Take up a Stone

“a sign among you…”

by Marcia Lee Laycock

Poet Mary Oliver once said, “Instructions for living a life: pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.”

Sounds like good advice for living a writing life. It’s a writer’s job to observe, to step back from the moment and ponder what might be happening, what might be important, what might be worthy of being recorded. The job comes with a responsibility.

When I recently had the privilege of sitting in on the rehearsals of my play, A Pattern in Blue, the director gave me a little advice. “Be sure you sit in a spot where you can see and observe the audience. Look around you to see how they are reacting.”

I did observe and I was so very glad he had given me that advice. My heart soared as I watched that riveted audience lean forward to catch every word. I was very glad I was paying attention to them as they paid attention to the performance. The experience was a gift from God’s hand, one I will never forget.

I’ve had many moments like that in my life – watching others watch life as it happened. I remember watching my two year old nephew’s eyes widen with wonder when I turned his head so he could see an iris that had just bloomed. I remember seeing the light in my mother-in-law’s eyes when her son showed up unexpectedly with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. I remember learning what the word cherish meant as I watched a man who thought he’d never have a child shower his daughter with affection. I have written about all of those moments and many others, moments in time when I paid attention, was astonished and went on to tell about it. Those moments too were gifts from the hand of God.

Like all gifts, those God gives us through our talent and skill as writers is not meant just as a blessing to us. They are meant to be signposts pointing to Jesus. As the Hebrew people entered the promised land, a moment in time that is recorded for us in Joshua chapter 4, God instructed the people to take stones from the river and construct a memorial, not just to mark the moment, but to turn the heads and hearts of present and future generations toward Him, in all his goodness, power and glory.

We writers of faith, are, in a sense, the bearers of such stones of remembrance. We are to build words into stories like stones piled up into altars and memorials. It is up to us to write the words that point to the beauty in our world, words that turn heads so they will look and see the true character of God, words that cry out for mercy and justice when what lies before us is corrupt and unjust.

And as we place these stones carefully and deliberately we too are blessed because they aren’t just stones, they aren’t just words. They are holy instruments of God.

“Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder… to serve as a sign among you … these stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:2-7). 

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Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta
Canada where she is a pastor’s wife and mother of three adult daughters. She
was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel,
One Smooth Stone. The sequel, A Tumbled Stone was short listed in The Word
Awards. Marcia also has two devotional books in print and has contributed to
several anthologies. Her work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette
Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan.

Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for writers can
be downloaded here.
Her most recent release is the first book in a
fantasy series, The Ambassadors which is currently shortlisted for a Word Award

Sign up to receive her
devotional column, The Spur

 

If Only I Had Time to Write!

Every person who’s ever had a story idea in her head has had that thought, at least once. For some, it’s much harder to carve out writing time than for others. The single mom with two kids, for example, has more things eating up her 24 hours than, say, a retiree. But there are still ways to make time for writing.

Rather than tell you what you’re doing wrong, let me use myself as an example. I’ve had a total of 11 books traditionally published since my first one in 2007. I’ve learned a lot during that time, but one thing I will probably always struggle with is procrastination. I’m the Queen of Putting it Off. And one of the best ways to do that is to bemoan the lack of time for writing. Just trying to write this blog post, there were lots of reasons I couldn’t sit down and do it. Here are my top three.

Television
I used to watch a lot more TV than I do now. One of the things that has helped me cut down on TV time is not having cable. I use several streaming services to watch current TV shows, which means I’m more intentional in my choices. I can’t channel surf, so gone are the days of flipping through stations with the remote, hoping to find something good, and then going through a second time in case I missed something. Still, between Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, there’s a lot to draw my interest. TV needs to be something I reward myself with. After I finish writing a chapter, I can watch an episode of that show I’m crazy about. Otherwise, I’ll spend all day enjoying the creative efforts of others, rather than expressing my own.

