Writing (or not) After Loss

This post is going to be difficult for me to write. Difficult, because that’s what all writing has been for me lately–difficult. And for a very good reason. . . .

writingloss

For many people, writing comes as a solace during difficult times. When someone experiences the loss of a loved one, for instance—like I did this summer—writing can be a way to either escape or process emotions. I actually felt like something was wrong with me because I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t even journal. The thoughts and feelings running through me were stuck inside my body and refused to exit onto the page. Fortunately, I had friends who were there to tell me this was okay, and not at all abnormal. They told me to take a break, take all the time I needed, and when I was ready to write again, I’d know it. And now I’m here to tell this to you, along with some other things that surprised me about writing after loss.

When I did eventually get back to writing (sporadically) about a month ago, I found I had a completely new perspective on my story and my characters. Interestingly, my main character’s father has died a month or two before the story begins, and oddly, it’s in a similar(ish) way to how my own dad died. This was not something that I added to the story after my own loss. Nope, it’s been that way since I first started writing it almost a year ago. Complete coincidence. However, I’ve been in my character’s shoes now, and I’ve realized the way my main character felt and acted in that first draft no longer resonates with me. It isn’t realistic anymore. So in the rewrite, I’ve been fixing that. And it’s (I hope) making my character so much richer. I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled about having this new perspective. If I could have gained it any other way, I would have preferred that. But I am grateful that I’m able to take this horrible experience and use it in a positive way. Silver linings and all that, I guess.

You may also find you’ve gained a new perspective toward your characters. You may find yourself adjusting things in ways you never would have thought to before. You may even find the story you’re currently working on doesn’t fit you at all anymore. That’s okay. Run with it. Fix it. Set it aside, if that’s what you need to do. My last finished novel—one I’ve queried and debated going Indie with, no longer fits me. At least, not right now. I’ve outgrown it, I guess you could say. As I see things now, I’m not likely to ever publish it. Or maybe someday, if I’m up to it, I’ll go back over it and make some major changes. And either way, that’s perfectly fine.

One more thing that has surprised me is how much less I’m censoring myself as I write. And by that, I mean I worry less about how my writing will be received by agents and publishers, and just write what I want to write. I write more for me now than I ever have before, and though I’m not completely oblivious to my future plans for this story, I’m pushing those concerns aside for dealing with when I actually get there. And what’s funny is, I thought I’d been doing this all along, but now I can clearly see that I hadn’t been. I’d been far too occupied with the dream of being published when I wrote my previous stories, that I’d become an anxious drafter, which made writing less fun and less satisfying. Now, the anxiety is gone. I’m not going to get into the psychology behind this, because I don’t completely understand why this has changed. But it has, and I’m good with that.

I’m telling you all of these things, not to give you any kind of road map or template for “when you experience loss, this is exactly how your writing will change,” because everyone experiences loss differently, and everyone writes differently. I’m telling you these things because they surprised me, and you may have some surprising experiences too. But whatever your experiences are, they are normal for you. And you may need to adjust some things, and that is perfectly okay.

______________________________________

File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Exploring Your Writing Identity

Who am I? Who do I want to be? How do I define myself as a writer?

We all ask ourselves these questions from time to time. Self-reflection is inevitable when we face frequent rejections and pour so much of our hearts onto the page for the sake of art. Our personal and creative identities are irrevocably linked.

Your voice is unique. Think of the countless influences and experiences that have shaped you. You are a complex, glorious being made up of every hardship, heartbreak, disappointment, desire, joy, and triumph you’ve ever known.

Your distinct writing identity stems from an endless list of factors: where you grew up, your socioeconomic status, family dynamics, belief system, schools, friends, jobs, favorite books–even the TV shows and movies you enjoy.

Are you writing the kind of books you want to write? How about the ones you have to write? Perhaps there is a certain type of book you longed for growing up, one you wished someone had written that spoke to your dearest hopes, your deepest fears.

Writing Identity TToF

If you find yourself examining where you are in your writing journey and where you want to go from here, try these five simple questions:

  1. What are your strengths as a writer?
  2. What genre do you enjoy writing (and reading) the most?
  3. What do you want to say to potential readers?
  4. What are your long-term writing goals?
  5. How would you like to grow or change as a writer?

