The Reality Of Being an Author

This morning, I woke up to find that my bank account was maxed out.

Overdrawn, actually.

Not the best news to find out on a Monday morning, especially when every penny I’ve made in the last several months has gone toward absolute essentials. Bills. Groceries. That’s about it.

This is humiliating for me to admit, honestly. I’m the kind of person who likes to be on top of things. I like my bills to be paid a week in advance. When I go out to dinner or coffee with someone, I like to pay. When I get support letters from friends on the mission field about this need or that one, I like to be able to respond immediately with a check.

But, the reality is that I’m an author.

And right now, I don’t get paid.

For almost anything.

I’ve been a full-time author for about seven years. I’ve written eight books in that time, amounting to more than a million words in drafts, blog posts, and other various projects. Two of my books are published and available on Amazon. One—a biography I was commissioned for—is in the final stages of revision. Four others are in varying stages of revision and editing.

One is, at this very moment, in the hands of an actual real-life publisher, being reviewed for possible publication.

None of these books, as of yet, are ready to translate into anything resembling income.

Seven years is a long time. It’s a long time to work on a project without a great amount of hope or encouragement. It’s a long time to make no money and to support hundreds of hours work with several other jobs.

If I look at the last seven years from the perspective of retirement, bank accounts, and income, I have utterly failed.

Seven years down the drain. Time to pull the plug, because this idea was obviously a dud from the beginning.

Except it hasn’t been.

It hasn’t been, because of the girl who messaged me to say that something I wrote made her feel that a part of herself was beautiful, rather than strange or weird.

Or the seven-year-old who—when reading one of my books through for the second time—declared that it absolutely deserved five stars.

Or the man who commissioned the biography I wrote telling me that it was like reading through his life and that he couldn’t help tearing up when he read it.

There is magic in what I do. In the lives I touch. In the moments when people have paused to read something I’ve written, and immediately felt the need to message me and say that I made them cry. Fortunately for my career, I have never—and will never—look at what I do in terms of cash earned, money saved, or bills paid. Because being an author is more than that.

In fact, in my very humble opinion, being a person is more than that.

As many times as I have faltered in the last seven years, I have never once questioned whether writing was really what I was supposed to be doing. It’s too much a part of me, too much a part of the way I love and think and live, to abandon. I may not be making a livable wage on it right now—in fact, I may never make one—but I’ve come too far and seen too clearly how deeply impacting my words can be to quit.

To me, that’s worth a lot more than getting a check on time every month.

Although the check would be nice.

Ranger’s Apprentice

Do you want to know the strangest thing?

I have the hardest time reviewing my most absolute favorite books.

Is that weird? They should be the ones I rave about right? The ones I yell about in the mall and the library and shove in people’s mailboxes so that they’ll read them.

Right?

But, with my favorite books, I have a hard time talking about them.

Strange, right? In some ways, I’m afraid that I won’t do them justice. They’ve meant so much to me over the years that it seems impossible to tell people just how important they are. They’re a part of my childhood, my teen years, and even now I continue to treasure them, and it’s hard to come up with a way to explain to you or anyone else how much these stories have meant to me.

Ranger’s Apprentice, The Ruins Of Gorlan, is one of those books for me.

I started reading this series when I was thirteen or fourteen, and I wasn’t the only one. At least five of my siblings became obsessed with the books at the same time I did. If you’ve never lived in the same home with multiple readers, you will never understand the struggle of taking turns with a book that just arrived in the mail.

It was rough.

But, at the same time, it was also wonderful. Having people to share the magic of an ongoing book series with is a very special thing, and helps to conquer some of the impatience of waiting for the next book to be released.

And, with The Ranger’s Apprentice, that couldn’t happen fast enough for us.

The Ruins Of Gorlan, Flanagan’s first book in his dynamic series, introduces us to Will, an orphan under the guardianship of Baron Arald. But, at fifteen, he’s now too old to be a ward any longer, and he is set to be apprenticed to one of the fief’s Craftmasters.

That is, if any of them are willing to take him.

