Is Your Story Made of Starlight Dust? (The long-awaited part 2)

Was it really a long-awaited part 2? I don’t know. You tell me. I know it was long-awaited for me because it has pretty much taken me since part 1 to discover the answer to the unanswered question I raised in that post – what is starlight dust and how does it fly from your imagination and into your story?

If you don’t remember or did not read that post, I encourage you to check it out. There were some wonderful responses!

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Is your story one of starlight dust?

So. The question I asked as I puzzled over it in my own mind was, “Why do I write some stories and they just completely flow? There’s little effort to really get it out, and it comes out solid and good. Why do I write other stories and, after great effort and writer’s block, it comes forth choppy, jagged, empty?”

My critique partner and I settled on our own term for this mystery – starlight dust – and I proceeded to observe in my own work when I saw that “dust” and when I didn’t. It’s been eons . . . but I believe I’ve discovered what starlight dust in the written word means to me.

There is not one strict answer. Show of hands, how many of you have seen the epically awesome, squeal-worthy, downright incredible The Man Who Invented Christmas? It’s in theaters now, if you haven’t even heard of it – inconceivable! – and you must watch the trailer. Anyway, enough fangirling – never enough! – let me get to the point.

Spoiler Free: In the above-mentioned movie, we witness the process Charles Dickens went through to write the second-greatest Christmas story of all time, A Christmas Carol. The first-greatest is Jesus’. But I think we’re safe to presume A Christmas Carol ranks second. Okay, so, in this new movie, providing the following bits of the film are true to Dickens’ life, we see an enormous portion of that author’s life, past, and convictions being poured into the book he worked so hard to produce.

And thus, we see starlight dust. Because of what Dickens put of himself into the story – without trying to – it came to life. Again, providing those tidbits of the film are true, as I have done no research on the topic, because A Christmas Carol came straight from Dickens’ heart, it was showered in starlight dust.

So, our past, present, and personal convictions can drastically affect whatever it is we’re writing. They can give the story that special glow I now label starlight dust.

What else? Having observed my own writing, I believe there’s another source. And it’s just a plain and painful fact: Some stories we can put our hearts into, and some we cannot. It is the blessing-in-disguise of writing. But when you can pour passion, like your convictions, into whatever it is you’re writing, it can illuminate the words so they become totally yours.

Of course, just because you deal with writer’s block or fatigue or pulling your hair out – do you do that? I’ve never experienced it – or slamming your head against a brick wall – or your keyboard. I don’t recommend either – those things do not mean there is no starlight dust to be found, or that what you’re struggling with isn’t what you should be writing. Beware of falling into those excuses.

There are, of course, many, many other sources for that special light only you can give your story. We wouldn’t have enough time to write down or read through all of them. Perhaps the major ones are the two highlighted here – convictions/you and passion. But many more exist and only you can uncover what starlight dust means for you.

So, while you’re puzzling over that, go watch The Man Who Invented Christmas. I saw it in theaters yesterday for my first-ever visit to a theater. (I know, I know. I’m sixteen and have never been to a theater.) It was an interesting experience. 🙂

Tell me, friends, what does starlight dust mean to you? Any tidbits you can share to encourage someone struggling as I was with figuring out what’s wrong with this story? And perhaps the most important question of the day . . . drumroll commences . . . drumroll ends . . . HAVE YOU SEEN THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS YET!

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To Finish NaNo. Wow.

I tackled NaNoWriMo for the first time ever this year . . . and I did it. *takes a deep breath for the first time since November 1st*

I ended up with about 52,000 words, but the last two weeks, after I hit the half-way mark, were torture. I mean torture. Thank God for a day of close to three thousand words near the end that enabled me to write a thousand a day instead of two thousand to keep up.

So, all’s well that end’s well, and I. LOVED. IT.

I’m tellin’ ya, if you’ve never tried NaNo, DO. IT. Nothing has taught me the stick-to-it-ness that this past month has. I learned I can set and meet a goal. That in itself is worth something. Have you ever done NaNoWriMo? Can you attest?

