Advice for Writers in Pursuit

There are so many things that I love about going to conferences, but my favorite is the keynote speeches that are presented at lunch or dinner. As a creative being and a writer, those talks are a gentle push to keep going as they reinforce inspiration. They help remind me to ground myself, focus, and to listen to the soft whispering’s of stories that are waiting for me to put them on the page. I’m invigorated often in those speeches from well-known writers who have been at their craft for years and centuries.

I love being a writer. It’s so much a part of who I am.

On the days that I don’t write, I feel it. There’s a stirring within me that’s begging me to create, to express, and to explore the things that I deeply need to share. Not in the way that other’s may want me to share them, but in the way that my heart desires to talk openly and freely within myself. There’s a freedom there to create without fear of judgement, criticism, or backlash for what others think you should and shouldn’t write. Because, in the space that I’ve created, it’s just me. It’s also my heart, my computer, and passionate words on a page all connecting to ideas, thoughts, and beautiful stories at the tip of my fingers.

I AM a writer.

I AM a creator.

I AM exploring who I am.

I love all that comes with this.

Hallie Ephron, Author of You’ll Never Know Dear spoke at California Crime Writers as one of the keynote speakers. Her words held definition and meaning in me.

Here’s some brilliant advice that Hallie gives about how to be a writer and the writing journey.

Today's crap may be tomorrow's compost.png

  • Save all your writing, even if you think its crap. “Today’s crap, may be tomorrow’s compost.”
  • Take notes.
  • Make physical space to write.
  • Cut out social network and distractions.
  • Pay attention to those things that interest you deeply, not what’s selling. Act on your fear.
  • Be your own cheerleader.
  • Reading is the best way to learn from the greats.
  • You’re not going to come out of the gate being successful. You need to practice and work constantly.
  • Hold your nose and write.
  • Slash and burn. Be ruthless. Take out your darlings, but keep them in another folder for a different project.
  • Plot twists that don’t surprise you, won’t surprise the reader.
  • Make sure things in your writing are credible.
  • Prepare for rejection. Aim high.
  • Embrace flawed characters, and even your own flaws. We must all embrace our strengths and weaknesses.
  • Be willing to listen. Take feedback with grace and adapt with your work.
  • Don’t wait until you sell the book to celebrate. Constantly celebrate rather it’s when you write “The End,” finish a revision, get great feedback, get a request for pages, or come up with a new story idea. Enjoy all of it!!
  • Make it the journey that counts. Enjoy the friendships and embrace the pages you never knew you could write. Focus on the experiences and the people. Make sure to take notes through it all.

–Hallie Ephron–

At the end of the day, I create for me because it makes me happy.  No one can write the stories in my heart the same way that I can. I love reading for the same reason as I get to view the world through other writer’s eyes in a way that I’d never seen before.

Art is miraculous.

It inspires people, educates us, and tells stories on many levels.

Don’t stop sharing who you are and I promise I won’t stop sharing all of me.

WE ARE WRITERS!!!

_____________________________

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.

The Lego Effect: Why It’s Okay to Have the Same Ideas

Life is like Lego, and so is writing. We all have our own bin, full of everything we’ve experienced on a sensory, intellectual, and emotional level. Yes, there are probably more levels than that, but I’m trying to be brief here.

Some of the pieces in our tub? They match the pieces in other people’s tubs. Because we’re all people*, and there are certain commonalties to the human experience.

*If you’re not a human person, or if you’re a sociopath, this post might

not make a whole lot of sense to you. But hey, I’d LOVE to interview

you for this book I’m writing . . .

When we pursue creative endeavors, we shake our metaphorical Lego bin, then pull out the shiniest pieces. We move them around. We experiment with different ways they could fit together. And then? We create. Or maybe you just dump them in the middle of the floor and put them together at random.

Like a monster.

One way in which life and writing are very much not like Lego, is they don’t come with instructions. Oh, there are resources—books, website forums, Facebook groups, and Twitter hashtags (and a certain incredible blog run by a group of Master-builders). There are also finished products we can study, trying to puzzle out how on earth they made something so intricate yet cohesive.

“Look,” these creators say. “Here’s what I built.”

And all too often we feel like the tent poles of our lives have poof! disappeared, leaving us a saggy-slumpy dejected mess.

“They used one of the same pieces I used.” [Insert Eeyore Sigh] “Guess I’ll give up now.” Smash, crash, clatter. Back into the bin the Lego pieces go.

