Relationship: the Seed We Need

Graphic: Relationship: the Seed We Need, Jennifer J HoweA tiny seed was placed in our souls when we were created. Each of us comes into the world with complete dependence on someone—someone bigger, stronger, wiser, and equipped to navigate the world. An infant can do nothing. She cannot feed, clean, or clothe herself. Every need must be met by a caring person. In a perfect world, that’s exactly what would happen. Newborn cries break through the busy, Care for me. Care for me-e-e! Many mamas and daddies get this so right every day.¹

Beloved friends, let us love one another; because love is from God; and everyone who loves has God as his Father and knows God. 1 John 4:7 CJB

This is how things should work, and the followers of Jesus should be really good at it. God loves us, so we love others, even the tiniest “others.” Every child should receive love and care. Needs should be met. Loving eye contact should be exchanged consistently. Oooos, Ahhhhs, and baby talk should be every child’s introduction to life.

But we live in this world, and there are problems. Women use the word choice as if the little one had no significance. New life collides with lifestyle. Parents sum up the value of a child in a four-letter word—W-A-N-T—and adjoining words matter. Are they more than anything? If it’s don’t that causes stress for the mama, no doubt. Studies indicate the baby experiences stress and the spectrum of emotion in the womb, and the effects can last.²

I’m reminded an imperfect world often leaves a gap. Stress in utero may have taken a toll. Parent-child connection might be like the San Andreas Fault, shaky and unpredictable. Eye contact may be tentative, angry, or absent. A newborn’s basic needs may go unmet. That’s all trauma to a little one. It’s heartbreaking.

But there is One who can and will fill any gap.

Can a mother forget the infant at her breast, walk away from the baby she bore? But even if mothers forget, I’d never forget you—never. Isaiah 49:15 MSG

The seed of connection is part of the creative plan of God. When we experience life in a contrary way, something deep within us cries out, “This isn’t right!” And it makes sense: we know when something is broken intuitively, even if we can’t put words to it. When people fail (and they do), the seed in our soul cries out for water and sunlight.

People, even mamas, may fail. God will not. He will never forget any of us because we are so precious to Him. One day we’ll need to explore where God is when it all goes wonky, but this isn’t that day. Today we focus on our unfailing, loving God. He offers perfect connection when the important threads of our lives are left in shreds.

If you are the one who comes from hard places, a less-than-loving introduction to life, He remembers you. If you are the one who comes from hard places and then impacted a little one in your choices, He remembers you. He wants to heal the broken places. He wants you to know that the first connection you need is to Him.

But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God. The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. John 1:12-14a CSB

The identity of a child changes. The brokenness is never erased, but the story is beautifully redeemed when He redeems you. Imagine: no longer defined by the hard places, no longer left to the trauma, no longer called the child from the broken home with no significance or blessing. You are His. That changes everything!

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I believe I’ll share posts of this nature as well as my “writing about writing” content. I hope you find the material to be helpful, something that serves you well, friend.


¹ Make a Difference Monday | Taking A Closer Look at Connection: a TBRI Principle, October 31, 2018.

² Fetus to Mom: You’re Stressing Me Out!, October 31, 2018.


Hey Writer, It’s a Jungle Out There

Graphic: It's a jungle out there! (Jennifer J Howe)

Writer, you face a challenge in this tech-savvy age. A writer seeks a unique reader, and it can feel like trekking to find Dr. Livingstone on the African continent.

Readers are inundated with messages 24-7-365. Inboxes flood with the messages they want and the junk they don’t. Hundreds of messages add up in little red circle alerts on phones everywhere.

An unknown writer is a sapling trying to grab a ray of light in the jungle. It sounds daunting or impossible.

Roughly 7 1/2 billion people call this blue marble home. If technology reached a fraction of them, there would be audiences for everyone. A handful of writers reach millions and tens of millions. Still, no one corners the market on global population. What if you believed there are enough readers for everyone? What if a community filled with encouragement helped others on their journey to the audience they’re looking for? What if we amplified others’ good words for the good of others?

A writer could do that, but it doesn’t feel natural. Language like competition, rat race, and dog-eat-dog colors our perspective. They say it’s a jungle out there. The truth is, you writerly neighbors two trees over in the jungle have messages that could reach readers near you. Writers sit in a jungle saturated with messages.

What will you do with this reality?

A few words of advice—

Remember my post about Connection with your reader? Here’s another facet: connect with writers, even those who write in your neck of the woods. Someone writes well in your genre? Read it. Has a similar message? Read it—knowing your message, voice, and style are different and matter. Share the good words with other writers if you dare.

Every writer must develop. A sapling in the forest may take longer to develop than the one dropped in a sunshiny meadow, granted. Be the diligent writer who grows where you’re planted.

Growth can mean many things. You might work to identify your audience and niche in the jungle. You might grow an e-mail list. You might even outgrow a generic site to your own dot com. Or try these:

  • Leverage technology to learn your craft, increase confidence, and publicize work.
  • Learn new writing techniques and genres. Stretch yourself.
  • Learn conventions in order to produce clean content.
  • Learn to become your own editing critic before sharing your work.
  • Get into encouraging learning environments (conferences).

Don’t get so comfortable you forget to grow, and don’t forget to count the baby steps you take along the way.

Clear the way!
Writer, get out your machete. There’s work to be done, and you’ll have to clear your way.

  • Cut extra words. It takes time to know good ones, but cut, cut, cut! Experienced writers write all the words and keep the good ones. Create a “Right Words, Wrong Timing” space to save the darlings you might need.
  • Be precise and remove unrelated content. I wanted to highlight this point. The scope of a writing project is genre-driven and theme-related. Keep to a specific, centered argument.
  • Be healthy! An author easily establishes and maintains an unhealthy link to the work. Friend, you are not your words, thoughts, or message. The ideas are separate and distinct from your person. Don’t get caught up in anxiety, shame, or distress. Be you—a writer—who has words, thoughts, and a message to be refined and shared.

If a tree falls in the jungle and no one hears it… Do you wonder if your efforts lead to a view on the screen? It’s natural. If a sapling had thinking, I imagine it would dream of peeking through the canopy and wonder if it could ever happen. That’s a writer’s life. The seed of a message is watered by thoughts of the need for it, desire to share it, and encouraging validation.

The writer begins the journey in obscurity. Once upon a time, even the best authors created “masterpieces” only a mother could love. But the household names we know did two things:

  • They wrote often.
  • They never gave up.

Writing in private offers the freedom to say everything. Going public invites the task of pointed criticism and sharper editing. If you are famous in the industry and your book title is in smaller font than your name, you have to live up to that. That writer sits in an InstantPot ™ but that’s another post.

Writing in a quiet corner with a few people who know your name and love you enough to speak truth and encourage you in your way, that’s a beautiful space. (There’s something satisfying about coming full circle.)

Hey Writer—connect, grow, clear the way, and—whatever you do—write!


Hey Writer, Connect with Your Reader

Hey Writer, Connect!Writing has a purpose: to be read. Think of it like a time capsule containing ideas, instruction, and emotion. When written thoughts are master-crafted, the brilliance of the work shines when a reader’s eyes find it.

Can I suggest you’re not just smithing words? A writer establishes a relationship. That’s what writing really is. It’s a beautiful relationship—a dance if you like—transcending time and distance on paper or paperless. The work is choreographed movement, and we’d have a tough time deciding who takes the lead. It’s a chicken-egg question, for sure: which came first, the writer’s thoughts or the reader in mind?

Writing in this century allows for immediate sharing or time to pass. The distance can be down the street or anywhere on the globe with translation! Technology has moved writing and publishing to a whole different level. (Makes me glad I wasn’t born in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago. Cuneiform, anyone?) Still the relationship is a connection—the writer sends an intellectual or emotional message, and the reader receives and engages with those ideas on an intellectual or emotional level. You have to love a meeting of the minds and a connection of the hearts.

Relational responsibility
That’s an intellectual definition up there, but it works. I think the writer is responsible for connection, not the reader, and I have thoughts.

Know your audience. This isn’t new, and maybe it’s been over-done. It’s critical, though. A writer forms the message with a reader in mind. The particulars are sifted through. Will gender, age, vocabulary, or length of the work play in? The smart writer knows if those things are important to the message, and the key factors become part of the relational choreography on the page.

Share the real you. A reader will engage differently when writing is academic (read: cold) and when it is a story with personal details (read: warm). Often the scientific research paper isn’t the place for your personal details. We know that. Where the writer runs into trouble is with a piece that “writes the author out of it.” It’s the difference between “You should _______” and “Can I share my experience with _______?” Done well, the story is captivating and convincing. The second choice has “Engagement” written all over it. Telling coldly and sharing warmly will be received differently. Decide how you’d like to reveal your heart and mind and how you’d like your reader to receive the message.

Have integrity. This means a few things in non-fiction writing.

Write honestly. Create non-fiction works that are truthful and sound in argument or character portrayal. Do your research for non-fiction works that require it.

Have intellectual integrity. This can be difficult. As a rule, our American culture reasons poorly. Logic is rarely taught. A good writer accepts when the argument falls flat. Either that work is re-worked, or it reveals the problems openly (read: not in the fine print).

Presentation matters. Passion about the message is good and right, but incorporating spin, hype, or inciting an audience with fake news is unkind. Choose passionate words well within your style. Consider using the best words stated positively rather than negatively.

In fiction, integrity flows through the work’s message with some of the elements above, but I think there’s more. Create a solid and meaningful plot. The characters and details should be consistent (think: world building or personal description). When confusion sets in a reader notices a misstep in the dance.

Share your heART. Don’t miss this. Share from the heart to your reader even when you’re tempted to lean into the brain academically. When you care deeply about the message, the writing process feels different to both the author and the reader. Writing is an art, and it is art. Imagine what might happen if that ten-page paper had a little more heart behind it. Poetry and creative writing leans into the heart very naturally. Writing blog posts about writing might not. Unless—

Love makes the words go ’round. Want your words to connect meaningfully, to have a full dance card with reader after reader engaging? It’s about the love, baby. Think about your reader. Do you know what she needs? Do you know the air she breathes, the vital source of life she’s seeking? Do you know her pains and sorrows, her joys and thrills? Write to those things because you care.

Love your reader. She’s waiting to experience your choreography in the work. Whatever you offer her, make sure you gift artfully crafted words of truth and integrity (fiction or non-) from your authentic heart. Let the work be motivated by love, to enrich her life, whether for inspiration, education, or her deep, soulish joy. It’s for her.

Connect deeply. Go change the world with your good words, writer!


Hey Writer, Who-o-o-o-o are You?

Hey Writer, are you a professional or hobbyist? Do you fit neatly into a genre? Have you found your niche in the blogosphere or the bookshelf? Does any of that matter? It does, and here’s why: when you know who you are, you can begin to imagine your reader. A form emerges from the shadows, and soon you see a face and recognize a heart. Your reader may be a younger self or someone completely different, but we all wisely start in the same place, identifying some key things about ourselves.1

Let’s assume you think you might be a writer. Congratulations! You’re reading in the right place. Or is it the write place?  *Grin!*

What does a writer do? What are the hallmarks of a writer? I think it’s as simple as a human being leveraging written communication to share a message to an audience (from one to millions of readers). That’s not particularly difficult to define. The hard part, if I know you as well as I know myself, is choosing the moment to decide you will personally leverage that writing you do in secret to share a message with an audience. When the eyeballs fall on your pages, it suddenly gets real, just sayin’. I think that’s true for every writer.

What does it mean to be a writer? It means sharing something of importance—a passion, truth, or storyline—or a mix of all of those. Is it difficult?

“Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. “Why, no,” dead-panned Smith. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” Walter Winchell, 1946.

Writer, when you put your words out there, you share the core of who you are. Your writing is personal to you, and in some sense, every piece is your “darling.” Most writers remember their first share or submission because it was emotional and difficult. Add a “Thank you, but we aren’t interested in printing that,” and it gets harder.

If that’s true, why write at all? Because something just has to be shared. You know the feeling. It’s the story you personally want to read but can’t find on the shelf. It’s the truth you know others need in order to live. It’s your own story you know will offer courage and healing to others who have lived the life you’re so familiar with. It’s the thought of a poem, short story, or book that just won’t let go of your mind and heart. Yeah, you’re a writer if that’s happening.

By now you’re thinking, Where, oh where, do I start? Start with simple questions. Gather some answers and follow the inner dialogue as it meanders.

1. What are you passionate about? That begins to shape what you have to say.

2. How would you summarize your message or story in a few words or a couple of sentences? Spend some good time on this one because it shapes your early impression of what you have to say.

