

Where Do You Write?

I started writing in the first floor lounge: it was too quiet. I moved outside: it was too hot. I ended up on the floor at the bottom of the stairs (yes, on the floor), with my books around me, saying random hellos to whoever walks by. Why am I not in my room, or on the sofa, or under some shade tree outside? Simple–it’s too much work. Even with the distractions of my fellow colleagues, the fairly obnoxious air vent, and the blue hard floor, I would rather be here than work hard to figure out where I could create best.

But, I did go to all the effort and moved three times, and this is still the best I could do . . . . in that amount of time? Right.

You would think creative people would have some sort of idea where they liked to create things, but no, I wrich around until I find the right place, with the right air temperature, and the right noise level, and the right amount of people: never too much and never too little.

Sometimes it takes me too long. I’m being lazy, and I can’t find the right place, and I am frustrated, and I would like to throw something across the room, and there is no wood to chop outside (number one problem for being at college, right?), and meanwhile the clock ticks, and my time slips away until its bedtime, and so much for creating. My heart is unhappy, my time is unhappy, and my word document is sobbing.

How do you figure out where you create best in the shortest time possible?


Why Do You Write?


Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass opened my eyes to another world. I am not done with his book but that hardly matters. He asked the question that has been bothering me the most. Why do you write?

Why do I write? I haven’t the foggiest idea. Jumbles of pictures about people and locations and gripping emotional trauma creep into my mind, and I just want to spit it all out. I get excited. I think other people will be excited too. I like to hang out with myself making things, so stories creep to the top of my list of things to make and . . . I just write them. Yet I struggle. I can’t figure out why I am doing it.

It hit me the other day, “Wow! Jesus used stories!” Master storyteller. I learn something new every day from his stories. But I am not Jesus, and I am not one of the multitude of writers God spoke through to write the Bible. I am just a person, living life, trying to figure it out, crying when my heart breaks, jumping when I am excited, planning on graduating from college . . . you know, the daily routine. Why should I write?

If I were to die tomorrow without having written a single piece of world-class bit of literature, I doubt the world would notice, or even that it would be a worse-off place because I didn’t get my story written. Or if I were to live until  I was eighty-five, having written several amazing novels, would it really change the course of history that much? Would my work have any significance at all? I kind of doubt it.

Words are alive. They breathe. They move, and they beat out a rhythm we all end up accepting or rejecting, following or turning away from. In that sense, I know once my words were written and sent out, they would change something, but would it really be worth it to invest so much of my time?

I read these books because I want to learn and because I want to write. Is reading them worth it? It takes a lot of my time, and I wonder, should I be out, living life instead? I am not sure yet. Just like I am not sure why I write.

Which is a problem. If I don’t really care about my writing . . . or don’t know why I write, how can I expect my readers to care?



The Artist’s Way

I wish I could be disciplined enough to write one post a day instead of churning three or four posts out in one day and then ignoring my wordpress for two weeks. I think if I was a reader I would be confused. My brother-in-law gets confused easily. He likes to follow along on my writing, which is really cool to me, but whenever I write posts all at once, he thinks he has fallen behind. So in advance, Daniel, I do apologize. This is merely the third post I will be writing today. Perhaps it will be the last, though. You might catch up quickly!

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, doesn’t remind me of the previous books I’ve read. Before I couldn’t stop writing about the book I was reading, whether it was “Fifty Tools” or “On Writing.” Now, though, I am in a little bit of trouble. I am on page 177, and I think I have found only one or two things to comment on.

First, it amazes me how with each writing book, specifically this one, there is an element of spiritualism. Almost each book I have read so far uses a Bible verse as an illustration, and even in this book, Cameron builds her entire premise on “spiritual electricity.” Somehow writers seem to understand two things: 1) the Bible is well written, and 2) writing is not done alone. Writers need Someone bigger–God–to be part of the writing process.

Secondly, The Artist’s Way is more than a writing book. It covers a new part of the creative journey. Instead of offering technical tips to writing better, Cameron says, “Come, go on a journey with me, a journey of recovery.”

