Writing Structure for the new year – or anytime…

I wrote this for the Fellowship of Christian Writers newsletter – The Ready Writer. I thought it would be appropriate to revisit the topic with the new year almost upon us.

Fall – Time to Think Structure

As I write this article, it is late August and the leaves on some trees are foreshadowing the next season. This time of year brings thoughts of starting school, swinging into the beginning of the end of the year. This year has been a very busy one for me with family issues at the forefront and my writing has moved to a seriously far back burner. Maybe yours has too. But, I am looking forward to cooler temperatures and carving out more time for my writing.

In order to make that time more productive, there are things that I can do right now to begin planning for that.

First, I can begin thinking about how to carve out the time I need to write. Most mornings, I am headed out to work and that is not a good time for me to try to get my head into whatever story I am working on except, perhaps, for making a few notes on ideas I had overnight. My best time for writing seems to be either just before or an hour or two after dinner during the week. Early Saturday afternoons are good also. Sometimes, I write at really odd times. I wrote one short story sitting in the car while my wife went blueberry picking. Setting and keeping a regular daily time is what I am aiming for here. Setting a time, word or page count may come into the mix as well. Establishing a habit is what needs to happen for me.

You need to figure out what time works best for you. Every one of us is different. Regularity can be good in lots of different ways.

Second, I can think about where I write best. As I mentioned above, I wrote one story while sitting in the car. I have also found myself unusually productive sitting in a coffee shop surrounded by noisy people and loud music. I have noise reduction headphones I use that block out other sounds and allow me to just listen to the music I selected for my writing. Most often, though, I write at home. in a home office. I have also used a chair or tray in the family room to hold my laptop. For a short period of time, I used a board set up on my bed to hold the laptop while I sat in a chair. (This is how Francis Schaeffer wrote most of his books.) The actual location is not as important as how productive you are in that location. Right now my office is all cluttered up. I need to clear away some clutter and make it a more focused work space.

Try different spots. See what works best for you.

Third, I need to focus on what I am going to write. I have had two books swirling around in my head and, to some degree, written down in short story form along with a bunch of outlined notes. I wanted to expand them into full length books but kept getting stalled. I set those aside earlier this year to focus on writing short children’s stories for a magazine. I really set my sights on getting published in that magazine. Those of you in the FCW critique group got to read them. But, none of them were accepted. Then I saw a contest for a story about fairies and elves. My imagination jumped into high gear. I have been working on that story for several months and it is long past the deadline but…I still love the story. I have switched over to doing some serious outlining and want to integrate what I have learned from K.M. Weiland’s new book Structuring Your Novel. http://goo.gl/QymLLW I was knocked off my stool while reading her book about structure and really want to try it for this project.

What about you? Have you got some book in your head you’ve kept on the back burner for a long time. Got a fresh idea that just won’t let you go? Got some magazine articles you have been dying to write?

Let’s recap now…

  1. Take some time to get yourself organized. Figure a time (or times) that you can regularly devote to your writing. Jerry Bridges said that he wrote his wonderful book “Trusting God” in the “nooks and crannies” of a very busy life. Some people write only in short 15 minute bursts.

  1. Stake out a place to do your writing. Put your family on notice that when you are there you are working and they better be on fire before they interrupt you. (Just joking.) Try to find a place where you can be more or less alone and free from distractions.

  1. Determine what project you want to work on and see it through to the end. Persevere. Persist. Finish what you start.

Above all, pray. Pray for His guidance for inspiration as you set your goals and to honor your efforts to honor Him with your work.

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A silly story called – The Baby

“Well, Mrs. Johnson, how do you like your new baby boy. Isn’t he a handsome little fellow?”

“Well…he sure is, but…but…there seems to be…”

“He comes with all the latest features: a full head of blonde hair, corn flower blue eyes, guaranteed to be six feet tall, accelerated toilet training capabilities, full maturity in 6 years. Look, he’s growing already!”

“But, Doctor Hornsby, there seems to be…”

“He is fully functional immediately. Listen to that voice! You know, Mrs. Johnson, I’ll bet he’ll be a great singer someday –if he wants to be. We have included the superior intellect package at no extra cost.”

“But, Doctor Hornsby, there seems to be…”

“This model will also have excellent coordination and will be able to play all sports at the highest levels by the time he is in his early teens. Look, he’s grown nearly six inches already!”

“But, Doctor Hornsby, there seems to be…”

“What is wrong Mrs. Johnson? You sound like you’re not fully satisfied.”

“Oh no, Doctor Hornsby, it’s just that his head in on backwards.”

“Oh…so it is…well, no problem. We’ll just return him to the factory for some…(ahem)…adjustments.”

“But, Doctor Hornsby, that’s just not possible!”

“Why not Mrs. Johnson, it shouldn’t take too long to fix.”

“But, Doctor Hornsby, we opted for the natural birth method. He just won’t fit!”

 

 

 

 

Exercise your gift…

Below is a re post of an article I wrote for the Fellowship of Christian Writers newsletter, The Ready Writer. I thought it appropriate on a day we are all trying to figure out how to use our new Christmas gifts.

You Shall Write… “it is the gift of God…”

With Christmas approaching, a lot of people are thinking about gifts. The hustle and the bustle of the blessed season sometimes cause us to lose focus on either the ultimate gift giver, the ultimate gift or His gifts we have already received.

God has uniquely gifted each one of us as writers. I believe that we are gifted in order to bring glory to God. I am reminded of the Parable of the Talents where three men were given different amounts of His money for safekeeping while He was away. Several observations can be made in application to Christian writers.

Mat 25:14  “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone.

One The gift of writing we have been entrusted with belongs to the Lord. In the parable, the man entrusts his own money to his servants. The same is true of our gift of writing. It is His. But, He has entrusted it to us. It is of great value. Trust the Lord that He has given you something extraordinary and special. Because He did this, He also has a plan for us to use it.  What we have is not something that someone can just go out and get. It is not something that we could make for ourselves. It is a gift. It is a talent. It can be a means of exercising other gifts like teaching or encouraging or evangelism. Because of that we need to work on it and hone it so that it shines, so that it can be used properly and effectively. But first, we must choose to recognize, acknowledge and use the gift.

Mat 25:15  He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.

Two The gift He has given to each of us is unique and different from what He has given to others. In the Parable, the man gave different amounts of money to each man in proportion to their abilities. Some of us write small things like articles and short stories, some of us edit and proof read, others write novel after novel. Some people think that novelists are the only real writers. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to write in the novel format and failed each time. I lose interest in the story or can’t drag it out that long. I have another friend who says that she couldn’t write anything but novels. While I was trying to write novels, the well of ideas dried up and the words just would not come. It was like trying to ride uphill on a bicycle with a flat tire against the wind. I kept telling myself, if I was just a better writer, I could do this. Eventually, I just stopped writing at all. Then, this thought came to me. What was I writing when I enjoyed it and did it everyday? I thought about that for a bit and said, “ok, if I go back to what I was doing before, what would I write?” An idea popped into my head and I got excited about writing all over again. When I sat down to write, I popped out 1,000 words my first session. Since then, my enthusiasm has returned and research for the story is not a drag. If I am going with the gift what

Mat 25:19  “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money.

Three The Lord expects us to put the gift to work. He will ask us for an accounting of how we put his gift to work. I believe that God wants us to use our gifts to bring glory and honor to Him. That will mean different things to each one of us. For some of you, it could mean writing notes of encouragement. To others, it could mean writing devotional stories, Bible studies or poems. To still others, it could mean writing novels, short stories or Sunday school lessons/curriculum. Don’t put it off. Don’t listen to the lie that you’re not as good as so and so. Write more. Get better. Put the gift to work. Bathe your writing in prayer. Keep Him in mind as you write.

And, no matter what you write. Write it to glorify God. He is the giver of the gift. Let’s give Him a good report of how we used our gift so we can hear this from Him.

Mat 25:23  “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

A winter children’s story…

I wrote this story a few years ago…

The Winter Water Hazard

By: S.C. Mathisen

 

“Come on Johnny, let’s go! I want to skate on the old pond today. We’re only here in Millville visiting my grandparents for a week.” Susie said encouraging her friend Johnny to hurry into his coat, hat and mittens.

“I am hurrying, Susie” Johnny said sounding like he was already out of breath.

He had already put on two extra sweaters, long johns and an extra set of wool socks and was bent over trying to reach the laces of his hi-top insulated winter boots and just barely reaching them. Between the extra layers of clothing and the layers of Johnny’s round stomach, the laces were almost out of his reach. He got them and was now finishing up the final knot on his right boot.

“There, I’ve got the boots laced up. All I need to do now is to put on my hat and scarf and coat and mittens. You can never be too careful out in winter weather. Especially here in upper Minnesota! It’s really cold up here!”

“Great, now let’s go. We want to get out there and get back before it gets dark.” Susie said in eager anticipation.

When Johnny was finally ready, they headed out the back door and walked across the wide driveway, passed the barn and followed a path that took them across the cornfields plowed under after the harvest. The sky was a dull, steely gray and the ground was covered with white frost. They could see each breath they took. They talked excitedly about how much fun it was going to be to skate on a real frozen pond instead of the ice rink they practiced on back home in Crescent City.

After walking across fields for a time, the path led into what looked like a small bunch of trees.

“I think the pond is just on the other side of these trees,” said Susie.

“Wow, it sure is farther than I thought,” said Johnny as he slowed down to look up at all the tall trees.

“Come on Johnny, keep up!  It’s starting to snow.”

