Living that Beatles life

 

“When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone and I’m not so self assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind, I’ve opened up the doors”

Growing up I always thought that being an adult meant being more independent. Staying up late, eating whatever and whenever I wanted, video games for days, all that and so much more could be mine as an adult.

Now, besides the fact my ideal benchmarkers for sleep, eating, and video games have all radically changed, I’ve also found my understanding of being an adult and independence have changed as well.

Because whether in the realm of my family, friends, faith, or work, I really do need people.

So thank you, people.

The simplest example of this in my life is probably in my writing.

When I was in high school, if you would have asked me what I was going to be, I would have told you world famous author. I also would have told you I was specially gifted by God for just such a thing. It was practically fate.

And maybe it is. Only He knows. But I can also tell you now, many years of work, sweat, and tears later, that if it does happen, if I get published at all, it will not be without hours of work, sweat, and tears from other people as well (hopefully properly acknowledged!), something that might only have occurred to me previously as some kind of obvious, throwaway fact, and that an honor for those involved. (Yes, I was a monster.)

A lot has changed since then, mostly a severe uptick in my respect and honor for those people and a steady downward trend in the bloated opinion I had of myself.

There are other monumental examples of this in my life as well, whether the friends I am slowly learning to love correctly, the family I am learning to appreciate, and greatest of all of course, God, whose patience with my running, ducking, and outright willfulness is beyond all measure.

It’s taken a long and humbling journey to get here though, with many more miles down the road. It’s hard to admit you need help, that you really can’t do anything you want (or at least not as well as you’d like). But there’s something nice about it too. It’s a grand thing to learn to celebrate others for what they can do that you can’t, to find the beauty in their uniqueness, to learn from those who know more, and yes, to realize that even you have your own little nook in this universe too.

So again, to all who have helped me get where I am today, to those I have helped and for all those I meet in future, thanks. I hope I can live to be someone worthy of all the things that have been poured into my life (though I have the suspicion I won’t, for which I am all the more thankful).

P.S. If you didn’t watch the video, you should. Paul is so excited and happy looking. What a ride that must have been. It’s adorable.


So, are there any examples in your life where you’ve found joy in reliance? Have you had a similar story? Who are people who have really helped you or people you’ve helped? Where could you grow? Let me know in the comments!

 

Writing with writers

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These seems sufficiently hipster-y enough for my tastes. Not shown: What I actually look like writing with my friends, on our laptops, in a library…

Hi all,

Just a quick post to talk about something I’ve just discovered in my own writing life: writing with other writers.

It all happened when a friend of mine asked if I wanted to join her for lunch and some writing time. I’ve never been one to study or work with others around, and I had some reservations about how much I would get done with the ready distraction of a friend around, but it was a writing day for me, and she’s great, so I thought I’d give it a try.

We started with lunch, talking about life and writing and such, and then when we were finished, we moved to a local coffee shop.

We were there for nearly four hours, almost all of that spent on consistent, profitable work.

It was amazing. I struggle with focus a lot in my writing, getting distracted by Facebook, research, nitpicky details, discouragement, or whatever else, but having her there, knowing she was working too, made my focus so much better. Since then I’ve written with her or a few other writing friends a few different times, and each time I’ve gotten so much more done than I would have on my own, even on bad writing days.

In addition to better focus, I also feel more accountable. Not only just in feeling accountable to work while they’re working, but also in feeling accountable for sticking to the time I set aside for it and actually making progress. After all, I can spend a lot of time “working” and not get a lot done, but knowing that when we’re done, I’ll be asked what I accomplished helps me to remember my goals and to take the steps I need to achieve them, whether I’m working with that person or not.

On top of that, it’s also just nice to have company and quick access to feedback. Whether trying to find the right word or working through a plot problem, having someone on hand to help –and getting to help them in return–is really rewarding. And when that person knows you, your work, and your craft, it’s even better.

Now, there are a few downsides to this strategy, mainly in having to work out scheduling, having less workspace (which can be rough if you take up as much space as I do when I’m working on editing and world-building), and the danger of being too over-reliant on others to get you to work, but thus far the trade-off for me has landed in favor of writing with others, at least some of the time. At the very least, as I continue to manage the balance, it’s another great tool in my writer’s tool belt.

So, what about you? What have been your experiences working either by yourself or with others (it doesn’t have to be writing)? Do you find one or the other more helpful  in being productive, accountable, or otherwise? Is it situational to the job? Personality-based (I’m an introvert too, by the way)? What about larger scale groups or designated times like Nanowrimo’s write-ins or Night of Writing Dangerously? Collaborative stories?

Tell me about it below!

Spiritual lessons from Thor

Hi All!

One of my greatest pleasures in life is getting to spend time with my sugar glider, Thor (if you thought this was about Marvel’s hero, sorry, but please keep reading!). Part of this is because he’s hilarious, super soft, a great heater in winter, etc., etc., brag, brag, brag, but it is also because I learn loads about how God feels about me when I spend time with him. So, without further ado, some spiritual lessons from having Thor.

