Monday, January 30, 2017

When Your WIP Won't Behave makes life difficult.

As a writer, writing is hard. And, honestly, not writing is harder.

I've mentioned before that I've been having a rough time with writing. I struggled through Time Captives (I made it! Whew! And I'm pretty happy with the results, so that's a plus), wrote a rather bland first draft of the Cassie story (my family recently suggested Identity as the title...haven't settled on it yet, but what do you think?), breezed through Twisted Dreams and seemed to have drained all my creativity, managed to write a much better but still very messy second draft of the Cassie story, got a chapter and a half into a third draft, and...kind of quit. Not for good, certainly, I just didn't quite have the fresh perspective I needed, and there's still something wrong with it that I can't quite put my finger on.

I think half my trouble with this book is problems with the story itself, and half the trouble is just general creativity problems. Growing up, is, well, difficult, and it's affected my ability to dream big in story worlds. But I'm not here to complain, I want to share with you some of the things I've been trying in my attempt to move past this dry phase. (Anyone else read Emily's Quest by L.M. Montgomery? I totally feel like I'm in that phase of her life right after she burned A Seller of Dreams. Except for the Dean Priest thing, of course. :P)

General Book Malfunction

I've been through this before with Time Captives, I should know exactly what to do, right? 

1. Evaluate the protagonist. Picked the wrong protagonist? Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Actually, now I kind of want a T-shirt about picking the wrong protagonist. If your protagonist doesn't have a lot of growing to do, but one of your main secondary characters does, chances are, you've picked the wrong protagonist. Same goes if your protagonist doesn't have a very interesting narration style, but a secondary character does. 

2. Evaluate the writing style. This one' But if you've been stuck on the writing how-to, and it's bogging you down, and your writing's just not you anymore, it's time to reevaluate the way you're writing. Deep character POV is the "in" thing right now, but if it doesn't work for you, it doesn't work for you. The harder I try to write good deep character POV, the more I get tunnel vision, which makes me feel very stuck. The other problem is, when I try too hard to write omnisciently, I get too distant. So you know what? Don't worry about your writing style. Just write however feels most natural, and fix it later. That's what editing's for.

3. Evaluate the storyline. Is it boring you? If it is, chances are, it'll bore your readers. That's how chapter two of draft three felt. I still haven't figured out how to fix the beginning, as I had to cut some interesting stuff in order to fix plot holes, but I'll figure it out eventually. Think about where it bores you, where it excites you, try to identify the holes, and talk to someone about it. It could be a parent, a sibling, a non-relative writing buddy, but it helps immensely to get someone else's perspective on it. And if you're rewriting, go back and read previous drafts as a cohesive whole. I believe failing to do so is a big part of why I failed mid-chapter two.

4. Try to remember what excited you about the project in the first place. This was my major failing in draft three. By trying to rewrite after a break of several months without rereading first, I'd forgotten who my characters were, what drove them, what their goals were, what journey they went on, and most of all, I forgot why I loved this project. Now that I'm almost done with my reread, I can not only see the problems with the story a bit more clearly, I remember how much I love these characters and why I care about their story.

5. If all else fails, take a break. Could be, the book just isn't ready to be written yet. I keep learning this again and again with the Storyless Storyboard Story...though that's probably largely because the main characters are a married couple with a baby and I'm not at that stage of life yet, so I have no experience to draw on.

General Creativity Malfunction

Yeah, still working on fixing this one. I haven't permanently emerged into the light at the end of the tunnel, so I'll let you know later how my methods work. Meanwhile, if you have any advice to offer, I'd be glad to hear it.

1. Don't stress and believe it's just a phase. I'm trying. It's really hard not to stress about your writing struggles when you're a published author and you've almost run out of books to publish. However, I have to believe it's just a phase and I'll get through it eventually.

2. Read. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the quality and amount of my reading material seems to have an effect on my writing. What you read affects what you write, and you've got to put story in to get story out. So this year, I'm making an effort to read more and to watch the quality of my reading material a lot more carefully. I'm not going to let a significant portion of my reading material be made up of junk food books!

3. Dream about characters. This is hard to force, and in a way, I don't believe it should be forced, but when you're spending practically all of your daydreaming time thinking about real life problems, it does make you feel distanced from your writer side. But honestly, how can you write these characters, how can you get to know them, how can you care enough to make your readers care if you don't hang out with them in your head? I'm not doing a great job with this one so far, but it's better than it was. And I think it's very important.

4. Act out scenes from your book and pretend to be your character. I haven't actually tried this as a writer's block cure yet, but it's something I used to do all the time as a kid, and it definitely helped my creativity. Of course, as adults, we don't want to be pretending we're on a fantasy quest in the middle of the grocery store, but there's a time and a place for acting (alone in my bedroom when the rest of the family is asleep, perhaps?), and the different creative outlet may help get the creative juices flowing once more.

5. Pray. I don't pray for my creativity as often as I should--I've got so many other things to pray about--but it should be the first, middle, and last resort. Because the fact is, I view writing as a ministry, and just praying over my manuscript when I sit down to write isn't really enough.

So there are some things I'm trying or intend to try in order to write again. I hope it helps you, and I'll keep you posted on how it works for me!

Have you ever experienced writer's block? What did you do to cure it?

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Series of Ifs

I wrote this poem last Saturday poetry, it's probably horrendous, but hopefully you'll find some inspiration from the content. It's hard when our plans are changed or interrupted, but God does know best. And sometimes He has to change our plans so that we remember Who is really in control.

I’m building my life on a series of ifs
Because only God knows the when,
My plans are made up of castles in the air
Constantly lost to the wind.

I dream and I muse, making grandiose plans,
That take my soul far ‘cross the land,
I achieve much greatness and effect many changes,
In important works take a stand.

My plans are laid out with much thought and much care,
I’m fully convinced they are right,
They accord with God’s principles, surely they do,
With tenacity, I hold them tight.

Yet often I see, as I hold my plans sacred,
They begin to slip through my fingers.
It saddens me much to part from them thus—
Yet hurts more the longer I linger.

Life without plans is frightfully alarming,
I must know where I’m headed to survive.
If I don’t know the plan, I can’t take the next step,
How else can I remain alive?

The longer I live—the more plans I see crumble—
It becomes harder to trust
In the truth of God’s promise that His way is best,
But still I do know that I must.

Time after time, God changes my plans,
And I ask Him incessantly “Why?”
The truth is that His plan is better than mine,
He is far wiser than I.

My plans are but dust, His firm as a rock,
Without Him, I stumble and fall.
When I keep to His way, my pathway is steady,
He won’t let me fail once and for all.

When my path is my own and none of it His,
Ifs are the base for my plans.
When my path is His, and I commit to Him,
My life’s in the very best hands.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Weathersbard Decoded: The Cure For All Ills?


Weathersbard. Eleanor and Grant. To Time Captives readers, words synonymous with heartbreak. She's stuck as a twelve-year-old. He has to grow up. It's a would be romance with an unhappy ending...or is it?

I didn't intend for Eleanor to fall in love when I first sent her to sea. However, as soon as Grant tapped her on the shoulder on the wharf, I shipped them. At first, I tried to figure out some wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey way for them to be together, but I quickly came to the conclusion that that wasn't how it was meant to be. And so I wrote their story, parting and all, jumping out of order to write their reunion in Crannig Castle over Independence Day in 2014...the reunion that would conclude their story and enable them to finally move on with their lives.

Though when I initially wrote that part of the story it made perfect sense to me, when I edited it in preparation for release, I didn't get it. I didn't get how Eleanor--after spending fifty years miserably pining after Grant--could move on. How she could accept never seeing Grant again. Why wasn't she even more heartbroken? I was, reading it. It hurt. My readers talked about how sad and heartbreaking their story was too, and we all, me included, wished for an AU (alternate universe storyline) in which Grant and Eleanor could be together.

Then Kendra presented me with a happily ever after headcanon, wherein young Grant comes to our world to marry Eleanor, then eventually, after a long life together, returns to Calhortea to live out another life there. It seemed like the perfect ending for their story.

It was a slow day at the library, and I was sitting at the desk cleaning audiobook CDs, dreaming up a Weathersbard reunion scene when suddenly I stopped. Something was wrong. Something about this happy fix-it-all reunion scene was actually ruining their story. Somehow it undermined the ending.

And that was when I realized the theme of Grant and Eleanor's story. See, I don't write with any particular theme in mind (except maybe a general one of faith and freedom), so sometimes the themes hit me out of the blue later. Grant and Eleanor's story isn't so much one of unrequited love as it is one of contentment.

