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.

The Reality Of Being an Author

This morning, I woke up to find that my bank account was maxed out.

Overdrawn, actually.

Not the best news to find out on a Monday morning, especially when every penny I’ve made in the last several months has gone toward absolute essentials. Bills. Groceries. That’s about it.

This is humiliating for me to admit, honestly. I’m the kind of person who likes to be on top of things. I like my bills to be paid a week in advance. When I go out to dinner or coffee with someone, I like to pay. When I get support letters from friends on the mission field about this need or that one, I like to be able to respond immediately with a check.

But, the reality is that I’m an author.

And right now, I don’t get paid.

For almost anything.

I’ve been a full-time author for about seven years. I’ve written eight books in that time, amounting to more than a million words in drafts, blog posts, and other various projects. Two of my books are published and available on Amazon. One—a biography I was commissioned for—is in the final stages of revision. Four others are in varying stages of revision and editing.

One is, at this very moment, in the hands of an actual real-life publisher, being reviewed for possible publication.

None of these books, as of yet, are ready to translate into anything resembling income.

Seven years is a long time. It’s a long time to work on a project without a great amount of hope or encouragement. It’s a long time to make no money and to support hundreds of hours work with several other jobs.

If I look at the last seven years from the perspective of retirement, bank accounts, and income, I have utterly failed.

Seven years down the drain. Time to pull the plug, because this idea was obviously a dud from the beginning.

Except it hasn’t been.

It hasn’t been, because of the girl who messaged me to say that something I wrote made her feel that a part of herself was beautiful, rather than strange or weird.

Or the seven-year-old who—when reading one of my books through for the second time—declared that it absolutely deserved five stars.

Or the man who commissioned the biography I wrote telling me that it was like reading through his life and that he couldn’t help tearing up when he read it.

There is magic in what I do. In the lives I touch. In the moments when people have paused to read something I’ve written, and immediately felt the need to message me and say that I made them cry. Fortunately for my career, I have never—and will never—look at what I do in terms of cash earned, money saved, or bills paid. Because being an author is more than that.

In fact, in my very humble opinion, being a person is more than that.

As many times as I have faltered in the last seven years, I have never once questioned whether writing was really what I was supposed to be doing. It’s too much a part of me, too much a part of the way I love and think and live, to abandon. I may not be making a livable wage on it right now—in fact, I may never make one—but I’ve come too far and seen too clearly how deeply impacting my words can be to quit.

To me, that’s worth a lot more than getting a check on time every month.

Although the check would be nice.

For The Writer Who Is In A Hurry

We live in a world of instant noodles.

I know, that’s not the way that statement usually goes, but I like this way better. No one likes to be stuck waiting for noodles or wifi or the next season of our favorite show. Instant streaming, Netflix, and Amazon Prime have spoiled us with their quick solutions to our every whim.

It’s great, isn’t it? Two-day shipping is the best. (My wallet doesn’t agree, but that’s beside the point.)

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for us writers, there is no quick fix, make-it-happen kind of shortcut for writing a book. The publishing industry, and writing in general, is a long-term project, and one that requires a great deal of patience and longevity. Writing a novel takes a long time, and getting it published takes even longer. To me, writing is all about faithfulness. It’s about little steps, day-by-day consistency, and continuing to believe in a project long after it has lost its novelty.

But sometimes, in the middle of a project that seems to have no end, discouragement hits. All those everlastingly long days and months seem endless and empty, and in that moment, it seems impossible to continue for one more minute without some kind of breakthrough.

And, in this industry, breakthroughs don’t come just for the asking.

Discouragement can too easily end with hasty decisions, burned manuscripts, hurt relationships, and damaged dreams. It’s easier to take steps backward than forward on days like this, and the last thing any writer needs is to do everything twice.

I have hit these moments many times in the last seven years, and the five best tips I have for coping with them in a healthy, productive way are:

1) Pause.

Hasty decisions are almost always the ones you regret later. So walk away from your computer, leave your query letters for tomorrow, and let your characters be on their own for a few days. It is my belief that the only way to fail as a writer is to give up. Rejections come and go, stories come and go, but the only person that can really kill your dream is you.

So don’t give up. Pause, breathe, and make your decisions intentionally and not out of emotion or fear.

2) Remind yourself that there is no deadline.

Writing is one of those odd and wonderful occupations that has absolutely nothing to do with age. You can start writing at thirteen or thirty-five. Some books are finished in two years, some in ten. There is no set method, there is no formula, and there is no law that says that after you’ve worked on a story for five years, you have to dump it because it’s going nowhere.

Writing takes time. The world may not always understand that, but we as writers should. Our stories are worth the time we put into them, and they are all the more valuable for the years of constant devotion and love.

3) Have an encouragement box.

On my window sill, I have a box filled with index cards. On these cards, I have scribbled bible verses, prayers, encouraging quotes, and little notes to remind myself that even when I feel awful, there is still a reason and a purpose for continuing on.

The important thing about this box is having it together and at my fingertips when I need it.

Looking for encouragement when you’re at the end of yourself is a recipe for disaster. Either you can’t find it, or you don’t have the energy to look. Write the notes when you’re encouraged, when you’ve had a good day, and you can feel that steely determination keeping you on the right path. Trust me, you’ll be glad to have them on the bad days.

4) Have a person.

