Using Family Photos to Write Your Family Stories

Photo/KarenJordan

Whenever we put together our own stories and either tell them or write them for posterity, we are preserving the most central element of our own identity and value system. Who are we, apart from the people and the events about which we tell our own stories? (Donald Davis, Telling Your Arkansas Stories)

Have you ever discovered an old family picture and wished that you knew the story behind it?

The following questions might help you discover an important family story that you can share with the next generation!

People. Can you identify the people within the shot? If not, do you know anyone who can? Can you write a description of that person? Who else might have been around when the shot was taken?

Places. Do you know where the picture as taken? Can you describe the place or the area at that time? Do you know anything about the history of the area? What do you know about that area now?

Photo/Karen JordanTime. When was the shot taken? What time period? What was going on in the world at that time? What changes have taken place since that time?

Events. Do you know what event was taking place when the photo was taken? Can you tell what season of the year it was taken? What events might have been happening around that time?

Story. Does the picture remind you of a story? What came to mind as you thought about the people, places, or event that might have been taking place when the photo was taken?

Questions. You might think of even more questions that you need to ask yourself about the photo that would help you capture an important family story.

Brainstorm. Take a moment and write down your thoughts about your picture. You could even include the picture when you preserve your story—in a scrapbook, on your computer, on a blog, in a notebook … the possibilities are endless!

Legacy Stories. Don’t miss your opportunity to preserve your family history by composing a written legacy of your family stories, as you identify the details and stories represented by your family photos.

Did either of these photos remind you of a person, place, or event from your own family history?

What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write

Writing blocks rarely hit me because I don’t know what to say. For me, they are usually derived from a mind swarming with ideas. So much so, that I can feel overwhelmed with questions like these:

  • Should I focus on idea A or B today?
  • Just because I’m interested in a topic doesn’t mean anyone else is, right?
  • Is my thinking on this matter completely delusional?
  • I can’t write about __________; people will think __________ about me. Won’t they?

Ah, the battles of insecurity a writer must fight. So how do we wage war against our own fears, those with the power to debilitate us if we aren’t careful?Writing Rules

For me, I’ve had to gulp, choosing to write afraid.

I love what Stephen King said on the matter. “The only requirement to be a writer is to remember every scar.”

The secret to great writing is daring to risk in order to reap greater rewards. 

  • When you aren’t sure whether idea A or B is better, choose one and decide to embrace your own decision.
  • Odds are, if you are interested in a topic, so are other people. If you doubt it, do a quick friend/family and social media poll to test the waters.
  • What sometimes feels delusional to us can feel like “outside the box” thinking to others. Research to see if you can substantiate your premise. Try to imagine how this might come across to someone foreign to the concept. Tell your readers you understand this may sound strange or that they might agree to disagree with you. And don’t forget to ask God what He wants you to say — He is the king of fresh ideas.
  • As Stephen King’s quote reminds us, the inner scars, the deep thoughts, and the vulnerable spaces in our lives are often the ones other people connect with the most. If we hold our tender areas captive, we can’t free someone else who needs permission to release their own fears.

I think most writers struggle with what to write when you don’t know what to write. But you can’t go wrong when your words originate from your soul. Don’t doubt yourself to the point of mental paralysis. Your unique take is as important as your unique voice in expressing your thoughts.

Dare to believe in what you have to say.
Dare to share your innermost thoughts. Dare to trust God with a message he wants you to offer.

What Are You Doing for OthersSo what if every person on the planet doesn’t share your perspective? Some of the greatest minds in history were scoffed at in the beginning. Do your due diligence, then dare to risk so you and your readers reap a greater reward.

What topics could you write afraid? What are you holding back that could help others?

Writer’s Block? Consider a Template

You sit down to write your blog post or speech, and your mind goes blank.

What do you do? Panic? Make a fresh cup of coffee? Take a walk outside? Or tie yourself to your desk chair, vowing not to get up until it’s finished?

We’ve all had these moments of frustration when the words refuse to come. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one.

Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then start on the first one.”

