Seven Tips for Aspiring Writers

Tips for Writers

A friend of mine recently took the time to read my blog. She too enjoys writing and wanted to know what advice I have for her on how to get started.

I was humbled and surprised by her request. In so many ways I still consider myself a novice in the world of writing. What credentials do I have to be giving tips to an aspiring writer?

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. For many years, I kept my writing to myself. Having always enjoyed the writing work the teachers assigned in school, I have always kept a journal, and have written poems as a teenager that I never shared. The blog was only started in 2009, the writing course I completed in 2011, which is the same year I started working on the novel that I am yet to finish. It was only a few months ago I attained my first paid writing job with Faith Catholic.

As I said, I am still a novice in the world of writers. However, I am taking a leap here and writing this post for my friend and others who are thinking of writing. Much of this advice I received from other writers, friends and priests.

  1. Write! Stop thinking about it, stop aspiring to it. Just write. Write anything, but write every day. Even if all you write is a journal entry. Your life is your writing. Keep a notebook in your purse, back pack, car or desk. Throughout your day, when you read a great quote, hear an inspiring lyric in a song, have a thought you don’t want to forget, write it down. Remember to note the author of the quote or lyric that is not your own. Give credit where credit is due. You never know how someone else’s writing can inspire your own. So write it down.
  2. Pray! For Christian writers, this should probably be number one. I believe Christian writers have a greater responsibility. I have said this before a previous post. Writing isn’t just about sharing my opinions, it has the potential to bring others closer to Christ, and therefore prayer is essential to a Christian writer. I keep a prayer journal. It is a great tool as I read past entries and am reminded of all the prayers that have been answered. Occasionally my prayer journal does inspire a post I write for my blog or an article for submission to a magazine. Usually, I share the lesson I learned without the details of my personal situation. You don’t have to share details of your life to make for interesting writing. I write in response to the inspirations I receive in prayer. Sometimes I complete a blog post or article in one sitting, other times it takes days or weeks to complete. I go where the Holy Spirit leads me.
  3. Be Consistent! You learn by doing, the more you write the better writer you will become. I try to post a blog once a month and I have been working on a novel for about two years now. Posting more often would be ideal and I look forward to having that novel completed. Being a full-time wife, homeschooling Mom, daycare provider and working in various apostolates, leaves very little time for much else. I am amazed by other women who provide new blog posts weekly, or even daily. Maybe someday.
  4. Share! God didn’t provide you with a talent for writing so you could keep it to yourself. I know it’s a huge step outside of yourself to share your writing. My stomach used to go into a knot just before hitting ‘post’ or ‘share’. Sending a proposal or query letter to a magazine or publisher was even more difficult. What was I afraid of? Rejection? Ridicule? (More on this in upcoming tips) My first step to sharing my writing with the world was starting a blog. I started with Blogspot, then I created a second one with WordPress, and this is my third blog. I know another writer started by sending out an e-mail newsletter to all of her contacts, she now has a blog as well, and she has published a book.
  5. Do Not Fear! If you want to be a paid published author, expect many rejections at the start. Don’t get discouraged. Now, I could be wrong about this. You could be the next author to make it big overnight. However most writers need time to hone in on their skill, find their own voice and their particular niche. I don’t worry about rejection letters anymore. I see it as an opportunity to grow in humility and detachment. Yes, detachment from my writing. If you are going to tackle some controversial topics, as I have on my blog. Be prepared for the occasional reader who doesn’t like what you have to say. Don’t be concerned about who is reading your work. If you are praying and writing in response to inspirations you receive in prayer the Holy Spirit will bring the readers that need to read what you wrote.
  6. Be Detached! As I mentioned above this helps you to accept those rejection letters and you grow in virtue. Most of the time I feel like the Holy Spirit is guiding my pen or guiding my fingers over the keyboard. Even if the stats on my blog show only one or two people read my most recent post, I trust that those are the people who needed to read it. Also, it’s good to be detached from your writing since many times you will have to scrap an idea and rewrite it. It’s much easier to edit and rewrite an article or a story that you have not grown attached to.
  7. Focus! There is a plethora of information on-line for writers and countless books that have been written for writers. I know this post just got added to the list of resources available too. Reading is a key component of a writer’s life. In effort to learn as much as I can from other writers I have found myself overwhelmed and overloaded with articles, books and e-mails from writers. If all you are doing is reading about writing, its defeats the purpose of your desire to write. Taking us back to tip number one….just write. Choose one or two reliable sources, talented writers you want to emulate. The best sources I found are the works of the saints. Many saints were writers. Whatever you are reading, make sure you are also taking the time to write.

