Resolved to Clarify

Over the past week, we’ve been inundated with articles, blog posts, tweets, and Facebook updates about New Year’s resolutions. To make or not to make them – that seems to be the question.

Just what is it about a brand new year and vowing resolutions?

Many writers tend to possess the maddening, albeit necessary, drive to be word smiths. To grasp precise definitions that give life to our stories. Sound familiar? Welcome to the club.

After reading and hearing people opine about resolutions and maintaining resolve, I headed straight to the bookshelf. I found my old dog-eared, yellowed copy of The American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition, and flipped back to the Rs. Not able to recall the last time I looked up the word resolution, I was completely unprepared to find this definition:

Resolution: the fineness of detail that can be distinguished in an image.

I re-read that definition several times before the full meaning sunk in: A resolution needs to contain such precise detail that it evokes a vivid mental picture.

In our techno-age, we relate resolution to pixels in an image. High-definition on a movie screen. Something so clear that details pop. Brilliant color that ignites our senses.

So why do we craft our New Year’s resolutions with vague language and colorless imagination?

Resolving to “get published” isn’t really a resolution – it’s a dream (and a pretty good one, I might add). But those two words lack fineness of detail and contain faceless people and blurred images. But resolving to attend the next local writer’s conference in order to network, learn the craft of writing, and pitch an agent or publisher stirs a focused mental picture. You can see the steps to take.

I’ve resolved to read through the Bible in 2012. I’ve already got my Bible reading checklist tucked in my Bible ready to go and an alarm set on my cell phone to alert me when it’s time to wrap up and get ready for work. I can clearly picture my quiet time each still morning as God whispers life into my soul. Just writing that brought to mind the comfy, overstuffed chair in my study where that wondrous, transforming time will unfold.

The bottom line? If you’re going to make New Year’s resolutions, add as much detail as you can. The more vivid the picture, the more focused your striving becomes. 

If you’re having difficulty seeing it, you’ll have difficulty attaining it.

Blessings to you and yours in 2012.

Let’s chat: If you’ve made resolutions, do you see fineness of detail that can be distinguished in an image? 

The Write Death

Writing

They raced through my brain going Mach 5. Brilliant ideas and heart-grabbing experiences I felt called to share. They screamed to be captured for the multitude, so write I must!

Lassoing the brilliance and transferring it to paper would be a piece of cake. C’mon, I’m from Texas. Throwing a lasso comes naturally.

Full of self confidence with excitement electrifying every nerve, I arranged my desk just so. Lamps dimmed. Candles glowed. Laptop waited. Coffee brewed. I knew something epic was about to happen.

My fingers hovered over the keys. I took a deep breath and slowly typed, “Chapter One.” I stared at the screen at those wondrous words. Enraptured. Savoring each letter.

This was a glorious moment. I had embraced my calling as a writer! And now…time to write. Let the brilliance shine!

Blink. Blink. Blink went the cursor.

Blink. Blink. Blink went my eyes.

Repeat 30 times.

And then it happened. My brain’s hard drive melted like wax. (It must have been all the self-induced brilliance.) The ideas tangled like rubber bands. The mental beavers built a dam at lightening pace – smack dab in the middle of my brain.

My lasso kept missing. The brilliance was just an illusion. My coffee grew cold. In tears, I blew out the candles and turned off the laptop. Those two words were all I typed that night.

And so began the journey of writing my first book. Thrilling, right?

That evening something died, and rightfully so. Ego. Writing a book isn’t about me. It never will be. It’s about an unlasso-able God who desires to communite to me, through me, and oftentimes in spite of me.

In my eagerness to stand as a published writer, I forgot to kneel before the One who called me to it.

That night drastically altered my writing perspective. I don’t care if my desk is tidy. It doesn’t matter if the candles glow softly. It doesn’t matter if the coffee gets brewed. If I don’t start in prayer, I don’t start at all.

Today, Chapter 1 has successfully passed through the hands of my editor. But God accomplished something far greater that night. He caught my fall, reminded me of His love, and encouraged me to start again.

Something epic did happen. Instead of allowing me to capture the perfect phrase, He
re-captured my heart.

Thank you, God, for your brilliant grace.

Let’s chat: What did you experience as you launched into writing your first book? At what point did you have a meltdown (or did you)? What kept you writing after that?

Writing Bible Studies: Feeling the Nudge?

Writing Bible studies is my passion, but it used to scare my freckles white. How are we supposed to improve on the inerrant Word? Thankfully, that’s not our goal. Whew! A good Bible study provides practical, 21st-century application to timeless truths filtered through the author’s life experiences.

So where do we begin? Some writers start with a theme such as comfort or joy. I love to start with a few passages of Scripture that resonate in my heart and mind that I’ve read during my morning quiet time, or heard in a sermon or Bible class. Both approaches work well because they provide a solid starting point.

Whether you’re writing a full-length Bible study, an abbreviated study for a magazine, or teaching a Bible class, I’ve learned there are five basic steps that seldom change. Begin by asking God for His wisdom and guidance, then:

1. Immerse yourself in the scene.

Writing Bible studies involves telling a story, so don’t neglect the scenery, human interaction, or history. Who wrote the passages? Where do they take place? What season is it? What’s the emotional temperature? Is there conflict? Who’s involved? From whose POV is the story told? How is God revealed? What’s the overarching lesson? Incorporating some or all of these elements invites readers to relate on a personal level.

2.  Look up the passages in their original language.

Whether Greek (New Testament) or Hebrew (Old Testament), it’s crucial to understand the accurate meaning of the words used. The Hebrew language contains no vowels, so English translators added them so we could understand the text. But sometimes the interpretations fall short of capturing the original connotation. For example, Psalm 23:3 promises, “He restores my soul.” In the Hebrew, “restores” means “to reset.” In other words, God reboots us! The rich meanings that I learn during this step often alter the trajectory of an entire study.

3. Research the culture of that time period.

For example, it’s hard to understand the depth of love that drove the prodigal son‘s father to run and welcome his son home until we learn that it was utterly disgraceful in that culture for a man of the father’s stature to lift his robes, run, and reveal his hairy knees. (Yes, really!) That cultural detail allows us to grasp on a deeper level God’s passionate pursuit of us when we go astray. Researching the cultural background provides vivid history and valuable insight.

4. Read Biblical commentaries.

Scholars use their theological expertise to point out nuances in the original languages and cultural idiosyncrasies that help you parallel today’s trends. They often cross-reference words, verses, and similar scenarios throughout Scripture that aid your writing perspective. Also, several commentators lived in the 19-20th centuries, so that really cool, old-school writing style lights up my imagination!

5. Use reference books and resources.

Just like the Chicago Manual of Style represents a must-have for fiction writers, Bible study writers need particular resources readily available. I find these indispensable:

Last, but by no means least, every Bible study writer needs to be a faithful student of Scripture. Here’s a handy Bible Reading Checklist to download and tuck in your Bible. It’s a useful tool to check off the books and chapters as you read them.

Regardless of how you approach writing Bible studies, keep writing. Relentlessly ask God to guide you. Your freckles will return, I promise! This process enriches your spiritual journey and provides that same opportunity for others. This may be a tedious process, but you’re not just writing about any story. It’s THE story.

Let’s chat:  If you write Bible studies, what works for you?  If you’ve never written one, what did you find most helpful?

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