For The Writer Who Needs A Break

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Vacations are wonderful things.

Can we all just agree on this one fact? Everyone loves a good vacation.

But not everyone has the time—or the money—to take that week off, or buy that plane ticket.

Been there? I have. Some months, rest is much easier to fantasize about than it is to actually accomplish.

Writer, I am there right now.

This last week has been a tough one. I spent a lot of time working, a lot of time stressing, and way too much time telling myself that I would get to the self-care things later when I ‘had more time’.

Except I never did end up having more time. And the week didn’t end with a weekend to myself and time to recenter. Instead, it went straight through the weekend and blasted into another week without a pause.

Not good.

With no time for vacations, very little for self-care, and schedules that refuse to pause, rest probably feels as impossible to you as it did to me on Monday morning. I knew I needed it, and I also knew that I definitely didn’t have time for it.

But I also knew if I tried to charge ahead without it, I was going to crumble. I know myself, I know my limits, and I know when I’ve reached them. I can drive myself into the floor and ignore my need to refuel for the sake of my pride, but if I do I will spend weeks picking up the pieces.

To me, it isn’t worth it.

So this week is about rest. In the midst of schedules.

Because I still have to go to work, I still have to write, I still have to tackle my to-do list, and I still have to be present. Writer, I am convinced that both are possible. Here are five ways that I intend to rest in the midst of my schedule this week.

1) Meditate.

I am a Christian, and for me, there is only one person who can offer the rest that I need so badly this week. So I will be spending time—while I am working, and during my free time—with the One who made me and knows best what I need.

Other alternatives might be meditation, yoga in the mornings before work, or a walk if you have an hour or so free. Anything to still your mind and your soul and give you a bit of breathing space.

2) Practice intentionality.

For me, that means less time on my phone, more time with a book in the evenings. It means a cup of tea and a workout in the mornings. It means candles instead of ceiling lights, and gentle music at my desk while I plow through projects.

Intentionality is being kind to yourself, kind enough to keep track of your water intake and have a few extra glasses if you’re short. Kind enough to wear your favorite socks to work, or put a little extra effort into your hair and makeup. Kind enough to allow yourself to be a priority, instead of making your to-do list king.

Believe me, your to-do list will feel a lot easier to conquer when you yourself are taken care of and feel loved.

3) Change my mindset.

I have a terrible habit. When I am stressed, I go into survival mode. Nothing really matters but getting through. Not my diet, not how much time I waste on my phone with social media and YouTube, not whether my laundry is done or my house is clean.

Nothing.

My plan is to ‘get to the end’, and until I do, I don’t really care.

The trouble is, sometimes there really isn’t an end. Life goes on, and I end up bumping along behind it, dragged because I couldn’t quite get myself together enough to run alongside.

Writer, there is no end coming. This is it. So it does matter that I haven’t done squats in 37 days. It does matter that my water consumption has dwindled to a cup of black tea and that sip I had this morning before I left the house. It does matter that I haven’t taken my vitamins this week, even though I know what that does to my sanity.

Writer, your life matters. Build the one you want, even amidst the mess and hurry.

4) Stop justifying myself.

I don’t need to explain why I’m tired. I don’t need a list of finished tasks and a certain number of written words to justify being allowed to read a book, or take a break.

I don’t need someone else to give me permission to rest.

I’m terrible at this. I spend way too much time comparing myself to others and working to justify why I’m so tired, why I need a break and a week of rest amid my schedule, and why my to-do list is long enough to prove that I’m an adult. In fact, I spend so much time trying to justify it that I forget that no one is actually questioning why I’m tired.

Except me. 

So this week, I’m going not going to come up with excuses, or reasons, or justifications. I’m going to rest, I’m going to have grace for myself, and I’m going to be okay with not always being at the top of my game.

5) Enjoy the moments.

Writer, there is no hurry. Life will go on, and if you are in a rush to get to tomorrow, you will miss today.

So pause.

Quit the rush.

Take the time to read for a few minutes during lunch break. Choose to enjoy your commute instead of grumbling about the traffic. Turn on some music while you finish that last project, or find an ambiance you like while you’re doing dishes. Play with the dog for a few minutes when you walk in the door, or boop your cat on the nose for me.

Life is going to move on, writer, and it will always feel like it is rushing past. It won’t get easier once you get married, or get that one job, or have a certain amount of money. But maybe—maybe it will get a little easier once we remember to stop and enjoy the moments.

That’s my task for this week. I challenge you to make it yours, as well!

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

For The Writer Who Is Having Doubts

I have a question for you.

If I was to meet you in a coffee shop, and we were to sit by the window to watch the rain or in the corner where it’s private and cozy, and I was to ask you to tell me about yourself, what would you say?

Would you start with your job, your education, your career? Would you talk about classes at the local college or the job you secretly hate but desperately need?

Or would you tell me about your passions? About the stories you keep hidden away on your computer and in your notebooks? About the dreams that keep you up at night and the characters that are constantly following you?

Why do we always start with job titles? A year ago, if I was asked about myself, I would tell people that I was a nanny. I picked up kids from school, I wiped snotty noses (or snotty noses were wiped on me), and I was the tyrant who declared no one was allowed to eat mac-n-cheese unless they were wearing pants. Never-mind that I had written five books and was currently working on a biography I had been commissioned for, never-mind that I had a blog that was growing in popularity or had written an article that would shortly be coming out in a magazine. I was a nanny. Most of the time, that was all I ever said.

Then, one day, I did my side-step pat answer in front of a family member. And not just any family member. My dad.

And he called me out on it.

Because I’m not a nanny. I work as a nanny to pay my bills and have the money to buy books. I am a writer and an author with years of experience and career goals and a heck of a lot of passion for what I do.

But I wouldn’t admit it.

Has anyone else done this? We spend hours and hours on our stories, put more work into a single project than most people put into their essays for an entire year of college, and then we just—downplay it. Laugh it off.

I’m not a real writer.

Except that wasn’t true. And I suspect that it isn’t true for you either, even if it is something that you’ve said about yourself. But, unfortunately, just as no one out there can tell you that you aren’t a ‘real’ writer, I can’t be the one to convince you that you are.

You have to settle that in your own mind.

But, although I can’t convince you of this myself, I can be the one to encourage you in that direction. So, here are my five truths for those of you have doubts about your authenticity as a writer.

1) If you write, you are a writer.

There is no test you have to take, no badge to earn. Whether you are starting now, clumsily, a little awkwardly, or you are a veteran with years behind you, you are a writer if you write. If you want proof of this, ask yourself if there is something else you would rather be doing. Can you come up with a list a mile long of all the things you would rather do than write?

Or, in your empty moments, in the time you have free and the stolen minutes that are your own, do you reach for your story first?

If so, you are a writer. Without a doubt.

2) Publishing is not the gate.

Publishing is important. For most of us, it is the endgame. We want a career, we want a readership, and we want a published book in our hands with our name printed across the front in shiny letters.

And you know what?

It’s going to be great.

But you do not have to have a published book to be a writer. Writing is a journey, a winding, everlasting journey full of pitfalls and unexpected heights, and publishing is only one peak among many. If you are not published yet, you can still be a writer.

3) There is no one kind of writing.

Articles. Blogging. Novels. Nonfiction. Poetry. Whatever else you can think of that I may have forgotten. If you love words, if you are drawn by the blank page and have more ideas than your poor brain can hold, you are a writer. You don’t need a 250-page novel to be a writer.

4) Writing is a journey.

I said this already. But it bears repeating. Writing is a journey, not a destination. You do not have to reach a certain level of competence to call yourself a writer. You do not need a certain number of comments, or blog posts, or awards to call yourself a writer.

We are all apprentices. Our craft does not lend itself to masters. (In fact, I am fairly certain that once you reach the level of a master, you disappear into your books and are never heard from again.) We are all learning, we are all developing our skills, and we all have work ahead of us.

Take a deep breath, writer. You have a long way to go, but you have a long road behind you as well. Enjoy your surroundings and love what you do, because writing is all about the journey.

5) You decide.

Writer, you decide how much effort you are going to put into your stories, or your poetry, or your articles. You decide whether you write once a day or once a month. You decide how much passion and energy and dedication you put into your work.

You decide whether or not you are a writer, and no one can take that decision away from you.

So embrace it. Be passionate. Give it your time and all the mental energy you can spare. Make goals for yourself and stick to them. Write when it’s hard, when you’d rather be doing something else. Write when the fire is hot within you and the ideas are flowing. Choose who you want to be, and then own it. Never, never be ashamed of who you are or what you love. Other people may not understand, they may not choose to acknowledge what you do, but they can’t take your passion from you.

You are a writer. And only you can choose whether to embrace it or not.

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

When Hope Is Painful

I ended up in Target this week.

I didn’t actually set out to go to Target. Nor, in fact, did I have anything I intended to buy. But it was early and I was in town and waiting for someone and nothing else was open.

So I ended up in Target, reminding myself on repeat that I was not to buy anything, because there was nothing that I needed and I didn’t have money to spend on impulse buying.

Spoiler: I totally bought something.

If you guessed it was a book, you get a prize.

Because it was a book.

In my own defense, I seriously tried. The book was called Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis, a beautifully honest book about the lies women believe. I saw it, flipped through the pages and thought, I should definitely read this. Then, like the good, responsible person I am, I pulled up the library app on my phone and reserved it, because I’d never read it before and I like to know a book is good before I spend money on it.

Then I checked my hold and found out I was four hundredth in line and most of my resolve went out the window.

Most of it. I actually left the store, reminding myself that I have a conference to go to next month that I have to save money for and jobs with spotty hours.

Then, halfway through the parking lot, I felt God say very quietly, go back and buy the book.

So I did. Because it doesn’t usually take a lot of convincing to get me to buy a book.

And guys.

Guys.

This book was exactly what I needed, especially after a week of anxiety and missed goals. I bought it and immediately read the entire thing.

No, I devoured the entire thing. Heart and soul. I started it in the car, read for about an hour in a bubble tea shop, and had it finished sometime that afternoon. By the time I’d finished the last page, I felt a little shell-shocked, a little convicted, and massively encouraged. The book went through twenty lies that the author had caught herself believing at one time or another, each given a chapter of their own, and nearly all of them hit and hit hard as I read them. They reminded me what my goals were, they showed me my fears, and—most of all—they gave me hope.

And, writer, hope is painful.

Honestly, I’d forgotten how painful. It’s much, much easier to laugh off your dreams, to keep them knotted up in a safe ‘someday’, and to wish but not hope. Hope is risky, hope opens our heart to disappointment, and hope means believing in something despite evidence to the contrary.

But without hope, dreams end up as nothing but a fanciful wish we had once.

So, writer, today my wish for you is that you would have the strength and courage to hope. Because as painful as hope is, life without it is far more difficult to navigate.

What are you hoping for this week? What are some dreams you’ve had that need you to rekindle the hope for?

For The Writer Who Needs A Jump-Start

Getting started is hard.

Whether we’re seasoned writers beginning a new project or new writers taking the plunge and learning to stretch our wings, getting started is an intimidating prospect. A whole, enormous story with complex themes, characters, and settings, all waiting to be inscribed on paper by you—the author. Without your brilliant ideas, your stunning imagination, and your mastery of words, none of it will see the light of day or come to more than a vague idea in the back of your mind.

Have you started hyperventilating yet?

I have.

What if you get it wrong? What if you give up halfway through the story? What if the story doesn’t come out the way you wanted it to, and the characters hate you forever and you can’t quite capture the incredible vision you have in your mind for this project?

Honestly, if I think of it in these terms, I’m shocked that I have ever, in my entire life, managed to get a word down on paper.

But I have. Eight books worth of words. And every single time I start a book, it’s as intimidating as it was the first time. More, actually, because I know from long experience what I am capable of, and the thought of not reaching that standard is an added burden.

