Category Archives: writing

Writing the Illusive Story

timid-dog-biteMy stories run up and bite me on the leg – I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.
–Ray Bradbury

Sometimes the dog brings me a finished thought that comes easy. Other times, he is more like the timid little dog in this photo that does not know what he wants.

I am struggling with a topic now. I started writing it the end of February and I am no closer to a finished product than I was then. Like so often happens, I began with a thought. It did not work, so I set it aside. I came back to it a few times, scrapped some thoughts, rewrote others. Thinking I knew what I wanted to say, I started over, but that did not work either. <sigh> Sometimes it works. Often it does not. I guess if I were doing this 25 years ago, I would have a waste basket overflowing with wads of paper.

I decided tonight to write about the writing process. I have a few mind pictures that I use when I talk about it that I wanted to share. They say we should write what we know… this I know.

When a story comes easily, it is like I am sitting in the middle of a huge ball. The ball is a complete story that already exists. I know it completely and intimately. It just needs to be slowly squeezed out through my brain, one word at a time. If I am persistent, it will happen. After it is out, I can polish it up a bit and pretty soon, I am hitting the “Publish” button on my blog. That is not always the case though.

Every story begins as an idea. I login to the blog and begin writing, like I am doing now. I know what I want to say and it just comes out a word at a time. Keeping the whole thought in my mind long enough to squeeze it out can be difficult. I not only have to remember the whole finished idea, I need to remember how much of the story I have already told and what comes next. From his quote (above), I would say that Ray Bradbury’s ideas were more persistent than mine frequently are. His stuck around long enough to ensure they were acknowledged. In contrast, my ideas are shy, impatient and easily bored. If I am not attentive enough to them, they will walk away sulking that I did not care enough to write them down in time.

I read in a biography of Alexander Hamilton, who wrote the lion’s share of the Federalist Papers, that he would take very long walks to think about what to write. Then he would go to bed and sleep, no matter the time of day or night. He would sleep for a number of hours (I forget the details). When he awoke, he began writing and would stay at it for hours until he was done. When he was done, he was done… (at least that is the way I remember it).

It seems to me that his ideas were lumps of dough that needed to rise before being thrown into the oven to be cooked into writings. I have thrown many ideas into the oven too soon.  Every entry that I begin has just as much potential to end up published as it does to be added to the ever growing list of unpublished posts.

I find myself wondering what will happen to this post… will anyone else ever see these words?

Usually one of the last things I will do is find, or create images to go with the posts. I find that visual images add interest to the presentation. Maybe it is the little boy in me that prefers picture books to books with just words. Speaking of which, the book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball is a terrific book about managing to work in corporate life without losing your humanity. The reason I thought of it is that it is full of doodles by the author. Some of them illustrate his topics and some are just doodles.

apple-hole

One more illustration about what writing is like for me. Imagine a huge apple that represents the whole of what happened. As the storyteller, I want you to know what happened, but if I really describe the whole apple, I will have written a text book on apples rather than tell a story. My job is to describe the apple well enough while also telling an interesting story. The thing that actually happened and the story about what happened both have weight. It is no good to bore you with a long, drawn-out story that is perfectly complete and accurate. Likewise focusing solely on the story while ignoring the truth of the thing that happened is to miss the point of telling the story altogether.  The end result feels a bit like I am a worm eating the apple and describing the trip as I go through. There are innumerable ways to get through the apple and be true to it, but I only get to choose one. I leave a lot out, but when I do it well, we are satisfied and we know what an apple tastes like.

I hope this trip through the apple worm hole of this writer’s mind has been enjoyable.  I don’t know if this helped me get any closer to writing the post that is fighting against me, but it was worth a try.

Part of the Conversation

mastersvoiceThere’s a conversation going on that is beginning to get interesting.  It is always stirring, sometimes uplifting, frequently frustrating, commonly heated. The conversation is about religion, faith, belief, destiny, doctrine and tolerance to name a few topics.  Sometimes it gets some politics mixed in too.  I have strong thoughts and feelings about the topic and I want to join into the conversation, but I haven’t jumped in yet.  Why?

Even though I don’t believe it is true, intellectually, I have an emotional belief that I don’t have anything to bring to the conversation, so I should just keep my mouth shut, my keyboard quiet and listen.  So I listen and I read and I gradually I feel stirred to the point I feel like I will burst.  Then I don’t usually make the time to write. When I do start to write something, I don’t publish it.  I have a bit of a narcissistic belief that tells me that if I am ok, everything is ok, so I focus my thoughts inward.  These inward thoughts are a necessary part of being engaged with life and with the conversation, but they are not the end I really want.  I want to be part of the larger conversation.  I do want to share my thoughts with others.

One of the reasons I don’t publish is that my thoughts are too big.  I have 10 volumes of material in my head and organizing it then squeezing it out one word at a time is excruciatingly slow.  The slowness makes me lose momentum, which fuels distractions that keep me from writing.  The truth is that writing is just one of my desires.  There are other things that are just as important, frequently more important; like going to work and loving my family and friends.  Over time, I lose my train of thought and focus and I stop trying.  Not so much discouragement, but forgetfulness.  Next thing I know I get some margin back in my life and I find myself back where I am now; longing to be part of the conversation.

I do not like conflict.  Some people who I am close to may not believe that because they frequently see me in conflict and attempting working through it.  While I am usually willing to step into the discomfort of conflict, sometimes I do a poor job of working through it and it always drains me emotionally.  The anticipation of the emotional energy I will have to expend to stay in the conversation is daunting.  It is easier to just shrink back into my cave and leave the conflict alone.  But then I watch from inside the cave, wishing I was part of the conversation.

I do not want to impose my beliefs on others.  In my early years, I believed that as a “good Christian”, I should be in people’s face about what I believe.  I was pretty arrogant.  As a Christian, my beliefs about what is “required” now center more on loving God and loving people.  The words that keep coming back to me are grace, gifts and humility. I want to treat people graciously, give them gifts of listening and honoring even when I do not agree with them. And I want to hold my beliefs with open hands in a spirit of humility.  I don’t believe what I believed 10 or 20 years ago, and in 10 or 20  years I won’t likely believe what I do now.  I don’t have to win the argument, I just want to be in the conversation.  A friend of mine tells me that he loves competition, but it doesn’t matter in the end who won.  He just loves being in the game whole-heartedly.  That parallels my desire with the conversation.

Lastly (for now), I am afraid of rejection. This conversation seems to be dominated by strong voices of theologians and others who hold strong feelings about their beliefs.  There are many teachers and leaders and fellow Christians that I have studied under and followed over the years.  I do not want to disappoint them, so rather than express disagreement or doubt about what they taught, I usually stay quiet.  Ultimately, it is my own fear of being abandoned, deserted, ignored and/or shunned, which is both rational and irrational at the same time.  It is unfair and irrational because some of these people I am afraid of losing love me no matter what I believe or disbelieve and that’s that.  At the same time, it is a perfectly rational fear. Some would break ties with me if they knew what I really thought.  My cousin recently posted a controversial quote about faith on Facebook and was de-friended by someone who disagreed.  I don’t want that to happen, but I realize that 20-30 years ago that could well have been me that de-friended.  There’s a  thought; my 20 year old self de-friending my 52 year old self.  It helps me give grace to those who will not listen.

The price of keeping my thoughts to myself is too high.  I am ready to become part of the conversation.