Eleanor spent fifty years of her life pining after the guy she loved. And she was miserable. The whole time, she was thinking that if only she had been able to marry the guy she loved, everything would be perfect. She'd be happy. She'd stop being so agonizingly lonely. Nothing would ever be wrong again. So you'd think that seeing Grant again, seeing that she absolutely can't have him--after all, he's old and she's still a kid--would make it worse. But yet it didn't.

Why? Because when she saw him again, she realized something big.

The key to happiness isn't getting the guy you want. The key to happiness is accepting with contentment the plan God has for your life.

Eleanor accepted that Grant wasn't the cure for all her ills...God was. Getting Grant wouldn't make everything okay...accepting God's plan would. And sure, she probably still had moments where she missed Grant very badly and wished things had turned out differently, but it wasn't debilitating like it was before. She was okay. Because she had finally accepted that God knew what He was doing, and His plan was better than hers.

So if you've ever struggled with contentment, especially in regards to a relationship or lack thereof, remember Eleanor. Remember that getting the guy (or whatever it is you feel will fix everything) won't make it all better. You may or may not get the guy you want, but even if, unlike Eleanor, you do get him, remember that you won't be happy, you won't stop being lonely, everything won't be made better, unless you've already let God do that for you. God is the cure for our ills, not the "perfect" guy, and God knows what He's doing, even if it seems hard at the time. And when God is first, the other blessings He gives you are a wonderful bonus.

But go ahead and have a happily ever after Weathersbard headcanon if you feel like it. ;)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Don't Forget To Read

Writing has been an increasing struggle for me. It used to be that I was always making up stories, my brain was full of imaginings, and I thought my creativity would never run dry. Yet it's become difficult to write. It's become difficult to imagine. It's been difficult to develop plots. It's been difficult to stay excited about a project for any length of time.

Now, I can identify several factors in my own life related to growing up that are probably affecting this dry spell, but there's just one I'm talking about that I think is a bigger factor than I realized.


I've been bemoaning the lack of reading time for awhile now, and also bemoaning the limited quantity of books that excite me. It's a rough place for a reader to be. And while I had an inkling for awhile that there was probably some correlation between my reading habits and my writing struggles, it didn't really hit me until recently, didn't fully hit me until I put together the stats.

2014 was a pretty good year for reading and writing. Sure, I still read some junk books, but the ratio of good books to poor ones was pretty encouraging. Only about a tenth of my total fiction intake was junk. I read a lot of Margaret Peterson Haddix--well-written, creative books that excite me--and several classics. I wrote approximately 3 1/2 books, some of it a rewrite, but quite a bit of it all new. Not only that, but I was finishing school and constantly doing volunteer work for a congressional campaign, with migraine problems. Yet, with so much busyness, a good fiction intake resulted in a good fiction output.

The ratio of junk to quality was higher in 2015. Not horrendously so, but definitely higher--especially since I read less books overall. I still read a good number of classics, but even among the quality literature, I still read a good bit of fluff. Like Winnie-the-Pooh and Beverly Cleary. Sure, they're children's classics, but they're not super inspiring and they don't make my imagination take off. The junk was balanced with some good fiction, but not enough. The quality didn't drown out the junk as well as it did in 2014, and my writing quantity was starting to suffer. I still managed to finish my major work on Time Captives, write the first (rather bland) draft of the Cassie Story, and write a novella, but all that work pretty much drained me. And I couldn't manage to recharge. Yes, I had a lot of stress going on in my personal life to make things difficult (moving, basement building, etc.), but it shouldn't have been too much worse than graduating and campaigning if my reading habits had kept up the way they had been.

2016, let me just say it, was bad. I only read 63 total books, and about half of the fiction I read was junk. It's no wonder I only managed to write one story, a rewrite, and it was a struggle at that. I read a few classics, like Sense and Sensibility and Wuthering Heights, plus some good new stuff like Ilyon, Rizkaland, and Blades of Acktar, but when my main reading intake is Percy Jackson and Jedi Quest, well, there's not much Jane Austen can do to help. Yes, I got a job and had a very full year, but if my reading choices had been better, there's a good chance writing would have gone better as well.

My point in sharing this story is this: Do not forget to read quality literatureYes, if you're a writer, you should write, but reading is extremely important too. The quantity is important, but even more important is the quality. You can't write good books if you don't read them, so take in a steady diet of quality literature.
Make time to read, and make careful reading choices. It's more important than you know.


107 Total Books Read

Most Read Fiction Authors:
Margaret Peterson Haddix: 17 books
Katie Lynn Daniels: 7 books
Donita K. Paul: 5 books
Evan Angler: 4 books
Kendra E. Ardnek: 4 books
Lois Lowry: 4 books
Jaye L. Knight/Molly Evangeline: 3 books
Alexander Key: 2 books
Frank Peretti: 2 books
Lois Gladys Leppard: 2 books
Suzanne Collins: 2 books

Fiction Classics Read:
Silas Marner by George Eliot
The Honorable Peter Stirling by Paul Leicester Ford
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Other Noted Reads (the good and the not as good):
Becoming Nikki by Ashley Elliott
McKenna (American Girl "Girl of the Year") by Mary Casonova
Only a Novel by Amy Dashwood
Hunt for Jade Dragon (Michael Vey #4) by Richard Paul Evans
Red Rain by Aubrey Hansen
Adventures and Adversities by Sarah Holman
Disney After Dark by Ridley Pearson
Holes by Louis Sachar
Movie Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Reckoning (Last of the Jedi #10) by Jude Watson

Writing Output:
Creighton Hill (1st computer draft--complete rewrite)
The Crossways (1st computer draft--almost complete rewrite)
Espionage (rough draft)
Crannig Castle (1st half of rough draft)


86 Total Books Read

Most Read Fiction Authors:
Kendra E. Ardnek: 7 books
Edgar Rice Burroughs: 5 books
Marissa Meyer: 4 books
Sarah Holman: 4 books
Margaret Peterson Haddix: 3 books
A. A. Milne: 2 books
Beverly Cleary: 2 books
Charles Dickens: 2 books
Claire M. Banschbach: 2 books
Baroness Emmuska Orczy: 2 books
Jaye L. Knight: 2 books
Katie Lynn Daniels: 2 books

Fiction Classics Read:
Tarzan Books 1-5 by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Other Noted Reads (the good and the not as good):
Amazing Grace by Faith Blum
Caddie Woodlawn's Family by Carol Ryrie Brink
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Meet Caroline by Kathleen Ernst
Storm of Lightning by Richard Paul Evans
Counted Worthy by Leah Good
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Disney at Dawn by Ridley Pearson
Implant by J. Grace Pennington
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Doctor Who: The Glamour Chase by Gary Russell
The Cay by Theodore Taylor
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Writing Output:
Crannig Castle (2nd half of rough draft)
The Crossways (rewrite of Time Captives storyline--roughly 1/3 of book)
The Cassie Story (rough draft)
Twisted Dreams (rough draft)


63 Total Books Read

Most Read Fiction Authors:
Rick Riordan: 10 books
Jude Watson: 10 books
Tanith Lee: 4 books
Shannon Hale: 3 books
Tricia Mingerink: 3 books
Chris Colfer: 2 books
C. S. Lewis: 2 books
Trenton Lee Stewart: 2

Fiction Classics Read:
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Pilgrim's Regress by C. S. Lewis
Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery

Other Noted Reads (the good and the not as good):
Rainland by Sarah Allerding
Lady Dragon, Tela Du by Kendra E. Ardnek
This Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof
The Solid Rock by Faith Blum
Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii by Lee Goldberg
Samara's Peril by Jaye L. Knight
Gossamer by Lois Lowry
Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
Firmament: Reversal Zone by J. Grace Pennington
Far To Go by Noel Streatfeild
Doctor Who: The Nightmare of Black Island by Mike Tucker

Writing Output:
The Cassie Story (1st computer draft--complete rewrite)

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 in Review

I said last year that I felt like this year was a blank. I had no idea what would happen. And looking back on this year, I don't see how I could possibly have predicted it. It's been QUITE the year. To begin with...

I got a job at the library! I wasn't looking for it or anything--I did that the summer before and it didn't work. This time, I was stopping by the library to pick up a Jedi Quest book I had on hold and saw an advertisement for an opening on the door. Now, my branch pretty much only has openings when people retire, so this was big. I applied, didn't think I'd get an interview, got one, and was hired just a few hours after my interview ended. I love it when things happen like that. It just shows me that God was the one Who did it, and it had nothing to do with me. I've loved working there (best branch in the system :D ), and I've met so many people in town. It's been great.

