Maureen pic from booksigningI'll be taking about a year off of my CAN blog and other CAN activities (but will still "lurk" on the message boards and chime in from time to time – and will still keep writing my Beliefnet blog). The reasons for this are several: Because of a new autoimmune disease/condition diagnosis, I'll be starting a rather potent immunosuppressive drug and don't know what the side effects will be; I have a number of longer writing projects that I am eager to complete; and, well, sometimes I know I have to "do" rather than write about doing!

Which leads me to my blog topic. 

In the midst of our hectic schedules and multiple deadlines, it's always a good idea to revisit the "genesis" of it all, and then gauge projects at hand with what your reason for writing needs to yield. In other words, given that you are a writer at heart and have a love of storytelling, and could turn that storytelling ability to any number of different styles and genres, is what you're writing now what you're meant to write? Purposed to write? Gifted to write?

There's no easy answer to this question, and certainly it's individual for each person. But there are some helpful gauges to determine if you are, indeed, on the right track. 

One gauge is your answer to this:  Are the projects you have now enabling you to say what you have to say? Or, is God tapping you on the shoulder and whispering, "Not here, my child. Over there."? 

If you are very reluctant to get to the keyboard, or if you have become a master or mistress of procrastination, scrambling at the nth hour of a deadline, perhaps God is tapping you on the proverbial shoulder, encouraging you to stop, revisit why you write, and find the better path for your writing talents. As with other things involved in finding purpose in our lives, once writing projects mesh with your need to coommunicate specific sentiments, beliefs, or observations, you probably won't feel as much like procrastinating. Rather, you'll have abundant "fire in the belly" to get to work! 

Another good gauge is if the paychecks become more important than the work itself, or your pursuit of the business end of writing becomes so all-consuming that you cut into your actual writing time.

Another gauge: You find yourself pursuing more of the same kinds of projects, rather than stretching your gifts to "make the most of them."  

Throughout our careers, it's wise to take time to pray over our writing lives career focus. And, to take time to listen to God as he informs us with his tap on the shoulder.

Despite the health issues that loom (and they are very serious), I am quite excited about the coming year. Through prayer, a bit of "deck clearing," and renewed determination, I am ever more sure of why I write, and I'm looking forward to putting fingers to the keyboard like never before! I pray that this year ahead is full of inspiration for you, too, and that your reasons for writing propel you to author amazing works of inspiration and faith. I look forward to reading them!

Joy and peace,

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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Maureen pic from booksigningHello! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly CAN blog about the craft of writing. This month, some thoughts about satisfying, "gotta read this author again" endings.

Whether you're writing fiction or non-fiction, each piece has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Although they are each crucial to telling a good story, it's the ending that gives readers the final feeling, the ultimate impression, of the work as a whole. If your beginning hooked them into starting to read, and if your middle was experty crafted to keep them reading along with your storytelling, then the ending is that wonderful "icing on the cake," and ideally makes them (the readers) want to run out and buy or read your next work.

But endings can be very tricky. They need to be just long enough, just complete enough, and just resonant enough. What do I mean by that?

We've all read books that didn't know how to end. Instead of tying up the story parts into a neat package, some authors simply over write to the detriment of the piece as a whole. How do you know if your ending seems unending? As you reread your work, ask yourself, "Could I cut this second-to-last scene and still have a coherent story?" Or, cut the last scene from your book and see if the ending works with the deletion. Then, cut the next-to-last scene and examine the book again. 

Carefully study your characters' thought arcs – are they thinking in circles, or is their thought (or prayer) process, leading them to a conclusion? Is the story cycling in the same way, with several scenes that could be worked into only one?

Seemingly endless endings often suffer from lack of energy. Ask your editor or the person to whom you give your "final" draft to tell you where the book might have sagged, and where the pace flagged, toward the ending.

The second thing to gauge is whether your ending is complete enough. Does it convey the end of the story, or does it leave the reader wondering, "what happened to the [ ] back in Chapter Two? Or the character with the long monologue in Chapter EIght?" In non-fiction, if the end of the story is unresolved at press time, tell the reader there's more to come, or simply that at press time a conclusion to the story was unavailable/had not yet occurred.  In a news story for print, one of the things that helps me "end it" succinctly is the knowledge that, if the editor runs out of room, he or she should be able to cut the story at any paragraph (lop it off, in other words), and have it still be a whole story.

Third, does your ending resonate with the rest of your piece? Is the story's voice still that of the beginning, or has you – the author – allowed his or her voice to creep in at the end? Is your effort to end with a huge climax so aggressive that the end seems to jump off the page as if it were unrelated to the rest? 

Just as we study the beginnings of classic literature, to see how authors before us began, so, too, is it helpful to study how our favorite authors tie up the loose ends and allow their stories to bid us farewell. 

