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By: Vicky L. Lorencen,
Photo and notes by Vicky Lorencen
“Handwritten letters are more special. They’re heartfelt,” my teen daughter said. “They aren’t like texts. You want to read them over and over.”
Such a brilliant girl. [Mom blushes.] She recognizes the power of the written word–the handwritten word.
Eons ago I sent letters to a friend during a dark time in her life. But, to be honest, I had forgotten all about them until I received a surprise in the mail last week. My friend wrote to tell me, “Your loving, tender words were part of the life-saving medicine that kept me alive until I felt like living again.” Wow. I was clueless to the impact of my letters. Incapable of mending her broken heart or fixing her circumstances, all I had to offer were words. And so I did.
Inside her letter, wrapped in a pink ribbon, my friend tucked some of the more the two dozen letters she’d received from me and kept all these years. (See photo.) She said she wanted to return my words to me. How unexpected and exceptional! Re-reading those letters I’d penned ages ago made me grateful to know I was able to do something for a friend in need.
Words are free. Most anyone can draft a sentence. But it takes a willing writer to string those words into something meaningful and soul-touching. You have that ability. It’s a power of incomparable worth.
Whose life will be better because they received a word from you?
Take 20 minutes right now–less time than it takes to watch a sitcom–and write a letter to someone. Don’t fret over revising, critiquing, scrutinizing and all that jazz. Just let your heartfelt words flow. Then address that note, stick on a stamp and send it on its way.
Do it. Don’t delay. Exercise your power today.
To write is human, to receive a letter: Divine! ~ Susan Lendroth
By: Vicky L. Lorencen,
Photo by Vicky Lorencen
Maybe you didn’t know it (and maybe it doesn’t show), but in addition to being a writer, I’m an editor. Part of my job as a Communication Specialist is to edit other people’s work. I think about a lot of things when I’m editing, but I guarantee you there’s one thing I never think about . . .
Let me backtrack a sec. Just so you know, there are a lot of things I do think about when I’m editing a piece of non-fiction. For my job, I pour over articles, letters, brochures, ads, scripts and the like. Here are the kinds of questions I ask myself during the editing process:
Who’s the audience for this piece?
What’s the bottom line—the message—to be conveyed?
Does this truly communicate the message or is it a lot of pretty words strung together?
Is there a simpler way to say it?
Could this be tighter? Is there fluff or useless repetition or verbosity . . . (oops, now I’m doing it!)
Is this the best format for this piece? Would subheads help, for example?
Is there a flow and connection throughout?
Is the tone and language appropriate to the message and the audience?
Is there proper use of grammar and punctuation?
Quite a list, isn’t it? So, what “don’t” I think about? I do not think about the author. Hold on. I should be more specific. Maybe it sounds heartless, but I don’t think about the author’s feelings. Sure, when I’m editing, I do try to keep the author’s intent and style in mind. I don’t want to edit to the point that the piece no longer sounds like the author. But as I’m editing, the last thing I care about is the author’s feelings. It’s not even part of the equation.
Here’s what I care about: answering my list of questions above to the best of my ability so that the end product is a clean, eloquent, effective piece of communication. That’s it. I never once ask myself if it would hurt the author’s feelings if I take out an entire paragraph or reorder the piece or change silly things like utilization to a perfectly fine, simpler word like use. And even though that might sound cold, it’s truly a marvelous thing. Think about it–would you rather have your byline attached to a solid piece of writing or a so-so piece? C’mon. Let me hear you say it. Mm-hmm. I thought so.
Why am I telling on myself? I want you to remember this the next time your work is edited or you’re swirling in a vortex of editor comments. Your editor isn’t heartless. Your editor wants to make your work shine. And sometimes that means hauling out the sandblaster and pick ax. It can be painful at the time. But, baby, it’s for your own good. So, try not to take it personally. It really isn’t about you. It’s about making your work better. And what’s not to like about that?
Just don’t touch “my” work!
Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counselling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, ‘How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?’ and avoid ‘How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?’ – James Thurber
My former classmate, Beth Little, is now a spectacular fifth-grade teacher here in Albuquerque. She invited me to speak to her kids last May. Beth sent me a little package over the summer, a collection of thank you letters from her students. This one spoke so directly to me, it's now framed on my desk:
Hi there. Long time no see. It’s me, not you. I’ve been slack.
But tonight I’m putting a hold on the smoothies I promised to make for D and myself, in order to write this post. So listen up. Because it’s important. And because smoothies are on the line!
Lately I’ve been feeling down in the dumps, and it’s not just because of my recent terrible haircut. It’s also because of a project I’ve been working on, which is not going quite where I want it to. It’s gotten so that the last few days I’ve been trying to think of a reason not to quit. Because somehow I got to this point where quitting doesn’t even feel like quitting. It just feels like not continuing, which doesn’t really sound as bad. Does that make sense? It does to me.
But I’ve put a lot of time and effort into this project. You always hear stories where people were so close to quitting when they finally met with success, so I thought, maybe that’s where I am. Maybe I should hang in there a bit longer. But what’s the point? I need a reason. A really rock-solid reason not to quit–something that will actually force me to keep going. Because this is kind of new for me. I don’t quit. Never. Not really. I’m not even bragging because honestly, sometimes it’s a curse. If I get it in my head to do something, then I JUST. WON’T. LET. IT. GO. So ordinarily what keeps me from giving up is that I can’t admit defeat. But this time that isn’t enough.
