Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Writing Your Story--Taryn Hutchison

Start with Journaling

Everyone has a story. Some stories may be more exciting than others; some storytellers more captivating. But all of us living in cultures other than our own have tales that will make people laugh or cry or be inspired. Every person’s story counts. In sharing The Story with others, haven’t you found that people who don’t seem very interested still want to hear your personal experiences? That’s because your life experiences matter. God authored the script of your life and He intricately weaves each thread together. You can give voice to His ways, drawing people so they will want to hear (or read) more about Him.

God did more than craft your story. In one of my favorite books, The Sacred Romance, Curtis and Eldredge write, “Our lives are not a random series of events; they tell a story that has meaning. . . . Our story is written by God who is more than the Author; He is the romantic lead in our personal dramas.” It took me 18 months to turn my personal drama into a book. But it took 15 years to live the story and 15 years to write it, every day in my journal.

For me, journaling was the way I ended each day during the decade I served in Eastern Europe. It helped me stay sane. Recapping how I saw God in the little details (and the magnificent) eased me to sleep with a grateful heart. Even on difficult days, I could see glimpses of His edges and whispers of His ways. I wanted to be able to look back and recount how He comforted me or answered prayer or touched peoples’ lives. I didn’t trust my memory, although sometimes the act of recording the details helped me recall them.

Before I moved overseas, my journaling was sporadic, tracing highlights once or twice a semester, summing up. But I knew life in Romania in 1990 would be drastically different than anything I’d ever experienced, and I wanted a fresh daily documentation. I even copied dialogue word-for-word to forever capture the voices in my memory.

I never kept a journal thinking I would publish a book. I wrote it for me.

It was my way to talk to God about my days, my love letter to Him. Years later, when I pulled out my dusty volumes to write my book, some days I could only read through a few pages because the emotions I re-lived were so raw. Often I could only cry and thank God all over again.

Isn’t that the point of journaling anyway? We’re told all throughout the Old Testament to remember and give thanks. Journaling helps us to remember. When we look back, we see God’s fingerprints on our lives and we can’t help but be thankful. And that pleases God.

What About You?

Share your journaling experiences with us. How do you do it? Notebook and pen, laptop, video camera? Where? Quiet corner of your flat, noisy cafe, train or plane? (I must retreat with a blank book and mug of coffee to someplace quiet, with a view of a tree or a branch or something pretty.) How often? What themes have emerged? What have you learned from the experience?

A Challenge:

Write in your journal every day this week - whether it’s the first time or your habit is well-formed, whether you write a little or a lot. Then tell us how it goes.


Duane and Carin said...

Thanks Taryn,
I would love to hear more on this topic, this is a topic God is pressing on me to do right now. I am intrigued and want to use my journal as a spiritual discipline, to show me where God has taking me personally while I walk out this cross-cultural adventure we are on.
More, more, more please :0)


Anonymous said...

Ok. I wrote a nice long comment, and somehow it woudn't take my profile info. Hmmm. I'm cyber challenged.
I'm excited about this new blog - but I will miss coffe girl. I'm liking that you started wtih the subject of writing and journaling.
For me, my journaling has changed as well. Over the years, my journal was mostly a place to work through difficulties and pain. Anyone who bothers to read them when I'm gone will think I was in distress all the time, expcept when i was just journaling trying to "be nice" and write down what was going on - not what i was feeling or why.
Over the past few years, my journaling has changed. My journal has become the friend who listens, and with whom I'm free to process everything, and whine, and even be "needy". Of course, i'm actually crying out to God - or sometimes I'm just crying. But it's more than that. I'm learning to be honest with myself before God. And that is helping me to be more honest with the people around me without doing so so that they will "stroke" me.
Then, a few years ago, I knew I had to start being that naked where other people could read what I was thinking. I didn't need to do something neat or edited for public consumption, but rather just create a safe place where I could toss it all out there, and if someone wanted to read that was fine. I needed to knwo they could - but not that they "should" read, or agree, or respond in any way. Presto. A blog was born. (www.agapesantos.wordpress.com) I rarely know who is reading or what they think - but it doesn't matter! I'm writing it because I need to write it, not "for" them. That way, I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything, or having to choose my words carefully because "so and so" might not get it.
I still journal a lot in private, it goes back and forth. I prefer a lined book, something that isn't too fat so I can carry it with me or even stick it in my bible cover but with paper that doesn't bleed too badly. I prefer a pencil (I used to use a fountain pen - may try that again someday). If I don't have my "journal" I use whatever is handy, and sometimes in the past I've had a couple of working journals at the same time for odd reasons (like my main journal was too big to lug around). Sometimes I journal at the keyboard but it doesn't make it to the blog (mostly I forget to go back and post it, or maybe it is about specific people and I am still careful how I blog that out for it is my story, not theirs that goes into the blog).
Whew, sorry. I ramble. But that's what I do! I want to write more, but first I obviously need to learn to be more concise.

