Daily Verse – 1 Peter 3:15

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The word which jumps out in this verse, when you read the Greek Interlinear version, is that ‘answer’ is written as ‘defence’.

We are to always be ready to give a defence of the hope we have in Christ.

The word for ‘defence’ in Greek is apologian and only occurs in the New Testament 3 times: 2 Corinthians 7:11, Philippians 1:16, and here in 1 Peter 3:15.

According to Strong’s definition, the word means to give an answer for oneself, to be a clearing of self, or a defense.

The religious hierarchy was very anti the 1st Century Church – remember its actions had led to the leader of The Way – Jesus – being crucified. Saul of Tarsus had led the Judaic witch-hunt of the post-Resurrection followers.

As the Word of God spread out into the Gentile communities there were many other debates and challenges to this new faith. The Book of Acts provides sufficient examples of Paul having to defend his faith.

We are still being challenged to ‘defend’ our faith.

Sometimes this is in the face of violence and persecution, but for most of us it is in the form of the unbelief of those around us and a society which is increasingly humanistic in tone.

Peter challenges us to have our ‘defence’ for our faith in the hope of Christ.

What is your apologian?

What is it in your life, day in and day out, which convinces you to be a follower of The Way of our Lord Jesus Christ?

The Way After – Day #4

Traditionally, any pilgrimage route began from your front door step.

Today the most common starting point for El Camino de Santiago begins across the Spanish border in the French town of St. Jean Pied de Port.

St. Jean is the historic capital of the Basque Country which encompasses land and communities on both sides of the Pyrenees.

It is also a dramatic start with the route quickly elevating to a total height of 1429m and 14.2km of the total 24.7km for the day involving going uphill.

The beginning of El Camino seems to reinforce the observation that life can unquestionably be difficult.

Challenges abound. It is easy to lose motivation. It is easy to give up.

But how much of the challenge of the first day comes about because of a general lack of preparation?

How much comes down to a sense that walking should be easy, or is easy, or not as difficult as running, so some other such notion.

In the movie The Way, Joost sees a cyclist on the trail and expounds ‘You can do this on a bike? Why did no one tell me?’

Sando originally spoke of completing the Camino on bikes. It would seem easier to have completed the Way pedalling, certainly in terms of time taken. He became convinced that the route had to be walked. The ability to accomplish this inevitably delayed us in our efforts.

Sando’s diagnosis of a brain tumour delayed much that he would have wanted to accomplish.

Those first months were very much like the profile of the first day on ‘the Way’. Tough. Uphill. A struggle. No obvious end in sight. No particular alternate route, which was any easier. 

You simply had to put one foot in front of the other.

Walk the route which many others have done before you and take solace from the fact that they made it to ‘Roncesvalles’.

Sando certainly became aware that there was a wider community of cancer patients and survivors out there and he wanted to be part of that continuing community offering support to others through his experiences.

There is a saying that there is more which unites us than divides us.

I am sure that this is true, but to discover this we need to take those first steps outside our front doors.

We need to engage in action and then the ensuing connections with others will come. 

Denmark is reckoned to be one the happiest nation in the world and one of the concepts at the heart of their daily lives is that of clubs or societies, with most people spending three or more evenings a week engaged in specific activities with others.

The first pilgrim guest house in Roncesvalles was built in 1127 and recorded in a poem:

The door opens to all,

To sick and healthy,

Not only to true Catholics

But also to pagans, Jews,

Heretics, the idle and vagabonds.’

El Camino opens the door to us all but do we open our door to all?

The Way After – Day #2

https://youtu.be/t99KH0TR-J4

I hadn’t heard this Queen song for a long time until today.

When it first was released it was so incredibly poignant and obviously reflected Freddie Mercury’s own life.

When I was younger a friend’s elder sister was a massive Queen fan so I had heard about the rumours of his diagnosis with Aids long before it hit the music press and made national headlines.

For me the song is typically Queen in style, but the sense of introspection in the lyrics is humbling.

Sando never appeared to be a big fan of Queen but he certainly embodied the sentiment of the title, before and after his brain tumour diagnosis.

