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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Vote on your favourite blog rebrand ideas

I’ve identified the major themes that I’d like to write about in the future, so I made a survey so you can vote on your favourites among these blog ideas!

It is here: Survey Monkey TJ Withers-Ryan

I can’t say the survey results will make my decision for me re blogging, but I would 100% appreciate reader feedback on what you are most interested in reading about.

God bless,

TJ

Image source: TJ Ryan photo, icanhascheezburger lolcat builder

Image source: TJ Ryan photo, icanhascheezburger lolcat builder

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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Australian shortlists for best children’s books released

CBCA logo

If you haven’t worked it out yet, I love children’s and YA books. So last week was a lot of fun, because the assorted Australian shortlists for the best children’s and YA books of the year came out, and I got to browse through endless pages of children’s books, daydreaming about which I would like to read, making my own shortlist from the shortlist, and then writing myself a monthly ‘book budget’ to make sure I didn’t buy the lot of them in one big splurge.

Such self-control!

Below are the links to the various shortlists, longlists, and notable book lists, and then I’ve given you my ultimate shortlist of books – the books from the award shortlists that I look forward to devouring (eventually) like a happy little bookworm. 🙂

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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 2

The Valentine’s Nebula, a gift from God to let you know you are loved by someone much bigger than you are!  Image source: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

The Valentine’s Nebula, a gift from God to let you know you are loved by someone much bigger than you are!
Image source: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you – taken, searching, or happily single alike! You all have the same value and worth in God’s eyes; you are not defined by your marital status. Has to be said.

Now on to fun things – my favourite proposal stories! Most of them are in books, some of them are in real life, but I’ll just be sharing the literary ones today. 😉

  1. Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion by Jane Austen – the second, successful one

Secret confession – not actually a 100% Pride and Prejudice fangirl. My secret love is the best love story of all time – Persuasion!

We don’t usually get to hear the words in Jane Austen’s successful proposals. She delights in describing the unsuccessful proposals, the ones that get rejected so eloquently. But when the answer is going to be yes, then Austen only brings the scene to the point of “they both understand each other, at last!” or at least “they both realise their affection for the other” and then moves right along to “My father happily gave his consent and we were married in spring.”

The exception is here, in Persuasion. We get to read the full proposal because she gives us one of the most romantic letters of all time, which has since featured on coffee mugs, book bags and T-shirts, etc.

Written by Frank Wentworth to his beloved Anne Elliot, it describes his feelings in a way that is still expressed today, although in different words, by men everywhere who approach the woman they love unsure whether she’ll say yes or no:

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in
F. W.”

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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.

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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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?

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