Monthly Archives: April 2011

Progress Report #3

“Being busy does not always mean real work. … Seeming to do is not doing.” — Thomas Edison

Sorry for the delay, readers.

Last week has been another very slow week for writing, mostly taken up by spring break, job hunting, computer work and Easter celebrations. Writing, sadly, has been difficult to fit into the schedule. I suppose if any work was done, you could consider it “conceptual”.

Untitled Short Story – work-in-progress

Page Count – 5
Word Count – 3419

Needless to say, the progress is negligable, but it is progress, nonetheless.

I have a few other novel projects, a couple of short stories, and an array of children’s books I’d like to work on at some point, and I’m constantly collecting data on them so I can be ready to begin them at a moment’s notice, but I’m determined to finish one thing before moving on to something new. I also have a few things planned for my blog this week, so hopefully I’ll have time to see them all finished before Sunday.

Until then, see you next week.

–Stephen
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Excess Baggage

“And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.” — Acts 27:18-19
Emotional baggage can be just as damaging to the pursuit of a dream as can material baggage.
Material baggage, the preoccupation with the accumulation of things you don’t need to impress people you don’t particularly care about, can easily derail your intentions, getting your eyes off the prize and on to something frivolous. Before you know it, you’ve whittled your precious time away on a wild goose chase. This is any easy one to spot, not only because it is so commonplace, but because the signs are so crystal clear.
The emotional side of the pond, however, is very muddy.
My very first step in rededicating myself to God and to becoming a writer was to take notice of the things to which I was emotionally attached. At first it was easy. Anything getting in my way of these two things had to be pushed aside. But soon, I felt that all I had done was thrown my luggage overboard and burned my bridges, effectively alienating myself from a world that still held the resources I needed. I muddled through the best I could. “God doesn’t want you to just muddle through.” was the prominent, recurring message at church. “He wants to give you everything.” I told myself and others this repeatedly, and yet it seemed so distant and unreal.
But recently, I’ve realized something.
Man, even when he knows he isn’t, retains this unconscious delusion that he is in full control of his life. This is a fallacy. No matter how often I’ve grasped at control over my own fate, life took it from me and had its own ideas about where I should go and what I should do. But then, I noticed that though I said I trusted God with all my heart, I didn’t live my life like I trusted Him. If I did, why would I still be holding on to pain, hurtful memories, pride, and conforming to the opinions of others? These things are usually regarded as the road map and compass of life, and to the world, giving them up means careening out of control and into disaster. But what good did a road map and compass do for me, I asked myself, besides lead me straight into trouble and dramatic conflict? I can’t do this on my own, I decided.
I’m ready to get out of the storm and see where I end up with more capable hands at the helm.
So many people blame God for their problems and their personal storms, and yet they never let God fully move through their lives to begin with. Trust in God is not something that you can just sample like a cable subscription. You either step out and receive everything he has, or you don’t. Personally, I’m going to trust Him completely, and I believe that everything, including my quest to become a published author, is guaranteed to fall into place in due time.

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What I’m Reading #1

“Books have survived television, radio, talking pictures, circulars … , dailies … , Punch and Judy shows, and Shakespeare’s plays. They have survived World War II, the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death, and even the fall of the Roman Empire. They even survived the Dark Ages, when almost no one could read and each book had to be copied by hand. They aren’t going to be killed off by the Internet.” — Vicki Myron
Vicki Myron’s non-fiction hit, Dewey, has held an unusual piece of my undivided attention.
Dewey is the story of a librarian who finds a kitten stuffed in the drop-box of small-town Spencer, Iowa’s public library. After nursing it back to health, she and her staff decide to adopt it as the town’s first library cat. Thus, the book chronicles the life of this cat, dubbed Dewey Readmore Books, and how he made a difference in his community, in his library, and in the life of the author and her family.
True, it’s a typical animal story, and in this day and age, animal stories tend to be fairly predictable. After all, there’s only so many ways you can write about how a lovable animal who can’t speak or emote can touch a community. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but get lost in Dewey’s story. Even though I knew how the story was going to turn out from merely reading the title and the dust jacket alone, it captivated me and kept urging me through it page after page until the very end. If I had all the time in the world to read a book, this one would’ve been completed in half a day.
Why?
The big reason, I think, is because the title character plays a supporting role while his human friends and owners take center stage. You’ll come for Dewey, but you’ll stay for the small town resilience against marching progress, the search for meaning against the pain, and the search for personal identity against all odds. You’ll read on because you can see yourself in the people of Spencer, Iowa. The author, knowingly or not, poses a question to her readers. “What do you really value in life?” And her readers follow through to the end as they seek their answer, not only of the motives of the characters, but of their own motives.
And this, readers, is when a book ceases to be mere entertainment and blossoms into art.
The entire package seemed so real and heartfelt, unlike the glossy and dramatic sweeping epics that so many publishers seem to think their readers want. As I read it, I felt as if the author herself was sitting down and speaking directly to me. This is why I read books, for that feeling of human contact. “I’ll wait for the movie.” some people say, but movies can’t deliver this kind of personal touch. A movie is made by a cast and crew of hundreds and directed to the masses, but you can’t help but feel that a book is written for and is speaking directly to you. Even if Dewey was aimed at the masses, it still manages to speak to me on a personal level. Whenever Ms. Myron gives us the tragic details of her life, it never feels like a reach for dramatic tension, and that’s what makes Dewey so interesting and inviting. It beckons the reader into the parlor, rather than prodding them into the corral.
So, what’s my verdict?
In conclusion, I think that Dewey is a very good read that is well worth the time put into it. Since finishing it, I have recommended it to everyone I know, even if they’re not a cat person. No, it may not play your emotions like a fiddle or offer thrills on every page, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of things to like and a lot of characters to relate to. It reads fast and easy. It’s also a prime example of respect for the reader as well as characters taking precedence over plot, making it a good study in writing as well.
I say, “Read it!”