Life is never easy for anyone and there are undoubtedly periods of frustration and annoyance for many different reasons.

He always seemed to express his immediate sense of frustration, with a frown and forthright dialogue, then straighten up his tall frame, fix his often impish smile, and carry on.

I was – probably still am – much more of the the opposite – I have an immediate sense of anger and then simply carry on being angry.

In Sando’s presence, it was far easier to be persuaded to lose the anger, and that together we could, and would, just carry on.

His passing leaves us feeling alone and with that it is easy to ‘stay’ angry, to be lost in the selfish realisation that we have to carry on by ourselves now.

As the words of the chorus say:

Inside my heart is breaking

My makeup may be flaking

But this is when our memory of Sando must come to the fore, and remember that his . . .

. . . smile, still, stays on

The Way After – Day #1

Yo soy el camino, la verdad y la vida.

Sando loved his languages, and foremost was Spanish.

I was never sure whether the food and wine were the ‘bonus’ to his linguistic talent, or simply necessary to access the wine and the food!

When he spoke Spanish he became more animated than usual.

I would joke that he probably was just reciting some song lyrics by Julio Iglesias which he had learnt by heart.

I think he probably saw himself more as the son than the father, the youthful Enrique rather than the senior Julio.

I am the Way, the truth and the life.

Early Christians were known as followers of the way.

The ‘way’ was a direction, a movement.

The institution of religion can seem the very opposite.

Solid but stood still.

Jesus and his followers were always on the move.

Pilgrimage was, and is, faith on the move.

Yet the churches and cathedrals stand waiting for those on the way.

Sando seemed to be both.

His was tall and well dressed. 

He spoke in more refined English tones and loved cricket. 

He was taught in boarding school and also taught in boarding school.

Yet he never stood still.

(Despite my own belief that five day test cricket was nothing more than standing still.)

He moved, like the way.

We met each other, and we met others along the way.

Many pilgrims who have walked El Camino de Santiago realise that the journey begins but never ends.

Attending the final Pilgrim’s Mass in Santiago de Compostella is simply a milestone on the way.

The Daily Verse – Luke 13:8

“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it.” – NIVUK

Luke 13:8

Are there areas of your life that appear to not be bearing fruit?

Have you decided to cut those areas out of your life or attend to them more carefully?

Today’s verse is taken from the Gospel of Luke and is part of a parable which Jesus is teaching from.

We are told that a man has a fig tree growing in his vineyard but for three years it has not produced fruit. He decides it is time to cut the tree down and do something else with the soil.

He calls to his gardener and gives him the order but the gardener asks for another chance – one more year – for the tree.

He will tend it – dig around it loosening the soil so the roots are watered more effectively – and he will fertilise it – adding in manure to nourish it.

The gardener will put in extra time and effort to that one tree, out of the whole vineyard, to try and get it to bear fruit.

He tells the owner, if this doesn’t work then cut the tree down.

Many commentators state that Jesus is alluding to the nation of Israel here. They have one more year to ‘repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand’.

There are many other verses in the Gospels which lend strength to his view, but often in parables Jesus has several threads in his teaching.

The owner has waited patiently. Three years is more than generous.

The gardener sees his job as caring and nurturing, not cutting down; although judicious pruning is often needed for a plant or tree to grow more healthily.

The gardener commits himself to put in the extra time and effort to aid the tree.

When the owner thinks it is worthless the gardener sees possibility.

We see this attitude in Jesus throughout the Gospels.

He takes time with people the leaders of society think are worthless. He nourishes them. They produce fruit.

In more recent times the habit of structuring our lives and getting the maximum potential out of them, we are generally encouraged to be like the vineyard owner.

If something isn’t bearing worthwhile fruit then cut it out.

Habits, possessions, use or users of time – if they aren’t productive then get rid of them.

The logic makes perfect sense and can be the right way to act.

This parable contrasts the owner’s attitude with that of the gardener. The former has put very little effort in to the vineyard and the gardener has; and he is willing to put in more time and effort on this one tree.

