Tag Archives: Writing

Repost: The Outline

(Originally posted Wednesday, February 22, 2006)

I know I’ve said in different places that I tend not to make outlines, but that’s only partially true. There comes a point in the process of writing the story that I suddenly realize I have to at least tentatively plot the rest of the book.

Saturday I finished a very rough, very sketchy draft of Chapter 13, and with that reached the end of Part 1. After that I realized I had to plot the rest of the book. Until this point I’ve had stacks of index cards sitting around my desk. Stacks of things that might happen, or could happen, or will happen to Abramm. Stacks of things for Maddie. And Trap. And Carissa. Smaller stacks for others. Periodically I go through them and try to sort, but it’s usually very difficult, because they aren’t all even events. Sometimes the note is just of someone’s general mindset. Or it’s a note on the background situation. Or even a description. It might be a line of dialog that could really go anywhere. I probably have about six inches worth of stacks. Maybe more.

This sort of thing is very hard to order, and often I end up laying a batch of cards out on the desk in no particular order. I arrange a few of them together, shake my head over the rest, then give up and go back to whatever early chapter I was working on.

But eventually I have to know more clearly where I’m going and that happened last weekend. So for the last two and half days I’ve been taking the cards and putting them into a list. If I try too hard to put them into an ordered list, I will freak myself out. So I just require that I put them on the list, and assure myself I will deal with the ordering later. I got this idea from a book called Overcoming Writing Blocks, out of print now, unfortunately. It’s the one that suggested I make the index cards of Whatever Occurs to Me in the first place. And at this stage in the process it informs me that “a frequent cause of blocking is the confusion that ensues when you try to hold the entire pattern in your head at one time.” Amen, to that!

So you just sit down and you start listing your notes. “Once you’ve made the transfer from cards to list,” says the book, “you will automatically begin to engage that powerful ranking faculty everyone possesses: certain entries will begin to stand out from the page… others will naturally fall into secondary positions, to cluster around more important concepts that they support…” And how about this? It works.

I now have about 10 pages of plotline. Which is a good thing. The bad thing is that I’ve got waaay too much. So much, it makes me want to hyperventilate. So much, I have to back off, and put it all in the Lord’s hands. I don’t know how He’s going to do it, but somehow He will bring order to all this. And it’s a good thing, because from where I sit at the moment, it looks downright impossible!

Repost: Unmerited Grace

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A couple of weeks ago, in the course of a really bad day when it came to making any progress on my WIP, and as I was lamenting yet again the fact that I had pitched the writing journals I’d kept during the creation of Return of the Guardian King, it occurred to me that maybe I had posted some entries regarding it when I first started blogging back in 2006 on Blogger. It would have been about the right time. And it like this blog was subtitled “The Writing Diary of Novelist Karen Hancock,” so it seemed reasonable to think that I might have actually posted something from my journals. Or barring that, at least something about my journey in writing that book.

Why did I pitch those journals? Well, “they’re all the same” I’d told myself. “I’ve been writing for over — ahem — forty years and kept diaries for most of those years. Why would I need to keep more?”

Well, because Return of the Guardian King was the first book I’d done in a long time that started basically from scratch. The Light of Eidon, The Shadow Within and Shadow Over Kiriath had all been completely or partially drafted before I had to work on them within the Bethany House deadline structure. RotGK was the only one for which I had little more than the most general of ideas where I was going when I began. Since that’s a lot of what I’m experiencing now with The Other Side of the Sky, it would have been really helpful for me now, had I kept those particular diaries.

So I went looking and happily, I found some entries. Since they reflect or at least speak to a lot of what I’m going through currently, I thought I’d repost a few of them now and then.

Today’s entry, originally posted to Blogger on February 18, 2006, is one such post: it not only described what I’ve been going through lately but offered helpful counsel:

Recently I came across this thought from Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life,

“At best the sensation of writing is that of unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then — and only then — it is handed to you.”

