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Right Writing News, April 20, 2004, Issue #006
April 20, 2004
Welcome to the sixth issue which highlights a best-selling author's writing life and some writing tips. This publication appears bi-monthly.
If you like what you see here, please forward this copy and use this link to subscribe.
Table of Contents1) Pulled back from the Limelight -- Richard J. Foster by W. Terry Whalin 2) Using Both Sides of the Brain to Create Fiction by Dr. Dennis E. Hensley 3) The Bible Is Not a Quote Book by David E. Fessenden 4) The Power of the Book by Steve Laube 5) Writing Tips 6) New Links to Check
Pulled back from the Limelight
-- Richard J. Foster
By W. Terry WhalinIn the 70s, Richard Foster pastored a small congregation--Woodlake Avenue Friends Church in Canoga Park, California. "We found people hungry for God and needing to meet God in a deep way," Foster says. Numerous people in that congregation came from the counter-culture and didn't have the props from the traditional church. They began to experiment with the various disciplines of the spiritual life and reintroduce some of these traditions to the church. Much of the results were poured into a bestseller called Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (Harper & Row San Francisco). Over 1.25 million copies of this book have been sold. Within months Richard was catapulted into the limelight of the religious world and became a popular speaker at conferences around the U.S..
Following the publication of Celebration, Foster wrote books like Freedom of Simplicity (Harper & Row, 1981) and The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex & Power (Harper & Row, 1982). His career in writing and speaking was growing. Then, when Foster's children entered their teenage years, suddenly he stopped writing. "God was basically saying, 'Shut up.' So I stopped all of my writing and speaking," Richard says.
Foster continued working as a professor of Theology at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas and directing The Milton Center, formerly the Center for Christian Writers, but he didn't do anything else in the public eye. The Milton Center cultivated a small gathering of writers which met weekly, sponsored events, and attempted to raise the level of writing among Christians in general. For example, the Center sponsored a yearly gathering of The Chrysostom Society, a group of 18 writers including Foster, Madeleine L'Engle, Philip Yancey, Calvin Miller, Walter Wangerin, Jr., and other nationally known writers. The Milton Center was also instrumental in starting the Academy of Christian Editors.
"I didn't think I would write or speak again," Foster admits. It turned out to be an 18-month sabbatical. Then, with gentle assurances, Foster began to feel it was time to write and speak again.
"We were beginning to dream about helping to fuel the flames of renewal for the church," Foster says. As a result, he founded Renovare, an effort working for the renewal of the church in all it’s multi-faceted expressions.
In time, he began writing once again. "I'm not eager to write," Foster says. "It's a crucifixion to me and I have to feel a strong concern to do it." For six intense months, Richard wrote and didn't accept any speaking or dinner engagements. He addressed the topic of prayer and wrote Prayer, Finding the Heart's True Home (Harper SanFrancisco). Released during the summer of 1992, the book immediately climbed onto the Christian best-seller list and has remained a steady performer. The ECPA awarded Prayer the Gold Medallion in the Inspirational category in 1993. This title divides the topic of prayer into three spiritual movements. First, Richard examines the movement inward to seek self-knowledge and transformation. Then he considers the move upward toward intimacy with God, and finally he writes about looking outward for ministry to others and the world.
To write the book on prayer meant an intense period of writing and prayer. "My wife, Carolynn, says, 'It was like Richard died and I was widowed,'" Richard says with a smile. For six months, he wrote and prayed from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.. The book on prayer was the first one where Foster used a computer instead of pen and paper. "The computer was invaluable for revising. It doesn't make you more creative, but certainly makes it easier to change things," he says.
He confesses about the ministry from his writing, "I don't know how God uses squiggles on paper, but people will read them and God animates them with life."