New Metaphor (because I can’t mix them if I don’t use more than one): If two people decide to paint a picture of a bird, you wouldn’t say, “You both painted a picture of a bird. That’s lame. Which one of you copied the other one?”

  1. Because you’re not a jerk like that.
  2. Because there are different kinds of birds, and different painting styles.
  3. Because people love a good bird painting. There should be more than one of those.

For the Birds.jpg

In fact, it was recently brought to my attention that our very own Melanie Jacobson wrote a blog post a few months ago ON THE SAME SUBJECT AS THIS ONE. Okay, maybe that’s not so strange. We’re both brilliant, and TTOF contributors don’t compare notes on our topic picks, after all. But guys? Her post talks about birds too.

Seriously. BIRDS. But a different kind of bird reference and a different picture with birds in it.

So instead of destroying your Lego creation or burning your birds—don’t burn your birds, that’s cruel—pause to marvel over the connection you have with your fellow creator. You both love building sharks out of Lego! You both love painting birds! You both love writing stories about a secret clan of tiny blue people who live underground!

True story? I wrote that book when I was eleven. Then I read Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men when I was twenty-five. What a weirdly fantastic thing to have in common with an author I greatly admire.

Celebrating our differences instead of squabbling over them is one of the most beautiful things human beings do. Creating stories with common threads also connects us in beautiful ways. Yes, strive for a unique approach. Create sentences and paragraphs and pages that could only come from you. Shun clichés and subvert tropes. But also trust that no matter how many things we human beings have in common, twelve authors writing the exact same story concept will produce twelve very different stories, varying on a plot, character, POV, and/or stylistic level.

Yes, I know there are more levels. Shush.

Please don’t despair if you see your own ideas reflected in someone else’s work, because what that really means is you’re seeing a part of yourself in another human being. And in this Lego builder’s opinion, that’s a huge part of what stories are for.

Optional Exercise: In the comment section below, write a one paragraph story concept based on the following prompt. Check back later to see if anyone else got tricked into letting me give them homework, and enjoy how different your final results are.

A woman discovers she can read people’s thoughts . . . by licking them.

________________________

kimKimberly VanderHorst is a YA author who cherishes a love for all things quirky and strange. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest, and serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss a lot, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise their four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.

Embracing Your Fears

One of the hardest things to do when you’re trying to move forward in your life, is to not allow the fear you’re feeling in the process to hold you down. So many times as a writer, and a child abuse survivor, I found myself feeling trapped and suffocating from my own personal internal fears. They crept in my mind, infesting my thoughts. For a while, I truly didn’t believe in myself and gave up on me all together.

I know that I’m not alone in this. As creatives, we do take all the criticism and negative dialogue to heart. Getting back up when our fears are screaming to stay down before the same thing happens again, is paralyzing. I didn’t want to live that way anymore. I’d had enough and wanted to live in a world where I could breathe and just embrace those fears, and was ready to learn how.

After years of study, mentors, following the lead of positive role models, and making myself more of a priority, the shift began. I started to truly understand why I had my fears and how to see them as a confidante rather than an enemy. My fears haven’t gone away. The difference is that now I can function and still keep pressing forward, knowing that fear is essential, and for that I’m grateful.

Live the life you dream for by embracing your fears.png

I want to share what I’ve learned so far with you. Keep pushing forward and know you have people rooting for you. You are not your fear.

  1. Recognize your fear and call out to it. Get clear what you’re afraid of? It can be anything. A lot of times our fears are like an onion that has multiple layers. Is it spiders, clowns, natural disasters, death, being betrayed, getting too close to someone, loss, or rejection.
  • What happened to create this fear?
  • How’s it holding me back?

If you’re going to let go of fear you have to recognize them first. It’s called gaining consciousness. When you start to feel yourself getting a little anxious or fearful. Stop and take notice. Think to yourself. “Oh, here it is. I’m starting to get freaked out.” Then instead of reacting on your instant emotion…breathe, and see what’s going on around you that could be creating this element for you. Watch how your body reacts to the situation for future understanding. By doing this you start to disengage from the fear as the ultimate reality. It helps you to realize that you are NOT your fear.

Fear is like a fire alarm alerting you to check something out. It propels us into action. This is good, not bad. We need this. Julia Cameron says, “Fear is not something to meditate and medicate away. It is something to accept and explore.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic, says that when she’s writing and feels fear sit on her shoulder, she acknowledges it and says, “Thank you for worrying about me today, but I don’t need you,” and then she continues working. She doesn’t allow fear to control her choices or future because she is aware that she needs fear at times, but at other times she does not.

