“We are compelled to make sense of ourselves, our lives, and the physical and ethereal realms in which those unfold. We do so as interpreters, as storytellers.” ~~ Ronald Chapman
Writing as Spiritual Practice
By Ronald Chapman
Author of The Dark Side of Grace
Editor’s Note: MY TBR stack is climbing towards the ceiling. Although I haven’t yet read The Dark Side of Grace, I’m quite curious and looking forward to it. Ronald Chapman was gracious enough to provide us with this article about writing as a spiritual practice.
In the backflows of the release of my latest novel, The Dark Side of Grace, as I find myself in discussions with readers and reviewers, I’m profoundly aware of the effect of story. Often, the effect can only be seen in retrospect, though sometimes that result is profound.
In order to understand why, we have to first appreciate that we are sense-making creatures. We are compelled to make sense of ourselves, our lives, and the physical and ethereal realms in which those unfold. We do so as interpreters, as storytellers. This is at the heart of our spiritual seeking and questing. We may not be aware that we are ever-grappling with that which is emanant from what we cannot see or touch, but our incessant story-making, our propensity for imagining and wondering, and even our dream life, show us we are always seeking to somehow reconcile ourselves to everything.
Even though we often prove to be unreliable narrators, the act of trying to narrate is most powerful and potent. My long-time, late mentor, who I affectionately refer to as Master Samwise, pointed out that when we try to write to narrate, we slow down the impossible stream of thoughts and impressions in order to weave some coherent frame through which we can draw meaning and perhaps even purpose.
The act of writing is the means by which we wrestle with what Alan Watts, the great philosopher-author, proposed that we most fear – the flux that is reality.
Even if this is not enough to capture our attention, as a member of twelve-step recovery groups, I often hear “You have to give it away to keep it.” That’s the proposition that recovery depends upon service to others. Yet my experience tells me it is in wrestling to create narrative out of mesmerizing moments that we can finally grasp, meaning, which allows to hold onto the magical, mystical things, and thus to pass them on to others. (As an aside, perhaps we are all in spiritual recovery.)
What then does this say to us?
Write. Write in journals. Write poetry. Write long-winded expositions. Write blurbs. Write as wishes to be stored for some future date. Write to your children, and grandchildren, and for posterity. Write. Just write.
If it is true that we must make sense, and we must create meaning and purpose, and story-making is the gift from God or gods that allows us to do so, then the greatest thing we can do is to use the gift. Next, we watch and see where it takes us, and what it reveals. We can then come to our senses.
As a workshop leader, facilitator, and motivational speaker for 35 years, Ronald Chapman has shown countless people the means to work toward their own growth and transformation through his practice of Seeing True and his Progressive Recovery approach for 12-step recovery. He is the author of the novels A Killer’s Grace and My Name is Wonder: A Tale of Adventure; the recovery guide Progressive Recovery Through the Twelve Steps: Emotionally Sober for Life; and the inspirational books Seeing True: Ninety Contemplations in Ninety Days and What a Wonderful World: Seeing Through New Eyes.
“Don’t feel like doing this for yourself? Do it for a character you’re working with. What does s/he have to say to the world today?”
June Writing Prompt
Try this: Make a list of subjects you’d like to write about. War, peace, a walk with the dog, a child’s graduation, a court date, seeing without glasses, a story in the news, your favorite place to eat, or an unexpected phone call from…. The possibilities are endless.
Pick the top 3—the ones that have the most energy for you, whatever that means.
Set a timer for 20 minutes and free write. You don’t have to stick with the subject you picked. Go wherever the writing takes you.
Read it over. Underline 2-3 statements that have energy for you, which means you have more to say about them.
Pick one. Set the timer for another 20 minutes and repeat the process of going wherever the writing takes you. You are digging into whatever you really want to say. The only thing that matters is that you are honest with yourself, and you gain perspective.
Don’t feel like doing this for yourself? Do it for a character you’re working with. What does s/he have to say to the world today?
Want to share your work? Post it in the comments, and I’ll tell you what’s most interesting and important to me. Embarrassed to share it with the world? Put it in the contact box and send it directly to me.
“ Worry about everything else after your story is written.” ~~Naomi D. Nakashima
Conquer Self-Doubt: A Guide to Writing Your Book with Confidence
Written by Naomi D. Nakashima, Author of Write Out Loud
One of the biggest questions people ask me when they sit down to start writing a book is how do they start? It all feels so big and overwhelming. No wonder people struggle to even begin tackling such an intimidating project.