Taryn said...

Carin, It's exciting to hear about God's timing in preparing you for this topic. Let me know if I scratch where you're itching. Keep on with your discipline of journaling! And let us know when you can see where He's taking you.

Agapesantos, I loved your line that your journal became the "friend who listens" and how journaling has evolved for you. You've moved on from your journal being a private place for you to process to turning your insights into a place where others can process as well.

Jamie Jo said...

A writer's blog. What a wonderful idea. I'll gladly join you in this journaling business. Maybe someday there will be a WOTH writers' conference for us budding authors? Wouldn't that be fun to all share our stories and learn more about the process of writing?

Whether you're scratching where Carin is itching, you certainly struck a chord with me!

Agapesantos, being concise isn't my strong suit either. I write LOTS more in my journal than makes it to my blog. Sort of like taking LOTS of photos, but only choosing some to go in the scrapbook.

Jamie Jo said...

Oh, I realize I didn't exactly answer the question. How? Where? I use a blank book and usually set a goal of writing for half an hour every day, the same as I assign for my home schooled kids. My preferred time is right after my devotions, well before the rest of the family is up, in the quiet of the morning when I am most inspired.

As for themes that come up? God's faithfulness, my own struggle against pride, the reality of my obscurity (being overseas 20+ years in a remote place), the joys of motherhood, the seasons of life, etc.

Taryn said...

Jamie Jo, I applaud you for setting a daily goal for yourself of 30 minutes of journaling. Even though you do it when you're most inspired, I read between the lines that you journal whether you "feel" inspired or not. Your theme of The Reality of Your Obscurity is powerful. Makes me want to hear more.

Jeanne said...

I'm brand new to WOTH and have just found you. Coincidence that it happens to be today? I think not. I've been a blogger for about two years. And there have been many periods of silence as I struggled with the reasons I was blogging. I started it for one reason but, over time, those reasons changed. And, unlike agapesantos, I've not given myself permission to be "free to process". Instead, I write, then rewrite, then analyze, then rewrite again....all along, if I were truly honest, wondering what someone reading might think. The Lord has freed me from lots of things over the course of these last few years. Perhaps finding you will be the way I am freed of my silence. We've been on the field for a short four months now and I am processing much about what God is doing in me and around me here. It would be nice to actually process in a reflective way that I could look back on and see how He moved. I want to be free to process the good, the bad and the ugly. And so, I look forward to getting to know you and learning from you!

MexSonShine said...

