Archive for the 'Development' Category

Game of Hot and Cold

Some time back in one of the messages I listened to about living in your spiritual gift, Pastor Farley described his own experiences in developing a sermon. He said that when he starts a message, he’s often stone cold. The Holy Spirit plays a game with him of hot and cold.

That immediately made me think of something I learned back during the time I was writing The Light of Eidon: if you’re bored and don’t want to go forward with a certain plotline or situation, that’s very often a “COLD”.

I remember planning out an entire sequence involving a fire in Southdock, and then could not make myself write it. Just could not. Finally it dawned on me that maybe this was not the way to go. Once I did that, and began to think of other ways to proceed. Sometimes in fiction, there’s an event you only want to “have happened” not actually portray dramatically and it can be difficult to figure that out. Sometimes, you’re just, flat headed in the wrong direction altogether and the event is either one you’ll never use, or something to be saved for another place in the book, or even another book.

I think that’s what’s been happening with Sky. I’ve been trying to take the story in a direction that seemed interesting and just is not where I want to go.

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Repost: Writing is Hard

I think this will be about the last repost from four years ago, but it so expresses how I’ve been feeling as I circle around my work, dreading jumping in to wrestle with it, that I want to share it again.

It is more taken from the book Overcoming Writing Blocks by Karin Mack & Eric Skjei. I adapted the following passages to fit my situation because it pretty well describes what writing is like for me and is another reminder of why I want to check email!

“You take some notes, make a list or two, then, if you’re not too blocked, you launch into spinning out a sequence of story events. But no sooner do you have an event or two in line, than you begin to see that your first considerations weren’t quite on target. This isn’t quite the way you wanted it to be. It’s not going to work because you see some other considerations that will alter it. Suddenly you are in the middle of the quest for the best possible events and ordering of those events. Or you look ahead and see a new line of conflict appearing that could reshape the story in a better way. You see how each added event, or character, or motivation, or world situation, like a stone tossed into a still pool, sends out ripple after ripple, each merging with and altering the others.

“Precious story patterns shift, disintegrate, then reform into something quite new and different, but still composed of the same basic elements. So you realign your thinking, and your writing, and you start over. (Or, if the critical feeling gets too strong, and you begin to feel that what’s coming together in a storyline isn’t quite right enough or good enough, you falter and stop dead in your tracks.) The chase can be exhilarating or stupefying, but it’s never easy.

“Zigzagging like this from creation to criticism and back again is often extremely frustrating, especially if you magnify it by feeling guilty about not being able to put together a story line in a short order of time. Those who aren’t used to the process (and even those who are) often find themselves terribly beaten down by the feeling that they’re wandering aimlessly around, getting nowhere. A deceptively small internal voice . . . keeps wondering why you seem so ambivalent and indecisive. “Don’t you know what you think?” it whispers. “C’mon, just get it out. Stop being so indecisive! Maybe you can’t do this after all. The other two worked, but this is just too complicated, too complex. You’ve bitten off way more than you can chew!”

“This experience of constantly discovering new possibilities, alternate ways to proceed, fresh ways to restructure and recast what you’ve devised, rich as it may sound, can induce confusion, fear, and eventually, blocking of the writer’s decision-making faculties. This is especially true because there’s never enough time to thoroughly explore all the possible permutations of the work. Deadlines are nipping at the writer’s heels. She can’t afford to indulge in endless speculation and experimentation. Decisions must be made, and they must be made now. So there can arise a paralyzing conflict between the need to understand the alternatives and the equally powerful need to bring the task to an end.

“It takes energy and self-control to do all this. You have to be able to concentrate, to form your thoughts, to pick those that are central to the topic, and reject those that aren’t. You have to be able to articulate them, to name them with sufficient accuracy and lucidity that someone else will know what you’re talking about. There’s no easy way to do this.”

Indeed.

The First Draft is a Slog

People often think that professional writers just sit down and start writing something that comes out fully formed. While a few writers may do this, most do not. But even those of us who do not, can get caught up in that lie again if we’re not careful. I have been caught in it for several months now.

