A Writer is Never Finished


One is never truly finished writing a story.

I’m not an expert on technique; my attention span does not allow me to study complicated books on style. My muse shies from the idea of outlining, flash cards don’t help me at all, and I follow the 7-point method very loosely.

The one thing I know for sure after all these years writing is that an author is never quite done. I’ve spent weeks pondering the meaning of imagination, how humans can take an idea—a goblet or a stream of water—and then write universes surrounding it.

You can play with object size and volume (you cannot contain the stream in the goblet; if you throw the goblet into the stream, it will disappear.) You can play with the history of the object (where does the stream come from? Did the goblet once belong to a king?) You can explore creatures that dwell in the water, gemstones on the side of the goblet, the craftsman who made the goblet.

A writer can do all this until there is a web of facts and lore. When it’s a character we’re dealing with, things become more complex, because—as the old cliché goes—each person is a universe. For those of us who write the story, we are never done and never want to be. However, there’s a contradiction, an instinct when we must find a place where imagining stops and story makes it onto paper.

Most writers have the desire to see our story bound as a book on someone’s shelf. This means we have to work out when to stop imagining the words, instead forming them with ink. It seems I’ve not figured that out yet.

I’ve been thinking of my ideas and characters, some of which you might know, wondering how they got where they are. Rereading my novels, I realized that even the secondary characters would have epic tales. Like most protagonists, they start out in a low place; I want to know how they got higher. I want to know how they succeeded.

Because I am the writer—because ideas are loud—I have been exploring the hows and whys of the universe I created. The answers are surfacing in the form of a new story. I’m not far into it and haven’t a clue whether I will finish, but writing from a new perspective has unlocked different parts of my imagination.

If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to think about your stories—your characters—their hobbies and their favorite objects. Delve into their histories and explore qualities you never thought were important. Petty things like this will help you get to know your universe.

Elizabeth Gilbert and Madeleine L’Engle wrote of writing as if it were a religion or magic. Storytelling helps us create things that, to us and our readers, are very real. A dedicated reader, when engrossed in a good story, will reach a point where they forget they are turning pages.

When you reach that depth, you have made magic.

Read Walking On Water by Madeleine L’Engle and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I know there are other books about storytelling, but again, I don’t spend much time reading technique.

Though I recommend these books, remember we only learn so much from the discoveries of others. An artist’s joy is in the complexity of our own ideas. Consider these great writers as guides to help you on your own journey.

Take time today to think on your own, exploring your worlds in a new way. I promise it will be worth the effort to bask in the eternity of a brainstorm.

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The Forest of Heldbreath


Imagine your mind is a forest. The edge of the forest is a place where you pause and get distracted–a place of heldbreath, of course.

Sometimes we wait at the edge of heldbreath for days, months, or years. I’ve been lurking there for several weeks, skillfully talking myself out of a very important task.

Should I start editing now? I asked myself, then laughed and shrugged it off, eager to examine the next tree.

Some writers enjoy edits more than they do writing. I have never been one of those writers; in my haste to move on and write other stories, I put off edits again and again…and again.

In the forest of heldbreath, it’s easy to pretend we aren’t procrastinating. This isn’t the first time I’ve been in that place; the only difference now is that I’m writing about it, giving this place a name and personality.

Heldbreath is procrastination.

I inched away from editing until it was a small place hidden by the trees. I know where it is! Somewhere in that general direction – between two oak trees – it might be that hollow, or perhaps the one after?

Two weeks ago I searched the forest of heldbreath, looking for the corner where my manuscript for The Autumn Prince was. I found myself surprised by the short length of the novel, and thought this couldn’t take long.

It would be quicker if I would keep walking and stop procrastinating.

It’s easy to get distracted while searching the forest of heldbreath; we can convince ourselves we are where we’re supposed to be, when it’s quite far. I want a decent, clean version of The Autumn Prince this summer; I will wander the forest heldbreath in circles until I make it.

Have you been to the forest of heldbreath? Of course you have, we’re both human! Let’s meet at the edge and talk about the goals we will meet someday.

Book Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell


Jonathan-Strange-and-Mr-Norrell-by-Susanna-Clarke

I have spent two weeks with my nose in this book.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a thousand pages long, but its spell extends beyond the pages. Its charm is bolder than its eye-catching cover; this book provides complete immersion in a story I wished would last longer.