Because I kind of want to quit. I’ve turned it into something other than defeat. I’ve turned it into the realistic, responsible thing to do. It would save me a lot of grief (read: feeling depressed at my lack of success and guilty for doing anything besides working on my project). It would be easier.
So, while I was washing dishes tonight, the answer kind of came to me in the form of this blog post. (It seems like I always get half-decent ideas while I’m washing dishes. You might think that’s a good enough reason to wash dishes more often, but I’m still not sold.) Anyway, I was trying to think of one good reason not to quit and I realized it was actually pretty simple: If I quit, then I’ll definitely be in the exact same place that I am right now. Forever. My project can’t possibly succeed. And the disappoint that I feel right now will never go away–why would it? But if I don’t quit–if I keep on trying–then there remain two possibilities ahead of me: One is that I might never succeed. I might remain exactly where I am right now. Forever. With one exception: at least I would know I didn’t give up. But the other possibility is that I will eventually succeed. Until I eliminate that possibility, it’s still out there. It could still happen.
If I quit, then all I do is eliminate hope. I control the future by closing off all possibilities except the one I don’t want.
And hope is enough to keep me going. I wouldn’t condemn anyone to disappointment–I want all your dreams to come true. So why would I do any less for myself?
One of my college professors paraphrased Thomas Edison, and I’ll never forget it. At the time, I thought he made it up. I thought he was a genius. So I will always think of R.L. before poor T.E. when I hear the words, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
I guess what I’m saying is, don’t give up. I won’t if you don’t.
What keeps you going on your low days?
Tagged: Being Brave
, Thomas Edison
By: Vicky L. Lorencen,
With the start of a new school year, my thoughts turn to the books I knew and loved as a young student. It’s enjoyable to recall not only the books themselves, but the wise people who recommended them to me.
My earliest memories of books outside of home center around the little library in my red brick elementary school. I can “see” our teacher handing each of us a long wooden paddle to take with us to the stacks. Too young to “borrow” the books (or so they thought), I could pull out a book and put the paddle in its place, so I could later return it to the shelf myself. Making a beeline for the picture books, I must have worn the color off the pages of Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina week after week. I was enchanted.
When I was a fourth grader, my favorite aunt sent me The Golden Name Day , a chapter book written by Jennie Lindquist and beautifully illustrated by Garth Williams. I loved the sweet story of a girl finding her place in the world. Years later, during a conversation with one of my best friends, Nancy (who, coincidentally, shares her name with the book’s main character) I learned that this same book was one of her favorites. It was endearing to discover we’d had a shared experience as young girls before we even met. We were kindred spirits before we even met.
Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey was a 6th grade favorite, even thought I was probably “too old” for it. And forget, the Newbery medal on the cover, it was the illustrations that drew me in. Since we’d recently moved to a home with hickory trees in the surrounding woods, the story seemed all the more “real.” I may have even attempted to make a Miss Hickory doll.
In 7th grade, I had the privilege of serving as library aid. I remember our librarian helping me find Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume to take home. I’d never read such a realistic book–Blume wrote about bras and periods!–and it felt like a guilty pleasure to read it over and over again (just like the rest of my friends!) That same year my Language Arts teacher recommended I Was a 98-Pound Duckling by Jean Van Leeuwen. While not as provocative (ha) as Judy Blume’s book, it still spoke to me as a girl in that awkward, geeky tween phase.
In high school, my favorite World Humanities teacher insisted I read William Goldman’sThe Princess Bride . And notice, I used the word insisted, and not recommended or suggested. I think I was supposed to pick up a life lesson or two in those pages. I couldn’t miss the repeated refrain that life isn’t fair (true), but I’m guessing the other lesson was to look out for rodents of unusual size (aka, ROUSs) when I enter a fire swamp. Point taken. And let me just say, if your only connection to the The Princess Bride is through the movie, you my friend, are missing out. I really must insist you read the book. I would tell you the book is so much better than the movie, but then I’d be using a threadbare phrase and we can’t have that.
Let me encourage you to take a few moments to mentally wander back to your school days–what books drew you in, called you back to read them over and over again, changed how you saw the world or made you feel more at home in it? While some of my childhood favorites have stood the test of years, there’s no arguing that many would be as out of place as a geeky tween at a high school dance in most modern elementary libraries. But I’m willing to bet that the themes of those books–forming friendships in unfamiliar places, learning life isn’t fair, finding self-acceptance–are still relevant today. My goal, and I’m guessing yours too, is to create stories that will speak to children long after their school days end. Let’s do that.
And while we’re at it, let’s be thankful for the people–the parents, teachers, aunts, grandparents–who put wonderful books under our noses. I’ve no doubt they are the reason I love children’s books to this day. Give books to children as gifts, as surprises, as rewards . . . as nourishment. Yep, let’s do that, too.
