Archive for the 'Writing' Category



A New Week, A New Month, A New Beginning

It seems that mostly in life changes don’t get made as clearly and dramatically as they do in dramas or books. Real life — people — are messier than portrayals of them. They make moves in the right direction, then back away, or veer off, then come back, start again, only to get sidetracked once more.

Especially for those who wish to go forward in the course and plan God’s designed for them. Because we have an enemy. I have a quote on my bulletin board about that — about Satan knowing how to attack mind, body and emotions; about his intent being to stop us from going forward in God’s plan for our lives.

So last week, as I was trying yet again to be regular with writing time, and things kept coming up — holidays, losing things, having things break or go wrong — and somehow I wasn’t getting in nearly as much time on the book as I’d hoped. (It didn’t help that I’m still blank headed about it for the most part.) And that quote kept coming to mind.

I wondered, though, that if it was happening now, might that not have been what was happening all along?”  I don’t think so… but  I’m still not entirely sure. I do believe there was a time I was supposed to be resting, and gradually God’s brought me now to a different place. A different “season.”

Because on that same day a few hours after I had those thoughts I tuned in for live Bible Class from Florida (Thursday, May 31) and everything became clear.

Pastor Farley’s language was so precise to my situation that there is no longer any doubt.  He’s been teaching about our race as Christians and the challenge we have to finish, as Paul did in 2 Timothy.  It’s a race or a course that involves us being conformed to the image of Christ as we’re traveling along it, our thinking more and more being aligned with His thinking. The challenge is to stay faithful to the Word of God, not only to constantly learning and retaining it, but obeying it.

The problem is, we have an enemy, one that, as Pastor Farley said, “will do anything to get us off that road to spiritual maturity. ANYthing!”

In the past I’ve taken that to mean  primarily being faithful to daily Bible class rather than the writing. But the fact is God has given me this gift to write and a contract still to fulfill. He has called me to write this book.

In the last few weeks our lessons have been about the importance of being focused on our calling (or spiritual gift, the unique way each of us has been given to serve the Body of Christ), to step out in that area, to make it a priority.  For many years I’ve complicated the issue by whining about my uncertaintly as to whether writing was really a spiritual gift. After all, “writing novels” is not on any of the lists in the Bible. I’ve never heard anyone teach that it is, except maybe for other writers at conferences… but they’re not pastors and anyway…

I doubted.

Well. I know now, without a doubt that it IS a part of my gift (which is exhortation) — and so I have no excuse. Can’t whine any more. No, it’s not like a lot of other peoples’ gifts, but so what? There are varieties of gifts, varieties within any particular category of gift, varieties of ministries with each gift and varieties of results.

So to drag my feet and let myself be distracted is basically  disobeying the calling of God on my life. If He’s called me to do this and I go do somehing else to the point that when I get around to the book I’ve run out of time and/or energy… then that’s not taking my calling seriously.

Pastor Farley gave an example, which I’m going to personalize:  You’re supposed to be heading north on I-10 to Phoenix, but it’s dark and boring, and you can’t see where you’re going and you see some lights off to the east.  That looks more fun, more interesting, so you take an exit. To cater to your frivolous desires of the moment.

Reading email, blogs, messing with cards, reading a magazine, sying yes to other things because I think it doesn’t matter, or it won’t take that much time are frivolous desires if they are intruding on my time to write.

Pastor Farley said,

“[The kingdom of darkness] will see where we’re focused to resist and won’t use that, but something else. Something we’re not ready for. Things that look good, things the world tells you are good — your kid’s seventh sport, your job, all kinds of things. [Your house?] But if ANYTHING is taking you away from the Plan of God, it is WRONG.

For Abraham it was trying to keep his son alive [When God told him to take Isaac up to Mt. Moriah and sacrifice him].  So it can be anything that creeps into your life and takes you away from the course the Lord has you on.”

God the Holy Spirit used those words to open everything up. I used to be like this. I was pretty good at turning stuff away, turning a blind eye, keeping my focus on my work. I understood that if you didn’t do it every day, each succeeding day it would be harder to get around to it. But I lost touch with that.

And now it’s been recalled to mind, and I’ve turned a corner. Oddly, an old Thieme quote that I used to believe applied to housework as the calling as opposed to writing (as the self-indulgence), has been turned around to apply to the writing:

“Arrogance  causes you to lose your sense of responsibility. You spend too much time thinking ‘What do I want?’ rather than ‘What does God want? What is right?’ Your desires become more important than your responsibilities. You’re no longer living life to please the Lord Jesus.”

I think illustration of Abraham helped so much because trying to keep Isaac alive would not always be the wrong thing for Abraham to do. We always seem to want some form of Law. Just tell me how it’s to be done and I’ll follow it every day from now on.

And then I won’t have to think about it. I can just do it and be assured of being right. But that’s not how God does things. So many things can be wrong at one time and right at the other. And the only way we can know the difference is by the guidance of God in our lives at the time…

Advertisements

Dismayed, Dissatisfied and Overwhelmed

Yesterday I noted some of the things that came in to interrupt and distract me from writing daily. Today I’ll note what happened on the days that I did write — which was four days last week and three days — so far — this week.

