Writing the next chapter: What story will you tell in 2015?

Image source: ‘English girl riding bike’ from Riding Pretty blog

Image source: ‘English girl riding bike’ from Riding Pretty blog

My first post for 2015 is bike-themed, because Tim and I went for a bike ride this morning to kick off the new year. No need to peddle old ideas when you can pedal into the future!

There are always endless possibilities for New Year’s Resolutions. Finish your novel. Lose weight. Find The One. Change jobs. Get to Mordor and drop the ring in Mount Doom. The usual.

As Dave Beck, NaNoWriMo Technical Director, puts it: “In the end, isn’t everything—from relationships to careers to geopolitics—about the narratives we choose? The narratives we write?”

So here’s what my resolutions are all about:

Write a good story with your life. A true hero need only be a person who sets goals and overcomes conflict to achieve them.
(paraphrasing Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

Image source: Our wedding photos by Kyle and Elissa Johnson, Slade Portraits

Image source: Our wedding photos by Kyle and Elissa Johnson, Slade Portraits

Last year I wrote my story as well as I could. I had goals, and I overcame obstacles to achieve them. After the usual stresses of preparation, I married the right man for me and enjoyed decorated our new home with the artworks I made with my own hands. I left a job I didn’t enjoy and worked hard at building my editing business so I could continue to do the editing work that I love. I made time to do some of the adventures I enjoy like bushwalking and beach trips, both with friends and by myself for much-needed and much-appreciated “God dates”. Halfway through the year life got really difficult for a time as I found I had some severe struggles to work through, so I asked for help when I needed it and I trusted God to get me through. I began submitting one novel to publishers, entered as many short story competitions as I could, and completed NaNoWriMo again. And I showered as much love as I could on the people I care about.

So here are the few things that I felt went into writing a good story with my life in 2014, and what I’ll be trying to seek out again in 2015.

Image source: Sarah Killey Photography

Me and Tim holding hands at the altar.
Image source: Sarah Killey Photography

Continue reading

Happy St Stephen’s Day, everybody!

Image source: ‘I see the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God’, painted by Water Rane, courtesy of Church History Museum

Image source: ‘I see the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God’,
painted by Water Rane, courtesy of Church History Museum

I know everyone thinks Boxing Day is all about shopping sales and cricket, and always has been, and until recently I thought that, too.

Nope, still about Jesus.

Happy Feast of Saint Stephen Day, everybody!

Stephen was the first disciple to be martyred for following and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.

But why did they kill him? What did he do that ticked people off so much? And what can we learn to apply to our own writing?

Continue reading

Bad stories that are being written in the world, and how we can edit them

Delete button. How to edit truly bad stories Image source: Fonts and Fiction Blogspot

How to edit truly bad stories
Image source: Fonts and Fiction Blogspot

This post is a long one, sorry, but stick with it! I really believe this is something we need to make time for.

 

 

Recently, I was looking for inspiration for a part of my novel where one character interrupts a battle to give a passionate speech that marks the beginning of the road to peace. One of the first results when you Google “speech about peace and war” is Martin Luther King Jr.’s little-remembered 1967 speech opposing American involvement in the Vietnam War, ‘A Time to Break Silence’.

I had no idea that reading this speech would change the topic that I would blog on today.

“A time comes when silence is betrayal. In Vietnam, that time has come for us.” – Martin Luther King Jr., ‘A Time to Break Silence’, 1967

Many of you, upon reading the title of this post, assumed that I’m talking simply about my profession of editing. “I say there are bad stories being written out there, and we gonna git ‘em fixed!”

I wish I was.

In the world today, as there has been every year since the dawn of man, there are bad stories being written. By governments and individuals. By my government in Australia. By individuals who I know who think that the government is doing the right thing.

And I need to talk about it. I need to tell you about it. I need to talk about why we are writing a “bad” story and how we can edit it so that we aren’t ashamed of what we have written.

“I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.” – George Orwell, ‘Why I Write’ Essay

 

Continue reading

Welcome!

I’m TJ Withers-Ryan, a freelance editor based in Australia and a Jesus follower. Check out my freelance services if you need the best in copy editing, proofreading, or copy writing.

TJ Withers-Ryan, Your Editor

If you’re new to my site, come on in for tips on the creative process for writers, artists, and other creators and living out your faith. This site became “Called by Name” in 2016 in response to Isaiah 43, a powerful prophecy about Jesus and a prophecy for the lives of all his followers.

To all my regulars, welcome home – it’s always great to catch up. 🙂  Cheers – TJ

How not to write a speech

Disclaimer: In this post, I use a real speech as an example of how to write a better speech. If you were at the wedding and heard the speech I’m referring to, you know that it was a beautiful wedding, for a beautiful couple, and that I intend no personal offense to the speech writer or anyone else involved.

