The Story Thus Far

I played imaginary games in my front yard much longer than is culturally acceptable. I used to pace the walkway of my parents’ house or the ridge on our hill, imagining action in my head, talking in characters voices. Of course I was writing. It took me a while to put words to my madness. I call it “talking out a story”. Nowadays, I don’t have a yard (or woods) to hide in, so the madness is temporarily on hold. But back then it was the best part about summer. That and all the prizes from out-reading everyone in the summer reading program. But I digress.

The summer after eighth grade was particularly exciting. I couldn’t wait to get outside every morning, walking barefoot over the bricks in the walkway in the dewy air. I was doing something new, taking old stories and piecing them together, weaving them into a coherent narrative. I discovered three spurting narratives that lived as soon as they came together. I talked out each part, playing every character. To my surprise, I had a book.

I started writing in July, the weekend after the Fourth, on the computer in my aunt and uncle’s basement. I knew the story I wanted to tell. After lots of attempts, I really I hoped I could see this one through.

I worked on the first draft through freshman and sophomore year. Sometimes I would write before school. Mostly I would write after. I got in fights with my mom when I wanted to write instead of do chores. She wanted me to learn discipline. I think I did.

I finished the first draft on July 3, 2007, almost two years exactly since I’d started. I could hardly believe it. I had written a book. A BOOK! 163 pages, roughly 80,000 words, a legitimate book! Now I could tell people I was a writer, instead of saying I wanted to be one. Of course it wasn’t ready to be published, but I had time for that. I knew I  had plenty to learn. And as I learned I would rewrite.

I started reading more great works: Hamlet, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby. I started thinking about how I put sentences together. Something Wicked This Way ComesI, Robot, Seamus Heaney’s BeowulfMacbeth. I thought about where my fantasy novel fit in the world of speculative fiction. What was I doing others weren’t?

The summer before college I started a complete overhaul of everything I’d done. I realized I need to do more than change a sentence here or there. I needed to scrape down to the bones and re-sculpt the flesh. And then classes actually started. My intellectual energy flew away. I couldn’t revise. But I kept reading. The Tenant of Wildfell HallCrime and Punishment. Oh, to write like the greats, explaining the world in such a way that the world weeps.

I chugged through chapters during the summer or when I had time. I re-imagined scene after scene. I listened in all of my classes. Everything had something about writing. Literature taught me what good writing looked like. Musical Theatre taught me how to holistically tell a story. Psychology taught me how people become the way they are. Theology made me ask questions about why I wrote. I kept thinking. I kept learning. I kept working.

I graduated with half of a second draft. I got married. I struggled with adulthood, exhausted and disillusioned. I spent a year trying to plow through a single chapter. Our dreams died. We were exiled to my in-laws. And suddenly I could revise again. It became my escape, the one place I felt like I could exist. When I wanted to end it all, I would remind myself that I still had a draft to finish. I had to keep going. I couldn’t concentrate enough to read, but I could revise, goddammit.

Our life suddenly became functional. Caleb had a job. We moved into our own place. I could write every day for as long as I wanted.

Today, May 7, 2015, ten years after I started dreaming through this story, I finished my second draft.

I’m still not ready to seek publication, but who cares. I revised a book!! 180 pages. About 74,000 words, every single one mine.

I’ve grown and changed so much since I started as a fourteen year old dreamer. I’m a different person with a different place in life: a college graduate, an adult, a wife, a grieving mom. But I’m still a writer.

And that’s not going away.

Taking Time

It’s been two and a half weeks since I officially became a full-time writer. The results are astonishing. In a dozen days, I’ve re-written six chapters. That’s a chapter every two days. After crawling through this second draft for almost eight years, starting over every time I grew as a writer, getting slowed down by school and depression and work, I’m suddenly tumbling to the finish line. My head is spinning, my stomach churning. I’m completely overwhelmed.

So I decided to take a break today, to step away from my novel and breathe. I’m not ready to plunge into the denouement and that’s okay. Feeling rushed and good art do not go together.

That’s not to say good art can’t be produced quickly. There are plenty of stories of writers completing tent-pole stories in days (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and poets pulling sonnets out the air like magic (Keats’ “On the Grasshopper and the Cricket”). Some writers can produce content incredibly quickly. Joyce Carol Oates has published over forty novels since the sixties on top of short stories, poems, and plays while teaching creative writing at Princeton. She can’t do all of that and not produce art quickly.

But there’s a difference between writing quickly and feeling rushed. I can crochet a scarf in a day if I feel like it, but I wouldn’t do as good work if didn’t take the time to count stitches occasionally or take breaks to keep my fingers from blistering (not an exaggeration. I did it once).

So I’m taking a day off, cleaning the apartment, watching movies, playing Mariokart.

The funny thing is, taking time will help me write more tomorrow. I’ll have been able to breathe, to get some perspective, to remember that finishing this draft will feel so darn good. And all the while, my brain is still working, figuring out problems that I haven’t had to tackle yet. I’m learning how people talk, how people think, how it feels to finish something that’s defined one’s life for years.

I guess all life works like this. We need to take time for the things that matter. Caleb and I have to take time to process this craziness that’s been our life for the past month. I need to take time to figure out how to communicate to the culture of yuppies. If we don’t, if we try to rush ourselves to fit in or adapt to normal, we’re liable to hurt ourselves, each other, or the people around us. And as we take time to rest, to breathe, to walk, to finally finish Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, our brains are still working, teaching us how to cope, how to communicate, how to live.

Sitting and Listening

I love the excitement of writing a first draft of a novel. I tend to loosely plan, knowing big events in my story, but discovering a million tiny moments in between. I love the rush when the story starts to write itself. Things I never could have planned with my conscious mind fall into place when my subconscious is in control. There are slow bits in between, especially near the beginning, but by the second half of the book, I might as well be sledding downhill, picking up speed the closer I get to the end. The first first draft I wrote took me two years to finish. I wrote the final quarter of the book in a month. The second first draft I wrote took me four years to finish. I wrote the second half in two weeks.

Revising a novel is like walking back up that very tall, snowy hill holding your sled. It takes infinitely longer, particularly because you need to take breaks when you get out of breath or step into a drift or your sled slips out of your gloved hands and you have to chase it all the way back down. It’s not anywhere near as fun as the first ride down. Now, the first ride is fun enough that the climb up isn’t going to kill all your joy. But it’s the sucky, hard-work part of fun.

One of the killjoys is having to plan. I can’t just write by the seat-of-my-pants. I have to know why things happen, the logic, the reasoning, the cause and effect. I have to know where everybody’s standing and how far apart they are. I need to be a fight coordinator and a strategist and a debater and a logistics specialist. These are all my least favorite things. I infinitely prefer living in people’s heads to setting scenes.

The first three chapters I revised when I moved back to Ohio all involved strategy and planning and debating and logistics. I crawled through them, longing for the end. I kept going, reminding myself that the emotional discussion in Chapter 22 would make up for all the planning of the other chapters.

Then I got to Chapter 22.

I had forgotten that the emotions are completely negative. An accident leads to tragedy. One character explains the extent of this disaster to another and the tone spills from joy and relief to despair.

Writing about despair was a little close for comfort. It lives in this house like a Siamese Cat, showing it’s presence often enough that I can never forget it, occasionally jumping onto the couch next to me and stepping over my lap with triumph. I wasn’t sure how to handle such deep pain, when I clearly couldn’t handle my own.

There’s a woman at church who’s been incredibly helpful in my crisis. She’s listened to me and prayed over this mess. She’s been trained in spiritual formation, a sort of liturgy for walking people through wounds and crisis. She says what she does is sit with people in their pain. She can’t fix them or their situations. But she can sit and listen and hold their troubles.

About the same time, a friend of mine started opening up about a terrible loss she’d suffered, a very similar tragedy to the one in my story. She shared articles and stories like her own. As I read, my heart breaking, I understood what it means to sit and hold her pain. I pulled up Chapter 22, closed my eyes, and listened.

On Endings

The past few months I’ve been reading my way through Wonderbook, James Vandermeer’s guide to writing imaginative fiction. It’s given me a lot to think about in regards to my own writing, usually whether my own books measure up to his standards, occasionally giving me ways to deepen what I already have. The book is illustrated with art and amusing diagrams and supplemented with essays on various topics by other authors of speculative fiction. Recently, I read an essay by Desirina Boskovich called “The Challenges of Endings”. She opens with an analysis of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, which ends with its beginning.

It took courage to write that ending, I think. It took nerve to carry the story through to its inevitable conclusion. The top of the tower was always meant to be empty. There is no god, there are no final answers; there is only us, and our endless quest. But our search for answers–it’s how we save ourselves. It’s how we save to world.

Still, that sense of perpetual striving, it haunts me. It’s the human story, where there are no true endings; there is just trying and failing, trying and failing, trying some more.

She goes on to describe some of her favorite novels with similar conclusions, including Cloud Atlas, a novel following six intertwining stories across time and cultures. Each story focuses on a instance of oppression and the adjacent struggle against it.

I haven’t read Cloud AtlasI have seen the film. I know the two are separate experiences with different endings and different emphases, but I understood enough of what Boskovich discussed to disagree.

Caleb and I watched Cloud Atlas with a friend in his flat in Scotland. Our friend loves the book and the film and happily explained the differences. I was impressed with the acting, makeup, and story to story transitions, but struggled with the themes. Let me be clear, I’m a sucker for a good resistance story. I love the hope in the pursuit of justice and freedom. V for Vendetta, made by two of the same directors, makes me feel alive. Cloud Atlas hit all those notes, but it fell flat. I didn’t know how to articulate my disappointment and confusion. Caleb was in a worse boat than I. To this day, he prefers to forget that he ever saw the movie. Our friend picked up on our emptiness.

“Hey, Caleb,” he said. “Did you still want to see Journey?”

Journey is an amazing indie video game Caleb had been drooling over for months. He’d seen the beautiful art, read the great reviews, and celebrated when it was nominated for “Game of the Year” at the Video Game Awards. The only problem was that it is only available for the Playstation 3, which Caleb does not own. Our friend owned both. He put in the game so Caleb could get the basic idea. We ended up staying while he played the whole two hour masterpiece.

The game plays with the hero’s journey and stretches many conventions of video games. There is no violence. There is no dialogue. The controls are relatively simple. You play as an unnamed desert dweller, traveling to a distant mountain. As you journey, you begin to learn and understand what happened in the eerily empty setting. The people lived peacefully among these flying creatures. They realized that they could fly using the creatures. They developed machines to harness the creatures’ power. They dominated the land and built great cities. Then they went to war with each other over the limited resources left. They wiped out all civilization. You have been sent to make things right.

“This is really weird to play after the movie,” I said.

Caleb agreed.

After your struggle up the mountain, you arrive at this beautiful cloud land, where you soar with the creatures. You reach the top and become a star. During the credits, you shoot across the sky…and end up at the beginning.

“What?” I said. “That’s it?”

“It’s a good way to explain replay,” Caleb said.

“But where’s the restoration?!” I said. And then I understood. That’s what Cloud Atlas was missing. I wanted the star to fly across the desert and bring back the life and the beauty. I wanted the struggle against injustice to succeed. I wanted the good guys to win and the land to be healed. Not because I need to buy into a false reality that everything always works out, but because as a Christian, I already know the ending. After millennia of struggle against the power of sin and the brokenness of this world, Jesus will return and make all things new. I love stories that echo what’s coming. In the end of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo goes across the sea, where he will finally find peace and rest. The Last Battle ends with the Pevensies exploring the “real” Narnia. Harry Potter ends with the next generation going to Hogwarts without the shadow of Voldemort or even the pain of disunity. Old things are made new. Pain is healed. But as Sam and Frodo conclude in The Two Towers, the great tales never end. They go on, but not to oblivion or fruitless attempts. They go on towards hope and restoration.

I have to fundamentally disagree with Desirina Boskovich. The best endings do more than admit that our efforts are useless, even if our hearts are in the right place. The best endings are new beginnings, where all that has come before pays off in light of the next adventure. Sam begins the process of healing the Shire. Aslan leads Lucy and the others in the great exploration of all his worlds. Albus starts his journey of growing up. I will write with the belief that my words and my tales will not fade into nothingness, but will be a foretaste of all that is to come.

