Writing Tip: Stop In the Middle

Teachers and experienced writers will tell you to “start in the middle” when telling your story, because the middle is generally more interesting and exciting. This well-known tactic suggests that all of the introduction and exposition materials that generally go at the beginning of a story (and can be a bit dull) can be filled in along the way. I’ve done this several times myself.

But I bet no one’s ever told you to “stop in the middle.”

When writing, we like to keep going and not take a break until we get to “a good stopping point.” In other words, when it comes time to stop writing, we prefer to get to the end of a chapter, scene, or section. It feels more like an accomplishment that way because you can easily measure your output.

Here’s a trick that I’ve found more productive: stop writing in the middle of a chapter, scene, or section. Don’t wait to the end. Stop smack dab in the middle.

Why? Because the middle is easier to jump back into.

Writers know when they’ve reached their sweet spot. That place where your creative juices are flowing like a river, your dialogue crackles, you’re thinking the way your character does (instead of the way you do), and everything pops off the page. Some writers can go straight into that mode the minute they start writing, but it takes most of us some time and effort to get there.

The problem with stopping at a clearly defined point of separation is that when you pick the narrative back up, you might be writing a different setting, a different situation, from a different character’s P.O.V., and so on. It forces you to start working your way back into that sweet spot entirely from scratch.

So I use this trick as a shortcut: Stop at a point in the narrative where you know exactly what’s going to happen next. It may seem counter-intuitive to walk away when you can already hear the next few lines of prose in your head. Just try it.

I’m always amazed at how quickly this little trick brings me right back to my creative sweet spot — as if I never left it.

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Hollywood Finally Gets One Right

I can scarcely believe my eyes.

For so very long, Hollywood has shunned films of an overtly religious nature, or water down the material on the rare occurrences when they attempt one. Have they finally figured out how to make a big-budget, intelligently-made movie with a Christian worldview at its core? A movie that manages to be touch the heart without preaching?

If this movie turns out half as good as the trailer, then Sony Pictures deserves our applause. By all accounts, Heaven Is For Real (based on the bestselling book of the same name) has a stellar pedigree behind it: it stars Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church, and it was written and directed by Randall Wallace — the writer of Braveheart and The Man In the Iron Mask, among others.

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A Little Spark

I’m crazy about orchestral scores from movies. Nothing helps me more to set the mood while I’m writing than a great score. This track is one of my all-time favorites. It’s called “My Name is Lincoln,” and as you can see, it’s from the movie The Island. This big, sweeping anthem is hope perfectly portrayed through music. It also happens to be the music that my wife and I used as the recessional at the end of our wedding.

I hope it sparks your creative juices!

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Thoughts for Today

1. I believe that God is precisely who he says he is: the great God of the universe, who created everything, who can do anything, and who’s ready to answer our every prayer.

2. I believe that God is love. He loves us exceedingly abundantly beyond our wildest imaginings.

3. I believe that God wants only good things for us.

4. I believe God is standing in the great storehouse of Heaven and he’s ready to pour out magnificent riches and blessings upon us.

5. I believe that sometimes God chooses to wait for us to ask before he answers our needs. I believe that we can present our needs to God with confidence, and ask him for whatever we need without fear or anxiety. I believe that persistence pays off!

RP

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Lupus

Three weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Lupus. There are three severities of Lupus: mild, moderate, and severe. Mine straddles the line between mild and moderate. It’s not curable, but it’s manageable.

I didn’t see it coming. But in retrospect, it makes perfect sense. And in all likelihood, I’ve had it for a long while.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare skin inflammation called Paniculitis & Vasculitis. Lupus is characterized as internal tissue inflammation due to a compromised immune system. In essence, my white blood cells are malfunctioning, attacking my own red blood cells and other healthy tissue. Now we know that the cause of the skin disorder was very likely Lupus.

I’ve had Fibromyalgia most of my life. Or has it been Lupus all along? Both are part of the same disorder family. My rheumatologist says we’ll never know for sure, but there’s a 50/50 chance that it’s been Lupus all along.

Earlier this year, around March or April I think, I made an appointment to see my regular doctor. Something was wrong with me, and I didn’t know what. I was experiencing more pain and weariness than usual, my attitude and personality were all over the map, and I just didn’t feel like myself. (One of the side effects of living with chronic pain is that you become very attuned to how you feel, physically. If something’s off, you know it immediately, even if you can’t pinpoint what it is.) I could tell that something inside me was very wrong. Tests were run, nothing out of the ordinary was found. The doctor wrote the whole thing off, but I remained quietly convinced that something was wrong.

Months passed, and though I said nothing, I was gradually finding it harder and harder to work. It wasn’t a big secret, I just didn’t know how to explain it. I still don’t. I’ve always been Mr. Focus. When everyone else’s minds are wandering off, I’m the one that stays on point. I sit down, I zero in on the task at hand, I close off the rest of the world, and I get it done. It was alarming when that skill started to evaporate. I would brush it off and attribute it to lack of sleep or “bad Fibro days,” but as it became more and more common and my work suffered continually for it, my self-worth took a nosedive. I’m an achiever, so an inability to accomplish anything pushed me into a state of unending frustration.

