Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thinking about the Sandy Hook tragedy

In some ways, I feel pretty removed from the killings that happened four mornings ago. I've never experienced something that awful. I don't have children. I can't imagine losing someone I don't have. I'm not an expert on grief, gun laws, or the politicking that goes into trying to deal with these tragedies.

As an outsider, I can't know what will make a difference to the suffering families in this country. But I've read a few articles written by people who do know. I think we need to broaden our perspectives and look at the problems from the views of people who might understand the solutions.

This is the blog of a writer, Dan Wells, who has some pertinent thoughts:

His brother, Robison Wells, also a writer, talks about the Sandy Hook tragedy from the viewpoint of someone who does struggle with violent mental illness:

In the face of such horror, how can Christians look at what has happened and still trust God? A friend at my school wrote in response to the shootings, talking about why "everything happens for a reason" just isn't good enough:

Sometimes, the answer is just to be still.

I know a little girl who struggles with grief. She's lost many people, and it seems that she can only express that grief through anger. Fortunately, she is blessed with a loving family and time to grow.

But will America act the same way? Will anger become action that doesn't deal with the underlying problems? And will that help anyone?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

10-minute writing prompts, part iii

Over the last couple of weeks, there are several posts that I could have written. I did not write them. I wasn't even that busy. I've been resting after busyness and preparing for more. I did not achieve my November writing goal, which means that the rest of my deadlines are stressed. And right now, I'm emotionally drained for different reasons.

But I can still post my last writing prompt, my favorite of the three. My cousins and I all had a lot of fun with this one. Without further ado, "Witch feels self-doubt after an argument with Sidekick."

Was the potion tinged slightly red?


Witch slammed the cauldron lid shut. She had gotten the potion right. She'd made love potions a hundred times over. Despite girlish stereotypes, they were supposed to be bright, neon orange. In the 21st century, disguised easily enough as orange soda, though it was a little more conspicuous in this day and age.

She made them all the time. Of course she'd make another one for the next hero-worshipping fanboy who fell in love with his idol's little sister tomorrow. And of course she'd take her price and laugh gleefully as she watched chaos ensue. It was what she did. It was how she made a living.

But if she was really, truly honest with herself, was it the right thing to do?

"It never is!" she shrieked. Her mangy-furred night-black cat jumped at her voice. "That's why I do it!"

She shook her head. He had begged and pleaded, and she had done her usual schtick about tempting fate, things not turning out as wished for, blah blah blah. And as always, the potion was perfect, a lurid, bright orange.

But did this 16-year-old lad, just a kid really, deserve this kind of trouble? Did his wonderboy friend need that kind of distraction as he tried to save the world? And what about the girl?

She sighed and tucked a strange of wild gray hair back out of her face.

"I'm old and sentimental," she told the cat, "and that's all."

The cat meowed and sniffed at the cauldron. Witch shooed him away. She'd add more bleeding hearts next time.

Maybe it isn't as much of a trope as I made it out to be, but it still felt right. It'll be back to musing about writing and life next time. Good luck with finals week, all you college students, and happy Sunday to everyone else.

Monday, December 3, 2012

10-minute writing prompts, part ii

This one started with a rather interesting prompt. We chose "martyr learns about god's good fortune." That poses some major theological problems, and we took it a few different ways. I wasn't quite as brilliant my cousin, who wrote about Fred Weasley dying, meeting J.K. Rowling, and learning how well the books have sold. Mine is a bit more serious, though I don't know that it says anything of real significance.

"So... you want me to die for you?"


She sat in His presence. The color rushed to her cheeks as she categorized and appraised the rush of feelings within her. She looked up at the fiery vision as it was tracing out her fate in the universe.

"Wonderful!" she cried.

"A response many a deity would be happy to hear," God replied, "were there any others. But I am that is, and I know that you do not yet understand."

"But Lord," she said, "this will do you so much good. By my death I will serve you. If I die a young queen, all the world seeing that I am faithful to you, they will fall at your feet."

"A king will die, and they will not follow Him," God replied. "But I am asking you to die in an alleyway, a knife at your throat. The last thing you will hear will be the voice of a murderer, asking if you believe in Me."

She paled. The vision before here glowed ever brighter.

"But... how does that do good for you?" she asked.

"You can consider that before you give him your reply," said God.

She sat in silence, stunned. The fiery vision faded away, and she heard His voice like an echo rolling far from her.

"Your answer will not hinder me, beloved child," He called to her. "I am greater. Remember that when you feel the knife."

There might be things I would adjust, but it's hard with such a premise. I wanted a person to think that she had found something she thought was "good fortune" for God. And of course, she's wrong. If there's a bigger point, it's a bit more obscure. (Things might possibly be muddied by the Redwall reference.)

In any case, next week, I'll post my favorite of the three -- "witch feels self-doubt after an argument with sidekick."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

10-minute writing prompts, part i

I am fortunate to have close friends who are also cousins. This means that at big family gatherings, I always have someone to hang out with (though my whole family is awesome. Trust me.). It's an extra bit of good fortune that some of them are also writers. This wonderful combination brought me and my cousins Jessie and Kara to 3 a.m. on Saturday night, when we decided to write stuff. Weird writing prompts was the game; I was introduced to storybase.net, which I highly recommend for this sort of thing. On the site, you pick two archetypical characters and either a mood or action, which gives you a list of scenarios. The first one we picked was "Trickster desperately wants Warrior to confess." After 10 minutes, this is what I had:

Tamin was playing with his favorite illusion -- shiny, incandescent bubbles. Insubstantial, but he was skilled enough to make it appear as if he was juggling items with actual weight. Tarwar didn't pay much attention. Unless Tamin showed his hand, Tarwar wasn't in the mood to play his games.

Tamin sidled closer, light-filled bubbles shimmering. Little flashes of glare kept twitching across Tarwar's newspaper. It was becoming too distracting. Tarwar raised his eyes.

Almost nonchalantly, Tamin caused his light-bubbles to vanish. "I talked to Ilrien today," he said.

Tarwar didn't answer.

A bubble bounced off the wall behind Tarwar's head and into the trickster's hand, where he tossed it to the ground. He bounced it, up and down, eyes on Tarwar's face. "I asked about the race," he said. "You said you were going to meet her."

"I said that," said Tarwar, noncommittally. He folded the newspaper, and it became a dagger in his hands. The blade, text from yesterday's headlines still visible, flashed with the incessant bouncing of Tamin's bubble.

"She didn't seem to recall having that conversation with you," said Tamin, leaning forward. The bubble of light in Tamin's hand disappeared as he pressed his palms onto the desk between them.

One thing I find interesting about this one is how it seems like I've jumped into a novel. There's some weird sort of a magic where you can apparently fold paper into real weapons, and these characters definitely have a history you don't see.

It's also interesting to note that I don't know that history. I don't know who Ilrien is or what sort of race would be happening in this magical universe. It was just the excuse I came up with to fit the situation. I'm a discovery writer. I make stuff up as I go. Maybe if we had gone a little longer, I would have had to come up with an explanation. Jessie, an outline writer, and I laughed at our different methods.

We did three writing prompts total. The other two will be posted soon. We didn't read them to each other, but it was neat to talk about what scenes we had come up with and how they were different.

If you think it's weird, I do too. Have some grace -- we only had ten minutes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I don't like the term writer's block. It's not just that it sounds like a nasty thing for us writers, which it is. Mostly it's frustrating because I feel like writer's block is my fault. Am I too uncreative, too moody, too caught up in "the muse" that I can't write whenever I want to? Not usually. Occasionally, however, I simply get stuck because of story reasons.

One thing that can really drag a novel down -- or help it fly -- is the pacing. This causes that, a plot point moves us forward, there's some reaction after this scene to absorb previous action, ebb and flow, purposeful movement. Some writers are masters at this, whether by instinct or training. I like to think it's something I'm tuned to -- I love to pay attention to pacing in novels -- but I definitely don't have the mastery I need to execute it properly.

Is the voice in my head that's telling me there's something wrong with this chapter responding to my sense for pacing? Or is it some other problem with the story entirely? Is it just the voice of self-consciousness and self-criticism that opposes anyone who takes on a creative project? Or am I not being dedicated enough?

Right now, I'm looking at some of the bigger, structural elements of the story. I'm finding that the minor characters I put in have to be there, but need to serve a greater purpose by the end. I have a plot point with tension that needs to emerge in a less contrived way. I need to make the causes leading up to it make better sense, and I have to make an escape seem surprising, yet inevitable.

Oh, chapter five, you needy document.

And chapter five comes pretty early. It's like a foundation for the story -- if I screw up the early parts, the later parts aren't going to have anything sound to stand on.

So I take a break to complain, define my problems for the Internet to see, and move on. What am I doing here? I've got revising to do.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A November Without NaNoWriMo

Even a few weeks ago, I was still deciding whether to take part in National Novel Writing Month. Though I knew I would be insanely busy and had another novel to work on, NaNo still hovered hopefully on the horizon, tempting me with thrilling possibilities. Eventually, sense blocked it out. In light of my need to concentrate on my current novel, I decided to let NaNoWriMo go.

I've participated in NaNoWriMo for four years. The last three, I've won. I also did Camp NaNoWriMo this summer, bringing my completed novel drafts up to 4 (the last two were the same novel, Void.) A lot of my writing energy gets saved up for November, so I can launch myself onto one story and concentrate all my abilities on it. This may not be the best way, but it's the way I usually do it. Spending November doing anything but madly writing around everything else sounds strange to me. That's one attitude that came to mind when my cousin told me last year that she wasn't doing it.

 "NaNo had just become part of the year. In November I'd write a novel. That was a five year streak!" she said.

To which I replied, "I will NaNo until I die from it!"

Right now, I'm not interested in killing myself trying to write a new novel and fix an old one at the same time. Still, I'll miss the breakneck pace, the creativity, the obsessive word count updates. I'll miss knowing that thousands of writers all around the world are striving for the same goal as me.

So, no 50,000-word goal. But I can still give myself writing goals for November. 50,000 words in a month comes out to 1,667 words a day. That's usually about 3 single-spaced pages for me (doesn't sound so scary now, huh?). I can try to revise 3 pages a day. This is a useful, practical goal. Some days I may be able to do a lot more than that, and others it'll be hard to measure due to plot threads that need major doctoring. Some days I may actually end up writing a lot. In any case, this draft should be alpha reader-ready by the end of November.

Those of you doing NaNoWriMo this year, good for you. Go crazy. Sometimes it's the best thing that can happen to you or your novel -- it was for me.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Deadlines are Magic

A month and a half after I finished writing it, I've finally completed a readthrough of my current manuscript for Void. At first, I wanted to take a break and step back from it, which is good for writing. It gives you perspective so you can come back to the story with sharper eyes. Still... I should have finished this a while ago. I have self-imposed deadlines, after all.

Deadlines... about those. The big, scary, far-off one is February 15th, my 20th birthday. That is the day I will send a completed manuscript to a publisher. (I'm hoping Tor, but I need to do some research first.) However, to get to that point, I'll need to set myself some smaller, but still challenging ones. Good thing deadlines are magic.

I think I can give myself until the beginning of December to work over what I have and get my story ready for alpha readers. At the very latest, I could let it slip till Christmas break. This is when I'll beg writing and story-savvy friends to tear apart all my words and tell me what's wrong with them, and pray they won't tear out my heart in the process. I may actually have to limit myself on the number of people I have read it, though, just to make sure the input is focused and I can handle all of it. If you're reading this and are interested, please let me know.

In the meantime, I will be rewriting. Considering the quality of the draft I just read, the time frame I have to work with is mildly terrifying. This is what you get for procrastinating, I suppose. And considering that this is my first time taking a novel to this level in the editing process (my first time finishing a novel-length second draft), there might be better ways to go about it. Like, doing better research before starting. Right now, I have to come up with a semi-plausible-sounding way to modify a dying nuclear generator so as to set off an EMP, as well as consider its ramifications. I have to make the mechanics of character development, dramatic reveals, and the operations of a secret underground society go smoothly and believably. And I have to fix big glaring mistakes (oh, yeah, I forgot that character existed...) and find all the tiny, sneaky ones.

I will be spending the month of January at home, possibly working, but it will also be my time to work on the issues my early readers find and polish all the words. NaNoWriMo has proved to me that I can spend an entire month focused on a story; this January, I'll see if I can finish one instead of start it.

Then I'll have two weeks in February to make sure I'm happy with everything before this challenge I gave myself over half a year ago is over. (Yeah, over half a year. Again, procrastination.)

Am I scared? Yes. Can I do it? I'm certain. Tight deadlines can be awful, but they're also the reason I've managed to write first drafts for three different 50,000-word novels in the first place while having rehearsal every night (November tends to be a heavy month for theater), as well as a 60,000-word second draft. These next four months might be terrible (especially if I decide to be insane and do NaNoWriMo again), but I can do it.

Why? Because I love this story. It's the reason I wrote it in the first place.

Heaven help me. Bye for now -- I've got work to do.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tech is a dirty word

I've been busy enough lately that one of the things I've not been working on is my novel, Void. I think I'm starting to suffer separation anxiety. I hope to give it a larger portion of my attention soon, but in all my busyness elsewhere (theater, notably), my mind has still been wandering back to it.

In the story, technology for the common people has been suppressed to the point that engines and electronics have legendary status. So, when trying to come up with a mild "curse" word that would be consistent with this world, I decided that "tech" was the word to use. I first considered it because I thought it was funny -- haha, tech sounds like heck. "To tech with that!" "The tech do you think you're doing?" Eventually, this evolved into the adjective "tecking."

After awhile, it stopped being what was basically a funny placeholder for until I thought of a better word. I started to realize how it fit in the consciousness of the people of Void's world. It's a part of the culture I've created, and it's become a symbol and watchword for other points in the story.

However, the thought process that brought me there is kind of weird for me. I don't cuss in real life. Really. Not at all, unless "darn!" and the occasional "crap!" count. I grew up in a house where nobody cursed (at least not in my hearing) and I didn't start absorbing foul language until middle school. By then, other forms of expression were habit enough that I could block it out. During high school and working in various places, I was shocked by just how much profanity was tossed around. The f-word? It's ridiculous! It doesn't even make sense, and I've listened to people who use it three or four times a sentence.

So why use even fake curse words in stories?

Firstly, my characters aren't me. They don't come from the same background. They come from difficult lives where they've absorbed a lot of stress, pain, and in all likelihood, cursing. It can be a descriptor for the people, a normalizer, and another way to flesh out the story. (Brandon Sanderson's "Stormfather!" and "storm you!" in Way of Kings is a good example of this.) Also, I think there are times in stories when its absence can be conspicuous. Simply mentioning that a character cursed without saying the actual word can be awkward when done too often.

Lately, though, I'm wondering if the use of "tech!" was subconscious for me. "Tech" in the theater world is short for "technical" -- the rehearsals that happen just before a performance, in which everything goes wrong. Actually, it's when all the technical aspects have to come together. Lighting and sound cues, makeup, props, set, everything has to be finished. To the cast and crew, tech week is about as fun as hours of intense boredom mixed with little sleep, random bursts of intense physical activity, and frustration when, as said before, all the things go wrong.

Last week was tech week for Taylor theater's production of Waiting for Godot. The frustration that comes with tech was very much on my mind. Still, it was a good week for me. I got through lots of work and obstacles and survived intact. Now I'm looking forward to going through some of the same processes in Void.

So, fantasy writers -- leery of stooping to profanity? Trying to come up with suitable modes of expression to portray intense anger or frustration? Be classy; make something up! The right word might already be swimming around in your head.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Redeeming Love and the Book of Hosea

Last weekend, I devoured Francine Rivers's Redeeming Love. I rarely love Christian fiction, and I don't typically read romance, but after hearing how wonderful it was and finding it almost magically on my roommate's desk, I had to pick it up. I read until four in the morning and then I started again at 10 a.m. the next day until I was finished.

Coincidentally, a few days afterward, we started studying Hosea in my Hebrew prophets class. We're not all the way through, but only the first three chapters deal with the events Redeeming Love is largely based on -- Hosea, at God's command, taking the prostitute Gomer for a wife. The rest of Hosea goes back into the prophet-speak that until recently I had a hard time concentrating on.

I haven't read anything else by Francine Rivers, and I won't say that it's the best writing I've ever read. But something about Redeeming Love is deeply touching and personal. Mirrored in the complexities of Angel and Michael's relationship are a thousand circumstances and feelings that I've struggled with in my relationship with God.

The story is beautiful. However, it doesn't correspond perfectly with the events in Hosea.

Maybe that wasn't what Rivers was going for. That's fine. I'd just always heard it was "based on the book of Hosea" and so assumed certain things about it. In Redeeming Love, the relationship between Israel and God is reflected in a very personal way, but the story in the Bible is just a little different.

While reading the book of Hosea, I was always confused by how God commands Hosea to take Gomer back after she's run away: "Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery..." (NKJV) It never seemed to me that the wording suggested God was actually talking about Gomer. A woman? Is that specific enough? It turns out that it's not specific in the Hebrew, either.  It doesn't actually say that Gomer runs away back to prostitution, either. People kind of infer the story from the way God and Hosea address Israel in the rest of the book. I have to wait til we're done studying Hosea to draw any more conclusions.

But what's the point? I don't know enough to be able to say what really happened to Hosea. He took the prostitute Gomer for a wife, and then again redeemed an adulteress with love. But I still think Rivers is dead on in her interpretation of the main point of the book: God wants to win back those unfaithful to Him with His love.

It's easy to take a mistaken stance in Christianity and focus on your behavior, the effectiveness of the church, even something so big as missions and make that the focal point, but really, it comes down to being loved by God. Until you understand that, you can't really love Him back.  None of your good deeds can save you. You can't hide your sin. Your American Protestant work ethic does not help you. It's love God, or nothing. Anything else is prostitution of the heart.

I recommend the book to high schoolers and up. It's not graphic, but it does mention out of necessity some... well... the main character is a prostitute, after all. It's more important to realize what the story represents and how it reflects on us. It's about God's redeeming love for us. Nothing else.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Articulating Feelings

This post was originally written as a reflection for my writing class. So far, we've talked about writing, how great it is, and how it affects us. Yes, this is a class. Cool, right?

Some of our discussions about literature and writing so far have reminded me of conversations I’ve had with my boyfriend. I am an emotional person who often relies on feelings to figure things out, whereas he is a very logically-thinking person with little emotional fluctuation. Consequently, sharing our viewpoints is fascinating. I’m also the more creative one, so I’ll go off talking about some project or story or idea, and he’ll ask questions that make me probe deeper into how I think about the story or about music, art, or literature in general.

One thing I mentioned to him about class was my professor's observation that The Lord of the Rings is possibly one of the most powerful stories ever written. Both my boyfriend and I love LotR. Both of us would agree with that statement. But, to understand what I think (and add to his ever-growing mental database of how other minds work) he started asking me questions that forced me to articulate things that usually exist as untapped feeling in my head. 

I love reading, writing, and stories very much. But my feelings about them are wrapped up in things I truly believe. Reading makes us better people. Reading expands our mental experience and our empathy. Stories give us hope and show us how faith and living interact. Even stories that aren’t “Christian.” Even stories that are dark. Some stories may not be particularly edifying, but I would argue that most of them are, at least in some way. Literature would mean nothing if it didn’t in some way echo truth.

Sometimes it takes me a while to argue these things properly, but I think the evidence is all around us. I know I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today without books. They’ve been such a big influence on how I grew up and how I think even now that I have no idea what kind of person I would be if I didn’t love reading. And – this is a feeling I don’t think I’ll bother articulating – I have to believe I’m a better person than I would have been otherwise.

The reflections that give rise to this kind of thought are one of the reasons I love discussing literature. I wish more people would talk about these things. I wish more people could see what stories do for us. Until then, I will continue the conversations. I hope whoever reads this will, too.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Poor Life Decisions

Looking back over the last couple days, I can't say that things haven't been going well. I've kept up with homework, hung out with friends, and in general have been enjoying myself. Still, there are a couple of things I should not have been doing -- things that would make life a lot easier if I could plan better. They are, in no particular order:
  • Deciding to do Camp NaNoWriMo in what I knew would be an extremely busy month, getting ten thousand words behind in the second-to-last week, and being inconsistent about filling that gap because of such silly things as "being tired," or "not feeling like writing." Consequently, for the last several days of August, I had to spend several hours every night writing very very quickly and probably very poorly in order to catch up. This was aggravated by
  • Closing documents without saving because I got confused because I had too many documents open because I was trying to check my word count over various documents because I was disorganized because I need to figure out a better system to keep track of writing because I haven't bought Scrivener yet because I'm a poor college student. Consequently, I lost 2,000 words in a critical moment. This was stressful, since I had been
  • Letting tiredness build up from sleeping six hours or less the past several nights, and then
  • Playing the fifth game of mafia with people in my dorm when I really needed to go to bed before having to wake up very early the next morning, and then
  • Deciding to play board games the next night with people I love outside my dorm, because obviously I hadn't had enough yet, culminating in
  • Playing a three-hour game of Cities and Knights, in which my exhaustion was almost causing me fairly serious emotional problems, and which could and should have ended an hour and a half earlier.
Six short hours of sleep later, I woke up for my 8 a.m. class, really feeling pretty good for all that. But now daylight is telling me things I should be doing:
  • I should read the play for which I need to organize and find props before tech weekend three weeks from now.
  • I should take a nap today. Really.
  • I should talk to the freshmen on my floor and make sure everyone's doing okay with the transition to college. I should also make some time to pray with them.
  • I should  probably be doing homework instead of writing a blog post.
  • I should figure out what happened to my Fit for Life syllabus.
  • I should try much harder to find someone to permanently switch work shifts with me, since I have a class when I'm supposed to work.
  • I should write some personal letters I've been meaning to get to for the past two weeks.
  • I should take a minute to be quiet. That is all.
This sounds like a lot. But even in writing these lists, reviewing all the things that filled my time, I don't regret anything (well, except not writing earlier... that could have solved lots of problems.) But I got to be around really awesome people. I stayed busy. And I accomplished lots of things, despite having to work around many obstacles. Last week was great. But, in light of all this, I can try to make next week better.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Triumphant Return... sort of