What’s next? Well, of course, NaNo didn’t finish my novel. 50k is awesome, but I need another 30 or 40 to finish this draft. So that’s what I’m doing this month. And next year I totally plan to drop everything and have another go at it. Wow. It was totally great.

But the month of craziness is over. That’s nice. And guess what else I learned last month? It is possible to turn off your inner editor. Completely true. I was forced by the deadline to write without editing. Of course, that is going to require a tad more editing later on, but that is an enormously good discovery.

So we are moving on, NaNo-writers. Any special plans? Tell me what you thought of last month if you were part of the craziness. I love to hear from you guys!

My next post will be a more complete one, in which I will probably talk about the inner editor monster, but right now I have to fly to get back to my home-school work, and there are plenty more words to be penned. 🙂

On to victory, my friend!

NaNoWriMo and an Awesome Autumn Announcement!

Okay, folks, I survived the first four days of National Novel Writing Month. Got a little cross-eyed on Saturday and my word count dropped, but my word count was above where it needed to be on the days prior to that, so it evened out. I’m on track so far.

Are you part of NaNo this year? How is it going for you?

Anyway, I promised an awesome autumn announcement. Ready for it? You may remember I posted a short while ago about some developments on our farm and an agriculture research project I’m working on. Well, this awesome autumn announcement is along those lines.

To keep it short and sweet, our farm is on its way to being fully launched in 2018. We’ve launched our fundraising campaign. We want to open our farm up as an educational, hands-on, community farm. And you can help us! If you would take just a few minutes to visit this link – https://www.gofundme.com/savethefamilyfarms – and share it with friends and family on social media, we would appreciate it more than we can say. No gift is too small, and simply sharing the project, reaching people we cannot, is a huge gift.

Okay, enough about that. (Although you can also find more info here if you’d like.) A little book update if you missed it last time, I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo with the second draft of my portal fantasy, One Light Shining. So progress is being made on that despite the roadblocks experienced this year.

And since I’ve missed two months of Highlights and Goals, I’ll be getting back to that in January. The new year and all.

And now, I’m off! Be sure to check out the campaign and share it with friends. Meantime, let’s chat – have you ever taken part in NaNoWriMo? Are you involved this year? Are you interested in saving family farms? Such fun this month of Thanksgiving. 🙂

When the Cats Come Home

So, it’s been a while since I’ve talked about the cats. Mostly we’ve chattered about bookish things, but who doesn’t love cats? My cousin doesn’t.

Here we go. A couple weeks ago, my dear friend Lentil – that’s a cat, not a legume – went outside around lunchtime . . . and just didn’t come back. We searched, searched, searched until dark. I fell asleep to dreams of her that night. It was pretty rough, since she has never, ever disappeared like that.

The next day, nothing. We called her name, we triple-checked all her favorite spots. Nothing. And yet I had the strongest sense that she wasn’t dead. She felt so . . . close. As if I could reach out and stroke her soft, gray-striped fur and feel her lick my finger.

Evening closed in. I was in the kitchen when I heard my dad say her name as though he saw her. Then came what we all longed to hear – Lentil was outside in the flower bed. 🙂

Sure enough, she’d found her way home to us. She came inside, hungry and a little flustered – as well as flabbergasted that Sam, the new stray kitten, was still here. Really?

Lentil’s back to her normal routine. Best we can tell, she either got lost, or was trapped somewhere. But our family – even with the addition of Sam – was disjointed for those roughly thirty hours. Like Mom said as we grinned ear-to-ear after Lentil came back, “Our family’s back together again.”

And just think – my dad used to hate cats!

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Lentil asleep on the windowsill.

How to Write When the Music Fades – Chronic Writer’s Block

When the music fades, write on, courageous writer!

But when the music fades, it can be hard to find a tune to write to. There are a million “best writing playlists ever” and a million blog posts with guaranteed keys to success in overcoming the fading music disorder, but . . . do they really negate the issue? Or is it something you, personally, must face?

Confession: The music faded recently for me. For now. You see, the WIP you may be familiar with, my YA portal fantasy, was a WIP. It is now RIP. For now. There are simply times when you have to accept the amount of work a story will need in its revising process, and I came to that point with the portal fantasy. However, I also realized that I did not have what it would take to rush into a second draft. It has been moved to the back burner.

