Oswald Chambers spoke to me today.Not audibly. That would be freaky.No, Mr. Chambers spoke via the words he was faithful to record many years ago, preserved in My Utmost for His Highest, though even phrasing it that way seems a bit much. Maybe we could just say that I was inspired.In any case, please join me in pondering his advice. I’ve included it in its entirety here: [Read more…]
Our echoes roll from soul to souland grow forever and forever~Tennyson
After a week away, I’ve just returned home, not quite ready to share my personal experiences from Laity Lodge, where I participated in a writing workshop led by Lauren Winner and met up with my High Calling colleagues for the first time in person.
Instead, as I take time to process, I’m visiting my friends, listening to echoes roll from soul to soul as I read their reflections on our time together.
I encourage you to slip over to their homes online. Through their photography, poetry and poetic prose, you will feel much of what we experienced.
Claire Burge, our High Calling photo editor, sings of the afterness, the beginning.
In her post “When Paragraphs Become People,” Jennifer Dukes Lee, contributing editor for Family, describes the process of turning our moments and lives into sentences and paragraphs, “transmitting very self to very self”:
And in a stroke of blessing, we had a small window of opportunity to touch the person we’d already come to know through word and photo alone.
LL Barkat described a quiet moment alone one morning at Laity Lodge, when she escaped to silence.
Later, she followed up with a Spam story.
In addition to being the managing editor of High Calling Blogs, she has also been crowned the Queen of Spam, rescuing precious comments otherwise trapped in the spam-filter. You’ll see her royal can of Spam at her post “Crossing the Texas Border with Spam.”
Something’s changed, he writes.
I echo that, Glynn:
Yes, something’s changed.
High Calling content editor (work) Bradley J. Moore of Shrinking the Camel wrote, “The Word Made Flesh,” in which he describes the process of connecting with us, his High Calling colleagues, in person. “Soon you come to realize,” he writes, “that these people were your friends all along. Nothing has changed, except now you are placing your hand on their shoulder, or giving them a fist bump, or sharing your bread at dinner.”
I remember running before sunrise under these same brilliant stars and dipping my hands in the Frio River.I remember Ann and Ann doing dishes side by side, and Marcus drying. Tender arms around me when I break down over the missing, and fist bumps. I think of the hike we went on with Kenny and Scott—standing at the top of the canyon. And Ashley telling me about Kenny getting baptized in the Frio right in front of the lodge and the way she made the sacred hymns come alive for me. I remember.
Welcome Editor Dena Dyer wrote of “a kind of restlessness, a yawning ache that yearns for something I can’t find.” After highlighting each team member in “Finding Home,” she pointed out that:
He’s the cure–but we won’t be cured fully until we see Him in the flesh. Until then, we reach for heaven–our only true home–any way we can:
We create a place, born from depression and hardship, that will become a haven for starved artists and limping leaders…
We break bread with one another, crossing denominational lines and reveling in the unity of our brokenness.We find home anywhere we can, with the best people we can, until we run into His arms.
Content Editor (Culture) Sam Van Eman wrote “Spoiled Rotten: When Work and Play Meet“:
As you may know, I belong to a network called High Calling Blogs. It is an online community of more than a thousand people, focused (some more than others) on the idea that God cares about everything we do. Our families matter, of course. Faith and how it’s live out matter, too. But so do work and art and music and cooking and how we let employees go. Faithfulness in all areas of life is a bedrock belief of my own workplace – the Coalition for Christian Outreach – and High Calling Blogs shouts the same from one modem to the next.
He included a profile of each High Calling team member. “They are good folks,” he says, “inspirational followers of Christ, and now friends.”
Contributing Editor Ann Voskamp wrote “How to See God: The Light of Brokenness,” reflecting on a question Gordon Atkinson posed over lunch at Laity Lodge: “This is what I want to know,” he asked. “How do you see God?”
Ann writes in her post:
He’s waving his fork in my direction.
How do I witness the face of Holiness? How does the invisible become visible to the naked eye — to my naked and ashamed soul? How does the immaterial reality crack the fantasy of our daily material illusions? How do we find the door of the wardrobe, the way higher up, deeper in? Is that what’s he’s asking me?I have no idea. None that I can clearly articulate. How does one say how they daily see the Spirit? This is a way of the heart. I grope for words. Drag my fork tines through beans.
Though not part of our High Calling team, workshop leader Jeffrey Overstreet blogged about the retreat, as well, describing it as an event “where conversations about faith and imagination were humming for three inspiring days.” He wrote:
These people like color and surprise and texture. They’re creative. They can be spontaneous. They can be absurd, for the fun of it. They can be self-effacing in everything from their wardrobe to their creative writing. They’re smart enough to take every detail seriously, but wise enough to know that they should have a sense of humor about everything too… especially themselves. And when we lose that sense of play, we die a little.
