Authenticity, Prayer, and My Alaska Reading List

Authenticity, Prayer, and My Alaska Reading List

This is our farm – with the farm stand on the left – this morning. What a blessing of sky!

I am not much of a fan girl, to be honest.  I don’t do author autographs. I don’t try for backstage passes. I don’t get swoony over being near famous people, except Anne Lamott, Bono, and Desmond Tutu – I’d probably faint for them.

But right now, I’m feeling a lot of big love for Jen Hatmaker. She’s someone whose name I’ve known for a while through the Christian writing circles that I step into and out of depending on how much I love the idea of Christians at the time.  But it wasn’t until her show My Big Family Renovation aired on HGTV that I spent much time pondering her way of being in the world.  Such authenticity.

Let’s just say that her humor, her kindness without being overly sweet or nice, her generosity showed me something special.  That’s why I’ll be taking her new book For The Love to Alaska with me when we leave on Saturday. I’m eager to see what she has to say about grace, a tenet of my own faith that I fall more and more in love with as each day passes.  I’m eager to see how she loves authentically in her words.

As I pondered Jen’s work this morning, the beautiful sky at the edge of the Blue Ridge plowed with clouds, I felt this overwhelming lift of burden from my heart.

Lately, life has felt heavy, too busy, too much about things that must get done.  I suspect you know that feeling. We all seem to slide into that place often, and if we’re lucky, something as simple as a walk back from the farm stand lifts us out of it.

Here’s what I came to as the prayer I didn’t even know I was praying cried out one more time to the Love behind this gorgeous sky:

What if you lived, Andi, in such a way that encouraged people to know they are always loved and to remember that living their lives with authenticity, kindness, and gentleness was enough?

That’s our dream here at God’s Whisper Farm. That’s the center of the dream I set forth in God’s Whisper Manifesto. That’s what I hope comes through in Writing Day In and Day Out. But sometimes I lose track of that, get twisted all up inside myself, too focused on me. I forget to turn outward so that the inward and get sorted.

So that’s where I am, at this moment, a bit overwhelmed by joy and the gift of gracious reminders that come just when I can hear them and when I have two weeks to carry them with me in the wilds of Alaska’s gorgeous.

During those two weeks, I’m going to be reading a lot – can you feel me quivering with glee from where you sit? I’ve got audiobooks for the plane and for quiet evenings when I can sit and sew.  Plus, I’m carrying a packed Kindle and just a few print books, too.  Here’s what I’ll be reading, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on these if you’d read them or hope to.

I realize this list definitely lacks an Alaska titles, so if you have recommendations there, let me know. I will look to buy them up there at a local bookstore if I can.

I’ll still be blogging while I’m away, and I’ll be posting pictures all over Instagram during the trip.  I hope you’ll follow along.

But most of all, I hope you know that you are loved more deeply than you could ever imagine in every way. No matter what.

 

My new book Writing Day In and Day Out: Living a Practice of Words is now available as an ebook and a print book. I’d love for you to grab a copy.  Many thanks for all your support.

 

Farming and Writing – Against Planning the Full Course

Farming and Writing: Against Planning the Full Course

The farmstead on my morning walk.

I am a planner. I like lists and strategies, and I like to know where everything and everyone is going to be for every minute.  The thrill of anticipation fuels me.

So when I bought the first farmstead and Philip and I bought this one, I started planning right away. Lists of garden plants and flowers. Jotted down ideas about who could come perform and what we’d have decorating the barn.  A deck out here and a wisteria on the pergola over there.  The barn would sit here, and the pasture would extend there.  I was in my glee.

Then, Dad pushed pause on the plans. (Imagine my glee deflating like a balloon.)  “You really need to live in a place to see how it works for you,” he said.  “Spend some time getting to know it. Walk it over and over again. Let yourself find the story it needs to tell with you.”