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Progress Report #2

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” — John Donne

It’s been a pretty rough week in the field of writing. Progress has been extremely slow, but I’m not discouraged. Any sort of progress, I feel, is good progress. Sometimes, regardless of how dedicated we our in our aspirations and our craft, reality rears its head and life gets in the way. Still, I don’t think we can’t just shut ourselves up and hide from life and the world around us, regardless of how productive that would seem. Even though life can wear us down, life is what we as writers draw our inspiration from. We can’t just cut ourselves off from our inspiration, no matter how much it would affect our page count. The moment we trade life for productivity is the moment we experience our downfall.

So, even though it’s not a lot, I’m still happy that there is something to report.

Maiden Flight of the Firebird – work-in-progress

Page Count – 66 (no progress)
Word Count – 37248 (no progress)

Untitled Short Story – work-in-progress

Page Count – 5
Word Count – 3342

I apologize for the small amount of news, but at least it’s something of note. Perhaps later, there will be more exciting developments to report. Until then, see you next week, readers.

-Stephen

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Environmental Hazards

“Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation.” Genesis 12:1-2
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our hindrance in writing comes not from our lack of skill or confidence, but in the environment in which we work.
One day, I woke up and looked back at the direction my life had taken and it dawned on me that I had turned my back on my very first love: writing. Suddenly, the world shifted. The pieces of my life fell into place. Everything finally made sense. I once again had a purpose in life and a new destination to reach.
But if you’ve been pedaling on the sidewalks of New York all your life and realize that you need to lead a safari in Africa, you’d better trade that bicycle in for a jeep.
When I started writing again in full force, it seemed that I couldn’t just go to my room, turn on the computer, and hammer away like I could when I was younger. Something was blocking me. It was a debilitating mental block that seemed to be pinching shut the river between my mind and the page. I tried everything, anything to squeeze it out, but everything it produced just seemed forced and contrived. Pretty soon, I became so desperate to be fruitful that I began taking a spiral notebook with me to work, to the beach, to the supermarket, everywhere that gave me a chance to sit and write. In a matter of days, I had no less than half of the notebook filled with free-flowing thoughts.
That was it!
It wasn’t a diminished proficiency in writing that was stopping me. It was my environment. When I stepped outside my comfort zone and allowed myself to go wherever I needed to think, the floodgates opened and I could write freely again. However, the solution wasn’t as simple as taking a month-long road trip, renting office space, or building a studio somewhere in the art district. When your income is small and you still have to live with your parents, the world isn’t exactly your oyster. But I didn’t let that stop me.
If I couldn’t go to the ideal environment, I would bring the ideal environment to me.
The first thing I did was rearrange my room. I noticed that, as it was, the room was very easy to become disarrayed, so I studied my own habits and adjusted the room accordingly. My room now exists for two purposes. Sleeping and writing. Every element of the room points to this purpose, and whenever I walk inside, the message is very clear. “It’s time to work.”
But that wasn’t enough.
When one starts listening to the world long enough, one will become like the world and harbor a crippling defeatist attitude in his heart, and who is going to write when one feels that he cannot succeed in writing no matter what he does? The truth is: whenever you decide to become a writer, you’re not trying to become a success. You are a success. And if you are a success, you must live like one.
I started absorbing the printed word like a sponge. I read books, stories and newspapers. I collected books like children collect baseball cards. I took any and every opportunity to write and read. Not only did I kick-start a project, but also started blogging, writing letters, keeping a journal, writing down my dreams and taking studious notes in church. I even gave up television for a few weeks just to see how it would affect my productivity. I adopted habits that defined me, not by saying that I might be a writer some day, but I am a writer now. Suddenly, it wasn’t a strain and a burden to write, anymore. It came naturally once again because I not only changed my physical environment, but my mental and spiritual environment as well.
How about you? Is your environment stifling your writing life? Are you afraid of change?
Don’t be.
Change is not only good for the writer, but essential. Your writing life is like a plant. It’s a living thing that constantly grows inside of you. You can’t put it in a pot, water it once, and expect it to thrive. You have to nurture it and tend to its needs. If you don’t, you’ll stunt its growth… …or worse, it will shrivel up and die.
So, whenever you feel that your writing has stagnated and the contents of your creative juices have settled, shake it up a little. You’ll be glad you did.
I know I am.

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Progress Report #1

“I read in the newspapers they are going to have 30 minutes of intellectual stuff on television every Monday from 7:30 to 8. to educate America. They couldn’t educate America if they started at 6:30.” — Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx
As promised, I have chosen Monday as the day I will post my progress reports. Monday is notorious for being slow, depressing and sluggish, but I’m going to use it to look back, reflect on life and realize how far I’ve come throughout the week and how blessed I am to live in a country where I can be myself and do the things I love without fear of persecution. What’s a better way to beat those Monday blues? I can’t think of any.
So without further ado, here it is.
Right now, this blog notwithstanding, I have two personal writing projects in the works.
The first one is a full-length novel. I’ve been working on it since at least July of 2010, and I’ve been conceptualizing and outlining it even earlier than that. It was originally going to be a short story, and then a short novella. My mother read it and said, “It’s going to end up being a novel, isn’t it?” Responding to that, I tested that theory by dividing the first part into fifths and calling the first fifth “Chapter One”, and I liked what resulted. I don’t want to divulge too many details, since the draft is very unfinished, very raw, and very subject to change, but it is entitled Maiden Flight of the Firebird.
Maiden Flight of the Firebird: work-in-progress
Page Count – 66
Word Count – 37248
The second one is a short story. I haven’t titled it yet, and I haven’t been working on it as long, but considering its progress, it may end up being the very first thing I have published. It began as a simple little story that I threw together for fun while working. While forcing myself to come up with something quick and easy to get written and submitted, this one kept popping up and asserting itself, begging to be fleshed out and formally written. What resulted was a whirlwind of creative fury and imagery the likes of which I haven’t felt or imagined since high school. It’s still a simple story at heart, and the more I read it, the more I’m convinced that it will find its audience.
Untitled Short Story: work-in-progress
Page Count – 5
Word Count – 3049
And that’s what I’ve been working on. I’ll be posting my progress right here every Monday. Remember, if you like what you see here, follow me, leave a comment, and tell your friends. See you next week, readers.
–Stephen

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So, What’s Your Point?

”To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:… …What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?” –Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 3:9 (KJV)
Good, sound structure is not detrimental to creative writing.
If elementary school taught me that anything was possible and that we could do anything we set our minds to, then middle school taught me that following procedure and protocol to the letter without question was the key to success in the real world.
This would not do at all.
I spent a fair amount of time in middle school rebelling against the age-old rules of composition and MLA format. “It’s dumb!” I said. “I’m not going to be a stuffy old reporter or bureaucrat. I’m going to be a novelist! I’ll set sail on a sea of words and go wherever the wind may take me, so I don’t need to learn structure and procedure!”
In high school, I became more responsible for my creative works, rather than just pouring out whatever was in my head onto the paper. “Creative writing,” I decided, “is at its best when it has a clear direction and destination. It’s best to know how the story is going to end and where the characters will end up before one actually sits down and writes.” And yet, I still saw serious writing and creative writing as two completely different outlets. I shunned one and embraced the other.
“But why?” I later asked, after two years of college and four years of work. “Why do people see them so differently.” It all made sense. Just like writing essays and research papers, a good creative story has to have a thesis. Each character represents a supporting point or counter-point to that thesis, and they spend the entirety of the story proving your thesis. What is your thesis? Your thesis is whatever you want your audience to walk away with after your story closes. Pure entertainment has its place, but if you really want your work to truly mean something to someone, you must know what it means to you, and that means being fully aware of your structure. Once you’re fully aware of your structure, you’ll experience real creative freedom.
And really, isn’t that what every artist wants?
This encounter with the voices of my educational past taught me something else. It taught me that perhaps I didn’t know as much as I thought. And perhaps, I enjoy the field of creative writing because I’ll always have something new to learn and countless new people to learn from. Those that have never written may see this as an endless task, but I see it as a never-ending adventure.

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