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Listen to Your Story

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What I Learned from NaNoWriMo 2015


Just do this to write a novel.

How much different is writing from life?

In both we make decisions that carry us forward. Sometimes those choices work out well. Sometimes they drop us in a dead end. Mostly it is not clear where the choice leads, and so we carry on.

Writing 1667 words a day through November’s National Novel Writing Month forced me to look at every scene and imagine how it might move the story forward. Within the first few days, every scene, every action, nearly every word seemed full of, well, pivot. The story could turn 180 degrees—except the commitments my characters held worked time and again as a rudder, pulling their choices along a true direction.

Choice after choice makes the story. Along the way we interact with characters who enter the story because of our choices. And these characters bring with them yet more choices. Our commitments impact how we choose, drawing us like a lodestar consistently one way or another. But even those long-term commitments enter the choice-making machinery of writing and life.

Do you agree that writing and life move forward in a similar way? One difference is that with writing you get to go back and change the story.

You can’t do that with life.

Or can you?

Producing my story brought to mind Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak, a book I’ve recommended to many friends. Palmer’s advice gets at the nub of both writing and living: peering into the facts so far and taking a courageous view on where those facts could lead. Palmer realized, in looking back over his life, that a particular commitment had been leading him in ways that did not fit with what was happening and where he was meant to be.

In writing you lop off a sentence (or paragraph or chapter) to move the story forward. In life you make tough but wise choices that put you on a better trajectory.



Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

December 1, 2015 at 8:55 am

Ten Ways Fulfillment Mingles with Professional Writing (Shop Talk #4)

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Life’s not about poetry. Or is it?

tumblr_mhisadhVp21r7m9kyo1_1280-02052013I’ve been posting in response to a query from an English student who wondered about finding fulfillment as a professional writer. How can we compare writing poems and short stories and novels to writing for companies or ad agencies or other firms or organizations seeking help to communicate? She asks a good question which we all struggle to answer all our lives. See a few responses here: Shop Talk: The Collision of Craft, Faith and Service

When I teach professional writing classes at Northwestern College, I like to invite Rich Bosshardt, who writes for a well-known local manufacturer, to talk with the class. Like many of us, Rich’s route to writing was circuitous: from mover of boxes to telemarketer to carpenter to chemical compounder to university research lab technician—plus about ten other jobs. Along the way he earned a Master’s in New Testament, so his thoughts about work and writing have a theological bent, which I appreciate. In response to my request, Rich rattled off ten things about writing for a living and offered to explicate one more:

  1. We could learn a lesson on career fulfillment from Joseph, the son of Jacob and the great administrator in Genesis.
  2. How do you work through when the honeymoon of being hired is over and passion for the work is long gone, but the bills keep coming?
  3. My career has been an unintentional path; I didn’t enjoy writing and knew nothing about technical writing until I was over 30 years old.
  4. Why shouldn’t we be passionate about what we do for a living? Whom would you rather hire—the passionate worker or the dispassionate one? You can raise the competence of a mediocre worker who is passionate about the work and therefore wants to improve, but the dispassionate worker? Let him or her go; you’re doing both of you a favor.
  5. Luther had great insights about one’s vocation, raising the legitimacy and importance of “common” work and sparking the Protestant work ethic.
  6. There is joy in doing work of the best quality that you can and in a manner that marks you as a person who has character, thereby earning the respect and admiration (stated or unstated) by others. Good (both competent and ethical) workers do eventually get noticed by those who work with them, and these good workers will find themselves happily employed.
  7. I thank God for the “little things” at work, e. g., that I’m working inside in a temperature-controlled environment on a frigid winter day or a hot, humid summer day.
  8. Relationships can make all the difference; being part of a caring and talented team can turn drudgery into joy because you enjoy the relationship regardless of the circumstances.
  9. There is a psychology to technical writing; good writers should think about at least two things: (1) how people will use the product that they are writing about; and (2) how people will interact with the instructions and illustrations that you create.
  10. And God saw that it was very good.” There is a satisfaction (and fulfillment) in a job well done, no matter what job it is, great or small.

I like Rich’s list and think it gets at the tensions of creating versus making a living versus making meaning every day. Rich’s vocational path also reminds me of Parker Palmer’s wonderful “Let Your Life Speak,” which is all about taking the time to notice what you enjoy. Palmer’s book is one to own and read annually.19385135-02052013

I’d like to hear more from Rich on Number 9: the psychology of technical writing.

What would you like to hear more about? What would you add or subtract?


Image credit: 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

February 5, 2013 at 10:21 am

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