As usual, he was right. I would never have put our barn where it is now, but it works perfectly there. I probably would have gone ahead and fixed up that pergola right away, even though we don’t really need that space yet and have lots of higher priorities. It’s taken me 10 months to find just the paths I walk to and from our outbuildings.

I still like to plan, but I am learning that I have to let the place sing its story into me.

**

Somehow, I have absorbed this need for less planning when it comes to writing. I don’t do outlines. I don’t try to think through my work. I just have an idea, and I begin to write it. Then, as I build it out, I let the story speak back to me.  Word by word by word.

But when I’m overstressed or afraid, I let that planning part of myself kick in. I decide that I can’t begin to write until I know what I have to say. Or I imagine I must work my way through the whole book mentally before I can begin.  In short, I let my brain take over the work that my spirit and heart should be doing.  And when I do that, I almost never begin. (I wrote about how bad the mind is as a place for writing here. )

I know some folks really love outlines, and I know others feel like they need to know the ending before they can write the beginning. Honestly, if that’s the way you write and you actually write with those tools, then please use them. For me, outlines and plans are writing killers.

Instead, here are three things I do to let myself write the story that wants to be told:

  • I start. I stop trying to think it out. I stop wandering around mumbling, “What do I want to write? What do I want to write?” I just pick up a pen (usually a pen at this stage) and get some words down. Often I use my writing ritual of candle and poetry, and then I let it fly, anything that comes to my fingers gets put down.
  • I re-read.  It’s not my practice to re-read whole big sections of my previous work, but I usually re-read the few paragraphs before the blank page, just to ground myself and hear what the story is already staying. It’s like walking the ground of the farm. It shows itself to me.
  • I listen. As I read and as I write, I listen. I listen for the places where the words seems to have more energy, and then I trail behind them streaming more words as they go.  I used to scoff at people who said they listened to their writing, but now, I get it. I get it completely.

None of these practices happens in my mind. My brain is working, of course, but I’m not writing with some eye to logic or argument. Instead, I follow the trail of words like I do in a dream. Sometimes, my friend Cate ends up running an organic bakery, and sometimes, Philip hears me tell someone, “If you come over hear, I’ll kill you.”  I don’t control the impulses of dreams, and I don’t try to control those of story either.

I’m a wanderer of the word-land.

**

This morning, I walked back from the farm stand in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of the day. I stroll and look around. I see the farmstead spread wide across this bowl of a blessed land.  I imagine what it will be to have our driveway spin around the big magnolia, and I test out the idea of a more formal parking area for our cars. I try to picture what the farmhouse will look like when we paint it back its original white.

But mostly, I just walk, trusting my feet to land solid and confident that in time the full story of this place will open, maybe not wide like a vista, but crystal clear like a ray of sun through the forest.

It’s all about the walking, the writing. The thinking – that’s overrated.

What about you? Do you prefer to outline or let things flow without plan? Do you ever feel like you get in your own way when it comes to writing? How so?

Writing Day In and Day Out

My new book Writing Day In and Day Out: Living a Practice of Words came out just a few days ago. I’d love for you to grab a copy if you’re interested. You can get it on Kobo, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.  I hope you find it meaningful, and if you do and feel inclined, I’d be grateful for your review on any of these sites.  Many, many thanks.  

Never a Perfect Day To Start Writing

Never a Perfect Day to Start Writing

© 2011 Steven Depolo, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

For a while now, I’ve been feeling it, that nudge behind my ribs, the little tickle that means I have a new book idea I’d like to take on.  On Monday, I felt it – Today is the day I’ll start. . . . and here, now, on Wednesday, I have not yet started.  I imagine you can relate.

In my head, I say things like, “Well, after we go to Alaska.” (T-must 17 days). Or I’ll start on the first of the month, which is, of course, when we’ll be in Alaska. Or this book might make more sense if I wrote it over the course of a calendar year, so January 1 would be a good start date. . .

