Archives For Encouragement

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Few writers attain their full potential without the advice and encouragement of others.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien recognized that fact.

For many years they gathered regularly with a number of other keen minds, almost all of whom shared their Christian faith. (Notably, Owen Barfield who was an Anthroposophist, was a notable exception.)  Some writers visited the community as guests.

I’ve written in the past about the great benefit provided by Inkling-style literary criticism. It’s all about synergy.

Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference is one of the premier gatherings of its sort. After many years of hoping to attend, my wife and I journeyed to California for its Fiftieth Anniversary this past week. What a blessing!

In addition to hundreds of zealous writers, the conference was attended by twoscore publishers, agents and writing experts who generously shared their vast knowledge. And I use that word “generously” in a literal sense. The faculty made itself accessible to a degree I have never before witnessed (and I am a veteran of innumerable professional conferences). The speakers were sincerely interested in encouraging each and every participant.

Classes were available for writing novices, journeymen and experts. I found the track on screenwriting to be the most helpful for my own current needs. I hope to put these new lessons into practice in the next few years.

I can confidently assure you that Mount Hermon will also offer the sort of advice and encouragement that you need to advance your own skills to the proverbial “next level.” If you are interested in attending Mount Hermon, you can learn more here.

Back on the Home Front

If you have never enjoyed the benefits of gathering locally with other writers, I strongly encourage you to consider it now.

If you’re on a critique-group-hiatus due to past disappointments, why not look for a fresh group with a healthier focus?

I sincerely believe most of us become better writers while growing together, than we do wandering on our own. Mount Hermon reinforced that conviction.

I encourage each of you to reach your own full potential—with a little help from some new friends.

Priceless Letters

May 26, 2015 — 22 Comments

letterHow precious is a single letter?

If it is eagerly anticipated correspondence from a close friend or loved one, it may be invaluable.

Telephones and email have diminished the impact offered by the contents of an individual message, yet even now we value the touch of the written word shared by our soul mates across the miles.

Prior to the invention of the internet, and before the cost of international calls grew reasonable, I spent a year in the Republic of Korea, far from my wife and three young children. Naturally, like all military members serving far from home—even during times of peace—I missed them terribly.

While many wonderful things happened during the course of that year, and lifelong friendships were born, the highlight of each day was a visit to the installation post office. And, due to the faithfulness of my mother, sister and wife, I was greeted nearly every day by one or more handwritten messages of love and encouragement.

So important were these bonds that, prior to my departure, Delores and I covenanted to write one another every single day. A promise we both kept. In addition, I promised to write each of my three children their own letter each week. One evidence of the impact of those letters was the seamless reunion our family experienced when I returned after a year away.

In the even more distant past, this means of communication was even more vital. As little as a century ago, when individuals and families emigrated from their homelands they recognized the sad truth that they would probably never see their loved ones again.

Think about that for a moment. Saying “goodbye” usually meant “I will never see you again in this life.” How precious those missives must have been when they found their way between intimate companions!

Eighty-five years ago, C.S. Lewis was carrying on an active correspondence with the dearest friend from his youth, Arthur Greeves.

In the 1930s, the two men were corresponding on a weekly basis. Lewis opened one of his letters with the following paragraph to gently reprimand Greeves for allowing other responsibilities to delay his writing.

July 8th 1930

My dear Arthur,

Your letters get later and later every week. If you write on Monday the first week, on Tuesday the second week, and so on, then in seven weeks you will be writing on Monday again: but you will have written one letter less than you should.

In a year you will have written eight letters less, that is thirty six pages. Assuming that we both live thirty years more you will in that time have cheated me out of one thousand and eighty pages. Why, oh why, do you do these things?

As I said, the “reprimand” is gentle, even humorous, but it is sincere. It reveals just how meaningful each piece of his friend’s correspondence was to Lewis.

Many of us can relate to Lewis’ experience. We know firsthand how a smile comes to our lips and our pulse quickens when we find a message from a close companion.

I wanted to share this thought with each of you today for two reasons. First, I thought it might remind you of those whose words have encouraged and supported you in the past.

My second motivation is more important. I would like to suggest that you pause to consider just how important your letters are to others.

There are thousands of reasons for not scheduling (and guarding) time to write letters. Life is busy. The distractions vying for our attention are certainly more numerous, and loud, than they were in decades past.

Still, reminded of the value of the gift we offer when we write, perhaps it is time to shuffle our priorities.

Annual Encouragement

January 2, 2014 — 11 Comments

2013Our grandparents never dreamed a single person could touch as many other people as we now take for granted in our digital age. If you had told them that in a single year, you could interact with people from 140 different nations—and all from the comfort of your own home—they would have had you institutionalized.

Yet, that’s precisely what we do today. And what may be even odder, we consider it commonplace.

Readers who are familiar with the “wordpress community” know that the arrival of the new year includes a welcome ritual. We receive a congratulatory note on our blogging accomplishments during the previous year.

In addition to various statistical notes, the report identifies particularly successful posts. For example, a couple of years ago I wrote “Lessons Taught by Onions,” and for some peculiar reason it continues to draw visitors every single month.

At the top of this post I have reproduced what many of us regard as the most intriguing aspect of the report–revealing where your readers reside. As a novice blogger it’s a wonderful feeling when we first see something we’ve written read by people in a foreign land.

Over the years it’s fascinating to see how the list of visitors grows.

Some countries are tough to reach. This year I finally had a visitor or two from the People’s Republic of China and Mongolia . . . a couple of those challenging lands.