And soooo . . . with that confession comes a little announcement. I am presently working on a new idea. Alas! I can’t divulge the details at this time. I must outline, outline, outline, and I must write, write, write! Stay tuned, because I’m eyeing my September “highlights and goals” post in just over two weeks for any *cough* official bookish *cough* announcements. But know, my friend, that I am marching on in the writing world, with or without the music, and I encourage you do to the same.

Everyone gives out tricks to the trade in overcoming writer’s block, but I think there’s only one thing you can really do when writer’s block turns chronic. Step back from your story and ask yourself what might be wrong with it OR what might be wrong with you. It isn’t always the manuscript. Don’t let that become an excuse to not writing. It may be sheer laziness. Yes, I’m being cruel! But believe me when I say I know how it feels.

In the case of chronic writer’s block, it may be the manuscript or it may be you. In my case, it was both.

So does that mean you’ll never read my portal fantasy? I doubt it. I believe in another year or so – maybe after I’ve finished this WIP, providing the outlining goes well in the next few days here – I will pick that story back up again. That’s the beauty of the moment when the music fades.

And so, when the music fades, write on, courageous writer!

Psst . . .  I will say, my critique partner has given the first chapter of this story idea a very good review. 🙂  Stay tuned.

Books ‘n’ Strawberries – Such Fun!

Show of hands – who among you consumes books and strawberries at the same time????

Okay . . . maybe nobody. I mean, you’d hate to get strawberry juice on the book, so . . .  Yeah, but there’s a reason I brought up the both of them. I mean, yum.

Reason for the strawberries: We are going strawberry picking tomorrow. Yippee! We found what is supposed to be a real nice farm about an hour away, so we’re packin’ up and headin’ out to stock up for the long winter. 🙂 If you want to hear all about our adventure, I’ll be posting on the Diary on Saturday with the details!

Reason for the books: I just finished reading Athol Dickson’s The CureThat’s reason enough.

The Cure was a hidden gem and a rare find. And the ending . . .  Oh, the ending! But I won’t betray it, or skip ahead. This book is about a man named Riley Keep, former missionary and presently an alcoholic beyond all hope. At the end of his road, he discovers a packet of “medicine” with a note explaining it to be a cure for alcoholism. But sometimes the cure is more dangerous than the disease . . .

OH WOW, was this story a winner. I was so engrossed and so blown away. Athol’s characters – Riley, Hope, Bree, Dylan, and the list goes on – are incredible. So well-fashioned and so brilliant. His writing is doubly so. And the book just happens to take place in a coastal Maine town, so . . .

You cannot go wrong in reading this book. Amazing.

And so, without further ado, we’re off to pick strawberries on the morrow! It ’tis summertime, after all.

So, my friends, what are your plans now that summer is officially underway? What books are you reading? Do tell!

To Shine as Broken Glass – There is Hope!

Broken.

That’s a hurtful place to be, and yet we’ve all been there. We’ve gone to sleep in tears that no one will see left to dry on our cheeks. We’ve woken up feeling as though we waged war through the night. We’ve wandered through days begging why.

Sun reflects brightly on glass. It reflects all the brighter on broken glass, amplified by the jagged edges and reflected by the places where the breaking took place.

When in the place of broken, we can commonly wonder why we feel no hope, if there is any such thing left to feel. Whether we face loss, discouragement, anger, illness or fear, we long for hope, for some remnant of the sun to shine upon us, just once.

Why bear the pain of broken? What is the reward for turmoil?

To shine as broken glass.

If this is your question today, there is hope, my friend, there is. Reach for it with the very last of your strength!

 

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As writers – and artists in general – we are not in the least immune to the harsh sting disappointment or depression. In fact, I’ve been told we’re rather susceptible targets. 🙂  But when these things confront us, when the challenges around us block what may flow upon the page, take heart! My friend, we will come out on the other side alive. There is light at the end of this tunnel. If you are afraid of the dark, take the hand of the person beside you. They’re likely afraid of the dark too.

You’re not alone.

