Routines for Writers is pleased to welcome Janice Elsheimer as our special guest every Tuesday in November. While we’re all busily writing away, Janice will give us tips and ideas for increasing our creativity. Please join us in welcoming Janice!
Hello readers and writers and lovers of all things literary. I am so proud to be the “Routines For Writers” guest blogger for the month of November, a month when folks here in hot and soggy central Florida start daring to hope for some relief from the unrelenting grip of summer. Maybe soon we’ll be sighing with pleasure and pitying those folks up north who actually have a winter, but right now in Winter Park, my hometown, it’s anything but a “winter” park. So for me November will be a great month to hunker down in my air-conditioned study and get some work done.
Let me begin by telling you a little about how I became a writer.
Like many writers, I spent lots of time during my childhood dreaming up stories. I’m positive that if back in the 50’s “ADD” had meant something other than a math function, I would have been sent somewhere for testing. My daydreams weren’t just random, though: I created episodic stories that picked up each day in class—as the teacher, not unlike the unseen teacher in the Peanuts cartoons, quocked and droned away in the background—right where it left off the day before. Of course, when I was asked a question, I usually answered, “I wasn’t listening.”
I did know what the word potential meant by the time I finished first grade, however. Like many smart and creative kids, school was a big disappointment for me. I wish I could say that I was one of those darlings who wrote down and illustrated her stories in little handmade books that she still has to this day. I wish I could say that the diaries and journals I did keep off and on from the time I was very young were still extant, and I hadn’t burned them as either too embarrassing or too “juvenile” each time I achieved some new height of maturity. And I wish I could say that I majored in English and got my MFA in creative writing and became a successful writer in my mid-twenties.
What I can say is that from the time I was twenty-three, during the years I was teaching high school English, being a “hippie-in-the-hills,” building (literally) a house near Mountainburg, Arkansas, raising a half-acre garden, having a child, getting my MA in gifted education, trying to save my marriage, being a single mom for eight years, relocating, changing jobs, and remarrying when I was forty-five, I kept journaling. Those journals (sometimes don’t you just get a shiver of satisfaction from something you’ve written in your journal?) and responses I got from my annual holiday letters convinced me I had a way with words. And those twenty-six years of journals are the gold mine I have for when I get serious about writing my memoir or my first novel.
So where’s the encouragement I promised? It’s this: my first book, The Creative Call, wasn’t published until I was fifty-one, and I’d been working on it at least four years before it was picked up by WaterBrook Press. Now in its 5th printing, it’s still being discovered by folks who are looking for a book with a Christian slant that encourages them to follow their creative star wherever it leads them. I believe that if God gave you artistic talent, whatever its form, it’s so that in developing that talent you will draw nearer to the heart of the Creator God. It’s not about feeling guilty for not doing it sooner, it’s about taking God up on an offer we wouldn’t even want to refuse. It’s a personal matter between you and God, not between you and what well-meaning family and friends advise you to do with your life.
It doesn’t really matter how old you are when you start. What matters is that you begin, or if you’ve begun, that you press on. I’m on my 59th trip around the sun right now, and I feel that I’m just getting started as a writer. But am I feeling all pressured and regretful and stressed because when I look on the back cover of the latest best-seller (especially if the writer is a woman), I often see the photo of someone who’s young enough to be my daughter?
I mean NO!
Seriously, I have no regrets. For one thing, I had to get a lot of living under my belt before I had anything to write about. I had to rediscover Christianity after decades of focusing mainly on surviving the “vow of poverty” lifestyle I chose in my 20s and 30s. I had to keep journals and pour out my blood onto the pages so that one day I might have the courage to go back and read them and see what treasure lies buried within the bindings.
So blessings on your hands and your keyboard, “faithful reader,” (as Stephen King likes to say). On your mind and your ideas, on your efforts to develop the routines that will serve you well as you become a servant to the work you’ve been set to doing. Your talent and the writer’s life it can afford you is a gift, a vocation, a calling. So start with being faithful to your journal and develop the habit of writing something every day. Keep your hand moving for twenty minutes, then stop still wanting to write more. This is your warm-up and your idea-collecting exercise.
And this is also your life. Mary Oliver’s poem “A Summer’s Day” ends with these words:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
Why not answer that question in your journal right now? It’s a place to start.
Author and speaker Janice Elsheimer delivers the message that creativity is a pathway to personal and spiritual growth. Writers, visual artists, musicians, actors–folks who want to start exercising their artistic muscles fill her workshops, seminars and classes. They leave with a new sense of what is possible: a conviction that they can enrich their lives by developing God-given talents.