This struck me very strongly, because we’ve just been reviewing in Bible class how it is to search for God. He only reveals Himself to us if we search for Him diligently, as if we were hunting for treasure. Treasure hunters do not sit back and wait for the treasure to come to them. They go out and search for a likely spot and then they dig, and lug dirt and dig and lug. It’s not easy. When they get tired, they keep digging. When nothing turns up for all their digging, they do not quit, they go on. They try a new place. And finally, maybe three years later, they find that for which they’ve been searching. It is, in a way, handed to them.

So it is with the search for the story, for the perfect, right arrangement that will resonate, for the answers to the questions of who these people are, and what they will become, what is it I really care about, and what am I really trying to say? How can any of that be easy to find? If God Himself is not easy and simple, how can writing about what I know of Him and my life in Him be easy and simple? Spiritually now I’m beginning to grasp things I can’t even articulate. I cannot explain them with words. How can writing about them be easy?

It can’t. It won’t be. Some days I’ll find the silver and the gold. Other days it will feel like endless digging and lugging of dirt. The key is to keep going. To keep on learning about who God is through His word. To keep on writing. To trust that He is guiding me and that in the end I will not be ashamed. That in time it will all come together. If my motivation is correct, and the power system in which I operate is correct, it will be rewarded.

“If you seek her (wisdom) as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God…I, wisdom, love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me. ” Proverbs 2:4,5; 8:17

Back to the Writing Diary

 

writing journal

Back in February of 2006, when I began my first blog  (Writing from the Edge over on Blogger), I started out by saying that since I’d been keeping a writing diary for almost as long as I had been writing, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to start one online.

Thus the tagline for that blog became “The Writing Diary of Novelist Karen Hancock” and that was the fallback formula for the posts that I aimed to publish there. If nothing else, I could always put up a writing diary entry.

So, in view of my lengthy/erratic absence from the world of blogging, I’ve decided that maybe… just maybe… I can resurrect the spark by simply going back to that earlier format. For one thing, even though I haven’t been blogging, I have been keeping a writing diary.

Today’s entry began this morning at 10:19am…

I could’ve come in (to the office) at 9:30am, but my (retired) hubby came home and discovered the hawk has gotten another pigeon — my favorite pink/red one. 🙁  I believe it was female. It got her inside the broken down pigeon coop. And there’s an egg on the nest.  So that’s disturbing.  😥

Then I called our computer fix-it guy right after that about my computer issue (last week IE-11 refused to open in the desktop and was repaired; this week it refuses to open in the live tiles, but works fine in the desktop, which is really okay, because I can do everything I need to do through the desktop and furthermore I am declaring a moratorium on reading blog and news sites, but still… it bugs me that the program is not working properly). Alas, the computer guy had never even heard of that issue. I spent last week doing all manner of things trying to resolve the issue, including running the Apps troubleshooter, which gave me some error messages, which the computer guy asked me to email to him, so I did.

Anyway, then I hung out the laundry, and now I’m in here. Just read Sarah Selecky’s letter for today, What I’ve learned so far about how to write a novel.”  Amusing and familiar and comforting. Also comforting is the fact that I’ve written 6 novels and am working on number 7 and I actually know more about it all than she does! (Seeing as she has yet to complete her first one)

It’s hard. It’s messy and confusing — in fact, she talks about confusing herself with all her notes written in little notebooks, and says next time she’ll use index cards. Ha! I confuse myself with my notes all the time and cards don’t help. (But it’s comforting to know other people get confused by their notes, too!)  I use business-sized cards to keep notes on…

notecards

…notes about possible plot events, incidents, character bits, world bits, questions… The advantage (or disadvantage) is that you can spread out MORE of the little cards than you can the index cards, which ends up being even MORE confusing! Especially when I suggest on one card that Talmas should do “A” and on the other “Opposite-A.” Which I do. A Lot…

Sarah says she “can’t work with an outline and can’t work without one.” Yes, indeed. That is SO true. At least in the beginning anyway. You can only use a general outline then… because, as another writer put it,

“How can I know what I want to write until I see what I’ve written?”

