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Posts Tagged ‘writing a novel’

Jo 17It has been an interesting experience these past few weeks to pick up my novel writing again, after completing two non-fiction books. While I love writing non-fiction, it is such a joy to feel I can let loose and create a whole new story from scratch.

Novel writing can be a slow, exhausting process, but it can also be so fulfilling, as the various characters develop and the strands of the story come together. And for me, it can easily become all-consuming too. I relate deeply with my characters. I feel their joy and pain and confusion. I immerse myself in their world. I ache for them and hold my breath at times in the hope they will make good and right decisions.

With my current novel, I felt relieved when I completed the first five chapters—always the hardest for me. The story seemed to be taking shape and gaining momentum. But because I knew I was approaching a very sad section, I baulked. I did not want my main character to endure such grief, yet I knew that was where the story needed to go. I put it aside and wrote other shorter pieces for a while, but eventually, I decided to take the plunge again.

Yet as I wrote, I became sadder and sadder. You see, without giving too much away, a little boy drowns in this novel—and his death is intrinsic to the plot. I had to describe the actual event. Then I had to portray the family’s grief and anger and lack of forgiveness too from one family member towards another. As well, I had to visualise the lasting effects of such a tragedy on my main character and begin to help her work through these in a realistic way.

At that point, I felt exhausted, as if I had struggled through those raging floodwaters myself. My earlier chapters, while being so fulfilling to write, had taken much perseverance—and now that I was on the other side of this difficult part of the plot, I wondered if I had what it took to unfold the rest in a sensitive way that would touch readers’ hearts. Had I perhaps forgotten how to write a novel, after living in the world of non-fiction for so long? Was I capable of allowing the story to develop as it needed to?

With these questions bombarding my brain, I soon descended into a morass of self-doubt and self-pity—until I remembered how helpful the Psalms had been to me during past writing struggles. I began reading them yet again and eventually came to Psalm 18:16-19:

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. … He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

While that dear little boy in my novel might not have been rescued from actual deep waters, I knew God would rescue me. At other times in my life when I felt things were all too hard, I have experienced that loving hand grasping me firmly and helping me stand on solid ground again. God has drawn me out of many deep waters—and I know God will delight to do that for you too.

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Jo 12I am tempted to write a book one day about the many interesting experiences I have had during my journey of speaking at all sorts of venues as a published author or promoting my books. It could also include those occasional moments in every-day life when someone discovers I am a writer—at which point the ensuing conversation usually has to do with what sort of books I write or what their titles are. But occasionally these interesting exchanges take a little more challenging turn, as happened recently.

‘So … you’re a writer. Um … should I know you? Are you famous? What books have you written that I might have come across?’

Fortunately, I managed to laugh and answer in a light-hearted enough way. After all, I could understand the person’s confusion. Is she really a writer? … I don’t recognise her—but maybe I should. I’m sure I haven’t heard her name before though. … I wonder what she writes? Probably nothing I’ve read anyway. Mostly, they are simply blurting out the first thing that comes to mind—although sometimes I do wonder if such questions are actually an attempt to shut me up or put me in my place! But whatever the motive, I never quite know how to respond. What would you say in such a situation?

In the end, I opted for what was probably a rather lame response.

‘Well … it depends what sort of books you read! I’ve written six novels and two non-fiction books—but no, I can’t say I’m famous. Here, I’ll give you my card—then you can look up my books on my website.’

I am so thankful for those business cards I carry around. Many times, they have extricated me from similar situations where I am at a loss to know what to say about my books. If the person asking the questions is really interested, they can look me up. If not, then they are at liberty to throw my card into the nearest bin!

No, I am not famous by any means—and I’m fine with that. You see, I have done my best in both writing and promoting my books for some years now. And I have tried in each one to write the things God put on my heart to write about—the love of God, the grace of God, forgiveness, holding onto our faith in God, using our God-given gifts, encouraging others in their journey with God. Now, as I attempt to write my seventh novel, I find I still have so much to learn in an ever-changing market. However well or otherwise I have written in the past, I can hopefully improve. Besides, God is still God—and as I write, I plan to listen to that gentle whisper of the Spirit, inspiring me and urging me on. This writing journey of mine has never been my idea alone—to me, the whole thing has been an amazing gift from God. And that, above all else, should keep me humble, don’t you think?

