Without a Vision the People Perish

Mrs Jones was a phenomenal teacher and community organiser. She was particularly active in her local church where she had rejuvenated the Sunday school, the classrooms of which were packed to the rafters with dedicated teachers and excited and engaged children. For decades the Sunday school had been the talk of the town and the church had thrived with the young families that had been drawn through its doors.

But Mrs Jones’ health started to deteriorate, and she eventually moved into a nursing home. She no longer attended church, much less was able to lead the Sunday school. A succession of people tried to follow in her footsteps, all burning out and giving up. The church struggled to find teachers for all the classes, and the children became bored and disengaged.

The problem was that they were holding on to a golden calf. The vision for the Sunday school had been given to Mrs Jones, not the succession of people who followed her. If we attach ourselves to the visions from the past, we miss the opportunities that are right in front of us in the present.

Over the years, I have had a number of opportunities to lead and help facilitate communities and projects, both sacred and secular. During that time I have learned much about what it means to lead, how to build community, how to raise up new leaders, and how to help people to thrive. The first, single, and probably most important thing I have learned, is that the project is the people and the vision emerges from those who are in front of us, right here, and right now. Like manna from heaven, with every new person who comes through the door comes new possibilities, new ideas, new gifts, and a new vision. All we need to do is make space for that vision to be nurtured and to grow and then we see things happen that are beyond our wildest dreams.

Sure you need structure, but that structure needs to be simple, modular and malleable. Components need to be able to be easily added to or put to one side to accommodate the ebb and flow of people through the group. Nothing need become like Mrs Jones’ golden calf. There will always be infinitely more to do than we could ever get done, so why not do the things which we’re good at and excited about in the here and now?

In November 2017 I was asked to lead the England Project on WikiTree. WikiTree, like its name suggests, is a genealogical community where volunteers collaborate on a global family tree with one profile per person who has ever lived. When I took on leadership of the England Project it was a quiet affair. There was a list of 400 names on a static free space page. Some of the people on the list were no longer alive, many were no longer on WikiTree. Yet I had a vision. I had a dream of a virtual community of hundreds of members who would gather together to achieve the single, simple goal of increasing the quality and quantity of English profiles on WikiTree. But where to start? It’s simple. It begins with talking to people. It begins with communication.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how to gather people together and get them talking to each other.

Speed & Endurance

How your DNA can change the way you write

I’m something of an armchair genealogist. In the digital age it’s now possible to access many records about our ancestors from the comfort of our own homes, and with the advent of Genetic Genealogy we can even find out our DNA by spitting in a tube and popping a parcel in the post.

One of the things which I have discovered as a result of my research is that I am built for speed and not endurance. This isn’t really news to me. I ran the 100 metres in school in 12.85 seconds. I also practically threw up during long distance running on frosty winter days as my chest tightened and my legs turned to jelly.

But how does this apply to my writing? Am I condemned to the realms of poetry or short-story writing? Should I just stick to blogging? That would be fine if my passion lay in poetry and short-stories, or I was content to do nothing but blog, but there are countless stories inside of me, itching to get out, that would fit perfectly into the length of a novel.

The answer, as I have discovered, is to move multiple counters forwards in short, sharp bursts, rather than sit and do one thing for a prolonged length of time. Today, for example, I’m writing two blog posts of approximately 600 words each, as well as 600 words of two novels I’m working on, and 600 more on an autobiographical work. That’s a total of 3k words in a day, which is hugely productive. I know I can achieve this relatively easily because I’ve broken it down into bite-sized chunks. Had I told myself that I would write a solid 3k words at the beginning of the day, the likelihood is my brain would have melted down in apoplexy and it would have felt like people were sticking a multitude of long, sharp needles in my head.

I also try to change it up throughout the day to keep my brain stimulated. For example, I might spend the first block of time writing a blog, then do some research, then listen to some music or watch a podcast, then write some of one of my novels. I will vary what I work on throughout the day so my brain never gets bored. The other key thing for me is to get plenty of fresh air an exercise, especially during the long, dark, winters, and, importantly, to cuddle with my cat, Henry.

Of course none of us are the same. I suspect that our writing styles are as unique as our DNA. The important thing is to find what works best for you. If you are a marathon runner at heart then you can probably sit down for longer periods, but may not write as fast. If you are a sprinter, you might want to try to write less words at a time or even set a stop watch to write in bursts. It’s all the same in the end, but unlocking the key to your own writing DNA is what will bring you the greatest success in the end.

Are you build for writing speed or endurance? What are the secrets to your writing success? I’d love to hear from you. Do drop me a line. Liv.