October 27, 2014

Literary Forms in the Bible


When we think of the Bible as the written word inspired by God, the laws (teachings) and history will most likely come to mind. However, poetry covers about one-third of the Bible, which also contains almost all of the other literary forms. Hopefully, this will interest Christian readers in general, but as poets and writers, we do well to study these forms and their usages to expand our literary options in what we write.

We can do this by ourselves, of course, but if you’ve ever read one of the many books by writer, editor, and university professor Leland Ryken, you’ll want to see what he has to say on this subject. I certainly did! So I warmly welcomed the review copy I received of A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible, recently published by Crossway.

In the Introduction, Dr. Ryken defines literary forms as “anything pertaining to how a passage expresses its content.” So the focus is not on the content or the what of the text but on these categories as listed by the author with my notes added in parentheses:

1. Literary terms (discussed in this alphabetized handbook)
2. Genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry)
3. Literary techniques (for example, theme and variation)
4. Motifs (pattern or theme)
5. Archetypes and type scenes (recurrent patterns or symbols)
6. Figures of speech (metaphor, simile, hyperbole, paradox)
7. Rhetorical devices (for example, an envelope structure or inclusio, which “consists of bracketing a passage with the same statement”)
8. Stylistic traits (features of style from high to conversational)
9. Formulas (such as a number formula “for three transgressions and for four” or a “woe formula)

You might feel like saying “Woe is me!” if those terms are new for you, but take heart! The A to Z (make that "W") format of the book enables you to look up the entry you want on your own need-to-know terms.

Since I wanted to give the book a thorough reading, though, I began with “Abundance, Story of” and kept going, soon coming to the conclusion that, when I catch up on my stack of review copies, I’d like to read this again and give myself a writing exercise for each entry to which I'm drawn.

For instance, I’ve enjoyed writing acrostics, which, in Bible literature, means, “An Old Testament poem in which the successive units begin with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in consecutive order.” Mine were written using the English alphabet, but the Hebrew Bible includes acrostics in several Psalms where “The most elaborate acrostic poem in the Bible is Psalm 119. The poem is comprised of twenty-two eight-verse units. The units unfold according to the Hebrew alphabet, but in addition, all eight verses within each unit begin with the letter that the unit as a cluster highlights.” To make Psalm 119 even more difficult to write, the poet consistently included words referring to the “law of the LORD” such as “precepts, “statutes,” “commandments,” thereby adding to the impression that the Bible consists primarily of rules.

Dr. Ryken, however, reminds us of so much more in the “Adventure Story,” “Allegory, “Apocalyptic Writing,” “Beatitude,” “Benediction,” “Christ Hymn,” and even the “Comedy,” which he describes as “A kind of plot structure, with accompanying traits, that forms a U-shaped story in which events first descend into potential tragedy and then rise to a happy ending.”

Who would expect that, from a literary perspective, “comedy rather than tragedy is the dominant narrative form of the Bible and the Christian gospel.” For example, the Bible “story begins with the creation of a perfect world. It descends into the tragedy of fallen human history. It ends with a new world of total happiness and victory over evil” – which is surely more than enough to make us smile!

Other examples of the literary form include the stories of Joseph, Ruth, Esther, and Job – none of whom endured the laughing matters we expect to see in a TV sit-com or humor story. Nevertheless, each lived through a U-shaped story where events went from bad to good, shaping their faith and also the lives of readers who welcome the relief of a happy ending based on biblical truths.

Continuing through the alphabetized entries, we find “Drama” and “Dramatic Irony,” such as “Pharaoh’s daughter unknowingly paying the mother of Moses to take care of her own son.” And, in “Epic,” we see that “The biblical story that most obviously fits the description of an epic is the story of the exodus.”

When I came to the entry for “Epistle,” I thought of the form many Christian writers use in their blogs! As a fixed form in the New Testament, the epistle has five main parts, which, according to Dr. Ryken, consist of the following (parentheses his, this time):

• opening or salutation (sender, address, greeting)
• thanksgiving (including such features as prayer for spiritual welfare, remembrance of the recipients, and eschatological climax)
• body of the letter (beginning with introductory formulas and concluding with eschatological and travel material)
• paraenesis (moral exhortations)
• closing (final greetings and benediction)


Instead of focusing on parables, paradox, penitential Psalms, and other forms you’re most likely familiar with, I’ll turn to the entry for “Paraenesis,” which frankly I’d never heard of before, perhaps because, as Dr. Ryken notes, “No English word has gained currency as a designation for this fixed ingredient in the Epistles.” As he explains, however, paraenesis is “A section in the New Testament Epistles that lists moral virtues and vices, or a collection of commands to practice specific virtues and avoid specific vices.”

Hmm. Interesting. Even without know what paraenesis means, I’ve been seeing a lot of it in blogs by Christian writers when I’d much prefer to see the use of literary forms such as the “Penitential Psalm,” “Praise Psalm,” “Quest Story/Motif,” “Witness Story,” or “Worship Psalm,” each of which has specific characteristics and/or patterns (forms!) you might want to study, practice, and enjoy in your Christian writing life.


©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is the poet-author of 27 traditionally published books in all genres, many of which can be found on her Amazon Author Page.


