Finding Time to Write

One of the most common questions I get is, “How do you find time to write?”

My response is usually to say that I don’t watch TV. This is true. But I have another answer: I have very good boundaries. For example, I told my students where I teach that I don’t check my work email in the evenings, or on the weekends. I do my work at work, and then I leave it there. If that’s not enough, then it’ll just have to do. Having taught for eleven years helps because I have a lot of past curriculum to pull from, but my work has always stayed at work. I don’t bring it home with me. I do not bring papers home to grade. I stay after school to do some of that, and at times I can even grade while my students are working on another project.

My wife and I also pastor a church (newhopesv.org), and we live at a parsonage behind the church. This could make it nearly impossible to have clear boundaries. It helps that the church is not that large yet, but if it was, I would probably not be teaching. Meanwhile, I limit my focus to having a good message on Sunday, giving short and to the point counseling when it is needed, and building up a team of leaders who can help me reach out to others in the church, and even those outside. I have very few other responsibilities. I cannot do it all myself. In fact I really cannot do all that much. I can encourage, love, and teach members. And I can build up and release leaders to make disciples.

Another area for boundaries has to do with family. I do not take away from family time to write. When I am home from work, I am with my family until the kids are in bed. In fact, I put them to bed, read the Bible, sometimes read a story, or we just read together. Then I will either spend time with my wife, or sometimes I will work on the cover of the next book (the computer is next to the kitchen) while my wife is working in the kitchen. All in all, my family comes first. Even before the church.

And writing? I write during a very small window of time each day. Monday-Friday I drive to school about an 1 1/4 hour early, I write for an hour then, and later during lunch, and after school for a little. My goal is always two hours per day, five days a week. Until recently I even printed out a time-card so I would take it seriously. When I do this, I feel like a writer. Anything less and it feels more like a hobby, something I do only when I feel like it. I don’t want that. Otherwise you would get a new book about once every year or even every two years. Nobody wants that.

So there you have it. I don’t watch TV (opening up from 2-5 hours per day), and I have good boundaries. How about you? Do you have something you’ve always wanted to do, but you just didn’t think you had the time to do it?

What I’ve learned

I have three novels and a novelette out now, and I am currently working on The Gifted 3 (Title still in the works). It has been a lot of work, but it has been fun. I’ll admit that some days I dread hitting the keyboard, but other days it is a great motivation to get out of bed.

So what have I learned? Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. I knew this already. Really. But having to live it out is not easy. Not with two other jobs going. My teaching job keeps me on my toes, but I love it. I am really enjoying my students this year. They are fun and original. They are real, and they help me stay real. I also love pastoring. The people in my church are wonderful, and I enjoy preaching, listening, learning, and loving them. They also keep me real, and honest.

Then there is this writing thing. Originally it was a challenge to myself. I had done NaNoWriMo for four years and I was about to do a fifth. But I wanted motivation for this one. I didn’t just want to write another first draft no one would read, so I told my kids I was doing this one for them. I would write, revise, and finally publish it so my kids could read it and it would be publicly available. Well, here’s how that went.

Time it took me to finish my first book

  • First draft of The Gifted-11 days
  • The rest of the eight drafts-9 months
  • Creating a cover I liked-about 2 months
  • Learning how to format the book and figure out Amazon’s system for both Kindle and Paperback versions-about a month and a half

Granted, those nine months I was revising, I was also creating the cover art and figuring out Amazon’s system. So in all it just took 9 months and 11 days.

But I learned some things. I learned how to use Amazon’s system so I wouldn’t need to do that over and over. I also became quite adept at using GIMP, a free, and might I add, powerful photo manipulation and graphic art program. And most importantly, I learned what it really means to revise something. Not just throw something out there, but revise for ideas. Then do it again and again. Then to revising at the sentence level, because people want a good story, but they also want it written well. Then editing for mistakes and on to beta readers.

I learned a lot, but most of all I learned this: I really like it. Writing became more than just a hobby. There were scenes I wrote that by the time I was done I was in tears. This happened several times. There were times I wrote a character that helped me understand myself better. There were times I felt that what I wrote actually mattered.

I enjoy writing, and while it began as a hobby, or a challenge, it has become much more. Does it pay the bills? Not at all. Does it add to my life? Absolutely. It makes everything else I do that much sweeter.

Something New from The Gifted Series

Free E-book!