In recent years, Foster has devoted his full-time attention to speaking at conferences related to the Renovare movement on church renewal and writing. You can learn more about its activities through the organization website: www.renovare.org
During the last few years, Richard’s major writing attention has been focused on the Renovare Spiritual Formation Study Bible which will release in the spring 2005. While there are numerous study Bibles, the Renovare Bible will be different in several ways. It emphasizes how God was and is with humans in order to form a loving community, and in the process of forming this community, they have to be spiritually formed. Richard leads a team of editors and scholars to trace how this happened from God being in individual communion with humans (Gen. 1-11), to being with a family (Gen. 12-50), to with a tribe (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), to into eternity (Revelation). The emphasis is on forming the heart as well as informing the mind. If you want to learn more, subscribe to the electronic newsletter at: Study Bible e-newsletter.
As a writer and teacher, Richard Foster practices his message day in and day out, which is a solid lesson for any communicator. He talks about Work as a Sacrament which provides a glimpse into what drives this best-selling author:
"Work places us into the stream of divine action. We are ‘subcreators,’ as J. R. R. Tolkien reminds us. In saying this, I am not referring to sharing our faith at work or praying throughout our work. Both of these are good, to be sure; but I am referring to the sacredness of the work itself. As you and I care for our daily tasks, we are glorifying God in the work itself. When Martin Luther gave us his revolutionary teaching about the priesthood of all believers, he was referring not just to the fact that the plowboy and the milkmaid could do priestly or liturgical work, but that the plowing and the milking themselves were priestly work.
Foster continues, “If we are working to ‘the audience of One,’ we will find Jesus to be our constant companion and friend--though our work be so mundane as picking up sticks. We will grow in intimacy with God and patience with others. And we will experience divine care and supernatural guidance in the most ordinary circumstances, like discovering the problem with the washing machine or finding the right words for a difficult conversation.
"Jesus, we must remember, spent most of his earthly life in what we, today, call a blue-collar job. He did not wait until his baptism in the Jordan to discover God. Far from it! Jesus validated the reality of God in the carpentry shop over and over before speaking of the reality of God in his ministry as a rabbi. ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,’ says Paul, ‘do everything for the glory of God’ (1 Cor. 10:31)."
Through Richard Foster, writers everywhere can find a gentle reminder of the Divine One who we would be well to follow.
W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as an editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer's Digest and Christianity Today. Terry has written more than 55 nonfiction books and his latest is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Teaching the Bible (Alpha Books). He is the Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Howard Publishing and creator of www.right-writing.com.
Using Both Sides of the Brain to Create Fiction
By Dennis E. HensleyI was studying the life of Leonardo Da Vinci recently. Although he was an artist, inventor, and scientist, his methods of thinking taught me several new ways to stimulate my creativity as a writer. Da Vinci would sometimes draw circles and other shapes with his left hand in order to force both sides of his brain to coordinate their thinking efforts. Sometimes he would sit and stare at thread patterns in hanging drapes or at mud splatters on a wall until they formed into some kind of mental picture. Da Vinci's goal was to maximize the full range of his brainpower.
Today, we know what Da Vinci did not know, that the left and right hemispheres of the brain have separate functions. However, we also know that Da Vinci was on the right track by forcing his brain to tap all of its resources in an effort to solve problems, develop new ideas, and to improve on existing systems.
In my college level classes of fiction writing, I put my students through several mental drills that enable them to improve their memory, provide more vividness in their descriptive writings, and conceive of plots that have depth and fascinating complications. These drills can be done at writers' club meetings or between two writers getting together for a brainstorming session or, in some cases, by writers who are alone. Let me share some with you:
The Vehicle Transport Exercise: One writer (the secretary) sits in a chair with a notepad or small tape recorder and chronicles what the other writer does and says. The other writer (the participant) sits in a chair with his or her eyes closed. The participant chooses a vehicle to ride in and then imagines going forward in it (a tour bus, a space ship, a canoe, a race car). The participant describes in vivid detail all that is seen, heard, smelled, and experienced during that ride. It is imperative that the descriptions be told in present tense verbs.
"I am three-years-old and my older brother is pulling me down the sidewalk in a metal, red wagon," begins the participant. "The sidewalk is broken in spots, so the ride is jostling and bumping me around in the wagon. It is a hot July day and I feel the noonday sun on my face and hair. My brother is whistling the theme song from a TV western of the 1950s and I can also hear the sound of a push mower being used to cut the lawn of the house we are now passing. I can smell the fresh-cut grass."
