Tag Archives: writing process

Mood Music

Music is a daily part of my life. I kinda can’t live without it.

I’m one of these weirdos that likes all kinds of music. Turn my iPod on shuffle, and you’re likely to hear Coldplay, Adele, Taylor Swift, Sting, Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Journey, soundtracks from Wicked, Glee, and The Sound of Music, or maybe a little Justin Beiber, Kris Allen, Lifehouse, OneRepublic, Parachute, Kari Jobe, Florence + the Machine, Celine Dion, and The Wiggles. Yes, I can rock out to The Wiggles if need be.

I have quite the large and eclectic collection. I like all types of music except heavy metal and hard-core rap.

As a rule, I don’t usually buy an album unless I’ve heard at least two or three songs off of it that I like.

And because of iTunes and other means of music purchasing, we connoisseurs of music no longer have to purchase an entire album– just the songs we like.

I’m one of these writers that cannot write without music. Cannot.

Music puts me into the “mood” of my story.

For example, I’ve been editing a manuscript that’s rather deep and dark, so my tunes have been Plumb, Evanesence, Within Temptation, and We Are the Fallen. Deep, heavy, “emo” music.

And when I was working on a historical recently, I listened to the Pride & Prejudice soundtrack quite a bit.

When I need happy, I pull out Abba. When I need romantic heartbreak or “moody blues,” I’m into SnowPatrol, Verdera, Sarah McLachlan and Coldplay.

Music inspires me. It helps me to “feel” happy, sad, depressed, scared, angry or romantic; whatever the need may be.  It creates a mood, especially when I happen to be feeling something else entirely on a particular day.

I often hear a song and get a story idea, or sometimes I hear one and think, “that will go perfectly with this scene I’m writing.” I did that recently with a song from JJ Heller. A great, happy, upbeat romantic song perfect for a budding relationship.

So, from all of that, each of my manuscripts has its own soundtrack.

Sometimes I think my life has a soundtrack. Hopefully it doesn’t have as much “emo” music as does the soundtrack for the manuscript I’ve been editing. Ha.

This is an example of a great song that helped inspire the plot in a novel I’m currently working on. The song is called Until You Came Along by JJ Heller. 

Share with Me: Do you listen to music daily? Does music affect your mood? Writers–do you write to music? Do you prefer music with or without lyrics? Is there a particular song that has inspired you?

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Jenny from the Block

Okay, sorry about the title of this post, but I just had to do it. 🙂

Writer’s block.  Those moments, hours, and days that sometimes stretch on for months.  
It seems like the creative juices have just stopped flowing; sometimes suddenly.  
It seems like the love for the characters that you once yearned to spend time with has all but died out.
It seems like it’s impossible to think of one more story, one more plot, one more objective or twist, or even one more line of dialog.
It seems like the passion has gone.  And when the passion dies, the words die.  
But what caused this sudden, frustrating bout of the mind versus the written word?
Writer’s block is not just sitting at the computer, staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page.  It’s an attitude.
Most of the time, writer’s block is caused by self-doubt.  It creeps in and takes over, pushing away all that we’ve created, all that we are passionate about, and instead breeds discouragement, anger, resentment, and the inability to take pride in our work.
The plot isn’t good enough.  The characters aren’t identifiable enough.  The objective isn’t clear.  The dialog is flat.  I just can’t think of anything else.  I don’t know how to make it work.  I’m not good enough.
But self-doubt can be beaten.  Self-doubt can be overcome.  Self-doubt can be destroyed.
In order to let go of the self-doubt, you have to:
Stop comparing yourself to others.  
Remember that you are an individual, created for a whole, defining, other-worldly purpose by the Creator who values everything that you do.  
Remember why you started.  
What sparked the passion in you?  Get back to it.  Remember the excitement you had when you first started, remember the reasons, grab hold of them, and let them release you from discouragement.
Get excited about something else.
Not loving what you are working on?  Start something new, work on it for a while, and come back to your first project at a later time.  Letting it sit will allow you to have a fresh attitude when you look at it later.
Release the pressure.  
Aim for completing a novel, not the novel.  If you happen to realize afterward that you’ve created the next great classic, good for you.  But don’t set that as your goal in the beginning.
Get inspired.  
Watch your favorite movie.  Read your favorite book.  Listen to your favorite song.  What is it about these pieces of art that speaks to you?  What is it that stimulates and motivates you?  Find it, use it.
Take a break.
If you’ve been working excessively, you need one.  Minds, like bodies, get tired and need to rest.  Chocolate always helps.
Get busy.
On the other hand, if you’ve been avoiding your project, get in there and get busy.  As many will say, writing horrible, awful sentences is still writing.  Get something on the page and worry about perfecting it later.
Be your own cheerleader.
Read something that you’ve written that you really, really love.  It might be a completed work, or it might be a paragraph, or just one, amazingly perfect sentence.  Whatever it is, read it and revel in the reality that you created it.  Give yourself a pat on the back.
Writer’s block is not a lack of words; it’s a lack of self-confidence to write the words.  To overcome it, you have to let go of your own purposes and see God’s purposes revealed in you.  When you overcome the self-doubt and realize that you are a child of God, anything is possible.
 *While this post is about writing, it can be applied to any creative format, really.
Share with me:  How do you fight self-doubt in your life?  Have you ever had writer’s block, or just “creative block?” How did you get rid of it?