My Happy Place is writing for middle grade readers, preferably with healthy doses of adventure, humor, and the paranormal. Moving backward through time I can clearly pinpoint several touchstones on the path that led to this point: the children’s lit class in college; the bleak novels we were force-fed in high school English; the stacks of ghost stories I devoured as a young teen; the steady diet of earnest, cheesy 1980s TV shows I adored as a kid.

I used to believe that my Happy Place was static and unchanging. But as I grow older, as I read more widely and interact with other writers, as we as a nation wrestle with our values and face our shortcomings in the struggle for social justice, I realize that my writing identity is still evolving.

As writers we owe it to ourselves and our readers to learn, to soul search, to expand our minds and hearts.

Consider writing something outside of your usual comfort zone. Read something completely new and unfamiliar. Seek out news from a wide range of reliable sources. Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. Plan a trip or a simple change of scenery. Wander through a new neighborhood. Observe people in new places. Engage with them. Hear what they have to say.

You will become not only a better writer but a better person, more qualified to explore, understand, and represent the human condition. You will learn to write from a place not just of sympathy but of empathy. You will speak not from secondhand knowledge but from firsthand experience.

I firmly believe that you should embrace what you feel called to write—compelled to write—without fear of judgment that your work isn’t important. When you write from a place of authenticity and a well-examined life, there will always be an audience for what you have to say.

_______________________________

 

Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.

Writers Must Practice Reflection

This week, as part of my day job, I’m attending a conference “dedicated to educating leaders in higher education, K-12, and non-profit organizations on experiential and project-based learning”. The principles discussed here fit in with the model established by David Kolb. There is lots of information about the Kolb cycle online, but one of the key factors that I think should be woven regularly into the process of writing is that of reflection.

The idea of reflection is not new. If you are like me, you may do this often after a situation has gone wrong. In those situations, you may think “I could have…” or “I should have…” or even “If I hadn’t…”. It may even be accompanied by a feeling of regret or the longing to take something back. But as a writing tool, reflection is invaluable.

I love you morethan there are starsin the sky..png

I think there are two kinds of reflection: accidental and intentional. Accidental reflection comes when you are reading through a craft book, listening to a presentation about character development or world-building where many of the things that are shared are reminders instead of new lessons. It might be when there is a Q&A and as you are listening to the questions being asked, you will realize that you know the answer, or at least a way to answer. It’s like what my own children are experiencing on a semi-regular basis lately where they are being asked to stand up or next to someone and realize they have grown.

Accidental reflection is an exceptional way to know how far you’ve come. It is a reason to celebrate knowledge and understanding and better appreciation of craft. But it isn’t the kind of reflection that allows you, as an artist, a weaver of words, a composer of character, to grow.

When we engage in intentional reflection, we are seeking out a way to learn and to improve. We are looking at our stories, our characters, our emotional impact, our setting and deliberately considering what is working, what isn’t working, why it is or isn’t. Intentional reflection means we know what we did to make these things work; it means we are searching and studying and reaching for an understanding of why something isn’t working.

The way this infiltrates our writing could be varied depending on our writing methods. As an outliner, I try to think through the complications and be intentional during my drafting process while I know many people who are pantsers or people who revise as they draft who prefer to weave or layer the details in as they become aware of them. Intentional reflection requires analysis of not only our stories, but of those that have an impact on us, whether that be movies, TV shows, books or plays.

If we desire to continue to improve as a writer, intentional reflection is a fundamental key to that success.

