9 Truths For A Writer’s Soul: Vision to Page

I love the idea of being an artist.

Seriously. It’s one of my dreams. I would love to be able to sketch my characters, draw scenes from my world, and put at least part of my vision for my stories onto a page where I can see it.

Unfortunately . . . my drawing skills are basically equivalent to a semi-talented six-year-old. I can draw great stick figures, some reasonably recognizable pine trees, and mountains.

Okay, I can sketch mountains. For maps and stuff.

Not actually draw real ones.

Basically, what I have in my head never, never translates to what I put on the page. And, more often than not, that’s the same with my writing.

Nothing that you put on the page is going to be exactly like you saw it in your head.

Writer, you have a beautiful imagination. Your mind is limitless, with so much potential for creativity, and the more you train your imagination, the better it will get.

Your writing will never match up to that.

My Experience

Over the years, I have learned to let the story have its own way. Things crop up in the middle of writing a scene that add to and even change the course of the story, and I have learned to simply go with it.

The story in my head is not always right.

It is not always attainable.

And it is not always the better version.

I’ve come across things while exploring like this that have given my story more life than I could ever have imagined. Major plot points generally are planned ahead, and from there, I let the writing take over. It may not reach the vision I had in my mind for that particular scene—it may not even have followed the storyline I was expecting. But—within certain parameters—I let it go where it will. After seven years of writing and twenty-some years of reading passionately, my instinct for story is generally trustworthy.

And . . . when it isn’t, there’s always room in my trash bin for a failed experiment. I don’t mind trying three or four times (or sometimes more) to get an important scene just right.

Four Tips To Apply It In Your Own Life

1. Write every scene to the best of your ability—then leave it alone. Let it rest, let it simmer for a while. Move on to the next scene and keep writing. The longer you are stuck on a single section, the more frustrated you will get and the more chance you have of dumping the whole thing. Move forward.

2. Remember that words are limited, but your reader’s imagination is not. Your job is not to put paint the complete picture, only to offer enough details to spark the reader’s imagination. Damp pine needles, silver birches, salt rime among the reeds. Give them hints and then leave the rest to their imagination.

3. Allow the written version of your story to take precedence over the visual version in your mind. Let it go. Let it be what it is. The tighter you hold onto your original version, the less room you will have for exploration. Let your story breathe and grow beyond the vision you had for it.

4. Have grace for yourself. You are still learning. In the beginning, even just a sketch of your original idea is a triumph. Writing is hard. It takes a lot of time and practice to come to a place where you can accurately fulfill the ideas you’ve had. Just like when you first start drawing.

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

Was this post helpful to you? Tell me about it in the comments, and drop in any tips of your own! I would love to hear about it.

9 Truths For A Writer’s Soul: First Draft

When I was eighteen, I was not the most competent person in the world.

Actually, I was pretty clumsy.

Which was fine, except that I had a younger brother who was good at everything. And I do mean everything. He could pick up magic tricks after two or three tries, could do a backflip on solid ground, and generally became competent at whatever he set his mind to within a matter of hours.

It drove me crazy.

The only thing that I could do that he couldn’t . . . was write. I could tell stories. I could focus on a task and follow it through to completion, no matter how long it took. Six months, a year . . . seven years. I could do it.

So I became determined that I wasn’t just going to be a good writer. I was going to amazing. I was going to be the best of the best. People were going to remember my stories.

So I wrote a book, fueled by this passionate determination to be incredible.

And you know what?

It was terrible.

Awful. Like, ‘I will never let it see the light of day’ kind of bad. ‘Burn it with fire’ kind of bad.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the first draft of my book, We, the Deceived.

The point of a first draft is to make a mess.

And boy, did I make a mess with that first draft. And the second one, too.

But you know what? In the midst of those awful, painful first drafts . . . I was learning. And my story was developing. I got to know my characters. I began exploring my world, seeing it through eyes I never had before. I fell in love with words and discovered a passion for language that I never knew I had.

Many drafts later, my book has made people cry, hooked lifelong fans, and is now waiting in the wings, ready for a publisher.

All because I wrote a terrible first draft.

My Experience

The best thing that I ever did for my book was to start over. Completely. I wrote the entire thing, typed the end . . . then I pulled up a new word document and started over at chapter one.

And writer, it flourished.

It had room to grow, room to be different, and yet it had an outline, a first draft, and a solid vision for where we were going.