Most of you have heard about my first two books in The Gifted Series: The Gifted, and Assault from Space. Now I have a new addition: Tracy’s Escape. This is actually a prequel novelette and is intended to be a free e-book. While it is currently free through Smashwords.com, it is not yet on Amazon.com. I am hoping to remedy that soon.

Download Free!

Free at Smashwords and Amazon.com!

This is the story that was hinted at in The Gifted, but never really explained. In the first book, General Garcia reminds Tracy about how a whole block of her town was destroyed as her kidnappers searched for her. And that is all that is ever told about this dramatic event. Now you get the whole story, and for free!

On Smashwords, you can find it free here, and on Amazon.com is it here.

Happy reading!

Aaron

How relevant is God?

Recently someone asked me about one of my books where I had one of the characters pray. The question they brought up was, “Does this have to do with the story?”

For some reason this really bothered me. I thought about it and I finally realized why it bothered me so much. It’s because the real question being asked is, “Is God relevant to life?” And to that I can only give a resounding “Yes!”

We live in a culture where God is talked about, but seldom worshiped. At most he is paid lip service, but when it comes to actually bringing Jesus into the every day of life, most of us don’t. In fact, that is one of the reasons why I have kept writing these books, because I am tired of reading stories where God has been surgically removed from everyday living. That is not the way I live, and it is not the way God wants us to live.

Let me ask this question: When you are taking the last few breaths of life, how relevant will Jesus be to you then? How about when a tragedy strikes, how much do you actually cry to the God you usually ignore. Even believers often ignore God when it comes to work, or family, or politics.

I don’t want to live that way, because I don’t believe God is irrelevant. When I am happy, I praise him. When I am crushed, I cry out to him. He is my savior, but also my Lord.

If you did not know this, in my books, all of my books, there is some theme about God and he is anything but irrelevant. My middle grade books right now have characters who wrestle in one way or another with their faith, or lack of faith, in God. They sometimes pray and remember scriptures that they have heard and that give them encouragement or wisdom.

In my adult science fiction series I have an old man who quotes scripture, but doesn’t reveal where he got it. He just says, “The teacher says…” These are people who start out not knowing God, but in the process of seeking, will find him as the series continues.

With every story of a life, there is a parallel story of God reaching out to us. We can ignore it, but it is completely real. Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20 NIV). We can close our ears to the sound, but he is still knocking.

The point is that the largest part of the answer to our lives is a relationship with the one who created us. It tells us where we came from, where we are going, and how best to navigate life in the meantime. So if you read a fast-paced science fiction thriller by me some day and notice that one of my characters brings God into the adventure, it’s because God is with us wherever we go, whether in our home or in space! God is relevant.

The Reality of God in my Writing

When it came time for me to finally write something, I had to ask myself the most important question. What would I want to read?

I enjoy science fiction, which I will address more in another post, but in all the science fiction I read I am sometimes bothered by a clearly atheistic view of the universe. Now I have never looked at a starry sky and thought, “How amazing that that happened all by itself.” To me the thought is absurd. When I see a brand new car I never think, “Wow, what are the chances of all those parts self-creating themselves and self-organizing in just the right combination to create an internal combustion engine.” I have always believed in God.

To be more precise, I am a Christian. That means I believe in the personal God of the Bible, and in Jesus Christ. The whole ball of wax. I cannot not believe it. I read about science and I think how amazing God is. So when I write science fiction it will certainly reflect that.

If you want to read science fiction written by atheists, there are a lot to choose from. Many of them are excellent. But I find it hard to feel any sense of hope in a world without a creator, and even more so, without a redeemer.

If you want to know what you can expect from my books, it is that God exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.

Given that starting place, there may be a wide range of expression in my books. Whereas The Gifted has some clearly Christian characters and some still wrestling with their beliefs, The Last Place to Stand (should be out in a couple of weeks), has mostly non-Christian characters, but some of them begin to question their place in the universe. God is a part of that unraveling answer to the story

I cannot unbelieve what I believe: that God is real, personal, and holds the keys to purpose, and eternal life. My fiction will reflect that.

Aaron

Fast action, short chapters, and short paragraphs

The first on my list of what I like to write, and what I intend to give you, is fast action, short chapters, and short paragraphs. I like to write this way, because I like to read this way.

Let’s talk about Henry James. Henry James was a 19th century writer who wrote very long, nuanced paragraphs and sentences. I read a little of him in college and was impressed at some of his writing skill. I especially enjoyed “The Turn of the Screw.” But one thing I found to be true of him was that any action in his story was going to take a looooong time to accomplish.

Another example is Victor Hugo. A great writer, but try reading Les Misérables and you will feel like you running a marathon. When will this story ever end?

I decided long ago that I don’t want to be these writers. I like a book with a faster plot. A book that makes you feel like you’re going somewhere. I don’t want to pick up a book for even twenty minutes and feel like all we’ve done in the story is walk across the room, or stare at the beautiful tree outside her house. I want things to happen. Exciting things. And I want them now!

The length of paragraphs really contributes to this feeling that things are moving forward. Nothing makes me feel like I am hiking through molasses like coming across a paragraph so long it takes three pages to finish. Where do you stop? If you are done reading, you have to read for another page and a half just to find a place to put your bookmark. I like a story that not only feels fast-paced, but looks fast-paced. That’s what shorter paragraphs do.

Both of these tie into my thoughts on chapter length. Every year I try to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. When I tried to read other novels by Dickens, I found that, although his stories might be long, his chapters were very short. I like this. It means it is even easier to read for ten or twenty minutes at a lunch break and still be able to finish a chapter; still feel like you got somewhere.

Most of my writing has short chapters and fairly short paragraphs. That’s because I like the feeling of forward momentum when I read a story. Sure, I like character development, but not thirty pages talking about the main character’s interest in collecting bird trophies. Give me some telling details, maybe some quirks, and then get on with the story, because that’s what I came for.

And, dear reader, that’s what I want to give you.

Aaron

 

What I Want to Write in My Books

Years ago I decided I was going to write a novel. I did it for National Novel Writing Month. That means for the month of November (30 days) I was going to write a 50,000 word novel. It was an adrenaline rush where a lot of coffee or tea was consumed and every morning, except Sunday, I wrote my 2,000 words. It was the best times, it was the worst of times, but I did it!

In order to ready myself for the event, in October I read No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, and in reading that I ran across an exercise where I made two lists. In the first list I had to write about what I liked in a novel and in the other list I wrote what I definitely did not like in a novel. When it came to the kind of books I chose to write (I participated in NaNoWriMo five times and finished each time) I decided to write according to these lists. Over the next few blogs I will go over what matters to me in writing. Specifically, these are the kinds of things you can expect from me when I write.

In case you want to get to the lists right away, here they are:

I like these in a novel

  • Fast moving action
  • Short chapters, short paragraphs, relatively short and uncomplex sentences
  • Humor-especially the main character
  • Wild sci-fi ideas
  • Other worlds or dimensions
  • The unexpected
  • Strong characters I can identify with
  • Writing from various perspectives (i.e., George, the ant on the log, etc.)
  • Mystery (trying to get to the bottom of what is going on)
  • Gleanings of wisdom or insight or even knowledge
  • Happy endings
  • Epic tales
  • Funny superheroes
  • Lonely people finding a mate
  • Sometimes archaic speech. Like O. Henry
  • A perspective that there is a God in the world
  • Symbolism, repetition of an idea
  • Male protagonist

I don’t like these in a novel

  • Very little action
  • Long chapters, long paragraphs, long sentences
  • A lot of description
  • Bedroom scenes
  • People having tea and making small talk
  • Weak characters (you can’t really figure out who they are)
  • A lot of eating or drinking
  • Only one locale
  • Depressed characters (unless they are still funny)
  • Unhappy endings
  • Bad things happening to good people (unless there is redemption later in the story-like Job)
  • Westerns
  • Horror
  • Sermonizing
  • Everyday boring settings
  • Married people cheating on each other
  • Long drawn out fight scenes
  • Children being treated badly
  • Women being treated badly

I hope to go into more detail about many of the items in these lists, partially as an exercise for me to think about what I value in a book, and partially for my readers to get to know me a little more.

‘Till next time,

Aaron

The Gifted-Buy it now or give it a try!

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The Gifted

by Aaron K Redshaw

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Read the first 14 chapters

Four kids, one adventure,
and the fate of millions in their hands.

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10-Year-old Andy, along with a few others his age, have magical gifts no one can explain. But when someone bombs his school and kidnaps him, he soon learns that the reason for all of this is his unusual gift. There are other gifted kids that have appeared in recent days and now there is a heated war between two sides to see who will have control over The Gifted.

Now Andy, Han, Tracy, and Guido have been sent on a mission to a small island to investigate what has happened to the other kidnapped children. This leads them into a world of magic and machines, and finally to the secret mission of this island training facility. In the end, it’s not what’s on the island that is the most dangerous, but what’s underneath it!