Do you like to create but you are afraid to? Do you take time to have fun in a day, treat yourself well, dream big, and actually live the life you would you like to? Julia Cameron walks college students through this book every semester, but she wrote this book specifically with independent students in mind. Laid out in a twelve-week format, there is a brief chapter to read at the beginning of the week and a set of tasks to do throughout the week.

The tasks are not hard; they are actually quite easy, and I think I would enjoy doing a lot of them: “list twenty things you enjoy doing; describe five traits you like in yourself as a child; list five people you wish you had met who are dead,” etc.

They are simple, yet they make a point. How well do you know yourself? Are you living as God created you–free and completely alive–or are you churning through life, addicted to “what gets you by” or numbs you out so you can’t feel, so you don’t have to deal with the black hole you are wallowing in? Are you living life?

The Artist’s Way is about living a journey, about growing, about dreaming, and Cameron has laid out all the steps; I would encourage anyone to read through her book. If life is monotonous and gloomy, think of The Artist’s Way as a helping hand to see sunshine. Try some of the tasks. I started writing “Morning Pages” (write three pages of random everything each morning), and although I don’t end up writing every morning, I love to write them when I do. They give me a voice, and they pin my ideas down on paper.

Yet I would offer one warning. Don’t expect this book to bring about full recovery from discouragement, frustration, co-dependency, or depression. It won’t come. These expectations are too high for a single book written by human hands. We are all only people. God has to be involved.

God is the one who brings healing. Jesus Christ came, died and rose again, offering us freedom, peace and true life. He is holding out life, abundant life, to each of us. All we have to do is accept it, asking Him to save us. We can’t do it on our own, no matter how many well-written books we read or how many growth-processes we have worked through. Jesus Christ, as the true Healer, worked many miracles among the people in Israel, and He’s still in the miracle-business today. Ask Him to help you. He will.

So, do find a copy of Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and have fun discovering more about yourself. Work through pain and hurts, delight in watching song birds and sunrises again. Write. Paint. Draw. Go horse back riding, scuba diving that trip to Australia you always wanted to make. Delight in being who God created you to be.

Cameron’s book can help; I know it would have helped me over the past three years as I’ve been growing and climbing my own seven-story mountain. Her book helped me today: “Oh, so other people go through stuff like this too!”

It would have been nice reading through The Artist’s Way earlier in my life as God rebuilt this broken reed and helped me learn how to dance again.

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” -Andre Gide

Must Watch: The Spelling Bee

I used to say I was an English major, and I would look down at my shoes, my eyes frantically trying to hide between my half-lowered eyelids. I wasn’t too proud of the fact, and I didn’t really want anyone else to know I was a book-reading, fact-studying, eye-glass wearing, poor style-dressing, nerdy English major. I don’t think I was very proud of my major. In return, they’d sympathetically pat me on the shoulder and walk away, saying, “We don’t like reading either.” End of conversation.

However, I graduated from that stage of my life since I actually do like to read, and I do think writing is the greatest thing since strawberry jello, and I do like being an English major. Perhaps its just because I don’t wear glasses, but my enthusiasm seems to be contagious. Instead of sympathy, people keep shoveling URL addresses at me. “You have to see this! Brian Regan! He is soooo cool! He talks about spelling!” Go figure.

Here’s another one a friend shared with me today:

Living Life

Camp quickly became my life this past week. Working as a day-time counselor, I am either at high energy (when I am with the kids) or at ultra-low energy (when I am back at my dorm room in the evening). Either way, I am not writing or reading.

However, I am living, and since living vibrantly as the person God created me to be is my goal, I am not minding so much. Living and writing helps me understand LIFE. Working at camp helps me be part of LIFE.

I like to learn about people, I like to understand them, and I like to be a part of telling stories, reading stories, or creating stories–just so someone can be entertained for one evening, or perhaps not feel so alone, or possibly learn something about LIFE.

The first week in July I skpyed my two younger brothers. They were bouncing off the walls, showing off their muscles and their entertainment abilities (they are not too much the sit-and-talk type), so I asked them if I could read them a story. “You are Special” by Max Lucado aired over my laptop screen, and the boys, age ten and eight, sat and listened to me read. And yes, we are over 1000 miles apart. Stories can bring brothers and sisters together.

