Developing the Inner Witness

Here is sure evidence that I am a born writer: By high school, I couldn’t walk down the hallway or open my locker without a little story-teller voice whispering in my ear, “With stealthy steps, Elizabeth paced the institutional hall, fluorescent lights buzzing overhead, until she stopped, suddenly, at a combination lock.” My every lived moment was instantly narrated. Call it a self-consciousness, psychosis, or literary genius, regardless, I had an instinctive, even impulsive need to relate events which was only released by writing.

Over the years my inner narrator has served me well, mostly because I’ve learned to work with her. She’s the story-teller in me as well as the essayist, the self that happily hops on a train of thought and rides it across the page. As a teacher, I’m particularly good at facilitating the development of my students’ reflective voices. “What’s your story?” is a great question to begin with, but it must be followed by “What do you make of your story?” before creation really begins. What do you think—and feel and wonder and deeply know—about your experience? (more…)

Writing as Listening

On a good morning of writing, the words leave my head entirely and reside in my fingers. Writing is a quiet business. Once I tried to explain this to a spiritual director—the way my heart stills and the room pulses with silence—but she didn’t believe me. How can you work with words and be quiet at the same time? Surely it’s impossible. (more…)

Six Ways Blogging Helps You Be A Better Writer—And Person

deskwdaffodilsTwenty-two years ago I started writing a monthly column for my church newsletter. I appreciated the immediate feedback. If a member of my congregation disagreed with something I’d written, I’d hear about it on Sunday. Usually I received a lot of encouragement.

As people outside church expressed interest, I sold subscriptions to the column for $12 a year, printed out copies, and put them in the mail. Eventually the internet arrived, and the blogging phenomenon; I posted my “column” for years before I deigned to call it a “blog.” Nine years ago I added a second monthly entry on writing. A tally of my slow and steady posts is around 370—a figure that stuns me today. Here are some thoughts on the hidden value of all that writing: (more…)

Seeing Again—and Again, and Again…

bly-editsWhenever I speak about writing and inevitably mention revision, people roll their eyes. Even experienced writers. Even published writers. A few years ago I pitched my book about revision to a series of editors at the Associated Writing Program’s conference; each and every one laughed at me.

Revision is dreaded, universally. Even those like myself who thrive in revision understand the sentiment. Change is hard. Changing the way we see our creations and then changing the creations themselves is especially challenging. But it’s even worse than that. To change the way we see our creations, we ourselves have to change. We have to willingly step away, shift positions and perspective, and look again. Ugh! (more…)

Goodness Gracious

img_0571I can’t tell you how many times writers hand me a stack of pages and ask, “Is it any good?”

I’ve stopped answering this question. Sure, some writing is better than others. Sure, I have strong opinions about what makes a good story. But I’ve become increasingly wary of writers’ need to ask this question and my ability to answer it.

When a work-in-progress is deemed “good” by a reader, what purpose does this serve? All artists—all humans—want and need external affirmation; to continue hard work, we need our efforts affirmed and the essence of our endeavors recognized. (more…)

Liberating Stories

bknecklaceFirst thing in the morning I make my tea, sit in the red chair, and read the early Christian mystics. Then Gwyn wakes, curls in my lap, and we read Greek myths. I bustle off to work where I write stories, read emerging writers’ stories, review published stories, and teach others how to create effective stories. I return home to Gwyn listening to an audio book. I read magazines on the toilet. I listen to Gwyn read her homework. I tell her a bedtime story. Finally, exhausted, I curl up with a good novel.

I’m steeped in stories.

When I take the stuff of my life and make it into a story, I feel myself and my world transformed. I come alive. I participate in ongoing creation. One of my greatest delights is that I get to support others in this work. When I teach writing, I help others know the “aliveness” that, as Ann Belford Ulanov says, “springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us.”

Is it any wonder, then, that my most intimate name for God is Story? (more…)