Literary Forms in the Bible, paperback



October 13, 2014

Writing Irresistible KidLit


When writers of children’s books have a specific story in mind, it’s often their own. Yet the opening chapter of Writing Irresistible KIDLIT by author and literary agent Mary Kole immediately informs us, “As you strive to publish, you’re no longer the solitary scribe shut up in some attic; you are part of a vibrant and rapidly changing industry.”

Yes! So you can see right away that this book thinks bigger than our closed up and personal stories!

As attested by the review copy Writer’s Digest Books kindly sent me to discuss, Writing Irresistible KIDLIT is “The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers.” Having now thoroughly read the book though, I have to say that writers of novels for pretty much any age will welcome this lively text with all sorts of helpful, step-by-step information.

With middle grade (MG) and YA ( young adult) readers the primary concern, however, the first couple of chapters describe the reading audience, give you the typical lengths of manuscripts for each age group, then help you slip into “The MG and YA Mindset” where “tweens are focused on themselves,” and “thinking about how how others perceive them.”

As readers reach teen years where concerns grow faster than bones, they “feel everything very intensely, and two things in particular: An interest in romance and darkness.” Since fears and fantasies abound, “they use fiction to explore these issues in a safe way.”

The same can be said for big people books too, but regardless of the age group we write for, we want our work to be distinctive. As Mary Kole says, “It’s not the story, per se, it’s how you express it, the theme you project upon it, the characters you create, and your own unique voice.”

To get there, we go past a helpful list of cliché characters to avoid and consider the goals and motivations of each story person with whom we people our book. As the author explains:

“We root for people in life when we know their desires and goals. Will they persevere (like we want to with our own goals)? Will they fail (like we’re afraid to)? We start to care once we see a person in trouble. This empathy is an important bond to create between reader and character, and you should do it as early as possible.”

Although we don’t want characters to be too conflicted, we do want them to face conflicts, whether internal conflict such as loneliness or fear that “exists in the character’s head alone,” or external conflict, which can be a societal conflict that “happens on a grand scale” or an interpersonal conflict such as “a fight with a boyfriend, problems with the parents, a forced summer job, a bully at school, etc.”

Also, “Being forced to so something you really don’t want to, or being kept from your one true goal, are two enduring thematic conflicts in MG and YA” but can work well in adult fiction too. To know how this will work for any character of any age though, your characters need you to develop their character.

To give you a few examples from a character worksheet in the book, ask:

• What are a character’s primary objective and two secondary, smaller ones?
• What motivation does your protagonist have for each of the above?
• What value does she hold highest above all in herself and in other people?
• What is his core identity based on the above virtue?
• What is his vision of moral right and wrong?
• What is her worldview?


Although this book addresses manuscripts sought by secular publishers, you can see how the above questions will also help to guide the books you want to write for Christian children and teens and, yes, for adults too.

A novel offers more than a portrait, though, as the main character moves from one scene to another where “The most effective scenes flip action, plot, or character in unexpected ways. They shift mood. They make waves that will affect everything else that happens after. We should also learn something new in every scene; otherwise it’s not worth keeping.”

Similar to actions in a movie, the author advises us to “Vary your story’s rhythm by giving us long scenes and short scenes in a pattern. If we have long scene after long scene, no matter how tight, your readers will start to drag. Too many short scenes in quick succession and your audience will get whiplash.” Keep in mind, too, “You can’t choreograph every moment of your scene, so don’t even try. Leave gesticulation to your reader’s imagination.”

Other chapters break down what works and what does not in plotting plots and setting scenes or people in proper surroundings for a story to maintain credibility and retain reader interest. You’ll also find out more about distinguishing voices, including your own. When you’re ready to release your work to an editor, publisher, or literary agent, this book will show you how to go about that too.

Since I did that on more than one occasion when my now-grown children were growing up, I wanted to see if the time lapse had created an abysmal gap or if I could still relate to MG and YA readers. This book reminded me that trends change, in and out, but kids are kids, people are people, and a memorable story is well-written regardless of age.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is poet-author of 27 books including Living in the Nature Poem, Outside Eden, and a book of children’s poems, Beach Songs & Wood Chimes, recently released by Kelsay Books.


Writing Irresistible KidLit, paperback




September 29, 2014

Witnessing Jesus’ Signature


In the Christian community, important words or phrases get tossed around one denomination or another – spiritually healing words, spiritually vital words such as “Savior,” “resurrection,” “redemption,” but sometimes the significance passes over us without registering the full impact such words can have.

Take “witness,” for example. Does the thought of a witness testifying in court come to mind? When we need to make a case for Christ, that’s exactly the kind of witness we most likely need to be.

A witness testifies or gives a testimony that's often based on a personal experience other people can relate to – or not! In other words, a witness gives evidence that might not be evident to everyone until we explain.

For the growth of the church and the encouragement of other Christians, we need to be witnesses, who spread the Good News by word-of-mouth. If we also happen to be Christian poets or writers, we have the opportunity and unique privilege of putting our witness into writing and signing our names.

But what about the Name of Jesus? We pray in His Name, but how does He sign His name?

In sign after sign, the Bible records Jesus’ miracles, teachings, parables, prayers, love, healing, and sacrifice.

Jesus is Himself the sign of God’s forgiveness and redemption.
Jesus is the sign of God’s mercy and love.
Jesus is God’s signature in the world and in our lives.