I'm looking forward to our next weeks/months together. I've been blogging since we returned to Mexico to church plant on the Pacific Coast. Blogging was new for me, but I was determined to be proactive in having people remember us, so that they would bring us boldy and regularly before the ONE who acts upon things of which we have no control. Though my writing began as a way to communicate to family, friends, and supporters in Canada and the U.S., it has evolved more into a time of processing and recounting the many ways God has manifested Himself in our daily lives. I rarely lack for things about which to write. Instead, I have to decide WHICH things!!! I try to keep it short and simple, but how can you collect the orchestrations of God and neatly pack them into a short three point paragraph? Perusing back through my year of blogging I am amazed at how God has worked through the many threads of people He has brought into our lives. My greatest thrill is when one of my 20 year old twins writes that he/she has been touched or challenged by the things I have written. What a great age in which we live!! Twenty years ago when we first church planted in Mexico City, we didn't even have a telephone in our home. The best communication we had was snail mail--And look now! We can read others' stories from all over the world with a click of a button!!! I'm looking forward to reading the thoughts of my sisters from many corners of the world. Write on, Sisters, Write on!!!
Alicia Krogsgaard
Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan, Mexico
PS. Just took in the Cancun retreat and love the resources that WOTH makes available to us!

Anonymous said...

I have been journaling for many years, and I go through different phases. Usually I use a A5 notebook and they titled "Conversation with Jesus". At one point, when I was alone in the village I started journaling on my computer, so that I could share it more easily with friends via e-mail. I still do both, on paper and electronically, depending on the situation and topic. I also blog and sometimes I use journal entries for the blog. But I discovered that I still need to put a lot of work into rewriting a journal entry into a blog entry, making things more explicit that I don't need to mention if it is only for myself. I do not journal everyday, only when things come up that need more reflection. Neither do I blog everyday, even though it would be good to write more regularly. I blog partly because I want to improve my writing skills, learn to more clearly express what I have learned and also to share with others what I have learned in my walk with the Lord.

Tish said...

Hi! I have to say, all of you inspire me! I am an "eventual" blogger and journaler, since I eventually get around to it. Sometimes I think I am just a little too abstract. Things come to me while I have soapy hands in the dish water or while I am putting clothes in the washer. I always have a notepad in my purse or on hand, but my journaling in them is usually nothing short of garble. A thought provoking word, a phrase, a sketch, or a list of steps to take for a project I have dreamed up.

I also have the problem of haven lived in Mexico for 16+ years and my english sometimes comes short. That`s actually the good thing about blogging, I can think of what word I´m trying to come up with before I open my mouth and make a fool out of myself! HA HA!

I have about 3 books rolling around in my head wanting to get out, so I am excited about this blog and hope to get some great tips on how to get them plasmated onto paper!

Anonymous said...

I love writing. Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of 3 things - to be a missionary, a mom, and a writer.

I've kept a journal for as long as I can remember. My ideal journal is a unique, blank book - I try to get a totally different journal each time I need a new one. My favorites are gifts - the best being one my sister brought me from Honduras made from coffee paper. I used to fill a journal in six months or less. Now, it takes about a year to fill a journal (sometimes more). I normally write in bed, by myself, only when I know I have the time to write all I want/need to. Whenever my husband is gone for a few days/weeks, I make myself write every night before bed. My one tradition that I've kept for years is that on every New Year's Eve, I recap the year's events - in my life, my friends', my family's, and the world - then come up with questions for the new year. I like to look back every year and see how the Lord answered my wonderings for the new year.

I started blogging originally just so our supporters, friends, and family would have a quick place to go to get real-time news and prayer requests and pictures. But, I realized that on our ministry blog, I really couldn't be as "real" about struggles. I like to keep our ministry blog upbeat and even though I'll mention culture stress and issues that crop up, I tend to not go into explaining days when we're both really discouraged or when things aren't going well or our struggle with not getting pregnant. I decided I needed my own, personal blog (with an address I don't advertise to everybody) so I could write about non-ministry-related things and express myself a little more openly. I LOVE my own blog and wish I had more time to write there more frequently.

I normally journal about just what is going on in life. I try to be sure I write down things the Lord has done for us so we always have a reference to go back to. If ever I need to think through something or process something, I write about it and normally by the time I'm done, I've figured out my emotions or the solution or whatever it was I was struggling with. I will blog my short stories or devotionals - things that the Lord has taught me that others might benefit from as well.

I love my journals. The only one I ever let read them was my husband when we got engaged and that was just so he knew what he was getting into. ;) haha!

Without my journal, I'm pretty sure I'd be a big, confused mess.