Let us play, then.
All photos except that of Bradley Moore taken by Ann Kroeker.
“I’m bored,” a child whines. Oh, no! Quick, pull out the paints or Playdough—heaven forbid the child actually sits with nothing to do.
In our entertainment-obsessed society, we almost panic at the thought of having nothing to do, at being bored. The world seems to want to fill every spare moment with productivity or fun.
But is boredom such a bad thing? Could boredom actually be…good?
This article in the Boston Globe about boredom explored the strength—even the joy—of boredom.
It quoted a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the College of Staten Island:
“Our society is perpetually anxious, and a way to alleviate the anxiety is to delve into something that’s very within our control, pleasurable, and fun…It feels like it has all the makings of addiction.”
I value creativity, so this quote stood out to me:
As Ralley studied boredom, it came to make a kind of sense: If people are slogging away at an activity with little reward, they get annoyed and find themselves feeling bored. If something more engaging comes along, they move on. If nothing does, they may be motivated enough to think of something new themselves. The most creative people, he said, are known to have the greatest toleration for long periods of uncertainty and boredom.
And this, too:
To be bored is to stop reacting to the external world, and to explore the internal one. It is in these times of reflection that people often discover something new, whether it is an epiphany about a relationship or a new theory about the way the universe works. Granted, many people emerge from boredom feeling that they have accomplished nothing. But is accomplishment really the point of life? There is a strong argument that boredom — so often parodied as a glassy-eyed drooling state of nothingness—is an essential human emotion that underlies art, literature, philosophy, science, and even love.
My friend S. and I have talked about the fact that our kids’ generation doesn’t seem to allow much time to just sit and think. They don’t have time to create. To solve problems. To wonder about the deeper issues of life.
That’s because they’re occupied with nonstop activities:
They’re online, on the phone, text messaging, watching movies, watching TV, playing games. I remember long car rides when I would just stare out the window and think. When today’s kids are on long car trips, they’re often playing handheld games or watching DVDs.
When is today’s generation of kids able to sort through the deeper questions of life, to develop a personal philosophy? Both S. and I grew up in settings that allowed for many hours of “down time” and alone time when we could think, uninterrupted, for hours. We’re not necessarily intellectual or philosophical giants, but we can sit down and talk about more than “Dancing with the Stars.” What will happen to our kids if they don’t get some of that “down” time—that “bored” time—to think?
“When we’re writing deeply, writing thoughtfully, we are often trying to communicate with ourselves and trying to communicate what ultimately can’t be communicated—the greatest mysteries of the world: what is truth; what is beauty; what is being?” said Eric G. Wilson, an English professor at Wake Forest University and author of the new book, Against Happiness.
To write like that, one must think about it. Ponder it in the quieter moments of a day.
When and where are those moments?
Toward the end of the article:
Paradoxically, as cures for boredom have proliferated, people do not seem to feel less bored; they simply flee it with more energy, flitting from one activity to the next. Ralley has noticed a kind of placid look among his students over the past few years, a “laptop culture” that he finds perplexing. They have more channels to be social; there are always things to do. And yet people seem oddly numb. They are not quite bored, but not really interested either.
That means steeping in uninterrupted boredom may be the first step toward feeling connected. It “may take a little bit of tolerance of an initial feeling of boredom, to discover a comfort level with not being linked in and engaged and stimulated every second,” said Jerome C. Wakefield, a professor of social work at New York University and co-author of “The Loss of Sadness.”
“There’s a level of knowing yourself, of coming back to baseline, and knowing who you truly are.”
Today’s Writer’s Almanac quoted Flannery O’Connor. Her words reminded me of this article, of being bored, of thinking and creating:
“The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”
Boredom isn’t always disengagement, nor is it always unproductive—sometimes boredom leads to a new thought, an epiphany; a creative idea that requires our full attention.
Sometimes staring leads to story.
Next time your child looks up with a pitiful look and sighs, “I’m bored,” just smile.
“Good,” you can say. “We need more boredom in this world.”
And then just wait. Don’t fill the time.
See what happens.
Is every hour rush hour at your house?
Explore the jarring effects of our overcommitted culture and find refreshing alternatives for a more meaningful family and spiritual life.
Find a pace that frees your family to flourish.
“Not So Fast is a gift to every reader who takes the time to slow down and breathe in its pages.”
—Lee Strobel, best-selling author of The Case for Christ
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On a recent post, I listed ideas for posting when ideas aren’t coming. One of those ideas was to invite someone to guest blog, which I said I’d never done. I meant that I’d never invited anybody to guest blog over here at Ann Kroeker, but I haven’t ever guest blogged for anybody else, either.And then you can guess what happened: Two people asked me if I would make an appearance!One was a relatively new gal in Blogdom, Nicole at tickledpinkbynicole. I think she said she’s only been blogging since November, but what an impressive launch! She seems to have this thing down to a science.Anyway, she sent me a list of questions, and I answered them.Curious about the questions? And the answers? Hop on over and check it out (my headshot is really big, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. I flinched upon arrival).