It also taught me to write. And to write well.

Writer, stories need space. They need room to breathe, room to grow, and room to expand beyond what you first thought they would be.

That’s what a first draft is for.

Sometimes, I am honestly convinced that one of the best things you can do for your book is to allow it to be wrong. Write it, write it, write it, and allow it to be wrong. Then come back and fix the mess later with draft two, or draft three.

Or, in the case of some of my chapters, draft twelve.

Four Tips To Apply It In Your Own Life

1. Hold onto the vision—not the draft. Don’t dump the ideas, the things that made you catch your breath, the plot that kept you awake at night, the characters you love. Those are important. Those should be preserved. Let the words change. Let the world grow.

2. Nothing will hold you back as a writer more than being afraid of work. Writing a book is a lot of work. Getting published is a lot of work. Building a fan base and keeping people interested in what you do is a lot of work. There is no way around that. But I’ll tell you this . . . I’d rather write than work anywhere else.

3. Everything you write, deleted or kept, is moving you forward. No matter how cheesy. No matter how awful. No matter how much you loved it or hated it or want to burn it. It taught you, and it was worth the time.

4. Create a vision for your book that is out of your reach. One that you will have to grow to reach. One that will stretch your skill level. You’re capable of more than you think, so reach for something that feels impossible. Your perception of your limits will be your cage eventually, unless you are convinced that you can write better, write bigger, and finish more.

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

Was this post helpful to you? Tell me about it in the comments, and drop in any tips of your own! I would love to hear about it.

9 Truths For A Writer’s Soul: Learning

Does anyone else wish that there was a manual for being an adult?

Like, flip to page 87 for a step-by-step, flawless instructions on how to pay taxes. Page 62 details exactly how to cultivate a healthy relationship and how to extract yourself from a toxic one.

Chapter 12. Finances. Here’s how you balance a checkbook, create a budget, and feed yourself on $100 a month when money is tight.

Boom.

Problems solved. Life conquered.

Does anyone else need this? Because I need this. It would save me so much stress. Unfortunately, that isn’t how life works. Experience comes through mistakes. Everyone’s methods are a little different. Everyone has to find their own way forward and stumble around a bit until they figure out what they’re doing with life.

The same is true for writing.

No one can teach you how to write.

People can help you. They can encourage you, mentor you, offer tips and resources, and give you advice. You can take classes, hire a coach, attend seminars and conferences.

But in the end, when it finally comes down to it, it will be you and your story and a blank page. And you will have to write it the way you know how.

You, as a writer, will have to discover how magical words can be on your own.

My Experience

Two people have had the greatest impact on my writing. The first was K.M. Weiland, because of her blog and her books and her marvelous advice. The second was Beth Swoboda, my editor, because she taught me how to love words.

She also kicked my butt and showed me what not to do.

I love her.

Mentors are wonderful. Coaches are wonderful. Tips and advice and articles can and will improve your technique and give you a new vision for what you are working on.

But the writing depends on you. Your story depends on you. An hour of regular practice is worth a thousand tips, and a trash full of deleted material will take you further than any article or class. You have to sort through the conflicting advice, the tips, the mentoring, and decide how you write stories.

You are a writer. Your story is yours. Only you can take responsibility and wade through the pages and pages of mediocre, sloppy writing that inevitably find their way onto a writer’s desk, slew it aside, and find the treasure underneath.

Your story. Told in your voice. With your passion carrying it through to the last page.

Four Tips To Apply It In Your Own Life

1. Your journey is your responsibility. No one else’s. Not your editor’s, not your coach’s. Yours. Whether you choose to approach it casually or with passion and determination depends entirely on you. How much do you care about your writing? How much are you willing to fight for it?

2. Never underestimate where a good, solid work ethic will take you. I have determined since the beginning that when I walk into the room, I might not be the most talented, the most connected, or the most popular, but I will be the one willing to work the hardest and sacrifice the most. Writer, it has never failed me.

3. Be proactive. Find the books, yes, find the blog posts, the feedback. And then sit your butt in your chair and write. Spend more time writing than you do researching. Or world-building. Or talking about your writing. Know when you are supposed to be writing and show up.

4. Make mistakes. Make a thousand mistakes. Make so many mistakes that your trash is full. Try things that don’t work. Write horrible, choppy dialogue and flat characters and cheesy, cringe-worthy moments. Use pretentious prose. Have too much white space. Have too little white space. The point is, if you are making mistakes, you are writing. And thus, you are learning.

