Writing by faith: content

Hi All,

This is part two of a series I’m doing on how to pair faith and writing in what I hope are practical ways.

This time I’m going to talk about content in two different ways, inspiration and process.

Inspiration

I hesitate to use the phrase “inspiration” here because I don’t want to get this confused with the idea of divine inspiration, or for those who aren’t fluent in Christianese, the theology that the Bible is divinely inspired (with a varying spectrum of views on how exactly that was achieved), but it would also be dishonest to say that my ideas come from myself. In my last post in this series, I even talked about God providing exactly the ideas I needed at just the right time. It would be easy to argue that was just my subconscious pulling through at the last minute, and it’s possible that that is true, but I don’t want to take away from God the fact that whatever I use to create ultimately does come from him, whether that’s my mind, grit, subconscious machinations, or a divine bolt straight from the blue.

I’d rather not spend a ton of time describing how that works (since I don’t know), or its merits (of which there are many), so for now I think I’ll leave you with a couple examples of how, on a personal level, this works for me:

  1. I’m listening to, thinking about, or watching something and God gives me an idea for some kind of art to make, usually paintings or drawings, sometimes writing. For the non-writing pieces, they are usually very specific, even down to the medium sometimes, and are usually tied really closely to faith-related matters. They frequently feel urgent, like I want to get them down right away, though not always.
  2. I invite God into my work either when I begin or when I finally get stressed out/crazy enough to realize I forgot to, and my writing gets easier, either by a simple smoothing of the process, pieces suddenly clicking, or a brand new idea out of nowhere. This is a lot more of a common, day to day experience, and a habit I try to get into.

There are of course other ways that God inspires me, or catches my attention to things, but that’s not the main thing I want to talk about today. That goes to process.

Process

I think this relates more to how writers work in general. I’m reminded of a Facebook post I saw once that said something to the effect of “I’m not sure how I think/feel about it, let me write about it and get back to you.”

And it’s true. I think many writers would say that they process through issues best when they write about them. I know I’ve seen this in my own life as I’ve struggled through both personal and abstracted problems and ideas, this blog being the prime example.

So, what makes this a faith issue?

A lot of that ties to morality and what I understand as Truth. As a Christian, I believe God’s word is true. I believe His understanding of good and evil is better than mine, as well as that of justice, love, truth, honor, etc., and as I process through what I believe about those things, as I process through telling stories in general and the shaping effect that that back and forth process has on my mind, I want God to have a defining and guiding hand in all of it.

What does that look like on a practical level?

Well, a couple of things. First, I think it means not just telling neatly wrapped moral stories with completely tied up strings. Jesus told parables of course, yes, but life is also a lot more complicated than strict black and white, and the Bible often tells rich, complex stories that don’t provide straight answers. I think as writers we are free to explore those as well and use similar techniques, and, personally, I wish more often we did.

Secondly, I think it means doing the work, whether that means research, thought, or understanding. Anne Lamott talks about this in her brilliant guide on writing, Bird by Bird. I don’t remember any specific quotes, unfortunately, but the basic idea is that to write someone well you have to understand them, spending time in their minds, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, etc. This understanding naturally lends itself to compassion and humanity, a crucial ingredient when processing any issue, in writing or otherwise.

As a side note, I think we have to be careful not to spend too much time in the minds of certain characters/beliefs, but that’s rather a larger topic, so I’ll leave it at using discretion and being careful if we start to see dangerous reverse effects of getting in people’s minds.

Thirdly, I think it means agreeing with God and being careful of what we promote. As a Christian, I believe God is true, that He is love, and that He knows more about any of the topics I mentioned above as well as, well, anything else. Whatever I write, regardless of genre, length, or anything else, I want it to line up (as best as I can understand) with what He thinks about it. That doesn’t mean condemning and judging sinful characters, removing them, or simplifying things down to straight good and evil. That, like in real life, is not my realm. It does mean, however, that if my villain does something villainous, I write about it in such a way that makes it clear, with compassion, that it is villainous.

The best example I think I have of this is in Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. He talks about the wife of his former master. Once kind and willing to teach him to read, he details her transformation into one of the crueler women he knew as a result of the dehumanizing effects of slavery (both on slave and master). I remember while reading being astounded by his compassion. He understood the effects of evil in her life, saw her with compassion, and wrote truthfully about it as a result.

The more we process through these issues (as well as our own personal ones) with God, the easier this becomes. In this sense, I believe I will never become the writer I want to be without God’s transformative power both inside and outside my work.

Fourth, I think it means inviting God in. There have been times when I’ve been writing something and just sensed something wasn’t right. It could just be my attitude that day, feeling like something else needs to happen in my life before I’m ready, or even just the prodding to go deeper or research more. Of all of these tips, I believe this is the most important. I’ve been trying to get better at discerning them. So far, none of them has led me astray.

A final thing I’ll mention is that there’s another, more surprising way that God has worked with my writing, and it kind of goes in reverse. Normally when I’m writing, I’m pursuing something, whether that’s the story, sorting my thoughts, or whatever other goal I might have. But sometimes, God will use my writing to show me truths about Him, myself, or others. Even when I haven’t realized it, there have been times when God has lined things up in my writing to show me things I never expected to discover, one such example highlighted in great depth on this blog. In this sense, it’s like co-writing, a partnership, and it’s super awesome.

It’s rather a larger topic though, so perhaps its best to end here.

Thank you for reading. I hope to have more for you soon!


So, what do you think? Have you ever encountered or noticed different worldviews in stories before? Have you approached content in your work differently than what’s listed  here? In what ways and why? Let me know in the comments below and if you want to get more content like this, follow the blog or my social media accounts in the sidebar links.

 

 

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Writing by faith: timing

Pocket Watch Clock Watchmaker Art Time Of Movement

Hi All,

Something I’ve been learning a lot about lately is how to include God in my writing, specifically how to write with Him. I’d like to write a couple of posts on how this has been affecting my life, so I thought I would start with timing.

Let’s talk about it.

When I was in high school, I remember getting super knotted up in editing or writing and just driving myself crazy with wanting to move forward. I would sit at my desk for hours knowing things weren’t working but unable to step back because I just couldn’t stop. The drive to keep going, to fix things, was just too real.

When things got like that, it was always an indication to me that I needed to take a break, that my writing was taking up too large of a portion in my life and that I needed to step back to breathe. Usually, that meant taking a few days off to cool down, sometimes a little more, sometimes less.

Now things don’t usually get nearly that bad. Some of that has simply come with time, the common realization most writers have that sometimes you really do just need rest, a break, or time for your brain to think. Everyone has bad writing days, and that just comes with the territory.

But there’s another layer to this that I’ve discovered, and tapping into it has really helped me whenever I feel stressed out. That layer is trust.

What I mean by that is this: God is the God of all time. He knows what I need, my deadlines, my stories, and my mind. If I put Him and His priorities first, if I listen to Him about when I need to write and focus or rest and wait, I will get done everything that I really, truly need to get done.

If that sounds a little wishy-washy or naive, let me give you an example.

My writing group meets approximately once a month. Since I’m in the middle of editing the first draft of the novel I’m currently sharing with them, that often means I’m trying to edit just ahead of that deadline, with about three weeks to re-write and fine-tune a chapter before I hand it in for review. I also blog twice a month here in addition to whatever world-building, plotting, or editing that needs to take place based on previous feedback. I write 3-4 days a week, 2-3 hours at a time, which gives me about 48 hours a month max. Subtract time for bad writing days, Facebook surfing (*slaps wrist*), or life coming in, and you can start to see how time gets away from me.

So a couple months ago, I was trying to get my chapter in, and the chapter was just not gelling. I was teetering on the edge of panic mode because I didn’t want to miss the deadline (though to be fair, if I don’t have a chapter in, it’s really not a huge deal), it was a busy week, and I wasn’t sure when I was going to have the time.

I had two options: A. Let the deadline consume my thoughts and stress write my way through to the end even when I knew things weren’t working or B. Trust God would give me the time and solutions I needed to get everything done even if me being present for other people, family, friends or activities meant I wouldn’t have as much writing time.

I chose option B.

And, guess what? It worked. In the final hours I had to work on the project, inspiration struck, and I handed my chapter in minutes before having to leave to go to something else.

That experience has been a useful reminder to me since then that God’s timing does work. I don’t have to stress myself out that I won’t get everything done. God knows what I need and if I do things His way, trusting Him, He’ll take care of the rest.

And that’s great in the short term. People meet deadlines all the time, but what about the larger scope?

Let’s talk about that, too.

Enter, as ever, Machine.

About the time I was going to leave for my DTS, I was really struggling with that terrible beauty of a book. I’d been working on it for about eight years, and it seemed the more I worked on it, the less happy I became. Plot problems I’d tried to bury kept popping back up like the undead, character decisions and moments seemed clunky or wrong, and my hope that I was ever going to get it where it needed to be had worn tremendously thin.

It was all I had ever wanted to publish as an author and after nearly a decade of hard work, I was ready to throw in the towel.

Then DTS, transformation, abject desperation, and grace.

During that time I realized just how much I’d been doing alone, how much I’d kept God out.

I also realized just how much was knotted up in that book, and how unhealthy some of that was.

As in high school, I needed a break.

And I did take a break, sort of, for nearly a year. I realized Machine had to be re-written, and even made that announcement here.

But the more I thought about it, the more frustrated I became. Several key issues at the start that I’d largely ignored still needed answers, and none would come. I thought I stumbled upon one at one point, but even that would destroy the whole second novel, one of the strongest books I’ve written to date. Something still seemed off, so I decided to wait.

And as I did, I realized something: I still had more to live before I was ready to write that book.

Which is kind of where I still am with it, waiting for that inspiration to come.

Now for those writers of you out there, you might be worried, thinking, “Never wait for the muse to come, you just have to sit down and write!” And that is true, often, that you just have to sit and do it, but with Machine, that’s not quite right. Because I know that in this case, I really do just have to wait. There are more experiences for me to live before I’ll be ready. Who knows what day that will be. I hope I’ll recognize it when it comes.