The Belgian Wonder had accumulated a lot of frequent flyer miles, but not quite enough for a free flight, doggone it. He said they would expire at the end of ’07, and we were able to apply them toward magazines.Oh, my, do I love magazines–well, I love reading material of all kinds. “A-B-A-B,” or, “Always Bring A Book” actually includes magazines and newspapers. I suppose I should broaden it to be “A-B-R-M”; that is, “Always Bring Reading Material.” It’s just not as catchy. But I do stuff both books and periodicals into my bags as I head out the door.Anyway, the reading materials are finally starting to arrive. There’s more to come (insert giddy squeal)–but already I’m receiving:The Economist (it’s not really all about economics)The Wall Street Journal (it really is all about Wall Street…or money in general)Scientific American(I’m tired of looking up links)The WeekRedbookTimeAnd a friend had subscribed to Better Homes and Garden for me, and my parents got me Runner’s World and U.S. News & World Report! Oh, and I just got my LAST COPY of Family Fun…at least that’s what they told me in all caps with the latest issue.Whew! That’s a lot of reading material!So as I read, I find things of interest and want to tear them out. Sometimes I’m saving them for a writing project or the blog, and sometimes I find a topic that I think could interest a friend or family member. In any case, I don’t save the whole magazine; I tear out only what I need and recycle the rest of it when I’m done perusing the thing.But…oh, my, you should have seen the scraggly edges that my earnest attempts at careful tearing produced. They looked like they were handled by a clumsy kindergartener…until…I grabbed my trusty ruler.Tip #1: Read periodicals with a ruler in hand.The simplicity and practicality of a straight edge is not to be underestimated. Set the ruler down along the edge of the article–make sure it’s on a flat surface–then carefully tug at the top or bottom of the page. Once the tearing begins, pull steadily against the side of the ruler. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll end up with a neat and tidy edge every time, unless you get distracted and lose focus. This works great when clipping coupons, too, by the way. So fast. So straight.Tip #2: Read periodicals with a markerThen I write the person to whom it is destined at the top, next to the headline. If appropriate, I circle quotations or references of particular interest to save them time, unless I think it’s something that person might want to keep for posterity. I do this for my own filing purposes, too, because if I don’t, I’ll forget what stood out to me in the first place and lose all that inspiration. If I think my friend or I will be saving it for a scrapbook, then I don’t write on it at all; I use a Post-It. I make piles for each person until I’m done or run out of time or the oatmeal is bubbling over and needs to be stirred.Tip #3: Stick articles in envelopes. Mail or hand-deliver. Make some people happy that you thought of them.I sometimes recycle junk mail envelopes to store articles for the people I’ll see in person. I usually store the to-be-hand-delivered envelopes in my purse. Of course, I use a new envelope if I’m going to stick it in the mail for somebody who lives farther away. It’s fun to get snail mail–does anybody keep in touch that way anymore? Jot a little note and send it off–they’ll be thrilled, even if they don’t really care about that article on people in Indian slums who recycle disposable plastic cups.Then I recycle the raggedy leftovers and move on.And those, Works For Me Wednesday followers, are my low-key, low-tech solutions for sharing reading material.
Sometimes ideas are rumbling around in my brain’s gray matter, but I can’t seem to capture them and put them into words. When I try but can’t seem to compose a meaningful post for my readers, here are some productive ways to keep mentally, creatively, and spiritually “active”–and often, quite often, as soon as I employ one of the ideas on this list, I’m able to generate a satisfying and perfectly usable post:
Read Scripture. I’ve already shared my Psalter/Proverbs devotional method, but there are many ways to dig into the Bible and let it inspire you. There’s nothing like a good dose of Truth to get some ideas flowing.
Learn about Current Events: Now that I’ve started to receive all of my free subscriptions, I have more resources than ever to sharpen my understanding of world news and current events. I’ve started tearing out articles that might inspire a post and sticking them in a file for a day when I feel uninspired.
Visit new blogs: The technological savvy of today’s bloggers blows me away. Oh, and the amazing photos, clever blog-enhancing tools, and consistently creative writing ability showcased in post after post are so inspiring. It all makes me want to do more with my own humble, homely little blog, and fortunately a lot of the top bloggers are generous with explanations about how to incorporate some of these virtual gadgets. So visiting blogs to gain ideas is a good thing; I just need to keep Blog Envy and personal insecurities at bay. Overall, though, I’ve found that visiting new blogs is usually a helpful outing, like going out to coffee and enjoying a riveting conversation with somebody, then driving home and finding myself thinking all kinds of new thoughts.