Is it his superior knowledge that commits him to this course of action? Or is it faith in his ability to effect a change?

If we view the tree as the sinners and the tax collectors and the sick and those who counted for nothing in Jesus’ society, then we see the difference between the owner – the religious leaders – and the gardener – Jesus.

The tree can be us, our lives – habits and actions – or perhaps the people in our lives.

The gardener doesn’t just leave the tree, he commits to the time and attention it needs.

This is how we need to look at our lives on many occasions.

Some areas may not be working that well, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t, given sufficient effort from ourselves.

It needs to be the right effort though.

We need to look at the deficient areas we all have and assess what will improve the growing conditions for our ‘trees’.

If we aren’t sure we can ask another gardener – they love to share little tips and tricks, generally from their own experiences.

So, identify a few fruit-less trees in your life and look at them with a gardener’s eye – what can you do to improve the nourishment to the tree and improve the soil it is in?

Embracing the Void.

Photo by Tania Malréchauffé on Unsplash

This is another post from the Archive. I’ve hit a point in my current working project where I’ve had to take stock of what is there and what isn’t there in the story so far. This post came to mind as a guide for me as I am reviewing the almost 80,000 words I’ve already written.

I’ve just read a great article by Gwenna Laithland advising writers to use ‘white noise’.

Basically, white noise is the void – the bits you leave out which the reader then projects their own thoughts and imagination onto.

Laithland uses the example of a Harry Potter stage show casting Hermione Grainger with a black actress. J.K. Rowling admits that she never specified her heroine’s skin colour.

I often get caught up in feeling the need to give more detail in description and narration – partly because I write dialogue much more easily and my pages can quickly resemble a play script.

I like writers at both ends of the spectrum. The very precise and detailed, and the void.

So which is best?

I suppose the answer is write with detail when you need to manouveur the reader into a specific place and embrace the void where it really doesn’t matter.

I am still working on this.

I’ve come to realise that the Void can also be used in the plotting of a story also.

What you need to reveal to the reader and what they can deduce for themselves.

The trick seems to be letting go of your own imagined, or fixed, view of the story and allowing the reader the space to become properly involved themselves.

The void allows them to bring their imagination to the story, even if you plot line turns out not to be what they imagined – Jack Reacher creator Lee Child is very good at this, giving you lots of room to try and work out what the ‘bad guys’ are really up to.

So good luck with Embracing the Void!

Chase Jarvis – Creative Calling – Pt.1

You know who Chase Jarvis is right? You’ve heard of CreativeLive?

No? Then hit the links before reading any further.

It’s okay. I’ll wait for you.

Sorted? Great!

Now we all are familiar with Chase and his amazing team in CreativeLive, then let’s get into his book Creative Calling.

This book is his blueprint and experience of living a full life of creativity and harnessing the energy of your talents to live the life you truly want.

It covers all types of creative impulses and outlets.

Chase puts out a massive amount of free content in personal sharings, interviews with the top creatives and entrepreneurs in the game. There is a mass of free content on the CreativeLive site as well.

The latest offering from Chase is the Creative Calling Book Club.

This is a free 6-weekly class where you are tutored and taken through the key elements of the book with Chase Jarvis himself, for about an hour. There is usually a long Q&A session at the end as well. It takes place live each Saturday – 6pm UK time – but the content is then up on webpage shortly after.

In this post I want to share the main takeaways from Week 1.

The first takeaway is in essence a daily mantra for creatives:

  • We are all Creative!
  • Believe Creativity is a muscle!
  • Do small Creative acts in daily ways.

You don’t need to see a painter cut off his ear to know that being creative is just as much an emotional/passionate state of being as it is a job of work like any other, needing continual inspiration and daily input.

We are all Creative – most of us need to use it – that part of us – more regularly.

In fact Chase has a saying which puts this the best: Do the verb to be the noun.

You have probably heard of writer’s block? I’m not sure if there is an equivalent in other artists’ endeavours? Painter’s Block . . . Embroiderer’s Block . . . Musician’s Block . . ?

Creativity is a muscle. So what’s your daily work out and is it in your calendar alongside your physical workout?

You’ve not got either? Then that’s a whole different blog post!

Athletes don’t just train a couple of times a week. Most will train everyday, but they vary what they do and tailor workouts to specific skills in their disciplines or areas of their bodies.

Small Creative acts in daily ways. If I focus on writing, which is my predominant creative sphere, then I need to write everyday on my main project. I also need to do research. I need to read other writer’s words and see how they do their thing. I need to play around with words – use them, flip them around, drop them into different orders, see what happens and what they can do.

How do these three elements fit into you creative sphere?

The next big takeaway is IDEA.

  • I – Imagine what you want
  • D – Design a system to do it!
  • E – Execute the plan!
  • A – Amplify

What do you want from your creativity? Is it a full time career? Is it the ‘me’ time you rarely get? Is it to create art for your family and friends? The what is a value set against a graph it is the sum of your desire for your creativity.

Once you’ve decided (and it is okay to change your mind!) what you want then you need to design a system to accomplish that want. There are plenty of generic systems out there but you need to design one which fits your current life and circumstances. How much time can you put aside each day? When? What sequence do you need to create in? Get your system!

Now you have the want and the system, you’ve got to execute! Start creating and keep doing it, in line with your system, every day, or the days you’ve allocated to being creative. This is down to you. You may have the support of family and friends to help and encourage you, but ultimately it is you in the cockpit – fly the plane!

To finish with you need to amplify. Take your system and improve it, build upon it, make it slicker or bigger. Develop your want and alter it, enlarge it. Increase the time you spend on your creative endeavour. Change the days you do each element on. Switch to every other day but increase the time in one go. The choices are yours to make.

Chase Jarvis and CreativeLive – they’ve made a huge difference to my creative attitude and output. See what they can do for you.

(And no, I’m not being paid my them – they don’t even know I’m here!)

Improving Your Character(s)!

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Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

It is difficult in these days of movies and tv series not to associate actors with the fictional people they portray.

Or is it the other way around?

An honest actor will tell you that if the writing is good then they just say the lines. Which is them being very generous. Their art is a truly skilful one.

But, if the lines of their characters are true to their part within the story, then they may ‘play’ the role rather than having to ‘invent’ the role.

I’ve been concentrating on character within my own stories a lot more recently.

I tend write and reveal character through dialogue. Which, for me, is fine; mostly due to the fact that these characters have been hanging out with me and following me around, talking non-stop to me.

I’ve started to think much more about how much I am actually revealing about these characters. I think I might not be doing as good a job as I think.

One of the articles I came across whilst deliberating this issue offered ‘five ways to improving your characters’.

In my notebook, I neglected to write down where the article was from . . . but when I track it down again, I will attribute it properly so you can check the whole thing out.

Until then I offer you the notes I made.

  1. Get in touch with your character on a personal level – If you were describing having met this person to a friend of yours, what would you tell them? Your reader probably should know that much too.
  2. Understand their backstory deeply – You probably will not tell this story in your novel/script but all of the things that have happened to them up to this point, will effect their decision making within your story.
  3. Drive your story with your characters – Plot is obviously important, but how your main characters get to that end point, might be different if you let them find their way there, rather than driving them there yourself.
  4. Study how character change impacts plot – Back to school! – pick up those books/articles, listen/watch those interviews with your favourite authors. Keep learning your craft!
  5. Be persistent – Unless you want your characters to give up, don’t you give up learning and understanding them, so together you build the best story you can.

One of my favourite movies is Lethal Weapon and the introduction to the characters of Riggs and Murtaugh is one of the best there is.

We discover that Riggs has nothing left to live for and wants to die. We discover that Murtaugh has a family he wants to live for and worries that he might die if he isn’t careful.

The tension between these two characters and their motivations are what we watch. The plot line almost becomes something that  just moves them from one place to another.

We see them rubbing the edges off each other.

They will only survive to the end of the story by doing it together. Murtaugh has to take chances and Riggs has to have something to live for.

