Tag Archives: Writing

Two Years Ago……….

I’m sure 13 February is a special day in the lives of many people, and far more significant than simply the second anniversary of the day I started blogging. But that’s what it means to me, and as such it’s pretty special.

My only regret is that I do not have the time to write more.  But since 13 February 2010 I have had the pleasure of meeting so many internet friends and fellow bloggers.  I had the delight of being Freshly Pressed by Word Press for a story I wrote about Harry Potter. That one brought nearly 3,000 people to my site in two days, and 140 comments.  It has been the single most read post, no let me be realistic, the single most visited post on my site. The search-engine terms used that still bring two or three people to Wondering Preacher every day are “Harry Potter”, “harry potter’s broomstick”, or just “broomstick”. I would wish for them to stay and read the stories (which I love to write), the meditations or other posts but, no, they want Harry Potter, and are probably terribly disappointed when they arrive here and discover that it’s not an HP fan site.

But there are those who came to read and enjoy and leave comments.  And there are those who receive these ramblings by email every time I post. Thank you. You are the reason I write. Your presence encourages me to write more and to strive to write well. I am immensely grateful.

My first post was a meditation on 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, which I wrote during a workshop that launched my writing, particularly the stories.  Allow me to share it again:

I am only what God is making of me.
I am all that God is making of me.
I will not be afraid of your opinion of me
But I will listen in case you  bring a word from God.

I have nothing to give you
But everything to receive.
I cannot be what you want me to be
But I can be the space where you can discover yourself.
I have no strength or wisdom of my own
Only that which Christ nurtures within me.

I have no spark of wisdom with which to enlighten your mind
Or seed of wisdom to plant within your soul.
I can only offer the space and opportunity
to nurture that which is already within you.


Filed under Blogging, Community

Cut the Gossip

Medieval illustration of a Christian scribe wr...

One of the more important lessons about writing that I have learned is that less is more.  One can always, and I really mean always, cut what one has written.  It’s very difficult and sometimes extremely painful.  I find it particularly difficult to cut out a good story or a humorous phrase that I know will get a good response; but if it doesn’t fit, cut it out.

Being brief, cutting out the nonessentials, is one of those fundamentals we just have to get right if we want to keep our readers to the end.  But, like all rules it can be broken, as long as you know what you are doing.  Put me in a kitchen and you’ll have to give me a recipe, which I’ll follow to the last teaspoon, because I don’t know any better.  An experienced chef will know where she or he can deviate from the recipe.  In the same way an experienced writer can happily break rules to good effect.

John Kenneth Galbraith is one such writer.  His expertise with words makes him a delight to read, even though his subject is economics and he spent his life in academia and government, neither of which is usually associated with elegant prose.

While reading Galbraith’s memoirs, A Life in our Times, I found him breaking the rule about using fewer and simpler words (not for the first time).  He was describing the Scottish-Canadian community in which he grew up.  According to the rule, he should have written, “The people were diligent, gossiped and obeyed the law.”  Nine words which tell us a fair amount about the people.  He wrote, instead, “The people were diligent, given to much harmless pleasure in recounting the physical and mental disabilities of their neighbours, and greatly law abiding.”

Twenty three words but “gossiped” just doesn’t cut it, does it?

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Filed under General Writing

Stress, Milestones and Pillars of Cloud

This is a view of the main street in Peitermar...
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I have been away from here for far too long.

My colleague was asked how he manages to de-stress from our demanding and rather over-crowded days in Human Resources management.  His answer was easy; he pounds the pavements.  He’s a Comrades Marathon runner (six finishes so far).  And me?  Well, my best method of de-stressing is to write.  You can imagine therefore, since writing hasn’t happened this last month, that things are rather frantic.  But this blog doesn’t usually require parental guidance so I shall refrain from listing the frenzied activities crowding our diaries at the moment.  One good thing, however, is that we have reached a settlement with our recognised union over wages, thus averting a strike that appeared imminent.  Now THAT would have pushed up the stress levels.

In spite of all the fun and games, on 1 July I made it to 15 years working in Human Resources management at the local newspaper. That was celebrated with a gift which helped me buy the laptop I’m using to type this post.  A more important milestone reached on 7 July was Jen and I celebrating 20 years of marriage.  Quite a milestone; it seems more like ten but we won’t ask Jen how long it seems to her.  Dinner at Porcelli’s last night, a wonderful Pacific-rim-cuisine restaurant here in Pietermaritzburg.  John Porcelli is an Aussie who had restaurants in Sydney and elsewhere but has settled here, much to our delight.   And on 21 June my grandson celebrated his first birthday in the rather wobbly city of Christchurch.  Well, to be strictly correct, everyone else celebrated; he simply enjoyed the fuss and the fun things happening around him.

Milestones such as these help remind us of our roots and of our journey.  We celebrate the journey and remember people and places along the way.  We remind each other of what it has taken to get here and encourage each other for what lies ahead.  The danger of course, one that Israel faced in the desert, is that we remember the past with rose-coloured spectacles and wish ourselves back to a distant time and a different place; we become dissatisfied with who we are, where we are, and who we are with.  “If only…” becomes our watchword; the Promised Land is a threat rather than a gift, and Egypt is where we want to be.

I may not have an Egypt I want to go back to but I don’t find myself marching into the future with confident strides either.  A pillar of cloud as a guide during the day and a pillar of fire in the night sounds like a pretty good deal (Exodus 13:21).  I feel pretty sure that I would wait patiently or march forward in confident faith if it were only that easy.  But the fact that the Israelites struggled, even with those advantages, makes me realise that things are never quite that simple.  Is that really God’s fire, or is it Moses messing up the braai (barbecue) again?  Are you sure that’s God’s cloud telling us to move on?  Perhaps it’s just the early morning mist?

Meanwhile I write.  This is where I can (sometimes) distinguish the mist from the cloud and the fire of God from the braai.

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Filed under General Writing, Odds & Ends

Finding a voice in the African bush

DSCN0589Aspirant writers are told to find their ‘voice’. One of the ways to do this, one is told, is to read widely. Discover the way other people write; find styles that resonate, ways of writing that appeal to you. Try different styles and eventually you will find your own.

Jen and I are spending a week in the dune forests on the northern shore of Lake St Lucia. I picked up a delightful book about the quirky travel experiences of a couple of intrepid wildlife explorers. Chris and Jo Meintjes met on a trip to the Amazon which culminated in a visit to the fabulous Galapagos Islands of Darwinian fame. I call it a “trip”; for you and me it would be an expedition, an adventure. For them, simply a trip, like you and I might take to the shopping mall. The book is called, The Borneo Head Hunters Cuckoo-Clock: Travails in Transit. The cuckoo-clock refers to a visit to a long hut in the middle of an Indonesian rain forest. In the night a clock struck midnight. It wasn’t an ordinary clock; there in darkest Indonesia, where human skulls, if not still harvested, are still used in decorative hanging baskets around the home, a cuckoo called the time.

Chris’s writing style appeals to me no end. He has a deliciously dry humour (without any effort) and an ability to share the bare bones of a story while enabling one to imagine all the wonders and scary bits in between. That’s my preferred style. I would love to write as he does and write about the wonderful places they have seen. There is a minor difficulty. I haven’t been anywhere. It is a bit of a disadvantage for an aspirant travel writer not to have travelled much—well, not much beyond the local mall and the coffee shops of the more secure locations of the world. Hot chocolate in Christchurch, anyone? Milkshake in Montana? Coffee in Cape Town, London, Edinburgh?

DSCN0613Having started writing so late in life, I have the disadvantage of trying to catch up. To travel enough, to read enough, to experience enough, to have enough to write about. To have lived a safe, secluded, boring life has its advantages, such as arriving alive at the end of it, but not when you want to plumb its depths for writing material. Fiction writers have an advantage here. They can travel in their minds, experience places vicariously, and write great stories set in places they have never visited. For now at least I’m not drawn to fiction; I don’t have a story in me.

DSCN0676At least I can say that I read Chris Meintjes’ stories of ‘travails in transit’ while sitting in the middle of the African bush with, for the most part, no other human in sight. But that’s about as wild as it gets. Other humans did wander down the boardwalk to the main lodge with its bar, TV lounge and restaurant. We could also hear guests by the swimming pool 100 metres or so below us. But for the rest we were ensconced in a delightful thatched cabin with views into and over the surrounding bush with Lake St Lucia in the far distance. The lake is not meant to be in the far distance. The end of the jetty was just a few hundred metres below us but the drought is so severe that the lake is a strip of blue on the far horizon with dry sand between us. There is an abandoned boat wedged in the sand. It’s been there since 2004, with the additional insult of grass growing around it.

Perhaps the boat is a metaphor for writing.  But I’ll leave that to you.


Filed under General Writing, Odds & Ends