Letting go of Machine was and sometimes still is one of the greatest struggles I’ve ever faced. I’d heard so many stories of people who had thrown their first book in the drawer and never pulled it out again, feared for so long that if I let it die, God might not bring it back. Choosing to set it down was one of the hardest, scariest decisions I’ve ever made as a writer.

And yet, I have peace about it. I trust God will bring it back. I know that this is one of my passions and that God knows and cares for my story. In fact, when I ask Him about it, the main emotion I get back is usually excitement. He has plans for Machine, and I know without a doubt that I can trust it in His hands. He can’t wait to get started on this with me…whenever it is that I’m ready. I believe this with all of my heart.

In the meantime, there’s been healing. Things I thought were dumb or would have to be removed or redone, God has restored, reminding me why I love and care about this world and these people in the first place. I’ve had ideas about how to market my books; had people speak specific, encouraging things over me about my work, sometimes out of the blue; and even had a general restoration of my passion for these stories. I’m working on another project that I love, thinking fondly instead of despairingly about my other works, and in the back always wishing and hoping for the day Machine comes back.

It’s been a long journey, but I know I can trust Him. The rest will come with time.


So, how about you? Do you believe in God’s timing? Have you had experiences with it? What about times you’ve been impatient? Have you ever had to let go? Tell me in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, follow me here on the blog or via the social media links in the sidebar. Thanks for reading!

Closing the creative gap

Ira Glass has a quote on creativity, as follows:

Now, I know I’ve mentioned this quote before on here, but it’s been floating through my mind again lately, and I wanted to share a few strategies I’ve been using to actually close that gap, to create the volume of work he mentions above.

Make time

This one sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how easy it is for life to tug your time away. Make a schedule for yourself. Find gaps in your calendar, and make them if they don’t exist. If you can, try to find the times that work best for your natural creative rhythms and work doing those.

Protect your time

Once you’ve worked out your creative schedule, stick to it. Now, I know things come up. They do, and that’s fine. But you are the only person who is going to advocate for this time. Nobody else will. So set boundaries. Enforce them. Go someplace else if you’re being distracted or pulled away where you normally work. Don’t feel guilty for following your passion, either. You are the only person who can do your work, and it’s important. Keep holding your boundaries, and eventually other people will learn to respect them too.

Be flexible

All that being said about boundaries and schedules, remember that no matter what your work is, people are ultimately more important. It’s good to maintain healthy boundaries and to be diligent and work hard, but if you’re missing every important event in the lives of those you love, you probably need a break. People will always matter more.

Set goals

For me, this can look like a variety of different things. One example is writing two blog posts a month. Another is having something ready for my writing group whenever we meet. Sometimes it’s as simple as setting a timer and making sure that I write for a solid thirty minutes at a time. Whatever your goal looks like, make sure that it’s reasonable, and give yourself the tools you need to achieve it (for example, scheduling enough time, having people to hold you accountable, or buying a timer). Also, as writer Steven James points out in this helpful article (no really, read it. It’s short), try not to set your goals by something that may not be realistic or within your control. After all, diligence can only go so far when the creative juices run dry, and there’s no reason for you to feel discouraged when it’s just an off day.

Rest

Another obvious one that’s easy to miss, sometimes your brain or body just needs a rest. For me, as a writer, this could mean eye strain, hunger, a lack of tea (of course), needing more sleep, or simply running out of creative steam for the day. For you, it might look different, but learn your signs that you need to take a break. Be especially aware of when you need to take a longer break. For example, when I was younger, I used to get so knotted up and frustrated when I was trying to get something to work on Machine that I would drive myself crazy. When that would happen, when I knew I was forcing everything and getting nowhere, that was when I knew I needed to step back and take a break not just for a few minutes, but for a couple of days, sometimes longer. If your creativity is swallowing you alive and making you miserable, if you’re throwing yourself at the wall until your head is bleeding, consider giving yourself time to recharge. Anne Lamott has a great analogy about the subconscious, a sort of child living inside you that knits things together before passing them up to your mind. Sometimes, you just need to give that child time to work.

Refuel

Tied into the idea of rest is the idea of refueling. For me, that means spending time with family, friends, Jesus, and good art. Each one of these fills me up in a unique way, not only creatively, but also as a person. They also remind me why I do what I do, getting me back to center when I start to stray, and setting the standard for what I hope to do or be. As a recent example, I’ve recently been discovering some new (to me) YA books that I like, and reading them has been reminding me of things like the pleasure of reading (part of what I want to give), why I like YA (purpose), and what good writing looks like (what I hope to do). Other kinds of art stretch my horizons, challenge my thinking, and otherwise fill me up too.

Be accountable

I’ve only discovered the importance of this one in recent years, but it has definitely changed my writing life. If you want to do creative work, having people hold you accountable to do it is one of the easiest ways to make sure you actually get it done. This can look different for everyone. For me, it looks like a list of blog posts on the sidebar, ordered and numbered by month, a writing group that meets monthly, and writing friends that sit in the same room as me to get work done. The last two have been especially helpful in helping me meet deadlines and get work done. This can also look like you holding yourself accountable. Looking at your goals, make sure you’re taking the steps you need to achieve them, and be specific. Make deadlines, tell others what you plan to do, and remind yourself why it’s important that you do it.

Give grace

 

Perhaps most importantly, remember to give yourself grace. As the video says above, you need to work, and work hard, but don’t give up in the middle. Be okay with it if you don’t get in quite as much writing as you’d hoped to, or it isn’t as good as you want yet, or you’ve been rejected again. Keep pushing through, keep trying. Someday, it will come.


What strategies do use to create your volume of work? Anything I missed? Any tricks or helpful hints? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, feel free to follow me here on the blog or on social media using the links in the sidebar.

Gratitude Checkup

Hi All,

We’re gonna keep it nice and simple this post. I tried doing something fancier, but it just wasn’t gelling and was putting me in a sour mood, so here we are. Gratitude!

A few things I’m thankful for lately:

My amazing friends

Gosh, what to even say about these folks. I am so blessed every day by every one of these people. I am so thankful for friends who support me, who love me and continue to invite me to things even when I don’t always come, who give me the space I need to have healthy boundaries, who are patient with my flaws and failures, and encourage me to grow as a person every single day. Love you, boos.

Family

I am grateful I live so close to most of my immediate family and much of my extended. I am thankful that I can trust that they support and love me, no matter what I do or am. I am glad to be able to watch my nephew grow up, to be there for my siblings, and to be able to have so much peace and love between us all, knowing that with God, everything will be okay.

The necessities

Thank you, God, for food, water, clothes, and shelter. I am so grateful to live in a country where I have such easy access to all of these things and the rich ways in which I have been blessed in these areas. I know there are many places in the world where this is not the case.

The blood of Jesus

Thank you, Jesus, for how close you are to me every day. I am so thankful that I can be close to you and feel the presence of your Spirit throughout my day. Thank you for your extreme patience with me, and the freedom I have in you, to be myself, to follow my dreams and passions, and to practice my faith every day.

Thor

I am so grateful for this little nugget. I am glad my sugar glider teaches me so much about life and how God sees me and treating creatures well. I am glad he brings such delight to me, my friends, and my nephew. I am glad he is healthy, and I am pleased by how cute and precious he is, even when he’s being a snot.

Books

I am grateful for libraries, where I can have free access to so much knowledge and story. I am grateful for how stories challenge me, broaden my horizons, and how they help me to grow. I am also grateful for all of the stories God has given me to write, for the writing group I have to share those with (and the beautiful stories they share with me), and for how I know someday they will change the world, if only just a little.

Art

I love art. I love absorbing it, to admire the skill others have and the beauty it brings to this world.

Music

I am glad for music, that brings so much joy and life into my life. I am grateful for how it helps me to process, the things it makes me feel, and how it helps me to focus when I need to work. I am glad it motivates me and challenges me and puts into something tangible the things I can’t touch or can only feel.

Nature

God, thank you for squirrels and kestrels, crows and dogs, rabbits, sugar gliders, foxes and fish. Thank you for big skies and massive clouds, trees, grass, and flowers. Thank you for the glorious beauty all around me every day, where your will is being done, the rocks and trees clap their hands in worship, and singing rivers run. I am grateful for the peace and wonder nature brings, the clarity of fresh air and wind, and that it is almost spring.

Thanks, God. There is a lot to be grateful for.

Recommendation roundup: March 2018

Hey all,

It’s time for another round of sharing what I’ve been digging lately. Allons-y.

Sufferings in Africa

This is a book by Captain James Riley, a man taken into slavery with his crew after shipwrecking on the coast of Africa. A major factor in convincing Abraham Lincoln to be an abolitionist, I heard about it from the podcast Futility Closet, a compendium of miscellany from the site of the same name.

What I enjoyed about this book so much is as follows.

  1. Straight-forward language that was both easy to read and full of candor. Though at first glance the style might seem boring for its simplicity, I actually found it captivating in its own, curious way.
  2. Riley’s excellent keeping of distances over time. I don’t know why the fact he kept track of miles traveled daily made this book so charming, but it did.
  3. Life lessons everywhere. Riley’s faith, gratitude, thoughtfulness and care for his crew, hard work, and fortitude are startling. Add to that his even-handedness in describing the people he met, his surrender (and faith) in the face of utter helplessness, and the various contrasts between just and cruel treatment, hospitality and rejection, love and hate, and you’ve got yourself a powerhouse for critical thought. I picked this up as part of some research I was doing for a project. I am so glad I did.

Our Fair City

A podcast about a dystopian future where an insurance company has taken over nearly all aspects of the lives of its “policies,” this audio drama podcast is an often outrageous, sometimes sobering satire. With lovable characters like Dr. Herbert West, Andrew Snidge, and so many more, it’s funny, charming, and well produced. While it sometimes veers into territory I’m not fond of (re-writing hymns or Christmas songs to be about the company or its goals), and not all of the content is amazing (some of their season break stuff gets a little tiring), on the whole, I’ve really enjoyed devouring this one.

Children of the Whales

Okay, to be fair, I’ve only seen one episode so far, so please don’t quote me on this being stellar if it turns out to be bad, but just in case it holds up as being as beautiful and interesting as the first episode was, this anime is definitely worth checking out. A Netflix original, it follows a group of people from the “Mud Whale,” a small island drifting through a sea of sand. Its inhabitants consist of the “marked” who can use magic but live shorter lives, and the “unmarked,” who can’t use magic but live much longer. The animation style is beautiful, the characters and plot are interesting so far, and ultimately, I’ve got high hopes. There are only 12 episodes so far, so we’ll see where it goes!

The BFG

A collaboration between Spielberg (one of my favorite directors) and Disney, The BFG is based on Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name. Full disclosure, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t compare the two.

In any case, I had a night off the other night (a miracle not of my own doing. Thank you, Jesus!), and since I knew nobody else wanted to watch it with me, I decided to give it a go on my own.

What a journey.

The CG in it is beautiful, the story is light and full of wonder with none of the usually angsty trappings of many stories today (not that I hate that, believe me), and though simple, is tremendously well done. Spielberg does a great job as usual, and all in all, it’s just a beautiful movie. I highly recommend it for anyone, regardless of age.

Bonus, the main character Sophie looks just like my sister when she was younger, to the degree I couldn’t every fully extricate one from the other, so it was fun to cheer for her throughout the whole movie.

Anyway, I think those are some of the major ones I’ve got right now.

Runners-up would include Black Panther (my favorite Marvel movie in a while, and perhaps the subject of a later post), Futility Closet (the podcast where I found Sufferings in Africa), and Colony House, a band I’m really digging. Also, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (an anime that is animated very well with an amazing supporting cast. I recommend watching Fullmetal Alchemist first, though Brotherhood is definitely the better of the two), and as ever, foxtrot, swing, and all other forms of ballroom dancing.


So that’s what I’ve been listening to/watching lately. What are your most recent jams?

Facing Blue

One of the things I’m most grateful for in my life is how personal God is with me. He loves me, spends time with me, and talks with me. When my character needs work, if I need something, or am not sure what to do, He is always faithful to coach, correct, guide, and provide.

I love this about God, but this is not the only reason my faith exists. I am also called to help others, for all of the goodness He pours into me to pour out to others, and not in passive ways.

There are three main sources that have been feeding into this for me recently.

The first is from the Bible Project. Recently on their podcast, they did a series on justice, laying out how the Bible views it and what, from a Biblical standpoint, it means. One of the things that most caught my attention was the “quartet of the vulnerable,” that is, widows, orphans, the poor, and foreigners. These are groups of people called out again and again in the Bible as those that God’s people need to be vigilantly watching out and caring for. I don’t have the time or expertise to explain more about that here, but if you have time, I highly recommend checking out the podcast or looking up some of their videos on YouTube.

The second source comes from research I’m doing for the book I’m working on now. I’ve mentioned this one before, but suffice to say one of the main characters has escaped from slavery, a topic that as a middle-class white person, I feel severely unequipped to approach. I am definitely the type of person who has avoided uncomfortable topics in the past, using emotional fragility, optimism, and a fear of being overwhelmed as an excuse, but doing research on this topic–and opening myself up to learning more about other areas of continuing injustice today–has definitely been eye-opening, both in calling out destructive habits and attitudes in myself (hiding being one of them) and in calling my attention to the seriousness of some of these issues even today.

The third source comes from my friend Alma. She was recently involved in a project called Facing Blue, an anti-sex-trafficking arts movement started as a result of a young woman’s murder. They recently put on a show–a mixture of music, poetry, video, and dance, and I was really challenged by what I saw, not only in gaining a greater awareness of the issue and how it affects my city but also in seeing many young artists use their skills for a purpose greater and more needed than I typically use mine.

So, what does all of this mean?

Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I can think of at least a few things.

First, it means no longer being complacent with just using my faith for me. The more I get to know God, the more clear it becomes to me that Christianity is not a passive faith. This certainly doesn’t mean using aggression, but it does mean confronting evil, naming it, and doing what I can to end it, in myself, and in the world around me. For example, calling out the dehumanizing effects of human trafficking or abuse, spending time with, valuing, and loving the vulnerable, and advocating for them when and where I can.

Second, it means not hiding from the world and doing research where necessary. As a genre fiction writer, it’s easy for me to hide behind fantasy, either as a human or in my work. It’s easy for me to say that I can just make up whatever I want or dismiss deep, recurring issues with a Trek-ian veneer of progress, but the longer I’ve written, the more I’ve come to realize that simply isn’t true. Human nature and its often disastrous effects are not something I can responsibly gloss over just because I’m not writing about a time and place common to Earth, and sometimes getting it right takes research and thought beyond what I’ve traditionally given.

Third, it means just being more aware of the world around me. It’s easy to get knotted up in myself, to put others after myself, and to ignore what’s hard. But that’s not how Jesus lived, and it’s not how I want to live either. It’s good to be grateful, but I also want to be generous and kind and compassionate to those in need. I want to use what God’s given me for more than just myself.

There are a few caveats I would like to point out, however.

First, I don’t think this is ultimately going to change what I write, at least on a nuts and bolts level. I think a trap I’ve fallen into before is thinking that the only way to use my writing for others is by one of the general “God-approved” categories I think of when I think of Christian writing, e.g. blogs, devotionals, poems, or heavily moralized fiction.

This, I will admit, is an unjust representation of what Christians actually write.

But more importantly, it’s a lie. One of the coolest parts of Facing Blue’s recent event is that it incorporated projects the artists involved were already working on. And I think the same can be said for what I work on now. I don’t have to cram a Jesus character into my writing somewhere, make sure each story confronts an issue, or make sure everyone gets saved in the end. I can just write what I normally do, well, better, more justly, more…truthfully to the characters and the world around them/us.

I also don’t think these new realizations need to (or should) change my calling. I think in the past, I’ve had some pretty narrow ideas of what “good Christians” do (either vocationally or with their free time), with disastrous results. Now, it feels more like a broadening of scope, or perhaps a sharpening of focus, rather than a change of direction. And while I don’t doubt there might be some additions or shifts in my daily life, I don’t think it means I have to drop everything and to be a missionary or spend all my free time volunteering. It could be as simple as shifting what I attend, listen to, or watch, or how I approach each.

Lastly, I don’t think it means despairing. In digging a little deeper into some of the research I’ve been doing, I have been grieved by some of what I’ve seen or found. The capacity for evil that humans (or the powers behind them) have is enormous, and when we give into it, on any level, it is a tragedy. That’s part of why I’ve tried shutting it out so much in the past. But in being willing to acknowledge some of this more, in participating in some of the grief my Father must feel, I must also remember that He is in charge and though He sees and feels and understands more of the despair, pain, and heartache that happens in this world than I ever could, He doesn’t give up hope and has promises yet to fulfill.

I’ve included the music video for Alma’s latest video “Hearsay,” featured at Facing Blue’s event, below. I think the lyrics are powerful and beautiful, and I encourage you to check it out. Her song “New Nation” is another great one that I think fits well.

Edit 2/28/2018: In thinking back on this post, I just wanted to make something clear about how I view Christian art, mainly in that I don’t think every piece of Christian art has to directly address some kind of issue or have some kind of great message or moral to be good art or “useful” to God, and in fact would say that’s a view I am categorically against. The main benefit or growth I expect to see from this in my writing is a more mature framework from which to approach what I choose to write, rather than shifting purposes, content, or goals, and I just wanted to make this clear to avoid feeding into any afore-mentioned ideas of what “good Christians” do or should write about, either in genre or purpose. Write freely and well, friends! Thank you!


So, how about you? Does any of this speak to you? When you’ve felt called to do more, how have you processed it and in what ways has it changed how you live? Any suggestions or tips as I continue to work this out?

Taking the pressure off

One of the ongoing topics of conversation God and I have is writing. What we want to do with it, what stories to tell, how, when, why, and so on and so forth.

Traditionally this has been a bit of a thorny subject, fear, the input of others, and misinterpretations being the main culprits behind its difficulty.

However, I have grown a lot in this area with time, and especially over the last couple of years. Most recently, in being able to make writing a much smaller deal.

Even when I was little, I wanted to be a writer. I had the inclination, the praise of teachers and parents, and I couldn’t imagine a better life than to tell stories for a living. As I grew older, my dreams evolved. Fame, fortune, book deals, etc. All of these could be mine. And best of all, I could do it all “for the Lord.” My stories would change the world, topple hearts, raise the dead. World famous by eighteen, I would be the next Rowling, the next Gaiman, God had called me there.

Now I could go on to explain how those dreams fell through (thank goodness), the journey that’s brought me to where I am today (thank goodness), but that’s not what I want to focus on in this post.

What I would rather focus on is one of the foundational misunderstandings I’ve had about my writing even from those seedling years. Mainly, that the content of my stories is the main contribution I can give to the world.

This is a trap and a lie, and it makes my writing worse.

 

See, when the best thing I can give this world is my writing, well, that’s a lot of pressure. It makes writing a paralyzing rather than joyful process, and the idea of publishing that work gets even worse. Couple that with the idea that the best way I can change the world (or worse, people) is my work, and things get even worse. Complicated characters become caricatures, explorations become morals, conversations become sermons, nothing I really want as an author.

More importantly and more tragic, I forget the most important thing that I really can do: love the people in front of me.

Writing is great. Stories are powerful. But to paraphrase the good old book, if I write the world’s best novel and have not love, well, what am I doing anyway?

Changing people is not my job. Writing words to unlock people’s hearts in just the right way is not my job. Loving people as I encounter them and writing with excellence, those two things are my job.

And believe me, that’s plenty.