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Delight

First off, I should say that I don’t learn about any of these things just from Thor. My family and friends have taught me much about all of these as well, as well as God himself. However, it’s also worth noting that as a human, it’s pretty easy for me to muddy those other relational waters with all sorts of unfair and stupid human junk, whereas with Thor, his motives are usually much easier to navigate, mainly: eat, rub tiny chest on random things, get to tea, explore, and cuddle, which thereby makes it easier for me to keep the waters clear. Also, I adore animals, so I really think God just uses them to talk to me.

In any case, one of the first and most important lessons I’ve learned from having this little nugget is how much God delights in me. How? Well, easy. I just watch Thor and smile. That’s it. He just makes me happy by his very existence, and that’s how God feels about me. It’s great.

Persistence

One of my favorite things about Thor is his tenacity. I’ve seen him climb to the top of things I’d never imagine, open containers I never thought he’d crack and more, all just because he wanted it. And while that’s certainly a lesson to me as I try to accomplish my own goals in life, I also learn about God from my own reactions to Thor’s endeavors. See, it’d be easy for me to just pick him up and put him on top of my bookshelf, or to pop open the top to his food container when he starts tugging at the lid, but every time I watch him wrestle with these tasks, I get the sense it would be cheating him to do so. It is better for him to have to face his own challenges because that’s how he learns. And the rewards, such as reaching the top or sneaking some pre-dinner snacks, seem so much more rewarding for him for the fact.

As a side note, that’s not to say that I never help him, just like how God doesn’t just leave us on our own, but it does help put things in perspective when I’m wondering why God isn’t stepping in directly to put my life completely straight on a regular basis.

Quality Time

Sugar gliders don’t make a lot of noises, but one of them is a small meeping noise called a “bark” (see below). It’s usually used to get somebody’s attention, such as if they’re bored or lonely.

Thor, whose bark is particularly piercing, typically does it in the middle of the night.

And yet, when he does it, when I know he wants my attention, there is very little I wouldn’t do to make sure he knows I’m there. I’ve spent more than one night sleeping on the floor just so he can see me, and believe me, the feeling I get when my presence calms him is amazing. And sure, I’m not likely to get back to sleep most nights unless I talk to him barring just letting him bark himself out (I tried it maybe once or twice and it was a terrible, terrible feeling. I haven’t even considered it in years), but even when I’m exhausted I know that’s not my only–or often my main–motivation for tending him. The fact is, I want him to know that I’m there, that he’s not alone. My heart is stirred at his cry. How often have I assumed God wasn’t there, that He didn’t want to be with me, when in fact it is the opposite? God doesn’t sleep of course, but even if He did, He wouldn’t care if I woke Him up in the middle of the night. He loves me and hears my cry.

Compassion

The only other time Thor really barks is if he gets spooked. Now he’s a little blind in one eye and sometimes darts in front of me, so I know the causes of some barking fits (Sorry Thor!), but other times he just does it, and I have no idea why. It’s during these fits that I can’t really do anything to stop it, either. I can reach into his cage, give him a treat, and offer to let him out, but usually it doesn’t help, or at least not for long. He just huddles up in the back of his cage or behind his exercise wheel, refusing to be comforted. And it sucks, because I know that once I’m there, he doesn’t have to worry. I will take care of him. If he needs anything, I can provide.

It’s a humbling reminder of my own refusal to accept God’s comfort sometimes, but it’s also a reminder of God’s heart behind wanting to help. It’s not like I just want Thor to shut up or stop whining (although, I’ll admit I do sometimes find it frustrating, whoops). Rather, it pains me to see him unhappy or scared, for him not to feel safe and cared for when I’m right there ready and willing to help.

I could certainly stand to remember who’s in front of me when I’m scared more often too. Thanks, God!

Unconditional love

If I were a sugar glider, I’d probably look a bit like Thor. Mostly blind in one eye from a cataract, missing some tail fur from when I was gone for a week, and missing a toe from taking on a pet he shouldn’t have, the point is that even during his short life so far, he’s gotten a little banged up. And the funny thing is, I adore him for it. Rather than making him less lovable, it adds character to him and his story that I just love, even if it makes him a little less lovely by worldly standards. He’s precious to me, and while there are things I wish he hadn’t done or wouldn’t do (like trying to take on a rat or biting me), I don’t think of that when I look at him or think about him, I think of how much I love him, and of all of the good things I associate with him (like spunk or courage). It’s pretty easy for me to assume God just loves staring down at all my mistakes and flaws. Thor helps remind me of the good that God chooses to see instead.

So yeah, those are some lessons I’ve learned over the last five years. What lessons have you learned from your pets (or wild animals or precious house plants)? How have you grown spiritually as a result of having them?

Have a great Fourth of July everybody!

 

Recommendation Roundup

Hey all,

I’ve been thinking a lot about influences lately, so I thought I’d throw out some shout outs to artists who have been encouraging to me as an artist/writer. For this round I’m just going to do Christian artists, just because finding my place as one has been a journey (and also because if I expanded it, this would be much, much longer), and because they’ve been specifically helpful to me in this regard. So in no particular order, here we go!

