The Prayers Of Agnes Sparrow

Joyce Magnin

Joyce Magnin is the author of the popular Bright’s Pond Novels, including The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow, which was named one of the top five Christian titles of 2009 by Library Journal; and Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise, releasing September 1, 2010. She is member of ACFW, The Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Fellowship, and is a popular conference speaker. Joyce also runs Narrative Destiny, a manuscript critique and evaluation service. You can also visit her blog at:

Finding Your Voice

Here’s the thing: I am not the craftiest woman on the planet. Unlike my sister, who can scrape a dead raccoon off the side of the road and turn it into a lovely centerpiece, I could scrape the same raccoon off the side of the road, follow her instructions to the tee and still wind up with little more than a dead raccoon with a pink bow on its head. It would not be pretty. My mother could turn an egg carton into a caterpillar and a ball of yarn into a rhododendron.

A glue gun in my hands is a dangerous weapon, as I have been known to glue my hair to my forehead, burn my elbow, and set fire to a tablecloth. Glitter drives me nuts. As far as I am concerned, whoever invented the stuff should be forced to clean it up! I mean really, who needs glitter? The last time I used it I got a scratched retina.

Now, before all you craft mavens write me stern e-mails, you should know that I do appreciate crafts. I mean, Martha Stewart cracks me up. The other day I watched her make a tree stand from a log. She drilled and hammered and nailed. Then when I thought it looked pretty good and maybe she was finished, she got out her paints and set about improving on nature. Funny thing is when she finished, the log did look better than nature intended. My friend Rebecca is crafty and so is my BFF Pammy. They can make things—quilts, even birdcages from bread dough. Rebecca can turn several large pieces of cardboard into a gingerbread house that would make the Keebler Elves swoon. Me? I would have just left it a box. I mean, how do they do it?

Crafty people can look at ordinary stuff like buttons and ribbon and bottle caps and yarn and rusty old tin cans and see the Taj Mahal. Crafty people can take a dozen flowers and arrange them into something spectacular. I could take the exact same twelve flowers and no matter how hard I worked, my creation would still be nothing more than twelve flowers stuck in vase. I haven’t got it, that seventh sense—the sense of craft. And I will admit, I’m jealous.

It’s hard not to compare myself with the craft mavens of the world. I suppose I have a secret wish to be like them, to wake up one day and . . . I don’t know, make a replica of the Eiffel Tower with toilet paper rolls and toothpicks. But I know it will never happen. My skill sets are all wrong. And I would probably glue my fingers together.

However, and this might come as a surprise to many of you, I do enjoy needlework, particularly cross-stitch. I am completely self-taught, and as a result I have what you might call my own techniques. Techniques that sometimes get me into trouble. But in the end, I usually have a pretty good-looking finished piece. That is when I actually finish something. But that’s a subject for another column.

Writing is like crafts. It’s easy to compare yourself with another writer. But there comes a time when you have to find your own techniques. Some writers produce copious notes and write intricate outlines before they begin the novel. Others, like me, say a prayer and jump on a wing and off we go. Some folks interview their characters and keep impressive Excel spreadsheets with all the data they need at their fingertips. Me? I’m still not sure if my main character is blonde or brunette by chapter twenty-seven. Some authors write the whole draft in one fell swoop. Then there are those of us who edit and reedit every single word, agonizing over them the whole way through.

There is no right or wrong. It’s your technique. I might not make a proper waste knot and my fibers tend to tangle an awful lot,

but in the end, it’s my work and it looks good. It’s about staying true to yourself. Don’t worry what others are doing with the same words. You go ahead, set them out your way, line them up, make them march and sing and dance along on the page your way. Believe me, it will be a lot more fun.

Some folks can take the words available to all of us and spin them into a suspense tale that would have curled Edgar Allen Poe’s toes. Others wield their computer keyboard like a magic wand and produce epic fantasy yarns. Thing is, we all have access to the same words. It’s all in how we arrange them. I write and wind up with quirk. And I’m okay with that. I’ll never write mystery or romance or even suspense or science fiction. But that’s not my skill set. I look at words and see quirk. You look at words and see intrigue and suspense or long kisses on a loading dock. And that’s good. It’s all good.

The trick, I suppose, is in discovering your best way to use your words. It’s in finding your voice and sticking to it no matter how many dead raccoon centerpieces shame you, or how many bird cages constructed from toothpicks make you wish you could force your fingers to work differently or that you could master a glue gun. Just stick to your own guns and write what seems correct for you. So what if I can’t make a wedding gown from lace doilies. I can enjoy the work of those who can and believe in myself and my particular talents. Now go ahead, write what your heart tells you. What’s most important is that you do it.

Someone once said that writers are like small streams in the world. Each going a different direction but in the end we all feed the same ocean. The important thing is getting there.


Narrative Destiny

Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise