dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

The power of the deadline

I have a deadline. Two, in fact. And both, insanely tight. This is good – for several reasons.

  1. Like many writers I am bone idle. No, I mean creative… I can spend hours gently daydreaming, gazing at lovely views (or nothing in particular) and letting my thoughts wander where they will, up hill and down dale. And not putting fingers to keyboard.
  2. I find it only too easy to say yes to everything anyone asks of me. Yes of course I’ll bring a cake to that church tea. Yes, I’ll help out at that event. Yes, I can drive that person to wherever. Yes, I’ll… do anything but sit home alone in front of the computer…
  3. I like to read… and I find I really cannot get into other people’s fiction when I’m trying to write fiction! It’s like being given the gift of a box of chocolates after you’ve binged all Easter Sunday on chocolate eggs and Cadbury creme eggs and chocolate cake and… you really don’t think you can face another chocolate ever again. (Of course I’ve never done that….)
  4. I’m afraid… of not being able to do it again. Yes, I know it happened with every book so far, and several times within the process of each. But it’s horrid. And not writing at all is one way to avoid it. But agreeing to a deadline makes me face it, and work through it.
  5. I’m afraid… of it not being as good as the last one. I’m afraid of running out of words. I’m afraid of diving so deeply into my story that I’ll get lost down there and drown and never come up again. I’m afraid of doing what I love to do more than anything else in the world: am I really allowed to do this? I’m afraid of discovering I don’t really like doing it at all… A deadline simply demands that I sit down and get on with it. Like a job of work. Word after word. One after the other. Just do it.
  6. And a deadline reminds me how afraid I am, and idle, and weak, and needy… and that I don’t need to worry about any of that because I’m a Christian writer who writes because I believe God gave me the gift and asked me to use it … for Him. I write overtly Christian books, deliberately, determinedly. To uplift and encourage God’s Christian women particularly. To entertain yes, but to give them a thoroughly good experience at the same time. Good in His terms. So if He wants me to do, He’ll have to help me. And He says He will:
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‘My Grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9) and that’s fine with me. I’ve got plenty of weakness!

Oh, did I mention the deadlines? For Mizpah Ring Book 2: end of May; for Mizpah Ring 3: end of August. And the plan is publication of both books this year: Mizpah Ring 2 early September, and Book 3 early December. Oh yes, I’m going to need all the help I can get!

 

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Getting Ready

I have rearranged my study. I have sorted out the books on the shelves that face me when I’m at work at my desk and I’ve packed away the non-writing books, replacing them with relevant writing books and book files.

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Books packed away

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Research and admin folders

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Books to inspire!

And I’m beginning to feel better – ready to get down to work again on the novel.

I popped out to the supermarket to stock up on food and met my next-door neighbour as I was going in. I had come home from a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discover that she had cut her own front lawn and then cut mine. She is slightly over eight months pregnant. Her last child weighed in on arrival at 10 lbs and she reckons this one will compete – so cutting grass astounded me. Just as well I was out! I’m sure I’d have scolded and protested!

She wouldn’t accept a lift home from the supermarket either. Walking, she said, would do her good. She preferred to be doing things. She was ready for the birth, she said. It’s time this one arrived.

And as I sort my study and lug heavy boxes of books into the storeroom, I recognise myself in my pregnant neighbour. I’m getting ready for the labour of getting Book 2 of the Mizpah Ring birthed and into the world. And like my neighbour, I’m impatient. Because it’s time!

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Day Seven: To the end of the earth

That’s what it feels like – standing on the northernmost edge of the mainland of Britain, gazing out over island upon island studding the cold blue sea all the way to the horizon.

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View from the beach

John O’Groats. A tiny hamlet with hotel, harbour and a few shops – one of which has the best stock of Scottish-related books I’ve ever seen.

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Books and more lovely books!

And I’m delighted to say, they requested stocks of both When the Boats Come Home and Mizpah Ring so my sister and I went out there today to gaze at the view, deliver the books, buy some others and some gifts for the kind folk who have been feeding my cat Lucy while I’ve been away.