Daniel Warren Johnson (@danielwarrenart)

http://www.danielwarrenart.com/
http://www.space-mullet.com/
https://imagecomics.com/comics/releases/extremity-1

Daniel Warren Johnson is a comic book writer/illustrator/web comic artist, perhaps most well known for his webcomic Space Mullet, “an episodic style comic about a washed up, Ex-Space Marine trucker named Jonah, and his alien co-pilot, Alphius,” and his new comic Extremity, which explores the varying impacts of pursuing revenge as a collective family unit. Not only is his work beautiful (fyi, it is pretty violent, so if that’s not your jam, I wouldn’t follow this up), but his writing is also thoughtful and complex in its introduction and exploration of its themes. My favorite example of this is issue #3 of Extremity. I love his characters for their complexity and heart (Alphius, Bobbi, Shiloh, and Rollo being some prime examples), and for the artfulness of his compositions, especially in their subtle echoing and support of his themes (a good example is this page of Space Mullet http://www.space-mullet.com/comic/chapter-4-pg-35/ and all of the third issue of Extremity.)

Anyway, you should check out his work (he’s got more than just those two projects for sure), order it at your local comic book store, and if you ever get the chance, snag a commission.

Meg Syverud (@BluDragonGal)

http://megsyv.com/
http://www.daughterofthelilies.com/dotl/part-1-a-girl-with-no-face

Meg Syverud is the writer and illustrator of Daughter of the Lilies, a beautiful webcomic that follows adventurers Thistle, Orrig, Brent, and Lyra. From her site:

What happens when a man who kills monsters falls in love with a girl who thinks she is one?

Brent, a brutish, freelancing adventurer, realizes that he’s fallen for his coworker, Thistle: a shy, talented Mage who considers herself a monster, and who is relentlessly pursued by a tyrannical dictator.

Daughter of the Lilies is a comic largely about the importance self-worth, the different forms love can take, how it can redeem and empower us, as well as issues relating to anxiety. (There are also unicorns, manticores, ghouls, goblins, cannibalistic elves, and so on.)

One of the things I love about this comic (besides the fact it’s really pretty) is one of the goals behind it, which is to have open dialog about Christianity in the webcomic sphere.

One of the things I really love about it is how she actually does it, through story and community discourse. It’s lovely (and a great story and concept too!).

The Bible Project (@JoinBibleProj)

https://thebibleproject.com/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVfwlh9XpX2Y_tQfjeln9QA

I’ve mentioned these guys before. They’re a Portland based non-profit whose “mission is to help people see the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus,” and they do it through a variety of resources, including YouTube videos, books, and, my personal favorite, their podcast. I’ve only known about them since fall of last year, and only started listening to their podcast a few weeks ago, but I’ve seen a lot of growth come out of even that short period of time. They do a great job of mixing intellect, history, and literary knowledge to reveal what the Bible is and how to read it properly, and I’m really grateful for their thoughtful and varied approach.

N.D. Wilson (@ndwilsonmutters)

N.D. Wilson is a non-fiction and Middle Grade fiction author from Idaho. I’ve read his 100 Cupboards trilogy, following home grown adventurers from Kansas trying to save basically everything from an evil witch, and most of Death by Living: Life is Meant to Be Spent, and the more I read, the more I appreciate his work (I’ll admit, I wasn’t terribly sure of him when I first read 100 Cupboards. Thank goodness I came back!). It’s very poetic, which is lovely, but it also does a great job of calling evil what it is. I know on my writing journey, one of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn is to acknowledge evil and its power without either glorifying or magnifying it–that is to take it seriously but always recognize there is a greater and better power still, and that’s something that I think N.D. Wilson does very well. I love both the purity and humanity of his characters (I think of Henry, who can one minute be squabbling with his cousin, and the next flinging himself in the line of danger to save her), and the poetry of his writing (the opening to Dandelion Fire is a great example of this, if I recall). I’ve been so encouraged by the strangeness of his stories (weird books do matter!), and have learned much from his example of maintaining good in the face of evil within an invented world. I am reminded of broader scopes and Tolkien-esque adventures when I read his work, and am encouraged to think such stories can and do happen in our day to day lives.

Alma (@hearalma)

http://www.hearalma.com/

I’ve mentioned my friend Alma a few times before, but I just wanted to call attention to her again, partly because she has a new podcast (@voicescast) regarding people who use their voices in life and how to do so well, and partly because if we’re talking about artistic influences, she’s definitely on my list. She’s a neo-soul singer, so there’s not a lot of overlap in our trades, but she has encouraged and inspired me in her thoughtfulness and wrestling with what it means to be a Christian artist, for her quality in craft, for her outspokenness in, well, many things, for her great love for cultivating meaningful conversation, and for actually going out and getting things done! She’s lovely. Check her out.

Honorable mentions

To finish off, I’d like to highlight just a few other artists that I like, those who might have had lesser influence (so far), or just that I feel are worthy of mentioning as great artists.

Kyle Culver (@kulver), a friend of mine with a passion for art, film, and storytelling who constantly inspires me with the volume of projects he works on, and his enthusiasm for story and self improvement. https://www.youtube.com/user/akaneo17/playlists

Mutemath (@MUTEMATH), a band you might know whose lyrics bring comfort.