But, if you are as passionate about your story as I am, then you can rest assured that self-doubt and overwhelm can be overcome and you can write with confidence! Your words have value; they can make a difference in the lives of others—and that’s why it’s worth taking the time to master this craft.
Identifying Your Fears and Creating a Plan to Overcome Them
One of the most common fears among aspiring writers is not having enough experience or knowledge to write a book. It’s intimidating, right? You’ve spent all your life looking up to the authors on your bookshelf, and now who are you to try to add your own name alongside theirs?
I think we’ve all felt that at some point in time. In fact, talking with other authors—hearing them share their experiences with this type of self-doubt—can help you feel more empowered to tackle this.
Another fear many new authors have is worrying if their story is going to appeal to readers. This is one of those things that sneaks up on us, usually because we’re overthinking our book.
For most authors, writing a book happens in sessions. But from the minute they start writing their first words, most authors are also thinking about their books constantly. They’re editing in the showers and developing scenes while they check the mail. And the more they think about this book, the more it feels boring. The more they geek out about their book to their readers, the more they fear they are overhyping the book and that they will ultimately be letting their readers down.
This is especially true for authors who grew up in an environment that made them feel like they were often disappointing to themselves or to others.
There are steps you can take to ensure you aren’t about to let down your readers:
- research what kinds of stories people enjoy (genre trends) and consider why your story might be different from others already written on the same topic
- look into potential markets for your work
- experiment with various types of structuring (plotting/outlining) until you find something that works best for your story
- also think about who would benefit from reading it and how they could use its content in their lives.
But also, remember that your story feels boring too you because you haven’t stopped thinking about it since you started writing about it. Your readers aren’t going to have that same experience because they’re going to be reading your story for the first time.
Of course, I can tell you not to worry about this until I’m blue in the face and that’s not really going to be very helpful. If you want a better way to overcome this fear, write down some of those things you’re afraid are going to disappoint or let down your readers in any way and use that list to make sure they don’t happen.
And with this list in hand, not only can you make sure to address them as you write, but you can also pass this list on to your editor to watch for those items at the same time.
Creating an Outline
Putting together an outline can also help boost your confidence. First, everything that you will have listed earlier, you can make sure to address them all right inside the outline so that you don’t forget to add them into your book.
Creating an outline can also help you identify areas where you might need to do some extra research, which can help you feel better about know what you’re going to write.
Write and Never Look Back
One thing that I am always reminding my clients of is that rules are for editors. It’s impossible to break your book as long as you keep writing and make a commitment to have it thoroughly edited (preferably by hiring a good editor). Writing is the perfect time to explore your thoughts, follow your creativity, and experiment with your storyline.
And you have a chance to fix everything you’re worried about before anyone has a chance to see any mistakes. Even your editor! So go wild, write what you like. Worry about everything else after your story is written.
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed at times or doubt oneself—this is normal! And writing a book can make those feelings seem bigger because we know how much of an impact our books can have. Remember to focus on the story; remind yourself of how good your story is. It was good enough to inspire you to write a whole book, after all.
Being in the 2019 Pitch Wars Mentorship Program
By JL Lycette
I am so grateful for the Pitch Wars community and my mentorship with them in 2019. For those unfamiliar,Pitch Wars was a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns chose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offered suggestions on how to make the manuscript shine for an agent showcase. The mentor also helped edit their mentee’s pitch for the contest and their query letter for submitting to agents. It ran from 2012 to 2022.
I started drafting my book, The Algorithm Will See You Now, in late 2016. Although I’d been writing and publishing personal essays, I had never written a book before, and, looking back, I can see I had no idea what I was doing at the beginning. In 2018, I started sending out queries. Like many new writers, I made the mistake of querying way too early when the book was far from ready. (Also, those early queries were terrible! Lol).
Then, through the online writing community, I learned about Pitch Wars. In the fall of 2019, I applied on a whim, never dreaming my book would have a chance. But to my happy surprise, it was selected for the Pitch Wars class of 2019. (The working title of my manuscript then was “The Frailty of Matter,” a line from the Oath and Prayer of Maimonides).
After selection, mentees worked with their mentors over three months to revise their manuscripts and prepare them for the online “showcase.” If a literary agent expressed interest, we could send our submission materials (or a full manuscript if they requested). We were also free to then query other agents. Our class’s showcase was in February 2020. Here’s an interview with me and my pitch wars mentor just before the showcase.
But long story short, I didn’t end up being a “Pitch Wars success story.” I received a few full requests and also queried widely, but ultimately, I didn’t land literary agent representation. Over the next few months of 2020, we were, of course, in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I realized that agents and publishers had little interest in medical thrillers. (And who could blame them? We were all living in a real-life one).
So as painful as it was on a personal level, I shelved the book for a few years. But I had gained something far more valuable from Pitch Wars—a cadre of writing friends who have become ongoing beta readers and critique partners to this day.
With the help of my new writing support group, I ultimately went back and did another major revision of the book. When another journey into the query trenches ended again in countless rejections, I was demoralized but not ready to give up. I still believed my book had something important to say to the world, even if I hadn’t been successful in convincing literary agents. Whenever I doubted that, I would remind myself that my Pitch Wars mentor had also seen something worthwhile in it.
So I decided to explore a different avenue—publishing with a small press. I researched on Publisher’s Marketplace and sent out a small batch of submissions.
In May 2022, when Musk put in his bid for Twitter, I realized it provided a way to help publishers understand how my story about algorithms in healthcare was relevant and timely. I pitched it with something along these lines: “Billionaires and their biased algorithms taking over social media are only the start. Just wait until they get ahold of your healthcare.”
That garnered immediate requests to read the manuscript and, ultimately, an offer of publication. (I wrote a little more about that on my blog here: https://jenniferlycette.com/what-if-elon-musk-was-in-charge-of-your-healthcare/)
There was a time, right before Pitch Wars 2019, when I almost gave up on the book—and writing fiction in general. Now, I have one novel published, and the second slated for publication later this year. The support and guidance of the Pitch Wars community were invaluable in helping me get here, even if it ended up being on a nontraditional path.
One of the best parts of having been a part of Pitch Wars is now seeing the books of other members of Pitch Wars ’19 out in the world. I’ll show my husband their book cover and say, I know them! They were Pitch Wars!
May Brings Longer Days
in the Northern Hemisphere
Pick a line from the choices below or take one from the book of your choice.
- Use it as the start of your own story.
- For a change of pace, use the same line as the ending of a story.
- Which was easier? Any idea why?
If you’d like to share your story, put it in the message box below. I’ll write back and tell you what I love. Maybe I can suggest places where you can submit it.
- “There’s a small wooden cross staked into the ground on the side of the road with the date of his death written on it.” —Colleen Hoover in Reminders of Him
- “The wildfire was coming.” –Lynda Smith Hoggan in Our Song
- “Time robs us of chances for reconciliation.” –Marylee MacDonald in Montpelier Tomorrow
April Prompt: What does spring look like where you live? What does it sound, feel, taste, and smell like? Do you hear the gushing of swollen rivers or see plants showing new buds? Is the air sweeter? The sun warmer? Or do the winds spread a chill? As you can tell from the photo, I live in California, where we have been inundated by atmospheric rivers.
Pick a particular plant that blooms in the spring. Describe it.
- Start with a leaf or a bud.
- Then go on to the whole plant.
- What surrounds the plant?
- As you look up what do you see withing 3 feet of the plant?
- Within six feet?
- Within the immediate area?
- As far as the eye can see?
What message is there for your readers as spring rejuvenates nature?
20 questions to ask yourself when you need perspective on any draft. You can write your answers in your journal.
Tired of your own opinions? Try answering as your protagonist would, and see what you discover. How is her voice different from yours?
- What does the main character want?
- What can she do to get it?
- What is in his way?
- Does each character have a unique voice or do they all sound about the same?
- What message am I trying to convey in this story?
- What is the action?
- What conflicts exist?
- Does the tension rise? How much? Why does it matter?
- When one conflict is resolved, does another one come up?
- What makes the conflicts matter to the reader?
- Who will my audience be?
- What are they expecting to find in this story?
- How can I entertain them?
- How can I surprise them?
- What is unique about this story?
- What is universal about this story?
- What can I delete to improve the flow?
- What can I add to improve the imagery?
- How can I get perspective on this story?
- How can I answer these questions without getting feedback from others?