Application for Writing Mentorship

When I was 15, a friend a decade ahead of me took an interest in my writing, encouraging me along and not letting me get away with sloppy self-editing. Then when I was in my early twenties, I had an older mentor who did the same. In college I was surrounded by professors who simply would not accept anything less from me than my most excellent work. All of these helped make me who I am today. I am not the world’s best writer, but I am willing to be edited, willing to slay my darlings, and wanting to say things as well as I am able to say them.

I am not yet old (I don't think!) but I am recognizing more and more the need to pass the baton and to take part in encouraging those with a clear gift for writing to hone their craft. I made it my aim after I began using Patreon, that when I reached 200 supporters, I would begin a small mentoring group for writing. I first opened it to Patreon supporters, but I still have three openings and I would like to extend an invitation to those spaces to all Sayable readers now.

I am really excited to begin this group on March 1st. Before I issue the invitation to be a part of this group, though, I wanted to say a few things.

If your aim is to be published, this is not the group for you. Most of the advice out there for folks who want to get published is all about making connections, networking, building a platform, getting an audience, etc. I don't want to disparage those efforts, but I think the thing our world is really thirsting for is not more writers, but better writers. Becoming better writers takes time, feedback, brutal honesty, humility, a willingness to edit and be edited, patience, the ability to hear the word no, and not see a no as a deterrent but instead as a tool to shape and hone writing.

I will not be helping you get published quick because I think quick publishing is one of the worst things that's ever happened to good writing. I will also not be connecting you with any publishing platforms or sharing your social links or blogs during these 12 weeks. My job in this mentorship will be to help you become a better thinker, writer, and submitter of your own work on its own merits—not the merits of your story or who you know or wherever you think your work belongs.

There will be one week when I encourage you to submit your work on your own, without a personal connection, to an online or print publication where you know your piece would work. So much of the writing world these days is about who you know, but it's almost become like Tinder for dating. It removes the need for awkwardness and humility and messing up and learning along the way. I want to hold your hand in this process, but I will not do it for you.

Now that we’ve talked about what this mentorship won’t be, what will it be?

It will be a place where you will exercise the muscles of non-fiction first person narrative writing (much like the sort you find on Sayable). We will not be doing fiction writing of any sort. These will be short and long essays. Let your personal ideas, thoughts, and perspectives flow. The best writers know what they think about all kinds of things, instead of simply regurgitating whatever research or popular opinion is floating about. What piques your interest? Gets you excited? Makes you sad? What do you fear? What are you willing to confess? What do you know about God? What do you not know about Him? This is the stuff we’ll talk about and work through. There are plenty of deeply theological writers out there whose lives are woefully uninspected, who find themselves caught off-guard in all kinds of pride and arrogance and fear and doubt and more because while they knew much about God, they overlooked inspecting their own hearts. Calvin said, “Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

You will be annoyingly aggressive with your own writing. You will let others be annoyingly aggressive with your writing. You will edit, embellish, omit, and extend. You will “kill your darlings” and you will cradle them rarely. You will not force your words using cheap tricks like alliteration or cliche.

You should expect to commit about 15-45 minutes a day to writing, depending on how quickly you write and how much you procrastinate. There is also one book you’ll need to read, plus one article and podcast each week. Plan on spending about 2-3 hours a week on this.

You will need to purchase one of these books: On Writing, Walking on Water, Bird by Bird, or The Writing Life. It doesn’t matter which one, just pick one that looks most interesting to you. You will need to have it read by the beginning of week two, so buy it soon and get started.

You will need to find two people in your life who know you, flesh and blood, in real life (no online buddies), who will commit to reading a few of your pieces before you hand them in (as assigned). You will need to commit to listen to their advice. These should not be your mom or your aunt, unless your mom or aunt are handier with a red pen than they are with effusive praise.

You will need access to and familiarity with Google Docs as it will be our main tool. I will not be mentoring on how to use it. If you have questions, google them. I will explain more in the syllabus, but familiarity is a must.

The cost for this 12 week mentorship is $120. You will need to paypal the entire amount before March 1, 2018, to have access to the group. Once you’ve applied and been accepted, I will send you the paypal information.

If you can do all this and want to commit, then by golly, I want you apply! Apply here by February 25th. I will let you know the final decision by February 26th. The group will begin on March 1, 2018 and conclude on May 17th. 

EDIT: I know I said I was going to keep the writing mentorship applications open until Sunday, but I have a few hundred and I cannot keep getting so many a day for the next few days. I'm going to close applications Wednesday by 4CST. Sorry for the inconvenience. And THANK YOU for your overwhelming response! What a gift to know so many of you care about writing well. 

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Three E-books Now Available For You

Through the generosity of my Patreon supporters and with the help of my sweet friend Chandler (who has been helping me with all the minutia of Sayable), I'm super excited to offer three e-books for your perusal. Right now they're only available to Patreon supporters, so we'd love to have you join the fold over there. You can give a dollar a month, two dollars, ten dollars, fifty dollars—really, whatever Sayable is worth to you and you can afford. Every bit helps and it also helps me to know who's vested in what happens here. 

