On Writing

Titus 1 Interlinear

Titus 1 screen shot

Interlinear Text Download: Titus 1

Lately I’ve been working on interlinear texts from the Bible, as well as learning Hebrew and Greek (yeesh, what was I thinking?), with Titus chapter 1 being my most recent example.

I’m prone to working more with Hebrew, and in fact I’m more comfortable there.  Yet I felt the tug to work on something in the New Testament with the theme of leadership.  The book of Titus pulled me right in.

So far I’ve been fortunate to pick it up quickly and work with it, making it palatable as an original text with a transliteration (pronunciation guide) above the Greek and a direct translation below.

I feel the need to understand what good, honest leadership looks like because it seems to me that we’ve been lacking it across the board in every strata of society, and especially within the church.

Chapter 1 of Titus is interesting because the first half focuses on how to appoint leaders who seek what is truly good, not giving it lip service alone.  The second half discusses how to correct and rebuke those who fail to do good.  Both of these things are extremely important as leaders are indeed held to a higher standard because they are to set an example with their lives.

When leaders fail to set a proper example, they fail to lead.

Please enjoy this.  I’m an amateur wading into deep waters, but I’m always happy to receive any comments or suggestions for correction (for those schooled in Greek).

Blessings!

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Working With…Hebrew?

by Photos8.com

by Photos8.com

Interlinear Text Download: Psalm 73

Apologies for the radio silence over the last year.  God has been very much so at work in our lives doing some new things and He asked me to lay down writing fiction (for now).  So far, we’ve moved north to Bellingham and I’m working for the Bellingham/Whatcom County Housing Authority, providing housing for the elderly, disabled, and families with low incomes.  I’m truly blessed to be serving in such a meaningful way.  Our family has settled very well and we are all able to finally BREATHE.

I’ve had questions from several friends lately, wondering if I’m still writing and what it is I’m doing…

Some of you may know that I’ve been studying Hebrew for the last few years.  It is a truly beautiful language and my heart grows continually as I discover new insights and wisdom while immersed in the Tanach (Old Testament).  In the last year I discovered the Psalms of Asaph (Psalms 50 & 73-83 are attributed to him).  I’ve been touched by Asaph’s raw prayers, full of both anguish and praise.

I think of life on this side of eternity…filled with anguish and praise.  There is so much pain in this life and yet there is also so much for which I have hope.  I don’t hope to be rich.  I don’t hope to be powerful.  I don’t hope to have a mansion, or a large following, or even to be happy.

I hope for completion…something which cannot happen in this life, but my relationship with my Creator assures me of it when He returns or chooses to bring me home.

In any case, I have been using the Psalms as a guide to learn how to pray and give praise.  As in all things when it comes to God, it’s always about the relationship.

Attached is my attempt at an interlinear study starting with Psalm 73.  I hope to complete all of the Psalms of Asaph and collect them in to a volume.  But for now I’m happy to share this with you.

Sidebar: if any of you readers out there happen to be acquainted with Hebrew and spot a need for correction, don’t hesitate to reach out to me through the contact page.  

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Writing Tip: Natural Dialogue

Have you ever read a book where the dialogue was stilted, unrealistic, and unconvincing?  I’ve seen this happen all the time, and more often than not I end up delivering the book posthaste to my neighborhood used bookstore…unfinished.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t begrudge these writers of their efforts because truly natural dialogue–whether internal or external–is difficult to achieve in even the best stories.  However it can be glaringly obvious when it’s stiff and can dead-stop story momentum.

So what are the tricks of the trade to writing good conversation?  Start by having one–with yourself!  We all do it whether we are alone in the car, waiting in line at the grocery store, or simply lying awake at night in bed.  The conversation we each have with our own internal characters: friends, family members, our own soul or even with God.  Use these conversations as cues for how to write natural dialogue because you are already doing so on your own.  Make mental notes about what you’re talking about, to whom your talking, and even the kinds of words or terms you use on your own inside your noggin.

What do you do when you can’t get anything going on the screen?  When I’m particularly stuck, I go to a lined pad of yellow paper and begin jotting down the conversation as if I were looking at the script of a play; I try to be honest about the conversation as I write it down and it tends to come out naturally.  Often I end up laughing at myself (I’m easily amused).

Be willing to go wherever the conversation leads.  Let it be quirky.  Let it be open.  Let it be honest.  But most of all just let it be you.

Below is a sample from my book OLDE MYSTERIUM, and the types of conversations my characters have with each other…and in my head:

____________________________________________

“May I help you?”

The voice startled Daniel and he turned to see a man with wisps of white hair sticking out over his ears and circling around his bald, brown pate. The man was old and yet his frail frame did nothing to hide the vibrancy behind his black eyes. Daniel could not tell what his accent was, but guessed it was Middle Eastern.

“What?” Dan said.

“Are you looking for something containing the great mysteries?” the man said, motioning to the rack of books in front of them.

“Uh, not really. No.”

The man nodded. His thin hair waving, as if by a breeze. “Understandable. People today are far more concerned with the next football game or the next movie release…or the next great getaway from the drabness of life. The search for entertainment overcoming the search for knowledge. So what are you looking for?”

“Actually I was just curious. What is this place?” Dan asked.

The man’s thin hand waved over the store. “This is a lifetime of collected knowledge. The secrets of the ages.”

Daniel’s spine tensed, feeling uncomfortable but his curiosity nagged onward. “You’ve read every book in here?”

The man nodded. “Most of them twice.”

“Wow.” Daniel scratched his chin. “So what do they say?”

The old man’s smile was slightly wolfish. “Nothing mostly. Every book in here contains small gems of wisdom buried within pages of rubbish. Every book except one.”

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Writing Tip: Tortoise vs. Hare

When it comes to writing anything of length, it’s good to set a consistent pace as a guide for momentum.  Perhaps you’re an athlete at the keyboard and your fingers can pound out 200wpm; or more likely, if you’re like me, it’s a fraction of that speed (a small fraction).  I have to remind myself that speed doesn’t matter…quality does.

If I don’t have much time to write, but can find any brief moment in my day, I tend to set a one-page goal to accomplish.  It’s not much and can feel like being a tortoise instead of a hare, but it’s momentum nonetheless and can prevent stagnation.  Yet I do find that once I’ve accomplished a single page, the momentum can reinforce motivation and I tend to keep going for a few to several more pages.  But it all starts with a simple goal: just one page today.

Of course the flip-side is simply if I can only get one darn page in, then I’ve accomplished my goal and continued the pace.  It’s good.  I can move on and let the rest of my day take it’s course.  Sound crazy?  It works.

In the past I’ve also tried the speed route: trying to get in as much as humanly possible; to write that book and get it done–posthaste!  Truth be told, I encourage other writers not to race.  It may work for a lucky few who have the skills of courtroom transcribers, but for the most part it will burn out even the heartiest writer and cause a white-hot idea to fizzle.  Whenever I’ve done this, everything crumbles for me and the project ends up being scrapped because I end up tired, unmotivated, and the quality is less than acceptable.

So for all of you writers out there: don’t be afraid to be the tortoise.  Writing’s not a race; the only way any writer wins is not by finishing quickly, but finishing well.

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Engineered For Eternity

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An Excerpt from Olde Mysterium:

Saba closed his eyes and breathed deep. “My time here on this earth is coming quickly to a close. Oh how fast it has fled me. Have you ever wondered at how people are engineered for eternity?…I have never met an old man that didn’t wish he could live longer. Eighty years. Ninety years. Even a century old. It doesn’t matter. We might want to go to end the pain but never because we are finished with life. The human spirit is engineered to want to live. To live forever. We don’t understand it. I don’t understand it because our experience on this earth is designed to be finite. Everything here has an expiration date except the human spirit.”

Saba’s face pulled taut into a mass of wrinkles for a moment but then subsided. Daniel offered to go find a nurse but the old man protested, keeping his grip firm on his son’s hand. “Will you do something for me?”

Daniel nodded. “Absolutely. Anything you want.”

“Kneel by my bedside.”

—————————————————————

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;’” ~John 11:24-26

The sun sets only to rise again. Plants die off in Winter only to reemerge in Spring. Among the many things in our existence that point to life beyond the grave, I would have to admit that one of the strongest arguments for me personally is the human will to live. Nobody wants to grow old. Nobody wants to grow infirm. And nobody wants to die. For the soldier surrounded by the enemy and the guilty man on death row each must face their fate, but neither of them wish for it. We inhabit finite bodies and exist in a broken world. Death comes to us all in this life but we don’t want it. The human desire for life is infinite and we are each engineered for eternity. And eternity is a gift given to each of us…should we so choose to accept it.

I often ponder upon the idea that this life is very much like being in utero and upon death we are reborn into the reality we were originally designed to inhabit…if only we would follow the One who breathed life into us. Are you engineered for eternity?

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

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A Conversation Between Authors

Last night a very challenging question was posed to me by my good friend and fellow author, Tina Bustamante.  What follows below is the chain of conversation we shared beginning with the original challenge and followed by our responses to each other.  Tina’s first book AS WATERS GONE BY is due to come out in November, and trust me, it’s an excellent read.  Please feel free to visit her and read about her adventures living in Chile: tinabustamante.com.  I received her permission to share this conversation and so I hope it will be encouraging to all of you who read it.

_________________________________________________________

 My dear friend Doug,

Okay … here’s a very direct question and one you need to be very honest about with me. What is your hope with your writing career? Are you hoping to write more books? Make a living at it eventually? Or are you loving the idea of writing a novel every few years and keeping it containable? Please tell.

I ask because if you want to build up a readership and grow your platform … you need twitter and all those other media things to give you a platform. But you seem reluctant, so I’m trying to understand.

Talk to you soon.

Tina

***

Tina,

You are a very good friend and I appreciate your direct and pointed questions. To drive the point directly home, it would be best to simply state that I’ve chosen a God-driven path, not a career-driven path. Other books I’ve written were meant to drive toward a writing career, and by all accounts they should have been picked up as I observed the reading market and recognized gaping holes that needed to be filled; I had meticulously plotted, written, and edited the books; I studiously hand selected appropriate agents, categorized them into spread-sheets, queried them and ultimately received well over a hundred rejections in the process. It became obvious that my efforts were being deliberately–and divinely blocked…and trust me, I got angry about this. Angry at God.

It was in the Fall of 2010 that He confronted me directly with His response in the Genesis story about Jacob wrestling the Angel; it was no different with me. I was pleading with God to bless me, fervently, but in the end He “broke my hip” and I was convicted about the way I was trying to drive toward success. It was time I tried something different and OLDE MYSTERIUM is the product of obedience, not of market research, not of meticulous plotting. It was a process of freely letting God breakdown my strongholds and ideals regarding career paths and success, and in the end He began changing me into a greater likeness of Jesus.

The process of giving things up to Him hasn’t ended, in fact it’s continued. I searched for agents for OM, but He asked me to make Jesus my agent; so I did. I searched for publishers for OM, but He convicted me and asked me to give that path up and do it a different way; so I did. I started a FB page for OM and began attracting some followers, but He asked me to step away from it; so I have. He’s asked me to refrain from marketing and promotion so I can learn how to rest in Him, to take time to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) . And it even goes deeper into my personal life as God has used this summer to reclaim and restore my marriage and my family life…something I could not have expected in my wildest dreams (although I remember pleading in prayer to be closer to Caity and have more time with the kids); yet it was a full trust fall into His arms to do these things, both frightening and full of promise.

It looks backward, but remember: this is the God-driven path, not the career-driven path. He has a tendency to reveal the world’s wisdom as foolish…and God’s foolishness is wiser than the world’s greatest wisdom.

And now here I am, a better husband, a better father, a better person…and it’s all because of giving over these obstinate areas of my life to Jesus the Messiah. Instead of being filled with anger and resentment over rejection, I’ve been able to grow closer to the ultimate source of joy, be filled with an unending abundance of peace and learn how to pour out my love in every direction upon the broken people all around me. That’s really all the platform I could ever want or need…and I’m more than happy to let Jesus do all the promoting. Yet I do see a growing audience, but any and all success belongs solely to Him and is fully dependent on His timing; I can’t force it, and I’ve stopped trying to speed it up.

It’s a far cry from where I was, but when I look at all of the things I was asked to give up, they’re miniscule compared to what I’ve received in return. This is all why I often sign off my emails with SOLI DEO GLORIA (Latin: Glory to God Alone) and I’ve also been signing copies of OM the same way. It all belongs to Him anyway…and all I want to do is be in His presence and perhaps even have a chance to “touch his garment” (Luke 8:43-48).

I apologize for the lengthy explanation and I hope this helps to resolve any confusion. You are truly a wonderful and supportive friend and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this with you. I look forward to seeing you in November on your book tour!

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

Douglas

***

Doug what a great email.

I appreciate your life and love for God so much. I’ll respond or in length later, but just want to say thanks.

Thanks for sharing, being honest, and for being a great example.

More soon,

Tina

***

You bet Tina. I also forgot to add that “yes” I’m very serious about writing. I know it’s taken root in my heart, as well as it has yours. I will be a writer for the rest of my days, and I hope that means many, many books to come.

Douglas

***

And to add – I think God himself will establish you and as you trust him, listen to his voice … He’ll lead you to green pastures.

Tina

***

Thank you Tina. It’s refreshing to receive encouragement from a good friend.

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

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Writing Tip: Collecting Characters

When I first started writing in college, I began doing something interesting that would change the way I viewed characters forever: I kept a notebook whenever I rode the city bus. It’s an interesting mix of people who ride the bus for regular transit, and most of them are doing typical things that would otherwise appear uninteresting…unless you’re collecting characters.  Take note of the details.  Are they alone or with a buddy?  To whom are they talking, or are they just staring out the window? Perhaps they’re having a scintillating conversation…with themselves (yes, I’ve seen this happen many times).

Bring your notebook with you and write everything down. Then try to give motive for why they are doing what they do, or why they wear what they wear. Extrapolate where they are going. Home? Work? School? Nowhere? Give them names if you can.  Then try and create a brief dossier on things like their background, lifestyle, employment, education, hobbies, relationships…and you get the idea.

These types of exercises can be crucial for overcoming difficulties later on when trying to write fully rounded characters.  And at the end of the day you’ll have a menagerie to choose from should you need to reach into the cage and select one.  However, I’ve found because of the practice of collecting characters, I am fully prepared for the process when the need arises to create one from scratch.

One final, very important caveat for this exercise–do not, I repeat, do not take notes on people who are close to you. There is a twofold reason for this: (1) if you create a character based on someone you know well, they may not be as impressed as you with your creation; and (2) it can be like cheating to skip the hard work of learning how to extrapolate details by observing a complete stranger as opposed to simply writing down the intimate details of family or friends.  It may be tempting, but don’t do it. Ever.

The only exception to this rule might be basing a created character on someone you know who has died, perhaps as a way to memorialize them.  I have done this and it turned out beautifully.  The character of Billy Pints in my book OLDE MYSTERIUM was loosely based on the cook at my fraternity in college.  He was a salty individual with rough language that would curl your hair and had a heart of gold; a recovering alcoholic who, through chance and circumstance ended up cooking at a fraternity.  A beautiful juxtaposition. And it was an honor to include him the story. He died my senior year from a heart attack…and I think about him all the time.

So go where you can to observe an interesting cross-section of people–the mall, the post office, the grocery store, a coffee shop or a dive bar.  Or you could ride the bus like I did.  And keep your wits about you as you never know when you’ll chance upon the perfect character.

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Writing Tip: Read Well, Write Well

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Looking for ways to enhance your writing?  Ways to grow your storytelling abilities?  Or maybe even seeking a remedy to boost your stale prose?  Look no further than your local library.  I’ve discovered over the years that my writing improves drastically when I’m reading something that captures my imagination and challenges my personal status quo.  Many books throughout my life have done this for me and I’ll mention a few here as examples.

1. Enhancing Writing:  Truth be told for me personally, the books that enhance my writing are those that expand the boundaries of my imagination in any way unexpected.  Many literary luminaries like CRIME AND PUNISHMENT or THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE (you know, the stuff you dreaded reading in school?) will certainly do the trick, but be sure to grab something to your own interest that you know will challenge you.  If you want something more current to challenge your boundaries, then give JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL by Susanna Clarke a try (a monster tome in some regards, but a gem nonetheless).  I just had a friend recommend Neil Gaiman, who I plan on giving a read very soon.

2. Growing Storytelling Abilities:  There are a few ways to do this effectively by reading some really great works.  THE HERO’S JOURNEY by Joseph Campbell is a well lauded example because he dives into the history and connective threads of storytelling across many cultures to find the similarities that make great stories last.  However I found Campbell difficult to read at times and so I would also recommend THE WRITER’S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogel, containing much of the same material but reworked to be more palatable for the lay reader.  I’ve also read Stephen King’s ON WRITING several times, each time yielding different fruit that is helpful and tasty.

3. Boosting Prose:  Read good poetry or anything where the prose is lyrical.  Shakespeare is an obvious example as are Emily Dickens or Robert Frost, but don’t be afraid to seek out new or emerging, or even unknown poets online to be inspired by their work.  So many people are sharing online these days, and a lot of it is pretty good stuff too.  I find poetry (both reading it and writing it) helps to boost my natural prose.  Also, reading fiction that is lyrical in the writing does wonders beyond belief; my favorites are Charles Dickens and Angela Carter.

Immersing yourself in any and all of these things will indeed help you naturally boost and grow your abilities to communicate effectively through writing.  Think of it this way–the company you keep will define you as a person, either for the good or the bad.  The same can be said of what you read affecting how you write.  If you are aspiring to be a romance writer but everything on your bookshelf is a dime-store boddice-ripper, then it’s going to be very difficult to inspire your story to rise above the crowd.  Try reading another kind of love story to get your juices flowing–THE LIFE OF PI or THE SHACK might be good as they are indeed love stories in their own right but romance is not prominently featured…however, intimacy does indeed thrive in both of these books.

As a final note, be encouraged to know that all successful writers are also successful readers.  So read well and write on!

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Beyond My Pen

My hands do long to bless the lost with hope,
My pen does long to soar long the pages,
I stand, I run and stumble down the slope,
Will my work be unreached through the ages?
Are my efforts feasting last on Maundy?
My work be shattered on the Corner Stone,
Eli, Eli lama sabacthani?
Oh Father, raise my light that once had shone.
God of mercy, bless this shadowed spirit;
My God of grace, descend and make me whole.
I am humbled, grant to me Your merit;
Creative work does much to joy my soul.

My spirit is broken beyond my pen,
Oh Lord, when will this purgatory end?

***

Originally written sometime in March 2009 as a prayer sonnet.  I was obviously struggling with feelings of inadequacy regarding my writing and any lack of progress thereof.  Funny enough, this prayer has indeed been answered line for line (although not in any way I would have wanted or imagined at the time).

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Writing Tip: When In Doubt, Use Notecards

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I know that some of you who will read this might well know this tip, but I thought it  might be good to add anyway for those visitors who might be new to the craft.  

Truth be told, when I started writing (well over a decade ago, sheesh) I had no idea how to organize my thoughts, scenes, characters or even a story layout.  I knew how to write a good college paper that would attain a good grade, but it wasn’t enough.  I needed more than a simple thesis with attached argument points to flesh out.  I needed to organize a story, first and foremost; and it can be tricky when a complete newb steps into the world of writing for the first time.  It was then I chanced upon Christopher Keane’s book HOW TO WRITE A SELLING SCREENPLAY, because my first project was actually a screenplay based off of a paper I wrote for my Roman History class about the Catilinian Conspiracy by Sallust.  

Keane pointed out how to use notecards to organize the story by writing a brief description of each scene, one per card.  Once you have your cards ready (between 80-90 for a screenplay) you then set about the task of laying them out in a way that best fits the story you want to tell as the writer.  It’s then ideal to pin up the cards on a wall or (even better) cork board so that you can see the whole story from beginning to end in one glance.  I found this technique tremendously helpful for so many applications as I eventually carried it over to using it for writing shorts and even novel length stories.  

I still use this technique from time to time when I have a tricky chapter that I need to set straight or even a story arc that needs to be tightened up, but I’ve also learned not to lean too hard on this type of organization as it can dry out a story really quickly too.  Be sure to leave room for your characters to take charge and make their own decisions.  And if that means that you have to remove some cards and replace them with new ones to make the story work, then all the better for it!  But don’t be afraid of getting organized with note cards; at the very least it will help you get your story rolling.

SED EGO DIGREDIENDUM

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