When Will is placed with Halt, a member of the elusive Ranger Corps, he isn’t sure what to expect. Rangers are renowned as black magicians and sorcerers, men who guard the kingdom and keep law and order within the fiefs, but not people to cross or mingle with.

As Halt’s apprentice, Will finds a very different reality than he expected. Soon he is embroiled in a world that fascinates and entrances him, a world where he finds himself far more accepted than he ever was as a ward in the Baron’s castle. But war is brewing in the kingdom, and as an apprentice Ranger, Will has a far greater role in the impending conflict than he ever would have expected.

“People will think what they want to,” he said quietly. “Never take too much notice of it.”

For The Writer Who Needs Fresh Perspective

Have you ever sat down to write, managed a sentence, or a page, or a blog post, and then thought, this sounds familiar? And then realized it is familiar, because it’s the same idea you had three weeks ago?

I have.

And I am absolutely certain that I cannot be the only one who does this.

Pretty certain.

You guys have done this at one time or another, haven’t you?

As writers, it’s far, far too easy to get stuck in a rut. We find a niche that works for us, a storyline we like, and suddenly—we’re stuck. It’s easy, it’s comfortable, and people seem to like it, so why branch out, right?

Right?

Actually, I am a great believer in having a signature style and embracing your niche. Sometimes, the jack-of-all-trades really is the master of none. There is something special about the depth and richness a writer who knows their craft lends to a story. People tend to write what they are passionate about, and passion, above everything else, is what drives a great story.

But sometimes, the passion is replaced by a template, and we sit down to write stories that we’ve written before and ideas that no longer excite us.

The trouble with being in a rut as a writer is that we’re not choosing to be there. We don’t just stop coming up with fresh, exciting story ideas simply because we don’t care anymore. If we did, it would be a good time to question if it was time to set the pen down and find a new path. We love our stories. We love the adventure, the thrill of creating something that sends chills down our spine and wakes us up. We’re after that elusive heart-stopping story that makes us want to cry and laugh and stay up until midnight because we’ve forgotten we’re working.

But sometimes, ideas like that are hard to come by, and so we continue to write what used to excite us, hoping that we’ll catch that feeling again on the next page.

Or the next one.

Or the next.

As a writer, I have found myself in a rut many times. My stories feel stale, and I find myself reading old chapters in hopes of remembering just what it was that excited me about them. When that happens, I know it’s time to make some changes and find a fresh approach.

Here are five ways that I do that:

1) Don’t try to pour from an empty pitcher.

Pumping out hundreds—or thousands—of words while you’re stuck in a rut and hating what you write is not going to help dig you out. Give yourself permission to pause, to slack off for a little while, and to rest. Very often, being stuck in a rut can be a sign of writer’s burnout, which needs, more than anything, a break and time to recover.

Nothing good comes of forcing creativity. If it is time to stop, then stop.

Pause.

Breathe.

Come up with a plan before wasting any more time staring at a blank page or a story you don’t like.

2) Change your habits.

Sometimes our writing gets stuck in a rut because we’ve been operating in a rut. Day to day, our routines are the same as they’ve been for months, or even years. Our stories may just be one indication of the way we feel in our own lives.

It may be time for a few changes.

Now, most of us are not going to change jobs, shave our heads, or move across the country in hopes of shaking things up in our lives. If that’s you, more power to you. If that’s not you, maybe try something less drastic.

Have coffee at a new coffee shop.

Find a book or TV show that you wouldn’t normally read or watch.

Take a walk instead of watching TV in the evening.

Take a MasterClass you’ve been eyeing for a while, or find a new hobby that you wouldn’t normally spend time on.

Take a day trip to the mountains, or the beach. Linger. Sit beside a waterfall, or gather seashells. Smell the pines.

Go to a zoo or an aquarium. Don’t rush. Watch the ducks or the snakes in the reptile house. Sit on the steps near the shark tank, or beside the penguins. Be still. Admire.

Moments like these are story fodder, and without them, our stories dry up and become dusty.

3) Try something new.

New is hard. New is terrifying.

New is also the best way to shake yourself out of a rut.

