Need Recommendations for Novels Featuring Characters Going through Crisis of Faith

I’ve recently came up with an idea for a project I want to work on very soon, but in order to start it, I need to read at least seven novels that feature at least one character (not necessarily the protagonist, though that would be preferable) who struggle to retain belief in God.

Any novel from any genre is appropriate and they can be old or new. Self-published, traditional published, and indie published novels are all acceptable, too, as are ebooks and print books. I don’t care who the author is, either. The only other limitation I must add is that the novels must be written in English (it’s the only language I can read well, though I can read a little bit of Spanish). You can even recommend your own novel, if you want.

As long as the novel features at least one character who struggles to retain belief in God (the resolution to that struggle is irrelevant), I’ll read it.

-Tim

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Snow

When I woke up this morning, I was greeted to a thin layer of snow on the ground around my house. Snow is extremely rare here in Texas; in fact, this is the first snow of the winter, so I’d say it’s pretty special in that regard.

It’s not a whole lot of snow, though. It’s not like the amount of snow they get in the northern states, where so much of the white stuff falls I hear they have to close down schools and businesses sometimes. It’s not enough snow to build a snowman, although you could probably have a snowball fight if you wanted (though don’t expect to make anything larger than your fist, if even that).

Still, it is snow. White, wet, and cold. I hope to enjoy it as much as I can today because I am not sure if we’re going to be getting more anytime soon. On the other hand, it’s so cold outside right now that I am probably going to stay inside and do some reading or play some video games (been playing Pokémon X recently, which is a fantastic game. Highly recommend it to anyone who likes Pokémon, even if it’s been years since you last played a game from the series).

-Tim

Three of my Favorite Books on Writing

I am a firm believer that the best way to learn how to write is by writing. You could read all the books on writing in the world, but if you never put any of it into practice, then you will never know for sure what and what doesn’t work for you.

Nonetheless, books on writing have been a huge help to and influence on me. They have taught me new ideas and new techniques. Sometimes I like to reread them when I feel lost, when I don’t know what to write, or when I don’t like what I am writing. In that sense, the books — or rather, their authors — are some of my writing mentors.

So I thought I’d share a few of my favorite books on writing. I’ve read quite a few books on writing over the years, but these three are the ones that resonate the most with me. I highly suggest any writer, whether a beginner just starting out or a veteran who has been scribbling for years, to buy these or at least check ’em out from your local library anyway.

Now let us begin, starting with:

#3: How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman (Buy it on Amazon)

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide

Drawing on 30 years of combined teaching, writing, and reviewing experience, authors Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman point out 200 mistakes most unpublished writers make, mistakes that often result in their manuscripts being rejected by agents and editors.

While sometimes the snark can be a little annoying at times, it is has nonetheless entertained me many times with its irreverent humor. In particular, I enjoy how they illustrate every advice with examples, which make it easier to grasp the concepts they’re talking about.

It does use a lot of adult language, however. While that doesn’t bother me personally, if you do not like that kind of language, then you probably shouldn’t read this book. But if you are willing to look past the language, then I think you will learn a lot of useful things to avoid in your writing.

#2: Your First Novel: A Published Author and a Top Agent Share the Keys to Achieving your Dream, by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb (Buy it on Amazon)

Your First Novel: A Published Author and a Top Agent Share the Keys to Achieving Your Dream

This writing book is unique among writing books because it is co-written by an author and her agent, thus dividing the book into two parts.

The first half is written by novelist Laura Whitcomb, author of A Certain Slant of Light, which teaches the mechanics and craft of writing. It’s my favorite half of the book because it has so much useful information for all writers looking to improve their craft.

The second half is written by author agent Ann Rittenberg. In this section, she teaches you how to get your novel published. It mostly covers traditional publishing (this book was published prior to the rise of self-publishing), but it is still useful. In particular, I loved the excerpts of bad query letters she shared as an example of how not to write a query letter.

As a result of these two halves, the book is a different experience from reading other books on writing. I know of no other book on writing co-written by an author and her agent, which is a shame because I think it’s a really neat idea.

#1: Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies, by Sol Stein (Buy it on Amazon)

Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies

In this book, author and editor Sol Stein gives a lot of excellent advice for both fiction and nonfiction writers. It’s one of the few books on writing I own or know of that covers fiction and nonfiction equally, which is why I consider it valuable.

Not only does it contain useful writing advice, but it itself is well written. It’s easy to read and follow along. And like How Not to Write a Novel above, Stein will sometimes use excerpts to illustrate the points he is trying to make. They’re generally from his own work.

I have read other books on writing (and there are still quite a few I haven’t read but want to read), but these three are some of my favorites that I like to reread again and again, learning something new from them each time. I imagine that I will probably always reread them.

Do you know any good books on writing? Share them in the comments!

-Tim

My Goal as a Writer

As a writer, one of my greatest personal fears (perhaps even the greatest) is stagnation.

What do I mean by stagnation?

I mean laziness. I mean writing the same story over and over again, with maybe a few cosmetic differences just to fool readers into thinking they are reading something different when in fact its the same thing you wrote last year . . . and the year before . . . and the year before that, too.

I mean never trying anything new, especially anything that is scary and difficult. I mean becoming little more than a hack.

On some level, repetition is unavoidable. After all, every story I write comes from me. It is only logical that certain themes, characters, and plots would reoccur throughout my writing. It can even give me clues as to what my strengths and weaknesses are, which is valuable knowledge for all writers to possess of themselves.

But just because I may subconsciously write certain characters, themes, and plots again is no excuse for laziness. My subconscious is pretty big. I am certain there are still plots, characters, and themes in there that are new, different, and maybe even scary. As comfortable as it is to write the same thing over and over again, I don’t believe writing is supposed to be comfortable, at least not all the time.

I’ll be frank: I want to be a great writer. Fame and money are great and all and if I end up getting both, okay, but that’s not what I want. I want to actually be great, even if most people never even know I exist or I don’t make a lot of money doing it.

And I can’t be great if I write the same story again and again. I would become boring and bland. Whatever impact the first version of the story might have on me and my audience would slowly but certainly erode as I wrote it again and again until it becomes banal and clichéd, good for little else but fire kindling.

This is at least partly why I write organically. By writing organically, I make it much more difficult to repeat myself unnecessarily. It keeps me on my toes. I allow each story to share with me what makes it different from all the others I have written before. It forces me to listen to my story, which I believe is a useful ability every writer ought to develop, whether they write organically or outline.

Learning to be great isn’t easy. Sometimes I am too hard on myself. I frequently deal with self-doubt and fear, like most writers do. I am all too aware of my own flaws as a writer. There is this insidious voice inside my head that sometimes tries to tell me that I should not write at all if I can’t magically produce a perfect first draft. I ignore it because I know it is born from fear, not reason, and therefore has no business telling me what I should or shouldn’t do, although it’s can be rather persistent at times.

Still, when I look at the “pass the bare minimum” attitude a lot of people seem to have toward writing (and life in general, now that I think about it), I realize I would never trade this attitude — as harsh and unforgiving as it sometimes is — for the alternative. I would rather aim high and fail than never aim at all.

The path to greatness, I have come to realize, is found not by doing what you are already doing, but by doing something different. I intend to follow that path, however difficult and scary it may be at times.

What do you want to get out of writing, if you are a writer? What goals do you have? Do you want to be great at whatever craft, art, or job you may practice?

-Tim

On Research

I’ll be honest: I’m not a big fan of research.

Or, rather, I’m not a big fan of starting research. There’s a difference. It’s the difference between going up a roller coaster and going down a roller coaster. When I’m on a roll, it becomes easier and even fun, really, especially when I find cool facts that I didn’t know before.

Honestly, though, if I could write a story without having to do any research at all, I would probably do it. I am a writer and I like to write and research isn’t writing (no, taking notes doesn’t count as writing your story, sorry). I want to follow my characters on their journeys and adventures, discover cool plot twists, see exciting new worlds, not read about the mating rituals of velvet worms (admittedly I’ve never researched that particular fact and have no idea if velvet worms actually have mating rituals, but you know what I mean).

In recent years, however, I’ve come to view research as important for most stories. If you truly don’t know anything about mid twentieth century London but want to write a story set there anyway, you need to do some research. You can’t bullshit your way through because trust me, it will show and your readers will notice even if they are not experts on the subject themselves. Readers love to complain when writers get their facts wrong, especially if the writer in question doesn’t admit to getting it wrong.

Research is useful for more than just facts, however. It can give you new ideas for your story that you might never have thought of on your own. Even if you’re writing in fantasy, where you can make up everything from scratch, doing some research on some of the subjects you’re writing about can really help. Research has definitely helped me in that regard.

For me, the hardest part is knowing where to start. What books do I read? What websites do I need to Google? What videos do I need to watch? What places do I need to visit? Who are the experts on the subject?

For me, I’ve found it’s easier to start writing and figure out what you need to research as you go along. As you write, you will inevitably come upon subjects you are not very familiar with. At this point it’s fine to guess about things you aren’t sure of, but make sure to remember which subjects you need to research later. Write a list if you think you’ll forget and refer to it when you start doing your research.

