My story shortlisted for Positive Words mini-competition

Positive Words: For creative writers everywhere literary magazine, July 2014 issue

Positive Words: For creative writers everywhere literary magazine, July 2014 issue

Great news! Last year I entered a stack of short story competitions and one of my non-fiction stories was shortlisted for the Positive Words December competition.

If you’re an unpublished author, why would you spend valuable time writing short stories for competitions? Shouldn’t you be focussing all your energy on getting your novel written and edited and into the hands of publishers?

It gives you motivation to get something written to a deadline.

It’s easy to say “I’ll write every day” and then get overwhelmed by the demands of daily life – work, social life, maybe study, cooking, cleaning – and put writing on the back-burner. You don’t need to write every day, but if you don’t write something regularly, you’ll stop identifying yourself as a writer and lose motivation to write at all.

It’s a chance to experiment with new styles, genres or plot types without risk of failure.

We all know that the only way to write better is to write more. But if you’re only writing within the same novel over and over, your writing can get stale. When you hit writer’s block in one project, it’s a nice boost to be able to thrash out a short story quickly and then return to your first project with a renewed sense of accomplishment and creative drive.

It’s a way of getting feedback, good or bad. It’s encouraging if you do win or get shortlisted. It shows you’re making progress in improving your writing. You wrote something the judges thought was worth reading. And if you weren’t selected, then sometimes competition judges will provide feedback on the reasons you didn’t win, which is helpful.

It helps you to feel connected to your writing community. Writing alone in your garret? Boring. Sending stories out into the world regularly to competitions is a nice way of knowing someone is reading your work, and often it’s a great way to get feedback.

Working in publishing, it’s easy to become disheartened working on making the dream come true for so many aspiring authors while you’re not seeing progress with your own dreams. But I’m looking forward to the day when it’s my turn to see a book I wrote on the shelves.

Image source: Photo of me, by Slade Photography, 2011

Image source: Photo of me, by Slade Photography, 2011

Check out http://positivewordsmagazine.wordpress.com/ for more information about Positive Words literary magazine.

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2015. Re-blogging is always highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

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The benefits of writing at different times of day

Painting attributed to Valentin de Boulogne: ‘Saint Paul Writing His Epistles’

Painting attributed to Valentin de Boulogne: ‘Saint Paul Writing His Epistles’

Earlier this week we talked about devotions to help you start and finish the day well, so that you can be more creative. Today is all about what time of day you spend creating, whether that means writing or painting or sketching or crocheting.

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Quick quiz: What instrument would play the soundtrack of your story?

Headphones on soundtrack score. Image source: Rain Dance

Image source: Rain Dance

I made a quiz using ProProfs!

A great story needs a great soundtrack, and a great soundtrack sings with the voice of one heroic instrument telling the story. What instrument will play the soundtrack for your story?

Go here to take the quiz: https://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=mta4njgwnw==4txq

Then let me know in the comments what result you got! 🙂

This post and the quiz were written by TJ Withers-Ryan, (C) 2015. Reblogging or sharing of the quiz as long as you credit me as author.

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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Why we should get to play jigsaw puzzles at work

Image source: WHSmith 1000 Piece Jigsaw: ‘Hidden Tigers’ by Steve Read

Image source: WHSmith 1000 Piece Jigsaw: ‘Hidden Tigers’ by Steve Read

So where I work, we share a building with a biology research lab. It sounds cool but I never get to see them apart from a shared “hello” in the hallways. But the best part is that the path to the stockroom takes me near enough to see their staff room… which is filled with jigsaw puzzles!

Every morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea, you can spy them all in there, sitting or standing around a massive boardroom table covered in the latest masterpiece.

Tigers in the jungle.

Castles on the moors.

Uluru at sunset.

I swear I saw a Harry Potter puzzle once.

This is how they incubate their ideas, and I think it’s genius.

“Well, it sounds like we’ve hit a wall. Let’s take a break and come back after morning tea. To the puzzle room!”

But let me tell you, the puzzles have more benefits than just having a nice little break from work.

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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.

Adorkable literary proposals to read over Valentine’s Day, part 1

Read this story today and had to share because it is just aDORKable!

