Posts Tagged 'Writing'



One Day At A Time

Well, I’m tired this week. Still getting over a cold I’ve had for over 10 days now. And We had a big weekend — my hubby wanted to throw a party for friends who’d helped him with this Bighorn Sheep Hunt last year, and so I helped. It was an all day affair on Saturday that started at 7am and lasted until 2am the next morning. After a few hours sleep, we started in on the clean up.  I had a nap after that.

Monday I was good — worked on Sky for three hours! — but Tuesday I crashed entirely. Slept almost all day. Watched TV all evening… (Well.. they were the season openers for NCIS and NCIS:LA, so… I’d have watched them anyway. Probably wouldn’t have sat there for VEGAS though…)

Today I was in the blank, wandering around the house staring at things mode. Trying to make sense of the notes I had for Sky, feeling like the entire premise was absurd and fatally flawed and how had I ever thought this was remotely interesting?

So I didn’t work on the next blog post I’d thought to do for my impromptu Light of Eidon week. In fact, I couldn’t even decide which one of several to do.

So I got the idea to go looking again at my early newsletters… the ones I put out right after Eidon released and found this bit from one I put out in April of 2003, written while I was deep into the writing of Book 2: The Shadow Within.

It applies today as surely as it applied nine years ago, and was actually a comfort to me to reread in my current circumstances.

One Day at a Time

I’ve been writing for a long time, and have never been a fast writer. I have always tended to go three steps forward and back up two. Sometimes I have to rewrite and rewrite until I get the thread right, and only then can I go on with the story.

Often I may go for two or three days getting nowhere at all, blank and empty and even indifferent. Then the doors will open, the scenes will emerge and all will be well. Until I hit the next blank spot.

Over the years I have tried setting up various writing schedules according to the generally accepted advice that if you want to complete a big project, you must divide it into increments, then proceed to carry out each increment in its time. I would make up my schedule of how many chapters I wanted to complete over a certain period of time, and determine that I would be professional and disciplined and Just do It! It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not, you just have to write it. Except . . .

I couldn’t.

Never have I managed to keep one schedule. Always I hit a snag, go over the allotted time, then hit another snag and another until the deadline I had set for myself fades into dim memory. I have received much friendly and helpful advice on how to deal with this, but none of it ever works.

Over the last few months, as I contemplated the remaining time I had left before Book 2 (The Shadow Within) is due, I found myself increasingly disturbed that I still hadn’t reached the point where I could sit down, plan out a schedule of work, then embark upon that work and be confident that it would all be done on time.

Throughout all this, the Lord was reminding me that I should be trusting Him about it, but the voice was too still and small, and the message too familiar.

I was too busy thinking about how much time I had left and comparing that with how much work I thought I had left to do. Too busy harassing myself to get to work, to be more disciplined, to force the story out. Too busy getting upset over outside things that came in to steal my time. Too busy beating my head against the wall–for it was all to no avail.

The story wasn’t coming any faster than it ever had. But the idea of stopping that, and giving it all over to Him? How could I do that? To do that would mean losing all control over it.

It wasn’t until I had that last ridiculous thought that I realized how silly I was being. I had no control over it anyway, so what’s the big deal about giving it over to Him?

Clearly I had a choice to make. Was I going to continue to seek to control the what for me is an uncontrollable process, flailing myself for my lack of progress and worrying about what would happen in the months to come when the Lord clearly tells me not to? Was I going to continue refusing to rest in Him, and instead seek to use my own strength and ability (obviously lacking) to handle this?

Cursed (miserable!) is the one who puts her trust in man. Or woman, as the case may be.

Finally, that verse, one I memorized long ago, got through. The light went on and I backed off.

So from here on out it’s one day at a time. I WILL stay out of the future. Whatever progress He gives me, I will accept, without making a fuss about what hasn’t been given. If I fail to concentrate or use my time wisely on any given day, I can have confidence that He knew, way back in eternity past, that I would fail and He took it into account when He made His plan.

