Archive for the ‘Creativity and the Arts’ Category

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5 Things I Want Aspiring Young Authors to Know

February 17, 2015

Aspiring Young Authors

This post is for the young writers of the world!

And I admit it – technically I’m still a “young writer” myself.  I’m not even a quarter of a century old yet!  😛  But I’m thinking specifically of the teen and preteen writers among us.

Guys, I’ve been where you are now.  It was one of the best times of my writer life – all about exploration and the joy of story!

I’ve been writing since I could staple paper together and pencil words inside.  It’s always been a part of me.  Maybe that’s also true for you, or maybe you found your love for writing recently.  Either way, if you’re an aspiring young author, here are some things I want you to know, because I wish someone had told them to me long ago…

1. Your eagerness for storytelling is a gift of God.

To some of us, storytelling is as natural as breathing.  We tend to forget that not everyone has characters, plot lines, high stakes, and entire worlds kicking around their imaginations.

This is a gift!

Don’t be afraid to write the stories that excite you, move you, and interest you, even if other people don’t take those stories seriously or tell you that writing (or that genre) is a waste of time.  Don’t be afraid to try new things, either!  The world is full of readers, and they love all different kinds of books.

God gave you this desire to write, and furthermore, He has given these stories to no one but you.  Your life is unique, your experiences and perspective are unique, and God gave you these stories – no one else can tell them the way you do.  Embrace that!  Seek Him constantly, and earnestly pray that you may serve Him with how and what you write.

Tell your stories fearlessly for His glory, praising the Author of Life for making you creative in His image.

Me when I was  about 13 (far left), with one of my many story folders, talking art and story with my sister (right) and friend (center). :)

Me when I was about 13 (far left), with one of my many story folders, talking art and story with my sister (right) and a friend (center). 🙂

2. This is only the beginning. Truly.

You probably have daydreams of being the next famous teenage bestselling author (I certainly did).  In reality…that’s probably never going to happen.  Sorry. 😉  If you are serious about writing, you’re not after fame, glory, or money – and you’re in this for the long haul.

Read broadly.  Read lots.  Dabble in any genre that interests you.  Read books about writing.  Try to finish the books you start writing. Study what makes the books you love so good.  Don’t be afraid to query and submit your stories!  But don’t put all your energy into publishing at this point.  Right now, your goal is to learn and have fun.

It might take years to develop your skill to the point where your stories are publishable.  As you get older your writing will grow richer, deeper, and stronger.  Even if it takes years for your books to “go anywhere,” that time will be well spent.  Trust me, you will look back and be grateful you didn’t land a publishing deal when you were much younger.  I am so thankful that daydream didn’t come true for me.  My books were not ready.  They’re still not ready!  But that’s okay – Lord willing, I will keep growing and improving.  My books will “go places” in His perfect timing.

Don’t focus on dreams of young fame, fun as that could be. Fill your head with good stories – and write, write, write.  Your best books will emerge with time and practice. 

(Image from teen.com.) Christopher Paolini, whose first book was published when he was 19. It probably won’t happen to you, much as I hate to say it!

3. Find the RIGHT critics (and learn how to take critique).

I have shed many a tear over “scathing” critiques from friends.  Please, take it from me, and don’t treat your friends as professional critics!  Even if they write stories too, they will be biased because you are their friend.  If they’re around your age, they probably don’t know any more about writing and publishing than you do.  Also, they may unintentionally twist your story to fit their own vision by campaigning for the changes they want.  Be wary of making big changes to your projects because of advice from friends, and don’t let the value of your story rest on whether your friends love it.  Even if they hate it, that doesn’t make it a bad story.

Similarly, be wary of treating your parents as the ultimate critics.  They are probably biased because they love you and will always be impressed by your work, even if it needs a lot of editing. 😉

Seek out older, experienced writers who can give you constructive criticism.  Look for writer groups and communities where you can get good advice.

And always remember, your book is not YOU.  It is a project, a product, and it is not perfect.  Accept critiques with an open mind, consider the suggestions others give you – and don’t let it crush you.  There is no reason to be defensive. If you don’t like the suggestions, politely thank the person who gave them to you, and do your own thing!

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4. Your story’s NOT going to get stolen (but think before you post it online).

A lot of young writers (and their parents) are anxious about plagiarism.  My mom was so concerned about it that she refused to let me share my works with any more friends after a certain point!

Basically, you don’t have to worry about this – because it never happens to aspiring authors.  Here is a very helpful article with a video that says this better than I could.

However, there is one thing to be aware of.  Sharing your work in a public place online counts as self-publishing it.  I’m talking about putting it on your blog, on a public forum, or anywhere on a website where the general public can access it. Sharing your work like that will disqualify it from being accepted by most publishing houses, because they will not generally take books that have already been published elsewhere.

You don’t have to worry about plagiarism unless you’re already super famous!  But be aware that posting publicly online counts as self-publishing.  Unless that’s your plan, stick to sharing in private settings.

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5. At some point, it’s probably going to get hard.

Chances are, when you’ve learned a lot about the craft of writing, you will reach a point where it stops being fun and becomes hard, HARD work.  You will feel like you’re navigating around a billion tiny rules, and you’ll struggle to remember and implement them all.  It’s overwhelming, and frustrating, and not enjoyable.

Push through that!

Every serious writer goes through this phase – some probably more than once!  It is a learning phase.  Eventually you will reach a place where the “rules” you’ve learned become second nature and you can create freely again.  You’ve been busy building a strong foundation for your writing.  It will become fun again, I promise!

When the going gets tough…keep writing.  You will get back to the fun again!  And your stories will be better because of it.

You'll get there!!  Just keep swimming.

You’ll get there!! Just keep swimming.

Some Good Resources for Young Authors

Go Teen Writers

Helping Writers Become Authors

Resources for Young Writers – The Creative Penn

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If you’re a young writer, what do you write?  What are your stories about?  🙂

Fellow “older” writers, what are some things you wish someone had told you about writing when you were young or had less experience?  Please share, in the comments!

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Simmer Starters – January 30, 2015 (Special Feature: Flash Fiction!)

January 29, 2015

Favorite links from the past week!  Enjoy.

Two Things to Tell Yourself in Temptation (ScribblePreach) – “Temptation is tricky.  Just when you think you’ve got hold of it, it rears its ugly head….again, and again, and again.”

How Each Myers-Briggs Type Responds to Finding a Spider in the Shower (BlondeRJ) – Some good, clean fun for the Myers-Briggs enthusiasts among us. 😀

Jill Williamson Shows Her Process For Making A Fantasy World Map (Go Teen Writers) – Very impressive!  I enjoy making maps for my books myself, but they are nowhere near this good!  It’s neat to watch this one come together.

Almost Couples (J.L. Mbewe) – I enjoyed this short little post where my writer friend Jennette Mbewe poses the question: “Who is your favorite almost-couple?”

How to Create Multi-Dimensional Characters – Everybody Lies (Kristen Lamb) – “We all have faces we show to certain people, roles we play. We are one person in the workplace, another with family, another with friends and another with strangers. This isn’t us being deceptive in a bad way, it’s self-protection and it’s us upholding societal norms. This is why when Grandma starts discussing her bathroom routine, we cringe and yell, ‘Grandma! TMI! STOP!’ ”

Special Flash Fiction Feature This Week!

If you didn’t hear through Facebook – my sci-fi flash fiction piece won the Speculative Faith Winter Writing Challenge!  Hurray!  I was so excited.  Here is the piece in full, for those who may not have read it – 500 words, not including the first sentence, which was the contest prompt.  (If you’ve read it before, scroll past to see two more links to other flash fiction pieces on the web this week!)

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Ryder Robot

by Bethany A. Jennings

Ryder needed to know the truth, but he was pretty sure none of the others were interested.

He pressed his fists to his forehead.  Convincing his friends to help him break into the city hall and search the android registry would be tricky.  They might be talented hackers – and the only ones he knew – but no one would go along with a stunt like that, unless he admitted his suspicion.

I’m a robot.  And I have the virus.

Sick to his stomach, Ryder scanned the article on his tablet again.

“As part of an executive order to protect citizens against infected androids, government officials will collect and examine all android citizens between the dates of June twelfth and June thirty-first.  Normally functioning androids will receive special security upgrades and be released to their homes after a standard memory refresh so they can resume their ordinary lives.  Those with compromised systems will be shut down to protect society.”

Fingers twitching, Ryder stashed the tablet in his backpack again.

He stared at the cafeteria linoleum.  It must be true.  All these twitches, these glitches, these fingers that go numb.  Nobody else gets this.  No one else has this photographic memory, either.  I’m one of the androids.

Despair pooled in Ryder’s mind.

Androids were designed to blend in with society and live ordinary, innocent lives.  They weren’t supposed to suspect their true nature.

And they were never, ever supposed to have random urges to kill people.

It couldn’t be normal to see dangerous red auras around some individuals, only sometimes – auras that made him feel like he was in imminent danger and needed to destroy them.  Ever since he started began the red he felt less and less in control, like one day he would snap and do something unthinkable.

I’m infected for sure.  I’m a ticking time bomb.

Would being shut down hurt?

He looked across the high school cafeteria.  Atta, Leroy, and Fitch sat at a table together, chatting, biting egg salad sandwiches, and licking the mayonnaise off their fingers.  All their dreams and plans for the future flashed through Ryder’s mind.  Breaking into city hall could end with them all incarcerated – and him dead.

There it is again!  Fear seized him as he focused on Leroy and that red aura came into view, shimmering around his buddy’s frame like an omen of death.

Ryder reached carefully into his backpack, groping deep in the bottom…

No!  Not my knife!

He whisked out his hand and held it in a fist against his stomach, squeezing his eyes shut until the desperate feeling passed.  When he dared to look at Leroy again, the aura was gone.  All his memories of friendship and nerdy hangouts with the boy flooded back, piercing him with grief.

June twelfth was too far away.

I’m going to kill my best friend in the whole world, if somebody doesn’t shut me down first.

Ryder clenched his jaw. I have to turn myself in.

He walked toward the door, casting a last glance at his childhood friend.

For Leroy. He’d do it for him.

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I definitely plan to rework and extend this piece into a longer short story someday!  🙂

If you’re in the mood for more flash fiction fun, two of my author friends challenged each other to write short pieces this week, and posted the results on their blogs.  Check them out!

The Bloody Rag (BlondeRJ) – 996 words.

Flash Fiction Challenge (Heather Fitzgerald) – 1,500 words.

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What God and Geeks Have in Common

January 26, 2015

GodandGeeks

As a writer, I sometimes fall into “geek-out mode” about my own book.  As in, “it rivals the geekery I had about Lord of the Rings during my teenage years.”  That kind of geek mode.

I think about it all day.  My characters are constantly on my mind.  I am going squeeee! over random details that nobody else would ever think to care about.  Everything about it is enthralling, every tiny jot.  Not only the story itself but the process of creating it has me giddy with excitement.

And then I start to feel very much alone.

Because nobody else cares about this book as much as I do.

I can gush to my husband, my sister, my best friends, my beta readers…and yet none of them will ever be as in love with the story as I am.  They won’t really get it.  They can’t share that enthusiasm – not for any length of time.  In fact, the more I talk about my books the more I worry that they will despise and hate my story because I am driving them crazy with details they don’t care to hear! Even people who used to geek out with me have gotten bored of it over time.

It’s not that the people in my life are heartless or uncaring.  They just don’t care about my book as much as I do!

And I could never expect them to, if I’m thinking sensibly.  This book is in my head and heart, not even published yet; it has no holds on anyone like it does on me, its creator.

And that can be depressing, knowing I cannot truly share this joy with a single person.

But this is true of any emotion, isn’t it? No matter how empathetic, fellow human beings can’t really share each others’ emotions – at least not until they invent some kind of telepathy! We are separated by the unique and distinct nature of our souls.  We all have something we love and are passionate about that we wish to share with others, and sometimes it’s not possible to really share that love.

The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy. – Proverbs 14:10

Even if I get published and my books have hordes of rabid fans someday (hey, I can dream), no other human being will ever fathom the depths of my enthusiasm for my own stories, or truly share in the joys of my story-creation.

But there is One who can.

The One who spoke the universe into being, who orchestrates each detail of my life for my good, who created me body and soul and put these stories in my heart to tell – He knows.  He understands.  The One who exults over me with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17) surely knows and appreciates the depths of my story geekery.  And as the Master Worldbuilder, He completely understands that delight!

I don’t mean to be flippant or irreverent, but hear me out – do you think the three Persons of the Godhead ever had “geek moments” about creation?

“Now, let’s make another kind of horse.  Except it isn’t actually a horse!  Because it will be covered in gorgeous black and white stripes!  YES.  It will be amazing.”

I think about that sometimes.  Did God ever get excited about the intricacies of anthills, the habits of lions, the courses of the planets and how they align, the variety of the plant kingdom, or the cuteness of kittens?  When He brought Eve to Adam, was He bursting with Fatherly joy to introduce His children to one another?

I imagine, perhaps, He was!

Not because He is ever surprised, for He knows all things, but because – as authors know well – you don’t have to be surprised by the story you create to enjoy it unfolding under your hands.  I may know exactly how my character is going to act, and why, and yet still be tickled from head to toe with delight as the scene I am writing takes shape.  It’s how we storytellers are.

People say “the devil is in the details,” but it’s really God who is there, holding all things together the molecular level, organizing every single moment, every storyline, and every atom to His glory and the good of his people.

Geeks are people who love something so much that all the details matter. – Marissa Mayer

Until recently our culture mostly thought of “geek” as a negative term.  Nowadays it’s worn more as a badge of honor by an entire subculture, and “geeky” things like superhero movies are mainstream and incredibly popular.  But perhaps the geeky delight we often share over stories is a small reflection of the joy God takes in His own creation.

He cares about the birds and their nests.  He cares about the ants and their tunnels.  He cares about the most distant star.  Surely, He also cares about good stories, your characters, that language you’re inventing, those imaginary animals you drew, that episode you really enjoyed, the art you love, that scene that had you bawling while you typed.

And maybe you’ve been reading this post and thinking, “I’m not a geek!”  Perhaps you can’t relate to the rabid love of stories, Doctor Who, or Marvel franchises.  But I’m sure there is something else in your life that you’re passionate for – and maybe alone in your passion.  History?  Sewing?  Bird-watching?  Baking?  God designed us to take joy in things like this…each finding our own delights and treasures in this world He made.  Do you love the details of something and feel like no one else cares as much as you do?

No detail of your life is too small to bore your Heavenly Father!

So when I am feeling lonely in my geekery – and before it gets to the point of loneliness! – I’m going to start turning to God and expressing thankfulness for my enthusiasm to the only One who totally sees the joy of my heart, Who gets it, and Who rejoices over it with me…down to the very smallest detail.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Jesus, Luke 12:7

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Have you ever felt lonely in your geekery?  Has there ever been anything in your life that you felt God didn’t care about?  (Pssst…He does!)

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Simmer Starters – Jan. 23, 2015

January 23, 2015

Welcome to a new feature on the Simmering Mind!  (Well, really more of a resurrected feature.)

Every Friday I will post a collection of links that got me thinking or woke up my imagination that week.  They might be related to writing, faith, science, sci-fi and fantasy, or fiction in general, and occasionally parenting or other tertiary topics.  I hope you enjoy this new feature!

Recent Simmer Starters

Medieval History: Why Are the Middle Ages Often Characterized As Dark Or Less Civilized? (Slate) – This is a neat article debunking some common misconceptions about the “dark ages.”

Most Anticipated Sci-Fi / Fantasy Movies of 2015-2017 (Fantasy Faction) – I had no idea some of these movies were being made/planned, or that some of them were coming out so soon!  I’m looking forward to a bunch of these.  Epic is definitely “in” and in full swing right now…and that makes me happy.

Interview with Kathy Tyers (Enclave Publishing Blog) – A talk with the author of Firebird, one of my favoritest books/series in the world, containing some of my favoritest characters in the world! One of the strongest heroines, and the only fictional man who was ever “swoon-worthy” to me as well as being epically awesome (*blush* Did I just admit that?).

The Value of Happily Ever After (StoryWarren) – A lovely post about the value and importance of fairy tales.  “In a culture that staunchly holds facts as supreme, waving wands and ladders of golden tresses had been relegated to the rubbish heap, along with our grandmothers’ other silly beliefs. Fairy tales apparently had no credibility and had been sentenced to literary irrelevance. This was all very alarming to me.”

“Writer’s Block” by Amy Deardon (Ralene Burke’s blog) – Some useful quotes about writer’s block and tips to combat it!

Get Rid of On-The-Nose Dialogue Once and For All (K.M. Weiland) – Important tip for writers!  “Simply put, on-the-nose dialogue is dialogue that says exactly what it means–nothing more and nothing less…”

P.S.  The Simmering Mind has a lovely new header image this week!  If you’re reading this on an RSS feed or in an email, you will have to click through to the website to see it.

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Think About These Things

May 16, 2014

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

When it comes to fiction, Christians are very fond of this verse.  It is often quoted as a warning against sinful content in books and movies.  Many of us have felt guilty over stories we’ve enjoyed because parts of them seemed to go against this text, even though there were many good things in the story otherwise.  Some of us have quoted this passage to others with loving concern, when we suspect their entertainment choices are less than godly.

I am concerned that this may be a skewed interpretation of what this verse means and how we should apply it.

First, let me be clear – the Bible is adamant that we should flee temptation to sin, and so I must be as well.  Our Lord even said that if our eye causes us to sin we should (metaphorically!) gouge it out rather than dally with temptation (Matthew 18:9).  It’s foolish to play with fire.  Everyone should discern carefully whether their entertainment choices are leading them toward sin or pointing them toward godliness.  So I’m not talking here about watching pornography, or crude, coarse comedy shows, or other things that are clearly detrimental to our walk with the Lord and our witness for His name.  I’m talking here about those things in the middle, that might not be completely “clean” or may portray great darkness, but also have “redeeming qualities”, as they say.  What do we do with those stories?  Do we avoid them because it might make us think of untrue, dishonorable, impure, or un-praiseworthy things?

Many of us are uncomfortable with fictional sin because – well, sin is wrong, and doesn’t reading about wrong things equal thinking about them?

Yes, it does…but might I suggest a different interpretation of the command?

See no evil?

Look for the True

There are many Scripture texts that teach us to avoid sin and temptation, but personally I don’t believe this is one of them.  It never says we should keep matters of sin and ugliness from ever entering our thoughts, as some suggest (and let’s not deceive ourselves – there are plenty of hideous things in our minds and hearts already, and putting big walls around our minds won’t keep the sin out).

It doesn’t say, “If there is anything unlovely, if there is anything condemnable, if there is anything unworthy of any praise, stop yourself from ever thinking about these things!”

Instead, what I see here is a glorious command to look for the true.

In every story you encounter, look for what is true.  Find the things that are honorable.  Search out what is just.  Examine the things that are pure and lovely so you might imitate them.  Discern what is commendable and keep an eye out for the excellent.  If there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things!  Put aside the unlovely and meditate on the beautiful things that remind you of God and His grace and goodness.  In the enjoyment of any story, set your mind on things above.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers

Beauty and small pictures of Christ’s love can be found everywhere, and all truth is God’s truth, even in stories written by ungodly or mistaken authors.  That means anything true, lovely, and praiseworthy is from Him, through Him, and to His glory – and we can rejoice in it as such because we are new Creations in Him.

Am I suggesting we surround ourselves with filth so we can use a magnifying glass to look for flecks of gold in the mud?  As Paul might say – by no means!

What I am suggesting is that we shouldn’t judge a story on whether it depicts sin or not.  (If there are humans in it, there is bound to be sin.  Either that or the author is a lousy portrayer of human nature and reality.)

Rather, we should judge our fiction by asking, “Did this story leave me ‘think[ing] about these things’?”

And we writers, who joke about “killing our darlings”, raising the stakes, taking our characters through the worst of troubles, finding the things they would never do and figuring out a situation where they would do it – we are often the “masters of darkness” when it comes to the lives of our fictional people.  It’s important for us to depict the reality of sin.  It’s not just a bad idea, it is rebellion against the Maker and Avenger of all things, and the wages of sin is death.  So we must show real sin, because sin is real and demands a blood sacrifice.  And we must show real darkness, because the true world holds darkness because it of that sin.  But where are we pointing our readers?  We should always point them toward the light, not leave them staring bleakly into the blackness.

Different Perspectives = Different Takeaways

The interesting thing is, our reactions to a story are heavily influenced by our own perspective on life, often as much or more than the actual content of the tale or the intentions of the author.

As an example, take Frozen.  I have seen Christians decry that film, claiming it is full of secret gay propaganda.  They busily scare up “evidence”, quotes, lyrics, or scenes that might be trying to promote homosexuality.  Of course it’s all theoretical, since Disney hasn’t made any claim of such intentions.  On the other hand, I have seen many Christian reviewers praising Frozen, calling it one of the most Christian movies of the year, full of themes of Christlike love and self-sacrifice!  They watched the movie and glorified God, because they saw His grace reflected through the characters’ story.

Which side in that controversy has their minds more focused on what is true, honorable, praiseworthy?…and which side has its mind in the gutter?

In the nebulous area of stories and symbolism, beauty is often in the mind of the beholder.  Filmmakers may create their stories in evil, perhaps, but God can still mean it for good.  All truth is His, no matter how much the atheist or lawless man might try to claim it for their own or use it against Him.

Look to the Source of All Joy

Why should we look for what is true, honorable, and all the rest?  And how do we know it when we see it?  Those are topics for a whole series of posts, but I think the easiest answer is this – look at Jesus Christ.  There is no one more true, more honorable, more just, pure, or lovely, or more worthy of commendation, excellence, and praise.

The more I meditate on Christ, the more I will see glimpses and reminders of His beauty in the stories I read, hear, and watch.  And the more often I am reminded of His beauty in unexpected places, the more often I will meditate on Jesus day in and day out.  There is nothing more precious to set our minds upon than Him!

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I’d love to hear your applications of this text!  What is the last story you enjoyed that made you “think about these things”?  For me it’s Captain America: Winter Soldier.