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.

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: Expectation

What keeps a writer going?

That’s an interesting question. On the surface, it’s easy to rattle off a long list. Love of the story, dedication to their craft, or—as we talked about last week—determination.

But I’m inclined to think that at the base of it all, whether we admit it or not, the driving force behind our creativity is expectation. The expectation of a book in our hands, of our reader’s surprise and enjoyment of our book, of typing those exceptionally satisfying words, The End. Without expectation, the frustration and discouragement of writing can become too much.

Expectation

Expectation is so, so important for your writing journey. Goals, dreams, a solid idea of why you’re working as hard as you are is so important. If you don’t have that, you will peter out long before you reach the finish line. Whether you need a mantra, a dream journal, or a poster with your goals written out for you to see and read every morning, cultivating expectation is one of the most important things you can do.

Expectation is the trust that at the end of the journey, after all the bumps and snarls, there will be a finished product.

Everyone has dreams they’re running after, everyone has hopes . . . but sometimes we forget to define and hold onto those dreams and use them to drive their journey forward.

How To Make It Happen

Expectation should drive you forward—not hold you back with disappointment and frustration. It should be what keeps you together, keeps your writing, keeps you hoping on the days that are hard. Writing has ups and downs, and some seasons of the writing journey have more downs than ups. Without using expectation to keep myself moving, I would have given up a long time ago.

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

Truth #1

Without expectation—or hope—the hard days will drag you down and eventually end your dream. We all have bad days. Whether you like it or not, there will be days when you want to give up. There will be days when it feels too hard and too impossible to continue.

Without expectation—without hope—your manuscripts have a good chance of ending up in the trash.

Truth #2

Expectation needs intentionality to thrive. An undefined dream won’t get you anywhere. Do you know where you want to be? Do you have a goal, a plan, something to shoot for and hold onto when things are tough? 

Expectation needs intentionality. Intentionality comes from a person who cares enough about their dreams to define them.

Three Tricks

  1. Know your dreams. Have a journal. Have a vision board. Know what you want and what you’re aiming for. Take some time to sit down and really define what you’re aiming at in your journey. Do you want to finish your book? Write a series? Be published? Hit a bestseller list? You need to know that and know that you know it.
  2. Plan big, and allow yourself to dream beyond your own limits. Instead of saying, I wish, say, I will. Big dreams are scary because they feel out of reach and impossible. But the first step to achieving a big dream is admitting that you have one—and turning it into a goal.
  3. Have step-by-step goals. A dream with step-by-step goals becomes a plan and becomes achievable. You want to be a bestseller? Write a killer book. Start working on your pitch, on marketing, on social media platforms. Work on what is in your reach now, and have steps to help you climb your mountain. You’ll get there.

One Solid Dream

Everyone needs a dream, an end goal that they can turn back to when things are hard and they are starting to question why they do the things they do. Struggling forward in pursuit of someone else’s dream will drain you—struggling forward in pursuit of your own dream will build you.

Writer, know your dream. Whether you want to be a published author or a teacher or a journalist or a blogger, know your dream. Set goals. Have a dream board, a place to go to when you are tired and discouraged and ready to give up.

Know your dream. Plan for your dream. And move forward in expectation.

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

What are your dreams for your future and your stories? Tell me about them in the comments!

This is the last installment in the Writer’s Life series. I so enjoyed this journey with you, and I hope you will tune in next week as we tackle nine truths in a writer’s journey.

Until next time!

A Writer’s Life: Determination

If you were to ask me what quality has gotten me through eight manuscripts, a thousand edits, and seven years of ups and downs, I would immediately tell you one thing.

Pure, cussed stubbornness.

Or, if you want to be elegant about it: determination. In my case, they’re pretty close to the same thing.

Determination

Writing when I’m inspired is my favorite thing. The words flow, ideas build and connect, and my characters cooperate and do what they’re told. It’s a beautiful thing.

I’ll be honest, though. I’m not very often ‘inspired’. Most of the time, I’m not. Instead, I’m faithful and I show up when I really, really don’t want to be there.

Determination will get you to the end of the journey, more so even than skill or talent.

A lot of people have great ideas when they start writing. They have good intentions, cool characters, and awesome plot ideas. But they never get past the first few chapters or even the first page. I see stories like this all the time, and it always breaks my heart because there is so much potential and not enough determination to make it happen.

How To Make It Happen

Determination—in my case—comes from a tendency towards stubbornness, but it’s something that I have cultivated too. I am determined to be the best I can be, I am determined to see my books in print, and I am determined to develop my skill set as a writer.

It’s a choice, and it’s a quality that I have developed over the years. I’ve done it with two truths, three tricks, and the next thing.

Truth #1

Determination is getting up in the morning to do what’s ahead of you—even if you don’t feel like it. No one feels like it every day. No one gets up every single morning and is inspired.

Muses are lazy. You have to be the one to get your muse out of bed and moving. You have to be the one who is rock hard and determined to get your stories finished and into the world.

Truth #2

Choosing determination is choosing your career above everything else—above that movie you wanted to watch, above the night out with your friends, above a day at the beach. I always encourage writers to take breaks, to live their lives, to spend time in nature and in the world to fuel their stories, but there is a line. A place where it’s time to shut the door, block the world out, and pursue your story instead. Without that, it will never happen.