Not the greatest picture, but this was me
when I found out I got the job.

We had Narnia happen in the backyard. ;) Okay, it snowed.

We had an uber creepy salamander in the basement. I ran. Very fast. And then watched Studio C to calm down and was getting light-headed. Not even joking.

My mom to my dad

I started rewriting the Cassie story from scratch. Some days were fantastic, some days....not so much. But I got to the climax in April, and then got seriously stuck. July NaNo completed that draft, which was so much better than the previous one, but, well, it still needs a lot of work and Cassie and Luke stopped talking to me. So.

One of the not-so-good days.
But I've got characters by the side to keep me company.

It was campaign season again! And even though my job prevented me from doing quite as much for Team Loudermilk as I normally do, I still managed to get in several Saturdays and weeknights of door to door (including yet another dog attack...thankfully not as bad as the one in 2014), and do things like handing out stickers at the county convention and sign waving before a debate and on election day. Team Loudermilk is the best. :)

Please ignore the fact that I'm starting to
look short next to my sister. ;)

I played in another orchestra concert, turned 20, got welcomed to getting old, and then went crazy. Because deciding last minute to go forward with the idea you decided against because it was more work than you wanted to do is just the way to go, right?

In other words, I published Espionage. And drew 9 pictures in 2 1/2 days. With a part time job. Let's just say that when I finished, I never wanted to draw again. But I can't regret it because I love the way the chapter headers turned out. And I love that book. It's one of my favorites that I've written, but I shouldn't pick an absolute favorite because they're all my babies. ;)

All the pictures

Shortly thereafter, we went to Indiana for the Indy 500 (well, my dad and sister went to the 500), and went to Conner Prairie, then stopped by the Creation Museum on the way home. It was fantastic.

My sister and I had a booth at a local festival shortly before Independence Day.

And then I risked looking like a phone-addicted millennial in order to keep up with NaNo while at another Independence Day event. Have I mentioned how excited I was to discover I could use italics on the Notes app? Yeah, I'm a total nerd.

In August, I helped teach Foundations of Freedom: Generation, a class about America's founding documents. I'd taken the class once and been a sort of behind-the-scenes volunteer another time, so I was already quite familiar with the course, but having a teaching role was a bit nerve-wracking. I shouldn't have been so worried, though--it went great and I really enjoyed it. After all, I love to teach and I know this material ridiculously well thanks to the Loudermilk family. Can't wait to do it again, because people need to know this stuff! And it's part of building my wall, anyway.

The teachers of FFG, August 2016

We went camping with some friends over Labor Day weekend, which was so much fun. You can read more about it in my summer recap post. Then we went to Charleston, which was also fantastic. And also has an entire post dedicated to the trip.

A bear walked through our yard...

...and I published Crannig Castle. It's kinda sad to come to the end of Time Captives, but exciting too. Time Captives has been a big part of my life for four years now, and it's a bit weird not to have any of it to work on. I guess I need to write some shorts and that Espionage sequel I want so badly...plots, come to me!

And I had another instance of God doing something unexpected: He gave me music students! I'd taught a few kids before I moved, and I had done a little advertising after we finished the basement in our current house, but I hadn't tried very hard to find students after I got a job at the library. I didn't expect it to happen, and then it did. I love it when God does things like that. And I love teaching. And my students are talented musicians and great kids besides. :) By the way, if you're in my area and need a piano or violin teacher, or know someone who does, I have openings. More info here.

We had Thanksgiving with some friends, went to a Christmas dance, I was in a Christmas parade for the library and played the conductor for a Polar Express program, and got ready for Christmas.

Me as the conductor.
Now I want to do storytime.

We had a great Christmas at home and it was 70 degrees outside. I love living in Georgia. Then the day after Christmas, we had some family spend the night on the way to Florida and some more family that live nearby came for dinner. I played Pit with the older cousins (so much fun, even if we did sound like the seagulls from Finding Nemo), and then because I was too tired to play more games, I holed up in the library with my seven-year-old cousin and my phone and we watched Studio C. It was a great evening.

And that about sums up my year. 2016 has had its ups and downs, but overall, it's been a pretty good year. Crazy and busy, but isn't every year? I think I have a little more of an idea of things that could be coming up next than I did a year ago...things that make life crazy and interesting. Life is quite the adventure, isn't it?

How was your 2016? Anything you're looking forward to in 2017?