Experience Something New: Trying something new is good for writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or blog posts. New experiences keep our mind active and fresh and call us to draw up new metaphors to describe sensations and feelings. It’s good for the mind and gives you fresh, raw writing material at the same time. Instead of staring at the screen and wishing for the words to come, go live a little!
Take a Walk: Years ago I read a book about writing by Brenda Ueland, and she recommended a daily walk not so much for exercise–though that’s obviously part of it–but for inspiration. Somebody copied out her quote online at this site: “I will tell you what I have learned myself. For me, a long five or six mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day.” As much as I hate the winter weather, taking that walk outside in nature (instead of on a treadmill), breathing fresh air and watching squirrels scampering up trees, is a critical part of providing fresh inspiration. It’s hard to explain, so just bundle up and go try it. Report back on your findings.
Idle Time: Puttering is freeing for the mind, so declutter a closet or organize the kids’ shoes. Plan out this spring’s garden, or even clear out some of the dried up annuals in one of the flowerbeds outside. It’s during those “down” times that the mind is free to come up with ideas that may have been stuck just under the surface. Again, I noted another pertinent Brenda Ueland quote: “I learned… that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”
Read a Book: Whether or not I like the writing style or agree with the author, reading a book engages the mind–it’s the opposite of the idle time–and gets me thinking. Ideas flow in response or reaction to the content I’ve taken in.
Link: Can’t think of anything to say? Point to somebody who said something you really like! Share that linky love and send your readers to some good stuff you’ve unearthed.
Enlist the Talents of a Guest Blogger: Let someone else do the writing for you. I haven’t done this yet, but what a great solution for slogging out of an idea quagmire.
Lists: Great idea, eh? Come up with a theme and generate some bullet points. Write a few thoughts, and presto! You’ve got a post!
As we head into the next couple of uninspiring, bleak, cold, gray winter months (at least that’s what they’ll be here in the American Midwest), may these ten suggestions help you trudge forward with hope that practical solutions for composing your posts are within reach.
Since I’m trusting that you don’t mind my mixing things up here, I decided to test you a bit.
Today’s post is about Beowulf.
I mentioned this to one of my friends. “Beowulf?” she asked, doubtfully.”Sure.””This isn’t one of your devotional posts, is it?””No. No, it isn’t,” I admitted.”Then what would you call it?”Perhaps “non sequitur”?I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not sure how to categorize this post. I was just thinking about it, so if you feel like reading about Beowulf, read on.As you probably noticed, a movie about Beowulf has been released.Please note: I haven’t seen it.But every time I caught the preview, I thought back to my first exposure to that early epic poem. I may have read it in Miss Flint’s Senior English class in high school, but I’m not sure. What I remember clearly was reading it for Professor Edelen’s History of English Literature course in college.Professor Edelen pointed out how much was left to the imagination when it came to the monster, Grendel. Instead of detailed description, the author built suspense and tension by focusing on his approach–his footsteps. Grendel strode…he trod…he marched across the moors….and his footsteps approached….closer….and closer….Professor Edelen pulled out two old drawings or etchings and snapped one up as if to startle us–it was an artist’s depiction of the terrifying Grendel that looked something like this.”Does this frighten you?” He asked. He walked around the room showing it to us. “Or, how about….this one!” It may have looked something like this, I can’t remember. It doesn’t really matter, because the point was made.Yawn.Those etchings were lame, especially to 20th Century students like ourselves. But Dr. Edelen argued that even at the time that the etchings were created, they were far less effective than the poem itself. More terrifying than a pen-and-ink Grendel was the Grendel in our heads, the one we imagined when we heard his approach. In the end, the strength came from what was left out of the text.Our own minds, Dr. Edelen concluded, could conjure up a monster far more petrifying than anything a person could draw. By leaving Grendel’s form and figure fairly vague and investing instead in the element of suspense–those approaching footsteps–the author of Beowulf created one of the most effective monsters in English literature.A few years later, I caught a special on PBS that reinforced this same principle. They used movie clips to make their point.One example was a scene from the film “Dr. Zhivago” when a bloody massacre is shown, but not directly. Instead, the viewer experiences it primarily through Omar Sharif’s eyes as they react in horror to the scene he watched unfold. We hear cries and clashes, swords clanging, horses neighing and clomping. Yet we don’t actually see the gorey process, the killing itself–it’s left to our imagination, which can fill in all the blanks more efficiently than cinematic special effects.Then there’s “Jaws.” The mechanical shark is not nearly as frightening as the steady approach of the fin with the pulsing music building tension.Or “Jurassic Park.” The vibration of the approaching footsteps caused the water in the glass to ripple. Fear builds with the drumming boom, boom, boom of the Grendel-ish T-Rex on the loose.Our own primal fears are fed by suspense, and our imaginations may be capable of creating creepier, more terrifying monsters than those thought up and given digital form by the visual effects crew of a movie set.So I thought of all of that when I saw the trailer. And I wondered what Grendel would look like. I wondered if I would be scared.Just as the film was about to be released, I read a review in the New York Times. The writer, Manohla Dargis, as if expanding on Dr. Edelen’s lecture, wrote:
The reader’s imagination, of course, has long been one of the banes of cinema. Any filmmaker who takes a stab at literary adaptation has to compete with those moving pictures already flickering in our heads, the ones we create when we read a book. The solution for many filmmakers is to try to top the reader’s imagination or distract it or overwhelm it, usually by throwing everything they can think of at the screen, including lots of big: big noise, sets, moves, effects, [and] stars.*
I wasn’t surprised to read the report on Grendel.
