Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Day After

By Keith Fisher

Over the past few days on the blogck, you’ve been favored with many Christmas wishes. Since the big day is over, I’ll restrain myself. As the sun makes an attempt at poking through the mist this morning, I’d like to offer my hope for your recovery. Dig yourself out from the pillows and blankets and face the new day.

Okay, move the crumpled wrapping paper aside, lay down and take a nap.

As I mentioned on Facebook this morning, It’s interesting how we can suffer from a hang over without ever drinking a drop. Between the joy in the eyes of a child, and the smile caused by a gift you gave. All the candy and cookies, and Christmas dinner, love and sadness from missing departed loved ones can overwhelm us. Toys shared, and those broken, persuading Aunt Jane to have the last sip of sparkling cider, and the five year old who wants a big piece of meat for dinner, even though you know he’ll never eat it all.

All these things, although, joyful, can drain us. So, when you finish your nap, and assess the damage to your messy living room, take a moment and remember Jesus. He is more than just “the reason for the season”. Jesus Christ, the Savior of all, offers a hand to everyone. Whether we’re rich or poor, bound to sin or free from it. He is there if we will only believe Him. If we take His hand He will lift us.

Then, with our eyes on Him, we will notice a peaceful Joy enter our hearts. We’ll have a renewed desire to serve others, and in the service, we’ll notice the so-called hangover is gone.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Our Creative Destiny

By Keith Fisher

We have a porch swing in our backyard. It’s just a bench hanging from an old swing-set frame. Last summer, I set down to relax and a slit-second later, I was lying on my back with parts of the swing scattered over me. After the initial shock, I found humor in the situation, but I still wonder if God was teaching me a lesson in humility.

It was old. The wood had rotted, and the nails were rusting through, to the point of falling apart. Using some of the pieces as a guide, I improved the design and built a new, stronger, one.

After hanging it, I sat down and admired my work. My mother came over, and I persuaded her to sit and admire it to. Somehow I got roped into building one for her, for Christmas. So, You might guess what I’ve been up to lately.

I have a problem with my mother’s swing, however, I have to design and build a support frame. Mom’s house is like many others these days. It doesn’t have an overhang big enough to hang a swing from.

My frame will be beautiful, but I worried about it supporting the weight. I used to design houses so I have a working knowledge of board stresses, but how do you figure weight variables for a three-person bench when you have no idea how big the people will be? Needless to say, I’ve been doing some thinking. I finished the bench part yesterday, and while it was on the sawhorses, I sat and admired my workmanship.

I love the feeling I get from building something from scratch with my own hands, but it made me think. Why do we create? Why do writers, write? Why do painters, paint? What is the attraction in writing a song and having the whole world sing along? Hey, that rhymes.

Realists would say it has something to do with ego, and in the case of some authors, that may be partially true. On the other hand, I’ve seen very humble writers who are the first to admit their dependence on other people’s help. Truly humble people are like that, thinking of others first, but what drives them to follow the creative urge?

Is it merely the satisfaction of a job well done? What about those who have a burning desire to write, but their finished manuscript gets rejected? Or the person who sits down to sew a shirt and makes one sleeve shorter than the other? It can’t be easy to hear laughter during a piano recital, after you’ve made a mistake.

It seems like something happens in the mind during creation. It fills the soul with endorphins and taps into what I believe is our creative destiny. A few years ago, I built a deck with an intricate series of angles spilling onto each other. I had some trouble with one of the angles and showed my frustration verbally. The neighbor heard me, and asked if I needed any help. I said, “No this is my therapy.”

In my writing, I’ve had moments when a plot comes together, or when a sudden flash of inspiration hits. We often say these are the times when our characters speak to us. These are the golden moments, the therapeutic seconds when we feel rewarded.

God has given his children many talents. Some of us are better at one thing than others. With hard work, we can develop any talent we choose. If we look at our rejected, finished product, we will see the parts where we reached our moment of clarity. It was the moment when we approached our creative destiny.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Before the Dawn

A book review by Keith N Fisher

Like every writer, I have a long list of books to read. It’s one of the secrets to becoming a good writer. And, like every writer, I shuffle titles up and down the stack. Add magazines, critique chapters, and blogs, and my reading list grows. The books I read first, usually depends on whether I’ve been asked to review them or not.

I often read books for research, or to learn how other writers write, but many books get on my list just for reading pleasure. This one practically jumped into my hands the other day when I was between books.

Before the Dawn, came out in 2007, and I felt compelled to read it. Dean Hughes is one of my favorite authors, but that’s not why I wanted to read the book. The blurb from the dust jacket intrigued me, but it’s still not why I felt drawn to this book. Now that I finally got a chance to read it, I know why I was compelled.

We’ve all read books that affected us in one way or another. Before the Dawn touched me. I learned valuable lessons about pride and the secret needs of others, but mostly I learned a private lesson, one I’ve needed for a while.

From the book jacket:

When the Bishop calls Leah Sorensen to be relief society president, her first impulse is to assume he is joking. “They’d all vote against me if you put my name up,” she tells him. “And I’d vote with them.”

Also from the jacket:

They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, But will morning ever come?

You can find this book here or here. I liked it. I hope you will too.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Let it Snow, Rain, or Sleet. And Bring In the Fairies

By Keith Fisher

I heard groans from some of my friends when they heard it was going to snow. I must admit it wasn’t much fun shoveling the most recent batch of it this morning. While I was out there, though, I debated plot scenarios in my head. Sometimes I argue with myself out there, working out a problem. When I do that, however, I frequently check to see if anyone is listening. I can’t afford to be committed to the booby hatch, (although I bet I could get some writing done).

Also, While shoveling this a.m., I reflected on my childhood and the magic of snowstorms. I grew up in a house next to a hillside vacant lot, so when it snowed, I waxed the runners of my sled and patched the holes in my inner tube. I loved the snow, and I loved winter.

Now I’m an adult and a writer. I still find myself staring at fresh fallen snow with a sense of wonder. I love the way it hides the brown grass and the leaves I didn’t get picked up.
Have you ever sat on a ridge gazing at a forest of pine trees covered in fresh snow? Then, while you watch, the sun comes out. The sparkling splendor of the fairytale world can take your breath away.

I experienced a similar feeling the other day, when, as a writer, I parked in the overflow parking lot of the Provo Utah LDS temple. I set my laptop on the steering wheel as I always do, but I spent fifteen minutes gaping at the view before I could write. The sparkle in the sunlight was fabulous.

The real attraction of snowstorms, or any storm for that matter, is the possibility of being able to write without feeling guilty about taking the time. I can’t do yard work while its raining, and sleet makes it almost impossible to walk outside. I can escape into my manuscript, holding a cup of hot chocolate, and follow my characters into places of their choosing, and not worry about yard work or even hanging Christmas lights. I give myself permission to be a writer.

Now, I’m sure that some of you, especially mothers, will bring up housework, and the many tasks that must be done for a family regardless of snow. Well, in my perfect world, fairies exist, and they like nothing more than to help. In my imagination, my children are fairies and they can’t go outside during the storm anyway. Then when the housework and fighting is finished, the storm clears, drawing the kids outside for awhile, giving you time to climb into the world of your manuscript.

Like I said at the outset—childhood was, and is, a magical time. I hope you can steal a moment for yourself. Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Finding Inspiration

By Keith Fisher

There are many places writers go to for inspiration. I’m not talking about ideas that come from outside sources, such as the baby born on a plane coming into Salt Lake the other day. What a good writing prompt that is. Also, a headline on Yahoo intrigued me. I didn’t stop to read, but it was something about an American woman being charged with murder in Italy. In the picture she looked like a nice girl. I could let my imagination soar with that one, but that’s not the kind of inspiration I’m talking about.

Recently, I discovered that every writer has doubts and fears. For some writers it can be debilitating. Even the most talented, are afraid of failure. In Ralph Keyes book, The Writer’s Book of Hope, he writes that on the day The Great Gatsby was published, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “I am overcome with fears and forebodings. . . . In Fact all my confidence is gone.”

Keyes also wrote about a condition all writers have, called AFD Syndrome. He calls it the three-legged stool we sit on when writing. Its three legs are Anxiety, Frustration, and Despair. It seems writers are prone to bouts of self-doubt and depression. Who can blame us? When we place so many people in a position of judging us? Not to mention the constant fears that our manuscripts won’t see daylight past the veritable slush pile.

It sometimes doesn’t help to actually get published either, the example of F Scott Fitzgerald illustrates this. We writers are a strange bunch.

It’s normal for a writer to fear the keyboard. But writing is the occupation we have chosen, and we need to recognize our anxiety for what it is. We call it laziness, procrastination, evasiveness, writer’s block, giving up all together, and sometimes arrogance.

The trick is to work through it. To keep going, even though your whole being cries enough! I can’t take it anymore. Keyes told the story of a young man who, after getting many rejections, went to the garage, put a hose on the tail pipe and started his car. After his death, his mother pursued the publication of his book. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and has sold over a million copies.

Perhaps that is an extreme example, but it illustrates the mood of a writer sometimes. The point is to keep trying. I have a tune floating in my head. I can’t remember who wrote it. Essentially the chorus is, keep trying. Never give up on you.

I came away from a writer’s conference, a few years ago, with the feeling of confirmation. I felt I was meant to be a writer. I considered it a sacred calling. To touch hearts and improve lives through my stories. Since then, I have been to the depths of despair over my choice to pursue what, until the conference, had only been a way of relieving stress.

But, I now have a renewed sense of self-worth. What happened? I finally caught on to what my critique group, and a good friend, has been trying to tell me about a problem in my writing. Also, I heard about a study conducted with writing teachers across the country. Almost invariably, the students who were the most talented, the ones everyone marveled over, the shinning lights on the horizon, quit writing. This is not a hard and fast rule, but for the most part, successful writers are those who keep writing. No matter what, they steadfastly pursue the dream.

So, I ask you, where do you get your inspiration? What motivated you to pick up that pen, typewriter, or sit in front of that computer? Whatever it was, try to remember it. The dream lives. There are myriad stories about successful writers who got rejected thirty, forty, even hundreds of times, before getting that book deal. The problem, however, is dealing with anxiety, frustration, and despair. (Notice I didn’t say overcoming it?)

I read, . . . the depression J K Rowling suffered when writing the first Harry Potter book, inspired her to create the dementors who, vacuum out happy memories, leaving only desperate ones. Recognize anxiety for what it is, and deal with it. Everyone has it. Don’t let it stop you.

On a final note, when a miracle happens, and they do, all time. When the miracle of publication happens, don’t stop. You will be tempted to believe it was fluke, and you couldn’t possibly do it again. Don’t believe it! Your writing voice has resonance, or you wouldn’t have been published in the first place. You have many more stories to write, get busy and write them.

The definition of a “good writer” is one who keeps writing. Even when the barking dogs are seemingly all around you, waiting to take your head off, Keep writing, never give up on you. Then, on a good day when you remember why you started to write, the fact that you are doing, what you set out to do, will bring comfort. You will know why you are a writer.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.