Coffee Dates: Favorites

Good Morning, Creatives!

How was the week? Anyone make it all the way through? I hope so, because I have such a fun question for you all this week, and it would be a shame to waste it on empty space because all of my friends got flattened by adult responsibilities.

So, here’s to hoping that didn’t happen.

This week’s question is about favorites! Writers have so many different caps they have to wear, but I personally would be lying if I didn’t have one or two that I favored above the rest.

My Process

Everyone has their own favorite part of the writing process! I personally love description and building new worlds out of pen and paper. I put on music, usually something from Two Steps From Hell, and give myself as much time as I need to explore the new surroundings and see everything I need to see before I try to put anything on paper. It’s an adventure every time, and it’s a huge part of what I love about writing. We writers get to visit such extraordinary places!

My Struggles Within That

I am a chronic overwriter! My editor is always despairing over it. I have to limit myself to only a few especially beautiful settings within a single book, when I would much rather explore every single room in the castles, every single dungeon, and every single deep wooded hollow I come across.

I’m learning to keep to the settings that really matter to the story, but sometimes I definitely run away with myself.

Your Thoughts

What is your favorite part of being a writer? Do you love your characters? Suspense? Stunning plot twists? Descriptions and intrigue? Tell me about it in the comments!

Coffee Dates: Frustrations

Good Morning, Creatives!

Tomorrow’s the weekend! Anyone have any plans? Writing, adventuring, or just sleeping? (I’m mostly planning on sleeping, if at all possible.)

Since I need sleep (and I always do) this week’s question is about frustration. Which part of your writing journey frustrates you the most? What gets you really heated and annoyed with it for interrupting your story’s flow?

My Process

Writing can be so, so frustrating, and it’s never more frustrating for me than when I know I have limited time, I know I have a pile of work to get finished, and all I can do is stare at a blank screen or pound out wooden words that I can’t enjoy or savor at all.

I’m sure I’m not the only one in this, right?

If I’m honest, these moments crop up because my body and my brain need REST, and I am not very good at resting. I like to have my to-do list, finish my to-do list, and get a bit extra done for luck. Anyone with me in this?

My Struggles Within That

I cannot convince my poor tired brain to cooperate without taking proper care of it. Which irritates me. It makes sense, of course, and I know it makes sense, but I would rather it didn’t make sense and I was able to force out a few thousand words whenever I felt like it.

Because I am impatient.

So, instead, when I start staring blankly at a screen, I am learning to take a pause, take a minute, and just rest. Read a good book, lie back and close my eyes, or just stare out the window for a while.

Someday, I’ll convince myself to do this on a regular basis.

Your Thoughts

What is one of your biggest frustrations while you’re writing? What steps have you taken/would you like to take to counter that frustration? Tell me about it in the comments!

Coffee Dates: Genre

Good Morning, Creatives!

Who else needs coffee today? I do. I need a caffeine drip into my veins just to keep me going. Too much coffee (or black tea) knocks out my creativity, but so does falling asleep at my desk.

There’s a balance to this, right? There’s got to be a balance.

Balance (in our writing) is the theme of this week’s question, because this week, we are talking about genres! What genre do you write in? Have you been able to keep your books to one or maybe two genres? Or do some of your stories get away from you and end up a little unbalanced?

My Process

I love writing in so many different genres. I have a biography under my belt, non-fiction articles, five full-length fantasy novels, and a scattering of children’s fiction and short stories in way too many genres to count. Some of them are so undefined that I haven’t bothered even trying to put a label on them.

Still, in the end, my heart always comes back to fantasy. There’s something about the creativity and the whimsical side to it that pulls me along. I love it for the mystery and discovery in it, and no matter what I write, that will always be my first love.

My Struggles Within That

Keeping my brain focused! Genres are hard, and at some point (if you’re pitching to an agent or a publisher) you do want to be able to define them with one or two simple phrases. Having a list of ten genres that you hit in the same book could very well get you a hard pass from anyone you pitch to… so I try to keep my ideas sorted into the right baskets. As far as I can, anyway.

Your Thoughts

What genres do you love to write in? What gets you excited and passionate and eager to explore the places you’re writing about, even when it’s not your ‘typical’ writing time? Tell me about it in the comments!

Coffee Dates: Characters

Good Morning, Creatives!

You made it through the week! Congratulations, you’ve done amazingly well! *Throws glitter and confetti in celebration.*

Seriously though, congratulations for making it through another week and holding onto your commitments as a writer. The world needs writers, and it especially needs writers who are passionate about their stories and about characters. Which leads to my question for this week . . . how do you get to know your characters? How do you come up with them? Do you meet them in the street? In daydreams? Or are they only there to people your amazing worlds?

My Process

I am terribly picky about my characters. Horribly. I like them to live and breathe, and I detest wooden statues. When I first began writing, I would sit down and do long questionnaires for my characters and know all about their little peculiarities.

Now . . . now I like to get to know them the way I get to know my friends. With time.

My Struggles Within That

I can’t come up with characters quickly! They need time to emerge and bloom a bit, and if I don’t give them that time, they end up flat and belligerent. Also, it’s far too easy for a new character who was in no way planned to waltz in and steal my heart and way too much of my attention.

Your Thoughts

How do you get to know and develop your characters? Do they come to you fully formed, names and all, or do you have to build them bit by bit? Tell me about it in the comments!

A Writer’s Life: Doubt

Have you ever questioned whether you were a real writer or not?

I have.

I think every true writer has at one time or another. Poor reviews, harsh critiques, and even harsher rejections take their toll, but beyond these, I think there is an innate whisper is every writer’s mind that suggests—just suggests mind—that we have no right to the title that we claim. As if there were a warden at the door, waiting to turn us away, or a master craftsman somewhere who’s going to look at our work, shake his head, and send us off.

How ridiculous.

Doubt

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how ridiculous these fantasies are—we all struggle with them. I would venture to guess that even the most seasoned among us, the writers who have been working for years, still pause with these kinds of thoughts at one time or another.

Doubt will kill your story faster than anything else. If you let it.

The trouble is, these thoughts aren’t innocent, and they aren’t easy to ignore. I couldn’t begin to guess—nor do I want to—how many books doubt has killed over the years. It becomes an obsession and sucks the life out of even the most steadfast writer’s creativity.

Writers, it is time for this to stop.

How To Make It Happen

I have fallen into this pit too many times to count—enough that I’ve learned to be proactive in my battle against it. I don’t laugh or make disparaging comments about my writing, for instance. I’ve seen many writers do this, and who knows, maybe for them it’s harmless.

For me, it never is. I may not feel it at the moment, but it’ll sting me later. And I’m just not willing to take it anymore, especially not from myself.

Since doubt has been something I’ve struggled with so much, it’s now something that I know how to counter quickly and—most of the time—effectively.

I do it with two truths, three tricks, and one reckless bit of optimism.

Truth #1

No one is a master in this craft. No one.

Not Stephen King, not J.K. Rowling, not even Tolkien himself reached that fabled level of mastery. We are all apprentices with more to learn, more to explore and discover, and places in our craft where we’re weak.

Writer, that should be encouraging.

We’re all on our own journey, all learning, and all developing the skills necessary for this craft. Rejections, bad reviews, and failures are only steps on the way, and if you learn to see them like that, you’ll struggle so much less with self-doubt.

Truth #2

There is no test to pass. No interview. No doorkeeper.

I think that’s what I love about this job the most. No man in a suit and expensive tie gets to tell me that I’m ‘not good enough’ to keep going, and there’s no committee to tell me that I didn’t flesh out this character properly, so thus I am hopeless and won’t be allowed to come back.

I decide how proficient I am by how much I practice and strive to learn. And there is no mistake so awful that I can’t decide to pick myself back up and try again.

Three Tricks

  1. Practice telling people that you’re a writer—without adding a modifier at the end. No one needs an explanation about how you’ve never been published and the book you’re writing isn’t that good and you just started because you like it . . . No. You’re a writer. You don’t have to explain your journey to anyone or justify it to anyone. Especially yourself.
  2. Be too busy writing to question whether you’re actually a writer. Seriously. Who cares about whether you measure up to an imagined set of standards? Why waste the energy trying to decide if ‘you’re a writer’? Go write.
  3. Quit the comparison game. I’m going to be talking about this one a bit more extensively next week, but it bears talking about here too. Someone else’s success does not damage yours. Someone else’s finished manuscript does not threaten your growth or diminish it. Stay in your lane, celebrate with other writers and rejoice in their success, then go back to working toward your own.

One Reckless Bit Of Optimism

Can you imagine the things you could accomplish in your life if you had no doubts—none at all—that you would succeed?

You would make mistakes, you would make a mess, and you would fail so, so many times.

But you would be unstoppable. And for every failure, there would be a success. Never once would you have to tell someone, “I gave up.”

So take a deep breath and allow yourself one reckless bit of optimism. Allow yourself to believe that, no matter the obstacles, no matter the amount of work it will take, you will make it. And not only will you make it, but you’ll grow beyond what you ever thought possible. Allow yourself to dream, to be so confident that it’s almost ridiculous. Then hold onto that hope, cultivate it, and keep it close.

You’ll be glad to have it down the road, I promise.

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

Have you struggled with doubt as a writer? Are there ways you’ve been fighting against it, or has it been getting you down lately? Tell me about it in the comments! And stay tuned for next week, when we will be going deeper into comparison and how quickly it can steal the joy out of writing.

Checking In With My Bookshelves

Last night, I dreamed that my house was on fire, and I had to evacuate.

It was very stressful.

Because I am me and this was a dream, I grabbed my computer first, so that I had all of my books, then headed for my bookshelf and tried to decide which ones I was going to save and which I was going to let burn and have to replace.

This is not, under any circumstances, a decision I ever want to have to make in real life.

Neither was it proper fire procedure. I am aware that you are supposed to get out of a burning house without scanning your bookshelf and bundling half of them out the door with you.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t totally do that, but I at least know that one is not supposed to do it.

Thankfully, I woke up this morning and my house is still standing and my books have not been burned. They are all lined up neatly on my bookshelf, arranged in order of awesomeness and with a complete disregard to any other system except a certain amount of respect to their authors.

You can imagine my relief.

As much as I love my bookshelves, I must admit that they’ve been a little neglected in my house since the year began. I’ve had so much less time for reading than I hoped, and a good deal of my reading list has been made up of audiobooks borrowed from my local library.

Since that isn’t likely to change in the near future, I will have to get used to the change and just be a little more intentional about having time for a physical book.

Still! Audiobooks are books too, and I have had the best time blazing through Agatha Christie’s collection of murder mysteries this year. Hercule Poirot is continually my favorite of her characters, and I’ve had several dozen of his books reserved online since I discovered that I can download audiobooks onto my phone with the right app and a bit of patience.

That was a good day.

With the advantages of a library card, I have read—and listened to—a total of 39 books this year, most of them new to me and a good chunk of them written by the Queen of Crime herself. Several other new reads have been Paradise Lost, Micro, and Girl, Wash Your Face, which I enjoyed hugely and would recommend to any woman needing a boost in her personal life.

So! There is my reading list for this year. Thankfully it did not burn up in last night’s dream fire, and I still have the rest of my books to continue reading. I think Little Women will be the next physical book I pick up, and, of course, I’m just in the middle of a Miss Marple I borrowed from the library.

I promise not to spoil the ending for you.

What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations for me? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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.