For The Writer Who Needs Encouragement

Writing Encouragement

Writers need encouragement.

Can I get an amen?

Writing is hard, it’s lonely, and above all, it’s slow. Slow to finish, slow to see progress, and slow to get any kind of notice. Writers do a lot of work behind closed doors, we spend a lot of time alone, immersed in our worlds and puzzling over plot holes, sentences we may or may not like, and characters who sometimes really don’t like to do as they’re told.

On days when we’ve stared a little too hard at the blank screen, argued one too many times with a stubborn character, or—sometimes hardest of all—had to swallow a nasty comment or negative review, discouragement seems inevitable. And, if we depend on other people for our encouragement our moods will go up and down and all around.

And believe me, you will notice the negative comments much more than the positive ones.

It might seem a little backward to tell you not to depend on other people for your encouragement, right? After all, encouragement comes from other people, doesn’t it?

Actually, it doesn’t.

Yes, positive comments are encouraging. People who come to stand alongside you and help you along are incredibly helpful, even necessary.

But, if your journey depends on other people’s opinions, you will end up discouraged, empty, and too frustrated to continue.

Writer, you are the master of your journey and your mind. At the end of the day, it is you who will keep discouragement at bay. So, today, here are five tips to staying encouraged on your journey as a writer.

1) Find your balance.

Writers spend a lot of time writing, yes? Or, more specifically, staring out the window, scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, researching obscure facts, and doodling on scraps of paper while we wait for the words to come.

We’re all guilty of it. In fact, I like to think of those moments not so much as procrastinating, but more as giving our unconscious brains time to mull over the problem. In fact, I think a writer does their best work while they’re looking out the window.

Still, our entire lives cannot be spent writing. Balance is the key to everything, dearest writer, so go outside, go to a movie, make dinner for a few of your friends, read a new book, or go to the zoo. Live your life outside of your writing, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll come back to that blank page with a little extra perspective.

2) Celebrate yourself.

It took me years to realize that I could buy flowers for myself.

Isn’t that ridiculous? I love flowers. I love having flowers in my home. The very presence of them lift my spirits. And yet—I never bought them. Because people don’t buy flowers for themselves.

Or, at least, I didn’t think they did.

Now, I buy myself flowers. I celebrate the small things. When something exciting happens, I make the most of it. Milestones are important, dearest writer, and they do not have to be huge, once-in-a-lifetime events for you to celebrate them. Did you finish a chapter that’s been bugging you for ages? Did you finish a draft of your novel? Did someone read your work and love it?

Celebrate. Buy yourself flowers, or your favorite snack or drink, or even just pause for a moment to be still and think I did that. Be proud of yourself, and celebrate the small moments.

In the end, they’ll be the ones that mattered.

3) Don’t talk trash about your work.

I’ll be going into this subject in more depth later, but I want to put it here, because I see so many writers knocking themselves down and talking trash about their work.

Don’t.

Just don’t.

Could you write every single day with someone standing at your shoulder, making snide comments and telling you that you’re never going to make it because you can’t write?

NO.

Stop doing it to yourself. You are learning. You are doing what so many other people wish they could ‘find the time’ to do. You may not be perfect, but you are trying, so don’t laugh off your efforts or bad mouth your own work.

It’s not cool. It’s not humble. It’s toxic, and it will discourage you faster than anything else possibly could.

4) Look at how far you’ve come.

Every page you’ve written, deleted or not, is progress. You’ve learned, you’ve grown, and you’re developing in your craft. Take pride in that and be encouraged. All your work has not been for nothing.

5) Remember why you started.

Remember that you love what you do. Remember that it was the story first that drew you into this crazy, beautiful journey. Remind yourself of the dreams you had for your writing, for the book you want to hold in your hands and the characters that haunt you.

You are a writer. You create worlds from thoughts and stories from pen and ink. You have a wealth of imagination and characters at your fingertips, and if you take care of your mind, enjoy the journey, and stay encouraged, you’ll make it through the bad days.

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

For The Writer Who Doesn’t Have A Routine

This last week, I sat down with one of my writer friends at a coffee shop.

We talked for a long time. About everything. Movies we like, story problems, agents and publishers, and life in general. 

It was wonderful.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to really sit down and have a heart-to-heart with another writer. I forget, sometimes, how incredibly similar we are—and yet how wildly different we can be. As I mentioned last week in this post, no two writers ever have exactly the same routines, inspirations, or methods for digging up their fantastical stories. We’re each unique, and our writing process is uniquely ours. It’s tailored to our hearts and our stories, and no one can tell us exactly how it works.

So what happens when we just . . . don’t have it yet?

