We asked J. Mark Miller, dad to an “OYANer” (One Year Adventure Novel student) who is also a fantasy-writer himself, to share some reflections for other writers and their parents.
The Toll(ing) of Other Voices
I want to start off by thanking Daniel Schwabauer and the rest of the OYAN crew for their gracious invitation to write today’s guest post. I’m Jeff Miller, father of an “OYANer” and writer. I want to share with you some of what what I’ve witnessed in the years that my family has been involved with the Schwabauers’ fantastic curriculum.
I once heard it said, “You’re the sum total of the people you meet and the books you’ve read.” That’s something of a blanket statement, and quite imprecise, but there’s a nugget of truth in it. How does it pertain to writing?
Writing can be a lonely business. Why? Primarily because writers need time, space, and quiet to create. Writing can also be lonely because—to be honest—writers are a bit of a strange breed.
I’ve had the privilege of attending the OYAN Summer Workshop for the past two summers (2012 and 2013). What I witnessed there is a phenomenon quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced: a glorious menagerie of creative eccentricity.
Teens walked around dressed in every costume imaginable—from steampunk to Whovian—and I saw more than a smattering of geeky t-shirts. Students gathered in amorphous groups, some playing instruments and singing, others catching up on one another’s lives. All the while, a large circle of teens dominated the foyer playing ninja. (Don’t ask me to explain, you have to experience it for yourself.)
Now, before I give you the impression that the workshop’s just a small-town version of ComicCon, I’ll give you a deeper look. Once you move past the costumes, you’ll find there’s another set of traits these students hold in common—highly admirable traits.
What you’ll find is a group of people who have developed real friendships across the miles. A group of people who care deeply for one another. Students with a passion for writing and a desire to hone that craft. Teens who want to use their talents and abilities to set the world on fire for Christ.
All of this hit me square in the chest the first time I attended. I still remember telling my wife, “I’ve finally found my tribe—20 years too late!”
OYAN has grown to be so much more than simply a writing curriculum. Sure, students learn about the craft, and about the value of great literature, but they learn things of much greater import. They learn about the need for more voices willing to speak truth into this world, and they get something amazing in return—something desperately needed by authors everywhere.
On the best days, writers feel like they hear the voice of God Himself as they put words together to form sentences. On the worst, they experience an empty despair because the words won’t come—at least, not words that measure up.
Most days are average, however, and the average days are the hardest.
It’s on the average day that a writer can feel at once isolated from others and pressured by their voices. Those voices toll like an ever-ringing bell in the silence of the writer’s mind, a clanging that exacts a growing toll. Writers search for a quiet place—a safe haven—but find there the dreaded voices of critics, both internal and external. Culture, peer pressure, political pressure, and the false hope of measuring up all say, “You’re not a writer.”
Ironically, isolation breeds comparison. In the quiet, the voices clamor, “You’ll never measure up to that book you just read.” The market says, “There’s no possible way your manuscript will ever see the light of day.” The defeated soul begins to buy in and whispers, “No one would pay money for this, even if I did manage to get it done.”
Then along comes OYAN, not only the curriculum, but the gentle shepherding of the Schwabauers and the vibrant community that’s sprung up around them. I’ve watched as young writers have been mentored, not only by “Mr. and Mrs. S.,” but also by wonderful souls like Mark Wilson, Jeff Gerke, Stephanie Morrill, Jill Williamson, and Amanda Luedeke. In turn, the students have embraced these mentors, forging a relationship deeper than that of student–teacher, but one that, quite honestly, looks like family.
If you polled the OYAN student population, you’d find a variety of goals when it comes to their writing. Some simply want to be heard, to be acknowledged. Some seek to hone their craft, while others write as their chief means of expression. A small few might want fame, but most would probably say they’d rather change the world one heart at a time given half the chance.
But no matter what dreams inspire the words coming from the pens or keyboards of these writers, you can be sure they’re also hearing other voices. Voices that tell them to quit. Voices that tell them to tone their faith down. Voices that tell them they’d be better off spending their time doing other things. What these writers need to hear is the voice of God.
Let me issue a bold statement. You want to know, for me, what’s been the best part of attending the OYAN summer workshop over the last two years?
I heard the voice of God there.
The impact the workshops have had on me and my family leads me to this:
Parents, if you haven’t brought your students to the workshop, please consider making plans now. Not only will your students be mentored and encouraged, they’ll also be loved for who they are, without reservation. The workshop is a lot like attending youth camp, because no matter the topic of the hour, you can be certain of one thing: We’re all there trying to hear the voice of God.
Jeff Miller is a retired minister, and a writer, musician, blogger, graphic designer, and something of a self-taught self-publishing guru. His first novel, a fantasy adventure entitled The Foundlings, is available now on Amazon. Jeff and his family of OYANers live in North Texas, along with several Apple products.
Read more of Jeff’s tips and reflections on the writing journey on his blog, “A Writer’s Fantasy” »