Sunday Devotion: It’s Okay to Play

Janet Rubin

Since Christmas day, my daughters have spent countless hours perched on stools at the kitchen island- molding, shaping, giggling, and concentrating. Captivated by the one-dollar packs of modeling clay they found in their stockings, they’ve forsaken all else: the ninety-dollar American Girl dolls, the DVD’s, and toys. I’ve watched the clay morph from neatly packaged blocks of color into flowers, animals, sea creatures—and my favorite—the dinosaurs.

Why are the girls working so hard on these creations? Certainly not to impress people. Were it not for my sudden inspiration to put a picture on Novel Journey, no one would see them at all. It isn’t to build something that will last. At the end of the day, all the creations get squished into a Zip-lock baggie and put away. The young artists’ clay-shaping isn’t some kind of “ministry” through which they hope to bless others. And obviously, it isn’t for money. They don’t get paid for their labor.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. The girls are just having fun. Finding joy in creativity because they are made in the image of their Creator. Enjoying life as only children can. Only an adult could suck all of the fun out of art.

If you are like me, with the new year’s dawn, you have writing goals and deadlines looming over you. Finish that novel, edit that rough draft, do some publicity… With all that pressure, we sometimes forget to have fun, but I believe God does want us to have fun. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Sometimes our writing is an act of obedience or sacrifice. Through the ups and downs of the writing life, God teaches us to have patience, to persevere, to take criticism. And hopefully our work will bless, encourage, and entertain others. But writing is also a gift God has given us to enjoy. Words are the clay we can play with—shaping and reshaping until we have something in front of us that makes us smile. In 2007, work on those goals, but make one of your goals be to find joy in the gift God has given you.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Below, is a post that was submitted to our critique group, Penwrights, nearly two years ago. I’m not sure whether to call it a rant, muse or a challenge, but it had a lasting impact on me. As we head into a New Year, I once again find myself wrestling with my goals and this post came to mind. I wrote the member and gained permission to dreg up this from ghost from the past. I hope it brings encouragement to those, who like me, are still biding their time, crafting their stories.

Story Arc and Velocity

Every story has an arc – it starts somewhere, at a certain velocity, reaches a certain height, and ends somewhere, propelled or sustained by that velocity. The arc of the story, I imagine, has to do with the velocity. A stronger story (plot / characters) can travel farther and higher. Much like an arrow. A good, well-made arrow (story) has a better chance of going far, especially if a good archer (author), is handling it. Good arrows can be shot badly, just like good ideas can be mishandled. But, even bad arrows can go further in the hands of a good archer. Jesus shot simple ideas (sparrows, lilies, wheat and tares) great distances.

So the craft of writing involves 1.) arrows and 2.) archers; story ideas and how we handle them.

Do you think it’s true, that if a writer spends more time in the planning stage of their story – designing the arrow, so to speak – they have a better chance of success? I ask this, because I wonder if many of us are in such a hurry to write a novel (myself included) that we don’t spend as much time as we should, on things like timelines, historical details, character complexity and other research. The final feeling is that the story lacks depth. We want to rush out and start shooting, but our arrow is flawed or flimsy or missing a few feathers.

Not only must we learn how to aim and shoot a good story, we must learn how to put it under the light and make it strong and swift, before ever it reaches our bow.

Since I’ve undertaken writing a novel, I’ve thought much about the actual writing process. In my previous entry under this heading, I suggested the two basic components of writing could be 1.) Arrow and 2.) Archer. The arrow represents the story itself, its depth, strings the story and launches at an intended target; he/she executes what’s in their brain. My muse (which I’m not sure y’all got) was that, the time we spend on the actual story – researching details, layering characters, nuancing plotlines, developing a unique tale – determines how far that story can go. In other words, good stories (ones with weight / substance / originality / flare) stick with us and last.

We can’t JUST WRITE. We must organize thoughts and ideas, research our subject, explore new styles, study people, create people, get into their heads, take them to work, take risks, file papers, learn new words, develop timelines, tweak plotlines and pray. We must craft a swift / solid arrow before we ever shoot it.

