Too Much Homework is Overwhelming!

I haven’t forgotten that I need to write Part 2 of my last post, Blessed Reassurance.  But here’s the thing: I’ve just got too much writing to do at the moment.  I need to write:

  1. The script for a film about the missionary guesthouse that my apartment in Milan has become,
  2. The script for a PowerPoint about the ministry,
  3. A new post for the website’s blog, and
  4. Part 2 of my last blog post, mentioned above)

In addition to those writing tasks, I have 2 very big translation jobs:

  1. A book from Italian into English (due by the end of the summer) and
  2. Our corporate paperwork from English into Italian (due as soon as possible)

All this is just overwhelming me almost to the point of paralysis.

So, instead of putting off the blog altogether, I thought I would take a pleasant little detour today, and take you on a little guided tour into a writer’s mind—mine!  I have written 3 complete books (nonfiction), and 2 that I never completely finished (fiction—I lost interest ¾ of the way through), and several plays (3-5 acts) and skits, the majority of which have been produced in schools and/or churches.  That’s not bragging, it’s just establishing that I know a thing or 2 about writing.

my books2 of the 3–the only ones I own copies of!

Sometimes people tell me that they feel that urge to write, but writing a book just seems like too big a task.  It’s funny but, I found books to be the easiest thing to write.  Although by word count my plays are about a 10th the size of my books, they were much harder to write.  It was rewarding when they were done, especially when I saw my plays acted on the stage.  But writing, especially dialogue, was like do-it-yourself dentistry: painful and difficult.  Pulling the words out of my characters’ mouths was like trying to extract my own teeth with a rusty pair of pliers.  (How’s that for a colorful image?)

Books are not so hard to write if you break the task into small pieces.  The blog has helped with that—something I hadn’t imagined when I first started blogging just 3 years ago.  In addition, writing becomes easier if you make a regular appointment with yourself.  I try to write daily, but sometimes my heavy travel schedule makes it impossible to keep up with every single day.  One thing I found is that if you start to treat your writing time as an important appointment, you’ll find that your creative self will meet you at your desk, ready to write.  But you must treat your writing task as something important.  Turn off the phone, don’t answer the door, and close your web browser (unless you need to do research on the internet).

Beginning writers might find more success if they write things out with pencil and paper.  My first book was entirely handwritten before a word of it was put on the computer.  There is something about the sound of the pencil scratching across the page that unblocks the creative wells.  And, yes, even writing nonfiction is creative.  You have an incident that happened, but you choose how to shade it and frame it.

If you want to write, but don’t know what to write about, then take a look at what you like to read.  I have always preferred true life stories, how people overcame their circumstances by faith.  I think that’s why I lost interest in writing those 2 novels.  I just find real life so much more interesting, bizarre, and unpredictable.  Many of the things that have happened in my life are so strange that you simply could never make them up.  And the fact that they are true gives them a meaning that mere fiction could never attain.

It is extremely helpful to be a part of a writing group, that is, a group of writers that get together to support each other’s work.  The key word is support.  If the group you find is only interested in tearing each other’s work apart, then find or form another group.  The most helpful writing group I’ve been in was one in which each of us read what we had worked on that week.  Sometimes it’s only by hearing yourself read it aloud that you can notice things like run-on sentences and nonsensical phrasings.  The others then critiqued the writing, but always in kind and helpful ways.

In general, it’s not a good idea to share your writing with non-writers—at least not at first.  Non-writers usually don’t know how to tell you what works and what doesn’t.  Sometimes their comments will be a sweeping statement of disapproval, when in reality there is just a misplaced word or an awkward phrase.  The writing process has been likened to pregnancy and birth.  You wouldn’t give your newborn baby to an inexperienced and clumsy teenager, so you need to treat your newborn writing project with as much care and tenderness.

Editing is way more difficult than writing.  The most important ingredient for editing is time.  Put your writing aside for several weeks or even months.  That will give you fresh eyes to edit with.  So after reading your work to a writing group, making the changes suggested by your “midwives,” put it aside and work on something else or a different part of the project.  Then when you come back to it, you will be much more objective about what you’ve written.  Sometimes you’ll even be surprised by how good it is.

During the editing process, I like to add the sensory imagery that is missing from the first draft.  Sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste all add a dimension to the writing that will help your reader become engrossed in your writing.  Since my writing is nonfiction, this means going back in my mind to remember these missing elements.  Sometimes these come back to me in Technicolor, Dolby surround sound, and Odorama (does anyone else remember Polyester?).  Other times, I have to imagine what is missing.  But this is such an important element that I dare not skip this step, even if it’s difficult to remember.

So, there you have it: my writing process.  Oh, and one last thing: while praying the other day, the Lord showed me that this year I have been working on 2 books simultaneously—hallelujah!  God is good!

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