Write a poem or short story. Write a story from a completely different point of view than you usually do or a genre that you’ve never tried before. Romance, or SciFi, or contemporary.

If you don’t have ideas, search for writing prompts on Pinterest. Pick one that doesn’t jump out at you, and give it a shot. You don’t have to show anyone the attempt, but trying may make all the difference.

4) Don’t limit yourself.

You are a writer. You have the tools, you have the passion. Just because you’ve been writing one kind of story, or even been doing one kind of writing since the beginning doesn’t mean you can’t branch out.

Novelists can write articles.

Bloggers can write poetry or short stories.

Journalists can write novels.

You are not confined to one style of writing or one genre. Allow yourself to branch out, and to learn a new style.

5) Stop chasing.

Ideas are not limited. There is not a certain number that each writer is allotted. You cannot run out, and you are not washed up if you’ve run dry.

Instead, I firmly believe that ideas are like butterflies.

If you spend all your time chasing after them, they will appear and disappear before you can blink, and you will end up frustrated.

Instead, the best way to catch them is to go where they gather. Wander in parks, or zoos, or linger in coffee shops. Be patient. Wait for them. Focus on other things, instead of racking your brains.

Before you know it, you’ll have more ideas than you know what to do with, and if you’re willing to take the plunge and risk trying something outside of your comfort zone, you may just be surprised by what you can come up with.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

Where Peace Abounds

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He throws me out after the fifth beer. My mother will follow me in an hour or so. She offends him less, I think, because she doesn’t answer back when he swears at her. She’s everything I’m not and wish I could have been. Soft and gentle, kinder than one of God’s angels, with mouse-brown hair and blue eyes that have the patience of the heavens in them.

I was born with his slate-gray eyes and his wild temper. One more thing I intend to hold against him until the skies burn.

Dusk is falling in the orchard when I leave the house and follow the lane toward the wheat fields. The wind is up, and I can see clouds rolling in from the west, dark as soot and building into a summer storm. Lightning cracks in the distance, followed by a rumble of thunder, and I leave the lane and wade into the waist-high wheat.

This early in the year, it’s still green, and the wind ripples through it. I went to the seaside once, when I was so young that the wheat towered over my head and my father still called me his son. I still remember how the waves looked, tossed about by the wind and capped with white foam. The wheat fields remind me of it on days like this. They sway and ruffle, catching the last of the light and throwing silver glints at the sky.

I’m never at peace on this farm, except when I’m here.

The clouds are overhead and the wind smells of rain before I reach the far edge of the field. The gypsy tents are pitched beneath the trees there, as far from the house as they can get and still be on our land. Their men help with the harvest in the fall, and if they pass through before then, my father always has work for them. But he doesn’t want them nearby. If he can see their tents or wagons, or if he can smell the smoke from their fires, he’ll kick them out. This is the only place that he never comes.

So, of course, this is always where I end up when he kicks me out.

Their fires are burning, and the smell of the stew bubble over the flames reminds me that he threw me out before I could eat. Two of their children, bare-footed and black-eyed, see me coming, and they run to greet me, babbling incoherently in that lilting, graceful tongue that never seems to need space for a breath. I swing one of them onto my shoulders, and he grabs handfuls of my hair and tugs, still shouting. Mama Kazia comes out of the tent, scolding, and kisses my cheeks, pushing me down on one of the cushions scattered around the fire. She’s got poppies braided into her black hair, and bare feet like her children. They’ve been here six weeks already, a long time for people who love the horizon, and we’ve managed to get past the language barrier. They chatter at me, and I talk to them, and if neither of us quite understands the words, we catch the meaning.

She’s clucking over my bruised face now, and one of her children brings me a puppy from underneath the wagon while I tell her about our latest fight, about my mother’s silence, the baseball games in town, the money I have stashed under my mattress from the odd jobs I’ve been working, and the train headed west next spring. She listens sympathetically, clicking her tongue every once in a while and dishing out stew to the children that come crowding around. She pushes a bowl into my hands too, and I eat with one of her toddlers in my lap.

