Notes on Writing: Let My Life Speak (and other thoughts)

I found an old spiral-bound notebook.Inside, old notes.They are about writing, I guess. And they are sketchy. Spare:

  • “What are the things that keep you up at night?”
  • “When crafting first pieces—get tense (important to feel), palms sweaty, really calm stillness—deeper level.”
  • “Did your body speak to you when working/responding? If not responding, then ask, ‘How engaged am I?'”
  • “Where was God in it?”
  • “Let your life speak.”

I have no record of who was speaking or what conference I was attending. I don’t know where these thoughts came from; only that I found them worthy of saving all this time.

What are the things that keep you up at night?

I have no idea what the speaker said about this, but I know that when I take on a project—whether as short and quick as a blog post or as all-consuming as a book—I need to care about it. I’ll be living with it, thinking about it, researching, reading, talking and writing about it at length—probably dedicating every spare moment to developing it.My topic should hold my attention. If it revs me up or concerns me deeply, I’ll stay the course and write with more energy and interest. The things that keep me up at night will hold my attention; and if they hold my attention, they’ll likely hold the attention of my readers.”What keeps me up at night?” That’s not a bad place to start when looking for ideas.

When crafting first pieces, it’s important to feel at a deeper level.

Do I care about my topic? Does my story engage me so much that I have a physical reaction?I remember feeling compelled to open the window to a deep and painful time of my life just a crack. My snippet of a story was buried in a comment at a blog. Though no longer than a short paragraph, I felt the prick of adrenaline as I typed. I needed to reveal that tiny snapshot. When I was done? Peace.

Did your body speak to you when working/responding? If not, ask, ‘How engaged am I?’

This is similar to the previous note, but it’s worth exploring further.Am I bored as I write?Might as well stop and move on (or wait) until something grabs me. After all, if I’m bored while writing, my reader will likely be bored while reading. Why waste our time?

Where was God in it?

I love stories that don’t have to say something like “And God protected me” because the story was honest and real enough to show that God protected me. A great story will reflect real life, and if God was there in real life, then it should be possible to reveal that through story.”Where was God in it?” is also a good way to select a story to tell. When I know where God was working in my life, I can find the turning point or focus of the story I want to tell.

Let your life speak.

Story. My life best speaks to others by means of story, though I do like to share thoughts, as well, as I’m doing right now.Instead of always instructing or describing, I am trying to learn to tell that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable from my life. Even if those elements are embedded in an unresolved struggle I’m dealing with, they will be easiest to process (and most memorable) when told in story form.In a stroke of irony, however, I realized that this very post fails to do any of the enumerated points.I’m simply talking.No story.No adrenaline prick.Just a few thoughts flowing in response to a piece of paper torn from a spiral notebook.I guess not everything can be pulsing with power.Sometimes we just get together and share what we’ve learned.

spiral notebook” photo by theilr under a Creative Commons license through Flickr.
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  • Comments

    1. But did you smile at those last words? I did! I believe that qualifies.

      Now you know I am with you all the way on this stuff, especially letting the story speak. Thanks for sharing your notebook. :)

    2. “In a stroke of irony, however, I realized that this very post fails to do any of the enumerated points.”

      I beg to differ. I’m now mulling over the power of adrenaline pricks.

      • I’m not sure I could survive digging into deep stories every single day. I think the blog is a place to vary and experiment, weaving in an adrenaline-surge-story now and then! Too bad tomorrow is the day I prep Food on Fridays. I really can’t think of a single food story that would generate an adrenaline prick.

    3. John Jakes, American historical fiction author, has this advice:

      “Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe, shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish.”

      Just thinking with you, adding more. Shining through sounds right to me.

      Authenticity, realness, is what I believe readers crave. And they should.

      • I agree, Cassandra. To let the full and real me shine through. Yep. Because if I’m faking it, there’s nothing there…and readers feel it.

    4. You pricked others.. and that counts big time!

    5. I like the idea of “What keeps you up at night?”

      Bills, kids, writing, relationships, writing, a crazy story idea that I wonder if I will ever start on, a sleepy baby, writing…

      Always enjoy your writing Ann!

    6. Wouldn’t it be funny/ironic if they were your own notes to yourself for one of your own speaking engagements? Hmmm. After thinking about it, that only happens when you get older…(certainly older than you are!) Like, my age…

      Wouldn’t it be funny/ironic if this was my own blog post that I just sent to you and forgot?

      • Oh my goodness, that is a hilarious thought–and altogether possible! I am indeed getting, you know, a little older….so it’s within the realm of possibility!

        But I don’t think I would have thought of the body-response thing.

        But I might have thought of the bored thing.

        Fun to see your comment!

    7. Am sitting here on my sofa in the spring sunshine (in Australia) reading your blog on my ipad, in between reading Not So Fast (for the second time since I bought it 3 weeks ago) interspersed with scribbling in a journal, and am very thankful for all you are writing!
      Obviously, from the length of the above sentence, I am not a writer!
      I appreciate your thoughts and the way you weave them in with your experiences, and at the moment reading your book helping me to define my own thoughts on how we are living, what needs to change, and how to put God at the centre of it all.
      Thank you!

      • Thank you so much. This is a tremendous encouragement and an honor to know our lives are intersecting at this moment. My words and your words, both book and blog and comment…this is an amazing time to live in this world. Thank you for taking time to write!

    8. Ann —

      I love this post, love hearing your heart on writing. I also love that someone else takes notes and then has to work really hard to decipher them years later.

      I’m with you on the story idea, too.

    9. i love that question “what keeps you up at night?”

      i find that i’m living that right now … going through a grief that is manifesting itself, working its way to healing, through spilling words.

      so many of these things on your list are true — thanks for sparking these thoughts for me…

    10. What keeps me up at night? um . . . I’m a sleeper by nature, so nothing keeps me awake, not even caffeine. [so sad!]

      I do get the intent though: What is it that burns in my heart and keeps me on fire. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to capture that burning passion in a mason jar? I can picture it on my desk or my bedside table, keeping me company, a steady reminder of how God has pricked me to reflect Him. Maybe I’ll get a small jar and start a craft project . . .

    11. I like the idea about how our life speaks best through us by stories. I guess that is why Jesus told so many. Thanks for the post.

    12. “Let your life speak.” No truer words! There is such power in being real!

      I, too, am learning the importance of story and of “showing” rather than “telling.” It’s all a gigantic learning curve for me these days!

      Thanks for this post. Loved it. :)

    13. This is cool, Ann. I’ve never thought about the act of writing as a physical activity, but some of the things you mention here are very physical. I like the idea of paying attention to my body’s signals as perhaps a clue that I am on to something big in my writing. Good food for thought here (no pun intended. BTW, love the old cookbook/apple pie post…the liver dumplings…not so much).

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