08 September 2014

Things I Keep Learning

You know those things that you learn, and every time you learn them you think, "I already knew that"? Today, I had a reminder of a couple of those things, so I thought I'd put my thoughts down here.

My current job is doing data analysis and internal audit. My title might be Program Controls Manager, but it should just be "Resident Bad Guy." A major chunk of my job is figuring out what was done incorrectly, who did it, fixing it, and educating the culprit. I'm the one who calls or emails you to tell you what you did wrong, why it was wrong, and what you need to do to make it right. Fun, eh?

I learned some time back that the nicer you are about it, the less likely it is that they'll get it right the next time. "Oh, she fixed it for me before, so it's no big deal." Wrong. My communication has, by necessity, become very to-the-point. The more you embroider flowers on it, the less punch it packs. This brings us to lesson one:

1) No one wants to take responsibility for himself. 

You might think that perfectly capable adults would grasp simple concepts like:

  • If you don't put in your time, you won't get paid. 
  • If you do the exact opposite of what you're instructed to do, you're going to get in trouble.
  • When someone's doing something to help you out, even though it's not their problem, don't be a jerk to them.
  • If you falsify data, you will get fired. 

I'll stop there, though I could keep going. If you thought that, you'd be wrong. The average perfectly capable adult (based on my control group of just under 500 of them) does not have any desire to take responsibility for things they know that they must do.

2) No one wants to get caught, when they do something wrong. 

It's uncomfortable, to do something wrong and have someone call you on it. It's unpleasant to be told for the 4th time in a row that you don't have the authority to do what you've just done, and this is your final warning. It's unpleasant to face the consequences of that action, whether it's just a conversation, a disciplinary action, losing the job, or something more eternal. No one wants to be the one in the hot seat.

3) Because of the first two points, most people have an immediate, knee-jerk reaction of blaming the person who caught them. 

This has been the story since the Garden of Eden. When we get caught, we immediately blame someone else, and often it's the person who's calling us out for our wrongdoing. It's so much easier to throw the spotlight at on someone else than it is to admit we've done wrong, seek to make it right, and not do it again. It's kind of a built-in default to make it personal-- "well you're just a jerk"-- because then maybe the thing we've gotten caught doing (again!) doesn't look quite so bad. If the other person is somehow to blame, then maybe I can get away without paying the price.

Friends, this reaction may be the most "natural" thing in the world, but that does not make it right. You see, there's no amount of blame-shifting or name-calling that can right a wrong. All that does is breed ill-will, and it puts you (or should I say, me) even more in the wrong.

This is one of the ways that my job reminds me of Calvary. I don't like being disliked, but to be honest, it's kind of my job. I don't want people to think badly of me, but it's not possible to hold the standard if people feel they have the freedom to do whatever they please, without repercussion or consequence. I don't want people to think of me as the bad guy, not want to take my calls, groan when they get my emails, etc., but it happens, and to be honest, I don't really mind. It's all part of the job.

Earlier today, when calling someone (for the 4th time in as many months) on a situation they knew better than to replicate, the person turned on me and started calling me names, shouting about how abrasive and what a jerk I am, until I finally hung up (because taking abuse is not part of my job description). It's times like that when my sin is fully before me. I remember how many times I've turned defensive and spat nasty things at the person who called me out. It's times like that when I remember that it took me murdering God to make my sin right. It's times like that when I'm so thankful that He loved me enough to not only take my venom, but also to take it away.

I don't always get it right. I know that. My current work schedule is averaging 60+ hours each week (my current record is 85 hrs/wk), and we're doing some other things, in our personal sphere that result in perpetual exhaustion. It's easy to react badly, especially when you're tired, overworked, and under- appreciated. I'm sure there are times I am abrasive. I'm sure there are times that people think I am a jerk, even when I'm just being straightforward. I haven't had a lot of spare time to sugar-coat stuff in the last few months. It's not an excuse. I should do better. I know that. I do my best to apologize when I realize I've been harsh.

I'm not Jesus, and as much as I yearn to be like Him, I don't generally stick the landing. Some days, He makes it clear that I don't have a right to get indignant with others who abuse me for doing my job. His voice speaks into my heart, "Remember the abuse I took? Remember the cross?" It may be my job to find the problems and deal with the trouble-makers, and they may react badly. But, it's no surprise to Jesus. Our Holy God decided that it wasn't enough for there to be punishment for sin, but that there must be a cure for it. So He came and stepped into the mess, waded through our filth, took it all on Him, and carried it instead.

