The Writing Bubble

Ah, here we are, at the very end of summer. It sure went by fast. School’s about to start (if it hasn’t already), and it’s almost the season for pumpkin spice and apples and crunchy orange leaves and NaNoWriMo. Perfect time for writing, if  you ask me. It’s very cozy to sit in Starbucks with your laptop and the rain drizzling down the windowpane and the steam from your latte warming your face.

Writing is interesting in that it has bubbles. You know what I mean. Genres, audiences… the like. Lots of people will tell you to stay in your bubble, but those people are only concerned for your public face and not your actual self.

the writing bubble

It’s okay if you want to stay in your bubble. Lots of writers do. They find their niche, settle in, get comfortable, and stay there. Personally, I like my little YA Fantasy bubble, but occasionally I’ll branch out into sci-fi or middle grade fiction or poetry. There’s nothing wrong with bubbles, it’s just that… well, if you stay in them, you’re missing something.

It’s just like music. You can spend your entire life mastering one instrument, but by doing so, you miss everything else. You miss an entire world of skills, songs, and beauty. I’ve spent about ten years of my life taking piano lessons, and it’s taken me that long to realize that there is so much more out there. Music is more than mastering one classical song after another. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of other instruments. And if that’s not enough, there is so much more you can do with music. You can compose a film score. You can be in a band. You can become a YouTube star. You can conduct an orchestra. You can write Broadway musical.

The same goes for writing. You don’t have to stick with your genre, for example, YA Fantasy. You could try writing for middle grade instead. Or branch out even farther and try sci-fi, or historical fiction, or horror or contemporary or thriller or romance.

Or, if you’re especially brave, you could venture outside the fiction bubble. Try nonfiction. Write a memoir, a biography, a cookbook, a Bible study. Or… don’t write a book at all. Write movies. Write plays. Write Studio-C-style sketches.

And if you really want to get outside your bubble, don’t use words at all. Write music to tell a story. Paint a masterpiece. Perform a dance.

See, storytelling is so much more than writing. Every author, every poet, every screenwriter, is telling a story. Every artist, every composer, every dancer, has a story to tell the audience. Creativity is a gift, a means to express yourself, to share pieces of your heart. Use that gift. Even though not everyone tries to tell stories, that’s usually what ends up happening.

Think about it. Traditionally speaking, every book has a theme. Every song has a chorus. Every painting has a focal point.

I’m not saying you should try something outside your bubble. But why not? Don’t let fear hold you back. Don’t tell me you’re not good enough. With experience, you’ll grow. Every storyteller starts out as an amateur.

I’ll close with a quote by J.R.R. Tolkien. I always go back to this quote, and it sums up storytelling pretty much perfectly:

“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

What’s your writing bubble?

Have you ever tried anything different?

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“What Should I Write?”

It’s the age-old question, isn’t it? Even the most seasoned authors ask it. You know you’re itching to write something, anything, but you just don’t know what. Maybe your mind is completely blank. Maybe you have so many ideas, you don’t know how to choose. Whatever the reason, I can guarantee that at some point in your life, you will ask the question:

What should I write?

I found the answer in the most unexpected place.

what should i write

For school, I recently finished reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. (If you’ve never read it, it is SUCH a good book.) One of the protagonists, Skeeter, is an aspiring author, and she’s wondering the same thing we all are. What should I write? An editor from Harper and Row advises her this way:

“Don’t waste your time on obvious things. Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else.”

-Elaine Stein, The Help

I won’t spoil the story, so if you want to know what Skeeter decided to write about, you’ll just have to read it. But today, I have a list of tips to help you figure out what to write. If you’re already in the middle of a writing project, that’s awesome. Go you! But if you’re truly stuck, try some of these tips:

1. Make a list. Make a list of all the things that bother you. Don’t put every little thing on there, though, like “I hate the way my little brother pesters me all the time.” (Although, that would probably make an excellent children’s book!)

2. Cross off the obvious ones. In other words, don’t waste your time. If you’re going to write something, and write it well, you have to be passionate about it. No one could write a 500-page book about the behavior of particles on the subatomic level, unless they were in love with quantum mechanics.

3. Get specific. If “world hunger” is on your list, write about the child who has to work long hours to help his family eat. Write about the single mom with five kids who goes to the soup kitchen every night. Write about the man who gets a nineteen-year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread to help his starving relatives. (Actually, don’t do that one. Victor Hugo already did.) A statistical report on world hunger is great if it’s a school assignment, but if you want to capture the attention of humanity, write in the details.

4. I know, I know, not everyone writes about deep issues like that. But you don’t have to write about something sobering. I once wrote a book that was honestly very fun (and easy) to write. It was part comedy, part adventure, and part fantasy. I had a hilarious time, and yet I was still writing about something that bothered me. Nothing very sobering, just something I’d noticed that impacted me enough to write about.

4 ½. It might happen by accident. In my previously-mentioned book, deep questions of morality arose toward the end, even though I never planned it that way. Stuff like that usually happens to me when I write, though, so it wasn’t really a surprise.

5. Draw from your own emotions. What makes you deeply sad, anxious, or upset? What makes you cry? What makes you cringe in fear? What makes your heart break? What makes you twitch with agitation? Whatever the thing is, write about it.

6. What are the things that no one ever says? I can’t really define this one. But sometimes, it is painfully obvious that people aren’t saying what needs to be said. Other times, it’s no so obvious. Maybe it’s a certain facet of the Gospel that’s often overlooked in fiction. Maybe there are certain rules of writing that drive you crazy because you know they need to be broken. The point is, don’t always write about something obvious; that’s why Elaine Stein added that part about “particularly if it bothers no one else.”

That’s all I have for now. And that’s just one way to look at it. There are so many other ways to figure out what to write!

What’s your best way to decide what to write about?

Have you ever written about something that bothered you?

Using Music as a Writing Tool

Ah, finally. A post about music. I’ve been waiting to do this for a long time. I love music, don’t you? One minute you can be sitting at your desk staring at a blank piece of paper, and the next minute you’re in a completely different world, and with each pulse of the music, the story moves along as if it had a heartbeat of its own.

Music is strange, to be sure. It affects us in ways we can’t often explain. If you think about it, all music really is is just a series of random sounds and tones. If you know the science behind sound waves, you’ll know that music is just a bunch of air molecules bumping into each other, with varied frequencies and amplitudes, interpreted by your brain as sound. And how did we ever figure out how to get these sound waves so precise so as to tell a unique story with every song?

Using Music as a Writing Tool

It blows my mind every time I think about it. Music can speak to us in ways words could never do. Somehow, simple melodies can make us smile or cry uncontrollably, feel nostalgic or uneasy, or even leave us with a sense of mystery. We get chills by listening to that epic masterpiece and compulsively dance along to the rhythmic beat that we can feel in our chest.

The more you think about it, the more you realize how odd music really is. People dance or do gymnastics routines set to music. And the music isn’t there to amplify the beauty of what the person is doing; it’s the other way around. We dance because we feel deeply how beautiful the music is, and we want to express it somehow. There’s a reason movies have soundtrack, and there’s a reason that some stories are completely set to music (ahem, musicals. They’re the best.) It’s because music is a deeper level of storytelling; it captures something that words could never capture.

people-2585962_640There’s a reason we sing songs when we worship God. It’s because something inside of us is captivated by the beauty of God. He is incomprehensible, his beauty beyond human explanation or expression. I think, in a much smaller way, music is similar. We know how beautiful it is because we feel it deep inside, but we can’t explain it.  Besides, God specifically designed music as a form of worship. The Bible says that the angels in heaven sing songs to God.

There’s a reason people like to listen to music when they work out, or when they study. All sorts of scientific and psychological experiments have been done on that, but you don’t have to be a scholar to know that it works. I personally love listening to music when I study, and contrary to popular belief, you can listen to genres besides classical (although, I do love classical music–Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Scarlatti, and Shostakovich, just to name a few!) Most days though, power metal is my favorite, and if you know me, that might come as a surprise. You can thank my dad for that. (Theocracy is my favorite band. You should look them up.)

Music is also a valuable writing tool. Because it is a deeper form of storytelling, I like to listen to it when I write. It usually inspires a phrase or a paragraph, and sometimes entire scenes that I never would have thought of on my own. It makes the writing process seem like magic (most of the time. The writing process is fickle, as you probably know.) Whenever I go back and read stuff I’ve written previously, there’s always a little bit of music there too. Between the lines. I associate certain characters with specific songs, and sometimes listening to a song will bring back emotional memories of entire books.

If listening to music while writing is more distracting than helpful, it can still be a valuable writing tool. You can listen to it before you start writing, to get your brain into writing mode. If you write historical fiction, you can find songs written in that time period. You can even find song artists’ voices that sound like your characters. Unless you just really hate music (which would be sad), I highly encourage you to try using it for writing.

Music gives us something we couldn’t express or understand otherwise. All music tells a story, because every composer, every songwriter, has something to say. Much like authors write books because they have a message for the world, songwriters write music because they want to convey something to their listeners. I’m going to close with a quote by an author whom I love and look up to:

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.”

-Victor Hugo

How have you used music as a writing tool?

What’s your favorite music to listen to?

The Stories of Our Hearts

Once upon a time, there lived an author, who, more than anything, lived his life in dedication to the noble art of storytelling. One day, he began a new project. He was quite used to the routine, for he had begun many stories in his lifetime. But this time it was different. This time, he wanted to write something very special. And not just special – he wanted this story to be the pinnacle of his existence. But try as he might, the words wouldn’t come. He wrote chapter after chapter after chapter, and he threw them all away, because none of them told the story he was trying to tell. Now desperate, the author set out on a journey across the world, thinking that surely somewhere he’d find his story. Surely something in his travels would strike him. But no matter where he looked, his story was nowhere to be found. Giving up, he returned home and decided to try one last time to write. And to his great surprise, he found that his story had been inside him all along, in the one place he hadn’t searched: his heart.

Cheesy story? Maybe. Don’t judge; I wrote it in the car, cramped in the backseat with my earbuds not quite blocking out the radio, the sun glaring in my eyes, and the rest of my family trying to carry on a conversation over the noise of the unusually loud freeway. Such is the life of a writer. I love it.

The little story above is very much based on my own experiences. I have learned that usually, stories are already inside you, just waiting to come out. If I ever find myself trying too hard to write, I know I’m not listening to my heart. Not that writers don’t struggle – they do; it’s part of the job description, and it sometimes takes a lot of tries to get the story just right. But sometimes, I find that I’ve embarked on a metaphorical journey to try to “find” my story. I always return tired and ready to give up, but all along, I had the whole story within me already.

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But this isn’t the case all of the time. Sometimes, the story isn’t already in your heart. Sometimes, you do have to search for it. Last month, my family and I went on vacation, and usually I like to use vacations to try to get inspiration for writing. Usually I don’t find any. At the time, the story I was trying to write wasn’t exactly working out. So I set out on my vacation with a goal in mind: to find my story. I honestly didn’t think it would work, but I knew if I got that “searching” out of my system, I’d be all set to continue working on the story when I got back. Right?

Nope. Honestly, does writing ever work the way you want it to?

But something happened to me that week. I set out to find my story, and I found it. It wasn’t in my heart, like it usually is, and that’s why it wasn’t working in the first place. I was trying to write something that I wasn’t really passionate about. (This has happened to me more times than not, actually.) But something happened. I found my story in something outside of myself. That hasn’t happened to me in a long time, or ever, really.

I think God sometimes lets writers experience that for a reason. Maybe it’s not just writers; maybe it’s everyone. But in my case, I’ve always been able to tell – and quickly – if a story is going to work out or not. If you’re a writer, you’re probably very familiar with the promise of a new story idea, and the slight disappointment you face when you sit down to write and it doesn’t turn into anything. But you get over it quickly, because you have a thousand other ideas to turn to. Usually, if I can get several chapters into a story, I know there’s a 99.99% chance I’ll finish it.

But God has been doing something lately. (Isn’t He always?) For some reason, He really wanted me to write this story, because He kept bringing me back to it. I couldn’t get it out of my head, even when nothing was working. And, slowly but surely, He has been showing me something that’s bigger than myself. Usually my stories just come from my brain, and it’s all a bunch of fantasy-science-fiction-adventure type stuff. But this? For the first time in my life, I am writing something that doesn’t come entirely from my own heart.

I don’t know how to end this, because I honestly don’t know how it ends. I am still working on this story, this story that God put on my heart. I don’t know how it will turn out. But I can say this: Write stories from your heart. Don’t waste your time writing empty, meaningless stories. If you ask Him, God will show you the story He wants you to write.

If you’re a writer, is there a certain story you feel like you just HAVE to tell?

If you’re comfortable with it, tell me about a time God put something on your heart – it doesn’t have to be a story!

 

How (not) to Be the Next C.S. Lewis

Hi everyone! Today, you get the privilege of listening to some of my totally random thoughts. My brain is fried, and this is the only blog topic that came to mind: other authors as role models.

When I first started taking writing seriously, I wanted to be the next Ted Dekker. That was probably because I was completely obsessed with his books back then, and he was the only author I read for an entire year and a half. I wanted to write those edge-of-your-seat-the-entire-way-through books. Books that were a picture of the Gospel.

And then I read Harry Potter. My vision changed. Now I was determined to be the next J.K. Rowling. What writer doesn’t want that? What writer doesn’t want to rock the world with a single book that ends up being pretty much the #1 bestselling series on the planet? And here we are, twenty years later, and she still has a huge following. That sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

And then I decided I could do better than that. I adjusted my vision a bit, and decided that I wanted to be the next Tolkien instead. I wanted to be the founder of a completely new genre (Tolkien is often considered the father of modern fantasy). I wanted to write books so memorable, that people would still be reading them eighty years from now. (Yes, The Hobbit was published eighty years ago.)

Then I changed my mind again. After reading The Screwtape Letters, I decided that I would be the next C.S. Lewis. I would write fiction so real that it’s almost inseparable from reality. I would write about the Christian faith within a fictional work.

the next cs lewis

Most professionals will tell you not to try to “be the next [insert your favorite author here].” I have come to agree with them, for two main reasons. First, favorite authors change (as you can see from my list). And second, the best authors were themselves. The best authors weren’t trying to live up to the standards set by other authors. The best authors were defying the norms, sometimes going directly against current trends.

But if you asked me who my four absolute favorite authors were, I’d tell you the four listed above. Trying to imitate them has given me a deep liking for their books. Theirs are the books I will always go back to, no matter how old I get. And even though I no longer want to be any of them, my writing is still very much influenced by them. For example:

All of those authors taught me to love fantasy, and now it’s the main thing I write. Beyond that, there is one thing all these authors have in common, and that is their stories are pictures of the Gospel. I will always write stories like that. I can’t not weave the Gospel into my fiction. It’s like an instinct; I couldn’t get away from it even if I tried.

Ted Dekker taught me that *SPOILER ALERT* the author is actually allowed to kill the main character. *END OF SPOILER* My overall writing style is also a bit like Ted Dekker’s (at least I think so. If you think differently, let me know. 🙂 )

Like J.K. Rowling, my books feature super evil villains, complex plots, and shocking endings. I’ve also started sorting all my characters into Hogwarts houses. It really helps early character development!

And like Tolkien, I write epic fantasy with quests that span the entire world and WAAAAAAY too many characters.

And finally, like C.S. Lewis, I have recently started writing stories that leak into reality a bit too much for my comfort – intentionally. (If you haven’t, you should read The Screwtape Letters. It scared me.)

As you can see, the authors we love do shape our writing. And why wouldn’t it? If you like to read a certain type of book, you’d probably write similar books, right? If you’re a writer, I highly encourage you to study your favorite authors. Study their books. Stalk them on Facebook. Find other people who love their books as much as you do, and talk about them. (Unless the author in question is Ted Dekker. He has no fandom, which makes me sad, but if you’re looking for a fellow fan, you can talk to me. It gets lonely over here with a big empty green lake all to myself and no one to dive in with me. And you’ll only understand that last sentence if you’ve read his books.)