I still haven’t been able to penetrate North Korea. But then, that’s no surprise since they only have one computer with international access, and I don’t publish the type of material that would be of interest to the resident of the presidential palace.

As the new year begins, it’s good to be encouraged by others for one’s past performance. Most of us require a bit of encouragement now and then.

Speaking of encouraging, in a 1956 letter, C.S. Lewis expresses appreciation to a writer who enjoyed his book, Till We Have Faces.

It was nice of you to write about Till We Have Faces (I originally called it Bareface, but the publishers vetoed that because they said people would think it was a ‘Western’!), and a most needed encouragement to me, for it has so far had a more hostile reception from the critics than any book I ever wrote. Not that critics really matter very much. The real question is how the book goes 10 or 15 years after publication.

Encouragement is always welcome, and never more so than in the wake of abundant discouragement.

And then, of course, there is the feigned or teasing sort of encouragement that can only be offered by someone we trust. Someone we know regards us with affection. In that light, I couldn’t resist including the following passage from a letter Lewis wrote in 1951.

All well here except myself, who have a bad cold; but I’m off to Ireland I hope on Friday for a fortnight, which may shift it. (Warnie in his usual way of encouragement, reads me paragraphs from the paper at breakfast about liners wind bound in the Mersey and waves 6 ½ feet high off the Irish coast.)

I must confess that with a large and literate family, I receive more than my share of just this sort of “encouragement.” And I welcome it.

In the meantime, however, the annual report of Mere Inkling’s popularity does inspire me to press on with my self-imposed pace of two columns a week. I warmly invite you to continue the journey alongside me.

If you work in an “institutional” or office setting, you may be acquainted with the ubiquitous motivational posters that adorn offices from sea to shining sea. (I can’t speak for other countries, but here in the United States, these encouraging slogans can be found in government and private businesses across the land.)

They are so common, in fact, that they have been parodied by a company that offers “The Demotivator’s Collection.” They sell entertaining posters such as:

1. [Image of a sinking ship]

MISTAKES

It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.

2. [Image of a salmon leaping up a raging river directly into the mouth of a waiting bear]

AMBITION

The journey of a thousand miles sometimes ends very, very badly.

3. [Image of a fast food carton of french fries]

POTENTIAL

Not everyone gets to be an astronaut when they grow up.

Humor is powerful. I image that many of these demotivational posters adorn the walls of companies that recognize this fact. (You know, the ones with young, dynamic, iconoclastic leaders.)

Here’s one I might even have tempted to hang up in a couple offices where I used to work:

4. [Image of five hands linked together.]

COMMITTEES

Just like teamwork. Only without the work.

I agree with C.S. Lewis about the vital role humor plays in the lives of healthy people. As he wrote in Reflections on the Psalms: “A little comic relief in a discussion does no harm, however serious the topic may be. (In my own experience the funniest things have occurred in the gravest and most sincere conversations.)”

If you feel inspired by the concept of creating thoughtful—or witty—phrases to elaborate on a specific word or brief phrase, you can manufacture these graphics online yourself. Using this free application, you can craft your own (de)motivational posters—just as I did the one displayed above. Yes, that’s my handiwork.

The images you make are yours to download for free. The company needs to turn a profit though, so they offer high quality digital files or posters, for a price. (The free versions are only suitable for smaller applications, like blogs or other websites.)

How’s that for a great way to express your creativity? And it only requires a couple of minutes!

Oh, and if you’re wondering whether my poster about INSPIRATION is a motivator or a demotivator . . . well, I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder.

The Bane of Blogging

November 22, 2011 — Leave a comment

In today’s “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip, Rat says, “Hey, Goat. In an effort to improve the readership of your blog, I’ve been studying the google analytics for it.”

“What are those?” asks Goat, who is seated at his computer, presumably typing his latest post.

“A comprehensive series of stats about page views, unique visitors and how viewers find your blog. Anyways, from all that, I think I’ve ascertained the problem.”

“You’re boring.”

The final panel reveals Goat’s reaction to that painful assertion.

Truth be told, many individual blog posts are boring. And, not a few blogs in toto are tedious as well.

Boredom, though, lies in the perception of the reader. What weighs down the eyelids of one drowsy reader may be precisely the message that invigorates another. So, I don’t worry too much about the natural ebb and flow of responses to various things I write.

Many years of preaching has doubtless influenced me. The sermon one person regards as “okay,” may be used by God to create a genuine epiphany in the life of another.

Of course, the overall flavor or voice of an author is something a reader recognizes only after sampling a fair amount of their work. Taking just a bite here or a nibble there doesn’t allow a reader to adequately assess whether someone’s work is truly nourishing.

Sadly, our busy age doesn’t allow for terribly thorough examinations . . . and with millions of blogs to be sampled, we’re lucky to have a reader stumble upon even one of our posts. Then, in the briefest of moments, an assessment is made and a judgment passed.

Is this column boring . . . or is it informative and perhaps even entertaining? It’s not enough to hint at the promise of gratification. Bloggers must deliver. And they must deliver every time they post. Of course, that’s not humanly possible. Striving for an unattainable goal can be quite disheartening. And we all have “rats” out there ever ready to discourage us.

If you write, I encourage you to take genuine comfort in the fact that some readers will be pleased by what you write. Some will even be blessed. Not all of them. But remember that even the prophets and poets of the Scriptures did not delight all of the members of their audiences.

Do your best to write something worthy of being read. And rest in the knowledge that some of those who see your words will be refreshed and encouraged by them.