Monday, 18 February 2019

Be An Encourager...Please!

I am a great fan of being on the receiving end of encouragement.  Probably its number 1 fan, in fact.  So much so, that the smallest like of a post or comment on my blog can send me day-dreaming for hours about making it to the top of the Amazon charts with a book I don’t even have a concept for yet. 

More frequently, though, I sink into the ‘slough of despond,’ longing for encouragement that doesn’t come.  The problem with encouragement is that it is a Tricky Topic.  If you start speaking honestly about the need for more of it, it makes you look a bit unhinged at best, desperate and needy at worst.  If you rant about it and then some lands in your inbox, you feel like the encourager was only encouraging because they knew you were desperate for encouragement.  Am I still making sense?

A day I had a work, a couple of weeks ago, epitomised the problem perfectly; I was having a wobbly patch and did the mortifying thing where you are having a conversation with your boss and your voice cracks and launches into a sentence an octave higher than you intended.  You know they have noticed.  You swallow hard and move on to cover it.  Later that day, when the Head Teacher paid me a compliment, I burst back into the office, demanding to know whether my Head of Department had put him up to it, to cheer me up.  He hadn’t and we both laughed about it, but it accentuated, for me, some of the hurdles to being encouraged and being an encourager.

We know, as writers, that the words we write on our blog posts, works in progress, pitches and marketing campaigns matter.  We spend hours crafting them and getting them just so.  But do we think as hard about the comments we write (or don’t write) on Facebook posts and each others’ blogs, on Twitter and in reviews?  Perhaps we should.  Our words, in those contexts have tremendous power, too.  I am always astonished at the tiny percentage of people who read my blog (I can’t speak for others, as I can only see the stats for my own, but I don’t doubt that many would report similar), who actually stop to give it a like or a comment.  I can be guilty of it myself – I will enjoy having a scroll through a post and feel enlightened or entertained by it ; but then the rice boils over, the children squabble and I close it and swipe it away, without leaving a trace of my presence there. 

I don’t love everything I read.  Neither will you.  It is generally wiser to leave something unsaid, if it is going to cause harm and upset.  But if you, like me, read blogs and enjoy them, or novels and would recommend them, why not take more time to comment and encourage?  There have been melodramatic moments, in my writing, when I have resolved not to bother to write any more - nobody reads it, everyone is better than me anyway.  And in those times, even one, brief but well-worded, uplifting comment can be enough to spur me on, to find my courage again where I had left it on the roadside, pick it up and keep going. 

Likewise, sharing.  My personal blog (and this one) has a limited reach, with even my best attempts at social media airtime.  With a couple of shares it can double, triple, even quadruple its reach and therefore the people it touches.  Why don’t we do this, for each other more, for no other reason than to encourage and boost each others’ profile and reach, with no ulterior motives – just to shout to others that they too should read the work that we’ve enjoyed?

At the risk of delivering a sermon, the Greek word for encourage (parakaleo) shares its root with the word for Holy Spirit (parakletos) – to draw close, to walk beside.  Could it be said that we are engaging in the very work of the Holy Spirit when we draw alongside someone to encourage, strengthen and spur them on? The word is used 109 times in the New Testament. So let’s get to it – let’s do it.  Put a comment on that blog you’ve just read (or the Facebook or Twitter post, if you are un-techy like me and can’t for the life of you work out how to get your browser to allow you to comment directly on a blog), share that post that made you smile or cry. Tag a huge group of people in a Twitter post promoting someone else’s work.  Write that review that’s sunk to the bottom of your to-do list.

Of course, we shouldn’t rely on the encouragement of others – anything that we become too dependent on is an idol.  The only sensible conclusion I can reach in the ‘encouragement conundrum’ is that we should all take responsibility for becoming better at encouraging – whilst simultaneously working with God on becoming better at living without any but His.

Proverbs 12v25 says “A word of encouragement DOES WONDERS” (NLT) – this is stunningly, excruciatingly true.  Let’s make it a priority today – and next week and next month and next year.  Who knows what impact we could have on one another and our work?

