Birthing My Book: Bringing Delight in Disorder to Life

Having conceived and nurtured a memoir for almost a year, only to have it soundly rejected, it felt much like a miscarriage. I went a year without writing a word. It was only when I enrolled in an intensive discipleship training program that I again started to bring words to life, or, more accurately, let the Word come to life by cultivating the soil of stories.

Still, I wasn’t ready to come back to my memoir. It was too personal, too painful, too raw. Instead, I moved onto fiction – drafting a trilogy of short stories – “Life,” “Liberty,” and “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  More than the quality of the narrative (which is still quite unfinished), the discipline of daily writing as I created characters, developed dialogue, and polished plot, gave me increasing confidence that I had a “way with words.”

Then a very tragic thing happened. A young man I had never met committed suicide. He was playing family board games one minute and the next he was in his room shooting himself. The young man’s name was Matthew, son of Rick Warren renowned pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the best-selling Purpose-Driven Life.

My initial reaction was to take to my bed. I didn’t get up for three days. I read what people within the church and outside of it were saying. Some of it trying to be nice and compassion. Some of it downright ugly and mean. Nearly all of it lacking a clear Biblical understanding of mental illness that would drive a person to suicide.

I decided I needed to re-write my memoir. I also knew I couldn’t do it alone. I shared the idea with Leanne Sype, a blogging friend and editor, to whom I had pitched my trilogy. Very soon, she became as passionate about the project as I did. With Leanne’s help, I worked through a second draft, and a third (and in some cases fourth and fifth). With Leanne’s guidance, I pitched it to an agent and went to a writer’s conference to see about pursuing conventional publishing.

We prayed for a clear sign and got it almost immediately. A resounding no. Undeterred, Leanne encouraged me to pursue self-publishing, helped me navigate around some shark-invested waters of vanity publishers. She introduced me to graphic artist Nicole Miller who also has a heart for the Lord and a distinct eye for graphic design. Soon, we had a book cover. Nicole then moved on to a video for our indiegogo campaign where we exceeded our goal.

Along came another young faithful servant, Christina Tarabochia, who took the text and shaped it into various formats uploaded at Smashwords (and soon, for Amazon and Barnes & Noble). Christina helped explain some of the technical aspects of getting our book in the hands of the readers and has been an invaluable resource.

Now that we have a downloadable e-book (soon to be in print), we are only entering another season of the larger “Delight in Disorder” mission. Over the past few days I have been contacted mental health and church leaders from across the country to help us spread the word — to bridge the distance between faith and mental illness. I’ve already received two speaking invitations and am building some very fruitful relationships.

Much has been done — Facebook author page, Twitter account (indy_tony), media kit, business card design, e-mail and phone contact) and much remains to be done (website upgrade, speaking engagements, reviews). I have no idea where God will lead now that the book has been birthed. I only pray I’ll do my part to be a faithful stewardship of the Word calling me to share divine delight in the disorder of the world.

Write your favorite scripture on a canvas for your dorm room. It fills up wall space and it will be a good encouragement.

Birthing My Book: Cultivating the Soil

The years 2009-2011 are pretty much a blur for me. I was on a high dose of psychotropics. I was still recuperating from the effects of E.C.T.. I was dealing with deep depression due in large part to a lack of purpose since going on disability.

After my first attempt to write a spiritual memoir was rejected by publishers, I stuffed it in a dresser drawer and quit writing altogether. I tried some gardening, wheeling aging veterans to worship, painting dairy barns, cleaning furnaces — anything to be somewhat productive and stay out of the pit.

Nothing helped. At least not much. In December of 2010 I enrolled in a partial hospitalization treatment program and was introduced to a relatively new therapeutic approach that was proving successful among bipolar patients. It was called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

I was less than impressed.  I found DBT to be a rather basic blend of pop psychology and generic eastern philosophy.  While I benefited from the support of group therapy and met many compassionate caregivers, I left the program feeling it had fallen short, eager for something more in-depth and, if possible, rooted in my own Christian tradition.

