Dear Reader: Thoughts on a writer’s winter

IMG_7413The thermometer on my car read two degrees as I drove to work this morning. Even my dogs resist going outside in this weather.

But I happen to love January.

I love the quiet.

I love the peace and stillness after all the commotion of the holidays which tend to drain me.

This year, January is also a sort of hiatus from the busy-ness (and business) of releasing novels. My third one doesn’t release until May 1, and so I have a few weeks “off,” so-to-speak. The down time feels like a warm blanket against what can–for an introvert–feel like an overexposed heart.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m often on my knees with gratefulness about the opportunities and processes of previous and upcoming novel releases. But there really is a time and a season (no pun intended) for everything. I also love being able to hunker down and take my time “filling my tank” with pleasure reading instead of hurrying and having to skim. I love being able to take my time and to be more focused on writing and research and rearranging the plots and sentences more like a sculptor than an assembly line worker.

Words don’t always come easy for me.

Writing is hard work.

Life is hard work.

That’s why I love both the real and proverbial writing winter, when I can nestle myself in to a cozy corner of my home, with one or all three dogs at my feet (or in my lap), and take time to dream and let the words come, rather than feeling like I’m having to chase them down.

What about you?

Do you like winter?

Why or why not?

Top 5 encouragements for writers for the new year

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The end of the year is sort of cup-is-half-full or cup-is-half-empty time for writers. You either have a year’s worth of progress to celebrate, or you feel like you’ve spent yet another year struggling through rejections and writers block and wondering if you should just finally hang up your pen.

Or throw your computer out the window.

Hopefully, you have much to celebrate: more words on the page, more connections with other writers, more books you’ve read about the craft, more books read in general. But if not, I thought I’d end the year with a bit of encouragement based on things I’ve learned over the years.

1) Don’t write for money.

This one should go without saying, and despite all the writers who tell people not to write for money, I think the perception is still that if you write hard enough and fast enough, you can make a decent living off your writing. 

In some rare cases that is true, but overall, if you’re trying to support a family (or even yourself, considering health care and basic living expenses and if you prefer to eat more than just Beanie Weenies), you need a day job. Without it, your writing becomes desperate. 

And good writing rarely rises from a desperate heart.

Most folks don’t know that I wrote a weekly newspaper column for almost three years…for no pay. Sometimes those little columns took 15 minutes to write. Other times I struggled for hours. But I kept writing for free because sometimes that’s what a writer has to do to get their words out. And I’d do it again if I had to, simply for the love of writing for others.

2) Don’t write for fame.

Fame is not only elusive, the desire for fame shows up in your writing. It’s kinda like writing for money. 

The more you write for external accolades, the less your voice and your heart shows up in your prose. 

The world doesn’t need more predictable, cliché, smutty stories–even if that’s what sells. 

The world needs your unique voice and your heart. The world needs your story.

3) Listen to editors.

One of the most common questions I get is whether or not I feel like my stories are changed or that the art of my words suffers because of the (mis)perception of mean old nasty red-pen-wielding editors

Quite the opposite, in fact. 

Someone once told me to listen to–and implement–99% of what my editors suggest, and I do. And my work is incomparably improved because of them. It’s not changed, per-se. It’s just plain better. 

I don’t care who you are, I guarantee your writing needs an editor.

A funny (or cringe-worthy, rather) story related to this: If you’ve read my second book, Then Sings My Soul, you may recall that a secondary character has a couple of dreadlocks in her hair. My editor told me I should take it out. It was the one thing I left in of all the things she asked me to change, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s the one thing readers have picked out as annoying.

So listen to your editor. And if you don’t have one yet, listen to editors on their blogs and at conferences and in books on the craft. They’re good and smart (and good looking!) people!

4) Don’t listen to critics and naysayers.

You wouldn’t believe the number of people in the world who seem to enjoy discouraging writers. Or, maybe you do know, which is why you’re reading this article on encouragement. 

Ten years ago someone told me to forget about my dream of writing books. “The industry is just too hard to break into,” they said. 

A couple of years ago, someone asked me “why I don’t write books more like [insert name of best-selling author here].” 

Others have told me I have no business broaching the difficult subjects my characters go through. 

Friends and relatives will think you should be doing better things with your time, or worse, that the universal themes you’re writing about are aimed at them and they’ll resent you for it. 

And those online reviews? Don’t read them. Many of the negative ones are written by trolls and don’t matter in the grand scheme of things anyway.

The bottom line is critics and naysayers will always think your writing is all about how it does or does not impact or reflect upon them, when you know better: your writing is about helping hurting hearts, or making people laugh, or telling the truth. 

So grab a pair of blinders and write on, friend. 

Write on.

5) Read.

Have you ever visited a home without books? Considering that I have books overflowing most every room in our home, bookless homes feel bare. Empty. Boring. 

The same is true for a writer–or someone who wants to be a writer–who doesn’t read. The prose will feel empty. Your voice will sound forced. 

Because part of finding your writing voice–at least in my humble opinion–is listening to the voices of others

I’m stepping up my reading game in 2016 by joining my first book club! 

What can you do to read more this year?

*****

So there it is, dear writers. Some encouragement to take with you into the new year.

What would you add or subtract from this list?

On December 26. 

I wanted to write something exquisite to you all for Christmas.

Something that would give your heart pause and infuse the beauty and miracle of the season with my best, most moving prose.

But I kept coming up empty.

I couldn’t figure out if I had writer’s block or if I’ve just lost the spirit of Christmas.

But then I realized, Christmas has more often than not felt bittersweet for me. I’ve always had a difficult time reconciling the glitz and glee with the brokenness and need of not only my heart, but the hearts of everyone in the whole world.

Take the other day, for instance. If you didn’t know, I am a registered nurse. I’ve been practicing for over 20 years now on busy medical/surgical and pediatric floors where pain and worry don’t stop just because there’s tinsel strung across the halls.

We had a hot breakfast with our team and enjoyed laughter and fellowship in the middle of a playroom filled with toys to distract sick and yes, sometimes dying, kids. 
Later that afternoon, Santa came and ho-ho-ho’d and grinned his best grin from under his fluffy beard. He brought his elves and a sack full of goodies into every child’s room, the pink in their cheeks belying, if only for a moment, their pain. 

We ate chocolate at the nurses’ station as the first drips of chemotherapy flowed into a newly diagnosed patient’s veins, while across the hall a team thrust a chest tube into the side of a baby who couldn’t–or wouldn’t–breathe without it.

Christmas is a human invention, and maybe we do need a little of it, as the song goes, to distract us like toys in a playroom from our dying selves.

But the problem with Christmas is December 26. 

December 26, when heartache is real again, when brokenness is as torn and wide open as the empty boxes under the sagging tree, when the lights dim and the night…is…silent.

The problem with Christmas is that hope doesn’t come with tinsel and lights and bells and songs.

Hope comes…

…with mercy, like a chest tube allowing a sagging lung to reinflate.

Hope comes…

…like the slow, imperceptible drip of life-saving medication into a patient’s arm.

Hope comes…

…in the darkness where tears stream down a mother’s face as she struggles to console her fevering child.

Hope comes.

Oh, how it comes.

Just not where we expect it.

*****

 

Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, ascrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away.

We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed.

~Isaiah 53:1-6 (TMV)

 

*This post was originally published in my author newsletter. If you’d like to be the first to see devotionals and articles such as this, you can sign up for my newsletter in the right hand sidebar of this blog.