The very last sentences of my last blog post declared my intention to write soon and often. I'm ashamed to admit that that was three months ago. My excuse is that my house has terrible wifi -- so terrible that my laptop refuses to connect to it, out of principle -- and that our home computer is so slow and old that it is a pain to use.

Since I don't believe enough people read this that my not posting could be considered even mildly irritating, I'll spare the apologies. Mostly, I'm sorry for myself. I've been missing the opportunity to exercise my writing brain and the dedication it takes to keep up a regular blog.

I could again promise that I'll write regularly and often. But actions speak louder than words, even occasionally more than the written word. So, if you're reading this, keep coming back.

I am again back at Taylor University. I've been here a week and a half, so my return to the school did not perfectly coincide with my return to the blog. I've been busy. The good and bad thing about being part of such a wonderful community is that there are many worthy things in which to invest one's time. I had to pick one of the most time-consuming: theater. Being properties master means arriving before classes start and participating in theater boot camp. Really, "boot camp" translates to "reading through the plays for the season, hanging around with cool theater people, and working in the shop a whole lot." Thanks to the work of some wonderful volunteers, my props loft is looking a lot cleaner and may even pass fire code inspections. There's work to be done, but after stacking furniture, bags of fake snow, suitcases, more candles than any one theater could possibly go through in ten years, kitchen utensils, fake weapons, wine glasses, windows, ancient telephones, typewriters, bales of straw, yard decorations, and the paraphernalia of many shows past, I'm starting to feel like I know what I'll be capable of doing this year.

My other major responsibility is one that requires a lot from me as well, though in a different way. I'm discipleship assistant on my floor, a.k.a. DA. This means I lead floor prayer and generally look out for the spiritual well-being of the girls with whom I live. They are fantastic, strong, and talented people. I am hugely blessed to live with them and with the wonderful people of my dorm in general. I'm an introvert, but I will have no problem wanting to invest my time and care in their lives. But in that, I'm also going to have to focus on my spiritual growth, not just theirs. I love Taylor because I can see God moving everywhere. Still, it's easy to take that for granted. I can't just sit and watch what He does. I have to ask Him to work in me.

There is one other big project which I mentioned in my last post. I'm still planning to submit my novel, Void, to a publisher come February. To complete draft two, I decided I would participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, a summer version of the crazy writing dash that usually fills my November. I couldn't have picked a busier month to do it in, but I have a day and a half left and only 6,000 words to write. Then comes the revising.

I may have returned to the blog with my tail between my legs, but I came back to Taylor filled with hope and joy. I've already been stressed to the point of tears. I've already been too busy to keep up with my word count goals and other things. But now, everything's settling into place.

Pray for me, if you're so inclined. I'll need it. Pray for Taylor, for the endeavors of the students, and all the things God has planned for us for the year. The only thing I know is that I have a lot to learn.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

An Everything Post

I've failed as a blogger for the last month or so. I plead busyness, though no one is accusing me but my conscience. So, here is an explanation of things that have been going on in my life, partly as a means to reflect and partly to organize:
  • I was props assistant for Taylor Theater's last play of the season, Noises Off! I'll be replacing our current props master next year. The play was hilarious, crazy, and tiring, and being part of it taught me a lot about how theater is run. It's also making me anticipate craziness for next year -- I've got some organizing to do, and it will be a significant time commitment. I'm excited to see what I can come up with.
  • For my professional writing class (my major), we finished book proposal projects. We were divided into publishing houses and had create and pitch a book. Since I had a finished draft, I was the author for my group. I had a great team to work with who did wonderfully on the marketing and business aspects. However, I had to take a long hard look at my NaNoWriMo draft and get some organizing done so I could include an outline, chapter synopses, and finished sample chapters for the proposal. Now I have a plan for actually finishing the draft, and my goal is to submit it to a publisher by my birthday in February next year. By the way, it's called Void. Here's the cover I made for it:
Four hundred years ago, an uprising threw down a selfish, near-immortal government. Now, it’s been replaced by the Void, a tyrannical empire that suppresses all advanced technology except for that which it keeps for itself.
Still, there are rumors – rumors of an immortal prince biding his time, and rumors of a force mustering to overthrow the government once more.
The child leader Atom, rebel engineer Sel, and idealist healer Cade seek to change the world order again. Heading the secret Underground, they work to retrieve the technology that may bring back the ghost of the empire past.
            But what is Atom hiding? What is Sel trying to reconcile? And who is Valer, the Beast who may or may not be on their side?
  •  I've been busy with classes, but I've also made time to be around friends. Have I ever mentioned here how much I love my dorm and the Taylor community in general?  There are wonderful people here, and I meet more of them every day. I may have a terrible time remembering the names, but familiar faces are cheering.
  • Though I've published book reviews at Christian Book Previews and Church Libraries magazine, I'm officially going to be published in a book for the first time (not counting a poem in fourth grade before I even really knew I wanted to be a writer.) It's a devotions book from Livingstone, and I'll be pleased as punch to be listed as a coauthor along with several of my fellow professional writing majors.
  • Finals are this week, and then I go home. It's really strange to think I'll be home in a week, though I'll be happy to finally settle into our new house months behind the rest of my family. I also need to get a job, so that will be on the top of my list as soon as I reach Iowa soil. However, I'm still focused on Taylor University, finishing classes, and marveling at how my freshman year has gone by so quickly. Expect more thoughts on that soon.
  • The main reason I'm at Taylor is that I want to be in a place where God is the focus. In high school I wanted that environment very badly. Being here hasn't disappointed. I have a great church and have learned a lot about the Bible from studying it in a classroom setting. The joy that gives me led me to add a Biblical literature minor. I've been getting to know the Word better, and that's opening up all kinds of pathways around me and in my mind. I don't think I'm the one picking where I'm going, though. Thank God.
 The mechanisms that produce writing in my brain heat up quickly. After weeks of not writing, my fingers are itching to keep going. Though I've been busy, I love expressing my thoughts here. For anyone who actually stops by here regularly, this is a good thing, because you can expect new material soon. Until then, happy Internet traveling.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Swallowed Up In Victory

He sought to counsel and calm the despairing man by pointing out to him the man of resignation, and transform the grief that looks down into the grave by showing it the grief which looks up to the stars.  -- Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
One of my favorite Bible passages is 1 Corinthians 15. I latched onto it in middle school mostly because of the grandeur of Paul's phrases. I'm not sure I understood it at all for a long time. I know I'm still working on it.

