Archive for the ‘Dilemmas’ Category

Please forgive the cheesy Shakespeare reference.  It’s just that I’ve been feeling a little Hamlet-y lately.  You know, troubled, indecisive, grumpy. . .borderline insane.

Actually, I feel much better after making a very difficult decision. I am taking a vacation from writing. A sabbatical.  A breather.  I’m going to look at my situation in January and re-evaluate.

I’m sure, since you are passionately interested in all of my activities and decisions, that you want to know why I would do such a thing after plugging away steadily for five years. I can give you some very credible reasons.

See, I’m a mommy.  I just started homeschooling my oldest son. (That alone would be reason enough.) We signed up for Cub Scouts. He’s playing soccer. All of these things are going to make it murder to get to my critique group meetings.  Plus it’s football season here in this college town, and you know the Holidays are coming up. . .

Are you convinced yet? Some of you are, but I can see you writers out there shaking your head “no.”  If you’re a writer, none of these things would be enough for you to go cold turkey for the next four months.  And they’re not enough of a reason for me, either.  But maybe they should be.

Ah, see, now we’re getting to the heart of the matter.

Time for a flashback. A vivid memory of a conversation I had with my much beloved and respected sister-in-law.  It was when my youngest son was about five months old.  It was getting late and our respective families had gone to bed, but we had stayed up talking. I was telling her about my writing goals for the upcoming year, and I said something like, “Sometimes I wish I could just be a regular mommy with no writing projects to worry about.” She looked at me like I was crazy.  To her, it was pretty clear — if I wanted to be a mommy with no literary entanglements, I could be.  What was the problem?

You writers understand.  You know what it means to decide you’re going to write. Even if you slow down or encounter obstacles, you keep going.  Writer becomes part of your definition. And I’m sure you also understand that sometimes it would be easier if you didn’t have characters making conversation in your head while you’re trying to pay bills/bathe your children/fix dinner/(insert routine task here).

But for months now — maybe even longer — I’ve questioned whether writing was a good use of my time. My time doesn’t belong to me, after all, and I want to make sure I’m spending it well. And when I focus on my writing, I feel very selfish.

Every time I’ve talked to my friends about this, they’ve said, “Well, everyone has their hobbies.  Some people play golf, some people collect Star Wars figures.  You write.” (I know some writers who would be offended at having their writing referred to as a hobby, but I never have been.  Until I gain the credibility that comes along with publishing, I feel like it is “just” a hobby. That doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously.)

I also hear a lot of people saying that having my “own” thing makes me a better mommy/wife/etc.   I’m not really sure I buy that. Even if I did, it’s not like this is the only interest there is for me to pursue.  I have an unfinished childbirth educator certification that’s been in limbo for several months. Not to mention sewing projects.

The point is that I have become too focused on my writing and on being a writer — reading, blogging, listening to podcasts, doing whatever I could to feed that aspect of who I am. I’ve been losing my focus on things that matter more. The fact is, I have kind of an obsessive personality. I tend to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else, and I have to work hard to keep myself in check.

I’ve prayed about it a LOT.  I’ve asked for God’s help in deciding what to do. (What I really wanted was some clear cut sign: I’m gonna lay my manuscript on the table before I go to bed.  If you want me to keep writing, God, please let the manuscript be dry in the morning while the table all around it is wet. ) Instead, He has given me good, godly friends who’ve listened to my concerns.  It’s amazing when several people who you respect all give you essentially the same advice.

In addition to the counsel I’ve received, it was right after I started praying about this question again —  “Should I be writing?” — That I undertook the third revision of my novel.  If you’ve read any of my recent entries, you know how that has gone.

I’ve also considered a few reasons why I might not want to take a break now.  This blog is one.  Because I thought I was fairly close to finishing my novel, I thought it was a good time to start networking a little, maybe create a web presence. It seems a shame to put that effort to waste.

This reason is a little funnier: I finally took subscriptions to Writer’s Digest and The Writer after not getting them for Christmas or birthday gifts for the last several years. So I’ll be getting both of those, along with the Poets & Writers subscription that my darling husband signed me up for as a Valentine’s gift. (Or was it Mother’s Day? — I can’t remember — but what a husband I have. He has been so wonderfully supportive of my dream.)

Another reason not to quit or take a break is that I’m afraid of disappointing people.  My friends who think it’s cool that I’m following my dream. Or long time crit circle — we’ve grown quite close. I don’t want anyone to think I’m wimping out. I’ve always been very concerned — too concerned — about what people think of me.