This narrative continues nonstop for ten minutes. If there is a pause or stall, the secretary provides a prompt by saying something like,"Are other children present?" or "What is your destination?" or "How are you dressed?" After ten minutes, the participant opens his or her eyes and gets feedback from the secretary. Together, they try to decide what was important about that scene, how it might carry the seed of a story plot, and in what ways it could be written (first person narrative? omniscient author? observed scene in a play?).
The Extended Story Exercise: In this exercise, the participant sits in front of one or two other writers and announces the title of a book he or she has just read or a movie recently seen. It must be something the other two writers are familiar with. The participant is then asked to give details about scenes that were not included in the storyline of the novel or movie. The participant must respond to questions poised by the other two writers, such as, "In The Call of the Wild, what was the dog Buck's life after the book's final chapter when Buck began running with the wolf pack?" or"In the parable of the Prodigal Son, what happened once the two brothers came face to face after the Prodigal was welcomed back by the father?"
The point of this exercise is to prove how reading classic literature can lead to new variations of old themes and how writer's block can be beaten by adding to an already existing story.
The Olfactory Stimulation Exercise: In this exercise, the participant sits in a chair with a blindfold on. The exercise partner (and secretary) goes into a kitchen and gets five bags or bottles of seasonings and spices. A tape recorder is turned on. One at a time the spices are placed under the nose of the participant who must then discern what the spice is and talk about all that its aroma brings to mind.
"Oh, that is nutmeg," says the participant,"and it is taking me back to Christmas at my parents' home. I see Dad putting the finishing touches on his batch of homemade eggnog. He is gently stirring it, and Mom is sprinkling nutmeg on the top to make it look festive and to give a tang to the taste. I am standing in line with a mug, waiting to be one of the first taste testers."
Whereas this is a valid exercise for improving one's descriptive writing, it often triggers memories of "unfinished business" in one's past or great life experiences not thought about recently. This can lead to a short story or perhaps the creation of a new chapter in a novel.
Find a partner and spend time experimenting with these drills and exercises. In our next issue I will provide a Part Two to this series that will provide additional creative thinking drills designed to help you enhance your fiction writing. Until then, give "some thought" to what we've learned today.
Dr. Dennis E. Hensley is director of the professional writing major at Taylor University Fort Wayne (IN). He is the co-author of the Leslie Holden mystery-romance novel series released by Harvest House and also the author of such writing books as How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It (Random House) and Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours (Macmillan).
The Bible Is Not a Quote Book
By David E. FessendenNo matter what kind of Christian writing you do, you need to crack open the Bible once in a while. (At least, I hope so!) You may not have thought of it this way, but reading the Bible is a form of research -- and it is easily the most important research for a Christian writer. It is crucial that the concepts in your writing are the result of a thorough interaction with the Word of God. That is why, in some sense, studying Scripture is a unique form of research, because it is the only book that researches you. More than any other written material, Scripture can actually change your way of thinking as "it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).
Unfortunately, the Bible is also one of the most abused forms of research. Too many writers try to use Scripture rather than serve Scripture. If they decide to write about "joy," they determine what they want to say about the topic, then look up a couple of Bible verses, picking and choosing what will bolster their argument. They treat the Bible like a quote book, creating a theology of "sound bites."
Instead, the Christian writer should study to find out what all of Scripture has to say about a topic, and in what context. When it comes to the subject of joy, for example, the apostle Paul wrote a lot about it -- even as he was chained to the wall in a rat-infested prison. Puts Christian "joy" in a whole new light, doesn't it?
Therefore, researching Scripture should be done early in the writing process, and as it judges the thoughts and attitudes of your heart, it may even drive you to make major revisions in your original idea, since you are no longer pooling your ignorance, but getting God's perspective on the subject. Here are some basic principles for studying a passage:
1. Read the passage yourself first -- before looking at any other books that say what others think of it. After you have read it once, read it again -- and again, and again. Read it until you can put its message into your own words.
2. Begin to to look for interconnections between words. Are certain words repeated? Who or what is doing the action in the sentences? Who or what is being acted upon?
