Tuesday, July 25, 2023

On Writing: How to Begin to Start

This question appeared in the comments on a recent blog post:

I have wanted to find an efficient way to ask you this question— I want to start writing a blog. I’m an old gal— 76, so it’s not like I have a lot of time. I have enjoyed writing since I was a young girl. I fantasized about writing my memoir but have never taken the plunge to actually seriously start. However, I think writing a blog would be good for a number of reasons. I write things occasionally on my Facebook page and many people have commented that they enjoy my writings. I think, among other things, the discipline of writing a blog would be beneficial to get me serious about communicating my ideas/thoughts/ impressions to a wider audience.

So, my question to you is: What advice would you give me in terms of starting a blog— What should I do—in terms of setting it up? ( I am not on Instagram, etc. Mainly just FB.) Thank you!

I heard similar questions from a woman in her seventies when I was selling books at the county fair last week. She had slightly more specific ideas of what she wanted to do [her life story for her grandchildren, and life lessons for a wider readership.] Her main question was the same: How do I begin?

Long ago, my sister Rebecca and I would put on plays and performances for our family. We would get all set up and then announce, “Now the show is beginning to start!”

I am still puzzled that we, as little Amish girls, knew anything about putting on shows of any kind.

Later, at maybe ten and eleven years old, we outgrew that silly announcement with our performances. At that stage [pun intended], we adapted stories from old books into plays, roping our little sister Margaret into the role of the maid or the spavined mare. One year it was an elaborate Christmas play, with all of us whipping into and out of roles and costumes.

We would find a story, write out the script, practice over and over, create costumes [including our brothers' pants and Dad's hats as needed], string a curtain over the pantry doorway, write out invitations to our parents and brothers, and set up chairs for our audience. Then it was time to begin. We’d pull aside the curtain, take a deep breath, and say the first lines. In one play, two poor spinsters discussed a tea rose that changed their lives. In another, two men argued over a horse, the one insisting it was a “spavined mare” and the other insisting it was sound. “But the eye, Master Schneider!” is the only line I remember.

The beginning is where your preparation ends and the show starts. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, and it takes a lot of energy to overcome the fears and barriers to that first step.

So, here’s my advice for anyone who wants to write. And I define “write” as it was meant by the women who asked me the above questions—writing specific pieces or projects and displaying your words for public consumption.

1. Answer this question: What are you feeling called to do, say, write, or publish? Some feel only a vague urge to share their accumulated wisdom in some way, some have a goal of writing their life story for their grandchildren, and others definitely want to write a book or start a blog.

It’s ok if you have only a general nudge toward writing. It’s also ok if you know exactly what you want to say and how to say it.

Think about this. Answer it for yourself.

2. Think about what you’ve already written. If you’re feeling the nudge in your seventies, I’m pretty sure you already have an accumulation of writings. Think of letters, diaries, updates in family emails or work newsletters, Sunday school lessons, and college essays.

If you can, gather your writings and flip through some of them.

What kind of writing do you do best?

What themes keep coming up?

What received the most response from others?

3. If you know exactly what you want to write, narrow your focus. Let’s say it’s a children’s book on first getting electricity when you were a child.  File away the journals from high school and the diary from your year in the Peace Corps. You'll use those in later projects; you don't need them now.

For the children's book, write down everything you can remember from that era of your life. Ask family members for their memories. Look up local history. And so on.

If you want to write your life story, gather the diaries and letters, but don't dig through the Bible study notes and the instruction manuals you wrote at work. Focus on a specific time period, and gather all the information you can.

4. If you don’t have a specific project in mind, then choose a platform. I recommend blogs as a great way to break into publishing. If you can figure out email, you can manage a blog. Go to blogger.com or wordpress.com and start clicking. Other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, are great for spreading the word but not so great as places to express actual essays or articles.

A less techy and less public option is email newsletters. My almost-90-year-old mother-in-law considers herself neither techy nor a writer, but she sends out weekly emails updating us all on the bread she baked, the Sunday sermon, and the progress of harvest outside her window.

Your emails can be chatty letters, devotionals, essays about your thoughts, stories from your past, or carefully-crafted articles about specific topics. Ask friends and family if they’d like to be on your list, and encourage them to forward your emails to others if they find them interesting.

You can also operate offline and write with paper and ink. Compile a list of people who have enjoyed your letters in the past, type up letters or articles, copy them, and mail them out. See what happens.

5. Ask for help. The writing/publishing world is complicated and frustrating. I don’t know of anyone who does it well, all alone.

Ask your family for memories, ask young people to show you how to access the internet, ask published writers for advice. Most writers are “pathologically helpful,” as my friend Jessica Maxwell described herself. I freely ask for help, and I freely give help whenever I can.

6. Set small deadlines for yourself, and create a bit of structure. Not only is it hard to begin, it’s hard to create a pattern and keep up the momentum. For almost 19 years, I had a monthly newspaper-column deadline that kept me motivated. This summer, I have a goal of writing a blog post every Tuesday. I even have a rotating list of subjects—travel, life advice, random ramblings, writing advice, and so on. While I don’t have an editor waiting on me, I have a commitment to my readers and a bit of structure to keep me going. You can also create accountability with someone else—a spouse, friend, or another writer.

7. Take a deep breath, and let the show begin to start. Write something. Share it with someone else.

Many writers can plan and organize and outline until the cows come home. At some point you have to begin. Pick up your pen or laptop. Write something. Look it over. Make it better. Share it before it’s 100% perfect.

8. Keep going. Blog today and next week and the week after that. Write a devotional, then another, then another. Write about your birth and your early years and kindergarten. Write a letter and mail it to everyone in your group. Do it again, and again.

Words accumulate. Before long, you’ll be surprised at how many words and pages you’ve written. Eventually, you’ll have a children’s book or memoir or a set of devotionals ready to go.

9. Listen to feedback. Obviously, you don’t need to take all feedback seriously, but treat any response as valuable information. Someone read your writings and took the time to reply. You can learn from all of it. Look at what everyone enjoys or misunderstands. That can guide you in how and what to write next time.

10. Take opportunities that show up. You might be asked to write about vacation Bible school for a church newsletter or gather memories from the cousins to read at the reunion. Please say yes. 

11. Knock on doors. Contact publishers about your children’s book, ask other authors about printers they like, submit articles to magazines. 

Recently I’ve become aware of how much Anabaptists wait to do things until we’re asked, and how much that has shaped my writing life. Think about it. We often wait for a phone call asking us to serve in missions or a voluntary-service venue. We don’t pursue becoming a pastor, but wait to see if we’re chosen by the church. We don’t fill out applications to teach in church schools but wait until the board finds out about us through that mysterious school-board network and asks us to teach.

[Disclaimer—I’m sure this varies with place and time, but it has been very true in my experience.]

I saw this distinctly in my dad’s life when I read his book, A Chirp From the Grass Roots. Over and over, he says, “[Someone] suggested/put a lot of pressure on me to [go to college, go to Paraguay, teach in Indiana], so I thought I would try it.”

I find myself doing the same, "So I thought I would try it" routine. This worked out spendidly when the Register-Guard asked me to write a monthly column. It hasn’t worked so well since that job ended and I published the last book of family-life essays. I find myself waiting for someone to ask instead of figuring out what I want to do and going after it. 

So I’ve been thinking about Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

I’m good at waiting. Pursuing is a skill to be learned. It means doing everything I’ve just told you, especially beginning.

Here’s my summary of how to begin:

Gather what you have.

Choose a project.

Set small goals and deadlines.

Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Start writing.

Share it with others.


Keep going.

It's time for this show to begin to start.

[But seriously, if there’s a specific topic, book, article, or post you wish I would write, please tell me. I'd love to hear from you. dorcassmucker@gmail.com]

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Correction--Anna Lucas's address

 This is for everyone who gets my updates by email.

Yesterday's post about Anna Lucas's book had the wrong address for ordering a book.

Instead of the Colorado address, please use this:

Anna Lucas, 26303 US Hwy 83, White River, SD 57579

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Book Review--Roses in Kiev by Anna Lucas

Most missionaries aren’t Elisabeth Elliot or Gracia Burnham. This shows in many ways, but especially in their inability to write their memoirs in an engaging way. You’ve read a few of them, I’m sure, while trying to be gracious, especially if you know the writer. Unfortunately, what was lifechanging for them sounds tedious to you, or you’re troubled at their patronizing attitude toward the local population, or they sound so super-spiritual you feel like you can’t relate.

So I am happy to introduce you to Roses in Kiev—Rigors and Romance in the Life of a Young English Teacher, by Anna Lucas.

Anna and I have met online but not in person, but we connect with each other's writing. We have a lot in common, as we are both wives, moms, and writers. We've both traveled to other countries. We both have blogs about our lives--she's at Prairie Pines & Posies.

In 1993, Anna moved to Kiev to teach Bible and English. Both before and after this experience, she traveled and worked in various points around the world. This book is about her life in Kiev, written over 25 years later, drawing from notes and diaries.

I enjoyed this book very much. Here’s why:

1.       Not only does Anna convey her life in Kiev, but we also go along on an inner journey of hardships and growth. In addition, there’s a delightful and unusual romance, complete with a few surprising moments that had me laughing out loud. The story is well-paced and well-told.

2.       Ukraine has been in the news for the past year, and this story is especially interesting in that context. She tells of the hardships of life soon after the fall of Communism, and you feel the frustration and desperation of the cold winter, the lack of consumer goods, and the unbelievable challenges in simple things like moving into an apartment or fixing appliances. You think about their lives today and wonder if the Ukrainians are ever going to catch a break.
Anna includes many details such as the weird juxtaposition of moving into an apartment with beautiful wood furniture, built-in glass-fronted cupboards, and even a chandelier, far nicer than anything she’d grown up with in a large family, and then venturing out to shop for groceries when even the basics like eggs were scarce and hard to find.

3.       The author has the greatest respect for her Ukrainian Christian colleagues. She recognizes what they endured under Communism and their incredible faith and courage. I could tell that their stories mattered to the author. She did not consider herself superior, or like she had the right to tell them how to live.

4.       Anna may have been a courageous missionary in a faraway land, but she is utterly, completely relatable in her narrative. Young and scatterbrained and uncertain, she navigates sickness, exhaustion, cold, relationship challenges, and loneliness. She works unbelievably hard to learn the Russian language and carry out her responsibilities, but life in Kiev works against any sort of efficiency, progress is slow, and her hard work isn’t often seen or appreciated.
Eventually, a highly unusual romance appears, but all is not smooth or rosy. I felt for her about every bit of it—the waiting, the uncertainty, the expectations of how things ought to be, the disquieting opinions of others, the wondering what God was up to.
Then there was the moment when Anna thought her young man was going to propose, but he asked a very different question instead. It would be unfair to give away that part of the story, but I will say I don’t often scream and laugh when I read books, but I did then.

5.       Missionaries can be very spiritual, and I am easily intimidated. I confess I started reading Roses in Kiev with a bit of hesitation, not only because it’s a missionary memoir but because Anna is part of a denomination similar to the Holiness church at the high school and college that Paul attended. Those folks are very nice but they were always far more earnest, sure, and vocal than me, with their uninhibited public prayers and their booming sermons about being saved and sanctified.
I am happy to report that I am quite sure that Anna would not intimidate me at all if we met, and we could talk as equals about our journeys of faith.
In the book, Anna shows us what she believes and how she lived it out, but she handles denominational nuances with great finesse and no pretension or superiority.

6.       Anyone who’s been on the mission field knows that often the greatest challenge is getting along with your teammates. Anna handles this subject with grace as well. We get a good sense of the differences among them and the difficulties that followed, but she doesn't say too much, and we don’t feel like she’s being cagey or intentionally mysterious. That’s a delicate line to walk, and she does it well.

You should read this book if:
--you’re interested in Ukraine, modern missions, language study, or trusting God with your future romance or any other unknowns.
--you’re thinking of writing a memoir, especially about working in another country or culture.
--you enjoy a good story.