Grendel isn’t remotely scary, but he looks pleasingly disgusting, like a stringy, chewed-up cadaver with snake scales and a suggestion of [actor Crispin Glover’s] own beak.
Yawn.The filmmaker’s Grendel may be disgusting, but he “isn’t remotely scary,” because they left nothing to the imagination.Since its release, other people are saying that the special effects and 3-D make for a spectacular film experience. It’s sure to be a fun outing for viewers who like that sort of thing. And men will probably get some kind of sick enjoyment out of viewing Angelina Jolie’s character, a monster who, as Dagnis explains, “rise[s] from the vaporous depths naked and dripping liquid gold.”I seriously doubt I’ll ever see that movie. I’ll miss out on all the zing-zang 3-D Imax magic. I won’t get to see the stringy, pleasantly disgusting digital rendering of Grendel.That’s just fine. I’m not too interested. But I was thinking that Dr. Edelen might have gone, just to see. Just to compare. Just to know without a doubt that the steady beat of footsteps marching through the rhythm of ancient epic poetry still trumps technology.
I was once asked to make a list of five strengths I possess as a writer. Here’s what I came up with.
Five Writing Strengths
1. The ability to sit still for long stretches of time
Not everyone can do this, you know. Some people get antsy, restless. After a few minutes of sitting still, they fidget and have to get up and make hot chocolate or call a friend. Writers need to be able to sit still for hours in order to get their work done. Dorothea Brande in her book Becoming a Writer said:
Writing calls on unused muscles and involves solitude and immobility. There is not much to be said for the recommendation, so often heard, to serve an apprenticeship to journalism if you intend to write fiction. But a journalist’s career does teach two lessons which every writer needs to learn—that it is possible to write for long periods without fatigue, and that if one pushes on past the first weariness one finds a reservoir of unsuspected energy—one reaches the famous “second wind.” (71)
I can’t help but think of that famous advice writers hear at conferences and in books—how does one become a successful writer? Apply one’s bottom to chair (unless, of course, one is using a standing desk). I admit that I do head into the other room to grab a handful of nuts now and then, or fix a cup of tea. But I can sit still when need be.
Each person I meet knows something that I don’t—I can always learn something new if I ask the right questions. All it takes is a little curiosity. Whether working for a newspaper or corporate client, finding interest in some aspect of a new industry, person, story, or methodology is a strength—if I myself am interested in it, the way I write about it will probably be more interesting, as well. I value curiosity so highly in writing and in life, I publish a monthly Curiosity Journal, documenting and sharing my discoveries.
3. A Commitment to Lifelong Learning
I’ve abandoned the pursuit of higher education in a formal sense, but Autodidact Ann lives (and reads and researches) on. The more I learn, the more I have to write about. And guess what lifelong learners possess in abundance? Curiosity.
4. Love of Reading
Numbers 2, 3, and 4 are suspiciously interrelated. It might seem that I’m taking one idea and stretching it out to fill space—which might be yet another strength in itself—but I do think they deserve to be singled out. Curiosity often leads to learning and reading, and one often learns via reading. But there are other ways to learn and satisfy curiosity, and there is more than one motivation to read.
Yet (and this is the point) reading inevitably enhances writing—the content may inspire (or not); the writing style may be worth imitating (or not). Either way, reading widely only helps a writer. In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King says:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. (139)
Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. (142)
Storylines linger, nonfiction facts inform, ideas from texts co-mingle with others in my mind to form something new. A writer who doesn’t read is doomed to compose in a narrow style and draw from a limited library of ideas. I relish a good book, and I believe that makes my writing richer.
Never, never, never give up. Stick with it. Persist. I may not have been born with the greatest writing talent, but I’ve stuck with it. I work to improve and learn from mistakes, forging ahead a little smarter, wiser, and more skillful. As a friend of mine said (I paraphrase), the most successful writers are not necessarily the ones with the greatest talent; they’re the ones who persevere.
What five writing strengths do you possess?
Is your writing life all it can be?