One of my swollen feet from about a month ago.

One of my swollen feet from about a month ago.

About two and a half months ago, I started experiencing a new pain coming from the tops of my feet. I’d never heard of such a thing, and thought it was really weird. Over the next couple of weeks, the pain spread from my feet to my hands and all of the joints in between. My feet and hands began to swell. They’d start out okay in the morning, but by evening they’d look like the Michelin Man’s hands and feet. Especially my feet. They were the worst. As the swelling increased, so did the pain.

Four weeks ago, this swelling and pain finally convinced my rheumatologist that something was very wrong. I’d seen her a month prior, but she’d written it all off as a reaction to an unrelated medication. This time, she couldn’t so easily dismiss it. I was in extreme pain and at the very end of my rope. She ordered a bunch of expensive tests like cardiograms and ultrasounds, as well as a full blood panel.

The next week, her nurse called to give me the news. The various big tests had all come back fine, but the blood panel told the tale: it was Lupus.

I was shocked. And also… kind of not. The more I read about Lupus and learn about what it is, the more sense it makes. It just adds up. All of it, going back for years. And as odd as it sounds, there was this unmistakeable feeling of relief. I wasn’t relieved to have Lupus. I don’t want Lupus. It’s no fun. But I was relieved to finally know. For the first time, I had a name to put to it, and it wasn’t some vague, weird thing that no one has ever heard of.

When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Today, this is known by the more common name Acid Reflux. At the time no one had ever heard of it, so I spent a lot of time explaining what it was. Then came Fibromyalgia, which again, no one had heard of and required lots of explaining. Paniculitis & Vasculitis, same deal. There have been other things over the years, weird things that popped up in between all the rest, stuff that defied simple explanations.

The “vague meter” has been dialed up all my life, and now for the first time, there’s something that not only provides a potentially all-encompassing explanation, but which dials the vague meter all the way down. It never felt more “real” than it does now, and I know for certain that I’m not nuts. All sorts of thoughts go through your mind when something’s so wrong and the doctors can’t find anything. Was I paranoid? Was I a hypochondriac? Was I crazy?

Now I know for certain that it’s very real.

Now, my family and I are adjusting to a new normal. I’m not an invalid, and I’m not handicapped. But I’m learning that my daily energy and strength allotments are very finite. The chronic pain is still as present as ever, headaches come and go, and sleep is always a major challenge. And my immune system is compromised, so as I write this, I’m dealing with a sinus infection and pink eye. (Looking back, I’ve averaged about two or three sinus infections a year. Finally I know why I get sick so easily.) More than anything, my life has slowed way down. My blog-for-hire work has decreased significantly (and a big thanks to the folks at Splashpress Media for being so gracious and understanding), but my fiction writing has actually had cause to pick up.

persecuted-coverAbout the same time all those awful tests were being run, a wonderful new opportunity came my way. I’ve signed a new book contract! Coming next April is a new big-screen movie called Persecuted, written and directed by the talented Daniel Lusko. It stars James Remar, Bruce Davison, Fred Dalton Thompson, Brad Stine, Natalie Grant, and Dean Stockwell. I’ve seen the movie, and it’s good — really good. And yours truly is writing the official novelization for Bethany House Publishers. The full-length novel, which expands the story significantly, will be available around the same time that the movie comes out. So I’m working on that right now.

And since my ability to work has been reduced, we’re praying that this fantastic opportunity will open doors to many more. Please join us in praying for this.

A few quick updates:

  • Octane, the motion comic, is still in production. I haven’t heard a release date yet, but what I’ve seen of it looks spectacular.
  • The ‘Naturals: Season 2 is temporarily on hold because of my situation. The other authors are being super gracious in allowing me time to deal with this major life change. We hope to get back into it early in the new year.
  • The Secret Door, aka the sequel to Corridor, is still happening, but all of my time is being poured into Persecuted right now, so The Secret Door will now arrive sometime in 2014. I don’t know exactly when. It’ll be released when I finish it.
  • Bethany House has a killer promotion going on where you can get ebook editions of Offworld, Nightmare, and Vigilante for just $8 combined. Offworld is a free download, and the other two are available for $4 each. Amazing, huh? It’s the perfect chance to complete your collection! See my entire catalog of books here. They make great Christmas gifts! (That was subtle, right?)

2013 has been a weird year. As I said, I didn’t see any of this coming. But I’m still here. We’ve seen endless blessings and God has been so faithful time and time again. He has shown us so many times that he cares even about the littlest things. He has seen me through this journey, and although this is definitely a turning point, the beginning of a new chapter in my life, I know he will carry me all the way through.

I could not survive without my family, most especially my patient, thoughtful, beautiful wife Karen, who walks side-by-side with me in all of this and has picked up the slack from my downtime without a single complaint. She is amazing, and I could not do any of this without her.

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and my heartfelt love and gratitude to you all.

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