Category Archives: Creativity

Eating an Elephant

eat an elephant

I’m sure most of you know the old adage, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. ” Well, my next step in my writing rehab program, as outlined in my Overcoming Writing Blocks book, was just that.

Having dealt with the distractions in my environment, I moved on last week to the writing project itself.  First up was to break the task into “bite-sized units.”  For a novel,  that would be chapters or possibly “Parts,” though so far I have not been thinking of this book in  terms of “Parts.” For now I took the average of the number of chapters in each of my six books — 42 — as the number of chapters in Sky.

I’ve already written six of them, which  leaves 36. At a rate of 2 chapters per 3 weeks,  with time out here and there for holidays and trips, I would be done with a first draft around May 1 of next year.

Whether that has any tie to reality or not, I have no idea. But it’s a start.

Next was to come up with a “Purpose Statement.” For fiction writing that would be one’s main story question for the tale. In working through developing this,  many things came to light about the world I’m building and this plus the next step “research reading and taking notes” (which I take to also include work in developing the parameters of one’s make-believe world) sent me off for most of last week gathering all my scattered notes and ideas into folders with the intention of going through the collected material and deciding what I want to keep and what I want to toss.

In the process of all this I realized that I am no longer interested in the linear set-up of a single empire beneath my fictional planet’s surface with the heavenly city floating above as I had originally envisioned. There have to be various nations to carry out what I’m wanting to do,  and in fact in the chapters I’ve already written there are already at least two other national entities mentioned. So I see that this concept was there all along, despite my initial plans.

I’ve been taking all my note cards and entering the notes on them into one of my many world building documents, or if I’ve decided not to use that material, simply throwing it away. It’s been very productive work. Not when it comes to chapters written, but as regards the fundamental shift the story is now taking. Once an optimum number of the world building questions have been answered, I’ll be able to turn my attention to the plot…

The fact that I’m making this fairly major change, in addition to much new material I’ve gathered from miscellaneous reading, news events and my own increasing understanding of some of the spiritual issues I was wanting to deal with, I’m beginning to see there might have been a reason for my stall over the last few months… years? … that goes beyond mere burn out, life distractions, or lack of self-discipline…

Trivial and Urgent vs Important but not Urgent

Another bit from the John Cleese video I posted yesterday. I found this to speak directly to one of the things that has most bedeviled me:

“It’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent, than it is to do important things that are not urgent (like pondering) and it’s easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.”  ~ John Cleese in his talk The Origins of Creativity

Game of Hot and Cold

Some time back in one of the messages I listened to about living in your spiritual gift, Pastor Farley described his own experiences in developing a sermon. He said that when he starts a message, he’s often stone cold. The Holy Spirit plays a game with him of hot and cold.

That immediately made me think of something I learned back during the time I was writing The Light of Eidon: if you’re bored and don’t want to go forward with a certain plotline or situation, that’s very often a “COLD”.

I remember planning out an entire sequence involving a fire in Southdock, and then could not make myself write it. Just could not. Finally it dawned on me that maybe this was not the way to go. Once I did that, and began to think of other ways to proceed. Sometimes in fiction, there’s an event you only want to “have happened” not actually portray dramatically and it can be difficult to figure that out. Sometimes, you’re just, flat headed in the wrong direction altogether and the event is either one you’ll never use, or something to be saved for another place in the book, or even another book.

I think that’s what’s been happening with Sky. I’ve been trying to take the story in a direction that seemed interesting and just is not where I want to go.

Green Lights and Red Lights


In this developmental phase of writing a book (ie, the general beginning),  I find myself struggling to be at ease with the process. In thinking about the story, I want to to come up with a sequence of events and yet my mind seems to shy away from that. I start there, but sometimes, almost immediately, it turns away and gallops after other pursuits.

I catch myself, pull it back and the process repeats. I get glimmers of things, ideas, events that might happen, rising to the top of the soup that is my mind, and then drifting out of sight, no connection to anything else, no certainty that indeed these are elements and need merely be connected for me to have my story. Maybe this event or incident will happen. Or maybe that. Sometimes the two are opposites. They can’t both happen. And it seems I should be clearer on the matter, but I’m not.

That tends to distress me. To make me feel stupid, flighty, incompetent. Don’t you know your own mind? Don’t you know what you want to write about, for heaven’s sake?!

Well…no. And no.

But my pastor says there are far more red lights in life than green ones. That we spend more time waiting for the doors to open than walking through them. So it seems to be here. I am waiting. And I must be at peace with it. I must remind myself that the Lord is involved in this, that I can trust Him to lead me in developing something that will be pleasing to Him.

Addendum:  This is a piece I wrote for my own edification back in April of 2001. It remains as true today — this very day — as it was then. I’m sorry to say that six books later, I still must endure this experience. Repeatedly. It is of some comfort to know that I have gone through it before — and enough times that I actually wrote about it for future reference.


swaths of gold small

If I am to liken writing a book to fighting a battle, or preparing to build or whatever, it is important that one count the cost. To do the recon first. If you send soldiers out into the field and tell them okay, I want you to explore all this region and map it for us, since we have no map, and I want you complete that in three weeks – that would be a ridiculous assignment. No one knows what’s out there. A more reasonable assignment would be to send the people out to map for a particular period of time. Then evaluate what they have and decide the next step. External factors may demand decisions be made on less than complete information, whereupon the outcome becomes far less certain.

Might need to have a number of recon assignments before you are ready to launch any kind of operation.

In book writing, you never really know the terrain until you’ve actually written the first draft. You can stand at the edge of the unknown territory and see there’s a mountain there, a valley there, a canyon there. You can surmise what you will find, and you can estimate a route. But until you are actually down there and walking through it, you cannot know how it will go, where it will go, what you will encounter, etc. So I think it is time to plot the book, try the first trip through the wilderness and see where I end up.

Quote: Recover and Recharge

I can only give thanks to our God that He has allowed me to have a case of shingles almost “in name only.” Its physical impacts have been so minimal, that except for the fact that two doctors have made confident diagnoses that I do in fact have it, I would feel embarrassed to even claim I did. The medications have worked flawlessly so far, their side effects also minimal.

The rash is nearly gone, and my eye looks and mostly feels back to normal, except for occasional zings of nerve pain in the left corner now and then.

But in spite of all that, things have conspired to keep me from the blog and the book. More on that in another post. For now, it’s late, so I’m doing another reprise from my old blog, this quote relevant to my current creative situation:

“Creativity comes in cycles. One month you’re churning out piece after piece, everything you put your hand to comes out fabulous. It seems like it’ll go on forever. You are the Productivity Queen! Next month you crash and burn. You can’t even bear to look at your studio, let alone make something. This is when you need to recognize the signs your body is sending. After a time of great creative work, your brain, spirit and body need a break. You’ve spent your creative energies and your well is dry. It’s time to recharge.”      ~ from Alexia Petrakos’s “How to Recover and Recharge from Creative Burnouton Collective Creatives – a cooperative artisan blog

The Open Ended Writing Process

Things are looking up! Last week I came into the office and actually worked a minimum of 2 hours a day, and usually more like 3 or 4, on The Other Side of the Sky! For 6 days in a row!


Okay, so maybe my use of the word “work” might be giving you the wrong idea. The first few days I came in and wrote in my writing log, walked laps around the house, walked laps around the yard, lay on the bed and thought, did nonstops and all too often caved to my desire to read the news, which after all, is only a click away.

But each time I fell into that made me more desirous of not doing it again.

I also made a point of closing down the computer around 9pm and getting to bed earlier. Not being sleep deprived helps tremendously in being able to control one’s sudden impulses to do other than what one has decided to do for the moment.

And after a week I have learned that it really is true: I can not do as much as I wanted and thought I could. But I am liking that. I am feeling uncluttered. More able to breathe. More focused on the work.

Last week, Tuesday, actually, sometime around the end of my daily work period, I opened one of the books I keep on my shelf, that I have referred to often during the course of my writing “career.”  That book is Writing with Power by Peter Elbow.

I have a paper on doing “Open-Ended Writing,” one I prepared from concepts taught in this book, and I had been trying to do some, but they didn’t seem to be working out. So  I decided to look up Elbow’s original writing on the matter.

Here’s the first thing I found, most of which I copied into my journal:

The open-ended writing process… is a way to bring to birth an unknown, unthought-of piece of writing — a piece of writing that is not yet in you. It is a technique for thinking, seeing, and feeling new things. This process invites maximum chaos and disorientation. You have to be willing to nurse something through many stages over a long period of time and put up with not knowing where you are going. Thus it is a process that can change you, not just your words.

As the most creative and unmethodical writing process, I associate it with poems or stories or novels…”

This blew me away when I read it. For two reasons, one, because it’s exactly what I’ve been experiencing… chaos, disorientation, taking a long time, not knowing where you are going… YES!  That’s exactly what it’s been like.

I have hit a wall because I am trying to take the story someplace it’s not supposed to go. I know that sounds weird and esoteric, but it’s the only way I can describe it. It’s happened before.

Years back in writing The Light of Eidon, I wanted there to be a fire in Southdock. Abramm was supposed to run in there and help put the fire out as I recall. I couldn’t get myself to write it.  Kept trying. Even forced myself to write it until I couldn’t stand it any more….

And then I realized that I was trying to take the story in a place it wasn’t supposed to go. I backed up, rethought and came up with a new line that worked perfectly. Later, there actually was a fire in Southdock… I think that was in book 3, Shadow Over Kiriath. But even in that book Abramm was not involved in fighting the fire, it was just one of those things you want to “have happened” but not that you want your protagonists involved in.

Anyway, I think something like that is happening now. It may not be as major of a course correction as “don’t have that scene at all” but it’s set me on a new line of thinking. One that has suggested perhaps I need to change the whole world as I’ve developed it.

The reason this is such a difficult proposition for me is that I don’t just sit down and by fiat say, “This is how the world will be. There’ll be this single nation and this floating city, and it will be inhabited by these people and…”

Because that never works. I need the world and the characters and the doctrinal analogy and the plot all to come together and I have never been able to do that by taking one part of the story and developing it rigidly and then heading on to the others. Just. Can’t. Do it.

The biggest problem I have with all this is that I keep forgetting that. Keep wanting to take control and try to get my mind around at least one piece so I can develop that, and have at least SOMETHING that won’t change when I think about it. And that’s not what God would have me do.

Here’s the rest of the quote from the book on this subject that I transcribed into my journal, plus my response after copying it:

“I think of the open-ended writing process as a voyage in two stages: a sea voyage and a coming to new land. For the sea voyage, you are trying to lose sight of land — the place you began. Getting lost is the best source of new material. In coming to new land you develop a new conception of what you are writing about — a new idea or vision — and then you gradually reshape your material to fit this new vision. The sea voyage is a process of divergence, branching, proliferation, and confusion; the coming to land is a process of convergence, pruning, centralizing, and clarifying.”


YES! This is what I’ve been doing! Haltingly, reluctantly. Thinking I’m failing instead of S-L-O-W-L-Y  progressing. All these whirling ideas, things that appear in my head but I can’t see how they fit into the whole… It frustrates me, and yet it’s exactly the work I’m to be doing. It’s the same process Pastor John’s been teaching in the spiritual life. I have all these papers and cards with notes on them, these half-formed ideas regarding the world and as I’ve encountered before, I can’t just start deciding stuff because it’s not linear, it’s holistic. It comes together all at once seemingly out of nowhere, not piece by piece.

This is kind of how the spiritual life goes as well, the chaos, the blindness, not knowing, the crazy stuff and where is God… and all the while, like in the Artistic Coma, He’s there, beneath it all, inside, so deep we can’t see it, can’t feel it, can’t even tell, but He’s working on us.

It’s weird the way all this fits together for me… But that’s gotta be Him as well.

The Artistic Coma Revisited

As the title indicates, I have posted this little blurb before, but since I find that I return to the concept again and again, even transcribe it into my journals again and again, I’m okay with posting it again.  It so describes my experience, perhaps now more than ever, and every time I return to it, I get something more out of it. Something different.

Right now, it goes along with — helps to explain and confirm — the need to “find a place for my mind.” A place where it can be uncluttered with demands and desires and just the general detritus and ephemera of various thoughts that come out of continued contact with our “too fast/too much” world.

As the picture above indicates, this is from Dorothea Brande’s classic Becoming a Writer, which was first published in 1934.

“[The writer] will only know that there are times when he must, at all costs, have solitude; time to dream, to sit idle. Often he himself believes that his mind is empty. Sometimes we hear of gifted men who are on the verge of despair because they feel they are going through a “barren” period; but suddenly the time of silence is past, and they have reached the moment when they must write.

“That strange, aloof, detached period has been called “the artistic coma” by observers shrewd enough to see that the idleness is only a surface stillness. Something is at work, but so deeply and wordlessly that it hardly gives a sign of its activity till it is ready to externalize its vision. The necessity which the artist feels to indulge himself in solitude, in rambling leisure, in long speechless periods, is behind most of the charges of eccentricity and boorishness that are leveled at men of genius. If the period is recognized and allowed for, it need not have a disruptive effect.

“The artist will always be marked by occasional periods of detachment; the nameless faculty will always announce itself by an air of withdrawal and indifference, but it is possible to hasten the period somewhat, and to have it, to a limited extent, under one’s control…”

Well, I don’t know about the “under one’s control” part, but certainly recognizing this and allowing for it is very helpful.

Another section of the book, talking about “a writer’s recreation” is also helpful:

One very well-known writer of my acquaintance sits for two hours a day on a park bench. He says that for years he used to lie on the grass of his back garden and stare at the sky, but some member of the family, seeing him so conveniently alone and aimless, always seized the occasion to come out and sit beside him for a nice talk. Sooner or later he himself would begin to talk about the work he had in mind and then the desire to write it would abate. Now, with a purposeful air and in mysterious silence, he disappears daily and can be found every afternoon (but fortunately seldom is) with his hands in his pockets staying at the pigeons in the park.”

That sounds wonderful to me!  Like water in a desert.

And it also happens to coordinate with some of the concepts Pastor Farley taught awhile back about God is at work in us, often in those times when it seems He’s not hearing, when things are tough, or just nothing is happening, nothing is changing outwardly, perhaps it’s in our life situation, or maybe it’s internally, but if we know we are in His plan and obeying His commands, we know that He is at work.

That’s what I’ve begun to see is going on with me and this book. He is at work on my character and person for one — at work in my relationship to what I’m doing, how much control I’m going to have over it all, and what His part is going to be. He’s  teaching me that this is His project in all respects and I really just have to stop trying to take the reins. Which I do over and over and over.

And part of how I’m seeing that is through what He is doing with this book. Working slowly, silently, below the surface. Brande’s description is so much like what I’m experiencing… and it’s so not what the world says it should if God is involved. Especially if God is involved. I’ve read so many Christian writers relate how they prayed and He just poured the story into their heads.

He does do that with me. Sometimes. In fits and starts. Never the whole story, though. And always with lots of “dry” periods between.  But this week, a number of things have fallen into place and I feel more encouraged than I have in months.

Brande’s quote was one of the things that led me back into the sun, as it were.

The Mystery Project Unveiled

Over the weekend, we gathered together with my son, daughter-in-law and extremely cute granddaughter up in Pinetop, AZ, and that is why I had to finish my Big Project last week — so I could give it to her. It was a quiet book.

I got the pattern for free from a website called Modest Maven. You can see the original I worked from HERE. And you can download your own pattern and instructions there, as well. Or other things: she sews a lot of stuff for her friends and family all the time.

The book has twelve pages of different activities, several of which I’ve pictured below from the book I made.  The last picture was a substitute for Maven’s telephone because  I thought the old-style landline telephone, with its hand receiver connected by  a coiled wire to its base and rotary number dial would be something unidentifiable to today’s kids as a phone. Furthermore, I could think of no way to represent the modern-day cell phone with its number pads, or worse just the screen, in any way that would work in a quiet book. So I substituted an apple tree with hooks…

Anyway, here’s a look at a few pages:

use the velcro-attached balloons to match the colors

velcro-attached clothes dress the little girl and a mitt fits just right on a little hand

Felt buttoned on flowers and and a lace-up football.

A zippered tent with a little dog in it (who looks suspiciously like Quigley… but that was purely accidental. Really. ) and two children who can be put to bed or taken out as desired

the aforementioned apple tree

Where I Get My Ideas

Sketch of the Grand Canyon’s Inner Gorge from Plateau Point

Last night and today I have been doing something I haven’t done in a very loooong time.

I’ve been updating my website. Yes, I have a website in addition to this blog. The link is in the margin to the right.  The last time I updated it was in 2009, when The Enclave came out and all I did then was put a notice on my home page and add a page just fro it. I didn’t even remember to change the “last updated” blurb in the header, so that it still said “July 2007” when I started to work last night.

I had no idea it had been that long. I’ve been thinking for some time that I need to integrate it with the blog, but that’s about all I’ve done: think.  And not much of that, either.  Too many options, too little knowledge and WAY too little time!

But with the re-release of Arena, and this month’s free e-book special of The Light of Eidon, I figured I should probably get back to the website and at least update Arena’s cover and mention the special.

In the process, I’ve found some fun things there; things that I’d forgotten.

Like the Arena Scrapbook I made to illustrate some answers to the question, where do I get my ideas?

Here’s the start…

“People ask where I get my ideas.  As with all authors, mine come from things I’ve experienced in my life, either directly or indirectly through reading, movies or things others have told me. Sometimes places or events surface that I think are completely original, only to discover later that I actually experienced them somewhere before.

It was a real shock to be walking down the upper switchbacks of the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail some twenty years after the first time I’d done it and come to a spot that was “straight out of Arena.” Until then, I thought I’d made it up completely.”

To see the photos of experiences that spawned various elements of Arena, I invite you to visit my Scrapbook Page HERE.