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

Was this post helpful to you? Tell me about it in the comments, and drop in any tips of your own! I would love to hear about it.

On Your Mark . . . Get Set . . .

Panic!

No, not really. Nobody panic. Especially not me.

Although I do happen to feel a little panicky right at this moment.

Know why?

Today is July 1st, and also the first day of my new job, working as a writing assistant for Focus on the Family.

Are you shocked? I was. Also very, very excited. This will be my first experience with an office job and with working a nine-to-five, so I’ve been rushing around the last month to get myself prepared and brush up on my business casual knowledge.

Oddly enough, this meant buying a lot of clothes.

Like, a lot of clothes.

A whole wardrobe, actually.

How many of you knew I was a nanny before I got this job? Well, I was a nanny. And when you’re earning your rent playing hide-and-seek and going on trips to the park with little boys, you don’t wear business casual clothing.

You wear a t-shirt. And jeans.

Because when you hang out with toddler age boys, stuff happens. Stuff with water, stuff with mud, stuff with food.

And stuff with snot.

Yep. I said snot.

So, no, my wardrobe did not include anything remotely business casual.

Believe it or not, I loved being a nanny. I loved my boys and all the stuff we got to do together. We have many cookie memories. And jumping-on-the-tramp memories. And how-did-you-beat-me-at-this-game-you’re-five memories. I learned so much from those jobs.

Mostly that my memory is terrible and if I play matching memory games with a five-year-old, the five-year-old will win. Every. Single. Time.

Don’t ask me how.

Leaving my nanny positions for an office job—albeit a writing position—has been a little tough. I’m going to miss those boys. I was there for a lot of memories. Learning to crawl, losing their first tooth, kindergarten, first grade, baseball games, and so many more. I’m not saying I cried a little bit when I left on my last day, but I cried a little bit when I left on my last day.

Okay. A lot a bit.

But the leaving is all finished now, and today I am starting something new. If you think of it, wish me luck! I’m pretty nervous, so any good thoughts or prayers are appreciated!

Anyone have any tips for the first few weeks in a new job? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

9 Truths For A Writer’s Soul: The Journey

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Good morning, Wordsmith!

Guess what?

Today, right now, this very moment, marks the beginning of my nine-week series, 9 Truths For A Writer’s Soul.

*Drums boom, a chicken squawks, somewhere in the distance a goat is bleating*

Are you excited? Because I totally, totally am!

Today’s post is all about the journey. As a writer, no matter if you started yesterday or if you’ve been writing for ten years, you’ve got a journey ahead of you. When the idea takes shape and you begin that first chapter, you have a journey ahead of you. When you type The End, you have a journey ahead of you.

And writer, when your book is sitting on the shelf in bookstores, you have a journey ahead of you.

Writer, it is all about the journey.

You have a long way to go. Nothing in a writer’s journey can be hurried. The moments are where the magic happens, and if you skip the moments, you sabotage your book and your career. Every word you write is important, no matter if it ends up in the final draft or if you trash it immediately.

This is not a straight race, beginning to end. This is a mountain hike, with unexpected valleys, long detours, and beautiful sights along the way. Paths get blocked, directions confused, and the top means so much less than the hike to get there.

The most important thing you can learn as a writer is to treasure the journey.

My Experience

You know what’s strange? I don’t remember how long it took me to finish my first draft. It might have been a year. Maybe less, maybe more. I don’t actually remember.

Do you know what I do remember?

Vividly?

The exact moment I typed The End. The moment I realized I had actually written an entire book. I remember where I was, how the page looked, and how empowered I felt.

That milestone was beautiful. It was important. It meant something.

But, in the end, it was one moment. And a writer’s life is made up of moments. As much as I valued that milestone—and celebrated it—it’s not why I continue.

I continue for the quiet chapters.

The sentences that catch my breath.

The characters that make me cry.

The milestones are beautiful, writer, but the journey is what makes it worthwhile.

Four Tips To Apply It In Your Own Life

1. Love the story. Love your characters. Take pleasure in what you’re writing. Learn to enjoy the way the story plays out, how the words sound in your head, how the scenes taste and feel and sound. When you take pleasure in every sentence and every scene, it will matter less how far you still have to go.

