Wednesday, January 30, 2008

5 Tricks to Finding Fabulous Writing Ideas

Fairies Beside the Road

Recently, I revealed what yawning guys and ladies with letters have to do with why I write.

Today I just want to talk about how we can get fabulous ideas, once we've found our reason for writing. Here are 5 thoughts:

1. Exercise. I say this because I got the idea for Stone Crossings somewhere between a leg lift and a push up. This probably had less to do with the kind of exercise I was doing and more to do with mental space. That is, when we give ourselves the time and circumstance to simply drift in our thoughts, we find little places to dock. Some of these little places might turn into a letter to Grandma, but some might turn into a blog post or a book.

2. Draw. The artwork you see above is the beginning of my daughter's tale about fairies. It's a great story that includes the surprising revelation that fairies are born when they pop out of blooming flowers. When the time is right, they fly up to the sky to get their names, which come to them on a sunbeam. The takeaway for us writers is that it's good to sometimes begin in pictures, without any preconceived ideas about where we need to be going.

3. Stand on your head. (see 5)

4. Pour water over your head. (also see 5)

5. Bang your head against the wall. Okay, so three through five are really the Frog and Toad approach to finding story ideas. When frog and toad had done all these things and more, they found they had a story to tell. The moral? Sometimes we just need to be open to experiences, no matter how mundane they seem on the surface.

Just 5 tricks. Now let's trade. How do you get your story ideas?

Fairies Hiding artwork, by Sara. Used by permission.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Muse Meant

Doll & horse

Last year, when I was doing a SoulPerSuit bible study with Erin, she asked me to share about my muse. So this week, when my publisher asked me to write a post in response to one of their editor's posts over on Behind the Books, I remembered some of what I told Erin so long ago...

A Muse Meant

How about you? Who, or what, is your muse?

Blond-Haired Doll photo, by Sonia.


Concerns for Prayer

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Take a Peek

Crescent in Shutter

I've been kind of quiet in the blogosphere lately. So many things going on here.

In the past week, I wrote (and delivered) a talk called A Recorder, A Drawer and Kalashnikovs: Revisiting Grace. I thank Lynet for inspiring me. The passage I had to speak on was assigned, but it ended up converging quite nicely with some things we were discussing over on Elliptica (way back in December... glad you are patient, Lynet!).

Almost the entire week, while I was trying to get the talk done, I was still struggling with sadness. I find it very difficult to write when I'm down.

Then the weekend brought a strange mix of sorrows... the death of a friend's newborn grandbaby, a friend who was in a near-fatal accident, and the discovery that yet another of our congregants has cancer. Somehow in the midst of all this, I had been blessed with a trip to Graymoor Retreat Center... a trip I had been fussing over, kind of the way an infant sometimes fusses when it needs to nursed but instead flails around, hitting and screaming (not understanding there's milk just within reach).

I went to Graymoor and came away feeling a deep sense of gratitude. There, I wrote three pieces that I ended up sharing with the retreat group, at their request...

Against the Cedar
Holy Spirit Chapel

Now I'm tired. So please don't mind if I curl up in the sun and take a little nap.

Old Shutter photo, by J Barkat. Used with permission.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Get Top-Rank on Search Engines

dark fern

When I teach about blogging at Mount Hermon, people are going to ask questions like this: how can I get top rankings on search engines? How can I stand out from the blogging pack?

This will compel me to share my success story. See, I get top-ranking (or at least some ranking) on search engines... for... well... searches with keywords like...

plant seedlings in stone
terracing your own yard
hands that flung stars into space
stone that removes scars
stones to help fall out of love
should we eat out of season tomatoes
stone shaping
h & m "mighty warrior" t-shirt

The good news is that anyone looking for L.L. Barkat might land here at Seedlings in Stone (notice that "L.L. Barkat" is in my blog subtitle?) The other good news is that anyone looking for magical stones might land here and find a spirituality more powerful than any stone on earth. The other good news is that gardeners and stoneworkers might find more growth and building advice than they bargained for.