There you have it for now. There is more that could be said on this topic, but the goal is not to keep you reading, but to get you writing. You can only start once. Once you start, you just have to continue.

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Grief and Blessing, All in One Day

blessedIn this post I share with you a talk I gave at a Dynamic Women of Faith conference in Toronto a few years ago. Yesterday, January 21st, marked the anniversary of my dad’s passing. You can read what I have learned through the mourning process in an earlier post titled, “Learning through Mourning.” As you continue reading you will see that this date now holds two significant memories. Grief and blessing mixed in one single date.

After three years of trying to conceive, we learned we were pregnant on March 25th, 2011. This date was significant for a few reasons. My father had just passed away on January 21st. 2011, and March 25th is his birthday, and it was also the feast day of the Annunciation!

My baby was born in mid November that year, and when he was 2 months old, he caught what we thought was just a bit of a cold. One night, on January 18th he developed a fever and his breathing was irregular. When we arrived at the hospital 5 minutes later he was cyanotic and lethargic. Thankfully the nurses in the emergency department acted quickly. They took us in to the resuscitation room.

My baby was unresponsive at first. As I held him and the oxygen mask to his face and the nurse’s attempted to insert an IV into his little arms. I felt the tears stream down my cheeks and began to pray.

At first, it wasn’t much of a prayer. I was talking to God and started by saying, “Would you really give him to us for such a short time and then take him away?”

Immediately I realized that God could do whatever he wanted and so I began to beg that He wouldn’t take him. I called on the saints, and especially asked Mother Mary for her strength. If God was going to take my baby that night, I would need her quiet strength and her faith since she to had to witness her son suffer and die.

Lastly, I prayed to my father, whom I have reason to believe is in heaven. I asked him to intercede for his grandson, since his birth brought us much consolation after my dad passed away.

In hindsight, that moment to me, was similar to Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. At that moment, I had to come to terms with the fact that God was calling my son home to him. The looks of panic on the nurses and the doctor’s face, and my son’s condition told me that his life could end here. I felt myself preparing to deal with it, while still asking that this not be so.

My son had to receive an IO – Inter Osseous instead of an IV- Inter Venous. This meant they had to drill into his bone to give him the medicine he needed, because his veins kept collapsing.

An hour or so later, we were airlifted to Sick Children’s hospital. My son had contracted a common but serious illness called Respiratory Syncytial Virus. He had responded well to the treatment initiated at our local hospital, what followed was in effort to support and watch his progress.  The pediatrician monitoring his care during recovery made it clear that the IO saved my baby’s life!

Our last night in the hospital, happened to fall on the one year anniversary of my father’s passing, in the very same hospital. I was anxious about having to stay at the hospital that night. I knew I would relive the painful memory of the last moments I spent with my father the year before. However, once again I was being called to trust that God had designed this.

It just so happened that I finished feeding him at 5:00 a.m. on January 21, 2012 which was around the exact time my father had passed away. While I held my baby, with tears streaming down my face, he was looking up and smiling at me.

I understood then, that God allowed me to share a new memory. While January 21st, marks the anniversary of my Dad’s death, it now also marks the day my son was sent home after his miraculous recovery.

I believe it is necessary for all of us to ponder how God is acting in our lives. That is what this story is about, God’s action and my call to hope and trust.

Massacre of the Infants and Abortion

 

HolyInnocents.

Here is a paragraph my son wrote in Grade 5 about the Feast Day of Holy Innocents:

In the Gospel, Herod ordered the death of all the boys under the age of two. In today’s society, some mothers have their unborn children killed by abortion. Do you see any similarities? Herod was afraid that when Jesus grew up he would take Herod’s place as king. Some mothers have an abortion because they are afraid of raising a child without support.  The prophecy of Rachel weeping for her children reminds me of the mothers who regret having the abortion. Herod was deceived into thinking that the murder of the infants was the solution to his dilemma, just as many mothers and doctors believe that abortion is the right thing to do. I hope and pray that abortion will end in my lifetime.

1, 2, 3….TRIUMPH!

Triumph movie

If you have watched “The Triumph” movie, and you stayed to the end then you recognize this cheer from the blooper reel. This movie has shown throughout Canada and U.S. over the last few months with great success. After viewing the movie today, I can see why.

The Triumph” is a documentary about the apparitions of Mother Mary in Medjugorje. I have never been to Medjugorje and while I was curious to watch the movie, I went today because I was invited to write a review. Having little knowledge of the apparitions in Medjugorje did not affect my ability to enjoy this film.  I will try not to spoil the movie in this review because I truly believe everyone should see this film.

Before commenting on the actual film I like to clarify that I always attempt to align my writing with the teaching of the Catholic Church. First of all, these apparitions in Medjugorje have not been approved by the Vatican. Mainly because investigations usually begin when the apparitions have stopped and in this case the claim is that the apparitions still continue to this day.  I know all things are possible with God. As indicated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church #67 Throughout the ages, there have been so-called “private” revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.

Christian faith cannot accept “revelations” that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such “revelations”.

Through this I understand that a Catholic is not obliged to believe in these apparitions, and we are to reject any private revelations that go against the teachings of Christ and His Church. I don’t see any harm in staying informed on what is happening in Medjegorje, and having spoken to a few individuals who have travelled there, I think it is fair to say that this trip has not damaged their faith. We are called to tread with discernment and caution as we contemplate the possibility of these apparitions being authentic.

This documentary provided an opportunity for me to learn more about what is going on in Medjugorje through the eyes of a 28 year old man. In the first few minutes I realized some may have felt like it was a tourism ad “Come on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje.” However, that is not what struck me. For someone like me who does not have the means at this time in my life to travel to Medjugorje personally, it was like the makers of The Triumph movie brought Medjugorje to me.

In this documentary we follow a young man named Ben and his experience and trip to Medjugorje. Ben is a cradle Catholic, who fell away from his faith at some point, but still considers himself a believer. He is a Catholic with some issues, some questions and even some doubts.

“I believe in you Lord, help my unbelief.”

We can all relate to Ben who first arrives in Medjugorje as a skeptic. He makes some pointed statements that are worthy of some reflection. He expects to see a sign in order to believe there is truly something happening in Medjugorje. He recognizes this as a lack of faith. When we demand a sign, “what kind of faith is that?” He says.

The cinematography was excellent. Providing scenic views from the top of the hills, and the beautiful sunrises, I am partial to scenic views, so this kept my attention. When the pilgrims climb the mountains, the filming is done in a way to appear that we are climbing the hill with them. It was very engaging with the use of humour, adventure and even some heartfelt moments that had my eyes welling up with tears.

The allegories in the film were easy to identify. Cross Mountain is a mirror of our faith life. It is a three-hour trek, through rocky and muddy ground, that must be done on foot and many do this walk in bare feet. Ben is reluctant to make this trek. In life we desire union with God but we don’t want to climb the mountain.

Ben struggles with addiction. It is an addiction that is easily minimized or justified. He gives in to binge drinking, smoking cigarettes and marijuana. Even his issues are an allegory for sin which we all have to deal with. This film challenges us to look deep within ourselves and see what we are doing wrong. This is what Ben is challenged to do. He realizes that if we are not fighting for God, then we are not fighting.

We also hear from Mirjana who is one of the visionaries. Her humility and faithfulness shine through the camera. One of the greatest messages for me from Mirjana is the message that we cannot judge. Mother Mary asks us to live in peace. She is the Queen of Peace. Mother Mary asks us to respect the freedom of each man to believe or to sin. We cannot judge others for what they believe or for what they do. However, we are called to have a pure heart.  An impure heart cannot do good and just things. Even a believer can have impure heart.  God doesn’t allow war to happen, what God allows is for us to use our freedom. We choose war or we can choose to love.

This film can be enjoyed by all, those who share in the Catholic faith and even those who are not Catholic. Ben speaks with an Orthodox minister and Muslim Imam. In Bosnia the Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims live in peace providing an example for the world over.

There was nothing in this film that was contrary to our Catholic beliefs. In fact, the message encourages and elevates the elements of our faith, the Eucharist, the Priesthood as a bridge to Heaven, and the love of God for all of us, which can be found in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Mary does nothing more than embrace us all as her children and bring us to her heart which is infused with God’s love.

What is The Triumph? It is the conversion of hearts to live this peace, respect and love for souls. When God triumphs in the hearts of men, then He will also triumph in the world over.

Over all “The Triumph” is a message of hope and reminder to pray and cultivate a relationship with God.

In Ben’s words, “What is the point of  a life changing experience of God’s presence if we don’t take that change into our daily life?”

That’s enough reading, now check out the website and commit to watching the film if you haven’t already.

www.thetriumph.net

Peace, Joy and Hope in Suffering

peacehopejoy

This time of year can be especially difficult for those who are mourning the death of a loved one, or dealing with problems in their marriage or family, facing personal health concerns or financial struggles, watching a family member suffer, or some other emotional turmoil or spiritual darkness. Everybody has some suffering to endure, whether we suffer in silence or not. Pain is pain. It cannot be measured or weighed. It can only be endured by those who are suffering.

Jesus never minimized suffering. I don’t think we are called to do this either. In our effort to console others who suffer we may find ourselves saying things like, “it could be worse.” Maybe it could be worse, and while comparing our suffering to others may help us be thankful for our own situation, it seems like a selfish approach. Are we thankful that we are not enduring as much suffering as someone else? This reminds me of lyrics from an old Christmas tune, “…Tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you…”

I believe it’s best to acknowledge our pain and the pain of others. We can offer prayers for each other, and we can help each other find the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas brings the promise of peace, joy and hope.

How can we find peace, joy and hope in the midst of suffering? If we spend some time pondering the very first Christmas we see it included suffering, uncertainty and turmoil. Somehow, in the midst of all the trouble Mary and Joseph faced they must have also been filled with peace, joy and hope.

This young couple are forced to travel, Joseph on foot and Mary, though late in her pregnancy must travel with only a donkey to give her relief from walking alongside Joseph. Once they arrive in Bethlehem, they face crowds of travellers. As we know crowds of people who are tired from travelling are not the friendliest or most cheerful. Mary begins to experience symptoms of labour, while Joseph is challenged to provide a suitable place for her to give birth.nativity

Finally, he finds a place. Though it is not suitable it will have to do. Scripture doesn’t indicate it, but I assume, like any other man, Joseph would have been frustrated and humiliated to expect his bride to go through labour and delivery in a cave with only a straw bed, and a manger to lay their baby in. After all, he was a righteous man he would have desired to give Mary a proper, sanitary or at least private room for her to give birth in.

Once Mary and Joseph accept the cave and Jesus is born, they must also accept visitors in this humble abode. One of these visitors brings a warning. Their new-born baby’s life is already threatened.  To keep him safe, Joseph and Mary must flee, travelling with a new-born baby. Where is their peace, joy and hope?

“My peace I give you.”

Jesus brings peace. We usually seek peace externally. This external peace is temporary. We experience it in a moment of silence, watching a sunset, listening to relaxing music or sitting by the fire. These temporary moments of external peace can help draw our hearts to God and point to eternal peace. Internal peace doesn’t come from our surroundings or our circumstance, not lasting peace anyway. Situations change, God does not. If God wanted to be a distant God he would not have chosen to become one of us. He chose to become one of us because he wants to be known personally and intimately.  We find peace internally because Christ desires to dwell within us, even if all we have to offer him is a straw bed in a cave. We can read scripture, sit in silent prayer and contemplate God becoming a human baby.

