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?

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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?

Top Five Reasons I Nano

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It’s November, and you know that means?

Never mind that there are only seven weekends until Christmas.

Never mind that your carpets need cleaning for your Thanksgiving guests.

There are only 30 days left to write at least 50,000 words of my next novel!

That’s because November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo.

In case you’re wondering what the heck that is, here’s a few NaNoWriMo facts:

According to their website, NaNoWriMo believes stories matter. The event began in 1999, and in 2005, National Novel Writing Month became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

NaNoWriMo’s programs now include National Novel Writing Month in November, Camp NaNoWriMo, the Young Writers Program, Come Write In, and the “Now What?” Months.

In 2014:

  • 325,142 participants, including 81,311 students and educators in the Young Writers Program, started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.
  • 849 libraries, bookstores, and community centers opened their doors to novelists through the Come Write In program.
  • 55,774 Campers tackled a writing project—novel or not—at Camp NaNoWriMo.


Over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published.
They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder…

and ME!

Yes, both of my novels’ wee little, pitiful, awful, humble first drafts began during NaNoWriMo.

While I, like most of you, have too much on my plate during the last months of the year, there are a few good reasons why I participate in the craziness of NaNoWriMo. Notice I said I participate. I have never actually achieved the end goal of 50,000 words, but I have written decent amounts, and that, for me, is enough. After all, a novel has to start someplace.

So if you’re wondering about my good reasons, here they are:

Motivation.

What could be more motivating than knowing over a quarter of a million other nuts like me are also writing their heads off? That over a quarter of a million other freaks are pouring their unrefined streams of consciousness onto paper? That over a quarter of a million other insane souls are drinking great vats of coffee and pushing and clawing and groveling their way through thirty nerve-wracking days to create the next great American novel? Only NaNoWriMo can motivate like that.

Camaraderie.

In case you haven’t noticed, writers are a special breed. We are introverts and hermits. You’ll find us on the fringes of society and the back rows of churches. We hog prime space in coffee houses and wear beanies and have piercings and inhale chocolate and feel like Allison in The Breakfast Club is our intellectual soul mate. But put us in a room (virtual or otherwise) with other writers, and we come alive. We laugh at jokes about commas and grammar. We raise our fists at the unjust fame of E.L. James’ crappy prose. We go on wild chases after muses and boys in basements. And we believe again in the dream that story–perhaps even our wee little, pitiful, awful, humble story–can change the world.

Focus.

You think dogs and squirrels are bad. Let me tell you, I am the poster child for the distracted mind. What, between laundry and Pinterest, three teenagers and as many dogs, bills and my day job, books I have to read and books I want to read, Instagram and the cursed emergence of adult coloring books, there is no end to my inability to focus on writing. NaNoWriMo really helps me sit my butt in the chair and put my fingers on the keyboard.

Distraction.

Despite the fact that I just spent the entire previous paragraph lamenting my affinity towards distraction, NaNoWriMo actually provides me with a welcome distraction. From all my distractions.

Fun.

NaNoWriMo is fun. Even if I don’t hit my 50,000 word count goal, reasons 1-4 are reason enough to take the time and energy to try. At the end of November, it won’t doesn’t matter if my manuscript is hot mess. It won’t matter if my characters are flat and my prose is full of cliche’s and my plot is full of holes. What matters…

…what always matters…

is that I…that we…have written. 

(Besides that, I have a deadline for my fourth published novel due in the spring! WAHOOOO!!!!)

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, I’d like to offer you these parting words from Anne LaMott as we sojourn into the remaining thirty days:

 

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“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

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That’s why I NaNo.

How about you? 

 

Here’s my novel manuscript all plotted out:  

And here are my 2/3 dogs and laundry, which will continue to be neglected for the next thirty days: