Permission to Write

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This past weekend I was fortunate to attend a writer’s conference in Niwot, CO, hosted by Rachel Weaver, founder of  Colorado Writing School. I went with enthusiasm for what I might learn and came away with so much more than that. I came away with a head chock full of knowledge, a soul with renewed energy, a heart with renewed passion for the craft, and most important of all, validation for why I do what I do. A hall pass.

We writers are an insecure lot, and if we’re not making a lot of money at what we’re doing, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wondering if our time spent writing is frivolous and if we should be doing something “important” instead. Despite five published books, another due out by the end of the year, it’s a rut I fall back into frequently, like the gutters my bowling balls rolled into when I used to bowl.

Stephen King, in his book On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft (a book I highly recommend for writers of all levels) states that only approximately 5% of writers can support themselves and their families with their writing. Considering his book was published in 1999, eighteen years ago, that the number of writers has grown exponentially with the boom of self-publishing, and  the cost of living has gone up, that percentage is likely even lower today. Does that mean those of us who fall into the less than 95 percentile should pack it up and stop writing? Absolutely not!

Going to conferences or writer’s workshops gives me permission, if you will, to do what I love to do. My day job is a job. It’s my vocation. Writing is my avocation. My passion. And being in a room filled with other writers, those who find joy and fulfillment in the written word and telling stories, doesn’t only make that okay for me, it makes it healthy and good. And  Lord knows we can never have enough goodness.

Conferences and workshops provide the power of brainstorming with each other, the room alive from the electrical energy of so much creativity in one place. In one of the sessions I attended, the writing prompts and exercises produced the synopsis for book two in the Whispering Pines Mysteries. That, alone, made it a success. 🙂

Lunch was spent with Kerrie Flanagan, author, presenter, and writing consultant, who shared invaluable insight. Another was an agent panel with Becky LeJeune and Shana Kelly, who also had invaluable advice when querying. A writer cannot get these nuggets of gold camped out in an office with the door closed.

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Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely endeavor. In a profession where most of us are introverts, finding comfort within the walls of our home office or tucked comfortably behind a computer screen, conferences and workshops offer a way for us to interact with people to “get” us. They provide connections to others in the industry. And it’s even enjoyable for us introverts!

So write on.  Go create. Get your stories out into the world. Permission granted.

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.           W. Somerset Maugham

 

 

 

 

Mining for Ideas

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I’m confident that everyone who writes has been asked on more than one occasion, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Even when I expect it, that question always makes me freeze. When I finally thaw, I hem and haw, shift from one foot to the other, scrunch my face, followed by a long exhale…you would think I was in pain. And I kind of am. Because try as I might, I cannot for the life of me come up with a good, concrete answer.

The truth is, ideas are literally everywhere. My fear is not having enough time to write all the stories that pop into my head. All the scenes I want to flesh out, all the characters through which I want to live vicariously, all the things I want to research to put into a book…well, you get the idea. I’ve had people tell me, “Hey, I’ve got this fabulous idea for a book. You should write it for me.” I give them a blank stare and then I cough, buying some time before I’m finally able to speak. “Uh, yeah,” I say, “as soon as I finish with all of the ideas I already have.” In other words, not in this lifetime.

Writers are day dreamers, night dreamers, creative thinkers, even when we’re not aware of it. I will sometimes hear something or witness something seemingly unimportant, but then remember it days or weeks down the road when it’s making its way into my WIP.

My ears perk up when I hear people squabbling in the grocery store line, Starbucks, or any public place. I listen to husbands and wives interacting with each, siblings of all ages, and words between friends. The best of all? Two strangers who strike up a conversation as they’re waiting for time to pass, whether in line somewhere or in a doctor’s office waiting room. It’s amazing what two people will tell each other in a public place when they’re oblivious to the fact that they’re surrounded by others.

Now, I don’t so much care about the words these people say, but rather the way they say them, their tone. I also try to sneak a peek (sneak, so I don’t come across as being a creeper) at their facial expressions and body language. It’s those moments captured, incorporating them into a character, that makes a character believable and come to life. It’s those nuances that give characters necessary layers.

Another thing I do is carry a little Sony digital recorder when I’m running, walking, or driving. Or any other time it isn’t possible to carry a notebook or safely write. It’s then that ideas pop into my head and I need to capture them before they disappear. I’ve learned a long time ago that even if the idea is so monumental I think there’s no way I could ever forget it, it still escapes me nearly every time. I get busy, life happens, and the idea is a whisper in the wind.

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So, go exercise that creative brain, take advantage of those night dreams and daydreams, and be careful what you say the next time you’re standing in line at the grocery store. If there’s a writer anywhere in the near vicinity, you’ll end up in a book.

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf

Summing up Publication

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I was walking with a co-worker the other day (one I don’t know well) and at one point the conversation went like this:

Her:  “Didn’t I read somewhere that you’re a published author?”

