A Tale of Teaming Up {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 13}

We’ve talked about writing what makes you cry, writing your everyday mercies found in the accidental collage in your junk drawer, writing timeless truths in the fresh language of kid’s quotables, writing your brokenness and writing the story-lines of answered prayer. While all of these tend to stem from personal experience, I’d like to round out this section of our series with something outside ourselves, the amazing experience of writing a story that is not our own.

My husband, literary agent to an amazing array of award-winning and bestselling authors, recently celebrated the release of “Walter & Me: Standing in the Shadow of Sweetness,” not just as agent for the book, but as co-writer. I enjoyed being part of the process as I helped him work through material and edit the drafts. As Craig crafted each chapter in Eddie’s words and voice, and did his part in putting the brothers’ legend on printed page, we got to know the book-writing process on a deeper level, and we got to know the Paytons’ story by heart. Read below to hear Craig’s perspective on the value of writing someone else’s story.

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We all know about writer’s block. If you write for a living…or even if you just write as part of the life you’re living…chances are you’ve been there. But have you ever heard of “story’s block?” Ok, maybe that’s not an actual term, but think about it…. Just as some writers have nothing to write, some stories have no one to write them. Eddie Payton, former NFL player and older brother of football legend, Walter Payton, had one such story.

A couple of years ago, on a flight back home to Jackson, Mississippi, Eddie met a guy named Paul Brown. The two got to talking about fishing and football and growing up in Mississippi. Eddie had lots of stories to tell, many of them about growing up with Walter. All those stories were coming together as one big story. Eddie knew he needed someone to help him tell it. And would you believe that Paul, the very guy Eddie was talking to, just happened to be a writer?

The very next day, Paul got in touch with me, his literary agent, to fill me in on Eddie’s potential project. I saw promise in it right away and began work on finding it a home. With the goal being to get the book out to the public as soon as possible, Paul knew he would need some help, not only in placing the book at a publisher, but in writing it. He and I had just successfully collaborated as co-writers on pro golfer Boo Weekley’s book, “True Boo: Gator Catchin’, Orangutan Boxin’, and My Wild Ride to the PGA Tour,” and we teamed up again to help Eddie write his book, “Walter & Me: Standing in the Shadow of Sweetness.”

As a literary agent, it’s a lot of fun to watch an idea transform into a book, seemingly overnight. After writing for Eddie’s book, I can tell you most certainly that an idea never transforms into a book overnight. Indeed, it’s a long, detailed, and time-consuming process…yet a rewarding one. There are the benefits of names on covers and money in wallets, but the most rewarding part of telling someone else’s story is, I think, the process itself. The actual work of forming the interview transcript into a well-sculpted narrative is something that goes far beyond money and fame and other fleeting things. The writing process fills the soul and, in more ways than one, lasts beyond the storyteller and the writer. The money I got from writing the book will go quickly. The little recognition I got will not be remembered by most. But Eddie’s story? I’m happy to say it has been preserved.

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{I know several authors who got their start co-writing or ghost-writing. And I’ve known several friends with a story to tell who need a skilled writer to craft the narrative for them. Along with it being a worthy task on its own, writing for someone else could be just the thing you need to prepare you for writing your own stories/books in the future. Have you ever tried your hand at writing someone else’s story?}

This is Day 13 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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Seeing the World Right-Side-Up {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 12}

We rolled up to the farm and flung the doors open. The firstborn knew what to do with the  fields in sight. He galloped. He jumped. He turned himself upside down then right side up, somersaulting himself on repeat over unkempt grass and dirt. Like Erika at The Life Artist wrote in her answered prayer story last week, “…you may just need to stand on your head to see the world right-side-up.”

The property was a wild place and in the distance I saw our wild dog trotting around with his new hunting buddies. We had dreamed six years for this wide-open space for him, this wide-eyed wonder for us. We had prayed, begged even, so desperate for relief.

This had been our reality…. Our son couldn’t sing a nursery rhyme without sending the hound into a tailspin, dog claws ice skating across hardwoods, him whimpering all the way. At meals, we had to harness the dog to a spot far from the kids’ plates to keep him from snatching food and gobbling up little fingers along with it. When we set his own food bowl in front of him, he scratched at it and drooled over it and every once in a while gathered the courage to lunge in for a nibble. Some nights he’d get himself so worked up that he wouldn’t eat at all, leaving his stomach gurgling in hunger and anxiety all night long. Hello insomnia.

Then, there was his voice. The bark and bay that were meant to call a hunter from miles away to find a treed raccoon, that voice was corralled into the echoing walls of our home and our small backyard. As for the sweet lady behind us who dared rest her arm on the fence for neighborly conversation, our hooligan hound thought it best to sink his teeth in, sending her off with a puncture wound. From there on out, we muzzled him every time we let him out of the house.

His anxiety and depression were contagious. Even while I worked hard to rehabilitate our hound, I cried many days wondering how my sanity could outlast his lifespan, how our home could ever be a happy one when all our efforts and the meds and the expensive training with a world-renowned therapist at Purdue’s Animal Behavior Center hadn’t done the miracle.

It all came down to the day he bit our son. I wept hard when I made the appointment with the vet. We had scoured the country for a rescue. No after no after no. No one could chance taking a biter. One animal lover, my friend’s husband, continued to search when I had given up. But the date was set. There was no other way out.

At church that Easter morning, a grown woman shared a strange story from her teenage years, how her cat had gone silent for two weeks, not a single meow. In her worry, she had the guts to ask God, whom she didn’t know so well at the time, to step into her little world and give it a try. If He’d help the cat to find its voice again, she’d promise to read her Bible every day. Within minutes, the cat came in to run its head under her hand, purring and full-out meowing.

I held back my sniffles for a bit, but not my prayers. If God cared enough to step in for the silent cat and this curious girl, I felt I could ask Him again for better ending for Hoover.

That night as I bawled my eyes out to extended family, my friend and her husband were chatting about our situation in a town two hours away. “If only there were more time,” my friend’s husband sighed, “Even two weeks more. I’m sure we could find some solution.” My friend calmly said back to him, “If God can save Hoover in a matter of two weeks, God can save him overnight.”

When I got back home that night, I opened my email to a consolation note from another faraway friend who’s dealt with her share of wild animals, and her share of hardship (and answered prayer!). She reminded me that I had to be willing to do what was safe and healthy for my family and that I’d tried everything, even beyond reason, to save Hoover. But had I thought about the possibility of finding a hunter to take him in and train to be what he was meant to be. Good idea, but I didn’t know any hunters. Or did I?

It hit me then, the memory of the black book with the gold hound dog stamped on the front. I picked it up and started flipping pages. Right inside the cover, hidden all these months, was the hunter’s number. And there was this light peeking into the tomb Easter night. Next morning, the door opened in full. One phone call and our life was made new.

A few months later, on our summer night at the farm, we rolled in the grass with puppies and kids. We nuzzled (not muzzled!) our dog and reveled at his new hunting adventures. He’d been adopted into hound royalty by the grandson of the man who started the very breed in the 1930s. And he was happy. We are still wide-eyed in wonder.

I can’t really do the story justice here in a blog post. The details are too many and too significant, all the things God choreographed to write this story for us. Someday, I may tell it in long-form, maybe hardbound, our little version of Marley & Me meets One Thousand Gifts…working title Happy Unleashed: The true story of a hooligan hound, a frazzled mom and the redeeming love of their Creator.

On the other side of answered prayer in all this wide-open space, with all this wide-eyed wonder at seeing the world right-side-up…I could just about do a somersault.

{What wild answers to prayer could you be lassoing into story? Take a few minutes to make an outline of your narrative including: 1. The hardship, 2. The audacious prayer, 3. The people and circumstances God used to lead to the answer, 4. The answer itself, 5. What life felt like afterward. Share here if you feel comfortable.}

This is Day 12 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change and The Hollie Rogue’s Tell Your Story link-up.

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Writing Butterflies and Brokenness {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 11}

I combed through gritty words and searched for my own like a beachcomber after high tide. I pictured this particular shell opening up to look like a butterfly with wings spread. I imagined the swish of the surf, like young love, and then straight away came the weight of the cargo ships in bay. If I was going to write authentically in response to this part of Gift from the Sea for my summer book club, I had to write about the days of swollen eyes and headaches and doubt.

I would have rather taken the whole experience, tied a rock around it and thrown it out to sea, but something told me I had to write it down. I had to write my brokenness. Maybe sharing about a confusing and embarrassingly immature time in my life could help some other young woman choose true love over fear, just as a mentor’s wise words had helped me.

We don’t want to hide behind the happy highlight reel or go around looking like a 50s sitcom star vacuuming in a dress and pearls, but neither do we want to be the girl without a filter, spewing teenage angst on our readers.

Before I went to Influence, I weighed in with other attendees on Nish Weiseth’s final preparations for her talk “Blogging Dangerously,” asking how we can decide what’s appropriate, how we can discern the difference between just trying to be edgy to get attention and writing something hard or thought-provoking that could really make a difference.

Sometimes, in order to speak authentically on an issue or experience, and to let people know they’re not alone, we have to write outside the lines and share stories of our own failure or brokenness. But even when we write dangerously, we need to do so with some sense of caution.

Nish wisely encouraged us to begin with praying about our idea, asking our Counselor for wisdom. Why share this particular story? Is the risk of conflict or misunderstanding worth it? Next, we ask permission from others who may be affected by the story. How do your people feel about it? The trust and security in our closest relationships should always come before any supposed benefit for our wider circle of readers.

It took me a whole day to edit “The Butterfly Effect”. I shared it with my husband and had him redline anything that made him uncomfortable. I shared it with my mom who had prayed me through the drama to begin with. She did some more redlining. They became the filter I needed when emotion had clouded mine.

Finally, when I had permission to publish the piece, I wondered if readers would make false assumptions about the validity of my relationship or make judgments about my emotional stability. Yet, I felt the risk was worth the possibility of reminding people like me that strong love is based on trust and that while the butterfly sensations of different phases are not illusion, neither are they are a fit foundation for relationship.

That day after I’d put my story out into blog world, I followed a random string of links and comments and more links that led me to three other blog posts covering similar issues. I felt a camaraderie in my writing when I had just hours ago felt odd and alone. Here was a little group of us synchronized by the Spirit to put this truth into the blogosphere that particular day…to challenge those who mistakenly believe that romantic feeling is the substance of relationship, when it is really just an accessory like a seashell on a shelf.

{How do you decide what sensitive topics and personal struggles are publishable? What stories of others’ weakness, failure or brokenness have ministered to you? What stories have you shared from your own life and what has been the result?}

This is Day 11 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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