Archive for ‘writing’

January 8, 2014

Not Being Afraid to Start Over

I thought I was done. I really did. I had written a book.

The manuscript that I had been working for almost 2 years had finally reached the stage of the game when it was time to really get serious about publication.

I learned how to write a book proposal (which is no small collection of words!). And, I wrote one. Some publishers were even interested. One was really interested. I knew with a little more attention I’d be on my way to the author track. Visions of my book launch party filled my daydreams with glee.

I was ready to be done with this project. It had taken enough out of me. I had “done my time” putting butt to computer chair.

I was ready for an editor to hold my words in hand and do that thing I’d heard they’d do: tear it a part (to make it better of course).

But then something happened.

I went to Africa– a land of so much fertile soul filled ground for me.

In November with Feed The Children, I crossed the ocean for another big adventure in Kenya. And one night at dinner when Kevin and I happened to be alone, I just came out with it my stirrings.

“I am not done with this book. I need to start over.”

Kevin, knowing his task master wife well, looked at me with eyes of disbelief. “What??”

Yup. I knew in my gut was true. I’d already made the decision to start again.

Not because the details I was seeking to narrate in the story had changed. Or because I suddenly realized I needed a whole new writing style. Or even because I lost the courage to tell the story I started to tell when I began with chapter one.

No, I needed to start over because I didn’t write the book I was meant to write.

I needed to re-write the whole manuscript.

Many of the bolts and hinges of the story I wanted to tell were there but the framework and the intent was all off.

I needed write about how pain can be a catalyst for transformation and in particular how relationships can be spiritual tools of such. Parts of the old story would be there but the voice would be altogether different.

But the thing is I am not very good at starting over. Though I feel writing is an art form and so I guess that makes me an artist– I am not your typical artist type. I don’t like open-ended possibilities. I don’t like perfectionist driven dragging your feet deadlines. I’m a “getter done” kind of girl even if I post blogs with misspelled words.

And here I am in January, staring at a manuscript that needs new life. How could this have happened?

I’m going to do it though. I’m not going to be afraid to start over. Because this is what I know in my heart of hearts:  what I could have offered you would have been good but what I could offer you might just be great. So why not?


October 8, 2013

3 Reasons Why Social Media Improves Writing

Over the past couple of years and more specifically this calendar year, a lot of my energy has gone into assisting organizations and individuals (including me) with strengthening social media practices.

Hoping to answer the question: “How do you build online community?”

And then, actually doing it post by post, tweet by tweet, share by share.

Most recently, I’ve joined the social media team at Feed The Children. Exciting new things are happening in the communications department and next week I look forward to telling you all about our newest project launch!

I’ve also assisted individuals as well as small groups of people with growing their online presence. (As my bio says, I’m known for making folks disciples of twitter . . . strange but true). As an aside, if you want to have a conversation with me about this, feel free to contact me through the email address under About Elizabeth.

All this strategizing about social media has got me thinking about my own writing life in conjunction with it.

So to writers who say they want to go to their bubbles of offices and deactivate their WiFi to meet their deadlines, I beg to differ. I believe I am a better writer because I am a social media practitioner. And it’s not just because I’m procrastinating. Here are some thoughts:

1. You really can say a lot in 140 characters.

When I first started tweeting, I was overwhelmed as many new to twitter are that I had to something in less than a sentence or two. How was that even possible (especially from overly verbose me)? But the more I wrote and edited tweets I found myself going through a daily editorial exercise without even thinking about it. There were words in a given sentence I didn’t need. There were abbreviations that I could use instead of other words. And I saw that it didn’t take a long paragraph to convey emotion, passion or even conviction. 140 characters was enough indeed.

2. Clever humor is so attractive.

When is the last time you read someone’s post on Facebook or someone’s tag line on Instagram and laughed out loud? Maybe I just have found some really witty accounts to be associated with, but reading other people’s funny posts pushes me. It pushes me not only to laugh more (it is good not to take life so seriously), but also to think of ways to craft more appealing sentences myself.

Sure, I could just say, “I’m watching the Miss America pageant tonight on tv. Trying not to be snarky.” But it is way more inviting to conversation with others if I say something like, “Irish dancing is always cooler than a tutu. She’s looking at all the other contestants and saying top this #missamerica” Simply put, participating in social media stretches my creative muscles and I believe my longer prose thanks me later.