My childhood was surrounded by books and writing. From a very early age I was fascinated by storytelling, by the printed word, by language, by ideas. So I would seek them out. ~ Carlos Ruiz Zafon
By: Vicky L. Lorencen,
(c) silver secrets
I’m shy. Stop that. I’m serious. I really am shy. Some people won’t believe that because I don’t have trouble talking in front of people (or behind them for that matter). One time I even spoke, then sang a song I wrote, in front about 300 people–while wearing a Viking hat and braids, but that’s a story for another day.
But there’s a difference between speaking to a group (which, on my phobia scale, is much preferred to jumping out of an airplane, thank you), and say, walking up to a group of two or three people at a social gathering and striking up a conversation. I find that much more intimidating.
Being shy and/or introverted isn’t unusual for a writer. We’d rather listen or watch (you never know when you’ll pick up a great line for your next novel). Some people are both shy and introverted, but I don’t think those two come as a boxed set. You can be introverted, but still able to interact socially without Niagara Falls of sweat running off your palms. (I differentiate being an introvert versus an extrovert by how you recharge your batteries–do you need to spend time with people or do you need time alone to feel refreshed. Pretty simple.)
What’s being shy got to do with being a writer? Well, like it or not, being a writer can (and should) involve spending time with other people–either interviewing them, socializing or networking with them or just hanging out because you need human interaction to feel alive. Plus, hanging out with people often provides inspiration for your writing, so there’s that.
Here’s what I want to suggest if you struggle with shyness . . . keep it a secret. Now, when you were a kid, you may have gotten the idea that your last name was “She’s shy,” because that’s what everyone (aka, your mom or big sister) said when they introduced you. But you’re not a kid anymore. The only one who needs to know you’re feeling shy is you. I mean, you don’t walk into the center of a livingroom full of people and announce, “Hey, y’all, I have eczema and IBS!” Please tell me you’re shaking your head. Why would you have to tell anyone you’re shy? You are free to pretend you’re a person of confidence who actually likes talking to people.
And so, the next time you (and I) are headed for a social situation, let’s own our nervousness or insecurity, then stuff it in a sack for the night. You and I can be the person who focuses on putting other people at ease. They will love us for it and we can forget about shy selves already.
One more secret . . . if you can get someone talking about themselves, you can automatically pass “GO” and collect $200. I can almost guarantee it. They will think you’re the most fabulous listener and amazing person, and all you have to do is nod and smile and keep the questions coming. Even something as simple as “So, have you always lived in ______________?” can get a conversation going (and going and going . . .).
What if the person you decide to try to talk to is also shy? Well, then, I suggest you excuse yourself, go to the buffet, load up your plate, find a comfy spot by a potted palm in the corner and spend the rest of the evening in a blissful state of eavesdropping. You think I’m kidding don’t you?
I promise to keep your secret, if you’ll keep mine. And I solemnly promise, if I see you at a party hunkered down by a big plant with a plate of meatballs, I will come up to you and strike up a conversation, after all, I’m not shy. Wink. Wink.
So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them. ~ Sylvia Plath
"Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you're willing to pay the price."
"There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure."
~ Colin Powell
Maggie Stiefvater author of the best-selling series Shiver failed to get into a creative writing class in college because she was told that her writing wasn't promising enough. Thankfully for readers, that didn't stop her. Many writers believe that they need a writing degree in order to purse a career as a writer. According to Maggie no formal degree is required. What is required? Many hours of hard work.
Shannon Messenger's (one of the founding members of WriteOnCon
) inspirational post on the hard work and failed draft attempts that finally got her first novel published. 20 ways to NOT write your first book
Inspirational video by muscleprodigy.com. Great quote from the narrator, "You will always pass failure on the road to success."Failure Before Success
By: Jean Matthew Hall,
Blog: Jean's Encouraging Words For Writers
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, Greg Olsen
, Christian growth
, writing philosophy
, God's Glory
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"Under his watchful eye, a tiny sprout grows to a lovely, fragrant flower,
the drab cocoon brings forth the beautiful butterfly, and the Babe in the manger becomes the Prince of Peace!
These miracles bring wonderment and awe to our hearts, warming our souls like rays of sun on a spring morning, reminding us of an eternal truth--that all things are precious in his sight." (from
I'm off this coming weekend to The Writer's Plot Writing Conference at Furman University in Greenville, SC.
I am looking forward to seeing good writing friends again, and to meeting for the first time some talented people in the field of children's literature. Folks like:
Writing buddies - Samantha Bell, Pam Zollman, Jean Hall
By: Jenny Martin,
Writing friends, I just gave up. Completely surrendered.
And you know what? It felt great. I’ll probably do it again tomorrow. And the next day, too.
I see the confusion on your face. Surrender?? Gave up on what???
Stuff I have no control over. Factors outside my influence. The immoveable metric ton of tricksy particulars I keep trying to shoulder. Pesky things like:
–market and genre trends
–shifting state of the publishing industry
–today’s seven figure deal for the latest self-published/YA/fanfic/erotica/BDSM/OCD/PTSD/STFU phenom
–three day auctions
–present learning curve
–the submission process
–submission response times
–THE SPEED OF LIGHT
Maybe your list is different. Maybe you’re querying agents or staring at your debut’s book cover or sobbing over your last royalty statement. But I bet you have a list. Take a good hard look at it, and ask yourself if you’re like me, a writer who needs to put her hands up and say…
I am not psychic. I am not a special snowflake. I am not superman, yet I am not immune to kryptonite. I am just a girl, sitting in a red chair, typing some words. I am just trying to tell a story, the best way that I can. I can control the words. I can’t control the rest. The rest will not cripple or paralyze or smother the joy I find in words. Yesterday and today and tomorrow. Amen.
Surrender is sweet. I highly recommend it.
Filed under: Writing
Tagged: control issues
By: Jean Matthew Hall,
Blog: Jean's Encouraging Words For Writers
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, writing for children
, children's literature
, Christian fiction
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"How can we help non-Christians understand that being a Christian doesn't mean living up to a standard of goodness, but rather means trusting a good God to do for us what we can't do for ourselves?
As writers we have a unique opportunity to tell the world what it's all about. In our stories and in our characters, we can show what it really means to be a follower of Christ, and that means
Do you keep a journal specifically for each novel you write? I don’t, but I’m glad some writers do.
I’m even more glad that they willingly share their soul-baring angst with us.
One of my favorite mystery writers is internationally bestselling author, Elizabeth George, writer of the Inspector Lynley books that have been made into Masterpiece Mystery movies. She writes “literary mysteries,” that excellent combination of fast-paced, intricately plotted whodunits and fully realized 3D characters in “you are right there” settings. The fact that they are set in England is the icing on the cake for me.
Lately I’ve been re-reading Elizabeth George’s excellent writing book, Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life. Throughout the book, she shares snippets from her work-in-progress journals.
In Her Own Words
At the time of this book’s writing, she had had thirteen novels published. (She has twenty-one now, if I counted right.) Keep that in mind as you read her journal entries (below) of her feelings about writing and the writing life.
“I’m trying to work for an hour each day. That’s all I can demand of myself…I became so incapacitated by fear that I was having trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I finally resorted to saying, ‘These are only words and I will not let words defeat me’ in order to get up and get to work. Thus I struggled to the end of the novel.”
“I have a love-hate relationship with the writing life. I wouldn’t wish to have any other kind of life…and on the other hand, I wish it were easier. And it never is…I would never have believed it would take such effort.”
If award-winning, mega-selling writers feel this way when creating fiction (and how I bless her for her honesty!), then it should come as no surprise if you and I also feel this way. Apparently it is common to those who strive to write fiction with excellence.
Successful career authors find ways to work with and work around these fears and insecurities. Let me share Elizabeth George’s words of wisdom. If it resonates with you as it does with me, you’ll want to buy her book.
“Every writer has to develop her own process: what works for her time and time again. Having no process is like having no craft…Having no process puts you at enormous risk because writing becomes a threat instead of a joy, something that you are terrified to begin each day because you are at the mercy of a Muse that you do not understand how to beckon. If I had no process and no craft to fall back on, I would be paralyzed with fear every morning and, frankly, I see no fun in that.”
She outlines her 14-step process in the book. It makes good sense to me, and it’s similar to the steps I often now follow when writing a novel.
We All Do It Differently
Each writer has his/her own way of doing things. What your process is like doesn’t really matter–if it works for you. However, do find out what kind of process produces your best work. How?
That’s one big value of keeping a novel-in-progress journal (notes to yourself about the novel and your feelings and the problems or successes you have with it). You have, when finished, a complete description of your writing process!
Analyze Your Notes
You’ll have concrete information. You’ll know how much planning you did, what order you worked on things, what time of day and what places produced the most writing…your process. You can then repeat what worked for you–and eliminate what didn’t.
You can also later read all those angst-filled passages and realize you survived those writing days just fine. It will help when they roll around again–when you start your next novel!
How about YOU? Do these journal entries ring any bells for you? Is this ever your experience?
By: Caroline Starr Rose,
Blog: Caroline by line
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the writing life
, life choices
, book release
, class of 2k12
, navigating a debut year
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I spent fourteen years as an author in training, and while I learned many things in that time, I'm finding there are a slew of different lessons on the other side of publication. This spring, I examined the public
, and writing
life I want to cultivate. Right now, I'm trying to learn just how to protect my creativity -- how to let it grow and expand with a new project, how to feed it, how to keep it from being destroyed during the fragile moments a story is unfolding and finding its way. I've yet to figure this out, but here are a few things I'm pondering:
- It's not the mind but the emotional self that gives us confidence or causes doubt. We are directly and indirectly taught the mind is a truer compass than the heart. And this is right oftentimes, especially for highly emotional people like me (and I would suspect most other writers, who tend to connect deeply and passionately with people, ideas, stories, and universal truths). The thing is, we writers know in our heads plenty of things that never penetrate our hearts. Whether we realize it or not, the emotional "truths" that occupy our lives influence our creative selves far more than we realize. How can we protect the vulnerable place stories spring from?
- Surround yourself with supportive people. Obvious, right? Find a friend or group of people who support and understand you. While non-writing friends and family are wonderful, they don't always understand the writing world. Form a critique group. Become a part of a professional organization like SCBWI. Find people in the same phase of the journey you can encourage and commiserate with. Find people farther along who can show you the way.
- Step away from the constant noise of the Internet. Never before have authors been asked to live the writing life so publicly. As soon as a book sells, the solitary falls away. We've got to find ways to protect our creativity in the midst of it all. There are too many ways to lose confidence -- reviews written by professional organizations as well as book bloggers or Goodreads account holders, articles in accessible publications like Publisher's Weekly or GalleyCat that praise our peers or their books and leave us feeling left out, or publications that praise us but leave us feeling like we'll never measure up again.
What are ways authors can protect their creativity?
By: Caroline Starr Rose,
Blog: Caroline by line
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the writing life
, life choices
, writing advice
, chasing your dreams
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I have nothing to share about writing that is earth-shattering. What you’ll read here you probably already know. But like it is with all important things in our lives, it doesn’t hurt to hear certain things more than once. Here goes:
Often writers are told to be well-versed in their genre. This is excellent advice, but reading shouldn’t end there. Picking up books in genres other than your own brings freshness to your writing and strengthens what you ultimately create. This nourishes you as a reader, too.
None of us ever arrives. Our writing will improve if we continue to read craft blogs and books and take advantage of classes, critique groups, or conferences. Here are a few books I’ve read recently, am working on now, or plan to pick up this next year:
The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction
-- James Alexander Thom
Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults
-- Cheryl Klein
Writing the Breakout Novel
-- Donald Mass
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
-- Francine Prose
Writing Irresistible Kidlit
-- Mary Kole
Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication
-- Ann Whitford Paul
Take time away from writing
Make sure you are doing things outside of writing. Now that I write full-time, it’s very easy to stay detached from the rest of the world. Make an effort to engage your surroundings, whether that means tuning in to nature as you walk the dog or making a point to get involved in a new activity.
How do you nurture your writing life?
Okay, you prepared (Stage One). You explored your options (Stage Two). You got started (Stage Three). Now you’re ready for Stage Four of “The Five Stages of Success”, where you survive and thrive.
You might have had a very fast start. That would be the writer who published the first thing he submitted, or his first novel was a Newbery Honor Book. These overnight successes are at the extreme end of the bell curve.
The other extreme end of the “survival and growth” stage is where you find the most dedicated, determined writers. They sell articles about “how I made my first sale on my 239th submission” or they sell a book they’ve been working on diligently for twenty years.
Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. This stage is the most challenging, partly because it’s usually the longest. There is a lot to learn about the writing business, and improving one’s writing craft simply takes time. If you know that and truly understand it, you will enjoy this stage of your success so much more.
It shouldn’t be rushed through. Try to resist society’s “instant gratification” message when it comes to your writing. More and more, I’m receiving emails from new writers saying, “I haven’t had a response in two months from a publisher. I shouldn’t have to wait to be published!” And I think, Why not?
Writers for centuries have had to wait and practice and revise before being published. And thank goodness they did! Even writers like Jane Austen didn’t write early drafts that were very good. So don’t get in a rush. All you will accomplish by that attitude is getting material self-published that is way less than your best is going to be. Nearly everyone I hear from who did this regrets it later.
Growth is Fun
So where’s the success in this stage if it takes such a long time?
I believe there are dozens and dozens of mini-successes spread throughout this stage. They include things like:
- finishing your first book
- attending a conference
- making a new writing friend
- small sales and large sales–celebrate each one!
- being asked to speak to kids or librarians
- the years your income taxes reflect “black” instead of “red”
- good reviews
- book signings (whether you sell many books or not)
- autographing books for your friends and family
- and so many more!
During this “surviving and growing” stage it’s easy to get fixated on all the things you can’t do yet. Don’t forget to notice–and celebrate–that you ARE making it! You are growing. You are getting there, step by step.
If I could do one thing over in my writin
When I read nonfiction books, I underline important parts. Next to very important sections, I put a star. If the passage really touched something deep in me, it gets a star within a circle.
Over the holiday weekend, I had the pleasure of a couple free hours that I spent re-reading some “star-within-a-circle” portions of The Soul Tells a Story by Vinita Hampton Wright. I will copy some of them for you to contemplate.
Does anything below resonate with YOU?
- I was a fearful child who grew up to be a fearful adult. I said my biggest yes to creativity only after I’d gone through several life upheavals and learned that I could survive risk and change… I decided that I would write no matter what. (Page 28)
- Saying yes to your gift is a huge thing to do. It helps to remember that you are saying yes to the work itself and not to any particular outcome. You are not saying yes to a successful career as a novelist; you are merely saying yes to writing. (Page 40)
- You have the responsibility to develop practices that help your gifts. Only you can examine your creative needs and set out to provide for them. You have the ability to design rituals, habits and practices that help you engage more fully in your creative gifts. (Page 55)
- If I know from experience that inspiration arrives under certain conditions, I will make sure to re-create the conditions that invited it initially. Thus my early experience comes to determine how it is I will work. (Page 75)
- Your creative work is in many ways your diary. It is how you process your own life. No one has the right to dictate your process. (Page 149)
- The guidance you need as a creative [person] is help with your life more than help with your craft. If your life is reasonably healthy, the craft will come with time and practice. (Page 154)
Did any of those comments from The Soul Tells a Story resonate with you? If so, leave a comment. And now that I’ve read the circled-star parts, I think I’ll go back to the beginning and read all the parts again!
Have you ever considered the fact that unhappiness is the first step along the writer’s path?
“Toddlers are bursting with the anxiety and helplessness of having feelings that they can’t get anybody around them to understand. They don’t even have the right words in their heads yet - it’s all emotion and frustration. That’s also an accurate description of writers in step one.” This is how Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott describe the first of their Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: the journey from frustration to fulfillment. [I highly recommend this book, by the way.]
This unhappiness may feel like an itchy feeling under your skin. It may feel like an urge to change something. Call it restlessness or discontent or creative tension. “Unhappiness,” say the authors, “to one degree or another, is where all creativity begins.”
Message in the Misery
If you’re starting to feel that itch to change something in your life, you’re moving into Step One. Maybe you don’t feel unhappy exactly. Maybe you’re just restless. But if this tension is trying to tell you that you’re a writer who should be writing, it can very quickly turn into discomfort and then misery if you don’t pay attention to it.
Even published writers in a long-time career can feel this unhappiness or tension when it’s time to make a change. “Every important turn on my writer’s path has been preceded by unhappiness,” Nancy Pickard admits. “The more major the turn, the worse the misery.” (I can certainly identify with that! I get bored first, then I itch to try something new or more difficult or different, and then I get fed up with whatever I’m currently doing.)
If you’ve been writing for a long time, this unhappy first step on the writer’s path may have more specific origins. It might be the misery of being in a day job you’d give anything to quit so you could write full-time. It might be the misery of a writer’s block that just won’t budge - perhaps for months. It might be the misery of when your proposal has been rejected by a dozen editors or agents-and your spouse has told you to get “a real job.”
What About You?
There are many signs, according to these authors, that you are in the first step along the writer’s path (the first of seven). Can you identify here? What does the beginning of a project - or the beginning of a writer’s life - feel like to you?
I had always assumed that the beginning (for other writers) was a time of great excitement, a happy eager time. I was glad to find that I wasn’t the only one who felt just the opposite!
How about YOU? How do YOU know when it’s time to get creative?
Wednesday’s blog entitled “Unhappiness: A Positive Sign” sparked more private email than usual! Glad it got you to thinking about this.
The tension you feel at the beginning of a project–that itch to “go for it!”–seems like a positive sign to me. So what is the “unhappy” part those authors were talking about in their book Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path? And, emailers asked me, why did I feel that tension after selling forty books?
Ignorance Was Bliss
During my student work for ICL, I told three of my class assignments. It was fun! I expected to sell them and kept submitting till I did. Thankfully, there was no Internet in those days, and I didn’t know any other writers who told me I couldn’t make a living at this.
I was naive, yes, but it helped! I just assumed that if I worked hard at the writing, I could have a paying career doing it. I saw setbacks and rejections as part of the process on the way to getting what I wanted. (And yes, it had to pay to make up for me not teaching anymore in the public schools.)
To answer one man’s email question, I think my excitement at the beginning is now tempered with reality. I’m not the naive writer I was at the beginning–and to be honest, I miss that phase at some points.
At this stage of my writing career, I realize that starting a new project IS exciting–but it brings other things along with the excitement:
- hard work, neck cramps, and back aches
- risks that may not pay off
- loneliness as I get closer to the deadline
- letting go of lunches, grandkid overnights, and other fun temporarily
- having the project misunderstood and/or criticized
But is this bad? NO!! It’s good to know this!
Now I have no surprises that derail me. I’m not shocked when I get bogged down in the middle. I’m not greatly disappointed by having to give up some social things so that I can get enough rest and write in the morning. I don’t expect everyone to be as excited by my idea as I am.
I know the harder aspects are just part and parcel of the writing life. You acknowledge them when they happen and move on. They’re no longer a big deal–and to me, that’s a very good thing.
By: Lisa Gail Green,
When I was a little girl there was nothing I loved more than curling up on the couch with a good book. And when I wasn't reading, I'd literally spend hours just daydreaming my own fantastic tales that usually involved a hero suspiciously like me sucked into various fantasy worlds of my own making. I wrote my first short story at the age of seven. It wasn't like I had a horrible childhood I needed to escape from or anything. It just plain made me happy.
So it doesn't seem all that surprising that I ended up coming full circle. I suppose looking at it, becoming a writer was inevitable. Of course now that I have claimed it as a profession I do/have done more than just write. I also blog and tweet (what some call a social media platform), query and submit, critique and accept critique, attend conferences and workshops, and so on.
I don't often talk about the negative sides of writing. I get it though. Sometimes writing gets hard. It's a long, stumbly kind of road sometimes - okay most of the time. There are *gasp* inevitable rejections. And despite the overwhelmingly positive attitude of this community, I know that psychologically those hurtful moments, even few and far between, stick to us in a way a million compliments never could.
The seven year old me wouldn't understand any of that of course. And that's my point. I write because I love that magical feeling. The same one that I had when I used to imagine the day away. I write in the hopes that I will touch someone else's life the way those authors touched mine. And ultimately that's what matters, that's why I do it, and that's why I will continue.
So friends, if you find yourself getting down for one reason or another, remind yourself why you did this to begin with. And then ask yourself if your life would be the same without it. If like me, the answer is a big fat "NO!" then don't quit. Keep doing it. Because the negative will pass. But the magic will always be there waiting.photo credit
I'm going to ramble some this week. I plan to scatter my thoughts like chicken feed; maybe something here will give you a little jolt. I hope so.
This week I continue the painful revision of my WIP. I move foward in little packets of about 50 words. I;ve sliced out a 2000 word scene and am slowly replacing it with some that actually moves the story forward. This is another brick in the wall of achieving phenomal success in novel writign or perhaps another brick in the wall of stupendous failure -- I'm not about halves. I comfort myself with the bravery of trying.
I had lunch with friends Candy Fite, Nisha Coker, J., SCBWI BV RA Liz Mertz, and Tammy Hensel. J. said some profound stuff to me about writing what excites and infuses the soul. I'm working on that deep honesty. What does my heart yearn to write above all things? I'm not sure. I'm thinking about that. Something inside me want to dive into far flung universes and fantastical stuff. It feels like a good road, but I worry I might be too mundane to pull this off. Do you worry about stuff that?
On another note, I've learned so much about accepting all of me in the last couple of years that I'm going to toss out a thought or two. I think Walt Whitman was getting at something I've discovered too. He said this: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large -- I contain multitudes." I am the bravest person I know and the biggesst chicken too. I can rise us and fall just as hard in the same hour. I am certainly multitudes and some of the folks in this crowd aren't worth two cents, I just accept it.
Well, that is is some wandering blogging. I hope something connects.
Here is a doodle:
Quote for the week:
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
from Still I'll Rise by Maya Angelou
Blog: The Children's Book Review
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Ages Four to Eight: Books for Pre-School Through Second Grade
, Book Lists: Specialty picks
, Books for Girls
, Cultural Wisdom: Books that teach
, Picture Book - Wordless
, Social Graces: Books with a Purpose
, Andrea U’Ren
, Dan Yaccarino
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, Ida Lewis
, Marissa Moss
, Mary Kuryla
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By Nicki Richesin, The Children’s Book Review
Published: September 27, 2011
Sometimes our children need encouragement—especially when they’re feeling a little shy in a new environment. Let’s face it; sometimes we all need a little bolstering to confront new experiences. The following books may help your children do so with grace and boost their confidence. After all, offering gentle words of support can go a long way. Just ask Mr. Bear.
The Next Door Bear is the perfect book for a child who is just starting a new school or moving to a new neighborhood. When the playful children outside Emma’s new apartment are less than welcoming, she feels terribly lonely. Everything is blue in Yelchin’s painted illustrations, until Emma meets a debonair bear on the elevator. After Mr. Bear invites her to tea, Emma’s world becomes a technicolored rainbow of trees and flowers and she feels encouraged enough to try and make new friends. Together talented husband-and-wife duo Eugene Yelchin and Mary Kuryla have created a balm for children who must learn to overcome their fears. (Ages 5-8)
Dan Yaccarino recounts his big Italian family’s true immigration story in All The Way to America. His great-grandfather embarks on the great journey from Sorrento to Ellis Island with a handy shovel and these parting words of wisdom, “Work hard, but remember to enjoy life, and never forget your family.” Through four generations the shovel is industriously used in food stands and bakeries, for gardening and even to pour rock salt over snowy sidewalks. Now it resides safely perched on Yaccarino’s shelf, a proud reminder of how far his family has come and what they have achieved in their adopted home. (Ages 5-8)
Ida Lewis was known as The Bravest Woman in America when she became the first woman to receive the American Cross of Honor. Determined to become a lighthouse keeper like her father, Ida learns “to pull her weight” by observing and following his careful instructions and courageous feats. Keeping watch over the harbor, young Ida rescues a boatload of boys whose sailboat capsizes. This beautifully written (by Marissa Moss) and illustrated (by Andrea U’Ren) book will light the way for brave girls to face their fears and reach for their aspirations. (Ages 5-8)
Add these books to your collection by clicking on the book cover images.
Nicki Richesin is the editor of four anthologies,W
“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality…Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
~~Ralph Waldo Emersonson
Where do you get this enthusiasm? It comes from having passion for your writing.
How does a writer act who is passionate about his writing? He can’t wait to get up in the morning and get started. He is eager and energetic. This comes from loving what you do, and doing what you were born to do or feel called to do. Feeling this passion for your writing keeps you going. Quitting is no longer an option. When you’re passionate about your writing, perseverance is a given.
This brings us to two main questions:
- How do you develop passion for the most important areas of your life?
- How do you maintain that passion during the inevitable tough times?
First: Find It
Are you doing what you really want to do in your writing career? Are you doing it at least part of the time? (I know that for most of my writing life, it was half and half. Half the time I was writing what I really wanted to write–fiction usually–whether it sold or not. The other half of my writing time went to work-for-hire projects, teaching, speaking or whatever brought guaranteed income.) Ask yourself: Am I truly doing what I want to do?
If you’re not skilled enough to do the work you’d love to do, make time to educate yourself so you are. While maintaining your current job (either outside the home and/or raising children), do whatever it takes to prepare for your dream writing jobs. It’s very difficult to create passion for doing something you don’t want to do or a job you are “settling for” because you don’t feel skilled enough to do what you’d really love to do.
Do whatever you need to do to overcome those lying voices in your head that say you’ll never be good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not whatever enough. Read inspirational books, read author biographies about how they got started and grew as writers, and say “no” to whatever is eating the time you need to study and read and write.
Second: Maintain It
Passion for your writing makes your days fly by (in a good way!). It helps you get more done in less time. That being true, it deserves whatever time you need to keep your writing passion alive. If your passion for writing dies, then writing just becomes another drudge job.
So how can you maintain passion and enthusiasm every day? First–and maybe most obvious–is to spend more time actually doing what you love to do. What is your pet writing project, the one that may never sell but you love it? Spend more time each day working on it. Even if it’s only an extra fifteen minutes or half an hour, it will remind you why you love to write.
Another key to maintaining passion for all your work is to reconnect with the purpose underlying everything you do. For example, I don’t enjoy running until it’s over and I’m in the shower. But I run my miles in the morning because the weight-bearing exercise is critical to staying “recovered” from my osteoporosis, which means my bones stay strong, which means I can still upright at the computer (hopefully) for decades to come and still have energy at the end of the day for my grandkids.
The same goes for giving up sugar finally four months ago. For a gal whose blood type is Hershey’s, that was a big deal for me. But more and more, sugar was making me si
Critiques are very valuable, but in the end, you have to be the judge of your own stories. You have to believe in your own writing. And trust me, negative critiques come to everyone.
I was reminded of such a case when my granddaughter was here overnight recently and wanted to watch two Narnia movies we have on DVD. I was pulled into the magic of the stories again right along with her. I love C.S. Lewis‘ books, both his adult works and those for children.
Going Beyond Criticism
He’s probably most famous among children’s writers for his Chronicles of Narnia books (and now movies). Surely his books were well received from the beginning, right? No–his critique partner (none other than J.R.R. Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings fame) didn’t like it.
From C.S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands: The Story of His Life with Joy Davidman: “When Jack [C.S. Lewis] had completed his story about four children who discover a magic wardrobe and, through it, find a way into the land of Narnia, he showed it to Tolkien, who was unimpressed. Feeling, perhaps, that Jack had aimed rather more at achieving an effect than at creating an Other World of the kind he was writing about in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien told him that ‘It really won’t do, you know!’ Jack was discouraged and put the book to one side for a while before returning to it and rewriting the first few chapters. However, he still felt uncertain about whether it was any good or not, and decided to ask the advice of someone else.”
Thankfully the second person he asked was more enthusiastic. Jack then went on to complete this book, which became the first Narnia book: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
What about you? Do you have a story that still resonates with you–but you put it away because someone didn’t care for it? I do. And I’ve dug out both unfinished novels to look at again.
While it’s good to get outside feedback, don’t let negative feedback be the deciding factor. If you do, you just might deprive the world of stories that will inspire for generations.
By: Kristi Holl
Blog: Writers First Aid
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, writing classes
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Achieving the writing life of your dreams–is it possible? Are you closer to it than you were a year ago?
Here are some great articles to read and consider if you hope to make the dream of a writing life into a reality.
“Are You Living Your Own Life or Someone Else’s?” If we are not careful, we can unconsciously be following someone else’s agenda for our lives. This may be your first step toward achieving the writing life of your dreams.
“Novelists: Stop Trying to Brand Yourselves” is a refreshing and hopeful post for fiction writers. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief with this one.
“The Power of Incremental Change Over Time” Most people underestimate this. They think they have to take massive action to achieve anything significant.
“4 Reasons It’s Easier Than Ever to Be an Author” “When I started writing, it also seemed like everyone else was in control. I prepared a book proposal, then waited for a publisher to offer me a contract. I wrote the manuscript, then waited for booksellers to order the book. I published the book, the waited for the media to book me.” Not anymore, says this author, former publisher, and former editor.
“The Writing Journey: Author Beware” is one agent’s warning about using self-publishers and what to look for in the way of scams and unethical practices. She makes a good case for having an agent, but as you may know, landing an agent isn’t necessarily easy. You could do what I do: make an agreement with an agent to look over your contracts for a flat fee with an eye to marking questionable phrasing and things you could negotiate for.
“Write with Flow Workshop” is added here because I happen to use the Fractal Method of organization and I love it. Whether you sign up for the workshop or not, the article is a good read. Enrollment ends on Oct. 30.
View Next 25 Posts
I know by now that you’re up to your eyeballs in shopping, wrapping, school programs, addressing Christmas cards, decorating, and the like.
However, you need to take periodic breaks. And this weekend when you do, check out the articles below for motivation, information, and a couple of important warnings.
Keys to More Success
Give Me a Hand
If you’ve found helpful articles and blog posts recently that you think other writers would love to read, please leave a comment below and share it. (That includes if you wrote it yourself!) The more we can encourage each other, the better!