The truth is, though, that all of these ideas are just excuses to not start.  I am a person who likes order and lots of it, so these dates appeal because they are orderly . . . but writing is not an orderly process.  It can’t be. It has to be made of loops and chaos and tangents that lead nowhere and to that red flower of awesome that we didn’t know was around that bend.

No day is ever going to be perfect enough in terms of my psychological calendar.  The truth is that there’s only one perfect day to start something new – today.

Your struggle about starting – or re-starting for those of us who put down projects – may have to do with young children at home or a heavy workload at your day job. You may be waiting for school to start or this one project to be done.  Or maybe you’re going to organize your closet first. Or maybe just finish canning all the tomatoes. Or find the perfect title for your book. Or just read one more article. Or one more book. Or subscribe to one more writing blog. Or maybe . . .

You get it, right? There is ALWAYS going to be something that gets in the way of the perfect time to start. 

So today, maybe you can try this:

  • Set a tiny goal – 15 minutes. 150 words.
  • Pick a place you love that’s easy to reach. Put your favorite mug of your favorite thing nearby.
  • Choose a pen that’s awesome and some nicely-textured paper. Or open a blank screen over your beloved desk top.
  • Then sit down, and do it. Your goal. Today.

When you’re done, you’ve started.  See how easy that was?  Nothing to it, and still, the children are at school and the tomatoes can be canned and you can maybe even get the oil changed in your car.  It’s possible to write and do other things – every writer does.  You just have to start.

I’m following my own advice, by the way. The farm book begins today.

What are the reasons you don’t start or restart your writing? 

 

 

Embracing Conflict – A Writer’s Necessity

Embracing Conflict: The Writer's Necessity

Master-at-Arms Seaman Rhonda McGee, left, spars with Patricia Cuevas during an exhibition match in the preliminary rounds of the 2011 Armed Forces Boxing Championship. C
© 2011 Official U.S. Navy Page, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I’m torn.  I’m not sure which way to turn . . . or rather, which page to turn. I have four books I’m enthralled with, and when I am ready to read, I’m not sure what to do.  Do I pick up A Lesson Before Dying and let myself fall into Jefferson’s journey to know he is a man?  Or do I give myself the indulgent pleasure of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the LaneMaybe I need to devote some time to the beautifully-written but dense biography of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Strange Glory? Yet, I’m enthralled with Billy Coffey’s The Curse of Crow Hollow and want to meet the witch.  Or perhaps I need to add a book by woman to this mix of men?  I’m in conflict.

I suspect most of you know this particular tribulation. :)

It’s these conflicts – or if the word conflict has too many painful connotations for you, try tension. It’s these tensions, these choices between two things – two books, two jobs, two people, two ways of living – that drive our lives forward.  A life of just the status quo sounds idyllic at time, but living things cannot survive in stagnation. We need mutability, change, choice, even conflict and tension to survive.  (I’m sure there’s a metaphor here – something about surface tension and water and those little insects that scamper on it, but I’m at a loss for that today. Feel free to step in and offer it up as a comment if you’d like.)

So it is with writing as well.  Good writing needs tension, or conflict to use the traditional creative writing class lingo.  And it needs conflict fast, like from the first paragraph, to grab the reader.  Otherwise, even the most beautiful prose, even the most amazing character, even the most powerful description will fall flat as a soggy towel by the side of a pool.  No one likes to pick up a soggy towel.

Wise writers build that conflict – be it internal or external – in right away.  Take these excerpts as examples:

While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years. – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. – Beloved by Toni Morrison

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I exaggerate. – Lying by Lauren Slater

Immediately, we know that Theo’s mother is dead, that something awful is in Sethe and Denver’s house, that the culture is in turmoil, that we might need to take caution with Slater’s words.  Tension. Conflict. Bam!, right from the get-go.

It’s crucial to set that up in our works right away – be they memoir, fiction, essay, poetry. It’s that tension that the reader rests on (ah!) like a water bug on the surface of the pond.  We need that conflict as readers to find our footing, to find our way in.

