Category Archives: On Writing

What’s Saving My Life as a Writer: Email. Yes, Really.


A long time ago in an Internet that seems far far away, a bunch of us clergywomen types began blogging and following one another’s blogs. We would leave long comments for one another, then check back and see the conversation continue. We listed one another on our blogrolls. We formed a network. And of course, we connected with non-clergy readers, and non-religious ones for that matter.

Today, blogging is very different. Certainly more people read this blog today than did back then. And my writing shows up in a lot more places. But while my words are finding a larger audience, it’s only a small percentage of people who actually follow the blog week to week. Blog comments are much less frequent than they used to be. And generally, the comments I do get are less personal. (Thank you to all my commenters, regardless of content! Except trolls. Find another bridge please.)

As I continue to transition from pastor/author/speaker to author/speaker/freelance writer, I’ve realized–I need to reacquaint myself with my readers. What do you wonder about and marvel at? What keeps you up at night? Where does your struggle intersect with mine?

I love the work of Dan Blank, whose company WeGrowMedia helps authors bring book projects to fruition and find readers for them. Dan is a big fan of the email list as a tool for authors to communicate. I resisted this for a long time. I already have a blog to feed, and social networks that I enjoy and participate in. Not to mention, you know, books to write.

And we’ve all heard the steady drumbeat against email. We get too much. It’s crushing our souls. I subscribe from email lists regularly and feel nothing but relief. But there are a handful of email newsletters I keep, because I treasure them.

Plus, as Dan points out, an email list is the one way of reaching readers that the author “owns.” Facebook can tweak its algorithms anytime. Twitter can feel like a bunch of noise, and the format is constraining. But an email is a letter from me to a reader who’s specifically asked to hear what I have to say. (Humbling.)

After hearing Dan talk and write about this topic for a long time, I finally realized I’d been thinking about the email all wrong. I was seeing it as a tool for book sales. And when I asked people to join, I was very apologetic about it: I won’t bug you very often, and you can unsubscribe any time. And then I’d send an email every six months and it felt awkward, because nobody likes being marketed AT, and I didn’t like marketing TO!

Instead I want to use it as the beginning of a conversation.

So last month I revived my email list. It’s a letter from me to my readers. In it I share what I’m working on, what’s inspiring me, what’s confounding me, and I ask: what about you?

And people are responding. I can’t quite believe it, but they are.

Last week I wrote an email to the newsletter about some foundation repairs we’re making on our house. It was a vulnerable message because that process is bringing out all kinds of spiritual struggles. After it went out, I got a handful of unsubscribes, as I always do. But I got three times as many personal responses, from people who shared their own places of pain and “shifting foundations.”

It was page after page of holy ground, right there in Gmail.

More and more, I’m hearing from aspiring writers asking me for advice on building a platform. I feel very humbled and vulnerable when they ask because I still consider myself an aspiring writer. I know so little. But I’ve realized that very few of us know anything. What I do know is this: writing—at least the writing I do—is about coming together around shared questions and mysteries. And these interactions with readers are teaching me which questions resonate with people, which ones merit further exploration in blogs and books and emails. Responses from readers are helping me as a writer. But more important—much more important—they help me realize that I’m not alone in my questions.

So to those of you who receive The Blue Room emails, thank you. If you’d like to join them, I unapologetically invite you to click here.


photo credit: Connect via photopin (license)

Off to My Happy Place


Everyone should have a happy place—a mental location that you can visit in your mind when you need a little peace and well-being. (And ideally, visit for real every now and then.) For a long time, my happy place has been this:


The Peter Pan ride at Magic Kingdom.

A few years ago I acquired a second one: the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, sponsor of wonderful writing workshops, purveyor of gracious Benedictine hospitality.

See you in a week or so. In the meantime, a friend of mine sent me this poem for inspiration. A gift:

“Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out?”
Ron Koertge

Give up sitting dutifully at your desk. Leave
your house or apartment. Go out into the world.

It’s all right to carry a notebook but a cheap
one is best, with pages the color of weak tea
and on the front a kitten or a space ship.

…Read the rest at the Library of Congress.

Write well. Love well. Live well.

Wednesday Link Love: Birthday Horn-Tooting Edition

In a just world, this would be my birthday cake today. YOU HEAR ME UNIVERSE?

In a just world, this would be my birthday cake today. YOU HEAR ME UNIVERSE?

I’m back from a wonderful time of vacation with the family in Massanutten. We found a sweet little farm house to rent that had comfy rooms and no wifi. Perfect. We lazed about and did the indoor water park. By the way, there are two kinds of people in the world: people who shoot complete strangers with water cannons, and non-a**h***s.

We also enrolled the kids in a morning of ski school, which (after seeing James zip down the mountain) I’d call frighteningly effective.

It was great to be on the slopes and off the grid. But apparently I was quite busy on the Intertubes while I was away. Today’s bonus edition of Link Love is MAMD-specific. It’s my birthday, so you will indulge me:


Things Not Seen is a radio show devoted to “Conversations about Faith and Culture.” Last month I had a lovely conversation with David Dault about Sabbath, which you can listen to here.


This coming year I’ll be an occasional contributor to The Hardest Question, which is a weekly resource on the Revised Common Lectionary. I’ve got the texts for this Sunday, and wrote about the Gospel and the Old Testament texts.


Landon Whitsitt compiled many sermons and responses to the Newtown tragedy into an e-book, called A Good Word. I’m in there along with a huge number of others. What an undertaking!


And finally, my book is listed on Ministry Matters as a “must read” for 2013.

Happy New Year…


Image: CakeWrecks, where else?

Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land

My friend Ruth Everhart has written a book.

Actually, let me be more accurate: she’s written hundreds of thousands of lovely, honest and true words over her years as a pastor and writer. But this week, we celebrate a particular achievement, the publication of Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land. Ruth’s work is part travel writing, part memoir and part spiritual reflection.

Her book confronts the questions that confront us as we engage in pilgrimage—whether through travel or during our everyday journeys as people of faith–and the unexpected places we land in those journeys. Given recent current events, the book could not be more timely. That said, it is not a political book. It is a personal book, but in that wonderful way that the particular becomes universal.

Ruth is one of my Writing Revs—in fact, she and I are the only two charter members still in the group. (You can read about our group here.) My copy of Chasing is on its way to me, but I’ve had to joy of reading and digesting the book many times over the months and years. It’s gotten better and better through Ruth’s hard work and fine craftswomanship (I just made that word up). But what has been there from the beginning is a dogged willingness to ask hard questions of her faith and this land we dare to call Holy—steeped as it is in tradition, religion, conflict and grace.

Author Clyde Edgerton puts it well in his endorsement of Chasing the Divine:

I can think of only two reasons to buy this book:
1. You are not going to the Holy Land.
2. You are going to the Holy Land.
In these pages Ruth Everhart writes eloquently about her trip into the dust and beauty of Christianity’s cradle — about her wrestling with her beliefs, her faith, and her past. If all pilgrims were as curious, insightful, introspective, firm, and openhearted as Ruth Everhart, our old world would roll more happily and safely through the universe. In her story you’ll find bloodshed, humor, and — most importantly — love.


Ruth and I will be at First Presbyterian Church, Arlington, VA this Sunday evening, December 2, at 7 p.m. to read and sign books. Stop by for some nourishment through food and words.

The Meeting I Almost Didn’t Go To

Buttermilk Cookies… sooo good. Guaranteed to help you sell books.

Six years ago, I was on my way to a gathering of Presbyterian clergywomen here in the DC area. I was running late. I took several wrong turns and got lost. There was bad traffic. And I had baby Margaret in the backseat, who was letting me know how eager she was to get wherever the heck we were going.

We were both hungrumpy. Plus I was in that overwhelmed, sleep-deprived state. Maybe you know the one? I almost turned around and went home. But I didn’t, and there was still plenty of food from Lebanese Taverna when I arrived.

After lunch, we went around and introduced ourselves. A friendly-looking woman I’d never met introduced herself as Ruth Everhart and said, “By way of networking, I would be interested in forming a group of writers. So if any of you write, talk to me after we’re done here.”

I got a sharp elbow in the ribs from the friend sitting next to me. After the meeting ended, I introduced myself to Ruth. Others did too. Before we left that day, we had a group of 5.

We are the Writing Revs. And I can say with near certainty that there would have been no book without them.

Now granted, Presbyterian clergywomen are a peculiar subset of society. Still, it’s kind of amazing that it worked as well as it has. We didn’t vet each other. We didn’t try it out for a while. We just dove in and started meeting. Those original 5 met for quite a while. Sadly, one passed away. Two have moved away. Happily, others have joined us.

Ruth and two other Wrevs hosted an event for me yesterday at presbytery, and it was so delightful. Ruth wrote about it here at her blog. It’s called “A Writing Group Can Wave Your Flag.” It’s a post about friendship and accountability and how hard it can be to promote our work, so it’s nice to have others help you along.

Ruth was a great carnival barker: “Come in! Congratulate the author! Have a cookie! Buy a book!” I sold and signed and gave out post-it notes. I can’t wait to reverse roles in November as we celebrate Ruth’s book, Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land. Ruth’s book is part travelogue, part theological memoir. It’s funny and deep and eloquent.

I’m very glad I didn’t give up on that clergy meeting six years ago.

And not just because my Wrevs make THE best cookies.