Christ is eternal, therefore his peace is eternal. He dwells within us, peace comes from within us.

The same can be said for joy. However, this is where many of us mistake joy for happiness. Happiness is worldly and temporary. Joy is eternal.  We live in a fallen world, a world where sin abounds and the consequence of sin is suffering. Since we will always have sin in this world, we will always have suffering. Jesus gave suffering meaning. He showed us how to use our suffering to make up for our sins and the sins of the world. Through his resurrection he opened the gates of heaven for us. Heaven is where we will have eternal joy. Our suffering is the path God has laid out for us to get to our eternal home.

Christ invites us to “pick up our cross and follow him,” He never said we wouldn’t have a cross. The saints offer great examples for us on how to experience joy in the midst of suffering. Taking time everyday to thank God for all the blessings we have received will also help us to keep this internal joy. There is always something to be thankful for. We have all received blessings, that we are alive, that we are able to read this post, means at the very least we have a computer or other device.

The moments of happiness we experience in this life, encourage us, give us consolation and strength to continue in our suffering. These moments of joy, also give us hope.

Christ is our hope. He hopes in us, that we will cooperate with his grace and respond to his invitation to live in union with him. We hope in him, as our deliverer.

Psalm 91 promises us, “Whoever clings to me (God),  I will deliver, who ever knows my name I will set on high, All who call on my name I will answer, I will be with them in distress, I will deliver them and give them honor. With length of days I will satisfy and show them my saving power.”

How did Mary and Joseph experience peace, joy and hope in the midst of their troubles? They had Jesus physically with them, he who is the Prince of Peace, our Joy and our Hope.

We too have Jesus with us. He promised to be with us always. In every Mass he is physically present in the Eucharist. In every prayer, every thought and every tear, he is present with us. He is waiting for us to open the door of our heart to him, so he can dwell within us and infuse us with his peace, joy and hope.

Jesusatthedoor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will you let him in?

From My Womb to God’s Arms

8 weeks

I thought I had shed all the tears there were to shed over my miscarriage last May. Yet, there I was on a cold December afternoon, after marveling at putting up our Christmas tree and a few other Christmas decorations.

All of a sudden, I was hit with a wave of sadness, grief and tears that I could not stop. A thought crossed my mind, “It’s that time of year to prepare for Christmas, if I hadn’t miscarried this time of year we’d also be preparing to meet a new baby.”

Last May, while attending a women’s silent retreat I was 8 weeks pregnant. During the weekend I was a bit worried about some spotting, but it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that the spotting became a regular flow that would not stop. My husband met up with me and we spent a few hours in the emergency department of the hospital.

Throughout those first few hours I still had hope. Hope that the bleeding would stop. Hope that the baby was still alright. It wasn’t until the familiar painful contractions set in that I accepted the reality of the situation. I had my prayer journal with me, and I pulled it out of my purse and wrote one line, it would be my only entry that day.

“From my womb to God’s arms.”

Even now as I write the details of this day. I am not resentful, or angry with God. However, I am sad that I did not get to meet this little soul.  The pain is so very real. When I remember that day it’s not just the physical and emotional pain I experienced with the miscarriage, that comes to mind. I was hit with another difficult reality that day. It was in the way I was treated at the hospital. I am certain that a woman who goes into the hospital to have an abortion is treated with more dignity than I was that day.

My husband and I were left to go through this experience in the waiting room, in front of everyone else who was waiting. We were not given a private room to mourn the loss of our baby, we were not given and special means, to collect the remains of our baby.

No special means to collect the remains of my baby. I received her in my hands. I knew I was holding her. I didn’t want to let her go, but what else could I do? My baby’s remains were flushed away, and it was as if someone had ripped my heart out of my chest. My sobs were heard in the waiting area, in that moment it didn’t matter to me.

I went home from the hospital that day, without even being looked at by a doctor. My dignity as a woman, as a mom degraded. I never felt so alone. My husband and I vowed that should we ever experience a miscarriage again we will just stay home, go through it together, praying and crying in the privacy of our own home.

