Tuesday, December 22, 2009

And the Winner is....

We received great entries to our contest; thanks to all who took the time to write out your stories. Doesn't it feel good to get it down on paper? The articles were all strong contenders making it very hard to choose. Taryn and I look forward in the coming weeks to dropping a note to each of the authors with our humble comments about your submitted piece.

So without further delay, I congratulate Sarah Wetzel on winning the WOTH Writer's Contest with her entry! Enjoy...

On Their Way Rejoicing
by Sarah Wetzel

One of our Ethiopian friends took us to a baptismal service. Eighty Muslim-background believers met to be baptized on the public shore of a nearby lake. They were not just "changing their religion," as the curious tourist had commented when I told her what was going on. “Changing their allegiance,” I wish I had said.

To keep their baptism a secret, the lake was far away from where they lived. No family members were around. They could be persecuted for this public alliance with Jesus Christ and the Church. This was serious and we foreigners were duly reverent and I was quite unprepared for what happened.

The people walked several kilometers to the lake and donned lab coats from a huge bundle the church leaders had dropped on the rocky beach. Then they lined up along the lake shore. A distinguished older pastor was dressed in a canary yellow shift with a scarlet cross on the front; he tried to organize the group.

Yellow-clad Pastor A. and his helper waded twenty feet out in the shallow water, the long line of white-coated people following. The first young man stood between the pastor and his helper. The pastor said three or four words – I assume it was something about “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” – and then PLOP! he quickly pushed him down unto the shallow water. Flailing to get up, the newly-baptized one, and the pastors, laughed out loud. One by one, each new believer walked into the water between the pastors and was pushed under. Each one came up with various gyrations and hilarious facial expressions. I felt badly for them. The lake water was cold, and generally, Ethiopians do not swim. Many believe you will die if you go underwater, so this was a brave thing they were doing by several counts. Perhaps their communal laughter was a response to embarrassment. But I like to think it was a reaction to joy. And it was a contagious joy. Everyone began to smile and chuckle and I had to laugh right along with them. A picture of those shining-wet, happy faces is stuck in the memory of my heart.

From now on, when I watch a baptism, I’ll think about these brave and joyful souls. I’ll smile and take in the spontaneous joy like we all did that day, and in fact, like Philip and the Ethiopian man did years ago. His baptism story is in the Book of Acts, chapter 8. Perhaps Philip pushed his head under the water. Maybe they laughed together before Philip disappeared, who knows? But we do know that the eunuch went “on his way rejoicing,” just like those new Ethiopian believers did.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Putting Your Story Out There: To Publish or Not to Publish-Taryn Hutchison

My week-long mentoring clinic was over. I hiked down to the bottom of the canyon to a crudely-constructed prayer chapel. My emotions rushed at me. My completed manuscript had been exposed and critiqued all week. My instructor encouraged me to go for it and take the next step. One fellow student suggested I make a couple copies at Kinko’s and be done with it; her words still stung. Another challenged me that my story can’t encourage others if I keep it in a drawer (or a computer file).

That day, I admitted to God that I was afraid. If I put my story out there, I’d face many more tumultuous weeks like this one. I sensed Him nudging me forward. I was willing to risk it if I could be certain that’s what He wanted. I knelt beside the bench with my hands outstretched. “God, my hands are open. I’m giving this book back to You. Take my meager offering and do whatever You want with it. I wrote it so You could use it for Your glory, so people around the world could read it and know how truly awesome You are. That’s my prayer. But it’s Your story, not mine.”

The big question many of you are facing is: to publish or not to publish. You have a unique voice and a story that is valuable for the Kingdom. Hopefully I’ve helped you to perfect your already-great story and make it shine. But is it a story to be told or written informally, or is it one for the world at large?

How do you know if it’s the right time, and the right story, to seek publication? Mark Twain’s advice makes me laugh: "Write without pay until somebody offers to pay."

I’ll be honest. The traditional route (royalty publishing) is long and arduous. You cannot submit anything which is unsolicited. To get an editor to solicit your material, you must meet them in person (how do you do that overseas?) and convince them in a one-minute pitch. Next, send a perfectly-formatted query, then proposal, chapter summary, and manuscript. The editor must sell your idea to a committee. If anyone of them thinks it isn’t marketable, they nix the deal. One editor had my manuscript for eight months before writing me a (very encouraging) rejection letter.

When you exhaust every royalty publishing lead, subsidy (self) publishing becomes more attractive. There’s a full gamut of options; some are free and carry no clout. With the more reputable ones, you pay the publication costs but you retain the rights and the profits (if there are any). Think of it as a ministry expense.

You must decide. Ask yourself why you wrote your story. Think about the benefit to the reader. Do you have a universal truth? Even though I penned my book with women like you, women in the harvest, in mind, I had to intentionally write my book to relate to a larger audience. The setting of my story is my life in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, but the story is for all times and places. The story is about God’s ability to provide.

Putting your story out there is a scary place to be. Your book is your baby. It’s part of you. You created it. I want everyone to love my beautiful and intelligent baby. My story is so personal that I felt like I’d been stripped bare and exposed before the world. I had to be real; you can’t truly help others unless you are. Much worse than negative comments, I had to learn to deal with silence. I took it personally. I worked at a seminary filled with learned people and I internalized their silence as condescension for my lightweight story.

But then comments on my blog and website started pouring in from people all around the world who were touched by my book. Many came from people on the harvest field (women and men who I’d never met), but several came from people who’ve never even traveled abroad. I treasure their words, copying them and keeping in a big binder. These readers are the reason I made myself vulnerable and overcame my fear. They make it all worth it.