Taryn said...

I love what you all are saying. Yes, when we journal we need to be free to process and recount, as MexSonshine put it. A journal should be a free-flowing, pour-it-all out conversation with God. Don't ever let fear hinder you from delving into those difficult issues with the One Who Knows.

Malianta is so right that it takes a lot of work to turn a journal entry into a blog entry. When you post a blog, you're no longer writing for yourself but for others. As Tish said, you have time to search for just the right word. Hopefully in the next few weeks we can talk about how to edit and filter and be more concise, without watering down the lessons you've learned.

My hope for you all, as Jeanne expressed it, is to be freed of your silence so others will benefit.

Cory & Kris Thede said...

Hi from Haiti.
I have keep a personal journal since college-a blank book. Some times it has been a daily record while other's once a month or so. I started blogging when we moved to a new place of ministry in Haiti. Like many it is a way to keep family, friends and supporters up to date and praying. I enjoy the encouragement and things I learn though WOTH.

Fauche, Haiti

Taryn said...

It seems like journaling and blogging are practically synonymous for many of you. I like to verbally process, out loud with friends, and if you blog to friends, it's as though they are right there, helping you process.

But I agree with Lisa (thetaskathand). I don't let anyone read my journals. My husband has instructions to burn them if I go first. My journals are my raw emotions before God, a step before I talk to a friend. Once I sort everything out in my journal, then I can share it in a blog or newsletter. I love Lisa's comment that she'd be one big, confused mess without a journal. Me, too.

Anonymous said...

Good point about the journal vs. the blog. I do think about what I'm going to say and how I'm going to say it a bit more in the blog. It's like journaling with exposure. I love doing both, and don't feel compelled to do either - I think that's part of the reason they "work" for me. If I "had" to, I wouldn't want to! I have several blogs that are now inactive, one ministry blog and my personal blog. i'm thinking to resurrect one of the dormant ones and use it for writing with the purpose of imrpoving my writing skills toward the eventual goal of public consumption.
I want to encourage Tish - the more you write, the more you'll remember (and develop) that thing that came to you while you were up to your elbows in suds.

Barbara Culwell said...

Taryn! So fun to see this article as I was looking thru some things in my inbox. (long story)
I am excited to pass this on to our daughter Lauren Claire.. She is just starting to blog and write and tell about her story. I will have to email you what she has just put together.. Her blog is claireculwell.blogspot.com
Your input about writing will be great for her!!
I am putting together a website for the moms in our region too and thinking about all of these kinds of things too!!
Always great to connect with you!! Seems like just yesterday we were new staff in freezing cold Minnesota, huh?! wow. that is too cold for anyone to live there!
Take care!

alice said...

Dear Taryn,
A friend here in Malaysia sent me this blog mainly thinking of my daughter who aspires to be a writer(she just wrote her first novel 50,000 words in one month) have you heard of nanowrimo? I have never liked to journal it was a chore to me. I think more in pictures (this year I've been doing a picture journal of my devotional times and really enjoy that). Well after reading your post I decided to journal everyday for 1 week. I made it! There's a program on line called write or die so you can set a time or word count. Its non stop no processing just raw writing and I've done that for 20min daily. We do have a mandate from the Lord to write our story of 20 years in Colombia.( I'm relying on my son and daughter who both have writing skills but realize I need to put some things down first.) So I appreciate your encouragement and I hope lots of ladies here will write a book someday. I love to read missionary stories and find that section very lacking in Christian bookstores.

Anonymous said...

I am so excited to finally be able to join in this blog! Thanks for starting it! I havent journalled for quite some time now. For me, it was a way in the past to process a lot of strong emotions. This year I have spent more time journalling what I learn from books- like writing down a quote and then responding to it. Lately I have been working on starting a blog site with several parts- my life story, mommy musings, and a weekly reflective question for women. I'm finally pursuing my lifelong dreams of speaking and writing. This writers blog is a great encouragement to me to keep moving forward.
Thanks again!


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