 2. Remember that it won’t last forever. No task is endless. No story lasts forever. Someday you’ll have a completed manuscript or a published book to hold in your hands, and you will miss the thrill of discovering it for the first time. Don’t take these moments for granted. Ever.

3. Take breaks when you need them. Rest. Pause. Read. Inhale. Your life is more than a story and your career is more than one book. Pursue other hobbies, enjoy your friends, live your life. Your work will only ever benefit when you return to it.

4. Spend your time feeling privileged instead of discouraged. You’re a writer. It’s a joy, not a drudge. You chose this. Now it’s time to remember that you love it.

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

Was this post helpful to you? Tell me about it in the comments, and drop in any tips of your own! I would love to hear about it.

A Writer’s Life: Perfectionism

Have you ever fixed—and deleted—the same sentence a twenty different times and still felt like you just . . . didn’t get it?

Me too.

It happens to me all the time. So does staring at one word for so long that it ceases to look like a real word and becomes an abomination against humanity and therefore must be destroyed.

Yeah.

Those are bad days.

Perfectionism

The frustrating thing about perfectionism is that is stems from a legitimate source. We want our stories to be the best that they can be, to catch the vision in our heads and portray it perfectly for the reader. We have so much detail, beauty, and downright cool stuff in our stories that doesn’t always make it onto the page on the first try, so why not edit until you get it right?

The trouble is, perfectionism, especially in your first chapter and your first draft, is so much more toxic than people admit.

In its toxic state, it fixates on the problem in a single chapter, or sentence, and immobilizes the writer from moving forward until that particular place is ‘perfect’.

Meanwhile, the remainder of the book molders away, untouched and unwritten.

How To Make It Happen

Writers, we’ve all been there. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or a beginner with a lot of vision and hope ahead of you, we all get caught in this trap from time to time. I did just recently and delayed the progress of my sixth book by at least a month because of it.

Ouch.

But, thankfully, I’ve gotten past it. Again. And I will continue to get past it in the future because I’m determined to be a writer who finishes my projects, not who gets trapped by perfectionism.

I do it with two truths, three tricks, and one wild moment of freedom.

Truth #1

You will never get it exactly right.

It took me so long to be okay with this. The vision in my head of my stories is full of glorious detail, heart-rending emotion, and background music for the full effect.

I cannot get that onto the page. Unfortunately.

What I can get onto the page is enough to guide the reader’s imagination. To let them fill in the blanks and see the story through their own eyes. All too often, writers don’t put enough faith in a reader’s imagination, and the result is panic and perfectionism because they can’t get that perfect vision onto the page.

Truth #2

No one is going to look at that sentence as long as you will.

Have you ever paused to really realize this? Writers obsess over their sentences, but readers flash through them with barely a pause.

Yes, a poorly written sentence will jerk the reader out of the story, but more often than not, a reader isn’t going to notice whether you used said or muttered—or cringe half as much as you do about the word ‘walked’. (Yes, that word makes me cringe. Don’t laugh.)

So let it go.

Three Tricks

  1. Don’t edit along the way. Let your story flow, and worry about the edits later. The most important thing—especially in the first stages of a draft—is to get the story on paper. To let your characters breathe. Worry about the rest later.
  2. Have a catchphrase. Something to chant to yourself when a less-than-perfect chapter is behind you and you’re being tempted to go back and change everything. When I start having intrusive thoughts and struggling with perfectionism, I either tell myself that it’s fine and I’ll fix it later, or I simply say, “Sorry, I can’t actually hear you.” Don’t laugh. It totally works.
  3. Plan for a second draft. Know that you’re going to come back later and fix the mess you’ve left behind—and that you’ll be able to do that then because of the work you’re doing now. Writing takes persistence, it takes time, and it definitely, definitely takes a lot of rewrites. Save it for later and keep going now.

One Wild Moment Of Freedom

Perfectionism is a trap, and it still makes me cringe to think of how many beautiful stories and brilliant, thought-provoking books that it has swallowed completely.

Don’t let that be you.

Allow yourself to be wrong. Allow imperfection. Allow mistakes. Allow the mess. Without these, your creativity will shrivel and die.

So grit your teeth, allow the chapter you’ve been editing obsessively to be ‘good enough’, and move past it. Allow yourself one wild moment of freedom and see what comes of it. You never know . . . the result may be a completed book.

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

Have you struggled with perfectionism in the past? How did you work through it? Tell me about it in the comments! And stay tuned for next week, when we will be discussing doubt and how it can drain the life from your story.

A Writer’s Life: Details

A writer’s life is in the details.

Have you ever noticed this? Of course, our stories are about grand adventures, life-changing events, and worlds and people that only belong in our minds.

But where the story really catches a reader—where it connects, where it makes them pause and linger because in that sentence they were there, in the story—those moments are in the details.

In the hitch of breath. In the smell of crushed grass and blood. In the silver gleam of a dragon’s scales, or the glint of moonlight on a soldier’s musket in the midst of the Civil War.

Those are the moments that catch a reader. Not the dates, not statistics, not the entire history and structure of the Paris sewers. (Looking at you, Victor Hugo.) The reader wants to see the world through the eyes of your character, and the best way to make it happen is in the details.

Details

Still, that’s hard, right? How do you know which details to write about? Because I can guarantee, if you toss every single detail in a battle scene at the reader, your scene will be ten pages long and the reader will give up in exasperation.

It’s just as bad to overwhelm your readers as it is to starve them.

Thankfully, most of us are writers because we aren’t content with the world through the eyes of a nine-to-five job.

We know what we want to see. We know what snatches us into the scene, what makes us pause.

Except when we don’t.

Sometimes it feels like some kind of witch’s brew that we forgot to get the recipe for. A little lighting, a little sound, maybe the creak of an old oak in the wind. Oaks creak, right? Or an owl. We could stick an owl in there—if owls live in that sort of environment

After a while, it gets a little desperate, and the details we throw in end up taking away rather than adding to our scene.

How To Make It Happen

So how do we know what belongs and what doesn’t? How do we find the details that matter, that catch a reader, and avoid our characters talking in white space, or worse, spending ten pages describing the Paris sewers instead of telling the story?

So how do we find life in the details?

Because you can. I do. The details are my favorite part of a story, and when I find them as a reader it always, always catches me into the story.

As a writer, I revel in them. I’ve made my mistakes (too many to count, actually), and I’ve found my rhythm.

I do it with two truths, three tricks, and one breath.

Truth #1

Magic is everywhere . . . especially in the mundane. Everything around us is moving, shaping, telling stories that will probably never be written down. Everything is story fodder, everything has the details you’re searching for.

And you won’t find them in front of a blank screen and a blinking cursor.

Writers need to live. They need to go for walks, sit in coffee shops, go to plays and movies, walk through crowded rooms. The more you notice the details—especially the ones that catch your eye and feel important—the more you’ll be able to project that into your writing.

Truth #2

If you haven’t made a mistake lately, you aren’t growing.

My delete key is my best friend. I have deleted probably ten times as many words as I’ve ever kept and never felt bad about one of them. If a scene is going wrong, and I feel like I’ve missed the details that matter, I’ll start over.

It drives my sister nuts.

Every word I write is teaching me, whether I keep it or not. The mistakes you make in pursuit of the details are your apprenticeship. What you delete will teach you more than what you keep.

Three Tricks

  1. Notice everything. When you’re out walking, when you’re at the mall, and especially when you’re traveling. Keep a journal just for the things you see and smell and taste and touch. The more you immerse yourself in the details, the more you’ll understand which ones are important and which can be tossed aside.
  2. Find what you love and write about that. The rain. Wind. Coffee shops, sunshine, pine forests. If you love what you’re describing, it will come out that much more vivid. My stories always include rainy nights—because I love rain, and I can immediately capture the details that matter to me.
  3. Take special care of the small things. The larger something is, the more time it will take to describe and the quicker you will lose your reader. So describe your huge cities and palaces that reach to the sky as briefly as possible, then show the reader the swinging sign above your character’s apothecary, the cat lounging in the window, and the steam rising above a bubbling beaker. Those are the details that will matter.

One Breath

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on a picnic blanket in a neighborhood park with a view of Pikes Peak stretching out in front of me.

And I’ll be honest, it’s far easier to focus on the kids that are chasing each other around the park or the clutter of things we brought with us or even the work I’m struggling to get done rather than enjoying the fact that the peaks are gray and blue today and crowned with snow, that I’m sitting under the most beautiful spruce tree, or that the wind smells like spring at last.

That needs a pause. One breath. A moment of mindfulness. That’s where the details are found.

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

What are your favorite kinds of details to use in a story? Tell me about them in the comments! And stay tuned for next week, when we will be discussing perfectionism and toxic effect it can have on a work-in-progress.