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This is the shop where you’ll find those fabulous books

And have lunch – with glorious views over the Pentland Firth across to Orkney.

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The Storehouse, John O’Groats

We also went exploring, round an old mill built in 1901 and fitted out by our great-grandfather, millwright Donald Miller.

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At Huna, near John O’Groats 

All useful background for the next book!

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Day Four: One down…

Relaxing with a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive at my sister’s. First talk delivered: one down, two to go.

This afternoon I was the guest of Wick Salvation Army’s Home League. What a lovely group…

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Wick Salvation Army

but…

But? How can there be a but? They were lovely!

But they kept asking me when the next book in The Mizpah Ring trilogy will be out! And I haven’t finished writing it yet! Part of the plan for this trip was to get some on-the-ground research done, and then go home and write…

So now I want to be in two places at once: here, doing research and giving talks and selling books – and back home getting down to writing! Oh, how I want to be writing!

 

 

 

 

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What’s it all about?

The good news is that I’m 26,525 words into the new book, Part 2 of The Mizpah Ring.

Mizpah-Ring cover final

The bad news is that I haven’t written a new word of it since 7th March.

Ouch!

I’ve given a number of talks on Mizpah Ring 1 and must admit to some discomfort, compared with the ease and joy of giving talks on its predecessor, When the Boats Come Home.

When the Boats Come Home cover

Basically I’m a story-teller, and the story I like to tell is the good news of the Lord Jesus. This is what I do in the pulpit (that’s right – story not sermon!). That’s what I do at women’s meetings. And that’s what I was able to do with talks about Boats – because Boats is really about the good news of new life and second chances offered by Jesus Christ.

But I discover I’m not so comfortable talking about Mizpah Ring – and feeling a bit blocked about Book 2. Till I read Steven Pressfield’s blog Writing Wednesdays: The Hero Embodies the Theme and suddenly I had a handle on the problem. What was Mizpah Ring all about?

It’s taken some time chewing this over, because I thought I knew – when I started writing Book 1. There was an inciting incident that set off a trail of consequences through three generations – and three books. There were bad guys who got badder, and good guys who slipped up and messed up. There were good girls and bad girls and not-quite-sure girls. And some of them went the way of all flesh, and others got turned round.

It was all a lot grittier than Boats – including  the locations. The ‘worst’ location in Boats was a pub and a dark alley. Mizpah Ring has a brothel and gambling dens!

But I’m still telling the good news of Jesus Christ- because He wasn’t afraid of mixing with prostitutes and others unacceptable to respectable society – and He loved them and came to save them too.

And so my story is one of redemption – for those who will turn round and take it. And it tells the truth about those who make other choices – something else Jesus was clear about when He walked this earth. We all have choices. We all have free will.But our choices have consequences.

And that’s what Mizpah Ring is about. Book 1 showed the choices of the first generation – and the results, bad and good. Book 2 shows what the next generation makes of it.

But that’s not all – because that’s never all there is to it. Because there is another character active in the story and in the lives of the characters: and that’s Jesus Christ Himself. And where He is, anything can happen!

So now I know, I’m grounded again and can get back to work!

 

 

 

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Best-laid plans and Second Attempts

I had haggis for Burns Night, celebrating the poet bard of my homeland who mentioned so wisely ‘the best laid plans of mice and men’. My own plans for getting stuck into the new book were indeed well laid and I have in front of me the result: a nice sheaf of pages from Chapter One to Eleven.

But they’re not in the new book file. I can’t quite bear to throw them out yet. And I know they’ll come in handy. But as back-story, not Chapters One to Eleven.

I wrote them, then ground to a halt. At first I thought it was just the seasonal blues. My mother often said she thought we were designed to be hibernatory creatures, taking to our warm beds for the cold dark winter months!

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Then I decided I needed to do more research. The problem, I suggested to myself, was insecurity because of lack of basic information. So I searched the internet for books, ordered from Amazon and eBay, located some at my local second-hand bookshop, sourced others through our library.