Let this book act as your personal coach, to explore the writing life you already have and the writing life you wish for, and close the gap between the two.
“A genial marriage of practice and theory. For writers new and seasoned. This book is a winner.”
—Phil Gulley, author of Front Porch Tales
On the backwards edition of Works For Me Wednesday, I get to ask questions instead of offer tips. This blog first came about because of the book I’d written. My publisher suggested I start a blog back when most people I knew had never heard of blogs or blogging. I had to explain it to them, and they thought it was strange–some people suggested it was a colossal waste of time, but I loved it and tapped away, regularly publishing post after post.Over time, the blog morphed into a more personal blog, as I shared family stories and connected with other moms on the blogosphere.As a result of this gradual unfolding of style and content, this blog simply goes by Ann Kroeker, instead of a bloggish name that hints at its purpose and content. In fact, for now it serves as an online presence for my writing life.So I’ve been thinking about refining the blog and its content, but hesitant, since many people have mentioned that they appreciate the wide range of topics that pop up here. It’ll be great to hear from both readers and bloggers, and those who attended BlogHer would have interesting insights:Readers, what do you enjoy most in a blog (specifically this blog)?
- Humorous personal/family stories
- Helpful ideas (like WFMW tips)
- Thoughtful insights on topics relatng to motherhood/writing/life/Christianity (one of more of those topics)
- Devotional-style posts
- Posts pertaining to the writing life
- A mixture of posts, unexpectedly tuning into any of the above (if you like a mixture, would it be helpful to categorize them more clearly? Or should a blogger keep separate blogs for different topics)
Bloggers, have you narrowed down your blog’s purpose and seen good results from doing so? If so, how did you go about the process of defining that purpose?BlogHer attendees, what were the top two changes you made in your blog or the act of blogging as a result of the insights you gained from the conferences?Everyone: Assuming you weren’t already stopping by regularly, would you be more drawn to this blog if it had a bloggy-style name?Visit Rocks In My Dryer for more questions on this backwards Works For Me Wednesday.See my previously published, odd assortment of tips and solutions here.
About a week ago I posted about blogs needing to be fed.A bit later, I shared my experience at a writing workshop called “Writing from the Heart,” where the leader recommended we find the convergence of heart and mind, where what we’re dealing with at a heart level is also what we’re thinking a lot about–and that, he said, would make for some powerful writing.Those two posts started to overlap and blur in my mind, each influencing the other. I started to think about frequency of posting and offering something meaningful or helpful in some way. And then when I considered heart-level content, I began to run into some inner conflict that seemed to be emerging also in the comments.One of the commenters, Mommymonk, said:
…I often wonder how I can come up with worthwhile blogs every day, but as you suggest, if it’s food for thought, we ought not skip meals! I guess my point is, I don’t want to blog just to fill up empty space; I really want it to be nutritious. Maybe not meat always, but at least a carrot here or there.
She has a good point–we don’t want to fill up empty space, and we prefer that our content be “nutritious,” but who can compose a meaty, heart-filled post every time (except maybe Ann at Holy Experience, who seems to write a deep and rich devotional–a full course meal, if you will–every time she logs on)?I wrote back in the comments to Mommymonk:
…carrots are good. Full of antioxidants. Most blogs can’t be a full-course meal every time.
Along those lines, Toni wrote:
As a regular reader of Seth’s Blog I have to note that for the most part he takes his own advice. His posts are often quite short and to the point – a fact which draws me to read them all the more. I like long meaty (or not) posts but frequently don’t take the time to read them as thoroughly as they deserve. Sad but true.
I thought about her admission of not taking the time to read the long, meaty posts as thoroughly as they deserve. It reminded me of another conversation a few months ago following a post I wrote after Jenni at One Thing shut down her blog (I’m happy to report, by the way, that she returned to her blog and is actively posting great stuff). A lively conversation ensued in the comments, where several bloggers were sharing their frustration over the apparent disinterest in the posts that they’ve poured themselves into–the very posts that “Writing from the Heart” would have applauded. Their sitemeters would rumble along at the same level–no heartbeat, no pulse, no spike, and strangely, no comments. One could practically hear virtual crickets chirping after publishing these emotionally packed posts. Visit the original post, “Bless a Blogger,” and follow the comments. It really hit a nerve.Which caused me to wonder the following:Maybe blogs aren’t meant to be meaty all that often? I just read yet another post the other day about keeping posts short. Makes me think…maybe a nice crunchy little carrot is all readers want or need? Maybe deep writing is for other venues, other forms–the published essay or article, perhaps?Maybe blog-readers are searching more for quick-inspiration to nibble on; USA Today-length posts. A perky little thought du jour to get them thinking about something or solve a quick problem.Otherwise, it may be overwhelming. Maybe it’s all too much….Too. Many. Words.I keep thinking about what Toni said: “[Seth’s] posts are often quite short and to the point – a fact which draws me to read them all the more.”Short and to the point draws her to read them all the more.Meaningful or helpful, yet brief.Maybe I just talk too much? Perhaps word-restraint is in order?Now that, is food for thought.