One way to do that is to use a template. Michael Hyatt suggests, “I create a template for any task I find myself doing repeatedly. So instead of reinventing the wheel every time, I do it once, save it as a template, and then reuse it.”

If you’ve every written a book proposal, you understand the value of a template. And you compose it in chunks, right? In fact, just typing the cover page is a helpful way to start; then, you go on to the next page.

I use templates as I compose teaching or speaking notes, as well as for some of my hard-to-write blog posts.

I start with an overall look at the topic.

  • Audience. I start by examining who I’m writing for, or who will be attending the event.
  • Felt need or problem. I examine not only what problem I’m addressing, but also what I want the audience to know and to do.
  • Main thought. For me, it’s often hard to reduce my message into one or two words. So, I attempt to summarize my message in one sentence to get my focus.
  • Scripture or reference. Since I write on nonfiction, Christian topics, I write out the main scripture or promise I want to share, or the authoritative source.

The next part of my template includes spaces for each section planned.

  • Opening statement or story. Here’s where I try to capture the attention of my audience with a quotation or an intriguing story.
  • My story. I connect with the topic, using an illustration from my own experiences.
  • Our story. I consider borrowing from other people or source that expresses how many reader will relate to the subject.
  • Resource. What does my primary resource say about this topic? This could be Bible reference or another authoritative source.
  • Your story. Now, I try to lead the reader to connect the topic with one of her own life stories.
  • Application. I encourage the audience to adopt some practical way to apply the message that might change their life.
  • Conclusion. What is the take-away? Write something the audience can remember—a clever quote, a power statement, or repeat what you just said in the post in a memorable way. I propose a premise, then reinforce it with strong, concluding words.

How do you handle those times when the words won’t come for your project?

I hope you will consider developing a template for those tasks you find yourself doing routinely, like blog posts or speaking notes.

And if all else fails, just take a walk or do anything to get your mind off your writing, and allow yourself to refocus on something pleasant or beautiful.

Then, go back to your desk, sit down, and just write!

Have templates helped you in your writing? If so, share a few examples with us.

 

5 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

Writer's Block

If you have been sitting in front of a computer staring at the empty white screen, you are not alone. We all have felt stuck before. Here are 5 things that I have done that have helped me get the creativity flowing.

1. Get Away to Write

When I am beginning a new project, I like to get away for a week to begin the writing process. I have an 80-year-old mother who has helped provide a place for me to “hide-out.” She goes to Clear Water, Florida every fall for a couple of months. I have taken a week to go and write. I take my computer bag and sit looking at the ocean and let my fingers fly. I don’t worry about perfection, I just write and devote myself to the process.

2. Set A Schedule to Write

If you are going to complete a writing project, a schedule can help you stay the course. I set a goal of how many words I am going to write a day before I stop. Often, I am going to write 1500 words. At first it can be slow, but as I allow my mind to wrap around the page it helps. I like to write in the mornings while my mind is fresh (but others like to write in the evenings when the kids go to bed). You know what time works for you, so put it on your calendar. When I was writing my first book, I made a commitment not to take any appointments before noon. There were people who were frustrated with me and didn’t see what the big deal was. For me, I needed to prioritize writing or it wouldn’t get done.

3. Take the Pressure Off

One of the most difficult times of writer’s block that I experienced was with my newly released book, Women Who Move Mountains, Praying with Confidence, Boldness, and Grace. I had already signed the contract with Baker Publishing Group and had negotiated a date that I thought would work on the calendar. However, as we got closer, the date to launch our new church was changed and it conflicted with my writing deadline. I simply had too much on my plate and I couldn’t do it all. When we renegotiated the due date, it took the pressure off.

4. Just Do It

I was dealing with a great deal of spiritual warfare in the form of negative thoughts: You are in over your head. You can’t write this. You don’t know what you aClick here to Download the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Women Who Move Mountains.re doing. Who are you kidding? Have you ever had some version of negative thoughts? I tried praying (after all the book is about prayer). However, I didn’t have a breakthrough in terms of peace, until I forced myself to just do it. In prayer, God gave me a picture of an acorn that I was holding in my hand, but if I would plant that acorn in good soil, and provide nurture, it would grow to be a strong a mighty tree whose leaves would provide healing for all who read it. After writing these words down in a journal, I took my computer and I sat in my 80-year-old mother’s room and I began to type. (If you read chapter 1 of Women Who Move Mountains, you will learn that my mom has been my main role model for prayer.) (Click the Picture of the book to immediately download the Introduction and Chapter 1).