The rain is pattering against the canvas awning when their papa returns. The older children hear him whistling, and they run to meet him and come back splattered in mud and laughing. He’s carrying them, two on his back and one on each hand, swinging like pendulums. The first few times I came here, I slipped off when I heard him coming. He caught me the third time, and we spent three hours talking about fishing and what bait is the best for trout.

He likes practicing his broken English, I think. I explain baseball to him, and he tells me where to find the best holes for brook trout in the spring or how to hunt down a blackbird’s nest.

A fool waste of time. That’s what my father would call it. But I’m never at peace on this farm, except when I’m here.

Beatrix Potter

When I was growing up, my mother took us on Awesome Great Adventures to the library. She brought home laundry baskets full of books from library sales and thrift stores and cruised through garage sales for secondhand books to fill our bookshelves. I was never short of fresh reading material, and since I started reading at four and never stopped, that was quite an accomplishment on her part.

Of all the many, many books that she brought home, I had my favorites. Bill Peet, with his clever rhymes and wacky, colorful pictures, Dr. Seuss, with his dizzying tongue-twisters, and about a hundred others. In the mornings before breakfast, we would crawl into bed with her, and she would read to us from The Biggest Bear, Blueberries for Sal, and We Were Tired of Living in a House. The books she read us then are still vastly important to me, and a few of them have found their way onto my bookshelves in anticipation of the days when I have a few small children climbing into my bed with their books before breakfast.

Several such books are the many sweet adventures of Beatrix Potter.

(Yes, that is indeed me in the picture. And yes, I was reading the book upside down. In my experience it is very important to study life upside down occasionally, in order to gain some much-needed perspective.)

Anyway.

Back to Miss Potter and her lovely, wonderful books.

Peter Rabbit was the first friend I made among her pages. His adventures between the rows of radishes and lettuces in Mr. McGregor’s garden enthralled me, and Miss Potter’s beautiful watercolored pictures drew me straight into the story, just as if I’d been there myself.

A whole string of friends followed after the first. The Tailor of Gloucester, who swore to finish a magnificent coat by Christmas morning and only just managed it with the help of some obliging mice. Jemima Puddle-duck, who really was a particularly foolish duck—and a very lucky one. And of course, last (in my list) but not least, Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca, two of the naughtiest mice that ever stumbled between the pages of a book.

Beatrix Potter’s books remain a treasured part of my childhood, and the stories are carefully tucked away on my shelf with all of my other favorites. Waiting for a rainy day when I need to remember myself, or a lazy morning when I have children of my own to read aloud to before breakfast. Either way, I will be enjoying them for many, many years to come.

So that is the story of the two Bad Mice—but they were not so very very naughty after all, because Tom Thumb paid for everything he broke.

For The Writer Who Is In A Hurry

We live in a world of instant noodles.

I know, that’s not the way that statement usually goes, but I like this way better. No one likes to be stuck waiting for noodles or wifi or the next season of our favorite show. Instant streaming, Netflix, and Amazon Prime have spoiled us with their quick solutions to our every whim.

It’s great, isn’t it? Two-day shipping is the best. (My wallet doesn’t agree, but that’s beside the point.)

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for us writers, there is no quick fix, make-it-happen kind of shortcut for writing a book. The publishing industry, and writing in general, is a long-term project, and one that requires a great deal of patience and longevity. Writing a novel takes a long time, and getting it published takes even longer. To me, writing is all about faithfulness. It’s about little steps, day-by-day consistency, and continuing to believe in a project long after it has lost its novelty.

But sometimes, in the middle of a project that seems to have no end, discouragement hits. All those everlastingly long days and months seem endless and empty, and in that moment, it seems impossible to continue for one more minute without some kind of breakthrough.

And, in this industry, breakthroughs don’t come just for the asking.

Discouragement can too easily end with hasty decisions, burned manuscripts, hurt relationships, and damaged dreams. It’s easier to take steps backward than forward on days like this, and the last thing any writer needs is to do everything twice.

I have hit these moments many times in the last seven years, and the five best tips I have for coping with them in a healthy, productive way are:

1) Pause.

Hasty decisions are almost always the ones you regret later. So walk away from your computer, leave your query letters for tomorrow, and let your characters be on their own for a few days. It is my belief that the only way to fail as a writer is to give up. Rejections come and go, stories come and go, but the only person that can really kill your dream is you.

So don’t give up. Pause, breathe, and make your decisions intentionally and not out of emotion or fear.

2) Remind yourself that there is no deadline.

Writing is one of those odd and wonderful occupations that has absolutely nothing to do with age. You can start writing at thirteen or thirty-five. Some books are finished in two years, some in ten. There is no set method, there is no formula, and there is no law that says that after you’ve worked on a story for five years, you have to dump it because it’s going nowhere.

Writing takes time. The world may not always understand that, but we as writers should. Our stories are worth the time we put into them, and they are all the more valuable for the years of constant devotion and love.

3) Have an encouragement box.

On my window sill, I have a box filled with index cards. On these cards, I have scribbled bible verses, prayers, encouraging quotes, and little notes to remind myself that even when I feel awful, there is still a reason and a purpose for continuing on.

The important thing about this box is having it together and at my fingertips when I need it.

Looking for encouragement when you’re at the end of yourself is a recipe for disaster. Either you can’t find it, or you don’t have the energy to look. Write the notes when you’re encouraged, when you’ve had a good day, and you can feel that steely determination keeping you on the right path. Trust me, you’ll be glad to have them on the bad days.

4) Have a person.

Someone you trust. Someone who is going to champion you. A friend, a family member, a mentor. Someone you can call, or get coffee with, or simply sit on your bed and cry with.

Someone who will listen to your million reasons to give up with sympathy, then give you a million reasons back to continue on.

I know, this is a hard one. Writers are very often (but not always) introverted, and it’s hard to reach out to someone and admit you are struggling. But this is a long journey, and you were never meant to travel it alone. You need people to love you, encourage you, and keep you smiling. If you don’t have anyone like that in your life, feel free to shoot me a message. I’ve been where you are, and I know how hard it is. But I also know how very, very worth it all of this work will be.

5) Let the time pass.

Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.

~ Earl Nightingale

Dearest writer, it is really the small steps that make the most difference. The ones no one sees. Overnight successes do not happen overnight. They are always proceeded by years of invisible, tiny, step-by-step faithfulnesses that no one ever saw or cared much about.

The time will pass.

Your story will grow.

You will make progress if you continue to work and be faithful.

Those small steps seem to be getting you absolutely nowhere right now, but one day, when you look back, you will be amazed by how far you have come and how much you have grown.

And in the end, you’ll discover that it was really the small days that meant the most to you. The finish line is a beautiful thing, but the journey is what matters the most. So sit back, let the time pass, and enjoy the moments that you won’t be able to get back later. You’ll be glad you did.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

Soul Colors

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I have a secret. I see colors.

I don’t mean that I see the leaves turning red and orange and yellow in the fall or the glitzy flashing neon signs blinking over the supermarkets and restaurants after dark. Everyone sees those colors, and frankly, they’re not very impressive, as far as colors go. They’re faded. Washed out, like paint in dishwater. I barely notice them anymore.

No, I see people. Their soul colors. The ones they hide from everyone else.

I don’t think they’d like it if they knew I could see. Colors are private things. People hide them underneath bulky jackets and floppy hats, behind newspapers and smartphones. They like to believe their disguises are enough to mask their colors from the world, and they are, mostly.

Just . . . not from me.

The colors are the first thing I see when I wake up on my park bench, or behind whatever dumpster happened to be handy when I finished hawking my wares. People are everywhere in the city, in every alley, packed into every street and every building. It’s why I came here in the first place. I came for the colors.

Mostly, I came to see if I could change them.

If I was a better businessman, I would find one place to sell, maybe right outside the subway station or in the park, where people are more likely to browse through my wares instead of hurrying by.

I can’t do it. I’ve tried. But I like to move around. To see different places. People who live uptown have different colors from the ones that live in the slums across the canal. Different, and yet, strangely, very much the same too. It’s all the same, no matter what city I’m sleeping in. It’s only rarely that I catch a glimpse of a color that startles me.

In the springtime, I sell lilacs and lilies on my corner, or paper tigers and cranes and frogs, or kites painted with stars and snakes and dancing women. I’ve sold perfume a few times, in the fall, and when Christmas rolls around, I sell holly and snowflakes.

Today, I’ve got balloons.

Balloons are really my favorite to sell. People don’t know, but I always try to give them a color that matches their own. It’s usually the one they ask for anyway, and I like to see them walking away, tracking green or blue or lemon-yellow on the sidewalks and carrying a balloon of the same color.

That’s really the funny thing about colors. They mean different things for different people. Blue might mean contentment for one person and sadness for another. Red can mean a thousand different things. I’ve gotten pretty good at reading the colors over the years, and I can usually guess. But sometimes, even now, I’m dead wrong.

The first sale I make is to a couple. They’re holding hands, and he’s getting his red all over her. Bright, cheerful, infatuated red. It’s dusted on her hands like pollen, on her cheek where he’s kissed her, in her hair. I try not to laugh.

She’s happy too. Powder blue. A little less passionate, a little softer, but very, very much in love. I sell them the right colored balloons and watch them wander off.

The next is an old woman with a walker and white hair. She smells like cinnamon, and everything about her glows coral pink, with a few gold flecks here and there and some silver in her eyes. I sit and talk with her for an hour or so, listening to her stories and admiring the colors. When she leaves, at last, I send a pink balloon with her and refuse the dollar she tries to press on me. I should be paying her.

Three rich colors in one morning means a good day, but the next customer is flat gray. A man with a suit. I think his tie might have been red when he bought it. He buys the balloon without looking at me, mumbling something about his daughter, and walks away. I give him a green one because it’s my strongest color, but before he’s gone ten steps it’s as gray as he is. He won’t notice, of course, but I do.

It takes me an hour to get over that one. I’m hoping for a better color next, but the woman who appears is gray too. Soft, ashen gray, with a little knot of painful black beneath her left shoulder. She’s got a toddler with her, a little boy who is clinging to her hand and sucking his thumb.

I love seeing children’s colors. They’re confused, because children aren’t one thing or another quite yet. He’s got orange and yellow and silver and green and a grumpy, tantrum red blotched all over him, like he got into the paint box and made a mess.

I’d laugh, but he’s holding her hand. His little fingers and his wrist—all the way down to his shoulder, really—is as gray as she is. And I don’t feel like laughing.

She seems to know, somehow, what her color is doing to his. She won’t meet my eyes, and she fumbles in her purse looking for a coin to buy his balloon with. I let the man with the fading tie go, but this time I’m more prepared, and she isn’t in a hurry. I get her talking, first about her son, about preschool and peanut butter in his hair and sleepless nights. Then about herself. About the man who abused her and the leaky faucet that her landlord won’t fix and the job that hasn’t paid her bills in two months. Her son plays with his balloon while we talk. He gets purple on his fingers.

When she’s finally run out of words, I give her a balloon too, a sea green one, and the money I made selling roasted chestnuts the week before Christmas. I’ve been saving it since. I wasn’t sure for what until just now.

When she cries, her tears leave splotches of color on her hands and cheeks. Sea green. She tries to protest, but there’s a reason I sleep on park benches and behind dumpsters. The money is definitely for her.

She’s still gray when she walks away, and that black knot doesn’t disappear. It’ll take more than a little extra cash and some kindness to dig that out. But the balloon doesn’t lose its color, and there’s a little sea green nestled around the black where her heart should be.

I’ve always liked sea green. Everyone is different, of course, but I’ve found that sea green usually has a bit of hope about it. If I look hard enough.

Frankenstein

My sister moved in with me this month.

We’d been planning this for a while. I’ve been living alone in my little cottage for about a year now, and she was ready for a place to live with a real kitchen and a bedroom that didn’t have to be vacated in favor of guests every month or so.

