Gems from the Catholic Writers Conference Online 2017

cwglogoThe Catholic Writers Guild’s Online Conference—just held this past weekend—is a fantastic conference for Catholic writers who are just starting to write, writers who are seeking to publish or are publishing their work for the first time, and for established authors who want the companionship of a like-minded writing community that offers spiritual support (as well as writing support), or for those writers who simply want to explore or deepen the connection between their writing and their life of faith.

This year, my schedule allowed me to participate in only five of the workshops—and I missed three that I really wanted to attend—but I have to confess that I really enjoyed connecting with other writers.

Just a few takeaways:

  • Colleen C. Mitchell’s amazing workshop on integrating our writing with our everyday life, especially her personal witness of how she keeps writing during challenging times. Her witness inspires me.
  • How Terri Ong’s presentation connected St. Therese of Lisieux’s “Little Way”  with the writing life. If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that, for me, St. Therese articulates Saint Paul’s spirituality in a contemporary, accessible way. More and more, I see how essential the humility and obedience to the Holy Spirit are to the believer’s ability to respond to their call to write. The Founder of my community, Blessed James Alberione, encouraged us to pray these words often—and now I start every writing session with them: “By myself I can do nothing, but with God I can do all things. For the love of God, I want to do all things. To God, honor and glory; to me, the eternal reward.”
  • Although I have read dozens of writing books, published 7 books, and been studying writing craft for over 15 years, I can always learn something new. I learned a new way to improve the manuscript that I hand in to my editor and some ways to fix problems in developing a scene. But the best part? Connecting with other writers who consider writing a call from God, and a way to serve God’s People. Plus, I was delighted to be able to volunteer to moderate some of the workshops, and so contribute a little back to this lovely writing community.
  • Finally, I was reminded how important writing is to me. For a number of reasons, I have had to put writing on hold—at least, the “deep writing” that I feel called to do. These reasons included transition, a different schedule, new responsibilities, and my preoccupation with several difficult circumstances. The precious gem I received from this conference is a deeper insight into how much “deep writing” energizes me and assists me in doing other important apostolates that I carry out. No matter how busy I am, I cannot completely put it aside any more. I’m eager to find ways to write deeply again—even if it is just 20 minutes a day. 

A profound thank you to the Catholic Writers Guild, and all of those who worked so hard to bless dedicated, hard-working Catholic writers the training, tips, and encouragement we need to continue writing.

Recharging

What do you do when you feel like you have nothing left to give?

stranded-918933_1280That’s how I’ve felt through the week after the Clay Pots Retreat. It had been an amazing six weeks where I’ve given classes, retreat conferences, and assisted with our live webathon novena, but by the middle of the week, I couldn’t even think any more. I knew my introverted tank was past empty and I was running on fumes. It’s not comfortable when I feel like I have nothing left, that I’m “poured out,” and emotionally exhausted. In my prayer, even reading the Bible feels like it’s too hard. Fear that I will never be refilled takes over because I don’t even have the energy to deal with my worries.

And perhaps that’s the hardest part of all. When I’m that exhausted, I don’t just stop paying attention interiorly, but I feel stranded in the middle of nowhere, alone and abandoned; maybe even wrecked. Pretty soon, I’m overwhelmed by negativity and I simply want to cry because the emptiness haunts me.

That’s the short version of how I felt by Friday.

But I’d been in this place before, and I had the grace to see it coming earlier in the week. I seized an opportunity to get away for about a day and a half, and I took myself completely offline. In my prayer—when I just wanted to weep for sheer emptiness—I remembered how Jesus sanctified exhaustion. His solution for exhaustion was seeking out his Father…and so I spent several hours in quiet prayer. Most of the prayer time I simply accepted my emptiness, prayed for the people I’ve been interacting with for the past six weeks, and told Jesus I was open to whatever he wanted. 

That simple acceptance of my feelings and my discomfort, in Jesus’ presence—as difficult as it was—changed everything. Suddenly I was no longer stranded alone. Jesus was with me. Simply giving Jesus my poor, empty self and knowing that that was enough for him, made it become enough for me.

It was a very gentle weekend: I prayed quietly a lot, journaled a good bit, spent time outside (beautiful New England fall weather), took some long walks, watched a sci-fi film with a friend, and slept. And by Monday morning, I felt so blessed by the gifts of my ordinary life. But I continue to be aware that, for the next week or two, I need to continue being gentle, undemanding with myself, and creating extra space for quiet and listening. This will allow the “spiritual recharging” that began weekend to continue.