Are there any areas in your life where you’ve piled on too much pressure? How has that affected that area of your life? Have you gained freedom by taking certain things less seriously or gained something else by pressing in a little more? Tell me in the comments below and if you want more content like this, feel free to follow my blog or social media accounts using the links in the sidebar. Thanks for reading!

Squad goals, 2018

Avengers

A couple years back, my cousin tried explaining “squads” to me. I’m certainly not someone who prides herself on being hip to the latest trends, so it was great to hear her point of view.

And while I certainly don’t have a group of only four or so friends who all give each other nicknames, I have recently been reflecting on the importance of community. God’s been overturning a lot of things in my heart about this subject over the past year, and I’ve been reaping a lot of rewards as a result.

So for anyone who’s looking to plug in a little more (or is afraid to), here are some tactics that have been helping me on the way.

First, I’ve been doing things that make me nervous. So far this has mostly consisted of going to events that would normally trigger some nerves and trying to be more vulnerable on a deeper level with my friends. I don’t go to everything, which is fine, but I have been trying to push myself and have been astonished by the results.

Secondly, I’m working on letting go of the lies I’ve believed about myself in the past. The biggest knot of these has mostly consisted of various iterations of not being good enough, the idea of being some kind of novelty or outsider the most common variations. When I believe those things about myself, I hide from people, God, and myself. When I choose to let them go, to believe what God says about me, I’m free to love not only myself, but those around me, to let go of things like resentment and comparison to pick up joy instead. All of those things are necessary for me to really be free to connect.

Third, I’ve been trying to have more grace for myself. For me, this means not needing to go to everything (and being more discerning about what I do go to), trying to see myself as I see others (awesome, not terrible, and not consuming nearly as much negative mental space as they think), recognizing my behavior (and what causes it), and recognizing progress. I’ve come a long way even in just the past few months, which brings me to point four, which is…

Being grateful. For progress, for friends and family, for the God who makes it all spin. God has blessed me so richly this last year with old and new friendships, and I have learned and grown so much from them already. I am consistently blown away by God’s generosity and blessing in this area of my life, the character, love, and grace these people demonstrate in my life, and I want to work harder not just to be the best I can be for these people, but to be open, honest, and vulnerable with them, too.

I think that’s what God wants for me as well.

So, even though it’s a little scary sometimes, I want to and am going to put up that fight, and am incredibly thankful for all of the people in my life, old or new, that have been and are helping me to get there. Thanks guys. Love you, boos.


Have you ever had difficulty finding a community? Have you ever been afraid to try? What are some of your experiences with this part of your life and what have you learned? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content from me, feel free to follow me or the blog, links on the sidebar!

 

Rediscovering process

Hey all,

For Christmas this year, it happened to work out that I was able to take off the whole week with a few extra days added on for New Years and weekends. I was feeling pretty peopled out at the time and running inches ahead of schedule for writer’s group, holidays being what they are (delightful, much needed, and very busy), so I was pretty excited to block off most of that time just for me, family, and my writing.

What I was not expecting was to rediscover the process of writing and why I love it so much.

Let me back up.

I love writing. I always have. I love the sound of words together, the way they look on a page, and the idea of telling stories that people love and follow and are changed by has been a dream of mine for ages.

And back when I was in high school and just out of it, there was almost nothing I loved more than the simple process of writing itself. I remember spending hours working on my books, working until my brain turned to jelly, thinking “this is what I was meant to do” whenever I put words to page.

There was frustration in there too, of course, there always is, but the pleasure I got out of just doing it, writing, editing, whatever, was so fulfilling.

Except, somewhere along the way, I feel like I lost that joy. Somewhere in those years, disappointment and frustration took over the contentment of growth, of process, of putting letters in rows in blank spaces.

I’m sure working on Machine for so long was a key part of my mistake. Putting so much time and effort into something that just isn’t going to work is a sure fire way to lose some of your spark.

But there’s another element to this, one that I think is perhaps even more profound.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on this blog, partnering work and faith has often been a struggle for me. Whether running from God because I didn’t want him to make my work boring (a lie), running from God because I didn’t think my work was good or Christian enough (another lie), or any of the myriad other reasons I’ve had for not wanting to let Him come alongside and help or guide, it’s never been particularly easy for me to join my passions and dreams with God (or at least who I thought God is or wanted).

He’s working with Me daily on that, but that’s a whole other world of posts.

For now, I’d like to focus in on a specific problem I think I’ve had, which is mainly the idea that if I’m truly writing what God wants me to write, He’ll somehow just give me the words. And I don’t mean that in the sense of general guidance or sparks of inspiration, I know and have seen Him work with me in these ways. I think mentally, at least until recently, I just had a more verbatim sense of His help. Like if I was really listening hard enough, God would just tell me what to write down.

Or, worse, if I was really listening hard enough/doing what He wanted me to do enough, everything would just fall into place and I’d have been published by now.

And there’s nothing wrong with saying He could, and I believe in some cases, He might or does. It’s certainly seemed that way with many of the people I’ve seen around me that I’ll admit, frankly I’ve been jealous of (certainly wrongfully so).

But as evidenced by, well, to my understanding, the entire Bible, that’s simply not how God works most of the time. More often than not, He works through process.

You wouldn’t tell an athlete that if they’re following God’s will they don’t have to work out. You wouldn’t tell a politician if it’s God’s will they don’t have to campaign. And while there’s certainly an element of blessing and divine intervention that can and does come into our lives when we partner with God, that doesn’t mean we still don’t have our part.

That’s something I rediscovered on my vacation.

Spending time with my work, writing it, rewriting it, sensing what works by feel and error rather than hope, it was something that, between my busy schedule and misunderstandings of God, I had forgotten. I’d lost my sense of adventure, of courage and growth with my writing, and with it, I’d lost my joy.

I don’t often give myself very much grace. It’s another area in which I believe God is helping me to grow. I believe that writing, and the process, is a part of this, and I hope it helps you too.

So if you’re feeling frustrated with your writing, wishing it would just be good already, just remember, it’s a process, and that’s part of what makes it worthwhile.

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Tom Cruise, bringing it home.

What are some areas in your life where you’ve had to go through process, creatively or otherwise? Have you found more joy or pride in the end product because of it? Where do you think you could continue to grow? Let me know in the comments below and if you want more posts from me, feel free to follow me on the blog or on social media!

Meeting Miss Eyna

 

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I have recently discovered the value of the character sheet.

Have I done them before?

Sure.

Have I done them well?

Ehhhhhh. Hubris, thy name is young writer.

But enough of these one-line paragraphs. Let’s get into the meat of this post, starting with a little background.

The first draft of Machine was finished in late 2009. Back then, I was still in high school and confident that I’d be breaking out onto the world stage of writing within the next year or two. I had a charming hero, his enigmatic love interest, and his angsty, tortured partner to stir up conflict. What more could a novel need?

Well, as it turns out, a lot. Like a world that had more than glancing work put into its creation, a focused plot that had been thoroughly checked for holes and, as we’ll focus on in this post, characters that had been fleshed out, the worst offender (or perhaps victim) of this last one being Eyna (said love interest), who up until a couple months ago, didn’t even have a last name.

Why was she so bad, you might ask? What made her so flimsy when viewed with a critical eye? Well, as it happens, the very same mystery that I so loved to give her.

“You don’t need to know that,” I’d complain whenever readers asked a question (sorry Mom).

“She just does,” was my battle cry.

If you’ve been in this business any amount of time, you can tell that this was not a good approach. And consistently, readers knew. Sure I had ways to explain it away, ways of thinking about her that made sense to me, but looking back now, I realize that they were simply romantic notions of what I wanted her to be, nothing nearly so sturdy as to support a human life. And, even if a reader isn’t supposed to know something, the author should, and needs to know (sorry, Mom). I’ll give you that one for free.

Which brings me to now, where, as with most things Machine related, I’ve really started to put in the work, starting with, for Eyna, a character sheet.

I use a modified version of the Epiguide one found here, and it’s been really useful so far. Some of its most noticeable benefits have included:

  • Forcing me to create backstory in areas I wouldn’t normally consider
  • Forcing me to nail down the key backstory elements I do consider, including timelines, events, and effects
  • Helping me understand why characters are the way they are through past events, family, and habits

This has been particularly useful as I consider my rewrite. For example, in the old version of Machine, Eyna secretly does return Rick’s affections, a fact that doesn’t become apparent until later in the book. It is for this reason that she chooses to go along with the group as they head out on their adventure.

Now, knowing a little bit more about her (and after feedback), I’m not sure that still makes sense. I’ll probably have to come up with an entirely different reason for her to join the group. Maybe she won’t even have known Rick before at all. But, because I’ll be working from a character sheet, with a character instead of some fluffy photoshop piece, I’ll actually know why she goes with, she’ll have real reasons, and my book will be stronger as a result.

And, as a bonus, making character sheets is simply fun.

Working with my modified version of the above guide (mine having just a few added questions specific to my genre/book/plot tracking purposes), it takes a little more than an hour to complete one sheet, allowing that I might skip a couple questions here or there to finish later. By the end of that hour, I’m usually pretty mentally tired (I think the most I’ve been able to do in one go was one and a half sheets, and that with a bit of a soup brain at the end), but I’ve learned loads about my characters that I didn’t know before.

For example, Eyna, my formerly enigmatic love interest, loves chemistry.

Axle, the grumpy antagonist within the group, likes crosswords.

Thade likes sculpting. Fel enjoys fashion. Noss has a father that she worries about a bit much.

All of these things have been surprises. None of them would have come up within the course of the book itself.

Doing character sheets is a blast, and it will give you a better book (to say nothing of more fodder to pull from as you’re looking to make your plot sing). If you’re a pantser like me, you should make them at least after your first draft, and, if you’re a plotter, probably before.

So hello, Miss Eyna. It’s been a pleasure to meet you.


How do you approach character development in your work or organize your other creative projects? Have you ever had experience with characters suddenly changing or growing as a result? What did you learn? Tell me in the comments below, and if you liked this post, feel free to follow my blog or any of my other pages using the links above. Happy New Year!