Rivers & Robots (@riversandrobots), another great band whose lyrics bring perspective.

The intimacy of being unique

How do I know that the red that I see is the same red that you see?

It’s kind of a disturbing question, not only because most people would say color has a fairly important impact on their lives, but also because it points to a reality we all struggle with, which is that, in a sense, we’re all kind of alone within our own experience. There really is no way to confirm this isn’t the matrix, and no way to really be sure what we experience is “true,” that our red really is red.

As naturally social folk, this is hard.

After all, why do you think Buzzfeed lists really are so popular, or gifs or hashtags? It’s because we like to relate, to be in the “in” crowd, with the people that “understand” or “get it.” We see that gif of David Tennant crying in the rain, Brad Pitt pumping his arms and think, yes, that is what I feel right now. The ever present caption: “This is my life.” Nobody really wants to be the outsider, to be the Stitch in the family (even if they say they do. Been there, done that).

 

(If you’re wondering, yes, I did search for sad gifs, and yes, it did make me sad.)

Except, you are not Jean Luc Picard face-palming (although to be fair, we all probably wish we were at least a little), nor are you high-fiving Tina Fey, that super psyched kid at that birthday party, Tom Cruise, Britney Spears, Beyonce, Batman, or *insert any other super famous gif person (many pardons if you actually are Tina, Tom, Britney, Beyonce, Brad, David, Patrick or birthday party kid. Welcome to my blog!),* and that is not your life.

Which is great.

Because here’s the thing. Your life experience is entirely unique, and while that does mean you might have times where you feel like nobody understands what you’re going through, it also means there are beautiful, powerful experiences that God, the creator of the entire universe, has given to you and only you, to just one person out of the billions and billions of creations that have stemmed from His Holy hands, and what could ever be more intimate than that?

Think of the times in your life that you can’t explain to others. The feeling you had in your greatest accomplishment, times when you felt something divine, all of your most beautiful, exquisite moments and feelings–all while being alone, outside, the only one seeing your red. It’s hard to put the feeling down in words, right? And God made that for you, a story, a journey, that only He and you will ever really take, experience, and understand.

“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” Proverbs 14:10

It’s hard to feel lonely, and it’s not always easy to believe that God is with you in the midst, but just remember, you’re the only one who’s ever going to experience those things, the only one who’ll ever get your amazing, beautifully crafted life, so enjoy it for all the strange craziness this life can bring and cling to Him when things get tough.


Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got. So, what do you think? Do you see your uniqueness as a gift? When have you struggled with this, and what has helped? How do you think our society could benefit or struggle as a result of this understanding, and do you even think it’s true?

If you liked this post, always feel free to subscribe, comment or share. Talk to you all soon, lovelies!

 

Embracing the fog

The Bible Project recently came out with a new series on the Wisdom books, that is, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. I was in London at the time, wrestling with quite a few decisions that could use some wisdom, and I thought I’d give them a try.

What I wasn’t expecting was for the video on Ecclesiastes to be one of the most comforting and encouraging things I’d seen in a while.

Proverbs

Job

One of the main points the video makes is that the “meaninglessness” that Ecclesiastes often espouses isn’t exactly the best interpretation, fog, vapor or smoke being a better analogy. Basically, even though you do the best you can, we’re all still kind of stumbling around in the dark to a certain degree, and life is strange.

And in a world that seems so focused on pinning life down, whether by politics, click-bait lists, twitter mobs, self-help or more, I can hardly think of anything more comforting than that.

I think about this often, both as a writer and a Christian. For one thing, in a world where issues can be so convoluted, intertwined and polarized, it can be intimidating to join a conversation, let alone make a piece of art related to it. When you don’t want to lead someone astray spiritually by being wrong (though yes, God can definitely overcome any harm I could do), when you know just how corrupted, biased, or flat out wrong you can and likely will be, it can be even worse. I certainly know only a fraction of the darkness that still lives in me. Why would I want that out there?

But that’s also why I think I found this video so refreshing, because it reminds me just how inadequate I am to understand the vast complexities of the world around me, and the grace and humility and wonder that it forces me to recognize and receive and offer to others as a result.

There are so many things that have happened in my life that I don’t understand, so many things that I think I may never understand, and being able to admit that, both to myself, and others, is incredibly freeing.

In many ways, I think it comes down to this.

In a world obsessed with being right, I’m finally ready to admit that I am, and often will be, wrong, as a writer, as a voter, as a friend, a Christian, a sibling, etc.

As a writer, this means having the courage to put my work out there, to be humble enough to accept correction and change and to admit to the world that I’m still trying to learn and grow, as a human and a creative. It also means writing characters who are struggling and don’t know everything and have to run through the fog too. It means not preaching at people through perfect characters, but showing, exploring, asking questions and not always providing the answer.