_________________________________________
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.

(Almost) Everything I Learned About Writing, I Learned from Parenting

Last week, some of the Cedar City members of Thinking Through Our Fingers met at our local library for a writer’s panel discussion (which was wonderful). The first thing our lovely panel moderator asked us was to share our most important piece of writing advice. Mine was along the lines of every project being different and how it therefore becomes necessary to temper our expectations along the way (i.e., just because book three was a relative breeze doesn’t guarantee that book five won’t be a beast with horns). Each work has its own personality, and I began to think about how in some ways, tending to our “book babies” is a lot like parenting. Not a parent? No worries. These analogies apply to other crazily difficult if not impossible tasks as well. Like domesticating wild zebras. Or learning how to sky-dive into volcanoes.

cry

READING ABOUT IT IS FINE, BUT TO REALLY LEARN HOW TO DO IT, YOU HAVE TO JUST DO IT.doit

  • Prior to becoming a parent, maybe you stocked up on those “What to Expect” or other parenting books (Goodness knows I did). While useful for some technical things (like how to get that dirty diaper off and the clean one on before the baby pees or poops EVERYWHERE), nothing can better make you a better parent except for rolling up your sleeves and actually tackling parenting. Seriously. Despite the best books, you will have those days, weeks, months (or more) where you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, but take comfort in the fact that you are learning more every day (especially from your mistakes), and that you’re doing the best that you can. Because you’re doing it.
  • Similarly, you might have a favorite stack of craft books and podcasts and go-to blogs about writing. You may attend writing conferences and workshops to learn about your craft. Yes. DO THOSE THINGS. But in addition to getting ideas, inspiration, and technical details, nothing will teach you more about writing than rolling up your sleeves, sitting your butt in that chair, and writing. And yes, you will have those days, weeks, months (or more) where you feel doubtful about your writing and maybe even question your entire writing career, but take comfort in the knowledge that by actually writing, you are learning more about writing every single day (especially from your mistakes), and that you’re doing the very best that you can. Because you’re doing it.

MAINTAIN REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.expectations.gif

  • Even before I became a parent, I had plans. I planned to go the route of natural childbirth for my first child. I read up on it, spoke to my physician and other professionals, and attended classes to prepare myself and my husband for what would hopefully be a memorable experience. Well. What wound up happening was a total of 28+ hours of difficult labor, two separate epidurals, and an emergency C-section that saved both my and my son’s life (talk about the opposite of “natural”)! And the important and special bonding process between mother and baby that’s supposed to happen immediately after birth? I didn’t get to even see him until two days after he was born because we were both recovering from those 28+ hours of trauma. That little guy is now almost ten years old, and I’ve learned to chill out (a little) about my expectations. If he remembers to brush his teeth and comes home from school with a smile on his face, then this is a good day! If he also does his homework and helps around the house and doesn’t argue with me and doesn’t torture his younger brother too much and practices piano without me nagging him 194 times, then that’s an amazing day. The point is not to set low expectations, but maybe it would be better to set realistic ones and understand there are lots (and lots) of things in life that out of your control.
  • Oh boy. We expect so much from ourselves as writers, don’t we? We go to conferences, connect with other writers, read about others’ experiences, and educate ourselves as best as we can about what it takes to get published. We hope that people (critique partners, beta readers, agents, editors, and eventually EVERYONE) will read and enjoy and possibly even connect with our stories. Once our book babies are out there in the world, we hope and hope and hope they will do well. I made the emotionally draining mistake with my third published book of having unrealistic expectations. This was the first contemporary story I’d written, it had gotten great pre-release buzz, and so many people worked hard to promote it on release day. Well. This book never did too well, and at first, I let that bring me down. However, I still dearly love that book baby, am currently working on another contemporary story that shall be published later this year, and I’m being careful to not unrealistically inflate my expectations. Since I’ve published my first book, I’ve chilled out (a lot) about expectations. Honestly, as long as I’m still writing, I’m good :). If people read my book and connect with it, that’s amazing. I don’t stress about charts and rankings so much anymore, especially because things like hitting bestseller charts are not in your control and therefore aren’t realistic goals.

