Spiritual math and gratitude

Hi everyone,

I know I’m cutting it down to the wire this month, but I haven’t forgotten about my second post! It’s been a very busy month with a rather large transition taking up most of my mental, emotional, and creative energy, much of what’s left of the latter having gone to Drawtober.

In any case, in going through this big transition (moving out of my parents), I’ve really been given an opportunity to put some things into perspective, learn some lessons, and dig down to a few outstanding issues that I still need to address. And because it’s getting late in the month, I’m tired, and I’m not entirely sure how to string them together cohesively, we’re going to approach them as a list.

God’s not interested in subtraction

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’re probably familiar with Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

You’ve probably also heard the phrase “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away,” usually as an encouragement to hold things with a loose hand.

Something I’ve (re-)realized about myself recently is that I mostly think of God in regards to the taking away half of that phrase.

But that’s not actually what God is like.

God is interested in addition, exclusively. Because He works all things together for my good. Everything He does for me, every trial I walk through or victory we win is for my good, even if, at the moment, it feels like a loss. Even things I straight up lose, perhaps never to regain, are ultimately only ever to add good. Because He’s a good God, and that’s what He does. And I know there’s something more profound there than what I’m saying here, but mostly I just bring it up to encourage you and to get it on the page because I feel like maybe for someone, it’s what you need.

I really don’t care that much about things

As part of moving, I had to pack up everything, or almost everything, I own. And for anyone else who’s ever moved, you know that that can be a bit of a pain…which as a privileged middle class-ish American, I realize even as I’m typing is an outrageous statement to make (whoops).

But, setting that aside for a different soul search/post, I’ve also learned that ultimately, things don’t mean that much to me. There are some really, really nice houses not far from where I live now, and honestly, I find I wouldn’t even want to live in them if I could. It’s just not that big of a deal to me (which for my wallet, is lovely). I’m rediscovering the joy of having fewer things (and of libraries and streaming services which can own things for me, haha), and it’s been really nice. That being said, I’ve found some other things I’m more attached to (family and family proximity, familiar places, and specific concepts of home, life, or family being a few) that I need to hold more loosely as well, but hey, it’s a start.

Value every minute that you have with family

Directly tied to the point above, in moving I have also seen what an incredible blessing my family is and has been. I have a greater understanding of just how much my parents have given to me, continue to give to me, give up for me, and selflessly sacrifice for my happiness and well being, up to an including to the detriment of their own, and it’s been both humbling and amazing. You are by far the greatest personal examples I have of unconditional love in my life, and I love you both very much. You are amazing.

It’s time to get back to my anchor/core. A wake up call.

The biggest take away I think I’ve had from this experience is also, I think, the biggest take away I’ve had/have from this whole summer: I need and miss Jesus.

As the Lord well knows, I am a runner. Terrified of hearing things I don’t want to hear, when things get tough, one of my first reactions can be to hide. And, as most Christians can tell you, once you start running, man, it can be hard to go back (because of pride, not because of the awesome, open-armed Father waiting for us when we get back for any of you atheists out there who are wondering).

And that’s not to say I’ve walked away from my faith this summer or started actively pursuing a life of sin or anything (at least not on purpose), it’s just been, well, hard to focus. Often, I’ve felt driftless, sometimes hopeless, and frequently discouraged. There are areas in my life where I’ve realized I am just disappointed and hurt and sad, and I squish it down so much sometimes I don’t even realize it myself.

But in dealing with this move and the emotional ups and downs that has brought, I’ve realized that really, what I need more than anything, what I need more of than anything, is Jesus.

When I’m at my peak walking with Him, everything is a joy. When I’m listless, driftless, lost at sea, it’s because He’s not there. Somewhere along the way this summer, I feel like I lost my spark. This fall and moving into my next year, I want to get it back. In the areas where I am hurt, I need to open up to get healing, where I feel discouraged I need passion, where I am lost, I need guidance. I need to know the Father’s love, for me specifically, and for the passions and loves I have. I know all of these things are available to me freely through Jesus. I know He has them ready. I just need to ask and go get them.

Jesus, where I am weak, where discouraged, where helpless, help my unbelief. Show me your love.

Amen.


So, what about you? Any valuable lessons from this summer? Any thoughts on the thoughts above? Let me know in the comments and if you want more content like this, please follow me here or on social media using the side bar links. Thanks for reading!

Recurring themes: the dark side

Hey all,

In my last post, I talked about recurring themes, how the ideas or subjects that come up in our work again and again can be a great way to process and grow as people and writers, a way to identify our personal voice, and a way to identify and promote our place in the market.

This time, I’d like to come at it from a bit of a different angle and point out some of the downsides of playing the same notes over and over.

The main issue I see is stagnation, both personally and as a writer.

To give a personal example, we’ll take Machine (collective sigh from regular readers). When I wrote Machine, I was processing through a lot of stuff from my middle school and teenaged years (heck, I still was a teenager), which at the time, was healthy.

Except, as I kept editing it over and over again (it took me a long time to learn how), I got stuck in a bit of a personal loop. It wasn’t until I set Machine aside and got some distance that I realized how close those ties were and what was really happening.

But that’s really for a different blog post, of which there are already many.

Which brings me to the second part of stagnation, which is stagnation as a writer.

Something that I’ve seen visual artists do that I really admire is to do a kind of inventory of their characters to make sure they’re drawing different types of people. Basically, they either do a big line-up or line-up of faces of their different characters, and then compare them, looking to see if, for example, they only draw one kind of eyebrow or lip or even race, body type, or height. The point, besides wanting to be more creative and/or diverse in their character designs, is to find where they aren’t pushing themselves as artists, where they are falling back on what they know or are good at.

I think we, as writers or artists of any kind, can and should do the same thing.

For example, one of the recurring themes I listed in my previous post was antagonistic partners. And I do love writing them. A lot. But if that’s the only kind of relationship I focus on, I’m missing out on something, not just as an artist trying to convey the full richness of human experience, but also as a writer trying to grow.

There are other concepts or ideas I lean on frequently besides that too, such as being captured by the enemy or timid male leads. And that’s not to say any of those are bad things, but if I were to stack up the individual pieces of my novels in a line-up, well, a lot of those suspects would start looking eerily similar.

And once you start doing that, well, outside of very few genres, predictability is no friend to the writer.

So what’s the difference between a good recurring theme and a bad one?

Good question.

I’m not entirely sure I can lay out hard and fast rules for it myself yet either, but a few guidelines I would suggest would be:

  1. Consider whether the idea you are exploring is either new or at least from a new angle. If you are re-hashing something you’ve already done, that’s probably not the best. If you are building on or refining an old one (a la Miller from my last post), that’s better.
  2. Consider whether your element is a theme you’re building on or a plot device you’re over-using. A twist can be a useful tool. Use it too much though and you start getting groans in the theatre (I’m looking at you, Shyamalan).
  3. Consider who is being served by your use of this element. With Machine, I was serving and justifying myself by re-hashing the edits over and over. Even if it had been published, the one who would have benefited most was myself. To give a less vague and more fictional example, consider the writer constantly writing themselves into their work as the main character, every person who has ever rejected them being proved wrong at every plot turn. This helps neither the reader nor the author. Recurring themes should help you grow, the fruits of your labor being passed on to those who learn and grow with you as they read. If you’re only hammering the same nail over and over in the same place, you might want to consider finding something new.

I’m sure there are more indications, most of the ones I’m aware of being identified more through instinct than any specific rule. If you’re not sure, try doing an inventory. Look at the repeating elements across your work and ask the above questions. Ask yourself why you are using them. Is it because you know you’re good at biting wit and a Norwegian forest setting? Is it because you write only characters that look or think like you? Because you only like to write in one sub-genre? What do these questions tell you about you or your work and is the result helpful (it could be!) or not? Then ask yourself what, if anything, needs to change. I know for me, there are definitely areas where I could stretch.

I hope to as I continue to grow.


So, what about you? Do you have recurring themes or elements in your work? Have you seen good or bad examples of it in the work of others? What rules or standards do you use to determine if a recurring element is helpful or not? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, please follow me here or on social media using the links in the sidebar. Thanks for reading!