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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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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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I’m so proud of myself because I started out 2012 by firmly setting good intentions to start early on my holiday preparations.  I was tired of last minute everything.  Taking a lesson from my good friend, Diane, who is always well ahead of the game when it comes to holiday shopping, I vowed I would follow her lead this year. Her gifts are well thought out and appropriate.  Mine are sometimes panic-mode gifts.  Don’t roll your eyes.  You can’t tell me you’ve never bought something with the thought “they can always take it back” going through your exhausted, crowd pressed, standing in a long line mind.

Too bad good intentions are just that – intentions.  There has to be some follow through or they do you no good.  I just discovered that (again) as I peeked at the calendar and found myself gasping. Part of my job as HR Director is to coordinate all of the employee events and activities.  We just completed a very successful employee appreciation picnic and I’ve been sitting back breathing in a sigh of relief that it’s over.  While I was breathing the Halloween potluck, United Way Kick Off, and Employee Christmas Party ganged up on me. 

Here’s another shocker – the holiday season activity rush facing me at work is also facing me at home.  My good intentions of being organized and ahead of schedule never made it past the thought stage.  I’m right where I always am this time of year – panicked. (By the way – that is not me in the picture above.  If I ever looked that good while shopping I would have myself frozen in that state and never thawed!)

Once again I am reminded intention accompanied by inaction results in pretty much nothing. 

I used this example in Bible study last night.  A student can have every intention of getting a 4.0 grade point but if they never come to class or crack a book it’s not likely to happen.  A Christian can have every intention of growing spiritually but if they never come to church, get in a study and/or open the Bible they won’t see much improvement. 

If I don’t get started shopping my intention of having my shopping done early just isn’t going to pay off.  I realize I’m already too late to be really early this year.  But there is some room for improvement.  After all, I still have 77 days.  Yikes!  77 days – that’s all?  I’m in big trouble.

I intend not to let this happen again next year.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua 1:8

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Wow – I was hit with a huge case of writer’s block yesterday morning as I got ready to post a new blog.  I panicked.  Maybe it was the previous five days of VBS and having to be energetic and creative every day for a crowd of 3 to 12 year olds.  Maybe it was arriving at work and discovering the storm over the weekend had taken out 8 trees and flooded several areas on our campus.  Maybe it was catching my husband drinking directly from the ice tea container.  Maybe it was just the Monday blahs. 

I began to stress about it by 2:00 p.m and panic about it around 4:00 p.m.  I did rough something out but I scrapped it because it was not upbeat enough. 

When my husband suggested an evening motorcycle ride with a stop for dinner I thought, “Perfect.”  The fresh air always stimulates the brain and I was sure I’d return with a plethora of blog ideas.  I didn’t.

I am radically goal oriented and when I started my blog I made a commitment to post every Monday and every Friday.  If I couldn’t come up with something before midnight I would officially have failed.  I racked my brain, thumbed through magazines, brainstormed and prayed.  Nothing.

I woke twice in the night stressing about my failure.  I begged God to give me inspiration.  I actually had a minor panic attack about 3:00 a.m. thinking maybe my creative juices had run out forever and I’ll never have another idea or bright thought again.

I woke this morning with the blog on my mind and I still hadn’t come up with anything.  So here I am writing about not being able to write.  That’s really pulling from the bottom of the barrel.  It’s like turning on the oven when the power has gone off or singing about not being able to sing.  It’s like shopping when all the stores are closed.  Very unsatisfying and very unproductive.

Here’s what I’m doing about it so I won’t be in this position come Friday:

  • Trying not to panic
  • Thinking of other irritating things my spouse does besides drink right from the container.  (I only add this because I realize I could fill a blog with my list.)
  • Listening to every conversation wherever I go to try and net a fragment of an idea (if you are within hearing distance – watch out!)
  • Looking around everywhere I go for beauty or funny or poignant – any of which could trigger an idea
  • Giving it to God (picking it up again, giving it to God, picking it up again, etc)
  • Believing this is only a temporary lull in my otherwise cacophony filled brain
  • Reading back over past writings to remind myself I do have a gift
  • Praying
  • Repeating Matthew 6:27 (Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?) and inserting the words “or a single word to your blog”

So – if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  I can honestly say I do not ever remember being hit by writer’s block before so I’m a novice at recovering.

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