simplyjan

A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Archive for the category “Writing”

Reading with a Pen: Life and Art

I do my best reading with a pen in hand. When I stumble across beautiful sentences, or wise quotes, or unforgettable scenes, I feel like I need to put down a flag of discovery so that one day (hopefully) I can return. Sometimes I underlines phrases, sentences, or entire paragraphs. Sometimes I draw smiley faces or exclamation marks in the margin. Sometimes I initiate my own conversation with the text by writing in questions or comments. (I am so thankful that Amazon built these capabilities into their Kindle!) Sometimes I move the entire conversation – quotes and all – into my journal so I will have room to explore. Too often, however, my marks just sit on the page – forgotten until or unless I pick the book back up again at some point in the future. I thought it might be fun to go searching for the flags I’ve planted around words in some of my favorite books.

corner desk

Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

Today’s quote comes from one of my top five favorite books on writing: Stephen King’s On Writing.

I am writer at heart. Whether I will ever be an official “author” with a published book all remains to be seen. I’ve read all kinds of advice on writing and blogging. Write every single day. Write a set number of words every day. Post to your blog on a regular, dependable schedule if you want to build a following. You get the general idea. It’s great advice. I try to abide by it . . . somewhat.

Two weeks ago, I began writing this series. I got some good feedback. I enjoyed sitting down every day to create each post. I actually wondered at one point if maybe I could keep it going for the month of July. Of course, I was on week one of a two week vacation. Week one was staycation – a laid back week of relaxation. Then came week two: a week with family at my parents’ house on the farm in the Upstate, enjoying my niece’s two precious children while she was on a mission trip. The kids are 3 and 1, full of energy and life, more precious than words can describe, fun (and funny) . . . and exhausting. (My hat is off to you Melinda! I had forgotten how all-consuming parenting toddlers is!) Except for a few text messages, I did not write a single word all week long. And you know what? That’s absolutely okay, because the purpose of my life is not just to enhance my writing. My writing is meant to enhance my life.

I believe that is what King was getting at with his statement above. Life isn’t a support system for art, in whatever form your art takes. It informs art. It inspires art. It is expressed through art. I can’t imagine life without art. But art is not the main thing. Life is. There was nothing more important than the people, the experiences, the learning, the love. It’s when we get really lucky that we find ways to share the gifts of life with others through art, enhancing their lives as well as our own.

And Blessed Are the Days You Do Both!

As found on Jon Acuff’s blog:

remember this

Why Haven’t Been Blogging

Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.   ~Stephen King

Unlike dozens of previous posts over my many years of blogging in which I beg for forgiveness and berate myself for being a slack blogger, that’s not where I’m headed with this post. First of all, there’s only a handful of you who read anyway and I know your lives are so full that you probably aren’t losing sleep over my silence. And second, I’m learning to give myself a smidgen of grace. My life isn’t about blogging, but my blogging is about my life, which has been full to overflowing lately.

Have I mentioned that I have three kids? And no husband to co-parent? Spring gets crammed full of activities when you have kids. My oldest is three exams away from being a senior. In college!!! I gladly serve as her proofreader/editor/sounding board any time, but the end of the semester has been crunch time for her – and thus me. My other two have had spelling bees, math bees, character trait of the month award ceremonies, art shows, and (soon) concerts. They keep me a wee bit occupied.

Life with a church family is just as full. In addition to our “normal” church life, we’ve had more people with special life events that have required me to spend much more of my time as pastor, leaving less time to squeeze in the preparation for the preacher/teacher/administrator parts. I love all parts of my job, but when my scheduling gets out of whack – and the out of whack scheduling coincides with an out of whack family schedule – I become very ADD. Well, worse than my normal ADD anyway. On those days, about the best I can do is write a to do list, try to stick with it as best as possible, and hope for the best.

In the meantime, I have been writing, just not blogging. I’ve rediscovered the joy of journaling – like handwritten pen-on-paper writing. What a novelty! And I worked hard on a couple of applications for a summer writing seminar that I really wanted to attend, but is hard to get accepted into. And . . . drum roll, please . . . I got accepted! So happy! Shortly after that, I won a spot in an online writing class. I’m working with an amazing instructor who happens to be working on an amazing dream.