Thanks to the advocacy of a family minister, we discovered a program called Shepherd’s Fold. Originally designed as a re-integration program for prisoners adjusting back to family life, it had become more a discipleship center where men could study deeply the Scriptures, receive Christian counsel, and develop work and personal habits that might carry over for them to become better husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers in Christ.

I enrolled at Shepherd’s Fold in September of 2011 and immediately began to adopt the schedule, the tasks, and habits they had carefully designed to promote spiritual well-being. While I struggled with the structure, and my pace at work and in chores was particularly slow, I found my overall mental health improved. Most importantly, I was able to read and reflect on God’s Word for hours each day.

I began to write again.  My letters home to my wife were often 30 pages and up (and sometimes I wrote 2 or 3 a week). I began a correspondence with a former colleague in ministry who sent me his sermons and I would respond with lengthy replies. In addition to daily journal entries from Scripture readings, I did a number of research papers on issues with which I had been dealing. After eight months in treatment, I was asked to write a “spiritual autobiography” and I filled over 125 hand-written pages. My writer’s voice was returning.

Sadly, my time at Shepherd’s Fold came to an end in August, 2012 as I left the program early.  God only knows the complete story of why it didn’t work out as we had hoped — to promote family reconciliation.  But it is clear that though the soil seemed barren, there was much cultivation.

Cultivating

Great Writers (and me) on Writing

Tony - Writing

I have some great news for which I am very thankful.  I have accepted a position as a writing instructor at a local community college.  The course is called “Introduction to Academic Writing” and it is primarily designed to teach beginning students to construct well written, persuasive essays.

To make the most of this educational opportunity, however, I want to share my passion for writing as well as the mechanics of how to do it well.  To prepare, I have pulled out part of a post (below) I wrote on writing.

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. ― Maya Angelou

The primary purpose of good writing is not to fix a problem, but to make it more meaningful and beautiful to live in a world filled with problems.  This is one reason I don’t read more Charles Dickens and why I haven’t even started Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  I’m thinking more of fiction here, but even good non-fiction should steer clear of one-dimensional moralism if it is to be effective.  The song must be sung, not explained or advocated or shouted out.  Which leads to my next quote –

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. Anton Chekhov

Again, while this is true for any writing, I find it especially true for songs and poems.  Don’t say you’re depressed because your girlfriend broke up with you and then go on for 500 words telling me the symptoms of your depression.  Pay a therapist to do that.  Instead,  paint a picture of your sadness, like John Prine in the chorus of  “The Blue Umbrella” –

Blue umbrella
rest upon my shoulder
hide the pain
while the rain
makes up my mind
well, my feet are wet
from thinking this thing over
and it’s been so long
since I felt the warm sunshine
just give me one good reason
and I promise I won’t ask you any more
just give me one extra season
so I can figure out the other four.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. ― Mark TwainThe Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Here is where I’m going to put in a plug for self-editing. I read a lot of blogs about writing and I notice that many writers mark their progress by their word count.  Some even set goals of writing 1,000 or 2,000 words a day (or some such amount).  I believe if your goal is good writing, you should lo0k instead at how many words you delete.  I knew of a college professor who set page limits to essays.  If you exceeded the number, he would rip off the extra pages, throw them away and write across the paper, “It seemed a little incomplete.  Try again.”  One right word yields far greater power than two (or three, or one hundred) wrong ones.

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. ― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

I like this quote both for its humility and wisdom.  The truth is, we never really get it “right” in this writing life.  Becoming better writers should always be our goal for some distant “one day.”  The direction we should be headed to get there, however, clearly should not involve complex formulas but simple methods of telling it like it is better than we told it the last time, possibly even better than anyone has told it before

Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. ― Flannery O’Connor

In terms of writing material, we have a lot within us into which we often fail to tap.  It’s true if you are writing on any subject, you should do good research and not just sit back in your writing chair (mine is a recliner) and write what is on your mind.  Still, if we just pay enough attention to our lives (and the world around us), we will have plenty to start writing every time.

In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody. ― Oscar Wilde

What may have been witty hyperbole in Wilde’s day has become almost literal truth today.  I visit many blogs that have few (if any hits).  E-books are being published that sell almost no copies.  You can’t even give them away.  We could debate what is worthy to be read, but I believe three of my primary obligations as a writer are to read, read, read.  Read what others are writing on their blogs.  Read new books being published by known and unknown authors.  And then, to relax before bed, read (or listen to) the classics (including the Bible) to let my mind be refreshed by the gifted wordsmiths of days gone by.

What are your thoughts on writing?  What quote sums up what you believe most true for you as a writer?

What Matters: Prompted Flash Fiction

For the first time in his life, he believed his opinion mattered. People would listen. Lives would be changed. The world would become a better place.

Robert went into the kitchen and reached for a bag of Guatemalan Fair Trade coffee beans, smiling to himself.  Pouring the beans into the hand grinder he inherited from his grandfather, he measured the right amount with his mind.  No need for scoops.  He knew what was best.

Turning the handle of the grinder in a steady, confident motion, he looked out the kitchen window.  His neighbor Mrs. Grumsfeld was weeding her rose garden. Her wide-brimmed straw hat with the red ribbon reminded him of his grandmother, God rest her soul.  If only she could be here to see him today.

At the appointed time, the grinding stopped.  He placed a filter in the basket, emptied the grounds from the wooden drawer and affixed it in place. Moving to the refrigerator, he reached for the pitcher of filtered water. Closing one eye, he filled the maker to the four cup mark, closed the lid and pressed the “on” button.  A ritual as meaningful as prayer.  Done to perfection to produce the perfect results.

Mrs. Grumsfeld was kneeling beside her bushes, looking up at the empty sky. She was clenching her straw hat to her chest.  Motionless.  Her knees covered in earth.  Unnoticed.

As the coffee perked, Robert picked up his laptop and plucked the keys as a poetic performance.

“WordPress.com” he repeated as he typed.

“Start a New Blog.”  He grinned and pressed “Enter.”

 

(animated) Typing typing typing.

 

(The first line was provided by the “Write Now Prompt for November 5, 2013” at Today’s Author)

Reaching Out with “Delight in Disorder”

When I first conceived writing a spiritual memoir about my faith journey battling bipolar disorder, I had no idea where it would lead.  It took almost four years for the seed to really germinate.  In March of this year, after the suicide of Matthew Warren, I sensed a greater urgency that God was calling me to share the hope of Christ with my brothers and sisters who wrestle with mental illness and foster greater compassion among my brothers and sisters in the faith community towards those of us with “disordered minds.”

When God gives direction, He also paves the way for us to follow.  God guided me to Leanne Sype who first helped shape my disordered devotions into a marvelous house of meditations.  From March – July, Leanne helped me craft a second and third draft.  Once we felt we had a good working draft, Leanne helped me write a query and synopsis to see if a conventional publisher might pick us up. August and September was a “pruning season,” as God snipped away at branches that would not bear fruit.

In late September, after much thought and prayer, we came to the conviction that God was leading us toward self-publication and that the best path would be to recruit a team of gifted specialists to see that the final product was more “delightful” than “disordered.”  Lyn came on as a prayer captain. Nicole was brought in to design the cover and produce the video. Kevin has served as music consultant.

Friday night, I unleashed my Facebook Author Page, which already has 104 “likes.”

Sunday night, we unveiled our mission campaign on indiegogo – Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission which, as of this writing, has attracted 149 views, has 10 followers, and 5 funders for a total of $300 (towards a goal the $2,000 goal).

More than the numbers, however, God is reaching out through the mission campaign to share hope with those battling mental illness and promote compassion within the faith community.  Here are two testimonies that have already been shared –

 I just spent the morning getting to know a gal who is in the trenches of a heavy spiritual battle at this very moment. She’s fresh out of drug rehabilitation, looking at incarceration from past choices that she’s trying to clear up, and going to counseling with her non-medicated bipolar husband, all while FULLY knowing the Lord and clinging desperately to his promises and his will for her life… I was actually able to mention Delight in Disorder to her and share a little bit about the book and the mission. I showed her just the video on the campaign page and she started to cry. It’s already touching lives, my dear.

I appreciate what you’re doing with this ministry you’ve started. We have a son who has battled depression on and off since late elementary and sadly the church has sometimes been the last place we wanted to talk about it!  Keep up the good work—the church needs your message as much as the “disordered”!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

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For more information on our mission campaign, click on –

Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission

I’m an Author Now! Just Look at Facebook.

book cover 1

There are only a handful of truly special events in a man’s life…

The day he meets the woman who becomes his wife.

The day he holds his precious child in his two trembling hands.

And the day he sets up a Facebook Author page and begs people to “like” him.

Yes, dear readers, I have reached the pinnacle of success and you (and only you) can help me maintain this mountaintop experience.  Click on Tony Roberts and “like” me.

I can’t promise you health or wealth and we’ve already given away the ginsu knives and the chia pet.  I can only assure you that in God’s economy, we are blessed when we are a blessing.

Gratefully yours,

Tony Roberts, Author (it says so on Facebook)

Good Work in God’s Hands

robert bellah

In his latest book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s WorkTimothy Keller quotes Robert Bellah from his book I remember as required reading in grad school called Habits of the Heart.  Bellah observes that modern “expressive individualism” eats away at the cohesiveness that ties us together as a people and makes our work meaningful and productive.  Something more is needed.  He writes –

To make a real difference [there would have to be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement.

Reflecting on this, Keller identifies streams within the Christian Scriptures and particularly in his own Reformed Christian tradition.  One of these streams flows from Martin Luther.  Keller notes –

The headwaters of Lutheran theology put special stress on the dignity of all work, observing that God cared for, fed, clothed, sheltered, and supported the human race through our human labor.  When we work, we are, as those in the Lutheran tradition often put it, “the fingers of God,” the agents of his providential love for others.

What an invigorating thought!

When you are changing the dressing on an elderly woman’s wound, you are touching her with the fingers of God.

When you are serving up yet another macaroni-and-cheese dinner for your cute yet often ungrateful 3-year old, the fingers of God are wrapped around the serving spoon.

When you are replacing a cracked window on a neighbor’s house to keep the December winds from blowing in, those cold, numb fingers are God’s.

Yes, it’s clear when we labor with our hands doing something constructive for the common good, we are agents of God’s love.  But what about so much other “work” we do?

What about the work of writing?  Is writing the work of God that builds community or part of the “expressive individualism” that eats away at the common good?

I think both.  Certainly, when we write we are expressing an aspect of ourselves in the hope that we might be noticed, affirmed, “liked”.  Yet, another key desire is to connect with others and perhaps even offer a word of hope in a lonely, discouraging word.

Writing is meaningless drivel when our aim is to inflict our selfish desires on a world that doesn’t really care.  Writing becomes God’s work when we reach out beyond ourselves and find a way to speak a good word to a lonely soul.

(photo of Robert Bellah from “On Being“, some rights reserved)

Building Community by Featuring Followers IV

Time for a Stat-ervention? Checking you blog stats can become addicting. I challenge you to walk away for the month of Oct and see if you can refocus on the joy of blogging.

The statisticians here at “A Way With Words” have advised me some time to put out only one post a day, saying –

Your optimum visits-per-post ratio can best be achieved with a single, targeted daily post. 

I say,

Get a social life.

Tonight I’m in the mood to “share the love” and feature more of my followers, hoping to further build community and simply sow seeds of gratitude for having faithful readers.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the title below —

“Building Community by Featuring Followers IV”

Building Community by Featuring Followers III

 It’s Sunday afternoon.  Morning worship is over.  The Colts have the game well in hand. Over two hours before evening worship.  It’s time to fire up the virtual grill and welcome a few more followers over, carrying casserole dishes of flash fiction, bags of poetry, and coolers of life reflections.  A good time will be had by all.  To join in the fun, simply visit any of the sites or featured posts and tell them Tony, who has “A Way With Words” sent you.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the title below —

“Building Community by Featuring Followers III”

Bon Apetit!

the planet blue potluck!

Building Blogging Community by Featuring Followers II

I had so much fun and have received such a good early response to my previous post featuring seven of my blog followers, that I thought I’d feature seven more.  If the first post was a pot-luck, this is like going back for seconds.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the link below —

“Building Blogging Community by Featuring Followers II”

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