Publish

When I tell people that I am writing a book, they ask what kind of a book or what it is about.  I don’t have a good answer to that question.  This may sound silly, but right now, I want to write a book so that I can experience what it is like to write a book.  I don’t need it to be wildly successful in the marketplace.  After all, I have a good job.  I don’t need people to love it or to even read it.  I just need to write it.  I do not fully understand why.  I just feel compelled to do it.  One of the reasons I started blogging was to practice writing.  This blog gives me a reason and a place to write.

publishThere is a button on the screen where I write my blog that reads “Publish”.  All I have to do to publish my blog entry is to click that button!  What a great time to live.  In order to publish 1000 years ago, I would have had to manually copy or hire someone to print every individual copy of my manuscript by hand.  Every single printing would have been a manual process!  Just 500 years ago, I could have had it printed by machine, but I’m guessing there weren’t many machines around.  Truth be told, if I were around 500 or 1000 years ago, I probably would have been illiterate and this wouldn’t be an issue.  If I were trying to publish even as recently as 15 years ago, I would have had no choice but to find a publisher who would accept my work and print the books.  With the advent of better and easier blogging software, now I merely click a button and it is published. <clicks safe draft button before losing his work>  Never before in history could I type a few paragraphs and click the Publish button to find my words immediately available to almost anyone anywhere on the planet.

So why do I want to write a book?  What’s it going to be about?  Fiction or Non-fiction?  I don’t know yet.  Blogging is giving me the discipline to do the work of writing.  The hard thing is making the time and doing the work… especially when I am tired. <clicks the Publish button>

I Can’t Do It

rainbow-jimA few days ago, I decided to do an experiment in posting to my blog every day for 30 days.  By missing yesterday’s post, I answered the question… I can’t do it.

So what?  Now what? At this point, I can choose to end the experiment as a failure or examine what went wrong (if anything) and learn a little more about me and what I really want.

My friend, Curtis plays the guitar.  He has recently picked it back up in earnest and is writing songs for people as gifts.  My birthday present this year was a rewrite of “Yesterday” by the Beatles (lyrics below).  There’s no way I can express how much that meant to me.  Knowing that he thought enough of me to plan it in advance, to think about what song to do and then writing lyrics that fit me (not to mention knowing me well enough to be able to write for and about me).  It was a gift I will always treasure!

I mention Curtis and the guitar because I always wanted to play the guitar.  I like to say to say now, “I would give anything to play the guitar… ANYTHING!… except practice.”  And it’s true.  I could do it.  I already understand the music.  It’s just another instrument.  I just don’t want to do it badly enough to “pay my dues”.  Is writing like that?  Am I willing to give up what I would need to, in order to finish a book?

Yesterday was filled with wonderful activities with people I love.  I wouldn’t have given up any of them.  They were all very important to me.  On some level, I believe that a good writer writes first and then organizes whatever is left of his life around that.  I don’t think I can do that.  One of the things I value most in life is variety.  I love recording life using photos, videos and words, but I never want to stop “living life” in order to do it.

Maybe I don’t really want to write a book as badly as I think I do. Or maybe writing would be better as a collaborative effort for me.  Some of my favorite books were written by teams of writers.   For now, I will continue the experiment and wrestle a bit more when I fail again.  Molly will be staying with us for a few days starting Tuesday while her mom goes to a Music Therapy conference.  Something tells me that there will be life to be lived and written about.

Yesterday to Legacy (RTI–April 18, 2010)

Yesterday
All my time keeping others an arm’s length away
Didn’t think they’d care ’bout what I had to say
Oh I didn’t believe in me Yesterday . . .

Suddenly
I’m now twice the man I used to be
Friends in my life celebrating over me . . . it’s a
New legacy—God brought to me

Now I clearly see—the Art in me’s for the world to know
I have something to say—want to bring it out more every day so now my

Legacy
Love’s not a game I have to play!
It’s just me being who He made me to be
Oh the weight of my presence—that’s my legacy!
Jim in my life—he’s a gift to me!

An Experiment

scientistAfter attending my friend, Chia-Li Chien’s book signing this evening, I was mowing my lawn and thinking.  Chia-Li joined our Toastmasters club just a couple of years ago and she has already finished her Advanced Communicator award.  Most never get there.  A year or so ago, she told me that she was thinking of writing a book and she did it!  Tonight was her book signing party.  In Linchpin, Seth Godin says, “Real artists ship!”  Chia-Li is a real artist.