When I stepped into the first breakout session at the writers’ colloquium last weekend, I felt a familiar sensation. Let’s call it the “stomach-gasp.” It wasn’t audible, but visceral, occurring somewhere in the gut, near the pit of my stomach.
As if sucked back in time to Ballantine Hall on the campus of Indiana University, I realized I was back in a creative writing workshop. I was about to experience a poetry workshop identical in format to the classes I signed up for decades earlier to earn my B.A. in English. Those classes weren’t easy for me emotionally. I always felt intimidated.
The leader of this breakout session, Maurice Manning, teaches poetry at Indiana University. That’s why I knew that the biggest difference between this and my classes would be that I was not in Ballantine Hall. What was the same–what traversed time and space–were all of the insecurities that plagued me then and apparently still plague me today.
Manning passed out a packet of poetry, titling the discussion “Writing and Religious Inquiry.” The poems to consider included John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14, George Herbert’s Sin, Emily Dickinson’s Poem 314, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ God’s Grandeur, James Wright’s A Blessing, Alan Dugan’s Prayer, Yusef Komunyakaa’s Thanks, and Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day.
I actually referenced The Summer Day in a recent post here on the blog, so when I flipped through and spotted it in his packet, I felt particularly literary-minded–for a few seconds. My pleasure was short-lived, because it turned out that I had nothing to offer the conversation. I intellectually seized up during the class. Brain-freeze, without the Dairy Queen Mr. Misty.
He would read a poem and ask us to respond. Several people contributed their ideas and reactions. I sat, as I did years ago, staring at the text. It takes me a while to evaluate and arrive at any kind of analysis. I’m slow of mind, I suppose. I didn’t say one word.
After spending time having us consider each poem, Manning turned to the Questions and Exercises he designed around these poems. We had little time left before lunch, so he chose one assignment. Some of the poems contained bold statements, prayers, and scenarios that might be considered by some to be downright outrageous. So Manning said this:
“What is the most outlandish thing you could say to God? Write a poem based on the most outlandish thing you could say to God, that starts with the phrase ‘….and another thing.'”
People chuckled, squirmed, considered the assignment with various head tilts and pencil tapping, and then started scribbling.
I, on the other hand, stared at my sheet of paper.
I stared some more.
After the familiar sinking feeling eased up a bit, I did start thinking about it. It was to be a prayer. What would be outlandish to God? What would be outlandish for me to say to Him? Before I could get going on an interesting phrase or two, my mind tripped up and tangled itself in a string of unnecessary thoughts. I should have just written from the moment. I just couldn’t seem to produce on the spot, though clearly everybody else could.
I doodled some more. I slowly wrote “…..and another thing!” but nothing followed.
Instead of just going with the intent of the assignment, instead of scratching out something with energy and passion, I starting thinking that nothing is outlandish to an all-knowing God. There’s nothing I can say to Him that would be outlandish…to Him.
Instead, I started thinking about the fact that the very act of prayer seems outlandish not to God, but to those who don’t believe in a God at all. No prayer is outlandish to God. It’s only outlandish from the human perspective–to one who doesn’t believe at all, prayer is an outlandish act. To most of the world, I would seem a fool or clown for opening my mind, mouth, and my very soul to a God who can’t be seen or heard. I suppose God Himself is the outlandish One to those who don’t believe. Jesus is particularly outlandish; the message of the cross is foolishness to the world.
And in that jumble of ideas and words, all specificity which makes for a powerful poem was lost.
Time was up, and Manning invited us to go around the room and share what we had written. Oh, the dread. I hated that part of every writing workshop. My heart would pound so loudly I was sure I was shaking the table.”I thought we could go around and hear what you’ve written,” he proposed. “But you don’t have to share.”
One by one, people read their poems–lively, vibrant stories, descriptions, and confessions. I felt just as I did back in college: impressed with the talent in the room, and very small by comparison; insecure, inadequate, unskilled, slow-witted, and shy.
And I did something so wimpy that I can’t believe I did it.
Every single person in that room shared their writing, except me. When the person to my left finished, Manning turned to me and nodded.
I bit my lower lip in an effort to look sort of sheepish and pointed to the lady next to me.
Manning said, “Oh! You’re passing–okay. Well, that’s fine.” I appreciated his tone. He didn’t make me feel bad or make a big to-do. He just smiled reassuringly and nodded to the lady to my right.
“Oh!” she said, surprised. “You’re passing. Oh, okay.”
I stared at my page as she read her poem. I was embarrassed. You’d think after xx years, I’d be more confident and bold.