I’ve also found I retain facts and information better when I read it in a book than when I read it on an Internet article or blog post. Don’t neglect the Internet when it comes to research, however, because it is an extremely valuable tool for finding those obscure facts that you need for your story. As useful as a good book can be, their space is limited and they don’t always have every fact you need, especially if they are older.

I suggest you use books as your main source of research and the Internet and various other media as a supplement to fill in gaps that books did not address. Of course, this is my method of doing things and you may find that it doesn’t work for you. As with everything else in writing, you should always go with what works even if everyone else is doing it differently.

Earlier I said that starting research is difficult, but the actual research process is usually easy. At this point, you may even be having fun looking up obscure or interesting facts, reading cool books on the subject, and taking detailed notes for future reference. This is probably my favorite part about research because at this point it’s usually effortless and it no longer feels like a waste of time or energy.

But at some point, you need to stop researching and start writing. Research is always important for every stage of writing, of course, whether you’re writing the first draft or putting the finishing touches on a work for publication, but it is possible to do too much research. Some writers get so caught up in it that they forget to, you know, sit down and write the story that they are researching.

If you find yourself spending more time researching than writing, I suggest you put aside the books and Internet articles and videos and start writing. While you can always do more research, you have to come to a point where you say, “There. This is enough. I might do more later, but right now I need to write.”

As long as you keep in mind the purpose for your research — to help make your stories a little more believable — I think you will be fine.

What do you think about research? How much is too much? Too little? How do you do research for your works? Any tricks or tips to make the process a little easier?

-Tim

Immersive Writing

When I write, it is important that I immerse myself in the characters and world I am writing about. I cannot be a mere observer on the sidelines, mechanically recording the actions and thoughts and feelings of my characters or what their world looks like. I have to force myself to feel what they feel, think what they think, believe what they believe, see what they see, until I can start thinking of them as real people and not just figments of my imagination.

I consider this an essential part of organic writing (you can read about my organic writing process here). Because I don’t have a tidy outline to refer to when I am unsure what to write next, I need to know my characters and world almost as well as I know myself. I need to know what a character would or wouldn’t do under certain circumstances. I need to know what problems might occur in this world.

I rarely start out immersed in my worlds, however. It usually requires time for me to become fully immersed in the stories I write about. I know I have achieved immersion when I feel the same things they do and when I am thinking about my world and characters even when I am not writing about them.

As a result, sometimes the fictional world feels more real to me than the real world. I’m no Daydream Believer. I can tell the difference between fiction and real life. Yet in order to write stories that are genuine, I’ve found I need to blur the differences in my mind, make the dividing line between fiction and real life less clear than it normally is.

In other words, telling myself “It’s just a story, none of these characters are real, none of this really happened” is the most unproductive thing I can tell myself while writing. At the very least, I need to feel that my stories are “real” because if I don’t my readers won’t care about the characters, their world, or the things happening to them.

After all, isn’t that one of our goals as writers? If we are not convinced of the truth of our stories, then our readers won’t be, either, and they won’t want to read. Or if they do read, it’s unlikely they’ll finish or want to pick it up again or recommend it to other people.

Therefore, in order for my readers to believe the truth of my stories, I myself need to feel that my stories are “real.” At least I need to feel that way until the story is finished, anyhow.

How do you go about immersing yourself in your work? Do you find it easy or is it difficult? Do you do anything special to immerse yourself in your work or do you just let it happen naturally while you create?

-Tim

New Page: “Interesting and Useful Links”

I just added a new page to my blog, titled “Interesting and Useful Links.” It is basically a collection of links to various websites and blogs and such that I find, well, interesting or useful. It will occasionally be updated whenever I find new links to add.

Check it out by clicking the link above. You might just find something useful or interesting for yourself.

-Tim

I Love Used Books

It should probably come as no surprise to y’all that I like used books. If it does, then I probably haven’t been very clear that I like reading books in general. It’s one of my favorite activities. There are few pleasures in life that are equal to reading a good book. And the best books are the kind you can read again and again and learn something new from them each time, whether fiction or nonfiction.

Used books are different from new books, though. For one, they are usually much cheaper. It’s not uncommon to see used books that might have once cost ten dollars on sale for only a dollar or two, sometimes even less than that. Thus, it is possible for even a poor person to create a substantial personal library on used books alone.

A problem, though, is that used books are often in poorer condition than new books. The cover might be wrecked, the pages might be yellowed, and there may be stains on some pages, among other problems. Most don’t look as good as a new book.

