Books

So you want to write a book? Two tips. Just two.

Since publishing my book Joyful Momentum: Growing and Sustaining Vibrant Women’s Groups with Ave Maria Press, a lot of people have approached me with their book ideas and have asked about how to write a book, how to have a book published, and how to approach writing amid life’s competing priorities. I’m glad to have these conversations, and I’m learning as I go.  

Thank you for reaching out to me and trusting me with your ideas.  It feels pretty sacred to be able to talk through some absolutely beautiful book ideas – from memoir to children’s book, religious to non-religious.  I know what it feels like to have a conviction in the pit of your stomach to share your words and thoughts with the world.  And I know how vulnerable it feels to share those thoughts with another person.  

When I was finally ready to write Joyful Momentum, I was going to write it whether a publisher was interested in it or not.  In fact, before I pitched the book idea to my wonderful editor, I had already written three chapters and had been spending my days off writing in a cubicle at the public library until it was time to pick my son up from school. 

I was leafing through my journal from several years ago today and came across a page where I was wrestling with whether to write Joyful Momentum. I’m usually a paragraph journaler, but on this day, I wrote two numbered lines. 

1. Circumstances are never going to be perfect for writing.

2. Ora et labora. There is a reason that prayer comes first.

If you want to write, those are my two tips.

Circumstances are never going to be perfect for writing. 

When I first started writing Joyful Momentum, I had visions of writing with a cute computer, likely a rose gold colored MacBook Air because they are adorable.  I imagined writing in a posh little coffee shop at a leisurely pace, and wearing a fashionable outfit that included a chartreuse headband holding my curls out of my face, a navy blue and white polka dot sweater, coral lipstick, and Kendra Scott earrings.  And I contemplated sipping foamy lattes sprinkled with nutmeg from a porcelain mug that would make a perfect clinking sound when replaced on the saucer.  I see you rolling your eyes. But it’s my daydream; I get to daydream whatever I want.

In reality, I wrote on an old Acer laptop with a cracked screen.  I spent hours typing at my dining room table or at the public library. There were no cute outfits, and definitely no lipstick.  On fancy days, I sported tinted chapstick.  I wrote in my favorite 20-year old College of William and Mary sweatshirt.  It’s faded, has frayed cuffs, and more than one food stain, but it’s the coziest article of clothing in my closet.  I sipped McDonald’s coffee out of a styrofoam to-go cup with “caution contents hot” printed across the rim.  I often rose at 4am to get two hours of writing finished before starting my family’s work and school day and set an ambitious goal of finishing a chapter every three weeks to meet my deadline.  

Far from an idyllic daydream, those early morning writing sessions while the house slept, or Saturdays at the public library, were my perfect writing circumstances because that’s when I got the job done.  

If you want to write a book, make room for writing exactly where you are.  Don’t wait for the “perfect” circumstance because the perfect circumstance for writing a book is just that – writing it.  Even if you write for only 20 minutes a day, you’ll be making progress. 

Ora et Labora. There’s a reason that prayer comes first. 

The Benedictine motto is “ora et labora” – pray and work. I’m a mom, a wife, a lawyer, an over-volunteerer, a writer, a hiker, a baker.  I’m a lot of things, and one of the threads through all of my various roles in life, is that I’m a diligent worker – perhaps even an over-worker.  I labora my heart out! 

However, writing Catholic things is more than just work.  Whether you’re writing articles, books, or blogs, Catholic writing is sharing the Gospel.  There are many alluring distractions in this Catholic writing world, and the only way to stay focused on writing what you are uniquely called to write is to ora and labora.  Ora first, then labora.  This way your work is prayerful.  

Don’t skip out on the prayer just because you want to jam out a few more sentences.  In the end, you’ll find yourself frustrated and writing in circles. Trust me on this point.             

As I reviewed my old journal, I did not remember writing those numbered thoughts. However, based on the date and context, I do remember that I made that entry while standing against a pillar in the bustling Southwest terminal at LAX, waiting to board a flight to BWI. I wrote because I had a few spare minutes even though I was surrounded by distractions. I certainly did not imagine expanding on those thoughts years later, but writing them down created the opportunity to share them today. 

If you want to write, start writing.  Like mastering a workout routine or learning to play an instrument, writing a book takes time.  It’s hard, and it’s rarely pretty.  But if you start with prayer and put some words down on paper, you’re on your way.  If you want to talk about your ideas, I’m happy to listen.      

Books, Encyclical, Mass Reflection, Parish Ministry, Women's Ministry

Growing a Study Group on a Shoestring Budget

I recently did a book signing at a Catholic women’s conference and had a lot of lovely but brief conversations as I scrawled short messages on the inside covers of copies of Joyful Momentum. One question that women asked me several times was:

“How do we have a Bible study with no money?”

As one young woman pointed out, some faith study or Bible study books can run upwards of $40 per book, and this is not do-able for all communities. In talking to this woman, I could sense the urgency and sincerity in her voice — she wanted to grow her study group but could not afford to buy books. In a women’s group, sometimes the women themselves don’t have money to invest in study materials. Other times, the parish is in a difficult way and can’t support the group.

While funding is helpful for a study, we can’t allow a lack of funding to become a barrier to our essential work to spread the Gospel.

I’ve thought a lot about that brief conversation these past few weeks and about how to grow a study group on a shoestring budget, or zero budget at all.

Here are some free, or nearly free, ideas to incorporate into your women’s group so that you can grow in faith and friendship without breaking the bank.

In these days of social distancing, you can very easily implement most of these ideas in a free online format such as Zoom, Facebook Live, or FreeConferenceCall.com.

  1. Look to e-books.In this Covid-19 outbreak, a lot of publishers have hugely discounted their e-book collections. Ave Maria Press has discounted Joyful Momentum to $8.99, but they also have some titles available for as little as $1.
  2. Do the weekly or daily Mass readings and meet to discuss them. The daily Mass readings are available for free on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website. Plan to grab coffee and chat about your insights from the readings.
  3. Listen to a podcast together and meet up to discuss your key takeaways. Some of my favorite podcasts are Girlfriends with Danielle Bean, Lisa Hendey and Friends founder of CatholicMom.com, and the Abiding Together Podcast. I also enjoy the Word on Fire podcast and Ave Explores.
  4. Find books for free!Dynamic Catholic has a variety of free books and CDs that you could use for your women’s group. Rediscover Catholicism, for example, is offered for free from Dynamic Catholic (there is a shipping and handling fee). Maybe your local Buy Nothing group has something – it’s worth asking.
  5. Go take a hike! Get out in nature with your Catholic gal pals. Sometimes a bit of fellowship and fresh air can be as helpful as hours spent with a Catholic book or Bible study.
  6. Upcycle, Recycle, or Swap. Sell your old studies and use the money to buy materials for your group. Look for deals on Amazon, Ebay, or even a Buy Nothing group. Not too long ago, I snagged a pre-owned copy of the Catholicism series for only $24 on Ebay. In my 12-person faith study, our video was only $2 per person. Does a neighboring parish have a women’s group? Maybe another nearby group would be willing to trade book studies with you?
  7. Make a pilgrimage. Visit a nearby Cathedral or religious shrine. Most religious sites are free to visitors, especially during Mass times. Consider visiting a site near you.
  8. Practice new devotions together. Since many of us are self-isolating, this is great time to hop on a Zoom Call with your friends and pray a new devotion or novena.
  9. Plug into Online Events. Many dioceses and ministries are hosting free online gatherings. The Military Council of Catholic Women is hosting author talks on their Facebook Group during these Covid-19 days. There is also a free Be Not Afraid conference on line.
  10. Look to the Vatican website for resources. The Vatican website contains digital copies of scads of church documents. One of my current favorites to read in a women’s group is Christus Vivit, which is the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation to young people and to the entire people of God. Work through an apostolic exhortation or encyclical as a group.

With so many free or low cost ways to have a study group, I hope you feel equipped to gather with friends in your community. As your group grows, you may need to re-visit this list of ideas, or come up with some of your own. What are your favorite women’s ministry freebies?