SORRY, BUT IT DOESN’T GET ANY EASIER.screams

  • Okay, yes, some parenting things do get easier with experience. With my second child, I figured out how to multitask a bit better (because simultaneously juggling nursing, helping my son with his homework, cooking dinner, and proofreading a manuscript was necessary). However, I had to give up naps because life became much busier, and that was hard. Most importantly, I quickly learned that my kids’ personalities are not the same, and so I’ve had to adjust my parenting style to fit each child — in a way that’s a bit different for each child but hopefully still fair (unless you ask them directly, then nothing in life is fair). But I haven’t even gotten to the teenage years with them yet, so I know it’s going to get harder and harder and that I might not completely survive adolescent boys. Just kidding. We will be great, and when I get more gray hair, it means that I get to color it even more fun colors. But to say parenting becomes magically easier with each kid — just, no.
  • Likewise, every writing project is different, and prior experience will make some things easier, but not all. For instance, I don’t cry (nearly as much) when my editor comments that something major in my story needs to be changed. On the other hand, drafting is still that untamed beast with horns that gores me and leaves me bleeding on the ground. Each book has its own personality and its own challenges, and I find that these challenges continually surprise me. Book two was a challenge because it was the first one I wrote from dual POV (one male and one female). Book three was actually a relatively easier and pleasant one for me to write, but it was different because it was contemporary and not fantasy. Book four was a huge challenge because I had to balance two stories that were 500 years apart, but I felt pretty good throughout the process. And here I am writing book five, and it has been the hardest thing I’ve ever written and I want to pull out my hair because of ALL the things. GAH. What a problem child my fifth book has been. But I don’t hate it, and I just have to keep reminding myself that this story has its own personality and challenges. But to say that writing becomes magically easier with each project — just, no.

IT’S WORTH IT. (ALSO, DON’T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF!)worthit

  • At the end of the day, I might be hoarse from yelling and my house might be in danger of being classified a Federal Disaster Area, but being the mom of my two creative, hilarious, energetic, and sweet boys is so worth it. Some days I feel like I still know pretty much nothing about parenting, but I know a lot more than I did before I held my first baby.
  • Similarly, writing may make me frustrated, sleep-deprived, feel like a failure, give me anxiety or at the very least, Imposter Syndrome, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it. I know a lot more about writing than I did when I was slogging through my first manuscript.
  • Writing books and being a parent are two of the most challenging things I’ve ever done (and my former graduate school advisor is still mad at me because I told him that getting my Ph.D paled in comparison in difficulty to either of these things). Whether we choose to become parents and/or writers, zebra domesticators and/or volcano skydivers, these difficult tasks that we take on require us to continually build up our abilities with experience. But as long as we acknowledge and embrace that there’s always more to learn, I think we will all be okay.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: HOPE

Even though there have been many, many moments in recent days when it has been a struggle, the last lesson I want to share is this: HOPE. Raising my children requires that I maintain hope, for their happiness, for their lives, for their education and future prospects, and for the world that I leave behind for them. My children are my ultimate inspiration to keep fighting for a better future, and I will continue teaching them about important things such as inclusion, diversity, and how we should speak up and act when we see the need for change. Similarly, as writers, we have the power to write meaningful stories that touch lives and provide connections for those who feel lost. We have the power to share stories that reflect inclusion, unity, diversity, and betterment of the human condition. We have the power to tackle tough topics, heal people and their wounds and empower them. We can create better worlds and give people the power to speak up, and we can give them hope.

Because we always need hope in our world. We really do.

_________________________________
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. Mom of two and 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 as soon as she can tame that wild beast of a book baby). You can find out more about her writing at www.helenboswell.com.

Looking Back and Forward

Can you believe 2016 is almost over? We at Thinking Through Our Fingers have had a tremendous year, from book deals, to agents, to tackling a new genre, to finishing a difficult manuscript. I asked my fellow contributors to share their best accomplishment as a writer from this year as well as what they look forward to achieving next year.

12-30-16_emily-r-king-post

Rosalyn Eves—My writing high for the year was two-fold: seeing an actual copy (ARC) of my book for the first time and getting to meet my editor and the staff at Knopf this past November.

My goals for 2017: finish writing book 2 and survive the launch of book one in March!

Cindy Baldwin—2016 was a red-letter year for my writing! After unsuccessfully querying two other books, I managed to land both an agent and a book deal with a third. I’m now prepping to be a 2018 debut author and couldn’t be more excited!

I have lots of things I’d like to do in 2017: write more books, master tricky craft aspects that aren’t my strong point, etc. But the biggest thing that’s been coming to my mind as I’ve contemplated moving forward toward my debut is how much I want to focus on mindfulness and gratitude in my writing journey. Writing carries so much angst and neuroticism with it, and I know that debut years in particular can provoke a lot of anxiety. As I prepare for mine, I’d like to really focus on establishing tools that will help me deal with that anxiety moving forward.

