I posted a blog on the American Christian Writer’s Forum today and I’d like to duplicate it here.
There once was a website called Storypraxis. Perhaps you remember it with fondness. If you subscribed to the site, you would receive a “writing prompt” every 3 days. Your job was simple. Write quickly for 20 to 30 minutes using the word or phrase as stimulus for a short, short story or a poem. No editing. No deep thinking. Just write that story and submit it. If the story was good, you would be featured in that month’s “magazine”.
I participated (participate was one of the prompt words!) and found it the most simulating and exciting writing exercise. Here is why.
1 — Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Writing prompts force me to try something different and getting true different results. Sometimes this is satisfying. Sometimes it is frustrating. Always, it is a positive growth experience and quite educational.
2 — A rut is a grave with both ends kicked out. I write Christian speculative fiction. The question I need to ask is if I am able to write other genres. Can I write romance? Can I write a historical novel? Can I write an inspirational story based on personal experiences? Writing prompts force me to consider other genres and I have found that some of them I really like!
3 — A cartoonish character is always a problem for me. I want my characters to be as real as possible. Writing prompts allow me to explore new characters. I stretch my imagination and try putting myself into the shoes of many different types of characters, even that of a lawn mower. I have found creating rich, complex characters has become easier.
4 — Editing is the hard work of being a published author. I love to bleed all over the page and to do so with superlative descriptions. Then, the time comes to pull out the scalpel and whittle away the excess fat! Often though, all that is left is scar tissue! Writing prompts force me to write with editing in mind since there is no time to go back and edit. Being on a word count or time deadline helps me to become a better writer up front!
5 — I always have a plethora of ideas. I jot them down, even when I awake from a great dream in the middle of the night. Writing prompts allows me to do a “taste test” of a story idea. If it comes to life on the page and promises there is more than just those few paragraphs, it is an idea I need to devote more time to. Many of my writing prompts have become entire scenes in my books or even ideas for future books.
In short, writing prompts have become a necessary part of my ongoing writing discipline. They are part of my weekly “workout” to keep my creativity, my writing, and my imagination sharp and healthy. Do an internet search and there are many websites, blogs, and twitter feeds devoted to giving you a writing prompt. Or, you can click on the “Flip Side” tab. I’ve uploaded a pdf of a group of writing prompts I received through Storypraxis and the short pieces I wrote based on those prompts. See what you come up with!
Sometime in the fall of my senior year in high school, I channeled Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy. In 1972, Star Trek had been off the air for three years. But, thanks to syndication, it was showing in the afternoons on my local television station. And, there was a brand new Star Trek cartoon on Saturday mornings.
When I first started watching Star Trek in September, 1966 I was 11 years old. I know. I’m getting up there. But, when I reach the age of 80, I’ll officially call myself a “senior adult”. And, then, maybe not. William Shatner is still going strong and he’ll be 84 this month. And, his best friend, Leonard Nimoy — well more on that later.
At the age of 11, I could not understand the nuanced messages hidden in the Star Trek story lines. I totally did not get the significance of the first televised interracial kiss between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura. But, by the time I was 17 and a senior in high school, I got it! Watching the original series as an older teenager was like watching an entirely new show!
As of last night, Mark Sutton underwent quadruple bypass surgery yesterday morning and was standing at the bedside in ICU talking on the phone with his wife, Donna. Hope today goes well. They thank all of your for the prayers!
Many of you are aware I have co-authored a book on depression with my retired pastor, Mark Sutton. Mark just contacted me and he will be undergoing quintuple heart bypass surgery tomorrow at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Please pray!
I’ve listened to singer/songwriter Eric Peters for years. My devotion to the Rabbit Room and the Square Peg Alliance came from my son. We started listening to the artists of the Square Peg Alliance years ago. And, when I discovered the Rabbit Room website and their devotion to not only music, but to classical Christian writers I was sold.
In 2010, Sean and I attended the first Hutchmoot gathering in Nashville. Eric Peters sang at that gathering. In 2012, Sean and I were fortunate enough to make the 90 second window during online registration and we made it back for Hutchmoot. During that gathering, I was shocked to hear Eric’s story during his “Recovery Through Song” breakout session. I had no idea about his struggle with depression. He was very open with that young adult audience about his depression. Afterwards, Sean and I sat under an outside tent for a personal concert by Eric. I was stunned and moved as Eric was brought to tears and almost speechless trying to share more about his battle with depression. I totally understood.
This is from my recent post over at American Christian Fiction Writers forum.
I miss writing. I miss that free flowing, wild abandon “banging out the story on a blank page” feeling – when all the creative juices are flowing and I am IN the story side by side with the characters. That kind of writing. This is what I live for as an author.
However, published authors have to live in a real world of published works and the writing is only a small part of the work. For me, filling up the blank page and allowing this living, breathing, dynamo of a story to struggle its way from my mind and fingertips onto a page is the fun part. It’s the OTHER stuff that becomes work.
The reality is, being a published author is a job. The story in your mind belongs to you. But, once that story becomes the subject of a contract, it belongs to the Publisher! You can still mold and shape the story but the story now serves a new purpose. It exists not to be read and enjoyed and to inspire or convict. It lives to make money. The story is now a PRODUCT!
How do you then keep the fun in being a published author? Here are three tips.
1. A good editor will only make you a better writer and a better author. Editing is the hardest work of being published. It is painful to cut and tweak and excise entire characters. But, with the right editor, your story suddenly becomes lean and hard and vibrant! The fun returns when you get that “WOW” reaction from taking a mediocre scene and watching it vibrate with new energy!
2. Social media and marketing are the leeches that drain me of my time and energy. I spend almost two hours four days a week on my Facebook page, Twitter, and website. How can you find some joy in this? My newest nonfiction book, “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan for Finding Happiness” generates weekly emails saying how much the book changed someone’s life. Most of these responses come from readers following my blog. Social media gives my readers an ongoing method to communicate with me. All it takes is a positive feedback to make my day and make the work worthwhile!
3. Book signings are disappearing. But, I crave the face to face encounters I have with a signing. I support my book stores. I meet some of my fans. And, I meet new people who’ve never heard of my books. Every book signing allows me to have a “divine” appointment with someone who has a very special need only I can fill at that moment in their life. Signings may be few and far between and I may only sell a dozen books, but I meet people. Meeting people is my life’s blood; my joy; my icing on the cake. In today’s world of increasing technological reliance we are now more connected than ever. But, we are more isolated than ever. Meeting someone and sharing a smile and a handshake makes all of that editing and marketing “work” worth it!
“The only thing worse than nostalgia is amnesia.” Ravi Zacharias, famed speaker and author once said this. For months, I felt like one of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness. In an unprecedented turn of events, I had not been involved in any of my church’s activities for over a year. When my co-author, Mark Sutton was our pastor, my second “job” kept me occupied at our church. When he retired, it seemed I did too.
At first, I was very uncomfortable. My connection with the “inner circle” was severed. My knowledge of the direction of the church was no different than the person sitting next to me in the worship service. The very fact I was SITTING in a worship service instead of running around behind the scenes helping to make things happen was a disturbing but new development for me.
I was alone in the dark bedroom. I had pulled the sheet and blanket up over my head to shut out the world. I wanted no light; no sound; not even a speck of floating dust to touch me. I wanted to not BE.
Pain so bad it took my breath away filled every fiber of my being. Not physical pain. Emotional pain. And fear, yes there was fear. If I could just shut the world out for a few moments I might find some relief from this pain. Perhaps I could sleep? Probably not. Often elusive, sleep came for me with great difficulty and even if I did manage to slip into a sleeping state I knew it would not be restful. Because the dreams waited for me. Vivid, realistic, outlandish dreams. Read the rest of this entry
I want to thank my faithful readers and wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. To close out 2014, I want to share a very special story with you.
That night the trek had been arduous and demanding up the rocky slope to the winding Roman road. I had spent most of the day tending the tenants in my inn but the streets of Bethlehem were so crowded, I couldn’t take it anymore. Leaving Lydia behind to tend to the last few customers, I decided it was time to take my annual walk up the mountain.
The road on the mountain side wound its way past Bethlehem toward the distant city of Jerusalem. They say the Roman roads connected every city in the empire to Rome. All roads led to Rome. And, they say the Romans brought us a more civilized, advanced way of living. But, the cost of that way of life was at the expense of their terrible cruelty. They had given power to our “king”, Herod. And, there were times his cruelty surpassed even that of the Romans.