Standing with saints

I never was a fan of Saint Francis. I dismissed him as a self-punishing, wimpy, ethereal saint who talked to birds and was best suited to stand in the small gardens of Italian grandmothers.

How little I knew.

I did recall one incident in his life that nagged at me. Before Francis’ conversion, he dreamed of becoming a knight. When war broke out between the towns of Assisi (his home) and Perugia, Francis in armor charged into the battle. His side lost and Francis was taken prisoner. So obviously, he wasn’t just standing on the sidelines.

Did the saint kill someone? In his zeal to become a knight, did he shed blood?

And so began my journey of discovery as I researched all I could find on the life of Saint Francis to write a novel I hope will take him down from the birdbath pedestal and stand once again on earth.

Nevertheless, as I write, there is a conflict. I get caught between conveying the earthly, determined and sometimes foolish aspects of the saint with the ‘sanctified’ image so many people love. I already know that some readers will think I’ve made up things he said and did; like the time he told a troubled brother being tormented by a demon telling him lies. Francis advised that the next time the demon appeared, he should say, ‘Open your mouth one more time and I will shit in it.’

A very different image of the saint, indeed.

The purpose of my writing is not to destroy anything but the pedestal. I want Francis to stand with the reader of the book, to bring sainthood, holiness and the light of the soul to be within easy reach for all who struggle to embrace it.

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It’s OK to be bored

I actually encourage all writers to cultivate a sense of boredom.

That way you’ll know when your writing is just not that interesting.

I recently read a novel (well, not all of it) in which the author gave a long detailed description of a man eating a peach–how the knife cut it into slices, the color and texture of the peach and the way it tasted. I read every word because I was sure it had something to do with the story.

It didn’t.

I suppose it might be interesting to someone who never saw or eaten a peach. If all she wrote was “the man sat down and ate a peach” my mind would have filled in the blanks, knowing full well what it is like to eat a peach.

OK now, before I start to get boring on the subject of peach eating, this post is really about the challenge of writing a historical novel based on the life and times of Saint Francis of Assisi.

I just threw out an entire chapter because it was boring. Being overly concerned with the historical facts stifled my creativity. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t writing a history text book or an unauthorized biography but using another person’s life as a symbol. The greater challenge is to write something that will present a fresh perspective rather than a rehash of everything that’s been previously written.

So, I have to trust my boredom instincts. If I’m bored by my own writing, so will the reader.

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Books are dead

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or soon will be.

Consider this.

Statistic Verification
Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, The Associated Press
Research Date: 1.1.2014
Attention span is the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted. Most educators and psychologists agree that the ability to focus attention on a task is crucial for the achievement of one’s goals. It’s no surprise attention spans have been decreasing over the past decade with the increase in external stimulation.

The average attention span is five minutes. Ten years ago, it used to be 12 minutes.

So I’d better keep this short.

E books will be the digital ghost of hand-held, turn-the-page, dogeared, write-in-the-margins, lend-to-a-friend traditional book.

Self Publishing will transform literature into a mass, unsupervised, free-for-all American Idol Audition without a Simon Cowell making  scathing critical remarks.

A paragraph will be no longer than the average text message.

Unless, something changes. Writing must transform as it has in the past, not just to suite changing styles in language but to keep up with what technology is doing to the mind.
A writer’s competition is not other writers. We must now compete with cable TV, text messaging, video games and, sadly, a diminishing attention span. But how? We need to experiment as other writers have started by shortening paragraphs and writing books that in a past age would seem more like a bare-bones outline.

I wonder how many readers will see this last line?

Self Sabotage

The words flow. You’re in the zone. Then it happens. You know what you want to say but the sentence is all wrong. It’s not PERFECT. It’s really not an important sentence but it’s needed. If only I structure it another way. What if I replace this word with another? Nothing is working. You can’t get pass that one line.
Why? Because it’s not perfect. Someone, perhaps thousands will notice it and judge you for it. You’re writing career will be over. People will hate you, they’ll talk about you, mock you, dismiss you for being a hack. Just because it’s not perfect.

My solution is this. Before I sit down to write, I tell myself, “Well, nobody is going to read this anyway so I might as well have fun with it.

What is your solution for breaking the crippling chains of Perfectionism?
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Procrastination

“Don’t Like to Write, But Like Having Written”

Dorothy Parker? George R. R. Martin? Frank Norris? Robert Louis Stevenson? Cornelia Otis Skinner? Clive Barnes? Gloria Steinem? Hedley Donovan?

No one is sure exactly who first said that. (see The Quote Investigator)

I suppose most writers have felt that way at some time in their careers. I did hear one writer of Romance novels say that she could spend all day writing, that she had no interest in doing anything else. I don’t remember her name (my version of writer’s block). Maybe I was in shock. I do remember thinking at the time, ‘So, you’d rather write about romance than actually experience it?’
Or, maybe that was just my defenses kicking in since I am one of those writers who need to duct tape themselves to the chair, face a blank wall and have all required refreshments close at hand. Even then, there are emails to write and answer, research that leads me far from what I was looking for in the first place, like ‘Gee, who really said the above quotation and who the heck is Hedley Donavan?’
So I have to find ways to trick myself into sitting down and actually writing. Last year I tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which is a self-imposed marathon of writing. On November 1st of each year, “participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.”
I made it to 40,000 and I am still working on it. (more on that later).
In my own defense, the delay wasn’t all the fault of procrastination. Family emergencies sent my life in a totally unexpected direction, which forced me to rent a new house, fly out East, a car accident in Missouri and a bunch of other surprises jumping out of the shadows for no other reason than give me more excuses not to write.
The interesting thing about dragging my feet when it comes to writing—or should that be dragging my fingers?—is once I do get started and the words are flowing it becomes a wonderful roller-coaster ride of exploration, discovery and joy.
Often I’ve had to ask myself, “Writing gives me a sense of fulfillment and pleasure. It’s like conducting an orchestra or painting on a blank canvas with words of colors yet to be seen. Why then do I procrastinate? Why do I find a hundred and one things to distract me?”
Yes, there are times of frustration like when your words are pouring forth and then suddenly come to an abrupt stop. Or when you know that one word in the sentence is so wrong but you can’t think of anything better. But I know that no matter what you do in life, you’re going to have some bad days.
And when those days happen, I go and find a way to trick myself into making my writing a priority so I don’t end up with a dozen unfinished manuscripts nagging at me.
If any of your readers have a few tricks of their own to vanquish procrastination, please let me know. I could use a few more.

Procrastination

About this blog

Challenges face every writer no matter what the subject and I invite all who create with pen, ink and keyboard to share their problems, solutions and questions.
I will be posting on the progress of this particular journey writing a novel about a saint  and the challenges of juggling creativity, historical accuracy and writing about a person most people assume to know.
By doing this I hope to conquer my biggest challenge – procrastination.

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