It can be tempting to start with something beautiful, prosaic words and gorgeous imagery – we all crave beauty.  But we NEED conflict to be able to see it.  If the story is too beautiful and held straight on in our faces, it’s hard to see anything beyond our noses.  Conflict is what gives us access and perspective as readers.  It’s what holds our attention – be it through a car chase or a love triangle or the struggle for one character to come to terms with his own beauty.

Once you’ve started with the conflict, your main work as a writer is to keep teasing that conflict apart, keep splashing it up and breaking it open for us so we can see how the characters work through it.  We want to believe they can find a way; we need to believe that, even if they don’t in the end.  That conflict is the central element that holds an entire work together, so it needs to be handled with care and deliberate attention. It needs to be embraced, contained, controlled.

So don’t back away from conflict. Step up to it, wrap your arms around it, and struggle through its journey.  We’ll follow along.

What first lines do you love for how they draw you in with the central tension of the story? 

 

By the way, the conflict over what I’ll read still remains.  (See what I did there?) What would you dive into?

 

 

Why I’m Blogging Even Less

Why I'm Blogging Even Less

© 2008 Floriana, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Yesterday, I had a migraine, and by the time I finished all my work at 5:30, I was so tired I could do nothing but lay on the couch, watch Family Feud, and sleep during the commercials.

Today, I woke with a pain between my shoulder blades and my SI joints completely locked up.  My teeth on the right side ache, too, a sure sign that I’m grinding them while I sleep.

My body is telling me – without question – what I have needed to recognize emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually for a while now – I’m too stressed. 

I’m saying YES to too many things and NO to myself, too often. 

I can’t sustain this.  But more importantly, I don’t want to sustain this level of activity.  Instead, I want to enjoy every single thing I do.  For me, that means I have to DO less so that I can enjoy them MORE.

**

This morning, my friend Shawn Smucker sent out his newsletter.  In it he says something I needed to hear:

Does the world benefit from us sharing our opinions on everything, or could not sharing an opinion actually be a virtue our world sorely needs more people to practice?

More and more, I’ve felt like I need to share less and reflect more.  I find myself wanting to spend more time with my thoughts. I want to weigh my words more carefully before I put them out into the world. I want my ideas to get more space to develop and expand.

In short, I want to write more books and fewer Facebook updates, tweets, and even blog posts.

So I’m only going to be blogging once a week from now on, probably on Wednesdays.  I may pop in for special posts when big things happen or when it feels like staying silent is being complicit to injustice or oppression. But mostly, I’m going to savor my words and serve them when they are wiser, better, more helpful, more seasoned.

**

I don’t know how you’re feeling these days, if your body is telling you to slow down or if you just feel a little bit of dread about how MUCH each day carries. I don’t know what you can let fall away and what you must continue to carry in your full arms.  Only you can decide what is best for you and your life.

My hope and prayer for your days and mine is that we wake excited to live them. I hope that when we open our eyes, we take a breath and stretch to find ourselves rested, our bodies limber, and our spirits eager but calm.

How are your days feeling lately? How’s your stress level? What do you do to keep yourself healthy and balanced? 

My Writing Newsletter

While I’ll be writing less frequently on this blog, I plan to write more often on my newsletter.  In that bi-weekly email letter, I share resources on writing and reading, talk about my latest projects, share free books and other offers, and make announcements about upcoming events for writers and readers here on the farm.  When you sign up, you’ll also get a free copy of Our Best 10, which includes 10 pieces of writing from some of the best writers I know. 


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God’s Whisper Farm Newsletter

And if you’re interested in getting updates on God’s Whisper Farm specifically, we do weekly newsletters with stories from the farm, updates on what’s available in the farm stand, event announcements, and exclusive newsletter-only photos for the critters and this beautiful piece of land that we steward.

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