No Time for Writer’s Block: Why I Must Finish Writing this Story NOW!

With a story as intriquing and inspiring as the one I’m writing (see details here), I never imagined how much trouble I’d have with writer’s block when I first started on the project. Yes, I know, that was the naiveté of a beginner. Still, when writing about a friend who is living under an assumed name provided by the Federal Government because his testimony was key to bringing down a crime syndicate … well, lack of good material is certainly not the problem. So, what is?

As Tony S. put it in a recent blog post on writer’s block, I’m a PROcrastinator. He gave physical, mental/emotional and spiritual reasons for combating that tendency. I found those to be helpful for me, but more importantly, it got me to thinking about the physical, mental/emotional and spiritual impact the delay is having on my friend.

My friend needs to have this book finished. Living in anticipation of his former identity being revealed brings with it a roller coaster of emotions. Will the friendships and professional relationships he’s come to know in this new life be jeopardized once people know the details of his past? Will the demons he left behind come back to harm him once they know where to find him? He’s willing to take on whatever may come, but needs to get on with it. Dealing with “what is” would be a welcome relief from pondering “what might be.”

He also needs his life to be unified instead of fragmented. There are many things he’s set out to accomplish, but the process is hindered by having to guard his secret. He is a pastor, the founder of an outreach ministry to help those who come from a background similar to his own, and a mentor to urban youth. Each of these roles requires a certain amount of transparency he is currently unable to offer.

My friend and I are both excited about the greater impact he will have once he can freely communicate the fullness of his own transformation to people who need to believe transformation is possible. His is a story that will bring hope to many. We both feel God brought us together to collaborate on this book.

Remembering these reasons for taking on the project in the first place now has my creative energies flowing. I’m tempted to elaborate on this newfound method of fighting my writer’s block. Instead, though, I think I’ll get back to the book. Stay tuned for an excerpt.

(To see all posts about my book, click here.)

Post #1 about My Book: How I Got This Assignment to Write

When he walked into my office and said, “You need to help me write my life story,” I knew this was a “God-thing.” For a full week prior to his request, during my quiet times of contemplation and prayer, I felt strongly pressed to begin the writing I’ve known I was meant to do for most of my life. Several books had been rolling around in my mind for years, so I figured God was encouraging me to finally get started on one of those. But life was busy for me, a workaholic, and I was thoroughly enjoying my position on the faculty of the Bible college where my friend and I met.

As always with such promptings towards adding writing to my agenda, I initially pushed the notion aside and relegated it to my “some day” pile. This time, however, my spirit continually went back to the thought, each time with a greater sense of urgency. At the end of that long week of feeling almost nagged about “getting to it,” in walked my friend with his proposal.

Besides the whole “God thing” (as if that wasn’t enough), I was intrigued by the possibility of writing his story because I already knew things about my friend’s life that were fascinating. I also had an inkling there was much more to it that had not yet been revealed.

Despite his current middle class lifestyle, I knew he had once led a life that was well connected to people above that status. He had friends in professional sports, in the music industry, and in Hollywood. He once arranged for my family to get VIP passes to a movie opening because he knew the star of the film. We were actually going to meet that actor. My kids were thrilled because they had grown up watching this particular star’s television show.

When we arrived at the event, my friend showed the organizers his personal text from the star himself and we were ushered into place immediately. It was amusing to see the reaction on the face of the girl who had come to see why we were butting in line once she got a look at that text.

I saw hints that day of my friend’s “other life” even in the way he dressed for the occasion and the way he carried himself. He easily blended in with the elite crowd. It was a strong contrast to the humble demeanor he usually maintained on our small Midwestern college campus.

My friend did not stay for the event after getting us into the VIP area. This was puzzling to me as I figured he’d like to see his old friend. Later, after I learned his full story, I understood why he didn’t stay. Having escaped his former life, he is very careful not to get too close to the things that once drew him into it. He’s had enough of the glitz, glamour and prestige his former dealings brought to him. He now leads a much simpler life, and prefers to keep it that way. It also now makes sense that we had to say we knew “Shots” (my friend’s former street name) when we were able to shake the actor’s hand. The actor wouldn’t have known him by his current name.

The information I learned about my friend that day in my office shed light on all these mysteries for me. He told me he is currently living under the name given to him by the FBI when he entered the Federal Witness Protection Program. His testimony at a trial that brought down the criminal organization he was once part of is the reason for his new identity.

We will reveal his identity – well, identities, both past and present – in the book we are writing. Until that time, I will refer to him in all future posts as Newman, because he is indeed a new man. And just FYI, “Shots” is also a fictitious street name. His actual nickname is well recognized in his former circles, so it won’t be revealed until later either.

As I shared the concept and drafts of this book with a few close friends, I learned not everyone is able to overlook someone’s past, even when that person’s repentance and transformation is obvious. Some still want “justice” but forget about mercy. It’s no wonder that few will really reveal their hearts and their histories, especially to “church folk.” Maybe that’s why God prepared me to view this project as divinely inspired the week before Newman revealed to me the full nature of his past.

His is a story of true transformation and I am honored to help him tell it. I believe this book will be a “must read.” For now, though, it is a “must write.” I’ll take any prayers, good vibes, mojo or whatever you want to send my way to help me make sure this assignment stays on the front burner of my still busy life. After all, this is a “God-thing” and I probably should make it a priority.

Catharsis or Creativity?

Catharsis or Creativity?

So often since my sister, Janell’s death in September 2012, I’ve thought:

Sometimes I really miss the old me. Other times I wonder if I ever really knew who she was.

One part of myself, among many, which seemed to disappear along with Janell was my creative night owl self. I love being a night owl. I love the creative zone I get into during the wee hours of the night/morning. I really hit my stride at around 2:00 am – usually.

For over a year after her death, though, my quiet times at night were spent mostly crying or vegging out in front of the TV in an effort to keep from crying. Hating the lack of productivity and missing the joy of creativity, I’d try to sleep but that didn’t work either.

For about five months now, I’ve finally been able to recapture that part of me – until tonight. Janell’s birthday is tomorrow. I went to the cemetery today. I actually had a sweet time there. I pulled a blanket out of my car – one of her blankets – laid it on the ground and actually took in a bit of sun, something she and I had done together since our teen years. One of my last days with her was spent by the poolside soaking in some rays.

While I was at the cemetery, song lyrics to a song I couldn’t name kept coming to mind …

When you remember me                                                                                                                                                                                           If you remember me                                                                                                                                                                                                I hope you see                                                                                                                                                                                                           It’s not the way I want it to be                                                                                                                                    Oh I’d be with you now                                                                                                                                                                                                                 But wherever you go                                                                                                                                                                                          My love goes with you

When I got home, internet searching (and a “memory jog” by a Facebook friend) led me to the song “If You Remember Me” and its use in the movie The Champ. So, I looked up both and have been bawling off and on ever since. That’s okay; sometimes you just need a good cry. This time around in the anticipated all night crying session, though, I decided to go ahead and write this post about what I’m feeling.

I’m not sure if this is creativity kicking in or if it’s just catharsis. I’m just glad it got me through the night.

 

 

 

The Rush To the End Syndrome

This was the perfect read for this juncture in my writing (about 2/3 of the way through the story). Glad to know the timeline I worked on will come in handy – I mean, it already has, but this reminded me it is part of the answer to my current frame of mind. After the excitement of coming so far in the process, I looked at what I still had to cover and thought, “but still so far to go.” This helps me reinterpret the feeling of being bogged down – now looking at it as a final push in continuing what I started.

Live to Write - Write to Live

I see this often in books and I don’t know if it happens because of time pressure or because of writer skill, but here’s what happens –

flag-finishA book starts off strong and you’re thinking “wow, this is a great story!” but then somewhere, usually about ½ to 2/3rd of the way the writing gets noticeably weaker. It almost feels like the writer is rushing to get out a finished product.

It was a great idea and it needs to be published *now!*

While accomplished and practiced writers who follow formulas like Patterson (nothing against him, just read his book ZOO) if a writer does not have the strength of story organization and formula under her belt, things quickly fall apart.

And the reader senses that.

Perhaps the best example I’ve read of this is Wild where you’re going along and then (literally) in the final few paragraphs, the author…

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Poetry: No Longer Yours

Found this to be powerful. Praying freedom for so many I know who have suffered from abuse.

Life Changing the World: A Phoenix's Aria

I am no longer your possession to do with as you please

I am no longer yours

I am no longer holding on to the fear you beat into my heart

You murdered my innocence; shattered my soul

I am stronger than your will to break me

My soul will heal

My tears will dry

The throbbing pain in my heart will subside

I am stronger than your will to break me

I am no longer afraid

I am no longer your possession to do with as you please

I am no longer yours

You are soulless

You will forever be alone

With the memories forever haunting

Constantly being reminded of your crimes

Your own self inflicted; self created hell turned against you

I am stronger than your will to break me

I will overcome my hellish memories

I will heal from the wounds you have inflicted

The sunshine will…

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A book? A novel? A creative or narrative nonfiction?

Well, it looks like we have our first debate on this blog. Yay! I love a good debate. I think it helps us all come to balance on a topic when we see and understand opposing viewpoints – not necessarily agreement, but balance.

So, what’s the big hot button issue we’re going to tackle right out of the gate? Whether or not I should use the word “novel” when telling about the book I’m writing.

I suppose that’s a good place to dip our toes in the water and see if we want to jump in further. It falls under the category of “day-to-day conundrums” I listed in my first blog post as possible points of conversation. Seems like a safe place to test the ground rules of open-mindedness and civility before diving into things like global problems or theological issues.

So, here’s the basic dilemma:

Typically, a novel has been defined as a fictitious story of book length, written in narrative form. More recently (especially since Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood), some have come to call works of narrative non-fiction novels. These works read like novels and the authors write with the same considerations of a novelist (developing plot and character, making decisions about the role of the narrator, etc.). The only difference, and the bone of contention, is that one is fiction and one is not.

While this topic may not seem to matter much (it didn’t to me when someone first brought it to my attention), I suppose I do need to come to a conclusion before proceeding further with book proposals to publishers or posting even more about my “novel” only to be seen as having a lack of understanding of genre. I actually have done some reading on the issue and will post some links at the end of this post for those who wish to do the same.

Here’s where I am at this moment. Following one of my mottos – choose your battles – I’ve changed the wording on the descriptions of my project to say I’m writing a book. That’ll work for now, but I have few hesitations with that.

First off, I feel like I’m writing a novel and to say “book” just seems so generic. Of all the current offerings, there is one description I prefer, but it would be cumbersome to always have to refer to my work as a narrative non-fiction (some use NN for short, but that’s just ugly). Other things like biography or creative nonfiction also don’t seem to fit.

I side with those who view this as a new genre (or at least a revival of an older genre). The goal is to tell a story, not just report the historical facts of a person’s life or an event. In the case of my book, I’m telling the story of a friend who is in witness protection. When I set out to write a book proposal for it, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to utilize the format suggestions for nonfiction proposals. I finally scrapped that approach and used the typical template for a novel. It was a much better fit.

So, I thought I had the matter settled in my mind … until a friend pointed out to me that she was confused because she thought I was writing a true story. When she saw I called it a novel, she figured she must have misunderstood and I was actually writing fiction. This friend is an avid reader, so I value her input. I value yours, too. So, what do you think?

Some articles I found helpful or enjoyable on this topic:

http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/12/28/home/capote-interview.html

http://amsaw.org/amsaw-writingright-EmblazingTheTruth.html

http://www.riverteethjournal.com/blog/2013/02/01/what-is-creative-nonfiction

http://old.post-gazette.com/magazine/19991226creative6.asp

Welcome to the table …

The table – It can be used for meals, meetings, games, conversation, counsel or even as a make-shift writing spot for those like me who cannot always find the top of their desk (or just prefer to head out to a coffeeshop to write). It is my hope that this blog will serve as a table where we can gather for each of these purposes. So, here are the kinds of things I’ll be posting:

Meals – We all need nourishment for our minds, our bodies and our souls. Through music, art, devotions and challenges to our thinking, may we all be well nourished.

Meetings – I am a certified Grip-Birkman coach and have a passion to help people discover their gifts, personalities, intellectual styles, and occupational motivations. I particularly like to hold team-building seminars and foster appreciation for the fact that an effective team requires people with different ways of thinking and doing. See more at www.gripbirkman.com.

Counsel – Life is messy. Why pretend it’s not? I am a pastor who avoids the idea that there are quick fixes to tough problems; no one here will be told to “just get over it.” Instead, you’ll find links to resources and good advice from others who have been where you are. Those who are suffering and those who are overcoming are welcome to this table to share their life experiences.

Games – We all just need to have fun sometimes. “A merry heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). You’ll find healthy doses of humor here.

Conversation – I believe the best solutions come when we do life in community. Whether we’re looking for answers to global problems, theological debates, or just day-to-day conundrums, we’ll take a look at varying opinions and develop an ear to really listen and hear what others think and feel about the issues at hand. Open-mindedness and civility will be part of our core values, but that doesn’t mean we’ll tip-toe around the issues.

Writing desk“Lisa Womble writes hope-inspiring true stories that draw people closer to God and closer to each other.” This was my answer when instructed to draft a one-sentence mantra to keep me focused on the primary goal of my writing. I’m currently working on a book about my friend who is in witness protection. I will be sharing excerpts and reporting on my progress here. It is a powerful story of transformation. But not all stories have to be this dramatic to be powerful. Story sharing is a great way to get to know each other and my aim for this blog is to create a space where we come together to share our stories.

If you want to be understood, tell your story.                                                                                                                                      If you want to understand others, listen to theirs.