Journey of a Calling

1. I learned my calling in life not at a Christian conference or a dark night of the soul prayer vigil. It came from a high school teacher giving me a severe talking to on a botched assignment. I had self-identified as a writer for five years. I’d already finished the first draft of one of my novels. The spring previous I had co-founded a creative writing club. But this teacher was the first person to give me a direction for my work.

The assignment in question was a play where Emerson and Thoreau came to spend time with you in everyday life. We were supposed to get into an important discussion, and the transcendentalists’ speech was supposed to be footnoted from their writings. I decided to have them visit the creative writing club. The play became more of a presentation of our groups’ eccentricities than a discussion with the writers. Although my struggle to bring the writers into our conversations taught me a lot about the dynamic and problems of the group, I hadn’t fulfilled the assignment. My teacher pulled me aside in study hall to inform me that he had given me a C–but not because of my writing skills.

“You have a great ear for dialogue,” he said. “Have you thought about becoming a playwright?”

“A little,” I said. “A couple of my directors have asked me that too.”

He told me about different styles of drama that incorporated fantasy and then he said the most important thing of all.

“The stage right now is a very dark place. The plays being written are empty. I think you could write plays with hope.”

I thought about that a lot. I didn’t know how to write plays. I wasn’t sure that’s what I was supposed to be pursuing. But writing with hope…that sounded important. Around the same time, I started reading Printz winners and nominees.

For those of you who may not be familiar, the Printz award is the prize given for excellence in Young Adult fiction. It’s the Newbery for YA. It was first awarded in 2000, so it hasn’t been around for very long. Unlike Newbery books, which are usually books that you clutch to your chest and say, “Reading this changed my life,” Printz winners are the riskiest, most boundary pushing books. They are often well written. They are also often depressing, icky, and heavy. When I see the Printz symbol on a book, I know I’m in for a rough ride. I appreciate more of them as an adult than I did as a teenager, when I had too much angst and moral ambiguity in my life to handle.

I’d always liked YA, but the “best” of the genre was the sort of stuff that usually pointed to darkness. I thought about the vision my teacher had for my writing, and just knew that I was supposed to see that through in YA, not drama.

2. But what is hope? And what is hopeful fiction? The spring before I graduated, I started working on a much darker novel, one where most of the characters die. I wondered if I should be working on it at all. I wrote two chapters and set it aside, torn about whether I should pursue it.

And then I went to Ireland. Many things happened there to spur me on in my writing. I had a profound experience at Kilmainham Gaol and Arbor Hill Cemetery, where fifteen revolutionaries were killed and buried, respectively. I lived in a house with thirty people (well, the boys slept in another house, but hung out in the downstairs common rooms all the time). I also heard a life-changing chapel talk.

We traveled to inner city Dublin, where a friend of our chaplain had a ministry with his family. His name was Joe. We sat in a refurbished church sanctuary and he shared about his call to make “a hope-shaped space” in the heart of Dublin.

“What are things that bring hope?” he said. I perked up. “The things that bring hope are beauty, children, community, and justice. We know this because the things that bring despair are ugliness, barrenness, isolation, and injustice.”

I wrote that down in my notebook. I’ve thought about it a lot since. It’s my litmus test for whether what I’m writing is fulfilling my call. And the novel I was working on, despite the death and darkness, is about a community pulling together to fight injustice.

3. Spring of my junior year of college, I took a lit class called “The Novel”. We read eight of them in three months. Some were easier to get through than others. Crime and Punishment is probably the greatest work of fiction I have ever read. But before I got to enjoy that feast, I had to read Madame Bovary. It’s one of those “important” books. It was enormously influential in the Realism movement and set the precedent for more risky novels. The plot centers on a young woman who ends up in a series of adulterous relationships. Before I read it, I assumed that the book was intended to be equally titillating and risk-taking, like the Printz books I’d struggled through in high school. It wasn’t.