This post is the last in my series on Writing Your Story. Next week, we’ll announce the short-story contest winner. Until then, I hope you are having a wonderful and blessed Christmas season. God bless you as you retell the story He’s written just for you.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's All in the Details (Polishing Your Story)-Taryn Hutchison

Last week, I advised you to write without editing. Today it's time to edit. No one ever writes a first draft fit for print. Everyone needs to self-edit, to tighten their words so they sparkle.

In my 21 years of mission work, our printed newsletters could only be one sheet of paper, occasionally front and back of that one sheet. We had to have a theme and be concise, telling one main story. Today, I get free-flowing and never-ending email updates from friends of the harvest. It's too much. When you take time to trim your material, you'll find it has more impact and is more readable. After all, what's the point of writing if it's not read?

Whole books are devoted to the topic of self-editing. I'll try to distill a few tips for you that helped me:

1. Organize your material.
Make sure you have a theme that comes across. Each story (or chapter) needs a beginning, middle, and end. Unanswered questions or unresolved tension will keep people reading.

2. Show, don't tell.
Rather than give a long narrative explanation (telling), let the reader enter the story and see for herself (showing). Example: Don't explain that someone was angry. "He slammed the door" gets the point across.

3. Limit adverbs and adjectives by using strong verbs and nouns.
Change "Susie walked very slowly" to "Susie plodded" (or sauntered, ambled, or strolled). Instead of "the cute, small house" use "the bungalow" or "the cottage."

4. Read your writing out loud.
That way, you can hear the rhythm, catch things to fix (such as the same word used repetitively), make sure it flows.

5. Less is always better.
I'm applying this principle now as I hang pictures and organize things in our new house. (Yes, we made it to North Carolina after spending Thanksgiving week driving cross-country!) I'm editing our belongings.

It's painful to bury treasures in the closet, and it's painful to delete your darling words. Maybe I should have put more time into editing this blog instead of our knick-knacks. I admit. I'm learning, too.

It's a lifelong process to polish your words and make them shine.

Encouragement from the Pros to Polish Your Story:

"Use the right word and not its second cousin." Mark Twain

"Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style." Matthew Arnold

"Omit needless words." Rule 17 of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White

"The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. There's not much to be said about the period except that most writers don't reach it soon enough." William Zinzer

"The business of the novelist is not to relate great events, but to make small ones interesting." Arthur Schopenhauer

"Caress the detail, the divine detail." Vladimir Nabokov

"Details make stories human, and the more human a story can be, the better." Ernest Hemingway

"Revise and revise and revise - the best thought will come after the printer has snatched away the copy." Michael Morahan

Don' Forget! Send in your stories this week! The contest ends December 14th. . . see the sidebar for details. Value your voice and your story...we sure do!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Divine Inspiration or Just Plain Hard Work?-Taryn Hutchison

I always carry a notepad with me in case God inspires me with an idea or a way to turn a phrase. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and scribble away. While those moments of divine inspiration seem to be the exception, it’s so confirming when you sense the whisper of the Holy Spirit, when a “yes, that’s it!” resonates deep in your soul.

The norm, however, seems to be making yourself sit at your computer, putting your hands on the keyboard, and typing.

James Lee Burke’s novel, The Lost Get-Back Boogie, was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years, then published by Louisiana State University press and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He wrote, “Don’t give up. I don’t think any other advice works. Writing is one of those things where you just have to do it. There will be far more people to discourage you than to encourage you. The time never comes to you, the inspiration doesn’t come to you. You just sit down and do it.”

My writing instructor told me she doesn’t believe in writer’s block. Like any profession, there are days you don’t feel like doing it, days you wish you didn’t have to go to work. But like those other jobs, you make yourself get out of bed and get dressed and go out there. Sometimes you find that when you start going through the motions, the desire comes later.

For me, almost every week during my one day to write, our landlady called in the construction workers or gardeners. I had to try to write to the head-throbbing sounds of power tools or leaf blowers. Some days, turning up the music wasn’t enough and I had to leave to take a brisk walk and some Advil (and pray) before I could focus.

My advice to you is this: Write without fear. Don’t think about editing until later. Just let the words and emotions flow. To write you must read. A lot. Learn as much as you can about writing. Hone the craft of writing, whether it’s through books about writing, online workshops, or writers’ conference. Start small with articles, short stories, or blogs. Get feedback from readers who will help you discern whether God has truly gifted you or whether you should just write for yourself. They’ll also help your skin become tougher.

But don’t let your heart get tough in the process. You need to keep it soft so your writing will speak to someone else’s heart.

Encouragement from the Experts to Keep Going:

"Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time…The wait is simply too long." Leonard S. Bernstein

“Treat it as a job – not a mystical calling. Then you’ll get up every morning and ‘go to work’ instead of waiting for the muse to attend you.” Jean Brody

“Write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well." Agatha Christie

“Whether or not you write well, write bravely." Bill Stout

"You only learn to be a better writer by actually writing." Doris Lessing

"The writer's duty is to keep on writing…" William Styron

"You must write every single day of your life…You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads….may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world." Ray Bradbury

What About You?

Do you write mostly out of inspiration or perspiration? Do you have any tips for the rest of us?

Ask God to inspire you while you keep plugging away on the story you chose from your life.

A Contest:
Next week, be sure to submit your 300-500 word stories to Cindy – by December 14th! 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 (just in time for Christmas) and a spot in the March/April issue of the WOTH onlineMagazine!


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