As we speak to others about Christ or give our testimonies or write in any genre, may we remain alert and eager to let our witness become a witness to Jesus’ signature.


© 2014 Mary Harwell Sayler - poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem and the Bible-based poetry book, Outside Eden.


September 25, 2014

Writing for the right age


Lately I’ve been noticing a trend that makes little sense: books for children that aren’t! By that I mean the intended age group has not truly been considered as shown by these common mistakes:

• Subjects that interest older readers but are too complex or multifaceted for young children

• Subjects that interest young children but are too simplistic for older readers

• Word choices that the intended age group of readers cannot read, sound out, or understand

• Vocabulary and compound sentences appropriate for older readers but that confuse or discourage younger readers

• Abstract concepts toddlers and preschoolers cannot begin to grasp

• Nostalgia pieces written for the writer with no present-day child in mind

• Bible stories that thrill older children and teens but scare little kids who first need to hear about God's love

If you have noticed similar or other trends in #kidlit, I hope you’ll comment below and let us know what concerns you have about children’s books. And, if you see something especially kid-appealing and well-done, that would be good to hear about too.

You might also welcome these previous posts:

Keeping Your #KidLit User-Friendly

Poems can put FUN back in funny

Writing Children’s Picture Books

Writing children's poems for actual kids to read

Writing Children’s Stories With No Pink Fairies or Old Fads

Writing Winner Nonfiction for Kids


©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-author of Beach Songs & Wood Chimes and an e-book for classrooms and creative kids of almost every age, the Poetry Dictionary For Children & For Fun, has helped other poets and writers for many years through critiques, manuscript evaluations, and development of poetry and children’s picture book texts. For more information, visit the Contact & Critique page on her website.

September 3, 2014

Timeless Bible questions to answer


As Christian poets, writers, pastors, and/or communicators for Christ, we often begin our articles, books, and sometimes poems by asking questions our readers might ask then thoroughly researching information to provide the solutions or answers needed. In The Jesus Code: 52 Scripture Questions Every Believer Should Answer published by Thomas Nelson and kindly sent to me for review by BookLookbloggers.com, prolific author O.S. Hawkins gleaned many, many questions from the Bible then narrowed them down to one a week for a year. Although I liked the idea of the book in general, two premises especially appealed to me:

1. Timely questions asked by the Lord and/or Bible people will most likely be timeless.

2. Each Bible-related question gives a theme and purpose for poets and writers to focus on, research well, and address in all genres of writing.

Both of those aspects make this evangelically-oriented book recommended for poets and writers, regardless of denominational preferences.

For example, the first timeless but troubling question began in the beginning and is still being asked today: “Has God Indeed Said…?” Or, to put it another way, “Does God really mean _______?” (fill in the blank.) So, if I were looking for a new topic to write about, I’d pray about it and ask God to bring to my attention specific scriptures people often question or water down or, in some way, say, “Well, God does not really mean that for us now.”

Another of the many questions the Bible asks is, “Where Can I Go from Your Spirit?” The answer, of course, is nowhere! God is everywhere, and as the text says, “What a wonder! God knows you… your e-mail address… your phone number… your worries… your hurts… your fears… your dreams. And He loves you.”

Thinking again about our potential readers and writing interests, we might ask ourselves, “Who most needs to hear this?” Would people in prison be glad to know God has not forgotten them? Would Christians weighted down by dark thoughts or chemical imbalances or financial woes be relieved to hear that, yes, God is with them? Or, if you’re into politics or social needs more than mental health or legal issues, the Bible question “Who Is My Neighbor?” will surely appeal to you.

If we look carefully into each page of the Bible, we could eventually locate these questions ourselves, but O. S. Hawkins has done this for us with pastoral guidance we can prayerfully translate into that poem, article, or book God has put on our minds and hearts to write.


© 2014 Mary Harwell Sayler - poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem and the Bible-based poetry book, Outside Eden -


The Jesus Code: 52 Scripture Questions Every Believer Should Answer, hardback, imitation leather






I review for BookLook Bloggers





September 2, 2014

Dancing on the Head of a Pen: book review


The enticing title, Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life by Robert Benson, drew me to request a review copy from Blogging for Books – a site that provides review copies of a variety of books in exchange for an honest assessment. Fortunately, that's what I aim to provide, whether I'm discussing a new edition of the Bible or reviewing a traditionally published poetry book or a book about the writing life in general, as happens here.

Published by Waterbrook Press, this particular book also appealed to me because the author knows how to write! That might seem to be an obvious prerequisite, but I’ve discovered a new world of newbie writers who blog about writing and sometimes pass along assumptions, rather than reliable information. Conversely, Robert Benson has written many books and knows the in’s and out’s of writing and publishing. So, believe him when he says: “Most of the time, writing a book more closely resembles digging a ditch than participating in some transcendent creative experience.”

How we go about “digging” depends on what we dig. As Benson says, “Any of us – writer, designer, potter, painter, sculptor, architect, and on and on – wisely studies the habits practiced by the artists who inspire us in the first place. Those habits can guide us as we try to learn to do the work ourselves.”

For each of us, the work and surrounding habits will differ, not only from one another but also our own earlier selves as we experiment, pick up ideas, and find workable ways to write and continually improve our work. Most of us, though, will do well to heed Benson’s call to be quiet.