If something comes up that diverts my time and energy away from the book, I will remember that it is also part of the plan, and that He has everything under control, knowing precisely how long it will take to make this book what He wants it to be. This is His book, not mine, so He’ll have to see that it gets done in spite of me. (I especially like that part.)

Now, at last, I can rest, knowing that even though I am “dust”, inadequate and weak, He is completely adequate and His strength will be perfected in my weakness. I may bungle my way through my days and the writing of this book, but He who is wise and good and faithful and gracious is at work in me nevertheless. And His Plan is not only perfect, it’s brilliant!

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is in the Lord, for he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes.” ~ Jeremiah 17:7

Advertisements

Craft and Daft

Recently I’ve been exploring various elements of WordPress, such as the new stats page, the “follow” function, the reader page, and on the latter, the WordPress Daily Post. Today’s Daily Post was on what it takes to get on their “Freshly Pressed” page, which is a best post of the week collection, or ten best for the month. That was interesting in itself.

Even better, though, was that through it I discovered this post by Oliver at his blog Literature and Libation. It’s part of a new series on writing he’s started called Craft and Draft, but it wasn’t long before I was seeing that as Craft and Daft.

Both titles work for this particular entry in the series (It’s called Craft and Draft: Character Counts), because it’s not only hysterically funny in a daft sort of way, it also resonated in terms of what the writing process is like for me.

He uses, of all things, photographs of various Lego figures to complement and illustrate the process he is outlining and explaining. That choice was brilliant. Yes, it’s exaggerated and simplified but that’s what makes it work so well. It’s easily applied to one’s own situation.

A vivid metaphor for how disconnected, discombobulated, and contradictory one’s characters (or world, or plot, or descriptions) can be — most likely will be, maybe even should be — when you’re moving through your initial drafts of the piece.

I will never forget his Lego man “hero” with the wooden leg, high-tech breathing apparatus, extra head with no face and best of all, a “period-inappropriate tricorn hat” which also happens to be on fire.  (You gotta see the photo, if nothing else. Here’s the link again. And you might as well read it while you’re at it, cause then you’ll have context for what I’m going to say next.)

I love it! As I said earlier, it’s daft, but TRUE. I call this process “cobbling,” and I’ve been doing it for some time — in fact, with every novel I’ve ever written. A process where  I just shove all the things I think I want in a scene together, whether compatible or not, with the promise that I’ll straighten everything out later. It’s a way of getting past the inertia, the inability to decide — eg, should he be high-tech (breathing apparatus) or low (wooden leg)?  And if both, how could I make that plausible?

(In point of fact that is EXACTLY what I’m facing with Sky, since it has a sort of Roman-flavored culture, but is high-tech as well, thought “high-tech” in its own way.  I’ve made the changes in the characters’ backgrounds, motivations, relationships, etc., just as Oliver described. But a lot of that has worked itself out now. At least for the beginning sections.)

This piece has reminded me how difficult this all is for me… in the sense of tolerating the chaos and uncertainty. But it’s also reminded me that there is something on the other side and that I have to go through all this to get there.

The only thing I took exception to in Oliver’s article was his contention that we force our characters to have whatever views we have decided they should have: “We force their beliefs onto them without even asking,” says he, “telling them what they’re passionate about, what they think about certain philosophical quandaries, and how they ultimately view the world.”

I’ve tried to do that. It doesn’t work. They sulk. They refuse to do what I want. Literally refuse. Everything goes blank. I can’t get them to talk or do anything. I avoid the work for days. I go back to it and they’re still stubbornly refusing to do what I want.

“No I will not go fight the fire. I don’t care if it’s dramatic, I think having the fire happen right now is a stupid thing.  Why in the world would I be out there, anyway? I’m not a fireman! And besides, it has nothing to do with anything.”

That probably sounds loony, but I’ve been through it enough, I know it’s so. Instead of me forcing things on them, I believe it’s my job to discover who they are and what their story is. When they don’t want to fight the fire, and the fire has nothing to do with anything, I need to find out what the “thing” is that I’m really supposed to be focusing on, because clearly I’ve gotten it wrong.

Of course it’s all coming out of my thinking, so maybe a better way to describe it in macrocosm is, what kind of story is it that I’m wanting to tell? What kind of characters am I wanting to tell it with? And I really have no idea at the outset. I can only muddle my way along, putting down the things that I like and seem to fit at the time without worrying about if they actually do fit.

In fact, I’ve been doing that with Chapter 3 for the last three days and I am almost to the end of it… maybe tomorrow I will be!

Just Ask For What You Need

One of the prevailing messages the Lord seems to be giving me of late is, again, to come to Him and ask, to let Him do the things He’s called me to do.  In everything, but particularly the writing.

A week or so ago I listened to a message Pastor John taught last year, wherein his words so closely echoed what I’ve been dealing with this year, that I stopped the tape and wrote it all down.

He said,

“I still get in these situations where I’m a little intimidated (Me: YES!!!! intimidated by the book I’m attempting to write.”  “I know there’s something I need to be doing with these people (the characters in my book!) but I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what I should say.  (EXACTLY what I had been moaning about and experiencing regarding the book) 

He went on to describe himself as someone who when there’s too many people around, tends to get overwhelmed, thinking he has to deal with everyone.  In my case, there’s too many characters, too many possible threads, motivations, scenes, conflicts… too many possibilities. It’s a good thing to have a lot of possibilities — it makes your work richer. But it can be completely overwhelming and intimidating.  Thus I could relate completely to what he was saying.

It happens to Pastor John all the time. And then he realizes:

“You know what? I don’t have to come up with a great creative solution here! All I gotta do is go to my Lord, my Father and say, “Hey. You know what I want and you know what you want. Now you just gotta put the light bulb on. And He does!”

Well, I was completely blown away when he said that. It was so targeted to my situation, so completely apropos and yet… I hadn’t been doing that.  I thought I had to figure it out.

So what was the next thing he said?

“I can’t tell you how long it was where I thought it was up to me, ultimately. Me figuring it out, putting all the energy into it and … fail, fail, fail. And I was miserable, walking around with a guilt complex, feeling inadequate, horrible.

“But the fact is, God the Holy Spirit is the one who’s behind this. This variety of gifts, this idea that this is something where you can relax and understand that Ephesians 2:10 says He’s already ordained the things for you to walk in. All you gotta do is show up with a heart that’s wanting to serve with the bible doctrine that’s already in your soul and walk. And walking isn’t hard. No one gets a prize because today I walked…

“No, it’s God who’s doing the heavy lifting here. Just say, “Yes!” and put one foot in front of the other. Be positive, go in the right direction, show up and have a desire and God will take care of the rest.”

And in today’s message, he brought all that around again. We’re to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, to abide in Him as He abides in us. We — I — can do nothing apart from Him. If I abide in Him and His words abide in me, I am told to ask whatever I wish and it will be done for me. And by this is My Father glorified.

Me abiding in the Vine and His words — His truth — abiding in me and then I ASK Him for what I need. This is pretty much the whole point, the whole deal.  That I come to understand more and more about grace — which is God’s unlimited capacity and desire to bless me — and the truth of who He is and then ask Him for whatever I need.

Like what do I do in the next scene? How am I going to get out of this corner I just wrote myself into? All the details that so intimidate, me, ask Him to show me. And I’m thinking that it’s important to be specific, rather than general…

So that’s what I’m hoping to do tomorrow. And I think I’ll just ask Him now to help me to remember that.

A Tomato, a Coin and a Die

Today I actually managed to get around to working on Sky for a good five hours!Actual story writing as opposed to  note organizing. A tiny bit of progress.   YAY!

I did so using a new technique that I’ve recently discovered and an old one I’d forgotten.

A Tomato

The new technique, developed to help increase productivity, is called The Pomodoro Technique, so named because its inventor used a red tomato kitchen timer to implement his system. He’s Italian and “pomodoro” is Italian for tomato.

