J. Grace Pennington

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One Percent Inspiration

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You know that saying “Genius is about one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration”? It’s like that with writing. Except writers generally don’t perspire. Unless they are scribbling away in mid-summer with broken air conditioning. But the same principle applies. It’s about one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent behind-in-chair-fingers-on-keyboard (or pen in hand, if that’s your thing). But that’s not nearly as catchy.

There’s always that initial spark of excitement that comes with a new idea. Something that compels you to write the story–something that makes it build inside of you until it just has to burst out in the form of words. Unfortunately, that fades really, really quickly. And you can only do so much poking at the embers of that dead fire before it’s really pretty much just a pile of ashes.

Thankfully, there’s a way to bring a phoenix out of those ashes. But it takes riding out the fire of passion and continuing along the cold, hard process of forcing yourself to sit there and form words. Then sentences. Then paragraphs. Over and over and over. It’s a mind-numbing, often excruciating process. This truth is why writing is both my favorite and my least favorite thing to do.

I’m in the pile-of-ashes stage with my novel Firmament: Gestern right now. The first draft is so close to being done, but almost the entire thing since the first few pages has been like pulling teeth (and not loose teeth, either). I know I need to get through it, and I know from experience that when I look back on it from a distance of time, it won’t seem quite the boring atrocity that it does now. But that doesn’t make the current process any more fun.

Can I tell you a secret? I hate writing.

I love the inspiration part, but that’s only one percent! I love words, but words often are stubborn about coming. I love sharing my work, but that involves actually doing the work.

I hate writing today, because the stage I’m currently in is not fun at all.

Tomorrow the spark may return again, and then I may go back to loving it.

(And because I am an extreme and dramatic person, there’s unlikely to be any third option or happy medium.)

But I have to write today just as much as I have to write tomorrow. As Robert Rodriguez so astutely observed, “At the end of the day, the only difference between the doers and the don’ters is that the doers do and the don’ters don’t.” So whether I’m feeling it or not, I must resolve to be a doer. Sit myself down, log out of Facebook, glue my fingers to the keyboard if necessary, and just keep typing.

And keep chasing that elusive one percent of inspiration.

Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs

Appearances can be deceiving. Awhile back, I wrote a post about how, despite the blatant immorality and atheism, the TV show House, M.D. actually has a more biblical worldview than you might expect. On the flip side, I’ve seen many shows that, while they seem much more moral on the surface, can actually harbor far more dangerous messages. I think it’s a bit like the principle that a lie is always stronger when mixed with truth. Blatant immorality is fairly easy to spot. But immorality covered in the frosting of ethical characters and happy feelings? That’s a little bit sneakier.

Case in point is a show I recently finished watching, the 90’s sitcom Frasier. Frasier and his brother Niles are portrayed as having their faults, but overall being moral, ethical, even noble characters. Their egos sometimes get in the way, but their commitments to honesty and kindness are endearing. And they always make the right choice in the end, or at least learn from their bad choices.

Or do they?

In fiction, as in reality, we have a built in tendency to get behind and defend those we care for. This springs from empathy–I see your side, and I understand how you feel, and I want you to be happy. Ergo, I want for you what you want for yourself. The problem with this is that, as fallen human beings, what we want for ourselves may not be what is best for us, for others, or what is right. Thus this intrinsically selfless impulse must sometimes be curbed for the sake of truth and morality. In real life, this is difficult. But sometimes on television it’s even harder, because the producers are actually creating their own reality. They are bound only to truth in a superficial way, and they can twist things just enough to fool us, often without even realizing it. One example is the normalization of homosexual characters on television. If we see it enough on the screen, we start to believe it.

What does this have to do with Frasier?

A running theme throughout the early seasons is Niles Crane’s obsession with and adoration for his father’s physical therapist, a lovable Brit named Daphne Moon. He gazes adoringly at her when they’re in the same room, pines after her for years, and frequently displays the sweetest and most desperate desire just to be near her. Sounds innocent enough, except for one inconvenient fact–Niles is married.

