Hoarding on the Bottom Shelf (Rerun)

In lieu of something new and shiny to share with you, today’s mental meandering is a re-run from November 2008 and 2011. I hate to admit publicly that I’ve been contemplating some office tidying. When I say contemplating I mean staring ineffectively at the accumulation of paper that surrounds me in here. It seems nobody else is likely to do anything about the mess, so I guess it’s up to me. I’m not sure I’m up to tackling the task, but I’m contemplating it. That’s a positive step, isn’t it?

~

My bedroom closet should be purged. It contains sizes I haven’t worn in a decade. There’s a dresser drawer full of sox I don’t wear, too. They’re in assorted eye-catching colours but I only wear black ones now. (It doesn’t matter what else I’m wearing, black is always chic.) Then there are those kitchen cupboards devoted to empty plastic containers that should be recycled, and gadgets that looked indispensable when demonstrated but have never been used.

You get the picture. I’m a hoarder. This may explain why I have in my office a virtual bottom shelf piled to capacity with printouts of successive drafts of my novels and copies of all the articles I’ve written–kept for what purpose I don’t know. After all, I have clips of the published articles neatly filed away. And you can be sure those early novel drafts will never be offered as reading material, even to uncritical family members. So why haven’t they been tossed out? My theory, if anyone happens to ask, is that writers should keep a record of their journey towards publication.

During the months (and years) while rejection slips accumulate I can take encouragement from the knowledge that what’s been sent out is far superior to the earlier versions. If proof is required I need only browse a few pages of Draft #1 and compare them to Draft #20.

As those pages collect dust on the shelf, however, I wonder if some will outlive me and my publication hopes for them. After I’m gone might someone believe these old manuscripts should be circulated? What a terrifying thought!

“… If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my drafts to take.”

~

Do you keep copies of all the old versions of your manuscript(s)? Or are you ruthless in eliminating every trace of them? And, the big question… why?

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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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Are you motivated by the destination or the journey?

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There were just two daffodils in our entire yard. I know better than to plant tulips because the deer consider them a gourmet salad mix. But I’ve planted dozens of deer-resistant daffs and narcissus through the years, carefully selecting varieties said to be good naturalizers. The first year several bloom; the next only a few; and from then on I’m lucky if there are any. I just don’t seem to have any luck with them. But I noticed these two daffodils a couple days ago, gamely working their way up through the protection of a rhododendron branch, and I smiled.

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Yesterday my hubby handed them to me. We’d had an exceptionally heavy rainstorm, and he found both of them broken, with their sunny faces resting on the ground. I rinsed them off and tucked them into a vase. The sun came out briefly during the afternoon and shone through the window. I couldn’t stop admiring how the flowers looked, basking in the glow. Naturally I reached for my camera and took shots from every angle.

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It was only as I reviewed the photos on my computer that I noticed something. I had selected a vase based on its appropriate size, and not paid a lot of attention to which one it was. But the sun’s rays made it glisten, and now my attention was drawn to the beauty I’d overlooked.

We often chuckle at young children who get more pleasure from the box than from the gift inside. Other times we may go overboard and labour over gift wrapping until the exterior of a package is worth more than its contents. In my case, I found joy in sunshine through petals, and only later gleaned equal pleasure from the casually chosen container.

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How often do we miss seeing the obvious? And when we miss seeing, we forget thankfulness. And without thankfulness there is no joy.

Not long ago I printed out “A Year of Graces” from Ann Voskamp’s website — a perpetual calendar with lines on which to record those things for which I am thankful each day. On the first page is this statement:

“Joy is always a function of gratitude —
and gratitude is always a function of perspective.
If we are going to change our lives,
what we’re going to have to change
is the way we see.”

Later there is this:

“No one gets to joy by trying to make everything perfect.
One only arrives there by seeing in every imperfection
all that is joy.”

