The Budge-Nuzzard and the coming resurrection

It hurts to die but each time I’m raised again and I’m something new, something I don’t recognize, something I never expected. I’ve gotten no better at avoiding the pain, but maybe, just maybe I’m getting better at trusting in the coming resurrection.”

I have indeed gone to action. That sweet abode of my arrival is now but a dollop of memory within my upper head. I must confess that in my weaker moments, I have longed for it and three times now have turned back to seek my solace within. But at length I have turned my back on my turning back and hence have come far and now gloan upon it.”

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.
Trust in the L-RD forever,
for the L-RD GOD is an everlasting rock.”

Finals are on Tuesday. i am tired. i am struggling to focus. i can’t remember why i began this journey, one which terrified me and thrilled me only three months ago and now just makes me bone-weary. How did the first half of the semester, full of excitement and voorish glee, turn into this slog? i wonder: Can i make it? i wonder: Do i want to?

“i hope it’s good for your soul.”

Well, you weren’t kidding. i wasn’t thinking at all of my soul when i started; that exhortation took me by surprise. i didn’t even burn everything i own, but it is hard anyway. And one of the most remarvelant surprises of this journey has been discovering what a source of strength and spiritual formation lurks in the ludicrous lobidiousness of The Budge-Nuzzard.

i do want to turn back. That sweet abode of my arrival seems so homely and comforting. But i will keep turning my back on my turning back. If there is a resurrection at the end of this, i want it. G-d is an everlasting rock and i can trust Him to help calm my mind and tempt it not to wander. And maybe, just maybe, one death at a time, i’ll learn to trust the coming resurrection.

Next week, i will have come far enough to begin the gloaning.

Shielot

i’m two weeks into Hebrew. Last week, vowel markings kicked my butt. This week, i am too busy forgetting plural pronouns to worry about vowels, which mostly work now anyway. (Maybe the key to learning is to just keep moving forward, whether things make sense or not.)

At Denver Seminary, Hebrew is taught as a second language. Classes are partially immersive. A friend told me before i started that the thing about immersive language acquisition is that i’ll feel like i’m failing. Every day, i’ll feel like i’m failing. And every day, i’ll fail a little less.

Practice resurrection.

But it is coming. i can feel it taking root, even if the shoots are slow to appear. The sounds wind their way around my mind, making new places to grow.

Yesh li shielah.

“i have a question.” That phrase is printed on the back of my name plaque, so that i can find answers when i am puzzled in class. But that phrase is insufficient. i had to teach myself some new ones.

Yesh li shielot.

i have questions.

Yesh li shielot ravot.

i have many questions.

Yesh li kol-shielot.

i have every question, all the questions.

But look—i know how to make a sentence, to ask for help, to laugh at my own ignorance.

Practice resurrection.

i’m getting there.

Practice resurrection.

Rabbiting and renewal

i used to be very into music, back when i was in high school and everyone was into music. On my own i listened to Rich Mullins, Audio Adrenaline, dc Talk, and Steve Taylor; with my friends i listened to MxPx or Joy Electric. In college i discovered Andrew Peterson, who (i am certain) is incapable of creating anything that is not sehnsuchty. Then, somewhere along the way, i simply stopped. i stopped listening to the radio. i stopped buying albums. i stopped keeping up with favourite artists. i had been soaking in music for years and had become saturated, and something in me began craving silence.

Little by little, that silence has become filled with noise. Streaming TV shows while i cook and checking Facebook nonstop on my phone have replaced both the saturation of ceaseless music and the blessed peace of silence.

Discovering the Rabbit Room Radio burst the dam.

Over December and January’s 4000 miles of travel, Jonathan and i read all three books in Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga (book four and final is due out in April). When we finally came home to roost, all i wanted to do was soak in the story—it is painfully, beautifully glorious—and listen to AP’s music. “Beautiful Things” by Gungor required several listens as well; it is the anthem of my heart, especially in regards to creating. One thing led to another, and i ended up at the Rabbit Room Radio.

i feel like i am waking up from a decade-long sleep to discover that the whole universe is singing, and i have missed so much.