As a Christian, well, it kind of means much the same, admitting my faults, accepting His thoughts are higher, and trusting Him for the rest. Now that doesn’t mean I intend to stop seeking knowledge or wisdom, I willingly admit I could do much against my own insecurities by simple research and engagement and we should seek knowledge and wisdom, but it does mean that I am free to admit that I’m not there yet, that there’s still work to do. I can also better trust my Heavenly Father when things are hard, when I don’t understand what’s going on inside of me, or when I don’t understand things in general.

I think the most beautiful thing about this is that it’s making me cling more to my Abba. Admitting I can’t understand His grand logic and understanding means surrendering a certain part of me, that pride of knowing (or having to know) it all, and clinging to Him and His grace alone.

So, let’s talk about it. Let’s admit we can be wrong, love with grace, and jump into the fog.

P.S. What about you? Do you find this encouraging or upsetting? Have you had similar experiences/epiphanies? Where are areas where you’ve gone into the fog, and how did you grow/learn as a result? How could you see this applying to what you do, either personally or professionally?

Finding the eternal thread

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/5241459773

I’ve been working on a theory. Let me know what you think.

It has to do with some of the stories and characters that I find most compelling and why. I’ll give you an example: That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis.

It’s the last in C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Plant sci-fi trilogy, and features a young college fellow’s slide towards darkness and his wife’s efforts to rescue him. I read it several years ago, and while I don’t remember a lot of the plot specifically, I do remember being invested in their stories to the point of practically physical distress.

I remember thinking about this specifically while I was reading. I don’t remember when it happened, but at one point, I actively questioned why I was so invested while I was reading. It’s not that it wasn’t good writing by any means, I’m very fond of Lewis and especially this trilogy, but I do remember being surprised because of how, well, normal it was. I mean, there are definitely elements of the strange–something sinister as my friend Sarah put it–but the story was also, in some ways, plain, at least in comparison to the world-hopping high stakes novels I’m used to.

Then I realized, I wasn’t just interested because of what was happening on the surface. No, I was interested because what I was reading had a soul on the line. It wasn’t just Mark’s marriage or career. It was Mark himself, and what would happen to him not just in the next few days, months, or years, but for eternity.

This, I think, is the eternal thread, that knife’s edge between death and life, good and evil, and when I see people tread it, see them danging in the balance, I’m captured.

I think of other examples of this in literature, the men of Rohan in The Two Towers, George in Of Mice and Men, heck, even Kylo Ren plays with this. In each, you see the inevitable march towards decisions that will mark a lifetime, those turning points towards good or evil, freedom versus chains. They open me up to a larger reality, a vaster scope, and it isn’t just in writing. Many other kinds of art or day to day life have it too.

Which brings me to the question of what exactly it looks like when woven into a story. How does one wind it into the great tapestries of their creative work, and when? There are many, many stories I adore that don’t outright hinge on a singular point of salvation for example, many that I find just as impactful and meaningful as those listed above, and still others that try and do so without success.

So what is it that really earmarks something as having that thread, even if it’s buried deep beneath layers and layers of other stitches? At first, I’ll admit, I found the question frustrating. Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t mention Jesus at all, and I used to cry telling people about it. Likewise, our good friends George and Lenny don’t find some happy ending (at least that we see), and yet I see the thread there too.

Except, that’s kind of how life works, which is the beauty of the thread.

You see, ultimately, all human lives end in tragedy or comedy. There are, sadly, some of both. This is why happy endings and sad ones can be equally True, and it’s also why, to a certain degree, all stories have this thread. Are characters turning to good or evil, light or darkness? This, though sometimes as foggy and gray as Solomon’s vapors, it always true, and something that with wisdom, we can begin to discern.

That being said, even with this understanding, what does it actually mean? What does it tell us about the stories that most draw us in, and how to tell stories ourselves? Personally, I think I’ve found it useful in reminding myself what I am uplifting in the stories I tell. Am I celebrating and hoping for a turn towards the light (as my Father does), or am I beautifying evil, justifying what is wrong as right, when in fact I should compassionately cling to good with love and understanding in sight for the lost? That is perhaps one practical function of it from a strictly technical perspective. Another perhaps just to remind us of the journey we are all on.

I suspect there is much more to be gained.

So, what do you think, friends? Does my theory hold up? Do you see the eternal in what you read? Hinge points for a soul? If not (or even if, I suppose), what else do you see? What most captures you, in writing or in other forms of art and why? What examples do you have, and if you’ve had any success in capturing it in your own work, how did you do it? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to know.

Writing tips from down the road, part 2

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Hey all,

Last month I gave you some tips on writing I’d learned over the last 10+ years of writing with the promise of more. You can check that post out if you’d like to catch up. Otherwise, let’s dive right in!

  1. Celebrate others. This one is very important, not only because it takes the spotlight off of yourself (very important for fighting the pride of points one and four from last post) and in general promotes you being a more lovely and less selfish human being, but also because it is inspiring and thrilling and will propel you to your own new heights. Going to things like author events, spreading the word on books, authors or events you like, or otherwise being a supportive member of your writing community is exciting. It also builds courage, both for them and for you, and gives you a sense of context, both as a writer and within the world at large. Every author you meet has a different life, a different story, and when you celebrate that, celebrate them, you begin to understand more of why you are important too, the gaps you fill and the stories that only you can tell. Additionally, since so much of this business is word of mouth, encouraging others to read or attend things you like is a really practical way to help authors you like (and reading at large, which will of course in turn help you). Plus, sometimes it just feels nice to be nice.
  2. Do the work. Success comes from work. Though some get very lucky and their work takes off like a rocket, there was still a great deal of work involved outside of and before those circumstances, and even more for those who do not suddenly find themselves riding a shooting star. This is probably the most common piece of advice given to new writers, and I, like all the rest, will agree not only in that this step is crucial, but also in the fact that there simply are no work arounds to this suggestion. Luckily, if you really are a writer and want to be a successful one, even at the worst and dirtiest of your work, when you are elbow deep in weeds and sewage in your terrible first, second or whichever draft, you will also find the work satisfying and enjoyable, because you will know why you are doing it, what you are working towards, and hopefully will have some kind of vague image of what it will look like when you are triumphantly finished to guide you along the way.
  3. Work in order. One of the greatest mistakes I’ve made in my writing career (as a direct result of points one and four, I might add) is working backwards (as mentioned last post). Most of us like to imagine what our finished work will look like, what it will be like to cross that first milestone or finish line, but this kind of thinking, the fantasy of it, can get in the way of actually doing, and the blind pride and confidence that can accompany it can also get in the way of actually fixing the bugs your story has. Stories cannot be made from the outside in. You can not begin with clothes and skin and work in towards a spine and organs. Stories, like any other kind of creature, must first have bones and fluids before they can put on their makeup, their purses, their polish, and jewelry. This is a mistake I have often made in thinking the first skeleton I put together was the right one for any given set of bones, and I cannot imagine the work, pain (past and future), and stress I could have avoided had I realized this at the start. If you are a “pantser” like me, it is fine to romp through your first draft, to fly past inconsistencies and abrupt changes and vomit all over the page. It is not okay to come back with bows and blue ribbons, tacking them on like gold stars to work that you know is poor. Write it, rewrite it, and keep rewriting until you know it’s right. This advice is also true of your career at large. Neil Gaiman describes writing goals in terms of mountains, the top that you must consistently align your life towards, and the steps you must climb to get there. If this means taking jobs you would rather not, working hours you would rather not, or otherwise doing anything you would rather not to get where you eventually want to go, do it. If you can’t or won’t make sacrifices for your story, if you aren’t willing to take the small steps, don’t bother. We must always remember balance (come up for air) but if you aren’t willing to hurt a little for it, you probably aren’t a writer (and that’s fine. Go, be free and find the other things that you really do love. If you really are a writer, you will come back after time after all, with the strength and wisdom to accomplish the task).
  4. Go get ’em, Tiger. For an absurd amount of time, I didn’t understand why I was not a successful writer. I talked about writing a lot, I obsessed over polishing my poorly structured novel, sometimes I even blogged. Why wasn’t I successful? Why wasn’t I published? Well, besides the fact that for many of the reasons listed above my work wasn’t good, I also wasn’t actually trying to get published. I wasn’t entering contests, I wasn’t submitting short stories, and I wasn’t really taking the deeper steps I needed to get where I wanted to go. Writing is hard, and putting it out there can be even harder. What if people don’t like what you’ve written? What if they’re mean or say no? Well, if they do, oh well. That’s life, and the fact is no matter what you write, it will never be perfect, and that’s okay. Do everything you can to make it the best you can, and then get it out there. In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott says “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor,” and she’s right. It’s scary and hard and sad to get rejected, but publishing is even harder, and if you don’t go after it, if you don’t hunt it down like some crazy person in the woods, it’s not just going to curl up in your lap like an oversized lapdog, raining down success and happiness however that looks to you. Your story is important. You are important. Clean it up and take the risk.
  5. Feed yourself with intention. This feeds in to the neck and neck rival to the advice of “write” regarding writing, and that is to read, or, depending on your project, to see, to hear, to taste, to touch, to experience, to play or otherwise. Humans are social creatures. We need the world around us and cannot survive on just our own little islands. When you’re stuck, read a book, see a movie, celebrate others. This is part of the joy and beauty of these things. Surround yourself with inspiration, seek out the things that feed you and the stories inside (I’m looking at you, Jesus), and your urgency in writing will become more real, your desire to improve and share more sharp. You will be reminded why the stories humans tell are important, what different genres are capable of, and the boundaries we should rightfully keep, push or break. On the flip side, recognize when your “inspiration” is becoming an excuse. It is easy to justify that next episode of your favorite binge series as feeding your muse, (don’t worry, I’m guilty too), but just as overfeeding your pet without taking them for walks is going to lead to something unpleasant for both of you, feeding your mind without providing an outlet for all of the lovely things it is absorbing is not going to get your very important story from self to paper. Additionally, consider what it is you’re feeding your mind, the quality and content of your inspiration. Think of it like a diet. Sometimes you should splurge a little, sometimes you should broaden your palate, other times you might need to pull a Michael Phelps and eat twelve turkeys a day with protein powder for stuffing. It’s all going to depend on where you are, what you’re writing, and what your goals for it are. Don’t take yourself too seriously though, work hard, and remember that anything, even the most unexpected, foolish or insignificant thing can be infinitely inspiring.

Welp, that about sums up what I have for now. So, what about you? What advice or tips would you give? What would you tell your younger writing self?

Starting over, a novel approach

Hey all,

So, I’ve got a huge, slightly scary, but mostly super exciting announcement to make.

Are you ready?

I’m going to re-write Machine.

What? That’s crazy! I’ve been working on it forever!

Yeah, I know.

But the problem is, for the longest time, I’ve been working backwards. Terrible first draft aside (kind of hard to miss that step), first I was polishing, then in stages I started making small changes, then larger ones, and even larger ones until now where I’m finally willing to admit that maybe the bones I’ve been trying to jam together for so long just aren’t meant to work that way. And I’ll admit that’s kind of frustrating (and significantly more embarrassing for as much as I’ve run my mouth about my little monster), but now that I’m starting to let go of it a bit more, now that I’m more willing to admit I was wrong and to let God and the advice of others in, it’s actually getting a lot more exciting, not only because I’m rediscovering the potential of something that I’ve increasingly been seeing as hopeless, but also because I’m finding some of the bones that do stick together (and where some of the other ones that don’t might actually go).

And it’s great.

So, if you’re looking at a massive rewrite like me, what does that actually look like?

Well, let me tell ya. Basically, (or at least at a first stab since this kind of edit is still new to me) I’m actually doing my work in order.

First, I’m going to do world-building. That’s the stage I’m in right now, figuring out weather, politics, education, creatures, etc. I’ve made some progress on this front already. Several problems I’ve had basically since the beginning have started to shift and crack, others resolving completely. I’ve also made some surprising discoveries, both about the world itself and the characters that live in it. Honestly, though it’s been daunting sometimes, it’s also been really fun. I used to be afraid of locking anything into solid fact because I was so worried about getting it wrong, so afraid someone would question me and I’d have to change things (if you’ve ever had to deal with my unwillingness to edit before, I am so sorry. I’m getting better!), but now I’m really discovering how much fun research can be. It’s exciting to see how these different aspects can lock into place, and even though it doesn’t always work like I’d initially expected or hoped, it’s also been fun to start deconstructing story elements I’ve (sometimes needlessly) clung to, to ask the important questions about how things relate to make sure this story becomes the best it can be, which brings me to my next point, which is…

…taking a good look at my plot. Before I plunge ahead with a rewrite, I want to take time to think about what this story really is, what it is I’m really trying to say. God is helping me a lot with that (when I listen, which is still hard), and I’m trying to take the time, though I’ll admit I’m not super far on this one yet. I am asking a lot of questions though, and taking advantage of some advice I just read from Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird. Speaking about the first stories we tell, she says, “Beginners … always write blatantly about themselves…even if they make the heroine of their piece a championship racehorse with an alcoholic mother who cries a lot.”

And while Machine certainly hasn’t been about either of those two things specifically, it is a lot about my story (something I’ve mentioned before on this blog), my testimony, and when I consider that, it helps me to figure out not just what Machine is about, but where I want it to go, where I want to go. Because the fact of the matter is, if you’re writing about yourself and your main character gets hit by a bus or winds up a hermitic alcoholic, that doesn’t bode well for your own personal outlook, and as I’ve been looking at how Machine reads, I’ve been finding more and more telling things about how I perceive myself, especially when I look at the arc of it over time. And that’s not to say that I’m going to make this truly autobiograpical, even in an allegorical sense, but as I keep pushing towards more love, compassion, grace and especially hope for myself and others–especially the others I want to reach with this book, I think it’s going to show.

The other half of this step is to take a close look at my structure, what works and what doesn’t. Machine was the second-ish book that I wrote, the first in even more dire need of a rewrite, so I’ve learned a lot about plot in the books I’ve written since then. I’ve also heard a lot more from other authors, agents, etc., on what publishers are looking for, and gotten feedback that I think I’m finally ready to start taking into account. I’ve started taking better notes with my critique group and will soon be ready to get feedback from them on the whole thing (well, a few months down the road, but soon for the book publishing world, haha). I’m also considering taking some classes, or at least getting some extra books from the library about things like structure, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Step three is going to be, rather obviously, writing it. I don’t know yet if it’s going to be a full re-write or if there are going to be pieces I’m going to be able to keep, but hopefully after steps one and two I’ll have a clearer picture.

After that, I’m going to take a look at it, see what needs to be fixed, fix it (rinse and repeat those maybe a couple of times), and then polish and scrub. You know, all of the steps I’ve already been doing out of order for the last eight or nine years, haha.

So, I’m not sure yet how long all of this is going to take. Life has been crazy, and though I’d like to say I’m going to be determined enough to plow through this all by next spring (or at least have a first draft), I just don’t know that that’s true, and with another book or two that are not in such desperate need of makeovers, I might be switching gears to start working on them while Machine takes a backseat to simmer. As ever, time and the Lord will tell.

In the meantime, I’m going to be working on some short stories, gathering feedback, researching, working on some other projects (like Twice Born!), and of course, blogging. As to the rest, we’ll find out! Tally-ho!


So, do you have any advice? Any times you’ve had to start over or do a lot of back work on a big project? What did that look like? How did you do it? Did you have other things that inspired you or kept you going on the way? Tell me all about it below and if you’re not already subscribed, follow me here, on Facebook or Twitter to keep in touch.

Thank you!

 

 

 

Writing tips from down the road, part 1

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Cliche? Yes. Still gonna use it? Yes.

A couple weeks ago, I started reading Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, a book about the craft of writing, and, as the title suggests, some of the overlap that has with life. It’s a wonderful book full of beautiful analogies and insight, especially if you are a writer (or want to understand what it’s like to be one), and as I continue in this transitional season, I’ve been looking back on many of the lessons that I have learned on my writing journey. I wound up coming up with a lot, so I’m going to split this into two parts, but feel free to enjoy the first half below.

  1. Be humble. No matter how much you think you know about “your story,” no matter how much work you’ve put in, if people point problems out to you, there’s probably truth in it, whether because you haven’t written what they need or because you have and it doesn’t work. Examine what people tell you, ask yourself if it’s really true, and to what degree if it is. Never assume your audience is stupid or just “doesn’t get it.” Be humble enough to accept critique and that you don’t know everything, even about your own book. Furthermore, be humble in dealing with others. Don’t bash your work (see point 2), but do remember to give space to those around you. Humility brings perspective and clarity about how our work relates to others, and though it might hurt at first, it is important.
  2. Remember that your work matters. There is value in what you do. If not because of any great profundity or humor or beauty (yet), then at least because of the work you’ve put into it. Now, whether or not that will ever translate into commercial success or not is another matter (if that’s even your goal), but that is also, in a very real sense, irrelevant. So what if you don’t become the next J.K. Rowling? You’ve still written something personal, something only you could make, and that’s a wonderful, beautiful thing.
  3. Get connected. Writing can be a lonely task, and not having anyone to share your work (or passions) with, can be suffocating and discouraging. Community is vital. Get writing friends because they will comfort and cheer you in your despair and convince you that what you do and think and see is not some secret insanity. Get and love and appreciate non-writing friends, because they may often be those who read, those who pull you back from your various edges and inspire you, and even if they don’t, God still loves them anyway, as should you. Good places to pick up the former are conferences, authors’ events, libraries, book stores and critique groups. Good places to pick up the latter are pretty much anywhere else.
  4. Be teachable. No matter how much you know about writing, there’s always more to learn. Whether it means reading blogs or books about writing, going to conferences, going to school, or anything else, always keep your eyes and ears out for opportunities to learn, and when you find them, appreciate them. Pride will try very hard to get in the way of this, but if you can be humble enough to accept there’s always more to learn–and that you can learn it from anyone–you’ll be surprised how much farther you’ll go and how much more fun you’ll have along the way. Bonus tip: Don’t be afraid that reading about the processes of others will screw up your own. That fear kept me away from a lot of resources for a long time, and I don’t doubt I’d be much farther down this path and suffered less had I realized this earlier on.
  5. Come up for air. Because of the often solitary nature of our work (and often of writers in general) it’s easy to get caught up in our own works, thoughts and emotions, whether to the neglect of our friends and family, to the greed and consumption of pride, or to the gaping maw of loneliness. These, of course, are poison, and just like Wisconsinites who need their brilliant summers to survive the cold bleakness of winter, so also writers need the outside world in order to feed their inner. Writing time is precious and must be protected, but make sure you save time for more important things as well. Spend time with family and friends, get some if you don’t have any, and spend time away from your work. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping you out of the tumbling abyss of your own imagination (or neuroses), it will also stretch and grow you as a person, keep you healthy, and inspire you later.
  6. Require accountability. Procrastination is one of the greatest enemies of the writer. “Research” in the middle of a chapter, housework, exercise, all of these things will cry to you in the middle of your work, to say nothing of books, friends, family, Facebook and other ephemera. This, though to be expected, must be fought, and besides your own failing will, your contacts and community are and will be priceless in fighting those distractions. Set goals for yourself, tell others what those goals are, and ask them to help you keep them or follow up. That’s not to say that they are responsible for you writing or what you do with it (or even that they will do what you ask, and that’s fine), but even just being a group that’s in agreement can be invaluable. This, in my experience, is particularly useful in the case of critique groups and other writers, because very little will make you sit down and write like knowing that others expect you to do so or the dread of the question “How is your writing going?” if in fact you know that it hasn’t been going at all and are running slim on excuses. This is not to say you should write for fear of shame or condemnation, that is never a good place from which to do anything, but it does help to know that people are interested enough in you or your work to ask and that they might be disappointed if you fail to reach the full potential of which their very interest proves they believe you capable.

That’s all I’ll hit you with for right now, but expect another group of these probably in early April. Also, if you have any tips you’d give to people about writing or life (or thoughts, additions or comments on mine), feel free to share them below. I’d love to hear them.