The pain associated with a miscarriage is not validated in today’s society. Children are seen as commodities. To be attained or disposed of as a matter of convenience. When a child dies, no matter if it was 8 weeks or 8 months, the pain experienced is deep. The sadness comes in waves. It is a lonely sadness, a lonely pain because we women are left to endure, to overcome it on our own. We are left alone in our grief and mourning.

I know this child is a gift. I know that Mother Mary has my baby in her arms. I know that I will meet my baby one day. All of this gives me hope. One day I will understand why God allowed that child to be conceived and to be a part of our lives for only a few short weeks.

If you are experiencing a similar sadness and grief over a miscarriage, know that you are not alone. I came across these books the other day and thought I’d share it with you though I haven’t read them yet myself.

Empty Arms

Losing You Too Soon

I Never Held You

I Will Carry You …and a few more titles

 

Be assured of my prayers.

How Miley’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ Ruined Intimacy

 

Intimacy

Some songs, I have no interest in giving a second listen too. Up until a few days ago, Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” was one of those songs. I agree with whoever said it first, her video certainly did ruin a perfectly good song. However, I should mention I have not and do not ever intend to watch this video. Hearing about it from others is enough for me.

After a brief discussion with my family I decided to give this song a good listen. I have to say I was surprised by what “Wrecking Ball” can teach us about physical and emotional intimacy in relationships.

I was reminded of what Christopher West has named some popular artists “Twisted Mystics” I agree with his point, that many artists speak truth in their work. Their longing for deeper meaning, love and truth about their own human dignity and their sexuality shows in their work. They may go about it all wrong.  I dare say, Miley Cyrus is a ‘twisted mystic’.

Without breaking down the song line by line, here is my take on the lessons we can draw from this song. You can read the lyrics here.

It’s a song about a girl who fell in love hard and fast. Which implies that she gave herself physically very early in the relationship and obviously outside of marriage, as the relationship developed she desperately and forcefully sought emotional intimacy. Her force only resulted in pushing him away and she is left burned and wrecked.

It’s a natural defence mechanism to build an invisible wall around ourselves. If someone attempts to break down that wall by force, we will frantically work to reinforce it. Hence begins a war of sorts.

The only situation in which another person will let us inside the wall is when they feel safe enough. The best way for another person to feel safe, is when we open up. By letting the other inside my wall, I am saying that I trust them. This will usually be reciprocated in time.  In any relationship, where there is to be intimacy, parents and children, siblings, friends, and husbands and wives, we have to show that our heart is a safe place for theirs. If we are forcing our way in, they will feel threatened.

Is that all that went wrong for the girl in the song? This is a tragic break up song. Not only do we see how we cannot force the other into emotional intimacy. We also see the damaging effect of starting the relationship with physical intimacy. There is a reason God’s plan for marriage includes physical intimacy once the emotional barriers have been removed. The emotional intimacy provides that safe place for physical intimacy to occur. Even those who are married today, who did give themselves to each other physically before marriage, face consequences for having gone about attaining intimacy contrary to God’s plan. After years of marriage, they are still trying to attain emotional intimacy that was not established concretely from the start. When we have already invested so much of ourselves into the other person, it is difficult to accept that they are not letting us into their side of the wall.

Contrary to the message in Lady Gaga’s song, when we attempt to give our bodies, without giving our heart we will end up wrecked. We cannot separate our physical body from our spirit, our emotions or our soul. I could write a separate post on how what we do with our bodies affects every aspect of our human being.

There is a powerful lesson in Miley’s song, not only about providing a safe place for our spouse, children, parents and friends to be emotionally intimate, but also for our youth to understand the benefits of practicing chastity.

Chastity is a virtue that strengthens every vocation. Giving yourself physically to another outside of marriage does nothing to strengthen marriage. Chastity isn’t about saying “no” to sex, it’s about saying “yes” to authentic love, truth and beauty.

There are many resources for those who do want to say “Yes” to authentic love. There are apostles who have dedicated their lives to spreading the message and beauty of chastity.

Here are a few resources:

Chastity.com

If You Really Loved Me

Fill These Hearts

Theology of the Body for Teens

Real Life Catholic