Finally, if we're writing from our heart, we will feel a twinge (or more) of sadness at finishing up our work in progress. We might loathe to finish, in fact, and this can lead to some of the pitfalls I've tried to address here. 

But when (if?) this happens to you, take a breath. Relax. Type that "30" or "The End." 

You can always begin again.

Blessings for your work and life,

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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Maureen pic from booksigningHello, and Happy Easter! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly CAN blog – just in time for Easter joy and Springtime green!

This time of year is fresh with promise. Trees are budding, flowers are blooming, and seeds are sprouting. My creative juices seem to flow more freely at this time of year, too, and all sorts of seedlings are popping up, showing off their first leaves, and looking good for the coming warmer months.

What in the world am I talking about?

There are powerful analogies between gardening and growth and solid story-telling. Whether fiction or non-fiction, our writing work is made up of all sorts of little seeds, planted in the fertile ground of the mind and imagination. And these seeds, as all seeds do, need certain things to help grow. 

A Biblical reflection to follow… But now, I want to focus on how we plant, nurture, and grow our fragile seeds into blossoming stories that enrich the world and grace our lives.

First, there are the seeds obtained from first inspiration or impression. You hear a name or see a picture, and all of a sudden, you think, "Wow! There's a story in that!" Or, you are intrigued by some thing – a sewing case, a swatch of fabric or an old, dusty piece of pottery, and your mind starts turning on whose it was, where it has been, what history it might have lived through.

I got the idea for my master's thesis by standing in front of a bird cage at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and overhearing the snide remarks made at the birds inside of it, who were quite ugly and forlorn.

Yes, there are these small seeds all around us. And, sometimes, they become as the mustard seed and sprout into strong, large stories/plants.

But sometimes, we have to realize that those tiny seeds, while intriguing, might not make for a full book or a really newsy news article. When I realize this, I still make note of the "seed," because I've found that some have uses as yet unknown. 

There are other seeds, which yield more robustly. These are usually helped along by us, that is, we start with inspiration and work at building a world of a story around it. Or, we know a person or situation that lends itself to our "pen," that we cannot let go no matter how we try to ignore it. Fertile soil of time and energy, abundant sprinklings of the Word, even pruning and pulling up weeds (unnecessary elements), when we must. This is really the work of the gardener-as-writer, along with healthy, story-worthy seed.

As we work on our work at hand, we will undoubtedly collect seeds for future use. Much like the displays at garden centers, we can jot these down, file them away, and have them ready when needed. Like nature's bounty, many seeds will keep for years, patiently waiting for the time when they'll be planted and spring up.

NP-1 for First ClassThere is one more thing about seeds and stories, a Biblical thing, that is worth mentioning. Remember the parable of the sower in Luke 8:4-9, about the soewr whose seed fell on the path and was trampled, on rocky ground and it withered, and on good soil and it "grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold?" Our story seeds are like these, too. If we merely write to the momentary inspiration (to those little, fragile seeds), we probably won't yield full work. If we write, sometimes faithfully and sometimes not, our story seeds will not flourish in that rocky environment. But if we provide "good" soil – time, focus, prayer, energy, and love…Well, imagine how lush, how beautiful the finished product can be!

Blessings to you – for Easter and for Spring!

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.belifnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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Maureen pic from booksigningHere in Southern California, we're experiencing a severe drought. The land is unquestionably dry, and at times, the air is sandy from loose, small particles kicked up by the winds. Destructive fire is more of a risk, now. We're being asked to be "careful" about water usage. No mandatory rationing so far, but should this continue…

As far as I can tell, when a drought happens, there are basically two ways of quenching the proverbial thirst. One is rain from the sky, and the other is to divert existing water from elsewhere. Of course, this last brings up the question, "From whom do we take water? To what extent? For how long?" Obviously, without rain, there is not an unlimited source of water anywhere; to take it from somewhere depletes the precious resource there, too.

What does this talk of drought have to do with writing? Quite a lot, actually.

When you pour your heart and soul into a book and you've typed your final words, you might feel drought-stricken. Spent. Bone dry. I know that I once did, and, truthfully, the sense of drought lasted for years.

I'd just completed, "Peace in the Storm: Meditations on Chronic Pain & Illness," and seen it through to publication. What a joy to see it in print! Even more was the delight at the reactions of others, my fellow chronic illness and pain sufferers who read the book and embraced it. 

But for all the positive things that came of publication, inside of me was deep, dragging weariness. I'd just gone from full bloom to stark winter…but I had other deadlines and other work to do, nonetheless.

At the time, I didn't fully realize what was going on. I fulfilled my obligations and took on more. Happily, thankfully. But, still, the drought inside persisted.

Now, it wasn't a spiritual drought by any means. My faith grew stronger during this time, and my commitment to carrying out God's will for me never wavered. My soul sang and sang some more. But my writer's "chops" were, well, muted.

Also, it wasn't doubt or insecurity about being a writer with many more stories to tell. It's so important, I've found, when you're in drought to understand that you're not in doubt, although in persistent drought, it can be easier to be persuaded.

A few weeks ago, here in Southern California, we had a monster of a storm that brought inches and inches of blessed water to the land and reservoirs. Trees are springing to life. The air is clearer. Hope is palpable, shining. For so long, we did without. Now, God has reinforced His presence and tells us, "You will not always go without."

In much the same way, my writer's drought is ceding to fertile ground, a renewed energy and purpose. It's taken so long! But the time between then and now, before and after, has not been ill-used. Praise God!

If you are in a writer's drought now, keep praying. Keep being gentle with yourself and your storytelling gifts. Understand what is happening. Don't stop writing, but rather, take tender care of the ground within you that is, for now, lying fallow and waiting for rain. When you pour your heart and soul into a book, look upon the aftermath as all part of the process – and as a blessing. 

For, just as the land emerges from drought more abundantly blooming and strong, we, too, as we keep and cultivate our faith, will emerge stronger and with more stories to tell.

Yes, after a drought, the land will be fertile again. Perhaps different in look and feel. But, yes, fertile!

Blessings to you,

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

 

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Maureen pic from booksigningHi! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly blog. A friend of mine and I recently got into an interesting discussion about how much of the programming on television and many of today's movies contain fundamentally unlikeable characters who do some pretty awful things. And yet, they draw an audience, sometimes rave reviews, and, sometimes, too, awards and accolades.

As a reporter, I've had to write stories about subjects that I don't necessarily "resonate" with. I've also had to interview people with whom I personally disagree or who are not exactly the kind of people I'd want to share a meal with. But, that's the life of a reporter; news and newsmakers come in all shapes, sizes and moral convictions (or lack thereof), and a good reporter is able to get to the truth of a piece without inserting personal feelings or bias (not to say we don't have them!)

But what about those stories we aren't professionally obligated to tell, but rather choose to tell or are led to tell by the Spirit? Do we have to like all of our characters, down to the lowliest criminal or town gossip or unsaved soul? Are we required to give soft edges to all inhabitants of our stories so that they will be palatable to us (read: so we'll be able to spend long hours with them through the creative process) and our readers? What about the really evil-doers in some books? If we're writing stories including those kinds of characters, do we have to like them in order to write them well?

For non-faith-based authors, the question can be answered rather succinctly: Characters don't have to be likeable in order for them to "work" in a story, but they do have to be attractive in some way in order for people to want to watch them. This attraction can be extremely superficial (a very good-looking man or woman as the villain, for example). Or, it can be character-deep, drawing the audience on an exploration of what the character's (often twisted) thinking/experience/perspective is and how that propels him or her to act as he or she does. Unfortunately, unlikeable characters often glamorize wrongdoing – the subject of another blog – and understanding why someone does something nefarious is often mistaken for condoning it.

For the faith-based author, the question of liking our characters takes on a very different color. We believe in God's love for each of us and the power of redemption available to all. Our characters might do very evil things, but God is more powerful and there is always the possiblity of redemption, forgiveness, a complete conversion of spirit. "Hate the sin and not the sinner" seems superficial, but is, in some sense, closer to the sense of balance in mind as pen is put to paper. And as the process unfolds, it is more useful the farther we get into the work. I for one cannot lose sight of the fact that Jesus is the Savior of the world, and, even in a fictional world, that belief is still valid.

Fiction authors will talk about the "heart" that they pour into their books, and the way they "bonded" with their characters. By the end of the writing process, many characters can become almost like friends and nearly as beloved. This is a far different emotional connection from writing straight news, covering a beat that runs the gamut of likeable and unlikeable denizens. It is much like the difference between "just doing a job" and completely throwing oneself into a vocation, a calling. So, it is much more plausible for authors of fiction to warm to their characters. 

In fine fiction, the fondness an author has for his or her work helps bring the story to life and enables the reader to be drawn in, to connect, and to want to spend hours reading just as the author has spent hours writing. The characters who do evil things, who sin, who stumble, and who are, on the face of it, unlikeable, are part of this cloth of a tale, and in the hands of a faith-based author can be and show both the awful side of mankind as well as the miracle, wonder, and "Wow!" of a character's redemption. It's so powerful to read a story where the worst of the characters comes around, repents, and we all breathe a collective "Hallelujah!"

Do we have to like all of our characters?

Not all at once. But we can love God's presence and power working through and around them. And as our stories unfold, the unlikeable might just become the character we remember most – in a good and remarkable way!

Blessings, everyone!

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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