For me everything kind of goes together — plot, character, backstory, events, incidents, the climax, the spiritual analogy — and so it must emerge together. Whenever I try to get hard-nosed about any of it, I end up running into walls.

Anyway, yesterday I worked on chapter 13, which at the start was 25 pages of confusing mishmash. I’m going slowly through it this week, editing, trying to find and fix what A/Not-A conflicts I could. In fact, discovering that I had portrayed one character as being of two different opinions in the same scene because I couldn’t decide which I wanted and just put them both in, very broadly, I decided today to just write it one way very clearly. That immediately showed me I didn’t want it that way, but the other way, so I went back and wrote it that way.

I’d forgotten that trick to deciding between two options when you can’t seem to do so: just pick one and “decide” to do it that way. Somehow going through the deciding and writing shows me just how committed I am to that option.  Coin flips work, too. Should this secondary character’s hair be blond or black? Can’t decide? Flip the coin and it comes up in favor of blond. Okay, he’ll be blond then. So off you go to write it thus and immediately you realize that no, he’s not blond at all, he has black hair…

Yes, I know. Writers are weird.

Anyway, I worked through about 7 pages today, adding two additional pages of material as I did so, leaving the rough chapter at 27 pages. So far.

Back to School

So what have I been doing besides viewing cute baby elephant videos, going to the zoo breakfasts in support/celebration of said baby elephant, and then making multiple return trips to the zoo to see her? Well, one thing is that I went back to “school.” In fact, I even wrote a blog post about my decision and how it was all going when I was about a week into it.

That post, written August 3, 2014 but never proofed, has languished as a mere draft in my posts folder for these last four months as I worked through part of the class, then stopped to switch back to Sky. And, lest you get the wrong idea, I didn’t stop because of deficiencies in the class, but rather because it worked!

This week I decided to go back and the post ready to share, so here it is:

Back to School

class flowers 2

Yes, it’s true. I’ve gone back to school, but I’ve done so without leaving my office. Actually I started a week ago, when I signed up for an online writing course taught by award-winning Canadian short story writer Sarah Selecky, who also happens to be a writing instructor.

It all started when I was considering going on a retreat — anything to get myself past the rather extreme blocking I’ve been experiencing with Sky. I thought maybe if I could just get away from all the distractions and focus, that it would help. There’s a place here in Tucson that I could go to, but all I’d have is a room with a bed. No desk. They’d provide meals, but with our 100+ degree temps it would be too hot to walk about the grounds, so I’d be stuck in the little room and I just didn’t know how helpful that would be.

Well, in the course of going online to research other retreats, retreats away, retreats at home, mini retreats, I stumbled upon a report by a woman who was on retreat — house sitting for friends in a beautiful place in the country for two months — in hopes of making some progress on her current book. Alas, she spent nearly the entire time NOT writing. Instead she watched DVD’s of a TV series, knitted a cap and scarf, went canoeing alone, watched woodpeckers at the feeder and generally just rested. (You can read it here.)

Then, about five days before she was to return home, she finally turned to the book she’d meant to work on. I loved her descriptions, and her observations about writing and resting really resonated. Of course it was Sarah Selecky, and one thing led to another. The next thing you know I’d found her writing instruction site, and signed up for both her twice-a-month email “letters” on some aspect of writing fiction, and her daily writing prompts sent straight to my inbox. I immediately began using the latter as a warm up for my daily stint of work on Sky.

The letters all linked back to other letters at the main webpage where I compulsively read one after the other, printing up the ones I found most helpful.  Before I knew it, I had a notebook full of printouts, which were underlined and starred and had been read repeatedly. Some titles are  “Six ways to look at an abandoned story,” “White Space,” “Don’t try to make it symbolic,” “Is it good or bad?” “Be Grateful for your crazy, active mind,” “Deliberate Practice: What it is and Why you need it,” and quite a few more.

She said so many things that helped, that reassured, that clarified, that pointed me back in the right direction! I kept expecting the next letter to disappoint, but it never did. Eventually, of course I had to check out the info on her class, Story is a State of Mind. And right at the beginning some of the things she said about what the course would do spoke exactly to where I was:

“Do you resist writing? You can train yourself to write anyway…(SSM) is a different kind of writing course. It trains you to work with uncertainty… learn to work with your creative mind, not against it…”

It sounded wonderful. But… she’s a literary short story writer. I have written short stories, but I consider myself more of a novelist. I have never really cared for the literary genre. Plus, I’ve been writing for 40+ years… so it doesn’t seem like I should need a class… but that last bit is just arrogance speaking. Maybe I have been writing for 40 years, but I’m not doing much of a job at it now. Maybe taking a class and getting a new perspective would be just the thing.

So I prayed, and printed up everything on the classes, and read all the reviews, which are many, and glowing, and again spoke to the very areas I am/was struggling with.  I prayed some more, and agonized a bit, because though reasonably priced, it’s not free… and what if it turned out to be a disappointment? And all that stuff we tell ourselves when we’re afraid to try something new…

So I prayed some more and then God had an evangelist friend, Scott Grande of Christ Saves Ministries, send out a newsletter in a timing that was absolutely impeccable. I opened it and here were some of the phrases that leapt off the page:

“Stepping out of the Box”

“If you are stuck in your spiritual routine and maybe rigid in your application of Bible doctrine, maybe you need to step out by faith; and if you err, err on the side of grace. God has your back, so long as your motivation is good”.

“Are you stunting an avenue God wants you to take? Do you think the Spirit works in only methodical and predictable ways, where we get to stay “in control”?”

“Many hold to certain things because they don’t want to step out of their comfort zone, even though the Spirit is leading them there! … Be open to what the Spirit is showing you. It is most likely not what you thought it would be.”

That was so precise, so tailored to answer precisely the things I’d been thinking, the objections I’d been marshaling that I knew it was the Lord. And shortly after that I signed up.

A week later, I can say I have NOT been disappointed! It’s been exactly what I’ve needed to get back on track.

December 7, 2014  I put the class on hold about a month later, but despite my early and temporary “abandonment,” I fully intend to get back to the class when I’ve gotten a bit more work done on Sky, and the holidays are over. That’s one of the beauties of it: it’s completely self-directed, and in fact downloadable, so I have all the videos and materials on my computer, waiting for me to get back them when the time is right…  

And Now the Regularly Scheduled Blog Returns

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Maybe.

As you may have noticed, I have not been posting much in the way of words. Perhaps because I have not been writing much in the way of words — at least words that are in any way coherent.  It’s not just with the blog, but also Sky and answering emails and even my regular journal is getting ignored… not entirely, but almost and waaay more than in the past.

I have no explanation for why this is happening, though I have tried to come up with one repeatedly. If only I could figure out what is going on, then maybe I could fix it.

Well, my most recurring conclusion in this matter, is that I can’t figure it out. And even if I could, I wouldn’t be able to fix it. God is the one who has it all figured out and so far He hasn’t included me in His figuring. He is also the One who is going to “fix” it, if indeed, it requires fixing.

In fact, the messages I’ve been most consistently receiving from all sorts of sources is… back off, relax, WAIT and Trust Me to come through in MY time, not yours.

In addition to the “wait for MY timing” messages, I’ve also been having occasional epiphanies about other things. Such as, “My job of taking care of our home (cleaning, meals, shopping, dishes, laundry, the dog) is every bit as much a part of my calling as writing is. So why should I get all upset when attending to those things requires some of my time, time I could (presumably) devote to writing if I didn’t have to do the daily chores?

Because I DO have to do them. God has assigned me that task as well as the one of writing Sky. Neither is more important than the other. He will enable me to do both of them in some measure according to His timetable, not mine. So instead of getting all agitated because I have to sweep the floor again and thinking it’s taking time away from writing, I’m thinking, “No, this is also part of God’s plan for my day and I simply have to trust Him to see that I get everything done that is on His agenda and forget my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Artists Aren’t Nuts, Just Artistic

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I came across the following quote awhile back, waiting for a time to post it. Today I was supposed to rest from my five days of working on Sky last week, and while I did not work on Sky, neither did I rest. So, this is a good day for a quote type post.

I found this piece  through Micah Mattix’s Prufrock, a daily newsletter on books, arts and ideas with a slant toward Christianity. It’s from an article in The Globe and Mail by Russell Smith entitled, Why artists are not actually mad, just artistic:

“…previous studies seem to confirm a link between creativity and madness: Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute found last year that writers had a higher risk of anxiety, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression and substance abuse, and that they were almost twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves. (This was reported in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.)

The researchers were also quick to point out that certain traits of the disturbed – such as disordered thoughts – are beneficial to artists. They did not address the chicken-egg question of what comes first, the nutsiness or a life spent in unstructured, self-employed, unremunerated, competitive and critical professions.

That last sentence always makes me laugh.  Yeah! What about all that stuff, huh?

 

 

Quotes From Famous Authors

(Quotes courtesy of Overcoming Writing Blocks. Comments courtesy of moi.)

 “Let’s face it, writing is hell.” ~ William Styron

 Yup. Have to say I agree.

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” ~E.M. Forster

 Oh, this is even more true. More on this later.

“Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.” ~Henry Miller

 Yes, indeed. Definitely a voyage, complete with wind, waves, rain, seasickness, dark miserable nights, getting lost, being pitched overboard, having huge fish swallow you, then vomit you up on a foreign shore you didn’t want to go to …Okay, I’m getting carried away…  But only a little.

“I never knew in the morning how the day was going to develop. I was like a hunter, hoping to catch sight of a rabbit.” ~ E. B. White

Amen to this! And when my hubby used to take me hunting I did the same thing then, that I do now… trudged up and down hill and dale in the Blue Wilderness after him, thinking there was nothing out there and we were just wasting our time and when could we stop this fruitless trudging and go home? In fact, it was on one such trek that was so fruitless and uneventful I spent the time coming up with a rudimentary plot for The Light of Eidon, figuring out Abramm’s name and Trap’s as well, if I’m recalling right…

Wait… does that mean maybe I found the “rabbit” after all, and simply didn’t realize what we were “hunting?” Hmmm…

Four and A Half Hours Today!

In the spirit of this blog having been inaugurated as my “Writing Diary”, I am hereby reporting that I put in 4 1/2 hours of concentrating on Sky today!  Hooray!

And last week I got into the office and worked everyday but Sunday. Daily tallies went from 1 hour  to 4 1/2 hours, with my average being around three. Today was the first day that things began to clarify slightly. The first day I did not feel hopelessly lost, adrift, no idea what I was doing, no idea what to do… So. I’m happy.

Writing a Novel: Why It’s So Hard

The following is something I wrote years ago, and keep in a notebook I’ve labeled “Inspiration and Encouragement”. I thought I’d already posted it, but can find it nowhere in either of my blogs (WordPress and Blogger).

I found it again today, when I went searching for some “inspiration and encouragement” and it so describes what I’ve been going through the last couple of days (yes, I’ve actually gotten into the office and worked for three days running now!) I thought I’d post it here.

Writing a Novel: Why is it so Hard?

Because it’s work. And work is hard. Work is not walking up to the tree and pulling off the fruit whenever you happen to want some. Work is breaking the soil, which does not easily yield. It is striking over and over with the hoe; it is crumbling it to a fine consistency, preparing it for the seed; it is sowing the seeds, a few at a time, walking down each row, one after the other. It is watering and waiting and weeding. And waiting. And weeding. And thinning and watering and waiting and pruning and watering and waiting and weeding and watering and finally harvesting.