I heard the famous lines -- "Oh death, where is your victory? Oh grave, where is your sting?" in a service memorializing Josh Larkin last night. I only met Josh once. I was in a friend's video she was shooting for class. Josh was picking songs for us to dance to. Since then, I'd seen him around, but I never really knew him.

It's amazing the outpouring of love I've seen at Taylor since his death. Now, I feel like I really know Josh, at least as most people will remember him. Strangely, in all the tears, it's also been a time of real joy and awakening. This week has brought me back to another time of joy and tears -- the death of my speech teacher, Mrs. Petrie.

I've been to funerals before, but they were quiet, family things where I didn't really know the person who died. Mrs. Petrie and Josh Larkin were different. Their memorial services were both a giant outreach into the Christian community. They placed me in the center of a mass of grieving people with their arms around each other. When those they loved spoke, the were obviously grieving. But I am amazed at how deeply and truly these communities -- the Blairsburg Missionary Alliance Church and Taylor University -- worship God in the face of death.

Mrs. Petrie was the most gentle and loving Christian lady I have ever met. Josh Larkin embraced the life he'd been given and loved everyone he knew. Death is an opportunity to give a long and hard look at a person's life. And they live on.

Mr. Larkin spoke to Taylor yesterday about the death of his son. There is a word I hope stays in use around campus: Joshian. That was a Joshian thing to do. We should all have Joshian love.

Really, we should all love like Christ. Mrs. Petrie exemplified that. I'm learning that Josh did, too. And because of the things I've learned, I can see what Christ's love looks like. I can strive to love as they did.

And I will strive.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Art and the Rembrandt Project

When I was younger, I wanted to be an artist. I still do, in fact. Now, writing is my focus, but drawing and painting is something I want to come back to.

I haven't taken any art classes here at Taylor, so I feel out of practice. I've got a schedule worked out for my novel project, but maybe I should have one for art as well.

I do have one long-term drawing project. My sophomore year of high school, I was assigned to draw a 4" x 6" pencil portrait. This was the result:

I while after this, I started getting really interested in Rembrandt as an artist. I learned that he completed at least 40 self-portraits in his life, possibly as many as 90. I decided that I would make one self-portrait a year. I call it the Rembrandt Project.

My teacher pointed out that my eyes look somewhat dead in this one, but it made me think of this portrait of Rembrandt's: http://www.terminartors.com/artworkprofile/Rembrandt-Self-Portrait  
My goal is to get them done before my birthday for a given year. I slacked off on this one and didn't finish it till the day before. Since I was rushed, I didn't notice until the very end that I had an extra finger. It's fixed here; I can't find the picture I took before I changed it.
For 18 years. I was actually sitting in the bathroom window on my floor when I took the picture.
I've drawn them all from gridded photos. I want to be able to draw without the grid. Someday, I want to do one in charcoal or oil paint. Currently I don't have the materials, and I'm afraid not even the time. I even worry that I'm not as good at drawing as I used to be.

But when I see a friend working on a project, I get excited. Interested. Jealous. I want to be able to sit and work on something I love for hours upon end for school credit. The only thing that's stopping me from doing it anyway is all my other schoolwork and projects.

And now writing is something else that gets me excited. I've always loved stories, and I know writing is what I want to do.

But am I cheating on writing with art? Sometimes I almost wish I could.

Monday, March 19, 2012

How I Lost a Kite but Regained My Childhood

How I Lost a Kite but Regained my Childhood
Dangling 20 Feet above the Ground
In Which two Ladders, a Tree, and a Carpet Brush become Well-Acquainted

My cousin sent me a kite for my birthday last month. Today was windy and lovely. It was time to release my inner child. It was time to fly.

The kite worked beautifully. I let out all the string and watched the tiny purple diamond hover above me. Seeing it brought to my mind Al Andrews’ words in The Boy, the Kite, and the Wind: “The eternal wind will outlast anything that flies in it.”

The eternal wind was very strong today. It snatched the pink plastic reel from my hand and threw it across the yard.

My first thought was “Maybe it will catch on the tree!” Well, fate was kind today; it caught on the tree. My kite continued to fly above it.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I am no stranger to tree climbing. Two things are notable about my childhood: I read lots of very big books, and I was sort of a squirrel-ninja. When I was three, I climbed the rock bluffs at Palisades State Park in Illinois and passed people who were climbing with ropes. In elementary school, I could beat all the boys to the top of the jungle gym. I loved nothing better than climbing to the top of a tree in a high wind and holding on. This would be a snap.

Well, first of all, the branches were too high for me to reach. Rather than trying to shimmy up and ruin my new pants, I decided I would use a ladder. It would be quicker, and I wanted my kite back so I could keep flying. But I didn’t know where we stored ladders in our new house. When I checked one of the sheds, I found an ancient wooden ladder barely holding together. I decided that for my purposes, it would do.

I leaned it against the tree and climbed up. It’s a tall tree, but has lots of slender branches. Most of them were placed so that they’d poke me but offer no support as I climbed. I had to pull most of my weight with my arms, which are about as thick as spaghetti noodles.

My first plan was to find where the string was tangled closest to the kite. I would pull the kite in, take it apart, and then tamely pull the string from the tree. It would be easy. I used to be able to climb that high when I was younger.

Well, I also used to weigh about 50 pounds. And I also used to be a lot more flexible than I am now. And I also used to be fearless. At 19 years and about 140 pounds, some of the skinny branches just didn’t seem so friendly. I would have to stand on a branch less than an inch thick to reach the string. My better judgment told me no.

My next angle of attack was to get the reel. It was tangled on the farthest part of one of the lowest branches on the tree. It extended at about a 45 degree angle and was scattered with smaller branches that would make climbing difficult. The reel was at least 25 feet above the ground. I started up, but was dissuaded by all the poky little branches. Then I got a bright idea. I would find a better ladder, stand below the branch, and maybe be able to grab the reel with a long stick or something.

Well, my better ladder was six feet tall. I was not going to reach the reel from the ground.

Give up? Never. I wanted my kite, darn it. I put my game face on and changed into old jeans – something that never would have occurred to me to do when I was 6 – and started up the tree again.

I went back to plan A, but this time I had a weapon: a yellow telescoping carpet brush thingy we use to clean up dog hair. At its longest, the handle was about four feet. The brush made it into a long T. If I could wrap the string around the end, I bet that I could pull it in toward me.

Three different branches couldn’t get me close enough to use it. Carrying it made climbing much more difficult. I had to stick it somewhere above me where it wouldn’t fall while I climbed up to it push it forward again.

Finally, I threw it onto the tricky branch with the reel. It stayed, but I didn’t know how long it would. I had to get over there quickly to try, try again.

The kite danced merrily above. I could hear it flapping in the eternal wind.

When I was younger, I might have walked up that tricky branch like a monkey, using my hands and feet. Apparently the part of my brain that judges distance to the ground is more developed now. I scooted up that branch on my stomach, smushing all the smaller branches that were trying to poke me. By the time I got to the carpet brush, the branch was bent almost horizontal.

I was lying on a 2-inch thick branch 20 feet above the ground. I was fully visible from the highway running past my house. I was wielding a yellow carpet brush, and I was determined. I would detangle that kite reel. I would fly again. I would be victorious.

I held onto the brush as the wind tossed the branch about. The end could just barely reach the kite string. I succeeded in pulling the reel off one branch. Now the string was just tangled above it. When I tried to pull it down, it got stuck on little bud-bearing twigs. I pulled, but tentatively – if the string broke, the kite would probably work itself free and fly away.

Then I got the idea to tangle the string around the end of the brush and drop it. Maybe I could reach the end of the handle using something with the ladder on the ground. I very carefully flailed the carpet brush. When it looked good and tangled, I dropped the end. The whole brush fell to the ground. The string stayed where it was.

After scooting very uncomfortably back down the branch, I employed my next tactic. I climbed down the tree, down the rickety wooden ladder, retrieved the brush, and climbed up the steel ladder below the reel. I would throw the brush like a javelin. It would get tangled in the string, weigh the branch down, and allow me to pull the reel back to me. What could be simpler?

I don’t think most Olympians use telescoping javelins. On my first throw, the handle snapped closed with the throwing momentum and flopped to the ground.

I threw again. And again. And again. I put some spin on it. I tried throwing it with the handle collapsed and at its full length. Finally, the wind blew the flying carpet brush into the barn, where the brush broke off and the whole thing came down in two pieces.

From where I sit on the porch, I can still see my lovely purple kite flying, tail streaming, tugging at the tree holding it down. I can see the pink plastic reel dangling on the branch. I can see my failure.

I got scraped up and made a spectacle of myself to passing cars. I’m still picking bark out of my pants, and my feet are stained green and brown. I am kiteless.

But I spent an afternoon up a tree, just like I would have years ago. It’s a good day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Peace, Love, Joy, and Dogs

Before coming to Taylor, the PA (equivalent to RA) on my floor emailed all of us, asking us to send pictures that reflected our decorating theme: Peace, Love, and Joy. I'm an artist, but I'm not very abstract. So I took some photographs of real things that make me feel peaceful, loving, or joyful. This was one of my pictures for Joy.

This is Kandy. Kandy's a Bernese mountain dog. My family had her for about five years. She was one of those giant dogs that thinks she's small enough to sit in your lap. She made an excellent pillow, and if you spent any amount of time loving her, she'd love you forever and ever.

I'm an animal person. My mom is a veterinarian technician, and I've worked at two vet clinics walking dogs and cleaning kennels. We now have two dogs and a cat at home, and I love both dogs and cats. The special thing about dogs, though, is how much they love people. They may be stupid or smart, obedient or ill-behaved, pretty or scraggly, but a dog that's been well cared for almost always loves its master unconditionally. Kandy was excellent at that. On a bad day, there were few things as comforting for me as sitting down next to her and giving her a big hug. She was a good dog.

But now she's gone. I've often complained that the worst thing about living in a dorm is you can't have a dog. But I think the worst thing now is that I won't be able to hug her when I go home for spring break.

A sparrow can't fall without God seeing, so His eye is probably on the great big lumbering Bernese mountain dogs of the world, too.

I sing because I'm happy
I sing because I'm free
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches over me.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Problem with Poetry

I recently got to attend a poetry writing workshop outside of class. It was pretty simple; we read some poetry (Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, Stanley Kunitz, and Wisława Szymborska), discussed a few elements, wrote, and then read aloud and critiqued each other's poetry.

The conclusions I drew from the exercise were this: if I want to write more poetry, I need to read more poetry. Consequently, I pulled my Sonnets of William Shakespeare and a book of Charles Baudelaire off my shelf to be looked at more closely. I've also been recommended quite a list by an extremely literate acquaintance. Second, and less concrete: the problem and beauty of poetry is that it's very subjective.

The poem I wrote for the workshop is short. I don't think it's high literature, but I enjoy it. It's called Hopeful.

The poet seems to live on paths
Places behind, at hand, and places ahead
While everyman simply wanders past
in fear, blind to poetry in "dead."
With hearts in rapture, some sing of heaven
While darker tongues, they mutter of hell.
I walk along with clearing vision
Where I go, my voice will tell.
My heart lingers like the others
But is quickened by the dreamed-of things.
Change my path? You cannot offer
Hopeful's heart the dreamed-of wings.

I got some good feedback. People asked about word choice, fiddled with meaning and viewpoint, and in general it was a very positive experience. There's only one problem: I like it the way it is. Maybe I'm just ignorant of devices and meaning in poetry. I certainly don't know much, but I do enjoy reading it, and I'm very analytical. I was probably one of the most vocal in critiquing, but I tried to be positive and helpful. I hope the other participants were impacted as positively as I was.

But there are many different styles. I like zany, quirky poems with abstract meanings, but I tend to be more impressed with structured poems with a sharper focus. I like dreaminess. I like unusual phrases. I like a great many things, but it's hard to define what makes a great poem for me, and  what I think is great certainly won't sit well with everybody. My abovementioned literate acquaintance doesn't care for T.S. Eliot, but The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock is one of my favorite poems.

Also, poetry is personal. You may be writing for an audience, but I feel like poetry is more reflective of self than many other forms of writing. Hopeful says what I want it to say. Changing it might make it more accessible to others, but it is really for me. This is why criticism can hurt, in writing in general and poetry in particular. It's a piece of one's self that's been nursed and painstakingly built into existence, or else blindly dashed off in a surge of emotion. Either way, unless you're really just looking to make it better by whatever standards the literary gods that be have put forth, I don't think it's meant to be changed for the sake of being someone else's "better."

I analyze literature. I declare some things to be better than others, and some agree with me. Some of what I say may even may be true. But the really personal aspects of literature? I don't think those can rightfully be declared good or bad. And that is my problem with writing poetry. I write it for me, for amusement, for crystallization of thought. Maybe something great will come out of it someday. But the truth remains that where I am -- writing poetry for myself, unattended by an audience to determine what is good and what is bad -- workshops like this will be interesting, but always subjective. I think that's what I like about poetry, actually.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

C.S. Lewis Fangirling

The title of this blog should indicate that I like C.S. Lewis. If you didn't know anything about the Inklings, you might infer that I like C.S. Lewis because I go to Taylor University. (They don't ask you about it on your applications, but that's because they'll make you a fan if you aren't already.) And even if you didn't know that Taylor practically endorses C.S. Lewis as the fourth part of the trinity, you might simply be able to guess that I like C.S. Lewis because I am a Christian. Lewis brought deep theology to everyday life in such clear and beautiful language that even those who disagree with his message bow to his mastery. His works have place in the libraries of religious scholars and everyday Christian readers. C.S. Lewis is a king.

I first read The Screwtape Letters in high school. I was amazed at how deeply convicted I was in every chapter. I recognized something about me and my world in Screwtape's every sentence. It's a small book, but there's enough in there to think about for hours longer than it takes you to read.

Yesterday, I read The Great Divorce. The words were still fresh in my mind as I watched Anthony Lawton perform it on stage -- one man, many characters. No set. Just leaving you to imagine Heaven as C.S. Lewis explained it.

Not that Lewis pretended to be an authority on what Heaven was like. He considered himself very much an ordinary person. He always warned his readers that he did not know how everything looked or was -- but he could change one's way of thinking about Heaven, Hell, or God to a way much less distracted by biases. In The Great Divorce, his point was clear: we can't hold onto the things separating us from God. We can't demand the things we want on earth and expect Heaven, as well.

And then there's Narnia. And his theology books. Ones I haven't read, but am going to read someday. C.S. Lewis is an inspiration to Christian writers. After being under his influence, as it were, these past couple of days, I'm again in an admiring rush.

For Narnia and the North! For philosophy! For applied Christianity!

Thank you, Mr. Lewis.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Thoughts on Worship

Right now, I should be working on a story. I wrote the prologue this January, and now that I have a group for class counting on me, I need to get two more chapters finished. This shouldn't be too hard, but I'm struggling with what I want to happen combined with what works well.

So, to clear my head and get my writing mechanisms working, I want to write about something I've had problems with for a long time: worship.

I've always gone to pretty conservative churches, and as far as church music goes my family takes a conservative stance. Consequently, I have a hard time thinking of what is basically pop music in church as worship. Taylor plays lots of popular Christian music in chapel, and I've come to enjoy it for what it is: a large body of young Christians singing Christian music. Most of the songs I would consider very worshipful. My transition here was difficult, though.

I love to sing, and I'm pretty good at it. However, I'm used to singing in choirs. I'm also analytical and critical, which means that if one of the really off-key people happens to be standing behind me during chapel, I get very irritated and soon find myself in an attitude definitely not conducive to worship. I'm learning to get over this.

Today in chapel we had lots of prospective students, so chapel was all about Taylor Youth Conference this April. They opened with a Relient K song. I bristled.

And I really like Relient K -- but not in church. To me, there is a definite difference between Christian pop music and worship music. If we started singing Jesus Take the Wheel in church, I would leave, nice though it is to belt in the car. I doubt that lots of churches do this, but sometimes I think we're not that far off.

I strongly feel that the church doesn't need to advertise with music. We should not try to get people to like us because our music is just like the stuff everybody listens to. That's not how the church is supposed to be. But if any work can be an act of worship, which is also something I believe, what's the difference?

People doing what they are meant to do is glorifying to God. But does this mean that poorly-written, watered-down rock music is okay for a church setting of worship? Or am I just being a snob because I think "let love explode" is a terrible lyric? (I also really dislike the song How He Loves... poorly thought out word choice for the sake of being "poetic" and too much repetition for me.) Am I biased simply because I love the old hymns?

To use Christianese, it's a stumbling block for some people, me included.

Right now, I'm working at the front desk of my dorm. On the other side of the room, about ten people are gathered, sharing prayer requests and singing. There are two guitars and a variety of voices, some beautiful and some less than so. But they are indeed making a joyful noise. Every week, we sing many different songs. I like some more than others, but when I sing with these people, I do so with a worshipful heart.

It's one of the reasons I love my dorm. I'm thankful God has given me these nights of hall worship to look forward to. I think it's helping me approach corporate worship with a better heart. Will I ever reach conclusive answers? I don't know. But I'm learning much more about it here than I would have back home.

How do you approach worship?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Happy Birthday - Ocarina

In need of a post, I decided to make a (very) quick ocarina vid. My cousin got me this one for Christmas. It's a Songbird pendant ocarina in F, and yes, it's shaped like a strawberry.

Nothing fancy, and the fingerings came with the ocarina itself. It was nice to have some early morning ocarina practice.

I think it's going to be a wonderful birthday.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Letter Writing

I have one longstanding pen pal and a few other people to whom I write letters on a semi-regular basis. Recently, though, I haven't written many. It's easy to let the time-consuming act of handwriting a note, stamping it, and mailing it be overtaken by such shiny things as Twitter and Facebook, not to mention soulless email.

A while ago, Hugo award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal decided to rebel against the sad state of our communication and issued the Month of Letters challenge.  The idea is to send something through the mail every day the post operates. This February, that's 24 days. I'm only three mailed items in, but I'm already enjoying getting back into letter writing. Maybe my recipients don't, though.

 Handwriting issues aside, there's something very comforting about sending and receiving mail. It means that someone took special care to get something to you. It means that you've received something tangible, something you can keep with you. For me, it's a way to put a little more writing in my life -- and in the lives of others as well.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top Ten Interesting Things I've Learned

This is a post I meant to write a long time ago, right when first semester classes let out. Now I'm back at Taylor and very excited about it. Before I start my first full week of class (I had class today, but hey, it's a Tuesday) I want to put up a list of the most interesting things I learned last semester, in class and out. Perhaps you already knew these random facts, or maybe they don't seem so remarkable. In any case, they stuck out to me. In no particular order:

  • Drinking milk or eating dairy products before singing doesn't actually do anything to your voice. This should have been obvious to me because the windpipe and esophagus are two different things. I've been told the milk makes mucus, but I've never really observed that milk has any effect on my singing voice, and one of the music professors told me this. I'm going to believe her so I can have my milk and sing, too.
  • Having lots of time does not necessarily facilitate getting lots of things done. This is a widely-observed phenomenon among people who do NaNoWriMo.
  • Contrariwise, having very little time makes you an extremely productive person. (It works for me, anyway. I need to keep busy if I'm actually going to finish revising my novel!)
  • The Golden rectangle is everywhere, and it’s really fun to hunt for it. (Thank you, math class!)
  • Fibonacci in general – awesome. If you know nothing about Fibonacci numbers, I hope you cover it in class at some point or do some research on your own. Start with Vi Hart's videos, if you like.
  • How to use power saws. This I learned from theatre set building, and I think it will be very useful later in life. Perhaps it would be more useful to be able to handle a drill properly, but I'm still really bad at that.
  • Satan and Lucifer weren't originally proper nouns.They're Hebrew words to which we've attached specific people, in this case the same specific person.
  • How to use databases. This is an important research skill I'm still surprised I didn't learn in high school. Thank goodness for friendly librarians.
  • How to use Photoshop. Part of me thinks this is kind of cheating to put it on this list, but as a person who likes art, I think this is also really useful.
  • "Internet" is a proper noun and should be capitalized. For some reason, this really took me by surprise. Again, perhaps this should have been obvious, but I find it interesting that in our very Internet-oriented society, spelling and punctuation are dropped for lots of day-to-day communication to the point of ignoring the medium we're using. Or maybe it's more that the Internet is such a part of our lives that we take it for granted.
I want a better list next semester, so I need to kick learning into high gear. Perhaps I should start by sleeping for my first ever 8:00 a.m. college class tomorrow.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thoughts on Moving

For many and varied reasons, my family has moved a lot. I remember living in eight different houses, and there were a couple more when I was little. Most of it was for financial reasons, including this upcoming move, but now there is another, more hopeful reason.

We love this house.

Well, actually, we've spent the last couple weeks ripping out old nasty carpet and old nasty plaster and drywall and flooring so we don't have to do it once we move in. It's a big old farmhouse, the kind that is white and square with a porch. We still need to finish the bathroom -- drywall, pipes, tile, the works -- before we can get in. And we want to be in at the end of this week, which is when I go back to Taylor. As in many things this year, I feel unprepared. Unlike some other changes, though, I'm not panicked. Before we're fully moved in, I'll be two states away again, but this new house holds something for me: the promise of a home.

Because we've moved so much, I've adjusted to living in different houses pretty quickly. But home has some different, more comforting connotations. Any house can become home, but I've loved some homes more than others. I lived in Wyoming for two years, and it never really felt like home. However, Taylor University felt like home very quickly. Wyoming for me was not a peaceful environment. Going to college wasn't exactly peaceful, but I settled in right away because there are so many great people and things I love there.

Especially for my mom and me, this house is full of things we love and has potential for even more. It has a two-story screened-in porch -- we just have to replace a lot of windows. It has room for pasture -- we just have to put up the fence. There are all sorts of trees for a rope swing -- we just have to tie it up. It has sturdy old wooden floors -- we just have to refinish them. And I'm already planning what flowers I'm going to plant this summer.

For some of the reasons I gave earlier, I also feel like I've never really had a home church. Maybe houses would have felt more like home if we had one. Maybe one reason Taylor feels like home is that I like my church out there. Our current Iowa church is a good one, but no one from my high school went there, so I didn't make any close friends. But this past weekend, I was overwhelmed by the dedication of this church. About twenty people came to help tear down plaster, clean, and get junk out of the house. For their care for us, I am very grateful. They helped encourage my family. They helped make my home.

I'm eager to go back to Taylor, but I'm also eager to get back home in the summer so I can help my family fix up our dreamhouse. I finally feel like it's the place we're supposed to be. I finally feel like God's bringing us to a permanent home.

And how lovely is it to think that this home is the predecessor of a better one in Heaven?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Being Home

Since January started, I've been home alone for most of the day. I thought this was a perfect time to get things done. Perhaps it is, but I'm having a hard time making it so. I've met my deadlines for working on my story (barely), but I've had a hard time moving forward. I've got the basic structure figured out, and I've written my prologue. And other than that...

Winter has arrived in Iowa, and the cold has slowed me down. I have a paper route, and it's harder to get up to deliver papers in the morning knowing how cold it's going to be. Also, my family is moving soon, to a nearby farmhouse which needs a lot of work. We've started on that, and at times it feels great and at times it's very stressful, like moving in general. That may be part of the reason I'm feeling so unfocused. We're working on the house -- pulling down plaster, cleaning, and yanking up hundreds of staples from wooden floors -- and that feels like it should be a priority.

I think the other reason is that I don't have to discipline myself at all, like at school. At school I have a schedule from which I can't deviate, and it makes me get up on time and be in certain places because other people are counting on me. I can get things done simply because I want to get them done, but it's difficult unless it's something I'm really excited about. Now, lying at home, waiting for family members to get home so we can work on the house, it's hard to get excited about anything.

I think I'll be able to start being productive again at school. I'll be busy, so the time I'll have to work on my story will be the only time I have, so I will work on it. But now, I have lots of time. I'm pulled to do many things -- work on various crafting projects. Draw. Naaaap. Bake. All of these are things I enjoy. But I can't settle to any of them. Or, I could, but I'm not so decided as to know I should be working on any one thing.

I'm not terribly comfortable being so lazy. Maybe I should go bake stuff. That might make me feel better.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Outlining... sort of

After resolving to outline my story, I decided it was time to do some research and reviewing.

I turned to one of my favorite writing resources -- Writing Excuses. It's a fifteen-minute (or eighteen-minute... or twenty-minute) podcast by writers Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler, the guy behind my favorite webcomic, Schlock Mercenary. Each 'cast focuses on some aspect of story writing. I picked out some helpful episodes and got to listening. I also perused Dan Well's blog, because I remembered there had once been something on there about plot structure.

That led me to a really cool series of videos from a presentation he did on the structuring system he uses. So far, this has been my most helpful tool. Now I have beginnings and endings and midpoints and plot turns for the major character's arcs and the biggest plotline of the story. So, basically, an outline.

The reason I dislike outlines is from some unsubstantiated-but-still-strong belief that as a creative person, I don't need an outline. Obviously my thoughts and ideas are much too free and can't be constrained by such a rigid system.

This is stupid because I've never really used an outline before.

And I still don't think I can do a precise outline like other writers do -- chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene organization. Once I get to the point where I can picture it like that, I don't think I'll need an outline anymore. But right now I have a framework on which I hope I can start building my story.

But that's not the same thing as starting.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Writing as Work

I consider myself to be a very hard worker. If I've committed to do something, I will do it, and I will go above and beyond the generally accepted minimum. This is how I get things done at school. I'm working on someone else's time, doing things they expect me to get done. How can I possibly fail them?

But things are a little different if I'm working on my own time. I finished NaNoWriMo, but it wasn't a walk in the park. It was something I wanted to do, but it's easy to put wants aside for needs. Sometimes once all the needs are finished, it's hard to balance the wants.

For me, this is what makes writing hard. I have no limit to willpower if I need to get something done. But when working on my story, there is no one else telling me to finish it -- just me. And at this stage of revision, I'm unsure enough that I don't know when to give myself deadlines, let alone how to make myself meet them.

Another difficult thing is that writing takes time. Sometimes, you need to give it a rest instead of working a piece to death. Sometimes you need to get away from it so you can come back to the story with a fresh mind. And if you leave the story for a few days, it's easy to let those days be a week. Or weeks. Or more.

For fear of this happening again, as it did to my previous NaNovels, I'm proceeding blindly into the revision process. I'm great at revising papers. I can revise short stories. I can analyze someone else's story and clearly point out the good and bad points. Right now I can't do that with my writing, because basically my story's not written yet.

Sure, I have a NaNoWriMo draft. But in the past few years, NaNoWriMo has been a way for me to spew the ideas in my head onto a document. I find basic ways to make them fit together. I touch up a character portrait. And I finish -- something. But not the thing it has potential to be. Taking a rough draft and making it into something great is not yet my area of expertise, but if I'm going to be a real writer, I have to make that weakness one of my strengths. To do this, I think it's time to turn to a tool I've previously hated an feared: the outline. Perhaps if I had one of those going in, I wouldn't have so many problems now.

I love the ideas in my story. I've got a government that's outlawed all technology, a secret underground organization, an immortal beast who was once human, and a nine-year-old-boy trying to find out the truth about his family. The big pieces fit together, but as I'm refining it, I'm having trouble making my character's motivations align with the action I need.

I'm home in Iowa for the rest of January. My parents and siblings are at work and school, so for the majority of the day I'm by myself. I'm going to make this into writing time. I can't let what I have go to waste. For the next day or two, I'm going to be brainstorming and taking notes on how to put together my broken pieces. Then it's time to tame the beast. The deadline I have for my finished outline is January 11th. I have no idea if this is reasonable or not, but it's definitely more reasonable than me spending the entire month of January sleeping in and playing Wii.

Resolving is making me feel better, though it hasn't changed the fact that I don't necessarily know what I'm doing. Feel free to offer advice. It looks like I'm going to need it.