When asked what I do all day, I often struggle to give an answer. "Well, I'm writing a book...", sounds a little vague. In fact, over the last couple of years, since the I first heard the words 'Write what you see', I have developed quite a routine, creating something of a schedule and a pattern around which I put words on pages.
Essentially, its a three-part process; Revelation, Interpretation and Toil!
I can't really profess to be writing about the way in which I hear God speak through his creation if I don't first give space to listen to what's being said. I love this part - an opportunity to leave behind the distractions of being at home and indoors, where the phone rings and the dusty floor cries out to be swept. I can let my imagination wander, remembering places I've visited or moments that have stirred me; I can pray through my impressions and ideas; and I can allow the Holy Spirit to recall Bible passages and verses that become the living, rhema word of God upon which the whole is centred.
Being a bit of a girl of habit, I do have a particular place for my contemplation. Perhaps you'd like to come visit ...
Once I've managed to drag myself away from the sun and the sea (usually the next day), I need to try and put down on paper what I feel I heard. Sometimes my reflections might have resulted in the first few lines of a poem; more often than not, its a fleeting set of impressions that I now have to nail down, searching for words that will somehow enable me to communicate concepts and thoughts that can be like will o' the wisps flitting around my mind. A little like a painter, I long to mix together the exact hue and shade which will best bring vibrancy and colour to an otherwise drab outline. I'm not sure I always get it right, but I so hope that rainbows of promise are glimpsed as you read!
Either way, whether I'm jotting down complete lines or struggling to give shape to a thought, I can't do this sitting in my outside space. The sun is too bright and the day usually too hot, leading to sticky pens and soggy pages. Instead I grab my book and pen and take a seat on our veranda. From here, I can still watch the waves, feel the breeze, hear the birds, but I can also be cool and shaded and focused. At this stage, I eschew technology, preferring instead the opportunity to scribble, cross out, draw arrows and asterisks. I sit with a cup of strong black coffee at my elbow, my book balanced on my knee and my favourite pen in hand, delving deep into imagination and vocabulary.
Some days I delight in this, watching as rhythm and flow spreads easily across the page. Time goes quickly, I climb mountain peaks and conquer heights. On others, I scratch and scrabble for what seems the whole morning, wallowing in a valley of frustration and tedium, finding neither emotion nor the words I need. That's when I leave, find something else to do, like cook dinner or hang out the washing - anything that allows my mind rest from its labyrinthine struggles. Returning to the task another time, or even another day, I find dictionaries seem to have been dusted off and thesauri left wide open, phrases once more building and forming into a coherent poem.
This is the 'Interpretation Corner'! Here, I'm sitting in the greenery of the garden whilst being protected from the worst of the winds that often blow. I'm surrounded by colour and collected treasures from various travels - the fabric from Mozambique, the telescope imported from India,the table cloth a gift from Japan. Even the droopy candles tell a story of hot summer suns. Oh, and there's fairy lights - there always has to be fairy lights! Just outside is a small fountain where bowls of water splash into each other, adding extra melody to the scene.
I find it hard to accurately develop the revelation I've received when away from this space. I have written elsewhere, such as on an aeroplane or whilst walking at the beach, but the familiarity of these surroundings seems to invite a very particular creativity. Perhaps you have a similar nook for your own endeavours?
I've listened, I've shaped - now I have to work! It's time to leave the relaxed atmospheres of garden and veranda and head for the desk, the computer, and all things office.
Mind you, even here I do have the odd fairy light and candle within sight, I can stare out of the window at the green and blue of grass and ocean when the sentences are just not forthcoming, and I have a pile of journals and books at my elbow, waiting to be filled. I spend a lot of hours here, so I may as well make them as enjoyable as possible by placing around me that which inspires and makes me smile.
The best advice I received when getting started on writing this book was from a friend who is a graphic designer, not an author at all. He told me I needed some big sheets of paper upon which I could plan out the entire book, chapter by chapter, poem by poem. I should state what mood I wanted to capture, what sights or sounds or concepts were of particular importance. I should articulate in advance, even if only to myself, where I was headed and how I was going to get there.
I left that conversation and headed for the nearest stationers, where I bought a beautiful black, ring-bound A3 'visual jotter' of art board. I have used mind maps many times in the past, but always electronic versions on my computer, something I'd tried for this project and found it unwieldy and clumsy. Now I could plan to my heart's content, grabbing all the colour pens I could find, delighting in the foundations I was now laying down.
That jotter sits within sight whenever I'm at my desk. I've filled pages, of chapter summaries and next steps, weekly planners and event brainstorms. I watch my progress through the circles and rectangles, aware that I am doing my best to use the time available as wisely as I can.
Of course, I can't remain stuck at the pretty picture stage. I do have to turn on my computer, open up a document and tap out the letters that eventually become sentences. Thankfully, I'm a fan of the PC. I used to work in the IT field, and so get a little bit of a nerdy buzz when I come across new programs or techniques to accomplish a task. I can navigate my way around quite easily, and so don't waste much time trying to figure out how to do something.
I can, however, waste a fair amount of time trying to decide what exactly I want to say. I think the 'delete' key is probably the most used on the keyboard, as I think of an idea and then find it doesn't come out quite as I intended it to. This is the part that is hard work, I have to say. Sometimes whole paragraphs come together with ease, other times a few words take an hour, at which point I realise I probably need a break; on my return a few minutes later, the phrases are again shaping into longer passages and I find I've somehow completed a section.
I know God spoke when he asked me to write what I see in a book, I know he has provided the raw material in my surroundings, but I also know he's not going to do it for me. On the days when its easy, I thank him for giving me the time and the focus to make progress; when its tough, I ask for help and inspiration. And I pray that through my efforts, you too would become captivated by the Creator and enamoured by 'The Outskirts of His Glory'.