I did two subjects in uni that were all about speech writing and persuasive speaking for different purposes. I did well, so I’d happily say that it’s taught me how to structure a basic speech to make an effective effort, at least, to persuade my listeners to my point of view.

Image source: Corey Ann, "How to give a best man speech"

Image source: Corey Ann, “How to give a best man speech”

Then I went to a wedding recently, and I learnt how not to write a speech.

Continue reading

The power of the spoken word

Reading Aloud - from Douglas School PTO

Reading Aloud – from Douglas School PTO

The one piece of writing advice that’s been most useful to me over the years is very simple: Read it aloud first.

Whether it’s dialogue or description in a short story or novel, arguments in an essay, or jokes at the start of a speech, I’ve picked up many errors just by reading my own work aloud as I’m drafting it.  There’s no way to know if your dialogue is forced or unnatural unless you’re literally speaking out what your characters would be.  If your 5-year-old’s dialogue isn’t right, you’ll hear immediately if it sounds like a 12-year-old when you have to say it.

I can’t imagine a children’s book being written – to be read aloud by parents to kids, or vice versa – without being read aloud first.  Oh, the delight of alliteration, of rhyme!  I may wax lyrical.

Addy Vannasy reads to village children on Discovery Day in Laos

Volunteer Addy Vannasy reads to village children on Discovery Day in Laos

Research has shown that young kids who don’t learn to “sound it out” find it harder to learn to read (sob), to master our complicated English spelling, and to create coherent sentences themselves when reading or speaking.  (See Blevins, W. Phonemic Awareness Activities for Early Reading Success for more detail.)

I will always remember one of my primary school principals, Mr O’Brien, reading out some of Shakespeare’s G-rated sonnets and complaining that no one used the verb “impignorate” anymore (no, I don’t know which one).   I think this “out loud” advice first came to my ears from him, in fact, this poetic principal who roamed the halls teaching poetry and theatre classes instead of filling in his endless paperwork.  I don’t know how efficient it was, but he inspired hundreds of Tamagotchi-obsessed children to read difficult and beautiful poetry – no mean feat.

These days, when I’m proofreading, I often mutter the words under my breath.  It must look and sound weird, but I usually work from home, so nobody sees it anyway.  Reading aloud as I’m proofreading makes sure that I don’t miss anything.  Your brain is happy to fill in the gaps if you’ve [left] out a word, or if you’ve misspelled something improtant [sic], or if there’s no full-stop.  (I simply cannot force myself to do that, even just for an example, sorry.)  But reading aloud makes your brain sloooow down to the pace of your mouth.  And your mouth won’t fill in gaps.  Sometimes it even trips over words, forcing you to reconsider your use of a certain adjective.

On a deeper note, when I think about the most powerful conversations in my life – the most encouraging, and the most damaging – they have all been literal, spoken conversations.  I remember them word for word.  And that says a lot, because I’m a letter-writer, preferring to hand someone my written words than work up the courage to say things out loud.

The “out loud” principle is true in our faith practices, as well.  I was at a workshop this week about conquering sin for women, and one of the most powerful things we talked about – among many helpful tips – was declaring God’s truths (scripture) out loud, and refuting the power of sin out loud.

The spiritual battle we face is real, and odd as it sounds, the devil who’s trying to tempt us doesn’t know what we’re thinking; he can only see our actions in giving in to temptation or hear us when we proclaim Jesus’ victory over ourselves and resist temptation.  James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Drafting your novel?  Start drafting it out loud.  Thinking about telling someone they did an awesome job?  Don’t shoot them that five second email; have that five second conversation face-to-face if you can.  You’ll enjoy it more, and so will they.

 

Did I read this blog post aloud before I posted it?  You betcha.  And I definitely tripped over “impignorate”, but you can bet it’s staying!

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

Do sci-fi and fantasy do what real life drama can’t? Decreasing bigotry and prejudice through reading

I’ve been thinking about how kids books can make a difference for disadvantaged people groups. The poor, the oppressed, the marginalised. Those starving in a third world, or held captive by a regime of fundamentalist beliefs, the homeless, the refugees, those who come here not speaking our language.

But I don’t think the best way to do it is to directly target those issues.

There are many award-winning, real-life dramas for kids that address racism or other forms of prejudice, like the multi-award-winning The Little Refugeeby famous refugee Ahn Do, or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, or the more recent The Invisible Hero by Elizabeth Fensham. These are books that many kids read in school; in my day, it was To Kill A Mockingbird for anti-racism, and I Capture the Castle or A Little Princess for accepting poverty.

Wonderful as these books all are at persuading their child audience to be more welcoming and accepting of certain people groups, I think they can never be as successful at persuading their child audience to be more welcoming and accepting generally, as stories told through the from-out-of-left-field genres of fantasy and sci-fi.

An article yesterday on the topic (this one is from Arts Mic; read its other variations in most other major news outlets, e.g. Sydney Morning Herald) discussed a series of three studies of Italian kids who had to read Harry Potter for school. This study showed that kids who identified with Harry Potter had significantly stronger tolerance for minority groups such as refugees, other immigrants, and gay people. The more HP books they had read, the more tolerant they were. And in contrast, kids who identified in any way with Voldemort showed less tolerance for refugees and other minority groups.

It’s simple if you think about it. Harry befriends Hermione, a ‘mudblood’ (a Muggle-born witch); Ron, the son of a very poor family; Hagrid, a half-giant ostracised by non-giants and giants alike; and Neville, who due to no fault of his own shows less aptitude for their magical studies.

J.K. Rowling said in 2003 that she never set out to teach kids anything, but she did say at the conclusion of the series that she considered it “a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry”.

Harry with Hermione, Ron and Neville - from Arts Mic - image source: AP

Harry with Hermione, Ron and Neville – from Arts Mic – image source: AP

This revolution in kids, started by a fantasy book series, reminded me of a powerful sci-fi movement that changed how we think about minority groups in the Western World.

Trek Nation poster

Trek Nation – documentary, 2011

I was recently watching a 2011 documentary by Rod Roddenberry, the son of Eugene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek: Trek Nation. A lot of the documentary focussed on how Star Trek allowed its viewers to feel like it was okay to be different.

No, Star Trek wasn’t written specifically for kids, but a lot of kids watched it. It was clean – very little bad language, violence, or adult themes. And it changed how they grew up.

In one powerful line, Rod said the thing that struck me the most: that Star Trek viewers had been consistently shown to be more tolerant people in general. They were more tolerant and accepting towards other races, other genders or sexualities, and other worldviews, better than the average person.

Part of the reason for this is because the show was, from the beginning, multicultural in its choice of actors. At a time when there were few non-white or foreign roles in American television dramas (the UK did a little better), Roddenberry chose an African woman to play Uhura, a Scotsman for Scotty, a Japanese-American for Hikaru Sulu, and a half-Vulcan alien for Spock.

Do you think books about real-life drama can achieve the same thing in kids through such subtle methods, such subconscious and long-lasting success?

On a faith note, Jesus embraced the outsider everywhere he went, and supported multicultural attitudes and interfaith communication whole-heartedly.

In John 4:7, he talks with the Samaritan woman at the well.  In Luke 10 he tells the parable of the good Samaritan, which basically says, “Who is my neighbour?” “Everyone, even my enemies, people whose beliefs are totally the opposite of mine.”  And what does he say about enemies?  “Love your enemies.”

Then in Luke 9:54, Jesus and the disciples are looking down at a Samaritan village that has rejected the message of Jesus and thrown them out of town.  James and John turn to Jesus and say, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?”  But what does Jesus do?  It says in verse 55, “But he rebuked them [the disciples].”  And this obviously has a huge impact on John, because later, in Acts 8:14, the disciples hear that Samaria has “accepted the word of God”, and as they’re deciding who to send there as missionaries, they choose Peter and John.

Continue reading

Never hold back – Daniel – “Even if…”

When is faith in action ever easy?  But the Bible has some incredible stories about faith in action being rewarded by God!

In Daniel 3:16 – 18, Daniel’s mates (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, aka Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah) are about to get thrown in the fire, and they give one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard:

“The three of them replied to the king, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you about this anymore.  If we get chucked into the blazing furnace that you’ve made, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it.  He will save us from Your Majesty’s power.   But we want you to know this: Even if we knew that our God wouldn’t save us, we still wouldn’t serve your gods and worship them instead.

Woah!

Even if God won’t save me, I’ll still call him my number one God?  I’ll still trust and worship him?

It’s crazy stuff.

It’s awesome stuff.

And God did save them – even more awesome! He provided an angel who stood with them in the fire so that they wouldn’t be burned up. By contrast, the soldiers who had to throw them into the furnace were all burned up immediately by the incredible heat.

Four in the fire from Keith Nicolas WordPress blog

Four in the fire from Keith Nicolas WordPress blog

There have been several moments in my life where God has said, “Even if *this bad thing happens* or *this good thing never happens*, will you still follow me?  Will you still worship me?” and I’ve said yes!  And I’ve known some great friends who’ve had the absolute worst happen and still love and trust God with everything they have.

But today isn’t about me or them or the past – although we’d happily give you details of what God’s done in our lives any time.  It’s about right now, your present situation.

Where is God asking you to let go of control of your life?

Where can you see God asking, “Even if the worst should happen, will you still trust me?”

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2013. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.