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Archive for the ‘My Writing Journey’ Category

MB900386362[1]I can’t believe I’ve missed two weeks of blogging. But then again, with end of the school year activities for the grand girls, a grandson’s graduation in Spokane, working full time, teaching and leading music for Vacation Bible School and all the other stuff I can cram into the open spots I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Now I’m looking at my calendar and realize I have less than two weeks to prepare for our motorcycle trip back to the Colorado Rockies. In blunt terms, that means the dreaded packing decisions are upon me.

A Harley Davidson touring bike is big on fun but small on trunk space. You have to pack light and sparse. At the same time, you have to be prepared for anything from 100 degree heat to rain to snow to cold and windy. T-shirts and tanks are a given so I’ll throw in six or seven. They weigh nothing and take up little space. Over the years I’ve conditioned myself to one extra pair of jeans. I know – horrors – that means wearing them several days in a row but it is what it is. A couple of sweatshirts are a must to put on over the t-shirt. A turtleneck or two to put on under the t-shirt. A wool sweater just in case. Heavy gloves, light gloves, neck scarf, underwear, socks, sandals and a nightgown and I’m already over capacity. There’s still the curling iron and hair dryer. (I know most hotels have hair dryers. But, my hubby has a knack for ferreting out the ones that don’t. This post is not long enough for me to go there!) My makeup bag, small but still a space consumer and of course my Nook and writing materials are must haves.

I’m looking at the small bag that fits in the bike trunk and the big pile that doesn’t fit in the bag and realizing I’m in trouble. Plus, I haven’t begun to include any of the frivolous things my husband will want to take along like a shirt or two and maybe maps and tools to be used in case of a breakdown.

For the next few days I’ll be taking out, adding back, rolling my eyes, and starting over. I will be frustrated beyond measure and ready to bag the whole trip.

But departure day will dawn and somehow I’ll have managed. We’ll be mounted up and headed down the road to meet the couple who is going along with us. As we join up, I’ll see the huge grin on my friend’s face and I’ll remember that the next two weeks will be completely filled with laughter, most of it over nothing but the sheer fact that we enjoy each other’s company.

Together, she and I are like two giddy young girls that find everything funny and never run out of interesting things to talk about. I can’t tell you how many times our guys will tell us to cut the conversation and get on the bike. We will talk until we take off. Each time we roll up to a stop sign we’ll pick up where the latest conversation ended.

The most serious situations – flat tires, spilled coffee, antenna up the nose (that’s for another post), heavy traffic, grumpy husbands, missed turns, road construction, animals crossing the road, near empty gas tanks, minor bike repairs, sudden weather changes – you name it, we will find it funny.

She won’t care that my jeans are on their fourth day. I won’t care that she didn’t get her make up on. Neither one of us will care that we’re lost and the guys are studying maps and pulling out the GPS.

There’s the stress of getting ready to go and the pressure of catching up when you get back, but being on the road with good friends, ever changing scenery, my great love at my side and our day to day cares left behind is worth every minute of the rest.

Eleven days and counting down!

Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them. Psalm 126.2

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It's a ... novel!

It’s a … novel!

As I put the finishing touches on a manuscript I will enter in the Genesis contest with American Christian Fiction Writers I am deluged with advice from the blogs of other writers, critique comments, bullet points from books on the craft of writing and of course, my own gut feelings.

When you have a baby, you want the best for it.  You want to be the best parent, give great counsel, love unconditionally, and have moments when you can sit back and beam proudly at your accomplishment. It’s no different with the birth of a manuscript.

The problem with parenting is that often love is blind and you find yourself overlooking things that should be corrected, behaviors that should be stopped, disciplinary action that should be taken and a few other mistakes. The problem with writing – ditto.

My first big struggle came when input from a contest judge stated my story was good and publishable but she questioned whether first person was the right point of view for the story.  Two other judges in the contest gave feedback that my voice was light and funny and really lent enjoyment to the story.

