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.

Coffee Dates: Writing Alone

Good Morning, Creatives!

Sometimes I feel like I need a support group for introverts. Like, we can sit in a very small circle with only a few people who really understand us and say, “Hi, my name’s Abigail. Today an extrovert tried to sit down in my bubble and make small talk and I chose not to spill my coffee in their lap to make them go away.”

And then people would clap for me and it would be great.

Joking aside, I hate small talk. If you want to talk to me, I would love to talk to you! As long as we talk about your dreams and your fears and what makes you get up in the morning. Not how your great aunt’s hydrangeas are doing or why spring is late this year.

Part of being an introvert is abhorring small talk. Another—very strange—part is that, quite often, I like to be alone. I like eating in restaurants alone and going to the movie theater alone. I like walking alone and getting coffee alone. But—and here’s the weird part—I LOVE writing with people around me.

Thus, today’s question. Do you like writing alone? Or do you prefer having company?

My Process

I live with my sister. She’s an artist. So while I write at the table, she sits at the counter and does her wood-burning, or her ink sketches, or whatever else she happens to have a commission for at the moment.

And we don’t talk.

Okay, most of the time we don’t talk. Occasionally one of us will scream in frustration, break out into song, or make a joke that is funny to no one but the two of us. Then we laugh and go back to work. Because I have to push the buttons and she has to draw the lines and we both know it takes silence to do it right.

And it’s the best thing on this planet.

My Struggles Within That

She was gone for about five months. (I mentioned why here.) And I missed her. Dreadfully.

I don’t like to write alone. I like to have people with me who understand that I love their presence. I love being near them and having their soul so close to mine. Just the fact that they are there brings me so, so much joy.

But I don’t want to talk.

Most people don’t really get that. Introverts do. And other writers. Not many people can do it, though, and that’s why I treasure my sister and my writing group so, so much, because that’s how we all work. We understand that silence doesn’t mean I’m ignoring you, and conversations don’t always mean you’re connecting.

Your Thoughts

Do you need to be alone while you’re writing? Or do you like having select people around you? Or are you a coffee shop and train station writer, who feeds off of the hustle and bustle of the human race? Tell me about it in the comments!

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.

Coffee Dates: Overwriter

Good Morning, Creatives!

Can I confess something to you guys? Like, heart-to-heart?

Good. Because I’m going to anyway.

I am a chronic overwriter.

Are you shocked? You should be. It’s true. I have a serious problem. My poor, poor editor is constantly having to cut things back and tell me to rein it in a little. (Hi, Beth! You’re my favorite!)

This week’s question is to soothe my own ego a bit. Or convince me to start a support group. Either way. Are you an underwriter or an overwriter? (If you’re not sure, judge it this way. When you finish a manuscript, do you have to add words or cut them out? Which do you have a harder time doing?)

I’m supposed to cut them out. I usually add them.

My Process

I love words. I love worlds. I love my worlds. So, because I love them so much, I love to spend a whole lot of time exploring them and showing all the little details, the cultures, the cities, the languages, and the people. I love to build cities and construct architecture and grow deep forests with lore that extends back to the beginnings of time.

One of my favorite authors is Victor Hugo. If that helps give you an idea of how bad I’ve gotten.

My Struggles Within That

Readers get bored! Stories need action, they need swift plots that plow through a lot of material and keep their readers engaged! As much as I enjoyed the chapter in Les Miserables about the Paris sewers, it didn’t move the plot forward.

Yes, I loved it.

Someday, I’ll write a book about those black labyrinths.

I’m strange that way.

But! Readers have to be engaged! And they don’t like pages and pages and pages of OVERWRITING! So I’m learning to cut back and do some of the exploring only in my mind. This issue is actually one of the reasons I started writing short stories. It taught me to say a lot in a very little amount of time.

Your Thoughts

What about you? Are you an underwriter, always struggling to flesh out your chapters and fill out your word count? Or are you constantly cutting sentences and struggling to get down to a certain point? Tell me about it in the comments!

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!