For The Writer Who Is Tongue-Tied

Shockingly, not every writer is introverted.

Really. There are magical extroverted people who can talk about their books and answer questions about their writing career without panicking or breathing into a paper bag or stumbling over their words twelve times.

At least, that’s what I’ve heard. I’m an introvert myself, so I wouldn’t really know.

However, joking aside, whether we’re introverted or extroverted, talking about our books is hard. The dreaded ‘elevator pitch’ is an essential part of spreading awareness for our books. We need it for agents at writing conferences, the pitch line in queries, and well-meaning friends and family who want to know what our book is about.

Why do people ask that? I get it, it’s harmless and inquisitive. They’re not really trying to make me sit on the floor and cry, right? They’re doing their best to show an interest in that weird thing I do where I lock myself up in a room for hours on end and stare at a computer with a lot of squiggly lines on it.

Or sometimes a blank screen, because those days happen to all of us.

Still, condensing fifty to a hundred thousand words (or more) into a single sentence can feel impossible. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, and all too often, it falls flat. There is nothing more irritating than having a book you know is brilliant and compelling, and then stumbling over a vague and cheesy sounding explanation that features ummm more than any other word in the English language.

Believe me. It’s torture.

Unfortunately, it is also a necessary torture. So, introvert or extrovert, if we want our books to see the light of day, we have to learn. Here are five tips that I’ve found helpful in learning to explain my crazy books to people.

1) Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

You’re going to mess up. It’s going to sound weird. It’s never going to be completely perfect.

And that’s fine.

As with everything else, practice makes perfect. So resign yourself to making mistakes, to looking a little foolish, and even to one or two embarrassing failures. As long as you continue to try, to learn, and to perfect what you’ve got, you’re conquering it.

And, honestly? It’s the mistakes that are teaching you, not the successes.

2) Know the heart of your story.

Not everything needs to be a part of your pitch. You’ve got tens of thousands of words in this wonderful book of yours, and myriad of ideas.

And one sentence (maybe two) to catch someone’s attention.

So take some time, be realistic, and decide what is the heart and soul of your story. Sure, maybe dragons attack a city at some point and the hero has the ability to control them with his mind but decides not to because the bakery in that city wouldn’t sell him a donut, but is that really the heart of the story?

If not, then skip it.

It’s still in the story. You haven’t lost it. It’s just not the core of what you’ve written, and the core is exactly what you want to give them.

3) Practice.

This is definitely not a skill that you are automatically going to have. It needs practice, it needs polishing, and it needs feedback. Use your friends and family as guinea pigs (respectfully), jump at the chance to practice your pitch whenever anyone asks about it, and practice by yourself in your bedroom mirror.

Yes, I’m telling you to talk to yourself.

When I drove down to the writer’s conference in Missouri last July, I spent most of that trip going over my pitch alone in my car. It sounds weird, maybe it will feel weird for a while, but it works.

And if it looks dumb, but it works, it’s not dumb.

The point is, the more practice you have, the better your pitch will be. You want it smooth, you don’t want it to sound rehearsed, and you want it to look effortless.

And, as everyone should know, if something looks effortless, it means there is a whole lot of effort behind it.

4) Don’t give up.

This is one of the most discouraging and scary parts of being an author. It’s so intimidating, it’s so easy to get it wrong, and for some of us, it goes against the grain of our personalities.

It would be much easier to simply duck under this one, and not try it.

But don’t. Really, really don’t. Your story is worth this attention, it’s worth this push to learn and stretch yourself as a person, and in the long run, you’ll be so glad that you took the time and the effort to make it happen.

And someday, who knows, maybe it won’t be that difficult after all.

I’m not counting on that, but you never know.

5) Be passionate.

This is your story. You’ve slaved over it, cried over it, and maybe worked harder on it than you ever have on a project before.

It’s your baby. Your magnum opus. Your symphony.

So love it. Don’t rattle off an emotionless plot outline when someone asks what you’ve written. Tell them why you love it. Passion is attractive, and, as a writer, you’ve got more than enough to share. (Believe me, you wouldn’t have gotten as far as you have with this story if you didn’t.)

Embrace it. Be willing to be wrong, be willing to need work, be willing to make mistakes, but never, never forget your passion when you talk about what you do. Writing can be a job, but writing is magic too, and magic is worth being passionate about.

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

For The Writer Who Has Quit One Too Many Times

As a writer, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as a new idea.

A new character waltzes in, capturing our attention, and whispering about a story flooded with new possibilities, new dangers, and a love so deep it borders on intoxication. Suddenly, we’re taking the long way home from work, getting lost in the grocery store, and filling notebooks with jotted conversations that just have to be written down, because what if we lose them??

Unfortunately, as odd as it may seem, new ideas can be one of the biggest obstacles to a finished book.

That doesn’t sound right, does it? New ideas should be every writer’s dream! They should propel your career forward, not pull it back.

Shouldn’t they?

Well, actually—they do. If they’re managed right. But new ideas, when they’re given free rein and allowed to trample everything in their path, can effectively kill any half-finished draft, partially edited manuscript, or fully outlined book. Especially when said half-finished draft or partially edited manuscript has a plot hole that you just—can’t—fix.

Sometimes it really is time to cut the cord and let an old idea die in favor of a new one. But, if we fill our drawers with half-finished ideas, scribbled notes, and books that we’ll finish someday, that goal of eventually writing—and publishing—a book . . . may not happen.

But how do we resist the pull of a new idea when it’s just so enticing?

I have a few suggestions.

1) Jot it down.

This is the obvious one. Have a notebook of future books that you’d like to write. Or a file on your computer. If necessary, write it as a short story and save it for another day. Believe me, it will keep. And it will be all the richer for the time it had to simmer.

2) Admit that you probably cannot write both at once.

Don’t take them both on.

Just don’t.

Especially if your half-finished draft is having trouble. Whether you intend it or not, one of them will be set aside, and I can guarantee that it won’t be the shiny new idea.

As a writer, you can decide to write any way you like. There is no set formula for how to write, and no ‘ten steps for success’. But in the end, a book that isn’t finished is a book that isn’t published.

So take it one step at a time. Finish one before you start the next, especially if they are the same genre and type of story. The next ten years of my life are planned out in books that I’m going to write, and I haven’t misplaced a single one of them because I decided to wait.

In the end, it will be worth it.

3) Keep it in the back of your mind.

Sometimes, it really is nice to have another idea to plan and daydream about. An idea doesn’t have to be written for you to enjoy. Spend some time with it. Let it stew in the back of your mind. Explore the possibilities, but keep it in your head for now. Keep your writing time—and a little brain space too—for the book that really needs your attention.

Remember, you will get to write this new idea. And it will be all the better for having finished another book before you started this one.

4) Fall in love with the idea you had.

Remember that the book you’re writing now was once an idea that captured you. That set fire to your thoughts. If you hadn’t loved it, you wouldn’t have started it.

Daydream. Journal with your characters. Explore the settings that once enraptured you. There is no plot hole that can’t be conquered, and no story that can’t be written. Allow room for growth, for change, for a story that you love and are passionate about. 

5) Be excited for the work you’ve already done.

New ideas are lovely. They’re exciting and engaging and they bring a spark of creativity back into writing, especially when we’ve been toiling through plot holes and frustration.

And yet, new ideas come and go. They have no roots, no weight to them.

Remind yourself that the work you’ve done already is worth continuing. Your story has a depth and richness to it that only comes with a fight. All that trouble you’ve had fixing plot holes, all the frustration of edits, all the deleted pages that you’ve tossed into the trash combine together to give you a solid foundation to work with. All that work is worth far too much to be abandoned or cast aside.

Respect the story you have.

Respect the time you’ve already put in.

Rekindle the love you have for the story you’re working on, and push through the difficulty. You’re a writer, and you have a thousand stories ahead of you. You have time to write them all, and there is no hurry. Take them one at a time, and one day you’ll have a shelf of books that you can be proud of.

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

For The Writer Who Isn’t Ready For Another Year

The beginning of a new year is an exciting thing. 365 days filled with promise, unsullied by mistakes, unspoiled by bad attitudes or hurtful remarks. A year is a powerful thing, and it’s exciting to have a new one ahead to conquer.

Except when it’s not.

Sometimes the thought of a new year, combined with the disappointments of the year (or years) past, can be intimidating instead of exciting. As much as we would like to leave the burdens, disillusionment, and frustrations of the previous year behind us, that’s a difficult thing to do. Sometimes, it really is impossible. Maybe resolutions failed, writing goals weren’t met, or projects that we were so enchanted with at the beginning of the previous year have fallen flat and lost their magic. Writing is a tough business, and more than that, it’s a slow one. Contracts aren’t signed overnight, books take years to be written and revised, and ideas that were hatched two, even three years previously still haven’t been given the attention and love they deserve.

In short, it can be very easy to reach the beginning of a new year and, instead of resolving to put all the effort and love you can manage into your stories, decide instead to let that dream die.

After all, dreams die all the time, don’t they? Writers quit, they find new pursuits, and books molder in drawers instead of being published and passed to the world.

But it doesn’t have to end like that. Writing can be discouraging, but it doesn’t have to be. The beginning of a new year SHOULD be exciting, no matter what is behind you.

Here are five tips for entering the new year as a conqueror, instead of feeling defeated before you even start.

1) Look back at the year past—and choose to see the good in it.

As a writer, nothing you do is wasted. Pages that have been trashed, agents that have turned you down, blogs that have failed, all of them have taught you valuable lessons. Every word you write, whether it’s been deleted or not, has brought you closer to where you want to be.

2) Be comfortable with baby steps.

Writing is slow. Publishing is slow. Getting a book into the world is slow. An impatient writer is a frustrated writer and a discouraged one. Enjoy the moments, allow them to pass as slowly as they need to, and be content with the knowledge that however slow you are going, you’re still so, so far ahead of those who have never dared try.

3) Don’t base your success on someone else’s decisions.

I see so many resolutions from writers that talk about getting an agent or landing a contract. I am all for reaching for the stars, and especially for setting big goals. But landing an agent or a publishing contract is not a goal that you can reach on your own. Ultimately, it comes down to their decisions. Whether your book is right for them and their business at the moment, and whether they have room for another client.

And if you are discouraged and struggling to continue, the last thing you need is a resolution that you have no power over.

Still, we don’t want to throw those resolutions out the window, right? So, instead, consider changing the wording.

Instead of resolving to land an agent, resolve to perfect and polish your query letter and proposal. Have a certain number of agents that you want to send it to by the end of the year. Focus on your effort, your enthusiasm, and your dedication, instead of their decision.

Then, when the end of the year rolls around, whether you have a contract or not, you can be proud of yourself for doing everything possible to make your dream happen.

4) Realize that there is really only one way to fail as a writer.

A bad review is not a failure. A dead blog is not a failure. An idea that surged and died is not a failure.

The only way to fail is to quit.

Everything else is learning, everything else is a step forward, or redirection, or a bit of experience. If you continue, you will find your niche and you will find your story. So don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep writing, even when it looks hopeless from the outside.

5) Do what you love.

Before you resolve to hit this milestone or that one, pause. Resolve to rekindle your love for the writing. The stories. The characters that once caught your attention and persuaded you to take on their journeys and their passions.

The only way to write well is to write with passion. Readers know when you’re only going through the motions of being an author. You loved this craft once, and maybe you still love it now.

So pause.

Take a moment.

Remember what it is about writing that you love. Journal with your characters. Renew your friendships with them. Explore the cities, the forests, the places that you write about, and linger in them. Smell the deep mould beneath the trees, the fresh brewed coffee at the coffee bar, or the wet pavement in the rainy streets.

Forget the logistics of followers, agents, queries, platforms, and contracts. Forget how many likes that last post received. Pause all of that.

Enjoy the journey. Love the writing. When your passion returns, then return to the rest.

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

For The Writer Who is Afraid

I am going to start this particular post with a horror story.

Young or squeamish writers, please hide your eyes.

Unsuspecting writer, chatting comfortably with an older relative, friend from high school, or new acquaintance.

“Well, between work and writing, I don’t have a lot of time—”

Excited gasp. (Or possibly judgmental sniff.)

“Oh, that’s right! You’re writing a book. Can I read it?”

Cue instant terror.

Sound familiar?

Writers, sharing your work is hard. Our stories are little bits of our heart and soul, and offering them up for the world to read, judge, and possibly reject, is incredibly hard. It takes practice, a thick skin, and a lot of courage. Writing in itself is hard enough, and once you add imposter syndrome, harsh critiques, and well-meaning questions like, when are you going to get a real job, it gets a thousand times harder. Sometimes, it really would be easier to hide beneath your desk with a blanket, a jar of chocolate chips, and a fancy pen while you do all your writing in secret. Who really needs to know, after all?

I admit, that would be the easiest way out. In my seven years as a writer, I have run the gauntlet of reactions to my writing. Thankfully, most of the people that have read my writing have loved it. But—things happen.

And, honestly, the ones that sting are the ones that you remember.

So, yes, sharing your writing, even with the most select people, is hard. It’s scary. Because what if they hate it? What if they skim through, laugh, point out a typo, and change the subject? (This has actually happened to me.) What if, after begging for a copy for weeks, they just . . . never read it? (Also something that has happened to me.)

What if they actually have constructive criticism that helps make your book a thousand times better and yet still stings like needles when you hear it?

It happens.

It’s natural to be afraid of sharing your work, but living according to your fears is always—always—a mistake. So when you are afraid, please remember this:

1) You CAN be selective.

It is okay to say no.

I’m giving you permission. Right now. You can tell your great aunt, or that one friend, or anyone at all, that you can’t send them your book. They can buy a copy when it comes out. Until it’s sitting on the shelf in Barnes and Noble, you do not have to let anyone and everyone read it. Never, never feel guilty about telling someone no. Do it kindly, but do it firmly. No explanation is necessary. You do not have to have a legitimate excuse. Feel completely free to tell them that it isn’t finished yet, and they are welcome to buy it when it is. Or, if it’s easier, laugh and tell them you’ll send them a signed copy when it gets released.

You don’t owe anyone advanced copies of your work.

2) It’s okay to start small.

After seven years of writing (and sharing my writing), I have completely and totally conquered my fear. I’m not scared of people reading what I write anymore.

Okay, that’s a lie. I lied. I’m sorry.

The point is, practice helps. Let someone who you trust read what you’ve written. Maybe someone who already likes the kinds of stories you write. Or write a short story, and share it on your social media. Have a blog. Offering something that’s not quite so near and dear to your heart is a good way to try out a bit of author vulnerability without the jarring reality of your entire book being at someone’s mercy. Do it a bit at a time, and you’ll learn not to be so terrified of it.

3) It’s not a bad thing to be afraid.

Panic. Breathe into a paper bag. Cry a little, if you really need to. It’s okay to freak out, and it’s okay to be afraid.

It is not okay to hide forever.

You’re a writer. A communicator. You have a story to tell, and somewhere out there is a reader who needs your story. Make it the best that it can be, write with your heart and your soul and every single bit of passion you can possibly muster, and then release it. Let it go. Let it be read and critiqued and loved and hated. Let it be free.

If you need chocolate or wine, I know where you can get both.

The point is, you can be as afraid as you like, but take the plunge anyway. You will never grow as a writer or a person if you don’t walk through fear at least occasionally.

4) Your story is not set in stone.

No, you definitely should not be changing your book based on the whim of every reader who has an opinion about it. Never, never do that. Please. That is a terrible, awful idea that will scramble your book and erase everything that is uniquely you about it.

However.

Feedback is immensely important as a writer. Without it, we grow stagnant. Our stories become stale. We stop learning. So listen. Consider the comments, however much they sting. Set some of them aside. Apply others. Use your own judgment, because this is your book and you are the author. They are not writing it. You are.

And you know what? It’s okay to change things. It’s also okay to thank them for their thoughts and leave things the way they were.

It’s also also okay to change it, but not quite the way they told you to.

You are the author. You know your story. Allow it room to grow, but don’t hand it off to every single person with an opinion.

There is a balance here, I promise. Find it.

5) You have not failed if someone doesn’t like what you’ve written.

Time for some perspective, dearest writer.

One comment is one comment. It’s not the end of your career, or of the world. It stings for now, but it will be okay.

You’re learning. You’re growing. You had the courage and the audacity to share a tiny piece of your soul, and that alone is a feat worth bragging about. All of the hard work that you have poured into your art is not wasted, and you are stronger because of your vulnerability.

You cannot fail as a writer until you have given up on yourself. Every stumbling block, every bit of reckless, wild courage, every deleted word and rejected chapter has something to teach you. You are learning.

And a writer who is willing to learn is a writer who is in very little danger of ever failing.

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