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Conversion Cheese

The conversion.  It’s something that’s a given in most inspirational books.

Almost always, especially in romances, there’s one character who is seeking– he or she is lost, hurting, angry, broken, challenged, wandering, etc, and the only way the character can find peace is to come to an understanding in the salvation of the blood of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes it’s the climax of the book– when the character finds God.

It’s the most important thing we can do as inspirational writers– point our readers in the direction of Christ’s saving grace. 

But how do we, with our limited human vocabulary, do justice to the magnificent, majestic power of God’s grace and mercy?  How do we capture that moment– the instant when a human being realizes that Jesus is everything?  How do we eloquently do justice to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the true reality of eternity that we grasp when we reach out and take his extended hand and follow his path?

It’s always sometimes a beautiful thing if done well— most of the time.

I really don’t enjoy books where the character “gets saved” and everyone lives happily ever after.  That’s not realistic.

And nine times out of ten, I skip reading the “conversion scene” in a novel.  Why?  Several reasons.  But mostly because there is no cheesier part of the book than the conversion scene.  It’s a very difficult scene to get right.  It takes a lot of inspired and purposeful thought and consideration.  It can be done, and done well.

And a “bad” conversion scene can ruin a wonderful story. 

If you are a writer or connoisseur of inspirational fiction, you know what I’m talking about.  For example: (These are my words, not taken from any particular novel.)

       Johnny knew there was nothing else he could do.  He was broken.  And he was a dirty sinner.
      “Jesus, come live in my heart,” he whispered.  Suddenly a warm feeling spread through his body, penetrating deeply at the center of his chest.  Bright lights glowed before his eyes, and he began to cry.  Instantly the answers he had been seeking popped into his brain.  He knew what to do.  Everything was going to be okay.
     “Thanks, God,” he said.
      He went immediately to Carol and apologized for all of the horrible things he had done.  
     “Now I’ll marry you, Johnny,” she said with a smile.

Okay, that’s just an example of a scene in which a character creates a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or “finds God.”  And it’s a really, really bad one.

I don’t want to focus on the theology behind it, because most Chrisitan authors have pretty much the same general theology.  So instead, let’s talk about the details in the creation of the conversion scene and how we can improve it. 

Tone down the cheese.  For real.  Warm fuzzies? Bright lights? Sobbing tears?  All of this is simply over-kill and can become purple when done in a flowery, King James Version kind of way.  When the Holy Spirit comes into us, most people don’t feel any sort of physical reaction.  It’s more of a spiritual reaction and very often an emotional one.

If you want to include a physical reaction during the scene, keep it real.  Make sure it fits with the personality of your character.  For example, a Marine in the heat of battle who didn’t even shed a tear when he was shot in the leg might not break into weeping sobs when he seeks Christ.  But, he might.  So if he’s going to, make sure it seems realistic.  If your weepy damsel in distress doesn’t shed a tear when she comes to know the Lord, that might be unrealistic, too.

If every character in all of your novels finds God and feels some sort of warm glow inside, that can become majorly cheesy, too.  I actually stopped reading inspirational fiction when I was in college because of this problem.  My absolute favorite author had every single one of her “sinner” characters find Christ, and every single time there was a “warm glow” that encompassed them.  Is it possible?  Sure.  But not always realistic.

The ship is tossing in the storm and it’s every man for himself.  Walter the sailor screams out for God to save him.  Does he have time to weep?  Does he have time to feel the warm fuzzies?

Again, think about the physical reactions and really consider what works best for your story based on your character’s personality, setting, and plot. 

Anchoring it in reality.  I’ve never talked to anyone who became a born-again believer in Jesus Christ who suddenly and instantly had all the answers to their problems in life.  It’s just not realistic.

Christ never promised us that if we follow him that we’ll suddenly have an understanding of the universe, even of our own little universe.  In fact, it is said that we will be persecuted.

Plainly stated, being a Christian ain’t easy, so writing it like it is a piece of cake isn’t truthful.  Even in a fiction novel the conversion needs to be grounded in reality– Jesus doesn’t solve all of our problems instantly, but he holds us close, offering support, love, comfort, and a helping hand in the hard times.  HE is the ultimate hope.  Submitting to God’s will is what brings us to a place of peace, so instantaneous answers can be super cheesy. 

As my mom once said to me about our Christian walk, “You’re either going out of a storm or coming into one.”  Being a Christian doesn’t make life perfect, so we really shouldn’t insinuate that it does, even in fictitious novels.

Forming the faithful forgiver.  Forgiveness of sins is the whole point of Christ’s death on the cross.  Yet there are many, many conversion scenes in which the actual sinful nature of man is ignored.

Do faithful followers of Christ still sin?  We all know that they do.  So writing your character as a horrible, nasty sinner before finding God, yet nearly Christlike immediately after isn’t going to work, either.  Human nature is still insictive, and while it’s easy for some to turn away from sin, for others it’s a real struggle.  What kind of character do you have?

In one of my novels, I have a character who comes to an understanding in Christ after years of selfishness, hurting other people without regard for them at all.  One of my concerns in writing him after he found Christ is that he didn’t run immediately and seek forgiveness from those he hurt.  He finds Jesus, but still has to fight the sinful nature he’s known all his life.  In fact, he convinces himself that staying away from the people he hurt is actually better for them, even though he knows he has to eventually face his past and ask forgiveness.  But it’s a while before he gets around to it.  Sending him groveling wouldn’t work for the story, nor for who he is as a character.

Another thing that doesn’t work is when a character does seek forgiveness and immediately gets it from all those they have wronged.

Reality is that there are those, both saved and unsaved, who don’t forgive easily.  Whether that’s right or wrong, it’s realistic. When I’m reading and suddenly all of the characters want to make nice because someone found Jesus, well it takes me out of the story.

Decide who you are writing for.  If you are writing to an audience of people who already know Christ, you might not have to explain as much theology, but if you are writing for an audience of unbelievers, you might need to include a little more.  If the reader can’t understand why the character suddenly cries out for Jesus, the scene won’t be very powerful.

If the reader can’t grasp the meaning of forgiveness or redemption, you might need to include a little explanation of the importance.

Also, it’s difficult to read about a character who has never even been in or near a church who spontaneously has a grasp of deep philosophical theology.  It can work both ways, and usually not for the good of the story.

And as a side note, a conversion scene followed by a character engaged in the same sinful behavior doesn’t really work, either, does it?  Kind of misses the point, and doesn’t really resonate with reality.  We don’t often have time to make disciples out of our characters in a novel, but we certainly should indicate that a person who has come to an understanding in Christ is seeking, over time, to leave his or her old life behind and truly become that “new creature.”

Write to your testimony.  No two people have ever had the exact same experience with Jesus.  We all have our peaks and valleys in our walk with Christ, so no conversion is a blanket for all.

And no matter what I think of conversion scenes, what’s good and what’s bad, God will use our words to His glory if we ask Him to.

So how can you improve and move away from a cheesy conversion scene?

– Pray over it.  Nobody can give inspiration like God himself, especially if you truly desire your story to touch others.
– Talk to people about their experiences with that “moment” when they came to know Christ.  What did they say?  How did they feel?  Listening to the testimonies of others can give birth to beautiful scenes of true faith that are certainly grounded in reality.
– Listen to what your critique partners and people in the publishing industry are saying about your work, and aspire to make these scenes better.
– Tone down the cheese.  🙂

Share with me:  How do you feel about the “conversion scene?”  Do you usually read them or skip them?  What books or authors can you think of that do these scenes really well?

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