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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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.

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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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Keeping on keeping on

First of all, a big thank you to everyone who has bought either a print copy or a Kindle version of my novel, When the Boats Come Home. And special thanks to those of you who have put reviews on Amazon or told me personally how much you enjoyed it.

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It’s a wonderful feeling – that something I wrote has given someone pleasure. It’s a special thrill when someone says they couldn’t put it down! And it makes me want to do it again.

So, here’s the progress report on ‘the next one’, currently planned as Volume One in a Christian historical trilogy, The Mizpah Ring, set partly in my home home of Wick:  I’ve written 42,186 words and am aiming for 85,000. Paul at the publishers says if I can get the final manuscript delivered by end-August, it will be out the first week of December in time to solve this year’s Christmas present problems.

All I have to do is write the rest of it.

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At 1,000 words six days a week, the first draft should be finished by the end of April. So… easy peasy, yes?

No. Because I’ve kind of… delete ‘kind-of’… I’ve ground to a halt. Maybe even fallen out of love with it, a little.

So I’ve laid it aside. And just about every day, someone comments on how much they loved When the Boats Come Home and what am I writing next and when will it be out. No pressure there!

Meanwhile I need to be doing all the marketing and publicity things authors have to do to let the world of readers know about the book – radio interviews, press coverage, book signings… Lovely things in themselves but they take time and energy – out of the pot available for writing the next book.

I’d be really interested to know if other writers have hit this stumbling block/conflict of interest and what do they do.  Do you just plough on, juggling last year’s baby and this? Any wise words/advice truly welcome!

I have a horrid feeling that what’s needed is simply more self-discipline – keeping on keeping on, aiming for that 1,000 words a day just to see what happens.

Shall I re-read what I’ve written… or just pick up where I left off…

Tell you next time!

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Published today!

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When the Boats Come Home, my new book is out today. This is more exciting than I ever imagined. And it’s not even my first book. It’s my 11th.

But it’s fiction.

I’ve had a children’s fiction picture book published before (It’s Hard to Hurry When You’re a Snail, published by Lion and illustrated by the wonderful Thomas Taylor — findable nowadays on Amazon) but this is my first work of grown-up fiction to be published. And it is a dream come true.

Long, long ago I wrote a school essay confessing that what I wanted to be when I grew up was an author. I think I was probably around 11 or 12 at the time. A voracious reader, I aspired to adding to the great reads on the library shelves — and what I wanted to write was fiction. Stories.

I’ve had lots of non-fiction published — articles and books. But somehow it’s not the same. Only fiction seems to hold that magic top slot for me. And so when the box of books arrived this morning with my ten author’s copies, when I finally held my first published novel in my hands, I was almost wordless with joy — and praise to my Heavenly Father Who made it all happen.

There’s still work to do — publicity and promotion, giving talks and interviews, making sure people know about it. And then of course, to finish the next one!

If you’d like to buy a copy, the paperback is available from the publisher’s bookstoreAmazon UK and Amazon US; e-versions are available for Kindle, Nook etc. I hope you enjoy it. Do let me know!

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When NaNo isn’t good enough

This is my declaration of intent: I’m quitting NaNoWriMo. I’ve written 30,156 words and I’m grateful that the process has broken my writer’s block. But…

 

Because as a Christian I won’t work Sundays, I had to write 2,000 words a day to reach the target. And imperceptibly I began to lose the joy, the delight in the story. Facing my desk each day became a chore. And that’s unheard of for me!

I also began to feel that I was short-changing my story, my characters and the Holy Spirit Who inspires me. I wanted to go back to page one and take my time to get it much more ‘right’ rather than simply focus on churning out 2,000 words a day.

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A Mizpah ring

A Mizpah ring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I’ve allowed myself two days ‘off’. Instead of slamming down words for words’ sake, I’ve allowed myself the pleasure of reacquainting myself with the research notes I made when this story of the Mizpah Ring  first captured my heart. And I’m in love again. There’s so much more than I had remembered in the frenetic NaNo days.

So I’m going back to my way of doing things: I’ll aim for a flexible one hour or one thousand words a day, approximately. And I’ll immerse myself in the research. I’ve already discovered previously unknown connections between the Highland Clearances and Manitoba, fascinating eye-witness accounts of Buenos Aires in 1900 – and I can’t wait to weave them into my book, knowing it will be the better for it.

