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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Waiting time

It looked like snow. 6 o’clock in the morning and I was on my way back to bed but a chance-caught glimpse out of the back window drew me in a for a better look.

My house sits on a hill above the town and the view from the back bedroom(aka my study) stretches out to encompass the countryside beyond the town. Suffolk is really quite flat so that view takes in several miles.

And this morning, as well as a pleasing vista of white-frosted roofs, there was a a dark cloud-curtain hanging over the edge of town,  blurring into palest grey chiffon as the snow fell from it.

My central heating comes on early because I like to wake and read for an hour or two before I get up, so the room was warm enough for me to savour the view – and hope that the snow would come nearer!

Sitting now at my desk in the self-same study, there is no trace of snow and the late afternoon sun is sinking in a blaze of gold. A morning that began with a tantalising hope of snow comes to a gentle golden end.

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Taken a few minutes ago – maybe left it a little late!

 

I always used to wonder about the hymn which had the lines ‘Mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness.’ I thought it was miserable, meaning: if you start the day cheerful, it will all end in tears. Now that may sometimes be true, but I’ve learnt that I misread it. It encourages us that we may have evenings of tearfulness, but God delights in providing mornings of joy… after those evenings, if we’ll just hold on.

Let’s hold on – and look for the joy He has prepared for us!

 

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Day Nineteen: On the road again

It’s an easy route, most of the way: down to Inverness and turn left. The only problem is distraction: the scenery is so beautiful especially on a sunny day when the sea is deep blue, the grass a sweet green against the blazing gold of the gorse and broom, and the horizon wreathes in veils of mist.

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Coffee break

Coffee break

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View from the petrol station

At Inverness I thought I remembered a good place to eat lunch and annoyed Emily, my sat nav voice, by turning off the official route. And discovered how Inverness has changed. And how coming in by train simply does not help with road navigation! The nice place was no longer there. And I was snarled up in town centre traffic. Till Emily came to the rescue again.Recalculating. And getting me back on the road I needed.

Just like God does. Each time we stray, we have a choice: keep doggedly on in the wrong direction, insist like a stubborn two-year-old with his shoelaces that we can manage on our own thank you very much, or take a quiet moment to admit to God that we’ve gone wrong and let Him recalculate and set us back on the right road.

So onwards I went, through towns with such familiar names: Nairn, Forres, Elgin. But I must confess they did not stir any old memories though I must have driven through them often enough in the past. Though not for a very long while. The Baxters factory at Fochabers is very much larger than I remember but it was good to see it still there!

And then I got lost again! I had turned off the A road onto a B road and then the sat nav suggested I take another smaller road and I jibbed. I decided it didn’t look right. So I went straight on – and on – and round bends and up hills – on and further on, down hills and round more bends, with forest to one side and a deep river valley on the other. I reckon I went round in a perfect half-circle, arriving at the other end of the road I needed. I checked the map, took a deep breath and let Emily guide me once again, and this time when I lost my nerve and wanted to detour, I made myself keep driving… till I got there.

So here I am, at the home of my nephew and his wife and his two daughters. And maybe I will finally learn: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

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Day Eighteen: Concluding time in Caithness

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Dounreay

Strangely familiar – that white dome set incongruously against a beautiful coast, stark against blue sea and blue sky. I’m now quite used to the sight of the dome at Sizewell just down the coast from where I now live, but here’s the original – at Dounreay on the north coast, west of Thurso.

My father worked here many years ago. When they were building it, we schoolkids were given tours. I even won an essay prize for a report on a lecture we’d been given on the theory and benefits of nuclear power. I have a strange memory of the title referring to a bell, a bow and a boomerang!

I was passing Dounreay en route to visit a minister friend further along the coast – my last in-Caithness catch-up before I set off again. We hadn’t seen each other for years but once again, the passage of time had made no dent in our friendship. In this era of disposable everything, it’s good to know some things do last! (By the way this is something she’s planning on preaching about on Sunday evening.)

And so this part of my trip draws to a close. It’s been great but for next time – or for those of you planning a book trip – I think the lessons are:

  1. Trust. God has organised my trip amazingly well!
  2. Trust. Bring more books than you think you’ll sell.

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3.Trust – and build in enough time to rest!

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On eagle’s wings

Once upon a time, a long time ago, my sister and I were visiting our cousin’s grandfather at his home in Langwell, where he was head gardener to the Duke of Portland. The gardens were a magical oasis of lily ponds and smooth green lawns behind high hedges keeping out the winds and the cold.

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One day he took us for a walk out into the wilderness that lurked outside the gardens. There he pointed to the sky above a jagged mountain peak. ‘Can you see the golden eagle?’ he asked.

There was an eyrie up there, maybe even baby birds, readying for the big adventure of flight, soaring high above the countryside – wild and tame.

It’s been a while since I ventured out of my nest. Three years almost since I saw my sister. Considerably longer since I did that long solo drive to the north. Eight years since my husband was diagnosed with dementia and my life snapped shut like a trap.

I’ve thought about going away, having a holiday, a break, more than once. Looked at maps. Calculated mileages and times. And then put my maps and guidebooks away.

It is said that parent eagles have to encourage their young to leave their nest. They stir up the nest and drive the timid ones to the edge, beating with their huge wings till they’re tipped over. Scary but essential. The young ones would die of starvation if they tried to stay in the nest for ever.

The parent birds keep careful watch, ready to swoop and grasp a tumbling youngster who hasn’t worked out how to use his wings.

Deuteronomy 32: 11 says: ‘As an eagle that stirs up her nest, that flutters over her young, He [God] spread abroad His wings and He took them, He bore them on His pinions. So the Lord alone led him.’

And that’s what I’m feeling as my time to leave my nest approaches. God has led me thus far, He’s beating His wings and saying it’s time to make a move. But don’t worry. He’ll be there to catch me should I panic and forget how to do this.

If you’re feeling it’s time for you to leave somewhere that’s become comfortable but is now wrong for you, then maybe that’s what He’s saying to you too. Yes, it’s scary. But essential.

And He is completely trustworthy.

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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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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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A lesson in waiting

I am not naturally a patient person. I find waiting and patience hard! Of late, however, there’s been rather a lot of waiting in my life and a great need for patience.

I talk to God about it of course. And He comes up with great texts to reassure me and strengthen me:

  • ‘The Lord is good to those who wait for Him’ Lamentations 3:25
  • ‘God is faithful’ 1 Corinthians 1:9
  • ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen,’ Hebrews 11:1

and many more.

But still I champ at the bit.

Then yesterday amongst the slender stems and leaves of the irises in the pond, a lesson in patience:

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I’m not at all sure exactly which type of dragonfly this is going to become but whichever, they lay their eggs in neat incisions  in waterplants. Aggressively predatory aquatic nymphs hatch out and eat whatever they can catch – insects, tadpoles, even tiny fish. For emperor dragonflies, after around two years, the nymph crawls up out of the water for a final moult. Their larval casing splits down the back and the adult hauls itself free – but before it emerges fully from the now transparent case, it rests to allow its legs to harden in the air. Then it pulls itself fully free but still hangs onto the old case while its wings expand and unfold.

Every moment, every rest period, every second of waiting is essential for the final development of the adult.

Earlier, there was a four-spotted chaser or libellula resting in the sun.

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These creatures have followed the timing, the rhythm of rest and activity set out for them by their Creator – and the end result is wonderful! It’s a lesson I needed!

‘I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation.’ Micah 7:7

 

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