3. Note what literary form the passage is in, such as historical narrative, poetry, or instruction. How does this literary form affect the meaning of the passage?
4. Read the context of the passage as well -- perhaps as much as a chapter before and a chapter after. Re-read until you begin to see how the passage in question relates to the rest of the chapter, and/or the rest of the book.
5. Check related texts -- those Scripture passages that contain the same topics, concepts or words.
Now you can look at commentaries from other authors, and be able to weigh their statements based on your own in-depth study, rather than simply taking everything they say as true, or parroting their ideas.
Some writers try a little too hard to impress an editor with their study of Scripture. One author, working on a book about believers in the workplace, told me in a query letter that he had looked up "all the 419 passages that contain the word work in the Bible." My response was as follows:
"We are willing to take a look at your proposal, but I have one word of caution concerning the concept of your book. Of the 419 passages containing the word work in the Bible, I find it doubtful that every one of them refers to one's employment or ministry, per se. On the other hand, there are undoubtedly passages in Scripture that may not use the word work but are pertinent to the subject of one's ministry, career, profession, etc. It is important that an author's material grows out of a thorough study of the Word."
The importance of seeing the context of a passage of Scripture came home to me recently when I received a manuscript for a devotional book which included the verse, "A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight" (Proverbs 11:1, KJV). After quoting this verse, the author went on to discuss the importance of maintaining physical, social, and spiritual "balance" in one's life! A closer look at the passage reveals that the word "balance" refers to a grocer's scale, not balancing one's daily needs and responsibilities, and the verse is saying that God hates it when a merchant cheats his customers by rigging his scales. No doubt there are passages of Scripture that discuss maintaining proper balance in one's life, but Proverbs 11:1 is not one of them.
What concerned me most about this author (who, by the way, has an impressive string of writing credits) was her reaction to the error I pointed out. "Oh, that's no problem," she responded. "I can find another Bible verse." But that was hardly the point. I didn't want another "proof text"; I wanted evidence that this author had spent serious time in the study of the Scriptures, and that the ideas and concepts expressed in her writing had grown out of her Scripture study. While I don't expect all our authors to be "Bible scholars," I do expect them to be students of the Word. If the author had spent more time studying what the Bible says, and less time trying to find support for her ideas in the Bible, she would have had a much more successful proposal.
David E. Fessenden is a freelance editor and consultant for Honeycomb House Publishing. The author of four books and dozens of articles for magazines and newspapers, he also serves as a columnist for Cross & Quill and a mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. Dave and his wife, Jacque, have two adult sons.
The Power of the Book
By Steve Laube
Why Do We Read?
Escapism? Entertainment? Information?
If all three can be achieved by watching TV, then why read?
In The Writing Life (page 72), Annie Dillard wrote: "Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? . . . Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking. We should amass half dressed in long lines like tribesmen and shake gourds at each other, to wake up; instead we watch television and miss the show."
Years ago, Jesse Jackson and then President Clinton made public statements encouraging parents of public-school children to "turn off the TV for an hour a day." David Skidmore, in a letter to the editor of Insight magazine (Nov. 13, 1995, replied:
"I think I see part of the problem. If the TV is on for an hour a day, it is too much. The math is simple enough; an hour a day, times 365 days a year, divided by 40 hours in a work week, is more than nine 40-hour weeks in front of the tube. In that same amount of time, an intelligent person could read the complete works of Goethe and Shakespeare, build a garage, or memorize the Constitution."
So why read books?
"A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few sources of information left that is served up without the silent black noise of a headline, the doomy hulabaloo of a commercial. It is one of the few havens remaining where a person's mind can get both provocation and privacy." – Edward P. Morgan
While there is plenty of opportunity to read for the sake of entertainment and escapism, there are three other reasons:
Engage the Mind - no one likes to be around a dull-witted couch potato. Books can change the world. "There is nothing more wonderful than a book!" says Charles Kingsley. "It is a message to us from the dead -- from human souls we never saw, who lived, perhaps thousands of miles away. And yet these, in those little sheets of paper, speak to us, arouse us, terrify us, teach us, comfort us, open their hearts to us as brothers."
