How do you feel about construction?

 

BackhoeHorror stories are not uncommon when it comes to home renovations. My father was a masonry contractor and built a couple of our homes when I was a child. I don’t recall it being a particularly stressful process, but that may have been because I was young and oblivious.

Later years Dad helped one of our churches build a new manse for us, and I quite enjoyed that, even when construction didn’t overlap with our holidays as planned, and it meant a week of bunking on the church lounge floor in sleeping bags with four children, and cooking in the church kitchen. We got to choose the design and all the interior and exterior finishes, fixtures and appliances, while the church paid all the bills. Now that was an ideal arrangement. ;)

It’s been almost fourteen years since I was last involved in a construction project. In 2000 our church added a new wing to its building, and everyone participated in whatever capacity they could. I ended up on the interior design and décor committee, helping to select wall colours, carpets, and furniture.

My hubby would probably tell you that I must have been an interior decorator in another life because I’m always rearranging furniture in our home and thinking about new colour schemes! During the months of church construction it was messy, and noisy, and tiring, but despite all that and the occasional frustration, I loved the whole experience!

 

Construction

In retrospect, I found similarities to my novel writing. Before driving a single nail, there was the initial planning stage, researching, establishing the game-players, and drawing up blueprints. We had a ceremonial turning of the sod, which was followed by the massive backhoe that arrived to begin the groundwork. Forms and foundation undergirded the subsequent framing and roof structure. So much work went into it before it began resembling the rooms and stairwells and gymnasium that were the eventual result. And even after it was finished, it wasn’t.

There was still a lot of fine-tuning. Extra coats of paint. Miscommunication required the change of some light fixtures. Trim was missing in a couple places. Little things, but important pieces in the overall finishing.

So it is with my storytelling. All that mulling of ideas, the research, setting up characters and POV. I dig through magazines and catalogues, putting together the bits and pieces of a collaged storyboard — my ceremonial start to every new story. Finally, with it set out for inspiration, I begin writing.

I’m not a fast writer, so it can be a long time before the essence of the story begins to take shape. It’s a lot of work. I think I’m on track, and then I’m deleting paragraphs and pages that don’t fulfill their intended purpose. It gets messy. Even when I think I’m done, I’m not. There are endless revisions, beta reading and further edits.

ChurchKitchenReno

Is it worth it? When I stand back and view the completed manuscript, despite its lingering flaws, there is satisfaction from seeing how all the pieces came together to create the harmony of a pleasing story. I find characters I’d like to live with, in a world I’d like to inhabit.

There are endless writing analogies in the construction process. Perhaps the most enlightening discovery is that no one part of the process is more important than another. Remove the initial idea, or the blueprints, the coordinating contractor, quality materials, or careful workmanship, even the final check of all the finishing details … miss any one of them, and the resulting structure may not be sound. It may collapse under scrutiny.

Do you understand the basic steps in creating a story? Have you read any good books on the topic lately? I still like James Scott Bell’s PLOT & STRUCTURE, and now he has a brand new book I’m anxious to read: SUPER STRUCTURE: THE KEY TO UNLEASHING THE POWER OF STORY.

So, how are you at dealing with construction?

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Hemmed In

I wonder if there are days in your life when you feel hemmed in … pressured on all sides … maybe overwhelmed by decisions, demands or expectations.

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Prior to taking the above photo, I thought of that while I stared out over the crowded marina. A bit of claustrophobia kicked in, just thinking of being on the deck of one of these boats, of needing to ease out from the wharf and maneuver carefully down a narrow corridor to get beyond the breakwater without disturbing the vessels around me. I’m not a very patient person when that edge of panic starts to close in. I need my space! Now!

A few of my writer friends have mentioned the pressure of deadlines lately, of trying to fit their writing into impossible schedules around unavoidable commitments. I don’t have that kind of problem, but I understand the anxiety and the ‘I need to escape’ feeling it creates.

I had a moment like that yesterday, when faced with a task that unsettled me. Suddenly assorted words from Sunday’s service popped into my mind [placed there, no doubt, by God, although I don’t think I gave Him credit at the time]:

“Be still and know that I am God.”
“My soul finds rest in God.”
“Come to Me.”

In the briefest moment of a fragmented prayer He led me to a quiet place. Then I was able to carry on.

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In the car I tuned the radio to a favourite Christian music station, and what was the first thing I heard? This song, new to me until Sunday when it had moved me to tears:

COME TO ME

In the quiet, Lord, I come;
Been invited by Your Son.
In the stillness I can hear
Jesus calling me near.

Come to me all you weary and worn,
Come all you heavy hearted.
My beloved child,
Come away for awhile,
And you shall find rest for your soul.

Those refreshing gentle words
Feel like water for my thirst.
With a whisper in my ear
Jesus bids me draw near.

[Rory Noland]

God’s quite remarkable about things like that. Sometimes He meets needs before I even know I have them. Have you ever had that experience?