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Kissing the Wave is named after the often mis-quoted Charles Spurgeon who said, “The wave of temptation may even wash you higher up upon the Rock of ages, so that you cling to it with a firmer grip than you have ever done before, and so again where sin abounds, grace will much more abound.” It is a book of essays written through the years on suffering, storms, faith, and doubt. 

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Sleeping Alone is named after the first essay I ever wrote on singleness many, many years ago. It is a book of essays on singleness, dating, guys, girls, and waiting. Writing through my singleness was one of God's best tools of sanctification for me and I hope this ebook encourages you as you read. It encouraged me to write. 

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Two Become One is a book of essays from my first year of marriage. A lot of folks say the first is the hardest year and some others say it's the easiest. I don't know that I could say either, but I do know it was full of lessons about leaving, cleaving, and clinging to the cross. 

If you'd like to get your hands on one or more of these, hop on over to the Patreon page and pledge as much or as little as you like. Once you do, you'll be able to access the links to the ebooks on my latest post there. And, as always, thank you for making what I do here a joy and a blessing to me. 

When We are Fallow and Infertile

Screen Shot 2016-12-23 at 10.28.47 AM 'Tis the season for all the top ten lists. I thought of doing one but decided against, for various reasons. Writing, for me, has taken a different turn in this season and I've had to mourn the loss with tears, stalwart determination, and sometimes crippled fingers and thoughts. Last week I confessed in tears to Nate that one of the hardest parts of life this year has been how quickly the world turns and how my work has faded from sight, and how forgotten I've felt as time and people progress and we feel stuck. It was a good talk, a humbling one and a needed confession of my own sin. This week I've just tried to remember, remember, remember all that God has done in this fallow season.

Fallow is an agricultural term meaning, simply, to let a field alone for a period of time in order to restore its fertility. As I look over 2016, and the lingering parts of 2015, it's very easy for me to see all the death and none of the fertility. What have we borne? Nothing, even if you look closely, which I have been trying to do. And there is something inside of me—and probably inside of you—that wants to rush to cover over that sad statement with so many reminders of "All The Good Things!" But, just as those fields need times of fallow, of non-productiveness, of not bearing, and seeming to all the world and the field too, of having lost their ability to bear, God is still doing something in that neglected dirt. The platitudes we want to console or coddle with actually make what isn't happening less beautiful. If I look closely enough I can see God's beautiful sovereign hand in all of the seeming nothing. This may not make sense to you, it barely does to me in my cognitive moments, but in my poetic moments, those mysterious ah-has creep into my heart unawares and surprise me with comfort, joy, hope, and peace.

I take great comfort right now in not being able to know the mind of God, even if I try. For all my attempts to garner an explanation for what He has done and is doing with our lives, or to wrangle a glimpse of next year, or bribe my way into what I want or less of what I don't want, I'm humbled that the only show of hands is His promise of Love. He gives the presence of Jesus, as a baby, in a humble birth, and permission to pray "Our Father" even when He is off in Heaven and we are still here on dirt-encrusted earth, and the gift of His Spirit, comforting, helping, teaching, always quietly and sometimes imperceptibly.

God is doing something in the fallow field, so small, so magnificent, so intricate, and so miraculous, that it would astound me to know the details and so, instead, it just seems to me a dark, hardened, untended, infertile, and frozen acre of dirt. Planting will come, and someday, again, fruit, and then harvesting, but fallowing is just as important for the process as seed sowing and sun shining, it simply isn't as pretty in the meantime.

Thank you, Father, for leaving us fallow sometimes, but never leaving us, ever, any of the time. 

Is Blogging Dead?

Someone said blogging is dead, but what I hope they meant is the rat race of push button publishing and flurry response to response to response to response blogging is dead. No one can survive on that sort of writing, nor thrive, not the writer or the reader. I hope that kind of blogging is dead. But back in the early hours of the 2000s, when blogging still felt like a secret from the rest of the world, it felt so alive and made me feel so alive and I've been hoping to find that spark again. I emptied out my subscription/feed reader and started fresh, slashed my Instagram follows by more than half, stepped back from Facebook and Twitter (Forever? For a time? Who knows?), and in an orchestrated attempt to listen to the sounds I love most, I cloistered myself with the living bloggers. And by living bloggers, I mean the ones who are still writing about real life, waking to the perpetual morning, who could write a whole chapter about the way to slice an onion or the leaf they found while walking.

I used to think a writer was just one who writes, but I have become less generous, I think, and believe now that a writer is one who withholds words from the public until they have gotten them right in the private. Having something to say doesn't mean it ought to be said, but saying it, like the poet said, makes it real. The sad predicament of all the saying happening is things which oughtn't have become real have become so and we have ushered ourselves right into a tragedy, just by the words we write and say and publish. We may disagree and I find I am okay with that too. Opinions are in plenty but listening is rare.