3. Practice, practice, practice.

In the weekly discipline of keeping up a blog, perfectionism goes away. A blog is never meant to be perfect. It just is. So the best thing a writer can do happens: there are words on a page.

When I have conversations with writers who wrote prior to the “post your every thought online” times such as these, one of the most positive reflections I hear from such writers is this: you don’t know how lucky you are as blogger to have so much practice! And it is true a blog is great for trying out any new ideas. It’s great to see what ideas stick and which ones don’t.

And, while the act of blogging and sharing your writing on other social media channels can easily lead to narcissism or not taking the necessary time to churn out rich thoughts that more established publications can provide– a blog is good because it keeps you writing and conversing with your community of readers. Practice does not make any writer perfect, but it does keep us moving in the right direction.

October 4, 2013

What Happened to Old School Blogging?

I’ve been in the blogging game since 2006 back before blogging was cool or everyone and their mother had one.

My friend, Amy first told me about hers and I was inspired. (We were both kids back then! Pictured to the right). Like her, maybe I had things to say too?

(If you’ve been keeping up with me since the end of my seminary journey until now, you deserve a prize. Please raise your virtual hand and I’ll give you one. Seriously, I will. I’ll know you’re legit if you can identify the name before I was: “Preacher on the Plaza”)

Recently I was reading over some of the earliest posts– posts I might have previously thought were to simple or not very challenging theologically or mostly a journal of life– and I missed them.

I missed old school blogging. Blogging that told stories of people’s kids or family parties.

Or blogging that documented vacations or life milestones.

Or blogging that wasn’t afraid just to say something out of fear of how it might come back to bite your next job search.

Or blogging that only your closest friends and maybe a rare stranger that soon turned into a friend read. A blogger and friend tweeted something along these lines recently too. And got me thinking . . .

Where did the old school blogging go?

For me, I am a different kind blogger now.

I’m a blogger who is the wife of a guy who runs a global non-profit and though I say that my opinions expressed are my own, I have to remember that what I write ultimately in some way reflects back on him.

I’m a blogger who believes in the power of online community– I write not just for friends but for those of you who I don’t know in person (but maybe one day I will!).

I’m a blogger who believes in the platform of a site like this: a platform to challenge the religious norm, to be a voice when social crisis plagues our world, and to speak to those who I might never have a chance to sit down with a cup of tea with but in whom we might have a lot to learn from each other.

I’m a blogger who can’t live without a blog. Though it began as a hobby and something fun to share with family and friends, over the years, I’ve learned that writing in a public space like this is not only important to my personal processing but to those who might want to enter into the conversation with me. Many of you have told me over the years that you are reading and thinking with me. And for this I’m so grateful.

And while I long for the days of simpler posts of what I did last weekend or what is my favorite ice cream, I can’t write like that anymore.

These past years there have been some great challenges, challenges that have put me face to face with what calling, vocation and faith in deeper ways than I’ve ever known.

The more I grow in my understanding of God (or the mystery thereof) and how the world works, I know I have to keep wrestling with the big questions. It’s just who I am. It is why I blog. (Though not to be discouraging on others who write for other reasons, of course).

My hope is that as you stop by from time to time you’ll keep reading, keep commenting, keep pushing me toward new ways of thinking about life in this world.

While I might miss the ease of old school blogging, I know where I land on the other side will keep taking me to the next place I need to go. 2013 will soon be old school too!

August 8, 2013

Be Someone

We can’t help it, but in our society we are what we do.

When you meet a new person (especially in the circles I run in it seems) the first question that gets asked when you meet someone new is, “What do you do?”

And in response free-flowing answers are something like, “I am a lawyer. . . . I teach school. . . . I work for the government. . . . I direct an organization.”

When we hear these responses and other similar to them, we nod our heads in approval and say with our body language and sometimes our words: “Oh, good. That sounds interesting. How long have you been doing that?”

But then there are those responses we can give like: “I consult.”

“I’m a stay at home mom.”

Or, “I’m a writer” that usually seem to evoke less than energetic responses.

Some of us don’t understand how a person could just consult or just stay at home with their kids (aren’t they wasting their talents by not pursuing traditional full-time work?), or we think, “Isn’t saying you are a writer code for you don’t know how to get a real job and that you sit in your bathrobe and eat chocolate all day?” (Yeah, you know you think it even if you don’t say it).

But what if you are called to be a generalist consultant or a stay at home mom or dad or heaven forbid even a real writer?

I sat at a coffee meeting with a new colleague on Monday. Catherine is a consultant for social media (something I’m doing more and more of these days) and self-employed too.

We talked about the frustrations of being in an office of one, doing helping work through writing and social media for non-profits (and folks not wanting to pay for our services, ugh!), and how easily our value in the society in which we live is tied to what we do.

In response, Catherine offered this nugget of wisdom that she’s known to share with groups during one of her training sessions: “Don’t worry about being something. This will get you nowhere. The someone who you think you are because of a job could change at any moment. The title you have on your business card will not be with you forever. Instead, put your energy into being someone. This is who you are that will never change.”

I was struck by the simplicity but depth of her words. I may not be the something that I once was, but I am a somebody.

My friend, Ken and I were talking about this very thing a couple of night before. I was bemoaning the fact that I often feel like a “nobody” since I left the church and don’t have an official title of “I pastor ____ church” to add to my name. And Ken pushed back. “You are a somebody. And you are doing important work. You just don’t see it like the rest of us do. . . . ”

And then came Catherine’s words about “being someone instead of something.”

Clearly I needed to hear such a message.

It’s a hard road and most certainly the path less traveled, I believe to find yourself outside of the confines of a role or a particular job. Ask someone has recently started a new business or who has retired early how they’re feeling about the transition, and you’ll know I’m speaking truth here.

You don’t win the “most impressive” award when you meet new people at a happy hour or a professional gathering with a non-traditional “what I do” response.

Instead, you have to brace yourself for the stares, the strange tones of folks reactions, and comments hurried your way like I recently got, “Do you like being a housewife?” (Ok, I almost died. No, I am NOT a housewife).

But, I am a someone. And so are you– in whatever you do.

Last night I was talking to my friends Tim and Debbie. In the course of the conversation about vocation and what it means to enjoy life at the fullness that life can really be, Tim chimed in to say, “I’ve always thought about life like this: who you really are is what you do when you aren’t at work.”

And while there are all different sorts of implications for vocation and paid work interlacing and certain people’s 9-5 “It pays the bills” sort of jobs having all different levels of meaning for us– I think Tim is right.

We have clues to the “someones” that we truly are if we notice what we are naturally drawn to in our free time.

And it is not that we become these things, such as, “I am a cook.” “I like to garden.” Or, “I am so happy when I get to keep my grandchildren” but that the character qualities that motivate us to do these things shine through. And we see more clearly our souls.

We are challengers (or not).

We are contemplative (or not).

We are relational (or not).

And these things do not change. We simply are.

We were created with value and purpose and uniqueness. We can be a someone no matter if our work is validated, paid for or even appreciated. We can find fulfillment in simply BE-ing.

I’m not there yet. I really like being a something better than someone. But, I’m on my way and I wonder if others of you out there are too?

June 2, 2013

My Faith is Essential to Who I Am

There seems to be nothing profound about this statement. If you know anything about my background, you know that I graduated from seminary and I served two particular churches as a full-time pastor for 6 years. I blog all the time about religious centric topics. Duh, of course, my faith is essential to who I am. Case closed.

But, something about stating this as fact at this juncture of my life feels different. Maybe even scares me a little.

I don’t feel I’m not the kind of person who just comes out and says such so bluntly. And I really hate being lumped with these kinds of Christians who might come from these camps and start conversation with judgment before love . . .

I think actions speak for themselves. Do I love? Do I forgive? Do I consider someone’s needs before my own? Words are not always necessary.

But then this weekend, as I worked on another draft of the book proposal for my upcoming memoir about grief, I realized something I’d never thought of in such a strong way. And that is: my faith is essential to who I am.

As I wrote the words on the page of this proposal, it felt like I had invited myself into my own coming out party.

For, there was no way I could describe the book I’ve written without talking about the interwoven themes of God’s provisions, God’s love and God’s direction within my story.

I just couldn’t.

And even though I so desperately don’t want an expression of my faith to be lumped together with the kind of Christian paths that I’ve seen hurt people and that (in my humble opinion) don’t seem to be grounded in the teachings of Jesus, I couldn’t tell my story without it being a FAITH story.

As I wrote the marketing plan for the book that I hope one day soon with convince a publisher to want to print my narrative (hopefully a non-religious publisher!), I couldn’t help but think that the reason why I believe my spiritual memoir will sell is because search of something, or someone greater than ourselves IS what deep down we’re ALL looking for. Search for spiritual connection to the Divine and one another is essential to the human experience.

And with all of this true, we crave stories of faith in all shapes and sizes.

We crave stories that will tell us how others made movement in their lives when all seemed lost.

We craves stories that tell us how messy weaves of relationships can survive deep wounds.

We crave stories that tell us how hope born in our hearts rides the waves of the most turbulent storms.

And, though at first glance my book might seem off-putting to the very people I want to reach with my story–
those on the edge of a religious tradition
those who are in the throws of deep grief without a faith community
or those who have only experienced people of faith as obnoxious

I can’t tell my story any other way than: faith is essential to who I am.

What about you? How do you talk about the spiritual part of you? Or do you talk about it at all?

May 29, 2013

Poetry Corner: When You Are the One Who Tells the Story

When you’re the one who tells the story
Watch out!
Steep slope ahead!
Sharp curve!

For in drawing out truth of a great abyss
You take off their mask without permission
And, found: crumbs their corner
Lint in their dryer
Corrosion in their engine

When you’re the one who tells the story
In an instant you’re no longer normal

Your songs melodic
But they see thunder storms

Your poetry colorful
But they see darkness

Your strides graceful
But they see crutches

Who wants to hear a story anyway?

But, something in you says you have to tell it anyway
You were born to be that one.

April 14, 2013

What if I’m Not Good Enough?

On my ongoing relationship with the part of myself I call “a writer” I think about a lot about things like this:

–What is good dialogue and how to construct it authentically

–What are strong verbs and how avoiding adverbs as much as possible.

–What does life smell like and how to describe such without using worn out similes.

But, most of all I think a lot about what makes writing good?

Like most writers, I have that fear in the back of my head that says, “What if I am not good enough at this?” As much as I love the challenge of constructing beauty, what if I am never accepted as a writer. What if I never get published? (Because of course, as much as many of us say that publishing doesn’t matter, it does).

And I know I’m not alone.

Because the more I have conversations with folks who are considering writing for the first time or more frequently the one concern that seems to be raised every time is: “What if I’m not good enough? What if no one cares about what I have to say?”

And, what I most want to say to this excuse in myself and others is: “Stop listening to that crap in your head and just write! If you want to write, write!”

I want to say this because I believe we as artists (musicians, painters, dancers, etc. alike) waste so much time that we could spend producing our craft by judging ourselves before we even get out of the gate. And by doing that, we miss out on the best contributions we might have to offer. Anne Lammott, of course has a lot to say about this.

Because what I think makes writing (and of course, this is my humble opinion) good is: writing that tells us the truth. And it doesn’t take special skills to tell the truth. You just speak it!

Sure, in the writing world, grammar and proper use of metaphors and paragraph structure within a chapter are all important– and without the best possible setting for words to flow they simply won’t have the chance to leap in reader’s hearts as they did in the writer’s– but “good writing” is not all about technical details.

It’s about the soul of the piece. Is the writer telling their truth?

I read a lot. And I can usually tell pretty quickly if I am going to stick with a book or discard it from the pile of books on my nightstand or in my Kindle.

I am easily annoyed by writers who try to sound like someone else or use words that aren’t a part of everyday language of anyone I’ve ever met or who are so full of ego they don’t admit what is really troubling them.

I love stories: stories that make me feel less alone, wise stories that speak truth on the page that I’m not ready to say aloud, but want to, stories that give me new insight into those I love and those I hate, and stories that leave me convicted about how much more I need to learn on this journey of life we’re all on.

Writing like this take courage.

It takes time to know yourself well enough to bring truth to the page.

It takes hope in the human condition– that when you risk the potential disappointment of putting yourself out there– others hungry for the truth will hold your work with the reverence it deserves.

So, what makes writing good? For today, I say, it is YOU who makes YOUR writing good. And ME, MINE– even the parts of me that are anxious, fearful, scared, unforgiving or absent-minded. When I do the work of bringing more of ME to my work, then I think not only do you call it “good” but my Creator looks at my creation and smiles.

April 2, 2013

Writing a Book and Friends Who Write Books

Yesterday I hit a huge milestone in my writing life, I finished the first full draft of my manuscript of a book that will soon be looking for a publishing home (anyone want to talk to me about it?). When I hit the print button and saw the huge stack of papers that I’d produced (yes, me! I did that!) a wave of shock came over me. One leg of the marathon is over. I just couldn’t believe I’d made it this far! Sure, there will be revisions after revisions left to make, but over 80,000 words on a page is a great start– especially as I wrote most of it while having another full-time job and of course keeping up with the demands of regular life.

All of this is to say, I’m in awe of the art of writing and others who are with me on this journey.

I’m thankful as always for the support and editorial feedback of the WritingRevs— some amazing pastoral ladies who are also working on projects of their own. Have you read Sabbath in the Suburbs or Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land? You should.

And, I’m also grateful for the larger writing community that I’m a part of– friends who I’ve met on twitter who sign their tweets #iamwriting or #writing who help me remember this solitary work is most of all a community building exercise.

I’m grateful for colleagues I’ve made in others phases of my life who have gone before me as authors. Knowing them and watching their process helps me know that I could do it too.

One of these colleagues is Alan Rudnick. Alan and I were in a clergy group together back in our associate pastor days in Maryland. I worked at Alan’s home church while he served at nearby Methodist congregation. Then, we both started solo pastorates at the same time and it has been fun to watch the progression of his ministry. He’s recently completed his book with Judson Press called The Work of the Associate Pastor. It’s a comprehensive collection of essays and helpful suggestions for both churches and pastors about how the ministry of an associate fits into the larger vision of the church. Looking for a book about church staff dynamics? Check it out.

Another one of these colleagues is J. Dana Trent. Dana and I were in the same class at Duke Divinity School, as part of the Baptist House of Studies program. Now, Dana is married to Fred, a former Hindu monk. She recently completed her first book called Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk which will come out in October 2013 through Upper Room Books. Dana lives the kind of life of writing, spiritual direction, teaching and ministering that inspires me on this non-traditional path I’m on, and I’m so excited to see where this publication takes her in the future. I know you will too– I mean, who would have thought: a Baptist and an Hindu? I’m sure it will be a page turner!

Bottom line: if you want to write a book, you must make friends with people who are doing the same.

February 9, 2013

Things I’m Learning about Writing– February edition

Writing is a ministry. It’s ministry as much as as preaching or pastoral care or any other of the serving tasks.

While in the parish I would often spend afternoons working on articles for publication or blogging. Sometimes I’d feel guilty as I typed away.

Maybe I should have been visiting one more person?

Maybe I should have been a better administrator by filing away paperwork sooner?

Maybe I should have started sermon research earlier in the week? Or maybe not. As my friend, Beth would say, I was “shoulding” all over myself.

Yet, there was always something in me that said writing was important.

So, now and in the immediate future I am claiming the time that I spend writing as my primary ministry. I’m done with the guilt. I’m just going to do it.

And, I’m falling in love as I learn things like:

1. You can’t be afraid, as Anne Lamott would say to write a shitty first draft.
I would covet to be the kind of writer who can pour out her soul in perfectly constructed paragraphs and completely interested sentences the first time. But, I just can’t. I can’t tell you how many boring, throw away sentences I construct on any given day. Writing is always as much about a process than it is about the destination.

2. The more you write, the more it clicks and clicks faster.
It has been amazing to me to start reading like a writer. For example, now, if someone asks me to read a piece of theirs, I can more easily say things like, “You need to cut out the first two paragraphs. You don’t make a point til 3/4 down on the first page.” Why? Because when you spend your days editing your own work, you begin to see all collections of words of others in a more precise edge. You know a good piece of prose when you see it (and when you don’t) and you’re ok if others disagree with you.

3. The more you commit to learn the craft of writing, the more you begin to look at the world like a writer.
A big change in me has happened over the past couple of weeks. I walk into a room and think about how I would describe its smell, its texture, or its sounds. Why? Because as I’m trying to narrate a series of past events in book form right now, I realize that in real-time I never really noticed details of settings. I am a big picture girl who does not like to focus on the blades of grass. But, in the future, I want to know. I want to know what it felt like to walk through a crowded bus. Or what it smelled like stepping off an airplane. Or what the countertop of my best friend’s mom’s kitchen feels like. If I am going to keep writing, then I need to pay closer attention to the blades.

4. The delete button is your best friend.
I don’t know about others of you, but I can so easily become attached to sentences. I love them like they are birthed children or the finnest meals ever cooked on silver platters. In love, ignore the run-ons, out-of-place fragments or passive tense verbs. And, because I love them, I never want them to go. But, this can’t be! Though painful at first, the crispness of my narrative seems to thank me later (and so does my writing group when they read my drafts!).

5. You can love through words.
Words to me are tools of art. Just as a painter needs brushes or a sculptor needs clay to create what stirs the hearts of any who behold their creation, I need words. I need words to say thank you. I need words to show kindness. I need words to give hope. And in making art– stories, essays or even sometimes poems, I love. I love myself by creating the space of a sentence to say what is most real. I love those whom I know by paying attention to details which can be later shared back with them. I love those I do not yet know by selecting universal words so my words can be an offering of our common experience.

Other writers what are you learning?

December 30, 2012

Favorite Posts of 2012

In the spirit of this season of reflection, I wanted to share my top twelve posts of 2012. These posts may or may not have gotten a lot of interest at the time I wrote them, but for me each of these blogs represent a shift in some way in my life or ministry. Thanks for reading. . . . and the happiest of New Year to you all!

1. January 2012- “God Calls You to See What Others Don’t.” This was a sermon I preached during our “spiritual gifts” series at WPBC. My dear friend, Beth came up from Chattanooga to lead this retreat for the church. I saw so many lightbulb moments go on in the congregation as a result. In our household, too we had so many important discussions after this such as about Kevin’s spiritual gift of leadership and my prophetic spiritual gifts. I will be forever grateful for this special time for us all.

2. February 2012- “From the Preacher’s Chair.” I was asked to preach the 30th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Christian Church. It was not only an honor to be asked to preach this service but to bring along WPBC congregation members with me too. It was diversity building at its best. And to be worshiping alongside my dear friends, the Rev. Caseys was a blessing.

3. March 2012- “I Know How You Feel.” I went on a delegation to the White House with other Baptist leaders. Though it wasn’t really at the White House itself, it was cool nonetheless especially to see all colleagues from around the country.

4. April 2012- “Letting Go.” This was a post that really seemed to resonate with people for worry is something that we all seem to do, a lot. But what is God’s other plan for our lives? Maybe it is surrender.

5. May 2012- “When We Met the Divide.” This has been a year of boycotts over chicken sandwiches, votes that have divided our nation and shouting matches about everything under the sun as a Christian community. What is the solution? Some thoughts here.

6. June 2012- “Let’s Feed the Children.” Kevin begins his work at Feed The Children as CEO and President. Our lives are forever changed.

7. July 2012- “Hagans on the Hill.” I was the Senate Chaplain for the day. Wow!

8. August 2012- “Who is Really Poor?” I traveled with Kevin to Malawi and Kenya to see first hand the sites of the work of Feed The Children. I reflected on the spiritual poverty came to see in my own life as I returned. The Africans are truly the rich ones!

9. September 2012- “I’m a Defect.” This was one of my favorite sermons in my “Excuses” series of sermons. We all thing in some way or another that we are made with imperfections. This was my way to seek to dispell this belief about ourselves that holds us back.

10. October 2012- “Why Do You Pray?” Some honest thoughts about my own prayer life that took some courage to admit.

11. November 2012- “A Life That Counts.” My sermon reflection in response to our 10 days spent in the Philippines. I wrestled with poverty here at a level I’d never had before.

12. December 2012- “One Last Love Letter.” My parting words to my beloved congregation of Washington Plaza. I will always love you.

%d bloggers like this: