"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘Writing Process’ Category

In the Belly of the Whale (or Big Fish-depending on how literal you are)

Mug

When 2016 was just around the corner, I made a list of things I wanted to do in the new year. Not resolutions really, more like goals.  Like every year in recent years, I wanted to bring in more organization to our home and purge clutter, be healthier and train for another half marathon.  Oh yeah, and get a solid direction for this little blog.

Over a quarter of the way through the year, I’ve been organizing my office, training for the GO! Half Marathon, which I ran this past Sunday with my daughter, Erin, and trying to make healthier choices for meals (well, sorta).  What I’ve been avoiding like the plague is the direction of my blog.  You may have noticed this little hiatus as I noodled for a bit what it was I was going for in my posts.

Who was I writing for? How much family/personal info is too much? How often should I post? What’s my goal in this? Do I really have the talent/energy to actually work on it?

If you’ve ever blogged, I’m sure you can relate.  When I’ve read articles and books on blogging (probably my first mistake), generally they are geared towards people who want to earn money from a blog or have some area of expertise they’d like to share. Not really my audience.

I started looking at what type of person would be interested in my blog—this goofy, Midwest Mom’s take on people and events in my life—and got stuck.  And then self-doubt crept in.  As the weeks passed and I did nothing with the blog, I told myself I was only trying to gain perspective on where to go next, and these things take time. I continued reading other blogs that I feel are similar to mine and tried to define what it was about those posts that I enjoyed so much.  Like a flowery romance novel with unrequited longing that I devour, it’s the relatable -people thing that pulls me in.  I love reading other people’s life experiences and thinking, “Hey, that’s me!” Or “That was a brave thought to put out there.” Funny, because if you read about why I started my blog it’s one of my main points.

Still, I felt I needed to be more purposeful about what I was blogging about.  I posted nothing—I wrote them, but I never put them, or myself, out there.  I trashed them and I couldn’t finish them.  The Lighthearted Dragonfly seemed like a pointless, silly endeavor.

Shelving something that was at one time something that brought me tremendous joy and fueling of hope wasn’t easy.  I prayed about it, asked God what it was He wanted me to do. It went a little like this:

“Inspire others,” He whispered.  “In doing so, even if you don’t mention my name directly, you will glorify me.”

“I’m not good at that,” I told Him.  “People will think I’m pious and stereotype me as a squeaky clean Christian.”

At this point I picture God just shaking his head.  “So what?”

“Well, I won’t get followers and I won’t get to write posts about hilarious and dirty misunderstood lyrics.”  (I think God would roll his eyes here, because He knows how I much I love to laugh over mistaken lyrics.)

“Uh huh.”  I thought about it some more and why it would never work.  I hid away from the computer, and writing in general.  I applied for full time positions where I work part time now and didn’t get any offers.  I busied myself with marathon binging on “Criminal Minds” and ghost/paranormal shows.  I played lots of games on my phone during the time I used to work on the blog.  The couch became my ship sailing away from the very thing I felt I was led to do.

And despite the fact I thought I was getting away without doing the blog or any writing, I got a touch depressed.  It wasn’t a real fish belly I was in, but it was similar.  It was a prison of unproductive, wasted time, feeling purposeless and just standing by waiting for life to roll on by.  When someone would ask me about my blog, or writing in general, I felt embarrassed for having failed at it.  I would see pictures of dragonflies in odd places.  And this verse came up in my life, all over the place, again and again.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

I started thinking about Jonah (ironically, that story came up a few times, too.)  In no uncertain terms God had told him exactly what He wanted him to do.  If you remember the story, Jonah didn’t really feel up to the task, and tried to get away on a boat to hide from God.  It took ending up in the belly of a whale to get him to wake up and follow directions.  Was that what I was doing? Running from God’s plan for me?  I didn’t want to end up that way!

I started writing posts, again only half finishing them and never posting them, but with the idea that I needed to do this.  I’m not saying I’m in the same league as Jonah by any stretch, but in the smaller manuscript, God’s Plan for Amy—you may have heard of it—I think there may be a chapter about a little dragonfly blog.

So I’m getting off the couch and back up on that horse (yes, I really do like clichés in my imagery!)  I won’t pretend to know the big picture, but I hope that you will follow me and check out the blog now and then.  If you were a follower before, thank you for your patience; I’m still here!