Work involves doing the same thing over and over and over until you get the result you want. It often involves discomfort – muscles get sore and tired from use, skin forms blisters, callouses, emotions deflate from an initially excited anticipation and determination to frustration and even despair.

You can do more work, the more you practice it  – the stronger you are or become, the more work you can do. Even so, eventually you will reach a point where you’ve hit your limit and have to rest.

So with writing. Banging on that hard soil with the hoe is not easy. It must be done again and again. It takes effort, time. You must keep doing it, though you are uncomfortable and tired, though you are not seeing very much progress (if any). You must wait, and you must be patient. Just as the seed germinates below the ground without your awareness, so do many ideas and solutions germinate in your soul and mind, below the ground, without your awareness.

It’s hard because it’s work. We are to expect it to be hard. Embrace that, be organized, professional. Don’t complain, don’t give up, but throw yourself into the work with maximum effort and enthusiasm. The more you pound on the hard ground, the sooner it will yield, the sooner it will be soft and fertile and ready for the seed.

Remember, too, that much of the process does not involve our own effort. We cannot make the seed germinate faster, or the plant grow faster. We must wait, even as we work. We must rely upon God to provide the germination and growth, to protect, to provide the nutrients in the soil so that the sprout will become a seedling and the seedling a plant, bearing fruit in its time…

Second Real Day Back

events stack

Well, finally, after all the catch-up I played last week after our trip, I’ve gotten back to work. It was a productive day!

When I started, though,  as I looked at the three hundred or so  2″ x 3″  cards scattering my desk, I felt quite overwhelmed. Over time I’d used them to note down ideas as they had occurred to me — ideas about character, about incidents or events that might happen, about a character’s intentions or desires or reactions… each to its own card, but the cards all in a jumble. All waiting to be put into some kind of coherent plotline.

Augh! How was I going to do this? It was all swirling around —  random events and occurences that seemed to have no relation to one another. I needed, so I thought, to form some kind of plot line, but I felt lost in a fog of indecision.

So I went to the Lord, which I’m doing a lot more now than I have in the past — about almost everything.

“What should I do?” I asked Him, wanting to run away from it all yet again…

Well, He drew my attention to the fact that I have three placemats on my desk and enough space for another, though I don’t have one.  That’s more or less 4 sections. I could at least divide up the stack into general sections…

So I took up my stack of “event” cards (above)

And began to go through them one by one… placing some of them on the “beginning” placemat, some on the “ending” space and  just parceling out the rest of them as seemed fit, more or less where I thought they would fit in the story. Some events were predicated on others, some had to come after others… Sometimes I had two cards with different options for the same event, mutually exclusive. Sometimes I had two cards with slightly different takes on the event, or different details or trappings for it.  I just laid them all down, some in rows, some on top of other cards, some bridging two rows. Some of them I even put between the placemats when I wasn’t sure.

It was kinda fun, because I didn’t have to decide, just generally divide up the cards. Some of them I even threw away. And it was something of a comfort to find that for several of the events I’d envisioned, I’d made two, three even four cards with the same event on it.

Once I had them all parcelled out, I divided them into four piles, which I gathered together in a rough approximation of the order they’d been placed on the table.

The operative word here is “rough.”  I was not demanding that I be precise and orderly, it was just to be a general dividing of the concepts.

parts 2 - 4 small

Above you can see parts 2 -4 all gathered up and secured with rubber bands.

Where is part 1?  Well, once I’d gotten all four of my stacks divided, I took up Part one and began to lay out those cards in terms of cause and effect, order, etc.:

cards part 1

And having done that I have the beginnings of a line of events to work with. Nothing finished by any means but a start. There are lots of holes, and some of them are just ideas that need fleshing out. Some — those either/or cards — require a decision to be made one way or the other.

But that’s all tomorrow’s work. Oh, and I’m still loving my Freedom program, which I blogged about awhile back. That and turning off the phones, continues to give me what feels like a safehaven in which to relax and focus on the work… Plus something about the suspension of being available for contact motivates me to use the time to advantage rather than simply dink around.