Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July Summary, August Goals

At the beginning of July I set for myself a number of writing and other goals. This is how I did with them.

  1. I planned to finish my June Camp Nanowrimo novel, Esperanza/Zombie Dawn. I added some words, but then decided the whole thing needed to be reimagined yet again. I had only a few good working days the whole month.
  2. I planned to work on learning Korean, particularly how to read the Korean alphabet. I have learned 144 words using BYKI (free language software). I also took up learning a bit of Latin as a break from the Korean.
  3. I planned to get more exercise. I got a pedometer and write down my number of steps every night before I go to bed. I think I am increasing my activity level.
  4. I planned to work on housecleaning and barn cleaning daily, and also to read Bible and Catechism more frequently. I did not do very well on these goals at all.
It was kind of a disappointing writing month, perhaps post-Nano letdown. The good news is that this morning I had some fresh enthusiasm for a writing project, and signed up for Camp Nanowrimo in August. My nickname there is nissalovescats, if you participate you might be able to request me as a cabin mate.

For July I had two worksheets I used to keep track of my many goals, one for writing goals and one for other goals. Given my poor performance, I decided to reduce my goals for August and keep track of them all on one sheet. Here are my August goals.

  1. Work on Camp Nanowrimo with my novella, The Song of Making People Die. I got the idea from a TV show which mentioned a 1933 Hungarian song, Gloomy Sunday, implicated in a number of suicides. After I finish the novella, I will begin another novella or short story featuring the same main character as the first, a young woman who owns a spaceship and runs a transport/trading business among the planets. I plan to continue my ritual from last time of posting my word count daily at the Nano site, and also on a word count meter here, to keep me motivated.
  2. Continue to learn Korean words, reaching a goal of 200 known words. 
  3. Learn Latin words--- goal of 100 words total, and listen to the ecclesiastical Latin audios I've downloaded for my chosen Latin book, Lingua Latina.
  4. Continue with the exercise thing, recording my daily paces and trying to keep it up to a good level. (I hope that my desire to keep my number of paces high will motivate me on the whole house and barn cleaning thing.)
  5. NOT worry about daily blogging and other internet distractions.
So, what about you? Have you met the goals you set for July? Are you planning goals for August? How do you keep track of your month's work and how do you keep yourself motivated?

Remember, a zombie apocalypse does not excuse you from meeting your daily word count goal!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Christian Writers and The Little Way

In the secular writing world, one often hears that a writer must believe in himself and his work, believe it's good, worthy, going to be published and receive good reviews. That's how a writer goes about being encouraged enough to finish writing the first draft.

From a Christian perspective, there might be a concern that all this believing in yourself might cause you to become puffed up, egotistical, and filled with the sin of pride. Perhaps Christian writers need to follow another way. A little way.

Saint Thérèse of Liseaux was a young French woman who entered a convent at a young age. She knew that the life in the convent would not allow her to do great things. So she found for herself The Little Way.

The Little Way means becoming as a little child, and relying on Jesus to make you holy. It means making little sacrifices rather than seeking to do heroic great things for the Kingdom.

What does The Little Way mean for a writer? It means that instead of believing in yourself as a great writer, you believe in Jesus as a great Savior. You continue your writing not because it is great, but because our great Savior will be pleased by even our humble writing efforts so long as we do it for Him.

After all, God is sovereign over all. If you have a burning desire to be a writer in your heart, God not only knows about it, He knew about it before He created you. He has a divine purpose for it, if you will only dedicate it to Him.

This doesn't mean, I think, that all Christian writers have to write only Christian works for Christian publishers. We can write for secular publication, provided we write in a way pleasing to God.

Saint  Thérèse, in her humble life in the convent, was asked by her Mother Superior, her older sister Pauline, to write down some of her early memories of the blessed life that their devout family had shared. Because Thérèse was sickly, it was one of the few things she could do.

She knew she was not a writer. But, following The Little Way, she wrote a book, The Story of a Soul, which moved people around the world. Based on this simple book, Thérèse, who died at a young age, became known to the world and became canonized as a saint.