I couldn’t end this post without giving a shout out to some of my fellow bloggers that have inspired me to do this thing again.   Almost all of them I’ve never met, I’ve just read their blogs and enjoy what they have to say.  A big thank you to them for showing me that writing about things you love—from life from the perspective of a young person finding her way, wonderful stories of families and genealogy, to the single dad going to seminary after serving as a Captain in the Air Force sharing his opinions and struggles.  Each one of them have made me want to continue doing something that can, at times, seem like a fruitless pursuit.  Please keep on writing!

Bloomin’ Flower           Moore Genealogy

The Baby Perks               Tali Norfalli

Captain’s Log               Rookie Notes

StoryShucker

(You may need to hold the CTRL key to get the links to open!)

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My Story Isn’t Finished Yet

This past Sunday, when I walked into church, I thought to myself, this is my church. To most people, that probably sounds weird, but it’s a bit of a significant step for me. Even more significant was, that after the service, I felt that way even more. I wrote a post a while back about how our family started going to a new church after a lifetime of attending at what I believe I’ll always feel is my “home” church. It’s hard to go from attending church where you know practically everyone in your church family, even if not necessarily by name, to going to where you only know just a handful of people. But I’m trying to learn names and reach out to other people there. And I want to get involved in some of the groups they have. I’m finding it’s not as easy as when we had small children to get us involved.

In any event, Sunrise, the new church we’ve been going to, is more contemporary than the church I grew up in. While that’s been an adjustment, it’s also been good to experience new ways of doing things. (Don’t laugh, but since the words are projected on a screen in front, and I’m so used to holding a hymnal book, I don’t know what to do with my hands when we sing!   I end up tapping the chair ahead of me. I know, I know—it’s the little things.) At Sunrise, messages are organized into themed-series. We just started a series at the beginning of the year called, I Am Second. Each week during the message there are testimonials from people—some more famous than others—that tell how they came to the decision to make God first in their lives. You can see several of them online at www.IAmSecond.com.

I love hearing people tell their faith stories. Mostly because I never thought I had one. Last week, there was a video of a Christian radio personality named Brant Hansen. I had not heard of him before, but he talked about how the challenges in his life have always been a way for God to work through his weaknesses. The pastor tied this into how we view ourselves and how this self-perception is a reflection of how we think the world sees us. He then related it to Psalm 139. This is the Psalm where David acknowledges God’s intimate knowledge of him and how he was a creation—a perfect creation—of God. We were encouraged to take a look at our lives and see what it is that we haven’t done based on our own self-perceived (human) limitations. Very thought provoking.

My faith journey has never been a straight path. It has a lot of backtracking and zig zags. I try to live a life that God would approve of, but I don’t necessarily wear my faith on my sleeve. I am far from perfect. In short, I still have a long way to go!

I grew up going to church almost every Sunday. I can’t remember not having God in my life. I do remember when I was about eight years old I went to something at a church with my friend where they had an altar call. I went down because I thought it was cool. I already know Jesus, I remember thinking. I didn’t go to church there, and I figured since they didn’t know me, if I didn’t go down there they’d think I was a heathen. I said a prayer they told me to say and felt that I was golden with a guaranteed ticket to heaven. Looking back, I can definitely relate to something Brant Hansen said in his video. He said that he decided (as a kid) to believe in Jesus because he didn’t want to go to Hell, but didn’t really have a relationship with Him. Uh, yeah.

I’m used to hearing people tell tremendous faith stories of transformation, usually after adversity. They tend to have one defining moment where they reached out to Jesus and at that point never looked back. I think I never had “a” faith story because I compared my life to others. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that instead I have chapters, because my story isn’t finished yet. Along the way, I’ve lived out several faith stories. I have to recommit to Christ daily—to remind myself to whom I belong. And while I’ve not had a single, “lightbulb moment” in my faith, this daily watering of a single seed has grown some seriously deep roots.

I want to share with you one tiny faith story from my personal faith version of “Canterbury Tales”: I procrastinated writing this post because I kept tossing around the idea of a person’s faith story. I wanted to tie in self-doubt and identity struggles, because they are a featured player in so many of my life’s chapters. I’d start and not finish. I’d delete and go in a different direction.   The post almost ended up in the “yeah, it was a great idea, but now what do I do with it?” pile. I know God is up there laughing because the longer I cast it aside, the more He got in my face about writing it. Songs on the radio. Conversations with co-workers. Even Facebook posts from friends. Every whispered, “Write it!” gathered together into a loud, collective shout. Today, it was song lyrics from Casting Crowns’ song, “The Voice of Truth” that became the catalyst for putting thoughts on paper:

But the waves are calling out my name
And they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times
I’ve tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again. “Boy, you’ll never win!”
“You’ll never win!”

Chorus:
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”
The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

If I didn’t at least try to write this post, I was letting those waves win. And ignoring the voice of truth—which definitely doesn’t make for a good faith story. So I looked up those lyrics, and I even saw a You Tube video where I learned the story behind this song. I closed my eyes and opened up my heart, and the words came.

Profound? Maybe a little. Life-changing? Not exactly, but one more brick in the wall of my faith. And another chapter to My Story, unfinished as it is.

Happy NaNoWriMo!

 

Another first for me this year is participating in NaNoWriMo. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s short for National Novel Writing Month, where writers commit to writing 50,000 words during the month of November in an attempt to have a rough draft by month’s end. On the website, www.nanowrimo.org, participants create a log-in where they can share some info about themselves and their novel (there’s even a place for a novel cover art). More importantly, it’s where aspiring novelists can log their word count for each day and get motivation from authors like Veronica Roth, who wrote the Divergent series.

For me, NaNoWriMo serves as the kick in the seat I need to actually sit down and put my ideas in some sort of coherent document. I am always on the lookout for inspiration.

The funny thing is, I read a book about NaNoWriMo a few years ago and was fascinated with the whole approach simply because it made writing a novel seem actually doable. Apparently that’s a problem for some critics of the concept, who complain it is just a bunch of amateurs cranking out crap. I agree that is true if all that a writer is concerned with is word count, but I think the idea behind it is more important than just putting some number in a website. For us aspiring writers, who like to tinker with words, but haven’t set a definite goal, NaNoWriMo can be what it takes to get our ideas written out in some fashion. Most of us realize that a great, polished piece takes much more time than a month to work out from beginning to end. And those who don’t know that, who think writing is easy peasy, well, they learn pretty quickly that it does take effort, thought and time.

At the end of November, I hope to have a lot of words written in my story, Adelaide. The idea of it has bounced around in my head for a time now, but I didn’t really have motivation to put it down on paper, let alone turn it into a novel. I’d love it if I could actually make it 50,000 words! But I am also realistic enough to believe that even if my word count reflects a “win”, it doesn’t mean I’m going to have a piece ready for submission on December 1. What I’ll have, though, is many hours practicing the craft of writing and disciplining myself to devote time to “butt in chair”. Time that I may have spent in October vegging in front of the TV, I’ll be spending in front of the computer instead this November.

The other cool thing about NaNoWriMo is, similar to what happens in the blogging community, a bunch of people rally together to support one another. Who can find fault in that? Writing can get kind of lonely, so for extroverts like me, having a group of people to reach out to makes the solitary act of writing a teeny bit more social. In fact, I can thank two of the girls on our robotics team for getting me to participate in NaNoWriMo this time around. Olivia, who also loves writing and words, asked me if I was doing it and asked me if I was going to participate. At that point I had been on the fence with the idea, but her enthusiasm was contagious. It was fun talking to her and her sister, Cecilia, last night about our word counts and what we’re doing to get rolling with our stories. Later, when we were driving home Erin asked me if she could try to write something for NaNoWriMo. Of course I said yes, because who knows if this first taste of writing gives her the writing bug. Anything that can inspire young people to try something new with their writing is definitely a positive.

If the website traffic from over the weekend is any indication, NaNoWriMo at least still knows how to generate a buzz. The website gave me an error or two and was a little slow; I’m sure it was due to people setting up their accounts and checking out the great resources. A week into this month of intense writing, I’m guessing it may die down a bit as the newness wears off—like how people are when they first start a diet or exercise program. The first days are exciting and full of promise, but when the hard work part kicks in, it’s awfully easy to get discouraged. Yes, I do include myself in that category!

So three cheers for NaNoWriMo! One cheer for being a motivating tool, another for giving writers a sense of community and a third for promoting writing to our youth. If any Dragonfly readers are participating, I’d love to hear how your story is progressing. Message me on their site. My user name is Lighthearteddragonfly.

Happy Writing!

What’s Your Writing Process?

Story ideas are like seeds. There are plenty of them, but they take careful tending to grow into anything worthwhile.”   Sexton Burke, The Writer’s Adventure

 

I found this quote in a book my husband bought me for my birthday, and it’s been yammering in my head all week. It describes one of my biggest weaknesses in my writing. I have tons of ideas to write stories about, but I get pulled in so many directions—outside of my writing life as well as scattered writing projects—that I always am juggling them instead of focusing on one. While it’s one of the reasons I love to blog, it’s also why you can find me staring at my computer screen wondering what the heck I was thinking when I started a story idea.

My blog, The Lighthearted Dragonfly, is about my life, and I just write about what I experience and observe with my family and friends. It is a piece of my heart, really, so it’s super easy to sit down at the keyboard and churn out what’s going on. Okay, maybe not super easy, but since it’s my creative outlet I feel like I get to express myself without concern about character and plot structure, plausibility and what some unknown future editor would say about it. Although I do try to edit posts so that they’re grammatically correct, the only censoring is mine alone.

With my stories, it is completely different. I see stories everywhere and I have as far back as I can remember. Before I started really writing them down, I would replay scenes in my head that I would make up—like I was watching a movie. I daydreamed a lot, especially if I was in the car by myself with some good tunes. The thing about the daydreaming was that I didn’t have to fill in the missing information. If I liked to make up sassy dialogue or an attention-grabbing first line that was all I had to do. I didn’t try to explain all the things that led my characters to that scene. I never shared my silly daydreams with anyone (they’d think I was crazy!) so these individual ideas and scenes piled up in my head—mostly they were forgotten when I grew bored with them.

Actual writing is definitely not the same as daydreaming or having a great story idea. Writing takes work! Like the quote says, you have to nurture the idea, and, in most cases, flesh it out to the point of exhaustion, only to clip it back to keep it simple.   This is where I get in trouble. Because I have this need to know every character’s backstory I find that if I struggle with a part of it, I get frustrated, especially if the character’s personality is radically different from mine. A lot of my characters are different from me, because, as I’ve pointed out before in other posts, I live a stable and not too dramatic life that’s not exactly story/novel worthy. Frustration = Put Aside for Later = Forgotten and Left Behind (aka Giving Up).

So here’s what I’m doing about the whole dilemma of starting ideas and not tending to them properly:

1.)      I started meeting with my cousin, who also writes. This has forced me to organize my writings. I can’t ask someone to critique something that is only partially done or has big chunks missing out of the middle of the plot. Just simply having a deadline for when we meet is enough to get me to have my act together. Meeting with Kim regularly gives me purpose in my writing and I’ve been better about committing to a story I’m working on.

2.)       I jot down any and all ideas I have—every time I have them. Some are stand-alone, some mesh into another story or blog post. It doesn’t matter, I just get them down so I don’t forget them. Even if it means running from the shower to my little notepad on my nightstand!

If you’re a writer who’s been writing awhile, this probably seems pathetically basic, but it’s the baby steps that have brought me to the place in my writing where I can feel organized and purposeful. Writing down outlines and timelines does not come second nature to me. Brainstorming random thoughts does. I have scenes in my head that I string together. I need the characters to get from one situation to the next, so I fill in between the scenes I know and love with what makes the characters and plot go from Chapter 1 to Chapter 5. It sounds like kind of a sloppy process when I explain it that way, and sometimes my heart is just not into writing these “cement” chapters that glue a story together, but it’s how it works for me. It makes the characters come alive to me when I feel like in some weird way they are guiding the story.

Do other writers out there have a similar process they go through for their stories? Do you use a Bubble/Brainstorming Method? A dartboard? Do you outline the entire story first? Or do you sit down to write and see how the characters lead you? Does it depend on what genre you’re writing in? I’d love to hear suggestions and have others share what works for them, so please share!

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