What do you do when you are spiritually and/or emotionally exhausted? I would love to hear your tips and strategies for “refueling” your spiritual life and your creativity!

Communicating Hope: Theme & Invitation

The Vatican Secretariat for Communications has published the theme/motto for World Communications Day in 2017:

“Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43.5). Communicating hope and trust in our time.

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I look forward in a particular way to the Pope’s message with this theme; it is usually released on January 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, who is the patron of writers, journalists, and the Catholic press.

The Vatican Secretariat for Communications issued this following statement on the theme

Numbness of conscience or letting desperation get the better of us are two possible “diseases” that our current communication system can cause.

It is possible that our conscience is cauterised, as Pope Francis comments in Laudato si’, as a result of the fact that often professionals, opinion leaders and means of communication work in urban areas distant from places of poverty and need, and their physical distance often leads them to ignore the complexity of the dramas faced by men and women.

Desperation is possible, instead, when communication is emphasised and transformed into spectacle, at times becoming a genuine strategy for constructing present dangers and looming fears.

But in the midst of this tumult a whisper is heard: “Fear not, for I am with you”. In His Son, God expresses his solidarity with every human situation and revealed that we are not alone, because we have a Father Who does not forget His children. Those who live united with Christ discover that even darkness and death become, for those who so wish, a place for communion with Light and Life. In every event, they try to discover what is happening between God and humanity, to recognise how He too, through the dramatic scenario of this world, is writing the history of salvation. We Christians have “good news” to tell, because we contemplate trustfully the prospect of the Kingdom. The Theme of the next World Day of Social Communications is an invitation to tell the history of the world and the histories of men and women in accordance with the logic of the “good news” that reminds us that God never ceases to be a Father in any situation or with regard to any man. Let us learn to communicate trust and hope for history.

* * *

Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation) [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation) [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

In a recent meeting with journalists on September 22, 2016, Pope Francis emphasized the importance and responsibility that journalists have in our society today. In particular, he briefly commented on:

  • loving the truth
    “To love the truth does not only mean to affirm it but to live it…”
  • living with professionalism 
    “[Journalism’s] vocation is, therefore – through attention, care in seeking the truth – to have man’s social dimension grow, to foster the building of  true citizenship.”
  • respecting human dignity
    “Behind the simple reporting of an event there are also sentiments, emotions, and, in short, the life of individuals.” 

The original text of his speech is available only in Italian and Portuguese on the Vatican’s website, but fortunately, Zenit provides a full English translation here. It’s short, but well worth the read!

Stretching as a Writer (in a St. Paul & St. Therese Style)

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One of the beauties and challenges of religious life is living our vow of obedience. That means that sometimes we get assigned to responsibilities that are new, unfamiliar, and sometimes, seemingly not suited to us. Often, it’s because the superior sees something in us that we don’t see. Once we’ve been working in this new area for a while, we may be surprised to discover that we have gifts that we didn’t suspect. At other times, the superior is willing to “take a risk” on us because she knows that the assigned task needs to go forward, and we are the only one (or the seemingly best person) available at the time.

All of this is a long introduction to saying that, during these past two and a half years, I keep finding myself stretched because of my assigned apostolate in Pauline Digital.

Most nonwriters probably think, “Writing is writing.” They may not realize that every form of writing has its own set of challenges and required skills. I’ve been writing across multiple forms since I was a postulant, starting with children’s direct-to-video programs, but until I arrived in Digital, I did not realize that I am basically a “long form” writer. The only short form of writing that I consistently did (and enjoyed) was blogging, but even a blog can be considered long-form writing when taken as a series on one topic.

It’s also very different to write short pieces on assignment that require quick turnaround. I’ve never wanted to write on assignment because I have always been sure that my mind would totally freeze up and I wouldn’t be able to write what was needed. I have suffered from “mindfreeze” ever since I can remember: if I become afraid or scared enough, my brain stops working almost completely, and originality disappears entirely!

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A possible depiction of Black Blacquer, the villain of my 1st story.

When it comes to writing, mindfreeze has been a problem for me at least since first grade when my grandfather fell asleep while I was reading him my very first completed story. (In his defense, it was after supper, he was ill and probably exhausted, my story was absolutely terrible, even for a seven-year-old’s first effort. What would you expect from a story that is less about the hero and more about the villain, who was originally named, “Black Blacquer”? His attempt to listen to my story probably bordered on heroic.)

But I digress.

I believe many writers, if not most, struggle to discover the confidence to write. And somehow, that confidence to write was tested anew when I started to write on assignment—especially with a tight deadline, in a short form that I already know I’m not very good at. It just felt too much like I’m taking a test that will stump me. But if I stop for a reality check and reflect on my actual experience, I realize I’ve experienced mindfreeze in my writing only once in the past two and half years. I asked for help and someone else was able to complete it just after the deadline.

As I’ve grown as a writer and in my relationship with God, I’ve gradually come to realize that mindfreeze—and my chronic insecurity as a writer—is actually a great gift. Starting every writing session with an act of humility and a profound act of trust in God is the best way that I could begin writing anything. It is writing in the spirit of St. Paul and St. Therese  of Lisieux, recognizing that I am an earthen vessel holding a precious treasure, that I have empty hands but that I offer the very emptiness to God so that God can fill me! Ultimately, what I write is not for me nor ultimately about me, but about communicating what God inspires to say in service of others. Every so often, I need to be reminded that it’s absolutely essential that I “reset” my motivations every day. So I’m grateful that recently, I’ve received this reminder so frequently. I see with new eyes that my struggle in the past couple of years with short forms, quick deadlines, and yes, even mindfreeze, has actually been a blessing—for me personally first of all, but ultimately, I hope, for those who listen to and read what I write.

Last Chance To Join in Media Spirituality Retreat!

ChristLivesinMeTomorrow (Wednesday, September 21), is the cut-off date for registration for the Clay Pots Retreat for communications artists, professionals, and enthusiasts. Last week our team of sisters finalized the schedule and conference topics. If you need a little get-away or want to revitalize your spiritual life and your media life, or simply to learn more about living a genuine communications spirituality, this will be an awesome retreat!

We #MediaNuns are already praying for the retreatants! You can find out more information or register at www.pauline.org/retreat

claypots-2016

 

New Catholic Books & Media

Today’s post is truly a mix of some great Catholic media–from Catholic YA novels to radio interviews to other resources. But first, a little moment of encouragement!

proofgodisanartistedited

 

 

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Reviews of the new YA novel, The Perfect Blindside by Leslea Walh, which also won a Catholic Press Award this year:

Author Sarah Reinhardt’s review

Author Stephanie Engleman’s review

Catholic Underground’s review, where The Perfect Blindside is described as fitting into the genre of: Christian YA Adventurous Mystery (I didn’t even know that was a genre, but isn’t that cool?)

 

 

sr-ta-bioSister Theresa Aletheia Noble’s recent interview with Immaculate Heart Radio in Los Angeles, about: 4 Tips for Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. (Sr. Theresa Aletheia blogs beautifully at pursuedbytruth on Patheos, and is a frequent contributor at Aleteia.org, where her posts include “5 Warning Signs of a Toxic Faith,” “10 Places To Find Excellent Homilies Online,” and my personal favorite, “The Rock Star All the Nuns Know.”

 

 

 

gouletwayofcrosscoverA lot of Catholic kids’ books are written to appeal to girls. Here’s a really brilliant Way of the Cross written by David Goulet and illustrated by Joe Spicer that is directed to today’s preteen and teenaged boys. (Although I think a lot of girls will like it too.) The artwork isn’t my style–and that’s a good thing–because otherwise probably not one kid would pick it up. But the artwork is Manga-styled, powerful and contemporary. The reflections are short, powerful, and moving–and appropriate for middle graders up to teenagers.

 

How To Use Social Media To Grow in Holiness

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I have been saving up this reader’s question because I wanted to give it a well-developed answer. I’ve not had the time to develop the answer in a way that I’d hoped, but rather than wait any longer, I thought I would begin an answer and continue unpacking the topic as time goes on.

“Do you have any tips / tools you have found helpful in doing your work online but not getting sucked into the trap of getting into it too much?  There can be a temptation to over-use social media, to go along with the rest of society which seems to be constantly ‘plugged in.’ As a religious, striving for holiness, I do not think this is appropriate.” 

This is a great question for anyone, not just for religious sisters, brothers, and priests. The laity are called to holiness just as clergy and religious are; the laity, too, are called to an interior life that allows focus on one’s relationship with God. While there is nothing inherently wrong in being plugged in, problems arise when being plugged in pulls us away from the rest of our life: when we are spending so much time online that our lifestyle, serenity, and/or in-person relationships start to suffer. Research is beginning to emerge that reveals an addictive quality in using social media, so it is really important to watch our habits—just as it is important to reflect on all our media habits. Personally, I know that frequent social media use can result in feeling fragmented or scattered. Reflecting on a couple of principals may help us in discerning how we can best use social media, according to our vocation to holiness.

1) If we want to engage with people online, we need to truly engage with people by using social media well, especially if it is for the sake of the Gospel! Using Twitter or Snapchat or Vine halfheartedly, without taking the time to interact with others online, or bothering to really learn about how to use it, is not effective and can even be a less-than-positive witness to the Gospel. When we learn how to use a particular platform well, we don’t need to waste time on it trying to take in everything.

2) No one can engage with all social media well all the time, because every platform takes time and energy, and we have limited amounts of both that we can dedicate to social media. Even if we are responsible at work for a range of social media, we will have to choose which to give priority to, according to our purpose, who we want to reach, and how we want to reach them. Setting boundaries in using the internet becomes essential because the internet has so few boundaries.

3) Create a plan for your use of social media with the following 6 questions.

  • How is God is inviting you to use social media?
  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What are you trying to communicate?
  • Which social media platform(s) are best suited to: your personal communication style, your message, and your audience?
  • How much time can I afford to give to social media: daily? weekly? monthly?
  • When will you give myself a break from social media? (Breaks may be times—such as a day of the week or between 8 PM and 9 AM; or places—such as the dining room table and the bedroom.)

4) Use your social media plan to achieve your goals and to set healthy boundaries for yourself. While the nature of social media often means that there is cross-over between work and personal use, if you use social media for both you may wish to have two social media plans. Either way, setting limits (time, place, platform) and scheduling can be both helpful and essential. Shape your social media use to fulfill your goals.

Examples:

If an author is trying to network with like-minded authors and potential readers, many social media experts recommend Twitter. If we choose Twitter, we need to become active enough on it so we can learn how to reach our audience with our message effectively. No one needs to be on Twitter all day long, but a consistent presence is important. We might want to use a tool to schedule tweets through the day. We may want to set aside three fifteen-minute segments each day to tweet, read your feed, and retweet. We may decide to be on Twitter Monday-Friday, and take off the weekends or Sunday.

If we want to communicate with young people and one of our communication strengths is visual, we may wish to make Instagram or Vine our primary platform, and post once a week, and view twice a week.

If we use social media to support an interest group (such as a bird-watching hobby), we may simply choose the platform that already has an active and inviting group with that interest. Our plan may be to check in with them weekly for an hour. Or we may choose to check in before and after a related event (such as each bird-watching expedition).

5) Reexamine your use of social media regularly, since social media trends and platforms are constantly changing. We may need to do so as often as every six months or maybe every couple of years. We can apply the principles of discernment to help us to grow in balancing our life better by asking several questions:

  • What are the positive effects for my using social media?
  • What are the negative effects of my using social media?
  • How has my use of social media affected the overall balance of my life?
  • What do I have too much of?
  • What do I have too little of?
  • Do I still make the kind of time I need for:
    * My relationship with myself: silence, solitude, and time to think
    * My relationship with my body: relaxing, exercise, sleep, spending time in nature, etc.
    * My relationship with God: daily prayer, meditation and/or time to reflect, confession, Mass, and other forms of communal prayer
    * My relationships with my loved ones: quality time with family and friends
    * My life: being a truly engaged presence in daily life, without constant distractions or feeling scattered
    * My community: offering a contribution to the community (parish, neighborhood, family, etc.)
    * My work: being able to focus and effectively accomplish my responsibilities
  • How much use of the internet and social media feels right for me? Right now, is my use of media right “out of balance”? What do I need to put my life back into balance?

For further reflection, read Pope Benedict XIV’s Message for 46th World Day of Communications:

“I would like to share with you some reflections concerning an aspect of the human process of communication which, despite its importance, is often overlooked and which, at the present time, it would seem especially necessary to recall. It concerns the relationship between silence and word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved. When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.” – Pope Benedict XIV’s Message for 46th World Day of Communications