If Tea Can't Fix It, It's a Real Problem

29 October 2012

My darling sister (who does a much better job of regularly updating her blog, I might add) came up with a NaNoWriMo Surviver Plan, and the idea was such a brilliant one that I decided to foll
ow suit. With this being my third year of participating in NaNo, I feel that I have a better idea of what to expect than in years past. I hope the following tips are helpful to those of you who are participating this year (only 3 more days!). Also, keep in mind that I am not an expert on this subject and am only attempting to piece together bits of what I've learned over the years. Any advice you would like to share in the comments is always appreciated!

A Guide to Surviving NaNoWriMo (and coming out alive)

Prepare in advance. Trying to write 50,000 words with only shreds of a plot may be possible — and I'm sure some have done it successfully before — but it's not a route I would recommend. Use your spare time prior to NaNo to outline, research, craft your characters, brainstorm, and do everything else necessary to prepare yourself. By the time November rolls around, you'll feel much more prepared to dive in with both feet.

Dicipline yourself. The best way to write (especially when participating in NaNo) is to maintain some semblance of normality. Falling behind just two or three days can heighten your word-count goal alarmingly and give you fleeting thoughts of hand-wringing and hair-pulling. Writing a little each day  keeps your daily goal in bite-size pieces, and is much more effective than taking a break and spending all the next day pounding out 7,000 words that you'll regret later on. If you have to get up earlier or stay up later in order to keep on schedule, do so. The alternative is not a pretty one.

Don't stress over word count. Last year I made my word count my primary focus, and the writing that resulted was not to my satisfaction. Focus on your story, your characters, and your plot, and let the word count sort itself out. After all, when November is over and the luster of glory has dulled, will you take more pride in 25,000 words of brilliance or 50,000 words badly in need of editing?

Drink tea and talk of happy things. Everyone needs a break from writing once in a while, especially when they've already been at it for a long time with few results. Taking a few well-timed breaks for a walk, a cup of tea, or some lively conversation is often just the remedy needed to put the roses back in your cheeks. You'll come back to your work feeling greatly rejuvenated.

How do you plan on making it through NaNo?

Poem of the Week: Holy Sonnet 14 by John Donne

26 October 2012

simply beautiful.
We recently studied this poem in my tutorial's literature class, and the vivid vocabulary and desperate undertone are so potent that I felt the need to share it this morning. The author's words echo those of every Christian: he seeks to love and be loved by God, but he finds himself still chained to the wiles of the Devil. He begs that the Lord release him from his fetters and enthrall him once more. The lines cut to my heart with the salty taste of guilt. Too often have I ignored God's will in my life and pleased only  myself. It is my prayer that He will draw me closer to him, break the ties of sin that bind me, and draw me into His heavenly embrace.

Holy Sonnet 14
By John Donne

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

What poems have inspired you as of late? Feel free to link up below and share the verses that make your heart soar.

Sunday Blessings

21 October 2012

in the fields
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

— "O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus" by S. Trevor Francis (words) and Thomas J. Willams (music)

Blessings on your Sunday, ladies!
"But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth." — Psalm 86:15

Book Review: The Soldier's Cross by Abigail J. Hartman

15 October 2012

The story of Henry V, the Hundred Years War, and the Battle of Agincourt in particular all hold a special place in my heart. From a young age, I can recall my father reciting the St. Crispin's Day Speech from Shakespeare's play with great vim and vigor at nearly all times of the day. I feigned annoyance for a time, but soon found the vivid words working themselves into my soul. Now I and many of my family members can recite the speech on our own, and Kenneth Branagh's edition of Henry V remains one of our favorite films. So when I heard that the brilliant Abigail* herself had written a book based during this period, I couldn't keep myself from purchasing a copy.

The Soldier's Cross
By Abigail J. Hartman
*Summary taken from the back of the book
(For more information, visit the book's website.)

The Soldier's Cross
1415 A.D.

Fiona's world is a carefully built castle in the air, made up of the fancies, wishes, and memories of her childhood. It begins to crumble as she watches her brother march away to join in the English invasion of France. It falls to pieces when he is brought home dead.

Robbed of the one dearest to her and alone in the world, Fiona turns to her brother's silver cross in search of the peace he said it would bring. But when she finds it missing, she swears she will have it and sets out on a journey across the Channel and war-ravaged France to regain it and find the peace it carries.

My Thoughts: What I loved best about both this book and Jenny's Shadow Things was how much more there is to each story than originally hinted. The original theme is kept, but the story possesses such depth and so many characters that I never imagined when I first set out to read it. As each layer is pealed back, there is another more beautiful one found beneath, and every gossamer sheath is threaded with the rest so that no piece feels out of place.

But Abigail's talent for word-crafting goes far beyond that. Nearly every scene she writes, every small conversation, every slight glance has the potential to be brought back into the story at a later point. This gives The Soldier's Cross a comfortable feeling of completeness, and though the book may sway to a separate path for a time, it always bears weight later on.