The technique was designed to also investigate where various distractions originated and to provide a means of dealing with them.

I used it pretty much as outlined (click on the link above for the full thing) when I started a couple of weeks ago.   There is a free booklet you can download and some official pages as well:  a To Do Today sheet and an Activity Sheet.

You list the things you want to do on the first sheet. In the beginning, I listed things like “write a blog post,”  “read through all my notes on Sky,”  “transfer information on sheets to little cards,” etc.

Then you set the timer for 25 minutes  (a “pomodoro”) and get started. If you suddenly get a thought to go do something else, you are to make a tic mark in the column next to where you listed your task, then decide if the activity must be done  right now, or if it can be done later. If later, you note it on the Activity Sheet. If you feel it’s imminent — you absolutely HAVE to order that pizza now — you note it at the bottom of the To Do sheet.

One of the iron clad rules is that you cannot spend more than a minute or two on some distraction so if you do get up and order the pizza, then you have to void the pomodoro and start over, even if you’ve only got five minutes left.

It was in intriguing exercise which made me aware of all the things I kept thinking of doing in the middle of when I was supposed to be writing. Internal distractions the developer called them. They seemed to come rapid fire at first. But because I had the timer on, I stopped getting up to go do them and just noted them on my activity sheet. The more I used this technique, the less internal distractions I had. Plus having a place to note them helped a lot.

After the timer goes off, you place an X in the column next to your task, then take a 3 to 5 minute break to walk about, stretch, visit the restroom, or get a drink. Then it’s back to another pomodoro. . After four pomodoros you get a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

It’s not as complicated as it might sound, but it’s pretty regimented and while at first it did a lot to get me back on track, ultimately I rebelled and one day I just couldn’t make myself do any of it and went out to play. I’ve since abandoned the activity sheet, since it’s not all that relevant for me.

I have, however, stuck with the 25 minute increments and the three-minute breaks, the latter because they get me out of the chair and walking around or stretching and that’s good for the body. And the former because I not only have to somehow quantify my task (“work on the book” is not specific enough) but it puts a beginning and an end time to it (as opposed to doing it “until I get tired”)

Before, if I hit a snag there was a good chance I’d just get up and walk out of the room on some inner directed tangent. With the pomodoro, I at least wait until the timer rings before walking off, though even then I haven’t wanted to dive into some other thing.

So that’s the new — modified — technique I used today.

Yes, I know… rules again. But not exactly. I think they’re more just useful guidelines that keep me on track. So for now I’ll keep using them. I have my own “pomodoro” all set up under my computer screen.

A Coin and a Die

The other technique, the one I’d forgotten, was to use a coin to build my characters. I had five male characters who were nothing but names that I needed to be in the scene I am currently working on.

So one of the things you can do and which I had actually made charts for years ago, is to divide characteristics into twos… tall/short, fat/skinny, muscular/frail … then flip a coin to determine the characteristic — eg, heads, he’s tall, tails he’s short.  If you have more characteristics than two, like hair or eye color, use a die — assign a color to each number, then roll the die.

It’s a way of breaking through the blankness. As the characters started to emerge, I found myself thinking, “Wait, I don’t want him to have light brown hair, it should be black instead.”  Or, “No, he’s not going to have a beard, he’s going to be clean-shaven.”  You aren’t bound to whatever the die or coin dictate, but if you don’t care, it’s a way of actually getting something to take shape.

So that’s what I did today using my pomodoros, and my coin and die. I now have five index  cards and five characters with a fair amount of definition. Since these are minor characters, I’m not yet sure how big of a role they’ll play so I don’t want to go too far in developing their profiles. For now, I have enough to work with.

Another thing I did, that came out of nowhere, was that as these guys were coming together I started seeing parallels to some of the Avengers, so I decided to just go in that direction and use the Avenger characters as a rough guide for my development. Oh! Horrors! She’s copying movie characters!

Not exactly. I think it was more a general template and lifting one or two characteristics from each. And it was fun. I know in the end it won’t be noticeable, because once they get “real” for me, they’ll take on their own individuality. Besides, they may turn out to have almost no role at all. I have no idea at this point.