The ego is the part of your mind that stays focused on the past. It feeds you all the time with messages like “Watch out. It’s going to happen again.” It’s a sly trick that riddles our fear that we will indeed hurt again, and so instead of being open to different experiences and outcomes, we halt. Most of us are afraid of fear because so many of our experiences with fear have been negative. But, in reality it is a very positive and useful tool.

  1. Face your fears. You have to surrender them and become willing to create a different reality. Your life will not turn out differently unless you do something different.
  • What are your truths? (Example: Mine are being a Child Abuse Survivor, Scoliosis Survivor, a writer, speaker, and a mom.)
  • Write down your truths and start peeling back the layers on the onion one step at a time. Don’t try to take it all at once as your truths are going to be deep, hard, and emotional. Be gentle with yourself as you unfold each layer.
  • If you’re afraid of speaking, go speak. If you’re afraid of snakes, pet one, read a book about one or go to an aquarium and stand in front of the tank.
  • Encourage yourself to do one scary thing each day. It doesn’t need to be large. Every step forward is something to be proud of.

Courage, confidence and even fearlessness are the result of facing, embracing, and dancing with fear. Looking it straight in the eye and having a partnership with it.

  1. Learn to start loving yourself and appreciating all that you are. Piece by piece this helped me to start healing. Once I began nourishing myself, the fears I felt didn’t seem to control my life anymore. I began to have clarity on how to handle tough situations and challenges with more grace, patience and positivity. I started taking charge of what I wanted with my life.
  • Motivational videos– Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Tony Robbins are a few of my favorite speakers who have really excellent talks. Check out TEDTalks.
  • Gratitude journal- No matter how tough things feel, there’s ALWAYS something to be grateful for. Looking for those things gives us the opportunity to really see that we can indeed find beauty even in the darkest moments.
  • Positive Affirmations-Write five things that you want to start shifting in your mind in a positive fashion. One positive thing per card. If you have negative internal dialogue that you don’t think you’re very smart, write on your card “I’m Smart.” Use reverse psychology and say these five affirmations EVERY SINGLE DAY. Important: Say those like you mean it.
  • Take time out to breathe. I like to call these moments “Lauri Time.” Depending on the week, sometimes I can do an hour or sometimes its fifteen minutes, but do something that calms your spirits, is enjoyable, fun, or creative. Whatever you need in that moment, give it to yourself. You deserve to be treated with gentle loving care too. I have a fun way to do this. Write a list of twenty things that you really like and once a week, treat yourself to one of those things.
  • Read uplifting books– There are so many to check out. Chicken Soup for the Soul books are some of my favorite. Form a book club with a group and read a different inspirational book each week.
  • Get an accountability/support buddy– It’s important to find someone that you can share your process with rather it’s the big or small things. Every step is important to acknowledge.
  • Surround yourself with people that can relate to you and things you’re going through. A group of like-minded friends. Having this support system and team will help to keep you grounded, supported, and appreciated.

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing the monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” -C. S. Lewis-

  1. Be present and realize that this is your life.
  • If you were told that you had six months to live, would you live in the present or the past?
  • What kind of things would you do? Travel to a dream destination, swim with dolphins, spend more time with family, start taking a class you never allowed yourself to do…
  • Why are you waiting? Why not start now?

Put on your shield and cross the monkey bars. If you fall, get up and try again until you’re on the other side. You are NOT your fear! You’ve got this. –Lauri Schoenfeld

                    

 

 

 

 

 

The Gamification of Writing

Gamification is one of the biggest buzzwords in business today. As defined by the Financial Times:

Gamification is an emerging business practice that refers to the use of digital game design techniques and video game elements to solve non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges. It is applicable to a number of business areas including human resources, sustainability, innovation and marketing.

To those who are paying attention, it seems like practically everything is being gamified today. Any process that can be tracked and measured, the results ranked and made public, is certain to get this treatment.

A few months ago, my company’s technical support group got gamified. The manager divided the techs into teams and assigned point values to certain types of tickets. The two-week competition got pretty heated as the guys ended up gaming the gamification—trying to win at all costs. In the meantime, they managed to clear out a backlog of lingering support issues. Gamification FTW.