Here’s my question, are some of us so anxious to write a novel (myself included) that we don’t spend enough time actually crafting / creating a good story?

Harper Lee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It took her years and years to write and re-edit and, in the end, it was her only published novel. Think about that! She wrote one book / one story, but it was such a good / solid / endearing tale that it has endured for almost fifty years.

If God told you, you could only write one novel, would it be the one you’re writing? Are we willing to invest the time, the sweat, the energy required to bring that one simple story to life? Are we in such a hurry to get published, that we’re stringing play arrows, dull and frayed, that will, alas, go nowhere?

Our First Critique Victim and the Fine Print

Today we share our first on-line critique. Ane, Jess and I have been critique partners for years and thought maybe some stuff we’ve picked up might be useful to others. Maybe not.

Okay, before anybody suggests we might not knowing what the heck we’re talking about being three unpublished novelists, I thought I’d say it for you. Who are we to give advice? If our advice was so great, we’d have juicy multi-book contracts, right?

You’re right. We may not having the vaguest idea what we’re talking about. Let the proof be in the pudding. Read what are suggestions are, see if you agree or disagree. If we’re off, leave a comment letting us know. Our suggestions are just that SUGGESTIONS. The author will be wise to use discernment and pick up what works for him/her and ignore what doesn’t.

We’re not above learning. We sometimes don’t agree with one another’s critiques of our work. Sometimes we debate but ninety-five or better percent of the time, we have learned to trust each other.

I trust what these two ladies have to say about my writing above anyone else.

We’ve each been edited/critiqued by professional editors, best-selling authors, etc and no one has been tougher on us than us. We’re each agented and have all made it as far as commitee. But like I said, we are not basking in the glow of book contracts, so feel free to jump in and suggest we’re wrong on a point or many points if you think we are.

Our hope is that not only this author who bravely subbed his/her work will benefit, but that some folks reading the critique will be able to apply our suggestions to their own work.


The Original Chapter


She wore makeup for the first time that night. She didn’t know why. Standing in front of the cracked bathroom mirror, she surveyed her face. The purple eye-shadow, ivory foundation, and glossy lipstick — they transformed her. Her pasty complexion was now a thing of beauty. A majestic painting. Maybe that was it. The makeup made her feel like she was disconnecting from herself, slipping on a costume. Masquerading as a different woman.

An hour later she stood outside her ex’s front door, gloved hand wrapped around the knob. It would be locked, but she knew he kept the spare key under the welcome mat. At this time of night he’d be glued to the sofa, remote in hand, a football game blaring.

She pressed the key into the lock and turned it slowly. Once inside the shadowy hallway, she listened. Yes, there was the tv talking. Nothing else. Reaching beneath her coat, she pulled out the loaded .38, its power burning in her palm. For one moment she balked. Once she crossed this threshold she could never go back. Neither could he. Ever.

She curled her fingers around the gun’s barrel. But it had to be done. He could never touch their child again.

The pounding, blaring music of a truck commercial echoed through the house, and she crept forward down the carpeted hall, quiet as a cat. Around the corner. Into the livingroom. And just as she guessed, there he was: sprawled on the sofa in his old gray sweatsuit, a half dozen dead soldiers littering the coffee table beside him.

She waited until she was standing behind the sofa, staring down at his greasy head. Now. She gripped the gun with both hands, adrenaline surging through her limbs. She could still see the bloody stripes the belt made on his own flesh and blood, and she felt her child’s pain as if her own back was beaten. Never again.

She lifted her chin, her lips pursing in boiling anger. How dare he.

Later, when she was once again before her bathroom mirror, she dipped a cotton ball into the jar of makeup remover and swabbed her cheeks again and again. Until she morphed back into the unremarkable woman whose child needed a mother.
Splashing icy water on her face, she looked herself in the eyes. Everything had gone according to plan, but there was one thing she hadn’t expected. And it’s absence snuck up on her, just like she’d snuck up on him.

She felt no guilt.