All Posts in “Writing & Publishing”

The Ideal Writing Spot

Stephanie Smith

Stephanie Smith

It seems that most famous writers create a certain habitat for their genius, a custom-made space where their creativity can flow forth uninhibited. Virginia Woolf had A Room of One’s Own, J. K. Rowling has her European café, and Kurt Vonnegut has his hardwood floor where he worked out of his lap. So what are the basic requirements for a writing spot?

A desk, of course, is essential (except, apparently, if you’re Vonnegut). Preferably, a mahogany, stylishly-distressed desk that just looks like classics have been written all over it. A desk in the tradition of Tolkien’s and C. S. Lewis’, which you can actually see on display (including the wardrobe that inspired Narnia) at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. Extra points if your desk has a secret compartment.

Next, coffee. Every writer needs an energy boost now and then. And if you’re self-employed, your caffeine addiction might even count as a tax deduction (don’t quote me on that…)! But don’t try to outdo French novelist Balzac, who was known to drink 50-300 cups of coffee per day.

Your writing space should also host somewhat of a cozy mess. Creative minds aren’t known for their organizational skills, you know.

Surround yourself with inspirational literary quotes. These will remind you not only how much you love, live, and breath writing, but how fun it is! Motivational catchphrases such as, “My stories run up and bite me on the leg” –Ray Bradbury, and, “Writing is…like a long bout of some painful illness.” -George Orwell, should get you off to a good start!

You should also have something to fidget with as you wrestle your brilliant ideas down onto paper. Stress balls, those cool moldable erasers, etc. Now is the perfect time to develop a bad habit such as cracking your knuckles or chewing your hair. All for the sake of art, of course.

A muse: whether it’s a picture of your sweetheart, your cat, or your Edgar Allan Poe bobble-head, you should have something to attribute your strokes of genius to. And someone to take your frustration out on when writer’s block hits.

What’s your writing environment? Where do you hammer out your thoughts, poems, and stories?

Stephanie S. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, which she now puts to work freelancing as a book publicist and writer through her business, (In)dialogue Communications, at www.stephaniessmith.com. After living in Chicago for four years, traveling to Amsterdam for a spell, and then moving back home to Baltimore to plan a wedding, she now lives with her husband in Upstate New York where they make novice attempts at home renovation in their 1930s bungalow. She is a member of the Young Professionals of the Southern Tier and blogs for Moody Publishers at www.insidepages.net.

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Do Anger and Creating Mix?

Kimberly Culbertson

Are You Reading Along?

Have you clicked over to Don Miller’s Blog lately? You know I have, because this isn’t the first link I’ve posted on the Relief site. He’s been blogging a series on “The Way of A Creator,” and I think Relief readers everywhere should be reading along.

Anger + Creation = ?

Today, his post states that “A Creator Resists the Urge to Create out of Anger.” You’ll want to read the whole post, but here’s a quick quote:

The public only has a consciousness so big, and when you create something good, and it gets into the public consciousness, there’s less room for whatever it is that made you angry. So go and create something good, and displace whatever it is that is pissing you off.

This post has me thinking about Relief’s beginnings. Part of our story is that the vision for this journal was born out of frustration. I’ll be honest–sometimes “Christian” literature makes me angry. For years we’ve endeavored to create something that displaces the sometimes-overly-sanitized work that well, pisses us off… okay, I’m not sure I’m following Don’s advice in this sentence.

Thoughts? How do you, as a creator, wrestle your anger? Do you agree with Don’s advice?

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The New Cover

One of my favorite parts of putting together an issue of Relief is working with the photographers and graphic artists who help the outside of our journal look as good as the work we publish inside. You see, I’m well aware that, while we all know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, we’re all prone to do it anyway. Fortunately, Relief has developed great relationships with gifted visual artists who contribute to covers that are as original as our vision for a Christian literature that is both true-to-life and beautiful, gritty and wonderful.

The cover of our current issue is a composite of two images. The central image (the tree and sunrise in the doorway) is cropped from a landscape taken by J. Brisbin, a former Relief author and photographer whose work we featured on our last cover. Like his last, this image demonstrates the high dynamic range (HDR) technique, which is a favorite form of Brisbin’s. As he explains it:

HDR is simply a way to capture an image that pretends it has more dynamic range than it actually has. The eye can see about 15000:1 contrast ratio, while photography can usually only capture 300:1 to 500:1. Highs get overexposed, lows get lost in shadow. HDR algorithms seek to compress multiple exposures of an image that expose various parts of that 15000:1 contrast ratio in “slices” by altering the exposure, then combining those images (3-12) using special software. What makes HDR cool, in my opinion, isn’t this technical side of it, but the artistic result of the tone mapping software. Different algorithms produce different results and a vast range of effects can be produced by manipulating the knobs and switches in the tone mapping software. It can be time-consuming and takes a lot of trial-and-error but with the right composition, the effects can be stunning.