Not everybody likes having their jobs (or their lives) gamified, though. For a good illustration of this, check out the top definition of the term on UrbanDictionary.com:

A cynical practice by corporate douches where workers are supposedly motivated to work even harder on menial, pointless tasks by rewarding them with lame titles, meaningless rankings, coupons or a variety of other real-life trash loot.

I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing someone couldn’t quite make it to the top of his call center’s leaderboard.

TTOF---gamify---badges

Badges? We need some stinkin’ badges!

Regardless of what the critics say, turning an essentially non-competitive activity into a competition can be highly motivating. When I bought my wearable fitness tracker last year, Garmin immediately started awarding me “badges” just for walking around. I got a “5,000 Total Steps” badge on the first day I wore my tracker. They had gamified the very act of walking! Thus encouraged, I found myself ducking out a couple of times each day for a quick jaunt around the block, just to get the extra steps in. Thanks to Garmin’s behavioral conditioning, it only took me until October to get “2 Million Total Steps.” Woo-hoo!

Back on February 25 of this year, I earned Garmin’s “Quadruple Goal” badge for racking up 53,545 steps in a single day. When I bragged a little about that little achievement on social media (with gamification, bragging is practically compulsory) one of my Facebook “friends” actually accused me of cheating. “What did you do, attach your FitBit to a ceiling fan and let it run all day?”

In reply, I posted screenshots from MapMyRun, another gamification app:

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The app measured and showed exactly what I’d done: back-to-back half marathons … like a boss. It was all there in the stats: distance, time, pace, calories burned. My friend’s response to this was, “Oh.”

If you’ve ever participated in NaNoWriMo, you’ve had your writing gamified. I’ve done and won NaNo five years in a row now, and I freely admit I’m addicted to racking up the word counts. There’s nothing like a daily bar graph to encourage you to stay above the trend line. If you have a day when you don’t write as much (or at all), you see the disappointing flat bars. If you have a particularly productive day, the bars soar up. Sure, the motivation might be a little artificial, but it can also be very compelling:

TTOF---gamify---nanowrimo

I worked my tail off last year to hit 75,000 words—my best November ever. Were they all good words? Of course not. But you can’t edit something that’s not drafted, and you can’t trim words that haven’t been written.

As great as NaNoWriMo is, I wish the system provided even more in terms of stats and tracking. I love the fact that I can look at a running log on MapMyRun and see how elevation and fatigue affected my pace. I enjoy challenging myself to go faster on the uphill stretches or to finish strong after a long race—and then seeing my results in the workout log afterward. But NaNoWriMo’s “daily stats” only tracks a project’s progressing word count. I want more gamification, dangit!

This month, since I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo while also preparing for a marathon, I thought I might start tracking my writing sessions in a little more detail. Just as MapMyRun records the pacing of each mile, I’m using a spreadsheet to log each of my writing sessions, tracking my start and stop times and my beginning and ending word counts. The sheet calculates the total time, the total words, and the combined words per minute and words per hour.

Camp-NaNoWriMo-Session-Log

Since I generally go somewhere else to write, I’m also making note of where I spent each writing session. I want to know, when the month is over, whether certain locations might be more productive for me. As one of my marketing mentors used to say, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” And yet, all these years I’ve never really done much measuring when it comes to the creative process.

So far, what I’m finding is that I’m much more motivated to crank out words when I know the clock is ticking. In other words, the very fact that I’m tracking time and word counts impacts my behavior. (In physics, this is known as the “observer effect,” a phenomenon that’s also observed in quantum mechanics.) I’m also seeing that my level of preparation—essentially, how much I’ve thought about and planned out the day’s chapter(s)—affects my total production as well as my production rate (words per hour). It’s hard to know how to measure that, though.

I know there are those who might shy away from such an overtly nuts-and-bolts approach to the act of creation. To me, though, drafting prose is not about creating art. It’s about generating the raw materials for something that I hope will be compelling, inspiring and artistic. The first draft is the block of marble. The fifth or seventh or twentieth draft is the finished sculpture.

It might sound a little weird, but I figure if there’s anything I can do to streamline the process of pounding out that first draft, I’m willing to to try it. And that includes a little over-the-top gamification.

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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.

The World is Wide Enough: Rethinking the “-er” and the “-est”

 

April TTOF

We are all storytellers here, and today’s post is about my most recent experiences with one specific form of storytelling: live theater.