I have had a dream of writing a book myself for some time now.  I have so many other activities in my life that it is hard to take the time to just focus on the writing.  I want to say, “yes” to writing, but I don’t want to say, “No” to other interests.  Chia-Li’s party renewed that desire.

Stirred to write again and yet having been down this road I was ready to give up before even trying again.  As my friend John likes to remind me, it may feel like a familiar place, but it is not the same.  With that thought in mind (and before I hit the off switch), I am going to make a commitment.  I commit to doing an experiment.  For the next 30 days, I will write on this blog once a day.  I will “ship” something daily.  It may not be polished.  It may not even be coherent, but it will be published.

I’m kind of excited to see what I have to say.  See you tomorrow, if I don’t blow up the laboratory.

Why I write

monkwriter.gifWhy do I write? Who am I writing to. Of course this being a public blog, I am writing to anyone who wants to read it. When I first began this blog, I didn’t know who I was writing to and that is right where I needed to start… by just writing. After thinking about it, I realized that my heart’s desire is for my family to know who I am. I frequently find myself wondering about my grandparents and my great grandparents. What were they like at my age? What did they think about? What were the joys of life for them? What did they fear? What did they desire? What did they do for fun? I don’t know the answers to those questions because they didn’t leave a record. No journals or diaries. No books. I imagine there were lots of reasons that they didn’t write… but that is the best I have, my imagination.writing.JPG

I don’t think everyone comes to a place in life where they ask these kinds of questions… but some of us do. The smart ones ask while their grandparents are still living. Unlike them, I waited until one by one, they passed away. All is not lost, however. My dad recently shared a sermon that my great-grandfather M. C. Lewis delivered which I published here. I took some video of my grandmother Anderson telling stories before she died. I hope to edit and publish her stories too. The Family History section of my blog is dedicated to these family stories. Another project that I have begun is transferring video from old 8mm movies to the computer. I published some of these on my old Home Movies blog. One day I’ll get around to incorporating that with this blog site, but not tonight 🙂

The Dream

I had a dream a few years ago that I hope will explain a little more why I write about me… publicly. In my dream I had died, but I was able to walk around and experience everything as if I was alive, but no one could see me. It was much like inmydream.gif the movies. The dream begain after my funeral was over and everyone got together for fried chicken and potato salad (mom makes a mean potato salad). I didn’t see everyone there, but I did see my mom. She was standing and staring into space with a despondent look on her face. I felt so bad for her that I walked up and hugged her. I knew she wouldn’t be able to feel it, but I wanted to hug her so badly. When I put my arms around her, I couldn’t really feel her, but her eyes opened wide and she gasped! It was as if she could feel my presence.

Now I was feeling excited. I thought that if I could make her feel me, maybe I could interact with the “real world” in other ways. I tried moving things to let them know I was there, but nothing worked until I picked up a pen and wrote on a piece of paper. I could actually write notes to them! I found myself writing to them about what I thought was important. My daughters were making decisions about things and I wanted to tell them how I felt about their decisions, so I wrote it down.

Suddenly, I woke up. I was dazed and unsure if it had been a dream. It felt so real. I sat up on the side of the bed and waited for a minute or two as my mind cleared. I soon realized it must have been a dream, but I was still feeling rattled. I prayed and asked God what He wanted me to do with this dream. I knew there was more to it than just a dream, but I was confused.

I felt God whisper to me. Not audibly, but it was like a knowing, complete thought. He said, “It is real.” You will have the ability to communicate to your loved ones after you die. If you write the things that are important to you now, they will have them when you are gone.

That dream has driven me ever since. I want my writing to communicate to those I love now and those I love and care about in the future. I want you to know who I am. What I think about. What I dream about. What I fear. What I long for. I want you to know my questions and my doubts. I don’t want my ancestors to put me on a pedestal as if I was some kind of super man who never doubted or feared. I am a man who struggles and wrestles with life and with my faith.

That is why I write.

