Mathis in the Plainview Daily Herald
Going through a stack of papers the other day, I found this newspaper article.
In September of 2012 I had already moved to Lubbock, and Mary Byrd was the only member of the Plaiview Writers Guild living in Plainview, so we decided to close the Guild.
Carole Bell. of The Witness Writers took over our “time slot” for her group meetings.
Here, Carole Bell of The Witness Writers, and Mary Byrd and I, along with Texas High Plains Writers member, Bernice Simpson, attended a Witness Writers workshop in Plainview.
Author shares tips with Witness Writers
A man walks into a bookstore. “Where’s the self-help section?” he asks the clerk. She shrugs and replies, “If I tell you, won’t that defeat the purpose?”
Jennifer Mersberger uses that joke as an example of situational irony in her workshop, “Lighten Up! Nine ways to make your writing more relatable,” which she recently presented to Witness Writers at First United Methodist Church.
The group she spoke to were no strangers to irony, nor to helping themselves for that matter. They were in various stages of every writer’s dream — getting published. Some write successful blogs or columns, others are in negotiation with book publishers. Most were from Plainview, but some drove from Amarillo.
All of them were intense, educated listeners that wanted to hear what Mersberger, the author of two Christian books, had to say about improving their writing by using humor.
Unlike many writers, Mersberger didn’t grow up dreaming of being an author.
“I enjoyed English, but I didn’t start writing until I was an adult,” she said. Her first book “Parables of the Master Storyteller” began as a Bible study that she conducted just three years ago. A friend suggested that she have it published.
Mersberger lectures using worksheets with writing samples, both good and bad, that come from sources as diverse as Phillip Roth, author of “A Plight Against America,” and William Goldman, who wrote the movie “The Princess Bride.”
She is particularly hard on Philip Roth for a 100-plus word sentence and passes on some advice an early writing mentor gave her: “Don’t describe the wallpaper unless there’s blood on it.”
An example of humor as a coping mechanism comes from a real-life friend. “As a woman gathers the hair she lost from her chemo treatments, she says, ‘That color never looked good on me anyway.’”
After the lecture comes the time writers both long for and dread — the critique session. The writers break up into two small groups of four and five. Some have brought along copies to share, while others read their samples aloud or have someone else read for them.
Those who critique are gentle but firm, frequently alluding to Mersberger’s nine rules. Wouldn’t it be better to start in the middle? Is there too much detail here? The ones being critiqued question and scribble notes for later revisions.
At some level, most writing comes from personal experience, and Mersberger urges the writers to be “transparent.” When questioned about what that means, she said it means to be honest, to share your own experience.
However, she cautions, too much honesty can turn some readers off. In fact, one of her blog readers recently dropped her site because Mersberger was honest about her own display of anger during a family incident.
Mersberger recommends journaling and says she writes in her own journal every day.
“For me, journaling is very cathartic — that’s why I encourage people to do it. Sometimes it’s hard to see what God is doing in your life. Then I’ll read something I’ve written and say to God, ‘Oh, now I see what you’re doing.’ ”
Mersberger said she hopes her children will read her journals someday, “but that’s not why I write them. I do wish my parents would have done it for me.”
Mersberger lives in Newark on the outskirts of Fort Worth with her husband and two children. She is currently leading a new Bible study with three different women’s groups.
“Women’s ministry retreats have a different wave of creativity and shared insight that fuel my creative fire,” she said.
To read Mersberger’s blog and learn more about her, go to www.lamplightministries.com.
Witness Writers meets from 10 a.m. to noon on the second Saturday of every month at First United Methodist Church, 1001 W. Seventh St. in Plainview, Texas.
Since I located this article, I have attempted to contact Carole Bell with no success. I have talked to Mary Byrd, and she hasn’t talked to her, either. She also doesn’t know if The Witness Writers group is still meeting.