Georgie Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 10 and 8 who keep her exceptionally busy. She writes for the ACW ‘Christian Writer’ magazine occasionally, and is a contributor to the ACW-Published ‘New Life: Reflections for Lent,’ and ‘Merry Christmas, Everyone: A festive feast of stories, poems and reflections.’ She writes the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local newspaper from time to time and also muses about life and loss on her blog:

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Writing a word of encouragement By Claire Musters

I know that I have already written in the past about how supportive, encouraging and life-giving it is to be a part of ACW. The interaction we have, often online, really keeps me going and spurs me on during days when I am finding writing a bit of a slog.

But I was challenged by a Bible reflection I was recently writing (isn’t that often the way? Your writing ends up challenging you!). I was looking at the passage in Ephesians 5 about being careful how we live – and the phrase ‘speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit’ jumped out at me. In my reflection I shared a couple of practical instances of when this has happened to me, and when I have stepped out and done this myself. 

We have just had Valentine's Day – I know it is an over-commercialised, money-grabbing moment on our calendars these days, but my husband and I have started a new tradition of creating cards and buying little gifts for our kids. We do this periodically anyway, but we wanted to take the time on this particular day, when they are seeing all around them the ‘romantic’ notion of receiving something from an admirer, to affirm our love and affection for them. We also remind them to look out for those moments that reveal God’s love to them throughout the day.

As I thought about both these things, I began to consider some of the other reasons that we might write to one another: a card on a birthday, a get well message or note of support when someone is having a difficult time. But do we make space regularly to write notes of friendship, love and encouragement to those around us, regardless of what is going on in their lives? An unexpected note is such a beautiful gesture that is always appreciated by the one on the receiving end. 

So, what about taking some time in the coming week to offer up your writing gift for the encouragement of a fellow ACW member? There are many poets amongst us: have you ever written a poem for a friend? What about praying and asking God for a fresh word of either thanks, encouragement or inspiration for another, which you could email, message or even write out the old-fashioned way and send via post…

Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Her books include Taking off the mask: daring to be the person God created you to be, Cover to Cover: Ezekiel A prophet for all times, Cover to Cover: 1–3 John Walking in the truth, Cover to Cover: David: A man after God's own heart, Insight Into Managing Conflict, Insight Into Self-acceptance and Insight Into Burnout. She also writes Bible study notes and magazine articles. To find out more about her, please visit  and @CMusters on Twitter. 

Saturday, 16 February 2019

On Pressing On - by Liz Carter

How long do you persevere at your book or piece of writing?

How many times do you submit it to agents and publishers, before you accept it's just not going to happen? Perhaps even then you are made of determined stuff, and keep going, knowing that this manuscript is worth something. All the hours you've put into it mean something, after all. Perhaps you go for self-publishing, refusing to release this dream. Or maybe you start the project off with the intention of self-publishing, knowing all the advantages inherent in that course of action; your own autonomy around the book, from design to content.

I find this one difficult. Although I've recently had my first non-fiction book published (and that was a labour of perseverence in itself) I have written a few more. A couple of years ago I finished a YA fiction manuscript - in fact, I wrote two of a trilogy. I was hugely excited about it, I'd loved the writing process, I'd learned so much along the way about showing and telling, passive voice, POV, nasty adverbs and killing many darlings, and it'd been a thrilling ride. I wrote the last words and promply submitted to a few agents I thought might be interested.

But no. You guessed it. At first it was tumbleweed, my keyboard worn thin by repeated refreshings in waiting for That Email. But when it came, it was a generic rejection: 'Sorry, this isn't for us. Bye.' (Basically!) It was my first taste of rejection and I didn't like it. It was bitter in my mouth, and I swallowed it down with a wall of doubt slamming into my body: Ah, seems I can't write after all.

I wasn't uninformed about the nature of submissions and rejections; I knew it would happen. But that first one - that hurt. Then the second came in, and third, fourth, fifth. With each one I deflated that little bit more. But something in me refused to give up, so I submitted more.

This time I got a few 'nice' rejections - the 'like the concept, good writing, but have no room on our list' type. I even got a couple of full MS requests, and these were heady days. This was it! I'd done it! <insert hollow laugh>

They came to nothing. The agents came back with kind words, encouraging me to keep submitting elsewhere, but something in me broke. If those who'd asked for a full MS didn't like it then I had no chance. So I stopped submitting, and since then this manuscript has gathered dust in my cyber unfinished projects drawer. But when I think of the heady days of writing the story, I grab hold once again of the vision, and wonder about another try.

Perseverance is an important attribute when we're pursuing any kind of writing career, even if only in part, but it's hard when we get knocked back, isn't it? It reminds me a bit of the Christian life. In Philippians 3 Paul talks about forgetting what is behind and straining ahead, pressing on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenwards in Jesus (v13-14) Paul is talking about putting stuff in his past behind him and making an active decision to go forwards in his life in Christ, and that takes a whole load of determination, because he had things pretty good in his old life. He was highly intelligent, highly thought of, faultless in his pursuit of religion. But Christ rushed in and upended his life and his heart, and he was left in a place where all he could do was dig deeper into this God who loved him so passionately. But digging deeper didn’t come easily – only a dogged determination would take him further into the treasures found in Christ. And it was so worth it.

Our writing is a calling upon us. That doesn’t necessarily mean our writing is always explicitly Christian (or even implicitly), but it is always about who we are and how we express ourselves. And that’s probably why rejections hurt so much – they seem a judgment on us at our deepest places. But in this climate we have an opportunity like no other time in history to make our words heard. Perhaps as we press on in our faith lives we are called to press on in our writing lives, too. Perhaps we need to take risks, to run forward with abandon, to stop sitting on our dusty old manuscripts and get them out there. They might not do anything, but they’re still our great achievements – and there’s something beautiful in that. Something beautiful about rushing into our calling and allowing that spark of creativity God has gifted us with to ignite and thrive.

And that might mean making ourselves vulnerable…

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to dust off a certain old manuscript…

Friday, 15 February 2019

Schro√ędinger’s Book

I’m terrible at waiting. I find it rapidly depletes my already low levels of energy. Waiting for responses from publishers, agents and competitions, magazines and art galleries, is even worse than normal waiting (like for Mr Sainsbury and his beepy van). It’s worse because my whole self is invested in the work and consequently in the process, as well as in the result of other people's deliberations.

Deliberations is, in most cases, rather too grand a word for the five seconds it takes to give my proposal or portfolio a cursory glance and fire off a rejection email, but just occasionally, there is a glimmer of hope that makes the potential outcome even more stressful.

Right now, for instance, I’m waiting to hear back from a publisher who used the heart-stopping words, “I’m interested.” And so now they have my ms and my endorsements, the next part of the waiting process begins. And I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted from the effort of not checking my emails constantly, and the effort of giving in and looking. I’m exhausted from the daydreams about book covers and how it might feel to hold the real solid thing in my hands.

I’m weary too, of wondering about how success might look and feel, how it might make other people, and other writers especially, react to me. And most especially, I’m tired from trying to gear myself up for the very real possibility that this too might be a dead end, and that it may all come to nothing.  Is it a book or isn’t it? When will I know? Even if it gets published, will people like it?

And the only thing, really that I can do with my stress and my waiting and my dreams, is give them to God. It’s work that I have done for him, after all. It’s his book more than it is mine. Whatever happens (or doesn’t), I’ll take as from his hands, and trust his timing. If it is a yes, I’ll be relieved and grateful, maybe even excited (if I can remember how), and if it is a no, then at least I shall be encouraged that this piece of my heart must have merit, and that there is hope of finding a home where it can finally become a reality. I am not going to deny that the latter outcome may also involve tears and consumption of chocolate whilst I recover what I laughingly call my strength.