Honestly, this is something that writers of all ‘stages’ struggle with. When you start writing, no one hands you a ‘how to’ pamphlet or gives you a map of your own brain that shows just where the stories are hiding and how best to lure out a stubborn plot point. Even an experienced writer, with years of practice behind them, can get thrown off by a scheduling change, a new story that refuses to be written the way the others were, or even their own growth as a person. Something that worked for you five years ago, or even five months ago, may not work any longer. Editing routines, daydreaming to plan your story, writing routines, and even something as simple (or complicated) as finding time to write can seem impossible when you’re not sure quite how best to approach it.

Again, no one can tell you how your brain works, how to spark your own creativity, or how best to create your own routine. But, if you’re stuck and not sure how to begin to develop a process—either for the first time or after years of using the same routine—here are five tips that might help.

1) Allow yourself room to explore.

Take some of the pressure off of your writing for a while. Experiment. Try things that may not work, like rising an hour earlier to get some extra writing time in, or taking walks with some of your favorite music to plan out the next chapter or plot point you’re going to be working on. Visualize your story with drawings or post-it notes, or try reading chapters that you’re supposed to edit out loud to see if that helps you catch mistakes.

Journal with your characters. Ask them questions.

Have a board on Pinterest that is devoted to ideas for your story.

Try pantsing it. Let your characters run wild, and let the story tell itself. See what happens!

Try outlining every detail with a cork board and index cards.

The point is, be adventurous and go a little wild! You never know what might work for you.

2) Ditch the routines that don’t work for you.

There is no set method. If it doesn’t work, dump it. Throw it out the window. No regrets.

Seriously.

If rising early leaves you groggy and uninspired, don’t do it. Try something else. Give it a week or so, or even just a couple of days, and if it’s not lighting a fire under your words, then dump it. The last thing your story needs is a forced routine that gives you no joy and results in nothing but wooden words.

3) Take note of what others are doing.

Check out ideas on Pinterest, or ask around on Twitter. I’m sure you would find a whole load of writers who would love to share their routines and give you some tips.

Take what they say, and sort through it. Copying another writer’s routine probably won’t work for you, but their experiences can give you some hints. Ditch what you don’t like, and file away the tidbits that sound relaxing and inspiring. Take nothing as gospel, but be open to trying new things. Who knows, you may stumble across something that works for you!

4) Give it time.

Writing is all about the journey. You can’t write a book in a day, and you definitely can’t slide into a new routine in a day either. Allow it to change, to fluctuate, and to grow with you. Remember the things that helped, and do them often, even if they’re a bit of work and time.

5) Don’t overthink it.

You don’t need a complex routine to call yourself a writer. You need a story, and you need to sit down and write. So do what is comfortable, do what inspires you and helps you focus, but don’t latch onto practices that you don’t feel you need, simply because they are ‘popular’ or someone told you that you should be doing them.

You are a writer.

You know your stories.

You know yourself.

What fits you, what fits your lifestyle, and your story is what is important. Not a checklist that someone else thinks is vital for your routine.

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

Dear Writer, You Are Enough

No two writers are the same.

Isn’t that a lovely thought? I know this because I am part of a writer’s group.

We meet once a month. Sometimes every third month.

What can I say? Life happens.

When we do get together, we talk about our work, read each other’s books, and, sometimes, write together. Have you ever sat down to write with another writer? It’s loads of fun. We pick an object or a word—last time we used a broken glass—set a timer, and each of us writes a short story about said object.

And you know what the shocking part is?

All of the stories are vastly different. Every. Single. Time. The five of us can sit down in the same room at the same time and each write a story using the same prompt, and we all come up with something completely unique, without comparing notes or even mentioning what we intend to write about. One will be about magical realism and fantastical journeys. Another will be the origin story of a spine-chilling villain. Someone else will take the idea and create a contemporary story about lost love and grief.

All of them will turn out to be lovely and memorable stories, each stamped with our own signature styles.

I have a point here, I promise.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Unfortunately, writers fall into this trap all too often, especially on social media. We look at all the amazing writers out there, the books that blew us away, the authors on Twitter with thousands of followers and daily word count goals that double or triple our own weekly goals, and suddenly our own efforts feel impossibly weak. And quick as that, our joy in this incredible, life-changing craft is snatched away.

And with it goes the stories we have loved and labored over.

No two writers are the same. Our styles are different, our methods, our world-views, everything that we pour into our writing is unique. Without this distinction, we wouldn’t have books as distinct and remarkable as Lord of the Rings, The Ordinary Princess, and Michael Crichton’s Micro. All of which were written by very different people in very different ways.

The world needs your unique abilities. Whether you are a novelist, write short stories, or delve into non-fiction and articles, you are a writer. If you wake up at six AM, run through a yoga routine, then write for an hour before breakfast, then you are a writer. If you stay up until 3 AM with your windows open, letting the moonlight play across your floor and whisper ideas to you, you are a writer.

Writing is not a contest. It’s a craft. A place for you to be completely yourself. Your soul on the page, your style, your heart in the words is what makes the story sing and lifts it off the page. Without that, no matter what characters you have or what genre you write, your story will fall flat.

You are the magic, dearest writer. And you are enough.

For The Writer Who Is Facing Criticism

Writing is an incredibly vulnerable business.

Anyone who has ever shared their writing knows this. Not only are we opening up our hearts and sharing pieces of our souls with the world, but we are also exposing ourselves to a great deal of criticism.

And the world is full of critics.

Unfortunately, there is also another kind of criticism that writers seem to attract, beyond bad reviews on our books. This kind is a little more personal. And, whereas we can learn to brush off the negative reviews and grow a thick skin for the readers who hated everything about our writing, it’s a little harder to brush aside persistent comments from well-meaning co-workers, relatives, and sometimes even close friends. Comments like, you spend too much time at your computer. You need to get out more. Or, you realize writing isn’t a realistic career, right? Who is going to support you while you’re ‘chasing your dreams’?

Or, one of my personal favorites (or least favorites), writing fiction is a waste of time. People should be paying attention to the real world.

Um. That’s what we’re doing, Mark. Fiction mirrors reality and creates the opportunity to influence and teach without shouting opinions in someone’s face.

Disclaimer: Mark is a fictional character. Any resemblance to a person or persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Don’t hunt Mark down.

Writing is hard, both for people who pursue it as a hobby and for those of us struggling to make it our career. It takes a lot of time, it takes a giant amount of commitment, and—sometimes—people really don’t understand why we do what we do. After all, writers aren’t known for earning a lot of money, and we spend a lot of time alone.

For some reason, people seem to resent that. I’ve never understood why.

So, no matter what kind of criticism you’re facing, here are five ways I’ve learned to absorb or deflect it without getting too hurt in the process.

1) Consider the source.

Is it someone you respect? Or is it someone who has, in the past, said negative things simply to hurt you?

Or, is it someone who you don’t know at all and who doesn’t know you?

The source of criticism is extremely important. Before you take the words to heart, decide if the person speaking them has your best interest at heart, if they care about you, and if they make wise decisions in their own life.

If they do, it may be time to pause and consider what they’re saying.

If not, brush it off. Not everyone deserves the chance to help direct your path.

2) Ask yourself if there is any truth behind what was said.

This one may take a bit of a bite out of your ego. But that’s okay.

Is it true? Do you need to spend some time outside, both for your mental health and your physical health? Are you pushing yourself too hard and neglecting parts of your life that are important and need attention? After all, life is about balance, and taking care of yourself and your relationships is important.

On the flip side of that, do you really have no chance to make a career as a writer? Are you really not good enough to make this happen? Are you really being irresponsible for pursuing your dream?

This world needs writers. It needs storytellers, and people who are willing to sacrifice for their dreams. And, if you’re not ‘good enough’ to be published yet, you will be if you keep after it. The only way to fail as a writer is to quit. We are always growing and there is always room for improvement.

3) Ask for a second opinion.

Go to someone you trust. Someone who knows you, who knows your dreams, who knows what you are working so hard for. Tell them what the person said, and ask what their thoughts are on it.

They might surprise you.

4) Adjust accordingly.

No good ever comes of being stuck-in-the-mud stubborn and never listening to anyone. So, after you’ve considered the source, considered the truth behind what was said, and asked for a second opinion, it may be time to adjust your habits. Maybe take a walk before you start writing in the morning, or take an evening off to spend with friends. Work that extra part-time job so that you’re not going under financially while you’re doing what you love.

On the other hand, no good ever comes of being swayed by every opinion that comes your way. If you don’t trust the source, if there’s no truth behind what was said, and, especially, if your ‘trusted someone’ called bull, then brush it off and move on. You’re under no obligation to change yourself to suit the world.

5) Realize that you cannot please everyone.

Some people will just not understand. They won’t look at what you do and see value, and some of them will make a point of telling you so.

Let it go.

You’re a writer. If you are settled and at peace with it in your own heart, and—for those of you who believe in this kind of thing—are at peace with it before God, then let it be. You have passions, you have dreams, you have a life that is yours—and yours alone—to build and cultivate. Make the choices that you can live with, and don’t conform your life to other people’s expectations.

You’re the one who has to live with your decisions. So make sure they’re ones that you want to live with.

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

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.