Recommendation roundup, audiophiles and artistry

Hey guys,

It’s that time of year again. Not a specific time I’ve set up beforehand (like I probably should) but, as the title suggests, that time of year where I’ve been finding tons of cool new stuff to share with all of you!

So without further ado and in no particular order, let’s go!

Chet Baker

I first heard about Chet Baker probably five years or more ago when I was trying to get into jazz. It’s a tricky genre because it can veer from amazing to obnoxious on a dime for me, and in the slew of recommendations, I think poor Chet got lost in the shuffle. In trying to get back into jazz (again), I decided to look him up again, and man, am I glad I did.

The perfect mesh of boyish optimism, charm, and melancholy for me, I find him intensely romantic (in the same way I find bachelor detectives and cozy sweaters and fall romantic, not in the usual sense). Extra bonus, look at the album cover for this delightfully passive-aggressive love song. Magical.

“Hey girl, wanna come hang out with my dope sweater in my crazy chair? My trumpet can come too.” Love it.

Edict Zero – FIS

My favorite recommendation for this round, Edict Zero – FIS is a sci-fi audio drama, and it is AMAZING. For one thing, the production quality is off the charts. Secondly, the writing itself is incredible. The world is rich and complicated with details paced at just the right speed, the characters are charming, deep and diverse, and the exposition (one of the easiest downfalls for audio dramas) is handled beautifully.

The story follows a team of five federal agents as they seek to unravel the mystery behind an explosion at a nightclub on New Year’s Eve, 2415. According to their site: “The story is cyberpunk, being a mix of science fiction, law enforcement procedural, crime, suspense/mystery, and dark fantasy. Listeners have made comparisons to Bladerunner, The X Files, Fringe, Lexx, The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, Millenium, The Matrix, Tron, and a diversity of shows.”

Naturally, it’s the kind of thing I would adore, and I do.

As they’ll warn you at the start, there are some violence/language issues to be aware of if that’s a trigger for you, but if you really want to sink your teeth into something meaty, smart, and beautifully crafted, I can’t recommend this enough (oh that the production schedule was more reliable/that they had a larger backlog for me to devour).

Extra bonus: Special Agent Nick Garrett, who is rapidly becoming one of my all-time favorite characters across well, any form of media.

You can find them on iTunes or here: https://edictzero.wordpress.com/

We are So Bad at Adventuring

In discovering my new love for audio dramas, I also managed to stumble across this quirky one following the adventures of Thornwick and Bob, a would-be wizard and a spearman determined to find their way to The Road in order to reach the Big Battle (at least in season 1).

A bit of a guilty pleasure given how deplorable the main characters can be, if it weren’t so witty I probably wouldn’t have listened as far as I have, but it is a fun one to work to. The second season has been a little shaky so far in some of the back and forth development of the characters and it does fall into the exposition through straight up explaining things trap (a fact of which they’re aware and make fun of at least), but it’s still a fun show. You can find more about it at http://www.terribleadventurers.com/.

Audio drama runner-ups

Because I usually binge find things that I enjoy, I’ve also scrounged up the following audio drama podcasts.

It’s About Time is a podcast about Charlie and Steve, two normal guys who get hired at a time travel agency, hijinks sure to ensue. It’s light, charming and clever, and the theme song (a longer version available on the first episode) is so catchy and fun, it cheers me up whenever I hear it.

Deadly Manners, a Clue-style podcast about a dinner party gone horribly wrong features some big name talent such as Lavar Burton and Kristen Bell and has production quality to match. Though it hasn’t gotten very far yet, what it does have so far is great, Olivia and the Fortune Teller being my favorite.

The Once and Future Nerd is a podcast about three average high schoolers who get magically transported to your classic high fantasy world. I haven’t listened to more than a couple episodes, but have liked what I’ve heard thus far. There is a fair amount of bad language in it, so if that’s not your jam, I would skip this one (it’s the main reason I haven’t listened to more myself), but the narrator has a Monty-Pythonesque wit that I really enjoy.