I met a woman a few months ago who wanted to be a real writer, to publish on the sites that circulate among the brand of evangelicals within which we both find ourselves. Those in the know would tell her to write for more, grow her platform, but I told her to be faithful with her small space, her blog. It has become a dirty word in many ways, coupled with churlish comments about "mommy" or "niche," while I think the problem is that blog became a word at all. I prefer to think of it as an invitation, read or don't. Your choice. But I want out of blasted pressure to perform tricks and jump through SEO shaped hoops. I told her in ten years those sites she wanted to write for would be forgotten, but the exercise of daily writing on her blog would yield fruit ten-thousand times—not just the book writing sort either, but the working out of her salvation sort. Be faithful, friend. I called her friend, even though I didn't know her because I knew the churning in her soul as near as I knew my own.

When I looked at the "blogs" I felt I had to be reading, I found a common thing among them: they were all instructive in some ways. Instructing me how to think, how to pray, how to be a church member, how not to be, how to think about the election, how not to think, how to be a friend, how not to be a friend, how to train kids, how to think about everything in the whole world that can ever be thought of. I was suffocating in the hows of life and forgetting to simply love, enjoy, and cherish the life right in front of me. Not to hedonistically drown myself in the throes of whatever today brought, but to stop and think, not of what everyone else thought I should be doing or thinking or saying, but what did God want to teach me in this single, solitary life?

This whole year feels like a waste when I cut and paste it next to the How Tos of most articles and blogs I was reading. I was a failure from start to finish. I did not think right, treat right, walk right, hear right, or see right. I measured my success by how much shame I felt when I went to bed at night and this is no way to live, and yet this was the way I saw many of my sisters living. Surrounding themselves with Pinterest and Blogs and Articles and Books and People and Photos and Friends and Ideas, but never stopping to think: within my home, within my family, is this helpful? Does this work?

Last winter a friend of mine told me if I ever wasn't sure what my calling was, or if I lost sight what I was supposed to be doing as a wife (since this has been the besetting struggle of my year: how do I do this?), to stop, look at my home, my husband, and say: what does it mean to look well to the ways of my household right now? And then to do that. It might mean caring for my husband actually means believing him when he says he loves me or says I'm beautiful. Or it could mean reading the Word rather than doing the laundry. Or it could mean making him healthy dinners every night and packing his lunch every day. Or it could mean weeping when I am hurt and laughing when I am happy. This concept has recalibrated me every day this year, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small ways.

All of this I suppose is just a way to say to you that if what's in your eyesight when you look up is what everyone else is doing or thinks you ought to be doing, clear the way, friend. Clear the paths around you, unmuddle the simplicity of the gospel. It is Christ who cares for you and cares for your provision, far more than you can ever care for it. So let the dead things drop, find out what they are and let them drop. Maybe Sayable is one of those dead things for you. Go ahead, unsubscribe. I won't be offended, I promise.

I'm slowly, slowly coming back to a way of writing that I used to love. Sharing links to beautiful writing. Sharing books I love. Writing quietly in the still dark morning hours. Caring for the needs of my household means writing and reading what stirs my soul and mind, not draining it. Maybe blogging is dead. Or maybe it's just the frenzied way it's done that's dying. Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 7.59.18 AM

Here are some places I've subscribed to recently:

Food Loves Writing: Just some everyday things, words, photos, recipes. Thistle and Toad: Beautiful writing on really hard things in life and culture.  The Beautiful Due: Poetry and Letters to Winn.  The Rabbit Room: A smattering of music, poetry, fiction, and non.  Cloistered Away: Homeschooling mama with simple suggestions for life.  Deeply Rooted:  Words on faith, life, and family.

Plagiarism: the Writer, the Taker, and the Maker

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 9.39.00 AM In a recurring dream, I see myself writing in an old attic or barn, wood beams above me and panels around me. I don’t know whether I’m writing on a laptop or by hand; all I know is there’s blinding white in front of me and the words have run out. I used to think it was a nightmare about writer’s block, but it’s evolved slowly over the years to a worse fear: There are no words left to say about anything.

Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “Of the making of books there is no end” (v. 12:12). My dad used to tell me when I whined as a child, “Same song, different verse.” In an anthropology class I read Noam Chomsky saying there are untold numbers of ways to say the same thing without ever using the same words in the same order. The possibilities seem endless.

Why then, the fear of words of running out?

Our fear of finitude of ideas drives writers to steal from others. Austin Kleon writes in his best-selling book, Steal Like an Artist, “Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self.” Unfortunately, though, many copy, copy, copy and instead of finding themselves, they lose themselves.

Seasoned bloggers know that when they press publish, releasing their words into the wild abyss of the Internet, they lose a bit of themselves. Not just because their once-private words have become public, but because they can no longer control where, when, and how those words are used.

Loyal readers flag me about every other month when they notice cut-and-paste hack jobs swiped from my personal blog. I mostly assume that someone’s grandmother doesn’t know Internet protocol or some kid wanted words to put on a stock photo with a hazy Instagram filter. The most recent case was different, though. After the third email came, I clicked through to spot whole paragraphs, paraphrased sentence for sentence, from a few of my own posts. I clicked further to discover this new blogger’s “about” page co-opted my own bio word for word, sandwiched by paragraphs of her own details.

Her words sounded like mine, my readers had said. Well, because they were mine.

Continue reading at Christianity Today.