Summer has come and gone here on the prairies. As we look toward another winter (note, I did not say “look forward to”), let’s get acquainted with another great writer whose words may bless those chilly days ahead. Welcome to Kathleen Gibson, who writes from East-central Saskatchewan, Canada.
Janice: Kathleen, when did you discover a love for writing and what did you do about it?
KATHLEEN: As a child I lived in my own world of stories. When I learned how to print and connected letters with words, I carried a pen and scribbled constantly. I had a patch of blue hair from absent-mindedly twirling my pen in my hair as I pondered.
Janice: I love it! What inspired you then and what inspires you now?
KATHLEEN: I didn’t start writing seriously until I’d finished home educating my children, in the nineties. God had been blowing me in that direction for years with smaller writing projects, but I resisted until the day he made it very clear I needed to act NOW or never.
Above that: Strong opinions. Compelling true stories. An urgency to share my faith. Deep feelings. Deadlines. Especially those.
Janice: Tell us what you write and why?
KATHLEEN: I’ve written a few fiction stories for fun, but my published work is non-fiction: articles, newspaper columns, essays and radio spots. Mostly first-person and mostly inspirational, over a thousand articles and broadcasts since I began taking my writing seriously in the late nineties. I’ve also published two books.
Why do I write? Because I love the craft – at times more than others! Because I know God-inspired words make a difference in this old world. And mostly because God hasn’t made it clear that it’s time to stop yet.
Janice: How do you write?
KATHLEEN: I use computer – can’t write by hand anymore – my fingers tighten so much on the pen that it eventually goes flipping across the room. Whenever possible, I sit at a desk. A scenic view inspires me. My office has a set of garden doors leading out to the backyard deck, with trees beyond. In optimal weather, I write in a shed in the backyard. A really tiny shed. Red.
I don’t outline, generally. I’ve tried, but it chokes me. At first I swing from sentence to sentence, like a monkey in the trees. Then I edit stringently, a skill I learned best during five or six years of writing regular articles for Reader’s Digest, then further developed during a short stint as a magazine editor.
I’m a slow writer. A 500 word column, publication ready, often takes an entire day after multiple edits. When I’m working on a project, I tend to write till I’m done – day and night. I eat poorly then, grabbing something random (and generally unhealthy) when I feel faint.
Janice: In the zone! Where do your ideas come from?
KATHLEEN: My inspirational writing finds its most solid ideas from my own habit of journaling. For years I taught journaling workshops. I need to go back and take my own workshop, because in the last few years I’ve paid less attention to that habit. Writing is harder without journals. But I also write about others. I love it when, every so often, God lets a story (such as this one) walk into my life. Those almost write themselves.
Janice: Do you write full time or is it a hobby?
KATHLEEN: When my husband, Rick, became disabled a number of years ago, I left an almost decade of full-time freelancing, for the need of a more reliable paycheque. God has graciously provided several writing-related jobs as a magazine editor and my current job as Constituency Assistant to a Member of Parliament, where much of my work involves writing and communicating. I’ve put several books on hold, perhaps indefinitely, but I keep up Sunny Side Up, my weekly inspirational newspaper column, published in several Western newspapers, and a spin-off from that called Simple Words, short radio spots that air on both analog and internet radio stations in many countries.
Janice: How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?
KATHLEEN: I use online sources primarily, and if called for, make direct contact with people connected to my topic. As necessary, I cross-research with other sources. I like Mr. Google.
Janice: Do you edit your own copy or do you hire someone to do it?
KATHLEEN: I’ve never hired an editor. I’ve been fortunate to work with excellent house editors at the print publications I’ve worked with and for. My newspaper columns and radio broadcasts are published as written, though a few times I’ve wished they weren’t.
Janice: What do you like most / least about the writing craft and the writing life?
KATHLEEN: What I like the most? Having written. Knowing that my words have honoured God and blessed someone. That I’m leaving a lasting legacy of faith to my family, and that writing keeps my brain working.
What I like the least? Paradoxically, the hours that writing takes me away from my family. I also don’t like it that writing contributes to health problems when one spends as many hours as I do at a computer – often with incorrect posture. Sitting is the new smoking, they say now. I’m a pack a day, in that case. Most writers are. I also don’t enjoy marketing books.
Janice: You’re in good company there. We all have family, friends and lives outside our writing, as well as crises on various levels. How do you balance your personal life with your writing?
KATHLEEN: After writing full-time from home for many years, a mosquito turned our lives inside out. When my husband first fell ill with West Nile Neurological Disease, some things got really easy really fast – at first. Everything spun off my plate except what mattered most: my role of supporting him through six months of hospitalization. All I could do was sit beside his bedside or wheelchair and help where I could – which didn’t feel like much. Some women, in circumstances like that, knit. I write. Columns, letters, updates. That writing later became my book, West Nile Diary; One Couple’s Triumph over a Deadly Disease.
After we returned home, life got far more demanding as I took on extra things my husband could no longer do. These days, my time is divided between family (five young grandchildren on the next street over), my job, and keeping up my ongoing writing deadlines. I quit everything about once a month – in my head. It’s a little crazy, and rarely balanced, but I’m still upright.
Janice: Would you tell us a bit about your life? What makes you unique? What are some of your favorite things to do?
KATHLEEN: I’m as ordinary as a potato, I think. Some of my favourite things to do, in no particular order: scoot-walking or scoot-biking with my husband (He drives his mobility scooter while I walk or bike alongside.) Engaging in deep conversations about faith and life. Playing with children and pets. Viewing nature close-up, if possible. Talking to my elderly parents on the phone. Photography and crafts. Home decorating. (Translated: shoving the furniture around – again.) Building small inuksuit. Playing the harmonica. Going to bed. Reading, of course.
Janice: Not all readers are writers, but all writers must be readers. What do you read? Do you prefer print or digital?
KATHLEEN: As soon as I learned to read, I formed a habit of reading in bed – after a half-century it’s pretty cemented. Most days I wake up between five and six and read for an hour before getting up. I do the same before bed, in reverse order. These days that’s about the only time I read simply for my own interest. Oh, no it’s not – we also stock our washroom with reading material. (Redeeming the time, and all that.)
The Bible is my most frequently read book – I read it through at least yearly and supplement it with online study resources (such as those at www.BibleGateway.com).
I also read news online, using my tablet, which works perfectly for reading in bed. Then I read articles and blogs that bring a faith perspective to world news, issues and culture.
My Kindle is packed with mostly non-fiction – biographies, memoirs, and inspirational/motivational books. I read some blogs; none regularly enough to mention – except HOUZZ. I’m working at paring down my hard-copy books to a few hundred. Kindle is easiest, but hard copy is most reassuring to the insides of me, so I use both.
I love a great story, too, but I’m picky with my fiction choices and choose works that will teach me something. I hated history in school and books like yours, Jan, educate me delightfully. Books like The Dovekeepers, The Midwife of Venice and A Fine Balance have taught me segments of horrifying but fascinating history. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I love Jan Karon’s more sedate but delightful (and insightful) Mitford series.
Janice: Are you on many Social Media sites and which ones do you find the most effective?
KATHLEEN: I’m not very sociable or savvy online. I have accounts on Facebook, Linked In and Twitter, and haven’t figured out why, since I feel equally ineffective on all of them. I post my weekly newspaper columns to all of those using a widget – name forgotten. (See?) I rarely go to those sites to check things out. I enjoy using Facebook (in spurts) to connect with people. I really enjoy personal correspondence, and answer most messages, when I remember to check them.
Janice: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
KATHLEEN: I taught piano for years. I always began the beginners the same way – teaching the basics. Notes, finger position, timing. No matter how much music those little kids and beginning adults had inside them, itching to get out, they had to learn the rudiments.
Everyone wants to perform well, but few want to do the practicing it takes to get there. I strongly advise new writers to pay their dues. Be dedicated to the craft. Write daily. Find your voice. Learn the rules of strong writing. (Further down the road you’ll understand how to break them effectively!) Take courses that require you to submit your writing to a teacher for critique. (I suggest the Christian Writers Guild.)
Hang around people – physically or online or through books – who are better writers than you are. Read their work. Ask questions. Read not simply for enjoyment but for analysis: why is this good (or not good)? What makes this work effective (or ineffective)? Never stop exploring the wonder of great writing and superior presentation.
Beyond some basics of good writing, each genre has unique tools. I suggest that new writers discover the passion God has put in their heart, then develop their writing tool kit for the genre that best communicates it. Most of us write best the type of material that we read most. Trying to write in too many genres at once can weaken one’s writing. Better to be a great writer in only one genre, than a passable writer in several. Writing is a craft, and all crafts must be practiced before they’re performed.
Most writers dream of being free to write full-time, but few are able to make a living wage through writing alone. I freelanced for secular magazines and radio for years, earning from zero cents or mere pennies an article or column to several thousand dollars per article. Even with that, I wouldn’t have had enough to live on. When my husband became disabled, God provided solid work in the writing field, and a regular paycheque. Today I continue working on my own projects outside my work hours and at my own pace. I don’t worry about making a living income or trying to get 2,000 Likes on Facebook, or keeping up a “writer image.” That’s freeing in a different way.
I’d also tell them to enjoy the honeymoon – those first publication credits, the first few book launches, interviews and signings. These highs you’ll remember all your life. But don’t expect the honeymoon to last forever. The real work begins after.
Janice: What keeps you going as a writer and what part does faith play in your writing career?
KATHLEEN: These days, I don’t write for love of the craft as much as to meet my deadlines. But I also write from a sense of responsibility to my calling and my readers. I have a deep desire to connect faith to everyday life, and help others find that connection.
My faith and my writing are inseparable. Not all my writing presents the gospel or quotes Bible verses, but whether I’m writing for a Christian or secular publication, each word comes from a foundation of faith – the well in which I dip my pen.
Janice: I wish you well in your writing and in your personal life, Kathleen. Thanks so much for taking time to share your life with my blog readers and with me.
KATHLEEN: Thanks for this opportunity, Janice. Same to you!
Writer, speaker, and broadcaster, Kathleen Gibson’s passions for faith, home, family, and creation are evident in her work. She is the author of two books, West Nile Diary and Practice by Practice, the Art of Everyday Faith. Kathleen’s articles have found homes in media outlets from local to global. Both Sunny Side Up, her weekly faith and life newspaper column, and her daily radio spot, Simple Words, explore the connection between everyday life and Christian faith.
Kathleen and her husband Rick, live in Saskatchewan with a very cold parrot and a spicy cat. Visit her at her website, kathleengibson.ca, or via Facebook.