5. Pray, Believe, Write

Little by little, you will accomplish what God has called you to do. Begin each writing session with this rhythm: pray, believe, write. When you know that God hears your prayers, you can set aside the worries of the day, believe God, and write. Take frequent breaks, look up at the sky, smile, and believe that the ONE who has called you to write will inspire you to do it. As you follow his guidance, little by little, the written words will bring life and hope to those who read it.

I Prepared A Gift for You

Yes, a gift. Maybe you are like me. I tend to drift away from fully believing who I am in Christ. Somehow, unbelief comes into my mindset. I get discouraged and battle worn and I need to find a way to calibrate my soul. Sometimes it’s the sin that is hidden from me that I need to confess. I may be hurt by someone, and I need to choose to forgive them. Other times, it’s just the uncleanness of the world we live in. All of these things can cause you to get stuck and have writer’s block!

5 Steps of Grace will help bring healing and deliverance to your life. You and I are cleansed by God’s Word. We need His Word to wash our minds of the unclean things in the world. These things become like a weight to us and they drag down our joy-filled love life with God. Set aside a time for you to pray through this guide to freedom. You can pray on your own, or invite a prayer partner or spiritual mentor to pray with you. Download your copy here!

Using a Writing Roadmap

Pushpin on map

Steven Covey once offered the advice to begin with the end in mind. Knowing where you are going is the key to success not only in business and in life, but also in writing. The first step for a student to learn in writing is thinking through the main idea he or she wants to convey and then determining the key points that develop that idea. This approach not only works for a simple essay or speech, but also for a manuscript for a new book.

Know your starting point: Just as a student should be able to state the main idea of an essay in one sentence, an author benefits from communicating the purpose for a new book in an overview. You often see a polished version of an overview taken from a book proposal on the back cover of a book. This overview is usually about seven sentences, arranged in one or two paragraphs. Think of the overview as much more than an abstract. The overview should go beyond summarizing the key message of the book to piquing reader interest.

Plan the rest stops along the way: At the beginning of manuscript preparation, you probably will have have a clear idea of what you want to say in the first few chapters, but only a vague understanding of the direction of the rest of the book. For your book proposal, you will need a chapter outline, which can provide direction for your writing, but consider what rest stops you will visit on your journey from the introduction to conclusion of your book. For a fiction book, these rest stops are the important events in your overall plot. For a nonfiction book, these rest stops are key ideas that develop your theme. Planning these rest stops in your writing roadmap will help you drive your writing forward.   Knowing you need to reach the next point in the development of your ideas will keep you from becoming sidetracked and adding good, but extraneous, information to your manuscript. If you link a certain expected word count to each rest stop, you also have a tool for planning your writing progress in order to meet a publisher’s manuscript deadline.

Arrive at your destination: You probably will come up with some great ideas while writing your manuscript that go beyond the material outlined in your book proposal. Wonderful! You might be able to incorporate some of these ideas along the way, but others may need to be saved for an additional book. Honor Steven Covey by keeping the intended conclusion of your book in mind as you finish each chapter. Make sure your readers arrive at your desired destination when they finish the last page of your book. Did your book fulfill the mission you envisioned? Did you support your ideas sufficiently? Did your words fly like an arrow and hit the bullseye? While you do not not need to tie up every loose end, do your final paragraphs provide a satisfying conclusion? Let your writing roadmap guide you to where you want to go.

How do you map out your writing project? 

 

 

White Space

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt. 6: 34 NIV)

Where do I begin? Do I work on one of these book proposals? Do I need to write another blog post? Do I have a speaking event scheduled this month? Do I need to work on my website?

I didn’t know where to start! And I thought, Enough!

At first, I thought my confusion might be a response to the stress. Soon, I realized that I needed God’s help. I needed some white space!