What’s more, I now have energy and time to give to the promotion of my novel, When the Boats Come Home, due out in paperback, Kindle and e-book around 12th December. I had a day when I could enjoy a lovely virtual cup of tea with Donna Fletcher Crowe (http://internationalchristianfictionwriters.blogspot.com/2014/11/talking-over-teacups-with-dorothy.html?showComment=1416417394318#c7014225846557850925). And there’s plenty more to do – and enjoy.

When the Boats Come Home cover

My verdict on NaNoWriMo? It’s great and I’m grateful. But now I’m out of the shallow end with the new book, I need room to forge ahead at my own pace. I’ll keep you posted!

 

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What you have to do to publish a book

“Writers are people who write.” Well, that used to be the case. All you had to do was write and a whole bunch of other lovely people saw to everything else involved in getting a book out: copy-editing, proofreading, page design, cover design, publicity and promotion and marketing, sales and distribution, and even nicer, royalty statements!

But the world has changed. Some few authors still go along the traditional lines. Many more create a more independent career. This ranges from full-on self-publishing, even to the extent of setting up one’s own publishing company, to making use of one of the many packages on offer to take the slog out of getting a book and an e-book conversion ready for market.

I’m not quite sure what the route I’ve chosen is called. Zaccmedia are a publishing company and are doing everything I’d expect of a publishing company but I have much more input and involvement – which I’m loving. It’s much more of a co-operative venture.

The other day the ISBNs were allocated and suddenly everything began to seem real! Last week I saw the planned cover. That was a huge wow moment!

When the Boats Come Home cover

So here it is. My Christian historical novel about the Scottish fisher lassies. The paperback will probably retail at £7.99 (296pp) and will be orderable around 14th December. It will also be available in Kindle and other formats, on Amazon etc. Hopefully this will solve the Christmas present problem for Christian women who like a good read.

Meanwhile, as with traditionally published authors, I’m thinking about marketing – I love doing interviews, giving talks and writing articles and blogs so that’s no hardship. I love the book, the background and the characters, so they’re easy to talk about!

And somehow I have to find time to keep producing 2000 words a day for the next one! More about that another time!

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How to have the most fun writing

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This is such fun! How could I ever have forgotten? Terry Pratchett used to say on the author details on his books that writing was the most fun you can have on your own. True, true, true!

So even though it’s a grey November day and it’s still raining, I’m one happy bunny. Because it’s NaNoWriMo Day 2 for me and the word count so far is 4491 – 7 chapters already! Oh wow. Hitting my targets. But that’s not all. The story has me in its grip. My characters fascinate and delight me. And it feels more like watching a video while I’ve got my hands on the keyboard and words just seem to keep appearing on the screen!

I suppose what’s really making it such a joy is the embargo on judging what I’m writing. Almost an embargo on thinking too much. Left-brain anyway. All I’m allowed to do is open the door to my story and let it out, and that is sheer joy.

And I’m so looking forward to December – or whenever the first draft is complete – so I can go back and flesh out my plot-driven skimpy scanty prose.

This summer I’ve been learning a lot about trust. My morning Bible study time has been in the Book of Psalms and day after day the message has been – very clearly – trust in God. Lay down your burdens and lean on Him, rely on Him, depend on Him to deal with everything, to provide what I need.

You might have thought this would be a nice easy lesson, in fact, one I should have got at least a pass mark on many years ago. Looking back, I can remember a time when trust came easy – when I was first a Christian in my late teens. But a series of dodgy relationships/disasters/life events that rocked my little boat to the point of capsize ate into that trust and now it’s something I’ve had to give a bit of attention to.

But it makes a difference.

Jesus said we should be like little children in the way we trust and depend on our Heavenly Father – and I’m discovering the amazing joy and freedom of doing just that. One of the great benefits is approaching my daily writing stints with the glee of a little child, because children don’t judge their creative output the way adults do. They just get on and enjoy it.

Which is what I’m doing. And I hope all the other NaNoWriMoers out there are too!

 

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NaNoWriMo: The first day

Today marks lots of firsts.

It’s the first day of the Celtic New Year – so as a fully paid up in the blood Celt, may I wish you all a happy New Year!

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It’s the first of November. So, happy November. And if you want a truly happy November and not a miserable Thomas Hood November (‘No!’ is a great poem though), reach for Ann Voskamp’s chart of things to give thanks to God for each day of the month. (Check out her blog: aholyexperience) It starts, delightfully, with thank you for 3 things to eat. My kind of day! Especially when I’ve got chocolate brownies to have with afternoon tea.

And being the first of November it’s the first day of NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. And I’m celebrating my first day by blogging to tell you about it. Because yes, I sat down at my laptop at 9 a. m. and put in an hour’s writing, and then after time out to do Saturday things and have lunch and a quick skim of my notes (I have a huge research folder that’s been sitting glowering at me for years…) at 2 p. m. I sat down and did another hour. And the day’s total? 2150 words. I am thrilled.

To reach the target of 50,000 words by 30th November, I need to achieve an average of 2,000 words per day of work – because I won’t be working Sundays. Cos that’s my special day off with God.

I reckon that’s a pretty good start. And I can relax now and enjoy the rest of the day and a lovely restful Sunday!

 

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Now for something new!

I’ve got nice things to report so I’m back onto the blogosphere.

First, I’ve signed the contract for publication of my novel about the Scots fisher girls. I’ve blogged about it quite a bit – so I’m delighted to share the news. There will be an e-book (all major versions) as well as a paperback. And the final title? When the Boats Come Home. More details of publication date, price etc. when I know them.

This is it!

This is it!

And yes, I know… I worked in book publishing all my working life. Ten of my books have seen the light of day so far. But I freely confess: I am so excited!

The other thing? I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. I’ve registered and pledged to write 50,000 words of a first draft of a new novel (starting tomorrow 1st November) by the end of November. I know which book idea I want to get started on and I reckon this is the way to stop the dithering and havering, and just get down to work. Oh and again I confess: I’m excited about it!

And glad that lots of friends from Association of Christian Writers and here in Suffolk are going to be doing NaNoWriMo too. Hopefully, we’ll encourage one another so we all reach the finishing line! Pretty much like the Christian life, really. Encouragement matters! So thank you to everyone who has encouraged me along the way. I’m grateful!

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Start here

I can recognise burn-out. Been there before, got a couple of t-shirts. Still, it creeps up and denial tries pushing it away. Then God said STOP. Well, God doesn’t actually speak in capital letters like Mort in Terry Pratchett. But there’s something insistent about the still small voice when He says ‘Just stop now. Clear your diary. For the summer.’

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Oops. My jam-packed diary. All those preaching engagements, talks to ladies’ meetings, planned trips etc etc and even more etc.

Yes, that one. Big swallow here. And as I sidled up to it, things started happening. The way they do when God’s moving things in your life. First a major trip north was cancelled. Then ‘words to the wise’ were spoken… and things that looked difficult to the point of terrifyingly impossible to change simply removed themselves effortlessly. Till the diary was cleared.

And that’s scary. Waking up with nothing planned.’Treat it like a holiday,’ I was told. ‘Take yourself out. Enjoy.’ So I did. And gradually the tension started unravelling. When friends asked how I was, I really meant it when I said ‘Fine’. Days sauntered past. I slept better. I found acceptance appearing more often in my emotional kitbag and as my husband’s deterioration reached the point where he no longer had a clue who I was, I was surprised to cope perfectly well and not be poleaxed by distress when I got home.

I sat in the sun. And tried to read.

But could not settle.

Books did not hold my attention or interest. Favourite authors seemed dull. And then little nudges began. A chance comment about frozen meat ships from South America. A ring with the word Mizpah on it. And the desire to write resurfaced and began to grow from a vague thought to a decided itch that needed to be scratched. Like burn-out, this is a familiar feeling: when I get bored enough I have to write!

So on Monday, I sat down and got started. Chapter 1 page 1. ‘The Mizpah Ring’. Book one of a trilogy. Once more it starts in my home town of Wick, Caithness, Scotland. Again it’s a Christian historical but this time begins in 1897. My heroine is called Hannah, her nasty sister is Pearl. (And if you hear the echo from 1 Samuel 1 of Hannah and Peninnah you may have a glimpse of their characters.) The story will cover three generations of four families and we shall see how the sins of the fathers do dog the heels of the third and fourth generations, but how faithful love can redeem it.  The background research, much done already, is going to be a joy and delight.

So far I’ve got to my desk for the first hour of each day and the printed pages are beginning to mount up: one hour or a thousand words, whichever comes first. And I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

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