All I know is, it helped me work, and as a result I ended up with one guy who’s a techie and another with anger issues. As an additional bonus, those two qualities triggered thoughts about the setting and the situation and suddenly the whole scene — characters, interactions, setting, situation and action — gained richness and substance and direction far beyond what I had when I started.

Oh yeah, and that new laser TSA is going to be using in 2013 — the one that can read your cells from 164 ft and tell if your adrenaline is rushing, and what you ate for lunch and if you have explosive residue in your fingerprint creases?  Well that’s just perfect for this scene as well. Only it won’t be a laser, and there isn’t any airport. 😀

Quote: Beginning is Chaos

“For some people, the beginning is a time of complete chaos. You see bits and pieces of what is before you. You have a sense of what it is you must set out to do. But nothing will form yet. When you sit cown to write or paint or form movement, it’s like stepping over a cliff or into a dense fog. All you can do is trust that this impending masterpiece is going to somehow manifest itself as you work. But you do know that there is something specific ahead, and you feel the excitement of that.”  ~  Vinita Hampton Wright, The Soul Tells a Story

At first I thought dense fog was the better metaphor for how I tend to feel at this stage, but then decided that stepping off the cliff might be better. Because you’re falling and you have no idea where and it may well be to a very unpleasant end.  And you’re seeing all sorts of things — rocks, trees on the cliff face, birds, but can’t quite get a fix on any of them…

Update: I’m Still Here

Well, back at the end of April I sure didn’t expect that I wouldn’t be posting for two weeks, but that’s what’s happened. In fact, I was all ready to continue on with more thoughts from Koontz’s book, and had even written a rough draft of a post, but somehow, when I went back to it again, it all fell apart. Suddenly it was no longer saying what I wanted, but wandering off on tangents that weren’t really illustrative of what I was trying to say… In fact, I’m not sure I knew what I was trying to say. All I know is I ended up cutting out three quarters of the words in the post, and found myself with pretty much nothing left.

Maybe that was appropriate and maybe not. My brain felt like mush and I knew I was tired. I’d seen the doctor that same Monday  and he confirmed about the tiredness, even thought I was still trying to do more than I should and that it would be at least two more weeks and maybe four before I felt 100% again.

So for the last two weeks, in addition to letting myself do whatever (which included obsessively making cards), I’ve been paying more attention to what made me tired and when.  Im also getting better at actually recognizing the tiredness, instead of misidentifying it as laziness, lack of self-discipline, feeling depressed or hopeless, feeling guilty and bad cause I wasn’t getting things done….  Some days I didn’t want to get out of bed at my usual time, so I didn’t.  I never stayed there longer than an hour more than usual, but it definitely helped.  I tried to get chores done, but didn’t push it. If I got tired and didn’t feel like doing any more, I didn’t.

I stopped pushing the daily walking, too, but did finally walk three miles around the park with my hubby — he handled Quigley — on May 5. It felt fine at the time, but the next day was Communion at church, which meant a longer service and food preps for the pot luck that were a bit more involved than my normal. When on Monday I had a major crash, unable to do anything but lie around, I knew why.  Tuesday was also pretty bad, but Wednesday I was mostly recovered went ahead and walked again, this time with Quigley and it went fine. I haven’t really had a huge crash since the 7th.

I also haven’t written much of anything. Not email, not blog posts, not the book, not even in my journals. I did watch a lot of TV– for me. I detest daytime TV, but in the evenings in addition to our regular shows, we’ve  plowed through the first season of  The Mentalist and are now almost halfway through the second. Still enjoying it a great deal.

Anyway, sometime in the last week a change began to occur. The messages in Bible class had already begun to change. Both the ones I’m listening to that are current and my fill-in’s from last summer: Pastor Farley talking about Spiritual Gifts in a way that made mine more clearly a “legitimate” spiritual gift than I’ve ever heard. He taught that each person’s gift is unique and even in similar categories of gifts, the way each manifests will be different and unique to the person having it. You can’t look at anyone else and copy them. It’s between you and God the Holy Spirit. That was strangely empowering for me. (I think mine’s exhortation/encouragement, carried out mostly through my writing.) (which may seem like a “Duh” to many people — certainly my close friends — but hey, nowhere in the Bible does it say “writing novels and blog posts” is a spiritual gift!  And I can use anything to psyche myself out.)

 He went on to say that whatever your gift is, you should jump into it with your full effort and focus, knowing God is going to empower you to do whatever it is HE has in mind. He’s already provided everything you need, so you have nothing to fear. Just go forward. 

For a few weeks now I’ve begun to think that maybe God has been giving me a vacation for the last six months or so. At first I thought it was me being bad. Then I moved into “He’s just shutting me down” which was credible because of everything that was happening. But now… with this latest episode coming to an end, I’ve more and more had the nudge that it’s really been a vacation, a time He’s let me do quite a bit of playing… 

And also the nudge that it’s time for that to come to end and for me to get back to being a novelist.

I told Him it better be Him doing it, because for months I haven’t been able to muster any interest, any words, or even any order with this project. I would go in and look at the work and there would be nothing. Just a sense of being utterly overwhelmed. No guidance, no direction, nothing. I really had little idea of where it was going. I’d stare at it, as I’ve recounted here, and then suddenly find myself doing something else. Reading the news, or blogs or watching card making videos, or making cards or… sitting in a chair watching the birds.

I have worked my way literally paragraph by paragraph  (as in one or two a day) through Chapter 5 and every day I’d go in and it would be hard to remember what I’d done the day before, or I’d be so sick of reading the same words and dealing with the same scene that I’d want to leave. But it wasn’t coherent yet so I tried to stay, but more often wandered off.

Suddenly, that’s stopped. I don’t know if what happened today is going to continue, but for now… I worked on Sky almost all day. I have not done that in a long, long time. I didn’t feel the weird aversion… in fact, if anything I feel aversion for the card stuff. Suddenly the power the card projects had to pull me away was not in operation — at least for today.

So. Is it the sea change I’m thinking it is? Time to go back to being a writer? A change being worked in me more than me working in myself? I don’t know.

Did I work more than I should have today, so that tomorrow I’ll be tired again, and not wanting to get out of bed, or flitting around from thing to thing? I don’t know. 

But today. My goodness. The book has come alive again. I feel like I made more progress today than I have in months. Which may or may not be true, but it feels good in any case.

So… we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Only Half an Hour

“‘It is only half-an-hour’– ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometimes worry a whole day…” ~ Charles Dickens

I had a dentist appointment today at 1:30pm. Just a routine cleaning, only an hour’s worth of time… but yes, it pretty much “worried” if not the day, at least the whole morning. I also had to go grocery shopping, and set up a lunch date for Saturday…

And so I plead those as the excuse for why I couldn’t get settled into writing this morning. Well, plus searching for my special plant trimming scissors which had been misplaced… and a half- finished card with a new technique I was trying out beckoning to me from the desk where I’d left it in disarray. I was afraid to proceed because it seemed hard and I didn’t know if I could do what I was intending.

I told myself I didn’t need to mess with that and should go write. And then suddenly just decided to DO It. Of course things went awry, and then I had to figure out how to fix it… I did… I like the finished result… but…

I wasn’t writing. Perhaps because yesterday I reached a similar stage with chapter 5, which is almost done but has been like pulling teeth: sentence by sentence I’ve pressed through it. Working through a paragraph, thinking it’s done, wandering off to do something else, coming back, discovering it’s not done after all, repeat that sequence a number of times, all the while, uncertain that the direction the words are taking me is the one I really want to go in. My mind says it’s all logical and the only course that makes sense. It’s just not what I had originally in mind. And I’m not sure if I like it…

I keep asking the Lord, “Is this really the direction I’m to go in?” He doesn’t seem to be answering.

So it’s easier to think about the dentist and fiddle with the card…


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: