This Year’s Back to School Series: Tips from the Writers Guild

back to school academics education teaching teacher teach learning study studyingLast August I ran some posts in a “Back to School” series focusing on things like making some “New Year” resolutions (part 1 and part 2), starting the new school year well (Don’t Start the Year with a Cat on Your Head), keeping your teacher happy the right way (6 Ways to Your Teacher’s Heart), and writing good papers (How to Destory Your Research Paper in One Simple Step). I had intended to write a few more, but that’s as far as we got.

The feedback on the series was quite positive, so I’m experimenting with making it a regular August feature. But this year we’re going to try something a little different. Over the last few months I’ve read a number of books about writing. Some focused more on the skill of writing and others more on the attitudes/tasks behind successful writing. But with all of them I noticed something interesting: the advice for being a good writer looks a lot like the advice for being a good student. So this year’s Back to School series is going to focus on lessons that we can learn as students from those who are, or strive to be, professional writers. We’ll be drawing on books like Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, among others.

I’ll update this page as further posts become available. Enjoy!

How to Be a Professional Student

Done For The DayNo, I don’t mean the kind of “professional” student who never graduates, either because they love school or because they fear the world outside of school. What I’m talking about here isn’t about how long it takes you to finish school but about how professionally you approach your education. If you want to thrive as a student, you can’t approach your education like a hobby or like that list of chores that you may get to when you feel like it. Your education is your job, even — or better, especially – if you have more than one. So approach it that way.

I was thinking about this when I ran across the following excerpt from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles. The book actually focuses on the challenges of being a writer in today’s world, but many of the lessons apply to students at every level. And that certainly holds with this appeal for writers to approach their writing professionally.

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Flotsam and jetsam (8/4)

dogs and cats

Good Reads

  • A Twee Saint for the Internet:  A marketing campaign to celebrate Ignatius of Loyola’s feast day creates a remarkable intersection of pop culture, digital media, and spiritual recruitment. (The Atlantic)
  • Rock Star Pastors Lose Their Luster:  One of the problems with celebrity pastors is that it’s very difficult to draw a line between advancing the gospel and advancing the preacher. When a famous pastor grows his audience and fame, doesn’t this mean that more people are hearing his saving message about Christ? OnFaith)
  • Naughty Nuns, Flatulent Monks, and Other Surprises of Sacred Medieval Manuscripts: Flipping through an illustrated manuscript from the 13th century, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Jesus loved a good fart joke. That’s because the margins of these handmade devotional books were filled with imagery depicting everything from scatological humor to mythical beasts to sexually explicit satire. (Collectors Weekly)
  • Responding to Five Trends in Youth Morality: Let me be clear — I’ll be the first to admit that some values or morals are relative. They change from culture to culture, person to person, and era to era. But in our desire to be progressive, I’m concerned we’ve discarded some timeless morals in the name of progress. (Growing Leaders)

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Top Posts for June & July

top fiveI neglected to list the top posts for June, so here are the top posts from the last couple of months. Enjoy!

Flotsam and jetsam (8/1)

unstable ladder

Good Reads

  • The Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Interview with Charles Marsh:  And anyway, they’re drinking their beers and smoking their cigars, and they’re singing, “Go Down, Moses.” The discovery that many of the same songs and spirituals that inundated and energized the black freedom struggle in the South 20-something years later were in the 1930s at the heart of the German church resistance movement that Bonhoeffer led was just wonderful. (Religion & Politics)
  • When Bullying Becomes Spiritual Warfare:  If Christian parents are to better serve as advocates for their children, they may consider bullying as both a psychological event and a form of spiritual warfare. (Hermeneutics)
  • The Loss of Pastoral Credibility in the Age of the Internet:  While the dramatic collapses of trust in the institutional authority of the Church following the exposure and scrutiny of cases of abuse may receive the most attention, there are other ways—albeit slower and more gradual—in which this trust is being eroded. Perhaps the most significant of these in my experience has been our greater exposure to Church leaders and their thinking. (Alastair Roberts)
  • There Is Nothing Modern about Euthanasia:  But in the 100 years that euthanasia has been a matter for public policy debate, technology has driven the conversation much less than people assume. Euthanasia advocacy has waxed and waned according to changes in politics and culture, not medicine. (The Centre for Independent Studies)

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Flotsam and jetsam (7/30)

anatomy-of-songs

Good Reads

  • Bibliotheca: What’s the Point of Making the Bible More Beautiful?  All of that time, money, and effort could be put towards something more practical and necessary, like translating the Bible into a language that doesn’t have it yet or printing thousands of cheap copies to hand out for free. Such statements may contain wisdom, but they also gloss over the ministry that aesthetics and beauty can have, i.e., creating transcendental experiences that shake us from this world’s mundanity and point towards God. (Christ and Pop Culture)
  • The Next Chapter for Christian Publishing:  Working with my family’s Christian literary agency and law firm, Yates & Yates, I’ve witnessed some of the obstacles and opportunities in today’s ever-changing book market. While the industry looks different in the 21st century, many authors who have adapted to the new era find Christian publishing remains alive and well. (Hermeneutics)
  • Moving in and Moving On:   Cohabitation is fundamentally ambiguous In fact, that is part—but just part—of why I believe it has become so popular. Sure, there are many cohabiting couples for whom living together was understood as a step-up in commitment, but, on average, research shows it is not associated with an increase in dedication to one’s partner. (Family Studies)
  • I Lie about My Teaching: Any honest discussion between teachers must begin with the understanding that each of us mingles the good with the bad. One student may experience the epiphany of a lifetime, while her neighbor drifts quietly off to sleep. In the classroom, it’s never pure gold or pure tin; we’re all muddled alloys. (The Atlantic)

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Flotsam and jetsam (7/28)

Beverage-Logic-Doghouse-Diaries-685x500

Good Reads

  • Why Pastors Should Preach About Body Image:  I can only speculate about why church leaders are largely silent about body image. Perhaps it’s seen as a “women’s issue,” whereas the majority of pastors are men. Perhaps the topic is just too sensitive. Perhaps it speaks to a theology more concerned with the spirit than the body. Or perhaps it is an idol so entwined in Christian culture that we hardly even notice it. (Hermeneutics)
  • What the Media Misses about Iraqi Christian Persecution:  This doesn’t mean that the persecution is justified. They shouldn’t be subject to genocide. They shouldn’t lose their homes. But Western Christians want to view these issues only through Christian evangelism, while overlooking Christian nationalism, Christian politics, and Christian violence abroad—all of which are real things. (Religion News)
  • The Virtue of Unread Books:   the array of books in our home is intended for ongoing, well-rounded usefulness. They’re there to show us what’s possible, not venerate what’s already been. Even the history books, which are expressly about what has already been, are there to light an inquisitive fuse and point us forward into new exploits. (StoryWarren)

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A Prayer for Sunday (Thomas à Kempis)

Thomas a KempisFew people manage to have a lasting impact on the church with only a single book. Thomas à Kempis is one of them. His Imitation of Christ is widely considered to be the most influential devotional work of the Middle Ages and one of the most widely read Christian books of all time. (I’ve even heard it claimed that the Imitation of Christ has been translated into more languages than any book besides the Bible, a claim I have not even tried to confirm.) The Imitation of Christ had an undoubted impact on Catholic spirituality, but also impacted many Protestant thinkers (e.g. John Wesley). And it received a renewed boost in contemporary spirituality through the writings of people like Thomas Merton.

Although Thomas à Kempis’ book has received significant criticism over the years–especially for an apparent overemphasis on the “inner” life of the Christian at the expense of a more “active” spirituality–his work has played an unquestionable role in the spiritual lives our countless Christians. So in honor of the life and ministry of Thomas à Kempis, who died on July 25, 1471, this Sunday’s prayer comes from him.

Grant me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know,
To love what I ought to love,
To praise what delights thee most,
To value what is precious in thy sight,
To hate what is offensive to thee.
Do not suffer me to judge according to the sight of my eyes,
Nor to pass sentence according
…..to the hearing of the ears of ignorant men;
But to discern with a true judgment
…..between things visible and spiritual,
And above all, always to inquire what is the good pleasure of thy will.

Flotsam and jetsam (7/25)

academic language

Good Reads

  • Prioritizing Church Attendance: There used to be an understanding in Christian families that unless one was deathly ill or there was a family emergency, you just never ever missed church. So what has changed and caused so many people to view the church as a disposable good instead of as an intricate part of one’s spiritual life? (Gospel Centered Discipleship)

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Flotsam and jetsam (7/23)

jacket

Good Reads

  • The Double Standard of Religious Leadership:  On the one hand, leaders are accorded certain privileges and have corresponding responsibilities. The price of the platform is accountability. At the same time, we don’t want leaders to assume they are somehow better. When they fail there is a certain reassurance and even delight in the schadenfreudian confirmation that everyone is human. (On Faith)
  • Living With Disability in the Dark Ages:  The moral arc of the universe may indeed bend toward justice, in disability as in race, gender, and class—but that arc doesn’t flow smoothly: It contains many hills and valleys. (The Daily Beast)
  • Why our brains love the ocean: Science explains what draws humans to the sea:  Several years ago I came up with a name for this human–water connection: Blue Mind, a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment. It is inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the color blue to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion. (Salon)

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