Cobbled Together with a Jesus Sticker.

Buckle your seatbelts, folks, I’m about to go all spiritual.

As a Christ-follower and an artist, I often find myself looking around at the Christian art scene and thinking, “What happened?” Christian art, with a few notable exceptions, seems to have turned into a vast swamp of mediocrity.

And that’s a shame, you know? Here we are, representing the Ultimate Creator, and all we can come up with are passive platitudes and saccharine sentiments. Or worse still, a patchwork of pilfered pieces from secular sources cobbled together with a Jesus sticker slapped on as an afterthought.

Okay, I promise I’ll stop with the obnoxious alliteration now.

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Part of the problem, I think, is the fact that there is a “Christian genre” in every art field. It’s a whole lot easier to gain success there than in the wider world, so “Christian artists” don’t have to work as hard in order to make a place for themselves, making it easy to fall into a sense of smugness and self-satisfaction.

Which as we all know makes for great art.

Most of the Christian artists I respect, in any field, actually stay out of the Christian genre. Some of them, like Adam Young (Owl City), do it quite purposefully.

Two more horns of the dilemma, which are covered quite powerfully in this article from Intellectual Takeout, are the problems of certitude and honesty.

Now, I would like to suggest that the problem of certitude, which in the article is linked to a belief that we need to provide all the answers, as well as a readiness to judge, is at root an issue of honesty all by itself. Yes, we may be certain about the fact that there is a God, and the fact that we all need Him, but who in the world hasn’t felt uncertain about every other aspect of life and faith at some point? Not this girl, that’s for sure. If you’ve never felt uncertain about anything, well… more power to ya, I guess.

Thing is, God isn’t threatened by our uncertainty. He wants us to ask questions. The problems start when we feel like we’re not properly representing Him unless we look perfect all the time.

Balderdash.

Nobody is perfect all the time. Heck, nobody is perfect anytime. If that’s the look you’re going for, you’re just trying to con people, and that’s not something that will endear you to God or humans. Maybe it will endear you to dogs, I don’t know. But since dogs tend to think we’re perfect anyway, why bother to con them?

Anyway, what I’m basically trying to say is this: Christian art should be powerful. If the goal is to glorify the Creator, our creations should reflect His values of honesty, integrity, authenticity, and quality craftsmanship. Take some care, people. This art stuff is important.

When the Work Becomes the Block.

So. Writer’s block. It mostly boils down to fear, right? Fear that you’ll ruin a good idea. Fear that your good idea actually sucks. Fear that you’ll never write anything as good as the last thing you wrote. Fear that… well, you can fill in the blanks for yourselves.

Lately, my main fear has been that my characters won’t talk to me. This is usually my most crippling fear, because when my characters are talking, I know a plot will present itself eventually. But if my characters won’t talk, then where am I?

High and dry, that’s where I am.

However, I have been telling myself that, even though I’m afraid, I’m not blocked, because I’ve been doing getting-to-know you exercises with my characters. Literary icebreaker games, if you will. If I’ve been doing all that, I can’t possibly be blocked, right?

Right?

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It’s sheer denial, ladies and gents. It’s just another avoidance mechanism. No matter how “fleshed out” the characters become, they can’t actually create the scenes.  I’m the only one that can do that.

I’ve been allowing the work of writing itself to feed my block.

I realized that at six o’clock this morning, and I’ve been disgusted ever since. Every time I think I’ve got this writing thing sorted, I realize that my brain has figured out a new way to wiggle out of getting any work done. To the point where it is actually using WORK to avoid work.

Have I leveled up? I think I’ve leveled up.

At any rate, it’s something to watch out for. Are we engaging in pointless busy-work in order to avoid doing the scary stuff? If so, there’s no way around it; we simply have to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, stop clutching at our character questionnaires, and wade into the scenes. Even if they’re not working right, they’re still on the page, and we can use all that deep knowledge of our characters to fix them up later.

Now it’s time to stop working and get to work.

My Character Wrote a Sonnet.

I swear you guys, I’m going to start calling this “The Year of the Bolognese.”

Ever since I wrote about my culinary adventure/life lesson, the truth and functionality of it has been becoming more and more stunningly clear. Take the past few days, for example. I’ve had a story idea bumping around in my head for a couple of weeks, with the first scene and the rudiments of the main characters already in place, but the theme just wasn’t wanting to show up. I decided to let it stew for a while, and try not to obsess over getting anything figured out.

It worked again, people.

On Tuesday night, completely randomly, I found myself with the phrase “this orphan feeling” chasing itself around one of the tracks of my brain. I have no idea where it came from. Once I started paying attention to it, I realized that it was attempting to be iambic pentameter, so I started forming it into a sonnet.* (Side note: This is not as impressive as it sounds. When you know the formula, sonnets practically write themselves. All you need is a good rhyming dictionary.) About halfway through the second quatrain, I stopped and said to myself, “What the heck? Where did this even come from? It’s not about me…”

After staring blankly out the window for a minute or two, I realized that one of my new MCs was hovering in the background, waiting for me to notice him. “Oh, hi there. This sonnet is you, isn’t it?”

Yep.

“Wanna tell me a bit more about yourself?”

Just keep writing it.

“Okay… There, I’ve gotten the quatrains all finished. Now what do I do about the couplet?”

Um… I don’t really want to tell you that yet.

“Alrighty then, you little turkey. Don’t tell me.”**

I decided to let the couplet wait until I have more of the story figured out. Still puzzled by how this had come to me, I started thinking back over the things I already knew about the story, and I eventually realized that the struggle this sonnet had given him was the perfect flipside of the one my other MC was working through. How wonderful.

Anyway, I don’t really know what usefulness anybody out there might find in all of this… except to once again be reminded that letting things stew is important, as well as giving yourself permission to work on unrelated projects. They just might link up somewhere.

And maybe write a sonnet or two.

 


 

*I might end up sharing the sonnet next week, although I haven’t yet made up my mind. Watch this space, I guess.

**No, I don’t actually have conversations like this with my characters.

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Thinking about Contests.

Lately, I’ve been considering submissions more seriously. I think my writing has finally reached a point where I’m willing to believe the rest of the world might not find it utterly repulsive. Huzzah for my self-esteem. One of the main questions I’ve been mulling over is whether or not to enter contests. I did a bit of research on the subject (by googling “writing contests vs. standard submission.” So scholarly, I know), and came up with a few pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Lots of potential prize money. (Another rousing huzzah.)
  • Publication. Duh.
  • Getting your work into the hands of VIP readers.
  • Notice from agents.
  • A confidence boost if you win (or even make it into the semifinals, as I can attest from personal experience).
  • Anonymity allows for democracy.
  • Extra motivation to do good work.
  • And last, but most definitely not least: Deadlines. Need I say more?

Cons:

  • Entry fees. But as far as I can see, as long as they aren’t exorbitant, they’re probably worth it. The choice is up to you. Plus, there are plenty of perfectly reputable free writing contests.
  • Can tie up your work for months. I mean, you don’t want to risk missing out on prize money if your work is accepted elsewhere, right? This might be a problem if you’re submitting a lot, but for me… not really an issue yet.
  • Plenty of scams. But you know what? It’s just a matter of doing your research and asking the right questions.

You know what? Those are the only cons I can think of. And they all have work-arounds. So. In my case, at least, it seems like contests might be a good way to go, at least for now. After all, I’ve got nothing to lose, right?

 

If anybody out there has more thoughts or experience on writing contests, by all means let me know. I’m still a leetle baby with this whole thing.

Tiny Stories.

Hey guys! A whole week has gone by, and I’m still breathing. In fact, I discovered a new exercise that I can totally do, even when times are rough.

Write hundred-word stories. Come on, even at our worst, we can write a hundred words, right? Or if that’s too much, try fifty. The exact word count isn’t that important, the point is more just to give yourself an achievable goal so that you can feel like you’ve accomplished something. Write just one a day, and who knows? You might be able to write yourself out of your slump sooner than you imagined. At worst, you’ll have a ton of little sketches that you can potentially expand on later.

I’ve been doing that this week, and I think it’s going okay. The nice thing is, they don’t even have to be finished stories. They can be little slices of life that can lead your thoughts down new paths. It will still work.

So that’s really all I have to say today. If you’re struggling with your writing for whatever reason (depression, life intrusions, or just too danged busy), give yourself a tiny word count and go for it.

TTFN.

Breathing through the Meltdown.

When I was little, I would occasionally  have meltdowns. As did most of us, I’m guessing. One of the things I remember most distinctly is how my mom would stand calmly in front of me and simply say “Breathe.”

Of course, I didn’t really appreciate that at the time. My thoughts were usually something along the lines of “What are you talking about, breathe? I’m busy melting down here, and breathing is NOT a priority. Sobbing is.”

I was like four years old, okay? Don’t judge.

Nearly twenty-two years have passed since that time, and I’m proud to announce that I now handle meltdowns like a pro.

Sometimes.

At other times, not so much.

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Now maybe nobody has noticed, but over the last couple of weeks my blog posts have (subtly or not so subtly) been little rah-rah pep talks that amount to “I’m not experiencing writer’s block. No, no, of course not. It’s just a little momentary hiccup. I’ll be fine.” Meanwhile my brain has been screaming “You’re not fine!”

Ugh. I’m not fine. The writing has been going slowly and steadily down the tube for close to a month. It started with an inability to figure out endings (what else is new), then progressed to an inability to move things beyond the little anonymous conversations that take place on one of the tracks in my brain. Now it’s reached a point where even my little brain-dwelling babblers have shut up. I haven’t even picked up my notebook in four days.

Normally when inspiration is on a low ebb, I use it as time to revise the junk I wrote when inspiration was happening. Not this time. I’m terrified to even open my last NaNovel, because just the thought of seeing the trash I’m capable of churning out when I have a deadline has me wanting to burst into tears. Hello, four-year-old self, I didn’t know you were still in there.

But this morning, I suddenly remembered how my mom tried to counsel me through the meltdowns all those years ago, and I think I might be okay. In this case, “breathing” means reminding myself that even if I haven’t been writing, I’ve been doing a lot of good productive reading, which can teach just as much as doing the actual work. Also, it’s a reminder that even writing one measly paragraph is progress. If I can feel myself REALLY spiraling out of control, breathing means turning my brain off completely, like doing ballet barre work that forces me to focus all my attention on tiny nuances of motion and stillness.

Listening to something soothing also helps.

We all know that allowing ourselves to have full-on meltdowns never leads to anything productive, even if the meltdown is in reaction to the fact that NOTHING ELSE is leading to anything productive. Panicking has never saved anybody. So I’m allowing myself (forcing myself) to breathe, and reminding myself that life is like Bolognese.

Does anybody else out there have good “breathing” tactics? I’d love to hear them.

Malignant Rigidities.

You know that feeling you get when you’re sitting with a blank notebook, a sudden urge to write? I don’t have it.

With apologies to Captain Jack Sparrow, this misquote exactly summed up my state of being over the past few days. It wasn’t writer’s block exactly. I knew what I should have been doing, and I knew how it needed to be done, essentially. But there I was, teetering on the edge, staring down into the abyss, and I was overcome by a dangerous mix of not wanting to mess up, believing I needed to know where I was heading before I could begin, and all sorts of silly rules and regulations I made up in my mind about how to go about putting words on paper.

I told myself these attitudes were silly, and that I should have been over all this nonsense by now. That, of course, didn’t help any, and I found myself reading prose poetry this morning instead of writing; completely bound up and unable to take the plunge.

And then in came an excerpt of Kora in Hell, by William Carlos Williams, to save the day. A single quote stopped me in my tracks.

“Having once taken the plunge the situation that preceded it becomes obsolete which a moment before was alive with malignant rigidities.”

Malignant rigidities. What a phrase. It goes beyond fears to get at all the other things that can keep us rooted to the spot, not experiencing the joy of free creation.

It reminded me of the experience of zip-lining; the seeming impossibility of ever leaving the platform, and then the exhilarating freedom of “why not?” as soon as you do.

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And it’s true, isn’t it? As soon as we take the plunge, all of those silly things cease to have any power.

I wish there were more that I could share about this, like how to identify our own personal malignant rigidities, or how to go about digging them out of our lives permanently, but I don’t have any of that figured out yet. If I ever do, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, isn’t it good to know how easy they are to vanquish?

Don’t Ignore Your Facets.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m deep in a writing project, I can tend to forget about everything else. And not only when I’m actually doing the work of writing, but all the time. There are times when this should probably be a problem, like when I forget to keep up with basic laundry and bathroom cleaning and such, but I forget to even consider it a problem. And then there are other times when it’s really a problem, and I can feel little bits of myself shriveling up and falling off.