As a writer, I know the importance of white space—the empty space in every document, in the margins and between the words, graphs, and pictures.

The wise use of this white space can vastly improve communicating the writer’s message. And a lack of white space makes the page seem too busy, cluttered, and difficult to read. Yet too much white space produces an incomplete appearance.

White Space of Life

As I planned my use of time and resources, I concluded that the same important rules apply to the white space in all areas of my life.

If I fill every minute of the day with activities, work, and conversation, I become too preoccupied with unproductive distractions. But too much inactivity can rob me of my self-worth and credibility.

How do we determine the amount of white space in our lives? Never underestimate the power of organization, calendars, and spring-cleaning!

Can we discern how much white space to build into our lives? Those who know us best and love us unconditionally can offer healthy opinions. But seek an advisor with extreme caution— you may need to endure unsolicited criticism.

White Space of Grace

Never underestimate the power of God’s Word as you manage the white space in your schedule and decisions.

Jesus promised, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16: 12– 13 NIV).

As I prayed for direction, I remembered other encouraging words: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4: 9 NIV).

I also recalled the story in the Bible of another weak, tormented soul who discovered the sufficiency of God’s grace. Like me, the apostle Paul begged God to take away his problems. But God responded with surprising direction: “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness” (2 Cor. 12: 9 The Message).

The Bible offers important advice about letting go and moving forward:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3: 12– 14 NIV)

Where do you need some white space in your life? I hope this excerpt from my book, Words That Change Everything, speaks to your need for some white space.

Karen Jordan. Words that Change Everything. Copyright © 2016 by Karen Jordan. Used by permission of Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press.

7 Great Inspirational Quotes for Writers

Never write at allMaybe you can relate to days like I’ve had. Where you need a dose of inspiration to get you moving — or a swift kick in the fingers. When this happens, I’m grateful for quick, motivational, and uplifting thoughts from other experienced writers.

Maybe the following inspirational quotes will propel you to action, when you feel like shutting down.

  1. “As Kandinsky says, “Everything starts with a dot.” Sometimes the hardest thing in writing a story is where to start. You don’t need to have a great idea, you just have to put pen to paper. Start with a bad idea, start with the wrong direction, start with a character you don’t like, something positive will come out of it.” – Marion Deuchars, illustrator and author of Let’s Make Some Great Art
  2. “Remember that writing things down makes them real; that it is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know; and, most of all, that even in our post-postmodern era, writing has a moral purpose. With 26 shapes arranged in varying patterns, we can tell every story known to mankind, and make up all the new ones – indeed, we can do so in most of the world’s known tongues. If you can give language to experiences previously starved for it, you can make the world a better place.” – Andrew Solomon, acclaimed psychologist and author of Far & Away
  3. writing-quote-j-k-rowling“First drafts are always horrible and ugly. Don’t worry about that – it’s the same for everyone. Just remember that the first draft is as bad as the book is ever going to be, and if you keep redrafting, one day you will look at your horrible book and realise that you’ve turned it into something actually quite beautiful.” – Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series
  4. “Growing up I believed only certain people were allowed to write books – namely, fancy literary heirs who had gone to the right school and university. Not people like me. But of course, anyone can write a book. And anyone should, so that we have more diversity of voices in publishing.” – Julie Mayhew, author of Mother Tongue and others
  5. “Always keep a notebook and pen by your bedside. No matter how much you convince yourself you’ll remember that brilliant idea in the morning, you really won’t. Write it down because sleep has a way of giving you ideas and then stealing them right back.” – Swapna Haddow, author of the Dave Pigeon series
  6. Write what others can't say“Write what you want to know more about — the teacher always learns more than the student. Become passionate about the stories you tell and the people you are writing about. Finish your writing day with something that makes you want to know what happens next. Give yourself periods of rest — mental breaks sharpen the mind. And keep writing, especially when you don’t feel like it.” — Anita Agers Brooks, author of Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over and other titles
  7. “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” — Jodi Picoult author of My Sister’s Keeper

What are some of your favorite writing quotes? What motivates you as a writer?