How do I know if it’s God’s will? Sticking to your beliefs in work and creativity

Can we know the will of God when making decisions? How do I know if I’m doing God’s will? How do I know if my feet are on the right path for God’s plan for me? How can I honour God with my work? How can I honour God in my writing or my art?

I was asked this recently by a friend and I’m going to answer it here as well because I think this question fundamentally affects our decisions when we’re living out our faith.

I went to the Planetarium recently and re-discovered that we are all just specks in this giant universe – no, less than specks. We cannot be seen from the moon. Our planet cannot be seen from outside the Milky Way.

We are miniscule – but God loves each of us as individuals, and Jeremiah 29:11 says God has a great plan for our lives. I can’t claim to know the will of God. But here’s what I think about when I’m trying to live out God’s will in both my paid work and my creative projects.

My feet at the labyrinth in Sydney Centennial Park.

About to start the labyrinth in Sydney Centennial Park. Image source: My camera.

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Best books and media I’ve found in 2016 so far

We’re only a few days into 2016 but I have found some AMAZING reads in my first days of 2016, which have also been my last few days of annual leave.

As a writer and editor, my “to read” list is too long for me to ever actually read, if it’s really true that you can only get through about 3,000 in the average lifetime. In my Google Docs “Books” folder, the list of all the books I’ve read in my life (only about 600 that I can remember so far) is far smaller than the list of books I would like to read (about 1 million). So I’ve told you how I chose the books I read last year, and I can definitely say I’m sticking with that strategy in 2016.

If you don’t know what to get yourself in the Boxing Day sales, and you have money left over after purchasing some truly meaningful gifts from Gifts of CompassionTEAR’s Useful Gifts, Christian Blind Mission’s Meaningful Gifts, or some other world-changing charity … then please consider the following reads for belated Christmas gifts to yourself.

Get ready.

They’ll knock your socks off.

Best books made of paper and stuff in January 2016

My January 2016 reads lined up. Image source: My camera.

My January 2016 reads lined up. Image source: My camera.

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How I chose which books to read in 2015

The long road to Fort Scratchley lighthouse at Nobby's Beach, Newcastle. Image source: My camera.

The long road to Fort Scratchley lighthouse at Nobby’s Beach, Newcastle. Image source: My camera.

The end of the year is a great time for reflecting on our habits from the year and how they changed us as a person. Here is just one snippet from my reflections on my habits in 2015: How I chose which books to read during the year.

It’s an important topic. The books you read are part of the inspiration you get, and that shapes who you become as a person over the course of a year. We’re always changing, and the input we choose for our hearts and minds is a huge part of that.

What does the Bible say about the input you should give your heart and mind?

Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of your life and everything you do flows from it.”

Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable. If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about those things.”

(author’s paraphrase)

So in short, in 2015, I let God choose.

While standing at the shelves of my favourite bookshops or poring over new releases on my favourite online bookshops, or even leaning against my own bookshelves and wondering what to read next, I asked the Holy Spirit. I asked that God would reveal what book would help me the most in this season, or what book would give me encouragement, give me a laugh, show me afresh His power, or give me the key to spreading His power to others with my life.

Here’s my list of books read, how the let-God-pick method went, and the themes that emerged in what I read…

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8 writing tips for memoir and biography

A sunset I captured with my camera in Sydney.

A sunset I captured with my camera in Sydney.

I saw the most awesome documentary last week about healers all over the world. Within 2 minutes, I had tears leaking out because of what a good story a healing makes. Before, broken and hurting and helpless to do anything about it; afterwards, healed and whole and grateful to God. The best part is that the story is true.

This post – and my free ebook you can download below – is for the life writers of true stories who want some “back to basics” reminders for how to get your story on paper. Whether you’re writing memoir, autobiography, or biography, a few simple principles hold true. And most of them are fairly easy to spot in your own writing, so you can save a lot of time by referring back to these principles as you write.

Memoirs and biographies need to feel real for the reader. They need real drama.

Yes, it’s your story, but it’s still a story. Your story – or the story of the person whose life you’re chronicling – has already captured your attention and imagination and heart. It needs to be written in a way that also captures the reader’s attention and their heart.

Here’s my 8 basic tips – one for every day of the week, plus an extra.

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Book Review: On Track by Kathryn Apel

I have been waiting and waiting for this book to be released! It was still in the editing process while I was working in marketing this year, so I didn’t get to work on it, but I got to read the final manuscript and OH MY GOODNESS.

This one was simply amazing! I’m not a crier but I cried for joy over this happy ending.

Here’s a quick peek inside the book and how/why Kat Apel wrote this uplifting story.

On Track by Kathryn Apel: A heart-warming children’s book about sports, sibling rivalry and the courage to be yourself.

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Taste: Inspiring the senses for readers

Our amazing wedding cake was created by Allana Rowan and decorated by Kathryn Ryan, both very talented creators.

Our amazing wedding cake was created by Allana Rowan and decorated by Kathryn Ryan, both very talented creators.

Today’s post will make you drool. Be warned.

I was looking up recipes for a dairy-free, gluten-free cheesecake today and stumbled upon an idea. (The idea sounds ridiculous but the recipes I found look amazing and I simply cannot wait any longer! I have lived for three and a half years now without cheesecake and it is lame.)

But while I was looking at those recipes, I found a link to ‘best recipes in literature’. It brought back the best memories ever!

Taste is one of the most powerful memory-making senses. A good meal can make a day; a bad meal can break it. And when we read about meals in books, it brings us into the story in a powerful way.

Below are some of the most memorable food recipes I found in beloved storybooks, but first, here’s the writing tip for today.

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Book review: Devotions that start and finish my day

My life verse, decorated by me using old wrapping paper (I recycle!). Was stuck up on my wall at the office - now it's stuck on our wall at home, right next to the front door. Last thing I see when I'm heading out? God's reminder.

My life verse, decorated by me using old wrapping paper (I recycle!). Was stuck up on my wall at the office – now it’s stuck on our wall at home, right next to the front door. Last thing I see when I’m heading out? God’s reminder.

As you know, my faith is a big part of who I am. But what do I do when I am faced with a spiritual drought?

The Bible is filled with amazing stories, inspiring messages … but I don’t find it easy to read it every day. (I do read a bit of it every day, but that’s because of discipline, not because the book of Amos fills with me great joy.) But we still need to be filled with God’s truth, so where can we go to find that inspiration?

Devotional books – books filled with a Bible verse for each day followed by an observation on that verse or a practical application for it – have always been useful to me during those dry stretches.

Today I thought I’d review some of the devotionals that I’ve worked through over the past three years – especially since a bunch of them are on sale this week!

Each of these books were helpful, but definitely in different ways and for different seasons. I’ve never found a ‘one-spiritual-thought-fits-all’ devotional. I hope you see some in the list that might help you grow closer to God.

My NIV Couples' Devotional Bible and my favourite coffee mug

My NIV Couples’ Devotional Bible and my favourite coffee mug

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An ode to Terry Pratchett and the only gift a writer ever needs

Terry Pratchett.  Image source: Robin Matthews, Camera Press, via Daily Mail UK

Terry Pratchett.
Image source: Robin Matthews, Camera Press, via Daily Mail UK

One of my favourite authors of all time, prolific and gifted fantasy satire author Terry Pratchett, passed away last week. It hit me suddenly; I realised I had missed my chance. I wished I could have written to him before he moved on, to thank him for how he changed my writing, my life.

“You are a wonderful writer. Your books live in two and a half whole shelves of my largest bookcase because I enjoy rereading them so much. Thank you for your clever characters who made me think about the world differently. Thank you for your involving plots and your hilarious sense of humour, which gave me another world to live in on grey days.”

I know I’m just one fangirl of many. He’s such a famous author that I know he must get stacks of fan mail every day, from emails to postcards (“Terry, here I am at the edge of the Disc!”). By the time he died at 66 years old, he’d written 70 novels, including the 40-novel Discworld series that I loved so much.

But I still wish that I’d been able to express my gratitude to him in some small way – for me, not for him.

