Spring Back into Writing

Spring is here in Utah! I always think of my grandma during this time as she loved tulips and fancy Easter tea parties. She got all her grandkids giant chocolate eggs filled with buttercream, raspberry, or caramel. Our names were written on the top with blue and pink pastel frosting. I always picked caramel. It was a beautiful treat, that you almost didn’t want to eat, but that didn’t last long. When I start to ponder moments with her, I also remember the very last thing she said to me. One that has stuck in my core. One that quite often I remind myself to do and need to be reminded often. “Don’t forget to follow your dreams. Please take care of my girl too,” she’d said.

My grandma knew me very well and she had seen my love for taking care of those around me. She adored that, but she worried to know end that I would always put myself last. I promised her before she passed that I would make myself a priority and follow my dreams. That, seven years ago, was the day I began taking myself and my writing seriously.

Now, that we’re a few months into 2018 sometimes goals and motivation start to lag, and we need to be reminded to keep going. Follow our passions. Push through what feels to be impossible. Show yourself what you’re made of and write all those beautiful words.

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Each day throughout April, write a quote on an index card and post it somewhere so you can see it, or you can read it out loud, if you’d rather. Let’s spring our writing forward with motivation, inspiration, and allow ourselves to see where we’re growing, not where we’re falling short. Here’s a selection of quotes to get you jumping forward.

  • Write with confidence because your opinions count—Chloe Henderson
  • One of the key joys about being a writer is that everyone seems to do it slightly different—Marcus Sedgwick
  • Keep your writing time sacred—Chloe Henderson
  • It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creation— Gustave Flaubert
  • As soon as you start to pursue a dream, your life wakes up and everything has meaning— Barbara Sher
  • The prerequisite for me is to keep my well of ideas full. This means living as full and varied a life as possible— Michael Morpurgo
  • As is the case with anything that requires hard work, the more you do it the better you will become. Write as often as possible, and don’t feel you need to carry on from where you left off-you could write a scene that appears later, then you have the exciting puzzle of how to get from where you are to that scene—Chloe Henderson
  • Enjoy the process of writing and what you learn about yourself—Chloe Henderson
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started— Mark Twain
  • I write only because there is a voice within me that will not be still— Sylvia Plath
  • I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all— E.B. White
  • Break routine occasionally and surprise yourself by doing a new activity or exploring somewhere new. People-watching can be very inspiring to a writer. Imagine the stories people must tell, where they are going and what their dreams are—Chloe Henderson
  • Dream your idea into being. Don’t force it—Chloe Henderson
  • One must be drenched in words . . . to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment— Hart Crane
  • If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is— Richard Rhodes
  • Even the great writers admit to poor first drafts. You’re in good company—Chloe Henderson
  • I’ve found it helpful to spend time with my writing project like it is a person rather than a thing— Gilmore Tamny
  • Use your own experiences both good and bad—as fuel for your writing—Chloe Henderson
  • It’s better to write something imperfect that you could improve on later, then stare at a piece of paper (or a screen) waiting for “the muse” to inspire you—Deborah Nam-Krane
  • You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you’ve got something to say— F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Like life, your characters will need to go through highs and lows in order to appear as real as possible to the reader, and so that the reader will root for them and be interested enough to know what happens to them—Chloe Henderson
  • Look inside yourself, then beyond yourself and see that everyone has a unique story to tell-what’s yours—Chloe Henderson
  • I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means— Joan Didion
  • The good writer seems to be writing about himself, but has his eye always on that thread of the universe which runs through himself and all things—Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • If you have an idea just before going to bed, write it down or text/email it to yourself- because you won’t remember it in the morning—Chloe Henderson
  • Allow yourself to make mistakes—Chloe Henderson
  • Look for inspiration in your own work—seek out small clues in your writing that you can develop—Chloe Henderson
  • Don’t just celebrate your big wins. Celebrate for your failures, losses, and every little step you take that leads to the big steps. They’re all important in your personal journey—Lauri Schoenfeld

Learn from the rainstorms and remember they help to make things blossom! Keep writing and finish those stories. People are waiting to hear yours.

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Lauri Schoenfeld’s first love is her little clan of three silly kidlets and her wonderful hubby, Andy. Writing is a close second. She began writing poems at the age of nine, and her love for literature and music developed into composing thirty songs.  In 2014 her short story, Christmas Treasure, was featured in an anthology called, Angels from their Realms of Story.  Her favorite genre to write is anything dark, psychological, and suspenseful, but she enjoys expanding her horizons and dipping her feet in other genres as well.  Lauri teaches summer writing classes for kids and mentors teens throughout the year. She’s a Child Abuse and Scoliosis Survivor. Lauri runs a group for teen girls with Scoliosis called, The S Squad. Their motto is Strength, Support and Self Confidence.  She’s been known to dance around the house with a spoon as her microphone and sneak toppings from the ice cream bar. Lauri’s taken online classes at the Institute of Children’s Literature and was the President of the League of Utah Writers, Oquirrh Chapter for two years.  She’s a member of Crime Writers and International Thriller Writers.

Mentor/Protégé

This is a Thinking Through Our Fingers classic, originally shared on November 29, 2011.

Photo by Casey McFarland, iamcasey.com

I have been reading children’s literature all my life. It’s only been the last two years that I’ve started trying to write it. I consider myself an experienced reader and a beginning writer. Because of this, I’ve developed a mentor/protégé relationship . . . with myself.

I imagine it’s a pretty common occurrence.

“You’re a genius!” says the mentor in me. “This book is destined to become a classic!”

And the writer smiles and types furiously while the muse is still nearby.

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But soon (sometimes within minutes), the mentor has changed her tune.

“This book is garbage. You’ll never amount to anything as a writer. Your time would be better spent cleaning the fridge.” [sympathetic “wah-wah” from a single trombone]

At times like this, the mentor would do well to remember words from her own hero, her great-uncle Wilbur Braithwaite. Wilbur was a writer of poetry and music who also happened to be veteran of World War II, a state-champion coach in multiple sports over a 50-year career, and a mentor to hundreds of high school athletes. In this article, he listed the following as one of his “Lessons Learned from a Lifetime of Coaching”:

“Your players tend to become what they believe you think they are.”

Ponder that for a minute. If I treat myself as a wannabe who is wasting her time, most likely I will remain a time-wasting wannabe. If, however, I can treat myself as a beginning writer who has great potential and promise, I will work harder and continue to improve, and I may just fulfill that potential and promise. So the lesson, I think, is this: Be kind to yourself, believe in yourself, and then remember #10 from Wilbur’s list:

“Work hard to influence the outcome of important things within your control.”

That’s the advice I’m giving my protégé today.

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Elaine Vickers is the author of Like Magic and Paper Chains (HarperCollins). She loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

Writer, Defined

Last month, I wrote a pep talk of sorts for people dealing with an existential crisis about being a writer. I received a lot of positive feedback from friends who said that it really helped them. And while I’m thrilled to hear things like that, I have a confession: I wrote that post as much for myself as anyone. This post is a companion to that one, in which I am, to reference the name of this website, just thinking through my fingers.

I’m about to do something that promises to be even more mind-blowingly meta than the time I ran the operation instructions for my new paper shredder through the paper shredder. I’m about to look up the definition of the word “definition” in the dictionary. I hope the universe doesn’t collapse in on itself.

Definition. Noun. (deh-feh-ni-shun).

From the Latin “definitus,” meaning, “set within limits.”

  1. A statement expressing the essential or intrinsic nature of something.
  2. The action or power of describing or explaining, or of making precise, specific, and clear.

As writers, definitions are absolutely crucial, because words are our business, and meanings matter. Indeed, definitions are the standards on which all language is based, and the very load-bearing beams of civilization itself. If people cannot agree on what words mean, then all communication breaks down, understanding falls apart, and confusion and chaos will be all that is left! Dogs and cats, living together…MASS HYSTERIA!

But I digress.