Britt Burgeson, 26, met Daniel O’Duffy, 25, when they were both students at the University of Notre Dame. Image source: Krystie Yandoli, BuzzFeed

Britt Burgeson, 26, met Daniel O’Duffy, 25, when they were both students at the University of Notre Dame.
Image source: Krystie Yandoli, BuzzFeed

A proposal in a bookstore! Lovely! The ring was hidden in a book! ^

Read the full story here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/krystieyandoli/this-couples-bookstore-proposal-is-every-book-lovers-dream#.wu3dOzd92

I don’t usually approve of this sort of public proposal, because GOODNESS, what incredible peer pressure to say yes! I wouldn’t want to be forced to have such a humongous moment in front of a bunch of strangers.

On the other hand, if you’re going to do it in public, hopefully you’ve been together so long that you know each other well and have talked about the idea of marriage together already, so it wouldn’t be a shock.

Wait till tomorrow when I’ll share my faves from literary proposals in classic (and not so classic) books.

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan (C) 2015. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author of this text.

Foreshadowing: Do you know what’s coming?

'Okay class, is there anyone else who does not understand the term foreshadowing?' Image source: Artist Dan Reynolds via Cartoon Stock

Image source: Artist Dan Reynolds via Cartoon Stock

One of my number one pet peeves is people who don’t indicate. Are they trying to kill me? They change lanes by swerving in front of me without warning; they stop in the middle of the road for no reason and then suddenly turn onto a side road without warning; they merge towards me without warning.

It’s no joke. Indicating saves lives.

In literary terms, foreshadowing is the equivalent of indicating.

Maybe it’s not life-saving, but it is a useful device. You’re telling your reader – without telling them – what’s coming. So it’s a bit more subtle than “Hey, I’m turning left now.” You’re hinting. You’re insinuating. You’re planting a thought. “Hey, maybe I’ll merge. Sometime soon. You might see it coming, you might not.”

Isn’t that cheating?

No. There’s two valid main reasons for foreshadowing:

  1. To build anticipation in your reader. What’s going to happen next? Ooh, dramatic tension!
  2. To make strange or unlikely events seem credible. The reader is mentally prepared for it to happen because someone already hinted that it could

So, how to do it well? How to do it poorly? It all depends on which method of foreshadowing you’re using.

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Creating as an act of worship

Every act of creating is an act of worship because it is an echo of what our great creator did in making us.

This month I’ve had one migraine after another – sigh! For me that’s just the result of stress and being too busy to find true rest. One of the more painful results of that is that I’ve been unable to stay in the room when we’re worshipping together at church or the awesome camps I lead on (SU’s Ubertweak, and Gateway Youth Camp)… because the music makes me feel like a hippo’s jaws are squeezing down on my head.

Photo of fighting hippos from Animals Time

On National Geographic’s TV show ‘Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr’, Dr Brady measured the bite force of an adult female hippo at 8,100 newtons (enough to crush a crocodile), but they had to give up trying to measure the male’s bite pressure because it was so aggressive.
Image source: Animals Time

I’ve found this time of personal silence challenging, but it’s also brought me back to an old truth – that there are so many more ways to worship God than just singing songs. The method of worship that I’ve found most powerful during this time is creating: every time I create, or write, or paint, or sew, I’m worshipping.

Me painting in 2011 during my ‘A Year on Canvas’ project.

Me painting in 2011 during my ‘A Year on Canvas’ project.

A couple of years ago I ran an activity at Youth called 1:1. The name was a reference to the beginning of the Hebrew poem that tells the creation story in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Over the course of the night, our 150 kids painted canvasses, journalled, made encouragement cards for each other, and made and flew paper airplanes. We revelled in the act of reflecting what God did in creating us.

One of my Youth girls’ talented artist mothers, Tess Geizer, made this cross for me for my birthday. I’ve worn it every Friday night since then for leading at Youth.

One of my Youth girls’ talented artist mothers, Tess Geizer, made this cross for me for my birthday. I’ve worn it every Friday night since then for leading at Youth.

Soul Survivor church in Watford, England, experienced revival in the late 1990s when they did something similar. They cut back their music team from the now-typical rock concert style to the congregation singing with only their voices. Why would they do that when they were already one of the leading worship music creators worldwide?

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