But where on earth do i start when i have been asleep for so long?

i am still yawning and rubbing sleep from my wide eyes, and the Rabbit Room Radio has been playing nearly nonstop. Along with a wealth of AP songs i have never heard, i have been discovering new artists, one song at a time. Josh Garrels. Melanie Penn. Andy Gullahorn. Jason Gray. Eric Peters. All members of the Square Peg Alliance, their songs and styles inhabit a shared musical acreage, but each one awakens something different in me.

While streaming the radio, i have also been reading articles and interviews at the Rabbit Room, and here and there i switch music for podcasts on topics such as tragedy in literature. (i am deeply jealous of the conversations these people are having, but grateful to have the opportunity to listen and think, and, sometimes, discuss with my own community.) An article by Travis Prinzi hit home. And an interview with AP’s brother, Pete Peterson, yielded a little comment that has grown into something much larger as i continue processing it.

In the interview, Pete was asked about the phrase “feeding the gnome,” which he acknowledged gleaning from Stephen King’s celebrated book On Writing (which i have not read). The concept is that every writer has a “gnome” inside which feeds the author story ideas, but the gnome must be well-fed, or else it’ll wither away or become fat and lazy. i think mine is the latter, and it was convicting to read this. My gnome has, for a long while, mostly been fed junk food. Reading about this idea while learning to listen to music again after so long made me start thinking about what i consume and how that affects what i’m able to imagine and produce.

i need to read fewer Facebook posts and more literary fiction.

i need to pay less attention to ideas about crafting and spend more time actually crafting.

i need to fill up my ears with music rather than with noise.

i need to become comfortable with silence again rather than seeking always to fill it.

i need to spend more time in Scripture, engaging it fully and letting it renew me, rather than checking off a daily reading every other day.

i need to learn to think deep thoughts again, rather than rely on sound bites or shallow article-skimming (by which i mean shallow skimming of shallow articles).

i need to recover the lost art of soaking in and reflecting on and enjoying what i am reading, rather than jumping to post about something before i’ve even processed it.

i need to make an effort to express myself well, rather than rely on internet shorthand.

i am still working out what i expect this to look like, but one change i want to make is to spend very little time on Facebook and TV shows this month. That time may instead be spent reading or writing, if it comes in blocks (and i do expect to have more blocks of time, as watching TV while doing tasks always makes the tasks take longer). If it is time cleaning the kitchen or making the weekly menu or cooking dinner, and i would normally fill the silence behind these tasks with TV shows, i will instead fill the silence with music or prayer or nothing.

i think i am actually very close to catching up in my work on Rixi. There is a natural pause coming which is nearly upon me, and it will not take long to get there. i need to make space for that to happen. But even aside from the practical implications of spending less time ingesting shallow televised stories and memes and more time creating my own stories, i need to develop better habits as a subcreator and as a human.

Now to break the news to my Facebook constituency.

Year 4 is done!

Today i finalized the letters of 568 Nirth. Thank goodness. It has been a long, arduous, crazy-making two years.

You know how last week i posted that i had come up with a solution, which required an outline but it would probably be worth it? Well, later the same day i discarded that idea entirely.

If i knew where ideas came from i would probably be a billionaire. i don’t. Sometimes, beneath the roiling ocean of conscious thought, an idea forms. Sometimes, all it takes is a little nudge, a random stimulus—a sight, a sound, a smell, an unrelated concept—to kick that idea to the surface of said roiling ocean. Such a thing happened to me on Wednesday. My husband and i went to see Ender’s Game (which i loved), and partway through the movie (i don’t even remember now what was happening onscreen at the time), i just had this quiet thought: i can do this.

i had been blathering to my poor patient husband off and on while the previews were playing. You know the quote from Winston Churchill: “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Well, i must confess that we writers are fanatics of the worst kind, purely obsessed with worlds that exist only in our heads. i for one have a hard time shutting off this constant stream of thought about my people and the world they live in, the stories, the backstories, the minutia, the grand sweeping narratives, their hearts. Everything comes back to my writing. So it is only natural that as we settle down to watch a movie, i am still in Nirth, trying to throw off the reality of one world in order to enter another. i had been working on Rixi all afternoon, and was still neck-deep in her dramas (and the related continuity errors and multiple versions). Thankfully, the theatre we were in was inhabited by exactly and only the two of us. i’m sure i was very obnoxious. But somehow, i settled down.

And then, having engaged the movie, having allowed myself to be transported into another world, this knowledge came to me: i can do this.

The answer was simple: Go back to the beginning. Accept year 4 as it stands. Accept the beginning of year 5 as it stands. Insert little e at the proper time, the end of Menkul, and let the swirling madness that follows do its work. Thirteenth time’s the charm, as they say.

So year 4 is done. i have about a week and a half’s worth of letters to finish to catch Rixi up with “present day” in a related parallel story. Then, swirling madness, and the end, and beginning, of everything.

i can do this.

And, surprisingly, i believe it.

Two sisters, their cousin, and the Art of War

Today is a writing day—thank goodness, and much-needed it is! i had a solution come to my mind yesterday while making cookies (sometimes a different task is the best way to open up the brain and solve a problem), but i wanted to let that simmer for awhile, and talk to Jonathan about it, before jumping right in and putting it in motion. (Also, the kitchen was a wreck after yesterday’s bakesplosion—three batches of cookies.)

So, the plan for today:
1) Start the dishwasher
2) Read a little bit of something i didn’t write—a chapter or so
3) Find a likely writing challenge and complete it (half-hour)
4) Write out yesterday’s solution, and ask J what he thinks of it
5) Implement the solution, or at least get moving on it (it’ll be a many-sessions-long implementation).

So far, i have done 1, 2, and 4. The dishwasher is churning merrily away, and J thinks that my solution is narratively sound, so that’s what i’ll be working on today. It is a variant on the little-e-in-year-four model, for those who have heard me whine about little e and its multitudinous variants.

My preferred method of writing is what is called, in the NaNoWriMo world, “pantsing,” or writing by the seat of one’s pants. i like to make a person, give them a background and discover their personality, and then plop them down and watch them go. Give them some stimuli, some relationships, some conflict, and see how they manage. What solutions do they come up with? What decisions do they make? How do they surprise me, and what does it mean? Then repeat.

This isn’t working for Rixi right now. i got into a terrible muddle about two years ago with a nasty nest of continuity errors, and now i have about a dozen partially-written versions of the events in my head, and they are all simultaneously true. It’s like a forked universe; all possibilities are actually happening in one parallel reality or another, but i am omniscient and am hyper-aware of all of them. They blend together. It’s like a terrible dream, where realities that are unrelated in waking life collide and conspire and conflagrate. So my preferred method—Just Write—isn’t working.

Neither is Just Write’s better-behaved sister, What About, who starts with a specific idea or solution rather than a blank slate. Often, if Just Write doesn’t work, What About will come up with an idea, and that will jump-start a similar organic approach, but from (or to) a particular concept or event. i can plan, and lead up to, or develop away from, something specific, rather than just explore and see what happens. But What About is not working either; that’s where i got the dozen versions that are now all simultaneously true.

What’s left? The sisters’ rigid cousin, Outline. Oh, i hate her. She is uppity and legalistic and joyless. She refuses spontaneity, scowls at discovery. But her cousins are flitting about at random, and i can’t make them behave. Entre Outline, bane of first drafts, and the muse who brought me yesterday’s solution.

Now i have not only a concrete place to start, but a concrete place to go, and sign-posts along the way. Will this steal my joy in the writing? Hardly. i am well beyond first drafts; i am in deep, tempestuous waters. Outline, rigid and demanding though she is, will see me to shore. She will provide a heading. She will, in the final analysis, restore my joy, as i begin to see land ahead through the fog and the lashing rain.