My favorite characters, undoubtably, were French Pierre and his mute Germanic wife, Leah. Pierre is boyish still, a child in men's clothing, but he struggles to act like a grown man, which often gives him the appearance of haughtiness. Leah's beautiful spirit and gentle nature make her far more eloquent than most, despite her inability to form words with her tongue. Their marriage was not one of choice — Pierre was tricked into marrying Leah by her brother — but over time their love grows and puts vein-like cracks in the ice between them. Fiona's time in Gallandon was the part of the story that I loved best because of this.

Pros: Abigail could well be considered a talented writer in any sphere, and I found her book to be better written than several historical novels by veteran adult authors. I was expecting it to be good; what I was not expecting was just how good. The Soldier's Cross drew me in with its wonderful description, memorable characters, and riveting plot. I now want to recommend it to nearly everyone I know.

Cons: The scenes in the convent when Fiona is undergoing her conversion were rather formal and stiff at times. I understand that much of this was new to Fiona, and we are seeing the story through her eyes, but the Mother Superior still made Christianity sound a bit like a grim list of rules. We as the reader hear much about Jesus and His crucifixtion on the cross — it is the center of the story, after all — but I would have loved more detail on the grace and love involved in His sacrifice.

(There are a few instances of swearing, as well as some described bloodshed. One woman asks Fiona if she is a "woman of the world", but does not go into further detail about what that entails. I don't consider these to necessarily be cons, but I'm including them here so that they might be acknowledged just the same.)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I recommend this book for ages 12+

A Bit O' Reading For the Day:
"God has arranged strange ways for some of us to find him." — The Soldier's Cross, chapter 29
*I hosted Abigail for an author interview on Literary Lane several months ago. To read it, click here.

Sunday Blessings

14 October 2012

How deep the Father's love for us 
How vast beyond all measure 
That He would give His only Son 
To make a wretch His treasure 

How great the pain of searing loss 
The Father turns His face away 
As wounds which mar the chosen One 
Bring many sons to glory 

Behold the Man upon a cross 
My guilt upon His shoulders 
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice 
Call out among the scoffers 

It was my sin that held Him there 
Until it was accomplished 
His dying breath has brought me life 
I know that it is finished 

I will not boast in anything 
No gifts, no powr's, no wisdom 
But I will boast in Jesus Christ 
His death and resurrection 

Why should I gain from His reward? 
I cannot give an answer 
But this I know with all my heart 
His wounds have paid my ransom.

— "How Deep the Father's Love For Us"

Have a beautiful Lord's Day, dear ladies!
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." — Romans 5:8

Poem of the Week: An Autumn Evening by L.M. Montgomery

12 October 2012

Gathering Autumn Joys by Breezy Brookshire
Autumn has been featuring prominently in many poems I've shared lately, as I'm sure you've noticed. I'm terribly sorry, but I can't seem to help it. Autumn is the amber-gem in the year's woven crown, and nothing thrills my soul so much as poetry about bonfires, crunching leaves, azure skies, and mugs of tea to warm chill fingers. With that thought in mind, I hope you enjoy our dear Lucy Maud Montgomery's tribute to this golden time of year.

An Autumn Evening
By L.M. Montgomery

Dark hills against a hollow crocus sky
Scarfed with its crimson pennons, and below 
The dome of sunset long, hushed valleys lie
Cradling the twilight, where the lone winds blow 
And wake among the harps of leafless trees 
Fantastic runes and mournful melodies. 

The chilly purple air is threaded through
With silver from the rising moon afar, 
And from a gulf of clear, unfathomed blue
In the southwest glimmers a great gold star 
Above the darkening druid glens of fir 
Where beckoning boughs and elfin voices stir. 

And so I wander through the shadows still,
And look and listen with a rapt delight, 
Pausing again and yet again at will
To drink the elusive beauty of the night, 
Until my soul is filled, as some deep cup, 
That with divine enchantment is brimmed up.

Be sure to link up with your poems below!

Starting Somewhere

08 October 2012

“Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
alice in wonderland

I need only mention the words "National Novel Writing Month," and a flurry of opinions swirl around me in a blinding hurricane. Some authors swear their lives on it, saying this thirty-day span of mad scribbling is the only true incentive to get writing. Others relentlessly oppose the quantity over quality mindset. And as is often the case, the amount of varying viewpoints can be so overwelming that they leave me claiming no more than hesitant middle ground.

For those of you not in the know, November is considered National Novel Writing Month (affectionately dubbed NaNoWriMo), and for thirty days, writers all over the globe race the clock and down copious cups of tea in order to type out 50,000 words before December 1st. The idea is rather frightening and exhilerating at once, and few make it to December with the same amount of hair with which they began, but the prospect of seeing the progress bar on the Nano website change from blue to purple is motivation enough.

