A Prayer for the Blank Page

praying womanby Jim Denney

“Almighty God, bestow upon us the meaning of words, the light of understanding, the nobility of diction, and the faith of the true nature. And grant that what we believe, we may also speak.”

—Hilary of Poitiers (A.D. 315-368)

“Blank pages inspire me with terror,” confessed novelist Margaret Atwood. “The scariest moment,” observed frightmaster Stephen King, “is always just before you start.” And John Steinbeck, the Pulitzer- and Nobel-winning author of The Grapes of Wrath, once admitted in his journal, “I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straightening shyness that assails one.”[i]

 

Terror of the blank page is as old as literature itself. In 1295, Dante Alighieri wrote in The New Life (Vita Nuova), “It seemed to me that I had undertaken a theme too lofty for myself, so that I did not dare to begin writing, and I remained for several days with the desire to write and the fear of beginning.”[ii]

 

Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird, reveals her solution to the fear of the blank page: Prayer. She writes, “I sit for a moment and then say a small prayer — ‘please help me get out of the way so I can write what wants to be written.’ Sometimes ritual quiets the racket. Try it.”[iii]

 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was famed for his literary criticism, theological essays, and his mystery tales featuring the priest-detective Father Brown. Like Anne Lamott, Chesterton approached every writing project with an attitude of prayer. He once wrote:

 

You say grace before meals.

All right.

But I say grace before the concert and the opera,

And grace before the play and pantomime,

And grace before I open a book,

And grace before sketching, painting,

Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing

And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.[iv]

 

What should you pray for? Pray for inspiration. Pray for a mind that is open and receptive to new ideas. Pray for a heart that is open and sensitive to the hurts, hopes, drives, and dreams of your readers. (I prayed for you—my reader—as I was writing these words.)

 

Pray for wisdom and courage to write truthfully. Pray for an opening line. Pray for the determination to continue writing, even if the opening line doesn’t come. Pray for the courage to begin. Then, after you have prayed—begin.

 

A story is told about Sir Winston Churchill, who was not only one of England’s greatest prime ministers, but also an author and a painter. Whether the story is true or not, I don’t know. According to this account, Churchill was in his garden, confronting an easel and a blank canvas—and he found himself blocked and unable to begin painting. He was afraid to put the first brush-stroke on the virgin canvas. He would daub his brush with paint and raise it—pause—then lower it without leaving a mark.

 

A neighbor lady watched Churchill go through these motions several times until finally, in exasperation, she strode into his garden, took the brush from his hand, and flung a splotch of paint onto the canvas.

 

“Now, paint!” she said.

And Churchill began to paint.

 

As you face the blank canvas—the blank page of your story or novel—don’t hesitate, don’t be afraid to leave your mark. Instead, breathe a prayer to the Author of Creation, the Source of Creativity. Ask for inspiration. Then throw some words onto your white screen, your blank page.

 

Write! Make your mark!

Once you’ve begun, don’t stop. Write on.

Let the words you write, the work you perform, be God’s answer to your own prayer.

JimDenney-2013-small-72dpiJim Denney is a writer with more than 100 published books to his credit, including the Timebenders !WritingInOverdrive-XSmallscience-fantasy series. He is the author of several books on writing, including Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly and Write Fearelessly: Conquer Fear, Eliminate Self-Doubt, Write with Confidence. He has written books with supermodel Kim Alexis, Star Trek actress Grace Lee Whitney, and two Super Bowl champions, quarterback Bob Griese and “The Minister of Defense,” Reggie White. He has co-written many books with Pat Williams (co-founder of the Orlando Magic), including Leadership Excellence and The Difference You Make. Jim is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Follow Jim on Twitter at @WriterJimDenney and follow his blog at http://jimdenney.tumblr.com/.

[i] John Steinbeck, Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (New York: Penguin, 1990), Kindle edition, Entry for February 13, 1951.

[ii] Dante Alighieri, Vita Nuova (1295), in The Portable Dante (New York: Penguin, 2003), 610.

[iii] Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (New York: Anchor, 1995), 117.

[iv] G. K. Chesterton, ed. by Aidan Mackey, Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton: Collected Poetry (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), 43.