Just writing those last couple of paragraphs reminds me I need to keep going back to point 4!

Let me know how your characters are going and what you have done to improve them.

It is okay not to finish (at the moment).

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I am sure I’m not alone in this.

Sometimes you just can’t finish a project.

You hit a wall. You lose the thread. A character doesn’t follow the plot line you have carefully constructed for them.

I’m sure it happens to artists and musicians also.

As a writer you normally do two things.

First, you give up; thus proving that you probably aren’t really good enough to be a writer after all. Second, you become belligerent and try and force the character, or plot, into fitting into the shape you created for it.

I’ve done both.

But, more recently, I’ve been learning there is a third way.

And it is easier than the other two.

You just close the notebook or electronic file and open up a new one.

Then, every now and again, let your creative mind wander back to the project and see if anything new occurs to you.

Let me give you an example.

I will call the project White Ladder.

White Ladder started with an image of two old men talking in a room one evening. They see a news clip of a new movie actress wowing audiences. It turns out that one of the men knew her mother.

That image and about 400 words, of mostly dialogue, was over 20 years ago.

It just never got past that initial stage.

A couple of years ago I heard a radio programme which focused on particular musicians and their defining albums. They played some of the songs and talked about the inspirations and processes of making the albums.

The one I listened to was David Gray, talking about his album White Ladder.

Suddenly that image of the two men talking came back to me and a variation on the theme started to form, energised by the words and mood of David Gray’s album.

The plot line was now dictated by the titles of each of the tracks on the album and the mood set by, often, just one line of the lyrics.

I don’t usually plan. I am a pantser by trade.

A couple of weeks of looking back at the plot line then led me to open up a project on Scrivener and start putting words on the page.

74,428 words later I stalled. I was at the three-quarters finished stage.

The two main characters had not followed the plot line and were all out refusing to do so.

I huffed and puffed and threatened to delete them, but they knew I was bluffing. So I gave them the cold shoulder for about six weeks. It turned out they were more patient than me.

So I took a key idea from within the project and tried to write the story from that perspective instead.

That was good for 34,149 words. Then the plot line decided not to follow the original plot I had carefully conceived. The two main characters waited patiently on the street they were walking, looking at me, waiting for me to make a decision.

I now had the word count of a full length novel, but three-quarters and one-quarter of the same story in two versions.

Dust gathered on both versions. Apart from reworking the whole plot into a series of ten short stories, telling the story from the perspectives of different characters.

I think I got that idea from Patrick Gale and his fantastic book Notes from an Exhibition.

Dust still gathers.

I know this story will be finished, because it keeps tapping on the door of my creative studio, reminding me that it is still there.

But in not finishing White Ladder (yet!) I have learnt a lot.

I have learnt that one simple scene will eventually become a full story if you wait long enough.

I have devised a story plot three different ways.

I have 108,000+ words of writing practice, which will eventually be a finished novel.

I have learnt to be patient with myself.

I haven’t failed because the book isn’t completed.

It’s okay not to finish – for the moment!

 

Productivity isn’t always what you think.

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Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Choose twenty books about being creative and they will tell you to produce!

They aren’t wrong.

If you are a creative then create.

I think it was Seth Godin who said, real artists ship.

I am not arguing with him.

If I am a writer, then I need to stand at my desk and write. I need to complete that novel.

Recently though, I’ve become more persuaded that productivity isn’t just the end product.

If I write with a fountain pen, at some point I need to load it with ink. Without that ink, the words on the page will be invisible.

The ink is the books I’ve read, the drafts which have drifted towards the electronic storeroom or the recycling bin, the interviews I’ve heard or seen with authors, the ideas sparked by the movies and tv series I’ve watched, the conversations I’ve overheard, waking up in the middle of the night with words like a whisper in my ear . . .

Being creative is your way of life. It is you being productive.

Don’t always judge yourself by the final product.

If I write 200 words less than my target, I can easily judge myself a failure, but the interview I heard with John Le Carre, or Ian Rankin, could fuel my next two books.

Don’t stop shipping, but don’t begrudge stocktaking either.