In 2010, I tried to complete NaNoWriMo with my in-process draft of Violets Are Blue. It was my first year to accept the challenge, and as a naive young writer, I wasn't quite aware of the willpower it takes to push through to the end. Nor was I accustomed with the massive amount of time it can take to get caught up when you're behind.

The results weren't attractive. I'll simply state that I didn't win and spare you the gory details.

In 2011, I began a new novel (read more about it here). There is a very good reason you haven't heard it mentioned here since. Though my Nano 2011 novel had one of the most thorough plots I've ever written and was quite excessively outlined, a combination of procrastination at the start and anxiety towards the end forced me to value quantity over quality. The draft has not been touched since then, and I still cringe at its current state. Were I to complete the book and apply the iron fist of editing to my Word document, I could probably produce a reasonable story. But at the moment, it remains hidden among my other half-finished works.

When November 30th came and went last year, I swore I would never take part in NaNoWriMo again. It was too stressful, and the pressure did not bring out my best writing skills. On top of that, I had a rather hefty schedule for both school and dance last year, and Nano on top of all that was more than I could handle. It was doable — I finished successfully, after all — but not the best choice.

Having tried this mad endeavor with both a partially-started book and a new idea, I feel that I have a much more rounded opinion of the program in general. I've debated with myself for months over whether or not I should cast my lot with my fellow novelists this November, and to the disgust of my common sense, the writer in me simply cannot refuse the chance.

I'll be competing with Rifles in the South Field, which has advantages over both of my previous Nano novels. I've gotten past the troubling Chapter I, and I know where I'm going, but I haven't written a great deal as of yet. There is still plenty of room for all those plot bunnies that November loves to throw at me, and December is time enough to edit out the unneeded ones.

For me, the key to succeeding with Nano is perserverance. I have a terrible problem with procrastination at times (especially when my writing won't flow like I want it to), and procrastination is what made Nano 2010 horrendous and Nano 2011 almost unbearable. I'm going to write as regularly as I can, but I'm not throwing quality out the window. In 2010, I stopped NaNoWriMo because I saw the quality of Violets Are Blue going downhill, and now I have a published book to show for it. I won Nano with my 2011 novel, and it may never see the light of day. I've learned through experience that I take more pride in writing one hundred good words than one thousand so-so ones.

So when November rolls around (only 23 more days!), I'm going to treat it like any other writing project. I'll continue with Rifles, discipline myself to write regularly, and not stress over the progress bar. I realized last year that November can become a miserable month if I only focus on word-count. This year I plan to make it both productive and enjoyable.

Do you plan on doing NaNoWriMo this year?

Poem of the Week: October's Party by George Cooper

05 October 2012

Kelsey Garrity-Riley Illustration
October's Party
By George Cooper

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came-
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.

The Chestnuts came in yellow,
The Oaks in crimson dressed;
The lovely Misses Maple
In scarlet looked their best;
All balanced to their partners,
And gaily fluttered by;
The sight was like a rainbow
New fallen from the sky.

Then, in the rustic hollow,
At hide-and-seek they played,
The party closed at sundown,
And everybody stayed.
Professor Wind played louder;
They flew along the ground;
And then the party ended
In jolly "hands around."

Don't forget to link up with your poems below. :) Have a beautiful day!

Calling All Penslayers!

03 October 2012

I'm pretty picky when it comes to the books I'm willing to read. I don't require that they be written by a Christian author, but I wouldn't enjoy reading a book that opposed everything in which I believe. Something I've noticed over time is the definite line between believers and the world. It often leaves us as readers in a difficult position: either you read a book that's well-written and ignore the iffy content, or you make do with a sappy, I-saw-that-coming-from-a-mile-away read by a Christian author. There are many authors I could name who write nicely, even well — but not with a style that's particularly memorable. Finding someone who pens words that flair like a flame when the wind catches it is not something that happens every day. 

These two ladies are about to change that.

Two years ago, young authors Jenny Freitag and Abigail J. Hartman published their respective novels, The Shadow Things and The Soldier's Cross. I read (and adored) Shadow Things and I'm now in the process of finishing The Soldier's Cross. I wax lyrical recommend both books to nearly everyone with whom I come in contact. So when Jenny emailed me and said that she and Abigail are planning a grand and glorious blog party in celebration of the two-year anniversary, I could hardly contain my excitement.

This event is set to debut on November 1st, and will include giveaways, discussions, writerly fun, questions and answer sessions, Christmas ideas (it's not that far away, friends — can you believe it?), and much more. The best part? You can send out your questions for Jenny (sprigofbroom293@gmail.com) and Abigail (jeanne@squeakycleanreviews.com) anytime between today and the first of November. Time is of the essence, so get your questions sent as soon as possible.

In Little Women, Meg March dolefully titles November the most disagreeable month in the whole year. I happen to hold the opposite opinion. This November in particular has the makings of a rather memorable month, does it not?
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