Sunday, November 16, 2014

+J.M.J.+

This post may be a little bit different than what I normally post…I don’t talk much about my writing, but I felt it only appropriate to show what God has done, since I’m only about 9,000 words away from the end of my first draft of my novel. To say the least, I’m in a bit of a giddy shock right now. Last night I typed the first 1,000 words of the climax of my novel. For those who may not be up on writerly terminology, the climax is basically the high point of the novel, where the main character and villain meet and clash for the final time; the climax decides the outcome of the novel. It is also the penultimate scene or scenes—the only thing left to write after the climax is the resolution, which only takes up a scene or two at the end of the novel. Just since August, I’ve written 6/8 of my novel. That’s 60,000 words. 60,000!!!!!!!!! I’ve been drafting since the end of April, but April was right before my graduation from college and getting all of that together. I spent some time at home with my mom and sister after graduation, and drafted some, but had to go back and rework all of my plot points. I was also trying to get on my feet at the beginning of June—I got my driver’s license, a car, and a job the first two weeks of June, and made my first road trip. So that was stressful. Then, as I got settled in at work and got used to being here, my drafting picked up speed. By August, I was confident in my plot points. I stopped every once in a while, studying writer Katie Weiland’s Character Arc series on her writing blog, “Helping Writers Become Authors.” She has some great books on writing, by the way, and I’m in the process of reading her novel “Dreamlander”—just what I needed to refuel my creative tank!

I’m using the 3-act method for character arc and story structure, using techniques and pointers from Katie’s books and her posts to guide me along the way. The first act takes up the first quarter of the book, and at the end the character will step through the door and set foot on the road to his goal, his change, and the final meeting with the antagonist. The second act is all about learning new skills, embracing the truth, at least partly, and making steady progress towards the goal. The beginning of the third act is a low moment for the character, as they lose their chance of getting what they want by choosing the thing they need. Then they rise up from the ashes of their low point and make their plans to defeat the bad guy. The Climax is that final battle, where the character will be given the ultimate test—will he stick to his guns and use the truth to defeat the baddie, or will he succumb to the lie he’s just shed? Of course, in the type of arc I’m writing, a very popular arc known as the positive change arc, the character will use the truth to wipe the floor with the bad guy. The exciting part is giving the reader just enough doubt to sit on the edge of their chair, biting their nails, thinking Will the main character do it? Will he survive this encounter?

This structure has changed my whole writing process. Before, I would launch in excitedly after typing up a few thousand words of an outline, the story idea fresh in my mind. But usually, when I would get between 40-60 pages in, plot problems began to arise that I would have to go back and solve before moving on. This frustrated me and created endless tangles of problems—sometimes the problems would require excavating entire chapters, reworking characters and backstories, and generally changing the entire story as a whole. As a ‘judging’ type of personality (if you know Myers-Briggs type personality tests, you’ll know what I’m talking about), I want to come to a plan of action and execute it. That’s what I do best. But when it comes to brainstorming a story and outlining it, it is essential to think of all the what-if’s. That means being more of a ‘perceiver’—thinking of all the possibilities. But this process, I think, frustrates me because it delays me from getting started. Still, I’ve realized the hard way (after 8 years of writing and re-writing and re-writing again) that that’s what I need to do. Frustrating? Yes. Worth it? Yes. It’s better because if I let out all the possibilities from the start, I can then execute my natural ‘judging’ function and choose the best ones, and arrange them to see if they’ll all fit together. Much less frustration in the long run this way.

In Katie’s book “Outlining Your Novel,” she walks you through an intensive outlining process that she uses, which is very effective. The great thing is that she gives a disclaimer that you don’t necessarily have to use all of the steps she lists, or stop where she does. I gave her method a shot, and found some things really worked, but others did not. I condensed her steps to a few that work well for me. Whereas she suggests outlining each scene in a bit of detail, and going through the whole novel with this process before you begin drafting, I’ve discovered that if I pin down my major plot points for the whole novel first, then dive into the first act’s requirements, using the plot points in the first act as my frame, I can jot down a few hundred words on ideas for what will need to happen in that first act, then arrange those few hundred words into a workable outline and begin drafting. Once I’m done with the first act, I work through the second act in the same way, then draft it. For some reason, this keeps me more sane than outlining the whole novel in detail from the get-go. I think I get intimidated by an entire novel’s outline, and that if I stray from it I will be shamed for 50 days or something crazy. In other words, I feel guilty if I expend all that energy on an outline that I know I will stray from later. So I take it in smaller chunks. Then, when I’m finished with the first act and I can see how it’s panned out, I can tweak anything that may no longer fit with the plot points in the second act and construct a more accurate outline for the second act, building on what’s happened in the first act. It’s a process that keeps me sane, because it saves me the trouble of having to rework an entire outline if I realize something in the second act no longer fits with the first, or the third with the second, etc. But I still have a decent roadmap for the entire novel before I ever begin drafting, because I have the major plot points (the inciting event, the midpoint, the third plot point, the climax) pinned down.

Hey, you can’t argue with results, right? I fell in love with Katie’s method; I took extensive notes, studied it for hours, and honestly filled an entire notebook trying to accomplish it. But I ended up doing the same thing with the outline that I used to do with my drafts—I wadded it up and threw it away and had to start all over. So in my creative writing classes at college, I spoke with my professor (who happens to be the same four-letter personality type as me) and asked her about her process. She confirmed my intuition about working from plot points rather than an entire, lengthy outline—her process is similar to mine. Plot points, character backstories and goals, and a good knowledge of your setting are all you need to get started. And using this, combined with a bit of extensive brainstorming when I’m pinning down the plot points, and God’s grace, I’ve almost got my first, finished, rough draft of a novel.

To be honest, I didn’t know if I was ever going to finish a project. I kept writing because writing is just what I do, and kept hoping that maybe something would happen and I would discover the way to finish a draft. Discovering this process has helped me so much, and I know I’ll keep refining the process—I know it may not be exactly the same for each project I work on. I’m so grateful to God for His grace and for giving me this gift of writing, and showing me how to put it to work more efficiently and effectively.

I don’t know if I’ve ever blogged about what my book is actually about. The main theme is of uniting faith and reason, and the two main characters in the novel are representatives of faith and reason, so to speak. It is fiction in the spirit of Tolkien and Lewis; somewhat allegorical, but also exploring the personal changes and cruxes that the characters have to accomplish and overcome in order to reach the ultimate fulfillment of the theme, and of their journey as human beings. It has a more modern style to it, more like Ted Dekker than Tolkien, but it is sort of a high fantasy as well—all about the quest! And yes…it will probably end up being a trilogy.

So yes. I apologize sincerely if any of this has bored you, dear reader, but I haven’t journaled about my writing for a while, and I felt the need to share all the exciting discoveries and progress God has helped me to make. Thank you for reading and sharing this exciting time in my life with me!

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias! To God be the glory!+

Sunday, October 26, 2014 (Feast of Christ the King)

+J.M.J.+

I was thinking earlier that I hadn’t had anything exciting or traumatic happening this week, and so I might struggle with a topic to write about. And then I saw a post from one of my friends on Facebook talking about obsessions. The post was something along these lines: “Whatever we are obsessed with will consume us and blind us, leading us away from truth.” I got to thinking about that, wondering why that particular post felt like a knife thrust into my stomach, or someone ripping the blankets off me on a Saturday morning, exposing me to the cool air, to the truth, the truth that stabs at our conscience, demanding to be recognized. I thought about the past week, about how much writing I’ve been doing, about how much music I’ve been listening to, and about my recent Facebook confession of being ‘slightly’ obsessed with Josh Groban’s music. And then today, to top it all off, I heard a sermon of St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s on conquering our predominant passion. At this point, I realized—I’d been letting a bad passion creep up on me, slowly letting it take hold of my actions and thoughts, my desires and my words, and it was only going to get worse unless I did something about it.

So, I suppose, this post will be my ‘doing something about it.’ If I can get it out into the air, think about it, evaluate it, maybe I can take steps to stop it. The thing about passions is that they make their object look so darn inviting. I’ve realized, in looking back on my thoughts, my dispositions, throughout the past week or so, that writing and music were getting the best of me. I would wake up in the morning, wanting to do nothing but write, or at least to scrounge up as much time as I could throughout the day to write. I even posted a Facebook status about this desire. And with this desire, I would do my best to fulfill it, snatching moments of my lunch break at work, moments at naptime, moments in the morning, if possible, and moments after dinner and before the Rosary in the evening.