I’ve been thinking a lot about definitions, about how we as writers define ourselves, and about what definitions we choose to accept from others. When did you first think or yourself as a “writer?” When did you first respond with “I’m a writer” when someone asked what you did? What qualifies one to say, “I’m a writer” with confidence?

For some, the answers to those questions are simple. They’ve been thinking of themselves as writers for much of their lives, and they have no problem saying it to others, because they see the word “writer” as the expression of their essential or intrinsic nature. It’s clearly and precisely who they are. It’s their definition.

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For others, however, that definition doesn’t come quite so easily. I have enjoyed writing for a good portion of my life, but it has always been hard to refer to myself as a writer. Even when my first book was published, I found myself struggling to say “I’m a writer” when talking with others. I always pictured “real writers” as people who wrote full time, who earned every penny of their income from words they wrote, and who took up several inches of shelf space at the bookstore or library. But that definition didn’t seem to apply to me. Defining myself as a writer felt inauthentic. It felt fraudulent. After all, I only had one book published, and I still had a day job. How could I call myself a writer? Instead, I would tell people “I wrote a book,” and even that would come out rather sheepish in tone, bordering on apologetic, as if I was about to follow that statement up with “…and I’m sorry.” To this day, in fact, even with multiple books under my belt, it still feels a little weird to say the words “I’m a writer” out loud. I half expect someone to vocally challenge me every time I say it.

Definitions such as “writer,” like so many things in life, are often easier to see in others rather than in ourselves. What is much easier, unfortunately, is to accept the negative definitions that come from others. We allow ourselves to be set within the limits that other people have chosen. We base our entire identity off of one bad review that some thoughtless person pounded out in a fit of anger. We define our self worth based on the amount of our royalty checks—or the lack thereof. We are so quick to give buoying words of support to other struggling writers, yet just as quick to dismiss those words when offered to us.

We’re an interesting bunch, aren’t we?

One of my all-time favorite films is The Iron Giant. In that story, a gigantic extraterrestrial robot falls to earth and, because of damage to its head, suffers from a sort of amnesia. The giant has no idea what he is at first, and gradually learns to see the world through the eyes of a young boy who becomes his friend. The boy tells the giant that he can choose to be whatever he wants to be. The giant, having heard his new friend tell stories about a comic book hero, decides he wants to be Superman. However, the giant eventually discovers the truth about his identity—that he is, essentially, a giant weapon. But the giant refuses to accept that definition, stating clearly, “I am not a gun!” He then flies away to save the boy’s small town from being destroyed by a nuclear missile, and his last word before sacrificing himself is said almost as a smile: “Superman.”

The most powerful lesson I take away from that story is this: No one gets to define me but me. I am a writer because I write. You are a writer because you write. It doesn’t matter if you’re published, it doesn’t matter if you don’t make any money at it, and it doesn’t matter if you only do it because you enjoy it.

Say it with me: I. Am. A. Writer.

Now say it again.

Now one more time, with feeling.

Scribo ergo sum. I write, therefore I am.

That is who I am.

That is who you are.

No one else gets to define me but me.

No one else gets to define you but you.

Is that clear enough? Is that precise enough? Is that enough of an expression of your essential nature? If not, let’s go to the dictionary for another definition:

Writer. Noun. (rie-ter).

  1. One that writes.

Synonyms: author, wordsmith, scribe, novelist, essayist, storyteller, biographer, journalist, tragedian, poet, scrivener, litterateur, blogger, columnist, scribbler.

SEE ALSO: YOU.

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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.

Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.

Dennis lives in the Salt Lake City area with his wife, Natalie, who still has the text he sent her all those years ago that read “Holy cow–I think I’m writing a book!” In his spare time, he enjoys photography, playing the guitar, cooking (hold the onions, please), going to Disneyland, and Godzilla movies.

Allow Room for Some Praise

Perhaps this post is just for me. It happens sometimes where you have several ideas rolling about in your head, but that one you keep ignoring keeps fighting until you submit. What’s been nagging at me is the fact that I can’t receive positive feedback. Calm down, I can hear your eye rolls but hear me out.