It was time.

So now, my very tiny bedroom has a very tiny bunkbed in it instead of a single mattress, and she’s reading on the couch when I get home. I cook, and she washes the dishes. I chop wood, and she cleans out the fireplace. We drink tea in the evenings, light the candles and our wood-burning stove, read books and pursue our various crafts (she’s an artist, I’m an author), and generally spend a lot of time in very companionable silence. And, when things go bump in the night, I feel better knowing it’s probably her being clumsy instead of a bear trying to eat me.

Since I live in the middle of nowhere, and there have been bears around our property in the past, this is a very comforting thought.

One of my favorite parts about having my sister move in has been watching her read all the books on my shelves. She has a very large, still growing collection of books herself, but we have yet to figure out how to cram them all into my little house. So for now, she is reading my books, and I get to enjoy watching her enjoy all the books I love.

It’s great.

One of the first books she picked up when she moved in was Frankenstein. I read Mary Shelley’s classic some time ago, loved it, and—unfortunately—forgot about it. This happens when your piles and piles of books threaten to bury your house and your TBR pile is taller than your living room ceiling. Books get read, loved, and then set aside in favor of new stories.

Then, my sister picked it up. And she loved it. In a very horrified sort of way. Every so often, while she was reading it, I would hear a scream of frustration from wherever she happened to be in the house, mostly aimed at the narrator of the story and his refusal to take any responsibility for his actions.

Victor Frankenstein, a student of the old sciences and a scorner of the new, is sent away to college following the death of a dearly loved family member. Death, life, and the disproven theories of the men he has spent his life from descend from a passion into an obsession. He forgets classes, his family, the woman he loves, and the rest of the outside world in favor of an experiment that will set him apart from the rest of mankind as a creator, god-like to the being he intends to bring to life.

Life he does create, but the horror it casts over himself and the shadow that falls over his family because of it is far beyond what he could have imagined. The monster he creates is, in many ways, child-like, without the understanding or morality of an adult human. Yet, Victor Frankenstein, for all his horror and remorse at his impetuous deed, shows as little or less judgment and virtue than the ‘monster’ he created, allowing an innocent girl to be accused of his crimes and casting off all responsibility for the atrocities he himself committed. (Thus my sister’s frustrated screaming.)

Frankenstein is a classic for the ages. Mary Shelley’s book is a lasting, brilliant story that continues to send chills down the spines of its readers. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.

For The Writer Who Is Stuck

Stories are hard.

I think anyone who has ever sat down to force out eighty-something thousand words (or more) knows this. Stories get twisted. Plot holes form, characters refuse to cooperate, and the words on the page don’t always match the visions we had for them.

Things get messy, and in the end, even the most dedicated planners get stuck.

I know this from experience.

I used to be an planner. I had my whole book outlined out in sticky notes on my wall, with details and character references and spoilers. I was on top of my life, and I always knew what was going to happen in the next chapter.

Now I know what happens at the end, in the beginning, and all the major events in-between. And sometimes what is going to happen next. My characters got tired of me being bossy, you see. They rebelled. I think they liked telling their own stories, and I was getting in the way.

Whatever happened, I have found that, planner or pantster, I still get stuck. Everyone does. Whether you’re stuck during outlining, or trapped in editing, being stuck is never a good feeling. We’re writers. We like our stories to flow, our characters to cooperate, and our plot holes to burn in an inferno and wither to ashes because plot holes are the worst.

I’m not bitter.

Still, being stuck is a state of being that many writers come across at one stage or another, but it shouldn’t have to be one that we stay in. Here are five tips for the writer who would like to get un-stuck and move on with their stories and possibly their lives.

1) Decide whether you’re stuck or burnt-out.

Does your story have a problem, or are you burnt-out from writing too much, or from stresses in the rest of your life? Your mental health will have a significant effect on your writing, so take a step back and consider whether this is a story problem, or a stress problem.

If you have one specific area where you’re stuck, a plot hole or a uncertainty of where you’re going next, you’re probably just stuck.

