Writing lessons from my saxophone (guest post by Terrie Todd)

At the age of 53, I took up saxophone playing and, surprise-surprise, I gained insights for my writing life as well. #1. Practice pays.                      This may seem obvious, but by the time we’re in our fifties, most of us figure we’ve mastered whatever skills we’re going to master and everything else is status-quo. When I ...

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GRAPHIC frail attemptsAt the age of 53, I took up saxophone playing and, surprise-surprise, I gained insights for my writing life as well.

#1. Practice pays.                     

This may seem obvious, but by the time we’re in our fifties, most of us figure we’ve mastered whatever skills we’re going to master and everything else is status-quo. When I first picked up the saxophone, practice times were torture because I was puffing, sweating, and squawking. But the worst of it was my lips. They just couldn’t hold up through an entire song.

But I’m greedy enough that if I’m going to cough up money for lessons, I’m going to make sure I’m getting the most bang for my buck—and that means a half hour every day with my sax. Gradually, I noticed I could hit the high and low notes I couldn’t hit before, I wasn’t panting, and my lips didn’t give out. How did that happen? Practice. What was true when we were kids still holds.

Think what might happen if we practiced our writing skills with the same diligence.

#2. Everybody has their unique style.

It took a year for my teacher, Ritchard, and I to notice the uniqueness of our hands. He couldn’t understand why I was having so much trouble “rolling” my thumb from the thumb rest onto the octave key and back, like he does. When I watched him do it, I pointed out that my thumbs don’t curl backwards the way a lot of thumbs do. Mine are the “one-way only” kind, and no amount of practice will change their tree-stumpiness.

“Would you look at that,” Ritchard said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.”

It was a relief to know I’m a freak of nature. It provides a great excuse to develop my own way of compensating.

Every writer has their style, strengths, and weaknesses. Ask God to help you develop your own voice and compensate for your unique limitations, and never give up merely because you can’t write like your hero.

#3. A deeper purpose means everything.

I spent the first several weeks playing ditties like Hot Cross Buns and Jingle Bells. I was having fun. But when Ritchard set a book of worship songs on the stand and I heard myself playing the melody of I Love You, Lord, something shifted. Though no one sang along, the familiar words rang in my head and suddenly I was so moved, I could hardly read the page for tears:

“Take joy, my King, in what you hear, may it be a sweet sound in your ear…”

How this can be true I don’t fully understand, but the God of creation was hearing my frail yet heartfelt attempts and taking joy in them.

As Christian writers, we have the priceless honor of worshipping God with our words and bringing him joy. Let that truth flood your heart as you write for him today.


TerrieTodd-2Terrie Todd writes from Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada where she lives with her hubby, Jon, and is a part-time administrative assistant at City Hall. An eclectic writer, Terrie is a published playwright, an eight-time contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul, a weekly faith and humor columnist for the Central Plains Herald Leader, and a two-time finalist in the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest. Her first novel, The Silver Suitcase, will be released by Waterfall Press in January, 2016. She is represented by Jessica Kirkland of the Blythe Daniel Literary Agency. Terrie and Jon have three adult children, three grandsons, and another grandson arriving this fall! You can catch up with her latest shenanigans at www.terrietodd.blogspot.com.

Wrestling with God

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face ...

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Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” Genesis 32:28-32, NIV

Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you I’m not a “kid person.” I like my own OK (most of the time) and I adore the kids of most of my friends. But as a general rule, I’m not one who is thrilled to be seated on a plane with the mom on one side and the dad on the other side of me passing a screaming baby back and forth. (That really happened. I insisted — no, really, I don’t mind at all — that we trade seats so they could sit together. I’m fine with the aisle, I said with a smile. But I digress.)

Maybe I don’t think of myself as a kid person because I don’t usually know what to talk about with them. I’ve read that dads are usually the ones who roll around on the floor with the kids, but in my family it’s me. I don’t know why. But I’m more likely to be found swinging my friends’ kids around and being goofy than sitting and having a conversation. I blow raspberries on stomachs and turn in circles as I carry them and tickle their feet.

Because once there’s a connection in place, the walls are down. And the conversations come more easily.

**

I was talking with a friend the other day, saying that I felt far removed from God and church right now. And I didn’t know why or what to do about it.

I came home and sat down with my journal. And then, spontaneously, I picked up a book I started months ago but had decided not to finish. I opened it to the crumpled post-it note marking the page where I left off. Within minutes, I grabbed my pen and filled journal pages with quotes from the book. I underlined passages, drew stars in the margins. I had ideas. Questions. The book is, in some circles, slightly controversial — or, at the very least, not an easy one to grasp. After reading, writing, thinking, struggling — both to grasp elusive insights I could just barely start to discern and to decide whether I agreed or disagreed with this writer’s theology — I suddenly noticed that I felt God again.

As I lay in bed that night marveling at how quickly that had changed, I think an actual giant light bulb illuminated the space above my head. Followed by this awareness: Jacob wrestled with God.

Maybe that’s what I’m doing. I want to dive right in. All or nothing. I’d rather spill my guts in a conversation than discuss weather or sports. In the same way, I don’t know how to do superficial with God. And, sadly, that’s how it feels sometimes. I’m there. I’m being polite. But I’m not engaging. I’m not going deep. I’m holding Him at arm’s length so I don’t have to really give anything of myself.

But when I pick up a book, some kind of spiritual/self-help book (or a challenging blog on a controversial or inflammatory subject), the intensity of it forces me to engage. It’s not the same when it’s a fluff piece or even someone who parrots what everyone else says. It’s OK if it’s not easy to process or accept, if it’s a viewpoint or teaching that differs from one I’ve heard before (or that I currently hold). Usually those are the best ones. I may not always like what I read. Then again, I may change my thinking 180˚. But the one thing that will not happen is that I will remain lukewarm.

If I agree with the author, I will read the Bible and study and talk it through with my friends to be sure I’ve found the “right” answer. If I disagree, I will read the Bible and study and talk it through with my friends until I believe I’ve found the “right” answer. To be truthful, even though I try to keep an open mind, often my gut-level answer is the one I stick with. But before the wrestling is over, I will have found resources and information to support my stance and solidify it. Over time, my opinion may evolve or outright change. But the great thing about wrestling with spiritual concepts is that I always — always — end up closer to God in the end.

I think it’s because wrestling is how I relate. The mental/intellectual struggle gives me something tangible to hold onto. Facts, quotes, ideas. It allows me to delve deep into the emotion. And it bypasses the superficial. When I wrestle with a Biblical passage or concept, I find myself adopting the words of Jacob: “I won’t let go until you bless me.”

And you know what? He always does.

Please comment, because I’d love to know: What books, articles, or blogs challenge you, spurring you on to studying a topic for yourself?

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