I guess not.
I’m looking at my page now. It’s just a tight, tiny little paragraph of confusion. A mess of words with nothing solid. No story to give it a form, no metaphor to strengthen it.
Perhaps I think too much. Or, perhaps I don’t think enough. I like to think I just need a little more time.
Whatever the case may be, I do believe I lost an opportunity. There I was in a group of writers who were digging deep and putting themselves out there, sharing spontaneous, gut-level reactions to the call to say something outrageous to God.
And I stayed silent. The pit of my stomach ruled me, inhibited me, rendered me speechless.
Manning’s workshop was wonderfully designed–the poems and poets he chose gave each writer in the room permission to be free and write boldly when he gave the assignment.
I’ve given you links to all the poems but one (I couldn’t find a link to the Dugan poem). And I’ll repeat his assignment here.
Perhaps you can avoid the intimidation and fear that I felt and write something with life and energy like the others in that workshop?
Here’s the assignment:
“What is the most outlandish thing you could say to God? Write a poem that includes the phrase ‘and another thing.'”
If you want to share, feel free to paste it into the comments.
But of course, you don’t have to share. You are, with me, always free to pass.
And I won’t sound surprised if you do. Not a bit.
At the writers’ colloquium I attended last weekend, the one where Haven Kimmel brought the keynote message, I participated in a breakout session entitled “Writing from the Heart.”
The workshop leader, Brent Bill, led us through a couple of simple exercises designed to illustrate that while it’s easier to write from our heads than our hearts…writing from our hearts can make a deeper, more meaningful and lasting impact on readers (and ourselves).
At a writing event this weekend, one of the speakers leading a breakout session mentioned his blog. He said, “A blog is like an animal–you must feed it.”True. To keep a blog alive, it needs food in the form of quality content.But how much? And how often? Monster-plant-sized portions daily, or a light watering once a week?If I recall from my personal history of blogging, bloggers used to be advised to blog daily. That was in the early days of blogging, back in Web 1.0. Then the advice shifted to “regularly” (but once-a-week minimum was still advised). The idea of regular or daily blogging was to develop a loyal audience–that nothing would be more aggravating to a curious visitor than to be interested enough to start visiting, only to find one day that no content appeared. That was the theory, at least. To gain readers–faithful, loyal readers–you had to give them lots of content.Then came RSS feeds, Bloglines, Technorati, Google Reader and the like. Now loyal readers rely on automated delivery services to alert them to new content–it pops straight to their reader, feeder, or e-mail in-box. This technology raised the question of whether or not daily content is still necessary.And then, along came over 50 million blogs, give or take a few million. Some of those, they say, may be abandoned; thus, the number of active blogs may be much lower. Still. This explains why I saw a post the other day at Pensieve, in which she noted with alarm that over 4,000 posts were waiting for her at Bloglines. Talk about overwhelming!We may be experiencing blog-fatigue. The term usually applies to the blogger him- or herself, the one too pooped to produce material. In this case, I’m suggesting that “blog-fatigue” refers to a reading fatigue. It’s a funny cycle, actually, with bloggers feeling a kind of obligation to their readers to provide fresh material; and readers finding they are overwhelmed with all the new material. The readers want to read–they may even feel a bit of anxiety that they’ll miss something great. But who can read all of those posts? Who can keep up?And one would be tempted to pose the same question of the bloggers, the writers–who can write all of those posts? Who can keep up? Strangely, many of us can. I miss a day here and there, but I do seem to keep tapping away.But should I?This article by Eric Kinz has me wondering if I am contributing to a problem, a glut in the blogosphere, a bottle-neck of ideas.Kinz appears to gear his post toward corporate marketing and professional bloggers (and it’s a little old, dated June 2006; and you know what that means in computer-years…), but he provides an interesting argument for why daily blogging is no longer necessary or even desired–and he does it in a 10-reason format, which is always so easy to read online.He talks about participating in the blogging community as being vitally important–more so, perhaps, than churning out daily posts (especially if content is compromised and lacking punch). A person commenting on the same post duplicated on Kinz’s blog pointed out that the goal of the blog should be considered when determining frequency.Kinz quotes Seth Godin saying, “blogging with restraint, selectivity, cogency and brevity (okay, that’s a long way of saying ‘making every word count’) will use attention more efficiently and ought to win.” Kinz concludes by saying he is only going to post when he has something to say.Still other articles make good arguments for daily blogging, even today, even with RSS feeds jamming and even competing with approximately 55 million blogs.I spite of Kinz’s 10 compelling arguments against daily blogging, I intend to continue posting often–daily, when possible. I guess it’s the German ancestry flowing down through my DNA–I like people to leave well-fed. No scrawny, underfed blog-readers over here. I’m going to try to keep you supplied with content.It’s up to you whether or not you’ll sit down with me for the meal.