So how, in the name of dictionaries everywhere, do we start a new project without first choking and sputtering out a few times?

Before I give you my tips for this, I want to emphasize one thing. Every writer is different. Every writer’s routine is different. Whether you are new to the craft or a seasoned warrior with dozens of manuscripts under your belt, you will have a unique approach to your books. That said, here are my five tips for getting started on a new project.

1) Let it simmer a while.

I firmly believe that an idea is not a story. One character is not a story. Sometimes ideas need to be set on a back burner for a little while and given time to simmer. Stories don’t come in ready-made packages, and they are not instant, just-add-water kind of things. They need time. They need devotion. And they need a chance to develop from one idea into a thousand.

I have at least five stories sitting on my back burners, bubbling away and preparing to be written. One of them is very, very close. A few others are only vague ideas, without compelling characters to drive them. They’ll all be written eventually. They just need time. 

2) Know when to start.

As badly as stories do need to simmer, there also comes a point when researching, dreaming, and brainstorming becomes simply—procrastinating.

It’s much easier to allow a story to stay in the planning stage rather than thrusting it into the rough and sometimes painful process of drafting. Drafting is messy, it’s incomplete, and it never quite ends up the way we expect.

And yet, a book you never start is a book that will never be written.

If you’ve got pages and pages of research, a thousand ideas in your head that you’ve run over too many times, and characters that are starting to grow bored with your lack of progress, it might be time to take a deep breath, open a blank document, and type in those fateful words—Chapter 1.

3) Embrace the mess.

First drafts are a mess. That’s a truth in writing that will continue on for all eternity. Your first draft will never, never reach the full potential that you had in mind for this story.

And that is okay.

Sometimes it’s hard for writers—especially those of us who have several fully fledged books in our past—to really embrace a messy draft. We want our sentences to shine, our work to move us to tears, and our characters to have personalities that don’t resemble cardboard.

That will come. But not with the first draft. Writing takes time, it takes dedication, and it definitely doesn’t glow with the first draft.

So enjoy the mess. Enjoy the freedom of the flow, and worry about edits later.

4) Remember that nothing is carved in stone.

Anything you write can be changed. You can drop characters, create new ones, change names, change countries. You can add a dragon into the second draft if you want to.

It’s your choice.

So many writers get roadblocked by the fear of how much work it will be to change things later. They want it perfect now because they should only have to write something once, right?

Unfortunately, writing doesn’t work like that. I have chapters I have literally rewritten 10+ times. Others have more drafts. My first book went through so many drafts that I lost track of how many there actually are.

And—once I got over the frustration of how much work it was—I discovered the wonderful freedom of allowing a book to change and grow in the process. There is an incredible depth to stories that have been allowed the room to grow and expand over time, without the restrictions of a ‘perfect’ first draft.

5) Be brave.

“Once upon a time,” he said out loud to the darkness. He said those words because they were the best, the most powerful words that he knew and just the saying of them comforted him.

~ Kate Dicamillo, The Tale Of Despereaux

Writing takes an incredible amount of courage. It takes grit and tears and perseverance and so, so much bravery. Writing past the first chapter when you know it isn’t quite right takes courage. Finishing a story takes courage.

Sharing a story takes courage.

So be brave, dearest writer. Lift your chin, gather your resolve, and face the unknown with a smile and a ‘once upon a time’ that is solely yours.

You can conquer this. You are a writer, and you have so much bravery already.

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

The Writer’s Guide To Mental Health

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“Writers, this cannot be right. Our mind is capable of so much—spinning tales that can make people cry or laugh, creating characters that become best friends to the people who read our stories, and building entire worlds with complex civilizations and landscapes far beyond anything in the natural world.

The potential is unlimited.

So why, in the name of every dictionary printed, do we allow a toxic stereotype to destroy something so intricate and precious?”

My new download, The Writer’s Guide To Mental Health, is available for FREE right now!  Sign up for my email list to gain access.

For The Writer Who Needs A Fresh Start

Oddly enough, I started my writing journey with a failed story.

Weird, right? I tell people all the time that the only way to fail as a writer is to quit. I fully believe that every story has potential, and the worst habit a writer can get into is dumping their current work-in-progress for a shiny new idea.

And yet, that’s how I started. I had a story (of sorts) in progress. I liked the idea. It had some kind of potential. It had a plot, and characters, and a world that I genuinely enjoyed.

But it was a complete dud.

Why? I can come up with a hundred reasons, most of them revolving around cliche plot lines, my own pitiful writing abilities at the time, and a lack of dedication.

But the real trouble came from the characters.

See, I knew everything about my characters. I knew their names, what they liked, what they didn’t like. I had a backstory for them, I knew their family connections, I knew everything about them.

But I didn’t know them. And it killed my story.

Just about that same time, when I was still slogging through pages of this story and rewriting bits of it over and over again in an attempt to make it interesting, someone else slipped into my head and introduced herself.

She didn’t even tell me her name in the beginning. I called her all sorts of things. And, worse still, she didn’t even have a story. Somehow, she just wiggled her way into every mental story I had going, most of the time without being invited.

I couldn’t get her out of my head.

Then, the night before I was leaving for a trip, her story appeared. And I spent the next several months writing it out in the notes on my iPod touch. I couldn’t type fast enough. Really, it wrote itself in those first days, and I hung on and tried to keep up.

Now, seven years later, I have five books written. Two are fully edited, and one is currently with a plethora of agents and editors in hoped of finding a publisher.

All due to a failed story that I gave up on.

Letting go of a story—however hard—is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s the best thing, a sacrifice that will launch you forward instead of holding you back and chaining you to bad habits.

The trouble is, how to tell the difference?

Here are five ways to judge whether you’re giving up or moving on. (And believe me, those are two very different things.)

1) Decide if you’ve grown past it.

As writers, we are always growing. Sometimes our stories grow with us and sometimes they don’t. (I’ve experienced both.) Looking back, I had passed my first story by. The characters were too wooden to teach me anymore, the plot didn’t drive me forward, and the world was too limited.

If I wanted to keep growing, I had to move on.

2) Be honest about why you want to move on.

Are you stuck? Are you buried in plot holes and character arguments? Would it be so, so much easier to move on to this new idea without any of the problems?

Then it might not be time to move on quite yet.

Every story has snarls. And plot holes. And gaps. Mending those gaps is what teaches and grows us as writers. If we give up when it gets hard, we’ll find it exceptionally difficult to finish a story—any story.

Move on if you must. But do it because you know the story isn’t right for you any more, not because you doubt your abilities as a writer. Anything can be fixed. You are endlessly brilliant with an unlimited amount of imagination and options. Don’t quit because you doubt yourself.

3) Give it time.

Rushed decisions—especially when they are emotionally charged—aren’t always the best. Take a week off from writing if you’re frustrated and blocked, and really think about whether you’re willing to leave this story behind. You’ve put a lot of work and effort into this story. Do you really want to put that aside?

Time heals all wounds, they say. So give yourself a week—or even two or three—to consider whether your desire to move on is genuine, or fueled by frustration.

4) Ask for advice.

Have a person. Someone who knows you and knows your writing. Someone who has a little more perspective than you might have, especially now. An outside perspective can sometimes make all the difference in the world—and shock you.

Perspective is everything, dearest writer. And sometimes, in the midst of edits, rewrites, and plot holes, it’s very hard to keep a good perspective on your own work.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

5) Keep writing.

One story is not your creative limit. You’ve got stories ahead of you, characters you have yet to meet, and worlds that are waiting for you to bring them to life with your words.

Only you can decide if a story is finished.

Only you can drive your career forward and master your craft.

Giving up on your story because it’s gotten too hard or you don’t have the patience to finish will not develop your skills as a writer.

Moving past a story because you’ve grown out of it and you need a fresh start will develop your skills.

It’s up to you to decide which you’re facing, and what you’ll do about it. You don’t have to explain your decisions to anyone or feel guilty about them, but you do have to accept the results, good or bad.

Make sure the results are ones that you will be happy with later.

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

A Writer’s Guide To Catching Dreams

I’m going to tell you a secret.

I have never had a scene or a chapter in my many books come out exactly the way I planned it in my head.

Isn’t that strange?

Even after seven years of writing, eight books, and nearly two million words, I still can’t capture exactly what it is that’s going on in my brain. I can get pretty close, but it will always end up just a little different than I thought it would. When I first started writing, that would frustrate me to no end, and I would edit and rewrite obsessively trying to get closer to the vision that I had for a particular scene.

Now I’m not so worried about it. I’ve come to peace with the limitations that writers face, and I’m happy with how my scenes turn out.

Okay, not all the time. Sometimes I rewrite obsessively and occasionally scream at my computer when I can’t match what’s in my head with what’s on the page.

Because it’s definitely my computer’s fault.

Not mine.

Seriously though, I think every writer struggles with getting their thoughts onto the page in a way that is completely satisfying. Unfortunately, this can lead to a lot of disillusionment for writers, which I talked about in my last post.

So how does a writer get from the vision in their head to a fully-fledged scene that doesn’t cause that kind of disappointment? 

I have a few ideas. 

1) Start fresh.

Let go of the pages you’ve already written, if any. Start fresh with a new, blank page and get rid of the words you’re trying to edit into the right shape. Let the scene breathe again, without the restriction of the wrong words and the sentences that aren’t quite right for what you want.

2) Outline the scene.

Take a notebook and a pen. Sit down somewhere comfortable, with a cup of tea and some music—if that’s your thing—and write down everything that belongs in the scene. Sights, sounds. Smell, taste, touch. Forget good sentences, forget grammar, forget even sounding half-way intelligible. No one is going to read this but you. Take the scene in your mind and give it life, without worrying about the progression of the story or readability.

You don’t have to use everything you jot down—in fact, you probably shouldn’t—but it will help you get the feel for your scene and bring you one step closer to living it for yourself.

3) Don’t set too much store on what’s in your head.

I have had scenes slip away from me.

It happens all the time, actually. A character will say something unexpected, or a line will leap off the page and twist the direction of the story, adding another layer to the magic, and suddenly I’m far from where I expected to be.

And yet—sometimes that’s the best thing that can happen to a story. Sometimes the ‘happy accidents’ are really just your writer’s intuition coming into play. After years of writing, I’ve come to realize that my intuition really does know what it’s doing.

Most of the time.

4) Leave some things to the reader.

I know you want to explain everything and give every detail its proper place. It’s so hard to imagine something as vividly as you do and yet not be able to explain ALL of it!

But do you remember what it was like reading your favorite book?

Your breathing slowed down. The world paused. Your room—or the library, or wherever you were sitting—vanished. Suddenly, you, the reader, where there in the book. You didn’t need pages and pages of description to immerse yourself in the story.

You only needed a few words. The smallest detail. The catch in your favorite character’s breath, or the creak of the trees in the wind. Then you were there too, watching everything play out around you.

Your readers have imagination too, and they can supply a good deal of the gaps in whatever you’re writing. You just need to give them a hint, a taste of where they are. The rest, they can provide for themselves.

5) Have grace for yourself.

Unfortunately, that vision in your head is always going to be a little out of reach, especially for those of us who are completely visual and see it play out in our minds in full color with all the sound effects, emotions, and scents perfectly intact.

We were there, dearest writer. And we’re going to do our best to bring the readers there as well. But, as wonderful and enchanting and downright magical as words can be, they are still a little clumsy compared to the real thing. That’s where a reader’s imagination comes in.

Our job is not to work all the magic that will happen in their minds when they read what we’ve written. It’s only to spark something in them, then to lead the way while their half of the spell does its job.

So have grace for yourself. It may not be as perfect as you want it to be, but if you’ve done your best and given the words all the magic you’ve got, then you’ve done enough.

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