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.

For The Writer Who Is Overwhelmed

Five Healthy Ways To Cope With Too Much CompetitionWe live in a competitive world.

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

It’s rough.

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

I, however, am not one of those people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discouraging, right?

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

1) Breathe.

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

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

2) Do the next thing.

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

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

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

Add one social media account with your official author name.

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

Get feedback on your book, and adjust accordingly.

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

3) Celebrate the victories.

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

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

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

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

5) Do not tie your value to your work.

Dearest writer.

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

The likes on that one post do not define you.

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

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

You are NOT waiting to be valuable.

You are NOT waiting to be loved.

And you are NOT waiting to be important.

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

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