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Going Dark

But only for a little while. I’m participating in a group called “October Write Fest” on Facebook where the participants are writing every day for a month. Kind of like Nanowrimo, except in October. For many of us, November isn’t the best month to attempt to write 50,000 words with major family holidays to interfere (such as Thanksgiving in the US).

It’s not as structured as Nanowrimo. Some are attempting to write the 50,000 word novel (such as moi), while others are writing a blog entry every day and others are doing a complete rewrite of an existing work in progress.

If you’re interested in participating, you are certainly welcome to join. Just do a search of “October Write Fest” on Facebook and request an invitation.

Location, Location, Location

Where do you come up with your best ideas?

I have two places:

  1. The bathroom. At least until my son started to walk. From the moment he started to walk, he followed me everywhere. I couldn’t use the toilet in peace for the next three years. Thankfully at nine-years-old now, he has no desire to watch me — do my business. It is once again one of my thoughtful refuges.
  2. In the middle of the night. I finally learned (mostly) to keep either a notepad or my phone near me at night. I used to think that when I get a lovely, profound thought, or interesting story idea while I’m drifting off to sleep, it would stick around until morning. Nope. Not even 2% of the time do I remember. It is gone. Forever.

There is one commonality between those two places where I get my best ideas. Silence.

We are surrounded by noise, whether it’s the television, our computers, the radio, or other people. We love noise, and the more technology we have, the more likely we are to use it. I see people walking with their head buried in their phones, and earphones drowning out anything else. Including natural sounds such as birds.

Why do we hate silence? What’s wrong with immersing ourselves into our own thoughts? What are we afraid of?

A psychologist could answer that question better than me, but I do think there’s an addictive component to sound and distraction. It’s not so much that we hate silence but that we crave noise. Silence can be scary. So much so, that when we have too much silence, our brains start to make us hear sounds that aren’t there.

Like everything else in life, moderation is key. Too much noise, and we can never hear our thoughts, the silly or the profound. We lose ideas, or they never get a chance to surface. Too much silence, and we could drive ourselves insane.

Writers especially need moments of silence. Like me, it’s during the silences that we find our best ideas.

“Writing is like meditation or going into an ESP trance, or prayer. Like dreaming. You are tapping into your unconscious. To be fully conscious and alert, with life banging and popping and cuckooing all around, you are not going to find your way to your subconscious, which is a place of complete submission.” — Carolyn Chute

Making Excuses

“Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted.” — Jules Renard

I’ve already described — for some of you, incessantly — how much writing is an outlet that keeps me sane.

As the quote above also notes, writing gives me an opportunity to hash out my strange and almost incomprehensible thoughts to make them less strange and more comprehensible, with plenty of time to figure it out before I decide to share it.

As I started this entry, my first thought was how this would end up a repeat of other entries, and I don’t like to repeat myself.

So how do I look at the quote a little differently?

Human beings, for the most part, like comfort, and the familiar. We seek them out, sometimes at great expense, whether it be spending less time with family, or risking our physical and mental health. Seems kind of silly when looking at it that way. Isn’t comfort supposed to allow us to relax, to not have to worry about things? Yet we worry and fret over not being comfortable enough.

I’m not a risk-taker. Like I wrote in my previous entry, it’s due to learning early on in life to weigh all potential consequences of my actions before I make them. I suppose in some ways, I’ve stifled myself from experiencing more.

Then a question popped in my head: Do I use my natural inability to express myself except through writing as an excuse not work harder to express myself in other ways? Am I, figuratively-speaking, hiding in a closet out of fear of making a fool out of myself, or hurting someone with my spoken words?

Aside: My husband and I decided to change our diet: Less processed foods and more meat, fruits and vegetables. Without all that refined sugar and bread, my body is screaming at me for torturing it so. So it turns around and tortures me with cravings for the very things my body doesn’t need. Supper, when will you be ready?

I feel like Audrey II from the movie “Little Shop of Horrors” when it yells, “Feed me!” In song form. Except I’m not singing . . .

Okay, back on track. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Hiding in figurative closets.

I need to start exercising my voice, so I can create neural pathways between my mouth and brain. Like building any muscle, that can only be accomplished through practice. Lots of it.

If I am to see my books published, and sold successfully, I need to go out in the world to market them. That will inevitably require rubbing elbows with people face-to-face such as at book signings. It’s a scary prospect, but a necessary one.