I'm so glad that He reminds me of His grace, His mercy, His redemption. It makes it easier, sometimes, to be the Resident Bad Guy.


29 April 2014

A Whole New World, Addendum: Business Cards

Here's another new one. In preparing for an upcoming writers' conference (my first), I found out that industry standards for writers are different than every other line of work I've ever been in, and this includes business cards.

Everything I've ever learned about business cards has always involved the admonition to never put your picture on a business card, often accompanied by the statement, "Only realtors do that." (I still don't understand why realtors do it, either. Can anyone explain that to me?)

In the corporate world, to have your picture on business documentation (including business cards and letterhead) is a serious infraction. It's illegal to consider someone's appearance as part of the hiring practice in many industries, and corporate lawyers frown on things that might incur an EEOC investigation or lawsuit. Most HR departments in those industries have strict policies that specify that any resume or c.v. submitted with a photograph gets automatically destroyed and removed from consideration. Apparently writing falls outside of the general practice guidelines I've been taught to observe.

I'm trying really hard not to cringe as I attempt to design my new business card with my picture on it. My muscles are revolting against me, tightness is locking down on my spine, attempting to paralyze my fingers' attempts at adding the picture. Yikes.


28 April 2014

A Whole New World

Generally, I consider myself to be fairly savvy when it comes to corporate or business-oriented things. I've worked in enough different organizations and jobs to have a somewhat passable knowledge of how things function in the world, these days. I had no idea, whatsoever, what I was in for when I started to attempt to penetrate the writing/publishing world, however. Apparently, I've been lulled into a false sense of technological security by my activities on the front end of tech development, and I am as lost as a goose in a hailstorm (to use one of my daddy's sayings) trying to backtrack my way to where things make sense. It's like trying to revert to Windows 95, when you're used to using 7.

I'm beginning to learn-- and let me just interrupt myself here; this may not be ALL of the writing/publishing realm-- perhaps it's just where I've found myself for now... back to the sentence at hand-- I'm beginning to learn that everything seems to be done by email. Not that I don't spend 40-80 hours each week dealing with email in my full-time job, but this is a different reality of email altogether. This harks back to the mid-to-late-1990s version of email, when the internet was largely unregulated and it was a wild, wild west of courier new text and badly realized html. It's a whole group of people sending emails in a huge moving ball of communication, rolling over one another and shooting off on seemingly random tangents.

Not that all this is necessarily bad. It's probably good for me to see how spoiled I have been. It's just hard to backtrack a couple of decades, technologically speaking. Frankly, it's a bit overwhelming. It makes me wonder how that transition actually worked its way through those awkward years until the technology became user-friendly enough to not cause you to go blind. In Courier New. 
If I never see a non-html email in courier new with all the html tags built into it (random question marks, anyone?), I?ll be completely fine with that.&nsbp Except that I know I [i] will [/i], each time I try to decipher one of the mystifyingly old-school eloops (really?) or attempt to scan through a course archive. &nsbp? 

They're not bad, though, deep down. It's good for people to connect and be a part of things. It's good for the courses to be available online. I am truly astonished, though, that some of the more user-friendly tools that are widely available, and free, are just going unused by these groups. In an age of simple blogs with comments sections, forums with user-privileges, and other fonts besides the  brain scrambling courier new (and associated random unrealized html coding), one would think that those things would be hugely beneficial for organizations with memberships in the thousands. Maybe, one of these days, they'll upgrade to the Aughts and start using forums instead of emails. It almost makes me nostalgic for Windows 2001. :)


31 March 2014

Sticker Shock

As you may know, I'm in the process of rewriting the manuscript of my first book and writing the second book. Both of those will be parts of a larger series.

Last night, I was reading on a blog that belongs to a literary agent company and got sticker shock. One of the blog posts by one of the agents gave the numbers for word counts of varying types of books. So, naturally, I copied and pasted my novel into a single document (instead of the individual chapters that it is in while I'm working on it) and checked the total.

Now, I have been very aware that what I have in the first draft is the skeleton of the novel. In the second draft, I've been adding to the story, rewriting scenes that don't work, and fleshing things out. I'm aware that my descriptive passages are pretty scant, and that my dialogues are few. Most of the book is the bare bones of action that get us from the start to the end, and it's getting beefed up. Slowly, but surely.

Turns out, I have a little over half a book.

Even knowing that I'm adding muscle to the bones, I'm still in shock. I didn't think I was quite that short (roughly 35,000 words short) of having a viable novel. It's a bit disheartening.

It's not as though I can't write another 35K words. In fact, I knew the story was going to be longer after this rewrite. I haven't even gotten to the part that needs the most added to it. And, I'm still planning to write multiple books in this series, so that's not much in the broader scheme of things. It's not as though I won't write more. I'm not going to just give up and say, "Well, I'm pooched," and just forget the whole thing. That would be silly. But it is a little discouraging to know that I'm that far from being marketable.

So, now I get to take that new-found knowledge and put it to use. I'm treading that line between "just sit and write and don't worry about all that other stuff" and "study the requirements so that you know how to tailor what you're doing to the market for it." Wish me sanity!

In shock,

18 March 2014

Writing Exercises: Declutter

Unknown Source
I'm skipping ahead to the eleventh writing exercise, because that's where I am with the actual work, right now. I will probably go back and do some of the exercises that I have skipped, as they become relevant, just in case you were wondering what happened to all the stuff on the list in between my posts.

Today is about decluttering, and that's part of the rewriting process that I'm in with my first draft manuscript. I have temporarily set aside my second book's development, in favor of rewriting the book that has all its bones in place.

Rewriting/decluttering is quite an interesting process. For me, it's not entirely about eliminating unnecessary fluff (as the exercise post would suggest), though there is some of that. For me, it's more taking the bones of the story and filling them out. I'm going through and identifying the questions that the current manuscript leaves unanswered. I'm finding loose threads and deciding if the thread goes or gets more fully woven into the book.

The biggest decluttering moment for me was deciding what the key component is of the story, and it was one of those "aha!" moments when I remembered that the story I was writing is God's story. It changed the impetus of the whole book for me and released me to make changes. I have been cutting things that I was very pleased with (at least writing-wise) because they don't work with the overall theme. It's very freeing.

I've decided to take one story line at a time and address each individually and entirely before moving on to the next story line. I found that there were questions leftover in each story, and the theory is that completing each story individually will most likely help me to end up with a coherent book. I'm down to the last chapter or so of the story line I was working on yesterday, and that feels pretty good. Yesterday, after a hardcore workday, I spent nearly as many hours rewriting as I had in my full-time job, and managed to work through draft 2 of five chapters. Let me tell you, I was fried, but in a good way, when it came to bedtime. My brain is still sizzling.

My estimate for the book is that draft 3 will go out to my test readers for review. The second draft should be pretty good, but the third draft should have all but the minutest of details addressed. My current intuition is that I'll be comfortable receiving feedback on that version. I'm hopeful that only copyediting will be needed at that point, and I'll be able to move on to publishing and focusing on book 2 (and the rest of the series).

Making progress,

{This writing exercise is the eleventh from "15 Habits of Great Writers," which I came across on Pinterest.}

17 March 2014

Writing Psychosis

No, I am not intending to make light of any mental health issue. It's just that I think sometimes we all feel a bit crazy for one reason or another, and right now mine seems to be tied to my writing. 

I told my mother and my best girl friend in the last few days that I'm feeling a bit schizophrenic. My brain is so occupied with the writing exercises, backstory writing and development, rewriting of the first book, story line development for the second and later books in the series, etc, that I feel like I'm having a hard time keeping on task with anything. Especially things that are unrelated to writing. How can I possibly expect to work through a spreadsheet analysis in a coherent and rational manner while the creative part of my brain is going full-tilt to develop names, ideas, and prose??

I'm guessing that this is some glimmer of what it's going to continue to be like, as long as I create. I feel this way when I'm working on sewing or crafting, too, especially where those activities intersect with the practical, everyday mundanities. This reminds me of the quote from Terence Blacker I came across on Pinterest, last night. 
As much as I'd love to be a full-time housewife, if I have to do something else, it would be oh-so-nice for that something else to be writing, rather than corporate spreadsheet work. :) 

Forgive my mad ramblings.


10 March 2014

Writing Exercises: Build

Unknown Source
My darling husband and I recently attended the premiere of a short film that was created to use as a conversational tool in the pro-life advocacy world. One of the things that struck me about the film was that the creators put in the work to build it to completion. It takes a lot of effort to create a film. It took a lot of people, a lot of time, and a lot of effort.

God often inspires us to do things, but what we do with the inspiration, at least in my case, is somewhat lacking. How many things has God given my brain and I let them sit until they're lost into the recesses of my memory? How many stories have I not written? How many gestures have I not made? How many gifts have I not given? Sadly, too many.

Well, I'm working on following through with my books. I haven't done a lot of the rewriting, for one thing because the uninterrupted time I have tends to go to my job. I am thinking about taking a few days off and just working on that.

I have, however, been writing. I've been writing back-story and descriptions. I've been writing things that may not end up in any of the books, that may not be seen by anyone by me, but that help me think in an amount of detail that, I believe, will help me create richer images in the books. Perhaps the story of the First Dark Queen's curse won't ever be shared. Perhaps no one cares about the geography of the continent(s) where the stories take place. It helps me, though.

I have taken some of my thoughts and created a map, which helps me mentally place how things need to happen. I'm not much of an artist, but it helps me visualize the story line. It also has broadened the possibilities to me, and I have begun a list of potential story lines I can pursue in future books. I'm building, however slowly, the foundation that I can use to build a series.

Yay, me.


{This writing exercise is the eighth from "15 Habits of Great Writers," which I came across on Pinterest.}

07 March 2014

Writing Exercises: Practice

Or "practise" for those who hold with British English. :)

Specifically, the challenge for today is to "practice in public."
  • Pitch a magazine you want to write for. Follow some of the templates in You Are a Writer. This article might help, too.
  • Ask a friend (or stranger) to guest post on his/her blog. Here’s another useful post.
  • Publish something on your blog you’ve never shared with anyone. Take a risk (we’ll be doing more of this soon).
  • Submit that book proposal. Don’t “work on it.” Finish it. Send it off. And say a little prayer.
Well, I don't want to write for magazines. I don't know that I have anything to guest post about, and my books aren't ready for me to submit proposals, so blog it is!

Technically, I've already done this, since I basically announced on here that I'm a writer and that I have written the first draft of my first book. The thing is, I'm fairly certain that I don't have a blog following, so announcements in empty rooms (and equivalents thereof) don't mean much.

To be honest, blogging sometimes feels somewhat egotistical. Sometimes I feel that sitting down to type out a post is basically saying, "I'm so very important that you should know how wonderfully important I am, too! Look at me! Look at me!" And then, being the introvert/hermit that I am, I cringe and don't post anything. haha. So to write this post about my books is not comfortable for me. It is, however, practice.

Unknown Source
There are times that words well up in me, and I simply have to write them down. There are times that I have had the words, failed to write them, and then regretted it. I didn't want the story in my first book to be one of those things. I had thought of a piece of the story line (though I think "was inspired with" might be more accurate), and I actually followed through and started typing it out. It was actually pretty good, so I told my parents about it. They each wanted me to read it to them, and then they each encouraged me to keep writing. In a fairly short amount of time, I had 21 chapters and a decent story.

I recently visited my parents, and they had me read the entire book to them. On the trip, I began the second book. One of the beautiful things about reading what you've written out loud is that you find out where the flow is broken, where the ideas don't work properly, and where you need more or less explanation, so that process helped me see that the book would need a rewrite. I began the rewrite yesterday.

In the rewriting process, I'm not scrapping anything and completely starting over. I'm actually building more detail and fleshing out what I didn't realize was bare bone until I read it aloud.

I had already had a list in my book journal of questions that had gone unanswered, of ideas I'd like to develop, of story lines that didn't come into play, etc., so now I'm adding to that list.

There are several story lines that I know are percolating that were either tangential to the stories in the first book, or didn't come into it at all. Those are books yet to be written. There are questions that I could have answered in the first book, but never quite got around to answering, so now I'm looking for places to pull those answers in-- and this feels, to me, like working a snagged, loose thread back into the garment where it's supposed to be.

Toward the end of writing the first draft, I got so caught up in the momentum of the unfolding events that I failed entirely to explain what was happening, even though I could see it clearly in my head, so now I'm going back and writing those scenarios more carefully.

There's an entire running metaphor that I pulled out of the first draft, because it wasn't working, but didn't entirely eliminate from everywhere it was mentioned, so now I get to deal with that. Do I rework it and put it back in? Do I erase all mention of it (which is where I'm leaning) and not even try to explain it? It's a conundrum, surely.

The biggest problem I have at this point is the fact that I don't yet know the names of the books or the series. I'm not saying that they don't have names. I'm certain they do. It's just that they haven't introduced themselves to me properly, so we're carrying on these deep conversations, getting to know each other intimately, but we're both kind of referring to each other as "you" and "um" instead of by name.

Anyway, this is more information than I've shared with anyone about my writing process and my first book(s), so if there's anyone reading this, welcome to my world!


{This writing exercise is the fourth from "15 Habits of Great Writers," which I came across on Pinterest.}

Writing Exercises: Initiate

Alright, so I'll be honest. The challenge for yesterday was to get up 2 hours early and write, but I don't function as well in the mornings, and I didn't do that. I'm not likely to, to be completely frank. Well, at least not unless that's the only way.

I did, however, actually do some writing. I started the rewrite on the first book, and I hand-wrote in my book journal some of the backstory (8 pages worth) for the books. I also initiated a conversation with my husband about some plans which include the possibility of publishing, so there's that.

Since the key point about getting up early was to "make room" to write, I think I'll stick with making room during the part of the day that I'm mentally functional. Now, where will it fit today?


{This writing exercise is the third from "15 Habits of Great Writers," which I came across on Pinterest.}

26 February 2014

Writing Exercises: Declare

I am a writer.

This is not a shocking statement to find on a blog, but it's one that I have been reticent to make. It's not, at this point, my job to write. At this point, my job is where I spend 40+ hrs/week and get a paycheck, and that involves little writing. What writing I do in my job is either email content or policy/procedure documentation or clarification.

The thing about that is even though it is not my job to write, I take the writing I do for my job very seriously. I edit for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and content. I read and edit for fluidity, and with an intent to make things as easily comprehensible as possible. I write policy like a writer, and I read it with a critical reader's eye. So even in my job, where I don't get paid to write, I'm still a writer.

I have two blogs, to which I seldom post. That sentence is one of the main reasons for my reticence about calling myself a writer. Because I don't post often, much less every day. I post what I want to post, when I want to post it, and I don't have a substantial following, if any. Oh, I often INTEND to post, but I rarely follow through on that intention. I am not disciplined in my writing, and that frustrates me, even though I have the tools and ability to change that.

It's like being fat. Everyone knows that to cease (or keep from) being fat you have to eat properly and exercise, finding the right balance of both for your individual body. Discipline is self-driven when it comes to the things we want for ourselves. In adult life, few things are disciplined by external forces, and for me, both my weight and my writing are where they are because of a lack of self-discipline.

Yet, I still say, I am a writer. I have written the entire first draft of my first novel and have started on my second novel. I have multiple thoughts about the rewrite that is coming to the first book, but again, the lack of discipline in this area is what keeps that from materializing. My parents, both great readers, have both enthused about my book, but I tend to chalk their opinions up to parental pride, rather than actual excellence in my writing. I do a disservice to both them and me, though, when I do that. My book is good. It's not as good as it will be, but it's a good start.

There are a thousand and three things (at least) that I should be doing right now, as my housekeeping (or lack thereof) will attest, but I sit here, completing a writing exercise. Because it's important to me. Because it's important to ME. I want to be a disciplined writer. I want my writing to outlive me. I want to reach people through the words that God has given me. I want my words to pour out of my heart which is filled with praise for the Creator who fashioned me to bear His image, so that others will see Him and know Him, and to do that, I must write. I must write whether or not it's convenient, because I need to develop the discipline.

I am a writer.


{This writing exercise is the first from "15 Habits of Great Writers," which I came across on Pinterest.}

21 January 2014

Brooding Lookers...

Surely it's not just me, but I would dearly love to see these two in something together. Could someone please make that happen? See who could out-brood the other? BBC? Anyone?

Richard Armitage
Timothy Omundson