 This book and others may be ordered from Anna Lucas at

 Sparrows and Roses Books
16270 Sarita Cir.
Peyton, CO 80831
oops! this is the wrong address! Please use this one instead:

Anna Lucas
 26303 US Hwy 83
 White River, SD 57579

(719) 332-6336
or email

This paragraph told me that
a) Anna as a young woman was a lot like me at that age.
b) Sherri the roommate might have been a teensy bit irritating, but Anna lets us draw our own conclusions on this.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Things I've Learned Lately

1. Staying home all summer doesn’t mean I have time to write blog posts every Tuesday as I had purposed to do. That was sort of magic-fairy thinking. Not traveling doesn’t mean automatic hours in front of the computer. You also have to not cook so much, or talk with so many people, or water the hydrangeas regularly.

2. Mackinac is pronounced Mackinaw and Tijuana is pronounced Tia-juana, despite the spellings. I waited until I was 61 to learn this, after no doubt proving myself an outsider in both places.

[Note to various commenters: it turns out that when you’re speaking Spanish, you say “tee-HWAH-na” and when you’re speaking English you say “tee-uh-WAH-na.” Kind of like when you speak English you say Germany and when you’re speaking German you say Deutschland.]

3. This is a good summer for snakes but not so much for me. Some summers I don’t see any around here. This year I’ve run across four, not counting the dead one on the road. I didn't "run across" that one or any of the others as in driving over them with a car, but run across as in merrily scooping up grass clippings along the blocks along the flower bed and literally raking my fingers right across the back of a very zigzagging, very alive, very striped garter snake. I can still feel it. I have not been the same since.

4. My husband has hidden reserves of clever humor. 

Me: I am so sick and tired of finding snakes around here! I picked up a piece of cardboard in the garden to see if there were any volunteer potatoes coming up underneath and there was

Paul: A volunteer snake??

Me: YES!! 

5. Speaking of volunteer plants, the mystery bush in the garden turned out to be hollyhocks! It showed up last year, multiple stalks in a cluster with squash-like rough leaves. But it produced neither flower nor fruit. I left it over the winter, and it grew even taller, then developed green bud things along the stalks, reminding me of both artichokes and ground cherries. Suddenly, I noticed a few blobs of red, and soon the whole thing bloomed in hollyhocks. I have no memory of planting it. Maybe a few seeds resurrected from previous owners long ago when the garden was dug through two years ago with numerous holes and trenches for the sewer line for the barn.

6. Our fine son Ben is annoyed by, or at least suspicious of, many types of people. 

a. People who wear stretchy caps when it’s not cold.

b. People who cover as much of their car as possible with stickers. This includes people in Subarus with every outdoor and left wing cause who think they’re sticking it to the man with stickers about socialized medicine as well as people with every manner of Bible verse slapped on every surface.

c. People who talk about their dog like it’s a child.

d. People who add unnecessary letters to children’s names. 

e. People on bikes who never yield to pedestrians and want to be treated like either a car or a pedestrian, whichever is most convenient.

f. People who self-describe as “creatives.”

g. People with tattoos in a language they don’t speak.

7. Ben said, “Clearly I’m annoyed by a lot.” He was finishing his dissertation at the time. I’ve learned that finishing up a doctoral dissertation and presenting it are unbelievably, alarmingly stressful.

8. Paul’s cousin Darrell is harvesting a type of ryegrass called Koga. I had never heard of it. Technically, it’s “Koga Tetraploid Annual Ryegrass.” 

9. “Conservative” has changed its meaning in the Mennonite lexicon. I had a conversation with an Amish person about taking pictures and it opened up a memory of my Uncle Art and Aunt Vina and Uncle Ervin taking pictures of us when we were Amish, which was ok because it was in our house and no one would ever know. These relatives were all “Conservative,” which, in that day, meant Conservative Mennonite Conference. “Conservative” meant that they could do and have all kinds of cool things like plaid dresses and pretty belts and taking pictures. Today, that conference is known as CMC, and the term “conservative Mennonite” has different and more restrictive connotations, at least when used by people in my sphere.

[The commenters also inform me that CMC is now RNOC—Rosedale Network of Churches]

10. It is ok to hire help. I feel extravagant and silly doing so because, after all, I come from Amish stock, we are almost empty nesters, and I am reasonably healthy and capable. However. Even though I am no longer doing multiple loads of laundry a day or baking gigantic pot roasts, it turns out this nest has a lot of cubic footage, cobwebs, and dusty corners, and the outside is way more acreage than is easily handled without a bunch of teenagers to help out. So. I hired a cousin’s daughter to whip the hedge into shape and a niece to clean weekly and another niece to bake food for the freezer.  My parents ran their own house and farm until Mom was 93, and I don’t recall them ever hiring help until the family got someone to live in and take care of them. I’ve learned I can honor their incredible work ethic AND get the nieces to work for me. The world is still turning, and I can still speak Pennsylvania German. Amazing.

11. Listening is a gift. Recently I was doing a bit of shopping and as I walked to my car a young woman came running across the parking lot. She gave me a hug and wished me a late happy birthday. She said, “I just want to bless you, because you were the first person to listen to me.”

Well, of course I started crying, as one does.

Listening, in the moment, consists of pouring more tea, nodding, saying “mm-hmm” repeatedly, and asking a question now and then. It doesn’t seem like enough to merit a hug in a parking lot five years later.

But apparently it is.

12. The problem was with Apple and not with me or my phone. See, a while back my phone went as blank as my brain when I have a writing deadline on a sunny day. I plugged it in, pushed buttons, and pleaded. Nothing.

I was about to plague our son Matt with yet another desperate, tearful, tech-related entreaty when Paul suggested we take the phone to Best Buy and ask them what to do.

The nice young man behind the counter said, “Oh, this is an issue with the latest update from Apple. It goes into what we call ‘brick mode.’”

He showed me how to fix it. Press the “up” volume button. Press the “down” volume button. Press the power button for longer than you’d think.

It worked!

In the following weeks, the phone went into brick mode a few more times, and I knew what to do.

When there’s a problem of any sort, I assume I’ve done something wrong or stupid. But sometimes it's not my mistake at all, but a glitch in the system and someone else’s error.

What a profound revelation.

12. Harvest in Oregon is just as fun to watch and feel and smell as it was when I first experienced it, 41 years ago. You'd think it might grow old. It doesn't.

13. I've been learning about stress and autoimmune things and activating the Vagus nerve to make your body and mind settle down and behave. One way to do this, say the Instagram experts,  is to stick your head  [still attached to your body, please] into the freezer, or to plunge your face in cold water.

Sudden revelation: this is why Canadians and Minnesotans are so chill: all winter, they plunge their faces into air that's often colder than your freezer, for long periods of time.

No one's as happy as Minnesotans walking into the coffee shop when it's 25-below outside and billows of mist surround them as they stomp inside in their parkas and Sorel boots. "Cold out dere," they mutter, grinning through their frosty beards.

Their Vagus nerves must be humming along like a well-maintained Case combine in a field of K-31 fescue.

Maybe I need to spend summers in Oregon and winters in Minnesota.

This is Emily harvesting Darrell's Koga ryegrass.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Ask Aunt Dorcas: On Being "The Book Writer"

Dear Aunt Dorcas,

Here's something I'd like to hear about from other writers. I shy away from meeting people because as soon as I say even my first name they say, "Oh, the book writer." (Maybe if my name was Mary Martin I could hide better.) Next question is, "What are you writing now?" 

Today, as many times before, I walked into a room and saw people looking at me and whispering. I get tired of it. How do other writers handle these things? What is a good answer? I thought maybe when people say "the book writer" I could say, "are you a book reader?'

You're good at stirring up a discussion. Maybe you can stir something up on this from a variety of writers. I'd love to hear any thoughts or advice.

--"Gladys Hostetler”

Two authors, Emily Smucker and her mom, Dorcas, sat at their table at the fair and wished for a little more fame and recognition.
You can find their books at 

Dear Gladys,

This immediately brings to mind the first time I met you. You were a middle-aged woman who had just traveled from Pennsylvania to northwestern Ontario. I was in my twenties, an aspiring writer.

It was evening.

I met you in the second-floor hallway of the Northern Youth Programs guest house as you were being shown to your room. Laden with travel bags and accessories, you looked weary.

I chose that auspicious time to go all fan-girl on you. “Are you. . . Gladys Hostetler??!! Oh, I’m so glad to meet you! My name is Dorcas, and I like to write too!”

You were unbelievably and undeservedly kind.

I hope you got a really good night’s sleep.

Years later we were in the same class, taught by Harvey Yoder, at the CLP Writers Conference. We did an exercise together—pulling a story from our childhood, I think—and we had a fun conversation, more as equals than the hallway meeting.

First , the writer’s perspective.

We had no idea, did we? We were like Job’s young friend Elihu in Job 32—

 I too will have my say;

    I too will tell what I know.

For I am full of words,

    and the spirit within me compels me;

inside I am like bottled-up wine,

    like new wineskins ready to burst.

I must speak and find relief;

    I must open my lips and reply.

We too were full of words, so we wrote and published, happy for the opportunity to release the words into the wide world and have them found and read.

We didn’t know we were placing ourselves in a one-dimensional mold from which we would never escape, or that we were giving up the privilege of being anonymous. We might be photographers, gardeners, or experts on Roman history. We are wives and moms and daughters.

But we are known as The Writer.

We wanted “fame” in the sense that we want our books to be purchased and read, but we didn’t ask for the whispers when we walk into a room. This is hard to talk about except with fellow writers, because it comes across as “poor little famous me; it’s so annoying to be recognized.”

But sometimes the things we want have side effects we didn't expect.

I know people who are perfectly fine with being known and recognized for a single thing. They walk into a room and Oh look! It’s the missionary! The evangelist! The singer! That’s their identity, and they seem to revel in it.

Many of us writers, however, are introverts, and fame, even if it’s small and contained, unnerves us. We want to be known well, in our many dimensions, by those close to us, and to be anonymous with those outside that circle. Being a writer messes with our sense of self and even our sense of safety. The “writer” label is too complicated to embrace as our whole identity, and we know we are many things besides.

I am not as introverted as many writers, and I enjoy a bit of recognition, which I attribute to a lack of attention as a child. But it quickly becomes too much. I remember a REACH conference in Pennsylvania where I wanted to walk around with a paper bag over my head after about half a day because I kept catching people looking at me with a gleam of recognition in their eyes.

Then I went to a BMA summer convention and this didn’t happen at all, so it’s all about appearing in the demographic that reads your books. It's not like I'm Taylor Swift and can't go anywhere without being recognized, in case you wondered.

I’ve had some truly weird experiences with fame and recognition. Generally, I am easy to ignore. I’m not cool or fashionable or the person who walks into a room and takes over. I’ve had times in a group or social setting when I was obviously not worth noticing or talking to by others until suddenly people found out who I was. When I was “Dorcas Smucker!” I was worth attention and conversation. When I was just me, I was invisible.

That has taught me that the “writer” persona is an illusion that people carry in their own heads and project onto me, and it’s important that I know who I am. Dorcas Smucker feeding the cats is not the same person as “Dorcas Smucker!!” recognized in a public setting.

Here's how I respond to “Oh! The writer!” when it happens to me: much as I cringe at being one-dimensional, I like to express gratitude that they actually read my stuff, which is truly a gift. Then I try to shift the conversation to them as quickly as possible. Name, where are you from, what brings you here, what is your connection to the bride/conference/speaker/deceased? Usually by that time there’s some point of connection, something besides me and my writing, to provide a conversational rabbit trail.

My response to “What are you writing now?” is to panic inside and want to burst into tears, especially if they ask if I’m finally writing that Mennonite fiction book I’ve talked about for years. I don’t have the time or coherence, in the moment, to explain all the ideas that haven’t worked out, all the demands on my time despite the children being grown and gone, all the delays and frustrations with the printer, all the time it took for my brain to sort of recover after my husband’s life-threatening injuries, all the life transitions we’ve been through, and all the obstacles to pursuing creativity.

I believe I’m not alone in this, that The Next Book is a touchy subject for every writer, and we all wish that no one would ask until about a week before the book is released--polished and ready and complete.

This brings up another peril of being a writer: readers feel like they own a piece of you. Not everyone, of course, thank God, but many readers feel that you’re obligated to release at least a book a year, inform them of details about your family that you don’t have permission to share, take a look at their manuscript and give feedback, write their uncle’s life story, and write an article about their favorite subject.

If you haven’t learned to say No, you’re in trouble. And you have to do it graciously enough that you don’t lose a reader and future sales.

Now for the other side. You’re a reader. You love Annie Brubaker’s books and feel like she understands you. She makes you think and laugh. You’d love to meet her someday.

And then she walks into the room at the rehearsal dinner. Oh my stars. Yes, it has to be her. You had heard rumors that she’s the groom’s cousin and sure enough!!

You squeal a bit and elbow your sister beside you. “Look who just walked in! Isn’t that…?” And then Annie Brubaker turns and looks at you, and you catch her eye—aack! How embarrassing!  You wonder if this is how Peter felt when the rooster crowed and Jesus turned and looked at him. 

Now what?

My advice is to be up front and matter-of-fact. Don’t stare, but go talk to her if you have the chance. Express your appreciation but don’t squeal like a teenager at a Justin Bieber concert. Here’s a sample script: “Excuse me. I’m curious if you’re Annie Brubaker?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I’m Sarah. I just want to tell you I appreciate your books, especially the devotional for new moms.”

“Thank you.”

At that point, if Annie glances over to the buffet line, end the conversation. If she maintains eye contact and asks if you have a new baby, you can keep talking. Maybe you’re curious about her writing process or want to tell her about a situation in your life that was affected by her story. That’s fine. Just talk like she’s a real human, and you and she are equally valuable. Find connections, compare opinions, and “encourage one another, and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. [1 Thessalonians 5:11]

End the conversation before you exhaust her, and make sure she has a chance to eat.

If she sits beside you, take it as permission to continue the conversation, making sure to pause often and long enough to let her enjoy her meal.

If you’re both writers, you’re going to rattle off about all the things that only writers find interesting, and you’ll both forget to eat.

And now, a word of advice to all of us: most people, writers or not, don’t want to be known for only one thing. 

Maybe ten years ago, a woman in our church was employed outside her home. This was unusual—most married Mennonite women are stay-at-home moms. I didn’t know her that well, so when we happened to walk down the hall together toward the women’s Sunday school class, I’d cast about for things to talk or ask about. Often, the first thing that came to mind was her job.

One day she pulled me aside and said, “I’d like to share something with you. When you talk to me, you always ask about my work. I wish you’d talk about other things. There’s a lot more to me than my job, and the truth is I work because I have to, and I don’t like to talk about it.”

Ouch. I like to know these things, but it hurts to find out. 

But I was so grateful. Her telling me showed that she trusted that I would listen, because we all know we don’t confront people we already know won’t hear us. Also, it taught me to work at getting to know the whole person and putting more thought into questions and conversation. After that, I tried to ask about her children, her summer activities, and so on.

It’s ok to recognize Annie or Gladys when they walk into the room. It’s good to encourage writers and tell them we appreciate their work. The same with singers and speakers and candlestick makers. It’s fine to recognize what they do.

But let’s do more. We can all give others the honor and gift of seeing them as a whole, multi-dimensional person. We can ask about a hundred things besides the one thing that first comes to mind. We can find connections and mutual interests. We can make introverted writers feel safe in public gatherings, and we can make invisible people feel seen.

That's what I think.

Aunt Dorcas

Are you a writer? What are your experiences or advice?

Are you a reader who's met a favorite author? What are your stories and advice?

Are you well known for one thing? How do you navigate always being seen in one dimension only?