Finding inspiration

Quilt-1

One of my newest treasures is this hand stitched Double Irish Chain scrap quilt made by my aunt. She was 86 at the time. It took her two years, and I believe was the last one she made. I apologize for the cliché, but it truly is a work of art.

She had a sewing machine, but it was too heavy to lift from the cupboard shelf, so she decided she would sew the quilt entirely by hand, just as her mother and her grandmother had, and as she had done before. She said if she’d realized at the beginning, however, just how much work this one was going to be, she might not have undertaken it.

Quilt-2

I wonder if that isn’t true for many novelists, too. Few realize how much work will go into producing 90,000 ‘just right’ words, until ‘The End’ is staring back at us from the page. If we knew how much effort and time it was going to take, and the possibility that it would never be of publishable quality anyway, would we even begin?

While some might not, I believe the dedicated ones would, simply because they have a creative spirit and the desire to try. The drive to produce something special, something of significance, has to be followed by the determination to make a start. Then, word by word, stitch by stitch, we keep going. We know our earliest creative attempts aren’t going to be perfect, but only by learning and experience will we improve, and we have to begin somewhere.

Like playing a concerto, hand stitching an intricate pattern, or painting a masterpiece, writing an outstanding story takes more than desire. It takes ability, dedication, perseverance, and very hard work.

I’m not there yet as a writer, but the exquisite beauty created by my Aunt Norma inspires me to continue on my journey.

What inspires you in your creative pursuits?

~

“For everything that was written in the past
was written to teach us,
so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures
and the encouragement they provide
we might have hope.”

[Romans 15:4]

~  ~  ~

 (Photos by Norma McGuire)

 

From the Archives: Beta Readers

One of my favourite (and best) beta readers was my dear Aunt Norma. Now that she’s gone I’ve been thinking back to all the reading she did for me, and remembering her insight and tact, her encouragement and wisdom. Beta reading isn’t easy, either for the writer or for the reader.

I’ve drawn from the Archives again, from January 2009, for today’s post.

~

One snowy Sunday afternoon as wind-driven snow whipped over the backyard peaks and valleys, fashioning them into anonymous mounds, I settled in by the fireplace. It was time to begin reviewing notes made by the long-suffering people who agreed to be beta readers of my current novel.

Beta reading is a necessary tool in the path to publication but I find it nerve-wracking. This is the point when a story first goes public — someone other than me gets to probe my creation, poke into its structure and pass judgment on its credibility and readability. I want and need honesty from the readers, but I cringe at what their opinions might reveal about my storytelling effort.

Few of my readers are impartial. Family members and friends have a built-in bias — they are predisposed to a positive response. More experienced critique partners can sometimes be the opposite, nitpicking to the extreme as they identify all the ways in which the story isn’t told as they think it should be. I’m not obligated to accept any of the criticisms or suggestions, but I value every one. Once the story is published (notice my positive attitude here!), I may never know what the majority of readers think of it, so getting feedback now is desirable.

But still, there is a small chill of uncertainty within me. I suspect it belongs to the icy heart of my I.C. (Inner Critic) as she circles close by, subtly trying to cool my flame of hope for the success of this story. Is it really the best it can be? Is there even a market for it?

As the evening begins to descend, the outdoor lights come on for one last pre-Epiphany sparkle and I put aside my pen and the comment sheets. I’m choosing to spend the rest of the evening curled up with a book… mine.

I wonder, can I be one of my own beta readers?

Evening descends ~ January 2009

Hers Was a Life Well Lived

Our family circle is smaller now, but heaven is brighter because of the arrival of my Aunt Norma.

NORMA GRACE McGUIRE

May 9, 1923  –  January 8, 2015

(Norma on her 91st birthday last May)

(Norma on her 91st birthday last May)

 

She was a remarkable woman. I’ve posted about her and some of her achievements before…

The month after her husband died, she established a Flickr account, and over the past ten years she has posted over 3000 images and developed precious cyber friendships in many countries around the world. When the publication of her book became a possibility three years ago, she undertook blogging. Today I posted a last message for her at ‘Noni Grace: Random Thoughts and Reminiscing‘, and her son also posted an announcement on her Flickr page, Norma/Nonie Vogue.

We’re richer for her presence in our lives; we’re saddened by the loss; we’re comforted by wonderful memories of her strength, her life and her faith.

~

“Then the way you live
will always honour and please the Lord,
and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit.
All the while, you will grow
as you learn to know God better and better.”

[Colossians 1:10, NLT]

~

“For he loves us with unfailing love;
the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever.
Praise the Lord!”

[Psalm 117:2, NLT]

~  ~  ~

Archives: There’s No Sin in Being Good to Yourself

When it came time to find words for today’s post, I had none. I wandered through my archives, looking for something to ‘re-run’, and one title appealled, so I’m reposting it. Sometimes being good to oneself is as important as being good to someone else.

I clicked on the link in the first paragraph to ensure it was still active, and I found the blogger, Patri Francis, had managed to continue her disciplines for just two weeks. Her blog posts ended at that point, in 2009. Curious, I checked out her profile and found she had a second blog. A further click took me to a post that uncannily seemed meant for me today, entitled “What We Inherit“. But after reading it I found that blog also ended there, a last post in 2011. Still, my original post and the links seem worth sharing again. I hope you think so, too.

~

Sunset Home

A blog called “Toil, Solitude, Prayer: Writing as a Practice” caught my attention recently. It is a secondary blog for author Patry Francis who is returning to her writing after a six month hiatus following surgery for cancer. The blog is recording her attempt to add several daily disciplines to her life that will help her finish her next book. It’s such a commendable goal and I settled in to read all of the posts.

I found myself wondering how, just six months after her surgery, she can have the mental stamina to tackle such a regime. Several years after my surgery I am still not there. Yes, the body is healed. But the mind? Having cancer, regardless of its severity, is a life-changing experience. Hearing that diagnosis does a real number on your mind. For a long time after physical recovery is complete the mind will continue holding you hostage in places you don’t want to be. Overcoming that inertia is a bear!

As I read Patry’s daily account I know what she is attempting would have been too ambitious for me.  Setting achievable goals is important but the operative word for me is ‘achievable’. Compounding a series of goals over a short period of time is putting additional stress on a mind that isn’t ready to handle it. It sets a person up for failure, and failure is devastating to the morale.

My remedy for getting back into my writing was to set one reachable goal — to write something every day – with no pressure to rack up a specific number of words or do it within a set time frame. Maybe it was only a minor challenge but by not being overwhelmed with the immensity of a more impressive one, I succeeded. It was satisfying to look back after each week and see the word count growing. And with each success came increasing optimism and energy. I finished that manuscript and the sense of achievement was wonderful.

But first I had to give myself permission to find the one goal that was realistically within reach. I also had to accept that there are times in life when there’s no sin in backing off a bit and being good to myself.

(Originally posted May 5, 2009)

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It’s called a theme

Red and green are traditional Christmas colours, and they’re my favourite. I’m not sure why I bother to experiment with others, because eventually I always come back to some variation of red and green. For a few years we had two trees. One always had a random collection of family heirloom ornaments hung alongside homemade ones and whatever lights we weren’t using on the other tree.

photo

The other tree had a ‘theme’. For a few years one of our daughters had a collection of musical ornaments, with a garland of notes on a wired staff to create a musical-themed tree. There have been our all white years, when we’ve decorated from our collection of snowflakes, snowballs, and white frosted pinecones.

This year we’re back to red and green again… mostly red, with a little gold and a few frosted snowflakes displayed against the evergreen Fraser (or is it a Douglas?) Fir branches. Yes, the tree is up, the earliest it’s probably ever been, but so far that’s the extent of my Christmas preparations.

My hubby dutifully brought all eight of our Christmas-marked bins up from the basement and I picked through them, choosing what we’d use for this year’s theme. I suspect I gave it more thought than I do when I’m writing and trying to settle on a theme for my stories.

Theme isn’t easy to define… at least, not for me. It’s one of those story crafting experiences that is more  intuitive than planned. In his book, Story EngineeringLarry Brooks says:

“You intuitively know what [a good book or movie] was about, and usually on two levels: it was about the plot…and, in a different experiential context, it was about what the story means… the theme…. Theme is what our story means. How it relates to reality and life in general. What is says about life and the infinite roster of issues, facets, challenges and experiences it presents.”

That sounds reasonable, but ask me what my theme IS, and I’m back to square one! Ha!

How would you describe ‘theme’ in fiction? Is the definition as elusive for you as it is for me?

~  ~  ~

It Begins Again

For weeks now I’ve muttered about the advertisements on television — you know, the ones that start promoting Christmas shopping before Halloween arrives, and the ones that display brightly decorated homes before our friends in the USA get to celebrate their Thanksgiving. But suddenly Christmas is less than a month away!

Nativity

This is the weekend we’ll unpack our nativity scene and direct our thoughts to the new church year that’s just beginning. (Advent is the first season, so this Sunday it will all begin again — Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.)

It’s also the weekend when our family’s Christmas traditions begin to emerge. Besides our Nativity, a miniature ceramic village will be unpacked. It’s a nod to my childlike nostalgia… a fascination with tiny figures in an old-fashioned snowy ‘Currier & Ives’ kind of setting. An evergreen tree will be next, followed during the week by an assortment of decorations accumulated from many different sources.

A friend posted on Facebook this evening that it was snowing at her home on Vancouver Island, and I was instantly envious. I know envy is a sin, but what can I say? Nothing quite beats a bit of drifting snow when it comes to putting me in a let’s-start-getting-ready-for-Christmas mood. A half hour ago I happened to turn on the back deck light (checking for the bear, of course!) and whoa!!! there’s snow here, too — an inch, and it’s coming down steadily!

So I’m all set… ready to begin again this weekend. My NaNoWriMo efforts have run down. (I accumulated 14,000 words… a far cry from the goal of 50,000 but still more than I would have had without the month-long focus.) (UPDATE: Looks like I’m finishing up the month with 19,707 words.) I’ll continue my daily writing, but there will be other priorities during December.

After all, it’s beginning again… “the most wonderful time of the year!”

I’d love it if you would share how your Christmas preparations begin. :)

~

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out.

[John 1:1-5, MSG]

~  ~  ~