Three Tricks

  1. Set a schedule. Have a routine. Know when you have time to write and show up for your sessions. If you write best in the morning, then show up in the mornings. If you need moonlight and starlight to fuel your stories, then set aside your evenings to write. Know your time and set your schedule.
  2. Know your limits—and your strengths. Some people write in bursts and floods. Some in a steady flow. Find your methods, find your strengths, and exploit them. 
  3. Decide what you want, and how badly you want it. Know your goals. Do you want to be an author? Do you want to finish this book, or write a series, or hit a bestseller list someday? Know what you want. More than that, know how much you are willing to sacrifice and how determined you are to see results.

The Next Thing

Do the next thing in front of you. I tell myself this all the time when I’m stuck, when I don’t know where to go next, and I need a direction for my week—or even my day. Instead of trying to plan three months or three years down the road, I am content with doing the next thing in front of me, the next chapter, the next blog post, the next graphic.

Your journey is your own, and the only way to tackle it is by taking it one step at a time.

So take a deep breath, and do the next thing in front of you.

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

How do you cultivate determination in your writing journey? What does determination look like for you? Tell me about it in the comments, and stay tuned for next week, the last week of our twelve-week series, when we will be discussing expectations and how best to use them to your advantage.

A Writer’s Life: Waiting

No one likes to wait. Whether we’re in the movie theater, in line at the bank, or refreshing your email browser, no one enjoys that feeling. Some of us ease the wait by playing on our phones, bringing a book along, or daydreaming, but the result is the same.

Time wasted.

Stuck in a place we’d rather be, sometimes waiting for something we’d rather not do. It’s frustrating, it’s a bit of a pain, and as adults, writers, and creatives, it’s something we all have to put up with and learn to deal with in a healthy way. After all, publishing a book is alllllll about the waiting. Agents have hundreds of submissions to sift through. Publishers have queues of books to release before yours will be ready. Everything about this process is slow.

And slow is hard if your mindset is wrong.

Waiting

As frustrating and unproductive as waiting feels, it can be turned into valuable—even vital—time for a writer. Depending, of course, on our mindset while we wait.

Waiting can strengthen you as a writer—or it can undermine you.

Waiting—especially waiting for responses on queries, submissions, or feedback—can seriously undermine a writer’s confidence in themselves or their work. Questions crop up in the silence that we’d rather not face. Questions like, have I just made a complete fool of myself? Or, are they taking so long to reply because they totally hate it?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but the waiting is where I get the most insecure about what I’ve sent in. If I let myself, I can get into the worst, most damaging funks while I wait, and I can forget about getting any writing done in the meantime.

How To Make It Happen

And yet, I still have to write. I still have to continue on. The world doesn’t stop because I’m waiting for someone to respond to an email or an agent to finish reading my query and respond.

If the writing stops while I wait, I’ve both wasted endless amounts of time and trained my mind to stop producing under stress.

Neither of those are good things.

So, I’ve learned to keep going. I do it with two truths, three tricks, and a moment of stillness.

Truth #1

Waiting isn’t empty time. It might feel like empty time, it might feel like an ‘in-between’, but it isn’t. How you choose to fill your ‘in-between’ moments will ultimately determine what kind of writer you are and how well you produce under pressure.

It isn’t empty time. It’s extra time. Valuable time. Time to write, time to learn, time to develop your skills.

Truth #2

Your attitude is everything. Your work will suffer or thrive depending on how you view the waiting—and if you’re stressed out, convinced that your work isn’t being valued, or spending the time complaining, you aren’t taking advantage of the precious time you have ahead of you.

Three Tricks

  1. Don’t waste the time. As a writer who is pressed for time—all the time—I do my best to keep from wasting all my time on stress. Especially when I’m waiting for a reply. (Which, incidentally, I am doing this week.) Instead of focusing on the waiting, I get things done. If I don’t have the creativity for stories, I write tweets, blog posts, do some graphic design. Anything to check tasks off my to-do list and use the time I have wisely.
  2. Don’t check obsessively. I am the absolute worst about this one. Email, Facebook, Twitter. When I’m waiting for something, I check and recheck and double-check just to be sure. And it has never once has made any difference in how quickly my replies come through. Sometimes it really is better to shelve your phone for a while and move on to something else.
  3. Enjoy right now instead of focusing on someday. Someday will come, and when it comes it will have its own set of frustrations, fears, and headaches. Deal with them when they come, not now. Right now, enjoy the fact that you have time to write, that you have a project to work on, and that—even in this world of nine-to-fives—you get to be creative. That’s a gift.

A Moment Of Stillness

Take a moment. Be still. Close your eyes, and ground yourself. Take joy in where you are, in this stage of your journey, in the moment.

There is no hurry.

No rush.

No overwhelming need to race through your journey.

It may be tomorrow. It may be in six months. Whatever the time frame, you are still on the way, and you are still far ahead of those people who have given up, or never had the courage to try.

So pause. Take a deep breath. Have a moment of stillness and continue on.

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

What are you waiting for today? How are you using the in-between time to further yourself and your journey? Tell me about it in the comments, and stay tuned for next week, when we will be talking about faithfulness and the necessity of it in a writer’s journey.