As an artist, coming out on the other side of hardship is quite likely to make you a better writer, or musician, or poet, etc. Sky high is inevitably followed some day by the depths of low, the result of a bitterly fallen world and the basic unfairness of life. Thank the King we do not trudge through the lows alone. Jesus holds my hand.

My friend . . . Jesus holds your hand, too.

Broken. It’s a hurtful place to be. Why suffer through hardship when all we can see is the dark?

Because the sun shines brightest on the broken glass.

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Let us Pray – Tragedy in Manchester

I don’t think anything can bring together a people separated by space and opinions more than something like the Manchester tragedy that has left so many brokenhearted, injured or killed. Let us pray. Together. For those who are lost, and for those who have lost.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

If you feel this burden, join us as we pray for these people – our neighbors.

I would also like to thank Nadine Brandes, who posted on her blog a call for prayer yesterday.

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Father, be with the people of Manchester. Bring peace to the broken hearts and strength to those who are physically and otherwise wounded. Burden more people to pray for them in the days to come. I pray that You would reveal Yourself in powerful ways to these parents who have lost their children, children who have lost their parents. Show them that You are with them, and will never leave or forsake them. Amen.

Musings of a Goat Herdess – Sneak Peak!

Welcome one and all! As a quick recap, Musings of a Goat Herdess is one of my current WIPs. I’ve decided to start this off as a blog series – yay! – which means I’ll get into a schedule of releasing a “chapter” at a time as a blog post. This is the first, and these posts will be done twice a month.

If all goes well – the writing, the feedback, etc. – I will move forward at some point with officially publishing Musings of a Goat Herdess, which, if you haven’t seen my last blog post, is essentially made up of my homesteading experiences with my family, our journey, with the focus on my task of being a “goat shepherd” and some of the discoveries I’ve made along the way.

Sound like fun? Well, I won’t ramble today – news flash! Here is your official sneak peak into Musings of a Goat Herdess, chapter one of our new blog series.

 

C H A P T E R   O N E

~ ~ ~

LIKE A SCENE out of Heidi is our hillside today, glowing in the fleeting and precious rays of May sun. The grass reaches up towards the heavens, eclipsing the infant leaves, their attempts at awakening slow, more cautious than their counterparts in nature. I close my eyes and breathe it in. Spring.

All around me, I hear the hasty, yet contented chop-chops of caprine mouths drinking greedily of the hillside’s offering. The goats have discovered the raspberries today, which sprawl here on Bramble, the northernmost slope of our homestead. These vines left in peace for far too long will meet destruction at the hooves and winter-starved appetites of seven goats.

My eyes flutter open as the adolescents charge by, their buoyant stride enhanced by the steepness of this slope. Wilbur makes his advance into the lead, his twin sister Oka in hot pursuit, and both are dogged by their adopted big sister, the one with ears that can’t decide whether to cooperate with her Nubian dairy heritage and fall flopping, or rise to the calling of her rugged Alpine genetics. Their antics as they pass me by bring out a smile. These three came from the same farm, but at different times, and are unrelated, yet they are inseparable, cohesive like honey to a spoon.

At a doe’s soft, tender voice, my gaze drifts uphill to where the locust trees mark the top of the grassy slope. Spice grazes here, glancing about until her twins come bounding to her call. Satisfied at their presence, she returns to the task of gluttony. My smile broadens the way a patch of grass appears so quickly beneath melting snow. These twins have earned a special place in our hearts since their liberating birth two weeks ago.

Beetle paws at the locust tree nearest to her right, her silky coat shining in this radiant sun like chocolate. The lone black stripe which marches down her back glitters as if someone place minute diamonds upon it to capture the light. She is the image of Spice, though separated by her mother’s three years. Little Cricket joins her, aptly named, and colored by a broad creamy belt and a splashing of gold and white.

A breeze tousles the grass. If you listen close, you might hear the whispers it carries from grass to tree to bird and sky. The hidden messages we miss in our chaos and in our drive for bigger, better, newer. Here, here, is peace. In the sway of the grass, the smile of the sun.