I realized that I knew Emma Bovary. I went to high school with her. She grew up in Appalachia, was always fascinated by the world outside but couldn’t leave. I know so many girls who could have left, but ended up pregnant, living with their druggie boyfriends. She might change jobs, boyfriends, houses, but she could never get free. It made the book so much harder. I realized that I couldn’t carry these girls. If I opened my thoughts to them, I ended up sobbing into my pillow at night, drenched with sorrow. If I let them go, I became angry and bitter, raging at their foolishness. I wanted to do something to help them, but I didn’t know what. I spent several days alternating reading and praying for God to show me how to love Emma Bovary. And then I saw the books.

Emma becomes who she is by reading. She grows up reading sentimental fantasies. She becomes obsessed with rugged, tortured men with supernatural powers or curses and the saintly women who are corrupted by them as they try to save them. They’re books that leave her with an unrealistic picture of men, women, and romance. Twilight, I realized. Before taking the plunge into her life of adultery, Emma is compelled to seek ways out. One of the first places she goes is the church. She tries to ask for help. The priest can only give her magazines with church sanctioned stories with very moral, safe stories where God fixes everything. Christian fiction, I realized.

I want to write books with people experiencing pain and confusion who find hope. (Like not-as-brilliant, speculative fiction echoing Crime and Punishment) I can’t carry Emma Bovary. But I can write books for her to read.

4. It’s a lot harder to believe in a calling to write when I’m no longer surrounded by Christian intellectuals. The first few months of my current life stage, I talked very little about my writing. It finally came up at work…and I felt embarrassed. I tried to remember my calling. And then I ended up in a conversation with a Christian coworker where I tried to explain what I wanted to do. I talked about showing the truth by creating longing. I talked about pointing to the gospel by pointing to hope.

“But how can it be truth if you never talk about Jesus?” she said. “I mean, he’s where truth comes from. So if you’re not talking about him, will it really do anything?”

This was not the first time I had heard this viewpoint. The thinking goes that Jesus is the most important being in existence. Therefore, anything which is not explicitly talking about Jesus is not important.

I stared at her, dumbfounded (as I always am when this crops up again). Thankfully she was pulled away, or I would have started arguing.

The writing goes slow, and this idea keeps coming up. I shut my hands over my ears and start spewing arguments (The Chronicles of Narnia never explicitly mention Jesus. Are they a waste of time?) or I curl up and burst into tears. Maybe I was wrong, I think. Maybe I just made it all up. Maybe I’m just a sham.

I keep going with three steps. I remember when the calling felt most real. I pray it will feel real again. And then I thank God that I’m going to Calvin.

The Calvin Festival of Faith in Writing is in two weeks. I wasn’t planning on going this year. The not-student price is a week’s wages and I figured starving artists could be excused. Thankfully, I got it for Christmas. I didn’t realize how much I would need it. I’m going as a writer to listen to other writers, to remember that all the doubt and confusion and exhaustion is worth pushing through. I’m going to hear Anne Lamott, Bret Lott, Pam Muñoz Ryan, and Scott Cairns. I know that conferences and retreats and long dark nights of the soul aren’t the only way to hear God speak. Still, it is good to rest and remember where I have been and where I am going.

Jealousy and Self-Doubt

I remember the first time I experienced jealousy as a writer. I was in first grade. I wouldn’t have told anyone I wanted to be a writer at this stage (although the elaborate sagas I made-up in the backyard probably spoke to the contrary). All I knew was that first graders had won the Kids are Authors contest sponsored by Scholastic. Every year, K-8 students can submit the equivalence of an illustrated picture book. Every year, Scholastic publishes one. We used to read them in school.

“Wow. Look at what these kids are doing,” was the implication. “You can do something like this too!”

I was determined to be just like them. I sat down in front of my paper with my pencils and markers and thought really, really hard. I didn’t come up with any good stories. I had fragments of ideas. I drew a picture of a cabin in the woods with smoke coming out of the chimney. Once, I went so far as to collaborate with a friend on a story about a group of children who got chosen to visit the space shuttle and pushed the wrong button and ended up in space. We never finished the story, but we did end up with some epic playground adventures for years to come.

Eventually, I would forget about the contest and be happy with my Star Wars games and the saga of Mary, an oppressed orphan living in London. But then I would hunt in the book corner for something to read and be confronted with another Kids are Authors book, with a complete list of every winner in the back. The guilt and shame would fill my belly, and I would think, “Who are you to try and write? Your dreams don’t mean anything if you can’t put the story in words.” This is probably why I was more interested in singing and acting at this point in my life.

Now, I have two complete first drafts of novels under my belt and am chipping away at a second draft, but I’m still that six year old girl staring at the list of winners. Only, the winners look a little different. I spent four years at college getting encouraged by professors to take my time in writing. It’s worth living and learning before trying to be published. Don’t rush art. Write all you can. Revise and grow and learn, but don’t fuss about publishing right way. So the winners aren’t necessarily the published authors. Instead, they’re the ones making the most progress.

I’m in the middle of two excellent books on writing and I feel a little like I’m drowning. Don’t get me wrong. Books on craft are very important. I’ve learned so much from John Gardner, Anne Lamott, and Stephen King (don’t laugh…read On Writing). Unfortunately, I have a very soft conscience. Anne Lamott says that plot should come organically from the characters. So I start thinking, “But that’s not my book. I mean, some of it comes from the characters, but the big events…they’re just what’s supposed to happen. Is that me imposing things? Am I a really terrible plotter?” Or Jeff Vandermeer encourages synthesis of real and imagined events to have a sharp sense of scenery and I think, “But I only have a shadowy view of this world, like I’m walking in a dream.” And then I start thinking about how little I’ve progressed in my writing, how flat my characters are, how I’m a fool to think I should be doing this. Who am I to be published or to be read? Maybe all I’m good for is taking orders and filling cups with Coke.

And then there’re are the standards. I have quite a few friends who are doing quite well in their writing life. One friend just finished an impressive draft of her novel. Other friends are taking part in an elaborate short story challenge and succeeding. I’m so glad for them, that they’re being so successful. But I feel so guilty when they ask me how my writing is.

“Oh. Well, I’m almost finished revising page one of chapter 19.”

“That’s good!”

“Um..I’ve been revising chapter 19 for the last year.”

Some of my friends have taken to skyping once a week to talk shop and read new short stories and flash fiction. I’ve shown up a few times, but I’m always embarrassed. I’m trying to work, but I don’t have anything to show for it.

So the thoughts come back. “What the hell are you doing, Lydia? How dare you call yourself a writer. You try to sit in front of a laptop once a day and end up maybe finishing a sentence or two. You’re never going to finish this blasted book. And even if you did, you wouldn’t have anything worth reading.

Sometimes I end up in the fetal position on our Wal-Mart futon, hiding under a blanket. Caleb looks at me with big eyes.

“What’s wrong.”

“I’m a sham,” I whimper. “I can’t write. What am I doing?”

“That’s not true. You are a writer.”

“But you can’t hear the difference when my characters talk! I don’t even know how to do that. I’m…I’m…I can’t…”

He always knows exactly what to say. This weekend he looked at me and said, “Do you remember the vampires song?”

He’s referring to “Die, Vampire, Die” from the musical [title of show], which has entered my Sondheim Pandora channel. It’s a pretty awesome description of the things that keep us from creating, albeit with plenty of coarse language (but hey, there’s a place for that.)

I nodded.

“That’s just the vampires talking. What would Buffy do to them?”

“Stake them.” I murmured.

“Then stake that vampire!”

So I go back to chipping away at my draft and try to ignore the voices and hope that what I’m doing is worth it. I know that my relationship with jealousy and self-doubt will continue as long as I make art. Some days it’s easier to believe in what I’m doing than others. Like the day a friend bound my book so that he could have a rare first draft when I’m famous. Or when a girl on my floor clutched my book to her chest, stared at me wide-eyed, and implored, “Why’d you have to end it that way?” Maybe one day I’ll have enough of those memories to dust like the Slayer. For now, I’ll keeping struggling with the words, hoping that I’m doing something right.

The Novelist’s Lent

Today is the last Wednesday in October. My coworkers are busy planning their various Halloween parties for tomorrow night. Wal-Mart is stocked with candy and the Christmas decorations that will invade on November 1st. I, on the other hand, am trying to piece together enough background material to launch into a new project. I’ve never had much of a relationship with Halloween. My relationship with Christmas doesn’t begin until after Thanksgiving. For the last six years, the thoughts that fill my mind around the end of October center around an odd season: National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.

NaNoWriMo is a program started by a non-profit called The Office of Letters and Light, whose purpose is to promote the practice of creative writing among adults and children. NaNoWriMo began eleven years with the goal of encouraging individuals to keep writing, no matter the result. The challenge is to write 50,000 words (the standard cut-off between a novel and a novella) during the month of November. NaNoWriMo  has a website where individuals can receive daily encouragement and discuss their achievements.

I have only once formally participated in the event, which involves starting with a brand new idea and writing furiously, no matter how much the piece gets away from you. Since I write novels normally, the idea of pursuing a brand new idea every year is emotionally exhausting, not to mention that I hold myself to a higher standard of quality in my writing. I don’t want to write more slosh, I want to continually learn how to improve in my writing, which takes more time and scrutiny. Still, I have partially participated over several years with a slightly different result. November is now a time when I focus on the creative part of being a novelist. I don’t care how much I end up writing in the end. The point is to write a little every day.

Theoretically, novelists should do this all the time, but if you’ve been reading my blog with any regularity, you’ll note that I’ve found it difficult to work creatively in the midst of real life. Discipline is hard. It’s also the only way to success, in anything. Olympic swimmers win medals by sticking to strict schedules of practice and cross-training. Individuals in wealth management constantly analyze economic trends and spend years studying for the three tests required to become a Certified Financial Adviser. Good teachers continue to learn by reading in their field and studying how to communicate with their students. Discipline is important.

The Church has known this for thousands of years. While Christians in recent history have been mocked with the name “Bible bashers” the “read your Bible, pray every day” method of Christianity is time tested in growing faith. When those who want to follow Jesus spend time reading the words he said and the inspired writings of God’s people, they learn more about who Jesus is and what he asks of his disciples. Time and energy consistently invested in a relationship usually deepens that relationship. This is why committed Christians are praying Christians. Certainly, things can go wrong when reading and interpretation are done poorly or the prayer becomes a monologue to self-worth and advancement, but stepping into discipline is still important.

The Church recognized this. More than a thousand years ago, Christian leaders decided to turn the calendar into an act of discipline. The fourth Sunday of December to Christmas Eve would be set apart for churches to focus on the coming or “advent” of Christ. This is usually filled with much anticipation and joy. Christmas Day to January 6 is the Christmas season, the literal Twelve Days of Christmas (plus the Feast of the Baptism of Christ). This is one of the two biggest parties of the year, celebrating the arrival of Christ. And then after a spot of Ordinary Time, we arrive at Lent, the forty days before Easter. While Easter is the biggest celebration of the church year (Sin and Death being beaten is cooler than God as a baby), it comes in the wake of the crucifixion, when it looked like Sin and Death would win (even if the opposite happened). Lent is a somber time. Traditionally, this part of the Church calendar is characterized by the disciplines of fasting and devotion. Christians participating in Lent nowadays are likely to give up chocolate, desserts, TV, facebook, any luxury that usually hinders their relationship with God, in order to deepen that relationship. Sometimes this looks like more time reading the Bible or praying, sometimes it means giving the money spent on that luxury to those in need, sometimes it just looks like loving people with the leftover time and energy. In any case, Lenten fasting is a month of concentrated discipline. The reward is Easter. The holiday is much more exciting when you’ve spent a month focused on it.

I’ve never celebrated Lent. I tend toward being a miser to myself as it is. I’d rather focus on adding things to my life than subtracting them. However, NaNoWriMo is my substitute. For thirty days, I try to spend extra time doing what God has called me to. The rest of the year, I chip millimeter after millimeter from my revision project. For one month I dedicate myself to the joy of creating. I’m planning on giving up my sloth to pursue something new.

This year I’m plunging into a new project, a 1940’s steampunk fantasy novel for adults. Those are the only details I plan on giving in this blog. I’m also not intending to use this blog as a word counter or any such banality (that’s what facebook is for). I probably won’t mention NaNoWriMo again. Still, I’m excited with the knowledge that a step toward discipline is a step towards growth. I look forward to the writing life that is to come.