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:12

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Jo 17I wonder what the most appealing personality trait is for you. What virtue do you most admire in others and perhaps wish you could cultivate a little more in yourself?

Mine has been the same for years now—and that is humility. Recently, I came across the following statement:

Find humility or it will find you.

I could not help but agree. And these words set me thinking about my quest for more of that rather elusive commodity in my own life.

I grew up feeling quite proud of certain things I could do, particularly in the academic area. That led to my looking down on others who did not do so well at school. Never mind that they left me for dead on the sporting field and in other ways. And it seems to me such thinking can lead to a kind of self-protection, where we feel safer and better about ourselves by judging others to be inferior in some way.

We often come to hate some trait in another person that we ourselves have, don’t you think? We may be unable to acknowledge or even recognise it in ourselves—but we can see it clearly in someone else. It’s for this reason, I believe, that I came to hate pride and arrogance in others. And perhaps it’s for this reason that I longed to be much more like those who had achieved great things in their lives yet seemed so humble about it all. I remember several amazing people I have met, some only fleetingly, whose humility both amazed and challenged me. And I am grateful for others who have shown me over longer periods in my life what it is truly like to walk that humble road.

But it has been through my writing journey that God has taught me the most about humility. I believe God has a great sense of humour. Not long after I started writing, I suspect I heard God say to me, in a loving but slightly rueful tone: ‘You want to be more humble, Jo-Anne? Right—then writing’s a sure fire way to reach your goal!’ There is nothing quite as daunting and confronting, I have discovered, than putting one’s creative efforts out there for all the world to see, to like or dislike, to criticise or to praise, to tear apart or to truly ‘get’ and appreciate. One of the most unnerving experiences I have ever had was to see a man whose opinion I respected reading one of my early novels. Was he enjoying it—or did he think it was rubbish? I could not tell. I looked the other way. I did not want to find out.

In 1 Peter 5:5-7, we read:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

I would much rather that God extend grace to me than oppose me, wouldn’t you? And that’s one reason I plan to keep going in my quest for that elusive commodity of humility until the day when God’s hand, and not my own, lifts me up.

Is humility something you long for more of in your life too—or has it found you already?

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This past weekend, I experienced a reality check. I happened to glance at the calendar on our kitchen wall and noticed it was showing the dates for January. That’s okay, I thought—we’re still in January, aren’t we? But wait! We had Australia Day last weekend—we must be in February!

With a sinking feeling, I reached out and tore off that sheet showing all those January dates, crumpled it up and threw it in the bin. Usually whenever I get rid of the past month’s dates, I pause to reflect on all that has happened during that time—family events, appointments, speaking engagements, writing days. But this time, there was a big blank in my mind about it all. Where had that first month gone? How had I let it slip away like that?

Granted, there have been some extenuating circumstances that need to be taken into account—like a back operation in the middle of the month! Prior to that, I was largely focused on coping with pain and deciding on the best way forward health-wise. And afterwards—well, I’m hanging onto the theory that my brain fuzziness is due to the anaesthetic I had rather than anything else! I’m slowly getting on track again, but realise I have missed out on most of the planning I usually do in January to set up speaking engagements and promotional events. As for my current writing project, I can barely remember what it is about right now! Any wonder I felt a little discouraged, as I tore that first month from our calendar?

I almost laughed out loud, however, when I turned to that well-worn part of my bible, the Psalms, yesterday and discovered I was up to Psalm 18 again. I suspect God has a sense of humour, because there I found the following verses:

You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help, I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. (28-29)

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. (33)

You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn. (36)

Now I’m clumsy at the best of times. Somehow I don’t think my feet are anything like those nimble deer’s feet. Right now, I’m not advancing anywhere too confidently. And as for scaling walls—forget it! Yet do you think it was any accident I read those verses? Do you think God was mocking me or trying to give me false hope? That doesn’t sound like God to me.

So I’m choosing to hear God’s positive, encouraging messages to me via this psalm. Right now, I’m choosing to accept God’s help as I step into this year, knowing that help will include strength for what lies ahead and the ability to stand and to overcome any obstacles along the way. With God, I know I will even be able to scale those walls that might look impenetrable. And as I live in God’s light and love, I know my own lamp will not go out but shine brightly.

So I’m looking forward to the year ahead—and I hope you are too. Let’s scale those walls together!

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