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The Habit Blog is the archive of The Habit Weekly. It is a trove of insight, wisdom, and practical advice on a variety of writing topics.

S2 Ep5: Lore Ferguson Wilbert

Lore Ferguson Wilbert is the author of Handle With Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry. She has been blogging since 2000 at Sayable.net. In this episode, Jonathan and Lore talk about the idea of touch as the mother of all senses, the exceeding vulnerability of Jesus, and the surprisingly symbiotic relationship between tenderness and resilience.

Chekhov’s Gun Control

Last week’s assignment in my current online class was to “write about a time your vision changed.” One of the class members submitted a story that I will summarize in bullet points:

  • When I was twelve, my father and I took a trip.
  • We pulled off the interstate to go to McDonalds.
  • At the top of the exit, mere yards from McDonalds, stood a man holding a torn cardboard sign on which were scrawled the words HUNGRY. ANYTHING HELPS.

Let me stop there for a minute. You’re already making predictions, right? There’s a man who needs food. A father and son are getting food. It’s going to be very odd if this doesn’t turn out to be a story about the father and son deciding whether or not to give the hungry man food.

You’ve probably heard of Chekhov’s Gun. Chekhov expressed the idea in several different places and several different ways, but the gist is this: If you mention a loaded gun early in a story, that gun had better go off by the end of the story. In the story in question, the hungry man is Chekhov’s gun. By placing him in the beginning of the story, our writer is telegraphing that this man will figure into the resolution of the story. 

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“You don’t have to monetize your joy.”

Have you given any thought to the possibility of turning your love of writing (or some other creative pursuit) into a source of income? Of course you have. It’s the spirit of the age. The Internet makes it easy (supposedly) to monetize your talents and interests and creative output. But more than that, somehow it has become an expectation that you will turn your avocations into money-making schemes. 

I recently ran across an article by Molly Conway titled “The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies into Hustles.” She tells about a time she discovered that an acquaintance had actually made the beautiful dress she was wearing:

“Wow!” I said. “It’s gorgeous. Do you have an Etsy shop or…?” And suddenly, it was like all the light went out of the room. She looked down despairingly. “No,” she sighed. “Everyone keeps telling me I should, but I just wouldn’t know where to start.” I recognized the look of a woman suddenly overwhelmed by people’s expectations of her.

Isn’t that the way? “I like what you’ve done” becomes “So you should sell it.” “I loved your Christmas letter” becomes “You should write a book.” For that matter, “You’ve had some interesting experiences” becomes “You should write a book.”

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S2 Ep2: Harrison Scott Key

Memoirist and humorist Harrison Scott Key is the author of Congratulations, Who Are You Again? and The World’s Largest Man, which won the Thurber Prize for humor. In this episode, Jonathan and Harrison discuss the difference between anecdote and memoir, the value of not knowing everything about your own stories, and the link between memoir-writing and therapy.

The Walmart Heron

Not far from my house is a Walmart. In front of the Walmart is a little wet-weather creek where the oily runoff from the parking lot drains between concrete retaining walls toward a big culvert where misguided youth sometimes smoke cigarettes. The little apron of grass beside the stream is littered with Walmart detritus and wrappers flung from the cars whooshing past on their way to the Home Depot. It is not a scenic stream.

One day I visited the Walmart after a few days’ rain had swollen the creek. Water chuckled over the rocks and discarded antifreeze jugs. And there in the water stood a great blue heron with his long, snaky stretched forward, gazing into the water, as still as if he had been a painted heron.

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Here’s to Failed Resolutions

It’s the last day of 2019. Are you thinking about your goals and resolutions for 2020? This time last year I wrote about the importance of focusing more on habits than on goals in our New Year’s resolutions–that is to say, focusing on process rather than results (or, to borrow from T.S. Eliot, “take no thought of the harvest/ But only of proper sowing.”) There’s nothing wrong with goals, of course. I’m just suggesting that if you do have writing goals for 2020 (completing a manuscript, for instance, or getting an essay published), think about the daily habits that will move you toward that goal, and make those habits the focus of any resolutions you make.

For many years I gave up on New Year’s resolutions altogether. One can only fail so many years in a row before one starts to feel like a fool for making grand declarations. I can very much relate to these remarks from Kathleen Norris in Acedia and Me (she’s talking about spiritual disciplines, but her insights apply just as well to writing):

I may be struck with a vigorous desire to do things differently from now on. How easy it will be, I think, to change my habits, to be more attentive and prayerful. Yet if I am not careful, this little surge of vanity will dissipate into nothingness in the daily grind.

A “little surge of vanity.” Yow! It’s painful but also helpful to acknowledge that there is real vanity in the idea that I will suddenly become a different kind of person simply because the calendar has flipped from one year to another. 

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Our peace is put in impossible things

It’s Christmas Eve, friends, and I want to share with you my favorite Christmas poem. Out of curiosity I looked back to see what I did for last year’s Christmas edition of The Habit Weekly. Turns out, I shared this poem. Looks like we’ve got ourselves a holiday tradition!

The House of Christmas
by GK Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

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On the Verbing of Nouns

A couple of weeks ago, a reader suggested that I devote an issue of The Habit Weekly to the verbing of nouns and the nouning of verbs. Not a bad idea, I said, except that I have devoted earlier issues to the nouning of verbs (or nominalization), so this one will mostly be about verbification.
 
Especially in or hyper-technological era, the verbing of nouns seems to be happening at record speed. Email started out life as a noun. In the nineties we used to say things like, “I’ll send you an email,” in which the noun email was the direct object of the verb send. It wasn’t long at all, however, before we started using email as a verb: “I’ll email you.”
 
[Bonus question for grammar nerds: What grammatical function does ‘you’serve in the sentence, “I’ll email you”? If I say, “I’ll send you an email,” ‘you’ is an indirect object. I’ll send the email (direct object) to you (indirect object). In the sentence “I’ll email you,” it’s as if we have an implied direct object; ‘you’ is still behaving like an indirect object, even though it looks like a direct object. What I really mean is something along the lines of “I’ll email you (indirect object) an email (direct object).”]

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