Tips to Help Your Writing

In the past few months I have really increased my writing.  I try to write every single day, even if it is just gibberish in a notebook.  Writing, like all art forms requires practice.  It also needs inspiration.  I am working on a novel right now and it has evolved in the last few weeks.  More and more characters are appearing in my mind, and the story, while still the same as what it started as, is developing more layers.  I think that part of those developments come from my taking a step back for a few days.

 
I really enjoy writing, but I have two other vocations that must come before it: my family and Dominican prayer.  There are days when I can sit and hammer out a few pages while my daughter naps, and days that I have things I must get done.  I am hand-writing the novel.  My writing flows more when it is pen to paper.  It is more time consuming because I can type at a high rate, but even my husband has pointed out that my work is higher quality when I do it by hand.
 
On the days when I cannot actively sit down and write, I still think about the novel.  I let it develop on its own in my imagination.  I sometimes write a few notes down, but for the first time, this is a story that never seems to leave.  I don’t forget it and it is vivid.  I know the entire story, I just have to fill in the details.
 
There are some things that I like to do that help keep the creative juices flowing while I am living out my vocation.  Here are some suggestions that might help other writers:
 
1. Go for a walk.  There is nothing like natural beauty to help you think about settings, descriptions, seasons, or even people.  Looking around your surroundings help give you ideas.  I live in a beautiful part of Virginia.  I am amazed on a daily basis by the beauty of the mountains and the changing of the seasons.  It gives me ideas.  It helps me to remember details that are triggered by the senses, like the crunching of leaves underfoot.
 
2.  Go for a drive.  Since I have rural areas nearby, I can pack up my daughter and drive through country roads.  The natural beauty around me helps inspire my imagination, and driving in this manner relaxes me.  A lot of my writing ideas come to me while driving.  It is an automatic function for most of us who have been driving for years.  That means other areas of the brain are free to process.
 
3.  Play with your kids.  If you are a parent, playing with your kids can stimulate creativity.  It could be something they say, a facial expression, or an action.  Just relaxing and being thankful in that moment with your child can help free up creativity.
 
4. Go to an art museum.  Viewing art helps increase our desire to produce our own work.  Beauty stimulates beauty.  We were made by a good and loving Creator, who desires that we create as well.  God gave us talents and the desire to share beauty.  If you don’t have an art museum nearby, find a co-op or local gallery.
 
5.  Occasionally go to the symphony, a ballet, a play, opera etc.  When I lived in Washington DC, I made it a point to get to the ballet, a play, or a concert at least twice a year.  There are so many opportunities when you live in a city. I no longer live in DC.   I do live in an area that actually has a symphony, ballet, and even an opera, but it is not as easy to get to with a toddler and the cost.  As your pocketbook and schedule allow, try to make it to a concert or other artistic opportunity in your community.  I do look forward to when my daughter is old enough for me to take her to The Nutcracker every year.
 
6.  Take a class.  Sign up for a creative writing class, or even painting, pottery, wood-turning (I am married to a very talented wood-turner), sculpting, photography, or other creative class.   
 
7. Write every single day.  Even if you only write a couple pages of non-sense, write every day.  It keeps your skills fine-tuned and you never know when that gibberish could turn into a story, poem, essay, blog, etc.
 
8. Share your writing with someone you trust.  I have made the mistake of sharing some of my writing with the wrong people.  If a person does not understand your worldview, they may be critical of your work.  I write from a Catholic perspective, and that means Catholics and other Christians are more likely to understand my writing, especially my poetry, and when I get it done, my novel.  Sharing is extremely important.  Writers struggle with an inner critic.  If we let that critic get the best of us our art form suffers, and we may even give up on a good project.  I found that by sharing my novel idea with my husband and allowing him to read what I have written, I was able to silence my critic more easily and getting his feedback helped me to expand my ideas.  Find someone you trust and share!
 
9. Pray.  My writing is about sharing my vocation, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Catholic Church.  I want Our Lord’s message to be heard through me.  I am not interested in writing that stems from my ego.  I have days when I write from there and it is not very good because it is all about me.  Even if I am writing a poem or story that is not directly linked to my Faith, I want the words to be true and genuine, to stem from something deep within the human condition.  When I work on my novel, or even my blog, I ask God what He wants me to say. It helps me center and get myself out of the way.
 
10. Take a break from social media.  When you are working on a project it is important to eliminate distractors.  Social media is one of those things that sucks us in and becomes a huge time waster.  We can become too distracted with everyone else’s lives and we neglect our own work.  Being a writer should be enjoyable and an outlet.  Staring aimlessly at status updates does nothing for creativity.  You don’t need to be as radical as me and get rid of your personal FB page, but take a few days off here and there.  The world won’t end.  I find that it is a great lesson in humility too.
 
 What are some things that help you to write?  I am always looking for suggestions.
 
Happy Writing and Creating!

