I met Joyce Harback this year when she joined the ICWF Executive team. She’s one of the writers behind the Spring WorDshop. When she’s not writing, Joyce loves to sing, hike and travel. She is a wife to a humorous man, mother to a freestyle skier and mistress to an old dog.
TKM: How did you become a writer?
Joyce Harback: My father was a prolific poet and songwriter. His example of condensing a message into poetry was a significant influence. I wrote my first poem at age 12 and when I saw it posted on the Grade Six class bulletin board, I was hooked. I wrote a great deal but it was never intended for publication. I shared some poems with a few close friends and used them occasionally in our Christmas greetings.
About two years ago, one of those friends—Susan Plett—encouraged me to “take it to the next level,” so I signed up for her poetry class in Calgary. I also joined an online critique group at Utmost Christian Writers, joined InScribe and began to go public with my poetry. That year I was offered a job as a Communications Manager and began the delightful task of writing for a living.
In April 2008, I attended The Gathering of Christian Poets in Edmonton. While Jan Wood (the new Utmost Poet Laureate) and Judith Frost (prize=winning poet) read some of their work aloud, I was “cracked wide open” as Susan would say. I silently groaned a prayer of gratitude, desire and hope that perhaps someday I could write something that would move others as I had been moved.
At that moment, my eyes were drawn to two words engraved on the table behind the speaker. It simply said, “This Do.”I’m not given much to signs, but combining this timely visual aid with everything else that transpired in and around The Gathering, it became very apparent that the Lord was confirming writing as a gift I should use and share. Of course, the entire sentence on the Communion table says “This Do in Remembrance of Me.” What better purpose could a writer have than that?
Writing started to consume more and more of my time. In order to balance my personal writing with the care of my home, family and self, I resigned my day job. The next day I opened a letter and out dropped my first cash award for an Honourable Mention in the 2008 Christian Publishers’ Poetry Prize contest. Coincidence or confirmation? You decide.
TKM: What inspires you to write?
Joyce Harback: As Ruth Bell Graham says, “It was either write or have ulcers. I chose to write.”
I’m inspired by the quirky in the every day, sitting at the children’s table in the library, driving in the city and long walks by the river. Beauty inspires. My view of the mountains, the tree branch right outside my window, the walk to the mailbox—each have produced a poem. Arguments with my son, airline delays, dashed expectations—these too merit attention.
I try to listen intently, be fully present in the moment, imagine, ask questions, research, and never be too lazy to look up a word in the dictionary. In writing I can say anything. I can choose who sees it and God already knows my thoughts, so the only one who is surprised is me. I found great freedom in Susan’s classroom admonitions: “Whatever gets you to the page” and “There’s no wrong way to do it.” I get the ideas out, capture the opening lines when they wake me up at night, freefall to simple or complex prompts. If I’m stuck, I just write about my day.
But the best work comes from gratitude during emotional pain and doubting questions where deeply rooted faith should have been long ago. Morning pages, blogging and freefall writing gives great fodder, freelancing and a day job helped pay the bills, but the best inspiration are those things I really care about. Relationships, family, disappointments and celebrations all provide memory-worthy idea starters. I let it flow and then take time afterward to hammer it into a poem, article or essay. That’s when editing and rules can help shape random thought into cohesive blessings. Editing is not inspiring.
I’ve just sold my first nonfiction article and am beginning to explore other genres. Whatever gets me to the page.
TKM: What authors do you admire and why?
Joyce Harback: C. S. Lewis for his ability to cover both fantasy and theology in the same book. Walter Wangerin Jr. is a visual word master and captivating storyteller. His nonfiction books have saved my marriage (As For Me and My House), comforted me in grief (Mourning into Dancing) and grown my faith (The Book of God: The Bible as a Novel). Elisabeth Elliot never pulls any punches yet she’s always dignified. She shares God’s truth through effective anecdotes and passionate dedication to His Word.