So that’s why I haven’t been blogging. And while anyone who knows me well knows that it is super-easy to make me feel guilty, I’m learning to let go of that guilt. My blog might not get written. My grass may grow longer than looks attractive before I get around to mowing it. Laundry might get done in one marathon laundry day instead of a little at a time during the week. My books in my to-read pile may stack up beside my bed (or on my Kindle) for awhile before I get around to them. I might not vacuum as often as I should. I might eat out too much and cook too little. But I am living one heck of a life and I’m loving it. No regrets – only joy and dreams . . . and more dreams!

Maybe I’ll blog about it later!

Sorry – No Apologies!

no apologies

In the past, whenever I’ve been absent from my blog for any length of time, I return with sheepish apologies and promises to do better. Once again, I have been gone awhile. (I hope somebody noticed!) I didn’t post a single entry for the entire month of February. This time, however, I’m not going to apologize. I’ve been busy. Very busy.

In February, I wrote five sermons, two memorial services, a newsletter article, and more emails and notes than I can begin to count. I wrote three pieces that I submitted for possible acceptance/publication by others. (That is HUGE for me. I figured it was time for me to start collecting my rejection letters. I hear you have to get a whole big pile of them before you start getting acceptance letters.) I wrote well over 13,000 “official” words in February.

I also faithfully journaled for my clergy/vocational coaching, along with personal journal writing, reflection, and notetaking for developing projects.

I read two books. Or was it three?

I walked/ran (a little) more regularly than I have in awhile, making my RunKeeper log look a little more hopeful.

I made one trip back to the Upstate for the funeral of a dear man.

I edited a TON of college papers for my oldest daughter and helped my youngest daughter with her big science project.

Oh, and I loved on, cared for, fed, and had fun with my precious children. And I enjoyed time with friends. And my took care of my furry zoo.

About a week ago I was frustrated because I had so many unfinished projects, my house needed a good cleaning, and my pantry was bare. I sent a text message to a friend and used the word “lazy” in it to describe myself. I mean, why else would there be so much that needed to be done that was still undone? Her emphatic response got my attention as she reminded me that instead of looking at all I hadn’t accomplished, I needed to look at all I had. (Okay, so the way she said it made me shake in my boots a little, but I think that’s what she meant!)

It worked. Guess what? I accomplished whole heck of a lot last month and I’m proud of it. So while I’ve missed being in this space, I offer no apologies. Just a “Glad to be back!” and a “Hope to be around a little more this month.”

After I get some sleep.

So Close. . .

As hard as it is to believe, this mid-January weekend was a beach weather weekend with highs in the upper 70’s and low 80’s. We took our t-shirts and shorts with us to church so we could make a quick change afterwards and head to the beach. There was a thin cloud cover, but no wind to speak of. The ocean temperature was, shall we say, invigorating. It was too cold for more that a quick dip of our toes in the surf. The tidal pool, however, was warm enough for comfortable wading.

As the kids searched for shells in the tidal pool, Cathy and I sat on beach towels and watched, soaking in the peacefulness of the surf sounds. I noticed a seagull on the sand inching closer and closer to us. I watched him with interest, noting the crook in his beak and the pattern of his feathers. I saw that he didn’t have a black tail with spots like most of the other seagulls around us did and wondered what kind of gull he might be. I realized that he was about as close as a seagull will get (except for when you feed them), so I reached for my phone to snap a picture of it. This is what I got:

almost

I missed my chance. It’s not that I wasn’t interested. I was. It’s not that I didn’t think about it. I did. It’s not that I didn’t have the tools to capture a picture. I did. I just didn’t act quickly enough.

I spend a lot of time inside my head – mulling over ideas for stories and sermons, blog posts and writing group essays, newsletter articles and workshop applications. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I can work themes around in my brain until all that’s left to do is sit at the keyboard to record what is there. Notice, I said “sometimes.” That is not the norm.