Who knows, by practicing now when it won’t cost me anything I may become — if not expert — certainly competent with talking out loud without fear of stumbling all over myself and being misunderstood.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” — 2 Timothy 1:7

The Brain Is A Big Fat Liar

One of my favorite shows is called “Brain Games.” Each half-hour episode shows volunteers and the viewers audio and visual games that show how our brain interprets sensory input. In short, the brain doesn’t merely hear, taste, smell, or see anything as it is, but tries instead to interpret what it senses. Even then, it’s not a true representation of the real world.

Let’s take a look at the ear. Sound waves flow into the ear canal which causes little bones to vibrate inside. The brain then interprets the bones’ vibrations as specific sounds. Even then, we’re not hearing the sound itself, but the ear’s response to the sounds. The brain also tries to attach meaning to those sounds. Where it’s coming from, and what’s causing it. For instance, that roar we hear isn’t simply a roar. It could be a lion, a fierce wind, or an airplane flying overhead. If it doesn’t sound immediately familiar, we will continue to listen until we can say, “Oh! I know what that is. That’s a train going by.” We’re not like a tape recorder that doesn’t care what the sound is. It simply records it. Humans, on the other hand, try to give every sensory input some kind of context.

We went traveling one day and I saw a big orange blob in the middle of a cultivated field. My first thought was school bus, because the color was similar. But then I thought, “Why would there be a school bus in the middle of the field?” I stared at that thing for as long as I could, but I never did figure out what it really was.

How often do we look at clouds and find shapes and faces in them? Because the brain wants everything to be familiar, to look like something it’s seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt before. It’s a survival mechanism, so that way it can quickly determine if it’s harmful or beneficial.

And because it tries to give everything context instead of accepting that there may be no context, or the context is beyond our current experience – like the orange blob in the middle of the field – it sometimes lies to us. My brain grabbed the first object from my experience that matched closest to what it saw – a school bus – so that’s what I thought I saw at first. And yet, it probably wasn’t a school bus. My brain lied to me.

Some other examples are optical illusions and magic tricks.

Here’s a video (excerpt from “Brain Games”) to further prove my point:

Note: You can watch the first four seasons on Netflix.

Idling

Not moving forward or back. Looking around me, but no desire to travel in any direction no matter how tantalizing the paths before me seem.

Not sure why, and barely curious enough to find an answer.

Recently I looked at all the writing contests I’ve participated in, and I’ve either won or placed second in all but two. How is it then that I’m still uncertain?

Perhaps I’m fatigued. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, but it’s still not enough. I’m not where I need to be. In spite of my successes so far, the encouragement I’ve received from friends and family, and an undeniable push from God to keep on keeping on, I doubt if I should. What’s the point? My own edification, God’s glory, what? No matter the end result, will the blood, sweat, tears and years be worth it all? Or is it a case of diminishing returns – if there will be any returns other than knowing that as I learn more about my craft, I will continue to discover I will never know enough?

Ugh. I hate stagnation. It’s smelly, and no amount of deodorant helps.

It’s a phase. I know that. Perhaps it’s due to hormones (or lack thereof). With winter in full swing with too little exposure to sunlight, maybe I’m suffering from a slight bout of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Perhaps it’s another symptom of my slight mid-life crisis. Perhaps a combination of all the above.

Whatever reason or reasons, it’s temporary. Maybe I should enjoy the “downtime.” Who knows, maybe it’s God’s way of forcing me to rest, because I’ll be entering another phase in my life when I can’t rest as much. Downtimes can be just as necessary as uptimes, I think. Each presents its own unique opportunity for growth.

In other words, it’s okay to slow down at times, to sit idle and absorb life instead of pursuing it.

Off The Deep End

Other than needing a killer query letter and super-awesome book to attract agents, many people suggest going to writers conferences. Not only can they help a person build a network of fellow writers, agents, and publishers, but they offer a lot of classes during those 2-4 days. I’ve gone to several already, and although I’ve sold nothing, yet, I always learn so much my brain is mush by the time it’s over.

After four years, I decided it was time to go to another writers conference. I signed up for the annual ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference in August. This year it’s in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve never been there, so I’m looking forward to it. I won’t see much of the city itself, because the conference will take up most of my time. But the hotel is close to downtown, so perhaps I’ll take the time to visit a few interesting places.

Don’t ask how much it costs, though, especially after adding the flight and hotel to the conference fee. Yikes.