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with making the most of my spare time, and writing is indeed a gift I believe God has given me to be used and cultivated, for His glory. But I noticed, at work, during nap, if one of the children happened to wake and needed to be tended to, I was loathe to put down the pen and go to them—and in all truth, their welfare is my first priority and duty while I’m at work! At home, if I was eagerly typing away in my Scrivener program, and my grandmother called to me to help her with something, or even if she poked in her head to check on me and ask what I was doing, I would reply with short, curt language: “I’m writing.” She would, of course, in her gentleness, hear the impatience in my voice and quickly withdraw herself. She respects my duty to write, and this is a wonderful thing.

Except, my duty to write does not EVER trump my duty to obedience and charity toward my neighbor.

Moving onto the next point. Never mind that I’d used every moment of spare time to make progress. Never mind that that progress is astounding (15,000 words in 10 days!). The next passion quickly crept up on me as the last began to ebb. (Writers often go through creative spurts where putting the pen down is very hard, and then a few days later crash and produce next to nothing.) I had begun to write while listening to my ‘Writing’ playlist, which includes various things, such as soundtrack music from various favorite movies, choral pieces that I’d sung in my college choir, Gregorian chant, and…a few bits of Josh Groban’s music. As I write (I hope what I’m explaining will make sense to you), I emotionally connect the scene that I’m writing with the piece of music that I’m listening to. And if the piece of music happens to match the mood of the scene I’m writing, all the better. I noticed that many of these songs that I’d been connecting (whether to various characters, situations, relationships, or events) were…you guessed it…Josh Groban songs.

Well, that’s where it started. I began to search for other Josh Groban songs and threw entire albums onto the playlist, putting it on shuffle in the hopes that I could find out which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t. Then I noticed I was skipping through the other songs on the playlist to get to the Josh Groban songs. I started looking up the lyrics to the songs and their translation (many are in Spanish/Italian) to see if the words meant anything to the scenes I was writing. Nothing wrong with any of this, I don’t suppose, in moderation. I would go to bed with his songs playing in my head and wake up with the same. (Sound familiar yet?) I would sing them even when I wasn’t listening to music. And when I began to realize that my enjoyment of his music was taking over, I tried to hold it back by abstaining from music on one day each week. My wake-up call came when I couldn’t even make it one day without listening to it, and I posted a Facebook status ‘confession’ about my new obsession. My co-workers (who are often the unfortunate victims of my music playing) liked my status as a sort of inside joke. Deep within, I knew something wasn’t quite right. Fortunately, the next week, I was able to make it my one day without music, and felt much better about everything.

In listening to the sermon today, I heard a couple of pieces of advice to help remedy these bad passions. One, the first and most important, is to kill them while they’re small. It is much easier to root out a sapling than it is a full grown oak tree with deep roots. The second interesting bit of advice is to turn the object of the passion into something virtuous. So, for instance, instead of being greedy about my time for writing, I could be ‘greedy’ about time for prayer, making time for it, putting it first, and going to it with readiness and joy. Instead of listening for hours on end to secular music, I could listen to more Gregorian chant, sermons, and other music that lifts the heart to God. And most of all, I think a good dose of resignation to the will of God will help with both. If God gives me the time to write, I should by all means use it, provided my spiritual duties have been accomplished, and provided I keep a meek and obedient disposition, to part from my work whenever the Will of God may call me elsewhere. Also, inserting more spiritual music into my playlist may help me turn my eyes to God more often during my writing. And…here’s another biggie…to write when I have the time to, even if I don’t feel like it. If God gives me the time to write, I should not waste it by procrastinating on the internet. Research is one thing, but procrastination looks and feels totally different from research. Research is for the purpose of fact-checking, mainly. Procrastination has no purpose, and therefore it is idleness, a vice so easily fallen into and, once fallen into, hard to escape.

I think the bottom line I truly need to learn and embrace is this: Our obsession should be with making it to heaven; our treasure should be found in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In nothing else can we find our true happiness, a happiness not quite experienced but hoped for in this life. This is why, I think, I often feel empty inside, hollow, even when I am doing something I’ve been looking forward to—something like, sitting down at my desk to write with a fresh cup of coffee and a crumpet and turning my playlist up to drown out the world. There is no joy in it, unless it is leading me closer to God, to my treasure, to my true home. If I am not writing to please Him, if I am not writing on His time, according to His will, it is meaningless, joyless, empty. The only contentment we can find in this life is in doing the Will of God. Period. And what is His will? Sanctity. That in all we do, say, think and desire, we reach higher, reach for Him and Him alone, and find our happiness nowhere else.

