Living Like A Writer

We are two weeks into January.

Almost two weeks.

What day is it again?

Basically, 2019 has been a whirlwind of activity, even in its first two weeks. I started coaching sessions, started the first draft of my sixth book, embraced this blog, sent out several resumes for freelance writing positions, and oddly enough, repainted and rearranged my mother’s pantry.

I also took a morning to chop wood.

Because I live in a tiny house. And the only way to heat this tiny house is with a wood stove.

And it is cold in Colorado.

The lovely part of gathering wood for my house has been the long walks through the woods, finding dead wood and fallen branches to chop up. I live on thirty-five acres of pastureland and pine woods, and out here, we don’t go to Walmart and buy wood.

Although Walmart does sell firewood. Which seems weird to me.

However, we also don’t chop down trees willy-nilly. Because trees take seven thousand years to grow in Colorado due to the lack of water. So instead, I’ve been collecting logs from neighbors who are clearing their land, dead branches and trees from our own property, and old lumber from a porch that we tore down a year or so ago.

My woodpile is a study in oddities.

The long walks to find all of this wood have given me, as a writer, so much time and space to think. They’re moments outside in the trees, with the blue sky and the deer tracks in the snow and the long, winding paths up through our property. I have loved every minute of it and found that, more than just giving me wood to heat my house, they have given me rest for my soul, inspiration for my writing time, and above all, a chance to pause and enjoy the beautiful place that I live in. I am a country girl heart and soul, and nothing feeds my spirit more than time in the trees.

And, if I can ensure that I don’t freeze in the middle of the night at the same time, it’s definitely a double bonus.

For The Writer Who Has Quit One Too Many Times

As a writer, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as a new idea.

A new character waltzes in, capturing our attention, and whispering about a story flooded with new possibilities, new dangers, and a love so deep it borders on intoxication. Suddenly, we’re taking the long way home from work, getting lost in the grocery store, and filling notebooks with jotted conversations that just have to be written down, because what if we lose them??

Unfortunately, as odd as it may seem, new ideas can be one of the biggest obstacles to a finished book.

That doesn’t sound right, does it? New ideas should be every writer’s dream! They should propel your career forward, not pull it back.

Shouldn’t they?

Well, actually—they do. If they’re managed right. But new ideas, when they’re given free rein and allowed to trample everything in their path, can effectively kill any half-finished draft, partially edited manuscript, or fully outlined book. Especially when said half-finished draft or partially edited manuscript has a plot hole that you just—can’t—fix.

Sometimes it really is time to cut the cord and let an old idea die in favor of a new one. But, if we fill our drawers with half-finished ideas, scribbled notes, and books that we’ll finish someday, that goal of eventually writing—and publishing—a book . . . may not happen.

But how do we resist the pull of a new idea when it’s just so enticing?

I have a few suggestions.

1) Jot it down.

This is the obvious one. Have a notebook of future books that you’d like to write. Or a file on your computer. If necessary, write it as a short story and save it for another day. Believe me, it will keep. And it will be all the richer for the time it had to simmer.

2) Admit that you probably cannot write both at once.

Don’t take them both on.

Just don’t.

Especially if your half-finished draft is having trouble. Whether you intend it or not, one of them will be set aside, and I can guarantee that it won’t be the shiny new idea.

As a writer, you can decide to write any way you like. There is no set formula for how to write, and no ‘ten steps for success’. But in the end, a book that isn’t finished is a book that isn’t published.

So take it one step at a time. Finish one before you start the next, especially if they are the same genre and type of story. The next ten years of my life are planned out in books that I’m going to write, and I haven’t misplaced a single one of them because I decided to wait.

In the end, it will be worth it.

3) Keep it in the back of your mind.

Sometimes, it really is nice to have another idea to plan and daydream about. An idea doesn’t have to be written for you to enjoy. Spend some time with it. Let it stew in the back of your mind. Explore the possibilities, but keep it in your head for now. Keep your writing time—and a little brain space too—for the book that really needs your attention.

Remember, you will get to write this new idea. And it will be all the better for having finished another book before you started this one.

4) Fall in love with the idea you had.

Remember that the book you’re writing now was once an idea that captured you. That set fire to your thoughts. If you hadn’t loved it, you wouldn’t have started it.

Daydream. Journal with your characters. Explore the settings that once enraptured you. There is no plot hole that can’t be conquered, and no story that can’t be written. Allow room for growth, for change, for a story that you love and are passionate about. 

5) Be excited for the work you’ve already done.

New ideas are lovely. They’re exciting and engaging and they bring a spark of creativity back into writing, especially when we’ve been toiling through plot holes and frustration.

And yet, new ideas come and go. They have no roots, no weight to them.

Remind yourself that the work you’ve done already is worth continuing. Your story has a depth and richness to it that only comes with a fight. All that trouble you’ve had fixing plot holes, all the frustration of edits, all the deleted pages that you’ve tossed into the trash combine together to give you a solid foundation to work with. All that work is worth far too much to be abandoned or cast aside.

Respect the story you have.

Respect the time you’ve already put in.

Rekindle the love you have for the story you’re working on, and push through the difficulty. You’re a writer, and you have a thousand stories ahead of you. You have time to write them all, and there is no hurry. Take them one at a time, and one day you’ll have a shelf of books that you can be proud of.

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

For The Writer Who is Afraid

I am going to start this particular post with a horror story.

Young or squeamish writers, please hide your eyes.

Unsuspecting writer, chatting comfortably with an older relative, friend from high school, or new acquaintance.

“Well, between work and writing, I don’t have a lot of time—”

Excited gasp. (Or possibly judgmental sniff.)

“Oh, that’s right! You’re writing a book. Can I read it?”

Cue instant terror.

Sound familiar?

Writers, sharing your work is hard. Our stories are little bits of our heart and soul, and offering them up for the world to read, judge, and possibly reject, is incredibly hard. It takes practice, a thick skin, and a lot of courage. Writing in itself is hard enough, and once you add imposter syndrome, harsh critiques, and well-meaning questions like, when are you going to get a real job, it gets a thousand times harder. Sometimes, it really would be easier to hide beneath your desk with a blanket, a jar of chocolate chips, and a fancy pen while you do all your writing in secret. Who really needs to know, after all?

I admit, that would be the easiest way out. In my seven years as a writer, I have run the gauntlet of reactions to my writing. Thankfully, most of the people that have read my writing have loved it. But—things happen.

And, honestly, the ones that sting are the ones that you remember.

So, yes, sharing your writing, even with the most select people, is hard. It’s scary. Because what if they hate it? What if they skim through, laugh, point out a typo, and change the subject? (This has actually happened to me.) What if, after begging for a copy for weeks, they just . . . never read it? (Also something that has happened to me.)

What if they actually have constructive criticism that helps make your book a thousand times better and yet still stings like needles when you hear it?

It happens.

It’s natural to be afraid of sharing your work, but living according to your fears is always—always—a mistake. So when you are afraid, please remember this:

1) You CAN be selective.

It is okay to say no.

I’m giving you permission. Right now. You can tell your great aunt, or that one friend, or anyone at all, that you can’t send them your book. They can buy a copy when it comes out. Until it’s sitting on the shelf in Barnes and Noble, you do not have to let anyone and everyone read it. Never, never feel guilty about telling someone no. Do it kindly, but do it firmly. No explanation is necessary. You do not have to have a legitimate excuse. Feel completely free to tell them that it isn’t finished yet, and they are welcome to buy it when it is. Or, if it’s easier, laugh and tell them you’ll send them a signed copy when it gets released.

You don’t owe anyone advanced copies of your work.

2) It’s okay to start small.

After seven years of writing (and sharing my writing), I have completely and totally conquered my fear. I’m not scared of people reading what I write anymore.

Okay, that’s a lie. I lied. I’m sorry.

The point is, practice helps. Let someone who you trust read what you’ve written. Maybe someone who already likes the kinds of stories you write. Or write a short story, and share it on your social media. Have a blog. Offering something that’s not quite so near and dear to your heart is a good way to try out a bit of author vulnerability without the jarring reality of your entire book being at someone’s mercy. Do it a bit at a time, and you’ll learn not to be so terrified of it.

