Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Four Tips

Although I don’t like writing “rules,” I love writing tips. I like hearing what works for other writers, especially those facing the same challenges I face. How do they manage their time or deal with the dreaded Fear of the Blank Page? I want to share four tips I’ve found useful in hopes one or more of them helps someone else.

1. Grab 15 minutes. If you’re like me, you can’t get any substantive writing done in 15 minutes. It takes me about that long to “prime the pump” so the words start flowing. But there are things you can do in 15 minutes, at or away from your desk:
  • Decide on the name of a minor character or of some location in your book—a restaurant or street name, for example.
  • Give your character another complication, a small one adding to the dilemma he or she is in. How can you make life a tad more miserable for him or her? Maybe while your protagonist is changing that flat tire you gave her a passing car splashes her with mud or the heel of her shoe breaks.
  • Resolve that word problem. Say you’ve written the word “turned” too many times (it’s such a handy word). Come up with synonyms or, better yet, ways to rework sentences so you can remove the overused word and its synonyms altogether. 
2. Tell yourself it’s going to stink. I used to despair of that first 15 or so minutes at my desk because what I wrote during that time was never as good as what I wrote later, after I’d been at my desk for a while. And I let that paralyze me. I couldn’t stand writing those first bad paragraphs, so I occasionally put off writing, and at times writing became painful. Now I tell myself that what I write in those first 15 minutes will be bad—it’s just a fact. I still get that sinking feeling when I sit down at my computer, but it passes more quickly than it used to because I’ve come to expect it and I’ve learned to start my writing day in spite of it.

3. Find something that says, “I’m here to write.” I always have a hot cup of coffee or tea on my desk. It makes my desk a more comfortable place to be. It settles me and tells my body and brain, “This is your office. You’re not going anywhere, so start working.” I know a writer who creates his work space by turning on music. Though I could never do this—for me music is too distracting—he says it helps him get in the right frame of mind. Whatever works.

4. Just start writing. Don’t wait for inspiration. For many people, the very act of writing (typing) gets the mental juices flowing. If you don’t know where to go from where you left off the last time you wrote, just start. Type anything. You can always delete it later (and you’ll probably want to). In her book Write Away, mystery author Elizabeth George suggests something similar—free writing—when it comes to character creation. After she nails down the basics of her character, she writes a “report” about that character in a stream-of-consciousness fashion to “trigger the right side of [her] brain.” She says it not only helps her discover her characters but also enlarges her book’s theme and opens up ideas for subplots.

What writing challenges do you face? What tips do you have for overcoming them?


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wicca's Sweet Song

I became a Christian when I was 16, and when I was 26, I decided to dabble in wicca, a modern-day, neopagan version of witchcraft. What you might call “witchcraft light.” I did my dabbling briefly, on what I considered the relatively safe periphery, but dabble I did.

Today I thank God I wasn’t hooked by wicca or one of its neopagan cousins (druidry, Kemetism, Odinism, etc.), but at the time I didn’t see much of a conflict between wicca and Christianity. Or I didn’t want to. I was angry with God, and looking back, I think I wanted to take a jab at Him, and witchcraft light was the perfect vehicle. Wicca seemed so harmless. Sweet, even. It was just the ticket. Prove yourself, God. If wicca’s so bad, show yourself and tell me.

The television show Charmed, with its three pretty witch sisters, didn’t exist at the time, but the wiccans and witches I met in the 1980s were just like those sisters—fun, kind, and accepting. Especially accepting. The patchouli-soaked, post-hippie women I met worked very hard at being accepting.

There’s a lot of talk in today’s witch, wiccan, and neopagan communities about acceptance. You must accept the “path” others are on; accept others’ beliefs, even when those beliefs are obviously self-contradictory; and accept any combination of beliefs any practitioner wishes to cobble together. Some believe in astral projection, shamanism, and Keltrian druidism, others in the Green Man, the “Lord and Lady,” and Dianic wicca.

There are some, particularly more traditional witches, who don’t care for what they consider the “fluffy bunny,” cafeteria-style approach of today’s wiccans, but for the most part it’s all about acceptance. It’s like tolerance: You’d darn well better have it.

This acceptance doesn’t extend to Christianity, of course. Any witch, wiccan, or neopagan forum on the Internet is eye-opening in this respect. Christians, forum posters say, are killjoys, they believe in sin, they usurped pagans’ celebrations and witches’ sabbats for their own use, and they want to impose their outdated moral standards on everyone.

Worst of all, Christians acknowledge that truth involves exclusions—that God can not be both Jesus and Buddha. Or Jesus and Hecate, Jesus and Rhiannon. Jesus’ claim that “no man comes to the Father but through me” is Christianity’s most serious crime.

If you’re not aware of how the tentacles of wiccan/neopagan beliefs have worked their way into the culture, especially among young people, I recommend you do an Internet search for “wicca” and “forum” or “neopagan” and “forum.” But be prepared for some of the saddest reading you’ve ever done.

The most heartbreaking posts are by girls and boys barely in their teens. My mom and dad are Catholics, they say, or Baptists, and they don’t understand me. They don’t accept me. I’ve always been strange, they say, and now I know why. I was meant to walk a different path.

They want a secret, magic name, they want to dream dreams and see visions. They want acceptance—and they find it. They crave the supernatural and don’t realize that Jesus’ Incarnation was a mysterious, supernatural event far beyond the wildest wiccan imagination.

God was gracious to me and quickly showed me the truth about wicca and its cousins. I so easily could have fallen into it, and then tumbled into the rabbit warren of new age nuttiness. Wicca’s superficial attractions alone—the jewelry and incense, the music of Celtic-influenced wicca, and so on—were enough to pull me in. That’s how I was at that age.

Over the years I’ve learned that what seems harmless, even good, can be—and I won’t mince words here—evil. Some people are lured from God by obvious, black-hatted evil, but for most it’s the sweet song that grabs them. And sadly, for many of today’s young people, that sweet song is wicca.