02 AM | 01 Jul

Writing update 6/30/13 – 60K Words!

It’s been a good sprint. Just today, I reached 60,240 words, which is a significant point: 60K words is the minimum length to be considered a novel. I’ve finally written a novel’s worth of information!

Well, at least half a novel. Of 29 planned scenes, I’ve now written 15, leaving 14 to go. I may be halfway done, but I’ve noticed two trends in my writing. 1) I’ve added scenes that I didn’t anticipate as I’ve seen fit, but I’ve never removed any, and 2) I’m getting more and more long-winded. I’m still guessing the final product will be around 110K words.

The last few chapters have been tough. I was able to put a plan together for every single scene I was writing except for three. I’ve now finished two of those three, the next will be completed next week. I’ve been pleased with how those two worked out – just yesterday, I started with a very rudimentary idea of what I was going to do, and finished with 9K words of a scene I am very proud of. It’s amazing how the story unfolds in front of you as you tell it.

I’m planning on two scenes over the next two weeks. The next, as I said before, I’m not quite clear on, but I have general ideas and hopefully some research during the week with give me proper direction. It should be semi-smooth sailing after that; I know exactly where this novel is going. I’m incredibly excited to see this thing finally finished. I hope other people will be as well, but either way, I am proud of what I’m accomplishing.

04 PM | 15 Jun

Reading the Bible in light of the Greatest Commandment

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 33:36-40

I probably read those verses a thousand times in my life without understanding their full implication. I always saw them for the importance that Jesus placed on love – loving God, loving others – but it pretty much ended there. Just another bunch of verses in the entirety of the bible, standing alone.

Years ago, though, I read “The Jesus Creed” by Scot McKnight, and it has utterly changed my view of this text. Note the last line – ‘All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments’. That’s a huge statement, and deserves some unpacking.

First, note that it doesn’t contain any exclusions. To obey the law, to follow the prophets, is to love God and others. Said another way, if anyone tries to obey the law without loving others – or, more directly, obey the law in a way that actively harms others – they are doing it wrong. So many times in the Gospels, Jesus is confronted by Pharisees doing the Biblical, lawful thing, and Jesus berates them because they are using the law to justify mistreatment of other people. For Jesus, the heart behind the law is more critical than the law itself. We are no less guilty than the Pharisees were when we make the same mistake.

Let’s take this even one step farther, though. If all of the law and prophets hinge on those two commandments, then we can also assume that every single law in the bible has to be read the same way. In other words, when reading biblical law or books of Prophecy, they become the interpretive filter by which we must use to decipher their meaning. (Note that I’d exclude history and poetry from this, not because they aren’t part of God’s imperative to love, but because the former is reporting events that may or may not be positive expressions of God’s will, and the latter in some cases is expressing human emotion and not a command).

I’ll be the first to admit that interpreting law in terms of loving others is not always easy. Consider the following verse:

“Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” – Exodus 21:20-21

Two things stand out here. First, the bible seems to be implicitly endorsing slavery and the idea that a person can be another person’s property. Second, it seems to explicitly endorse the idea that a slave can be beaten to almost the point of death. Such things are abhorrent now; and if God’s morality is unchanging through time, how can we possibly feel that if God endorse such things thousands of years ago, they are wrong today?

Not to mention, a slave is an “other’. How can we possibly interpret this verse in light of loving others when it’s very obvious that beating someone else to the point of death is hardly loving them? How do we make sense of this?

I think the answer lies in how we interpret the bible, and even the nature of inspiration. If we believe that the biblical authors were simply dictating the words of God, then those words belong to God and must be universal and timeless. We really don’t have much of a choice but to accept their truth, even in modern times. Things like cultural differences cannot be called into play because God surpasses culture.

Let’s consider an alternative, though. Let’s say God’s inspiration is not the placing of words into the author’s mind, but the placing of ideas. Through experience and gentle guiding, God ensures that the author is in a place where they become inspired to write what God wants them to write, in their own words and using their own knowledge and life experience to do so. The words aren’t God’s, the ideas are; and if that’s the case, then it’s the ideas behind the words that become of prime importance.

This isn’t such a wild idea and is supported by the bible itself. Luke talks of an extensive interview process as he gathered information to write Luke and Acts. John says he’s testifying to everything he saw. Even Paul inserts his own “asides”, where he expresses personal opinion. If you think about it, words are incredibly hard to translate at times. The bible was written for all people of all cultures and languages, for all times. Our impetus as Christians is to take the gospel to others, not to bring them here, which supports the idea that we take the bible to other languages rather than forcing Christians to learn another language in order to read scripture. Words are next to impossible to universally translate, but ideas are much easier. Ideas play to universal truths in a way that phrases never can.

If this is the case, then it should drive how we read the bible. If ideas are more important than words, then this means that book, chapters and paragraphs are more important than verses. To understand a verse isn’t to understand what it means by itself but what it means in context around it. And, to properly understand the context, one must view the words in light of the cultures in which they were written, where an author writing from his own worldview is using terms he understands in which to express the ideas God had placed inside him. Please don’t misunderstand, what is being said expresses exactly what God wants it to.

So, this brings us back to our verse in Exodus. How is this seen in light of what I have just said? Well, the words would belong to the man that wrote them. A man for whom God had put on his heart a concern for the conditions of the society he saw around him. A concern for those who could not protect themselves. Obviously, people beating their slaves to death was a problem, and the intent here is to fix that problem. It is the correcting of a social ill by someone who is still a product of his society; he’s not a 21st-century American who has thousands of years of history behind him revealing the evils of slavery and the promise of freedom, but a contemporary of a society in which the freedoms we enjoy are not even a remote possibility yet.

And what are we to learn? That everybody is a child of God, a human being created in God’s image worthy of our protection and concern. That rings true for all people, all languages, all cultures and for all time.

01 PM | 15 Jun

Not Forgotten: Writing Update 6-15-2013

It’s been a long time since my last writing update. It’s not for lack of writing, thankfully, just a lack of blogging. With trips out of town and other responsibilities over the weekends, I wasn’t able to be as productive as I’d wanted, but I was still able to get some writing done. I’ve also suffered with some burnout and writer’s block.

I’m sitting at 45,000 words right now. I expect the final length (before editing) will be around 110 words, so I’m getting close to halfway done. The rest of the book is mapped out and lightly outlined chapter-by-chapter; only a few holes are left to fill.

Unfortunately, I find myself at one such point this weekend. I had the first third of the book planned out, and the last third of the book  is very clear to me. The middle third has been tough – it’s where the major conflict occurs and key to the story, and I know the flow I need but am unsure of the exact content of some of the individual scenes. I’ve been trying to come up with an idea for two weeks now, unsuccessfully. I’m unable to write much this weekend; if I don’t come up with a more solid plan by next weekend, I may have to skip forward a few chapters and start writing from there.

I’m still on track for finishing the first draft by the end of the year. I can’t wait to be done!


11 AM | 30 Apr

Writing Update 4-30-20123

When I left off last sprint, I didn’t know exactly what the next chapter would comprise. You see, some scenes are important, a part of the plan from the beginning. Sometimes, however, you need to get a character from point A to point B. This was one of those latter weeks. I had a skeleton of an idea, but couldn’t figure out how to make it relevant. After three days of reflection, however, a stroke of inspiration hit! I have not finished the scene, but I seem to have gotten over that hump.

In the absence of actual writing, I found plenty to do to stay busy on my novel. I read through my existing work and edited it. I finally wrote down notes of future scenes and characters that have been swirling nowhere but my head. I also organized my ideas into a coherent whole, mapping the book scene-by-scene, so now I have an idea of how long the book will be and what scenes I still need to devise to fill the holes.

One useful tool I found is Aeon Timeline, a decent tool for developing multi-arc timelines for novels. By mapping out the events in my novel this way, I determined that some of my dates and times were impossible, and I was able to go back and fix them. It’s really easy to get lost in the flow of writing, so having a simple tool like this makes a big difference.

Finally, I’ve committed to using Scrivener to build the manuscript for my novel. It has its weaknesses, but it’s proven invaluable in organizing and building my project. I can even compile to formats readable on the Kindle and Nook.

I’d call this sprint a minor success. I’ve added about 5,000 words – less than half of the output of my last two sprints – but the organizational work puts me ahead in other ways. The entire book is now sitting at just under 30,000 words. With my new plan I think the end product will be somewhere between 100,000 to 120,000 words in length, so I’m making good progress towards my end-of-year completion date for the first draft.

Upcoming sprint: writing, writing, writing. I want to finish writing the current scene plus two more, comprising the next chapter. Fortunately, the next two scenes should be a little easier than the last one was.

09 PM | 14 Apr

Great Progress – Writing Update 4-14-13

What a great few weeks! I’ve been very productive this sprint, completing and editing two chapters. My current word count is ~22,000 – the average first-time writer’s novel runs around 100,000 words, or 300 pages, and that’s what I’m shooting for.

One large positive was that I changed software this sprint. I had used Open Office, a free alternative to Microsoft Word, but I was starting to have problems with organization. My chapters were in separate files, making it difficult to swap from one to the other easily, and my notes were all over the place. I am evaluating an application called Scrivener, which combines a decent editor with great organizational tools. It gives me tools for creating easily accessible notes for character, location and other things. It uses a hierarchical project list for chapters and notes making it similar to using a programming IDE (integrated development environment). It may not make me write better, but it allows easier access to all the elements of my story and helps me to organize things, and that helps me to write faster. I can concentrate on the writing. It has a few downsides – it uses a proprietary file format that I can’t view on my mobile devices. I can export files from it, of course, but that requires an extra step I shouldn’t have to take. It would be preferable if the elements were broken out into separate files. It also has a few bugs, for instance a crash when I tried to use the integrated thesaurus. I have a few other apps to look at before I decide, but I’ll probably buy the full version soon.

Another positive is that my first draft writing is getting better. I find that I have less editing to do the more that I write. This was, of course, expected, as the only way to get better at writing is to write.

I can’t think of any negatives this time, other than I wish I could write faster. There is only so much time I can spend, and I’m often stuck between writing my current chapter or organizing my thoughts on future chapters so I won’t lose them. Yeah, I know, first world problem.

Some random thoughts before I go:

  • Wow, this book is really personal. I’ve distanced it enough from my life that it isn’t about me, but it’s what I could be. I don’t want to offend family or friends who think some character is them or modeled after them. It’s very hard to draw a line between something the story needs and the realities that drive my thinking. I guess what I’m saying is, I apologize in advance.
  • For the first time since I started, I don’t have a clear idea of my next chapter. I have some rework to do – some of the later story is forcing changes in earlier chapters. I’ve got some planning to do, though, or I’ll need to work on the chapters out-of-order.

Onwards and upwards!