Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Writing as a Calling-Taryn Hutchison

Most writers write for sheer love of the craft. They love writing enough to offset the setbacks, the rejections, the delays. As believers, we have another reason, a bigger reason, to write: because God calls us. Writing can be a ministry.

When I returned to the States, God rekindled my childhood dream of writing. I knew I had much to say about all I had seen God do in Eastern Europe. But I had to defer my dream once more while I went through my season of transition, already large with culture shock and magnified by getting married and leaving my mission organization. I found work as an administrative assistant, a routine job where I wasn’t recognized for what I could offer. (Can you relate? Any moms reading this?) After 21 years of discipling many people, I was only able to influence a few, and only informally. God still tugged at my heart to write, but I just couldn’t sit at a computer at night after doing that all day long. That’s when my dear husband suggested we rearrange things so I could follow God’s call. I cut my hours at work, giving me one day each week set aside for writing.

Through writing, God increased my circle of influence to include people all over the world, people I’ve never met, people like you. I still miss the face-to-face time, but I’m able to quietly write at home and encourage others through life experiences God’s given me. I no longer feel marginalized. When I read comments from people who’ve been touched by my words, my joy and fulfillment overflow. I’m doing what God wants me to do and what He put on my heart when I was a child. It’s a dream come true!

I started seriously writing during a time of change, and I’ve been writing this blog during another transition. By the time this is posted, my husband and I will have said good-bye to our life in California, and started our cross-country road trip to greet the next chapter in North Carolina. This blog has helped me cope because I have hope that my words are helping you.

Writing is about the reader. It’s not about you. The ministry of writing is about God using your words to touch other peoples’ lives. You have to constantly ask yourself what the reader will take away, what the universal is and how it will help them. Sometimes the benefit is simply that it makes them laugh or it provides a diversion by letting them enter into someone else’s life and story for a short while. Sometimes it’s more inspirational and profound.

Consider Frederick Buechner’s advice about discerning God’s call: “What can we do that makes us the gladdest, what can we do that leaves us with the strongest sense of sailing true north and of peace, which is much of what gladness is? Is it making things with our hands out of wood or stone or paint or canvas? Or is it making something we hope like truth out of words? Or is it making people laugh or weep in a way that cleanses their spirit? I believe that if it is a thing that makes us truly glad, then it is a good thing and it is our thing and it is the calling voice that we were made to answer with our lives . . . . . The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends!! I do hope you are able to find your turkeys and re-create our distinctly American holiday in your new home with your new friends.

What About You?
Is God calling you to write and why? What steps will you take to make that dream a reality?

How’s it going with choosing a story from your life? This week, trim your story. Think of it as a turkey and hack away the fat. Make it more concise. Write it as you would for your newsletter.

A Contest:

Since this is such a busy time of year, we’re extending the deadline to submit your stories to WOTH ! You now have until December 8-14 to send a 300-500 word story to editor@womenoftheharvest.com . Cindy Blomquist (WOTH Editor) and I will read them and declare the first literary winner from the WOTH Writer’s Blog. The prize will be a $20 iTunes gift card (just in time for Christmas) and a spot in the March/April issue of the WOTH onlineMagazine!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Writing to Tell-Taryn Hutchison

Sharing Your Story with Others (Writing to Tell)

Let’s face it. You won’t all write books or articles or even want to seek publication. Some of you may think a writer’s blog has nothing to do with where you are in life. But I know that every one of you has a story to tell. I mean, what are missionaries if not communicators? Every day, you communicate, with words and with deeds, describing a Friend to others who don’t know Him yet. You write to your ministry partners, painting pictures with your words of life in another land. You inspire people with glimpses, both small and great, of God’s fingerprints.

“God created man because he loves stories," wrote Elie Wiesel, Nobel prizewinner and Romanian-born Holocaust survivor. While that may not be theologically sound, I like thinking that God loves our stories.

So far, we’ve talked about writing for ourselves. Journals are just for you, a way to process and bring clarity out of confusion. Today we’ll talk about sharing your stories with others so you can help them process. Your voice is unique. No one has had the exact experiences you have had. Just think, your story can help someone in a way that no one else’s story can.

When God comforts you in a profound way and you share it, He takes that and uses it to comfort others. Your role is to interpret how you’ve seen God at work so others will be encouraged and He will be glorified. Novelist Marcel Proust wrote, "The duty and the task of a writer are those of an interpreter."

Every time you’re on home leave, you’re asked to share your stories out loud with people. That’s wonderful. The problem is that sometimes they forget, or they get lost in the details, or they’re distracted and they only catch part of it. I used to tell people all about Romania, and then for Q&A, they’d ask about Russia! When your story is written down, it’s permanent. It can be read and re-read. The act of writing helps you organize your thoughts and stay on track as you speak, whether you refer to your notes or not, whether the group is small or large. As you practice, it becomes a ready tool in your arsenal to pull out whenever the need arises.

Have you noticed how people often use highfalutin words when they speak in church? When you write out your story, imagine yourself speaking to one specific person who’ll be in the audience. Write it with the words you would use to tell it. Make it sound natural, not stilted, as though you’re talking with a friend over a cup of coffee.

Last year, when my book was under production, I told a story in my theology class about how God used my friend Bobby’s death in my life and it touched people so deeply, I was asked to share it in church. Days before the service, I ran into a church friend at a cafĂ© who asked me to tell her the story. She encouraged me that we may each have just one life story and suggested that Bobby’s tale could be that story for me. This chance encounter occurred the day before the corrections to my final typeset copy were due. I thought, this may be my only book and it should include my one story. I found a place to insert the abbreviated version of the story just in time, in God’s perfect timing.

Do you have a story which touches people? Makes them laugh? Causes them to “get” it? Whether it’s your one life story or not, it’s a story which God loves and He can use for His glory.

A Challenge:

List three stories from your whole life that you love to tell. Then think of three stories from your present ministry.

Choose one of the stories you listed. Imagine yourself telling this story to a friend. Write it out as you would say it. If you have any questions during the writing process, please post your questions!

A Contest:

The week of December 1-8, send a 300-500 word story from your life to editor@womenoftheharvest.com. Cindy Blomquist (WOTH Editor) and I will read them and declare the first literary winner from the WOTH Writer’s Blog. The prize will be a $20 iTunes gift card and a spot in the March/April issue of the WOTH onlineMagazine! Just in time for Christmas.

[Editor’s note: Who knows what will happen with the rest!]

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Write What Should Not be Forgotten-Taryn Hutchison

On Living and Examining

We’ve all heard this famous quote by Socrates, maybe even used it in messages: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Robert McKee, in his book about screenwriting called Story, has a new twist that I love. “The unlived life is not worth examining.”

The unlived life. Is your life unlived? Do you ever feel like a powerless spectator, passively watching your days unfold, not wholeheartedly present? It’s time to step out of the sidelines and truly live the storyline God wrote just for you. Enjoy it, taste it, experience all of it - the joys and the sorrows. Take time to reflect on it and record it in your journal.

My husband and I are moving in 13 days. Right now, for me to live my life means taking time out – away from the busyness and the people – to feel the sadness. I won’t allow myself to gloss over it.

Writers can’t be reclusive. You must experience life and look it squarely in the face in order to write about it. According to writer Cyril Connolly, "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."

However you do it best, be sure to live your life and examine it. And please, don’t use the tired excuse that you’re an extrovert. Even extroverts need to pull away to think and evaluate and meditate. In Psalm 139:23 David said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”

In no time, I’ll bet you will find something worth sharing. After all, the God of the Universe is at work in your life. How can there not be a story begging to be told? A story that will help someone else, causing them to know that another has traveled their way before and made it. A story with words that will give hope and courage, strengthen their faith, hearten them, make them laugh, release pent-up tears to cleanse and heal.

This week, the world will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall being torn down. I get goose bumps remembering how I felt at that time. One miraculous act of God after another occurred that fall of 1989, as Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and finally, Romania shook off their oppressive regimes.

I decided to write my book because someone needed to record what life was like in those lands emerging from the shadow of the Iron Curtain. I believed that God’s amazing deeds at that time in history should not be forgotten. My dream was to encourage women like you, women who can relate because you’re doing the same work I did then. I hoped to make you laugh and cry and marvel and to strengthen your faith so you wouldn’t give up, so you’d know your life and your ministry matter.

Whether your journal is for you or for the world, consider the words of Chilean novelist Isabel Allende: "Write what should not be forgotten…"

What About You?

Have you ever felt like a spectator to your own life? How can you live it more fully? Tell us how you examine your life. How frequently do you take time to reflect? Where do you go to do this?

A Challenge:

Think of a life experience you’ve had that should not be forgotten. Sketch it out in writing. Over the next few weeks, we’ll fine-tune those rough drafts and share them with each other at a later date. How about a contest to vote on our favorites in a month or so?

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.


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