Criminal Minds – When Artists Steal (Day 6/ 15habits Series)

Today I’ve been encouraged to copy and steal other artists’ ideas or materials. Moi, steal? Sounds dubious.

As with a couple of Goins’ previous challenges, I don’t know whether to blush or be smug this time. Thinking about it, yep, I’ve already done that. Steal!

And yet he makes sense. I particularly appreciated the quote from Bono about how U2 came upon their ‘unique’ sound when they first started out. It’s so good – and as a lifelong U2 fan – I’ll say it again here…

“We were just trying to copy everyone else, but we weren’t good enough. This is what came out.” Brilliant!

Likewise I can hereby acknowledge that the underlying premise of my novel is not entirely original. Grown ups especially may draw parallels with previously published works.

However, I’ve weaved an original plot, characters, settings, themes and ending into my own manuscript. And I’m convinced that as a new writer I’ve stamped my unique style throughout the pages. Yes there’s some good and evil stuff, yes the message may sound familiar, but that’s only through the lens of a grown up eye. And it’s not written for you.

When I present my finished work of art, a novel for pre-teens, for publication and ultimately for eager children to get caught up in the story, they won’t be focussing on whether there are similarities with such and such author from a previous generation.

In the same way when viewers have left the cinema, having watched yet another kidnapping-action-adventure movie, they tend not to groan about the common elements of previous productions. If anything, they tend to enjoy the familiar themes.

Now I feel justified in what I’ve aimed for and created. Goins says it’s OK – and he seems to know a thing or two about writing. And seeing as he’s the one to have proposed this stealing stuff, I’m sure he won’t complain about me pinching that quote from his own site! 

Now I just need to finish that novel…

Day 5/ 15 habits Series: Prepare & Get it out there!

Today’s encouragement from writer Jeff Goins was to get on with a project and prepare it for publication. But not for next month or next year. Now.

Easier said than done! Every creative’s mantra.

On the one hand we constantly hear that we should hone our craft, tidy rough edges, work at it, be professional and so on.

Now this Goins chap is stirring up a frenzy among writers to get something out there. Straight-away. I can almost hear the wild tapping on thousands of keyboards as writers everywhere try desperately to churn out their book proposals, synopses or movie scripts.

I suppose we could all use that push. “Ship and tweak” he says. Sounds like he’s turning writing into some sort of manufacturing plant, where no soon as the last batch of goods has been dispatched, work starts on the next lot.  I don’t relate well to machinery in general, so I’ve been finding Day 5’s challenge pretty hard going. It’s true that technology has made it all so much easier to produce work and go back to correct or perfect it. If we keep putting things off, we may never even complete what we’re working on.

Right now, I’m in the middle of the final editing process of my project. I would have loved to send it off to a publisher, but it’s just not ready. And I really need to tweak and update the synopsis.

For now I’m happy that I’m getting into this blogging habit and that I actually uploaded my previous post and sent it into the Twittersphere before I could change my mind on whether it was good enough.

I prepared something and I posted it. I suppose that qualifies. Thoughts, fellow #15habiters?

FaithWalk/ Delight is a verb…

As I lay awake last night, restless in thought, one word kept resounding in my head. ‘Delight’.

Psalm 37:4 was one of the first verses I learnt off by heart as a young Christian – “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

As I pondered these words, which also form the first of four crucial mission statements by my local church (to “Delight in God”), I mulled over what this little phrase truly means.

Delight yourself. It involves a decision; a decision made by you – no one else can make it happen, in the same way that you are not responsible for others to delight. You don’t have to do it. And delight won’t necessarily fall upon you randomly without some participation.

Delight yourself. It involves an action – stepping out and doing something or looking out for something to ‘delight in’. Similar to the word ‘enjoy’, which usually accompanies an action or an experience. For example, we say “I enjoy making/ going/ watching…” How can I actively delight in God? What can I do to encourage delight? Praising? Thanking? Resting in Him?

Delight yourself. It involves emotions. Delight is usually hard to contain; you can’t help expressing it somehow. Like a child’s joy in finding their garden covered in the first snow of winter. Or the overwhelming desire to share that good news you’ve received.

A saying I heard that has impacted me several times in the last year is: “Delight is the gauge of the human heart that measures what we value most.” (Adam Bradley, Life Church) Wow! What we delight in most, we value most.

If I have at times struggled with delighting in God, I’m sure it’s often linked to a tendency to focus delight on other people or activities; other things that provide only momentary joy. Not that those other aspects of life are inherently wrong or not worthy of attention. No, God wants us to enjoy the wonder of His world, our relationships and creative pursuits. But who or what do we delight in most?

I think to ‘delight in the Lord’ is a decision to find ways of utterly enjoying Him. Once we make a decision and begin to act, delight takes over and we can’t refrain from expressing the overflow of our hearts. “I choose to delight in God today.” May this be a daily practice for every follower of Christ.

Pick and Mix Parenting: In Pursuit of an Individual Approach (Day 4/ 15 Habits Series:Practice)

When our first child entered the world several (uh, now 13!) years ago, I soon became aware that there were essentially two camps when it came to parenting infants and pre-schoolers. The two styles were easy to identify, as parents held firmly to a particular set of values and practices that stood in stark contrast to those of the other group.

Each group deplored the practices of the other and heartily believed that they were right. It was at times hard to find a circle of friends, which welcomed parents from both camps. (This was in a metropolitan area just outside New York City.)

Personally, I get on well with a wide range of people and really didn’t want to have to choose between the two. I embraced some of the values from both parenting styles, but was unwilling to go the whole nine yards and fully endorse one particular philosophy.

I was also reluctant to conform to what the latest bestseller on parenting had to say – preferring to model those parents whom I could actually observe in action, and see them relating to their children in a variety of situations.

On the one hand I observed those of the “Attachment Parenting”  camp (Dr Sears et al) – easily recognized by their use of slings and carriers, unlimited bed-sharing and unrestricted access to breastfeeding for as long as the child wishes. (I did once meet a woman who admitted her daughter was five before she was weaned. Really, that was too much information.)

In the area of discipline these people proposed gentle guidance and steered clear of anything that might be deemed authoritarian. They were also anti vaccinations at any age, favouring natural cures over medical intervention, and often raved about organic and eco-friendly products.

On the other end of the spectrum one could often find the highly structured and rigid rules laid down by Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby Book in 1999 (An expert who’s never had a child of her own.) Although less rigid than earlier gurus (i.e. Nobody today would advocate strict limits on cuddling), many elements remained the same.

Such as not having the baby in your bedroom, ever; pretty tight scheduling of breast or bottle-feeding, along with early introduction to solids. The folks in this camp also stood for defined parental leadership and strict discipline in the area of child rearing, and would accept every drug or vaccine on offer at the earliest opportunity.

As far as I could tell, both styles obviously had their flaws, though in my early days as a mother I felt pressured to side with one of these polarized views. It was unsettling, and somewhat disturbing; I just wanted to be free to be friends with all kinds of parents and let others feel free to do their own thing.

Trouble is, parents often tend to pressurize others with their philosophy (“So, what do you think of the family bed?”- became an uncomfortable topic of discussion over wine at newfound friends’ one evening. Awkward)

Thus over time I began to wonder about the prospect of parents establishing their own, individually crafted style of parenting. One that includes a measure of common sense, practicality, nurture and compassion, mixed in with a whole lot of love; one that seeks the best for one’s children, yet not at the expense of letting them rule the household and dominate your every moment.

I would now encourage parents to draw on the expertise of many and consider opinions from a wide variety of sources – from mother-in-law to community nurse, or friends down the street – while adapting what they’ve learnt in the best interests of their children and their unique family unit.

I also support the right to try things out and make mistakes. That’s right – we all learn from our mistakes. At the end of the day I’d just like to see more balance, an attempt to steer away from any extremes.

Ultimately your child is not a carbon copy of anyone else’s. In an age where there are so many variables, like allergies and ADHD, it seems appropriate in some areas to try a bit of pick ‘n’ mix in the realm of parenting philosophies and admit that sometimes one size doesn’t fit all.

Just this year in the news there have been reports about baby experts’ books leaving mothers feeling ‘confused and inadequate’[1]; something which I only wished I had learned earlier on. It would have relieved some of the pressure.

Caught up in Summer – A Poem

The weather has been pretty atrocious lately around here. It seemed fitting to at least look toward sunnier days and remember fun family summers of the past. I wrote this poem when the boys were much younger – happy days… (At least ones like this)

Sunshine in my hair
Warm rays soak through the skin
Perforating my soul with feelings
Of ridiculous contentment, as I
Absorb this summer day and await another
Long leisurely night

Slow down
No need to hurry now
Drink in blessings from
Above and around, strolling through Central Park
Sipping ice cold juice or playing
Inane invented games with my boys

Giggles and sparkling eyes abound
Listen intently to my stories
We lie down
Heads towards heaven
Pondering changing faces
In the clouds

Bonded in heart and spirit
Joined by common experiences
Caught up in summer
Captivated by creation

Day 3: It’s time to Initiate

The writer’s challenge for today is to initiate something. Anything related to writing. Just get going with something new, something you’re a bit scared of doing.

In starting this blog, I feel that I’ve already begun delving into the realm of the scary and uncertain. Will I have anything of worth to say, will anyone ever bother reading? Today I recognise the need to keep the momentum going and to simply keep writing. I decided to take up yesterday’s challenge, waking earlier to write something, and it seemed like a worthwhile plan of action. I actually did get some writing done; 832 words to be precise, though the piece is in serious need of editing. All the same, 832 words more than I would have usually achieved before 9am on any given day. And I guess that can be defined as progress in the world of writing.

As my second draft is awaiting return from my editor, it wasn’t the novel that I was working on this morning. Instead I chose to start an article piece, one of the many articles sitting around waiting to be written, built on nothing more than a title I’ve devised at a random moment in the past. This one is called ‘Customize my faith – The trouble with formulating a faith to suit my lifestyle’. I’ll put it out here once it’s finished.

My response to the call to ‘Initiate’ is thus to develop this blog and actually get some articles out there, ready for whatever opportunities lie ahead. Who knows where it all may lead?

I’m a Believer: Day Two of the 15 Habits of Great Writers

Today I have been challenged to focus on my belief in myself as a writer. Do I truly believe that I can write and be published?

Without a doubt, I do. Since the day I had my first article published in the New Jersey Bergen County ‘Parent Paper’; since the day I recovered my old, tattered third year (Yr 9) essay (‘First Chapter of a Novel’) – entitled ‘New Beginnings’ – and read Mr Smart’s comment at the end: “You have the makings of a writer, I think”. He was the most inspiring, witty and memorable teacher I ever had. I treasure his words, as they help bolster that belief.

I have been paid to write as a freelancer for a national charity, I have been published numerous times on a Christian webzine. I believe I can do this.

For me the challenge is now: Do I believe in myself as a novelist? As an author?

I’m working on that one. And so I will take up the challenge to get up earlier and simply write. (See http://goinswriter.com/believe/)