We’re Alive is a zombie apocalypse survival podcast with great production quality and a thus far enjoyable story. I’m not crazy for zombie stories most of the time (surprise!), which has probably kept me from listening to more, but what I have heard has been of really high quality with distinct characters and some nice tension. They also handle exposition well and have a backlog that will be sure to keep me satiated for quite some time.

The Girl from the Other Side

This one is a manga series by Nagabe (art credit for below as well). A dark fairy tale along the lines of Over the Garden Wall, the story follows a little girl abandoned in the woods and her “cursed” Teacher. The girl, Shiva, is the epitome of innocence, and the tenderness of Teacher could melt a robot’s heart. First suggested to me on Amazon, I was delighted to find that three of the books were available so far, of which I have read two. Though some of the imagery is probably a little creepy, the story and heart of the series is so sweet I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. The art style is unique and beautifully inked (though I will admit sometimes it’s a little hard to distinguish because of how much black is used with Teacher and the other cursed beings that crop up). If you like that mix of eerie and sweet, you’ll love this.

 

Girl from the Other Side
He loves her so much. Entirely precious.

Anyway, that’s probably enough for recommendations for now. I’m sure if I find more I’ll let you know.


What about you? Anything you’re dying to tell the world about lately? It doesn’t have to be podcasts or books. Let me know in the comments below!

 

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A change in perspective

Hey guys,

In continuing the fall theme of talking non-stop about my Machine rewrite, I want to talk to you all today about, well, as the title suggests, a change in perspective.

There’s a thing about most writers that might be a little surprising and/or creepy to non-writer folk. It’s that most of us like to see our characters suffer. Pretty much any kind of poisonous torture we can come up with, we’re probably going to pile it on.

There’re a few reasons for this of course. First, conflict drives story, so without problems, we don’t have anything to write about. Second, since we’re usually better at dealing with fake people than real ones, it’s sometimes part of how we cope with or process our emotions (or run our wheels when we’re bad at that).

Third, and perhaps most importantly if we’re in a healthy place, is because facing struggle is what makes a character grow.

Enter Cog, stage right.

Betrayed and ousted by his family for wanting to do the right thing, despised by those he now serves, partnered for life with a ninny, he’s gone through way more than almost any of my other characters and certainly suffered the most of my trying to ramp that up.

Which, in of itself, isn’t necessarily bad.

Nor will I say that in the coming days that suffering is necessarily going to be much less. Almost if not all of the things I’ve just listed are still going to be true come the rewrite.

But somewhere along the line I lost sight of that third reason, the real why behind his suffering.

It’s only now that I feel like I’m finally getting that back.

There are a lot of ways you can describe good writing, and often in ways that are very broad. For the purposes of this post, I’ll borrow from one of my favorite authors, N.D. Wilson, and split the categories into what he describes as “faithful” and “unfaithful,” or that which “honors Him and imitates Him and imitates His tastes, hates what He hates, loves what He loves” and that which tries to “vandalize His art or steal it or use it, appropriate it for some other purpose, profane Him in some way or borrow it and try to pretend like it’s not His.”

Me trying to twist Cog as much as I can like I have in the past, putting his identity in his pain (oh hey, just like I’ve done with myself before…go figure…) is unfaithful.

I’m not quite sure when I realized this. I’ve ruminated often on how entangled Rick and Cog are with me and my relationship with God (see, well, much of this blog), how important Machine has been to my spiritual walk. I even vaguely remember recognizing the connection between Cog’s identity in his suffering and mine, a thunderclap revelation that I was justifying his behavior because he had somehow “suffered enough to earn it.”

But having that view change in actionable ways, to get to how I think of him now, has been a much subtler transformation, and all I really know is that now things are different.

When I used to think about Cog, the first thing that would come to mind was him snarling. Some spiteful comment on his drawn back lips, walls up, ready to lash out at anyone fool enough to get close. As he always has been, he was the personification of me in late middle school, the one who deserves to bite because they’ve been burned before.

Now the first thing I think when I think of Cog is him laughing, smiling. I think about Rick looking over and smiling too, remembering how they used to be. I have dreams for him now, possibilities, a future and a hope. Will he get married? Have kids? Where will they go or what will they do? What will he be like as he gets older? What will he remember and think? Which opportunities will he take advantage of? Which will he let pass by?

I don’t want there to be spoilers here, but when I think about Cog now, the future is good. I can only hope when I get to the rewrite itself that that shines through.


What about you? Ever had your motivations for a project get twisted? In what ways have you positively changed and how did that affect either the outcome of or how you felt about a character or project? How would you define good writing and do you find the above categories helpful or not?

Machine reboot: hopes and fears

Hey everyone,

So as you may know, I’ve got some big plans for this fall, mainly starting a complete rewrite of my main novel, Machine. I first wrote about this announcement in March, but even in that amount of time, a lot has changed. Some of that is tied to the rewrite itself, where I think the story is going to go or what I think it’s about, but I’ve also had more time to think about what that really means, and some of the hopes and fears that I have wrapped up in that.

In the interest of honesty, here’s what they are.

Fears

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on these, but I think it’s only fair to admit that leaping into this is scary. There are a lot of reasons for this, many of which are tied up in the usual writer fears of not being good enough or failing.

More at the crux of the issue though is how this all relates to my relationship with God. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, whether or not He likes Machine, whether He wants it to succeed, if He sees value in it at all.

I’ve also, for various reasons, really struggled in being willing to surrender Machine. And I’m glad that I’m at that point now (or at least a lot closer), but it also brings up a slew of new anxieties. Did I wait too long to surrender it? Do I need to let it die? How do I even write this new book with God guiding my hand?

What’s nice about most of these is that I can recognize how silly they are. Better yet, I’ve been getting better at, you know, actually talking to God about them, and have been greatly encouraged as a result. I’m still a little worried I’ll fail, that I may never be good enough, but I’m also learning to restructure how I think about failure, what it is, and I know that above all, I’ll never know unless I try.

So now that that’s out of the way…

Hopes

My biggest hope for this is to create something with God.

It’s not as though I’ve never done that before, but opening myself up with Machine, well, it’s definitely going to be different. And while that’s a little scary, it’s also thrilling, and I can’t wait to see what God does.

I’m excited to invite Him into what is probably one of the most intimate and precious areas of my life. I’m excited to see what He has to say, and the beauty and wonder that’s going to result.

I’m excited to see what Machine has always been meant to be. I’m excited to approach it with a renewed attitude, to see what Rick and Cog were always meant to become, what the backbone of the story, the skeleton, is really meant to be.

I’m excited to research and study and puzzle out the works of the world. I’m excited to lay down the foundation, hammer out frameworks and structure. Even things like government, education, medicine, the military. I’m excited to go exploring and see what God and I figure out.

I am hopeful to have this book vastly improved, to work out so many of the kinks that have plagued it for so long. I’m excited to smooth out transitions, fill in plot holes, iron out wrinkles. I am hopeful to come up against struggles and excited to work my way through them.

I am hopeful to end up with a book I can market, one that I could sell.

I am hopeful to see Rick and Cog healed and made whole, to see their stories as they truly are.

I’ve had a couple of encouragements in these areas as I’ve been talking to God about them. The first was a mental picture I had, two outstretched hands with Cog in their palms. He looked somewhere between a new toy and a baby version of himself, something reborn.

The second was a phrase that ran through my head the other day, “Papa, tell me a story.” It’s a massive shift in attitude, a surrender, and a plea. I believe that God will answer.

A note on failure

Hopes aside, I would like to make a couple of things clear.

Mainly, that just because I am excited and because I do think I have the go-ahead from God does not make me certain that this will mean Machine will be a success. Part of restructuring how I feel about failure has also included retooling what I consider success. And it’s possible that for all of my hard work, for all of the years I have sunk into this project, it still might not pan out. It may never be good enough to be published, and if it is, it may not ever make money.

But hopefully it will mean getting closer to God, better learning to hear His voice, processing through His timing, His will, His goals and work in my life. I do hope Machine will be commercially successful someday, I wish that for all of my books, but I am also willing to admit that it might not be in God’s will or that His timing may not (probably won’t) match mine. So whatever happens, I want to express gratitude for God, all He’s done in my life, and all He will do with Machine and everything else. Thank you, God.

 


So, what about you? Have you ever had to completely tear down a creative project and start over? Something else? What were your hopes and fears, and did any of them come true? If you have tips or stories, tell me in the comments below!

2 + 2 = 3

Hey all,

I’m bringing you a bonus blog post this month because, besides having already scheduled the content for my other two posts in my mind, I had a dream.

And I wouldn’t say it was quite an “I had a dream from the LORD” kind of thing, but I did wake up feeling so passionate for God and the Bible that I think I’ll share.

It took place in a college classroom. I was sitting around a table with several other people and we were answering questions about the Bible or God from the students in the seats. I don’t remember why we were there, what the previous questions were, or how I possibly managed to make the cut in the first place, but at some point, one of the students said: “Two plus two equals four.”

He said it in a way that made it seem very obvious, as if everyone in the room should naturally agree with him, which, in math, is fair. But he wasn’t talking about math, he was talking about the Bible, about how some point of logic he had must be true, and though I don’t remember exactly what his point was (I’m almost positive it was a misconception), I do remember my hand shooting up in the air to provide a response, which through the fog of sleep and formatting for a blog, looked approximately like this:

I disagree. The Bible is full of moments where two and two do not equal four.

I’ve been listening to a couple of podcasts by Tim Mackie lately. One is The Bible Project, which Tim co-hosts and is a really great high-level look at different books or parts of the Bible. The other is Exploring My Strange Bible, a collection of Tim’s sermons, and in the first one of those, he talks about Jonah. Jonah is a prophet, so he talks about how from the first lines, you expect that it’s a book about his prophecies, how he’s a great man of God, but he’s actually the worst character in the whole book. Man of God, two, plus prophet, two, does not equal four, a book of prophecies, but three, a story about God working with a terrible man. God sends Jonah to go to the Ninevites because their wickedness has come before him (Jonah 1:2), so you think sure, God is going to destroy them, but no, it isn’t four (Righteous God + Wicked People = Destruction), it’s three, God trying to rescue them, to be their God and have relationship with them, and Jonah knows it. The Samaritan woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Jesus the Messiah who was supposed to be a great military leader to chase out the Romans dying on a cross. Time and again the Bible defies our expectations, the worldly math and logic we try to impose on it. We think we know what the Bible says (God is some grumpy old man in the sky who destroys everyone who makes Him mad except when they follow Jesus), but across all of those times when He uses flawed, deeply flawed, or outcast people like David or Rahab or one of any other myriad options, to do his will, we see something different entirely. Our math, what we expect, is wrong, and the Bible is surprising.

Now it’s around this time that I woke up, the same kind of passion that I know would have had me in tears had this been in real life thrumming through my chest, but I think that that’s really all I needed. In the next few minutes as I thought about it, as the rest of my mini-sermon played out in my mind, and as the rest of the dream faded away, I realized once again how amazing the Bible is, how fun and surprising God is and as ever, what a privilege it is to get to wrestle with His word, because it is complicated, it can be difficult, but it is so, so worth it.

And I know it’s not a perfect metaphor, as God’s logic really does add up to four and it’s really our math that’s off, but I think it’s still useful, and it’s comforting to know that if I really go for it, if I really go toe to toe with the Almighty God of the Universe, well, between Him and me, we can always know who’s going to win.

So go forth, read the Bible, and find out what it really says. I hope in some way this helps you. Have fun!


So, how about you? Has God ever talked to you in a dream? What about your Bible? Ever been taken by surprise?

Prayer tree redux

Hey all,

So as you might recall, I made myself a prayer tree several years ago. You’ll find more info about that in my original post on it, but the basic concept is to draw or paint (or tape, a la Alma style) a tree on your wall and then add paper leaves or fruit for your prayers, either leaving them up to see your prayers over time or taking them down when they’re answered. For mine, I labeled my branches with general categories (Family, different friend circles, causes, gifts, etc.), then drew leaves for the specifics within that (specific family members or friends, etc.), using the fruit to represent my prayers for them. I labeled the fruit with the date I put it up and the request (color-coded by type), and then would add the date I took it down later. My goal was to be able to hold in my hands the tangible results of my prayers and see over time different areas in which God had moved.

Now, several years down the line, I think it’s time for a redesign.

IMG_1865
Just some of the fruit of God’s labors.

Part of this is because I’d stopped really using it. I cleaned it off the other day and realized I hadn’t put up any new fruit for over a year. I was able to pull down a lot of fruit for various reasons, and many of them had really miraculous resolutions, so as a way to remember and be thankful for God’s faithfulness, power, and provision the tree definitely works, but there are some problems with its current design that I’d like to tweak.

One, making it smaller and less specific. It’s overwhelming to have something with so many leaves, some of which might have several prayers layered one on top of the other. It’s also hard to figure out what I’m supposed to be praying for if there are a lot of prayers stacked on each other, some of which might be the same color, long-standing, or obscured by other prayers. Making the tree smaller and putting up fewer, more refined pieces of fruit should help. Putting more time into considering what I want to use my tree for (personal meditation and prayer, a prayer “tracker,” something else), should help with that as well.

Two, changing the leaves. Like on most trees, some of mine need to change. I originally did my tree in pencil on my wall, which as some of you might know, is not the easiest thing to clean or change. Many of the branches on my tree have leaves for people I don’t see as often anymore or activities in which I’m no longer involved, and while I might still pray for those people/things, there are other leaves I might want to add instead that I don’t necessarily have as much room for now either.

 

To that end, I’m planning on removing the specific labels on the leaves. Rather than being so specific, I want to have something that is more stylistically appealing and then put the fruit up in general areas for each category. This should help with the overcrowding and let me see what kind of prayers are where and read them more easily.

For the artistic style itself, I haven’t quite decided what it will look like. I’m intrigued by the idea of using something removable so I could change it up every once in a while (maybe different kinds of trees?), but with my life pretty constantly on the lip of transitions, it’s hard to say with any certainty where I’ll land. I like the idea of doing something along the lines of a tree of Gondor, but when the major features of my room are a 1940s style pair of paintings, a TARDIS bookshelf, and a Lichtenstein-style painting, I’m not sure adding another visual style would work. It’s also hard to determine what the size would be, or if it should be 2D at all. Maybe just doing a bonsai tree with some ribbons would be a helpful reminder. Talking to God is the end goal after all, so if I hang up handfuls of leaves or a photo or anything else, as long as it reminds me to talk to Jesus, I guess it’s doing it’s job.

Anywhere, that’s where I am in the redesign process. If any of you have had success in creating/using a prayer tree or have any other helpful design tips or inspiration, please let me know below (pictures welcome)!

Thanks for reading!

IMG_1864
My current tree, after the harvest.

Falling in love with the Word

Hey all,

I have been falling in love with the Bible recently, and it is changing my life.

It started on DTS. Well, I’m sure it started earlier than that, but perhaps it’s when I most acutely started to notice.

I was trying to decide whether or not I wanted to stay on for more time at my base. It had been one of the most difficult seasons in my life already, but I thought perhaps God wanted me to stay longer, to persevere or adjust my attitude or push through or, well, something.

That’s entirely a different post.

Anyway, I was trying to figure out what God wanted me to do with my life, a “calling,” as it were (a term I increasingly dislike, but that’s another post as well. I digress). And I wanted to know what God wanted me to do, but I was also terrified that He was going to make me stay longer when I really wanted to go home. So, what did I do?

Googled it, of course.

Not what God wanted for me specifically obviously, but articles on calling or how to know what God is saying to you. Every quiet time I had, I was searching the web, trying to find something that God would use to tell me what He wanted. I had been afraid for a while that if I read my Bible I would just find something else I was doing wrong. I would read sections on the wicked or those with false intentions and think it applied to me. I was going to be the one gnashing my teeth out in the dark, the one Jesus never knew. And even though I knew staying longer at my base might just be me trying to earn grace, to prove I loved God enough, I was also frightened of what might happen if I was too “weak” to stay.

In case you haven’t picked up on it already, that wasn’t what God was trying to say, and the true source of those thoughts was not a good one.

In any case, I knew that no matter what I chose, I couldn’t keep avoiding my Bible forever, so I pushed through my fear and started to read.

Lo and behold, there wasn’t a verse in there outlining my life plan and everything I was doing wrong to prevent it from fruition. In fact, the more I actually read my Bible, the more I realized how misguided my whole understanding of the situation had become. And, the more comforted and confident I became of following my heart and going home.

And, as I have already mentioned elsewhere, I’m so glad that I did.

Phase one of learning to love my Bible and actually go to it directly, check.

Phase two began with the Bible Project. I’ve mentioned them a couple times already, but they’re a non-profit dedicated to teaching about the Bible and revealing how it all points to Jesus. And while I love their explanatory videos on the Bible’s different books or themes, some of the most valuable takeaways I’ve gotten from their work have been lessons in learning how to read my Bible. Some of that involves the different types of literature in it, some of it in how the historical context affects things, structure, finding themes, and even literally, how to read it. Mainly, out loud and in large pieces. I’ve also realized more fully that it’s okay to wrestle with the Bible and its beautiful complexity as a literary work. Two particularly useful analogies that have helped with this have been the concept of the Bible’s structure as a grocery store (just as you can get a general sense of where things might be in relation to each other in the aisles, so too with themes or topics in the Bible), and the idea of reading over your Bible with the same mulling intensity of a bear with a good meal (I don’t remember when or how this idea came up, but both are featured in recent episodes of their podcast), specifically as the noises a bear makes while enjoying food relating to our reading the bible out loud and taking the same pleasure and nourishment from it.

All of this has radically changed my relationship with my Bible, and God. In the past, I would look up other people’s opinions on how God works and speaks and struggle to read my Bible for fear that it would just tell me what I was doing wrong or that I wouldn’t feel or sense enough. I would assume I already knew what it had to say, so I wouldn’t read it at all, or at least not to any great depth.

Now I approach it knowing that I really don’t know everything it has to say. I know that if I want to hear from God reading the Bible is actually the easiest way to do it. I know it’s not only okay, but a pleasure to work through what it’s trying to say, and I no longer read it expecting condemnation, but love, and am seeing it in the words. I am no longer afraid to suddenly find out that God has the characteristics I most fear He might have, but am finding Him more and more attractive the more I read. I get more out of my reading, am challenged in healthy, uplifting ways, and am learning to really cherish and take pleasure in the time I get to spend with Him.

Jesus says in Matthew 4:4 “…It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” I thought about that verse while reading my Bible today, and was so glad to be fed.


So, what’s your journey with the Bible been like? Have you ever wrestled with it, or avoided it? When have you been surprised by it or realized you had things wrong? Have you ever had misconceptions about God, His character or how He speaks? How did you turn around or realize? Who’s helped you on the way?

Lessons from Magic School Bus

I recently finished reading my main novel to my writing group, and at our last meeting, we did a final debrief on it. Final consensus? The writing itself is great, but some of the bones, well, they don’t always fit. Especially in regards to some of the world building elements and more importantly, well, what the book is about. Now, I’m already planning on rewriting the book, having come to this same conclusion months ago myself, but some of those weird bones, those world-building extras have been specifically on my mind as of late.

Which brings me to this clip from the childhood classic Magic School Bus. (You’ll have to travel to YouTube for it, but please come back!)

Machine, in a lot of ways is and always has been like Carlos’ instrument. Great concept, lots of ideas…bloopy sound. In the rest of the episode (included at the bottom), the class learns about sound, how it’s made from vibration, how it bounces off of surfaces, that adding extras that disrupt the vibration is a quick way to ruin an instrument.

And boy have I had extras.

Some of them got cut early, some of them affect the plot, some of them, well, let’s just say deep roots are hard to cut.

So, now that I’m planning a rewrite, how am I deciding what to keep and what to axe?

So glad you asked.

First, by listening to feedback. Some of the first changes I made in Machine were because of reader feedback. Now, it’s always wise to take critiques with a grain of salt, to consider its source and how that relates to what you want to accomplish, your audience, etc., but if everyone but you thinks it doesn’t work, that’s probably a clue it doesn’t work, no matter how much of a “true artist” you are (been there, done that). If you really want to keep it, consider what it does for your story, why it’s important, and why other people say it doesn’t work. Maybe the problem isn’t with the idea itself but in how it’s presented. Alternatively, look at different ways the same thing could be accomplished. Could the plot/world element be toned down, tweaked, or replaced by something better? Talk to your critique partners and work through it together. Most importantly, don’t bite their heads off (sorry, Mom…). They can see things you can’t, and they’re trying to help.

Second, test your mind’s eye. If you’re on a planet where everyone is ten feet high and has six arms, but you’re picturing them as six foot six with two, there’s probably a problem. Also look out for whether or not you’re actually using your extras. Does it advance the plot for them to have extra arms? Do they actually use them? Does it affect their culture, clothing, tools, etc.? If not, you probably don’t need them (or need to tweak your plot to make sure they do).

Third, check for purpose. Similar to point two, if your extras don’t have purpose in the plot, you probably don’t need them. More specifically, if they aren’t advancing the plot, they’re probably slowing it down. One of the things I did in Machine over the course of sharing it with my writing group was to go back in and make sure I was calling attention to my extras because they were having trouble keeping them in mind. And they liked that I was doing that, but in the end, they were also confused as to why I did it because none of those extras made a real difference to the story itself. It was shifting attention away from where it needed to be.

Four, search your motivations. If you’ve been working on your project for a long time like I have, it’s easy to lose objective focus. This can take a few different forms, the main two being fixedness and sentiment. The first is the idea that things are the way they are because that’s the way they’ve always been and therefore should remain so. The second is the idea that because you like something it deserves to stay (a close cousin to this is “because it looks cool”). Both are rich enemies of creativity and improvement. Both can be equally difficult to root out. If you find yourself thinking “it has to be this way because…” or not wanting to get rid of something even when you suspect it’s not good or could be better, you might have them on their hands. Another motivation to dig out is fear. If you’re hiding behind an extra to avoid reality or research (for example, they don’t have, says, dogs on your planet because you don’t know anything about dogs), you might have a fear problem.

Fifth, make a list of pros and cons. This was the last step I took in making some of my current decisions regarding what to keep or lose. This is partly because I felt like a lot of my extras could make the bar for the previous points, and partly because I needed that hard proof to confirm that really, as I suspected deep down, they couldn’t. Hey ho, sentimentality. This is a really practical way to root out some of those hidden factors, too. For example, on my lists of pros, most of them had things like “Easy way to set mood” or “Advances plot,” but when I really looked at them, I realized that “Easy way to set mood” was really code for “Lazy shortcut to create mood” and that the plot advancements these extras made could really be accomplished through more simple and practical means. On my cons were even worse reasons, mostly tied in to fears of getting things wrong. So if you’re on the fence, make a list, and most importantly, be honest.