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“My help and glory are in God
    —granite-strength and safe-harbor-God…”

Psalm 62:7 [Msg]

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From the Archives: New Perspectives

While visiting one of my favourite blogs one Thursday back in November 2011 — Susan Atole’s Just… a Moment – I was intrigued by the unusual perspective in her featured photos. I learned she had been challenged by someone to lay on her back for taking photo shots, and I decided to try it, too.

This unusual perspective offered design and reflections, glimmers of colours and shapes not previously noticed. The ordinary became extraordinary.

There’s something to be said for lifting our eyes beyond the obvious. If we always look at things from the same perspective, we’re going to keep seeing the same things in the same way. It’s true in life, and it’s true in writing.

I’ve been doing some editing for a friend, and am appalled at how often I’ve found an error in sections already line edited several times. “How could I possibly have missed that?” Every time I read through a chapter on the computer my brain insisted on reading what it expected to find, not necessarily what my eyes were seeing. It wasn’t until I printed the manuscript and read it in the new format that more errors popped out at me. For the final proofing I printed it again, but in a different font, and found still more.

A new perspective provides fresh inspiration when we’re bogged down writing a scene, too. Where do we go when our only idea keeps leading us to a proverbial brick wall? Sometimes we need to take the story on the road … write in a different environment, use different tools, maybe give the scene to a different character.

A different perspective tricks the brain into shifting its thinking. And that new viewpoint may be all that’s needed to stimulate the mind and send it off in a fresh direction.

Besides laying on your back, how might you achieve a new perspective for an existing project? Has a new perspective ever helped you out of a dilemma? 

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(A click on the photo will enlarge it so you can see the source of my camera’s focus.)

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The day this was originally posted (in 2011) I was also talking about Dealing with Transitions over at The Pastor’s Wife Speaks Blog. Please consider clicking on over there if you’d like to read what I said on that topic. [The Pastor’s Wife Speaks blog was discontinued at the end of November 2011, so it was my final post there.]

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A Project Completed (proclaimed with great jubilation!)

Done! Finished! The church history I began writing in October of 2012 (was it really that long ago?) is finally complete. Well, more or less. The illustrated narrative has been printed, but there are accompanying heritage albums that will be ongoing as I attempt to keep an up-to-date photographic record of the life and ministry of our congregation.

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I’ve always been interested in our family’s genealogy, but I admit as a more general study, history is not one of my strengths. My original plan was only to update an existing historical document and augment it with photographs, but as the mounds of resource material grew, so did my passion for the task.

Authors of historical fiction would probably confirm that research can take longer to do than the actual writing. When it came to this non-fiction project, however, that part was a surprise to me. I knew where to look for the facts. There were also previous, albeit condensed, histories to access for material. Still, I encountered time-consuming roadblocks — there were inconsistent ‘facts’, incompatible dates, and conflicting memories!

My goal was to be as accurate as possible and document significant data in a bibliography, so I started by gathering all the information I could find, looking first at our national church archives and the local historical society’s records. Unfortunately there was very little to be found in either place, but bit by bit, details were unearthed.

It would have been smarter to first read up on how to write a history, but when I was finally ready to start writing, I had the notion that I wanted to begin with a brief section on the earliest roots of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, then go on to chronologically document the beginning of Presbyterian work in our area, because there was a distinctive history there. Both also provided the underpinnings for our current congregation. After the fact, I’m learning I did some things right — I had a plan before I began, and unknowingly chose a recognized format.

  • “The Time-line: Another visually effective method (again, less writing-intensive although every bit as research-intensive), facts are organized chronologically along a time-line. The number of sequential time-line entries per page will depend upon the number of corresponding photographs available to highlight key moments.”*

Writing a history isn’t quite like composing a memoir, but there are certain similarities. Unless one wants to end up with a sawdust-dry account of facts that will put readers to sleep, one needs to glean the interesting tidbits that bring personality to the account.

  • “History writing should not simply be a rehash of old stories told a hundred times before. This is where primary sources–original letters, diaries, and other documents–become your best asset. Look for interesting details that earlier writers haven’t emphasized… Odd facts such as these add zest to your narrative and are remembered by your readers long after most of the names and dates have faded from their minds.” **

There are some things I would do differently if I were starting again, and if the resulting document were to be published for public distribution. One would be to change the size of the book to a more typical 6″ x 9″ format. But there was no support or funding for a professionally published book. (In fact, it’s thought that most copies will be ordered as a PDF file on a CD.) So the most inexpensive format was the only way to go — laser copies with a plasticized cover and glued binding.

That project is complete. Now it’s time to get started on the next one.

Have you ever tackled a memoir, history or biography?

(Haney Presbyterian Church today)

(Haney Presbyterian Church today)

* People and Steeples:
Writing Church Histories

by Wendy Hobday Haugh

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**Making Your Future Out of the Past

by Sean McLachlan

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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.

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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.

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“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]

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

[Psalm 117:2, NLT]

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