Due to ridiculous good fortune and a particularly skilled friend, I found myself in possession of a (reasonably priced!) ticket to see one of the very first performances of Hamilton in San Francisco. It’s still hard for me to put into words how perfect it was–the staging, the acting, the music, the story itself. I found myself thinking, “That may be the best performance I’ve seen. Of anything. Ever.”

What could possibly follow an experience like that? Would everything pale in comparison? Perhaps I should give up on theater, because what could ever hope to compete?

Luckily, my kids had already been cast in a children’s production of Once On This Island, and there was more theater in my immediate future. As I write this, we’re twenty-four hours from closing night, and I still haven’t made it through the final number without tearing up. It’s a beautiful show.

As I reflect on these two very different productions, I’ve also been thinking of a conversation I had recently with a wise grandmother. She told me of how she’s seeking to eliminate “the ‘-er’ and ‘-est'” from her conversations with her grandkids and even from her own thoughts. Rather than asking them, “What was the best part of the trip?” she asks, “What did you love about the trip?” Rather than evaluating her staff in terms of who is better at their job, she considers what strengths each of her employees brings to the workplace.

There is certainly a place for comparison and even ranking in certain facets of life, but ever since that conversation, I’ve been increasingly aware of how limited the need actually is. When anything is placed as superior, in terms of relationships or experiences or works of art, by necessity, something also becomes inferior.

Here’s what I propose:

What if we eliminate the comparison and ranking from our lives as much as we possibly can? Easier said than done, of course, but how powerful would it be to look at our experiences–and our work–in terms of what we love and what we learn? To approach our storytelling with a respect for and awareness of all the stories that have come before and all that will follow–but without worrying how ours will rank among them? To recognize that the world is truly wide enough for us all? Would we then tell our stories for more pure reasons, rather than for purposes of a bigger advance, a potential award that designates our work as “better”, a secret (or not-so-secret) desire to earn the rank of “bestsesller”?

Tomorrow night, I will watch from the wings as forty bright, beautiful children sing these words with strong voices and hopeful hearts:

Life is why
We tell the story
Pain is why
We tell the story
Love is why
We tell the story
Grief is why
We tell the story
Hope is why
We tell the story
Faith is why
We tell the story
You are why
We tell the story

~ “Why We Tell The Story”, Once On This Island

Nourish yourself and your story, then, my friends, without any worry of whether it is best or better in comparison to everything else out there or even than what you’ve written before. Put your whole self into your story, and when you’ve done that, again and again, let it be enough.

And it will be.


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (out now!) and PAPER CHAINS (coming fall 2017) from 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 Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

 

Birds of a Feather

A year ago, I started a middle grade story about a girl who will eventually discover her special talent is bossiness. Or rather, that she has executive potential. I read other books about entrepreneurial girls to get a sense of where my story fit, and I was disheartened when I ran across that one that was really similar to what I wanted to do. I wrote my grad school advisor a letter expressing my discouragement saying, essentially, “I’m not sure there’s a point to my book.” His response was a story:

There once was a magician who became so good at his craft that he decided the word “magician” no longer applied to him, and that he would like to be addressed as a god from that moment forward.

The God of that particular world happened to be walking by, and overheard.

“Interesting,” He said. “Let’s see what you’ve got, then. I challenge you to a contest of miracles.”

“I accept,” said the unfazed former magician.

“Then we’ll start small.” God scooped up a handful of dirt, spit in it to make clay, and shaped the clay into a bird. The bird stretched, sang, and flew away. “Can you do that?”

“No problem.” The former magician reached down, scooped up some dirt, and was just about to spit when God interrupted him.

“Hey, now. Use your own dirt.”

The point, he explained, was not to let the published story rock my confidence just because we’re sharing the same dirt.

On a recent thread in a writer’s forum, someone did some similar freaking out and I pasted in this anecdote with an air of calm, like, “Here, let this story soothe your soul,” then drifted off in a haze of benevolence. “I should do a blog post on this,” I thought.

Fast forward about two weeks and I was reading one of those lists of anticipated new releases. And to my stunned horror, there on the list was a forthcoming YA novel that shared some disheartening similarities to a story I’d been about to start. “How many stories about Deaf teenage artists does the world need?” I wondered.

And I went into the tailspin so many of us experience: it’s too similar to mine. No editor is going to want to buy my (unwritten) book with this other one already out in the world. And on and on and on.

birds-of-afeather

But I re-grounded myself in the story my advisor told me and I began to think about it. What is similar: a Deaf girl protagonist who expresses herself through art. And those are two big things to have in common. BUT. I thought about what was different. This book is YA, mine is middle grade. This book is written about a person of color. Me: definitely not. This book’s protagonist expresses her art through beautiful, subversive graffiti. Mine does it in the safety of her art class.

Then I thought about how many books I’ve read where paupers become princes, lowly peasant girls rise to royalty, a band of scrappy rebels overthrows an oppressive government, a lone wolf  fights through a bleak post-apocalyptic hellscape.

ET CETERA.

The et cetera is important. Lots of different versions of the same story are told, have been told, will be told. The magic is in the details, in the character, the voice, the setting.

This other story and I, we’re playing with the same dirt. But I plan to mold mine into a bird of an altogether different feather.

Let yours fly too.
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Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and shoe addict. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three kids and a series of doomed houseplants. Her seventh novel, Southern Charmed, released in October. Melanie is pursuing a Masters degree in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her contemporary YA novels are represented by Alyssa Henkin.

Grateful for My Village

During my writing group’s biweekly meeting last week, Elaine, one of my brilliant critique partners, made this very keen observation: “It takes a village to write a book.” The specific reason for this statement was because she pointed out a rather ridiculous (or alarming) train of thought I’d inadvertently given one of my characters. Such is the beauty and magic of a writing group and critique partners — we catch so many things and different things because we comprise many pairs of eyes plus brains and perspectives. As I wiped away my tears of laughter at my 1000th silly mistake, I looked around at the splendid company in my living room. And the truth of what Elaine said hit me. It does take a village to write a book, and I would be utterly lost without these women.

 

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Like any worthwhile relationship, being part of a community requires effort. My writing group and I have been together for quite some time, and the beauty of how we work together was not automatic. Looking back, we have had a few bumps along the way — I remember that it took us a while to get used to each others’ critique preferences and styles in both giving and receiving, and while we figured this out, we had a “safe word” we could use when the steady stream of critiques became too much. In being committed to the writing craft and to each other too, we have grown so much together. Over the years, these women have become my sisters, and I am so grateful we share in our village.

Perhaps it’s because 2016 is finally coming to a close that I’m now reflecting on all of the very important people in my writing life. Honestly, this year was probably the worst year for my writing since I started on this venture. But while I struggled with meeting my writing goals and watched my planned publication date come and go, I refuse to view this year as a failure — because there were good things that came from it too. Most of all, I’m grateful for my village. Indeed, maybe it’s because I haven’t written very much this year that I’m marveling over all of the people in my village that continue to inspire and motivate me to keep going: My lovely and brilliant local critique partners that are now more than ever like family to me. My long-distance writing partner who is like my writing twin, with whom I text on an almost daily basis about writing and general matters of life. My amazing editor that pops onto Twitter with a witty reply to one of my random tweets, just to let me know that he’s thinking of me. My proofreader that shares my love of nerdy things and books and swoony characters. All of the wonderful writers I’ve been able to meet and connect with at writers’ dinners and conferences and other writerly events. The lovely writers in my online world with whom I exchange words of encouragement and empathy when we post something about writing (or life). My friends and readers who are patiently waiting — and I say “patiently” because by the time I publish my next book, it will have been two years or more since I published my last one. Two years is a long time for this industry, but the village won’t bring me to trial for this or hang me from the gallows. A writer’s village is a supportive home, and while my village’s inhabitants (and likely yours) are dispersed all over the real world, they remain close to my heart and make my writing and publishing journey possible. I didn’t mean for this post to sound like a book dedication, by the way. But it is indeed a village, and you all have one too.

Forays and longer stays away from the village are necessary. Unless you’re at a writers’ retreat, the act of writing is a solitary one. I seek out this solitude when I hide out in my room at the end of the night with only my laptop for company. I seek out this solitude when I pop on my conspicuous, bright red headphones like a “Do Not Disturb” sign when I write at the coffee shop. I fully admit that I often crave this solitude, and I miss it when all of the things of life make that solitude not attainable. But when I do attain this quiet piece of time, it can also flip on its head to make me feel isolated. When I’m too involved in a story and my characters, I feel this great disconnect with reality, just like the feeling I get when I’ve been on vacation for too long — it’s lovely and refreshing to be away in this other world, but it’s always nice to come back home. During those lonely times, it helps to take a stroll through my village and appreciate and visit with the people that live there with me.

It takes a village to write a book, and I never want to move away from mine.

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helen2Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romances LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (coming soon). You can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.