Most of the time it works more like this: An idea breaks into my consciousness. I notice it. I wonder if it’s workable or not. I think about how I might use it, and where. Suddenly I realize that maybe I should take the time to capture that idea. But how? Is this a note card idea or a journal idea? If it’s a journal idea, which journal? That’s an even harder question now, because I received two beautiful new journals for Christmas. Surely only the best and brightest words and ideas should earn a spot in them, right? Wait – where’s a pen? With all these journals and note cards lying around, you’d think I could find just one pen somewhere. Where did all the pens go? Is there a keyboard nearby? If so, should I use Evernote or Dropbox? It goes on and on.

By the time I’ve worked through all of this, the idea has gotten bored and wandered away. Or maybe it’s insulted because I took so long to act and it flies off in a huff. Or maybe it spots someone down the way a little who looks more receptive and prepared. All I’m left with is a glimpse of the tail feathers as it takes flight.

I get so close! It’s not that I’m not interested. I am. It’s not that I don’t think about it. I do. It’s not that I don’t have the tools. I do. I just don’t act quickly enough. Really, I must do better. Ideas, like seagulls, won’t wait around on me forever.

Simply Jan – A Writing Year in Review

2012

This has been a transitional year for me in writing. I shed my pseudonym and started writing under my real name. I took the plunge and risked sharing my writing with everyone. I completed the May Blogathon for the second year in a row, successfully finished a couple of other blogging challenges, and even tackled NaNoWriMo for the first time. I didn’t write 50,000 words, but did I ever write a lot!

I have some very specific, very ambitious goals set for 2013, but before moving ahead, I thought I would first take a look back.

My Five Most Viewed Posts of 2012:

What Good Writers Do (I have to admit that I really don’t understand why this would be one of my top posts. The only thing I can figure is that a lot of desperate wannabe writers like myself stumbled on it through Google. I’m just sorry I didn’t have anything more substantive to offer!)

Melancholy (This one was also a surprise to me.)

A Sandusky Sermon (Yes, there was much passion behind this one.)

What Is the Right Kind of Princess Story? (There was much passion behind this one as well. I tapped into my suppressed inner feminist this year in a big way.)

Single Mothers (Don’t mess with Mama Bear!)

Five of My Personal Favorite Posts of 2012:

Wind Blown (As you can tell, wind has long been a powerful symbol in my inner/dream life.)

And Now I Call It “Rush” (There’s that inner feminist again!)

A Matter of Perspective (This summarizes what my year of writing has felt like for me – a total mixed bag.

Guest Post: The Associate Pastor of Paws (This is by far the most fun I’ve ever had writing a post.)

I Live You (I do! I really do!)

What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

This month I participated in an event known as NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It is an annual event that takes place every November. The goal is to write at least 50,000 words toward a novel. People participate for a wide variety of reasons. For me, it was an opportunity to dabble in a genre that I’ve never really tried before. In addition, it was a big challenge. That’s how I like my challenges: the bigger the better!

I knew from the beginning that there was a good chance that I would not reach the 50,000 word goal. After all, November is the kick-off for one of the busiest seasons in the church. I’m a single mom with kids who need me, regardless of what else I have going on. Plus I had plans for a fast trip to Atlanta to hear Anne Lamott speak, followed immediately by a trip home for Thanksgiving with my family. Unlike previous years when I have considered the challenge, I decided that it was okay if I didn’t successfully complete it. It felt more important to me at this stage of life just to try.

So how did I do? Well, I didn’t reach the goal. I did, however, write more than 41,000 words. That’s pretty doggone good if you ask me! It was low pressure. It was fun. And along the way I learned a few things:

1) 50,000 words = a LOT of words for one month!

2) Anne Lamott is right. When you give yourself permission to write really badly, you really can get a lot more written. It isn’t worth sharing right away, mind you, but it allows you to explore ideas and styles, taking risks that you normally wouldn’t allow yourself to take. It also played mind games with my bully inner critic/editor, keeping him quiet – for the most part. It isn’t often that I allow myself to knowingly do something badly, so this was a freeing experience.

3) Writing fiction is simultaneously more fun and more frustrating that I thought it would be.

4) Writing takes on a life of its own. I started out thinking I knew exactly what I was going to write, but as I progressed I discovered myself going in totally different, totally unexpected directions. (Not sure if that’s the nature of writing or ADD. Or both.)

5) I need to learn A LOT more about writing fiction. This was a last minute, impulsive shot in the dark. I need to learn more about developing characters and working with plot. I’m just not sure who to learn from since it seems that everyone has a different take on how fiction is best done.

6) When I write a lot, I dream a lot. My dreams this month have been numerous and vivid. These haven’t been the run-of-the-mill dreams that are forgotten as soon as the alarm sounds. They have been more complex, seemingly interrelated from one night to the next, and packed with meaning. (I mean, one night I had a dream that centered on the farm and tectonic plates. Seriously. I didn’t even know for sure what tectonic meant until I looked it up the next morning.) These dreams tagged along with me during the daylight hours, begging for some attention. Writing so frequently and so intentionally seems to tap into a deeper part of my consciousness that spills over into the night. Or maybe I just haven’t been eating right before bedtime. It’s a toss-up.

7) Writing late at night has the same effect on me as running in the evening. It revs my engines and makes it harder for me to sleep. Still, don’t ask me to write early in the morning. My brain doesn’t work well before 9 a.m. The middle of the day is reserved for my work and evenings are reserved for my family. I guess that means that I just won’t sleep as well – and I will have vivid dreams – on the nights I write late. Eh, it’s worth it.

8) I missed blogging.

9) I write a lot at work. Yes, I should know this already. I just didn’t realize how much “official” writing drains the creative well. There were nights I came home from work and thought, “If I write even one more word today, my brain will explode!” Balance – I think that’s what I need to seek.

10) Ironically enough, even with more on my plate, I was more organized and more prepared, especially at work. Rather than falling behind, it was like I had more motivation to not just keep up, but get ahead.

11) My kids – all three of them – were intrigued by what I was doing. Mia, my young writer, also got busy. She has a story file on my computer that she started this month that has 571 words in it already. Not shabby for a 9-year-old! That makes me smile. And my oldest reluctant writer had either 4 or 5 papers to write this month – one of them 20 pages long. Because of this, I had the opportunity to do a lot of editing as well.

12) Because I was trying to reach a high word goal in a short period of time during a month that involved an entire week of travel and friend/family time, I didn’t do much else with my free time except write. No reading. Very little running. Very little TV. After doing this for a month, I now feel a deep need/desire to read, refill my well, and move. Too much output + not enough input = creative exhaustion. I have a stack of books waiting for me. My body is begging for exercise. My DVR is storing some of my favorite shows that I missed. Time to diversify again!

I could keep going, but I will spare you. I do plan to get to know my new characters and their stories better over time. Maybe one day they will be fit to meet the public. Even if they don’t ever make it there, I have enjoyed getting all up in their business during NaNoWriMo. But now, it’s time to sleep. And run. And get ready for Christmas. And catch up on Bones and Nashville. And read. So where should I start? A Casual Vacancy? A Year of Biblical Womanhood? Thanks, Help, Wow? A Silence of Mockingbirds? Sabbath in the Suburbs? Other suggestions?

My Latest Experiment

As I mentioned about a month ago, I am experimenting with some different forms of writing these days. On a whim, I decided to hop on the NaNoWriMo wagon this year.

nano

For those who are not familiar with this, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Folks, that is a LOT of words!

I don’t have any exquisitely plotted novel in mind, just some characters, a setting, and a few vague ideas of where it might go. I know I won’t have a real novel by the end of the month. I may or may not have 50,000 words by the end of the month. (After all, there are the wonderful time-intensive events like Thanksgiving and hopefully a trip to hear Anne Lamott during the month.) What I will have is a unique motivation for 30 days worth of experimental writing in the form of – as Anne Lamott would say – a long, sh*tty first draft. So far, I’m having a lot of fun with it.

Over the last two days, I’ve written well over 7000 words. About 1700 of those were a sermon, which obviously doesn’t count toward the NaNoWriMo total. But words written are words written and I’m pretty proud of that number!

Wish me and my new crew of imaginary friends luck in putting a decent story together!

What Is Hidden Underneath

They are everywhere – in the paperback Moleskine notebook that I carry in my pocketbook, in my blue journal, in my green notebook, on the backs of envelopes and receipts, in various files on my computer and in note taking apps on my Android. These snippets of stories, quotes, and blog post ideas seem to surround me, yet they are never conveniently available when I need them. You have no idea how often I sit down to write and find myself paralyzed by the thought, “I have absolutely nothing to say!” It happens frequently. The last time was, well, when I sat down to write this post! The truth is, I probably have too much to say. I just don’t know it yet. Some of you know exactly what I mean by that. Others of you are probably baffled.

notes

My dad shared a quote with me that he found last week that says better than I ever could what the whole writing process is like for me.

Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us.  Writing itself reveals what is alive….  The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write.  To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know.  Thus, creative writing requires a real act of trust.  We have to say to ourselves, “I do not yet know what I carry in my heart, but I trust that it will emerge as I write”.  Writing is like giving away the few loaves and fishes one has, trusting that they will multiply in the giving.  Once we dare to give away on paper the few thoughts that come to us, we start discovering how much is hidden underneath. (Luci Shaw in Nouwen Then, edited by Christopher de Vinck)

I read through my latest notebooks and journals recently, noticing several themes that keep appearing in my messy notes. I have begun the process of organizing these notes I’ve so randomly collected into outlines on my computer. It is a long and tedious process. Where does this quote fit in? How do these topics come together? Do I really have enough thoughts/opinions/experiences to flesh this out? As the outlines come together, the excitement builds because I am beginning to see more clearly what I’ve been carrying in my heart as the themes emerge and solidify. Maybe it will be like the loaves and fishes – once I begin to share, it will multiply in the giving. I can hope! In the meantime, you’ll find me “fishing and baking,” looking for what I have hidden underneath.

loaves and fishes

“Watch Me!”

“Hey Mom! I can do a handstand. Watch me.” Hands go down, legs go up – almost a real handstand. “No wait! That wasn’t a good one. I can do better. Watch me!” And so it goes, over and over. All three of mine have done it, as all kids do.

gabby

There is joy in being watched. There is also merit in all the practice that goes on when no one is watching. For every handstand we saw Gabby Douglas do in the Olympics, I wonder how many thousands she did in the privacy of the practice gym? To get better at anything, you have to practice. And practice. And . . .

Somehow, it’s easier to keep practicing when you know someone is watching, cheering you on. There is something rewarding about getting immediate feedback, even if that feedback occasionally comes in the form of criticism. You have to know the good and the bad of what you do in order to improve.

I’ve realized recently that I’ve been doing a lot of “Watch me!” with my writing. Everything I write is open to immediate feedback – blog posts, sermons, newsletter articles, emails. I write quickly. It is immediately on display, ready and waiting for feedback.

“No wait! That wasn’t a good one. I can do better. Read this!”

It is satisfying to know that someone reads and/or hears what I write. It is rewarding (and yes, sometimes frustrating, too) to get immediate feedback. I am learning more about what I do well and where I need to improve. But to move to the next level, I need to do a lot more writing in the background. I need to work on longer pieces and practice new forms, and I need to do it without the instant gratification that my current writing practices offer.

I will continue to blog for pleasure and write as my work requires, but you may not see me here quite as often saying, “Watch me! Wait – this one is better. Watch this!” But I will be plugging away in the background. If you aren’t sure, feel free to ask me. Accountability partners are always a good thing. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll have something bigger to share that will showcase all the behind-the-scenes work.

Until then, I’ll be over here. Practicing.

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