Monday, September 15, 2014

What Does It Take to be a Writer?


Invariably, whenever I speak somewhere, someone will come up to me afterwards and say, “I’ve always wanted to write a book.”

Typically, I respond, “What’s holding you back?”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my years of writing, it’s this: The dream of writing will remain a dream if you never set pen to paper.

Writers write. Period. Not all that profound, really. But the mere two-word sentence made me sit up and take notice the first time I heard it through the Christian Writers Guild.
How true it is—writers write. About everything, from the maiden blush of spring to the birth of a baby. No subject is off limits to the one obsessed with observing life and crafting words into workable essays, articles, and stories based on those observations.

So, just what does it take to be a writer? Contrary to what you may think, writing is not synonymous with being published. I believe the qualities that make a writer are deeply engrained in a person. Here are a few I’ve noted in my writing journey.

 A writer loves words.

Early in my life, my mother instilled in me a love for language. Whenever she came across a word she didn’t know, she’d run to the dictionary housed on a shelf in our hallway and frantically flip through the pages until she located the word. Her hunger created a hunger in me. An insatiable appetite not only to gather new words, but to string those words into lovely sentences. Then to patch paragraphs together like a vintage quilt—cozy, familiar, something to treasure and pass down to others.

A writer observes life.

Just like an artist who must carefully sketch what s/he sees, the writer must carefully watch life. In all its forms. A child at play. An executive in his office. A preacher in the pulpit. A bee buzzing around a flower. A man in love with his wife. Not only does s/he take mental snapshots and literal notes of what s/he sees, but s/he also makes an interpretation of the underlying motivations of people at work and play, similar to the artist who interprets what s/he sees by applying chalk, pencil, or paint to paper or canvas.

The writer crafts articles, essays, and stories from what s/he observes. S/he also draws upon her own experiences, interactions with others, hobbies, jobs, volunteer activities, personality, talents, travels, spiritual life, research, family, and friends. Ideas abound, and the astute writer with a curiosity about life will pay attention to what’s around her.  

A writer loves to read.

Anything and everything. To be a good writer, one must read. A lot! My first memories of the written word revolve around my mother and a ticking clock. As a child, she read to me every day. Even when I entered school, she continued to read to me. Every day, I walked home for lunch. After we ate, she’d snuggle with me on the sofa to the sound of the Kuku clock ticking in the background and read from a Honey Bunch book (that really dates me; actually, the series was my mother’s as a young girl). How hard it was to walk back to school after that cozy encounter with Mama and Honey Bunch.
To this day, I love to read. Writing experts will tell you that writers often write in the genre in which they read. I largely agree; though I’ve known some exceptions. Reading helps a writer subconsciously pick up the nuances of language and play around with one’s own writing voice. 

A writer writes, regardless of the audience or lack thereof.

Because a writer loves words and how those words can be strung into sentences and then woven into paragraphs, s/he’s driven to set pen to paper, or fingers to keys. S/he can’t help herself. Whether s/he simply writes free-flowing prose or verse in her personal journal, a family memoir to pass down to her grandchildren, or a column for a church newsletter, she must write. For some, writing blossoms into other opportunities, such as penning articles for periodicals, stories for anthologies, or fiction for a publishing house. But regardless the platform, s/he will write. The words well up within her and spill out on the page, even if they are for her eyes only. 

The Christian writer writes first and foremost for an audience of One, to glorify the Lord. Indeed, I began journaling in college to help me process my spiritual growth. That habit stuck over the years. How many articles I’ve written based on those early journal writings, I can’t count. No writing effort is ever lost. 

A writer never gives up!

S/he can’t. S/he may decide to lay aside, for a time or indefinitely, certain aspects of her dream, but in the long run, s/he can never abandon her love completely. Her obsession with writing will follow her to the grave.

The Christian writer seeks the Lord’s guidance in all aspects of the writing life: goals, daily routine, platform, writing partners, and possible publication when the time is right. S/he seeks to develop a humble heart that values the input of others, seeks growth, and rejoices/weeps with her writer friends. I truly believe a humble heart is what keeps a writer going strong to the finish line. It’s often when s/he grapples for control, tries to force a door open, or run ahead of God that s/he gets discouraged and wants to quit. Humility takes whatever comes and thanks God for the process of learning and growth, no matter the outcome.

So, what’s it take to be a writer?

In short, a person who loves words, observes life, loves to read, puts pen to paper, and never gives up! These are the qualities that endure in a writer’s life, all the way to the finish line. 

~~
Eileen Rife, author of Laughing with Lily, has been writing in some form or fashion ever since she could hold a pencil. She enjoys telling stories to her seven grandchildren whenever she gets a chance. www.eileenrife.com, www.eileen-rife.blogspot.com.

 

Monday, September 8, 2014

How Volunteering Can Round Out Your Child's Education


I drove to the zoo to drop off my oldest daughter, Rachel, on her first day of volunteering. She was assigned to the petting zoo where goats and sheep awaited the eager eyes and hands of preschoolers. Rachel would feed the animals, clean up their waste, and supervise the children as they observed the animals. As a twelve-year-old, Rachel was ready and willing to assume the responsibility of a volunteer position, one of three she would hold before graduating from high school. I was thrilled, but apprehensive about her newfound challenge. Time would reveal that my concern was unfounded, for the benefit of volunteering far outweighed any liability. I believe every parent should strongly consider offering his child the opportunity to participate in community volunteer work. Here’s why.

Volunteering Matures a Child

As I watched Rachel tend to her four-hour a week summer zoo position, I noticed she was developing more maturity. No longer was she merely looking out for herself or her little sisters, but she was also looking out for a host of preschool children who were left in her charge. Furthermore, the discipline of caring for the goats and sheep caused her to care for her room at home more efficiently. Once she proved herself in the petting area, the zookeepers awarded her more responsibility by placing her in the gift shop for two hours a week.

Volunteering Builds on Academic Skills

Not only does volunteering mature a child, but it also builds on her academic skills. Rachel’s gift shop service afforded her experience using a cash register and counting out change, which enhanced her math skills. Others have reported volunteer experiences where their child read to younger children in the library, thus enhancing reading and verbal skills. Still others have participated in peer tutoring through the refugee department, as Rachel did for two years. This experience gave opportunity to actually tutor a foreign student in reading, grammar, and math.

Volunteering Develops Social Skills

Equally important as academic skills are social skills. While most children are immersed in peer relationships for the majority of the day, the child who volunteers is exposed to people of all ages. He learns to relate well, not only to his peer group, but also to multiple personalities of varying ages and backgrounds. When Rachel volunteered with the SPCA, she bumped shoulders with moms, teens, the elderly, and younger children. She would “check out” a puppy or kitten from the SPCA and take the animal to the veteran’s center or hospital to make rounds. In this way she aided both the animal’s and the patient’s emotional health, as well as learned to communicate with people from all walks of life by answering questions about the animal. In addition, work with peer tutoring exposed her to the culture and customs of Vietnamese people. As she tutored the twelve-year-old girl once a week, she got to know the entire family. None of them spoke English very well, so she was stretched to discover ways to communicate with them. They invited us over to their modest home for a generous spread of spicy Vietnamese food and we invited them over to our house for pizza and cookouts. Later, we invited them to a Christmas program at our church.

Volunteering Can Clarify Future Goals

While volunteering can breed responsibility, build academic and social skills, it can also help clarify future goals. Rachel enjoyed the zoo and pet therapy programs because she was used to pets of her own. Three cats, a dog, hamster, and a variety of fish kept her busy as pet caretaker and offered her a glimpse of what it might be like to be a veterinarian, which was her goal for several years. However, during her peer tutoring experience she committed her life to career missions in India. Her tutoring opportunity, more than any other, led to more open doors to teach English as a second language. The summer after her junior year of college, she attended community classes to observe English being taught to a mix of foreign families from Croatia, Peru, Vietnam, and Brazil. Later that summer, she spent six weeks in China teaching teens English. Her experience overseas came in handy when she finally left for India in 2004.

Make Room for Volunteer Work

So, volunteer work can supplement a child’s education, but how do you find time for one more activity? Building volunteer work into your child’s already packed schedule can be a daunting task, but well worth the effort. Sit down with your child and make a list of all the activities and responsibilities your child already has. Pray over the list, then begin to number each item according to its importance in the child’s life. When deciding which activities to add or delete, encourage your child to think about what he wants to accomplish this year in his life and to also consider future goals. Point out how volunteering might clarify goals for him. You and your child may find that one or several items no longer play a significant role and can be dropped. Call or visit your local library and request a pamphlet on volunteer opportunities in your area. We were surprised to discover that our city offered over thirty different volunteer activities for young teens and teenagers. Always allow your child to choose which position he would like to try. That is how he will learn what best suits his interests and personality.

Once you and your child have sampled some volunteer options, you, too, will discover that community work is a vital part of your child’s education. He will mature in his ability to handle responsibility, grow in his academic and social skills, and experiment with options for fulfilling future goals. Volunteering is a great way to round out your child’s education.

Volunteer activities can include:

Hospital candy striper
Pet therapy with the SPCA
Peer tutoring
Zoo work
Museum helper
Teacher’s assistant
Library page
Clerical assistant at medical facilities
Rescue mission work—sorting clothing, stuffing envelopes, serving in the soup kitchen
Crisis pregnancy organizations

For a complete listing of opportunities in your area, call or visit your local library.












Tuesday, August 19, 2014

You Are All My Reasons

One of my favorite movies is A Beautiful Mind based on the real life story of John Nash, mathematics professor, 1994 Nobel Memorial prize recipient in economics, and schizophrenic. Though reportedly Hollywood’s account is a skewed version of biographers, I enjoyed the film primarily for one element: his wife’s devotion to him even in his darkest moments, especially in his darkest moments. While the real story ends in divorce, the movie version shows a devoted husband and wife, working out the serious ramifications of mental illness. When Nash, now an old man, accepts his prize at the podium, he scans the audience. His eyes rest on his wife, Alicia, and he delivers the closing line of his address. “You are all my reasons.” Meaning, she was the one who ultimately kept him going when all else failed, even medication.
I love that line. I love the portrayal of marital commitment. It spurs me on to be a better wife to Chuck. But as much as I love my husband, the line impacts me for a more compelling reason.
My mind drifts to another relationship even more special than my marriage. My connection to the Lord. He truly is “all my reasons.”
For purpose, for meaning
For taking the next step
For getting up in the morning
For loving my family
For reaching out to others
For ministering in and through the local church
For writing
For speaking
For teaching
For joy
For peace
For hope, in this life and the next
Ultimately, the Lord has been the only one who could lift me up, even when those I love could not. He is my Rock, my Fortress, my strong deliverer. In Him I hide and find strength to carry on. I pray that you too are finding Him to be the Refuge you need.

~~
Eileen Rife, author of Second Chance, speaks to women’s groups, encouraging them to discover who they are in Christ and what part they play in His amazing story. www.eileenrife.com, www.eileen-rife.blogspot.com.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bookmark GIVEAWAYS!

Exciting news!

I’ve created an assortment of homemade bookmarks to use in your books. Shoot me your mailing address at eileenrife@yahoo.com or in the comment box below, and I’ll get some in the mail to you!

Imagine if 10 of you took 10 bookmarks and passed them out to 10 people. That would give me 100 potential new readers!

It’s that simple. Just include a bookmark when you give a book away, take a book back to the library, or have a friend over for coffee. 

My stories are influenced by three driving passions.

To entertain with an adventuresome, and typically a romantic plot line
To build awareness and move to action concerning a contemporary issue
To help readers discover who they are in Christ and what part they play in His amazing story

Hope you’ll join me in this venture and help me spread the word about my books!