The New Site

Although I hope it doesn’t look any different to you, the fact that you are reading this means that my web server has been switched over successfully. It is never as easy as it ought to be to move from one server to another. I would think that it would be a matter of just moving the files and the database and wammo! But there was a new version of WordPress that I just had to try and of course they changed the database just enough to keep me from being able to merely import the database directly. It is Thursday evening as I write this. My hope is that it will be live on Friday.

Boring!

My posts are boring!

Why do you keep reading my blog? You say it is good. you say you like it, but you don’t… not really. If it were a great movie, you would have told your friends, “You have got to go see this!” If it were a funny video on YouTube, you would emailed it out or hosted it on your blog… if my blog entry had really been all that, you would have told your friends about it… at least once. Tell me what you really think. That’s what I need to hear.

Continue reading Boring!

Experiment

Sometimes my heart is full and my mind is full and yet I cannot think of a thing to write. This is an experiment to see what happens when I write whatever comes to mind.I just put on earphones and am listening to Pat Metheny. Normally, I want quiet when I am writing, but tonight the television is on and is playing mindless sitcom reruns. The noise is distracting. I just turned up the music because I could hear the TV over the music. I despise the TV. Especially commercials and the stupid laugh tracks on sitcoms. Actually, I think this show was recorded live, but it still annoys the heck out of me.

i have gotten spoiled by Microsoft Word’s autocorrect feature. i never type upper case I’s anymore. i expect the program to make them uppercase when i hit the spacebar. As you can see, this editor doesn’t do any correction at all. i guess i will have to keep backspacing and retyping my i’s.

At work I am programming again right now. It is fascinating for me to watch myself. It has been several years since I have written any “real” programs. My work has been more about creating and managing processes, reporting, teaching and training. The team I am on now has a need for some java programming and that was some of the last programming I did. So I am the java programmer.

I am in an endless pursuit of who I am. What are my strengths and weaknesses. What is it that I love to do. What do I hate doing? What is God trying to build into me? What is it that he wants to show me about myself?

As I am writing code, I find myself “head down” at the computer much more than I am normally. Normally, I am out and about talking with customers and coworkers or reading documentation. I spend a lot of time reading and responding to emails and dealing with “crises”. There is a part of me that likes the heads down nature of programming. It is a finite job. I can see the results of it and see how much I have accomplished.

One of my strengths is my ability to take something apart and see what makes it go. I used to take my toys apart when I was little. I remember the steel cars we had. They were almost always manufactured by putting the separate pieces together like so: One side had a slot and the part that matched it had a little tab that fit in the slot. Then the tab was bent over at a 90 degree angle. I would get a little screwdriver or a knife and pry up the tab and separate the parts. I wasn’t satisfied until I had all the parts separated. I don’t remember putting them back together again so much as I remember taking them apart.

The part of me that drove my taking things apart to see what makes them go is the same strength that drives me to understand whatever it is I am working with. It sometimes goes like this. I will be typing in Word and accidentally hit a key, like hitting Control+d when I meant to hit Control+s to save. Up pops the Font dialog window. Most people would say (or think) a dirty word, close the box and continue. I would close the box and try a few key combinations to make sure I remembered that combination just in case I might need it again sometime. Another time, I need a program to do something that I could get around, but I spend 5 or 10 minutes researching it. I want to know how to let the computer do the work. In the long-run it pays off for me. Lots of people come to me for help with Word or Outlook especially. There are so many obscure tasks that most people never learn how to do. I thrive on it. Those are some of my jimazing strengths. What are yours? Do you ever look at yourself and ask those kinds of questions? Maybe my asking those kinds of questions is just an extension of this strength in me.

Another observation about myself when I am writing programming code is that I can so easily get myopic and forget about the world around me. That one scares me. When I get like that, I am less aware of my surroundings and I risk neglecting the people and things that I hold dear. It is part of who I am. In fact it is happening right now. I want to call one of my daughters who is going through a rough time, and I’m spending too much time here writing… I guess my experiment was successful.