If you hate your story, your writing, and the entire project and want to burn it and never write another word, you’re probably burnt-out. In which case, I would recommend this post, as it will have more helpful tips on how to recover and get back on track.

2) Quit staring at the blank screen.

As a writer, there is nothing more intimidating than a blank page. And, if you’ve been staring at it for three hours—or three days—there is nothing more frustrating. So get away from it. Grab a notebook and a pen and get outside. Find some different surroundings. Pray about the problem. Ask the Master Storyteller. Journal for a while about your story. Write from your character’s point of view, or dump all of your frustration onto the page. Make a list of all the things that you would like to have happen in the book. Find some music to inspire you, or read a book that gets your heart thumping. Mix it up a little.

3) Look at the problem upside down.

Allow things to change. Are you clinging to a certain plot point or event that is causing trouble?

Let it go.

Keep the pages if you love them. Have them to read later, for yourself, but let them go. Try something completely opposite, even if you don’t keep it. Allow your story to dance around a little and explore the impossible, or at least the improbable. Give your imagination free rein and see what it comes up with.

4) Move on.

Books are not written in a single day. Or in a single draft, either. So if there is a problem that you just cannot fix, move on. Write the rest of the book, then the next book. Allow it to be less than perfect, and remind yourself that this is the version that hasn’t quite lived up to its potential.

Yet.

Come back in two months, or six. You will have more experience as a writer, you will have a fresh take on it, and more often than not, you will have found a solution. Writing is a long term profession, and a few months will not set you back.

5) Be positive—absolutely, completely positive—that you will find a solution.

You are a writer.

A brilliant, imaginative storyteller with unlimited potential and a thousand worlds trapped in your brain. Whatever the problem, you will find the solution. Eventually. You may try four of five times (or nine or ten), but you will come up with a solution. There is no story that is hopeless and no plot hole so terrible that it can’t be thought through and fixed.

I am firmly convinced that if you consider a problem to be impossible to fix, it will be. If you’re sure—very sure—that you’ll manage to fix this problem, and the next, and the next, you will find yourself facing that blank page with a good deal more courage and assurance than you left it with. It will take work, it will take persistence, and it will take a ridiculous amount of coffee, toffee, and gummy bears, but it will happen.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons: Coming Fall 2019

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Hedgehogs, O most faithful of readers, make excellent writing companions.

I would not admit this to anyone but you, for some of my friends would be terribly jealous if they thought that I was choosing favorites. Belinda Munkindot, who I am sure that you remember from my previous letters, would fly into the most ridiculous passion if she so much as suspected that I preferred a hedgehog’s company to her own. But there it is, dearest reader, and I do hope that you will keep my secret.

Since I have taken on the task of chronicles these small adventures for you, I have had many little visitors to my cottage. Lumpkin has come several times. He roams about beneath my desk, tapping on the walls, and occasionally will clamber up to sit on my shoulder, reading the page that I have so carefully inscribed for you and uttering a few complaints if the story happens to be about anyone but himself. Once, I caught him digging through my flour barrel, as if he really did think he would find treasure buried inside. I am afraid that I dusted him off rather roughly and ordered him to go home at once.

He is still sulking.

Belinda, too, has come to see me many times. She flits in and out of my window as she pleases, sometimes resting on my writing hand to get a closer look at what I am saying about her, sometimes tinkling in my ear, and sometimes admiring herself in the mirror I keep on my desk to distract her. Her tinkling is very bothersome, and as she seldom does anything but scold about the stories I’ve chosen to tell—or not tell—about her, I find it very trying to have her with me for long.

Wignilian would be a fine companion, I think, if he wasn’t so easily distracted. He scuttles about, sniffing this and nibbling that, and drives me quite frantic. I have been forced to banish him several times.

In the end, I have found that the only little creature I can stand to have rooting about on my writing desk is a hedgehog.

Actually, if I am to be most entirely honest, it is one hedgehog in particular that has snuffled his way into my good graces.

His name, dear reader, is Lester Winklestep.

Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons, the sequel to Of Mice and Fairies, is set for release in the fall of 2019. Mark your calendars!