Creative noise, priorities, and unexpected God things.

 

Sigh. So God has been doing a lot of interesting things in my life lately. Did I tell you I went on vacation for two weeks? It was an international trip, and I was loathe to lose my laptop in airport security somehow, so I left it behind. Being so detached from the internet and media and all my creative outlets really made me aware of how peaceful it was to be without those things.

Coming back made me realize how noisy, how hectic, how nearly frantic my mind had become.

A long time ago God really began to speak to me about creativity, how He gives us natural talents, and that honing them honors Him; that He is very much a creator and that our creativity reflects and glorifies Him. I loved that as a writer, I could do what I did, and worship God with my talents in that way. But I always longed to honor Him in a more direct way with my creativity. I never felt like I knew what that outlet was. I just knew I was looking for it.

But back to creativity honoring God. Since I always felt that, I always believed, too, that creativity came from God. Certainly, you could say con men are creative, and so are spouses who cheat on one another, and so are manipulators and liars who never get caught. The Bible talks about how humanity has an enemy who will do anything to take the things God created for good and pervert them to the bad. But that God is constantly reclaiming what the devil has stolen and redeeming what the devil has destroyed.

So I knew that, too.

Fast forward. For a while now, I’ve sensed God trying to teach me a tricky concept. It goes something like this: the gift of creativity is from God, but creativity can become a distraction, a noisiness, if you let it.

My life has been noisy. Too noisy. I was staying up late, writing. My mind was churning out video ideas endlessly, and it was distressing, to wade through every one. Every problem or thought or interesting thing I saw instantly became, in my  head, an idea, that I had to either create or feel regretful about losing.

Coming home after vacation, for a few brief days, I hated the thought of getting on my laptop. I knew if I got on that the fuzziness would fill my mind again. It was never satisfying, to pore through Youtube videos and Pinterest boards, not the kind of deep satisfaction that lasts through a night and a day. I was sick of it.

So, you guys, I’ve been taking a step back. God is clearly doing something here. My priorities have been shifting. On one hand, I know God is prodding me to cut out the creative noise that has been distracting me from Him, and on the other hand, I see him maturing my creative skills, so that when it comes time to get a job in my field of education — and that time is coming very soon — I’ll be ready to handle it.

Even my writing, which for years has been a mainstay, I sense God shifting about, pushing out here, pulling back there, changing priorities for whatever move He has in mind next. For now, I am taking a break from the world of YA. Not from SHUTTERBUG — I haven’t sensed God asking me to do that. But the networking, the discussions on whitewashing and grittiness and which debut author is getting all the publicity at the moment? That, I’m taking a break from. And if I’m being honest, it’s a big relief. It feels like I know the industry inside and out, and I don’t always agree with its values.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Let me share this quote by the amazing C.S. Lewis. (Chronicles of Narnia, remember?)

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to?

The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Oh, you guys. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I knew the shape of the house God was building, only to find myself scraped down to the foundation and rebuilt from scratch. It is a bewildering process at times. And then I remind myself that God did create us and sacrifice so much to be in relationship with us just so that we could have a quiet, happy little life. He calls us to a radical life full of battles and victories and purpose.

* * *

So all this is happening — and then I look back on my previous announcement, made only a month ago, about challenging myself to creating more multimedia and to focusing on creativity on Saturdays. Guys? That might have to change. I don’t know if it will get scrapped. I don’t know if it will simply shift gears to fit whatever God is doing in my life right now. But I took a step of faith, making that post, and now God is taking that step and using it to take me in a new direction.

(Let me just say how much I HATE it when I announce something on the blog, and then turn right around and change it. Blogging makes you feel like the biggest flake sometimes, because everything you say takes on a whole new weight. Everything is heavy with accountability. But God is doing an unexpected God thing, and that post simply doesn’t line up with it. So. Change the plans shall.)

That’s really all I have to say. Perhaps that is a lot more of hearing me talk about God than you guys are used to. And perhaps you’re rolling your eyes at the irony of my announcement/taking-back-my-announcement announcement. Or maybe you’re used to it.
God does unexpected things. Scary as they are…they’re also exciting.

And that, finally, is where I want to leave things. What will happen next around here? I don’t know. I’m hopeful…I’m excited to find out.

Yours truly,
-Creative A

Winter is Coming

Going for a walk in the cool, the wild
River a crisp, laughing child
Trees weeping golden tears
They see this coming every year

Winter is coming, but
Fall is here

Cold as the bone of a castle’s keep
Down in the dark, where the flowers sleep
And further still, the earth twists round
Fall bites her lip. Her limbs are bound.

Don’t weep. Don’t weep. Time will keep
You nestled in her heart.

The moon exhales, softly, ah
As snow drifts down from the prickling stars
Even now, it’s drawing near.
Winter is coming–
It’s almost here–

How easily deer startle at the sound
Of winter, choking the river down
And Fall, dear Fall, how silently
She acquiesced the battleground

I feel this keenly; the setting sun
The wood is hollow
Winter has come.

 

© Amanda Smith, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Creative Saturdays: Announcing the Multimedia Challenge

Hello world!

I’ve got two announcements today, and they’re both in the title of this post, but neither is terribly self-explanatory, sooo…

Announcement number one! I’m starting a new blog series. A possibly/hopefully more REALISTIC blog series. Saturdays are typically the first opportunity I’ll have had this week to be creative. That includes blogging, along with a bunch of other stuff I do–from web design to writing to cooking to crafting. So I wanted to try and use Saturdays to sort of talk about whatever I’ve been working on that particular Saturday, or in the past week. I might share results: I might say, man, I’m being so lazy right now, but I really want to work on X. But at the very least I’ll be discussing something.

I’m excited about this! Because I’ve had a really hard time blogging lately. I have thought of blog-worthy topics. I have done blog-worthy stuff. I have even started writing the posts. I have even FINISHED writing the posts BUT NOT POSTED THEM because I finished the post at midnight, and does that paragraph need editing? Yes? No? I’m too bleary-brained to tell, and then the post gets lost in the rest of my busy week.

I’m thinking this new blog series will help with some of that, making the posts more immediate and the content more relevant 🙂

Announcement number two! And this one is a tad more self-explanatory. I’m starting a challenge–the Multimedia Challenge–which I am super darn flippity excited about, BECAUSE, it means doing more of the projects I always want to do but feel too nervous/out of the game/uncertain to do.

My self-imposed rules of the multimedia challenge are these: Once a month I’m going to pick a concept, like a video or a photoshoot or an Illustrator design, and I’m going to create it. Fiction is not the focus here. The focus is taking some of the stories in my head, the ones that don’t work so well in fiction, and getting them out–into a video, a themed photoshoot, a crazy illustration. Getting. Them. OUT.

Because stories will drive you crazy, have you ever noticed that? Have you ever lain awake at night staring at the ceiling, utterly unable to sleep because you have not created the thing that is plaguing your waking moments? They’re fantastic and awful and rather excruciating if you don’t get them down somehow.

Last spring (!!!) I created a short film for my video class, my first true narrative short film ever. And it was incredible. It was super tricky and stressful in a lot of ways, and I also over-reached myself a bit: I still can’t post the thing, because of all the special effects it requires, and how slow my computer is. Le sigh/rawr. But I loooooooved shooting the film. I realized how many other films I could shoot. I was ready. I wanted to go. Nothing could stop me.

I haven’t shot a single film since.

And guys…this makes me really sad. I loved it. I forced myself to continue working on the special effects to that film before giving myself any new projects (which was wise.) But, eventually, that became less effective. I realized I needed to give myself room to make these projects AND share them. I also realized that portfolios don’t create themselves. I need practice. Photography? Illustration? Not my strongest suits. If I want to start making stuff, it has to happen now.

The challenge started today. I wasn’t prepared to shoot the video I (wanted) to film, so I did a photoshoot idea that’s been niggling at me instead.

The challenge: dramatic themed photoshoot, all self-portraits.
The theme: a welder’s mask I picked up in Delaware. (For five bucks. The propmaster within me says win.)
The location: a stand of sumacs.
The results…

IMG_8959

IMG_9221

IMG_9083

IMG_9132

IMG_8952

hashtag dramatic face. Cough cough.

IMG_9066

I’m like 75% really proud of this and 25% percent objectively critical, but then if I think about it suddenly I’m 100% percent dreeping embarrassed. Eeeep. Be gentle!

Truly and always and multimedia crazy,
-Mandy

I’m on my way, I’m on…

Hey. I am in the middle of WRITING, so this will be brief. I just wanted to pop in and share the song that’s been playing in the back of my head all day. It’s a beautiful, brief song, just aching at the seams with yearning and regret and trying. Right now I’m writing the chapters where my MCs Mirelle and Toby are finally together and gah, it’s so painful and happy and sweet.

*Note that I wrote those chapters already. I didn’t like them. Instead of being painful and happy-crush and sweet, they were all, awkward and angry and tense. So I scrapped them (mostly) and am starting over (mostly) and am writing in these delicious little blobs that mean I daydream about Shutterbug all day at work, and come home to write at night. Which is slow. But working.

//End novel update. Back to the song. If you need something to just shut your eyes and listen to, and possibly even shake new emotion loose, this is the one.

 

My tears are becoming the sea, lyrics

I’m slowly drifting to
You

The stars and the planets
Are calling me

A billion years away
From you

I’m on my way
I’m on…
I’m on…

How to Keep Your Plot From Wandering

(for the non-outliners among us.)

 

 

 

Hello, world! I’m having a pretty intense lounge-about day, and I thought in the midst of lounging I could do some blogging as well. I got insipred by a Writing Excuses podcast to discuss the concept of controlling your plot without outlining your plot.

Pause for a moment. Most people talk about either being outliners, or “Pantsters,” people who write by the seat of their pants, on the fly. But most writers confess to falling somewhere in the middle. These middlers tend to have starting points and ending points, and even important plot milestones in between, but with lots of flexibility on how all those milestones are reached. I like to call them “headlighters” because of the E.L Doctorow quote that goes, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

The casuality of writing with lots of plot flexibility is that your plot can wander. A lot. I’m experiencing this with SHUTTERBUG right now, and I find I have to be very conscious about staying on task.

So first lets discuss a few reasons your plot can wander.

 

Over-Exploring.

While writing you’ll come across lots of possibilities and what-ifs. Exploring all those possibilities can make the scope of your story creep bigger and bigger. In the first draft, there’s more wiggle room for this, but at some point, you’ll need to start being choosy about which ideas are worth exploring, or not.

Uncertainty.

This is a big one, especially for pansters, or folks who struggle writing beginnings. When you don’t have a good sense of what your story is about, the plot has no sense of focus, and so it tends to wander. This wandering is, in effect, you as the writer struggling to figure out where the heck all this is going–and this is why having a starting premise and some major milestones, like an inciting incident and climax, are so important.

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

This problem has less to do with wandering, and more to do with waffling. When you’ve written yourself into a corner, it’s easy to blow huge amounts of wordcount on trying different ways to solve the problem. It’s like thinking aloud, except that thinking is happening on paper, and translates as a plot that doesn’t know what to do with itself.

Lack of Excitement, Interest, Stakes, Motivation…etc.

One of the last reasons a plot can wander is when you as the writer just aren’t that interested in what you’re writing. Maybe the story shifted gears, somehow, and you’re not so interested in the new direction it’s taking. Or maybe you’re bored with the plot elements you’re supposed to be working on. Often this translates into writer’s block, but when you push through it, you might find the next sections of story to feel fragmented and unfocused. Either you wrote the boring parts and they came out, well, boring, or you threw exciting elements in there for the sake of interest, and they don’t relate well to the rest of the plot.

*

So here’s how we go about fixing a wandering plot.

 

If your problem is over-exploring, try: Focusing.

If your story has gotten swamped with too many possibilities, you’ll need to cut some back. It’s way too easy to bunny-trail in a novel where you have so many delicious things that can crop up in a single scene of dialogue. Focus by going back to what is important for your plot. What is important for this next section of story? What does this scene need to communicate? If ideas suggest themselves to you, make a note if you can, and move on.

 

If your problem is uncertainty, try: Brainstorming & Planning.

Basically, you need a sense of where the story is going. So brainstorm. Run yourself through some basic exercises. What’s your premise? What’s your plot, in a nutshell? Go look up a detailed version of the 3 or 5 Act structure, and try to compare your story to those plot movements. Janice Hardy has an incredible set of blog posts (part one, part two) about plot movements. And even when I don’t follow them strictly, they make great benchmarks to compare my story against.

Because what you really need to do here is nail down where your plot ought to go next. What have you done in terms of plot movement, and what needs to happen next? You’ll have to do a lot of brainstorming to come up with the milestones that will help give your plot a sense of purpose, but once you do, it will be a lot easier to know where to go next and how to get there.

 

If you’ve written yourself into a corner, try: Re-evaluating.

There are a couple reasons we write ourselves into corners. One is that we’ve come up with a problem we don’t know how to solve. Another is that we followed a bunny-trail, and now it dead-ended. Another is that the plot took a wrong term somewhere, and we don’t know how to get it back on track.

So take a step back. Re-evaluate. And do some brainstorming. If it’s a problem you can’t solve, but you know it’s vital to the main plot, do some serious brainstorming; share the problem with other writers; ask people for advice. Even non-writers can be helpful, because talking about it might be the breakthrough you needed. If you followed a bunny trail, though, or your plot took a wrong turn–and you may have to do a lot of re-evaluating before you decide this–you may need to back up. Way up. Back to when the plot seemed like it was going strong. And then…start over, from there. This one HURTS, because it means losing precious wordcount. But sometimes it’s easier (and better) to start over right, than try to figure out where you went wrong.

 

If your problem is boredom, try: Writing Something Exciting!

This one is deceptive. I don’t think anyone sets out to write a boring story. So when we get bored, we think, oh, this is writer’s block; I need to push through. But if you’re bored with what you’re writing, it’s likely because you’re writing something boring. I’m not trying to be pithy. It’s just, it’s true, isn’t it? The book won’t be exciting if you’re not excited in it.

So switch it up. Do something interesting. That could be something small, like moving a scene to a new setting, or swapping out a character. Or it could be bigger. Cutting old characters. Making new ones. Switching the POV character or the main plot goal. Even changing the season or city/town/area your story is set in can help, because these have a huge effect on ambiance and mood, which can really darken or lighten the story your telling, and thus, the type of story itself. Maybe you were writing the wrong kind of story all along.

*

 

So there are my tips and tricks. I’ve definitely struggled with this before, but never so badly as I have with SHUTTERBUG (in this case, I’m over-exploring. Waaaaaay over-exploring. Focusing has been TOUGH.) And if all else fails, pass the story along to your betas, and ask, do you have any advice? Chances are they’ll have enough different ideas that it will jog something loose and give you a sense of where to start.

And if even that fails…you could also try outlining.

Ahem. COUGH.

sincerely and always and sarcasm,
-Mandy

 

Monthly Pinspiration #3

Hey guys! So you know I was doing weekly Pinspiration posts for a while, but I soon realized that actually doing them weekly felt too frequent, and that I was ending up doing them monthly anyway. So I decided to switch. This month’s Pinspiration reflects where my thoughts have been trending lately — superpowers. More on that later, perhaps? For now, go play Radioactive or Midnight City or The Sun and enjoy the pins. I hope they put you in a creative mood like they do for me 🙂

 

 

via

Recent Reads, (belated) August Edition

Hello world! And welcome to another round of, “let’s play catchup, shall we?”

I’m FINALLY getting around to all those posts I had planned / half-written. One of them had to do with two of my favorite subjects. Books! And reading! So many yays.

 

So here’s what I’ve read since the last recent reads:

 

Blog---August

And here’s the breakdown.

 

Series I’m in the Midst Of:

Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter, Gallagher Girls #5

The Titans Curse by Rick Roirdan, Percy Jackson And the Olympians #3

These were both fun reads, but at the same time, I realized I’m starting to plow through these series less for the book I’m reading at the moment, and more for the drama of the series that I’m hoping to absorb simply by reading it. If that makes sense. There are a crazy set of fans for the Percy Jackson series, and I know a big part of my motivation is to try and get a little bit of what they have when reading it.

So basically I realized that I need to slow down and start absorbing these series more, devouring less. I think I might set them both aside for a while and pick up later when I’m able to enjoy them more 🙂

 

Books With Buzz & First Books in a Series:

 

The Archived by Victoria Schwab, The Archived #1

Pivot Point by Kasie West, Pivot Point #1

Freakling by Lana Krumwiede, Psi Chronicles #1

I can’t believe I finally read these! I feel very, very belated about it, but am so excited to have finally checked out for myself what everyone else was raving about.

And I can say it was well-deserved. The Archived was certainly unique and interesting. I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t devour it so quickly (yes, this is an issue with me.) I’m not a big fan of any kind of ghost story, and I don’t like creepy, but I did enjoy this. Am waffling just a teensy bit about whether to follow this series or not (like a lot of other people, I have series burnout right now.) But at this point I definitely plan on giving book #2, The Unbound, a try.

As for Pivot Point–holy bleeping goodness! I was so glad I gave this one a shot. Sometimes a book is good, and sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it’s rave-worthy. I’m not sure what it was about Pivot Point, but I just LOVED it. The main character was likeable (even if her falling for mr. superpower guy was annoying) (but that gets explained in a REALLY satisfying way later.) I loved mr. normal guy and her relationship with him. I loved the concept, and especially how that concept was explored and how you see it breaking down to everyday life, and holy smokes, the way the two storylines began entangling together and finally resolving just kept the tension amping up and up until that twist at the end–which I was not expecting at all. Except I had the deliciously horrible uneasy sensation that something was wrong. I was missing something. And I was right.

Great book, and am definitely on board for the sequel. I want to see how Cassie can manage to recapture the life she had explored with her abilities and see how all the new elements play out.

As for Freakling, I loved the premise for this MG, and loved the book even more. The concept was really well explored and I found myself seeing little hints of Enders Game mixed with The Unwanteds, but somehow better than that combination might sound. It was fun and very mature without being too dark or intense, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a series though? I’m not sure. It read very much like a stand-alone, and I’m curious but a bit hesitant as to how the author could continue the premise through the series, given how it ended. Definitely plan on checking book #2 out, uncertain how I will feel about it.

 

Last But Not Least:

 

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Lottery by Patricia Wood

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

 

 

So, I was excited to read Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal because she is one of the amazing Writing Excuses podcasters. I’ll be honest. I love those guys. I’ve been waiting for them all to get published books in genres I enjoyed, and it’s finally happening — Dan Wells has Partials and the sequel Fragments, Brandon Sanderson now has a YA sf/fantasy coming out that sound AWESOME (it’s called Steelheart and it involves normal humans banding together to fight superpower villains. What!!!) So. Yes. Anyway. Shades of Milk and Honey. I quite enjoyed it although, as a rabid Pride & Prejudice fan, I have to admit I was comparing nearly every plot movement to the original story. Am planning to read the continuing books in the series and am hoping for more shenanigans 🙂

 

Lottery by Patricia Wood — What a cute story! I picked this up because the author got published around the time I was very active on Absolute Write, and she was an active member as well. Plus I’m a sucker for any kind of developmental disabilities or learning impairment stories. And Lottery did not disappoint. I admit, I really hoped his relatives would get their just end, and not a single cent of his money. But despite all the ups and downs, it had an excellent ending and I was so proud of him by the end. Definitely worth the read (despite some sexual language and scenes and a bit of swearing, which I could have done without.) If you haven’t given it a try and you don’t mind skimming the rated parts, it’s a fantastic story 🙂

 

As for Ice by Sarah Beth Durst — I’d heard this is one of the best East of Sun, West of Moon and Tam Lin retelling out there. But Sarah Beth Durst is such a hit or miss for me. I LOVED her Drink, Slay, Love and I enjoyed Vessel, but found myself pretty disappointed in Enchanted Ivy and now in Ice. Her voice is so different from book to book, and Ice didn’t have the maturity of writing style I had honestly expected. Durst has another YA coming out soon, Conjured, so hopefully this will be another one to love.

 

In conclusion! I had a pretty decent reading month. Not as exciting as I’d hoped, since I really only felt Pivot Point and Freakling were rave worthy, and I had been hoping for multiple raves this month. But I definitely enjoyed the books I read, and it was GREAT to have something to read when I got home after those long days at work.

Well. Phew. That was my belated reading in August. A lot of new books come out this month, so hopefully/maybe I’ll have a really exciting Recent Reads for you in a few weeks.

What have you guys read recently?

Truly and always!

-Mandy

 

I miss the silence

Doors slam.
Cars peel away.
The coffee hisses, forgotten.
The house goes quiet again,
As everyone noisily parts ways
And the silence is enjoyed by no one.
Just the house, sighing
Shifting weight.
Cracking knees.

And the dogs in the hallways
Heads on their paws
Listening to the phone
As it rings.
And it rings.
And it rings.

original work copyrighted 2013 by Mandy Smith.

please do not reprint without permission.

Blog hiatus is ALMOST OVER. I jotted this poem down this morning trying to capture the sense of frustration I had about the noisy, busy, wild mornings and how quickly they terminated, how little time I had before I had to become one of the people peeling away in the cars to my noisy job. I do love this new job, but overtime last week plus loss of last weekend plus working straight all this week, well…I am pretty desperate for some quiet. Haven’t had a chance to write in weeks and I haven’t worked on any web design projects in over a month! Am so very, very ready for this Saturday.

But there. Enough complaining 🙂 What about you all? Been as busy as me, or are you enjoying some downtime, for once?

 

Truly and always and wistfully poetic,
-Mandy
 

The Blog Hiatus Nears its End

Hello world ❤ You look lovely today. How you doing? Feeling lovely? Feeling a bit summery? Hectic/busy/tired?

So we finally have our internet back. Which is YAYYY! Getting our internet back, though, happened to coincide with the same week I start job training at my second job in the middle of fair week. Which means everyone in the fam is running, extra-including me; in fact, I’m writing this post in between two shifts of a 9 hour day. And I have things Friday. And things Saturday. And things Sunday. I never have things Sunday*

Sooooooo. I decided it would be insanely ridiculous of me to try and blog in the middle of this. (Even though I have So! Many! Posts! I want to do now that we have our New! Shiny! Internet! back.) And I’ve been on unofficial blog hiatus anyway. It won’t kill me to abstain for another week or so.

Le sigh, internet friends. Le sigh.

Truly and always and ramming,
-Mandy

 

 

 

 

*Besides church things. Sunday is for church things 🙂