Eight Characteristics Of Serious Writers: Passion


I should tell you something about me, in case we ever meet in person.

I always—always—have a story going in my head.


Every day. It never stops. It might be pushed to the back burner in my brain, I might be able to smile and talk to you and be totally engaged in our conversation. But in the back of my mind, my characters are waiting. Lurking. Ready to jump out and surprise me with a new plot point, a bit of dialogue, or sometimes a new friend they discovered while I wasn’t paying attention.

It’s never-ending.

Now that I’m working full time as a creative writer, I’ve found that this hasn’t changed. I think almost as much about my work on the way home—or at home—as I do at the office. I clock out and have my best ideas when I reach the end of the driveway.

“Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures.”

~ Joseph Campbell

Passion gets me through the hard days. The days when my outlines come back full of notes and with the dreaded ‘trash it and try again’ notice. The days when I have to choose between gas money and rent. The days when I sit staring at a blank screen for an hour because I’m drained creatively but have so many deadlines looming that I have to get some words out.

Passion gets me through the hard times so that, when the good times come, I can enjoy them.

Tips to Cultivate Passion.

1. Admit that you have more than one passion. I love writing. I also love to travel, cook, go hiking, and be a mentor. I spend most of my time writing, crafting stories, and building my platform, but when I am burned out, I know where to turn. A writer whose whole life is on the page is a writer who is headed for creative burnout—maybe permanently.

2. Know where you want your passion to take you. Are you a hobby writer? Someone who just wants to see their story on the page? Or are you looking for a career and a publishing contract? The approach for these two is very different. You have to know what you want. Hobby writing won’t get you a career. You’ve got to get serious if you want to live on your words.

3. Remember that passion isn’t always a feeling. Sometimes you’ll sit down to write and not care so much that it becomes a physical sensation. This happens to me more often than I would like to admit. And as a career writer with a full-time job in the writing industry, it really, really doesn’t matter whether I feel like writing or not. I still have to write. I still have deadlines and people waiting for outlines and stories to create. Just because I don’t ‘feel like it’ does not mean I can stop writing.

4. Stay focused. Passion, especially for writers, has to be there for the long haul. Set goals, know what you want, have a rhythm for yourself, and be hopeful. Passion isn’t fluffy. It isn’t pretty, or gentle, or easy. Passion is rock hard, cold steel determination that fights through the worst days because it is resolved to be there for the best days. Passion is learned and earned, and you develop it the same way you develop your muscles. By working hard, pushing through, and showing up when you don’t feel like it.

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

Eight Characteristics Of Serious Writers: Hope


Can I ask you a question, just between us writers and anyone else who happens to swing by my blog and see this post?

What are you hoping for?

When you sit down to write, where do you see your book going? Or, rather, where do you want it to go?

What are the big dreams in the back of your mind that you’ll never tell a single soul and definitely not admit to yourself because c’mon. That’s crazy! You don’t even have a completed manuscript yet. What right do you have to dream about that fulfilling career and personal endorsement by your favorite author in the whole world?

I’m going to tell you a secret.

You are allowed to make your dream as big as you want it to be.

When I was first getting started in my career—and I mean first getting started, a total baby author who hadn’t even finished a single book—my dream was not just to be a good writer or to have a finished book, which would have been a stretch anyway, but to be an amazing one. One of the greats. The elite.

Writer, when I was dreaming that, I was not great. Honestly? I wasn’t even good. And I have old manuscripts to prove it.

But that wasn’t the point. I didn’t have proof this could happen or a five-year plan. I had a dream.

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me . . . Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.

~ Shel Silverstein

Now, I am not claiming to be one of the greats. In fact, my dream is still so far out of my reach that at times I lose sight of it completely, and I have a lot of work left to do before I get anywhere near that goal. But it’s still my dream. And I am slowly making steps forward to reach it. Instead of an unfinished manuscript, I have written eight books. Instead of nannying to support my dream, I—against all odds and to my own great surprise—was hired out of more than a hundred other applicants to work as an apprentice scriptwriter for a radio program I happen to love.

Dreams happen. They happen when you have hope and when you move forward step by step and don’t give up.

Tips to Cultivate Hope.

1. Know what you’re hoping for. Do you want a published book, a career as a writer, and a place on the bestseller list? Or do you, for now, just want a finished story and a character that cooperates with you? What are you dreaming about and hoping for? Is it wild? Is it a little crazy? Does it bring you joy?

2. Don’t punish yourself for hoping. I used to do this. All the time. I told myself I was being silly, that I was being prideful. Now I just let myself dream because I’ve started to realize, without those crazy daydreams and wild hopes, I start to give up. I lose sight of what I want, and my attention wanders. Hope keeps me centered, and it keeps me moving.

3. Write your dream down. Repeat it to yourself when you’re alone. Keep it somewhere you can go back to, especially on the days when life feels all kinds of impossible. You’re going to need that spark of hope. So keep it alive.

4. Don’t share it with everyone. Let it be yours, just for now. People are quick to shoot down ideas they feel are ‘impossible’, or to come up with ten different reasons why you’re crazy for even trying. Nothing kills dreams faster than someone else trying to be realistic for you. So, for now, keep your hopes a little sacred, and let your work speak for itself when you finally reach your goal. ‘I have’ is much harder to argue with than ‘I will’.

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

Eight Characteristics Of Serious Writers: Work Ethic


I’m going to make a crazy statement to start off today’s post.

Are you ready?

Here it is.

The most talented writers will not necessarily be the most successful.

There. I said it. You can lynch me now.

Are you shocked by my crazy pronouncement? I don’t take it back. In fact, I stand by it. You know why?

Because I meet talented writers all the time who . . . just . . . don’t care. They have other ambitions and their writing takes a backseat. Kind of a, ‘I’ll get to it when I have time’ mentality.

The problem with this is that no one gets to it when they have time because no one ever has time.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

~ Thomas A. Edison

The sad fact of writing is that, unless you make it a priority in your life, it will never get anywhere. Everyone wants to write a book, but very, very few people are willing to put in the kind of work that is required. They write a few chapters, hit a bump, and it sits on their desktop for the rest of eternity, plagued by added sentences and guilt.

So I’ll say it again. The most talented writers will not necessarily be the most successful.

But the writer who works the hardest? The one who makes time when there is no time? The one who cares when no one else does and keeps going after everyone else has left off? The one who catches at every opportunity and makes writing their job, not their hobby?

That’s the writer who will end up with books on the market and a career that sustains them.

Tips to Cultivate Work Ethic.

1. Be consistent. Have a rhythm to your writing and show up for it. Yes, we are creatives, we are the people who wake up in the middle of the night to work because we have a good idea. But we are also entrepreneurs and business owners, and we need to show up at the desk too. Until you take yourself seriously, you’re going to find it impossible to get anyone else to treat you seriously. Especially agents and editors, who can tell when you’re toying around with your ideas.

2. Write a little every day. My goals for my stories—even though I am working 40 hours a week—is 700 words a day. 200 in the morning, 500 at night. I don’t always hit that, but I do what I can. Writing something every day keeps your skills sharp and your mind on track. It also teaches you to have ideas on demand—which, believe it or not, is possible. I do it every day at my nine-to-five job. Not all the ideas are good ones, but there are always golden nuggets among the duds.

3. Be determined. Know your goals, know what kind of writer you want to be and the kind of books you want to produce, and go after it. You are the only one who can make it happen, and the only one who is brave enough and crazy enough to dream big. Be that one insane, ridiculous person who has goals like their story reaching the big screen, being interviewed on a talk show about their books, or having book signings that are booked in advance. Be that person that dreams big, and the one who works a little bit every day to reach your goals.

4. Know when to rest—and when to get back to work. I am a huge advocate for resting when you need to rest. I have burned out too many times to laugh it off and say push through, you’ll be fine. When you are worn out, rest. Please. But know when to start again. Know when resting becomes procrastination and procrastination becomes abandonment. Life goes on, dearest writer, but if you want a career in writing, you have to drag your writing along with it.

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

Eight Characteristics Of Serious Writers: Enthusiasm


I still get excited about my writing.

After seven years on the same set of books, that sounds crazy doesn’t it? Don’t the characters get stale? Doesn’t the world get boring?

Actually . . . they do.


I have days when I’m not excited about what I’m writing. We all do. In fact, I have weeks when I’m not excited about what I’m writing, especially when it comes to the last rounds of revisions and editing. Once I’ve written a chapter eight different times and it still isn’t right, I start to get a little irritated with it.

But for the most part, I love my stories. I think they’re worth all the frustration I’ve spent on them, all the years I’ve devoted to their creation. And . . . I honestly just like the story. I like the characters. I am endlessly enthusiastic about writing them because I want to read what happens. And that fuels my writing more than any dream of getting published I can come up with.

But I learned a long time ago that enthusiasm wouldn’t write the pages for me unless I paired it with discipline.

“In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm . . . in the real world all rests on perseverance.”

~ Johann Wolfgang Goethe

It’s great to be enthusiastic about your stories. I highly recommend it, in fact. That love is going to shine through in your writing and eventually in your pitching. Your readers will be able to tell if you love a character, story, or even a setting. Or if you don’t care about them.

But sometimes I think we as writers—and as humans—don’t realize that enthusiasm doesn’t last without a little help. It’s easy to be enthusiastic about a new idea—for about two weeks. Maybe even a month, if you’re determined. But to be enthusiastic about a story for seven years—that’s a little harder. But if you continue to foster that attitude of enthusiasm for a project long after everyone else would have given up on it, you may just find yourself far ahead of those authors who refuse to stick to one idea for more than a year or two.

Tips to Cultivate Enthusiasm.

1. Think of enthusiasm less as something you feel—and more as something you choose. Feelings fade. They are fickle, flighty things that pop up at the most inopportune times and vanish just when you need them most. If you are a writer who writes only when you feel like it, you will probably never finish a book. So choose to be enthusiastic. Choose to love your characters when you don’t like them, and appreciate your story when you would much rather hate it. Give it love when you don’t feel like it, and the feelings will follow.

2. Prioritize. Give your writing time precedence. Value it. Make it special with tea, a writing companion, or a well-worn ritual. Know when your best writing time is and take advantage of it. Start with a hundred words, or two hundred. Once you’ve started, it’s much easier to keep going—and to remember why you loved this story in the first place.

3. Spiral journal. I got this idea from one of the loveliest author/speakers in the industry. (Hi, Nancy!) Sit down with your journal, ask your character a question, and give them two minutes to answer while you scribble frantically to get down what they say. Then choose a sentence you’ve written that you want to dig deeper into, write it down, and set your timer again. Have your character talk a bit more about that. And so on and so forth. Believe me. It’s brilliant. Nancy taught us this technique at the last writing conference I went to, and it built my sixth book from the ground up. I was so very grateful.

4. In the end, worry less about being enthusiastic and more about being committed. I’m afraid this is what it comes down to, O writer. It’s lovely to be enthusiastic about your story. It helps a great deal and pours a lot of love onto the pages. But in the end, what really matters is that you are committed. That you are going to show up, even when you’d rather not, and write the next page when you’d rather trash the whole thing. A writer who can do that will conquer any story they touch.

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

Eight Characteristics Of Serious Writers: Tenacity


One of the questions that I get way too often in my life is, “How are your books coming?”

It’s understandable, actually. People know I’m working on a book series. They know I’ve been working on it for a long time—seven years, in fact. And most people aren’t aware of how slow the publishing industry really is or how long it takes to write a book.

For those of you who don’t know—it takes years. And I do mean years.

Seven years is a long time. But, no, I am not published yet. I will probably not be published for a while yet. I am only just now starting to be paid for the craft that I have spent so long honing and learning, and guess what?

I’m still learning.

Really. I spent seven years working my butt off, practicing, studying, and correcting my mistakes, just to become an apprentice. And you know what?

It was worth every single second. Really. I love my job, I love that I get paid to hone my craft and practice my passion, and I love that I get to learn from people who are as close to mastering their craft as most people get.

But in all those seven years, I didn’t know it would end up like this. I didn’t know if I would ever get published, or ever make enough money to support myself, or ever have anyone care that I was a writer and had something to offer.

But I wrote anyway.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

~ Mary Ann Radmacher

Tenacity is one of the most important traits of any writer who intends to see their work sitting on a shelf. I cannot begin to count the many times that I wanted to give up in the last few years. How many times I worried that I should have come up with a backup plan when I first started this crazy venture. I worked as a nanny for seven years, and I was terrified that I would end up doing that for the rest of my life.

I didn’t. But I sure wondered a few times.

The point is, if you give up, drop your dream when it gets hard and move on to something else, you will never see how amazing your life could have been. And your books will never, no matter how much you love them, see the light of day.

Tips to Cultivate Tenacity.

1. Spend less time worrying about the end result and more time enjoying the process. The times I was the most afraid for myself and my future were always the times I spent way, way too much time obsessing about when things were going to happen. I wanted answers, I wanted a plan, I wanted a solid time of when my life was going to come together and I was going to be able to sustain my writing without a supplementary job. It never helped and always, always stole my joy. The best moments were when I let the future stay where it was—out of sight—and focused on the task in front of me. Those moments brought me where I am today.

2. Finish the projects you start. Commit to them. A book you never finish is a book that will never get published, and although you may learn a great deal from it, you’ll also set a habit by abandoning it and moving on to something else when you get bored, stuck, or simply have another idea. Giving up is a habit. So is typing ‘The End’. Choose your habits.

3. When you have a brilliant new idea, jot it down in a notebook and leave it there. Let it sit. Let it simmer in the back of your mind, turning over, getting the time it needs to develop. A brand new idea is not a book. It’s not even a story yet. It needs time, and your current WIP needs time too. So let it sit, just for now, and come back later.

4. Set goals and celebrate milestones. What do you want from your writing? Do you know? What do you, as a writer, want to accomplish this year, or this month, or simply just today? Write it down. Have a to-do list, and celebrate when you mark things off. And when you type ‘The End’? Open a bottle of something sparkly and make a night of it. If you don’t celebrate your milestones, it’s far, far too easy to let yourself think that there hasn’t been any.

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

Eight Characteristics Of Serious Writers: Empathy


When I was a teenager, I read a book with a main character that didn’t react emotionally to anything.

His mentor died. His family died. Everything he had was torn away from him, and he was left running for his life from people who wanted desperately to either kill him or shove him into prison for forever and a day and not let him out again.

And he never reacted in a believable way. (I won’t tell you which book, because I’m not trying to bash the author or the story, which was quite good despite this flaw.)

He didn’t cry, he didn’t feel sad, he didn’t do anything. He barely got angry.

It made him almost impossible to like.

“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes.”

~ Daniel H. Pink

I don’t know about the rest of you, but if I can’t empathize with a character or care about him in the slightest, I drop the book. I don’t read another page. I don’t have any interest in characters who are cut out of cardboard and flung into the fray to be chased down and killed. Sure, that’s traumatizing. But if I don’t like him to begin with, there is no way I’m going to stumble through fire and death in his wake.

I have to come because I care about him. I have to love him. And believe me, it’s hard to love a character that doesn’t act in a believable way.

Tips to Cultivate Empathy.

1. When you are writing the massive chase scene, the heroic death, or the meaningful moment . . . pause. Take time to go a little deeper into the scene, to get into the character’s head. Yes, he’s sad. So, how does that feel physically? Mentally? Believe me, there’s more to crying than tears and there’s more to grief than sobbing on the ground for ten minutes, then moving on with your day.

2. Research. Seriously. The five stages of grief. PTSD. Survivor’s guilt. Phantom pains. Something. When traumatic things happen in your book, either a death or an injury or even just a breakup with a middle school crush, there is a response. It’s your job as the author to research and know just what that response should be—and how to manifest that in your character.

3. Remember it. Grief lasts longer than a chapter. If your character’s father dies, and he never notices, feels sad, or thinks about it again after the chapter it happened in . . . he’s going to look like a jerk, and you’re going to look like the kind of author who kills characters because you want the shock value or because the character became inconvenient. Not good.

4. Look for the change. Deep emotional experiences—deaths, near-death experiences, romantic attachments—cause a good deal of change in a character. They change the way the character perceives the world, himself, and the people around him. If a significant event in your story is not changing your character, it may be time to step back and question why. The point of a story is to take your character from A to B . . . not to throw a series of calamities at him, have him dodge them all with ease, then go home and get back to his normal life.

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

Eight Characteristics of Serious Writers: Curiosity


How excited am I allowed to be that we are starting a new series today?

Better yet, how excited are you?

Never mind, don’t answer that question.

In this series, we are exploring the eight characteristics that make a good writer. I say eight, but I think we all know writing is more complicated than that. I could do eight hundred and still not have covered all of them—or explained fully how each and every writer is different and has a different system and a different way of approaching their books.

Still. We are going to ultra-simplify the process and cover the eight most important characteristics of a writer.

And . . . *cue drumroll* we are going to start with Curiosity!

“Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.”

~ Bernard Baruch

When you cultivate curiosity, you set your stories alight and allow the magic back into your pages. The best writers are always curious. They want to know how something happened, but they also want to know why it happened, how it felt, what it meant. Their curiosity translates to the page and keeps the reader tucked up with their book long after they meant to go to bed. Curiosity does that to us all, and it is the best trick of the trade for a writer.

After all, who can resist the question, “What happens next?”.

Tips to Cultivate Curiosity.

1. Take a moment, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. Stop. Listen. Look around. As I’m writing this, it is just before dawn at my house, outside is dim and cool, a cricket is chirping, and it is so, so quiet. In moments like these, stories wake up. In the silence. In the pause before the day begins, or before it ends. The best way to get your mind moving and your stories to come to the surface is to step away from the lights, the noise, and the routines of the day, and find a few minutes to just be still and listen.

2. Read widely. Read about everything. Pick up books you think you’ll hate and read them anyway. Read books people recommend to you. Find out about personality types, about the enneagram and the Myers-Briggs test. Research Stockholm syndrome and the civil war and the trenches in the ocean. Everything is story fodder, and a good writer can get some snippet, some thread of an amazing story out of the strangest of places.

3. People watch. When you’re shopping, when you’re sitting at the library, when you’re having coffee or in line at the doctor’s office. Try not to be too creepy about it, but stories are about people. About their lives and loves and pains and hopes. Wooden characters and cliche cardboard cutouts will sink a story faster than bad grammar and nonexistent punctuation. So watch. Watch how the cashier at a grocery store deals with customers who are difficult. Watch how the mother in the restaurant interacts with her child or the two friends at the coffee bar laugh over something no one else would find funny. Don’t be creepy, but do watch.

4. Allow your story to have a ‘What if’. Sometimes we get so stuck in our vision of what the story should be and the very first vision we had for it that we forget to ask ‘What if’. What if the friend your hero depended on so completely was actually a backstabbing snake? What if instead of getting the girl, your hero leaves her to set out on a quest and she marries someone else in his absence. Stories are built on what if, and if you forget to ask it, your book will suffer. Remember, your first idea is not necessarily your best one.

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