Marveling at the Cathedrals of Europe

This morning I was looking over a fellow blogger’s beautiful website.  She has a section on stained glass and it got me thinking about my time in Europe.  My first trip to Europe was actually to England for a week long training I was leading for the Navy when I was 22.  My friend and I spent the flight drinking mimosas because we could not sleep.  I still cannot seem to sleep on international flights that are overnight.  We took a cab to King’s Cross to get on a train to Lincolnshire.  Even though I was exhausted and had a slight buzz, it was an exciting time. Yes, Catholics enjoy their drink, in moderation (okay a few times for me were not in moderation and that is called gluttony). As we drove through the London streets, I was amazed by the architecture, and the crowds.  London makes New York look sparsely populated.

Yep, I lived two blocks from this amazing cathedral.
Yep, I lived two blocks from this amazing cathedral.
A Christmas performance of Handel's Messiah fit perfectly with the scenery.
A Christmas performance of Handel’s Messiah fit perfectly with the scenery.
Arches and stained glass go so well together.
Arches and stained glass go so well together.
We reached our destination a few hours later: Lincoln, England.  I did not know it then, but I would be moving there 9 months later.  We made our way through the cobblestone streets to our hotel, which was directly across from Lincoln Cathedral.  The cathedral was on top of a hill and stood large over the town.  It is the twin of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, just a few centuries older.  I was amazed.  It was the first place that I wanted to visit.  I actually was blessed to see Handel’s Messiah performed there while I lived in Lincoln.
The cathedral is in the gothic design.  It has towering arches of stone.  The building itself in the shape of a cross.  It had a stunning rose window, and the entire building is centered on the altar.  The cathedral now belongs to the Anglican Church.  I ended up living in a row house two blocks from the cathedral.  I could walk to it anytime I wanted.  I saw it every single day.  It took my breath away repeatedly.  I can remember driving home in the summer after a long 12 hour shift.  The sun had been up for a couple of hours (England is a lot further north than we are) and there the cathedral shone in the sun.  Giving me enough energy to make the rest of the drive home.
Yorkminster, the first time I ever stood on top of Roman ruins.
Yorkminster, the first time I ever stood on top of Roman ruins.
When I did move to England in 2004, I wanted to see as many churches and cathedrals as possible.  I stood on top of Roman ruins at Yorkminster in York, England.  I visited the chapel in Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland.  For some reason I never made it to St. Paul’s in London.  I wish I had.  I went to St. Patrick’s in Dublin, Ireland.  I have to admit I was a bit disappointed.  The Reformation’s ties to the iconoclastic heresy stripped it of its grandeur.  I did stumble on a beautiful church in an alley in downtown Dublin.  It was  nothing to look at on the outside, but on the inside it was incredible.  It was in the baroque style, with marble pillars, beautiful paintings, and gold. Christ is the King of the Universe after all.
I do have to admit that in many of my travels in Europe I was disappointed by the beauty that was destroyed by the Reformation.  Remember, I hold a Catholic worldview.  The churches of the Netherlands were cold and bare, completely stripped of their former beauty. It was the same in many of England’s churches, except those that were High Church Anglican.
While in Bruges you can see Michelangelo's Madonna and then get the most incredible chocolate you have ever tasted.
While in Bruges you can see Michelangelo’s Madonna and then get the most incredible chocolate you have ever tasted.
I went to Bruges, Belgium a few days after Blessed John Paul II passed away.  It was a time of great sadness for the Church.  I went to the cathedral to see Michelangelo’s Madonna.  It was stunning.  The church itself had high arches, stained glass, artwork, and gold everywhere.  It lifted me up.  It reminded me of Heaven, which is exactly what beauty is supposed to do.  It refreshed me after being so appalled by Amsterdam. The only part of that city I enjoyed, was a sad part, Anne Frank’s house.
My time overseas was  cut short, so I did not make it to Rome.  My husband lived in Spain for a semester, so he was able to go to Fatima, Portugal and Rome.  Two places I would love to visit.  Some day we will make it back to Europe and take our daughter.
The trip that amazed me the most was my trip to Paris.  I had never had much interest in going to France.  I had heard too many horror stories and to be quite honest, I was pretty ignorant of French culture.  I decided to go on a weekend trip with one of my co-workers.  It ended up being one of the best trips I ever took in Europe.  Paris is beautiful.  It is unbelievably so.  The architecture, the Seine, the people.  It is an incredible city.  And you know what?  I never had any issues.  The key is to be humble when you are traveling in someone else’s homeland.  I only know a few words of French, but I used them, and it was appreciated.
I am not much of a shopper.  I would rather go to art museums and churches, than shop.  We went to Notre Dame first.  It was very crowded and somewhat chaotic.  There was not much room for reverence.  They were out of English brochures on the cathedral’s history, so I had to take one in Russian.  It is a gothic cathedral so it is very similar to a lot of the cathedrals that I had been to.  We heard about another church that was nearby called Sainte Chapelle.  We decided to check it out.
Sainte Chapelle, where "wow" can't even come close.
Sainte Chapelle, where “wow” can’t even come close.
When we arrived there was a line.  They only allowed a few people in at a time.  We decided to wait.  It was worth it.  When we went in, we walked up a narrow winding staircase.  If you have been to Europe, you know what I am talking about.  We then entered the sanctuary.  It was bare and open, but all around, in 360 degrees, was floor to ceiling stained glass.  I was in awe.  It is difficult for the senses to even fully discern such glory.  This was something to marvel at.  This is a defining moment for me in my travels.
Human beings are made to marvel and to worship. If we do not find God, we worship false idols like money, power, sex, etc.  When we do not have beauty to admire and marvel at we become empty and bored.  That is why so many American cities are just overwhelming, not beautiful.  Architecture has lost its connection with its roots. Art and architecture are meant to inspire, to show us what it means to be human, to worship, to create with the Creator.
We see this beauty in nature too, but it is incredible to see what man is capable of when his focus is on Christ.  The Catholic Church is the largest protector of the arts in the world.  Why?  Because we understand how beauty brings about conversion.  Marveling at something greater than us, brings us to God’s door.  It reminds us that there is something more than what we see daily.  We need to get outside of ourselves, and beauty lifts us up to new heights.
You would not know it thanks to modern architecture, but Vatican II affirms the necessity and use of sacred art.  Beauty is essential in the worship of Christ.  We are stepping into the Heavenly Liturgy at Mass, not a football game.  The senses need help being transported.  That is one of the purposes of stained glass, statues, candles, incense, gold, paintings, etc.  Not to mention that the Old Testament affirms God’s request for us to use beauty.  The Ark of the Covenant, was beautiful and included statues, gold, etc.,  hence the use of gold in our Tabernacles.  To lift us up.  Mass is a vertical expression, not a horizontal one.
A depiction of the Ark of the Covenant.  Look familiar, fellow Catholics?
A depiction of the Ark of the Covenant. Look familiar, fellow Catholics?
When was the last time you marveled at something?  Are you feeling overburdened by the world?  Make a point of seeking out beauty.  It will leave you refreshed and more focused on Our Lord.

Flow

I have learned a lot about writing in the last two days.  I have had the most intense days of writing that I have ever experienced.  Characters pressed themselves upon me and I had to put pen to page, literally.  I have written 36 pages by hand in two days.  Not only that, I have written fiction.  While I have had occasional ideas for a short story or a novel, I usually brush them off and assume that if I am going to be a writer it will be non-fiction.  Then all of a sudden a character told me her name, and I began to understand what previous authors have said about characters introducing themselves.  I was a medium for the characters to tell their stories.

 
Writing is an art form.  It is a way to create, bring beauty, and truth to the world.  The will cannot impose itself on the writing.  The will is driven by the ego and pride.  I am not meaning to sound Freudian here.  What I mean is that when I over think what I am doing, the flow of ideas stops.  When I start to think about what I am actually doing, I start to tell the character how the story should go.  In order to be truly free in writing, I have to let my imagination run free and allow the character to tell me the story.  It is a strange and wonderful experience. 
 
When I had two short stories written, in a rough draft form, I was amazed.  Two very different pieces with one underlying theme: Love.  Not the romantic love that our society holds up as the ultimate good.  No real, authentic Love.  The laying down of one’s life for another.  The choosing of good for another even in the face of death.  I now understand how it hurts the writer when a character dies.  I never imagined that I would write a novel that contained martyrs.  I have the story started, now to fill in the rest.  I was heart-broken by the end of it.  While I let the ideas flow, they are mixed with my own life experience.  Some of the characters have traits of people I know or have known.  Some of the characters are my idea of how people I have known could be truly great.  Many experience the power of conversion, which leads to sacrifice.
 
My way of seeing the world is a Catholic one.  There is no way to change that.  History, current events, the everyday, is seen through they eyes of one who has chosen the hard path of following Jesus Christ.  As Christ promised, history has not been kind to his followers, and the future will not be kind to them either.  While the novel I am working on has not yet happened, it could.  It is my very real, deepest fears come to life on paper.  Those fears are redeemed in the story of salvation.
 
When I told a couple of friends and my husband about the two short stories, they all agreed that I needed to turn at least one into a novel.  When we got home and I asked my husband his thoughts. He said that he was taken aback.  The story mirrors our life, and yet is not our life.  He knows that it is the fears that I keep in my heart as a Catholic, wife, and mother.  He was amazed that I would actually write it down knowing that it must have been difficult for me.  The thing is that the main character is me and is not me.  The other characters are my family, friends, or people from my past, but not them at the same time.  It is how I imagine them, it is them in a very different lifetime, or how I imagine some of their traits built up in one person.
 
The story is full of suspense, betrayal, pain, violence, but great hope and redemption.  It is the human story, in all of its brokenness.  Redemption in the darkest of hours.  I move onto the next phase with fear and trembling.  If I think about it too much my insecurities come out.  As I write, I constantly hear that voice telling me that it is garbage, pointless, that I should not be writing anything.  That is when the will has to come into play and push passed the criticism.  I have been criticized for my writing in the past.  I have learned that I can not show some of my work to certain people because they just will not understand.  I have become more selective with age.  For now I will see where the characters lead me and try to enjoy the journey.  Keep writing!!!