Wednesday, September 24, 2008

fifteen tips for writers

I am celebrating the past extremely successful week of writing (over 5,000 words... and I am officially on the last chapter of my book - WOW!) by sharing these 15 writing tips that I can, for once, almost be smug about.

First, I need to mention that I may get in trouble at some point for copyright infringements, since these 15 writing trips that tickled my fancy come from the 'extras' at the end of Thrity Umrigar's book, The Space Between Us (published by Harper Perennial). The reason I'm going ahead with it is because a) I would be honored if someone spread the word about anything I wrote or advice I gave; b) it may inspire you to purchase and read her book; c) nobody really reads this blog anyway so I'm probably safe.

I've also taken the liberty of adding my own comments.

1) Ask yourself why you want to write... are you just doing it because it's a trendy, intellectual pursuit?...remember it is possible to have a perfectly happy and balanced life without ever writing a book, short story, or even a poem

2) If you are a true writer, you will find what I just said laughable. [and yes, I did guffaw loudly after reading #1 and before reading #2, so does that qualify me as a true writer? Yeah!] Because for you, writing is a way of surviving in the world, the medium through which you make sense of your life. [partially true for me, but I also have the Bible and direct access to the God of the Universe to help me make sense out of my life primarily. But writing plays a big part in figuring out my life. I often work out my frustrations in my journal. I often write my prayers to Him in my journal, too.]

3) Ask yourself what you want to write... the problem writers often have is that they have too many stories that they want to tell. But usually there is one story that haunts you... [yes, it's been haunting me since I was 12 years old. Seriously. Thank goodness I'm almost finished writing it... I think]

4) Write in the shower. Get away from the tyranny of the blank screen... many people think that when they turn on the computer, they're also jump starting their brains. But that's not the way the subconscious works. You have to tap into it more frequently than that. That means thinking about your story all the time, living with it, never letting it wander too far away from you. A story is like a newborn - you have to tend to it, feed it, be aware of it all the time.... [this is where I dismally fail. I go for a few weeks at a time gloriously working/thinking on my story all the time, to months and months without thinking about it all, except perhaps occasionally with a twinge of guilt. Which explains why it's been haunting me since I was 12 years old... sigh...]

5) Make time for yourself. It's a good idea to work at the same time every day, if at all possible... Find out the time of the day when your writing flows the best and then keep that time for yourself. But writing is also preparing the subconscious to be ready. So you need to find more alone time for yourself even when you're not actually writing. Solitude is really important for a writer. [Ouch! double ouch! okay here is where it gets tricky for mothers with small children, not to mention four children, not to mention two of those children are 21 month old twins. Then it gets even trickier when you try to live a truly Christian, New Testament-modeled life, where solitude just about equates to selfishness. Unless it's solitude set aside for praying/meditating on the Word. There is some hope, however. I learned last November that I could accomplish absolutely amazing things during one hour in the evening after everyone else has gone to bed: if I spend time with God First. He enables me to accomplish so much more than I could on my own]

6) Most of us don't have the luxury of finding large blocks of time to write. That's why God invented flash drives. Carry that flash drive with you at all times. Whenever you have any time during the day, say, a lunch break at work, write your story... [my problem is if I start during lunch, I will guiltily exceed my allotted lunch time]

7) Saying that you don't have time to write is an excuse. The fact is that nobody has time to write, other than the miniscule number of writers who make their living from writing full-time. Most writers make the time to write. Their lives are no less busy than anyone else's. They too have dentist appointments and kids who need trips to the emergency room and pets who puke in the kitchen and gardens that have to be watered and weeded....[they are just better disciplined than I am]

8) Read extensively. Reading everything, from the New York Times to billboards to cereal boxes. Read the classics and read new books by unknown authors. This will help you two ways - not only will it make you a better writer but a great book can serve as an inspiration. Everytime I read a great book, it makes me want to drop everything I'm doing and work on my own stuff. [so true! so true! so many books, so little time!]

9) Believe in your work. Remember that every person on this sweet blue earth has a story to tell. The sad truth is that most of us will never write like Shakespeare. We will never be Toni Morrison or Leo Tolstoy or Charles Dickens. All I can try to do is be the best Thrity Umrigar that I can be... [hurrah! well-written, Thrity!]

10) Turn off the soft sinister voice that's forever telling you, 'This is crap. No one will ever want to read this.' ... it is the devil trying to paralyze you so that you won't write. Turn that voice off. There will be plenty of time to heed that critical voice later and even make it work for you. [But not during the first draft! For an excellent motivation on this subject, check out the NANOWRIMO web pages]

11) After you're done with the first draft, you can reread your work in a loving but critical way. [I'm surprised she didn't mention anything about writer's groups or some other form of critiquing. If you find a truly honest and supportive group, they can help you weed out the useless stuff with a minimum of pain]

12) Live a large and active life. Meet different kinds of people. Put yourself in unfamiliar situations. Expose yourself to diverse experiences that challenge you. All of this will make your writing more interesting [This is what I want to do more of. I want to pay more ATTENTION to life. To details. I go through so much of life in a fog of distraction. Even while waiting in line at the grocery store you can pick up some fascinating details about people. Carry a notebook with you everywhere and make yourself write down things as you go]

13) Love someone deeply and intensely. You will learn more about yourself - your flaws and your strengths, your limits and expansiveness - through this experience than any other.... [I have been given the opportunity 6-fold to do this very thing. Husband, step-daughter, my own four daughters. Interestingly, it is in the relationships that do not come naturally - my stepdaughter and also to a degree my husband - that you learn the most from the challenge of loving deeply and intensely (and I might also add, unconditionally)].

14) Be gentle with yourself. Great writing is always compassionate. The same compassion that you bring to your observations about the foibles of humanity, you must grant to yourself...

15) And finally, write for the right reasons. This is a bit of personal superstition, I suppose. But the ability to write is a gift, a special grace. It should not be abused... [I absolutely believe this. Ultimately I write because I have to; because it is part of me and it would still happen even if I tried to prevent it. But we should all strive to become more than what we simply are. I strive to turn my writing into something beautiful for God's glory. I am determined that my stories will always, somehow, someway, point to God.]

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why I am a writer

last updated March, 2013

Writing basic part of my make-up; I can't go a more than a few days without writing something - whether it's a few random notes on some idea I want to expound on later, to an emotional cleansing (e.g. venting) in my journal, to another chapter in one of the several fiction books I'm trying to finish (and in the past couple years, blogging has become an important to me, too).

I've been journaling ever since I was 9 or 10 years old, and writing stories since about that age, too. I have loved going through my journals and seeing my character growth, how I've changed, things leading up to my decision to follow Christ - and since then, the spiritual struggles God has taken me through to grow me.

I also love to write fiction, and little bits of myself and my journey and my beliefs are sprinkled through out my stories (without being preachy, I hope).

I finished my first book in 2000, at which point I started to go to writer's conferences to see how I would go about trying to get it published. Shortly thereafter I realized that my book had to be completely re-written - it wasn't anywhere near to being fit for publication.

I signed up at several on-line writing workshops (one of them was and started to get feedback on my writing, which has helped tremendously.  For a while Laramie has had it's own modest little writer's group, which provided a lot of motivation and fun, getting to know other writers on a personal level.

Because my family kept growing (and I had to learn how to juggle personal goals with family goals and a whole new level of stress and distractions), it took me eight years to finish the second draft of my story in 2008.

Because I was learning so much from professional agent and author blogs at this point, it wasn't long before I realized it still needed more work (it was way too long for a children's story). I decided to split it up into two novels instead, but midway into revisions I burned out - plus I had so many other ideas in my head begging for a chance. So I started my second novel.

2013 update: I have four novels written now, and the biggest step I ever took with my writing was to push myself to write new stories; interestingly, this was even more helpful than getting feedback. Some things you can learn from feedback and revising; some things you can only learn by continually writing new things.

My first novel (a children's fantasy) has been through two full drafts and several partials. I still plan to revisit it again someday - it's my first love, after all, and I have spent the better part of my life with these characters!

My second novel is women's fiction, based loosely on my experience with marriage and being a stepmom, and with a strong Christian theme. It needs a second draft, and I'll be revisiting that one again, for sure too.

My third novel is a history fantasy set in the time when the Huns invaded the crumbling Roman Empire. It started out as an idea I had when I was 15 years old - so this one is near and dear to my heart, too, and it also deserves a second draft (I just need to clone myself, right?) But then, hold the bus, that cloning-myself quip gave me an idea for a forth novel!

My fourth novel is a science fiction for young adults (think ordinary American high school girl meets Star Wars), and I'm almost done with the second draft, and getting lots of feedback from the four critique partners I exchange chapters with. I'm hoping to query it to agents by the end of the year.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Love never fails

Just finished Beth Moore's study on "Believing God" and the last section really hit me hard.
It started with a verse that I think will become one of my life verses, like Isaiah 26:3, a verse I find it hard to believe has never come to my attention before:

Gal 5:6 The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

The close relationship between faith and love never occurred to me before.

Beth writes: "God has called us to love even when we don't want to, we don't feel like it, we get nothing obvious in return, when the person we're trying to love don't deserve it, if we feel they're not worth it, if they don't even know it, and even if it doesn't make any difference that we can see."

1 Cor 13:8 Love never fails.

"Every effort to love sacrificially (agape love) never fails to get God's priority attention (Mark 12:28-30); to ultimately and undoubtedly be rewarded; to have a profound effect, whether in the other person, in the circumstance, or in us.

"Love our enemies by faith. Love our neighbors by faith. Love our family members by faith. Love our spouses by faith. Love our in-laws by faith. Love a rebellious teen by faith. Love our betrayer by faith. Love an ill and bitter parent by faith. Love by faith, not by feeling."
Who has capacity to love like this? Impossible for us; only possible through God.
And yet, Romans 5:5: ...and hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love for us into our hearts"

2 Cor 5:7 But we have this treasure [God's love] in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

I have been struggling to continue to love and pray for a friend who has become very difficult to talk to, very difficult to identify with, she seems so lost in pain and confusion and I have been hating myself for feeling like giving up on her right when she probably needs love & prayer the most - this lesson came at a crucial time for me.

Monday, September 1, 2008