Featured #TellHisStory Writer: Billy Coffey (And a Book Giveaway)

June 11, 2013 | 50 comments

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During 2013, dozens of talented writers are joining me to cheer you on in your storytelling. These guest-writers will share a few helpful words with you right here every Tuesday night, to encourage you as you #TellHisStory. (Come back after midnight to link up your God Story by clicking here.)

And now, I’m delighted to introduce you, once again, to author Billy Coffey. Be sure to enter the drawing for a chance to win his new novel. 

Writing Naked

I write in terror. I have to talk myself into bravery with every sentence, sometimes every syllable –Cynthia Ozick

I took exactly one class in writing. It was about fifteen years ago at the community college and was taught by a real published author whose name I cannot recall. But she was published, and as far as I was concerned that was all the credentials she needed.

The first class turned out to be the most useful. That’s not to say the instruction given in the proceeding eleven weeks of the course wasn’t useful. It was. But that first night alone was worth the money.

The twenty or so people in the class formed a semi-circle around the professor, who stood in behind a wooden podium that was much more intimidating than she. We sat at attention, notebooks ready, eager to have our heads filled with the hidden secrets of literary success.

“Tell me,” she said, “what does one need to write?”

The more outgoing among the class were quick with suggestions:

“Time.”

“Perseverance.”

“Skill.”

“Connections.” (That one was met with a nervous chuckle from the rest of the class.)

“Practice.”

Each was met with an approving nod and so was written down by everyone, myself included. But that really wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

“Those are good suggestions,” she said, “but you’re leaving the most important aspect out. Anyone?”

No one.

“Courage,” she said.

I didn’t really understand that and snickered under my breath. Courage? Soldiers needed courage. Cops needed courage. EMTs and stunt men and bullfighters. But writers? Sitting on your butt and typing on a keyboard did not take courage.

“There are some who might disagree with that,” she said—and to this day I swear she looked at me when she said it—“and I understand. You disagree because you’re writing with your clothes on. By the time you leave here, you’ll be writing naked.”

I’ll admit I almost walked out then. I’d heard about kooky writing classes given by kooky professors who did some pretty strange things in the name of “art.” I was afraid if I stuck around I’d end up dressed in a blue tracksuit with a cup of Kool-Aid in my hand because a comet was passing by to take me to heaven.

I stayed in my seat on the whim she was speaking metaphorically.

“There is no greater fear than to face a blank page,” she said. “It mocks and threatens. It challenges you. Give it power, and it will eat you alive. Face it clothed, and you will fail. The only way to beat the blank page is to attack it naked.”

Twelve of the twenty students raised their hands.

“Wait, wait,” she said, moving her hands in a downward motion. “No, I’m not speaking literally. But I’m not joking, either. Let me ask you something else. Why do people write?”

More hands in the air, which she chose to ignore.

“People write because they must. Because there is a story inside them that is meant to be shared with the world. But having that story inside you doesn’t make you a writer. How you tell that story does. And you tell it through honesty.”

She told us to put our pens down and just listen.

“Writers fail because they come to the page fully clothed. They adorn themselves with fanciful plots and layer themselves with complicated character development. They use flowery prose and words you have to look up in the dictionary. They do this not to impress their readers, but to keep their readers at arm’s length. They’re afraid. Afraid to bare their souls and inject themselves into their work. For that they are cowards.

“Don’t simply tell me that faith saves you, tell me how it almost failed you, too. Don’t tell me about love, speak of your passion. Don’t tell me you’re hurt, let me see your heart breaking. I don’t want to see your talent on the page, I want to see your blood. Dare to be naked before your readers. Because that is writing, and everything else is worthless crap.”

I’ll always remember that. In fact, written on an index card taped to my lamp are these two words—Be Naked. Because she was right, that’s what writing is all about. Fiction or non, poetry or devotional, funny or serious, it doesn’t matter. Our calling is still the same:

To bare ourselves so we may be the mirror the world holds to itself.

 

Billy Coffey’s critically acclaimed books combine rural  Southern charm with a vision far beyond the ordinary. And this  week, we’re celebrating the release of his most recent novel,  “When Mockingbirds Sing,” by giving away a copy of the book.

 

To enter the giveaway:

Simply tell us the name of anyone in your life who has inspired you to write or to live life more courageously. This is a drawing open to all of you — not only the writers in our community. I will draw a winner at random by Friday afternoon and notify you by email. If you share on Twitter or Facebook, let me know in the comment box. Each “share” earns extra entries.

 

Here’s the trailer for Billy’s book. (Subscribers can click here.)

by | June 11, 2013 | 50 comments

50 Comments

  1. Stephenie Henson

    My best friend Michelle inspired me to start writing my own blog and to be more fearless about my love for Jesus

    Shared on Facebook and twitter

    Reply
  2. Rebekah@asoftgentlevoice

    Jennifer, I actually recall reading this on Bill’s site last year and it having a profound effect on me. Thank you, for sharing these words here. I needed to read them again!! Other writers, including you, encourage me to write more courageously. My husband and children encourage me to live more courageously. Jesus Christ gives me the strength to do so. If I would only trust more and let go!! And actually be vulnerable and write naked.

    Reply
  3. Shelly Miller

    I’ve been learning a great deal about vulnerability from the most vulnerable one of all, the one who stood naked and gave His life for us all, along with a little help from a book called Daring Greatly. This is a sacred echo for me as I write my own chapters: To bare ourselves so we may be the mirror the world holds to itself.Thank you, truly helpful and poignant words.

    I would love to win your book. Regardless, I plan to read it.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      oops, forgot to say that I shared on Twitter and so many help me to write couragously but Ann Voskamp comes to mind because she is the one who inspired me to blog and Heather Kopp who mentors me in her encouragement and honesty.

      Reply
      • Rebekah@asoftgentlevoice

        Ann came to my mind as well. How she has encouraged so many of us to walk in this way!!

        Reply
  4. Paige Tighe

    Ray Bradbury filled me up with words and zest, and gusto! He taught me how to string sentences together with commas and abandon. Ray Bradbury has been my best and best-beloved writing instructor.

    Reply
  5. S. Etole

    I’m not a writer, but my parents’ example taught me to live courageously.

    Reply
  6. OneGirl

    Ann Voskamp, simply with her writing, encourages me to write!

    Reply
  7. sheri

    My pastor/co-author Chad Mitchell, prompted by a friend and counselor Tom Copeland inspired and encouraged me. Both knew much of my story or hurt and brokenness and how much I had hidden from the world. Both Chad and Tom helped bring me back to life, so to speak. Tom had read a couple of things I had written and suggested to Chad that I help write his book with him. Chad asked and my whole world opened wide as he gave me an avenue to freely express my heart in like kind with his. It has been life-changing and life-giving. Now we’re on our second book together! And God has opened so many doors for me personally through it. I will ever be grateful that Tom & Chad believed in me.

    Reply
  8. Miriam

    I think anyone who pursues their dreams with honesty and courage inspires me. :o)

    Reply
  9. Wanda

    I met Ann Voskamp a few weeks ago. I have read her book and her blog. It was my mother’s death that challenges me to write. That experience left me raw and naked.

    Reply
  10. Kathy Schwanke

    Jesus’ grace delivering me moves me to write. Sometimes it is harder than running but like running, I know it is good and so I go.

    Reply
  11. rickd3352013

    George Kendrick – he was a priest at the parish I grew up in. The youngest priest, he was also the one the younger folks in the church were attracted to. One day, he was no longer there – no explanation came from the old priests that didn’t much seem to care for him in the first place. When I next heard of him, it was from a young woman who picked me up as a hitch-hiker. She was on her way out to the truck farm he had started to help feed the hungry and minister to the homeless in Boston – he got fed up pretty quickly with our overly conservative church and went out to address problems that could be addressed, as it turned out.

    Reply
    • rickd3352013

      Oh, and I shared on FB as well 🙂

      I *love* Billy’s writing!

      Reply
  12. Kris Camealy

    Thanks for this, Billy. I am learning what this looks like–this writing naked, and for someone who much prefers to be fully dressed, it is a challenging (but rewarding) experience. My 5th grade teacher really inspired me to write. He loved books and words and his passion for literature and creating our own was contagious. I am so thankful God placed me in his class at that young age–it has impacted my life ever since then.

    I can’t wait to read your book!

    Reply
  13. Katrina Baker

    As an adult college student, I had an English professor who encouraged me to enter a writing contest. I had no idea I could write anything. I took third place and from that point on I’ve always wanted to write my story. At this point I haven’t. Not sure where to start but I’m confident that someday God will allow me to if it’s meant to be. The professor’s name was Dr. Grattin. I am not sure I spelled his name correctly!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Katrina … The starting is so hard, isn’t it? Maybe just start in the middle, at a turning point, and watch how the rest unfolds. In my book, the first chapter I wrote is chapter six. 🙂

      Reply
  14. Charity Singleton Craig

    Writing naked is challenging for me because I first must “undress” looking in the mirror before I ever reveal my bare soul to others. That self-awareness is hard won and so much more painful for me than telling others.

    I have been inspired by a lot of people and writers over the years, but Laura Barkat actually pushes me to write. She is such a nurturer to many writers.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Yes, Laura would be on a list of people who’ve encouraged and pushed and challenged me as well. Thank you, Charity.

      Reply
  15. Donna Bloom

    My daughter inspires me, her struggles and her triumphs!

    Reply
  16. sheiladailie

    Intriguing thought about writing requiring courage, but it is so true. And when I do write ‘naked’ there is power in the words.

    A college professor inspired me to write by her comments and praise which helped me learn to trust my view of the world. And now I must admit that anyone who makes a comment, positive or a critique, encourages me to keep practicing the craft as I seek God’s mission for my words.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Good words here, Sheila. I feel the same way about critique. I think that’s why I’ve actually ENJOYED the editing process with my book. I know that all of the work she and I are doing together is helping create something better for the reader.

      Reply
  17. Kristin Taylor

    As a writer, columnist Rochelle Riley was a mentor of mine when I was in high school and college. She continues to inspire and encourage from a distance now.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Kristin — Thank you for sharing. I’m remembering now some of my college professors and how they influenced me in my writing, teaching me some things that have stuck with me ever since. How nice of you to have a mentor, not just a teacher, at a young age.

      Reply
  18. Laura

    I just returned from a writers conference, full of inspiration. And one who took time to inspire and encourage me this past week was Tim Shoemaker, author of the Code of Silence books for kids published by Zondervan. We talked fiction and faith and courage, and we prayed. The Lord sent an author with a heart to me at just the right time. That’s His inspiration.

    And I’m definitely mentioning this on Facebook! Billy Coffey’s book sounds wonderful!

    Reply
  19. Dolly@Soulstops

    God and my husband’s encouragement are why I write and I must write to process life. Billy’s book sounds intriguing.

    Reply
  20. simplystriving

    Pretty soon I’m going to have to say Billy is the one who inspires me to write as I’m still not over the guest post he did on Rachelle Gardner’s blog this week…or the video posted alongside. and now there’s this and oh mylanta…just…thank you, Billy.

    I’m so new at this, I’m not sure if I was called to claim the title of “writer” even though I do. I write because He’s asked me to share my story. Nothing more. Just share how grace has captured me in all my naked glory.

    It seemed easy when I first picked up a pen. Sadly, I have more Eve in me than I realized…oh but I’m striving to come out of the bushes. Simply for the love of Him and the grace I’ve tested enough to know that He’ll never turn away.

    Thank you, Jennifer, for always inspiring me here!
    All for Him with hugs to you,
    Nikki

    Reply
  21. simplystriving

    I shared, but would feel guilty if I won as I was privileged to win your last giveaway! 😉

    Reply
  22. Amy

    The loss of an important relationship split my heart wide open enough to pursue writing with courage. My Pastor, John Carter, at Abundant Life Christian Center, has helped me to see that writing is one of the things God created me to do.

    Thank you for this post, Jennifer. So glad I found you through Ann Voskamp’s blog.

    Reply
  23. AlainaFrederick

    My cousin’s wife is an amazing inspiration in my life. Every time I feel like I can’t go on or get up in the morning I think of her. She lost her mom then just days later had a full-term still born child. She went through cutting and dark days. Then by the grace of God my cousin and her were saved. She is now finishing up school to be a Christian counselor and volunteers at the local jail. She also now has three precious children here on earth. Absolutely heart wrentching yet so powerfully beautiful.