“I’m coming. I was just noticing how weird it is in here with all these trees covered in snow.”

“Yup, but we should be out of the woods in a couple of minutes if we walk fast.”

“Walk fast, that’s a really good idea. It’s kinda creepy in here. The snow is starting to come down real hard, the sky is getting to be a real dark gray and it’s getting hard to see.”

Johnny picked up the pace and started walking fast. He walked so fast Susie had trouble keeping up with him. The only sound was their feet rapidly crunching in the new fallen snow.

After several minutes of walking, taking different turns to follow what Susie thought was the path, she said with a shiver in her voice, “Johnny, does it seem like it’s getting darker instead of lighter?”

“Y-y-yes. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice and get scared. Why do you think I’m walking so fast?”

“Maybe we should turn around and go back.”

Johnny stopped suddenly and pointed toward his left. “Look there’s a clearing over there. Maybe we should go that way.”

“Ok.”

Johnny turned to his friend and said, “I thought you knew your way around on this farm. You should be the one giving directions. Are you lost?”

Susie looked around with a puzzled look on her face, “I thought I knew the way. I just don’t remember the woods taking this long to get through. I might be a little confused.”

“Oh great, you’re lost. And if you’re lost I’m lost too. Can you find your way back out of here?”

Trying to sound braver and more confident than she really felt Susie said “Sure, we just go back the way we came.”

“Right, we took so many twists and turns on the way here, I lost track of where we came from. I bet you did too!”

“I think I know what we need to do.”

“So do I, we need to pray. God know where we are and He can keep us safe.”

Susie smiled broadly, “That’s right Johnnie. He can and He will!”

Johnny began, “Lord, you know where we are and how to get us out of here. Please show us the way out.”

Susie joined in, “Yes Jesus, please help us to find our way out.”

They both said together “Amen!”

Johnny then turned and looked all the way around him said with a more determined tone, “Let’s head toward gap in the trees over there. If we can get out of these woods, I’m sure we can get back to the farm house.”

Susie, immediately perked up and said, “Ok Johnny, lead on.”

So off they went. Johnny led and Susie followed closely behind him. After a bit they were walking shoulder to shoulder. Each time one stepped on and snapped a fallen twig or branch they both jumped slightly and moved closer together.

Twenty minutes later at the edge of the forest, the sky had cleared and they found themselves in very bright sunlight standing on an overhang that looked down over the valley that contained Susie’s grandparents farm. They could see the farmhouse and barn in the distance.

“Wow! That sun is bright!” said Johnny, shielding his eyes. “How did we end up all the way over here?”

“I don’t know but I guess we walked farther than we thought. Look! There’s the old pond down there,” said Susie pointing off to her right and her familiar smile returning to her face.

“Wow! Somehow we managed to walk completely around it and end up all the way up here.”

“How do we get down there? I sure don’t want to go back the way we came.”

Johnny then pointed to the right but lower than Susie had, “It looks like there’s a trail over there that might take us down there. All we have to do is to follow this overhang till we get to it.”

Beaming at Johnny, Susie said, “Well? What are we waiting for?”

“I think we need to thank God for getting us out of the forest.”

“That’s right, Johnnie, we do. Let’s do it now.”

They joined in prayer. “Thank you, Lord for bringing us out of the forest.  Now help us to get back to the farm safely.” They looked at each other and said, “Amen!”

So off they went walking along the edge of the overhang and sometimes hanging onto tree branches to keep their balance.

Just as they approached the trail, they realized that they would have to cross a shallow, but wide and mostly frozen over creek to get to it.

After looking at the creek Johnny turned to Susie and said, “Whoa! That looks too wide to jump.”

Susie craned her neck looking up and downstream to see if there was another spot they could cross. “The underbrush is too thick to try anywhere else. It looks like we have to cross here or go back through the woods.”

Just then Johnny spotted a low branch hanging over the creek. “You know, we might be able to grab that branch and swing across.”

Before Susie could respond, Johnny had jumped up to grab the branch. He got a hold of it and began to swing but couldn’t hold on all the way across. He dropped onto the icy creek bed and his feet immediately slid downstream.

Susie watched in horror as Johnny began to fall and reached out to catch him but only succeeded in grabbing his coat pocket. That grip on Johnny pulled her off balance toward the creek bed and she fell toward him.

Soon the two of them were sliding down the iced over creek bed like it was a bobsled course. Johnny was feet first with Susie still gripping his pocket going down headfirst.

They careened downhill at getting faster by the minute, all the time bouncing off of the creek sides until they eventually shot out of the creek bed and across the old pond. At that point, they began spinning around like cartwheels.

They eventually came to a stop near the far side of the creek where they sat up and tried to get their bearings. Johnny was just about to speak up when they heard a familiar voice, “If you two are done ice dancing, maybe you’d like a ride back to the house.”