Recently I had my evaluation at work. Nothing special just a job I’ve been at for the past nineteen years. There’s never been an issue performance wise, in honesty I wanted to speed through so I could get back to work and go home. This year we have a new president at our job and a new manager. We went through the whole rigmarole before the part came to manager notes and president notes. Usually it’s nothing other than keep working hard. On this occasion I got rave reviews on my work ethic from my manager and the president who I only met three times. I was, for the first time in my life, finally able to accurately emote being gobsmacked.

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But in spite of that I sat there and said “Oh, okay…can I go back to work?” I kicked myself later for not letting a bit more gratitude show. Afterwards though I looked back at my life and realize I usually default to not accepting the darn compliment or believing something good is going to come.

So what the heck does this have to do with writing? When you put yourself out there you leave yourself open to rejection, to hurt, to negativity. I think any writer or creative person you have to build up a thick skin, to portray that everything is fine when in actuality you want to scream or cry. I spent several years trying to get my book Beyond Here traditionally published. There were a lot of times where I questioned the purpose of writing. Through all the rejection it was hard to hear that it was worth putting it out into the world. All I heard was the negative and my thick skin wouldn’t allow any praise to come through.

What I’m trying to say is: keep going. Roadblocks and tribulations will come, but along the way there are paths of stability to give you respite. Breathe in these times. Take it all in. Don’t allow your tough skin to push you out of the life you want, from creating what you were meant to create. Taking in that positive feedback here and then can be that spark to light your way when things seem dark. Just keep going and trust in you.

Until next time have a writeous day!

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Matt Williams is an avid reader, a collector of many pens, an ever improving father of two, and an all-around fanboy. When he’s not wrestling with cats or building the inkslayer army you can find him hunkered down writing something imaginative. You can read his first book Beyond Here, a middle grade story involving a coma and a singing flower with a bent stem, along with a few projects with his other daughter. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Finding An Agent

A few months ago, I finished my novel. After multiple revisions and edits, I felt confident about moving on to the next step. Time to find an agent! The excitement to be in this new stage of the writing journey, was both exhilarating and completely daunting.

Now what? Years of working on my craft, and now, in a sense, I was starting all over again in a new space. Where I had tools in my pocket for plotting, character development, dialogue, writing description and more, I didn’t feel like much of a girl scout on “finding an agent.”

  • Was there a right way to do this?
  • How do I find an agent that loves my work?
  • How many agents should I query at the same time?

The unknown of the new process brought many unanswered questions and concerns for me, much like giving yourself a diagnosis from google before going to the doctor. I wanted to find an agent that would see my potential, love my work, and would pursue it. One that would fight for the stories I’d send them.

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How do you go about getting that agent?

1. Figure out what genre you’re writing. This is super important, so that you make sure you’re sending your story to an agent who’s actually looking, and wanting your style and genre of work. This also helps to allow you to lower your search down some. If you’ve written a mystery, don’t send it to agents that aren’t interested in mystery. Even if you think it’s the most amazing story next to Sherlock Holmes, DON’T DO IT.

2. Go to conferences or workshops. A lot of times, there are opportunities to do pitch sessions, manuscript evaluations, and to speak one-on-one with an agent. If you get that opportunity, take it. Not only are you able to build confidence and talk about your story, you get to know the agent, and they get a feel for who you are. Seeing someone’s personality and if you click, what you like about them, even how you feel around them . . . a good start. This allows you to pick out different things you’d want in the future from an agent as far as personality, work ethic, and mannerisms. It’s nice to know that your working relationship could be a good fit.

3. Social Media Sites. We live in a world where you can get to know a lot about publishing companies and agents through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The things that they post show you as an author who they are, what they like, and who they represent. At conferences, when you meet agents, make sure to get a business card with their info, and give them one of yours. This is a great way to make a connection, so you both can find each other online.

4. Online websites. There are so many resources you can find that will give you a list of agents, and what their specific needs are.

  • Querytracker.com
  • Manuscriptwishlist.com
  • Writers.net
  • Writersmarket.com

5. Books are a great tool as well. Writers Market puts out multiple additions every year with updated information on agents and publishing companies. The two books I typically get are Guide to Literary Agents 2018 and Writer’s Market 2018. They’re available now through Writer’s Digest. They have multiple additions with articles on how to write a query letter, what an agent does, and writing a synopsis.

6. Once you find agents who are interested in your specific genre, make a list and research each one even further. Go to their websites. Read everything you can about them. Check out their company motto, what’s important to their business, and what their main focus for authors is. Visit the submission guideline section. Get acquainted with what the company and agent would like you to send to them. Read up on foreign rights, who they represent, and news on what books or movie rights they’re selling. The more information you have about each agent, you can more fully find the best fit for what your author and story needs are.

7. Ask friends in your writing community who represents them and what they like about the company. Pick their brain about the market, questions they asked their agents, and things they’ve learned along the way.

Enjoy this new stage in your writing journey. Remember, the only way you move forward is by taking the first step.

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Lauri Schoenfeld’s first love is her little clan of three silly kidlets and her wonderful hubby, Andy. Writing is a close second. She began writing poems at the age of nine, and her love for literature and music developed into composing thirty songs.  In 2014 her short story, Christmas Treasure, was featured in an anthology called, Angels from their Realms of Story.  Her favorite genre to write is anything dark, psychological, and suspenseful, but she enjoys expanding her horizons and dipping her feet in other genres as well.  Lauri teaches summer writing classes for kids and mentors teens throughout the year. She’s a Child Abuse and Scoliosis Survivor. Lauri runs a group for teen girls with Scoliosis called, The S Squad. Their motto is Strength, Support and Self Confidence.  She’s been known to dance around the house with a spoon as her microphone and sneak toppings from the ice cream bar. Lauri’s taken online classes at the Institute of Children’s Literature and was the President of the League of Utah Writers, Oquirrh Chapter for two years.  She’s a member of Crime Writers and International Thriller Writers.

Fingers vs. Feet—How NaNoWriMo Is Like Running a Marathon

Running and writing are at once complementary and opposing activities. Running requires a high level of physical activity; writing calls for a high level of cerebral activity. They are seemingly miles apart on the spectrum, but in reality, not at all.

For both, you need to consistently show up and practice. You need the mental focus to improve. You need to take risks and face potential failure. And you need to get comfortable with all of the above.

—Amanda Loudin, Washington Post

On October 7, 2017, I was fortunate enough to run the St. George Marathon for the very first time. Since I ran the race while I was in the middle of preparing for this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), it was impossible for me not to see the similarities between marathon running and marathon writing.

Not everyone enjoys running, of course, but over the past several years it’s become a big part of my life. It’s also become an integral element of my writing process. Even if you have no interest in ever running a marathon (or even a 5K), if you’re “competing” in the 50K/30.0 “marathon” of NaNoWriMo, you’re still a marathoner in my book.

Why? Because they’re similar in so many ways.

1. You must prepare.

Marathons aren’t run on race day. They’re run in the months (or years) of training that lead up to race day. The race itself is essentially the final exam after many hours of practice, and just like NaNoWriMo, it’s basically pass or fail.

There may be some people who can just waltz up to a marathon starting line and, without any training, run the race. These people are freaks of nature and we will not speak of them again. Similarly, there are people who can begin pecking away at their keyboards on November 1 without preparing at all and still finish a novel by November 30. These people are freaks of literature and should be applauded.

Nothing will guarantee that you’ll succeed in either endeavor, but preparation sure can help. If you’re running, preparation means miles—and lots of them. You can do tempo runs and hill work and fartlek training (it’s probably not what you think), but distance is the key. If you’re writing, you can do all sorts of things to get ready for your NaNoWriMo “marathon.” You can brainstorm, outline, “snowflake,” create character bios and write character monologues. You can work on developing good writing habits—after all, each novel you write is “training” for the next one. You can read extensively in your genre. All of this can help contribute to your success between the “starting gun” at 12:01 a.m. on November 1 and the “finish line” at midnight on November 30.

By the way, for all the talk about “writing sprints” during NaNoWriMo, I’m not a big fan. Slow and steady finishes the race, whether you’re running or writing. Lots of practice actually helps you win.

2. You must begin with the end in mind.

When starting anything monumental, it’s critically important to have a goal. With NaNoWriMo, as with a marathon, you have a built-in baseline. If you don’t write 50,000 words or run 26.2 miles in the time allotted, you can’t count it as a “win.” In race terms, that’s a “DNF,” or “Did Not Finish.” As a point of pride, nobody wants a DNF on their record.

For my first marathon, I was just hoping to finish, but I had more ambitious goals my second time around. My target was to get close to a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time, with the understanding that I would go for a BQ in my next full marathon. I actually missed that goal, but only because I overshot it and ran the race faster than expected. That’s the good kind of goal-missing, and it’s more likely if you’ve put in adequate preparation beforehand.

Five years ago, I just barely managed to complete my first NaNoWriMo, verifying my word count at 11:55 p.m. on November 30. I prepared a little better the next few years, setting and reaching higher goals each time. You never know what you can actually accomplish until you really put the effort in. And whether it’s a race medal or a pile of words to craft into a finished novel, the result can be very rewarding.

Just keep thinking about posting this to all your social media accounts on December 1:

NaNoWriMo-Winner

3. It’s all about pacing and consistent effort.

I run pretty fast for an old guy, but I  know my limits. I wanted to be realistic when I was game-planning St. George, so I picked a pace I knew I could handle … and then pushed it just a little further. The difference between training pace and race pace comes from adrenaline and willpower. It’s amazing what the human mind and body can accomplish when they conspire to psych each other out.

The baseline target pace to win NaNoWriMo is 1,667 words over 30 days—and that’s if you write every single day. It’s a great idea to set your goal a little higher than that, and supplement your daily writing with some additional “marathon” writing sessions throughout the month. Then (and this is the key to finishing NaNoWriMo) make sure you stick to it.

If I don’t hit my goal on a particular day, I make up for it the next day. Or the next. You have to make it a priority, which almost always means giving up other things. I don’t watch TV during the month of November. I don’t read anyone else’s books. I even cut back on my mileage.

In addition to adrenaline and willpower, you’ll probably need caffeine. That’s a big component to success. Your mileage (of any kind) may vary, of course.

Here’s another trick: When you hit your daily goal, walk away. Literally stop in the middle of a sentence, close your file and shut off your computer. Stopping in the middle of things (in medias res, so to speak) gives you somewhere specific to pick up during your next writing session.

4. Sometimes, things go wonderfully wrong.

Anyone who’s done NaNoWriMo multiple years knows that feeling of nervous excitement that comes on the day before the challenge begins. It’s very similar to what a marathoner feels right before a big race.

My goal for the 2017 St. George Marathon was to finish in 3:30:00, which would bring me within five minutes of a Boston Qualifying time. When I boarded the bus for the starting line at 4:30 in the morning, I was feeling great about this target. Then I realized I was missing my safety pins. Then I lost my phone. Seriously. I managed to get new pins and find my phone, but then my watch lost contact with the GPS satellites just minutes into the race. Because of this, I had a difficult time tracking my pace. The result, and I’m not making this up, was that I ran the first half of the race much faster than I’d planned.

That might sound like a good thing, but actually it was a real concern. I honestly didn’t know whether I’d be able to maintain that pace for the duration of the race. My worry was that I’d bonk at mile 18 and have to walk the rest of the way. A race-ending injury was also a real possibility.

We’ve all had writing projects that go pear-shaped. Anything can go wrong, but sometimes, when things go wrong they actually go right. Here are a few possibilities, and the obvious solutions:

  1. Problem: There’s “no there there”—you simply can’t squeeze enough words out of the story idea you picked. Solution: Start a new page in your document and begin working on a different project. (There’s nothing in the rules that your 50,000 words have to form a single, coherent project.)
  2. Problem: You lose interest in your story. Solution: Start a new page in your document and begin working on a different project. If you don’t have a new project at hand, free-write (using writing prompts, if necessary) until something catches your fancy.
  3. Problem: You get partway through your draft and realize your book is morphing into something completely different than what you planned. Solution: Go with it. In December, you can revise the earlier chapters to match the later ones.

5. You will feel self-doubt.

A I mentioned, when I hit the halfway mark on the St. George course I experienced a major moment of doubt. I must’ve looked a little lost, because a woman running beside looked over and asked me if I was doing okay. According to her race bib, her name was Bonnie. I admitted to her that I was going way faster than I had intended. Bonnie’s reply: “That’s a good thing, right?”

Maybe yes, maybe no. I told her I was worried I would crash and burn. Wisely, Bonnie asked me what my gut—and my body—were telling me. I did a quick self-check. I was feeling pretty good for having just run a pretty fast 13 miles. When I told her so, she looked over at me and said, “You got this. Go for it!” I’d never met this person before, but her little pep talk was the turning point for me in that race. I give Bonnie a lot of credit for helping me realize I could do what I’d set out to do.

Whether you’re doing your first NaNoWriMo or your tenth, at some point you’ll probably question whether you can finish or not. Find your Bonnie. Talk to a friend—writer or non-writer. Write your next 1,667 words and then treat yourself to ice cream. See a movie or get a pedicure. Then get back to your keyboard and finish your dang novel. You’ll thank yourself, afterwards.

One of the best T-shirts I saw at the St. George Marathon said “I can do hard things.” Writing 50,000 words in a month is hard. But you can do it.

6. The accomplishment is permanent.

st-george-medalThere’s no such thing as a “participation trophy” in competitive running. You don’t get anything just for showing up, but you often do get a medal for finishing. Similarly, you get exactly nothing for starting NaNoWriMo if you don’t finish it.

As with any competition, it’s all about the numbers. The registration cap for the 2017 St. George Marathon was 7,800 runners. About 6,000 made it to the starting line, and exactly 4,723 crossed the finish line under their own power, within the time limit.

A 26-year-old man from Lindon, UT, finished the race first, setting a new course record of 2:14:44. Yikes! The very last person to finish before the cutoff was a woman in her mid-40s from Idaho. She finished in 4,723rd place with a time of 7:27:29, and she was as deserving of his finisher’s medal as the guy who came in first. Both “won” in the sense that they ran the 26.2 miles in the required time frame. And nobody can ever take that away from them.

Numbers matter in NaNoWriMo, but mostly in determining who wins and who doesn’t. It makes no difference whether you write an hour a day or whether you produce those words in the first 24 hours (or even the last 24 hours). If you crank out 60K, 70K or even 100K words, you’re no more a winner than the person who writes exactly 50K. And once you’ve verified your words and received your winner’s certificate, it’s an accomplishment you can claim forever.

According to one estimate, about half a percent of the U.S. population (or around 1.6 million people) has finished a marathon. Believe it or not, being a NaNoWriMo finisher puts you into an even more exclusive club. According to the NaNoWriMo organization, roughly 384,000 people attempted NaNoWriMo last year, but only 34,000 won. (As far as I can figure, about 66 percent of participants were from the U.S.) The average win rate over the past five years is just 12.5 percent.

You can be part of that 12.5 percent. Don’t settle for being a NaNoWriMo starter. Be a finisher!

If you’re working furiously toward your 50,000 words, keep going! If you get stuck, I encourage you to put on your running shoes and go run a mile or two. Even if you don’t get the inspiration you need, you’ll be one or two miles closer to running your first marathon!

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(For the record, I finished the 2017 St. George Marathon in 429th place out of 4,720, 40th in my age group, with a personal-record time of 3:16:57. I also qualified for the 2019 Boston Marathon with a “cushion” of over eight minutes.)

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David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, volunteers with young people, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play was subsequently published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at blog.bakerdavid.com.

Braving Writing

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.

— Brené Brown

At the end of July, much like the end of December, I look forward with great anticipation to the start of a new year. I think of the things I’ll be able to do now that I have a focus, now that the holidays/summer is over, now that . . .

And then, just as I have re-re-re-re-discovered, reality and my imagination aren’t quite in sync the way I’d like them to be. I can think about what I want to have happen. I can even tell someone else what I want to have happen. And then the day job surges and the kids have activities and the spouse changes jobs and before I know it, the members of my writing group are sending pages and I’m floundering and stuck and frustrated.

While the latest disappointment in myself surged, I was listening to Brené Brown’s Rising Strong was particularly intrigued by the idea she presents in there about BRAVING for the ways we engage with others, an acronym which stands for:

  • Boundaries
  • Reliability
  • Accountability
  • Vault
  • Integrity
  • Nonjudgment
  • Generosity

Then, as she usually does, Brené spun the acronym around and asked how well we do at honoring these things in ourselves, and I realized that in my efforts to honor what I say I’ll do in my engagements, I am very quick — too quick — to dismiss commitments I’ve made to myself. And, as I’m watching writers in all walks of life transition from the footloose life of summer, I think I’m not the only one.

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The Rising Strong Process includes:

  • The Reckoning: walking into our story
  • The Rumble: owning our story
  • The Revolution: writing a new ending and changing how we engage with the world

Sure, I’d love to give you a set of steps that will help you recognize what needs to be done to transition to honoring your own work as well as you honor the work requested by others, but the bottom line is I don’t have the answers.

And, unfortunately, there can’t really be answers — at least not as clean-cut as I’d like. In order to start the Rising Strong Process, we have to have a reckoning, which includes the uncomfortable realization that we are creators of SFDs — Shitty First Drafts (courtesy of Anne Lamott), or Stormy First Drafts if you are looking for a G-rated version). I know people who have been writing for a while know this is the case when we are crafting stories, but it was a grand ah-ha! for me to realize that I was telling myself these stories in regards to things in my own life – specifically my writing.

SFD #1: I’m at the point in my writing career where no one knows, really, where I’m at in my progress (except, perhaps, my agent). People are busy and they have their own pursuits, so since no one knows what I’m doing, it doesn’t really matter if I don’t get writing in TODAY because there isn’t as much urgency right now.

Truth #1: I never started this writing journey for anyone else. I am a happier person, I feel more soul-deep satisfaction when I am writing. Besides nurturing the relationships with people close to me, there aren’t many things that make me feel the way writing makes me feel.

SFD #2: Honoring the meetings I have with other people is more important than the meetings I think about scheduling with myself.

Truth #2: If I have learned anything over the last 18 months of negotiating unstable brain and body chemicals, it is that paying attention to what I need to do for me is incredibly important. Thinking that I will be able to just ignore the pursuit of writing and then have it come back because I want it at that moment is ridiculous, I know it is ridiculous, I have learned time and again that it is ridiculous.

SFD #3: I don’t have time to write.

Truth #3: I have proven to myself and others over and over and over that when there is something I am dedicated to, I get it done. Period. I have time to write, but I choose to cruise through social media, play mind-numbing games, or just zone out in general. I know the process to engage in the work I love can take some time to transition into, but lately I haven’t even attempted to try.

While this technique is very valuable in helping understand why our productivity isn’t quite where it should be, I think it is also important to be honest with ourselves when it comes to feedback we receive from other people. Rising Strong recommends starting with the phrase, “The story I’m telling myself is . . . ”

Got a bad review? “The story I’m telling myself is . . . ”

Didn’t get as far in a contest, from partial or full request, or while on submission as you wanted? “The story I’m telling myself is . . . ”

Feel a little whisper of envy creeping in at the progress, sales, accolades, reviews, rights, etc. that a friend is receiving when you are not?  “The story I’m telling myself is . . .”

The bottom line is we, as writers, have volunteered to engage in life in a way that is going to try our dedication to ourselves, to our craft, to the world around us. We have demonstrated the courage, as both Brown and Theodore Roosevelt explained, to enter the arena, to engage in life with intentionality, to seek after something that is a little beyond what might generally be expected. And, as such, we are going to get knocked down. We might even be the one to knock ourselves down. That much is true.

The question that we must ask ourselves is how will we choose to rise?

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TashaTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as a board member for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.