3) It’s not a bad thing to be afraid.

Panic. Breathe into a paper bag. Cry a little, if you really need to. It’s okay to freak out, and it’s okay to be afraid.

It is not okay to hide forever.

You’re a writer. A communicator. You have a story to tell, and somewhere out there is a reader who needs your story. Make it the best that it can be, write with your heart and your soul and every single bit of passion you can possibly muster, and then release it. Let it go. Let it be read and critiqued and loved and hated. Let it be free.

If you need chocolate or wine, I know where you can get both.

The point is, you can be as afraid as you like, but take the plunge anyway. You will never grow as a writer or a person if you don’t walk through fear at least occasionally.

4) Your story is not set in stone.

No, you definitely should not be changing your book based on the whim of every reader who has an opinion about it. Never, never do that. Please. That is a terrible, awful idea that will scramble your book and erase everything that is uniquely you about it.

However.

Feedback is immensely important as a writer. Without it, we grow stagnant. Our stories become stale. We stop learning. So listen. Consider the comments, however much they sting. Set some of them aside. Apply others. Use your own judgment, because this is your book and you are the author. They are not writing it. You are.

And you know what? It’s okay to change things. It’s also okay to thank them for their thoughts and leave things the way they were.

It’s also also okay to change it, but not quite the way they told you to.

You are the author. You know your story. Allow it room to grow, but don’t hand it off to every single person with an opinion.

There is a balance here, I promise. Find it.

5) You have not failed if someone doesn’t like what you’ve written.

Time for some perspective, dearest writer.

One comment is one comment. It’s not the end of your career, or of the world. It stings for now, but it will be okay.

You’re learning. You’re growing. You had the courage and the audacity to share a tiny piece of your soul, and that alone is a feat worth bragging about. All of the hard work that you have poured into your art is not wasted, and you are stronger because of your vulnerability.

You cannot fail as a writer until you have given up on yourself. Every stumbling block, every bit of reckless, wild courage, every deleted word and rejected chapter has something to teach you. You are learning.

And a writer who is willing to learn is a writer who is in very little danger of ever failing.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

For The Writer Who Is Exhausted

In my very unprofessional opinion, there are two types of exhaustion.

Actually, there are probably more than two types, but as I said, this is an unprofessional opinion, and as I am not exactly sure where I put my encyclopedia, we are going to say there are two types of exhaustion.

The first is physical. You worked too hard, didn’t get enough sleep, or, if you are the awesome kind of person that does this sort of thing, you wore yourself out lifting weights or running or some other kind of exercise. Your feet hurt, your muscles ache, and what you really need is a good night’s sleep, or a hot bath, or just an hour or two to lie down and read a book or binge watch Netflix. Maybe a foot rub is in order. Or a glass of wine on the couch. Whatever spices your tea.

The second type is mental exhaustion.

This one is a little harder, and it’s the kind that writers deal with on a daily basis. Mental exhaustion is harder to identify, harder to explain, and—in most cases—harder to recover from.

We’ve all been there at one time or another. You sit down to write and stare at your computer screen for three hours without hashing out a single word. Or you force yourself to conjure up a sentence, or a paragraph, or even a full page if you have a lot of stamina, but it all goes into the trash anyway. Your ideas are flat and refuse to come to life, your characters haven’t spoken to you in a month, and there’s a deadline looming.

When writers are mentally exhausted, their stories lose their magic, the job they love so much becomes a drudge, and all the creativity that writers are supposed to have in unlimited fountains runs dry. In the end, we’re left with empty pages, a headache, and a mountain of frustration at our inability to just do the work we’re supposed to be doing.

So how do we creatively refuel? It’s a little hard to tell your brain to put its feet up and take the evening off. In my years as a full-time writer, I have had to come up with a different list of ways to give my brain some time to reset itself. Hopefully they are as helpful to you as they have been to me.

1) Give yourself time.

This is the hardest one for me. I like quick solutions, an extra hour of sleep, a dose of caffeine, some new vitamins, and off we go!

But mental exhaustion isn’t like that. It doesn’t clear up overnight. In my experience, for the writers that are well and truly burned out and fully emptied, the best thing to do is to just stop.

Just stop.

Stop writing, stop thinking about writing, stop working on plot points or trying to envision scenes or build settings.

Stop everything.

Three days in, you will have a tiny creative spark in the back of your mind. If you jump on that spark and try to write with it, you will kill it.

I’ve done this. It sets you back.

So just leave it alone. Take walks, do life, get coffee. But don’t write. Don’t think about writing. Don’t talk about writing. Give it a week before you even look at your manuscript again. More, depending on how burned you are. I’ve given it a month. Sometimes more.

2) Have adventures.

“Would you like to have an adventure now, or would you like to have tea first?”

~ Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

Your brain needs story fodder. It needs something to feed those wonderful, brilliant ideas that you pour into your writing, or it will starve. So take it adventuring. Take it to the beach, and walk barefoot in the waves. Look for seashells. Watch the gulls. Draw in the sand.

Go to the zoo, and sit on a bench and watch the tigers for a few hours. Or the turtles. Or the monkeys. Watch the people who are watching the monkeys.

Go to a new coffee shop and sit in the corner to watch the world go by, or go for a walk in a park that you’ve never been to. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be quiet—or crazy exciting, like a theme park—but it does have to be different.

Your brain needs something new.

A change in routine. A breath of air you haven’t been breathing for the last six months. Get away from your computer, get away from your office, or your bedroom, or your living room, and have an adventure.

3) Cut out the caffeine.

Caffeine gives your body a boost of energy when it is physically exhausted. It might help you stay awake through a six page college essay that’s due tomorrow morning.

It will not help you be creative, and it will not fill you up when you are empty.

4) Do not jump straight back into your writing routine.

My house is heated by a wood stove. When I build a fire, I build a frame with kindling and paper and tree bark, and light that. First a spark, then a little flame, yes?

And if I dumped a huge log on that flame as soon as it was big enough to get hot, it would die.

Instantly.

The same is true for that little creative spark you feel after three days. It needs time to become a flame, and then to grow a bit. Don’t dump a fifteen hundred word count goal on it, because I promise, it will probably die.

Start with small things.

Journal with your characters. Write a character sketch, or a setting description. Build up over a week or two. Start with a hundred words instead of a thousand. Ease into it, and take the time to remember why you love this story, these characters, and this plot line.

5) Refuel.

You cannot pour from an empty jar.

That’s just the way it is, dearest writer. You cannot give when you yourself are empty. So be willing to take the time to refuel your creativity and your mind.

Read wonderful books with characters that haunt you.

Sit down with your friends, or your family, or someone from work or church, and have the kind of conversations that go deep.

Put on music and dance. Sing at the top of your voice. Worship, read your bible, and talk to God about nothing and everything. Pick flowers, collect seashells, bake cookies to share with a friend. (Or eat them all by yourself, because I will not judge.) Cook good food, learn a new skill, and find joy in your life that does not revolve around words on a page.

The words will come. You are not washed up, your stories will not be empty forever, and you will find that spark of creativity again. Until then, find what brings you life, find what fuels your soul, and spend time counting the stars.

That, too, is part of writing.

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

For The Writer Who Is Overwhelmed

We live in a competitive world.

Nowadays, there is heavy competition for just about everything. Especially for writers. Jobs are highly sought after, agents are overwhelmed by the number of queries in their inboxes, publishers refuse to even look at your manuscript unless you’re represented, and blog views are scarce simply because there are a million blogs and one you.

It’s rough.

For some people, the competition is exhilarating. They enjoy the challenge of making their voice heard and attracting attention in a crowded room. They have a knack for making people laugh and for presenting themselves in the best possible light. If that’s you, more power to you!

I, however, am not one of those people.

My problem is that I am not at all competitive. I can play a hundred games of chess with my father, lose all but two of the games, and simply enjoy the fact that we were spending time together. Promoting myself as the best option for prospective readers, agents, and publishers is very hard for me.

And yet, for those of us determined to present our stories to the world and reach our readers, it is incredibly important.

Books are powerful. Stories are powerful. My book, We, the Deceived, which is currently being pitched to agents, was birthed from my time in Cambodia working with women escaping from prostitution. It’s a hard hitting, impacting story of redemption, the realities of slavery, and the worth in a single soul. I’ve put nearly seven years into this book, and I fully believe in it. I want to get it into the hands of a publisher, and even more, I want to get it into the hands of the readers who need it.

So, I keep pushing, despite how overwhelming the competition can feel.

But sometimes, just pushing doesn’t feel like enough.

We all know that feeling, don’t we? That moment when all of the hard work we’ve done feels pointless, and we feel like the last person in line. The runner who gets to the finish line when everyone else is gone and the volunteers are cleaning up.

Discouraging, right?

I have walked through moments like these. More than I care to remember, and yet, I’m still walking. Discouragement is never the signal to put an end to a project or a dream, and I have learned a variety of ways to keep myself sane and moving when it begins to feel impossible. Hopefully they will help you as much as they have helped me!

1) Breathe.

Realize that there is no deadline to your dream. If it takes months instead of weeks, or years instead of months, it will not lose its value. There is no hurry. Agents will not stop accepting new authors after 2019. Publishers are not going to stop printing books. The world is not going to stop reading.

So breathe, dearest author. Take a moment, calm your anxiety, and breathe.

2) Do the next thing.

Waiting around, bewailing our inability to ‘make it happen’ is not going to get us anywhere. And neither will grinding to a halt because we’re so overwhelmed by the huge obstacle in our path.

Take one step. Just one. Focus on that one step, and don’t worry about the next one until you need to.

Finish writing the book. (If you haven’t already.) If that’s still too far off for you to even think about, write the next chapter.

Add one social media account with your official author name.

Draft a query, or jump online to find some instructions on how to write a professional query.

Get feedback on your book, and adjust accordingly.

There are a million little steps in the long journey toward holding that book in your hands, so take the next one in front of you. Do the next thing. A little progress goes a long way toward fighting off discouragement.

3) Celebrate the victories.

Pop that champagne cork. Or open that bottle of wine. Or sparkling grape juice. Something. Don’t save all your celebrating until you hit that mythical moment of ‘success’. Because honestly, that moment will keep being pushed back. It will change depending on where you are in your life, and if you don’t celebrate your wins now, you never will.

So do it. Take yourself to dinner, or to that movie you’ve been wanting to see. Get your nails done, or buy that game you’ve been wanting. Celebrate your milestones. They might feel small now, but when you add them all up, they’ll be the ones that got you where you’re going.

4) Don’t make important decisions while you’re discouraged.

Just don’t. Tossing that manuscript in the trash, deleting your blog or social media accounts, or blowing up at the people who are supporting you might feel satisfying in the moment, but you will always, always regret it later. If you really are considering throwing in the towel, wait. Talk to people you trust. Give yourself time to change your mind, and to think it over when you’re not frustrated. The worst decisions are always made in a hurry.

5) Do not tie your value to your work.

Dearest writer.

You are not more or less important because of the number of hits you have on your blog.

The likes on that one post do not define you.

The rejection letter that agent sent you is not a rejection of you. They do not hate you. They do not think you are stupid, or worthless. They have simply decided that this particular project is not right for them at this particular time.

You are waiting for your book to be published, or your blog to make money, or to land a job as a writer.

You are NOT waiting to be valuable.

You are NOT waiting to be loved.

And you are NOT waiting to be important.

So whatever the problem, whether it be a rejection letter, or a scathing review, or simply a day of not being noticed, remember that you are still an incredibly brilliant human being with endless potential and a mind that cannot be replaced.

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

For The Writer Who Is In Pain

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Writing is not a particularly hazardous occupation.

I mean, sure, we fight battles on a daily basis, have a suspicious knowledge of poisons and methods for burying bodies, have an exact plan for splinting a shattered shin bone, and occasionally ride dragons, but these tend to be adventures of an . . . imaginative sort.

We don’t generally risk life and limb for our books, although our egos regularly take a good beating.

In the end, writing generally looks like sitting on a couch or at a desk typing away at a computer. With a chocolate bar. And a pixie who steals said chocolate bar. And a gnome who chews on your computer cords and tears pages out of your notebook to make paper hats with.

You get the picture.

Not a particularly hazardous occupation, right? No broken bones imminent, no disasters, no two hundred pound linebacker tackling you from behind. Safe, right?

Except for the fact that you are working a desk job. You are sitting for long periods of time, and if you’re like me, you’re not sitting up perfectly straight with a board strapped to your back at all times.

That would tend to interrupt the creative flow.

From the first day I started writing, I have treated it like a job. I showed up, I sat my butt in that chair, and I got my work done whether I particularly felt like it or not. I spent a lot of time writing, and before too long, it started to take its toll. Because when you’re sitting for long, long stretches of time, it starts to mess with you.

Particularly, in my case, with your back.

I spent several weeks almost constantly in pain. My lower back did not like my latest life decisions, and it was letting me know. About then, I started realizing that one, it’s very hard to be creative while you’re in pain, and two, I was going to have to come up with some way to counter this, or I was going to be in big trouble long term. Because it’s one thing to be stiff and sore for a few months, it’s another to realize later that you’ve done permanent damage.

Not something you ever want to do.

So I changed my lifestyle. I’ve done all these things at one time or another, and I highly recommend trying them out to see if they work for you. It’s way, way better to take care of a problem before it gets serious than to wait and need professional care later. (Note: I am not a doctor. If you live with chronic pain or are recovering from an injury, talk to a professional. Take care of yourself, my dear!)

1) Take Stretch Breaks

When I first started dealing with back pain, this is what helped me the most. Taking the time to learn a few simple yoga poses and stretches was the only relief I could find. It didn’t work right away, but over time, as I began to put more effort into the practice and made it a habit, it made all the difference. Poses like the Cat and Cow, Downward Dog, Thread the Needle, and Sphinx were so, so helpful. Youtube is full of awesome instructors (I recommend Yoga with Adriene), or you can find a few simple stretches on Pinterest as well. It’s worth the effort, I promise.

2) Run

I know. Everyone hates running, right? I definitely hated running when I was younger. I would cry when I was made to participate in fall series runs. I hated the competition, I hated that the people were watching me fail, and I hated that I couldn’t breathe.

Then, I started running alone.

I stuck my headphones in, put my head down, and stopped worrying about anyone else watching me. I ran from all my problems (haha), I listened to upbeat, fast-paced music, and I choreographed fight scenes in my head to get my adrenaline up.

Don’t laugh. It totally worked.

And it kept me active. Which, believe me, helped so much with my pain level.

3) Get a Fitbit

When I’m writing, it’s very easy to get so stuck in a scene that I forget to move. At all. For like three hours. Or longer. Getting a Fitbit helped me track my steps, make sure I was getting enough exercise, and stay active. So, so important while you are working a desk job. It buzzes to remind you if you haven’t gotten enough steps in an hour, and you know what? Jumping up and down or taking a quick two-minute walk to get your steps up can totally revitalize and refresh your writing. It helps. I promise.

4) Take Your Vitamins

This one doesn’t necessarily have to do with pain. But I tell it to everyone. My family, my friends, random people on the street who look at me like I’m crazy. Vitamin B and vitamin D help with depression and lethargy, something I have battled with for many years. Believe me. It makes a difference. Take your vitamins.

5) Take Care of Yourself

As an adult with a busy schedule, it is so easy to forget the most basic needs we have as humans. This week, make a point of doing things to take care of yourself.

Drink water.

Go for a walk outside and enjoy the fresh air.

Sit in the sunshine. Actually, bask like a cat in the sunshine. Because cats know how to love themselves.

Eat healthy foods.

Drink water.

Talk to someone who makes you laugh.

Get enough sleep.

Drink more water.

Smile at yourself in the mirror.

Drink so much water that you are pretty sure you’ve turned into a fish. Your skin, your brain, and basically everything else will thank you.

Take care of yourself, take breaks when you need them, and your stories will show the effects. You have endless potential and an amazing amount of brilliance. Don’t waste it by forgetting that you, too, are important enough to take care of.

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