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.