3. Is there a genre for this? If you’re not sure, learn a bit about the genres that are out there in the world. If you’ve got a handle on it, and there is a genre, great. Read other writers who have successfully done what you plan to do. No, don’t plagiarize! Just be familiar with the way other writers have handled their message and content. Drill down to specifics if you can. Don’t read random fiction; read or skim what fits with your story in some way.

One word of caution: don’t lose heart that others have written on the same thing. Be encouraged that they have, and then fill voids with your own voice. Even if you don’t spot a gaping hole in the literature, know that your voice in the cosmic conversation matters. Don’t give up!

4. Who am I writing to? That fine-tunes the style in which you say it. This part of the self-directed Q&A deserves it’s own attention, but I’ll get to it. For now, when you imagine the reader taking in your writing and enjoying it, how would you describe this person? Try to think about anything that would be important—gender, age, stage of life, lifestyle, passions and interests, life story. Your message or storyline generally plays into specific audience characteristics. Define those because you are the author, and you get to do that. Don’t make wild assumptions about who will choose to pick up your work (you don’t have that kind of control). But as you write, you’ll remember this reader and have conversations as you go.

Writer, remember two things: you are a writer, and you are amazing! Now get started.


Hey Writer, Comparison Kills Creativity

Writerly fabric has common threads, but writing style, the message, life lessons, the growth from experience—those are unique. Why you and I know this in our heads but not trust with our hearts is complicated. Once upon a time we heard encouragement that sounded like little waves of “You’re special!” Those words can feel warm and wonderful. Those same words can wash over us very differently with a slight twist of tone or inflection. They can make a person feel awkward, embarrassed, and insecure. The truth is, we can hear the same words, and a completely different response is evoked.

Writers are readers, and the first thing an emotionally healthy writer does with words (spoken and written) is evaluate them for truth. We want truth, especially when the words reflect on our souls or submissions. But writer, consider the source. That’s the “must do” in the list today. You simply must think about the heart behind the words. A beautiful, honest heart shares truth in a loving way (even if the message might be a little painful). Truth is like that.

Image: Comparison Kills CreativityBut there’s more.

Writers being readers, we spend time taking in others’ good words. When those “others” have been successful in their writing, we begin to compare. It starts honestly and naively: “I want to be like her when I grow up.” That’s fine when skill and methods can be learned, and you start down the road with your unique journey in mind. It gets ugly quick when we want the end result without the work, or when we refuse to take the first step on the journey because—

My voice doesn’t really matter. I can’t say it better than __________. The message has already been said. If I did write something, who would read it? Publishers don’t give writers like me the time of day. I’m a nobody. My name isn’t Beth, Christine, Joyce, Lysa, Lisa, Liz, Nancy, or Priscilla. This is too hard!

Writer, remember two things if you remember nothing else.

Comparison doesn’t work.
You aren’t like anyone else. Your life story is yours. The message you share comes out of your own learning, growth, and experience. No one else has that. You are spec—let’s not use those words, even if they are true. You are unique! Think of your life a little like a sculpture, shaped by a whole tool chest of chisels. Each tool mark in your life is slightly different than mine, even if the circumstances are stone from similar quarries. Your voice matters because it isn’t like anyone else. Your message matters because only you can tell it in your voice with your perspective. Your plot twists will be different, so long as you don’t plagiarize.

So writer, write. In your voice. Share your message. Write in the few minutes you have. Write with the audience in mind, but long before their eyes will find it. You are writing in a precious place, and it’s a gift. For now, you are in obscurity, and that’s wonderful! It’s a blessing and a safe place to write without pressure or shame.

Comparison kills creativity.
Writer, go to your happy place. Go to the place where you write freely without other writers in mind. It’s not that we want to hold the “competition” in mind and heart with ugliness or defiance or loathing (self-loathing or directed at others). Just take a moment to dismiss them from the audience when you have trouble with shame in their shadows. (We should talk about this later in terms of community!) When a writer creates in the shadow of another’s perceived greatness, there is no freedom.

Writers tend to watch Ps and Qs and commas. That’s good writing in light of remembering the reader and presenting good, clean words. Excellence is never sacrificed in the work. If the creative mind returns to others’ writing samples, and it leans comparison and shame, stop it. That’s no bueno! You need a fresh start. Over-monitoring in the shadow of comparison shuts down your own creativity, and your work will likely be blocked or dripping with your felt shame.

The solution? Release others, and you release your own creativity! How’s that sound? Become less concerned about others’ success and release them (and their work) from your head space. Then you’re free to be you, write in your voice, and share your message.

I hear “Fr-ee-ee-ee-ee-dom!” in my head. Do you?

Writer, it’s time to write in freedom with amazing creativity. Lean in. Get to it!


Hey Writer, It’s a Gift

Hey Writer, have you landed in a trap? The main focus becomes how to get a response, and then the emotionally-charged treadmill starts up and rolls on. It makes sense, really. Writing is unique in its process. A writer gathers thoughts and ideas for an audience to see and unpack later. Eyes may land on the screen seconds after clicking publish, or they may take it all in years later on fresh pages with a cover. In any case, writers live for the moment of engagement, don’t we? (I can be impatient and, a little like Veruca Salt, I want it n-n-n-now! How about you?)

The common thread between both moments of engagement with the good words is the reader. Don’t miss this. Writer, you simply must imagine someone sitting across the table from you. This is a conversation, even if time and distance intrudes. And there is something else that will change the way you write.

It’s a gift!It's a gift: hands giving a gift.

Many of us know we have a talent for writing, but it’s more than that. In fact, if that’s all it is, the treadmill waits for you. You’ll be evaluating your talent by engagement, and that’s a terrible emotional ride.

Can I challenge you? Instead of a talent mindset, think about your good words as a gift. You offer an opportunity for readers to engage. Imagine giving your audience the very best gift you can afford. Your heart, mind, and love through words is a gift to your readers. That means you’re not tossing the gift at them in the plastic shopping bag with a receipt. You’re taking the time to prepare and present your very best.

Maybe it looks a little like this:

The right gift. When you choose a gift for someone, the best gift is selected with the recipient in mind. Likes and dislikes are considered. Quality is checked. The art is created out of love for the reader. While you’re not responsible for how the gift is received, take special time and effort to choose to love someone with your gift.

Ribbons, not strings. The precious gift you choose is presented beautifully, and you’ll will take time to wrap it and tie a pretty bow. But because it is a gift, it has no expectations or strings attached. Offer the best gift with your unique flair and presentation. Then wait patiently for the recipient’s response without pressing heavily or guilting anyone.

Sacred moments. The moment a reader’s eyes take it all in is sacred. You chose, prepared, and presented the gift. Now the audience has an opportunity. Love this moment, but hold it loosely. Let the gift pass from your hands to the reader’s. Sit back and enjoy the opportunity you’ve offered.

Remember: you’re not trying to get anything. That will change your perspective in a hurry. You will write for your audience out of love for them. You’ll be comfortable in your niche (and your own skin!). This is where you, the writer, will thrive! You’ll fulfill the calling on your life using the talent you have to give a gift to the audience you’ve been given.

Writer, you have a gift to give. Now give it.


Hey Writer, You Have Something to Say

October 2018 jjhWriter, you know it. Deep in your core, you know. There is a storyline, a character, or a message—something you’ve just got to share. Sometimes you scribble the words on a napkin or a scrap of paper. Other times you hurry to record them in an audio note so you won’t forget. There’s something about those thoughts.

The words mean something, or you wouldn’t rush to save them. They have value because they’re a fresh plot twist, they communicate significant thoughts, or the turn of phrase is unique and sweet. Isn’t it amazing that our creativity is boundless and blossoms over and over in special moments? We love it when it comes in the quiet, but we’ll pull over on the commute or holler at Siri half a dozen times to get the reminder right. We are writers, for sure!

Think about it. Something inside your mind and heart is hidden but won’t rest until it’s revealed. Why do you think that is? I think it’s because an audience needs it. The words know it, and you know it.

Writer, you’ve got something to say. It’s an engaging storyline or a meaningful message. And the process is life-transforming for you, the writer, and your audience.

So, what will you do with that? Will you be bold and put the words down for your audience to read, or will you keep the art hidden within? Will you proclaim or procrastinate? The choice is yours.

You have something to say. And it matters.

What will you do with that? I’d love to hear what you have to say. Comment below!