Archive for the 'Novel development' Category

Staycation

Resting: my sketch of our former Redbone, Bear,  asleep

Resting: my sketch of our former Redbone, Bear, asleep

My last post was titled in part,  “Take a Day Off…”

When I wrote it I didn’t realize I was actually going to continue to do it, but that’s what’s happened. Even though I mentioned that I thought the Lord was giving me a vacation — seeing as I’d turned the whole matter of me trying to write and failing, failing, failing, over to Him, and it seemed He was doing nothing, thus it must be a vacation — I guess I didn’t think it would continue to go on. After all, the usual times for a vacation are a week, maybe two. Not a month…

Surely, I thought even as I wrote that last post, I’d been “vacating” long enough  and it was time to get back to work.

Apparently not.  Because I still haven’t been able to get myself to work. I’ve continued to avoid the office and have spent a lot of time reading news and comment stuff on the internet, watching videos on making cards, actually making cards… and just doing the general things around the house and yard that are always there, and could easily take up all my time if I let them.

Internally, however, I continued to fight the whole vacation concept. Or at least to feel guilty about it, as I repeatedly questioned whether I was correctly applying what I’d been learning in Bible class. Maybe I was actually just deluding myself, thinking I could just throw everything out the window like this and and let God do it all. Wasn’t that a bit flakey? After all, as every “Professional writer” knows, if you want to write you must go into the office and force yourself to write. It takes self-discipline, and you must train yourself to do that.  It’s absurd to just “trust the Lord.”

I now think that is the voice of my flesh, which I’ve recently become more and more able to identify. More on this later, but for now though, the fact is, I had already done the “just use self-discipline” thing and it led nowhere.  The only thing left was that I trust the Lord to return the motivation to write, as well as the ideas and the direction the story is to take. Even though He’s taking MUCH longer than I think He should be taking.

Which, of course, means I have to trust Him even more to move me and, as I outlined above, it is very difficult for me to do that. I don’t want to rely on Him. I want to take control and get it done myself.  I have a plan, a timetable that I think is reasonable, and He’s not following it!

Well, yesterday I was doing a search on the Internet for “effects of too many things to do.”  (a subject some friends and I were discussing on Sunday). I didn’t find much on that, but in the course of the search, I did stumble upon an article called, “Recovering from Writer’s Burnout: Steps to Happier Writing.”

Here’s the first paragraph:

Many writers (and other creative people) hit that point eventually: they burn out. They feel tired. They can’t feel any interest in their work, and doing that work becomes harder and harder. “

That was and still is me. Feeling very tired. No interest in the work. I’ve mentioned it before. I kind of like what I’ve done so far, but I can’t think of the right place to go from here, and for some time now it’s all seemed dead. I don’t want to think about it.  When I try, I just confuse myself. Should it be this or that? I can’t decide. If I force the decision I can’t write… Or flip back to the alternative the next day when everything after the bit I’ve written goes blank.

I thought I’d already gone through the whole burnout thing. I thought I’d given myself a break. After all, it’s been six years since I finished The Enclave. Of course, that led right into the caregiving for my mother. And then dealing with her estate and all kinds of family changes — my son leaving home, settling in another state, and getting married, the arrival of our granddaughter… in addition to my own health issues …

All of those things, even the happy events, still intruded into the flow of my writing, sometimes for weeks at a time.  Does that sort of thing contribute to burnout as well? I”m not sure, but I can say from experience that after a while it gets frustrating… I couldn’t remember what I’d decided the last time I’d worked with the material, stuff that had seemed good before the interruption no longer seemed so good… I lost a sense of where I was going exactly…

The article continued in a second paragraph:

“I started to hit the burnout point last year with my freelance writing. Unfortunately, I missed some of the signs and so I continued taking contracts. Eventually I became almost completely burned out — unable to take interest in all but the lightest, most relaxing writing. That’s a terrible place to go if writing is what you’ve wanted to do all of your life.”