As the three young ones of weaning age did moments ago, Cricket takes to the plaything that is the slope. The bounce to her stride is brought to a zenith with a little jump, a twist and a hop. Beetle thunders after her, never going a moment apart from her sister. Spice notices not, or if she does, she is content. She knows they are safe, I’m sure. The twins join the older three, but at a respectable distance. With such a drastic size difference in effect, they face light bullying from Oka and Jubilee. But we’ve raised many goats of these tender ages, and it will not last forever. Amid the grass, the brambles, the raspberries, friendship will form.

Not to be left behind, Eustace plods along after the five, his shaggy dun fur swaggering with his steps. The others dwarf him in size despite his equality of age with the threesome – and though his genetics dictate this fate, the buckling has taken it in his head that he is a great buck, a mighty protector, a fine, noble creature worthy of all respect.

Ah, such pride! In the eyes of our homestead, he is simply Eustace, succumb to smallness, destined to pester the girls with instincts which matured early, son of Phoebe.

As the herd settles, I take a deep breath. There is such peace here, such purpose. Such hope for the soul. How can one explain what can only be felt? How can one express what can only be perceived, sensed in the inmost being? I know I cannot. I may wield the pen, but its power fails me here. So I shall share, but can never express. Show, but can never explain. This is a journey, one my family takes inspired by the words written in the Bible, in Jeremiah, words that challenged us to seek out this lifestyle, to determine the alternative the world has missed.

Stand at the crossroads and look.

Ask for the ancient paths.

Ask where the good way is and walk

in it, and you will find rest for

your souls.

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Wilbur (with Jubilee in the background).
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Phoebe in the raspberries.
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Beetle during playtime (which is all the time).

Writer’s Doubt – the Epidemic and the Cure

It’s something that plagues all of us, no matter our field, no matter our dreams, no matter our security. It’s something that holds us bound to failure and limitations, to our fears and our confusion.

Doubt – a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction – when you look at it, is really a nasty word. First you have the u, a strange letter to begin with, and it’s followed by a nosy old b and a t that just couldn’t stay away. But doubt is more dangerous than it may seem at first glance. It stops you in your tracks with a mere whisper, a tiny little voice that mutters things like, “Did God really say . . .” or “You just don’t have what it takes.”

We can relate to this epidemic – all of us – because none of us is immune to a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction. This is especially and painfully true when you’re a writer, and I imagine if you’re an artist or a poet or a photographer as well. The hard truth is, doubt knows our name.

I have heard of many writers – and am one myself – that have had to conquer doubt in their work. I, personally, have struggled immensely with this, with the feeling that I’m not good enough, that what I have to say in the written word isn’t good enough. These are dangerous ideas because they’re partly true. Am I a good writer? I don’t know, because I can’t judge that myself. Is my work any good? That depends in part on who reads it.

A huge hurdle for authors is just that – “Is my work good enough?” If you’re asking that question today, in any field, all I can say to you is this – one judge will say yes, another will say no.

But we writers are not here to please the crowd. Okay, maybe you like to please people, and that’s fine, but it will come back to plague you with doubt when someone turns away from your work. We are not here to please the reader, we’re here to serve the Author. And no, not author as in you or me, but author as in the Author. The One Who is writing our story, weaving the tapestry of our life. He is the One we are to write for. And hear me now, my friend – if you know who you are writing for, you will know why you are writing at all.

This goes for any lifestyle, any career, any dream. If you know who you’re doing it for, the hold of doubt can be lessened. You may be doing it for yourself, for your family, for your country, for the crowd. I write – I live – for the One Who gave me breath and Who gave me a passion to wield the written word.

But just because I know the who and the why, doesn’t mean I don’t fight a near constant battle with doubt. I do. There will likely be many more days when I am like this:

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That’s doubt for you. But hey, if you need to give yourself a good kick in the behind, remember what the Bible has to say about doubt. “. . . the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”  And later in James 1 . . .  “Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

Is that not clear enough?

Don’t let doubt linger, no matter how hard it is to dispel it. Pray for strength to endure it, and don’t save that picture up there onto Pinterest. You’ll be looking at it all the time and having a pity-party. 🙂

My dear writer friend, remember this! If you know who you are writing for, you will know why you are writing at all. And that is a tactic our old buddy doubt can’t stand against.