Fade In – New Screenwriters Critique Group

Film Countdown at 5

by David Hyde

Interior, Living Room Rio Linda, Ca -Night

Pan Left into Hitchcock Zoom: A blank page stares back at our lonely writer. Pencil tapping on his temple he sits up, and then lays back. UP! Then back. He reaches for the page, but stops. Looking about the room: A bookshelf, a globe, a cat sleeps on the window sill. Back to the globe, to the window, rain splashes on the glass. Pencil reaches the paper. The lead breaks…

Screenwriting and composing stage drama are uniquely visual in our world of writing. While fiction, poetry, and other genres strive to communicate to a reader’s mind’s-eye so that they are able to TELL others about the story, screenwriters and playwrights must write to communicate their vision in a way that others can then take it and SHOW their story to others.

For drama, as in fiction, story is king. Without story, no one will sit through 90 minutes in a dark theater or two hours in front of a stage. There, however, is where similarity to other writing forms ends. With that in mind, Inspire Christian Writers is forming a new critique group just for this genre of writers. The Faith-Based film industry is exploding in America. Following the success of the Kendrick Brothers (Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous) and others, independent Christian production companies are seeing successes like never before. And this means writing opportunities for writers such as ourselves like never before.

Instead of the starry-eyed dreams of acceptance speeches and golden statues on the mantle, our goal is to hone our craft so God can use our stories in ways never before possible. To grow our craft and learn from each other on this journey into the nether land of film and stage shall surely be an adventure unto itself.

So, if you have ever had a vision so grand that it simply wouldn’t fit on the page, or words that just must be spoken instead of read, maybe screen or stage is for you. Please join us, on-line monthly, or in person on the first Thursday each month 7pm in Rio Linda, California. Passion, vision, and a willingness to learn is all that is needed.

Please email the leader at DavidHyde@inspirewriters.com for more information or to sign up for this group.

Christian Writers Seminar: Writing to Change the World with Susy Flory

susy_florySusy Flory will serve as the keynote speaker for the upcoming Christian Writers Seminar. This year’s seminar theme is Writing to Change the World.

I caught up with Susy recently and interviewed her about the seminar and what you can expect to learn when you attend. Here’s our conversation:

How can a 2-day seminar help writers change the world?

Anytime a new writer takes up a pen (or a keyboard), most likely with hands trembling and knees feeling like rubber chicken bones, then there is great potential for change. The world is not a static place. It’s always changing, dying, living, growing, and everything in between all at the same time. And it’s starving for truth and light and beauty. The world needs YOUR voice and YOUR message. God has gifted you with something to say. Our job, at Christian Writers Seminar, is to help encourage and equip you to say it.

Who should attend the Christian Writers Seminar this year?CWS-2014
Anyone who has something to say in writing, or who wants to say something in a little different way that what has been said before. The amazing working writers who will be teaching workshops represent all genres, too, from fiction to poetry to articles to blogging to nonfiction of every kind, including memoir, ministry-related books, self-help, devotionals, children’s, and more. There’s something for every one.

What can writers expect to learn at the seminar?

First and foremost, writers will learn that they are not alone. There are other people who love words and books as much as they do, and who have dedicated their lives to helping others learn the craft of writing and the business of publishing. Second, writers will find out that finishing a piece of writing and getting published are doable. Things are constantly changing and there are so many ways now to be published and to find your readers. It does take commitment and elbow grease, however. That’s why you need other writers to cheer you on!

How do you see your words making a difference in the world?

I have a current project helping a young woman named Megan, 27 years old, who is doing an incredible work with the lowliest and most vulnerable children of Haiti. She’s battled corruption, discouragement, and even voodoo to rescue trafficked children, and children being used as slaves in the most despicable of ways. My hope is that our book, coming out in January of 2015, will shed light on these practices and bring hope and freedom to more of these children. Books can and do change the world. (By the way, if you’d like to learn more about Megan, go to RespireHaiti.org.)

Why is this a passion for you?

At my core, I’m a nerdy, introverted bookworm. I can’t do the kind of work Megan is doing, but I CAN write about it. I’m not good at much but I am curious, I can string words together, and I get excited about what God is doing in the world through his people. So I’m lending my pen, when and where I can, to help others discover these things, too. I’m hoping that seeing God at work will encourage people that anyone can be used by God, just like Megan, because we serve the same God.