I have also learned this: It is a very difficult thing to deny your own will. It stings and scrapes at our pride like nothing else can. That is why it makes us saints. Because we suffer in so doing. Because we must fight. But in this fight, we will always be victorious so long as we do not give up, so long as we do not let go of the hand of God which sustains us in all things. And our bitterness will turn swiftly to sweetness when we look up to meet the eyes of God in our suffering and see Him gazing back in love and joy at us, see Him watching our efforts to please Him with infinite delight. We cannot hope to win the fight against our will if we do not love God.

All this to say, dear reader: Fix your ‘obsession’ on your heavenly home and Heavenly Father, for only this ‘obsession’ can bring us to everlasting felicity. All others will blind us and drag us away from God, our only Good.

And, a special ‘thank you’ to the friend who posted such a thought-provoking and soul-searching status.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

The Manifold Joys of Writing

Me: *happily outlining the first few scenes of my novel*
My Characters: (after every scene) “HEY! HEY, you wanna know a secret?”
Me:…”Sure…”
My Characters: “I DON’T BELONG HERE! HEY, Hey, I’m actually in love with this person! Hey, hey you, author-type person! I HAVE AAAALLLL the skeletons in my closet! HEY, don’t forget about this!”
Me:….”Anything else I should know?”
My Characters: “Is this really how you’re writing me? Maybe you should just start all over. That’s SOOO not me.”
Me:…*bangs head against keyboard*

Oh, the joys of writing. They are endless.

Bite-Size Haiku

Here are just a few

Samples of earlier work–

I wrote these last year! 

 

1

Lips breathe on knuckles

Not as pure as they may seem—

Cleaner still than mine.

 

2

Your fingers linger

Deliciously on my own.

Warm, like hot cocoa.

 

3

Chocolate wonders—

Will you never cease to please?

Turn my way once more.

 

4

Almost too warm—please,

If you go I’ll surely freeze

Outside of your arms.

 

5

Intoxicating.

Spice and gentle undertones

Charming and robust.

 

6

Chuckling low and

How your breath comes through your nose

Gives me the shivers.

 

7

Trusting me with this—

Trusting you to be cautious—

God’s love shown in us.

 

So, I guess I should say a little bit about myself…

Well, let’s start with the basics.

-I am a college student. I’m a junior English major/music minor and loving it.

-I love writing. I’d like to make it into a career if I can. I will probably, in future posts, display some samples of my work.

-I like to sing. Hence the music minor. I’m getting alright at it, what with lessons and all.

-I am a Catholic. And traditionally Catholic, not this new theology floating around everywhere. Think traditional Latin Masses in a beautiful chapel with stained glass windows. Think pre-Vatican II. The ironic thing is, I used to be a Southern Baptist. Figure that one out. It can’t be figured out, unless I found the truth. =)

-I have a wonderful boyfriend who I’ve been courting for a little over a year now. We’re thinking about/discussing marriage in the near future. And praying, of course. =)

-I love cats. They’re just the most animated, quirky, curious, cuddly, moody, and fluffy things in the world. I would own a cattery if I could afford it.

-I have just discovered peach limeades from Sonic. =DDDDDD They’re currently my favorite drink, besides coffee. I LOOOOVVEEE coffee. Possibly as much as I love cats.

-I really have a goofy sense of humor. Puns get me every time. And basically just random stuff, as long as it’s not vulgar. I also like irony and sarcasm. As long as it’s fairly tasteful. You’ll see some posts that really get me tickled, one of which is a doozy; it’s a clip of a TV news report that features a lone flashlight in the middle of a street. The headline reads “Suspicious Flashlight.” I’m not sure why, but I die laughing every time I see it.

-I do not wear pants. Wait, let me rephrase that. I wear skirts and dresses instead of pants or jeans. I just figure, if I’m a woman, by golly, I want to look like one. I’ve always favored dresses, even when I was little. So I’m often (ironically) mistaken for a Pentecostal.

-I really like burgers. And tacos. And chicken strips. Definitely chicken strips. I also like SOME healthy things, like fruit. And on occasion, some vegetables.

And that’s pretty much all there is, basically. I’m not going to dig through the minefield of my past, except in glimpses where they are absolutely necessary to something I’m trying to say. But yeah. There you go.

Also, here is a picture of my cat, Figaro, because he’s cute.

My Kitty

My Kitty