Where would the world be today without these books Das Kapital, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Siddartha, Confessions, Summa Theologica, Critique of Pure Reason, Pilgrim's Progress, The Origin of Species, and even Mein Kampf?
Expand Your Horizons -- Ursula LeGuin said, "In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it. Finally, when we're done with it, we may find--if it's a good novel--that we're a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before. But it's very hard to 'say' just what we learned, how we were changed."
A book is a ticket to a new universe. A new concept. An uncomfortable idea. Children are transported by books like Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Wind in the Willows, Aesop's Fables, and The Secret Garden.
Energize Your Spirit - We often come to a place in our lives where we don't know where to turn. Circumstances have spiraled out of our control. Many times we can draw comfort from the words of those who have gone before.
A book can wrap your spirit in its embrace, and through the power of God change your life. Where would my life be without Knowing God, Mere Christianity, How to Be a Christian Without Being Religious, Life Together, Green Letters, Taste of New Wine, Foundations for Reconstruction, and Lectures to My Students?
These books had the power to transform my life. Knowing God turned me upside down to focus on god instead of self. Lectures to My Students revealed that I did not have the call from God to be a pastor. Ridenour made Romans accessible. C.S. Lewis taught me of the essentials of the gospel. Bonhoeffer, the essentials of life in a community of believers, and so on.
Ultimately the power of the book is the power to transform. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:1-2 (NIV).
Daniel Webster (1782-1852): "If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, and the people do not become religious, I do not know what is to become of us as a nation, and the thought is one to cause solemn reflection on the part of every patriot and Christian. If truth be not diffused, error will be; if god and his word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy; if the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will; if the power of the gospel is not felt through the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption, and darkness, will reign without mitigation or end."
Our responsibility is to create those books that can change lives. Together, let us help transform the world, word by word.
Steve Laube is a literary agent for The Literary Group International (www.theliterarygroup.com). He is a 23-year veteran of the book industry with experience at both the retail and the publishing level. Prior to becoming an agent he rose to the position of an editorial director for Bethany House Publishers. He and his family live in Phoenix (for more information see www.stevelaube.com).
Writing TipsHow would you handle the experience of Richard Foster when God told him to shut up and stop his writing? Note that Richard was listening in the first place. Take a few minutes to reflect on how your spiritual relationship affects your writing positively or negatively. Make some concrete goals so you can move in a positive direction.
In March 2003, Richard Foster gave a stirring keynote message at the Evangelical Christian Publishers Conference called In Search of Balance: An Editor's Bottom Line Responsibility. It was a challenge in these stretching days for the editors to balance between their financial responsibilities to the publisher and the ministry of publishing. For the first time, you can also read Richard's words online at: http://www.right-writing.com/balance.html
Dr. Dennis Hensley gives us three exercises to improve our mental memory and our fiction. Select one of these exercises and practice it today. Then tomorrow, select one of the two remaining exercises. Finally, on the third day, try the final exercise. Are you gaining a fuller use of your brain power?
Are you throwing Bible quotes into your articles or using the Bible as a quote book? Take a minute to re-read David Fessenden's wise counsel about research and the Bible.
Steve Laube writes about the Power of the Book. The printed page should be having a large impact on our daily lives. List in the margin several books that have strongly influenced your life. How can you make a conscious effort over the next few weeks to engage your mind in a good book?
Tomorrow I head to New York City for the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference. Learn more about different conferences at:Major Writers Conferences in the U.S. I'd encourage you to look over this page and select a conference that fits your budget and schedule. You and your writing will both benefit from the experience.
New Links to CheckDiscover the four keys for Writers Conference Success:
http://www.right-writing.com/conference-keys.html Want to build your audience on the web? Then use these tools:
http://www.right-writing.com/tools.html Are you passionate about a particular topic? Then build a theme-based website with your content and traffic. Learn more in about 30 seconds at:
http://ctpm.sitesell.com/write2sell.html If you write children's books or want to write children's books, then check out several new articles on this page:
http://www.right-writing.com/child.html In Search of Balance: An Editor's Responsibility was the speech Richard Foster gave last year at the ECPA Editor's conference. Now you can see this speech at:
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