And that’s not good.

Most recently, the shriveling-bit has been my visual artist self. I’ve been ignoring my need to create beautiful things for quite a while, and it wasn’t until last week that I began to notice that my soul was whimpering. In fact, when I went to fix the problem, I discovered that by all rights it should have been shrieking, because I was so enmeshed in the writing side of me that I. Couldn’t. Remember. How. To. Draw.

I’m not even joking. I just sat staring at my pencil like…

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Fortunately, by that time I had awakened to the magnitude of the problem, so I persevered. If drawing wasn’t going to happen, maybe cutting up bits of paper and gluing them down would.

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I think it turned out okay, don’t you?

Since then, I’ve decided to embark on a series of collages, in order to give myself a solid goal that I can’t ignore. Now all I have to do is make sure the visual artist side doesn’t squeeze out the writer side. But this blog and my writer’s group should take care of that.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that it’s important to stay balanced. Even if you’re in the middle of something major, don’t let yourself become so obsessive that you neglect other parts of yourself.

Because we’re all magnificently multi-faceted beings that should be allowed to flourish. No shriveling.

Back to the Basics.

Well, I’ve finished my writing class, and I’m feeling both accomplished and bereft. I learned way (way way) more than I anticipated, which should just teach me not to underestimate the importance of beginner-level classes.

Hey. That just gave me the theme I needed for today’s post. I kid you not, I was just rambling and hoping an idea would come to me, because I didn’t have a plan in place.

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But now I have one: Don’t be afraid to go back to the basics. Mikhail Baryshnikov, one of the greatest dancers in history, never stopped taking beginner classes, because he knew that there was always something to be learned from them.

I think we often get carried away by progress, ever reaching for new heights. There is nothing wrong with that. We should always be striving to grow in any field of endeavor. However, in that quest, we often leave the basics behind.

Bad idea.

There is a reason we always start a new study with the basics, and it isn’t because they are easy. It’s because they are the foundation, the cornerstone on which everything else is built. And it doesn’t do to neglect the foundation, does it? Dizzying heights aren’t so much fun if the cornerstone is crumbly.

Do you get my drift? Good. Don’t forget to keep your basics game strong. No matter what you are practicing.

Goal Setting for the Planning Impaired.

Okay, I’m back. We’ve been having computer issues, and the ongoing attempt to fix them has included lots and lots of huge update downloads and turning the reins over to distant techies. Oof. Here’s hoping the problems get solved soon.

At any rate, I have the chance to blog now, so I’m taking it! Carpe diem, people.

I’ve been discussing goal setting with my resident poet lately. As in, really lately. As in, today. I’m horrible at goal setting. It always seems completely arbitrary to me. Like, “I wanna get published before I turn thirty.” What the actual heck. There is no possible way of guaranteeing that. Unless you self publish, but oh lawrdy that idea does not appeal to me. If you’re cool with it, then more power to ya. Not for this girl.

Anyways, that was a rabbit track.

Goal setting. Now, it may come easily to you, and if so, congratulations, this post is clearly not something you need to read, because I’m going back to the super basics. The ABCs, in fact. That’s because I am a complete infant in the ways of reasonable goal setting. In fact, this is literally me:

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Okay, so that’s not literally me. But it’s literally me. You know what I’m saying. Moving on.

The resident poet gave me the three things that a good goal has to be:

  • It must be measurable. Because otherwise it’s not even a goal. Duh. Even I understand that.
  • It must not depend on anyone but you. So “I wanna get published” isn’t a good goal, because somebody else has to decide to publish you. Decide that you’re going to submit to three journals per month, instead. Or whatever.
  • It must go beyond what you have already achieved. Awwwww, so you mean I can’t just set a goal to do something I already know is possible? Shucks.

Because in the end, goals are about progress. You have to stretch yourself in order to make progress; you must be able to measure your progress, or else how do you know when to celebrate or ramp up the pressure; and your progress can’t be dependent on other people.

So yeah. Super basic, and probably really rambling and clear as mud. But this is a blog about my process of becoming a writer, and sometimes it’s not tidy. It’s not tidy in my own mind yet, but I wanted to get it down somewhere to help lock it all in my mind.

Welp, that’s what I’ve got for you today.

TTFN.