Would C. S. Lewis be too distracted to write today?

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C.S. Lewis hard at work

I love reading about the writing habits of great writers. Maybe it’s because I’m looking for that one secret element that made them great.

I guess there is one secret that’s consistent with all of them: they worked hard. So much harder than we do today. I’ll explain in a bit.

But first, let’s look at what C.S. Lewis had to say about an ideal writing day in his book, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life.

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“[I] settled into a routine which has ever since served in my mind as an archetype, so that what I still mean when I speak of a “normal” day (and lament that normal days are so rare) is a day of the Bookham pattern. For if I could please myself I would always live as I lived there. I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one. If a cup of good tea or coffee could be brought me about eleven, so much the better. A step or so out of doors for a pint of beer would not do quite so well; for a man does not want to drink alone and if you meet a friend in the taproom the break is likely to be extended beyond its ten minutes. At one precisely lunch should be on the table…”

This “Bookham pattern” he speaks of developed after his father withdrew him from public school and brought him home to be tutored. It was then that a daily routine he grew to love developed.

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And what writer wouldn’t love to have someone bring them coffee or tea, and have a lunch ready for us at 1:00 PM? It sounds heavenly to me, if not to you.

But I suppose that there are things about my writing life that would appeal to Lewis as well–a microwave or Keurig for making tea for example. We may not have housekeepers but we have gadgets that serve us well. Or we serve them. Either way, I think Lewis would have enjoyed them. (PS I don’t have a Keurig but I’m accepting donations…)

Keurig Special Edition (B60)After his lunch, Lewis enjoyed a walk. This is something that I have yet to work into my day consistently. But I know I do feel better and have much more energy when I  exercise. And scientists claim that it makes us smarter:

“Walking 40 minutes four times a week changed the size and organization of participants’ brains in one year, resulting in the formation of new neurons and larger memory centers, according to a study from the University of Illinois.”  (Source: Want to boost your brain power?)

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People knew that walking was good for them long before studies proved it. C. S. Lewis enjoyed walking every afternoon. And unbeknownst to him, it’s probably what got him through the afternoon blahs some full-time writers experience:

“By two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend. Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the outdoor world; and talking leads almost inevitably to smoking, and then farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned. The only friend to walk with is one … who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared.”

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Oh how I love this quote! I tire too easily at ceaseless chatter. There are times when a soul needs time to contemplate, and writers and artists tend to crave silence more than most. I’ve been accused of being anti-social because of my lack of need to share every one of my thoughts. Perhaps it’s because I write them that I feel no need to express them verbally. But I also find it a wearying task to explain them to others. I simply don’t desire to.

Besides walking alone, Lewis also preferred to take his tea alone soon after his walk:

“The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident, and not later than a quarter past four. Tea should be taken in solitude…”

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The man loved his solitude! Proof positive that there are those of us who simply must have it.

It’s tempting to accuse Lewis of being persnickety, but before we make that mistake, we must remember that he is describing an ideal day. And how often does one have those?

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Like us, Lewis had distractions, one of them being mail. He had a love-hate relationship with mail because he was compelled to answer every letter he received. I can imagine he’d have the same attitude towards email that we do today!

“But when is a man to write his letters? You forget that I am describing the happy life I led with Kirk or the ideal life I would live now if I could. And it is essential of the happy life that a man would have almost no mail and never dread the postman’s knock.”

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Writers today complain about time being eaten up with social networking, but I would guess that Lewis spent just as much time writing letters. He was a prolific letter writer and was extremely generous with advice. Also keep in mind, he wrote his letters and manuscripts by hand. How much easier we have it today than writers did even twenty years ago. I’m old enough to have written many a story on a typewriter with gallons of white-out at my side.

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One of the letters he wrote to a young fan, Joan Lancaster, is good advice for writers still today. Notice how he doesn’t patronize or talk down to her:

“1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

 

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

 

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

 

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

 

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

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One of C.S. Lewis’s Desks

After his tea on a “normal” day, Lewis went back to work:

“At five a man should be at work again, and at it till seven. Then, at the evening meal and after, comes the time for talk, or, failing that, for lighter reading; and unless you are making a night of it with your cronies (and at Bookham I had none) there is no reason why you should ever be in bed later than eleven.”

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C.S. Lewis hard at work

It sounds like a lovely ideal day. But Lewis didn’t have children to care for, chores to do (I’ve read he was an abysmal housekeeper as was his wife whom he married late in life but she was also ill), and focused mostly on the work at hand. Still, he probably had interruptions as we do.

My ideal day would include hours alone, too. But alas, I work mostly in my home office where my family ignores the “Writer at Work Do Not Disturb” signs. To them it’s not a writer at work, but a Mom at home, ready to answer questions, rescue the cat from the dog, and break up an argument between twins.

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However, I have technology the likes of which Lewis couldn’t have imagined. I have word processors that correct my spelling, and search engines for my research. I have over a thousand books in my ereaders and can type 95 or more WPM. I don’t have to invest in paper to send a letter or even a stamp. Perhaps this makes up for the solitude Lewis had.

Just imagine what things he could have created had he lived in our time. Or would he have been too distracted?

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What do you think? Let me know what your ideal day would look like. I’d love to discuss this with you!

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World Autism Awareness Day

I believe in confirmations from the Lord that I’m on the right track. And lately, with the hardships my family has experienced, I needed a little boost of confidence.

Today is Autism Awareness Day. It’s a very special day for me because I am a Mom of twin adults (age 19) with autism.

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L to R: Isaac (with Chevy) and Isaiah (with Jake)

And it’s also a special day because I received my contract from Beacon Hill Press to write my proposed book, Pie in the Sky: A message of Hope, Healing and Hallelujahs for families living with autism.

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My sell sheet book cover

You might call it a coincidence that the contract arrived TODAY, on Autism Awareness Day, but I don’t believe too much in coincidences. I’m one of those faith people. I believe that when a soul talks to God, He talks back.

I’m excited, yes, but I’m more concerned that I get this book right. That it touches lives and helps people. That it makes a difference.

If you’re a family living with autism, I’d love your input. What do you need this book to address?

If you’re a friend and know someone with autism, what questions do you have?

If you’re a church and you want to know more about how to reach families living with autism — shoot me your questions!

I am constantly amazed when I look at the world around me at the Lord’s ability to pay attention to us individually. His Presence is the most precious thing to me. And I covet your prayers that I’ll continue to seek Him and write what HE wants me to write in this book.

Thank You, God, for being so big and able, and yet so personal to order our steps and speak to us where we are.

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God’s Unexpected Blessings

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A week ago today I was feeling rather low. I even blogged about it I was feeling so bad.

Then, one blessing after another flowed into my life in unexpected ways.

I got good news.

A check came in the mail.

And by sheer Providence, I got to meet Temple Grandin and interview her face to face for a full 45 minutes!

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Temple talking to me!

45 minutes, people! 45 minutes! ME!

Why? Because the other media failed to show up. So there I was, at the media meet and greet and it was just Temple and me, shootin’ the breeze about everything from autism to chickens to Australia.

I will be writing a series of articles on Temple and will share them with you as I get them published. There is a preliminary article here: Exclusive: Temple Grandin named Manchester University Innovator of the Year.

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I forgot to tell her to smile!

If you read last week’s post, you know that I had a talk with the Lord and He assured me I could trust Him with my life and I agreed to put it in His hands. (Why I keep taking it back as if I have a better idea than God remains a mystery. I’m fallible. And badly in need of a merciful God.)

I guess more than I agreed to trust Him was that I agreed to stop fretting. I had to make myself rest in His assurance that He was in control and everything was going to be fine.

And then this happened.

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Publicity photo

I’m so glad I can trust Him even when it doesn’t make sense.

This trust thing isn’t just for me. It’s for anyone who’s willing to rest in Him. Give it a try. You’ll be amazed at the things God has in store for you.

Just. Rest.

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Book Review: Daughters in Danger Helping Our Girls Thrive in Today’s Culture by By Elayne Bennett

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Today for our Strong Girl post, I am going to share a book with you that I think mothers of girls everywhere in the United States should read.

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Daughters in Danger by Elayne Bennett is an extremely well-written book that reveals valuable information about a world that devalues girls and places pressure on them to desire the very things that will break their hearts.

Bennett has been an advocate for young women for many years. She writes from this experience and a passion to reveal a different set of priorities and aspirations to girls growing up in a dangerous culture of sex, drugs, bad-body-image expectations and more.

The first half of the book gives the reader a history of her involvement with young women and the culture that young women live in and face today. The second half of the book gives practical guidance to American families, schools, colleges, universities and churches. It also provides a model of the successful mentoring programs, Best Friends and Best Men.

This is not a delicate read. It will take a fair amount of time to read. If you are strapped for time and aren’t interested in the statistics and facts and history of how we got to where we are today in the treatment and molding of our daughters, skip to chapter 10 where the practical helps start.

This book was written, I believe, as a call to action on behalf of our young women. As a grandmother of seven granddaughters, I was extremely interested in what it had to say. I feel it could have been written more succinctly to reach a broader audience. Hopefully, something more handbook size can be written from it. For me, the book was just too much information in one volume. However, that’s not to say it wasn’t an impressively written book. It was. And because of its great depth, and amazing composition, I have a deeper appreciation and respect for Bennett’s work.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. The reason it’s not 5 is because I don’t feel this is a book I can hand to parents and get them to read it. It’s written on a more academic level. The parents I work with wouldn’t wade through this much material. All of it’s good and I’m glad it’s written for posterity’s sake. But for parents with a reading level of about fifth-eighth grade level (the average reading level for most Americans), it’s just too much book. However, for pastors and teachers, it’s probably about right. Still, for busy people, again, it’s a lot of book. Set aside some time to read and digest it.

I do recommend this book and have great hope that parents and teachers and anyone working with young women will read it.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Disclosure: I received this free book from Booklook Bloggers.

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Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids?: How Moralism Suffocates Grace by Samuel C. Williamson

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My degrees are in Christian Education. So as soon as author Samuel C. Williamson asked me to read and review this book I jumped at the opportunity. Could it be that my life’s work has been for naught? Had I led a generation of kids and teens astray?

I had to wonder because some of the kids I’d worked with through the years had not only left church, but had also strayed from the Christian faith all together. Would this book hold the answers for me? Why was this happening?

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I enjoyed this book so much that I want every teacher in my church to read it. This isn’t a book that slams Christian Education programs in the local church, but a book that explains the difference between the Good News of Jesus and the yolk of moralism that too many churches place upon their parishioners.

On page 71 the author writes: “Our hope doesn’t depend on how good we’ve been…Our hope depends on seeing Jesus.”

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Are we revealing Jesus in the Old Testament stories? The Old Testament laws are to be a mirror showing us that we simply can’t ever be “good enough.” This mirror should make us grateful that we have a Savior. We can live in Grace. What freedom!

But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD Jeremiah 9:24.

Fact is, we can never be good enough for God. That’s why Jesus came. The message we need to send our kids in the Bible stories is that these people were able to act wise and good, ONLY because God’s GRACE enabled them and God’s GRACE strengthened them.

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God’s beauty kisses the beast in us. God’s grace is immeasurable and that’s the message we should be teaching people of all ages all over the world.

Have I always incorporated this strong and most important message of grace? I’d like to think I have. But perhaps I could have done better. Perhaps the message of grace wasn’t clear enough. I am certainly determined to make it clearer now.

Needless to say, this book receives five stars from me. I think it’s a must-read for every Christian–especially if they are teaching. And writers, you are teachers.

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What do you remember most about Sunday School growing up? I’d love to talk with you about it in the comments below!