In the mean time, my book wavers in and out of existence. Here on my hard drive, held in my imagination, and only time will tell if I’ll ever hear purring coming from inside that box….

Keren Dibbens-Wyatt is a disabled writer and artist with a passion for poetry, mysticism, story and colour. Her writing features regularly on spiritual blogs and in literary journals. Her full-length publications include Garden of God’s Heart and Whale Song: Choosing Life with Jonah. She lives in South East England and is mainly housebound by her illness.

Photo from Pixabay 

Thursday, 14 February 2019


How can I resist the date as inspiration for my first post on this blog? Valentine: patron saint of… Now, don’t log off, it’s not going in the direction you’re probably expecting.

Valentine: patron saint (well, one of them) of beekeepers.

My husband took up beekeeping last year – he completed a basic course, joined the local beekeeping club, and got further experience helping with his friend’s hives. Now, he’s got his spot reserved in the new apiary, kit ready to go and hive about to be built, all waiting for a swarm to be collected when this year’s season arrives.

So when I was reading Psalm 121 again, this phrase suddenly made new sense:

‘The Lord is my keeper’.

I thought of a bee-keeper like my husband: not someone who locks things up, or puts them away safely in a cupboard, but someone who actively tends and cares for living beings, whose focus is their benefit:

Someone who provides them with what they need – a home (a hive), leadership (a queen), an environment in which to flourish (within flying distance of the pollen they need), sustenance when natural resources run low (beekeepers use ‘fondant’, a sugar solution, during the winter).

Someone who cares for them when ill, gathers them in from the wild to a safe place of their own, and who works with them to produce a harvest.

Someone who prepares the ground in advance, just as the new apiary was carefully sited next to the allotments (to gardeners’ and beekeepers’ mutual benefit), then the ground cleared of weeds, an even layer of earth put down, and finally a firm foundation stone (a paving slab) laid for each hive.

I think this is the kind of keeping God does for us, both in our spiritual and our writing lives.

We may be at different stages in the season or process. Perhaps you can look back on the foundations God laid down for your writing: essays at school, a book review here and there, an article for the church newsletter, a diary or prayer journal. Perhaps you are starting to see a harvest: a book published, a growing following on your blog, a reader’s comment on the impact of something you have written. Or perhaps you are somewhere in between.

But He is our keeper. He cares for us and wants us and our writing to flourish, just like my husband and his bees.

And God has made us word-keepers. But that’s another blog post!

May God bless the work of your hands
And the intent of your hearts.
May God bless the flight of the bees
And the product of the honey.
May you know the increase of favour and blessing
In all you put your hands to
And may you know the smile of God
As you set yourself to be a multiplier and a blessing to others.

Liz Manning fits writing around being an Occupational Therapist, BB captain, wife, and mum to two adult sons. Or perhaps it's the other way round. She blogs regularly at 

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

De-Cluttering for Writing

By Rosemary Johnson

Over the last few days, my husband and I have started to de-clutter our house of some of the clobber which has accumulated over the thirty years in which we have lived here.  We still have a long way to go.  We haven't started on the attic, not yet moved in on the 1995 edition of Match, with Dennis Bergkamp in a brand new Arsenal shirt on its cover.  (I know it's there!)

De-cluttering isn't just for houses.  When we pray, we de-clutter our minds, in various ways, so that we're not wondering whether we've fed the cat during Our Father.  Some sit quietly, concentrating on a candle or a stained-glass window, or they occupy their hands, arms and legs.  They pass rosary beads between the fingers; walk; or - more prosaically - iron clothes.  I joke not.  A lot of us pray to the rhythm of our arms moving across our clothes.  Cleaning the floor is good too, praying to the up and down action of the squeegy mop.

We also need to de-clutter our minds before we writing.  You know how it is.  You open your computer.  You open Word and stare at the blank screen... then, in the corner of your eye you spot a speck of dust on the skirting boards.  'I must get up and wipe them', you think, getting up immediately.  A lot of it is the terror of that blank screen, the effort you know you'll have to summon up and knowing that it's all got to come from you... Oh, perhaps, it's time for a cup of tea.  Clearing out your mind of everything else is very hard, even for a few hours, especially if you work in a day-job, as most of us are.