And read. Made notes.

And did not enjoy it. Which is not like me. I love research! Usually my temptation is to keep on researching because it’s so fascinating what I uncover…

But no. This was plodding. And, I had to admit, boring!

I gave up. And worried. When what you’re working on is book two of a trilogy  and people have bought and read book one (The Mizpah Ring), and are asking ‘When’s the next one out?’ there is a certain pressure!

Mizpah-Ring cover final

Best-laid plans indeed. Panic stations more like!

But I had arranged a number of research ‘interviews’ -meetings with folk who could remember the second world war and were happy to talk to me about it. So rather than confess shamefaced that I’d hit a block and maybe it wasn’t worth bothering them, I felt I had to go ahead. So I did.

And something shifted. I got myself back to the keyboard and what came out of the ends of my fingers was something different. Not the best-laid plan but my story starting in a different place and with a different tone. And suddenly lovely because I wanted to follow it through and see what happened. I was gripped by it again.

I wonder was it the getting out of the house and spending time with interesting people telling me new things I didn’t know that unlocked the block? Did meeting people who had lived through that time make my story come alive again?

I don’t know – but I’m glad and I’m grateful. I’ve now written a new chapter one to six and am much happier with it. My characters are alive and surprising me! I love getting to the keyboard each morning for the next instalment. And the first draft material is definitely not wasted. I’ve drawn on some of it already. I maybe had to write it so that I knew where my characters were coming from.

Book One of The Mizpah Ring takes us from 1897 to 1912. I had intended Book 2 to start in 1913 but it definitely doesn’t want to! It will start in the late 1930s instead. In it I bring together the second generation of the folk who featured in Book One: Hughie, Geordie, Belle and Rab and Hannah. And this time we’ll see the results of the sins of the fathers!

 

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Before the book tour

Only a few days to go before I set off on my longest solo trip ever. It is a little daunting but God says ‘Don’t worry. I go ahead of you’ and other comforting things so I’m holding onto trust as best I can. The trip is 24 days long, visiting places mentioned in my new novel, When the Boats Come Home, giving talks and readings to churches, church groups, bookshops and libraries. I’m driving, and it will be a 1500 mile round-trip – not counting any detours, extra bits or days out!

When the Boats Come Home cover

I start in Edinburgh, go on to Dundee, then head on up to Wick. Then I retrace my steps to Inverness, go across to Aberdeenshire, back to Dundee, and then home.

One of the delights of this planned trip is going to be meeting up with lots of old friends and new. When my mother was alive, I used to nip up to Wick quite often to visit but then spend all the available time with her so my friends from home got neglected. I’m hoping to remedy that this time! The first week of my trip I’ll be staying with friends from my university days… Will we recognise each other? How much will we have changed? I’m looking forward to hearing their stories of how their lives have turned out.

Thanks to Facebook and the Association of Christian Writers (and the Christian Authors, Booksellers and Publishers page) , I’ve ‘met’ lots of new friends and this trip is going to allow me to meet some of them for real.

So yes, daunting and exciting. I haven’t started packing yet – haven’t even started writing the packing list!

I’ll be taking my laptop etc with me and plan to take pics and write the blog as I go so you’ll be very welcome to keep me company as I travel along. And I’d welcome your prayers too! Not just for me as I travel and speak, but that God will use this trip to spread the good news of His amazing transforming love.

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What to do when you’ve finished the first draft

I finished the first draft of my new novel on Saturday morning. Sunday, being Sunday, I don’t work. Today is a Bank Holiday – though you wouldn’t have known it from the crowds in the supermarket when I went to refill my larder this morning.

Then I came home. Had a coffee. And thought ‘Now what do I do?’

It’s not that there’s nothing to do! Dry jeans hang on the airer waiting to be ironed.

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There’s a recipe I want to try.  And in my study, there was a long table covered with papers waiting to be sorted and filed or shredded or thrown out. Something I have been studiously avoiding for ages.