You’ll speak about fear and the writing life at this year’s Christian Writers Seminar. How has fear impacted your own writing journey?

Every book or article or blog post I write involves a struggle with fear. Name a writing-related fear and I’ve battled it. I’ve learned that the fear of writing and publishing isn’t going to go away completely. Instead I have to become comfortable at writing through the fear. Fear and writing seem to go together…at least for me. I recently read a great quote from Ethel Herr in her book, An Introduction to Christian Writing. She was talking about some of the challenges a writer can face, including challenges from your own family. Here’s the quote: “We can pray for our families to be understanding, but never expect them to understand. Only another writer can understand the dreams and strange behavior of a writer.” Most writers understand about facing down fear.

How would you encourage a writer who struggles with fear?

Fear is something you can climb over, step around, or knock back, with help. And the struggle is SO worth it. Here’s a great quote from James Baldwin on why we do what we do: “You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world…The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way…people look at reality, then you can change it.” If fear is the price, I’m willing to pay it, and I’m not going to let it stop me.

You’ll be sharing “Becoming a Good Storyteller” with us this year. Some people are natural-born storytellers. Does this mean there’s hope for those of us? Can we grow our storytelling skills?

Yes. Being a writer means always growing in our storytelling skills. You can grow by learning at the feet of the best storytellers, whether they are still alive in front of you or alive only on the page. A great technique for doing this is to take favorite passages and copy them out word-for-word. You will soak in the craft, little by little. Another way is to go to conferences and drink it all in, then buy the recordings, and drink it all in again. And read. Always read.

What are “Moments of Light and Grace?” What can we look forward to learning about them?

Moments of light and grace are moments of surprise, where all of a sudden a writer (or artist or musician or pastor) offers a different way of looking at the world, leading to an epiphany–a moment of understanding truth in a new way. Mary Pipher says epiphanies cannot be scheduled, but they can be invited. I will be talking about how to infuse your writing with that something more and how to invite your reader to experience a powerful emotional turning when they read your work.

I hope Susy’s answers encourage you to sign up for the Christian Writers Seminar. If you have more questions about the event, leave them (along with any comments) in the comments section below.

Come and become a world-changing writer. Here’s the information you’ll need:

Dates: February 21-22, 2014

Location: Redwood Chapel, 19300 Redwood Road, Castro Valley, CA 94546

Price: $109, $89 for teens (prior to 2/14/14) or $139 adults/ $109 teens at the door. Mail your registration fee along with your name, email address, phone, and mailing address to Jon Drury, c/o Redwood Chapel 19300 Redwood Road, Castro Valley, CA 94546.

Join us for a TweetChat with Susy Flory (@SusyFlory) on Thursday, February 13 at 4:30 PST. Be sure to use #WritetoInspire to join the conversation. See you there!

 

Fractured Hearts Releases in Time for Valentine's Day

Fractured-HeartsValentine’s Day will be upon us before you know it. If you’re looking for the perfect gift for a friend or loved one who likes to read, how about a gift that will pierce the heart and move the soul–a copy of Fractured Hearts, by Kathryn Mattingly, an Inspire Christian Writers member and award winning author.

Not for the faint of heart, this collection of short stories deals with every type of love that drives us to do what we do—for better or for worse. Whether whimsical ghosts in love with art or cats transformed by the full moon, you’ll wonder if even the most unbelievable is somehow true. From a gypsy child in Rome to a widow in Aruba, the stories transport you to faraway places. Fractured Hearts includes five pieces recognized nationally for excellence as outstanding literature.

Kathryn Mattingly will sign copies on Saturday, February 8th from 4-6PM at

Face In A Book

Kathryn_Maddingly

4359 Town Center Blvd.

El Dorado Hills, CA

 In honor of Valentine’s Day, decadent chocolates will be served throughout the afternoon.

More information, including reviews of stories featured in the book, can be found on the author’s website, www.penpublishpromote.com. To arrange an interview with Kathryn Mattingly, or request a review copy of Fractured Hearts, contact Rachel M. Anderson, Publicist, at 952-240-2513 or rachel@rmapublicity.com.