The second — and much less technical — image of the dark foreground, was taken by my wife, my youngest son, Josiah, and myself during a hike at a nearby abandoned and run-down house. (Actually, I took the picture from inside while they stayed safely outside and prayed the roof would not collapse on my head).  With some clever arranging by Harriet Brewster, who also designed the cover for our last issue, the result is an image we’re calling “Lazarus, Come Forth” for its juxtaposition of  desolation with hope and beauty, and to hint at this issue’s themes of isolation and communion.

And now that you’ve seen the cover, click on over to our store and pre-order a copy of your very own!

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It All Began with a Picture

Stephanie Smith

I have a question for all you writers out there: how do your stories begin?

Do they begin inside you, with a striking thought, image, or scene? Do you observe something in the world that makes you want to put in onto paper? Do you imagine your characters to life, or do you see them on the street, at the Farmer’s Market, the corner coffee shop?

Many of my favorite authors, it seems, birth their stories like this: a curious image arises in their mind, an image they see and cannot forget, and they write to discover the story behind the image.

Beloved author C.S. Lewis says that his enchanted world of Narnia began with a picture of a faun carrying an umbrella in a snowy wood.  “This picture had been in my mind since I was sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’”

Kate DiCamillo was lying in bed one morning, her life in a state of depression, when she suddenly saw a magician, joined by an elephant.  They looked as real to her as anyone, and this curious introduction gave her the motivation to get out of bed and start writing again. The tale of these two characters entwine in what became The Magician’s Elephant, a whimsical story about magic, homecoming, and belonging.

Sue Monk Kidd’s award-winning novel, The Secret Life of Bees, began with an image of a girl going to sleep in her room amidst a swarm of hovering bees.  Right now I’m reading Traveling with Pomegranates, the author’s memoir which gives the reader the backstory behind the creation of her bee novel. I find myself fascinated with the way Sue Monk Kidd collects the smallest of details and finds a home for them in her book.  Simple things like a pink house she saw in a magazine, a childhood memory of bees that hummed through the walls of her old house, and a story about a black Madonna struck something in her and she wove them into her novel.

As much as I love reading fiction, this genre has always been the hardest thing for me to write.  Characters do not appear to me in dreams, or start talking to me in the shower, or hover over my bed in the form of circus animals.  But I do often see images in real life that I pause over and tuck away for later, for a story that will be woven with bits and pieces of things in the world that catch my curiosity.

Here are some of them:

A man sitting on a porch that is covered with wind chimes.

The way a book in my hand vibrates with the live music of a cello playing in a bookstore.

A snippet of overheard conversation, “Once when I was seventeen and wild, I cut off all my hair.”

What sparks your stories into life?

Stephanie S. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, which she now puts to work freelancing as a book publicist and writer through her business, (In)dialogue Communications, at www.stephaniessmith.com. After living in Chicago for four years, traveling to Amsterdam for a spell, and then moving back home to Baltimore to plan a wedding, she now lives with her husband in Upstate New York where they make novice attempts at home renovation in their 1930s bungalow. She is a member of the Young Professionals of the Southern Tier and blogs for Moody Publishers at insidepages.net.

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Micro-Journaling

Ian David Philpot

I’ve been struggling recently with finding time to journal. It’s not that I even care much about chronicalling my life. I just love it when I put my pen to paper and get something out. Instead, I’ve been using Google Docs to write. And there’s a lot of positive things about holding my writing in a place I can access anywhere I have a computer–which is everywhere recently–but it’s just not the same.

But recently, I found an answer in “9 Lists to Keep Updated, and Keep Handy.” Actually, I stumbled across it…on StumbleUpon. (It seems everything cool I’ve found recently is because of that site.) I call it micro-journaling, and it’s started to change my life.

Basically, the author had a journal he wasn’t using, so he started making different sections in the journal to list out things like “Things I Want,” “Gift Ideas,” etc. The list that has been my favorite so far is  “BHAGs” (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Maybe it’s because I just entered the grownup world and I’m about get married, but the pages have been filling up quickly.

What lists do you keep in your journals?


Ian David Philpot is the Web Editor for ccPublishing and the Web Content Developer for Willow Creek Community Church. He recently received his Bachelor’s in English at Northern Illinois University and spent one year in Columbia College Chicago’s Fiction Writing program. He writes fiction, poetry, and music. Ian prefers black to white, vanilla to chocolate, and only eats yellow cake.
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