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.

Tying Up Loose Ends

art-close-up-decor-279415.jpg

I am leaving tomorrow on a super special, very exciting trip.

One last hurrah, you might say, before my job begins and I have to settle into a desk and learn a new routine.

Since I love routines, I am very excited.

But the fact remains that tomorrow morning, somewhere between Very Dark and Sleep O’Clock, I will be crawling out of bed like a creature of the night and setting off on a road trip with three of my family members.

We are going many places. I will tell you about them next week when we have actually been to these many places.

Since I haven’t left yet, and my job hasn’t started yet, this last week has been all about tying up loose ends and preparing for a whole new season. I’ve gotten new glasses, a haircut, overhauled my wardrobe, cleaned my house . . . 

A lot of stuff, in other words. All the things I need to do before I show up for that first day.

One of the things that I have accomplished is to finish the first draft of my book, Of Bullfrogs and Snapdragons.

*Trumpets blare, people—mostly me—celebrate, a duck quacks*

Wait . . . what? I have a job where I’m getting paid to write and yet I’m still writing my own books?

Yes. In case you were wondering, my life plans are still the same. This job hasn’t changed them. I am still an author, I still have many books to write and many I want to publish, and I will still have a blog to keep up with.

And I’m going to manage all those things if it kills me.

No, I’m kidding.

Actually, I’m going to take it slow, learn my new routine, and adapt my life accordingly. Things will slow down a little, but I will still post on my blog, I will still write, I will still be me.

And, since I am not quite twenty five yet, I have plenty of time. My goal has always been a lifelong career, not instant fame or ten books on the market as fast as I can produce them. So, if you ever wonder what Abigail is doing with her life, just know that I am still here. Building away. Creating my empire.

And right now, that means tying up all my loose ends. Which probably means I should buy some groceries and do some meal planning.

Eh. I’ll do it when I get home.

In two weeks.

Any advice for someone starting their first ever office job? I’d love some wisdom from people are more experienced than I am!

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.

A Writer’s Life: Rejection

I’m going to confess something.

My portfolio of rejection letters is still in the double digits. Under twenty, I think. Maybe even under fifteen.

Probably under fifteen.

Small potatoes, right? Of course, that’s not including the number of queries I’ve had go out that were simply . . . ignored. I actually had a mini celebration the first time my query letters started getting replies. They were rejections, but the agent/publisher at least took me seriously enough to say no instead of ignoring my existence completely.

A step forward, right?

Rejection

Unfortunately, it’s a step forward into learning to be okay with ‘no’. And, when my book has been the better part of my life in the last seven years, ‘no’ is hard to swallow.

Nothing stings like a rejection letter when what you’ve offered is your heart and soul.

Our books are important to us. We’ve put endless hours of work into them, slaved over ‘perfect’ sentences, and revised our query letter until it makes us want to scream with exasperation. We want a ‘yes, absolutely!’, not another ‘no’.

Unfortunately, ‘yes’ isn’t always an option. And no matter how many rejections we get, they always sting.

How To Make It Happen

Rejection is always a discouraging thing, and too often, it deflates whatever day it happens to arrive on. Writing after that feels particularly impossible, and it’s easy to waste the whole day—or week—in feeling dejected.

But rejections are also a necessary part of writing, and because they are so necessary, we have to learn how to deal with them in a way that’s not going to leave us drowning in discouragement. Part of it, of course, is developing a thick skin for criticism. The rest is having the right perspective about rejection and developing tools to keep yourself moving and encouraged.

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

Truth #1

It’s not us against them. Agents are not out to ruin your day. Publishers are not against you as a person. They are simply looking for the right books to move their own business and career forward. If something isn’t right for them, they’re going to pass on it—either because they themselves aren’t excited about it or because they don’t think they can sell it. They don’t hate you. They don’t hate your writing. This a business and they are making business-minded decisions.

As the author, you also need to need to view it as a business rather than a personal project. When you do, it will take a bit of the sting out.

Truth #2

The wrong agent/publisher is so, so much worse than no agent or publisher. You do not want someone working on selling your book who doesn’t love it or have a vision for it. If they don’t care, they won’t convince anyone else to care either.

Writer, not everyone loves the same books. Agents are readers too, and they have likes and dislikes. They don’t want to be working on a project that they aren’t passionate about, and you don’t want them working without passion.

If they so no, let it be, and be glad they didn’t agree reluctantly just to boost their numbers.

Three Tricks

  1. Celebrate the failures. This one sounds silly, but look at where you are. You’re querying! Hopefully, that means you have a polished manuscript and a competent knowledge of your own story. Every failure is only a step to success, so be thankful for the rejections. You’re that much closer to an acceptance.
  2. Don’t set all your hopes on one person. Yes, that one agent sounded perfect for what you wanted, or that one publisher would be exactly what you wanted. But there are so many agents and so many publishers. If you put all your hopes into that one person, you’re going to be crushed when they don’t see how perfect it would be and reject it.
  3. Try again. You only fail when you stop trying. Keep a few queries out all the time so that you always have a few hopes left. Rejections are less final and less fatal when you still have a few others to hope for.

One Long Breath

Writer, let it sting. Count to five, close your eyes, and let it hurt. A hope died, and it was painful. You are allowed to mourn for it, allowed to be sad, allowed to take a moment.

Then take one long deep breath and let it go.

Move on. There are other publishers, other agents, other magazines. You have more opportunities ahead of you, and you will find your niche. Dwelling on the rejections will end with discouragement, disillusionment, and dumped manuscripts. You have a place. Adjust where necessary, listen to feedback, and continue on.

Focus on that one long deep breath, and continue with your dream.

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

What are some of the ways that you deal with rejection in your writing journey? Tell me about it in the comments, and stay tuned for next week, when we will be discussing waiting and how best to embrace it in your writing journey.

Living Courageously

I have a confession to make.

I have been keeping secrets from y’all.

Big secrets. Secret secrets.

Some of them are so big and so secret that I can’t even tell you about them yet. (I promise I will soon.)

But I can tell you the first one today.

About a month ago, I got dressed up and went into town for a job interview. My third interview with this particular company, in fact.

A third interview is a big deal, guys. There’s a lot of pressure. And a lot of people to impress. Especially if you want the job as much as I did. So, the whole 45 minute drive into town—I’ve mentioned I live in the middle of absolutely nowhere—I was praying. And worshiping. And reciting scripture. And basically doing anything and everything I knew how to do to keep my anxiety from bursting out and swallowing me whole before I got to the interview.

Because it’s really not a good first impression when you’re visibly panicking while trying to greet people and hold a conversation.

I made it all the way to the parking lot before I started to freak out. Actually, I made it onto the sidewalk.  Like, I made it far. Cause I’m a warrior, y’all. The trouble was, I still had to go inside and actually make it through the interview, which, considering the previous interviews, could have gone anywhere from an hour to two hours.

Which, for an introvert, is a long time to smile and talk to people.

Do you know what ended up giving me courage? You’re going to laugh.

It was Kate DiCamillo, and her wonderful, wonderful book, The Tale of Despereaux.

Specifically, this line:

“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.

I said it to myself as I went through the doors, and while I smiled and talked with the receptionist, and while I sat and waited for my interviewer to come and retrieve me.

Once upon a time.

Once upon a time.

She was right. Just the saying of them comforted me.

In case you’re wondering, I made it into the interview without panicking. And I sat and talked with twelve people all at once, several of whom had skyped in so they could get a look at me. I smiled and answered questions and asked semi-intelligent ones myself, and when it was over I walked out feeling courageous.

For an introvert who, ten years ago, couldn’t look an adult—or almost anyone else—in the eyes, that was pretty brave.

And yes, after a month of waiting with bated breath, they offered me the job. So how’s that for courageous?

What is something particularly courageous that you have done lately? Brag to me in the comments! I’d love to hear about it!

A Writer’s Life: Discouragement

I’ve been writing for seven years.

During that time, I’ve hit many, many low spots. The worst were moments of discouragement.

I’m never going to make it.

I’ve wasted my time.

This book is never going to be published.

Thoughts like these hit and hit hard when writers are burned out. It’s as if they know we’re tired, they know we’ve been working too hard, and they know we’ve just been rejected, and they gather like vultures.

And writer, it gets ugly.

Discouragement

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Moments when nothing makes sense, when the books we’ve poured life into for months and sometimes years seem flat and uninviting, and we’re just ready to give up.

Discouragement doesn’t just kill stories . . . it kills dreams.

Dreams of a bestseller. Dreams of your book in your hands. Dreams of having something to teach younger authors. Stories wither in the face of discouragement, creativity dies, and slowly—if it isn’t curbed—your dream dies too, because who can write with someone standing at your shoulder constantly telling you you’re a failure?

And if that someone is yourself, it’s hard to get away from the condemnation.

How To Make It Happen

Writer, this doesn’t have to be a reality. Discouragement hits and hits hard, true, but we don’t have to succumb to it. We’ve fought this battle before, and we’ll fight it again. Writing is that kind of job and life is just that way.

Writer, I hope no one has ever told you that you wouldn’t have to fight for your stories. Because you will. Again and again and again.

And by the end of it all, it will have been so worth every scar and every weary, battle-stained night.

You can’t dodge the fight, but you can make doubly sure that you have the weapons you need to keep yourself—and your stories—on the right path.

Writer, here are mine. I do it with two truths, three tricks, and a daily choice.

Truth #1

Discouragement is built up over time . . . the more you think about it, the worse it gets. Allowing negative comments from yourself and others, spending time wondering if you’ll ever ‘make it’, and worrying will poison your thoughts. It will start with ‘maybe not’ and build and build until you’ve trashed your manuscript and changed a ‘maybe’ into a ‘definitely’. So spend more time on hoping and dreaming than you do on naysaying. They’ll get you further.

Truth #2

Prevention is easier than recovery. It’s easier to nip a discouraging thought out of your mind the moment it appears, instead of waiting for it to grow into something that will need to be dug out with a backhoe because the roots have gone so deep.

Taking three months to recover from burnout is much more difficult than making a habit of pausing in your thoughts and saying, “That’s not truth.”

Three Tricks

  1. Have a person. Someone you can talk to about all of this in a safe place. Someone who isn’t going to tell you to give up or laugh off your concerns or spend more time giving advice than they do listening. Someone who will listen patiently and simply say, “I know it’s hard. You’ll get there.”
  2. Have a box of encouragements written by yourself on your good days. Keep it by your bed. Or on your writing desk. Somewhere you can always get to it. Fill it with favorite quotes or bible verses, with notes from yourself that are goofy and funny and serious. Notes that encourage you to keep going to and explain why you still do this. It will be pretty hard to remember this stuff when discouragement comes knocking.
  3. Have a policy that you never, never make decisions on a bad day. Never. Ever. Because the worst decisions you will ever make will be the ones that are made with a headache, eyes red from crying, and an anxiety-knotted stomach. Those are the decisions that end with burned manuscripts, hurt relationships, and a damaged you. Any decision can wait until you’ve slept, eaten, and showered.

A Daily Choice

Discouragement isn’t the sort of trouble that you can cure once. It doesn’t go away with a few feel-good quotes and an extra box of chocolate after dinner.

Sometimes, it takes months.

It takes choices.

It takes getting out of bed and doing the things that you know are right even when you don’t feel like it.

Writer, this journey is long. It is discouraging. It’s rough to see your work rejected, it’s rough to spend hours on a plot hole that will just not go away. It’s maddening to write a chapter six times and still not like what’s on the page.

But you know what? Maybe that seventh try yields a chapter that you love. Maybe the next query is the one that’s going to get accepted. Maybe tomorrow you’re going to find a solution to that plot hole that is so brilliant it leaves you tingling.

Success is possible. It is within your reach.

But not if you give up because you were discouraged. So make those choices every single day to work through your discouragement, so that you are around for the days when everything just clicks.

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

What are some of your daily strategies for dealing with disappointment and discouragement? Tell me about them in the comments, and stay tuned for next week, when we will be discussing rejection and the best way to handle that unwelcome email.