What does this really mean? If you want to get top rankings for a particular niche, make sure your blog title and posts reflect the content of your desired niche. In other words, if you want to sell widgets, call your blog something like The Widget Place.

Conversely, you could be a writer who discusses art, writing, spirituality, and life, with a touch of grace... and name your blog something metaphorical like "Seedlings in Stone", then sit back and enjoy some unexpected visitors.

Fern Photo, by L.L. Barkat.


Randy Ingermanson's Branding Your Blog

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Monday, January 14, 2008


Thorn Berry & Feather

Responding to the last post, Maria commented that she resists silence. Surely she is not alone.

Why do we resist?

Barton suggests that our "normal distractions...keep us out of touch with our interior world." Then she quotes Willard, who says, "Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It reminds us of death, which will cut us off from this world and leave only us and God. And in the quiet, what if there turns out to be very little between us and God?" (p.48)

This past weekend I had time to be more alone than usual, and I chose to go with it. I found myself feeling lonely. I was carrying some kind of sadness in my soul. Would I have noticed if I were distracted? Perhaps not. In my sadness, I found myself seeking God, leaning into His comfort. The sadness didn't really go away. But neither did the stark reality of my emotions leave me in despair.

In this way, I felt a strange hope. Not a happiness, surely not. But a hope. And that is a reality I can live with.

Red Berry on the Thorns photo, by L.L. Barkat.


L.L.'s The Gift of Sadness

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Monday, January 07, 2008


Old-Fashioned Typewriter & Girl Photo

It seems that after a vacation and perhaps especially after a hectic time like Christmas, we find ourselves nearly wordless. The blogosphere embodies this, as we see people posting less, commenting less, or simply commenting in fewer words. (At least this is how it goes in my blog communities.)

I think this is okay. Healthy. Even desirable. To accept silence.

Regarding silence, Ruth Haley Barton says,

[It] helps us drop beneath the superficiality of our mental constructs to that place of the heart that is deeper in its reality than anything the mind can capture or express in words. It is a place of longing and desire and reaching for that which we do not yet have....When we give in to the exhaustion that comes from trying to put everything into words and mental concepts, we give our mind permission to just stop. We give ourselves over to the experience of the Reality itself. (p.74-75)

I'm thinking that this is a small reason why I first made a commitment to go outside every day, into silence, beginning last January. We need those places where we can be wordless, where we can listen to the voice of God while we ourselves sit quiet, free, and open to a much-needed rest.

Maybe we should simply declare January as a month of wordlessness. Or at least seek out a secret place where we needn't speak. Not even one little word.

Old Fashioned Typewriter photo by L.L. Barkat.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Taking Care

Amber Field

Over the break, I read Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton. Almost every page left me thinking, "Yes, this is how life should be! Relaxed, meaningful, steady."

But relaxation, meaning and steadiness don't simply show up. We must engage them in a courtship. Spend time alone. Take care of our bodies and souls.

Of course Barton spends a whole book on this topic, but one of my favorite parts was her discussion of taking care of our bodies. "It can be hard and humbling," she says, "to pay attention to your body, whatever state it is in, because it brings you face to face with your finiteness, your vulnerability." (p.64) But we should pay attention. After all, as she quotes from Dorothy Bass...

As the place where the divine Presence dwells, our bodies are worthy of care and blessing and ought never to be degraded or exploited. It is through our bodies that we participate in God's activity in the world. (p.66)

To assist us in beginning to take care, Barton ends by offering a "practice", which I think is worth sharing here...

Take three deep, slow breaths— long inhalations as well as exhalations. Close your eyes... [rest] openly and simply in God's presence for a few moments. Notice how things are with your body these days. What feels tired? What feels energized? What hurts or aches or feels tight? What feels good and strong and well? Does your body feel loved and cared for or unbalanced and abused? (p.68-69)

After this, she simply suggests that we accept whatever gift we might need. Rest. A walk. Or just sitting down and continuing to relish in God's presence. Whatever. Yes, whatever we need to do... to take care.

Amber Field photo art by J Barkat. Used with permission. Seedlings Invitation: If you write a post related to this post and Link It Back Here, let me know and I'll link to yours.


LL's Comfort and Care

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