Time for self-discipline. Get it done. So I did an hour before lunch, then came back to it a couple of hours ago. And now it’s finished. What a great feeling. A tidy study again! Everything put away where it belongs. I’ve even hidden away the big folder with the draft of the new novel in it.

And now I feel a funny mix of bereft and on holiday! More self-discipline required because I WILL NOT look at the novel till it’s ‘cooled’ – till there’s a sufficient measure of distance for me to see it with a little objectivity. Only then will I be able to revise and rewrite and do it justice.

I’m aiming to do this in the next six weeks or so – before I head off for Scotland on my book promotion tour for When the Boats Come Home. While I’m away, I’m hoping to have two or three readers go through it and critique it for me so I can dive back in for a final revise or two before delivery to the publisher by my deadline of end-August.

Meanwhile, there are few hours left of the Bank Holiday, some ginger cake calling from the fridge to go with afternoon tea – and maybe a little permissible relaxation!

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Good guys v. bad guys

I’m really enjoying being back in harness with the new novel and have clocked up 48,000 words to date. If I stick to one hour each morning and 1,000 words a day, I should complete my first draft of c.80,000 words by the first week of June.

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But what I’m finding fascinating is how much easier it is to write about the bad guys than it is about the good guys.I seem to be able to think up all sorts of interesting tangles and scrapes for the bad guys but when it’s the good guys’ turn I grind to a halt. So they’re good. OK. I remember I used to read books by an author who always showed one of her characters being kind to children and animals. You instantly knew this was the good girl. I suppose I could do this but you can only do it once!

Even in the gospels they slide over the growing-up years of Jesus with the statement ‘ He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men’ (Luke chapter 2 verse 52). Is good boring to read about?

Our characters need to be fully rounded people so, like us, they will have vices as well as virtues. But I’m at first draft stage when the plot is thundering along like a steam train and there’s no time or energy for finesse. Hopefully I’ll return to my good guys with more ideas on the second go-round.

Meanwhile I’m having great fun with my chief bad guy who is being forced to toe the line for a while. Fully intending to subvert the innocent young heroine’s duenna (1900 Buenos Aires) he is appalled to discover that Donna Maria Conseula is incorruptible.

He finds himself having to behave as the perfect gentleman to win the hand of the fair lady. It’s enormous fun to write – and I hope will be good to read!

Onwards!

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How to do a book signing

There I sat at the table in the bookshop, a pile of books at my right hand, waiting. My friend Jane prowled. And chatted to the bookshop staff. And brought me coffee. And encouraged me. And gave me a lift home a couple of hours later when no one had turned up to buy a copy of the book.

I put my best signing pen away and thought “Never again!”  But tomorrow I shall be out there – at a different bookshop: Waterstone’s in Lowestoft – from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m. There will be another table, another pile of books, and me sitting there pen in hand, waiting.

But this time, hopefully, I’m older and wiser. This time I’ve put some effort into advance publicity and so has the bookshop. The results, I hope, will be different – and much more pleasing for the shop and me.

Between us we’ve contacted:

  • the local print media (local newspapers)
  • local radio (BBC, community and independent)
  • local churches (my book is a Christian novel)
  • all the folk I know within reasonable reach of the shop

I’ve already done a number of radio and press interviews and an author talk. I’ve produced flyers and they’ve been distributed in relevant places. And the word is beginning to spread about the book. It may be a drip drip approach but the impact is building.

I’m nervous, of course! What if nobody comes? Well, egg on face. But anyone who does come will be greatly valued! Just turning up really matters. Just as just trying really matters.

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When the Boats Come Home cover

I’m proud of the book. The cover is beautiful, and the feedback I’m getting on the content, the story and the characters is really encouraging. In fact I’m feeling the pressure as folk demand to know when the next one will be out! That’s the next task… but first…. think of me at 11 a.m. tomorrow morning. I’ll be there. It would be lovely if you could be too!

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