Someone you trust. Someone who is going to champion you. A friend, a family member, a mentor. Someone you can call, or get coffee with, or simply sit on your bed and cry with.

Someone who will listen to your million reasons to give up with sympathy, then give you a million reasons back to continue on.

I know, this is a hard one. Writers are very often (but not always) introverted, and it’s hard to reach out to someone and admit you are struggling. But this is a long journey, and you were never meant to travel it alone. You need people to love you, encourage you, and keep you smiling. If you don’t have anyone like that in your life, feel free to shoot me a message. I’ve been where you are, and I know how hard it is. But I also know how very, very worth it all of this work will be.

5) Let the time pass.

Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.

~ Earl Nightingale

Dearest writer, it is really the small steps that make the most difference. The ones no one sees. Overnight successes do not happen overnight. They are always proceeded by years of invisible, tiny, step-by-step faithfulnesses that no one ever saw or cared much about.

The time will pass.

Your story will grow.

You will make progress if you continue to work and be faithful.

Those small steps seem to be getting you absolutely nowhere right now, but one day, when you look back, you will be amazed by how far you have come and how much you have grown.

And in the end, you’ll discover that it was really the small days that meant the most to you. The finish line is a beautiful thing, but the journey is what matters the most. So sit back, let the time pass, and enjoy the moments that you won’t be able to get back later. You’ll be glad you did.

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

Realm Makers 2018

I am in Missouri.

Missouri is hot. Especially in July.

I knew it was going to be hot. I was prepared for it being very, very hot. I packed clothes for hot weather, made sure the air conditioning in my car was working and braced myself for a haze of bugs and muggy heat.

I was not ready.

But I am here now, and I have not yet melted into a puddle of goo. The gummy worms I brought with me did, but that’s another story. And, as much as everyone loves blazing sun, thick, muggy air, and steaming temperatures, that is not what I came to Missouri to experience. I came for a conference called, of all things, Realm Makers.

Realm Makers is a writing conference.

A Christian writing conference, actually. For authors writing speculative fiction.

In other words, it was a whole bunch of nerds who love Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and dragons coming together to talk about the writing projects we’re working on, listen to lectures on how best to write characters that make people cry, deepen our world-building techniques, and get blood on the pages. Figuratively.

It was great fun.

Besides the lectures, the general camaraderie, and new acquaintances, some of us were there to meet the many, many amazing literary agents, editors, and coaches who had come to mentor, listen, and possibly, find a few new projects for their schedules in the next few months. I had pitch appointments with two of them, which meant, in short, that I had to sit at a table, make eye contact, smile, and somehow manage to condense a full-length novel into three sentences without tripping over my tongue or forgetting how to say the word ‘exploited’.

This is more difficult than it sounds.

However, I somehow managed. And, considering the appointments were only fifteen minutes long at best, I had plenty of other time to enjoy the highlights of the rest of the conference. Such as:

The Awards Dinner.

The costumes.

And, most importantly, meeting one of my favorite authors.

He signed my books.

We talked about writing.

I was excited.

Wayne Thomas Batson has been one of my favorite authors since I was twelve or thirteen, and it was such a special experience to finally meet him in person. I’m not the sort of person to be star-struck, but I was a little star-struck. His books have meant an enormous amount to me over the years, and to finally meet the man who introduced me to Bartholomew Thorne, Aiden Thomas, Ghost, and a hundred other memorable and enticing characters was such a pleasure.

Plus, did I mention that he signed my books?

 

 

Riding Solo

Wednesday morning, I woke up at 4:30 A.M.

On purpose.

Who does that? I mean, the stars are still out, for heaven’s sake.

My cat was judging me. I think she wanted me to climb back into bed with her and go back to sleep for a few hours. Or pet her. She doesn’t really care if I get any sleep, so long as I stay in bed and keep her warm.

But, I couldn’t go back to bed. I had an adventure to start, and sadly, a very large number of adventures start at 4:30 A.M.

I think it might be a requirement.

By 5, the last of my bags were packed, my snacks were in the car, and my little car and I were headed down the road on our way to St. Louis. This was my very first solo road trip, and it was great fun!

For the first ten minutes.

Then I realized there was no one to pass me snacks.

Or open my water bottle.

Or start the audiobooks.

Having a second pair of hands in the car is actually very handy, come to find out.

Despite the lack of someone handing me snacks whenever I wanted them, the drive went exceptionally well. Long highways, cloudy skies, almost no traffic, and beautiful, rolling country for as far as I could see.

Especially in Kansas. I swear, once you hit Kansas, you can start to see the curvature of the earth. Not a bump in sight.

I’m kidding.

I love you, Kansas.

Just not enough to stay.

But not even Kansas lasts forever, and in the late afternoon, I reached paradise.

Or Missouri. Whichever you want to call it.

I knew for sure I was getting close when I stepped out of the car to get gas and felt like someone had wrapped me up in a steamed towel and pushed me into a sauna. Have you ever tried to breathe through a hot, wet towel?

It is not easy.

I think Missouri might be trying to very subtly murder me. Agatha Christie style. Someone should say something.

Heat aside, I am so excited to be here! This weekend is the Realm Maker’s Conference, and many exciting things are all set to happen! (Including the meeting of a very special author. Squeak! Pictures to come!) I will be sure and let all of you know how things go and post as many pictures as I can remind myself to take. Until then, wish me luck!