Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fresh Inspiration for Regular Writing Tasks

We’ve all been there. Whether teaching a Sunday school class, leading the Wednesday night praise team, or writing the Friday morning Word blog (to make it personal), it’s easy to let the routine of the task turn it into just that—a task. As creatures of habit, routine yields familiarity, and familiarity yields lack of appreciation yielding lack of passion yielding lack of creativity. Or so I believe.

Getting out of the Rut
I would love to add the clause “and Staying out” to that heading, but the truth is I don’t think there’s ever one magic thing we can do to permanently cure this condition. I think it’s about monitoring our callings, recognizing fatigue or flatness, and learning to do new things frequently to re-inspire ourselves. (I believe inspiration can sometimes blindside us beautifully and unexpectedly, but that we often have to go looking for it and work to inspire ourselves.)

A Word about Writer’s Block
It’s hard to talk about our topic without acknowledging writer’s block. This is Leeann 101, but I think we overhype that and make it a scary, mystical thing, “giving the devil to much credit” as it were. There is no mystery to it. If you can’t write, it’s either psychological (fear of rejection/vulnerability), procrastination/lack of discipline, or lack of inspiration. We can resolve all of those things, and for the inspiration issue, here’s my offering:

What Works for Me
  • Travel! There’s a reason travelogues have remained viable since way earlier than I could possibly guess on the literary timeline. People went new places and saw new things, and it zapped their minds (in a good way). Seeing new cultures and people different from those I know inspires me and, consequently, my writing.

  • “Living gives you a better understanding of life. I would hope that my characters have become deeper and more rounded personalities. Wider travels have given me considerably greater insight into how cultural differences affect not only people, but politics and art.” –Alan Dean Foster
  • Have a conversation with someone much older or younger than me. Hearing other people’s stories and experiences can spark creativity and get my story-blank mind out of a rut. (In fact, I once eavesdropped on novelist Tim Gautreaux telling a colleague that he walks through Wal-mart listening to other people’s conversations and gets story ideas from that.)

  • Read. Sometimes I’ll fall back on an old classic I know I love and will remind me why I love writing (the power of the written word). Other times I’ll read something new or unfamiliar to let it challenge my mind.

  • “Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow...” –Lawrence Clark Powell
    What about You?
    Anything you do to get out of a rut and re-energize your mind?

    Neat Link: Comprehensive list of links to literary journals >

    Another neat link: Collection of free public domain eBooks >

    Saturday, March 20, 2010

    Chapter One, In Which Rebecca Contemplates the Writer's Role

    Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe)…

    But this is all sounding rather familiar, isn’t it? Charles Dickens, you say? Oh, right. It’s David Copperfield. And I am Rebecca Newton, twenty-something Apostolic, recently minted B.A. in English with a propensity for plagiarism and a host of other sins, including but not limited to, doubt, envy, and despair. I am also the most recent inductee of Word.

    When Kent invited me to join the “merry wordsmiths” of this group, I felt hope spring up, as if I, being but a timid serf, had been summoned to join the band in Sherwood on a mission for their absent lord and king. I’ve lurked around the margins of Word for years—five perhaps?—seldom commenting on the posts by these writers but consistently challenged by their commitment to the Word of God and to their vocation. And while in more modern terms, we could call it “networking” I have been guilty of stalking these people because they fit my idea of good company, which as Jane Austen would say, is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation. I shan’t enumerate the times and locations off the blog when I have been guilty of such behavior...

    Word is just the kind of writers’ colony I should wish to join, if such a thing exists in time and space. And though I must heartily concur with Kent’s point that we shouldn’t use lack of community as an excuse not to produce good writing, I must also posit that community is essential to developing good writers--writers who aim for the mark and consistently hit it. We need the accountability and the challenge of each other, but we also need the courage to develop our skills as marksmen on an individual basis. Can I call it one of the paradoxes that lies at the heart of a truth?

    And it is the Truth we’re about, isn’t it? We’re gathered here at Word as Christians and as writers because of the Word who was made flesh and dwelt and suffered among us so that we might know the fullness of His life, even while He has gone away. We are gathered in the shadow of Calvary, in the light of the empty tomb, and beneath the flames of Pentecost. As witnesses of His continuing work in our lives, we seek a context for relating it. We experience community with fellow believers in Christ, the living Word. We hold that writing matters because language is somehow bound up in the very nature of God, and words spoken in love and truth invoke creative and restorative power in the lives of the hearers. Writing is, too, as Ron Hansen puts it, “a stay against confusion,” a tool of faith and a means of grace that enables us to grasp more fully who we are as people of the Word.

    “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show…”

    Soli Deo Gloria

    *Publication of which, it must be noted, was delayed by an onslaught of technical difficulties, procrastination not being one of them

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Super Late

    Wow. I never thought this would be me, but here we are.

    I'm well into my 3rd month in France now. My French is improving, and things have gotten busier.

    I'm taking a Literature class here, and it's lovely. It's a really great way to expand my vocabulary and learn more about French and Francophone culture. There is a melancholically beautiful excerpt that I will leave you with from French author Phillipe Delerm from a piece entitled "Sunday Evenings":

    And that's when it comes, the little melancholy. Little by little, the television becomes insufferable, and you turn it off. You find yourself elsewhere, perhaps back to your childhood, with vague remembrances of uncounted walks upon a background of scholastic worries and invented loves. You feel pierced through. It's as strong as a summer rain, that small soul wandering that invites itself, that small mix of good and bad that comes back, familiar—that's Sunday evening. All Sunday evenings are there, within that false bubble where nothing stops. Within the bathwater the pictures are revealed.

    (translated, a little stiltedly, I must admit, by yours truly)

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Inspiration strikes in the strangest ways
    Last Sunday I was flipping to the scripture for the sermon when a phrase jumped out at me from 2 Kings which read: "sold for one-fourth of a kab of dove droppings for five shekels of silver." The idea of measuring bird poop in order to sell it really got my attention. I was thus completely distracted reading this section of the Bible. The story here is FASCINATING! Within a few chapters you have women eating babies, chariots of fire, very expensive bird poop and a cadre of lepers that belong in a slapstick comedy. My first thought was that this should be a movie. However, after thinking about how I would want to construct the story, I really think I want to write this as a book.

    The plan
    In a couple weeks I am going on a self-imposed 5 day retreat from everything that's normal in my life. After my Sunday revelation, I have decided spend this time constructing a book around this text. I'm really excited about it! Now, it is probably ludicrous to expect that one could write a book in 5 days, but I'm only expecting a rough draft and the basic story is already created. Mainly I have to decide how I want to construct the book.

    Questions I Have
    1. When should I set this story? Should I modernize it in anyway?
    2. Who's point of view? Omniscient narrator? Changing between characters?
    3. How much God is in it? Will it be a clearly religious text or simply call for the supernatural?
    4. Not really a question, but some research is needed.

    Your Input
    I invite your input! Next month I'm going to let you know how this self-imposed writing retreat goes.