    Reply
  24. Kay Walsh

    My dad. He never went to college but was intimidated by the degrees my brother and I received. He should not have been. His wisdom, by virtue of life experience, was more valuable than that which I learned to pass any test.

    He grew up in a time of great prejudice. Christians used Bible verses to back up their prejudice claims, just as slave owners had done at one time in this country. While fighting an inner prejudice that had been ingrained in him since birth, he treated everyone with disrespect.

    Soon his granddaughter (who is white) will marry a black man. He will send presents and, if his health will allow, he will attend the ceremony.

    He taught me that family is more important than any squabble or disagreement. He taught me that being righteous is more important than being right. He taught me to stand firm on the essentials and bend with the nonessentials.

    He taught me that God never changes but sometimes, I must, in order to see God at work. He taught me to be courageous.

    Reply
  25. Kay Walsh

    Correction: The above reply says, “…He treated everyone with disrespect.” That should read, “…He treated everyone with RESPECT.” Sorry. ;-(

    Reply
  26. wynnegraceappears

    I tweeted too. L.L. Barkat has inspired me. I love this place Jennifer. Billy’s word speak whispers of gentle encouragement. Thank you.

    Reply
  27. Being Woven

    Writing..two people have inspired me. The first was a FINE English Comp teacher at a junior college in Southern CA many years ago…Mrs. Ahern. She was the kind of teacher that you want all of them to be…encouraging, truthful, bold, and kind. Then my husband. He was writing and encouraged me to blog if that is how God was leading me. And he continues to encourage, read my posts, tell me what he thinks and how proud he is of my following Christ.
    I have also tweeted this post, Jennifer. Thanks.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    Reply
  28. adiciple

    My husbands sudden accident and death 13 years ago.. It was thru this that I began to see what is truly important, how fragile life is and how very blessed we truly are…

    Reply
  29. Dolly@Soulstops

    I shared on FB and mentioned Billy on Twitter. Thanks.

    Reply
  30. Dolly@Soulstops

    P.S. Thanks, Billy, for your post…your words inspired to write today about what you wrote, so Thank you 🙂

    Reply
  31. Paula

    I have been inspired to live from a place of vulnerability by Brene Brown’s books and writing. When I first read her work, it seemed counter intuitive that vulnerability would lead to living a life courageously. The more I practice, the more true this feels. Stripping away the protective layers and getting down to the authentic, honest, real…. that often feels like being naked. There’s incredible power in that, even if it does feel scary at times.

    Reply
  32. Jane

    I just want to win. And I write because I have to. My mind and heart would explode less beautifully if I didn’t. … Anyone who writes, and is courageous enough to write naked inspires me.

    Reply
  33. Dave Vander Laan

    My friend Mark Bruggom said to me many years ago as I was getting my mouth wet in broadcasting, “You can do this.”

    His encouragement at that point also help me pay attention to the Holy Spirit.

    Reply
  34. Evi Wusk

    For me, it’s Michelle DeRusha and Deidra Riggs. Thankful for their courageous steps.

    Reply
  35. carikaufm

    Oh, there is such a long list of folks who have encouraged me to write my heart….from my mother and grandmother who shared their gift of writing with me (they are both predominantly poets), to my husband who encourages me to stay authentic in my writing, to friends and family who read and comment (cause, I am a validation driven girl.) But, recently, I have had a friend who really pushes the boundaries of my writing because he pushes me not only to be transparent and connected with my emotions, but also to step outside myself and view life from different perspectives.

    Reply
  36. Simply Darlene

    mr. H.

    my high school journalism teacher and advisor.

    Reply
  37. hutch

    Too late for the book thing, but that’s okay – this post was worth the price of admission. I’m encouraged by the thoughts of courageous and naked writing. Oh, and Jesus has encouraged me to write to men like me. There are too many men paralyzed and struggling with the quilt and shame of divorce. I need to tell them a story of salvation, forgiveness and redemption, so that they may be healed and become the men He created them to be. Doing so will take all the courage I can find. – Thanks again for the encouraging post.

    Reply

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