Archive for March, 2015

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How to Murder Your Creative Muse In 5 Easy Steps

March 29, 2015

1.  Don’t spend time with her.  If you have plans to get together, procrastinate until she gives up for the night.  Spend your time on social media or YouTube instead!  Best way to send her running, right there.

2. Fixate on doing it the right way every time, with everything.  Correct the muse at every turn and nitpick over every idea she produces.

3.  Don’t take her advice without consulting your broad base of advisors, beta readers, friends, family, distant relations, and mammoth critique groups. Every decision must pass a vote by a broad majority!!

4.  Expect her to work nonstop with no breaks.  Work’s good for her!  Run her ragged and get mad if she doesn’t show up precisely when you want her.

5.  Compare her with the other writers’ muses and their famous or bestselling novels.  “Why aren’t you more like J.K. Rowling’s muse or Stephen King’s?  Why do you have dumb ideas I can’t make tons of money on or generate hordes of fans???”

Muse-Killer!

Are you as guilty of muse murder as I am?  Never fear.  The muse is frail and easily killed, but with some TLC you can bring her back to life!

I’m currently doing a muse revival myself.  Here are my principles for bringing my muse back to life:

  1. Thanks to good advice from my critique partner, I’m giving her free reign over the story and trusting my storyteller gut.
  2. If she needs a breather, I let her have it.  Sometimes it’s good to focus on something else for awhile.
  3. I try not to worry about doing it 100% right the first, second, fourth, or even tenth time.  There will always be edits.  It’s okay to mess up a little.  The muse loves to experiment…don’t be afraid of a little mess!
  4. I attempt to meet regularly for writing rendezvous, and use Microsoft Word’s “Focus” mode to block out my Google Chrome icon from view so I won’t be lured away by the Siren of Social Networking.
  5. I remind myself that my voice, writing, and story are my own.  Comparing them with others’ works will only sap me of my own joy.  I have to focus on how to do my job well and to God’s glory.
  6. I pray for her – or more accurately, I just pray for my writing.  We joke about the “muse” as a fun scapegoat for writing woes or a humorous imaginary brainstorming partner, but really our inspiration comes from God, the Author of History and Creator of all things.  If you’re in a rut, ask for His help.  He cares about your stories as much as you do, because He created you and gave you those stories to write!

Treat your muse nicely, peeps!  Don’t be muse-killers. 😉

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Simmer Starters – March 27, 2015

March 26, 2015

Happy Last Friday of March!  I can’t wait for April…it’s when New England starts to come alive again, and I celebrate my birthday, and this year one of my best friends in the whole wide world is coming to visit me!  April will be a good month.

Here are the Simmer Starters for this week…

What Makes an Amazing First Chapter? (Jeni Chappelle) – Good advice here for the first chapter of your book, writers!

Fixating on a Story (David Farland) – Interesting thoughts here on staying relevant as writers.  He advises to keep up with current trends and beloved stories.  I think that a really resonant story has relevance for the ages (it’s why we still read classics, right?) but he has some good points here!

He Knows (Your Mom Has a Blog) – Beautiful post.  “Take heart.  God knows.  He knows how this is all going to work out.  How all of the pieces fit together.  He knows which questions we haven’t thought of asking yet, and He knows the answer to every single one.  God knows what He is doing in your life.”

The Science of Awkwardness (Vsauce) – This is a YouTube link – a fascinating video with some science about social dynamics and musings about humanity.

Fight For Us (Femina) – This isn’t a new post, but it’s a beautiful one and oh-so-important, and the theme is one that has stuck with me ever since I read it for the first time.  The other day I was able to share it with a hurting friend.  “But here is the beauty of this – whatever burdens you are carrying, you are carrying them on our behalf. The fight you feel alone in – you are fighting it for all of us.”

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For Writers: Pros and Cons of Using Myers-Briggs

March 25, 2015

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that I’m a fan of Myers-Briggs typology, and enjoy applying the theory to my characters and writing.  But lately I’ve also noticed some downsides to writing with MBTI in mind, so I wanted to share my thoughts on what makes it a useful – or not so useful – tool for writers.

Why do writers need to familiarize themselves with Myers-Briggs typology?

Answer: you don’t.

Writers have been creating and sharing amazing characters for all history, long before this theory appeared on the scene.  To write great characters, all you need is a realistic understanding of human nature and the ability to portray fictional human beings in a way that makes them come alive.

You don’t need Myers-Briggs to do that.  MBTI can be very helpful – or, it can be a hindrance, depending on your understanding of the theory and how you use it.

Silhouettes of Business People VectorFirst, what is Myers-Briggs?

As a quick explanation, Myers-Briggs theory is the theory that people can be sorted into 16 basic types based on how they see the world and make decisions because of their psychological preferences.  The “type” of each person becomes a starting point from which to understand them better.

But you can learn about MBTI basics elsewhere!  (Check out this article I wrote which explains the theory simply.)  This post is about the pros and cons of knowing and using the theory in our writing.

First, some positives of using MBTI to type your characters…

girl_thinking

Myers-Briggs helps you understand how different characters see the world and make decisions.

One of the most useful things MBTI does is make you aware of how people think, and how the logic we use and the way we interact with the world can be radically different from even the people closest to us.  We focus, prioritize, and react differently to things depending on our temperaments – or in MBTI lingo, our “preferences.”  As an author I’ve found it very helpful to understand my characters’ cognitive processes, because I am prone to assuming all my characters will see the world and react to it similarly to the way I do!  And that just isn’t so.

It helps you develop a cast of unique characters.

If most my characters think and react like I would to everything, I’m going to have a very boring, monotone cast!  Understanding MBTI and applying it to my characters helps me make each of them come alive in a unique way.  While I may have some commonalities with both an ISTP character and an ENFJ character, those two personalities are radically different from each other and it may be better to accentuate their differences rather than their similarities.  (Conflict – it’s what makes a story good!)

It helps you discover and express your character’s strengths and weaknesses.

Maybe you’ve never considered how your thoughtful and insightful character might also be forgetful and absent-minded.  Or that your decisive and fast-acting leader character may have difficulty understanding people’s feelings or may come across as abrasive.  For most human beings, our greatest strength has a correlating weakness, and vice versa.  MBTI can be a great way of exploring these things, if you’re researching in the right places.

Now, the downside…

Misinformation abounds!

Not everything you read on the internet is true, and this is also the case for MBTI.  Newbies beware!

We’ve all seen those big tables of fictional characters that say, “Which character are you?” based on MB type.  Most of them are really inaccurate.  (Hermione, an INTP?  Not likely!)  Furthermore, the internet is full of blog posts claiming certain characters are certain types, and typing them completely wrong – or even “slightly” wrong, which is really just as bad.  (An INFJ is quite different from an INFP, and an ESTJ is very different from an ESFJ…one letter can change a lot.)

Actually, a lot of fictional characters are inconsistent and don’t even fit to a particular type, or there is huge controversy about what type they are.  And most shows and books don’t have one character for every type, which leads to the desperate stretching of those character tables to find a person for each box.

Overgeneralization is a danger.

MBTI is a starting point, not the end-all-be-all to understanding someone.  When you find out your character’s type, that gives you nothing except a basic blueprint of their psychology.  It doesn’t tell you their quirks.  It doesn’t tell you what makes them unique as a person.  Basing everything off their MB type is a great way to end up with a stereotype instead of a full-fledged, human character.

My WIP’s main character is a male ENTJ – and I’m not sure if I know any male ENTJs in person.  So when a friend recommended a TV show that had an ENTJ male character in it, I started comparing and contrasting him with my protagonist…and I think I actually have to stop watching that show for awhile because my perception of that character is invading my perception of my own character!  Characters should be unique people.  No real people fit neatly in solid “boxes,” so if your character fits in a neat box, what you have is a weak character, not a strong representation of their Myers-Briggs type.

God didn’t make you with a cookie cutter, so you should be wary of making your characters that way.

Stress over “doing it right.”

I’ve had writer’s block for several weeks running now, and I realized last night that part of it is due to pegging my main character’s type.  Now, instead of writing his actions and reactions however they come to me, I stop writing every few minutes and run to the internet to ask Google about “ENTJs after stress,” or whatever it might be.  I’ve been so worried about portraying him accurately that I was pigeonholing him and destroying my own creative process as I went!  Relying on MBTI can kill the muse fast.

In summary…

Myers-Briggs experts will be quick to point out that most of the negatives I list are examples of amateurs applying the theory badly.  This is true!  However, most writers are not experts in MBTI.  So if we’re going to use the theory, we’d better be aware of some of the pitfalls we could fall into if we’re not careful.

Be warned.  If you only have a tertiary understanding of the theory, it may actually do more harm than good with your writing.  It can easily short-circuit your creativity and cramp your characters into stiff, predictable stereotypes.

Whether you use it or not, MBTI should not have the ultimate say over your story and characters.  It’s a useful tool, when used properly.  But it’s a theory, not a law, and there are exceptions to every “rule,” just like in real life.

MBTI can’t tell you what the core of your character is, either.  I am a middle-class, firstborn, white, American female – and those things color and affect all I do and how I see the world, just like my being an INFJ does.  But you could know all that and much more about me, and still never know who I really am as a person.  A MB type doesn’t “define” a person or character; it’s only an aspect of their being that gives them some things in common with other similar individuals.

MBTI can do many useful things for you as you tell your stories.  But ultimately you still have to do the most important thing all on your own, the thing that will make your reader fall in love with your character and give them life beyond the page – you have to give your character a soul.

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Did you ever have a new theory or system that ended up messing with your creative process?  How did you fix it?  Did you ditch the system, or modify how you used it?

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Simmer Starters – March 20, 2015

March 20, 2015

Happy first day of spring, everybody!!  My favorite season. 🙂  And now for some controversial Simmer Starter links to start your weekend – hahaha.

You Don’t Have to be Pretty – on YA Fiction and Beauty as a Priority (The Belle Jar) – There’s a lot of discussion about gender in YA fiction these days.  I post this not because I necessarily agree with the contents (though some I do agree with), but because it raised an interesting question in my mind.  Is the focus on outward beauty for women rooted in something healthy and good, gone haywire because of sin?  Did God design us to desire outward beauty?  Is it an unhealthy result of the fall that women put such value on their looks (and men on women’s looks), or is there some deeper root to it that goes back to Creation?

Dear Gay Community: Your Children Are Hurting (Heather Barwick at The Federalist) – “You taught me how to be brave, especially when it is hard. You taught me empathy. You taught me how to listen. And how to dance. You taught me not be afraid of things that are different. And you taught me how to stand up for myself, even if that means I stand alone. I’m writing to you because I’m letting myself out of the closet: I don’t support gay marriage. But it might not be for the reasons that you think.”

And some not so controversial…

Why Children Need Chores (Jennifer Breheny Wallace at the Wall Street Journal) – I occasionally need the reminder that my children should be doing more chores.  This article points out that children are much more motivated by the phrase “being a helper” than just “helping.”  Interesting.

Our Everyday Obedience is Our Best Witness (J.D. Greear) – “Your Christianity is best measured by the relationships most people don’t see.  That’s a chilling thought for a lot of people. If God judged your faith only by your relationships in your home, how would you measure up?”

Five Ways to Make Your Characters Stand Out (Chris Winkle at Mythcreants) – Some great tips here for breaking stereotypes and making your characters unique.

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Is Anything Neutral In This War?

March 17, 2015

In which we take a break from my 1 Corinthians 13 series for some rambly musings. 😛

Me with my Eowyn sword, 2009. (Photo by Rebekah Michelle Photography.)

Me with my Eowyn sword, 2009. (Photo by Becks Carbajal.)

As you may have noticed, I’m big on the analogy of spiritual warfare.  I find it helpful to think of my struggle against sin as a cosmic battle against the forces of evil inside and outside myself.  It reminds me that there are greater and deeper realities than we see on the surface of life.

But often I catch myself falling into the assumption that every single thought that comes into my head is either a nudge from God, or a prod from Satan…that every impulse, every contemplation, every inclination is either a snare I need to flee, or a huge “sign” of some kind that I should be following.

It’s exhausting.

But is it actually true?

God didn’t create us to be robots.  He gave us minds to reason and wonder, to work things out for ourselves.  We are human beings, capable of our own contemplations.  Surely He is aware of each of our thoughts, and even in control of what we think, because He is sovereign.  But can we ever have a neutral thought?  Or is everything that goes on in our hearts part of this war?

When I pull open my drawer and dither between choosing brown or black socks to go with my burgundy shirt, does God care which color I choose?  Are there deeper spiritual implications to whether I decide to put ham or turkey on my sandwich?  Are demons sitting around “vying” with the Holy Spirit to sway each of my minuscule life choices?  Probably not.

Not all my decisions are “moral” ones.  Many of them are (or could be, depending on the situation), but some simply aren’t.  In the same way, are some of my thoughts and inspirations morally neutral?  Or should I pick every one apart, looking for the signs, nudges, traps, and pitfalls that are buried in each one?

Isn’t my brain sometimes just a human brain, affected by human impulses and musings?  Or is everything pulled to and fro between the Old Man of the Flesh and the New Man in Christ?

Take Every Thought Captive?

When I was growing up, my mom framed 2 Corinthians 10:5 and put it on my homeschool desk to inspire and challenge me in my worldview studies:

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… – 1 Corinthians 10:5

On the surface, this passage indicates that every single thought we have should be scrutinized or else we are disobeying God.  In the context, though, this passage refers more to worldviews, philosophies, and theological ideas – things outside of us that we should not simply imbibe, but study and compare to Scripture like good Bereans.

So there’s the rub.  Am I expending excess energy interrogating random thoughts that are simply “civilians” in the war?  Am I right to treat every musing as a potential spy coming to betray me into sin if I don’t conclude the train of thought properly?

For example, I recently hung up from a brief phone call and cringed because it felt like an awkward conversation.  As usual, I immediately tried to diagnose what made it so awkward to me.

I wasn’t bubbly enough when I said “thank you” to her.

Well, I’m not a naturally bubbly person.

But if I’m not bubbly, what if people aren’t able to tell I’m genuine?

Maybe my lack of bubbly-ness comes from a lack of gratitude!  Maybe if I was more appreciative of that person I would be bubbly!  Maybe this is an attitude problem and I should be changing it…

No, I’m just comparing myself to others, and being jealous that they’re more naturally bubbly than I am.  I need to stop.

But what if this is God telling me I need to be more grateful?

But what if I’m just being insecure and this is Satan trying to discourage me?

You get the picture!  I start to feel like Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove, with his shoulder angel and shoulder devil heckling him from each side.

“Reason #2! Look what I can do.  Haha!  HA!”  “I’m not sure what that has to do with – ”  “No, no…he’s got a point.”

At any point in this spiraling catastrophe of introspection, I could take a step back and say, “Eh, this isn’t a big deal – I’ll just let it go,” but there’s the other part of my mind saying, “This IS a big deal!  What if there’s a lesson here for you, and you’re missing it?  If there’s sin here, you need to confront it!  Fight, fight, fight!”

Ack!

Is All Introspection “of the Devil” or of God?

Morbid introspection delights in finding faults, and goodness knows we all have plenty to keep ourselves entertained if that is what we want to do. While a little bit of godly self-examination will keep us humble, morbid introspection paralyzes and discourages us. It is not fruitful.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of specific sins, like snapping at Johnny with annoyance. The accuser has another agenda all together, and accuses us of “being a bad mom” or “being a bad friend” or whatever. You can repent of snapping at Johnny, but how do you repent of being a bad friend? What specific duty did you neglect? Accusations of this sort are usually muddled and general and designed to confuse and disable.

Nancy Wilson

Satan likes to tell us that we’re not enough, and will never be enough (because it’s true! – without Jesus, which is the part he doesn’t want us to remember).

I can spend all day grappling with bouts of morbid introspection, convinced that I am only doing my duty and taking every thought captive!  But sometimes walking away is the answer to these kinds of thoughts, not doing battle with them, because countering them is often just giving the devil a hearing.

But even that quote from Mrs. Wilson suggests that such moments are from “the accuser.”  Is that always true?  Is all introspection either “morbid” (and therefore of the devil) or else Spirit-led?  Are there any times when my mind is just a human mind and not actively on the battlefield?

I can’t pretend to have the answer to my own question.  Maybe it comes down to choosing your battles and I’m simply a poor judge of which battles are worth fighting.  Or maybe it’s wishful thinking for me to dream of ever laying down my weapons, until eternity comes and we are able to rest from our battles.  That is an exhausting idea – but if that is what it means to take up our crosses and follow Christ, then that is what it means!

I look forward to hearing your perspectives on this!  Do we ever have “neutral” thoughts, or is every contemplation a battle to be fought?  Let me know in the comments…