Social Media
For me, this is a bigger time sucker than television. One of the reasons professional writers spend so much time on social media sites is because we’re told it’s good for marketing. It helps create a platform, expand our fan base, build name recognition and the like. However, if you’re not social, if all you do is plug your books, people quickly lose interest. It’s a fine line to walk. I’m a big Facebook user. The posts that get the most responses for me are the ones with pictures, usually of my dog or the amazing agave blooming in my front yard. It’s fun to interact with family and friends, and some readers, too. It’s also easy to go off on rabbit trails, looking at other posts, commenting on memes, taking quizzes to find out which cookie best describes my personality, and before I know it, an hour has gone by. That’s time I could have spent writing my novel.

My other social media addiction is Pinterest. I use the excuse that it gives me inspiration for future stories, and it does. One of my boards is named “Imagine” and the pictures there fuel my creativity. But I can literally spend hours on that site. I have so many recipes pinned now, I could prepare a year of meals. And I can never complete all the craft projects I’ve pinned. One day, I just might build that cinder block fire pit. First, though, I really need to write!

Reading
I know. We’re writers, and writers need to read! That’s totally true. Reading, especially things outside our genres, expands our minds, helps us think of things in different ways, and introduces us to new ways of saying something. But I can get lost in a good book. One chapter turns into two, hours pass, and I haven’t written anything. It’s another situation where I have to be intentional. I will read only so much. Or, I will write 1000 words on my own novel before I fire up the Kindle.

Here’s a Bonus Tip
Something I’ve discovered truly helps me get writing done is to make my work space portable. I have a laptop that I use most of the time. At this moment, I’m sitting in a recliner in the living room, typing away. I also have a desktop PC. In order to seamlessly go between the two, I use Dropbox. All my writing is saved in the Dropbox folder. When I save it on one computer, it updates the cloud folder, so the current version of my file is always available. And if I’m away from home and need to look at one of my documents, I can sign into Dropbox from any computer and access my files. It’s changed the way I work in a very positive way.

Bottom Line
Nobody really has enough time to do everything they want to do. But if you want to write, you’ll find ways to do it. Try this: Set a timer for 5 minutes. Write down everything you do in a day that’s negotiable. All the things you can put off for later, or spend less time doing. When that timer goes off, I’ll bet you’ll have a considerable list. Now you have a place to start. Go forward, and plan your attack.

Make time to write!

*  *  *

Jennifer AlLee was born in Hollywood, California, and grew up above a mortuary one block away from the famous intersection of Hollywood & Vine. Now she lives in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas, which just goes to prove she’s been blessed with a unique life. When she’s not busy spinning tales, she enjoys playing games with friends, attending live theater and movies, and singing at the top of her lungs to whatever happens to be playing on Pandora. Although she’s thrilled to be living out her lifelong dream of being a novelist, she considers raising her son to be her greatest creative accomplishment. You can visit her on Facebook, Pinterest, or her website.

Ideas, Ideas—They’re Everywhere ~ By Robin Caroll

Born
and raised in Louisiana, Robin Caroll is a southerner through and through. Her
passion has always been to tell stories to entertain others. Her books have
finaled/placed in such contests as RT Reviewer’s Choice, Bookseller’s Best,
Holt Medallion, Carol Awards, and Book of the Year. When she isn’t writing,
Robin spends time with her husband of twenty-plus years, her three beautiful
daughters, two precious grandsons, and their character-filled pets.
Ideas, Ideas—They’re Everywhere
I’m often
asked how I get ideas for my books. I always want to answer, “Where don’t I get ideas?”
I get some
fabulous character ideas by people watching. Now, my friends and family know I
detest shopping. If I never had to walk into another mall in my life, I’d be
happy. But with daughters and grandsons, that’s not gonna happen. Sigh.
So when
forced to brave the elements of humanity (although, I seriously question
this—have you ever seen women at a 75% off sale act really human?) and venture
into stores or malls, I watch people. I study them. Yes, even been known to
snap a picture of one with my cell phone because of a certain hairstyle, or
quirk, or expression.
I travel
a bit and usually have at least one layover. Perfect time to people-watch and
record them when they’re tired, or stressed, or hungry, or disappointed, or
everything. All of this information filters down and finds its way into a
character.
Newspapers,
television, and yes, even those true-crime shows all provide fodder for my
plots. No, I don’t see something or read about it and then just change minor
events for my story. I play a game called what-if.
For
example, I’ll hear a story about a woman who shot her husband for having an
affair. My mind starts the game: What if the woman had hired a private
detective to get the “goods” on her husband? What if the private detective had
a grudge against the husband for some wrong years ago? What if the man wasn’t
having an affair, but the private detective made it look like he was, just so
his wife would kill him? Oh, what if the woman didn’t even suspect her husband
was having an affair, but this guy who had a grudge against the husband
pretended to be a private detective and sent incriminating evidence to the
wife? … and so my mind goes. (Scary, I know)
I also
get ideas from my own life. For instance, the germ of an idea for my Justice Seekers series came about due to
a legal investigation my husband went through. I followed my research through
court cases, trials, appeals, and sentencing, all the while observing how
people acted and reacted.
Then I
started playing What If again…what if an FBI agent lied on the stand and an
innocent person was convicted? What if a person witnessed a murder, but had no
choice but to run? And thus the first book of the series was born.
Ideas are
everywhere, you just have to look for them. Now, back to my what-if game. What
if a writer was on deadline? What if she kept playing on email and the internet
instead of making her word count? What if …
As a
white water rafting guide, Katie Gallagher must battle the forces of nature on
a daily basis. When sabotage becomes apparent on a weekend rafting trip, Katie
must determine who she can trust—and who has their own agenda.

Hunter
Malone has a mission on a business adventure trip on the Gauley River, a
mission that didn’t include a spunky guide who could handle the class-five
rapids better than he’d ever imagined. But can she handle the truth?

Struggles of the Working Class

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. www.peterleavell.com.

Many Americans deny social classes exist in the United States. Oh, how we fight against the idea that not everyone is equal!


But as writers, we must detach ourselves from culture and look at the bigger picture. No matter what Americans claim, social classes in the United States exist. Some want to climb in social standing, and cannot attain. And there are those who have social standing, and hold it over those who struggle just to survive.
One example is our public school system. But our job is not to change society, but to make commentary. So we won’t discuss schools here.

Great novels have a fight between the classes. Inside readers, the struggle between the have and the have nots is compelling, perhaps the most compelling storyline ever written. But Americans refuse to admit social classes exist. Is this why there are so few American literary geniuses that stand the test of time?
There are a few American writers who do understand. America’s greatest writers understood social classes in the United States.

Mark Twain made light of the struggles between the African American community and their masters. But easily read between the lines are the struggles that still resonate with readers today.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a perfect example that social classes make for a compelling story. Many critics believe this may be the greatest novel ever written.

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is a close look at the plight of the working class. Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick is an incredible snapshot of social classes aboard the ship. William Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy follows a family’s slow rise in social standing.

A compelling novel includes social injustice. First, admit social classes exist within Amercia, and you’ve gone a long way into making a page-turner! Pull your head out of your culture and take a look around!

Philip Anderson keeps his past close to the vest. Haunted by the murder of his parents as they traveled West in their covered wagon, his many unanswered questions about that night still torment him. 
His only desire is to live quietly on his homestead and raise horses. He meets Anna, a beautiful young woman with secrets of her own. Falling in love was not part of his plan. Can Philip tell her how he feels before it’s too late?
With Anna a pawn in the corrupt schemes brewing in the nearby Dakota town, Philip is forced to become a reluctant gunslinger. Will Philip’s uncannily trained horses and unsurpassed sharpshooting skills help him free Anna and find out what really happened to his family out there in the wilderness?