So that is 4 on my list for today.

For Thing 2, i debated for a moment whether i should read something fiction or something nonfiction. i decided on nonfiction, primarily because if i start fiction i will never stop, and because i received a bundle of writing books in the mail yesterday and i am eager to dive into them. They are all by James Scott Bell, who is the Writer’s Digest‘s Instructor of the Month right now. (There was a sale.) The books are Conflict & Suspense, Plot & Structure, Revision and Self-Editing for Publication, and The Art of War for Writers. i didn’t feel quite ready to dive into something specific and heavy, so i picked up The Art of War. So far, four maxims in, i can already see that this book will benefit me. Most of what i have read at this point is about diligence and hard work and discipline. Here is one bit that particularly stood out.

Know the difference between a hero and a fool, … and aspire to the heroic. If you want to be a writer, know this: A hero knows it takes hard work and a long time to get published; a fool thinks it should happen immediately, because he thinks he’s a hero already.—The Art of War for Writers, 3 (p 16)

(There were many other insightful contrasts between heroes and fools as well.)

So, i go on to my writing craft—a half-hour challenge to exercise languishing muscles, and then a deep, deep dive into those tempestuous waters. Outline, come to my aid!

How the writer avoids writing by writing

i very nearly gave up this week. And then i didn’t.

In order to keep myself going on the Twiry stories, i finally sat down and mapped out which story ideas would make the cut and then put them in order. Then i wrote a story and a half. i’m now on number seven.

i’m still stuck on the eponymous chapter, however. Part of my problem with Twiry Glitterwing and the Moss Palace has been that i’m not sure i’m getting the tone right—it doesn’t feel like i imagined it would. And part of the problem is that i don’t know for the life of me what the moss palace should be like—where it is or how it looks. i decided that that story should be the last chapter, to sort of end at a high point, where there isn’t anywhere else to go. But if i can’t figure out the moss palace in the next few days i’ll probably be forced to insert another story in the middle somewhere and end with what i meant to be the penultimate chapter—the tea party, where all Twiry’s forest friends are in attendance. i think either story would work as the last in the book (if i could figure out the moss palace itself, that is), and i think the tea party would work either as last or as second to last. So it’ll work out. But if i scrap the moss palace, i’ll have to come up with another story idea and change the name of the book. No big deal, but still, things that’ll need doing.

Meanwhile, since i don’t particularly want to be writing Twiry, i’ve been spending unnecessary mental energy on another book that i have no intention of writing anytime soon and which hadn’t really occurred to me as a real option until halfway through October. i didn’t have time to think out an outline before Nano at that point, and i wasn’t sure which time period it would cover, so i couldn’t get started writing it, but now that i am stuck writing something else, ideas for this other novel keep coming to me.

It’s a vicious cycle.

The other novel that i’m considering writing is centered on Alandros. He’s Rixi’s best friend’s magic tutor. i really like him as a character. The original reason i thought of him as an option at all, though, was the simple fact that he’s in his late 30s and it would give me a chance to write someone closer to my own age. But that he’s also a powerful Deteer in a well-positioned town with a lord who’s very politically important also gives me an opportunity to write a story with high-level intrigue and action. Of course, therein lies one facet of the rub (if that’s a valid metaphor, mixed as it is): i don’t really pay attention to fight choreography in the shows and movies i watch. i know when it looks cool, but i don’t analyze the moves. And i don’t tend to pay very much attention when reading that stuff, either. i get the gist, but i’m not a strategist. So it would be a challenge to learn to write the battle scenes well.

On the other hand, i’m going to have to write scenes like that for the next book in the Lily Cycle, also, so practicing on Alandros may not be a bad idea.

Other facets of the rub are the fact that he’s male, and he is closer to my age than my other characters—and his age would mature the book’s tone significantly. Durom Falls works well as a book about a sixteen year old adult. The tone will have to change (and hopefully not in a histrionic way) as Lily matures and starts dealing with harder things, but Durom Falls itself felt very much like a YA novel to me. That wasn’t what i was going for, but as i said, it works for a sixteen-year-old protagonist. It won’t work when the protagonist is 37. And can i write older prose? i guess we’ll find out. (It’s not like i don’t read enough of it. i just don’t have any characters older than 17 right now.) And the fact that he’s male just puts me outside my comfort zone. i’ve written some snippets with him in them, but not from his perspective, and i’m not used to writing for a male lead. i’m just not sure if i can pull it off believably. (Tana French says that people are just people, and i’ll buy that, but i can’t ignore gender altogether. Men and women just aren’t the same, internally or externally, and while i buy that individuals do not act as stereotypical representations of their class, they do carry at least part of a set of characteristics, even if other parts of the set don’t seem to correspond.)

Anyway: The brilliant idea i got this afternoon was to tell the Alandros story as two parallel stories. One, a present-day struggle (siege or civil war), and the other, his first year or so as a black robe (graduate) Deteer. That would allow me to develop his character more fully—we’ll see what makes him tick and why he ticks that way. It’ll also give me the chance to use my YA voice, while contrasting it with an adult voice for the same character—a fascinating study, and a good writing challenge.

i was talking this over with Jonathan at dinner, and thought up another twist on this idea. i could write the parallel stories as Alandros’ youth and the siege (i understand this might be a very opaque reference), and then write a second book as his experience in the civil war (another opaque reference). The siege is a very simple thing, much easier to do in half a book than it would be to delve into the strained relationships and the morass of motives between the bevy of political players that exists in any civil war. The civil war can hardly be told in half a novel, but it could certainly be told in a full novel (if kept to a single perspective). You know, depending on how things turn out. i am writing living history, after all; not all details are clear yet. And that’s another reason to use the siege, rather than the civil war, for the parallel stories: The siege has already happened. The civil war is only just heating up. So if i used the siege, i could pretty much start writing this book anytime. No waiting, just outlining.

i sort of like the idea of having a book plot in mind for a year before writing it, however. It might be well-formed by next November. Neither Durom Falls nor Twiry were well-formed before i began writing. It’s not a work’s death knell, but “measure twice and cut once” can be applied to any project.

Summary: i made no progress on Twiry today. But i have a lot of great ideas for a completely unrelated project.

Four stories and faltering

 

 

When i first came across this quote, my immediate thought was writing. Honestly, stories in general, including many i have not written, but writing in particular. i love storytelling, making people, watching them grow and unravel and grow again. The process, however, is often painful or simply frustrating.

The Twiry stories are not working out like i’d wanted them to. They aren’t bad at all—they just don’t feel like what i’d imagined. And this is the problem with writing in-world artifacts. The stories have a life of their own in Nirth already. i am not trying to write something new, but to find something already well-loved by people in another world.

The concept of sehnsuct is behind much of my love of story, as is the theme of redemption. Haunting beauty. All things made right. The world as it should be, but isn’t. Incarnation: the deep longings of every heart, given form.

i don’t know how to do that, but i desire it deeply. And it kills me. It kills me to read it, it kills me to attempt it, it kills me to achieve it, and—much more often—it kills me to close my hand on air, over and over again, thinking i’m close but finding i’m not.

Give me a few months and i might like Twiry better. i feel fairly desolate right now. But i will press on, because Nano demands it, and because i have made promises. Next time i write a picture book, however, remind me to write it with pictures.

The second thing i’ll be writing this month is part of a longer saga of heartache-in-writing: Rixi, in a critical and wrenching moment that won’t end. Oh, Rixi, why do we hurt each other?

For now, though, i am only 5830 words and four stories behind schedule. And tonight is a write-in. And i will make it, somehow. If writing kills me (and let’s be honest; it won’t), it’ll be because i let it, not because i can’t get up again.