And in that was my analogy, just waiting to be found… the link to writing. I have always affirmed that I enjoy revising my writing. There is such satisfaction in refining to bring forward the best a story can be. Yet many times I struggle with revisions, trying unsuccessfully to find exactly the right words, too often becoming frustrated and disheartened. In retrospect, I think it’s because I’m seeing my failure and overlooking the process… focusing on the results instead of how I achieve them.

I love writing. The thought of not writing fills me with anxiety. I’ve always been better at putting words on paper than in speaking them. How would I express the chaos of unuttered thoughts if not on paper? What would I do with all the story ideas and blog posts if I didn’t let them flow out through my fingertips? Fulfillment comes from the doing, from creative expression, in wrestling thoughts out of the void into a finite place. I’m grateful for the ideas, for the ability to put them into words — however imperfect they may be — for the desire to communicate and the freedom and time to keep trying.

My gratitude prompts thankfulness, which in turn encourages joy to blossom. In those moments when I gather together my efforts and raise cupped hands in a gesture of thankful praise, it is the uplifted hands that are important, not the quality of their less-than-praiseworthy contents.

I have a new work-in-progress that I put aside in favour of revising something older. Lately both have been preempted by a church history project, but it doesn’t matter what I’m working on as long as I approach the task with that attitude of gratitude. There will be joy in the doing.

What small everyday joy will bring thankfulness to your heart today?

~

“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving.”

Psalm 69:30

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Glorious Colour or Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud? (Take #2)

When tasks get ahead of me, the calendar gives me the eagle eye, and I don’t have the energy required to catch up… something has to go, and today it’s the blog. With memories of the Surrey Conference still fresh in mind, I hope you’ll excuse me for re-running this post that was originally inspired by Jack’s rendition of the Hippopotamus Song.

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With apologies to Jack Whyte (from whom I learned the song) and Flanders and Swann (who wrote the lyrics), I could think of no better title for this post.

There’s no getting around it. Colour affects me. I’m forever remarking on the multitude of greens in the early spring, or trying to describe the perfect tint of pink edging a garden bloom. It took literally months (ask my exasperated husband!) before I could settle on just the right shade of sage green to repaint our family room walls.

I haven’t had my oils out for a long time, but I well remember the times I dabbed and mixed colours trying for a hue that was exactly right  – working and reworking the colours on my canvas until suddenly I’d gone too far and they were muddy. At that moment there was no way to reclaim the desired effect. The only remedy was to take a palette knife, scrape the canvas clean and begin again.

This morning as I struggled with revisions to a particular scene I muttered about its lack of colour. Characterization was okay but the setting felt artificial, two-dimensional. There’s no lack of information on this subject but knowing and doing are too often a chasm apart. I thought I knew what was needed.

I closed my eyes for a moment and visualized the scene. Then I let my fingers loose to bring descriptive life to it. I gave them free rein, and when they were done I sat back and read the accumulation of words.

Oh, my! Purple prose, with adjectives and adverbs galore! I went through the paragraphs stripping away the superfluous, but that just left bare bones that poked ugly elbows at me. Like a bad painting, the whole thing was past redemption. I’d gone too far. Delete. Delete. Delete. I’ll rewrite from scratch tomorrow.

Colours1Glorious colour is an ethereal glow. Like stained glass its beauty is not in itself but in the light that pours through it, effortlessly enhancing without drawing attention to itself.

That’s the effect I want in my writing.

That’s also what I hope to achieve with my life.

“I am the Light of the world”

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New Perspectives

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While visiting one of my favourite blogs on Thursday, Susan Atole’s Just… a Moment, I was intrigued by the unusual perspective in her featured photos. She said it was on the High Calling Focus blog that she encountered a challenge to lay on her back for taking photo shots. It was a challenge I couldn’t ignore

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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Today I’m also talking about Dealing with Transitions at The Pastor’s Wife Speaks Blog. Please click on over and join me there. [I’ve just learned The Pastor’s Wife Speaks blog will be discontinued at the end of November, so this is my last post there.]

Renovation and Revision Chaos

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Anyone who has ever undertaken a home renovation project knows the utter chaos that descends on the household.

This week my son’s family has been replacing interior doors and casings, and all the flooring in the house except for the basement. Carpets and vinyl in three bedrooms, the main hallway, living room, dining room and kitchen – everything has been torn up. Furniture and appliances are shuffled from one room to another trying to stay one step ahead of the floor layers.

On home makeover TV shows, the family moves out until contractors have created a pristine new space. In reality, most homeowners simply live in upheaval until the job is done. It might not sound so daunting, but try being a family of six, including a special needs toddler, a part-time working mom, a dad who is a work-at-home business manager, a teenager on the eve of her graduation prom, and the inevitable cat and large dog, all trying to function in the same spaces that are being torn apart. As I said… chaos… and at some point, despair. Will it eventually come together and resemble the original dream?

It’s likely that many of us undertaking a novel revision experience a similar sense of despair during the process. The first draft has such promise, but after critical examination we discover potential changes that would make it so much better. Or perhaps an agent or editor sends pages of suggested alterations designed to improve structure, plot or character development.

We tear apart our carefully constructed story, removing undesired elements and adding new ones, trying desperately to maintain the integrity of the original plot. One change necessitates another, continuity is jeopardized, and there is so much more work than we anticipated.

Remember the axiom that says it’s always darkest just before dawn? Remember how installing beautiful new hardwood floors requires tearing out the old floor covering first and moving everything else out of the way? Novel revisions are no different. Yes, it gets messy, but the only way to create the well-crafted story we envision is to have a renovation plan and work systematically through it.

The end result will be worth the chaos!

Are you one who likes to leave well enough alone when you settle into a home, or do you like to personalize, redecorate and renovate? Do you enjoy or dread novel revisions?

~

Hoarding on the Bottom Shelf

In lieu of something new and shiny to share with you, today’s mental meandering is a re-run from November 2008. I hate to admit publicly that I’ve been contemplating some office tidying. When I say contemplating I mean staring ineffectively at the accumulation of paper that surrounds me in here. I think it has something to do with the New Year and all those ambitious ‘intentions’ that are awaiting the application of elbow grease. Whatever! It seems nobody else is likely to do anything about the mess, so I guess it’s up to me. I’m not sure I’m up to tackling the task, but I’m contemplating it. That’s a positive step, isn’t it?

~

My bedroom closet should be purged. It contains sizes I haven’t worn in a decade. There’s a dresser drawer full of sox I don’t wear, too. They’re in assorted eye-catching colours but I only wear black ones now. (It doesn’t matter what else I’m wearing, black is always chic.) Then there are those kitchen cupboards devoted to empty plastic containers that should be recycled, and gadgets that looked indispensable when demonstrated but have never been used.

You get the picture. I’m a hoarder. This may explain why I have in my office a virtual bottom shelf piled to capacity with printouts of successive drafts of my novels and copies of all the articles I’ve written–kept for what purpose I don’t know. After all, I have clips of the published articles neatly filed away. And you can be sure those early novel drafts will never be offered as reading material, even to uncritical family members. So why haven’t they been tossed out? My theory, if anyone happens to ask, is that writers should keep a record of their journey towards publication.

During the months (and years) while rejection slips accumulate I can take encouragement from the knowledge that what’s been sent out is far superior to the earlier versions. If proof is required I need only browse a few pages of Draft #1 and compare them to Draft #20.

As those pages collect dust on the shelf, however, I wonder if some will outlive me and my publication hopes for them. After I’m gone might someone believe these old manuscripts should be circulated? What a terrifying thought!

“… If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my drafts to take.”

~

Do you keep copies of all the old versions of your manuscript(s)? Or are you ruthless in eliminating every trace of them? And, the big question… why?