I, as a Christian, know while watching this that the truth is that it’s wrong for Niles to lust after another woman while he’s a married man. I know that it’s wrong for me to want him to leave his wife for Daphne. I know that I’m actually condoning sinful behavior if I condone his actions.

But they’re just so adorable, and they’re so perfect together, and I care about him, and his wife is such a joke anyway…

Once I learn to condone fictional infidelity, my mind begins to see this as acceptable behavior. If I’m not careful, I’ll soon condone factual infidelity as well. And that is neither endearing nor innocent.

Life can be messy, and people can make mistakes, and they can sin in terrible ways against each other and against God. It happens. And our stories would do well to reflect that. But it matters how we portray those evils. Do our audiences leave our creations rooting for immorality or saddened by it? It’s a fine line to walk, one I myself often struggle with both as a creator and a consumer. But awareness, I believe, is half the battle.

The gray areas in life reflected in our stories may at times require a similarity with tossed salad and scrambled eggs, but let’s not leave our readers with tossed consciences and scrambled minds.

A Moldy Old Onion

One of my new year’s resolutions is to be more regular at blogging, and one change I want to make to the way I blog is to begin to include more personal things in my posts, rather than distancing myself by talking only about storytelling in general. As part of that, here’s something I wrote a few years back as I processed through some struggles regarding my worth.

Once upon a time, there was an onion.

It wasn’t a very attractive onion. It was old and rotting and wrinkled all over, and there was some mold growing on it. Everyone who passed it by at the market said, “That onion is worth nothing.”

And they were right.

It couldn’t be used for cooking, it had no flavor, it was unhealthy, it didn’t even look nice. The onion had no value whatsoever.

None.

Then one day, a buyer came along. He paid fifty thousand dollars for the onion, took it, and left.

People watching nearby began to whisper to each other. “What is he thinking? That onion was worth nothing! At the very most a few dollars, but fifty thousand dollars?”

But they were wrong.

That onion was worth fifty thousand dollars.

Because someone was willing to pay that price for it.

I am worthless. I am useless, incapable of doing anything good, ugly, twisted, good for nothing whatsoever. Anyone who saw what I am in and of myself would say, “What is she? Who would ever take her? She’s not worth fighting for, loving, dying for.”

But they are wrong.

I am worth dying for.

Not because of anything in myself.

But because Someone paid that price for me.

And to Him, I am worth every bit of it.

If Gift Cards are Burning a Hole in Your Pocket

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas! I bet I’m not the only one who received a number of awesome gift cards in my stocking. If you got san Amazom gift card or two, here are a few indie reads that I recommend you use them on! (Yes, I know my books are on the list… what can I say? I like my books.)

Firmament: Radialloy (Volume 1)

Firmament: In His Image (Volume 2)

Firmament: Machiavellian (Volume 3)

Never

Implant

The River Girl’s Song: Texas Women of Spirit, Book 1 (I narrated the audiobook version of this!)

Resistance (Ilyon Chronicles) (Volume 1)

Supervillain of the Day: The Complete First Season

Red Rain

Peter’s Angel (The Peter’s Angel Saga Book 1)

Shadow Play (S.H.R.A.I.D.) (Volume 1)

And this isn’t an indie read, but I have to add: Mama Needs a Do-Over: Simple Steps to Turning a Hard Day Around 

Happy reading, and have a great weekend!

Holy Indie Book Giveaways, Batman!

As I mentioned a couple days ago, I just recently finished doing an audiobook of The River Girl’s Song by Angela Castillo. It’s a good book and I was honored to have the opportunity to be the voice of it! Interested in hearing it? Or perhaps reading it instead? This giveaway might be for you. But those aren’t the only options to choose from–you could also win the first two Firmament books, or any of four other clean indie reads prizes. Check it out!

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