That day I made sure I didn’t miss out on other opportunities. I wrote two letters to authors at the publishing house where I work, whose novels are currently being copy-edited (an arduous process in which you question every word choice). I’d read the first or second drafts of their manuscripts in preparation for promoting their work and loved – simply loved – the writing and the characters. I’m not a crier, but I cried over the happy ending of one of them, sitting there at my desk in the marketing office.

So I wrote and told them, “I loved your book. It moved me greatly and I feel inspired to go out and do something about it. Your theme is one I’ve seen in real life and it thrilled me to see someone put it into words so accurately and with such real emotion.”

And I learned a big lesson.

Your encouragement is the best gift you can give a fellow writer.

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Open letter to the doubting writer

I wrote this email to a client last month and they said it had to be shared, so here is an edited version of that note. I hope it encourages you as it did them.

 

60 Once upon a time on typewriter - bigstock_story_2226743_2 from Tamika Christy

Image source: Tamika Christy

 

Dear doubting writer,

No worries, don’t stress. Panic is a normal part of the writing (and a vital part of the editing) process; no doubt you know that already.

I wouldn’t have quoted on your book if I didn’t see in it the potential to be a truly worthy book. I’m not saying the book is perfect; that’s why editing is a good idea. But you’ve already got my vote of confidence.

There’s no one with a gun to your head to get this book out ASAP. No matter when it arrives, people will be thrilled ecstatically to read it.

But you know what, even if you look at your book and think “eh, it’s still not perfect”, I was reading another book today and came across this quote:

“the woods would be very silent
if no birds sang there
except those that sang best”
– Henry van Dyke

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Narrative Therapy: Hear from the author of ‘How I rescued my brain’

At the Perth Writers Festival THIS SATURDAY (21 Feb 2015), you can hear David Roland speak about his book How I Rescued My Brain (Scribe) and how structured life writing (and narrative therapy) can lead to emotional resolution by turning subconscious memories into conscious concepts.

I’m still learning about this topic, but I’m reading a psychology book at the moment about it, Narrative Therapy by Gene Combs and Jill Freedman, so this post will have a follow-up post once I’ve really got my head around it. Normally I wouldn’t post about a topic until I’d done my research, but I figured if you want to go to his event and find out more, you need to know it’s happening now!

Narrative therapy is when you write about an event that has happened to you so that you can see the whole “story arc” of what happened for yourself and gain a better understanding of why it happened, how it came about, and what the resolution of it is.

I picked the Combs/Freedman book up for the concept itself. Closure! Resolution! A better way to think about ourselves and our life events. It’s useful for lots of things. Trauma patients, depressed patients, or people who want to write so they can see the bigger picture they want for their life – e.g. when they’re going through a big change like changing careers or having kids.

For us creators, it’s important because narrative therapy helps us to think outside the box of our own circular thinking, and that thought-stretching can give us better neural plasticity, as David Roland’s book (below) tells us. And neural plasticity means the ability to think of new ideas and be more creative, so it’s worth finding out more about… (Plus narrative writing therapy is good practise at writing a cohesive story!)

David Roland says “life writing” (narrative therapy) enables us to do lots of different useful things, from moving through difficult times, to heightening positive experiences, to learning new things. In his case, Roland had to relearn things his brain already knew, but had forgotten, after he had what doctors assumed was a “stroke-like” event. He was a forensic psychologist who ended up in the emergency ward one day with no idea how he got there.  His book is the story of his neurological breakdown and how he made his remarkable cognitive recovery. You can read more about the book here and buy tickets to his talk here.

Image source: Caroline Leaf

Image source: Caroline Leaf

And for a distinctly Christian perspective on neural plasticity, check out Switched On My Brain by Caroline Leaf PhDhttp://www.koorong.com/search/product/switch-on-your-brain-caroline-leaf/9780801016240.jhtml  According to researchers, the vast majority (about three quarters) of the illnesses that plague us today are a direct result of our thought life and the toxins that are caused by negative thinking patterns. What we think about definitely affects both our emotional and our physical health. Dr Leaf tells us how to think positive while keeping mindfully focussed on God, not just “empty” meditation. This book has been highly recommended by a few people now, so it is next on my to-read list!

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan, (C) 2015. Reblogging is always highly encouraged, as long as you cite me as the author.