Some writers install apps for blocking the internet.  (On the other hand, move to rural East Anglia.  No need to block the internet around here.)  Others have other apps for stopping Facebook and other social media.  I wonder how much time and emotional energy they expend worrying about who's posted on Facebook while it's blocked, sent emails, what's on the news and whether their family-members are trying to contact them.  My approach is very different.

I divide my time into writing-time and not-writing-time.

On a non-writing day...
  • I anticipate tasks that might overlap on to writing days and do them.
  • I plan easy meals which might generate left-overs for writing days.
  • I cram in all appointments and necessary trips out.
On a writing day...
  • I decide which domestic jobs are essential for that day and do them - first.  
  • When I switch on my computer, I check emails and and WhatsApp messages; I respond to those I need to respond to, star a very few for answering later and delete the rest.  
  • If any emails about work come in, I give them absolute priority.   
Then I attempt to write.  To start with I'm very unsettled, and, if a new email appears on my toolbar, I look at it and thereby de-clutter it from my mind.  For me, this system works, because, as I get into my writing, I look at the emails and WhatsApp less and less.  After a while, I have to dig myself out for coffee and lunch.

I also find deadlines de-clutter the mind beautifully.  I'm writing this, the night before my More Than Writers slot, at quarter to eleven pm, with the television News playing in the background.

What routines do other writers follow?

Rosemary Johnson has just completed a modern historical novel, set in the 1980s.  She has also, very recently, started submitting short stories again.  In real life, she teaches maths and IT and lives with her husband and cat.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Kicking away the blocks, by Ben Jeapes

Private Baldrick, included at last
As part of a Philosophy & Politics degree, I spent a compulsory term studying symbolic logic. This is about reducing an argument to – wait for it – symbols to determine whether or not it is logical. At this stage you are not worried about whether or not it is actually right. “The Moon is made of cheese; I am standing on the Moon; therefore I am standing on cheese” is entirely logical, and also wrong – but because you can easily establish that the logical structure is sound, you know it is worth progressing to the next stage of examining the premises on which it is based. What is logical is not always right, but what is right is always logical.

A key stage of the process is “discharging assumptions” at the end. For any argument, there have to be assumptions spelled out in advance: if THIS, then THAT. Don’t ask me over 30 years later to describe exactly how that’s done – I was shaky on it even then – but the gist of it is that you kick away the supporting blocks of your argument to see if it still stands up without them. If it does then you know you have a good piece of logic on your hands and you can now get on with determining the great imponderables of the universe.

Recently I was preaching on the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, which I argued was the real end of the Old Testament (living under law) and the start of the New (living under grace). I remembered Private Baldrick’s little speech in Blackadder Goes Forth questioning how the First World War began: “these days there's a war on, right? and, ages ago, there wasn't a war on, right? So, there must have been a moment when there not being a war on went away, right? and there being a war on came along … ” I thought I would rework this, for a laugh, into how one testament went away and the other came along.

And so the sermon developed and was, though I say so myself, quite good. (You can hear it yourself … ) But there was one thing that just wasn’t working about it … and I eventually concluded it was Baldrick. Take him out, and the whole thing worked a lot better.

A few years ago I thought that a short story I had written could make the basis of a good novel. I promoted a secondary character to the lead, and extended his own story forwards and backwards and outwards. And I had a novel … which just didn’t work, until I actually stripped out everything relating to the original story. It left holes, which I had to fill with new, added plot, but the novel was much better as a result. It saw daylight as The Teen, the Witch & the Thief.

A useful lesson for writers is that inspiration is just that – inspiration. It is not something with a contractual obligation to be included in the final piece of work. Is something that once seemed such a great idea now actually holding your even better idea back? Kick it away and see what happens!

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 5 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer.