Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: Writing (page 1 of 2)

You Just Never Know….

Isn’t it funny how one thing leads to another?

In June 2016, I went to the ACW weekend at Scargill House with a half-formed resolution to write the homework set by the speaker and maybe even read it out. Scary…. Could I do it?

I teetered and wobbled, then inspiration came.

Oh blow it, I thought, I’m going to do this.

In a moment of madness, I [read more]

Words, Words, Words….

Words, words, words. As wordsmiths, we dabble, we play, we agonise, we yearn over the tools of our trade.

When we speak, our tongues can drip poison and hurt people, or our speech may be seasoned with salt to bless. There’s often little time to think about the effect of what we say. How many times do we wish we could take back the words that have left our lips?

Even bad news [read more]

The Best We Can Be

Why do we write? Is the world a better place because our words are in it?

I want to encourage us to be the best we can be in whatever genre we favour.

King Solomon urged the readers of his day to do with all your might whatever your hands find to do. Very applicable to writers! Go for it. Don’t be timid or half-hearted, full of doubt. If a thing is worth writing, then do it to the best of your ability. Believe in the gift God has given you. But don’t strive about it, enjoy what you do.

We are free [read more]

A Little Help From My Friends…

There is an Arab proverb that says something along the lines of if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go with others.

I think it applies to writing as much as anything else in life.

When I started [read more]

Voice

When I told Adi that I had a blog post to write on the word prompt ‘voice’ he laughed.

‘Well that shouldn’t be a problem for you, should it? The problem is getting you to shut up.’

Cheek!

But he made me think. I talk freely and easily, arms waving.

Yet sometimes when I sit down to write, I find myself writing what I think I should be saying rather than what is in my heart. If I pause to listen, I then hear the Holy Spirit’s quiet prompt to ‘just write’. Not to be so focused on the perfect opening sentence but to simply jump straight in there with what is on my heart.

When I take those few seconds to listen to Him – usually with a slightly sheepish grin on my face because this is a regular occurrence and you’d think I’ve have learned by now – and follow His wisdom, then writing flows. And sometimes I’m amazed at what has cascaded down from my mind to my fingers and out onto the screen.

But when I’m in a rush or tired (like being in the middle of this Lent word-a-day challenge), I think I haven’t got time to listen to Him and my focus shifts from Him to me. That’s never a good thing. At the end of such posts, there’s usually a feeling of frustration of not expressing whatever it is I set out to say, and even emptiness. Because I’d turned it into a striving, doing-it-in-my-own-strength, I-know-better-Lord thing.

Sometimes when I’m in striving mode, the blog post I end up with bears no resemblance whatsoever to the one I started out to write.

Of course, that can happen when the Holy Spirit is in the driving seat (so to speak) too, but when that happens it leaves me feeling satisfied and awed. Because He is using the writing gift He’s given me to bless others through me. And that’s really what we’re here for, isn’t it?

Journey

We were on our way to the ACW weekend at Scargill House. I had picked up my friend Helen in good time that morning and we talked non-stop as I drove north on the M1, enjoying catching up after only ‘seeing’ each other on Facebook for the last year.

We decided to stop for coffee at Woolley Edge services. Still plenty to talk about over coffee and cake in Costa.

I knew we needed to join the A1M for a time before coming off at junction 47 for Harrogate. With this in mind, we headed out of the service station.

For some reason we were convinced we were on the A1M and Helen started counting off the junctions. We came to junction 47 and I drove up the slip road. There were no signposts for Harrogate which was puzzling.

After a couple of turns on the roundabout trying in vain to find a sign saying ‘Harrogate’, we decided to get back on the motorway. I was certain we had come too far north by mistake so headed south.

Thank goodness Helen had the map and a clear head. She figured out we were on the wrong road, travelling in the wrong direction, and redirected me.

We laughed over our silly mistake, and carried on chatting about more important things such as writing and faith and family. We eventually arrived safely at Scargill, ready for a great weekend.

Partly as a result of my encouraging (literally putting courage in me) conversations with Helen, I took the plunge that weekend and not only did the writing task set by our speaker Tony Collins but also read out what I had written. Although this was my fourth visit to Scargill, I had never had a go at the writing task before, let alone had the courage to read out something I had written.

We set off for home, determined not to go wrong. After all, we had both been to Scargill several times. How hard could it be?

We made it all the way to the M1 safely.

But so busy were we, chatting and comparing notes of our weekend, we never even saw the junction for Helen’s home in Chesterfield. We overshot by two junctions before realising we’d done it again….

But when I look back on that weekend, I realise it was as much about the journey as it was about the conference. Helen and I shared life’s trials, disappointments and encouragements together in my car and over coffee. There were little triumphs to rejoice over, and niggles to pray in to.

In writing and in life, let’s not rush to get to a destination. The journey is an important part of the process.

 

This post was first published in the Winter 2016 edition of ACW’s Christian Writer.

 

Really, God?

Do you believe that your ability to write is a gift from God?

This belief has been a long process for me. I never really dared to believe it for myself until very recently.

I had a huge wobble about writing last spring. It was the latest in many wobbles over the years. This time, I determined to tackle it once and for all.

God, if You really want me to write then please let it bear fruit. And if I’ve got it all wrong, then lop the writing branch out of my life.

A hard prayer to pray, but I meant it. Even though I fully expected God to sigh with relief that I’d finally gotten the message and He could cut writing out of my life.

Within two weeks….[Read more]

NaNoWriMo: What I Learned

What an exciting (but exhausting) adventure was NaNoWriMo last month! I had a fantastic time writing my 50,000 words in less than 30 days, and learned a lot during the process.

Getting to Know My Characters

There were surprises in getting to know my characters. This story (orphans Jay, Poppy, Robyn and Blu stand only a few inches high and live in a tree; when their home is threatened with demolition they become refugees overnight) was one I have carried in my head since I was a child.

In my head, Robyn was always my main character and very lovable.

On paper, Jay – in his quiet, unobtrusive way – took centre stage early on and stayed there. And I was okay with that, if surprised. Robyn turned out to be quite selfish and lazy though she had good qualities too.

In my head, Poppy was very much a bossy big sister, a bit stressed, rather controlling.

On paper, I found Poppy intriguing. Like Shrek, she has layers, and I enjoyed the process of her allowing me to peel them back and find the real person beneath. Actually, I think she was quite a lonely and misunderstood character, often taken for granted by her siblings. She also took me completely by surprise with her archery skills when a fox raided their camp late one night. I didn’t see that one coming!

getting-to-know-characters

Just Go With It

A big part of doing NaNoWriMo for me was having fun getting to know my characters and letting them take over the story. For the first few thousand words, I wrote and they did whatever I told them.

But what a thrill for me when they suddenly started to think for themselves and do what they wanted.

The showdown came when they were fleeing the destruction of their tree home. I wanted them to hike through the woods. They thought escaping down river was best. We argued on and off all night. They won. And I’m sure the story is the better for it. From that moment onward, I let them take charge and simply followed where they led.

Leave and Start Mid-Scene

More experienced writers recommend leaving mid-scene when finishing writing for the day so that you have something exciting to come back to. I found this very useful. Initially, I switched off my laptop at the end of a scene, but found it much harder to get going the next day.

When you leave mid-scene, it’s easier to get started and keep going because your imagination is quickly stimulated.

Writers’ Block

A writer-friend recommended giving your characters emergencies and issues to handle when you’re stuck for where to go next with the story. I did this a lot. My poor little fictional family! But it was fascinating to see what they did with the various problems I threw at them and how well they coped.

Thankfully, this prevented me from getting writers’ block and from feeling like the story was flopping in the middle of the month.

Writing Buddies

With all my fine resolutions, I may not have started NaNoWriMo if not for my writing-buddies who spurred me on. On Day One, I wrote nothing. It was pretty daunting being faced with a mountain of 50,000 words in a month. But my friends emailed to ask how the word count was going and encourage me to get started. On Day Two, I began to write.

Thank you Janey, Wendy, Fiona and Angela 🙂

 

Ready, Set, Write!

Ever heard of NaNoWriMo?

It stands for National Novel Writing Month. That happens to be this month: November.

The idea is to write 50,000 words between 1st and 30th November. Lots of people all over the world take part and it sounds intense but fun.

I’ve wanted to join in for the last few years but have always been too busy. This year, however, I have a fairly free diary with no church commitments (for once)…. so I’ve registered and am at the start line.

It’s a wee bit nerve wracking, even scary, but also exciting.

I planned out my word count on the calendar. Gulp. That looks, erm, intense. I’m hoping to have one day off each week so am planning to write at least 1,925 words per day. That means 9,625 by this Saturday.

But NaNoWriMo is a writing adventure and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

I’m having a go at a young adult/children’s novel about some tiny creatures who live in a tree. They are an orphaned family called Jay, Poppy, Robin and Blu. And that’s all you’re getting for now! They have been living in my head, making their characters known for many years now, and it’s time for them to see the light of day. I have a storyline in mind but I hope my little family will go their own sweet way and surprise me with what they get up to.

If I have any spare energy, I’ll post again in a couple of weeks and let you know how I’m getting on/how frazzled I am!

 

Writing: Who? What? How?

Can I write? Should I write? Why am I bothering, it’s all been said before. Who do I think I am? I can’t do this, I’m wasting my time….

After a decade of writers’ angst, I made the decision to just get on with it. To help me, I’ve typed out some statements and pinned them on the noticeboard by my desk.

Write for an Audience of One

I have a bad habit of…..[Continue reading]

 

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