I think in part that’s because the experience of beginning a book is much different from that of rewriting one or finishing one. My favorite parts are rewriting and polishing. That stuff is for the most part easy. And fun, because it’s always fun to make something better. I can work fourteen hours a day on rewriting, editing, etc. And while sometimes there are those periods where I have to think about the problem, mostly the words suggest better words, the ideas, the characters themselves suggest improvements, and because you have so much of the work before you, the work itself is a partner in the effort.

In the beginning there is no “work” to partner with. I’m sure this seems obvious, but it isn’t always to me. I remember most the exhilaration of working with a draft already there, seeing how things come together, seeing what isn’t needed, what needs to be added, refined. I’ve been expecting those feelings to manifest themselves now, when that’s not at all what it’s like for me to write a first draft.

Basically, the first draft is a slog. That’s the only way to describe it. I have never been able to breeze through a first draft, just writing willy nilly, come what may. Because usually that just sends me off a cliff, where suddenly words fail me, and I have no idea where I’m going any more. Not only that, the whole direction I was moving in now bores me and I can’t bear to write another word in that direction. I did that with a draft of The Light of Eidon. Wrote 100 pages of stuff that had to be axed in entirety.

So I do it for a bit, usually very roughly, then have to go back and see what I wrote. See if I can make some sense out of it, get a direction out of it, at the very least make it coherent. That part, not surprisingly, I like better than the first part. I think there is also an aspect of memorization involved… I go over and over things and get the events, the world, the people imprinted more strongly on my mind, so that when I start the next bit, I’m not wondering if I chose A or B in the last chapter and what kind of goals and reactions would be reasonable for Character C.

Granted if I had an outline, this wouldn’t be so necessary, but I can’t write one until I’m a little further into the book. There’s the element of “what I really want to write” that plays in, as well. So, if this sounds confusing and ineffecient… it is! It’s why I don’t write a lot of books in a short period of time!

Back to Overcoming Writing Blocks

  Over four years ago, on my old blog on Blogger (Writing from the Edge), back when I was starting into The Enclave, I put up a series of posts taken from the material in the book, Overcoming Writing Blocks by Karin Mack and Eric Skjei. I’ve owned it for over 30 years and it is thoroughly marked up, passages underlined, highlighted, circled, starred… It’s no longer in print, and when I went to look on Amazon — where it’s available used for about $6 —  I found it had only one sorry review by someone who obviously did not need the book as much as I do.

I say do, because yesterday I was moved to pluck it off my shelf again and look through it. I’d say this one book has served me more than all the rest of the writing books I have combined. It reminded me of so many things I thought I already knew. Well, yeah, I did know, but as with the word of God, I wasn’t using the things that I knew. (Which is why repetition is so important!)

And today, as I went looking for those old posts mentioned above, I found one that I literally could have written yesterday, just change the names of the books involved. Sky is the “other novel” mentioned below that I began to develop after Steve rejected Black Box (now known as The Enclave) in its infancy.

Thus, I thought it might be interesting to repost it here:

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Getting Started Again

Yesterday I started out with high hopes for getting in some good work on Black Box. I had my morning chores done quickly, I didn’t have to go anywhere, I knew that I would have the whole day to devote to working on this book and I intended to use it to full advantage. After all the interruptions and delays and so forth that I’d encountered since my official beginning of the book, now, finally I was set to go.

Or so I thought. I started developing this book years ago, after I’d written Arena but before it sold — during the year and a half that Steve Laube held it, waiting for the right moment to approach the editorial board. He’d said in a seminar at Mt. Hermon that if what you want to write is “C,” but the market is at “A,” you should write “B,” that is, something that incorporates elements of the marketable A, but also the passion of your C.

So, operating on the premise that Arena might not sell, I wanted to develop a book that might be more palatable and yet also be a bridge to Arena. So I came up with Black Box — an alternate world story set in our own world, but still almost as strange as Arena. I think I worked about 10 months on it before Arena sold. After the sale, Steve wanted to know what I was working on for a follow up but when I ran a brief summary of Box by him he nixxed it in about five minutes (literally).

I figured the Lord wanted me to go in another direction so I dropped it and started developing another novel. After that I went back to Eidon and then the Legends of the Guardian-King series. A year ago January (2006) I knew I had to present something new to Bethany House and took up Box again. But this time I had no time to spare, because every day devoted to that was another day away from Return of the Guardian King. I had to take the notes I had and come up with a story synopsis that made sense and was interesting and that’s what I did. I also, at what I believe was the Lord’s nudging, added a new and unexpected element to the story.

It sold, amazingly, but I was deep into RotGK by then and didn’t give it a thought until well… this last month. March 1 I began ferreting out all my old files and notes from their various hiding places, collected them into my office and was completely overwhelmed. I have tentative plot lines, lists of possible events, index cards of notes on background issues, setting details, details of character, more possible events, research snippets, incidents or scenes, writings about where I’m going with the story, what kinds of things I might want to do… stacks and piles and folders.

Plus I have about 8 1/2 chapters written, some of which I like and some of which I don’t. And over the course of this very distracted month, every time I came in to wrestle with the alligator, I found myself wanting to read email, or staring out the window, or …

Well, here’s a quote from Overcoming Writing Blocks that describes it quite well:

“The paramount symptom of blocking at this first stage is restless, anxious procrastination. You can think of a thousand things you’d rather be doing than sitting at your desk pushing your pen, and when you do finally force yourself to sit down, dozens of extraneous but apparently urgent thoughts bubble up, as your recalcitrant mind ingeniously struggles to distract itself from the task at hand. Then, when you do finally manage to focus your attention on the job, all you get is a dull blankness, or nothing but the most obvious banal truisms. There’s no excitement, no inspiration about the whole project; it leaves a flat sour taste in your mouth.”

 I had forgotten about this. It is right on. Yesterday, when I had all those hours to really get working on the book, sometime in mid-afternoon I picked up the Robin Hobb book I’d started a couple of weeks ago (Fool’s Errand — it was lying enticingly on the dining room table) just to finish the chapter I was in the middle of… and read almost straight through until midnight (minus time to make dinner and watch 24).

Arg. Not at all part of my plan. When I woke up this morning, I refused to let myself go on the usual guilt trip, realizing instead that this was a familiar pattern. That it wasn’t just lack of self-discipline, but that something else was going on. The work I had before me was hard, and the strategies I was using to tackle it were not working. I needed more. And so… back to Overcoming Writing Blocks. Check back tomorrow for the rest of the story…”

For now, back to September 2011 where today, thanks to the help I got from OWB, I reached the end of Chapter 1.  Tomorrow I start chapter 2.

I think.

That Nameless Faculty Again

Journal Entry – 13 September Tuesday 2011

11:15am  Writing trumps the Y. I’d planned to go to the Y today, but Quigley got me up at 3:30am with diarrhea, then woke both me and Stu up around 4 by barking at something unknown outside, And then he had to go out again around 4:30. When I went out later there were three piles of runny poo so I decided to drive over to Speedway Vet Clinic to get some Fast Balance GI for him, stopped on the way back at Starbucks for an iced mocha latte and scone plus a bag of decaf whole bean Cafe Verona. When I got home, Quig wanted out again — after I gave him a dose of the Fast Balance — and did another poop. While looking for that and cleaning it up, I found a bunch of monster goathead weeds in the back corner of the yard and even more in the alley so I had to pull all those up (goatheads are evil plants; they even look evil, and grow like wildfire — I can’t even pick one of the horned seeds out of my shoe without impaling myself on it). After that, since Quigley was just standing about oddly, I pulled regular weeds while I waited to see what he’d do.

Finally I left him outside for a while (it’s finally cooling down) and decluttered my old files to make room for newer stuff that I’ve got piled here and there. I went over my 15 minute time allotment probably by two times, and by then I started to get upset. Here it is 11:25 now and I haven’t even gotten to Sky.  But agitation is not God’s thinking. It’s my flesh. So… rebound guilt, anger, frustration, power lust, self-pity…

(Oh, earlier I also retyped my routine charts, took stuff out of the morning routine and put it in the afternoon and evening routines– with less in the morning, I should be able to get to the writing quicker… Still, it took up time and suddenly it’s way later than I’d hoped to get started..

So, though I had planned on going to the Y in about an hour,  based on priorities — given all the walking I have do with Quigley, I’ve decided writing can trump going to the Y. So I won’t be going today.

I’ve also been reminded of the importance of… empty time, I guess. Dorothea Brande talked of it, as have others… I know I’ve blogged on it before, but somehow I just keep coming back to this…

“[The writer] will only know that there are times when he must, at all costs, have solitude, time to dream, to sit idle. Often he himself believes his mind is idle, empty… [but] the idleness is only surface stillness. Something is at work, but so deeply and wordlessly that it hardly gives a sign of its activity till it is ready to externalize its vision. The necessity which the artist feels to indulge himself in solitude, in rambling leisure, in long speechless periods… “

I’ve had some of this time of late and it is delicious. It feels right, it feels rich. Peace wells out of it. I find my thoughts going to the story, the world and people of Sky. Not in any purposeful way, just going there.

I always want to find fault with all this. I feel like I’m bad. The world advises you to come up with a plan, to try to control it, force it. It offers the motivation of ambition, greed, jealousy, approbation, money, success… fear. Guilt. None of that jibes with the “something” that is at work, deeply and wordlessly.

Time and again I’ve read about the empty stage, the waiting period, the artistic coma, the “nameless faculty.” I’ve even experienced it, and I believe it’s a part of the creative aspect of our souls, believer and unbeliever alike. I suppose the clearest notion for me is the old, out of vogue right brain/left brain model. The right brain is non linear. It doesn’t communicate in words and lines of logic, but images, sounds, feelings, scenes. It’s holistic. It’s mysterious because much of our existence is governed by left brain things — the logic, lists, categories, plans, execution of plans, problem solving (though of course right brain activity often figures strongly in the latter…) All those things involve activity, doing, accomplishing, solving, actively working. Not just sitting idly. Waiting.

We live in an impatient culture. No one wants to wait. Often — maybe too often– we don’t have to wait. We don’t want to take the time to rest. And, as my husband said recently, “no one wants to pay people to rest on the job,” anyway.  Even if it would make them more productive in the same amount of time.

And yet, the prime element of the Christian way of life IS rest. We’re to fear nothing but not entering His rest.

We don’t understand how the creative faculty works, it just does, often quite independent of our efforts. This is for believers and unbelievers, a part of our brains, that we don’t understand, where processes we can’t follow or explain are taking place. All people have it, some more than others. One minute we’re blank, the next the entire scene unfolds before us and nothing we “did” caused it to happen.

Some Christian books on writing attribute that to the Holy Spirit. Yet it happens with unbelievers, as well as believers, so it can’t be the Spirit, because He doesn’t abide in unbelievers. Which means it’s something about us as humans in general.  A subterranean process we don’t understand, maybe a collating and sifting and ordering of elements beneath our conscious mind, something that reminds us of how much we don’t know even about our own selves, but common to all.

But while I don’t believe the process itself is the work of the Holy Spirit, I do believe He can guide it when it comes to believers. When we have put off the old man and are allowing Him control of our souls, He can guide the elements of that process, unbeknownst to us. Whatever of God’s Word we have learned and understood and believed, and especially that we’ve applied to our lives, He can use in shaping a story… and not in immediate perfection, for the most part, because His purposes are far larger than the generation of the story itself.

No, it’s a slow process, just like spiritual growth is. He could easily arrange it all in an instant and dump it into my head. So why doesn’t He? Perhaps because He wants me to learn to wait. To trust. To stop trying to take control and instead, start trying to listen. To accept. To be at peace.

To rest.

To know HE is the one who’s guiding me, who has the plan, not me. And my only part is to relax and trust Him to do the work, to show me the way I should go. As He’s promised to do.

But there’s more even than that. Because as I’ve written this, my mind has churned on… it’s not just that it takes a long time, it’s that the initial forays into the work are so messy. Wrong turns, ideas with big gaps in them, initial conceptions that change radically as the work develops… why all that messiness?