Last monday I got into the office at 7:41am!  Hooray.  At first I hardly knew what to do. I wrote in my Morning Pages journal (from The Artist’s Way) then got down to work — for almost all day. I have stacks of notecards and papers all over the place, so I took one of the stacks which was on my main character, Talmas, and used it to update my character file on him, then threw the stack away.

Tuesday I got into the office at 7:26am, but then had to intersperse writing with other stuff. In the end I did three pages of back story on another character. I had a bunch of different notes because I’d kept changing my mind about how things were going to go, and finally pulled it together and into line with the other characters’ storylines. I waffled a good deal — is this really the relationship and sequence that makes the most sense and will be believed? I wasn’t sure. Then I realized I just flat-out liked it the best, so I went with that. It doesn’t seem like much progress, but it took most of the day.

Wednesday I thought hard about the book and got nowhere. I was all ready to rail on in my current journal about my frustration, dismay, lack of progress and sense that there’s both too much here and nothing at the same time, then discovered that I’d already done that. In my journal entry from March 1, 2007

Ahem. That’s five years ago. When I was starting The Enclave. Which was mildly alarming — the fact it’s been almost exactly five years since I started a book. Of course it doesn’t seem like I’m “starting” Sky because I’ve been picking at it for about four years now in between all the other things, and do have seven chapters written.  But since it’s been more a process of two steps forward, one step back, maybe it just seems like I should be further along because of the time, not the continuity of work.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote at the start of The Enclave, 5 years ago:

“[This morning] I was bugged, condemned and dismayed because I’d started to look through my notes and was not only dissatisfied — it’s not right, it’s not compelling , it’s not going in the right direction, I don’t like it — but overwhelmed by all the ideas and info and possibilities, and at the same time clueless as to which to choose. When I finished wrestling with it — and by then it was only noon — I was exhausted!”

Exactly how I felt with Sky. And still do most of the time. Trying to get my head around the world, which is only partially conceived, and the characters and some kind of actual plot  is both overwhelming and confusing. Yes, that event would be an okay thing to happen, and that detail of setting is cool, and this conversation would be nice, and yeah, I did have the idea that he would rescue people, and then there are the Mole People, those are cool, but I have no idea how they relate… and the ma’el– Should that be their name or should I change it? — and the Artifacts – how do they fit in? And…

AAAARG.

So I went off to Good Reads, which I’d only just learned about and read some nice reviews about The Light of Eidon

Ahem.

But I did want to set down one more quote from that same journal entry in March of 2007  because it also applies to me working on Sky. I guess it’s not surprising that I would wrestle with the same personal flaws and tendencies every time, but it always seems Amazing and Startling to me when I discover that I do.

So, continuing from the March 1, 2007 entry:

“I realized I’d had unrealistic expectations (ie, “see the entire storyline in pleased and confident clarity”) and that of course it would be like this (chaos, too much to process, nothing that seems good) and I should have set some sort of specific and reasonable goal like, “look through the material and see if anything occurs to me…” rather than beat myself up for reasons that are absurd and even… well… insane…”

So that is what I’m trying to do. Just look through the material and see where God leads me. Without expecting it all to fall into place at once. Or even in a day. 🙂

A Fresh Infusion of Interest

Well today, after having taken a month-long break from writing (though even before the break I was having trouble with intrusions and interruptions and lack of motivation)… today I came into the office feeling completely out of it. As I wrote in my log this morning, “I have this book to write and absolutely no interest in writing it. No excitement, no anticipation. Am I even supposed to be writing it?” Worse, I had no idea what to do to renew my interest in it.

Well, as it turns out Pastor John Farley has just been teaching about how sometimes God leaves us in dark places, where we’re confused, where we don’t know what to do, where “the excitement is gone” and we need a fresh infusion of life and energy. Could that possibly apply to my situation with Sky?

So I went to the Lord, and asked for it. Then I went off to do Morning Pages again for the first time in a LONG time because I could think of nothing else to do. They were somewhat helpful. When I was done I took down my logs from during the time I was writing The Enclave and randomly opened to a page where I had highlighted and boxed in the following words from a message by Pastor Bob in 2008:

“I am convinced  this spiritual life is not about us. You must go at the pace God has determined. Your own ways, plans, will and power need to be handed over to the Lord Jesus Christ.  You must learn to enjoy the ride. Don’t let the Kingdom of Darkness [or your own flesh] come and say you’re going too slow, you’re not where you should be. God will tell you that, and it will be conviction, not condemnation.”

Well. Could that be any more pointed?

I went on from there and as the day progressed, the chaos in my notes and in my mind slowly subsided. Order began to take over. New ideas came to me. I saw ways to put the old ideas together where before they just lay there like spilled laundry on the floor, nothing seeming to go with anything else.