And what about all the time, money, and energy I’ve spent up until now?  Won’t they all go to waste if I quit now? I guess in one sense they would, but in a bigger sense, because I’ve learned so much about the world and about myself, and I’ve made so many good friends, I can’t call it a waste.

And I don’t know yet if this is THE END of Laura the writer.  I strongly suspect not.

This is the thing — I have to know that I can give it up if I need to. I can’t allow anything in my life that is more important than serving the Lord. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.

I know that it’s possible to bring glory to God through my writing.  I hope that I give Him glory in everything I do — that’s what I’m here for. But the truth is, my primary motivation for writing is that I want to.

I sincerely hope and will continue to pray that this time away from it will give me some clarity, will help me decide what I need to do when January rolls around. I hope I feel like I’m able to come back to it, because I don’t want to quit. It’s been an arduous and tearful decision. Most of all, I hope that if I decide that writing can’t be part of my life, I’ll have the courage and grace to accept it.

If you want to contact me, I’ll still be notified of any comments posted to this blog, and you are more than welcome to e-mail me through the link in the sidebar. And I’m pretty sure I’ll still be blogging some here while my writing is on hiatus.

And I’ve written all of this without crying, which means I’ve made a pretty big breakthrough.

If you’ve stuck with me and read this whole post, I sincerely thank you for your dedication.  If you weren’t already there, you are now officially added to my list of very good friends.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Mt 16:24-26)


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I promised I would report back when I’d gone through the second quarter of my manuscript, so here I am.

The good news is that the writing improves as I move through the book.  This makes sense.  Although I didn’t write the first draft in a strictly linear fashion, I did move generally from beginning to end, with lots of jumping around.  I’d expect that my writing would improve with practice, and that appears to have happened.

This is especially good for me to know, because it means there is a high likelihood that whatever I write next will be better than this first manuscript.  And the thing I write after that will be better still.  This is what is keeping me sane right now, where my writing is concerned.  If I had no hope of improvement, I would be listing all my writing books on ebay right now.

But it’s not all good news, folks.  The manuscript stinks.   I’m not being hard on myself–I realize that there are a few lovely, redeeming passages. But as a whole, it needs a tremendous amount of work.

Some of the problems would be funny if they didn’t make me want to cry.  Repetitive gestures, for example. The people in my novel are very keen on lifting, raising and arching their eyebrows.  They also do a lot of deep breathing when they get stressed, and when they’re thinking, they do a lot of things “in silence.”  (Ok,  I’m about to choke, it’s so embarrassing.  At least I can see it, though, right?)

All of those things, pitiful as they are, probably wouldn’t be that hard to fix.  I can change gestures.  I can find other ways to demonstrate that my characters are stressed or thinking hard before answering a question. But there are bigger problems.

Point of view — I’m not a big head-hopper, so that’s good.  But I have a more subtle and devious problem.  A large part of my manuscript is written in a very distant third person.  What I mean is that while I only enter the thoughts of one character in any given scene, the writing doesn’t focus deeply on that one character’s perspective.  A lot of it is like watching things play out from no one’s point of view.  A distant POV makes it hard for a reader to identify strongly with a character.  And this particular problem will take a lot of work to fix.  So there’s that.

I also need to put more into characterization.  I know these people very well–I know who they are and what makes them tick.  But a lot more needs to be done to let the reader know them as well as I do–more characterization through action.

There are other things, people who need to be introduced sooner, little technical or logical problems that would be fairly easy to fix.

I feel like I have a better grasp now on what needs to be done.

Now I just have to decide what I’m going to do — Set this one aside?  Start something new?  Buckle down and fix it?  I’m actually considering taking a vacation from writing.  I’ll make a post about that next time.


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I have a little list of blog topics, a few drafts saved to polish up.  But this post was completely unplanned. It arose last night as I went through the first fifty pages of my 200+ page manuscript.

I’ve already done one major revision — I rearanged the scenes to get the main conflict started sooner, and I’ve cut out some scenes that didn’t advance the plot. Then I went through from beginning to end trying to clean up the prose.

So why all of a sudden the urge to trash it?  Part of the problem is that I’ve worked on it so slowly, looking at only a tiny chunk at a time — usually less than a chapter at any one sitting. I wrote it that way, and I’ve been editing it that way. I’ve been working on it like that for about five years. I’m a mommy — I’ve been squeezing it in where I could.

Now that I’m sitting down to read through a big section at one time, I see so many things that need to be fixed!  There are characterization issues, POV issues, plot issues — the story doesn’t propel itself forward like it should.

Part of the problem, no doubt, is that I’ve learned a lot about craft since I started on this story.  But I really think the biggest problem is the way I wrote it.