Sixth, relax, because you can always change things back. Because editing is like throwing stones in a pond and can create a lot of unexpected ripples, it’s easy to get cowed into not wanting to change things. But your job is to throw stones, to make as many ripples as you can until you reach that perfect resonance with your story, that perfect mirrored lake that says what you want to say. So in the wise words of Miss Frizzle, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy,” because your novel deserves it. Bonus, once you do, you’ll get that thrill of victory that Carlos does somewhere around the 21:10 mark in the video below when he finally gets it.

So, what about you? Have you ever had extras get in your way? What about sentiment or fixedness? How did you find it, and what helped you to cut it out? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Getting back to craft

One of the greatest kinds of seasons you can enter in life is the one immediately after confusion.

I’m very happy to report that I think I’m there. After a long season of indecision, fear, confusion, and hurt with writing, I’ve decided, it’s time to go for it.

Which, oddly enough for me, means taking a step back.

It’s time to get back to craft.

I think for a long time I got so caught up in indecision, whether or not I should do writing at all, that I forgot why I liked it at all. I remembered times when I could just sit and wrestle with my writing for hours and be so satisfied, even when it was hard, and I couldn’t get to that place anymore. I would have a bad writing day and think it was because I wasn’t supposed to be a writer, that God didn’t want me to work on that story, that he was trying to redirect me.

Talk about being off base. Now, I don’t doubt God can redirect us if we start getting off track. I know he can close doors, but this? This was getting unmanageable, and it was not bringing me peace, joy, or any of the other things God promises.

Besides that, I was forgetting one of the greatest tenets of writing, which is that writing is hard. Anyone who writes knows this. I know this. It’s work, it’s time, it’s blood, sweat, and tears, and to think that if I were perfectly aligned with God’s that I could somehow avoid that, that He would somehow just give me my book word for word is absurd, and besides that, well, really…un-fun.

After all, the whole point of the Bible is that God will go to scandalous measures just to have relationship with all of us jacked-up, broken, shattered folk, and now I was thinking the reason He sent Jesus to die for us was divine dictation? For me to just work and pray and whatever else enough that He would finally cave and give me a novel without any further work, challenge, or interchange?

Talk about unhealthy. But I digress.

Now that I’ve decided to really go for writing, one of the things I’ve figured out is just how much more I have to learn. Case in point, realizing that up until recently I haven’t really understood third person point of view as much as I thought, which as one might expect for someone who has written three books in that POV, is crucial. Now I’ve started doing more research about the things I don’t understand. I’ve started listening to more writing podcasts (DIY MFA, and Seated at the Writer’s Table being two examples), am looking into getting some more books, and am even looking into taking some classes (some Coursera classes from Wesleyan University for Nanowrimo being my first step) and getting a mentor.

I’ve also been getting down to the nuts and bolts of my work: examining plots with a fine-tooth comb, taking to hefty paragraphs with a cleaver, searching for what works and getting rid of what doesn’t, even if I am cutting off the literary flourish I loved the best. Instead of worrying so much about whether or not I should be writing at all, I’ve been focusing on doing it well. Not “should I write this story,” but “is it a good one?” Does it have the right elements of plot, character, and setting? Is it riveting? Does it have good themes? Instead of getting lost in the esoteric, I’m just focusing on the tangible, what’s there and if, just by standards of writing and story, whether or not it’s good.

It’s been awesome. I haven’t enjoyed writing this much in years.

And that’s not to say that those other questions aren’t important, that I shouldn’t be concerned with what God wants me to do, but, like I said, that door is always open if this isn’t it, and spinning in circles always being afraid of doing the wrong thing sounds a lot more like the guy downstairs than it does my Jesus.

So for now, I’m trusting the passions He’s given me, that God is more concerned with our relationship and my character than what I do, and taking the steps I really need to get there.

It’s time to get back to craft.

 

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!