As he explains, “Solitude is likely necessary to be in touch with the things deep inside you. Silence may be required for you to hear what those things are saying to you. Do not be afraid to be quiet. Never be afraid to be alone./ Wandering around in wide-open spaces, especially spaces offered by a blank page, may be the key to making some art of those things found in the silence and the solitude.”

By now, you may be wondering if this book provides a devotional guide or tips on writing or suggestions for establishing your own routine or more than the sum of those parts, and to all, the answer is: Yes!

Once we’ve heard ourselves think enough to know what we’re to write next, we have to decide what type of writer we want to be. Like Benson, “I want to write. I may even need to write. But I want to be read as well.”

Knowing this about ourselves helps us to know whether we want to write for publication. If so, we need to have some type of reader in mind and some idea of whether anyone else might be interested in our chosen topic.

The author says, “When I begin to write a book, I ask myself some questions. Who do I think might read the writing I am about to do? Who do I expect to be interested in the stories I am trying to tell? Who do I hope will discover and enjoy and be moved by them?” And always, “Write for those you love.”

As Benson also says, “A writer has three jobs. Write the work. Make the work as good as possible. Find the work a home and a crowd of folks to love it.”

More than this, however, Robert Benson tells us, “I spend most of my time, metaphorically speaking, as a kind of explorer, out wandering around in the philosophical dark, lost in the spiritual words, searching for a deep something I often cannot even name, following trails leading to dead ends and darkness as often as not.” But then, “The spiritual life is not so much about answers as it is about better questions. Writing can be the same.”


©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, authored 26 books in all genres, primarily for Christian and educational markets, before writing the Christian Writer’s Guide e-book on Kindle.


Dancing on the Head of a Pen, hardcover



August 30, 2014

Seeing ourselves as part of The Storytelling God


A year or two ago, I began translating the parables of Jesus into poems and prose poetry, so when I heard about The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables, written by Jared C. Wilson, I requested a review copy, which Crossway kindly sent.

In the Introduction, the pastor-author immediately gave a fresh perspective by saying, “The word parable from the Greek means ‘to cast alongside,’ and like the seeds cast in one of the few parables for which Jesus offered an interpretation, the parables may land on rocky soil.”

Wow! Had you ever thought of Jesus’ stories in that way? I hadn’t. i.e., The Parable of the Sower is a parable on parables, illustrating how words work in our lives and in the lives of other people.

Inspired thoughts, spiritual insights, Biblical truths are cast (broadcast?) like seeds to land where they may among listeners and readers and, hopefully, to flourish and grow.

As Pastor Wilson explained, “The parables, then, serve this end: they proclaim, in their unique way, the gospel of the kingdom of God and Jesus as king of that kingdom.” Furthermore, “God is the greatest storyteller ever,” and “All good stories are but pale reflections and imitations of the great story of God’s glory brought to bear in the world…. The poetry, the history, the laws, the lists, the genealogies, the proverbs, and the prophecies together make up the mosaic of God’s vision for the universe with himself at its center.”

In our lives as Christian poets and writers, we are a circle, rotating around the world with our words in all genres, evolving into artistry and revolving around our One True Center: God. We are one with Christ and one with one another since the beginning of petroglyphs or stone tablets as we write from the same rock, the same central core.

“The rock to build on, then, is not the doing of Jesus’s words but the work of Jesus already done, namely his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. The rock to build on is Jesus himself. When we really hear and do, we are showing that he is our foundation.”

We who have ears, let us hear what our storytelling God has to say to and through us in Jesus' Name.

© 2014 Mary Harwell Sayler - poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem and the Bible-based poetry book, Outside Eden -


The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables, paperback






August 25, 2014

Christian Writer’s Guide to writing options


After starting the Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook, I realized that most of our members self-publish because that’s what they know. Since my 30+ years of experience have mainly been with traditional publishers of books and manuscripts for Christian and educational markets, I wrote the Christian Writer’s Guide e-book to provide the info you need to have more options as a freelance or assignment writer in almost any genre.

Hopefully, the table of contents will give you a good idea of what to expect:

Table of Contents

Dedication
Pray!
Let God and the Bible Guide
Welcome Your Gift or Calling
Find Your Favorite Genre
Listen for The Voice in Your Voice
Write, Write, Write
Search and Research
Record Information Accurately
Edit or Revise
Prepare to be Published
Write Freelance or on Assignment
Inquire with a Query Letter
Cover Highlights in a Cover Letter
Prepare Your Manuscript
Propose a Book in a Book Proposal
Track What Went Where and When
Develop Your Bio
Establish a Presence on the Internet
Learn Writing Terms: A to Z
About the Author



© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler is the poet-author of 26 books in all genres and approximately 1500 poems and short manuscripts, ranging from church curriculum to children’s “take home” papers to nonfiction articles on subjects as varied as the Bible, poetry, writing, family life, and natural health.


Christian Writer's Guide e-book on Kindle



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August 19, 2014

Centering Prayers


Focus! Focus! We've said that to our children and ourselves, but the catch is knowing what, or rather Who, to focus on -- and also how or when.

As I look at the review copy Paraclete Press kindly sent me of Centering Prayers by pastor-writer, Peter Traben Haas, the poetic words enable me to see the focal point and adjust my sights clearly to get centered on God.

Each month of the book’s year-long daily devotionals begins with a timely word “as if God says to me _____.” Then each day of that month includes a theme in the title, followed by a brief prayer that comes from the Christ-given heart we have in common-union at the center of ourselves.

To provide you with examples of what to expect, I turned to the preface for my birthday month, July, and read:

It is as if God says to me:

You are a lamp and my love is your fuel.

I love you and wish to anoint your life with the
kind of light that heals your deepest darkness.

I am with you on your journey.

Follow the Son who knows the way and is always close.


Once I'd read that, the inevitable interruptions and morning routines occurred, but after the children had safely caught their school buses for their first day back to class, I turned to the centering prayer for today, entitled “Returning to you in surrender.”

Beloved One:

Bless all students returning to school.
Bless all teachers returning to teach.
Bless all leaders returning to lead.
Bless all workers returning to labor.
Bless all beggars returning for more.
Bless all heart returning to you in surrender.
Remind us all that your gift of grace takes us all the way home.

Amen.

Hopefully, prayerfully, that amazingly timely word to me speaks to you too, and yet we cannot help but be aware of the troubling times around the world where too few choose to surrender to God’s way of love as revealed to us in Christ. And so, after closing this highly recommended book, I opened its pages at random and found a prayer dated June 27 that speaks to current needs, too, in the prayer “The miracle of many voices becoming one.”

Jesus Christ:

Refresh me by your Spirit.

Lead me into peace and understanding with others and help me experience the miracle of many voices becoming one in you.

Amen.


Yes! and amen. So be it in Jesus' Name.


© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, Bible Reviewer, poetry reviewer, and poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem and the Bible-based poetry book Outside Eden


Centering Prayers, paperback





August 11, 2014

Modern Poetry and the Christian Tradition


Who would expect a book written over 50 years ago to give serious poets and poetry students such a timely word about Christianity and culture today? Nevertheless, Modern Poetry and the Christian Tradition manages to do just that.

Written by the late Amos Wilder – a New Testament scholar, poet, literary critic, clergyman, and brother of Thornton Wilder – the book, kindly given to me for review by Wipf and Stock Publishers, provides a highly intelligent look at ways we can relate Christianity to the culture in which we live.

Interestingly, the poets Wilder highlighted for significant contributions in this area are the ones I also recommend: Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, W.H. Auden, and others.

Why does this matter? As Wilder said, “We recognize that the creative, imaginative expressions of culture are often our best clues to the diagnosis of men’s hearts and the deeper movements of the age.” Furthermore, “of all the arts, poetry, since it is an art of language, of the word, will often retain and sustain a varied relation to religion.”

Attesting to the insight that “poetry is praise,” the author acknowledged different views “held as to what is important and unimportant, what is healthful and harmful, what is Christian and un-Christian, in the tangled skein of cultural traditions” as we find “differing judgments as to the true spiritual heritage of the West and especially as to the Christian tradition in our English-speaking lands. Thus different values can be assigned to such main factors as Catholic order, the Protestant revolution, scientific empiricism, all of which have had their changing roles through the centuries and which have entered into special combinations with more recent phases of culture….”

With a fair-minded presentation of the many factors involved in the “story of what happened to the modern world’s faiths and assumptions” in literature, the author stated how, “We note first the loss of absolutes in our world.”

This loss led to devaluing traditions and communal roots until we reached a general “depersonalization” of mankind. If we take a sec now to think about the ads, television programs, popular books and movies today, we can see how timely or, perhaps, prophetic, Wilder’s words were in saying, “The depersonalized psyche, the numbered and enervated worker, requires high-tension stimuli to recover a transient awareness of his own identity.”

Insightful!

In other words, the more insensitive society becomes, the more it takes to awaken individual readers, help them to feel again, know themselves again, and/or draw them to Christ, the church, and the Christian faith.

So, how are we, as Christian poets and writers, to respond to this dilemma? As Wilder reminded us, “It is the spirit, as the Christian understands it, which searcheth all things and which underlies all the dynamic impulses of our crisis. Therefore the Christian is in the best position to understand them, to diagnose the age, to ‘interpret the times’.”

While acknowledging that a “diagnosis of our time in terms of its imaginative literature allows us to speak rather of directions than of solutions or conclusions,” the author gave us insight into Catholic and Protestant poets and writers who found ways to connect with readers during their lifetimes and also with readers now.

As I mentioned earlier, Wilder selected works to discuss of the very Christian poets and writers I’d also recommend for careful study and enjoyment. What I did not mention, though, is that it took me years of reading and searching on my own to “discover” and recommend those same literary artists as mentors I turn to again and again.

Be forewarned, however: You might need a dictionary, as I did, to clarify some words in Wilder’s heightened vocabulary, but his insights will give you a wide view of the impact and Christian influence your poems and writings can have on our needy society now.


© 2014 Mary Harwell Sayler - poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem and the Bible-based poetry book, Outside Eden - also wrote the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry e-book, based on the home study course she used, one-on-one, with poetry students and other poets for years.


Modern Poetry and the Christian Tradition, paperback





August 9, 2014

How do Christian poets and writers get prepared to write?


Recently I asked members of our Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook how they go about preparing for the writing God has given them to do, and within a week or so, we had the following responses collected here for you to read and recollect as needed:

QUESTION: How do you prepare for the writing God has called you to do?

Henry: (I) pray and listen for the direction to go, then do the research necessary.

Jaime: Sometimes I start by arguing with Him honestly. A lot of times God asks me to write things that are very uncomfortable for me, but I think my arguing or questioning opens the dialogue for God to show me why I need to write what He tells me to. I also spend a lot of quiet time really thinking through whatever the topic is then making sure it's covered from all angles.

Nellie: Two words: Pray and Listen.

Sharon: I pray and take time to listen before I write anything. I often consult with others and listen to their words, knowing He is guiding that too. Over the years I am learning the importance of writing over (revising) a piece.

Joy: (I) pray and write my heart out!

Danielle: (I) pray and read the Word.

Karin: I study the Bible and pray. I also listen to what others have to say, conversations that give me a clue as to what people are dealing with and going through.

Cathy: Same as above, pray, listen, write, rewrite. And read!

Art and Teresa: I start reading and writing down every thought that comes to mind. Pretty soon a bunch of fragmented thoughts come together to form a theme. With prayer and searching out scriptures related to the theme, a message forms.

Mary Ann: I read Psalms, think on them, and write.

Dawn: I pray and ask God for wisdom and inspiration. When I have a direction on what I'm going to write, I research the subject. Then I do an outline and start writing.

Bill: I pray, and then if nothing pulls at my heart strings within thirty seconds, I'm tempted to start smacking myself in the noggin with a frying pan! (But) I sit still for awhile. Then I start writing.

Patti: (After praying, thinking, researching, talking) the biggest prep I could make would be to get my rear in that chair and begin again!

Terry: Listening to Him...

Stacey: Prayer, the Word, and sitting still to hear and receive. I then put my fingers to the keyboard and let the Holy Spirit take over.

Lindabelle: (I) seek God in earnest prayer, then write whatever He puts in my mind and heart. (I’m) praying my stories will inspire and encourage those who read them.

Rebecca: Be diligent to keep writing time as a holy commitment.

Neil: I have gotten adamant about writing down every idea, title, or phrase that comes to mind, saving it for future development. No more mental notes! I've found those are written in disappearing ink. As quickly as an idea slips into my mind, it slips out again. I've said, "Oh, I'll remember later," then I promptly forgot!

Mary Ann: I know what you mean, Neil; my mental notes disappear too. I'm learning now to jot down in a journal.

Neil: Also, I've begun praying for the ones who will need to hear what I'm writing to meet a need or provide direction in their lives. I don't know the needs or the individuals, but God does. So, instead of assuming that people will come across it randomly and benefit, or “if you write it, they will come," I'm praying for the ones it is for, even before putting pen to paper, and asking God to guide my thoughts to meet the needs of specific people He knows who will read it a year or two from now. It's an “only God" thing: only God could do it!

Linda: I keep it a priority to open my head to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit and work them ASAP. That might mean hopping out of bed to work all the way through a new hymn text, or just jotting down a few phrases for future development. Everything He gives me goes into a PC file, so it doesn't get forgotten. Then I rely on the Holy Spirit to direct which piece to work on and where/when to submit or publish. Meanwhile, I prepare technically by studying craft and attending conferences. If you think God is calling you to share your writing through publication, you'll want to learn more and get a knowledgeable support/critique group.

Rodney: I gather inspiration from reading other books - the Bible included, praying for clarity, and… listening to people talk in all realms of life…. God uses people, places, and things to speak to me.

TK: I settle my spirit and await further instructions. Before writing I commune with the Lord for the direction and purpose of that particular project. All of my books can be the essence of the divine scriptures with one or two in particular. As a Christian fictional author, I utilize my experiences to help create a fictitious reality with a subliminal gospel message.

Barbara: I've only written one book, and that took me 17 years…. Much prayer precedes everything. Then I wait. I pray again. I start typing whatever comes out. I walk around. Pray some more. Cry, if needed. Moan. Perhaps start over. I go through this because I am afraid to write something that He would disapprove. Sigh.

Ashley: Lately, God has been asking me to write on some topics/issues I'm not 100% wanting to write about and I often find myself going back and forth before writing it. However, when we obey, it's very rewarding. (Also) I think reading the Word is very important for Christian writers. How can we teach and share the Word if we don't know it?

Linda: Please don't let fear of God's or anyone's disapproval deter you. Think of God as your writing partner, your co-creator, your collaborator, not as the divine writing judge. Go ahead and write whatever comes into your head that you know to be true to your experience of Him. Then the Holy Spirit can guide you to edit it. Maybe in that process you'll end up with something very different from what you started with. That's okay! That's the Holy Spirit at work. I think never trying would disappoint the Lord more than the poorest quality work, because he has someone waiting to be touched by what He wants to say through you.

Even for us Christian writers, inspiration is just the start. You have to be willing to do the work. Accept knowledgeable critique humbly; remember, your words aren't sacred scripture that can never be revised. Be patient when it takes more time and effort than you thought. And leave the outcome …to God's intention and timing without comparing your success to anyone else's… If you accomplish the Lord's plan for your work, you are a SUCCESS, even if you never sell a single book!

Connie: I don't think I have what it takes to write, for I am my worse critic. I pray for encouragement and boldness. I am not one who feels the need to write all the time, (and so) with that, I feel I must not be a true writer.

Linda: I just took up writing again after years of doing God's will in other ways. Does that stop me from being a "true" writer. No! No! and No! Be a writer who is true to the Lord's calling…. You can do it!

Connie: Thank you Linda, for your words of encouragement. I want to please the Lord in all that I do. Thank you.

Eileen: Pray first. (I) ask God for the story concept He wants me to present. Then I quiet my mind so the ideas can begin to form. When ideas come, I mull them over for a few weeks, arranging and rearranging the plot in my mind before my fingers hit the keys or the notebook. Then off I go, developing an outline/scenes, one-liner, two-paragraph summary, etc. After that, the actual writing begins.

Joyce: I spend a lot of time in God's Word and prayer. I have found if I do not allow God to fill me, I have nothing of spiritual significance to write.

Christine: Pray.

Mary: You all are mentioning what I believe is most important too: Praying, listening to God, and studying the Bible. But what about studying your craft, experimenting with forms, playing with words, and reading poems, stories, articles, essays, books, etc. in the same genre you want to write? How important are those to you?

Joyce: I believe that whatever we do for the LORD should be done skillfully. Studying our craft and reading books written by successful authors, studying marketing skills, and belonging to a writer's group are a few of the ways I try to improve – after I have prayed and studied the Word of God, of course. I am also a songwriter and have bitten my tongue on more than one occasion as I heard a songwriter say "God, gave it to me this way and I'm not changing it!"…I'm afraid Christians too often confuse inspiration and perspiration. Excellence takes both.

Michael: Thank you all! This is inspiring me to keep going.

Robin: I have been writing poetry for over 30 years and no one has ever given me encouragement or invited me to join a writers group/attend conferences until this past year. A personal friend and accomplished author read some of my poetry and invited me to do both. I entered my very first writing competition and attended a writers conference... The poem I entered did not place this year… Yet the most exciting thing is that the judge who critiqued my work compared it to Robert Frost! She …said to study his work because I have meter much like his. I love that she said to study and rewrite, rewrite and rewrite and enter the same poem in next year's contest! So to those of you…who are concerned that your writing is not good enough or that you don't know where to begin, may I offer this bit of advice and encouragement: DO NOT GIVE UP! Stay teachable, flexible….

Brian: Some poems bubble out with little immediate preparations. Others are based on study and thinking. Some are motivated by my experience or reaction to events, and some were written to influence or persuade….Some poems are the result of hard work on the theme of the poem or the poetics -- structure, meter, and rhythm.

Anita: Pray, read, go to writing conferences, meditate on the Word of God!

Barbara: As I pray and study, I listen to Christian music or fellowship with friends on the things of God, (then) thoughts, phrases, visions, and inspiration sometimes floods my being…. Descriptive Words formulate and begin to flow like water.

Rodney: For me and some of us…, it's a difficult assignment to be able to hear from God …or speak words of life, listen clearly to the Spirit, and work diligently and effectively where the environment is dysfunctional…. Clear this space for Jesus!

Mary: Yes. Writing what God has given us to write needs to be a top priority even when it's hard and we have to let some things go until later…. For freelance writers in general, the biggest obstacle is not writing! When I began freelancing about 30 years ago, I had to establish a routine and find ways to handle – or preferably, avoid – interruptions, and that's still true even now. As with any job, my family comes first, but otherwise, I go to work every day at my desk at home.

Judy: Pray daily seeking His will! (Also) I have been to…writer conferences through the years, learning from some of the best Christian editors and publishers. And, I enjoy this group!

Songaye: (My preparation for writing involves) praying, reading, writing, praying for wisdom and guidance, rereading, rewriting, praying….

Nellie: I get very calm and quiet. I open my iPad and start typing. If I start feeling an agitation, I take a deep breath and ask God to give me a clear mind and calm spirit.

Robin: I agree 100%. I am listening and learning – implementing things I learn from people in this group. And I agree with Judy. This… is a wonderful and very enjoyable group of people to learn from and grow as a writer!

Annie: Oh, my wonderful sisters and brothers, I enjoyed everything each one of you had to say. It was simply enriching. Why? God deals differently with each one of us and we get the assignment done according to His plan and will and He gets the Glory!

Linda: How wonderful that the Lord works within each of us in a unique fashion! Each is valid for that individual.

Mamie: You may not know you're called until you actually began to write naturally. I noticed I started that way--writing technically first, and then many other kinds of writings afterwards. Finally, I began to write poems and fiction about 20 years ago. So, you may not start out writing the things God has called you to write, but one thing is sure. You will start out writing little by little with the anointing of the Lord, writing something that pertains to the divine things of God.

Linda: I cut my teeth on technical writing, too. I figure that was all part of the call, because I was storing up skills and observations for the day when the Lord invited me to write for Him instead of an employer. Drama scripts and hymns are a far cry from training materials and case analysis documents, but it was all grist for the mental mill.

Miisrael: I believe true preparation for writing what God has for me is with trust and obedience to God. He gives me what to write. With trust He guides, with trust He delivers, with trust He directs (my) writings with the Word. All the trust I have (comes) with dedication and the commitment of loving Him. With obedience I become united with Him.

Mary: Thank you all for your responses! Not only have your words blessed one another, your thoughts will help other communicators for Christ who stop by here to read. May God continue to guide and empower each of us to write as we’ve been called in Jesus’ Name.



© 2014 Mary Harwell Sayler placed 26 books in all genres with Christian and educational publishers then wrote the Christian Writer's Guide e-book, the Poetry Dictionary For Children and For Fun e-book, and the Christian Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry e-book on Kindle. She also founded the Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook where this discussion began.


August 4, 2014

Praying for Christian poets, writers, the church Body of Christ, and the world


A few weeks ago, I asked the members of our Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook what prayers keep coming to mind for each other, the church, and the world. Some responded with actual prayers (italicized below) and some with prayers thoughts and/or a prayerful purpose:

Jewell: To impact for Christ through gentle and loving words

Patti: Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

Valerie: Father, give us ears to hear and Spiritual eyes to see what you place before me and how I can make an impact in my church and in my community. Give me your heart of compassion, so the door can open for me to tell more of your goodness. Allow me to run the race of life from an eternal perspective.

Mary: Besides the Lord's Prayer aka Our Father, my frequent prayer is: Lord, give us the prayers to pray.

Joyce: (I pray) that we will never lose sight of God's call to write – be it poetry, fiction, non-fiction. Our purpose as writers is about sharing God and Christ with the world, never about dollars and cents. Money and fame may come but should never be our reason for writing.

Karin: I often pray Philippians 2:13: For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Miisrael: I pray that God's poets keep writing of his wonderful love, his beautiful spirit to give us what we need to reach others with words and expressions. Prayers of poets I feel should never cease to show God's gift of words he has given us to share with others.

Wanda: I pray we never lose sight that gifts were given to us to praise God.

Jerome: Prayers of the faith of God – should the church come to embody such faith, we would indeed turn the world upside down.

Prayer S: My simple prayers are often associated with His commandments to love (Matthew 22:36-40.) If we comprehend all that’s behind these two commandments, we have before us all that’s needed to share the blessings of His church, share in the blessings of His love and share the blessings of His Word with the world.

Edie: When I was leading the opening for our Sunday School, I taught the kids my brief prayer with which I start many days: Lord, help me to be your child today - in all that I think and do and say. (For the kids, I added hand motions for think/do/say.) If each one of us in the church lives this way, then the church itself is strengthened – and the world is better served by us.

Mary: Lord, help! is a frequent prayer in times of trouble.

Lori: Lord Jesus, forgive our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven especially those in most need of thy mercy!

Patti: (Re: the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father) That's how Jesus taught us to pray, so yes, I do, all the time. Also, I love turning other scriptures into prayers with my name and others in them.

Rodgers: I pray that we may find satisfaction in life through Christ.

Lionel: That we may be less worldly and more holy....

Eileen: Unite our hearts to fear Your name, Oh Lord.

Cherrilynn: Philippians 1:9-11, And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Glynn: (I pray) that in what we do, how we serve, and what we write, we are a witness.

Tesha: Unity and CHRIST FOCUS!

Mary: I woke up this morning thinking about my first Fav from childhood, David's prayer (the last verse in Psalm 19.) What a great prayer to begin each day: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Nellie: Help us to constantly strive to live up to the image in which we were created. Help us love one another as Jesus loved us.

Marie: May my words and actions be a reflection of Who Jesus is in my everyday life. I desire that my blog and life reflect who HE is to others!

Cathy: Father, let Your kingdom come and Your will be done. Speak to our leaders, give our leaders wisdom. Lord, how we need You now!

Theresa: That we become scribes "instructed" in the Kingdom of Heaven.... Matthew 13:52.

Bill: For the church: to be conduits of God's glory. For this group: The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned, that I may know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. The world: to bend the knee in adoration.

TR: Save and defend Your whole Church, purchased with the precious blood of Christ. Strengthen Your faithful people through the Word and the Holy Sacraments, making them perfect in love, and establishing in them the faith once delivered to the saints. Send the light of Your truth into all the earth. Raise up faithful servants of Christ to advance the Gospel both at home and in distant lands. Lord, in Your mercy, Hear our prayer. Sanctify and unite thy people in all the world, that one holy Church may bear witness to thee, the God and Father of all.

Dawn: My prayer for the church is that we would rise up and walk in the authority God gave us. Lord, we need to band together and get over our own egos and become one as you speak about in John Chapter 14. Your word says they will know us by our love one for another. My prayer for this group is that we would use the writing gifts to make a difference not only in this group, but to reach out to the unsaved with our words.

Robin: Venerable Lord, come quickly, and if you don't, please help us all! We are at the end of time as the Bible says will happen, and as we witness the growing evil, my prayer is that God would send Jesus to come quickly, or if not, help us all who call upon His name to be emboldened to stand up and claim the good news and the name of Jesus Christ. There is nothing darkness can do against the Light.

Wanda: My prayer for everyone is that we all recognize Christ is the only entrance into heaven.

Jean: I'm sensing that there needs to be the spirit of repentance unleashed upon all of us, to begin to understand God's holiness, and our sinfulness.

Yolanda: These scriptures come to mind for me: Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another Ephesians 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.

Mary: Amen to all the above! If you have prayers or prayer thoughts to add, please do so in the Comment section below. Thanks. And, may each of us love one another and live each day in God's ongoing prayers for us in Jesus' Name.



© 2014 Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, author of the Christian Writer's Guide e-book, and founder of the Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook where this discussion began