So what to do?  I decided to take chapter one and try a different point of view.  I worked diligently, but in the end I couldn’t do it.  It just didn’t feel right. The story didn’t flow and it didn’t make me smile when I read it back.  I made an executive decision to leave the point of view alone.

My second struggle came with the advice every writer gets from every critique, every article and every bit of advice from seasoned authors – too much back story.  My first reaction,  “But you have to get to know my MC before you will really understand the story.  She is her history. You want me to cut all that good stuff out?  I’m going to need a lot of anesthesia for that kind of surgery.  And a supply of pain killers afterward.” 

I began cutting, bleeding and moaning at each step.  What I discovered in the long run was all that history is what led me to know my character intimately. And because I knew her so well, I could tell her story in the present letting her personality and her actions suggest the history that made her the way she is.  Brilliant!

The third big struggle was with the story being “overwritten”.  I had to study that comment because I wasn’t sure what it meant.  Reading back through the manuscript I found  it was all action.  Action is good.  Action is key. Action is what moves the story forward. However, as I observed from some of my favorite reads, now and then the reader needs a chance to catch a breath, experience a golden moment, bask in a lazy description of the scene, the prophetic moment, the romance, the MC’s dreams, even a crazy conversation between two characters that seems to have no relevance to the main theme.

When I went back and broke up the action a little with some of this frosting on the cake stuff, I loved it.  It began to read like a novel you can’t put down.

I’m excited about one or two more edits before submitting it for the contest.  And I’m excited that once again I learned a couple of valuable lessons in the process.

  • You can love your work too much and it will cause you to ignore valuable guidance. Just like parenting, once in a while you have to look past the “my perfect child” part and address the little flaws that if not corrected can result in a big problem.
  • You can love your work too little and let the miles and miles of advice take you away from your core idea. Editing and correcting, cutting and revising are good until you find you’ve lost the “you” in your writing. Each writer is unique in some way. Don’t lose sight of your special something that exists in everything you  compose.
  • You can never know too much about your character, but you can certainly reveal too much about your character. Back story is like Elmer’s glue – a little goes a long way. Don’t put so much in that your reader gets stuck . But include just enough to get the reader attached.
  • As in all things, seek guidance, pray, trust your instincts and be willing to take a risk. Every parent knows there is a lot of “seat of your pants” parenting that goes into a well raised child.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”   Kurt Vonnegut

Psalms 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

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It happens every January 1, a new year like a blank page begging for a story.  It stretches out before you, not yet sullied, not yet marked by disappointment, not yet peppered with regret.  You look back and analyze the past year and there are always parts you’d like to erase.  You look forward and begin to make resolutions that will guarantee improvement.

There is excitement and enthusiasm for a while.  If you are like me, you get into a cleaning frenzy.  You reorganize.  You dust corners you’ve forgotten about for the past several months.  I would love to start every year by throwing out the old wardrobe and starting over with everything brand new, never worn. 

The first day of a new year is perfection – for about five minutes.  Hard as you try you can’t keep it that way. Before the day ends you’ve probably said something you wish you hadn’t, neglected something you should have taken care of, and shoved an item into a place it didn’t go. All those wonderful resolutions already starting to crumble and you have another 364 days to go.

Still, I am a hopeless resolution maker. I am a dreamer of better decisions, kinder thoughts, more generous actions and a deeper walk. I am a seeker of more meaning and richer relationships.  I am a planner of more organized days and fewer busy nights.

For several years now I have been reading through the Bible, beginning January 1st and finishing triumphantly December 31st. I have not failed to live up to this commitment yet.

And God has not failed to reveal new ideas and thoughts to me through His amazing words.  Here is the perfect example.

It’s January 3, 2013 and I have just read through the story of creation again.  I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve studied this particular section of scripture. However, this is the first time I was struck with how it parallels the start of a brand new year. Picture God looking out on nothing and deciding to create something, so He starts with light.

Now here is the clue God gave me for how to improve my life in 2013. God didn’t create light and jump to the next step. “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw that the light was good,…” Genesis 1:3-4a

God took time to look His first step over and make sure it was good before moving on. What a thought!  Take time to make sure where you are is right and good before you move forward.