When I started crafting the story, I had a list of scenes that I knew had to happen. (Or at least, I wanted them to happen — several of those are gone now.) But I didn’t work from beginning to end, creating a logical sequence of one event that fed into another.  I wrote whatever scene I felt like writing at the time.  I thought it was a good strategy, and in truth the book probably still wouldn’t be finished if I didn’t let myself jump around in the first draft.

But what I’ve ended up with is a bunch of disconnected scenes — not one smooth story.

Can it be fixed? Probably.  But I’m not nearly as close to being finished with it as I thought. I think that’s the main source of discouragement at this point.  I thought I was closer to being done.  I’m about to tackle batch number two — pages 51-104.  (I thought I’d try to end the second batch at a chapter break.)

I’ll let you know If it looks any more salvageable after I finish this batch.

What do you do when you look at something you’ve written, and it’s awful?  Ok — maybe not totally awful, but in need of major surgery?

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Like many of you, I’ve been watching the Olympics this week. Talk about excitement! Michael Phelps and Nastia Liukin, they take my breath away.

I was thinking this week as I watched how these athletes have worked so hard to make their dreams come true. But the truth is, they were also blessed with natural abilities that made those dreams a possibility. With all the training and practice in the world, I never could have been a Shawn Johnson, even if I had started when I was six.

And that of course, like everything else seems to, leads me to think about this writing thing I’m doing. Part of me wonders–ALL THE TIME–if I should even bother with writing at all. How much natural talent is required, and do I have enough? What if I work hard and keep at it, learn what I can, hone my craft, and my work still isn’t good enough? I know that no amount of work will guarantee that I’ll ever be published. I guess all writers face these doubts.

The thing I keep coming back to is that I really enjoy writing and the writing life. My dear husband reminds me all the time that even if I never get to count writing as more than a hobby, if I enjoy it, it’s worth it.

And the truth is, I don’t aspire to winning a gold medal. I’d be content just to qualify for the games.


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One of the dilemmas that I am faced with as a writer is that of reading and recommending books about writing (although this can apply to any type of book). There are many excellent books out there to teach writers ways to improve their craft or increase their chances of publication, but many of them contain material that is offensive to me as a Christian–“filthiness”, “coarse jesting” (See Eph. 5:4), and the like. In some books, this is minimal, and can easily be filtered by the reader the same way we must filter speech we hear in our everyday lives. In other cases, however, this content is so pervasive, that it can make a book unreadable for a Christian.

This is a problem not only in the reading, but also in the recommending of certain books. I have read books that contain a wealth of good information, but were so full of bad language and offensive humor that I felt it was impossible to recommend them. Take for instance Anne Lamott’s classic, Bird by Bird. I confess, I love this book. I think Lamott offers exactly the kind of encouragement that most writers need. But if I recommend it to fellow writers, will they think I approve of the language she uses? One of her chapters is titled, “Shoddy First Drafts.” It has some really important things to say about letting yourself write really awful stuff, because you can fix it later. But it’s title doesn’t actually use the word “Shoddy.” It uses another word with a similar sound.

I could make a list as long as Rapunzel’s hair. James N. Frey’s How to Write a D*** Good Novel is full of useful advice, but even the title is problematic. Stephen King’s On Writing contains priceless knowledge, but is littered with the kind of language and base references you’d expect to find in, well, one of his novels. By endorsing these books, which contain profane material, I fear I could diminish my influence as a Christian and fail to glorify God properly.

So why not just dispense with such books, and stick only with the ones that are relatively clean? That is one good option. I could end the article here, and it would be sufficient. There are plenty of good books about writing that aren’t full of profanity. Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King comes to mind. Rarely will you find such a useful tome, and while there is a smattering of unclean language, it does not dominate the text.

But I suppose I am stubborn, insistent on mining every resource for ore and discarding the slag. So here, in a nutshell, is how I handle otherwise valuable books that are overpowered by objectionable content:

  • Edit as I read. I read with a marker or correction pen and obliterate the undesirable text as I go. Since I’m not planning on selling or distributing my censored copy, I have no qualms about doing so. I know that most authors would rage against me and call me a communist for it, but when it’s my own, private copy, for my own private use, I will do with it as I see fit.
  • Recommend with a warning. If I feel compelled to point someone in the direction of one of my less-than-pristine favorites (perhaps because it addresses a particular problem they’re facing), I do so with a corollary. I let the person know what they’re getting into and make it clear that I don’t approve of the bad content.

This may not be a fully satisfactory way of dealing with these books, but it’s the best I can do for now.

What’s your policy, Christian? Leave a comment to share your suggestions.


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