Thankfully, most used books are still readable, however they might look. I actually like used books that actually look used. It tells me that whoever originally owned the book must have loved it very much. It is especially interesting to read the notes in the margins or see the highlighted sections. Usually I don’t understand why they may have highlighted this particular passage or what these notes mean, but nonetheless they give me a rather personal glimpse into the mind of a fellow reader, one I might never have gotten otherwise.

This, I think, is the biggest problem with ebooks. There is no such thing as a “used” ebook. You could buy a used Kindle or other ereader, perhaps, but not used versions of the ebooks themselves. It’s not a huge problem, however, because ultimately what matters is the book’s content, not who owned it or who wrote notes in it or who highlighted specific passages or anything like that.

What do you think about used books? Like them, dislike them, or don’t care? Do you consider the inability to get used ebooks a plus or minus or something that doesn’t matter?

-Tim

Write Every Day (and how to deal with procrastination)

For the past several years now I have set aside time each day solely devoted to my writing. The time and length have changed over the years, but I still keep writing every day. Currently I write for two hours in the morning; or, if I am working on a finished story, I spend those two hours editing/rewriting what I already have done.

Writing every day is how I get my work done. If I did not write daily, I am certain I would probably not be even half as good a writer as I am now. At least I would have less experience, and experience is possibly the most important commodity a writer can have. Only experience can tell you, with absolute certainty, what does and does not work for you; nothing else is nearly as true or honest as experience. Remember that.

For NaNoWriMo, writing every day is particularly important if you hope to meet the 50k limit. It’s possible to finish NaNoWriMo without writing every day, I suppose, but keep in mind that every day you miss is another 1,667 words you’ll have to write in order to catch up. That can add up quickly; miss three days and you’ll have 5,001 words to write, which is about a tenth of 50,000. If you’re a fast writer you might be able to catch up quickly, but even then, you’d have to work far harder than the writer who keeps up with his daily word count.

Even if you’re the kind of writer who doesn’t write every day — and there are some writers who are like that, though I don’t understand how they get anything done that way — you should consider writing every day for NaNo at least. It doesn’t need to be two hours, like I do. Just find a good time for you to write at and make sure you can always be there to write.

If you decide to start a daily writing schedule — and you should if you ever want to get anything done — then you have to deal with distractions. The Internet is a particularly bad one; there are so many interesting things to do on it, so many cool blogs and web articles to read. It’s even worse because using the Internet can make us feel like we’re doing something related to our work, even though we’re usually slacking off (unless you’re doing some research, although research I think should generally be done outside your writing time unless it is a fact you need to know right away).

I know the distracting nature of the Internet well because I still struggle with it myself. I have found that a good way to deal with the Internet is to check your social media, email, and other things before you write. Do it quickly, don’t spend too much time on any one site, and then when you are done, start writing. It’s not perfect (there is always something new to do or read on the Internet, after all, and it’s easy to think “Just one more website” after I’ve checked out my usual things), but my mind is a lot more willing to focus on my writing when I have dealt with some of my more pressing Internet business.

As far as I can tell, there is no way to defeat procrastination once and for all. All writers — from the masters who have dozens of novels under their belts to amateurs just starting out — must struggle with it their entire lives. Experienced writers probably have an easier time avoiding procrastination than amateurs, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the professionals never have to deal with it. They just know how to handle it better than the rest of us (usually, sometimes, maybe).

As with nearly everything else in writing, go with what works for you. Ultimately, you and you alone know how you can deal with your procrastination. All I can do is offer some ideas that will hopefully help you.

What do you think? How do you keep your attention on your work during your writing time? Know of any good articles, books, or writing resources to help the procrastinating/easily distracted writer?

-Tim

Kindle MatchBook: Pretty sure we all saw this coming

I already tweeted about this, but I feel Amazon’s newest program is worth blogging about:

Amazon has rolled out its Kindle MatchBook, a new program that allows customers the option to purchase discounted Kindle Editions of print books that they have purchased new from Amazon. The eBook editions are sold as an add-on purchase. Most cost somewhere between free and $2.99.

I knew they were going to do this eventually. It was inevitable. They already give you the digital versions of songs if you buy the CD. With the popularity of ebooks on the rise, it was only a matter of time before they did something like this. And I approve of it (c’mon, Amazon, I know you were looking for the approval of an obscure blogger whose existence you probably weren’t even aware of. Don’t be bashful).

The only part I don’t like is that you will have to pay for some ebook editions. $2.99 isn’t much, true, and most will probably cost less than that, but it still seems like a rip-off to me. At least you don’t have to pay the same price for the ebook as the print edition.

What do you think? Good, bad, or meh?

-Tim