Two close friends graduated this May. This summer we’ve stayed in touch through reading Anna Karenina together, a book by Lev Tolstoy. We email one another about the book, and though the emails are sporadic, they also drip with details from our daily lives. Stories keep relationships together.

I don’t always know why I am an English major or why I want to teach kids some day, and I don’t always remember why I am reading through these twenty-five books. Then I go to camp, and I work hard with kids, laughing with them, riding amusement park rides with them, and singing myself hoarse in the van with them, and I know why I am doing this.

Some kids don’t have the chance of education. Not all know how to read. Not all enjoy reading. I wonder how many kids have actually been read a story.

I read to learn so I can teach. Then someday I can teach someone else how to read, how to write, and maybe they can begin enjoying living life too.

I love Psalm 16:11. It’s a cry of truth to our Creator, God of the Universe: “You make known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Maybe God can use me someday to show others the paths of life.

What tangible ways have stories or books influenced your life?

Elements of Style

I posted on facebook the other day, “Having breakfast with Strunk & White,” and some people thought my breakfast was a very fine wine while others insisted, “Your style is great. Why are you reading about it?”

Apparently, not everyone has taken an English composition class, tried to understand poetry, had a father who collected books galore, or  searched for top punctuation books online. Apparently, not everyone has heard of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

The illustration version is beautiful; yes, I must be an English major to say a punctuation book is beautiful, but Maira Kalman did a great job. The pictures spice up the black and white pages, and in a creative way, they explain some of the rules. They make me laugh. They are colorful, out there, a little Picasso thrown in beside the Hemingway and Whitman. Art at its finest.

The rules are to the point. Some of them are obvious. Don’t make two independent clauses one sentence with just a comma in the middle. Everyone should know this. It’s like a run on sentence with a little bump in the middle, not enough to stop the train of thought and tell it, “There’s a new thought coming up.” Some of them, for me, were new or at least a little rusty. “Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.” Um. Okay. If I should.

More than a punctuation handbook, Strunk and White define style, a much stickier part of writing. Anyone can say, “Don’t cut a sentence in two.” That is common sense. What doesn’t make sense is, “When can I break the rules?” When can I, as the author, throw something out there, something uncommon, something unheard of, something that no one has used before?

Strunk and White say, “Who can confidently say what ignites a certain combination of words, causing them to explode in the mind?”

It’s next to impossible, isn’t it? Yet S & W attempt it. Or they offer hints and ideas of what good style looks like. I think style is half-learned, half-given, and half-fought for, yet their thoughts are very helpful, and I plan to keep them in mind.

Also, this book will join my library shelves someday–illustrations and all–and I plan on referring to it during my own career and recommending it to any careers watching my shaky footsteps. 🙂

Singing Punctuation

Friends and I hung out at Wendy’s today, and between the fries and salads (their strawberry-chicken-almond salad is really good!), we started talking about my life, and how I am reading books; books like Strunk’s and White Elements of Style. 

They thought it was a great way to pass away my time and mentioned this video. I just had to share it with you! Do listen the whole way through; the last songs are the best! 🙂

Breakfast with Strunk and White

I guess it’s not typical to have a Breakfast Picnic, but I was in the mood, the sun was calling, and the green beans needed eating, so I had one. An orange, a glass of milk, and a handful of green beans are perfect for a Saturday morning picnic, no?

Strunk and White joined me; it was a delightful conversation, and I discovered some new tidbits about punctuation.

According to these two gentlemen, the following principles are the most important “that govern punctuation. They should be so thoroughly mastered that their application comes second nature.”

Rule 3: “Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.” Second nature. Done. Boom.

Rule 4: “Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause.” Thank goodness I learned this one in high school!

Rule 5: “Do not join independent clauses with a comma.” Also understood in high school. Boom. 🙂

Rule 6: “Do not break sentences in two.” (“In other words, do not use periods for commas.”)

I believe these are pretty straight forward, pretty understood, and pretty basic. I think I can handle them. Yes?

Also, here are some of Strunk and White’s thoughts on colons and dashes:

“The colon has more effect than the comma, less power to separate than the semicolon, and more formality than the dash.”

“A dash is a mark of separation stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than parentheses.”

Mr. Strunk and Mr. White, it was delightful dining with you under the Missouri Saturday sky, and I do hope to chat again very soon!