Posts made in January, 2013

National Novel Write Month, Two months later

Posted by on Jan 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

Participation in the 2012 National Novel Write Month was one of the most useful exercises I have undertaken as a writer. I think it should be required of every literature/writing student in the country.

Again, National Novel Write Month (Nanowrimo, as we call it on the streets) is a program in which writers commit to completing a 50,000 word novel in the expanse of 30 days–a daunting task to be sure  In that time, the participants are encouarged simply to write without their inner editor, to allow themselves the freedom of a horrible but finished first draft, to get the book out of their system and accomplished, albeit poorly at first. It may be one of the most freeing and enjoyable writing activities presently available in a widespread community model.

So, I participated, and I completed a first draft of a novel.  Frankly, my first draft was far more of an extended treatment than a solid novel. What it needs is twice as much real content of things happening rather than things being described as happening. Regardless of when the next drafts are completed, I took some great experiences from my first Nanowrimo. Here’s are three bullet points.

* Nanowrimo reignited the joy of writing as discovery. Without an outline for my NanoWrimo book, I was just running toward an unknown destination, generating whatever story I could muster at a given moment. This process pulled influences from the recesses of my mind in ways I did not expect and opened a wonderful outlet to dormant ideas. I have a good number of myths, stories, themes, and motifs sitting in the dusty closet of my soul and during Nanowrimo, many of these items were put in a blender and returned to the surface (which has provided fodder for even more work in addition to the aforementioned somewhat bearable first draft).

*Nanowrimo reignited the joy of writing as expression. I began Nanowrimo while doing a simultaneous 4th and 5th revision of my first novel, and the freedom of writing without editing was essential to keeping my love of this of work. As I kinda said here “the work of writing is editing”, and that is true–thus, being able to simply write without an outline or expectation was a blast. In as much as editing involves finding the best way of saying a given thing, it also involves murdering your most beloved phrases and anecdotes when they serve the self instead of the story. Nanowrimo provided some much-needed embellishment to just say something how I felt like saying it in a given moment–I don’t even allow myself that luxury here on the blog.

*Nanowrimo gave me a sense of accomplishment. Being unemployed and having my first novel in something of a holding pattern during November, I was in need of a win. If nothing else, NanoWrimo gave me that. In addition, telling folks I’ve written a novel makes me sound like every self-publishing blogger who thinks they have the next Harry Potter in their desk drawer. Telling them that I have completed one novel, written another to be edited, and, now, I am in the process of completing another while outlining more; well, it just makes me feel like more of an author and not a fly-by-night vanity writer (although the very fact that I am blogging may challenge that very statement).

So, anyway, we are only ten months away from the next NanoWriMo, and I am obviously looking forward to it. I encourage any of the would-be authors or writers reading this to send me a line, and let’s plan to keep in touch during Nano2013. Maybe we can even exchange horrible first drafts after the fact.

Thanks for reading,
C.J.

 

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The Joy of Christian Disappointment

Posted by on Jan 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

I wrote this Friday afternoon, but I didn’t want to double post in a single day, so it is coming this morning.

Since our move from southern California to northern Delaware, my life has been full of disappointments. Both small and large, these developments have been one of the few constants of our journey here in the east. Some slide off my back with little thought thereafter, others have kept me awake at night, still more have proven to be the breeding for resentment for which I have had to repent.

In spite of these down’s I’ve experienced–and their have been many more than I anticipated–another constant has emerged. While not as dramatic as rejection, frustration, and angst, this constant is worth discussing, if for no other reason than I feel it beneficial for me to acknowledge and for you to read.

The other constant I am referencing is joy. A certain, untainted joy in the face of uncertainty and hurt. This a strong joy, one that comes from knowing my wife and I are where the Lord has placed us for this season of life. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is disappointing. But, no, it is not hopeless–I would say it’s not even discouraging, not for any extended period of time, anyway. Those moments pass, so quickly, and the peace returns with as much strength as it had prior to whatever bad news was received. And hope wells again quickly with a renewed strength so potent, you’d have thought that no such disappointment had come.

That’s the joy. The real joy. It is not fleeting but endearing, not stifled but stalwart–everlasting joy in eternal promises.  To even write of it fills me with pleasure and satisfaction, and be assured the latest disappointment to befall us is raw. That wound is upon, but the medicine is at work. Cleaning it, mending it, making it whole.

I preach a big game on this blog from time to time. I encourage honesty, and I demand it of myself. . I have said that the Lord is good and at work, in the forefront and in shadow, blessing, renewing, preparing, refining. When I consider this, I cannot help but ask the psalmist’s question once again, “What is man, O God in Heaven, what is man that You are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4) But he is. He is. And that is a most encouraging thought.

Some weeks he whispers to us. Some weeks he shouts. This week, I had wonderful experiences of prayer and Scriptural memorization and reflection with the Lord. We spent time together. But the realities of life also hit hard in these days. Life came at me with an uppercut right at the opening, popped a few jabs over the next days, and finished the week with a left hook–BAM–right in the temple. But all those minutes with Christ beforehand, all those mornings in Scripture, they brought me back to my feet. And they softened the blow. Events that could have shattered my spirits came, and they passed; and I stood with my gloves raised, black-eye and all, saying, “Alright. I got another round”.

And having that ability, that hope in the promise of the Lord’s work in the present and his promises in the future, that is something about which to rejoice.

Thanks for reading,
C

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Your Only Message On Earth

Posted by on Jan 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

What if God gave you the opportunity to speak to a crowd of people, and you had their undivided attention for 25 minutes. What would you tell them? Why?

I ask this because I am something of an active dreamer, and my present hope and dream is that in the future I will be asked to speak to congregations and youth groups about the mercies of God and his bringing us through the wasteland of sin (as I address in Stronghold). For good or ill, I spend some time investing in this dreams coming to fruition (hence my constant writing while looking for a 9-5 gig); and as such, I have begun to contemplate specific ways I would present this message.

Where and when do I begin?
How deep do I get?
What must be said?
What shouldn’t be said?

I wrote my testimony over the last week, and I engaged these questions among others in hopes of designing a solid message that I could begin to rehearse with the intention of sharing it in the next few months (or whenever God allows).

What have I found most enlightening when considering my relationship with God is how good the Lord has been over the course of my entire life. I have had high’s and low’s, as all people do, but throughout both the times of want and times of plenty, I have seen God’s hand at work, whether he was drawing me closer to myself in one area even while I was failing in another or using my past mistakes to better inform compassion in the man who I’ve become in the present.

When I look at my life, I see a great many failures. I see folly. I see selfishness. I see ignorance, pride, and sin. But I also see teachability. I see intentionality. I see brokenness over sin and longing for righteousness. Frankly, my life has been frighteningly cyclical with all of the above. Previously unknown patterns emerge when I engage my story on paper. I see key points of commonality in the mental and emotional state of myself at thirteen and thirty. Strangely, too, I see habits that are questionable at best and downright locked in arrested development at worst.

What is more telling, however, is that other persons have seen these issues well before I have. I spoke to my wife about the practice I undertook–the free-associative writing of my ongoing romance with the Lord–and after sharing my findings with her, I was humbled at her astute recognition of what I shared, even as the words were still on my mouth. More telling, however, is her keen insight into the human condition (or perhaps merely “the Christian condition”) in that most lives follow patterns like my own, perhaps not with its cyclical, recurring timeline but with its general ebb-and-flow. Seasons of personal growth are also coupled with seasons of great trial. Years of work result in balance, but said balance is often undone soon thereafter–if not by personal choice than by outside forces. Periods of burn-out follow periods of immense productivity, and months in confusion are nearly always the children of major disappointment or calamity. This is life.

And, frankly, mine is not overly special. I have no great achievements nor abysmal failures. I have not had the highest heights of success nor the lowest points of defeat. My life has, in so many ways, been mundane–perhaps, even dull.

And I begin to wonders, perhaps if that is the point?

When I think of the message I would tell if I were given the chance to share my story with people who were eager to hear it, what would really be the thrust or driving arc that makes it worth telling? I can come to no other conclusion but Christ–to God and his consistent pursuit and mercy and love despite my cyclical follies, poor habits, and foolish patterns. God has seen and used me in spite of them–perhaps because of them–and while my active pursuits have left me wanting and wounded, my pursuit of him has been a point of constancy and satisfaction. He has given my life a thread. My story has become inevitably bound not to what I have done but what he has been doing and continues to do. And that is a very encouraging thought–far more encouraging than my own rise of shallow self-fulfillment (or lack thereof).

And it is in this realization that I believe I have my answer to the earlier question. What message would I tell, were I to share my story. Simple. My story is God’s story, wherein Christ is the hero, the protagonist pursuing a selfish shrew who was once destined to self-destruction and now destined for something greater, despite periods of losing focus. Now that make for something worth telling (though I don’t know how I will keep it to 25 minutes).

Thanks for reading,
C

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The 9-point outline.

Posted by on Jan 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

As I discussed here, I am doing a “30×30” list (thirty tasks in the first year of my thirties), and one of the items is that I will take thirty writing ideas to the 9-point outline stage.  When i am outlining a project, I begin with the simple, single sentence encompassing the whole thing. Then I write the hook, the paragraph long text you might see on the back cover or book jacket. From there, I do the old 3-Act outline–beginning, middle, and end. I then take a paragraph to establish the relationship between the protagonist and antagonist as well as define their key conflict in detail. After that, I follow that with the 9-point Outline.

The 9-point outline is my favorite moment in the outlining process. In fact, until I hit the actual penning stage, it may be my most fulfilling point of development in a project. I love it for three reasons.

First, if you got nine points, you have something. If your beginning, middle, and end are set, and each of those acts has a solid arc, then you are on your way. Your story is more than
boy runs up tree (beginning);
boy stuck in tree (middle);
boy gets out of tree (end).
Now,
boy enjoys the day (beginning’s beginning),
boy gets chased (beginning’s middle),
boy finds and climbs tree (beginning’s end).
boy survives in tree, (middle’s beginning)
boy finds advantage in tree, (middle’s middle) (midpoint/changeover)
boys pursuer invades tree (middle’s end)
boy is pursued further up tree (end’s beginning)
boy leaps from tree, (end’s middle)
boy escapes, lives happily ever after (end’s end)
The story has some meat on it at this point–granted, it’s no magnum opus, but if you can at least make each act have an arc, you’ve got something.

Second, the 9-point gives you some real flavor for your pacing. We all know that stories hold attention by pacing, even if it is methodically slow but thematically engaging; and the 9-point gives you a glimpse into what aspects of the story should be shorter or longer. For example, the climb up the tree might be a bit longer than the leap from the tree, and once the boy has leaped, you will not want to oversell his flight, either (after all, the story is about a kid stuck in a tree, not a kid running away from a tree—once he’s on firm ground, get out!). Your 9-point shows you at least a glimpse of this, if not showing you it in full.

Third, the 9-point, while it gives a good base outline with which to run, really does not confine you to anything. Inasmuch as you have found your general idea and its basic form, you still have a great deal of leeway to develop your world and your story. For example, how does the boy find the tree? Is this the only option? If not, why choose that one? What keeps his pursuer from reaching him? What does the boy find in the tree? Does the tree produce hazards of its own?  A beehive? A jaguar? Another kid in hiding? How does he manage to leap without injury? Once he does, how can he now outrun his pursuer? What did he find in the middle of the middle that make the middle of the end so compelling?At the 9-point stage, you have created all these good, important story questions, and you have a wealth of possiblities with which to answer them. Oh, and if your 9-point does not have you interested to the point that it creates these kinds of questions, you may not have a story worth telling–if it does not get your attention, you can be assured will get no one else’s either.

Oh and for a bonus, the 9-point outline can also help give you insight as to mistakes you’ve made up to this point in the process. Maybe the story doesn’t end with the boy escaping the tree. Maybe he needs to be rescued. Maybe the boy is not the protagonist but the tree is? Maybe the real point you are trying to explore is not the cleverness of the boy but the steadfastness of the tree? Maybe? I have experienced many lessons from developing the nine-point outline, and I am sure that I will continue to learn from it as I do it over the years.

Anyone else out there outline? If so, how do you and what is your favorite part of the process?

Thanks for Reading,
C

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Spiritual Stats

Posted by on Jan 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

I like to track things in my life: time, money, my LEGO collection. I like to see where I am investing my resources and how and to what ends. One might almost feel like I treat my life with a sort of corporate attitude–I monitor my behavior, attempt to live profitably, and take vacation days. I develop strategies, plan to meet them, and budget accordingly. But, of course, I also leave a great many things unmonitored or untracked, and I began to wonder about some of them. Granted, I do not plan to ever begin cataloguing this type of minutae, but I think it was food for thought.

I wonder how much time I spent in prayer over the course of my life. Is it more time than I’ve spent gossiping or overhearing gossip and doing nothing about it? How bout time I’ve spent chattering about nonsense?

I wonder how much time I’ve spent on listening to preaching. Is it more time than I’ve spent watching movies or TV?

I wonder how much time I’ve spent reading the Bible and spiritually valuable texts versus how much time I’ve spent reading comics or graphic novels.

I wonder how much time I’ve spent in actual service to others. Was it more than the time I spent shopping? How bout the time playing video games?

Ah, one may say, the time is irrelevant. The quality of the time is what matters. What good is reading a Bible without musing on it after, or praying for selfish things, or listening to preaching and doing nothing about it?  Tis not the time but the integrity of the time that matters.” In one sense I would agree with them. That’s a fine point.

But my point is this: either way I slice it, whether I consider the quantity or the quality of the time, I am still convicted. When I think about these things, something becomes quite clear. On a ledger, anyway, my life would look typically Western, if not wholly worldly–not “in the world” but “of the world”. Fortunately, I don’t believe God works on such a scale (which is probably the best reason to consider it irrelevant). Jesus Christ covers over all sins and shortcomings before God for those who believe. When God sees one redeemed and justified by the blood of Christ, he sees one with Christ’s stats.

And Because of that fact, I think the ledgers do matter or, at the very least, are worth further consideration. If God sees me as pure and pursuing righteousness because of Christ’s righteousness, should I not want to use more of my time to pursue God rather than earthly pleasures? Just food for thought (and I need to take a big bite, I think).

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