Question: do you think that Saint Thérèse can be an example for the Christian writer?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Christian Fiction and Correct Theology

While there is a big difference between a Christian novel and a Christian theology textbook, I believe it is essential for the novel as well as the textbook to contain correct theology and avoid false theology. And that is one area in which some aspiring writers may be having some trouble.

Now, I am not talking here about the issue of denomination-wide allegedly flawed theology, since that is not the topic of my little apostolate/ministry. I am content when an Evangelical writer sticks to the theology his denomination says is correct, and the same with the other branches of Christianity.

The problem is that virtually every living Christian has got some of his theology wrong by the standards of his own denomination, simply because there are doctrines he has not learned/studied very intensely yet. That's because unless you are a theology professor by profession, you may not have had the time to study doctrines very fully.

Now, there are denominational differences in the way the individual believer thinks about theology. In the Catholic faith, the theology comes in a package--- we believe that Jesus Christ founded our Church, made Peter our first Pope, and divinely protected our Church from teaching wrong theology as official Church teachings even in the times of the bad popes.

On the other hand, many Protestants are not convinced that every doctrine taught by the church they now attend is correct. There are many people in Presbyterian churches, for example, who do not believe in predestination.

But I believe that no matter which church you are connected with, you ought to take the time to learn what teachings that church officially believes. I'm not saying you have to believe and accept all of them as true--- you will want to understand why these things are believed and how they connect to what's in the Bible.

The best way for many of us to improve our doctrinal knowledge is to go back to our youth and haul out that old catechism book we studied. I remember as a girl in the 4th or 5th grade, I and my younger brother went evenings to  sessions at our Presbyterian church in which we memorized the questions and answers of the Heidelberg Catechism.  Later in life I learned Luther's Small Catechism.  Later still, I got a second-hand copy of the Baltimore Catechism, a Catholic catechism.

A childhood catechism is a start, but there may be more grown up versions to study now. For Lutherans, there is the Book of Concord which has the two Lutheran catechisms as well as a number of Reformation-era documents. For Catholics, there is the new Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Some of you may go to churches where there is no official catechism. You might ask your pastor if there is some book he can recommend about basic Christian doctrines. Likely he has one or two to recommend.

You may be asking, why study a catechism or doctrine book? Why not just read the Bible? The problem is that the Bible is not organized as a doctrine book or catechism. In addition, the many denominations read the same Bible, but believe different doctrines, each thinking that their doctrine is the one taught in the Bible. Now, you may in the course of your studies conclude that your particular church is wrong about some doctrine or other, and after further study if you still think that way, you will have to decide what to do about that. But it's quite important to at least be aware of the doctrines, and the reasons for them.

How does this impact your life as a writer? A Christian novel is not a theology text, how often do you deal with doctrines? Well, in the Left Behind series, authors Jenkins and Lehaye dealt with one doctrine, that of the Rapture, almost constantly through the story. (Interestingly, that is one doctrine taught by none of the churches I've ever belonged to--- Presbyterian, Lutheran, Mormon or Catholic.) Imagine what the Left Behind series would have been like if the authors hadn't known their doctrine on this issue very well. In fact, one of the authors, Tim Lehaye, was there as the theologian, while Jenkins did the writing-work based on that theological basis.

Most Christian writers don't use enough explicit doctrine to need a full time theologian on the team. But it will help your writing career to have a better degree of knowledge about what your church teaches.

I once read about a faithful Baptist lady who, when doctrines relating to the Lord's Supper were mentioned, insisted on the doctrine of transubstantiation--- a Catholic doctrine quite different from what the Baptist church teaches. If that Baptist lady had been a writer, and if her novel had contained descriptions of the Lord's Supper in which her beliefs in this area were made plain, she would have a hard time getting published at a Baptist or Evangelical publisher (unless she made changes.)