Even though I’ve been concentrating on my mainstream novel, there’s no reason I can’t try to gain interest in my other, more Christian sci-fi novels. I perused the agents and editors who are scheduled to be there, and several are open to sci-fi. One of the agencies is even on my short-list for my mainstream novel. How’s that for cool?

I’m looking forward to the classes I signed up for:

  1. How To Build A Platform When You’re A Nobody: “How to build a platform when you’ve never been published, no one knows you from Joe Schmo, and you don’t want to look or sound like an absolute narcissist.” Other than not knowing how to promote and promote well, part of my fear of promotion and marketing is coming across as self-absorbed, and that I’m only interested in connecting with people so they’ll buy my books. I don’t want anyone to think it’s all about the sale for me, and that I’ll lose interest the moment they buy my books.
  2. How to Write for ABA While Keeping Your CBA Values: Part Two: “As opportunities for fiction writers within CBA [Christian Booksellers Association] are shrinking both with publishers and with the CBA stores, how to write the kind of story you are committed to but for the general marketplace.” I apparently missed part one, but I doubt it’s crucial that I know Part One. I signed up for this one because I want to use my gifts — my writing — for God’s glory and not my own. I’m still a little concerned that by going the mainstream route, I’m instead writing to glorify myself. This class will help me get over that angst. I hope.
  3. How To Think Like Your Editor: This class is designed to teach writers how to avoid common mistakes such as flat, unsympathetic characters, and bloated passages that don’t advance the plot (to name a few). I like to say that just because I think I’m a good writer, it doesn’t mean I am one. I’m hoping this class will either show me my worst mistakes, and how to fix them, or perhaps show me I’m at least doing some of it right.

Do I expect an agent or editor to take my novel on the spot? Nope. I went to a conference with that expectation once, and I refuse to put myself through it again. This time I go with the expectation that I’ll meet some great people, and learn more about writing and marketing than I know now. If someone finds my manuscript interesting, that’s mere icing on the cake — to use an old and tired cliché. But hey, if it works, it works.

 

 

I Wrote That?

Since I’m ready to submit my novel to literary agents, I figured it was time to update my website. I didn’t realize until I started that it hadn’t been updated in four years. You read that right. Four years.

One page includes links to individual poems, articles, and other items I’ve written over the years. As part of the update, I made sure the links still worked.

Some I re-read to see if they were still any good. One in particular actually brought me to tears, both because of its profundity, and because I couldn’t help but marvel that little-‘ole-me wrote it.  Yep. It’s that good.

It doesn’t really fit into a particular category. It’s not a poem or short story, but more of an exercise in the senses.

It’s short, so instead of linking it, here it is in entirety. I hope you enjoy it:

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On The Wings of Smoky Air

Playing my second set on the black grand piano, I begin to wonder if anyone hears. Behind the perfectly tuned notes being carried off on the wings of smoky air throughout the lounge, the murmur of quiet conversations and the clinking of glasses reach past the music to echo in my ears.

I block out the noise and let each note embrace and resonate within me. My fingers, so familiar with the tune, skip across the ivory. The cool unblemished keys warm to my touch. I breathe deep, filling my lungs with air rife with stale cigarette and cigar smoke. But I hardly take notice. I reach the crescendo and the last note fades away, leaving me once again exposed to the present.

With a sigh, I reach up to stretch my stiff white collar to alleviate the chafing. I grab my wineglass, emptying it with a large gulp. The deep red wine, while initially sweet, carried a sharp and bitter aftertaste. Every taste bud on my tongue stiffens and tries to retreat in protest. With a grimace, I set the glass back down, wondering what I should play next.

Then I see her.

In the middle of the dimly lit room, an old woman nurses a glass of white wine. Her wrinkled face speaks of untold hardships and sorrow. The candle on the small, round mahogany table only deepens the creases in her wizened face. A single tear eases down her cheek. The candle’s flame glints in the drop, making it appear like a smooth, polished gold nugget.

My gaze inches up the trail left by her tear until it locks with her clear blue eyes alight with a half forgotten memory of joy.

I smile, remembering what my teacher told me long ago, “If the adulation of the crowds fade or never appear, try instead to bring joy to one person at a time with your gift.”

I remove the yellowed and brittle sheet music off the stand to replace it with another. I nod to the lady and begin to play for her and for her alone.

My teacher was right. Bringing joy to one is enough.