Interview with Carol J. Rottman, Ph. D., author of Writers in the Spirit
Interviewed for FaithWriters’ Magazine by Dian Moore
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Carol J. Rottman, Ph. D., author of Writers in the Spirit found her love of writing in her early years, and writes to find out what she is thinking. Ideas roam freely in her head and in order to make sense of them, she writes them down.
In the beginnings of her writing career, Carol discovered she could write both clearly and persuasively while keeping field notes on the families she visited during a social service project in Cleveland, Ohio, aimed at reducing infant mortality rate. Her writing commenced into securing funding and providing publicity for the project.
FWM: This is the first book I’ve read targeted directly at Christian Writers. What was your inspiration to develop this work?
CAROL: I love to meditate on scripture and on quotes from other writers. A secular book, Walking on Alligators, by Susan Shaughnessy, used quotes from writers followed by short thought pieces that inspired me in my daily writing. A friend, to whom I gave the book, challenged me to write a similar book for Christian writers. I discovered scripture texts that talked about writing, which opened the way to sharing my own experiences as a beginning writer. Those experiences have resonated with both new and experienced writers.
FWM: Your short biography states that you spend your life writing and helping others to do. Which came first—teaching or writing, and how does each complement the other?
CAROL: I have always had a teacher’s heart, although most of my teaching has been unconventional. Teaching is for me a way of sharing what I know—not as an expert but as a fellow learner. When I realized that I was called to write, I had to learn how. I read, practiced, let my work be critiqued and then taught what I was learning. There is no "one-way" or preferred method of writing—each person has to discover the formula that will work for him or her. I prefer to encourage those who have the desire and are working out their own plan. I teach in order to learn; I learn so I’ll be able to teach.
FWM: What "paying work" did you set aside in order to write fulltime?
CAROL: I’ve had three major careers: a teacher of young children, the greater part of which was with visually impaired and multi-handicapped infants and preschoolers; manager of an inner-city project to reduce infant mortality; and, a technical writer, mainly crafting proposals for non-profit organizations to secure money for social service projects. The final career in my own business offered a flexible schedule that allowed me to experiment in other types of writing.
FWM: How did you reach the decision to pursue your passion for writing, a desire put there by our Creator?
CAROL: Indirectly, my youngest daughter pushed me—not necessarily to write but to find greater satisfaction in my work life. She knew I was self-motivated and creative, qualities that many bosses do not appreciate. I finished schooling in my mid-forties and assumed that the jobs I could qualify for with a Ph.D would offer the freedom I craved. I worked very hard, day and night (almost to a fault) but it was often prescribed, not creative, work. I believe God has given me a restless spirit so I will always look to him for guidance. I believe that service is the greatest part of thankfulness for God’s gifts to me. Writing has offered me an outlet for service through which I can continue to live a live of gratitude.
FWM: Writers in the Spirit is organized differently than most writing books. Though each chapter leaves us with tips and advice, along with a writing challenge, this book also addresses the whole writer as it challenges us to recognize and embrace both the spiritual and physical aspects of our life and translate those aspects into words. How did you develop this approach, and is it one you use in your teaching?
CAROL: I am glad that you noticed the unusual approach of this book. As a former technical writer, my biggest temptation was to create a structure for the book and then fill in the "lessons." However, the short meditations came about through meditating on a scripture and being led to write about aspects of the writing life. Although the book was never intended to be a step-by-step text in writing, the publisher wanted some practical advice to accompany the "inspirational" meditations. Later an editor, with the same impulse for structure, encouraged me to divide the chapters by distinct practical topics. I resisted and stayed with an eclectic approach, which I feel is more representative of most writers lives. I suppose one would call it an organic approach. It came out in snatches of insight, reminiscent of much of memoir writing.
FWM: If you could go back and change anything in Writers in the Spirit what would it be and why?
CAROL: I am pleased with the finished product, my original writing and suggested additions that make the book complete. The notes and bibliography are my guide to helpful books about writing and the spirit-filled life. In the second printing I would like to add a table of chapter contents, so it will be easier to find the parts that a reader remembers and to which they would like to refer. I will continue to think and write about the active presence of the Spirit in the life of writers who are Christians.
FWM: I know you recently were in Africa working with AIDS victims. Can you share how you became involved in this type of work and what you do during a mission trip, and how that service impacts your writing?
CAROL: My husband and I have just returned from our fourth trip to Kenya and Uganda, Africa. Each of us was looking for meaningful areas of service after giving up our paid work. I believed our service should flow from our experience and expertise and when friends shared their work in Africa, we began to visualize our place and purpose there. My husband, Fritz, was a professor and researcher and although he had never worked directly on AIDS he was connected to efforts in International Health and could capitalize on those contacts.
In addition, our denomination has effective development efforts all around the world in the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC). He has worked to connect researchers and clinicians with aid workers, who understand the indigenous people and can insure that any intervention work (especially outside of the big cities) will be effective and lasting. I play a background role: I conduct grant writing workshops for Africans who are ministry partners with the CRWRC so they can successfully apply for funds to do their vital work in food security, orphan care, micro-business and AIDS education. In February 2005, I completed the fifth such workshop and continue to offer assistance to the partners by email.
FWM: What are you working on now?
CAROL: My son and I are working on a book about life with spinal cord injury, writing about certain timeframes from his perspective and my own. I am refining a study guide I wrote entitled, Journaling for Christians. In addition, as a city girl, I am constantly amazed by nature. Meditations and personal essays seem to flow "naturally" from my life in a rural setting in Michigan.
FWM: What advice would you give to both a beginning and advanced writer?
CAROL: Keep writing. Trust your instincts and find your voice. I have no blanket advice; I am no writing guru. Any advice I have given in my book, I must also apply to myself. Writing is a life-long calling. Listen for God’s voice, urging you onward.
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