Not just wanted to do, but what you’ve actually done. I’ve been writing fiction for over forty years and the drive was always there. Now suddenly, it wasn’t. And since throughout most of that time I believed it was the Lord who was supplying the drive, the desire, the ideas, the guidance… then it must be that for some reason He was withholding it now, and not just something about me. In other words, I don’t think it’s actual “burn out” so much as me stressing out because God hasn’t come through in my time, and so I keep trying to get back in the game when it’s pretty clear He’s been telling me I need to wait.

The biggest reason I can think of for Him to remove the drive, desire and ideas, is to remind me that it really is Him doing it, and not me. Secondary reasons include forcing me to trust Him for all of it and teaching me to put aside the internal shrieking of my control freak sin nature in the process. He’s also making me take a deeper look at ways I’ve always looked at life and self and my work and finding they are not really in line with His ways… Plus, there’s been a huge upheaval and change of direction in how I’m coming to understand the spiritual life overall. And how can one write Christian allegory/analogies if one’s whole perspective on the Christian life is changing?

One of my friends reminded me of the blessedness of winter concept, when the trees are stripped of their leaves and stand bare and gray, seemingly dead. But inside God is doing a work and before long the new life of spring appears…  That He does the same with us.

I know she’s right, and  I think that is what’s happening to me. And part of that includes the fact that God really does want me to have a longer vacation than I think is appropriate.

Because in the above mentioned article, the very first suggestion of what to do for the “burned out” state is “Take a Vacation.”  🙂

Here’s what she has to say:

“There’s one thing that, above all, you should try to do for yourself when you start to burn out. If you can afford to, take a vacation. If you’re still finishing off a contract then take a vacation as soon as it’s over. Be lazy. Sit around the house and read thrillers, mysteries, or something equally pointless and fun. Watch movies. Take lots of walks in the sunshine. Relax. You need to be able to approach the rest of all this [ie, her other suggestions] feeling rested if at all possible.”

So, that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing, even if by default. I haven’t, however, yet allowed myself to read novels, thinking that would be too great a “time consumer”. But having read this, I decided that maybe I really should treat my vacation as a real vacation, so yesterday, I picked up one of the recent Brad Thor novels sitting on my shelf, Full Black, and am now halfway through it! 😀

Update:  I wrote this post in the afternoon, and barely got it done before time for live Bible Class from Lighthouse Bible Church in Florida where Pastor John got up and started talking this very thing!  That we keep thinking there’s something good about us that’s going to get the job done (be more loving, be more self-disciplined) when that’s part of the old self that was crucified on the Cross!  The words and phrases he used were almost direct answers to things I’d thought and wondered about in the course of not just writing the above post, but over many days. It was one of those times when I knew that God was talking directly to me, and reinforcing my conclusion.

Yes, the writing is to come from Him. No, I do not need to try to be “more self-disciplined.” Yes, it is right to wait for Him to lead, and I do know what that feels like. This very post, for example, I believe was the result of His leading and guiding and moving,  because until I started writing it, I wasn’t planning on writing anything at all. I don’t even really know why I accessed my blog in the first place, and initially all I did was check out some of the other blogs I follow. Then suddenly I found myself opening the new post window and the words were flowing.

Here’s a link to the message in case you’re interested. I thought it was pretty phenomenal even aside from the immediate personal connections:

The Activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Church Age believers, part 51

Never Easy

Leaf portrait small

It’s been awhile since I’ve said anything about my progress or lack thereof on Sky.

That’s because, in part, writing all those posts about rebound took up a lot of words and mental energy.

It’s also because after a couple weeks of unrelenting distractions and interruptions, when I finally got back to it, the magic had once again left and I had no idea what I was doing.

I had brought things to a point at the end of Chapter 7, but couldn’t quite finish it off. Too many questions… too many options. Too many, “whys”. As in, if A does that, what will B do in response? If I don’t want A to be figured out by B now, how can I have events progress as I have them? B would have to be a nincompoop not to figure everything out, and he’s not supposed to be a nincompoop.

[Where in the world did that word come from? Nincompoop??]

Somehow those questions led to a re-evaluation of the surface of the world I am trying to build, which led to a re-evaluation of the government, this after an earlier re evaluation wherein I decided to change my world set up from a single empire situation to multiple nations…

Then an interruption would come in and several days would pass before I could get back to it, during which time I would have forgotten what I had been thinking about… Returning to the work was almost like returning to square one and the whole project would seem so vast and overwhelming I’d spend at least the first day back doing my best to run away from it.

But today I got back to it and in the course of writing one of those nonstops I’m so wont to write, I remembered this:

From my ruminations over today’s work:

“It occurs to me that I haven’t really thought all this out and this kind of thing, the ideas, the modification, the sudden realization of inconsistencies, the  major readjustments, the refinement – or the dumping as unworkable and starting over…  it’s all part of the hard work of building a world for a novel. So… nothing’s wrong here. It’s part of the process and the process is long, hard, confusing, frustrating, exciting, gratifying, rewarding, never easy. Nor simple. Nor fast.”

It’s been like this before. Many times. I’d forgotten that. Forgotten that I just have to keep plugging along, and be patient, It will come, in time.

Second Real Day Back

events stack

Well, finally, after all the catch-up I played last week after our trip, I’ve gotten back to work. It was a productive day!

When I started, though,  as I looked at the three hundred or so  2″ x 3″  cards scattering my desk, I felt quite overwhelmed. Over time I’d used them to note down ideas as they had occurred to me — ideas about character, about incidents or events that might happen, about a character’s intentions or desires or reactions… each to its own card, but the cards all in a jumble. All waiting to be put into some kind of coherent plotline.

Augh! How was I going to do this? It was all swirling around —  random events and occurences that seemed to have no relation to one another. I needed, so I thought, to form some kind of plot line, but I felt lost in a fog of indecision.

So I went to the Lord, which I’m doing a lot more now than I have in the past — about almost everything.

“What should I do?” I asked Him, wanting to run away from it all yet again…

Well, He drew my attention to the fact that I have three placemats on my desk and enough space for another, though I don’t have one.  That’s more or less 4 sections. I could at least divide up the stack into general sections…

So I took up my stack of “event” cards (above)

And began to go through them one by one… placing some of them on the “beginning” placemat, some on the “ending” space and  just parceling out the rest of them as seemed fit, more or less where I thought they would fit in the story. Some events were predicated on others, some had to come after others… Sometimes I had two cards with different options for the same event, mutually exclusive. Sometimes I had two cards with slightly different takes on the event, or different details or trappings for it.  I just laid them all down, some in rows, some on top of other cards, some bridging two rows. Some of them I even put between the placemats when I wasn’t sure.

It was kinda fun, because I didn’t have to decide, just generally divide up the cards. Some of them I even threw away. And it was something of a comfort to find that for several of the events I’d envisioned, I’d made two, three even four cards with the same event on it.

Once I had them all parcelled out, I divided them into four piles, which I gathered together in a rough approximation of the order they’d been placed on the table.

The operative word here is “rough.”  I was not demanding that I be precise and orderly, it was just to be a general dividing of the concepts.

parts 2 - 4 small

Above you can see parts 2 -4 all gathered up and secured with rubber bands.

Where is part 1?  Well, once I’d gotten all four of my stacks divided, I took up Part one and began to lay out those cards in terms of cause and effect, order, etc.:

cards part 1

And having done that I have the beginnings of a line of events to work with. Nothing finished by any means but a start. There are lots of holes, and some of them are just ideas that need fleshing out. Some — those either/or cards — require a decision to be made one way or the other.

But that’s all tomorrow’s work. Oh, and I’m still loving my Freedom program, which I blogged about awhile back. That and turning off the phones, continues to give me what feels like a safehaven in which to relax and focus on the work… Plus something about the suspension of being available for contact motivates me to use the time to advantage rather than simply dink around.

Eating an Elephant

eat an elephant

I’m sure most of you know the old adage, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. ” Well, my next step in my writing rehab program, as outlined in my Overcoming Writing Blocks book, was just that.

Having dealt with the distractions in my environment, I moved on last week to the writing project itself.  First up was to break the task into “bite-sized units.”  For a novel,  that would be chapters or possibly “Parts,” though so far I have not been thinking of this book in  terms of “Parts.” For now I took the average of the number of chapters in each of my six books — 42 — as the number of chapters in Sky.

I’ve already written six of them, which  leaves 36. At a rate of 2 chapters per 3 weeks,  with time out here and there for holidays and trips, I would be done with a first draft around May 1 of next year.

Whether that has any tie to reality or not, I have no idea. But it’s a start.

Next was to come up with a “Purpose Statement.” For fiction writing that would be one’s main story question for the tale. In working through developing this,  many things came to light about the world I’m building and this plus the next step “research reading and taking notes” (which I take to also include work in developing the parameters of one’s make-believe world) sent me off for most of last week gathering all my scattered notes and ideas into folders with the intention of going through the collected material and deciding what I want to keep and what I want to toss.

In the process of all this I realized that I am no longer interested in the linear set-up of a single empire beneath my fictional planet’s surface with the heavenly city floating above as I had originally envisioned. There have to be various nations to carry out what I’m wanting to do,  and in fact in the chapters I’ve already written there are already at least two other national entities mentioned. So I see that this concept was there all along, despite my initial plans.

I’ve been taking all my note cards and entering the notes on them into one of my many world building documents, or if I’ve decided not to use that material, simply throwing it away. It’s been very productive work. Not when it comes to chapters written, but as regards the fundamental shift the story is now taking. Once an optimum number of the world building questions have been answered, I’ll be able to turn my attention to the plot…

The fact that I’m making this fairly major change, in addition to much new material I’ve gathered from miscellaneous reading, news events and my own increasing understanding of some of the spiritual issues I was wanting to deal with, I’m beginning to see there might have been a reason for my stall over the last few months… years? … that goes beyond mere burn out, life distractions, or lack of self-discipline…

The Winds Have Changed

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted regularly. In fact, except for last Friday’s post, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted at all. So much for all that Platform stuff from last summer about posting regularly and often…

I don’t know what happened. My desire to write just dribbled away… Other things claimed my time and attention. When I considered the book, the blog, even email, I was blank and utterly without motivation. First time in my life that I’ve felt like that.

Or so I thought.

Of course I’ve prayed about it. Repeatedly. What is wrong with me, Lord? Has the fire gone out? Am I not getting enough sleep, or just being undisciplined? Should I relax and trust You to move me when it’s time? Or is there something more I can do?

It’s been a very strange two and half months. No, it’s been longer than that, especially when I take my progress on Sky into account… which, until last week, was not much progress at all.

So, for a time now, I’ve been reading stuff — books, blogs, news — and making cards, and cleaning the house and working on long-put-off projects and dealing with Stuff… can’t clearly remember all of it. Church stuff, taxes, ailing relatives, shingles, stuff going wrong, breaking, getting lost… a leak in the water line from the main to the house…  not getting enough sleep, drinking too much caffeine (which means any caffeine at all), beset by the terrible distractibility I’ve written about in previous posts…

But then, at the beginning of May something happened.  I’d just finished and sent off the guest post I wrote for Seriously Write and “for some reason” says my journal entry, “I picked up Overcoming Writing Blocks.”

blocks

It’s on the shelf above my desk. I’ve had it for 30 years. I’ve read it and reread it and read it again. I’ve underlined passage after passage, starred portions in the margins… even blogged about here  and several other places…  In the past few months, while wondering if I was blocked I’d look at it on its shelf and think it would be no help. After all, I’d read it. Repeatedly. I already knew everything that was in it…

But on the first of May, for some reason I picked it up again, and was… SIGH… again “amazed to find,” in the section on Preparing to Write,  not only a description of what I’ve been enduring, but also some new and slightly different insights I’d not considered before.

One of the new and slightly different insights was this:

This is the training and gestation stage of any writing task. You know what you have to do and you must prepare yourself properly for it…you need to develop basic fitness habits that will get you in shape for prose composition.”

That’s true, I thought. If you just go out and try to start a daily running regimen, it’s not going to work. You have to work up to it, you develop some basic habits…

The precise description of what I’ve been going through recently, is exactly what I’ve gone through in the past, repeatedly, and you’d think that I’d remember that but for some reason… this time it all seemed New and Different and Far Harder and More Hopeless than ever before.

I believe the Bible when it says we have sick heads and deceitful hearts… How can I be so thick-headed?

Well, here’s the recap of the description of blocking at the preparing to write stage:

  • restless, anxious procrastination
  • can think of 1000 things you’d rather do
  • when you finally force yourself to sit down — dozens of extraneous but apparently urgent thoughts bubble up
  • when finally do get yourself to concentrate, all you get is dull blankness. There’s no excitement, no inspiration about the project. It leaves a flat, sour taste in your mouth.

YES! YES! YES! That is exactly how I felt! EXACTLY!

I thought this was all new. That I’d never experienced it before. At least “not like this”. Ha!  It was a great comfort to know it was not new, that I had experienced it and though I thought I already knew what was in this book and all the advice it had to give, maybe I should give it another look…

At least the Preparing to Write section, anyway. First up was”Managing your Environment.”  But I’ll save that for tomorrow.

I Seem to be Wordless

work desk

I really don’t know why I haven’t been posting much lately. Or maybe I should say, I really don’t know why I can’t seem to think of anything to post. No, that’s not it either. I can think of things to post, but then I don’t feel like writing them down, so nothing happens.

I haven’t been keeping up with email, nor even doing much in my journal.

I have, however, been fairly regular with working on Sky. Six days last week. For at least three hours a day and often more. It’s been good, because I’m actually making some progress. The biggest thing that happened was that I realized that allowing the fact that I felt dead and empty inside with respect to the work to stop me was a mistake. Yes, it was certainly true that every time I thought about the chapter, or even the book in general, I drew a complete blank. I was so indifferent I began to wonder if I was barking up the wrong tree.

So I let myself stop trying for a bit and read my HUGE Tom Clancy novel, which I believe I mentioned. Then I read another novel, a Christmas present from Bethany House. I’m currently finishing up a third, this one a continuation of the Roman-based mystery series I started over a year ago. Oh and in the middle of that I read, um, about half of The Shadow Within, just to remind myself that hey, I really can write.

That was when I remembered all the days I spent being just as blank and helpless and dismayed as I was with Sky. Yes, days. In fact, it was typically about three full days of hanging around, lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling, walking laps in my house or back yard, trying to come up with an idea, and being completely, hopelessly, helplessly BLANK.

And then after several days, something would come. It wasn’t something logicked out, or figured out or put together. It would just be there. And I’d write it down.

So recalling that, I’ve gone back to putting in the time. Not running off to do something else when I find myself blank. But just sitting or lying around exploring the blankness.

And it’s been working. I was working my way through what I was afraid was a boring and pointless party scene when suddenly a new character showed up, one related to an existing character who wasn’t even supposed to be in town… and a scene happened. I even like it!

And now, in describing that, I’ve actually come up with something to post.

How about that? (Well, this IS supposed to be a “writing diary” sort of blog…) Now I need to go get dinner started…

Green Lights and Red Lights

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In this developmental phase of writing a book (ie, the general beginning),  I find myself struggling to be at ease with the process. In thinking about the story, I want to to come up with a sequence of events and yet my mind seems to shy away from that. I start there, but sometimes, almost immediately, it turns away and gallops after other pursuits.

I catch myself, pull it back and the process repeats. I get glimmers of things, ideas, events that might happen, rising to the top of the soup that is my mind, and then drifting out of sight, no connection to anything else, no certainty that indeed these are elements and need merely be connected for me to have my story. Maybe this event or incident will happen. Or maybe that. Sometimes the two are opposites. They can’t both happen. And it seems I should be clearer on the matter, but I’m not.

That tends to distress me. To make me feel stupid, flighty, incompetent. Don’t you know your own mind? Don’t you know what you want to write about, for heaven’s sake?!

Well…no. And no.

But my pastor says there are far more red lights in life than green ones. That we spend more time waiting for the doors to open than walking through them. So it seems to be here. I am waiting. And I must be at peace with it. I must remind myself that the Lord is involved in this, that I can trust Him to lead me in developing something that will be pleasing to Him.

Addendum:  This is a piece I wrote for my own edification back in April of 2001. It remains as true today — this very day — as it was then. I’m sorry to say that six books later, I still must endure this experience. Repeatedly. It is of some comfort to know that I have gone through it before — and enough times that I actually wrote about it for future reference.


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