Me:    “Yes, I am.”

Her:   “How did you go about getting published? My sister-in-law wants to publish a YA book but she heard getting published is really hard.”

Me:     …Nothing. As in crickets.

This co-worker is absolutely the sweetest thing ever! So I tried, I really did, to come up with an answer to satisfy her curiosity, but I had nothin’.  My tongue was tied, but the thought that exploded in my brain was how different writers are from the non-writers of the world. We’re wired differently. Like really different from the non-writers in the world.

I wanted to say that if one is writing just to get published, she’s missing the best part of the journey. Getting to the destination of publication wouldn’t be nearly worth the trip if not for everything that comes before it. Even the rejections and bad reviews.

I wanted to say that wanting to be published and wanting to write are not synonymous with one another. Without the writing, the publication cannot happen. Start with writing, keep on writing, and never stop writing. Then, and only then, will publication even be a possibility.

I wanted to say that there isn’t only one way to get to publication, but for every writer on the planet there is yet another route to get there. If there were one tried and true method, everyone who set out to write a book would  be published.

I wanted to say that publication is where the real insecurities and headaches begin. It’s at that place where a writer is at their most vulnerable and raw state. It’s there where the sleepless nights and gnashing of teeth occur, our brains churning round and round like a squirrel in a cage because our baby is out there for all the world to criticize. And I for one am of the mind that people can say what they want about me, I’ll get over it, but please, oh please, don’t criticize my babies. That slices right through my mama’s heart.

I wanted to say that publication isn’t the be-all end-all. It’s a small part of the joy of writing. It’s a small piece of the whole. And a very small piece at that. But if one writes simply to be published, it’s pretty much a sure thing that the satisfaction will be less than,and shorter lived, than what was expected.

I wanted to simply  say, “Write. And never, ever, ever, no matter what, stop.”

Never give up

I wanted to say that there are so many steps that need to come before the publication that wondering how to get published before doing everything else is like planning for high school graduation day before you have your children. The goal of making sure your kids graduate from high school is a worthy one, but think of all you would miss out on if that were your sole focus.

What I did say, finally, when I was able to untangle the knots from my tongue, was:

“Our mile walk isn’t nearly long enough to give you an answer, but the first thing I would tell her is to join a writer’s group, in person or online. And take it from there.”

Paulo CoelhoLet’s talk. Have you had a non-writer ask you a writing question that reinforced how different writers are from non-writers? What was the question and how did you respond? What would have told the person in my case?

Oh! And don’t forget, NaNoWriMo starts in less than two days. Are you ready? Let me know if you want to be writing buddies during November.  🙂

 

Pearls of Wisdom

Genrefest 2015

This weekend I was fortunate enough to attend Genre Fest 2015, an event organized by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and The Colorado Authors’ League. The speaker for the morning was David Morrell, creator of Rambo –as well as numerous novels (both fiction and nonfiction) and short fiction–and to say I was impressed is a serious understatement. While I expected great pearls of wisdom coming from such a successful author–and he certainly delivered, what I didn’t expect was his level of humility. What an incredible man. Would I go see him again if he’s in the area? In a heartbeat! I realize I just used the dreaded exclamation point, but that’s how strongly I feel about it. I would recommend anyone who has the opportunity to grab that sucker. You won’t be disappointed.

While I couldn’t possibly mention all of the golden nuggets of advice, some of the ones that I’ll always remember are:

His five rules for writing mystery/thrillers (and could fit with any genre) are:

1.) Know why your writing what you are. If you’re writing what you are simply because it’s popular at the moment, you may want to re-evaluate writing that genre. What you’re writing should be personally meaningful; because you can’t imagine not writing it; because it should be worth spending a year (or more) of your time on.

2.)  Know the history of the genre you’re writing. He states, “we can’t recognize when a plot is hackneyed if we don’t educate ourselves about the best that has been done in the genre.” He suggested that if you’re writing a specific genre, you should know enough about the history that you could give a lecture on it.

3.)  Do your research. Your research can come from interviewing experts, reading non-fiction books on the subject, physically visiting the place you’re writing about as well as doing the activities you’re writing about. This last one, in particular, opens all five senses to the experience. The Internet is another deep well to gain knowledge. What not to do is to get your research from TV or movies. The details are not reliable. (Think courtroom and police dramas.) My husband and I both work in the law enforcement arena, and trust me when I say real life is nothing like it shows on Law and Order, CSI, The Good Wife, etc.

4.)  Be yourself. His exact words are worth repeating over and over and over. And over again. “Be a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of another author. Innovate rather than imitate.” Wow! (Yup, another exclamation point.)

5.)  Avoid the genre trap. What we write should be the most exciting and moving novel that we can write. Our job is to write a genre novel that doesn’t come off as a genre book.

Other notable mentions:

  • There are no “odds” on whether you will succeed, get published, etc. What happens to you happens 100%.
  • One thing all of us writers are prone to is daydreaming. In fact we can’t shut it off. Children are often told to “stop wasting your time daydreaming” as if it’s a negative thing. In reality, daydreaming is not a waste of time at all. It’s where ideas come from. The key is to be aware of your daydreams. Too often they’re mini narratives that we dismiss.
  • Don’t write what you’re supposed to. Write what you’re meant to.
  • Don’t chase the market because you’ll always be looking at the back side.

I had David Morrell’s writing book, The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing, on my bookshelf at home waiting to be read. I bumped it ahead of all the others I want to read and I’m not regretting it.

And now it’s back to the world of Camp NaNo for campfire stories, connecting with my most awesome cabin mates, s’mores, and writing by the light of my lantern.

Bonfire-Brainerd

 

Special Mother’s Day Gift

Two fabulous authors have a Mother’s Day Offer I wanted to share with you. (See below)

Need a special Mother’s Day gift for your Mom, Wife or Grandmother? Mother’s Day is on May 11 and Hot Chocolate Press has a special buy one get one free offer.* Buy And Then I Smiled ($11.95) by Dean K Miller and get Planes, Trains and Chuck & Eddie ($10.95 retail) by Kerrie L. Flanagan for FREE.** Both will be personalized, signed and sent to you (or directly to your gift recipient) before Mother’s Day. Offer ends Tuesday (May 6, 2014). To Order Visit: http://hotchocolatepress.com *Limited quantities available **Shipping & Handling extra

Below is a sampling of the beautiful writing by Dean K. Miller from And Then I Smiled .

 

A Mother’s Patience

A mother’s patience is one of her most under-appreciated traits. It starts at the moment of her son’s conception, as she is the first to know that life has been created inside her. Though her love for the unborn child is strong and the bond of motherhood already formed, she must wait nine months to hold this unique miracle.

She watches as he grows, withstanding sleepless nights of nightmares, his stuffy noses, tantrums and the scrapes and bruises. Someday her son will become aware of the love, the nurturing, and the guiding. And, finally, of the letting go. But she knows it is on his schedule, not hers.

As he spreads his wings and explores the world, the mother continues to wait. Whether it’s late-night phone calls, listening to girlfriend troubles, the lack of money or the feeling of not knowing where to go in life, she is there when called upon. Patiently she watches him, knowing in her heart that the choices are his, and sometimes wishing he would choose differently.

But wisdom, learned perhaps from her own mother, has taught her that the journey is not hers to take. Patiently, she watches from afar, understanding that life will teach her son the lesson he needs at the exact moment he needs it.

When he calls to express his frustration, she doesn’t try to undo the lesson, but instead helps her son capture the learning.

Then, the moment she has waited for arrives. The son has discovered the true source of his inner self and joyfully returns to her doorstep. With patience she listens to the moments of his life that brought him happiness. Subtly, she encourages his story to unfold, laughing silently at his follies and smiling brightly at his courage to face his fears. He tells her things he has told no one and knows his words are protected and safe.

Though it has taken decades, the bond of mother and son has grown to include a friendship which knows no equal.

Now they walk through life together, knowing their love between them transcends all boundaries. It is everlasting and it makes them smile.

Thank you, Mom, for allowing me to grow into myself, for patiently waiting all of these years for it to happen, and for accepting me each day along my journey. You are the magic behind the story of my life.

 

 

“I” is for…

Insecure

I was so grateful to stumble upon the website Insecure Writers Support Group.  Realizing I wasn’t the only insecure writer on earth was such a relief. Somehow, knowing I’m not alone in the sea of insecurity helps rid me of the albatross that at times makes me feel like a fraud, certain that everyone else is better at writing, at creating, at word combinations…

Why is it so natural to compare oneself to another? To allow ones self-worth to be defined by what someone else accomplishes?

I have learned through the years, however, that when I’m feeling that obnoxious, uncomfortable stirring in the pit of my belly, I’m usually taking my writing and myself too seriously.  Writing is something I love to do more than almost anything else, but when I’m wound up in knots over whether I’m “good enough,” it sucks the enjoyment right out of it.  Besides, I’ve begun to ask myself, “Good enough for what? For whom?”

How good my writing is–or isn’t–is not what defines who I am, and that’s a burden lifted.  I am a mother, wife, grandmother, child of God, and yes, I am a writer (I love those words! 🙂 ).  Those roles combined make up who I am.  And with that I’m more than okay.  In fact I’m happy, content, at peace.

If you haven’t visited the Insecure Writers Support Group website, I would highly encourage you to do so. It contains a wealth of information and resources.  And who among us couldn’t grow from that?

In the comments, please share your favorite writing website.

Insecure Scarecrow

Peace.