But now that’s passed. I have the beginnings of a new vision, an infusion of fresh life… For today at least. But today is all I’m told to concern myself with.

Thank you, Lord!

[I am, by the way, finished with chapter 4, chapter 5 has already been sketched out (years previously) and I started on ch 6 this afternoon. See the little Chapter progress widget up on the left!]

I Do Outline Eventually

The comments on Monday’s post (The First Draft is a Slog) got me thinking more about my process, especially as relates to outlines. Becky Miller’s link to  a post on Harvest House editor Nick Harrison’s blog about getting stalled because you’ve let go of the tension, also sparked some thoughts.

Letting go of the tension means you’ve resolved your main line of conflict long before you reached the story’s end… which is not a good thing. And the outline method I use does address this potential pitfall.

(I was amused by one of the author’s suggestions for figuring out what to do — i.e., consider that perhaps you don’t have enough plot for a novel.  I have never had the problem of too little plot material for a novel.  LOL!)

But back to the subject at hand, which is that eventually I do outline. In fact, before I ever start to write, I spend time gathering notes on 3×5 index cards I’ve cut in half. (being smaller, more cards can be laid out than if I used the 3×5 cards whole)  Notes about characters, the world, possible motivations, possible events, incidents… So it’s not like I’m diving blind into the book. If anything, it can feel like I have too much material. Some of it I’ll use; some of it I won’t. It’s hard to know, sometimes, which is which.

In her book Novel-in-the-Making, Mary O’Hara (also the author of My Friend Flicka) talks about various ideas for what might happen needing time to sort themselves out. At first you may not be able to tell which one you like, which one fits, but over time they will sort themselves out as some rise to the surface while others sink into oblivion.

All this work with the cards is a way of allowing some ideas to rise to the top and other to sink out of my awareness.

Once I’ve gotten started though, tested the waters a bit, as I said I do have a form of outlining that I use, which is based on information Jack Bickham provided in his Writer’s Digest Elements of Fiction Series book Scene and Structure.

The structure is based on cause and effect and the notion of alternating “scenes” and “sequels”, all oriented to an overall story goal.  Bickham uses an example of Fred needing to be first to climb a mountain .

“I must be the first to climb that mountain,” Fred said.

Thus the reader wonders, “Will Fred succeed in being the first to climb the mountain?”

So Fred begins his quest. First up, he must convince the bank to give him a loan of sufficient money to  finance and equip his expedition. Thus, in the next scene, taking place at the bank, his goal is to get a loan.

If he gets the loan, everyone’s happy, and his plan moves forward but the reader will be asleep, or worse, annoyed, wondering why he was made to read through such banal material.

No, we have to have conflict. Therefore, the banker is opposed to Fred’s absurd notion right at the start and they have a fight.

This little scenario illustrates the components of a scene

First, it is active, something that could be staged in a play. It has a viewpoint character (Fred) with a goal (get a loan), and an obstacle to his achieving that goal (the banker). He and the banker conflict over the goal, and the scene ends in disaster for Fred’s goal. (the banker says no, and never come back to this bank again; the banker says yes, but you’ll owe me for the rest of your life; or yes, but you must take my bratty, 14-year-old son with you.)

A sequel, on the other hand, is static, it’s reflective. After the above scene, Fred will have to go away and think things through. Review what happened, deal with his emotions, decide what he really wants, consider his options and come up with a plan of action, which should involve a new goal related to the overall story goal of climbing the mountain.  A sequel then, recounts the character’s feelings about what’s just happened, these move into thoughts about what to do next, and culminate in a decision.

I try to organize my stories based on this framework, and I’ve found it helps at least not to end up with everything wrapped up before you want it to be, seeing as the scenes always have to end in some sort of disaster, or they’re not a scene.

Obviously there is a LOT more to all of this, or Bickham wouldn’t have been able to write an entire book on the subject. And it’s not quite as simplistic or as formulaic as I’ve made it seem here. Sometimes the viewpoint character is not the one with the goal for example, but the one being acted upon. That is my situation right now with Chapter 1. My POV is reacting to events that have suddenly come into her life, which is part of what’s making this chapter so difficult. Plus elements of the hidden story are emerging, but of course, neither she nor the reader will realize that at the moment.

Anyway, I had written about two-thirds of Arena, got bogged down, got hold of Bickham’s book and spent three weeks reworking the book in accordance with the scene/sequel structure. I think it helped a great deal. I’ve used Bickham’s approach on all my subsequent books, though maybe not as religiously as I did in Arena. After awhile you start to get a sense for doing it automatically. But when you hit a wall, it’s these principles that have most often helped me get around/over/through it.

And just writing about all this has been helpful as well. Because I have rediscovered all those note cards I had, which I knew I had but didn’t feel ready to look at yet… Maybe tomorrow I will.

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.


Categories

My Online Church

Visit my Old Blog Here:

Music I’m Writing To

Transformers (Revenge of the Fallen) Soundtrack - Steve Jablonsky

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: