Writing Tip

cold-1972619_1280When to Take a Break

Last week, I came down with strep throat, the first time since I was seven.  With taking care of my family, keeping up on my blog and paper journal, maintaining my work at my church, and reviewing the chapters a free-lance editor I hired had edited, I would have been worried about how my infection would interfere with all of the above if I hadn’t been too sick to care.

For two days, while my kids were at school, I sacked out on the couch and watched an old TV series.  I rarely watch TV shows now and never hour after hour.  By Saturday, I discovered two things: I was feeling better and I really needed that break to my daily routine, which had become a daily grind.

In this blog, I have said you always should be on the alert for inspiration and write every day.  But when it becomes a burden, you need to take a break.  Even just a few days can be refreshing to your writer’s soul.

I have noticed when writing fiction my creative juices are like water behind a dam.  Sometimes, when I keep the flood gates closed, my creativity builds.  Then, when I finally open the gates, the creativity reaches flood stage and I get carried away with writing.

Before my illness, my creative juices were dribbling over the dam.  Taking a break has built up my reservoir, and I am eager to get back to work.

When do you feel you need a break?  What do you do during a break?

Scripture Saturday

in-640517_1280Giving Up for Lent

If you are thinking of giving up something for Lent, I recommend giving up worry.

Last year, before Lent, I was worrying about what to give up.  No surprise there.  I worry about everything.  And I do mean everything.  If I’m depressed I can always find a dark cloud in the biggest silver lining.  That’s when it occurred to me that if I gave up worry for Lent, I wouldn’t be worried about what what I was giving up.  It was the most rewarding Lent I have ever had, spiritually, mentally, even physically.

If you are like me, and worrying is so much a part of your life that you think it is normal, here are some actions I took to help me give it up.

Pray every day.  I couldn’t give up worrying without God.  I pray when I walk, so every day, I would review my vow, thank God for the worries I gave up the day before, look at what I was currently worrying about, and rededicate my efforts to give them up.  I needed to check in with the Coach before plunging into the day’s “game”.

Become objective.  I worry so naturally I had to step out of myself mentally so I could observe my symptoms of worrying.  If I had racing, repetitive thoughts, or a sick stomach, or shortness of breath, I knew those were signs of worry.  I would look at my thoughts, sort out the worries, and kick them out.  As I became more aware of my symptoms, I could catch the worries sooner.

Take it day by day.  If you tell God on Ash Wednesday that you will not worry again until Easter, you will fail.  Don’t look further ahead than one day.  Pray and then work through the day to run the worries out of your head.  Even if you have to do it fifty or a hundred, or five hundred times a day at first, you have not failed.  Every day you work at it, you are fulfilling your vow.

I wasn’t cured of worry last Lent, but I did feel more positive emotionally and mentally and actually felt lighter physically.  The experience made me eager to try it again this year.

If you pray and feel moved to give up worry for Lent, let me know how you are doing.

Writing Tip

snow-1209872_1280What I Learned from Damon Runyon

I learned “voice” from reading Damon Runyon.  A unique writing voice will intrigue readers and encourage them to keep reading.  On the websites of agents who represent writers, many of them state they are looking for novels with distinct voices.

I loved how Mr. Runyon tried to recreate the dialect of Prohibition and Depression eras New York with unusual rhythm and slang.  His style is so different he probably wouldn’t get published today.

The best way for me to write in a unique voice is in first-person.  My main character is Junior Lody, a shy, intelligent sixteen-year-old living in the remote mountains of contemporary West Virginia.  I try to use words only he would use.  So even though he is smart and likes to read, I don’t want to use big words that would make him sound like an adult.  For example, he wouldn’t a call girl “effervescent “.  He’d say “She was as bubbly as a shaken bottle of pop.”  “Pop” is the word for carbonated drinks in West Virginia and using colorful metaphors and similies is also common in that state.  I also think a teenager would use figures of speech instead of long words.

Sprinkling in regional words and slang makes it seem like the characters are actually from West Virginia.  “Sprinkling” is the rule to live by.  If I tried to reproduce the Appalachian accent exactly, I think readers would get so bogged down in deciphering it that they would lost interest.  So I just scatter in key words, such as using “y’uns” and dropping “g” off “ing” words.  I want the key words to flavor my writing, not be the whole recipe.