So yes, learn from your favorite authors. But don’t try to BE them. It won’t get you anywhere, because you will never be able to. You will only get discouraged, because every writer has their own unique set of gifts. You can learn new skills and implement them into your own writing, but you will never actually be that author. And that’s the important thing to remember.

Who is your favorite author?

Which authors do you look up to as role models?

Worth It

You sit down at your desk every day, diving deep into your mind, scavenging for a few rusty words to pen down. It wears your brain down, and you sigh in frustration as you look at the few measly pages that took you all of two months to compile. You look again at the story in your mind and realize that it isn’t much more than that. Is it even worth it? Aren’t there a billion other people who could do the exact same thing as you are trying to do?

No. No, there are not. Because no one else views the world through the same set of eyes.

Let me tell you right now, that if you have ever asked yourself those questions, you are not alone. I think I ask them myself every day. Some days, writing is awesome. Some days, I clock in around 6,000 words and am completely ecstatic with the way the story’s going. And some days, it feels like I’m writing with my own blood and I’m deleting every fifth word. I want to scream at my computer and throw my notebook out the window so the wind can carry the pages to someone more capable than I.

But there is no one else that can write the story for you. This world has 7.6 billion people, and only one of them is capable of writing that particular story. Only one. And that person is you.

worth it

Let me phrase it this way. You know the Harry Potter theme? Yeah, that song that, when it starts playing, instantly makes you stop whatever you’re doing and get choked up with emotion? No? Maybe that’s just me. But there is something quite magical about the music in Harry Potter. Whenever the theme song plays, it makes you think of the story and the characters and the magic.

Now let me ask you something. What if the director had gotten Hans Zimmer to write the soundtrack? It’d be amazing, no doubt, because Hans Zimmer is insanely talented (think Pirates of the Caribbean). But it would be much, much different, because only John Williams could have written that magical tune that we all know.

Now what if Tolkien decided to give all his notes about The Lord of the Rings to a trusted friend? What if he taught him all the lore of Middle-earth and told him the detailed histories of the hundreds of characters? What if he gave his friend all the maps, alphabets, even rough drafts of chapters? I think we still would have ended up with a very different book, don’t you, precious?

God gave you the gift of writing for a reason. He’s going to use it someday. Even if just one person in the entire world needs to hear your story, it will be worth it. And you’re the only person who can write it. Don’t give up. Try again, yes, restart, rewrite, scream and throw your notebook at the wall if you have to, but don’t give up.

I used to give up after a couple of tries at the same story. Right now, I am starting–for the third time this month–a new story. Seventh time if you count what I tried to do two years ago. It’s getting old. I’m tired of this endless cycle of not being able to find that sweet spot where the story resides. But God gave me a talent and a desire to write, and if only one person in the world reads this story, that will be fine by me. If I am able to express God’s beauty and love through this story, then it will be worth it.

So go on, dear writer. It’s worth it.

Do you often find yourself discouraged and wanting to give up?

What’s your motivation for when writing gets tough?

Write Like a Scientist

Hi everyone! Today I’m writing (mostly) about science fiction – probably my second favorite genre. Roughly half of the stories I write are science fiction, and the ones that aren’t usually contain allusions to it. I’m sure all science fiction authors write differently, but there is one thing they have in common: they all think like scientists.

Actually, all writers do this. But for the purpose of this analogy, I want to talk about science fiction first. How do you think Einstein came up with the theory of relativity? How do you think Newton discovered the laws of gravity? How do you think Copernicus theorized that the earth revolved around the sun?

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They all asked questions. Questions nobody had thought to ask yet. And they set out to answer them. That’s what we, as writers, should strive to do. Ask questions that nobody has ever asked, questions that people don’t even think to ask. And then answer them. For example, have you ever wondered why there are twelve numbers on the clock? Yeah, me neither. Not until I started writing. I currently have three books to answer the question, and I plan on writing even more. I can’t tell you anything else about it, because SPOILERS.

Back to science fiction. To write good science fiction, you must first think like a scientist and then quickly leave your scientist persona behind, unless you want realistic science fiction, in which case you should consider being an actual scientist. Consider the famous hyperdrive of the Star Wars universe. What is a hyperdrive? We know basically two things about it: It allows you to travel at light speed, and it malfunctions pretty much every time someone tries to use it. Obviously, I don’t know how George Lucas invented it, but I’m willing to bet he asked a question. Maybe the question was something along the lines of, “What if you could travel at the speed of light? What could enable someone to do that?”

If you write any sort of speculative fiction, you basically get to rewrite the rules of the universe. Many times this involves traveling at impossibly high speeds, time traveling (my favorite), or parallel worlds. But in order to do it well, you have to write like a scientist. Ask yourself lots and lots of questions. Instead of performing experiments to answer them, you must write a book. When I was thirteen, I invented another element for the periodic table. I had lots of questions but knew nothing about it, so I eavesdropped on some chemists in the story I was writing, and I overheard everything they said about it. Then later, I (stupidly) decided to play with said element, and I discovered to my horror that if you touch it, it instantly sends you to another dimension. (Don’t worry, I kept writing like a scientist and eventually figured out a way to get back.)

Now I know that some writers don’t like figuring things out as they go. Some writers like to know everything before they even write page one. I say, good for you, because knowing too much will stump my creativity. But if you’re a planner, you still need to write like a scientist. The only difference is that you answer all or most of your questions before the story’s written.

Writing like a scientist isn’t just for science fiction writers, obviously. If you’re a writer at all, you have to ask questions. It doesn’t matter what you write… you could be writing Harry Potter fanfiction set in ancient Greece with vampires for all I care, but you would still ask questions and seek answers (for example, why on earth are vampires roaming ancient Greece?)

If I’ve learned anything about scientists, it’s that 1) they’re constantly asking questions, 2) they do repetitive experiments to test their hypotheses, 3) they are insanely passionate and knowledgeable in their area of expertise, and 4) they’re often slightly crazy. As writers, we are exactly the same. We are constantly asking questions about our stories. And it’s a sad truth that writing requires repetitive experimentation until we get it exactly right. And I haven’t yet met a writer who isn’t passionate about it and who isn’t knowledgeable when it comes to their favorite genres. And, let’s face it, we’re insane.

So basically, write like a scientist. Ask questions. Seek answers. Observe. Take your time travel pod back in time to see what the Middle Ages were like. Or, better yet, create a time paradox just to see what happens.

What’s your favorite sci-fi story?

Are you a scientist when it comes to writing? (If you’re an actual scientist that would be awesome too.)

The Universal Truth

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

No, not that kind of universal truth. I’m pretty sure the above statement isn’t even true. Mrs. Bennett thought it was, but most of what she says is nonsense anyway, so we shouldn’t use her words as life advice. Today I’m here to talk about a different kind of universal truth. I apologize in advance if I ramble a bit, or if I use the same word four times in the same sentence. NaNoWriMo just started, and my thoughts are everywhere right now.

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I first learned about the Universal Truth from a wonderful lady named Kay Strom. (Her books are excellent, by the way.) According to her, a Universal Truth is like a theme, but it is way more specific. Stories, as you probably know, usually have a theme, that is, a recurring topic the book keeps touching on. It answers the question “What is this book about?”

Universal Truths are usually specific statements or messages about the theme. For example, let’s choose a common theme and look at how it’s presented in different books. I’m going to choose the theme of redemption, because that’s my favorite one. Right off the top of my head, two series (what is the plural of “series?”) with this theme are: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, and The Mission League by Jill Williamson. (I have not finished The Mission League series yet, so NO SPOILERS PLEASE!) Literary critics could analyze these two series and find a plethora of different themes present, but redemption is definitely present in both, so that’s the one I am going to use.

In Harry Potter, a recurring message we see over and over again is this: “Redemption usually requires a selfless act of love.” You know, when Lily did that thing to save Harry, and then later Harry did that thing to save other people. We also get a beautiful contrast between Harry and Voldemort – so similar, yet so different.

In The Mission League (or at least in the first book), we see a totally different statement: “God will keep pursuing you, no matter how long you try to run from him.” Like, throughout the entire first book, Spencer wanted nothing to do with God, but God kept showing up everywhere around him, and eventually Spencer couldn’t ignore it anymore. We also get an interesting contrast here with the villain, but I’m not gonna spoil it for anybody. Plus, who knows how it turns out in the rest of the series.

Both of these series have the same theme, but what they’re saying about them is different. And that is what makes a Universal Truth, my friend.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what Universal Truth I’m presenting in my story. It was hard at first, because I’m a pantser who doesn’t know squat about the story before I start writing it. As it turned out, I couldn’t pin down my Universal Truth until I had experienced its trueness firsthand. Oh, it was definitely present in the story – I just couldn’t see it yet.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

-1 John 4:18a

That’s it. A simple statement, not even a full verse. It’s a Bible verse that I’ve known since childhood. Of course I’ve always believed it’s true. But up until recently, I hadn’t actually seen it applied to a real-life situation.

The thing about Universal Truths, to me at least, is that a story wouldn’t be worth anything without one. In the tens of thousands of words that make up my book-in-progress, 146 of them make up a paragraph towards the end. And this one paragraph is where the Universal Truth is revealed. Without this one paragraph, none of the other words matter. Without the Universal Truth, the story is nothing, the characters struggled in vain, and I wasted an entire year of my life writing an empty story.

Even though all stories have a climax, where the tension has never been so high, and everything finally comes together, the Universal Truth is like a climax of its own. Even if it’s woven all throughout the story, there is always a place where the reader stops and says, “Oh. This is what I’ve been reading about. This is what the author wanted to say to me.”

Kay Strom says that Universal Truths should always point to God. They should go beyond the story itself as they transfer the author’s passion to the reader. And really, isn’t that the reason authors write at all? Because they are passionate about something, and they want the world to see it too?

Is there a Universal Truth in your story? How is NaNoWriMo going (if you’re doing it)?

The Reason I Write

I know, I know, I’ve already written about this a billion times, but I’m writing this really late at night (early in the morning?) and I was for some reason awake pondering my life, when I realized I should dedicate an entire post to this subject. Plus, I don’t have anything else to write about at the moment, so why not this?

I’ve already told you the reason I write, and that reason is God. Let me go into greater detail:

I have a story I’m writing (trying to write) right now. You can read my post about the story here. Well, it isn’t going anywhere. I am stuck. I guess you could call it writer’s block, although that’s not all it is. I’m not motivated. I don’t know how to write what I want to write. I desperately want to finish this story, and I want to finish it well, but I just don’t know how. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. Sometimes I don’t even know why I’m doing it in the first place.

Sometimes I wonder why I want so badly to finish this story. What is it about this story that I have to finish? Why was I so passionate about it when I first began? Why should I want to finish it now?

adult-1869621_640I’ve written for a lot of reasons over the years. I wrote a lot of stories for other people. I gave them as gifts, because I liked creating things and then giving them away to make other people smile. As I grew older, and I started writing more often, I discovered something that changed the way I viewed my writing. I wanted to write deeper stories, stories with more meaning. I no longer wanted to write for mere entertainment; I wanted to write about Truth. I no longer wanted people to enjoy my stories as gifts to them; I wanted their lives to be changed as they saw some deeper meaning in my fictional stories.

I started writing about the Gospel.

And that is still why I am writing today. Sometimes I get off track and start writing for a different reason. It is then when I lose my passion and sometimes my desire to write at all. And as I search for the why, for the reason behind my story, God ALWAYS brings me back to the Gospel. When I see it laid out before me like that, it could not be simpler. The Gospel is, and always will be, the reason I write. Its Truth is so compelling that I must write about it. I have to write stories about the Gospel. I can’t explain it, except that I know that God is real and that he loves me. He is Truth, and I must write about Him.

What is the reason you write? (and writing is not limited to fiction.) Also – are you going to participate in Camp NaNo this July?

The Aftermath of NaNoWriMo

Okay, so like… weird title for the beginning of May? Actually not really. If you’re familiar at all with NaNoWriMo, you probably at least know about the one in April too. As if writers aren’t already weird enough to try to write a novel in a month once a year. No, we have to do it several times. Camp NaNo is a lot more laid back and a lot less intense – which probably explains why I failed this one. *sigh*

Oh well. Nevertheless, I wrote about 10,000 words last month, so I am happy about it. I also need to start blogging more often… I’m almost done with school, so hopefully by then I’ll be able to.

Anyway, I decided it was time to write a blog post again. I know, I know, I promised another Monthly Theme, but that would have taken a lot more brainpower, which is something I don’t have right now. (Chemistry tests really use a lot of brainpower, what with the transfer of energy to your brain cells, you know, and literally figuring out how energy is transferred in chemical reactions which takes a lot of brain cells which use a lot of energy and somehow this process is consistent with the second law of thermodynamics.)

desk-2158142_640

I wish this is what editing was like.

ANYWAY – I decided to write a post about NaNoWriMo and editing. That’s the only writing-related thing I’ve been able to think about lately. My goal last month was to finish my second draft. As it turned out, that was a MUCH bigger task than I originally thought. There was just so much that needed to be done to the manuscript, not to mention I somehow needed to add to the word count because it was too short (in my opinion, anyway). So I did a lot of worldbuilding and plot brainstorming. I’ve also gotten back into the habit of writing every day. That part is especially nice. I’ve missed it so much.

I feel like I should give you some sort of advice about editing here, but unfortunately, I don’t really know much about it. I’ve read a lot of articles that talk about it, so if there is one piece of advice I can give you, it’s this: don’t try to follow all the rules. It will only make it harder. Editing seems to be all about rules: grammar rules, puncuation rules, plot rules, dialogue rules, character rules, worldbuilding rules… and while some rules are good (like grammar), there are others that can be broken.

When you write your first draft, what are you doing? If you’re anything like me, you’re just trying to get the words down. Get the story out of your head and onto paper. (I wasn’t always like this, actually. I used to be a perfectionist and so my first drafts used to take FOREVER.) First drafts aren’t mean to be publishable. So, as a result, you usually end up ignoring most, if not all, of the rules.

I know I did. I have this weird quirk (and apparently it’s fairly common) where I have to write the first scene first. It sounds obvious, but I can’t write any other way. The first thing I EVER write has to be the first scene. Always. No exceptions. Anyway, because of that, my characters are all inconsistent. In the first few chapters, they are different than they are in the rest of the book, because I was still getting to know them.

My plot barely existed at all after the first draft. It too was full of logical inconsistencies (for example, one of my characters had lost something, but in the very next scene they had it again). The plot didn’t flow. My fantasy world also needed some work.

All of this serves two purposes: 1) I like writing about the writing process, and 2) I wanted to show you that first drafts almost never follow the rules.

My point is this: Editing is when you go back over your story and pay attention to the rules. I don’t know why, and I don’t know if this is a common problem or not, so hopefully you can relate to me, but for some reason writing rules always… unmotivate me. That’s not even a word. It’s like it blocks my creativity, somehow. I believe I figured out why – it’s because I am now writing for someone else. I am trying to make my book publishable, and so naturally I am no longer writing solely for my own enjoyment.

The moral: Don’t try to follow all the rules. Rules are good and they serve as guidelines (as long as we talk about writing rules), but if you try to follow all of them, you will get nowhere. I’ve read different articles about editing that completely contradicted each other.

beethoven-76652_640Writing subsequent drafts should be just as exciting as writing the first draft. You shouldn’t be writing just to please someone else and their rules they made up; you should be writing because your story is begging to be written.

I like to think of writing as this picture right here. It’s a music manuscript, but it isn’t complete yet. The composer has his primary notes down; he’s said what he has to say; the rest is just filling in the middle. Complementing the notes he’s already set forth. Writing a book is exactly like writing a symphony.

Did you do Camp NaNoWriMo this April?  Are you currently editing something?