They looked up to see Susie’s Grampa Johnny with his horse drawn wagon at the edge of pond chuckling. Susie and Johnny looked at each other and then they began to laugh too.

You can also find this story online at:

http://www.short-story-time.com/the-winters-tale-the-winter-water-hazard.html

 

My Path to Publication

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the Fellowship of Christian Writers newsletter “The Ready Writer”.

It never occurred to me that I would ever be writing an article on this topic. In fact, when the idea was first proposed to me, I was going to say no. I have not really been “published”, at least not in the conventional sense that most people think of. I also don’t think of myself as a writer (in that conventional sense again).

Writers are novelists. I have never written a novel. I have two or three ideas for novels but I have a hard time getting traction with them. I am more of a story teller and a short story teller at that. Actually, I never set out to become a writer. I just wanted to tell Bible stories to kids in Sunday school. Let’s step back for a bit to see how that started.

I have been working with kids in church for a long time. I have worked in Sunday school and AWANA. The part I always liked best was story time where we got a chance to hear all those marvelous stories from the Bible. I love those stories and wanted the kids to love them too. The problem was that the stories usually got told in a way that was so dull and boring that the kids didn’t listen -or- learn anything.

All too often, the adult telling the story was as enthusiastic as a rock. It seemed like it was just a chore that had to be done. I wanted the stories to come alive for the children. That could never happen if the adult telling was as animated as a corpse.

I had already discovered that kids love to be read to. They love having stories told to them but, the stories need to be interesting and teller or reader had to inject some life into the telling.

I began offering to do the story telling because I thought I could do a better job. I had a background in theater so; I could read or tell them more dramatically. That worked well as long as I had good material to work with. But that was not always the case, so I dabbled in writing my own.

I volunteered to tell stories to first and second graders. My enthusiasm was quickly dampened when I realized that the material in the curriculum was really only designed to entertain the kids and not really tell them the stories from the Bible.

Out of frustration, I began to write out the stories myself so that the kids could hear the real story from the Bible. I thought that it would also be a good idea to tell the story from the point of view of a child in the story. I would write and read/tell my own version of the story that the lesson was based on. I got so that I enjoyed the writing as much as the reading. The kids would always sit quietly (mostly) and listen as I read my stories. That told me they were listening.

I also volunteered to tell stories to the fifth and sixth grade boys in AWANA. I would read/tell some of the same stories to them as well as write new ones for them as older boys. They were so well received by both the boys and the leaders I became encouraged to try to get them out to a wider audience.

I began looking for some way to publish them but they were the wrong size to fit into any magazine format that I could find.

Then I heard about the short story contest at www.short-story-time.com. The lady who runs that site is a Christian so I entered my story of Jairus Daughter and I won. Having no other outlet for my stories, I began to submit others to her for publication on her website. She told me how much she enjoyed them and they received a number of good comments from readers.

She approached me with the idea of taking my stories and publishing a book in Kindle format on Amazon. I was very intrigued by the idea and she offered to get the formatting done and acquire artwork to go with the stories.

I was thrilled. I spent time re-editing the stories (a number of you all in the FCW critique group helped me with that.) I sent them to her; she had her eleven year old daughter do the artwork. We went through the Kindle Direct publishing process and, about a year after we first talked about it, “The Kid Inside Bible Stories” was published on Amazon.

I have received a number of kind comments about the book. It has not been a best seller but, the stories have been purchased and read by children on three continents.

 

Proverbs 4 in 31 Days with Solomon

Read: Proverbs 4

Verse(s) that struck me:

Pro 4:20-27

(20)  My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words.

(21)  Don’t lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart,

(22)  for they bring life to those who find them, and healing to their whole body.

(23)  Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

(24)  Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech.

(25)  Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you.

(26)  Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path.

(27)  Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.

Reflection:

In verse 23, we are told to “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” This is especially important because of what the previous verses tell you to allow into it. If we listen closely to God’s words of wisdom and allow them to penetrate deep into our heart, they will guide us like an unshakeable compass that always points the right way. Following that compass will be the key to the best life we can have. Some additional pointers on how to navigate that properly guided life are the type of speech we use, where to focus our attention, planning to go the right way and resisting the impulse to go different ways.

Application:

In order to get God’s words of wisdom into our hearts we need to read His word. I would suggest reading it daily, Not just reading for reading’s sake, but carefully reading the passage chosen for the day and asking God to make it real. It needs to be real to you and in you. Read it. Think about it. Pray about how to enact what you learn into your life.

Prayer:

Lord of heaven and earth, bless us this day with a firm desire to spend time in your word. As we read it, Lord please make it real to us and in us. Firmly implant your word in our hearts so that we can be guided by it.  Help us to guard our hearts by keeping corrupt and perverse things from entering our lives. Lord, help us to live a life pleasing to you each and every day.