In that way, I think I give Junior a unique voice, which I owe to reading Mr. Runyon’s Broadway stories.

Writing Tip

empire-776799_1280Favorite Author — Damon Runyon

I want to share some of my favorite authors and what I learned from them.

I stumbled across a collection of short stories by Damon Runyon when I was seventeen.  I had seen the movie version of the 1950’s Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls” and enjoyed it, so I opened the book.

“When it comes on summer, and the nights get nice and warm, I love to sit on the steps in front of the bank at Forty-eighth Street and Seventh Avenue … Sometimes you can see very prominent citizens sitting with me on the bank steps, including such as Regret, the horse player, and old Sorrowful, the bookie, and Doc Daro and Professor D. and Johnny Oakley and The Greek, and often strangers in the city, seeing us sitting there and looking so cool, stop and take off their coats and sit down with us, although personally if I am a stranger in the city I will be a little careful who I sit down with no matter how hot I am.”          “Delegates at Large”

I had never read anything like it.  The stories are set in New York City, around Broadway, in th 1920’s and 1930’s, among criminals and semi-criminals.  Runyon invented a unique style to write these stories.  An unnamed narrator tells all the stories in first-person.  They are always in present tense, contain no contractions, and are filled with the slang of that area and time, like “roscoe” and “rod” for gun,  “beezer” for nose, “gendarmes” for police, and “shiv” for knife.  Every character is known by a nickname.  Many of the stories have a twist at the end and dark humor, running all the way to black.  Although the stories were written for pure entertainment, some have sad or grim endings.  And some make you laugh out loud.

I read all the stories I could find by Damon Runyon.  He wrote both fiction and nonfiction, but I think his Broadway stories are the best.  He created his own world, with its own language.  His characters were so colorful that they inspired their own adjective, “Runyonesque.”  Click here for the Goodreads site on Damon Runyon.

I’ll write about what I learned from reading Runyon next time.

 

Writing Tip

snow-653953_1280February

I am not a poet, but I occasionally get ideas that can only be expressed in poems.  I wrote the poem below in response to the poem “January” by John Updike in A Child’s Calendar. I love these poems.  While I like the one  Mr. Updike wrote about “February”, my poem better reflects my feelings about the month.

February

The wind is grayer.

The days are colder.

The month gets longer

As it gets older.

At first we loved

The clean, bright glow.

But now it’s simply

 Snow on snow on snow on snow ….

Scripture Saturdays

bible-998150_1280Role Models II

Last week, I talked about how I had looked in the Bible for a person who had the same problems with anxiety and timidity that I do.  While praying one day, I thought of Gideon.

When God first calls Gideon, he calls him a mighty warrior.  But his actions don’t fit our idea of a mighty warrior.  When we meet Gideon, he is hiding in a wine press to thresh wheat so the invading Midianites can’t take it.  And Gideon carries out God’s first order, destroying his father’s altar to Baal, at night because he is afraid of his family and neighbors.

When God inspires Gideon to assemble the Israelites to drive out the Midianites. Gideon asks for two signs just to make doubly sure he is doing what God wants.  As the Israelites travel to confront the Midianites, God tells Gideon he wants him to use fewer men so the Israelites will recognize that it is God who has beaten the Midianites.  God tells him to only take three hundred.  Gideon must be worried because right before the Israelites attack, God tells Gideon to sneak into the enemy camp and eavesdrop.  A conversation between enemy soldiers gives Gideon all the encouragement he needs.

It’s interesting to note that when Gideon has doubts, God is right there to support him.  In other stories of the Bible, when a person doubts God, he or she often gets a harsh response from Him.  But I think the difference is Gideon doesn’t doubt God and His powers.  He doubts himself.  I believe God doesn’t mind genuine doubt, if we really have questions that we need answered before we can have confidence in following God’s will.

It’s very comforting to know that God can use me, like Gideon, even when I am scared.  I often feel I should have more confidence if I am doing God’s work.  But Gideon was scared when he destroyed his father’s altar and still got the job done.

God does such a thorough job of building up Gideon’s confidence throughout the story in Judges that eventually he is ready to lead three hundred men against thousands.  He really is the mighty warrior God said he was when He first spoke to Gideon.  God knew it all along.  Gideon just had to realize it.

Several years ago, I prayed that if God needed to change me into a more Christ-like person to please do it gently and slowly so as not to scared me with His awesome powers.  He must have agreed with me because I feel His guidance in gentle nudges rather thunderous blasts.  God knows what I need and what I am capable of doing.  I just need to realize it and realize God can use a scaredy-cat just as easily as He can a lion.

 

 

Writing Tip

Placeholder ImageAdvice from C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is my favorite nonfiction Christian writer.  I don’t have an opinion on his fiction, except that I really liked A Horse and His Boy when I was a kid, and I couldn’t stay interested in Out of the Silent Planet.

I like this article because the author adds comments to Lewis’s tips to bring them up-to-date, although most of his advice is timeless.

Writing Tips

hello-1502386_1280Naming of My Names

My novel and future novels are set in a fictional West Virginia county where several generations of the same family live.  I created family trees to build naming patterns.  For example, a teen character might have an old-fashioned name because he is named after his grandfather.  I also try to use different naming patterns to distinguish between families.

The Stowecroft family is the leading family in the county.  I decided that each generation would use the most popular names at that time.  So a ten-year-old might be named Jacob and his father, Jason.  Using popular names keeps the Stowecrofts distinct from the other more eccentrically named families.  It also makes the reader think they are bound to popular opinions and maybe even bland or unimaginative.

I have had the most fun creating the names for the Kimmels, a vast family of crooks.  I got the idea to use nature and weather for their names from my grandfather.  He told me that when he was a boy in West Virginia in the 1910’s, his grandparents had neighbors who were named after the weather – Winter, Rain, Jack Frost.

Using nature for the names of the Kimmels brands them as different from the rest of the characters in the county. The family has five main branches, which I may have to prune, but to help my readers keep the characters straight, I have each branch use its own unique naming pattern. The Kimmels are named after the weather.  Three brothers are named Cy, Cane, and Tor, short for Cyclone, Hurricane, and Tornado.  The Sims are named after jewels and elements, and the Pratts have months for names.  I had such a good time coming up with whacky names that I realized I had too many characters and had to whack off an entire branch.

When naming, I keep in mind something I read about J.R.R. Tolkien.  He said that he worked very hard making his invented languages and the names that came from them as much like real languages as he could.  He thought that their consistency would  aid in making Middle Earth seem like a real place.

As fiction writers, we want readers to be able to dive into our imaginary worlds and take them as real.  Creating appropriate names for our characters can help in making the unreal real.

Scripture Saturdays

book-1936547_1280Role Models

A few years ago, I was thinking about role models and wondering who in the Bible I most closely identified with.  I know Jesus is the example we Christians strive to be like, but I was looking for a person like myself, with my weaknesses.

Unfortunately, the only person I could come up with was Saul.  Not fiery, driven Saul who is transformed into dedicated Paul.  No, crazy, murderous King Saul.

I have always felt enormously sorry for Saul. He had it all and blew it about as badly as a person can, killing himself as his sons and Israel’s soldier died around him. I pity him because I understand how he blew it and know I could make the same kind of stupid mistakes.

Saul seems to have been an insecure person.  When Samuel proclaims him king in front of the people of Israel, Saul hides (I Samuel 10:17-26).  In I Samuel 13:1-15, Saul panics when he thinks Samuel isn’t coming to offer offerings to God.  His army is scared of the amassing Philistine army, and men are deserting.  So Saul takes it upon himself to do the priest’s job.  When Samuel arrives, on time, he tells Saul that his family line won’t be established as kings because he hasn’t obeyed God’s commands.  From that time on, Saul makes worse and worse decisions, often out of fear.

I have struggled with anxiety all my life.  I know what it’s like to panic, make a dumb decision, realize it, panic again, and make an even worse one.  I haven’t tried to pin an enemy to a wall with a spear, like Saul attempted to do to David, but I regret actions I took out of fear.

The only good think about anxiety is that it drives me to rely on God.  I wanted to find someone in the Bible who had also struggled with anxiety, and with God’s help, became a strong servant for Him.  So many people in the Bible seemfearless, and the lesson they needed to learn is humility.  Samson, David, and Peter all had to have the arrogance knocked out of them at least once, so God could use them.  All those stories are instructive, but they weren’t ones I had personally experienced.  Wasn’t there anyone in the Bible who had to overcome anxiety instead of arrogance?

On a walk one day while praying, I got the answer: Gideon.

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