To me that means when the realization comes that I’ve stumbled in thought, word or deed, I need to stop and make amends. When I’m short with my husband, who is one of the few people who can push me from my normally tolerant and gentle self to irritation, I can’t just walk on.  I have to stop and ask forgiveness because I desire to please God in all things.  I want Him to look at me and say “that was good, move on.”

When I neglect my devotions or don’t take time with someone who needs time, or spread gossip, or fail to put all of my effort or talent in what God has called me to do, I need to go back and make it right.

God stopped several times in the creation process and assessed His work. Did the world He created stay beautiful and unsullied? Nope.  Man messed it up within a very short time, and continues to distort it every day. But that doesn’t change what God did.

Take some time this first week of 2013 to look for the original good in God’s actions that first week of the very first year ever.  Here’s what you will find:

  • There is still heart wrenching, soul moving beauty in a sunrise. 
  • There is still tranquility in the still waters and breathtaking power in a waterfall.
  • There is still majesty beyond description in the mighty mountains and cool, soothing peace in the lush valleys.
  • There is still hope in the shimmer of moonlight, laughter in the antics of animals, wonder in the effortless soaring of a bird, faith in the ebb and flow of the ocean.
  • And never doubt, there is still goodness in man. The news may try to hide it, evil will try to cast a shadow on it. But it’s there, every day, in the heart and spirit of the ones who choose to walk with God and live out love, forgiveness and grace.

Look for it and you will find it. When you do, remind yourself “it is good”.

 “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good….” Genesis 1:31a

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MB900431278[1]Our Christmas program at church took place yesterday. It was filled with music, a little drama and a bit of narration to tie it all together.  I composed the narration and as I wrote in an earlier blog, I agonized over every word, praying it would be exactly right to bring people closer to Christ.

I want to share with you a piece of that narration I never could have known would have much deeper meaning in light of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

To introduce the part of our program that emphasized the birth of Jesus and led into a touching rendition of “Isn’t He Beautiful”, I wrote the following:

What child is born that a mother’s heart doesn’t melt the moment she sees his squirming wrinkled body?   What long anticipated newborn comes into this world that a mother’s love doesn’t overflow in a flood of emotion?

The weight of carrying, the pain of labor – all forgotten in the moment of that baby’s first cry.  A mother’s heart swells and she is convinced at that moment that her child is more beautiful, more perfect, more amazing than any other.

Mary was no different than other mothers in that respect. But when she gazed upon the infant Savior, she was consumed with much more than motherly love.

Mary saw a miracle, a mystery,  a majesty far beyond anything she’d ever experienced.  And at that moment, this woman of grace exhaled her last normal oxygen filled breath, and inhaled a new life.

Never again would her lungs expand without the presence of Jesus filling them.

Never again would she speak without the experience of Jesus softening her words.

Never again would her arms reach out without the feel of Jesus in them.

And this is the same for each and every one who lays down the former life and embraces the Christmas miracle.

As those words were shared during the program Sunday, my heart rushed to the parents grieving for lost children in Newtown, Connecticut. A senseless, tragic, unimaginable few moments have left them shattered. There are no words of comfort that could ease their pain, no quote of scripture that will cause the tears to stop falling – at least for a time. Grief, while it may soften, will be their constant companion for the rest of their life.

But the words God gave me for that narration reminded me of what we take for granted every day.  We have nothing except what God gives. The people we treasure in this life are merely on loan, sent by God’s grace to enhance our experience. Mary certainly discovered the truth of this when she watched her Son die.

Here is a wonderful reality in a time of great loss.  The physical presence of a loved one is gone, but God makes sure the memories are left behind to carry us through our time of grieving.

Like the words in the narration, here is what those parents are left with.  They will never again take a breath without the presence of their child filling it, never again speak without the experience of their child softening their words, never again reach out their arms without the feel of their child filling them. The experience of a child, regardless of how short the time span, changes us forever.

Nothing justifies the evil that took those children away.

But God, in His great compassion, will not leave those mothers and fathers bankrupt. He is prepared to fill their emptiness, catch their tears, heal their hearts and gently care for their children until they are reunited in the moment He chooses to bring them together again. Let us pray that through the cloud of pain and grief, they can see the hand of God extended.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:4

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As I put the finishing touches on the script for our church Christmas program I have been thinking about the responsibility that comes with writing.

In writing comedy, you have a responsibility to make people laugh. If you are writing non-fiction you have a responsibility to present accurate information.  If you are writing for small children you have a responsibility for making sure you help them fall in love with reading. If you are writing for middle grade you have a responsibility to help them grasp change and growth.  All writing, especially if it becomes published, carries with it the responsibility of applying your best to produce positive, lasting effect.

Writing a Christmas program should be easy.  After all, the Story is the story – angels, shepherds, camels and kings.  But still, every person in the audience is different.  They hear, perceive and observe in different ways.

A former church I attended used live animals in the Christmas pageant. I guarantee you that when the young children saw sheep they wanted to reach out and touch them. Adults worried about the mess on the carpet. Only the farmers in the crowd actually had thoughts of shepherds on a chilly night. 

Even a live baby in the pageant, while appealing to everyone, elicits different thought and emotion.  The women will feel the prick of tears, and the miracle of the birth.  Children will smile and see baby Jesus. Men will be stoic but at the same time feel the mystery.

I’ve been working on this narration and dialog for weeks and I can tell you I’ve had a few sleepless nights.   My passion is that it reach out and carry the beautiful, life saving message of a Savior’s birth in a way that no one can miss. I know there will be an audience comprised of long time Christians, new Christians and people who haven’t yet made a commitment.

All of them will walk in with their own private burdens. All will bring experiences into the sanctuary that will color what they see, hear and perceive.  Will it be enough to bring them closer to where they need to be?  Will it magnify the manger, add meaning to the message and glorify the God I serve? Will it speak convincingly to the one who has never heard the story before and at the same time be fresh and amazing to the one who has heard it a hundred times?

My fretting and worrying finally ended last night as I polished the narration.  God reminded me that the responsibility of this writer is to compose but it is His job to reveal. Mine is the task of arranging words and capturing thoughts in catchy phrases and colorful prose. His is the task of carrying those words on wings of love and compassion into the hearts and minds of His children. Mine is to retell what He has already written, to sing His praises and to express what I know beyond a shadow of a doubt – a Savior came in the dark and lit up the world. My Father will lift the writing to a level that only He can. Praise Him for His gracious gifting and His faithfulness in guiding us to use what He has given for His glory.     

For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power ; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life  and spirit, and of joints and marrow, exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart. Hebrews 4: 12

 

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MB900423031[1]Here’s what I discovered in the month of November. There are limits to what I can accomplish. I am a chronic over-committer, over-achiever, over-estimator and over-just about everything else.

This past month it came to a head. Here’s what I had on my plate:

  • Full time plus job (and it’s open enrollment which means a steady parade of employees in my HR office, a plethora of paperwork, and a million questions to answer)
  • My commitment to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
  • Thanksgiving with all the pie baking, etc.
  • My birthday with lunches and meeting friends over coffee and family stuff.
  • Weekly practices with the Christmas choir.
  • Writing of the Christmas pageant.
  • Early Christmas shopping (I did black Friday!!!)
  • All my regular scheduled meetings, bible studies and worship activities.
  • Friends in crisis.
  • And – well – the rest I can’t remember because I am too tired

I think I’m getting old. My body doesn’t hold up as well as it used to and I hate to admit this but I get tired sometimes. There is nothing that gets my dander up more than sitting down in my chair by the fire and falling asleep immediately. I need some kind of device that sends an electric shock through my body the second my head nods.

Everything on my list is something I want to do, enjoy and never want to give up. Not only that, but there are even more things that I’d like to get involved in but to do them I’d have to give up sleeping all together.  It seems the days get shorter and what used to be plenty of time seems to have become never enough time.

Looking back my great regret is that I did not finish the novel.  I did get ten chapters and 20,000 words written.  I wrote from 4:00 a.m. until 5:00 a.m. almost every morning. I squeezed a few more minutes in here and there. I jotted handwritten notes in grocery lines and on my lunch breaks to transcribe later. But I just couldn’t get there. I feel bad about it because I seldom let myself fail to do what I’ve set my mind on.

So I’m using this blog to give myself a pep talk.

  • I didn’t finish but at least I started and it’s a really good start.
  • My novel is shaping up to be a good one.
  • I discovered that I can shake the cobwebs from my brain even earlier than usual (I usually don’t get up until 4:30 a.m. and then I spend fifteen or twenty minutes sipping coffee and letting my brain coast.)
  • The world does not end when you admit that you failed.
  • Life is too short to beat yourself up.
  • When I look at my list, the novel is the only thing I did not accomplish so that in itself is a pat on the back, right?

Writing is hard work. Work is hard work. Having fun is hard work. Ministry is hard work. Anything that you are committed to doing well is hard work.

There, I feel better.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.1 Cor 10:31

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Am I crazy or what?  I don’t need Daylight Savings Time.  I need Sanity Savings Time. For those of you who may not be aware, November is National Novel Writing Month. It comes with it a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 31 days.  You can participate with hundreds of other writers at NaNoWriMo online where you enter your daily word count, get lots of encouragement and follow others who are doing the same thing.

My decision to accept the challenge came just like everything else I say yes to – jump in there impulsively and wonder why later. Now that I’ve begun, I’m analyzing whether this is even possible. I have to admit I skimmed over the 50,000 word part when I first read about NaNoWriMo. But now my brain has led me to the point of realizing the expectation is 1,613 words a day.

Actually I can’t figure on a whole day in which to accomplish the 1,613 words. At least eight hours of my day are spent at work, not writing.  At least one hour of my day is spent in bible study and scripture reading, not writing. Another two or three hours of my day are spent in activities with family, church, and friends, not writing. Then there’s housework, cooking, driving, sleeping, showering, dressing, talking on the phone, eating, etc, etc. – not writing.

But, here’s the amazing part of this post – after two days I have actually written 4,527 words! That’s well over the average daily count and it’s a miracle.  When did I do it?  I have no idea.  I squeezed a few minutes from my lunch break.  I put down my fiction novel for the time being. I wrote while watching a movie with my husband. I wrote during some really early morning hours. I’m pretty pumped after two days.

How do we ever accomplish the things we pack onto our ridiculous schedules? By sheer determination, organization and teeth gritting tenacity, that’s how.

I’m watching my children do the impossible balancing of schedules with kids in school and extracurricular activities. I see things happening at church because already busy people commit and get busier. It is true that the more people have on their plate the more they seem to accomplish.  They are the people who can’t seem to say no and always seem to squeeze it in. They get much done but they sacrifice much at the same time.

There is a balance – I just haven’t quite found it yet. There are so many things I want to do and I’m not getting any younger. On the other hand, my body doesn’t always cooperate with my ambition. It keeps demanding rest and nourishment.

My brain is still running at full speed it seems because the ideas keep flowing. On the other hand it doesn’t always retain the stuff it needs to for as long as it should. A lot of my creativity can be found laying in the wake of where I have been. I had a great idea but by the time I get to the place where I can write it down it’s gone.

I’m not averse to slowing down a little. On the other hand, the minute I slow down I fall asleep. I hate that.

All this rambling is just to ask this question – can I do it? Can I write 50,000 words in 31 days? Probably. Will I have to sacrifice something else to get it done? Probably. Am I ready to reprioritize my whole life and cut back on activities? Probably not. Am I going to wear myself out periodically? Most definitely.

But my great goal is to have this on my epitath after I die:   With God’s help, she finally got everything done.

Lord, you establish peace for us;
    all that we have accomplished you have done for us.  Isaiah 26:12

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