Studying your own doctrines is also important if you have to study some other faith's doctrines as research. For example, if you are not Catholic but have a Catholic character, you might want to read some Catholic sources so you don't mess up on a doctrinal issue. But you don't want to let that study cause you to pick up some Catholic beliefs that your own church would disagree with--- at least, you don't want to do so out of ignorance of your own church's doctrine.

For Catholics: Read the whole Catholic Bible plus the Catechism in one year! There is a PDF guide that will help you do it:  http://www.chnetwork.org/readguide04.pdf You might consider, as you read the Catechism passages, looking up any Bible verse references in your Bible as you encounter them.

For Protestants/Evangelicals/Others: If you have a Bible with the 'Apocrypha'--- I have a King James Version Bible with Apocrypha on my Kindle--- you can use the very same reading guide given above.  In place of the Catholic catechism, substitute reading from your own catechism or doctrinal book. If you prefer not to read the 'Apocrypha' this time through, there are many Bible in a Year guides that you could use.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

DeCompose: Stephen King Breaks the Rules!

DeCompose: Stephen King Breaks the Rules!

Mike Duran over at the Decompose blog writes:

"I’m about 250 pages into “The Stand” and thus far one of the takeaways, to my shame, has been how often I’ve noticed King violates some of the most basic writing rules. Namely in his use of passives and head-hopping. Lots of jumping from one POV to the next in the same chapter. And then there’s the “had been’s” and “was’s.” This book would drive some of my old mentors crazy.

More importantly, however, King’s infractions haven’t kept me from enjoying the story. That’s the weird thing about it.

Like many writers, I spent the first couple of years learning about the rules. Show don’t tell. Avoid passives. Maintain POV. Stuff like that. I took it as gospel and worked darned hard to apply it. Now, some six or seven years later, I’m trying to unlearn them. If my reading of The Stand is any indication, I’ve got a long way to go. It feels like a bad hangover — only time and abstinence will cure it." Follow the link above to read the rest.

This blog post made me think about the rules that neophyte writers like to impose upon one another. One time I attended one meeting of a writers' group at my local library. The ladies of the group were all about the age I am now, so at the time they seemed older than dirt. One lady shared copies of a vignette she wrote. In one sentence she piled up 4 adjectives to describe a couple she once knew. After failing to convince her to remove one or more of the adjectives--- they were all true, she insisted--- I came up with the suggestion that she rewrite the string from 'they were loving, happy, devout and athletic' to 'they were loving and happy, devout and athletic'.

I thought the rhythm of my version was slightly better. But all of the ladies bristled. "That would be using 'and' too much!" they chorused. And I realized that though I had never heard of the anti-and rule, it was for them a major rule of good writing.

The other writing rules I hear a lot of are rules like the and rule and the no head-hopping rule. They are things that are very easily measured.

While the rule I was going by was something I learned the way I tend to learn rules--- it was a generalization based on years of reading books during every waking moment when I could get by with it. The rule was that the words of your writing should have an appropriate rhythm.

The problem with a rule like that is that it isn't as easy to explain that rule to a beginning writer. What do you mean by rhythm? What rhythm is appropriate to what writing situation? How good or bad is my rhythm, right now?

My rhythm rule isn't an on/off rule, either. Beginning writers and their teachers tend to like on/off rules. Either a story uses head-hopping or it doesn't. But my rhythm rule? There are an almost infinite number of levels of good, better, even better than, and best, as well as bad and worse than bad. And people will not agree on where a given sentence falls, or on when a dissonant or even clunky rhythm is being used well to achieve a desired effect.

I think somewhere within most beginning writers there is a feeling that if they learn to follow their full set of simplistic on/off rules completely, they will have achieved writing gold. That's not true. You can write the worse prose imaginable without breaking a single one of those rules.

The rules that really count are the more complex, difficult to explain, and difficult to follow rules. They are best discovered as I did, by reading a great number of books by people who know how to write well.

When you discover one of these rules, you may be assured of this--- nothing you ever write will follow the rule perfectly. In addition, the rule you find most important may be a rule another writer doesn't even count as a rule. But the end result of following rules like mine is writing that is more compelling to the reader.
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