The Book Whisperer … “The Art of Spiritual Writing”

Book WhispererArtSpiritualWriting_BlogTour-socialAt Ave Maria Press, I enjoy working closely with authors to help them “develop their craft.” Rewriting and platform-building are two of the most challenging tasks for any writer, so I am always looking for helpful resources. Vinita’s new book, The Art of Spiritual Writing, is one I highly recommend for those new to the spiritual writing genre, or for authors who simply want to write with greater clarity and conviction. (For those looking for a good resource on platform building, I recommend Mike Hyatt’s Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, now available on Kindle for $2.99.)

In The Art of Spiritual Writing, Wright articulates well the difference between “private” and “public” writing, and outlines the process that every writer needs to engage fully in order to connect with readers. She also makes it abundantly clear that the spiritual writer’s calling is different from that of a teacher or preacher — and yet there are some sobering similarities.

“The writer of the New Testament book of James warned Christians not to hanker after … teaching positions, because the responsibility was great, and when a teacher made an error, it affected many people,” Wright explains. “The same is true for writers, and especially true for writers who broach the realm of spirituality. We hanker after those book contracts and speaking engagements. But should we be so eager? Do we realize, from day to day, the power we wield when we send our words out into the world?”

Novice and veteran writers (and editors) alike will appreciate Wright’s practical advice, such as . . .

Five Things Every Spirituality Writer Needs to Know

  1. Nothing makes up for poor craftsmanship. “Writing is a craft, and it is a different form of expression from speaking, teaching or preaching,” Vinita observes. (I’d add that writing a book is a different form of expression from blogging, as sustaining reader interest for two hundred pages requires a different approach than getting a reader to “click through” to peruse 350 words.)
  2. Save teaching for the classroom and preaching for the pulpit. “You want to write so that the matter unfolds and the reader experiences the unfolding. You explore a topic, and the reader comes right along with you. … The writing itself must be seductive. … If you write in a preachy, didactic, and overbearing way, you will attract the audience you don’t want, and you’ll repel the audience you hope for.”
  3. Fiction is about storytelling, not teaching. “With nonfiction writing, often we are building an argument or system of thinking. The structure is probably linear, with one point leading naturally to the next.”
  4. The reader becomes engaged when she has to do some of the work. “Write so that the reader can imagine herself in your situation and growing right along with you. Write with balance: honest but hopeful, encouraging but challenging.”
  5. Personal writing must be transformed in order to work as public writing. “Many of the details that are important to you will be meaningless to readers. … Your task is to pick and choose among the thousands of details, standing back from the story to understand what a stranger would need to know and what would capture the stranger’s interest.” Later in the book, Wright points out that public writing is shaped not according to the author’s needs and preferences, but for the intended audience. “Public writing takes the concrete details of a single, personal experience to generate a discussion of the more universal experience readers will relate to.”

Speaking both as an editor and as an author who understands how difficult it can be, this fifth point is possibly the most valuable skill any writer can acquire. While there must be enough of our own story to let the reader get to know us, and learn to trust us, we need to fully engage the writing and rewriting process, so that our private thoughts are pruned and transformed into something truly life-giving.

The Art of Spiritual Writing is now available as a paperback or on Kindle, through Loyola Press or Amazon.com.

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Wee Read Wednesday: “Longing to Love” by Tim Muldoon

Recently released by Loyola Press, “Longing to Love” is a poignant reminder of the many pathways of love in the human heart.

Muldoon’s memoir was a touching story of his family’s journey to adoption (they adopted two little girls from China), which brought to mind one of my other favorite books, Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy. (Both authors attended Oxford, and both stories involve the blossoming relationships of couples who love each other deeply, yet are unable to have children.)

As they contemplated becoming parents, Muldoon recounts the qualms he experienced — feelings common to many prospective adoptive parents, though they are usually felt more strongly by one partner. He writes:

“Whereas I enjoyed the garden of our young marriage, she sought the next of a young family. Over time, the tenor of her suasion was hopeful, idealistic, even theological: God wants us to do this. I eventually found myself giving reticent assent, still ill at ease with the real questions of how we could afford to begin raising a family with a near-total lack of income on my part. The decision to bring children into our world was, then, about being willing to act upon trust, both in her and in the belief that God spoke to me most clearly through her. She was my sacrament. She was teaching me what it meant to love” (p.7).

These lessons were not always easy learned — they involved moments of great joy and heartache alike, although in the author’s own words, “it was preferable to live with the risk of both real joy and real suffering, rather than to live a safe, comfortable, sanitized, unremarkable life” (p.30).

And so, the couple moved forward, bravely, choosing to extend themselves in love rather than drawing inward in their childless grief. “I am falling in love,” Muldoon writes. “Even in spite of the may ways I have prepared for this experience, I am surprised and amazed at how it is happening. But the simple truth is that this child has captured my heart; I am smitten and out-of-control in love with her” (p.125).

This book would make a great gift for a couple you know who is contemplating expanding their family through adoption.

CWCO 2009 Monday: Workshops and Mission Statements

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If you logged on today expecting to see the regular “Miracle Monday” feature, this might be a bit of a shock on your system … All this week, EMN will be featuring an overview of the Catholic Writers’ Conference Online, which is a joint effort of the the Catholic Writer’s Guild and the Extraordinary Moms Network.

Today’s sessions are dedicated to introducing the online workshops that are being held this week. These are run much like online college classes — the lessons are posted for you to work through and post your comments and/or homework. The leader checks in throughout the day to respond to any questions you might have. This year we are offering the following workshops:

“Creative Calisthenics” with Terri Main
“Description and Setting” with Kim Richards
“Dialogue” with Devon Ellington
“Everything by Writing” with Sue Lick
“Generating Ideas for Fiction” with Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
“How to Sell Yourself” with VS Grenier
“Humor Writing” with Ron Berry
“Publisher-Quality Manuscripts” with Frank Creed
“Query Letters that Sell” with Melanie Rigney
“What Editors Want” with Lea Schizas
“Worldbuilding” with Karina Fabian
“Writing the Short Screenplay” with Kristen Johnson

Finally, if you are one of the lucky few who are able to pitch a book idea to one of the real, live editors who will be joining us on Thursday … I have a chat scheduled this morning to offer you a few pointers!  (If you missed it, the chats are available for viewing in the workshop forum section of the website until the end of the conference.)  Continue reading