It tells of the movement to restore English magic. It’s full of clever political strife, well-written battles, pesky faeries and beautiful forests. Faeries favor the least likely people; those with power and authority often lose faster.

With her magical style, Susanna Clarke takes historical fiction and gives it new depth. She takes England and enchants it with a new system, dynamic characters, and plot twists that creep up to the very end.

If you want a good work of escapism, I recommend this book. It will take some of your time, but I promise you’ll be glad you gave it.

Old Souls & Poetry


My WordPress has been dead since our arrival, but if you’re following me on Instagram, you’ll find I’ve developed new interest in the written word shared visually.

I’m going to keep my blog alive. It’s just taken a few weeks for me to wake up again, after our long flight back home. We spent almost three days in airports. That’s enough to keep you half-dead for a week.

In my pause and time of recovery, I’ve written several poems and found my Muse to be very generous. Being back in my room, with my books and all my things, I’ve reencountered the old soul I left behind–but she’s also grown up.

She’s grown up in the sense that she is stronger. She’s not as scared to speak. She doesn’t care about borders anymore, so her poems dance off the page–and are by no means in straight lines. She cares for those who love her, and when she has to, she chooses herself.

Sometimes, you just have to choose yourself.

I have a few short stories to share here in the future. If you want to read short fiction, I do have two pieces on Instagram–The Flight and The Meadow. There will be a story on there every Friday, so if my blog is dead, check Instagram.

I’ve grown a lot; I’m glad about it. I pray the words keep coming, because poetry is a new form of freedom.

Farewells


I’m writing this in Fort Lauterdale, Florida.

I can’t describe the feeling I had when the plane lifted off the ground. Six months in a foreign country where most people weren’t too kind? Never again. I remember hugging my teddy bear and shivering with anxiety as I waited for the plane to get in the air.

Once in the air, it was the longest flight ever. I didn’t sleep a wink; for some reason, my mind was full of twelve different songs that mixed into a weird, warped playlist that drove me insane. I turned on my iPod and went through five albums (Cleopatra, The Lumineers–The Undoing, Steffany Gretzinger, Pines by A Fine Frenzy–among others.)

I left another Mariella behind in Lima, Peru. She’s in the past; the pressure is off, and when I arrive at home, I’m going to be a stronger woman. I won’t be the person I was when I left. I’ve grown too much, mentally and emotionally.

There are more adventures to come. I’m exhausted; I’ll sleep for a few days, and then I will come back to life, and I am going to shine. There’s no room in my life for people who don’t appreciate me.

You don’t get to choose your family, but you can choose your friends–and they become like family. I have a family of people who truly love me, aside from my parents and brother. I’m not alone; I will recover.

I can’t wait to be a full-time writer again.

Good-bye, Peru. I’m looking ahead–to home.

homeplease

Drained of Youth


These past six months, I’ve gotten older.

It’s a bizarre thing: colors seem darker, and smiles don’t come easily. So much has happened. It’s been a trip full of ups and downs; if I wrote a story about it, the reader would finish in a melancholy mood.

Does this mean it was a bad experience? No. It’s not a bad thing to see things with clarity. Hurt me with the truth, but do not shield me with a lie. I’ve always said I live by a policy of honesty: if I have to talk, I’m going to tell you how I feel, whether you like it or not.

Be careful encouraging me to opine.

Because of this policy, I didn’t know how to deal with liars. People I thought were genuine turned out to be faking with me. Please, don’t act like a friend when you really aren’t.

Since I’m a writer, I learned from this. It’s one reason why we write: to pour emotion into a tale readers can relate to. One thing I gained from this trip is emotion, the words for books with more depth.

Now I can write about heartbreak and feel it. I can describe disappointment. I know what it’s like to be stabbed in the back and see those I love cry. I even know what it’s like to live without water.

I know how to stick up for myself. I remember the day I stood up and said what needed to be heard. It was satisfying; I could tell by their reactions that someone had to tell them. My words were a long time coming.

Words are powerful.

Most of my stories so far have been hopeful, but we do need balance. In life, there is heartbreak and pain. This trip has put me through shadows, so I can write about darker emotions.

I have shed tears. I can write stories that shed tears.

Each experience made me stronger, made my future tales more powerful. I will be digging into sensitive parts of my memory.

Storytellers use our dark experiences to connect with readers. We see the positive side of suffering. We use our heartbreak to speak to those who read with broken souls. If this trip allowed me to one day help a person who’s hurting, I’m grateful for every tear.

I wouldn’t take back the memories. Everyone goes through times of suffering. I want my stories to mean something to you when, one day, you’re also hurting.

I leave this country with mixed feelings, a sore heart, and plenty of stories. I’m eager to share them. Reading got me through the darkness; one day, I hope my stories will help you get by, too.

Nothing in life is in vain, not even heartbreak.

drained

The Fear of Matches


Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
Psalm 46:2-3, NIV

At home we have an electric stove. We used to have a gas stove–I remember touching it by accident when I was a kid. The result was minor, but enough for me to remember, caution!

That was a long time ago. By the time I started doing things in the kitchen myself, we’d switched to an electric. I never had to use a gas stove; the thought of turning one on in Lima has scared me since we arrived, so for the longest time, I didn’t.

I avoided it. I stuck to cold foods when I got hungry–until today.

Something–Someone–told me to go do it.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9, NIV

Fun fact: I’m scared of matches. I light one and my hand starts trembling till I’m sure I’ll drop it. My decision to use the gas stove may seem small, but today I left my comfort zone.

It wasn’t without precautions. I made sure my brother was in the kitchen, thinking his presence would lessen the risk of myself catching fire. He figured out where to turn the knob when I had been doing it wrong.

I didn’t have to do this. I could have found something to eat that didn’t require use of a stove. But Something, a different fire, burned inside my heart, encouraging me. I knew that I could do it. If I didn’t, I would be disappointed in myself.

I decided to fry some eggs on the gas stove, matches and all. The fear was real. Small things can be your biggest chains. You won’t notice they’re a problem until a moment comes and you think, I have to do this.

Why? asks fear.

Because you can, says that little Voice your heart.

Face your fear, whatever it is. You could be scared of matches. You could be scared of wind. You could be scared of darkness or sleep. Don’t be ashamed: your fears may seem small to the outside world, but when you face them, you grow. And you can face them, with Him!

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7, NIV

It took eight matches and a good deal of panic before I got the stove going. If you’re accustomed to gas stoves, you might be laughing. I’m not: my hands were trembling. It was hard.

With His prompting I said, I am going to do this today. I made fried eggs and forgot to add salt, but they were still the most delicious I’d ever eaten. I was scared of matches, but I persevered. I pray the Lord will show me my next fear; with His help I’ll strike a match and burn it to the ground.

A Drop in the Ocean


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1, NIV

I am a daughter of the Word, blessed with competency to work with words, unable to find appropriate words to speak of the beautiful Word.

I’m a writer; I can make sentences look pretty. When I’m writing fiction, it’s easier to do. When I’m writing about God the task is harder, because how do I put Him in words?

It would seem easy. After all, He is the Word (John 1:1). Nothing exists without Him, not even the fiction I write in my novels. He is the source of all things, including my creativity. So why is it difficult to write about Him?

Can a drop of water describe the ocean from which it came? Can a gust of wind whisper of the storm that sent it? If so, what would they say?

Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.
Psalm 98:7-8, NIV

My words try to glorify the Word, and they’re going to fall short. There is so much more where they came from; He whispered the universe into existence (or maybe shouted it). I put my words on paper and do the best I can, but even when I do a good job by human standards, I can’t do Him justice.

My words come from the One Who wrote everything in His book (Psalm 139:16). He also wrote the galaxy into existence and the colors of every fish in the sea. I can write a decent story, but it doesn’t come without practice and editing; He created everything that exists without effort. There were no rough sketches for Him, no outlines.

Sure, He spends a lot of time managing His-story for our sake, so that we can get back to Him–but He doesn’t​ have to, because He is God. To whom do we dare compare His work? If He chose to leave us as we were after the Fall, rather than send His Son, to what standard would we dare hold Him? He would still be perfect.

Who can fathom the Spirit of the LORD, or instruct the LORD as his counselor?
Isaiah 40:13, NIV

Words fail me when I try to speak of Him. I want to write like my Father creates, but I can’t. He gave me the gift of creativity, though, and because I am His child, He’s pleased to see me imitate Him.

Like a drop of water glorifies the ocean, my words always drift back to the Word, because He is good. I will spend my life trying to speak of this goodness, because from the Word comes everything beautiful–every good deed, emotion, and story.

And even though I’ll always fall short, I know He’ll smile because He loves me.

Turning the Page


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When an adventure nears its end, I feel a mixture of grief and relief.

During our stay in Peru, we’ve had good moments–our visit to Nazca being one of them. There have also been moments I wish could be erased from my memory, and though they’ll always hurt, I will give them to Him. He can handle them.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7, NIV

I won’t be walking away from purely painful memories. I made new friends here, and it hurts to wonder when I’ll see them again. I’m thankful that the Internet will keep us connected, but it can’t recreate happy moments spent together.

I have to say good-bye for now, but I will see them again. A part of my heart will always live in Peru with the people I met and grew to love.

My heart has broken several times here. We came for a heavy reason, which was my grandmother falling ill. I meant to blog more during our stay, but life happened and I couldn’t make time for it. I have to reflect on it now, though, since this chapter will soon come to a close.

I can’t brush hard times under the rug; this trip hasn’t been perfect. Still, moments spent laughing with beautiful souls made up for every hardship. The moments I gazed at the ocean and pondered His love for me–nothing can compare. And times when all was calm, times spent gazing at the wall hearing the city outside the window.

I’ve lived here for five months. In this time, I survived the water crisis. I had adventures and memorized the streets. I smelled the ocean and felt humidity, experienced summer in another hemisphere.

All things considered, it was lovely. I wouldn’t undo it, nor would I wish to have left earlier. The best moments happened after we extended our stay.

I will miss my friends and the ocean, the streets and the native fruits. But all adventures come to an end–that’s the only way for us to have new ones.

To the people who’ve been here all along, thank you. You have found a fond place in my story; I will never forget you. Now the chapter’s coming to a close, and in my heart I carry you home with me.

I choose to remember the good things, thank God for each moment of laughter, and remember the sun always rises.

Just hold on a little longer; it will rise.

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
Psalm 27:14, NIV

The Light in Depression


He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He put my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
Psalm 40:2, NLT

Depression is a clever tormentor. Each person’s struggle with this illness is different; some have it all the time, while for others it comes and goes.

Though we all experience it differently, we tend to share the same symptoms. Most of us have felt the condition drain us of motivation, taking the magic out of things we once loved, weakening us until we feel trapped at the bottom of a pit.

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, or who you’re with; depression will find you. It doesn’t matter how much you have, because depression isn’t repelled by riches or poverty. No wonder it’s easy to feel hopeless, when it seems depression will always find you.

But there is good news: We have a Savior Who will also find us. Depression always seems to know where we are and what we’re doing, but so does God, and He is greater. He never loses sight of you, and even if sometimes you can’t feel His presence, know He’s right there fighting with you.

He reminds us of this relentless pursuit in these words from Scripture:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139:7-10, NIV

But He isn’t finished there. Have you ever felt so covered in darkness that no one could find you and help you? Have you ever felt trapped in a shadowy place where no good thing could happen? In the very same Psalm, He continues,

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139:11-12, NIV

This doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. Depression makes it difficult to feel anything, God’s presence included. But know that He’s there with you during those nights when you can’t remember how to cry. He’s there in the midst of your anxiety, when you feel at your loneliest and don’t think this torment will end.

He’s lifting you out of the mud and mire. He’s wiping tears from your face, even when you can’t feel Him do it. And he knows you better than you know yourself—when your thoughts become irrational and you don’t know what’s bothering you, He does (Psalms 33:15, 38:9). When you feel alone in your struggle, remember He’s close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

One day you will wake up and realize He has plans for you (Psalm 40:5). He has always been your shelter (Psalm 39:7). You’ll experience the joy of one who trusts in Him (Psalm 34:5)—yes, joy.

On that day, sing songs of praise and thanksgiving—for He has always been there! Friend, remember this: Depression may be adept at finding you, but so is the Lord Jesus—and He doesn’t only find you. He loves you.

Courage, dear heart—you are not alone.