That’s like spiritual growth too, but more than that. If I relax and trust him and wait, the slow unfolding and all the “wrong” turns can become a wonderful journey. There is something amazing and exciting and just plan fun about having worked with some material for a time, have it seem dead and lifeless and going nowhere no matter what you try to do with it and then, one day, it all comes together. That is awesome!  To not see for weeks or months or even years and then suddenly, “Whoa! So that’s what’s going on here!”

I think it’s a tiny reflection of what it’s going to be like when we reach heaven, where so many things will suddenly come clear. If I just sat down and it all came running out like water, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun and satisfying and edifying in terms of manifesting God’s sufficiency and faithfulness and the value of trust…

So, the reason it takes so long and is so messy and requires struggle is because it’s better that way. More of a blessing that way!

Do the Next Thing

“Waiting is the rule, not the exception. When the door is closed and the stage is empty…we’re to wait resting. In patience. Patience is the ability to (sit back and) wait for an expected outcome without experiencing tension, anxiety or frustration.”

I have been avoiding work  for the last hour and a half or so (I ate lunch and watched rain, so it wasn’t all idleness) because I’ve been afraid. Afraid that the summary I wrote yesterday will turn out to be much worse than I think it is, that I won’t know how to fix it and have to start over. Also, afraid because I don’t know what I’m going to do besides read through the summary. I think of the book and an avalanche of disconnected thoughts and ideas sweeps over me. I have no idea how to make order of it all, no idea how to take a small bite, no plan, no goal, nothing…So I dither and stall and procrastinate.

And then I think the Holy Spirit brought two things to mind (since I asked for help) 1) that I can take the “sit back” part out of the above quote and just think, “Patience is the ability to wait for an expected outcome without experiencing tension, anxiety or frustration.” It doesn’t mean I sit back and do nothing, necessarily. Elizabeth Elliot noted that “God’s guidance comes most often when men are doing what they normally are supposed to do. David was taking care of the sheep, Samuel serving in the temple when God called them. ‘Do the next thing’ is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever had. It works in any kind of situation and is especially helpful when we don’t know what to do. What if we don’t even know what the next thing is? We can find something. Some duty that lies on our doorstep. The rule is DO IT. The doing of that next thing may open our eyes to the next.”

So right now, what is my next thing? Well, read that dratted summary, I guess. And do it without tension, anxiety or frustration, knowing that God will do it. He will guide me, tell me which way to go and what to do next. I have only to ask…

——

[Note: I wrote the above last Monday, early afternoon. But then the Lord showed me what I needed to do, and I ended up pulling most of my summary/synopsis together, all but the last two paragraphs. By the time I was done, I was too tired to even think about a blog post. In fact, I’d forgotten I’d even written one. Then  yesterday I came across that Global Warming article and felt that a post on it needed to go up in a timely manner. Then I found this “Do it Next” post… and as I’ve continued to focus on the principles in it, it seemed a good one to put up, even if it was “out of order.”

The synopsis is now done and sent in to Bethany House. I await their response.]

Been Here Before

Well, for three days now I have actually spent several hours every day working on Sky. On Friday I thought I might have a one-page synopsis written by Monday. On Saturday I rewrote what I’d come up with on Friday and thought it was moving along. Until the end of the day as I was reading over my five paragraphs and realized that the first four were all backstory, and I hadn’t even gotten to the actual events of the story.

So today I didn’t know what to do. What I’ve written does flow. But the actual events of the story need to begin in paragraph one, not five, and I can’t figure out how to do that and still have it all make sense.

I did get out some of my old writing notes, particular passages I’ve culled from the book Overcoming Writing Blocks, and hey! It’s familiar stuff. I’ve been here countless times before. How is it I can so easily forget that the blank mindedness, the flitting from thing to thing, the inability to concentrate, the feeling of being overwhelmed by all the possibilities, all the notes and folders and stacks of papers with their seemingly unrelated ideas… how can I so easily forget that it was exactly like this in every book I’ve ever written?

Well, one of the things those passages mention is the importance of time. After wrestling with the material a bit, you give it a rest and come back refreshed the next day, which is what I think I’ll do.


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