Amanda Rawson Hill—I signed with my dream agent and wrote the book of my heart.

In 2017, I plan to finish an R&R, write my fourth novel, and be proud of myself whether or not I get a book deal.

Wendy Jessen—I just finished a revise and resubmit on my self-help/inspiration nonfiction. Lots of growing as a writer and as a person.

Goal for next year: self-pub some contemporary sweet romance novellas and get my YA rough draft. Or that might change depending on what happens with the aforementioned R&R and there may be some more NF in the works. Clearly, I have a solid plan.

Jolene Perry—I wrote my first middle grade novel, turned it in to my agent, and it’s now on submission 🙂

Next year, I want to get one of my YA horror novels on submission and continue working on my adult historical. This year, and who knows how many other years, are dedicated to stretching my writerly wings in any direction I please 🙂

Elaine Vickers—On the publishing end, my debut came out in 2016, which was every bit as wonderful (and stressful) as I’d ever imagined.

In 2017, I’m looking forward to all the same things again–first pass pages, ARCs, signings, conferences, trade reviews, launch party, etc.–with a little more experience but no less enthusiasm. On the writing end, I worked and revised in 2016 but didn’t draft a whole new story. I’ve got one I’ve been itching to write for months now that’s still just a skeletal outline, so my main writing goal is to get it written in 2017.

Dennis Gaunt—Lots of good things happened to me in 2016, including being asked to emcee the 2016 Storymakers conference. But my biggest news is that the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley book that I helped produce, became available.

Looking forward to 2017, I have a couple of books that I’m working on, and am dipping my toe into the fiction world for the first time.

Orly Konig—Highs for 2016: Finished revisions on debut and got to cuddle my ARCs. Sold the second book.

My goal for 2017 is to enjoy being a debut author and not get lost in the frenzy. Oh, and write the next book. 🙂

Tasha Seegmiller—Personally, I signed with an agent (Annelise Robey – Jane Rotrosen Agency) and revamped the book that got me my agent TWICE! I also got re-elected as secretary for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, oversaw the publication of four editions of a quarterly ezine (Write On!), and expanded the frequency of TTOF posts to five days a week. (YAY!!!)

Kristina Starmer—My biggest accomplishment in 2016 was to give myself permission to make writing a priority.

For next year, my goals are to revise my NaNo project and continue querying a previous work.

Ilima Todd—My writing-related highlight of 2016 was probably having a book released (my second) and signing with a new agent (my third) all within a month. Crazy times!

My goals for 2017 include finishing off a couple of projects that I’ve started and writing something completely new. I want to write a novel in a different genre/audience than I’ve ever done before. I’m excited!

Helen Boswell — This was a hard year for me for writing,  but I coauthored a paper with Tasha Seegmiller in American Biology Teacher titled, “Reading Fiction in Biology Class to Enhance Scientific Literacy.” It’s currently more important than ever that we promote scientific literacy, and fiction writers can help!

Goals: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard, and finish writing this damned book I’ve been working on for two years. Maybe get a standing desk to help, so I don’t have to keep my butt in the chair after all. 🙂

Annette Lyon—Probably the biggest thing for me this year was hitting the USA Today bestsellers list in July. I also went on my first round of submission with the book I got my agent with a year ago. I’m finishing (another!) round of revisions before we go on sub again early 2017. My hope for next year is that it will sell, of course. 🙂

Lauri Schoenfeld—My massive high this year is that I went through a complete revision of my novel—multiple times. And sending it off to my editor. This is a huge and new step. I’ve been working with this novel for five years.

Next year, I’ll be querying, finding an agent and writing a new baby. I haven’t written anything new for a while so I’m super excited about that stage too.

Jenilyn Collings—I suppose my high was: starting an MFA in writing for children and young adults.

My goal for 2017 is to finish the MFA program and query the novel I’ve been working on.

Emily R. King—My highs of the year were landing a fabulous new agent, Marlene Stringer, and selling my first two novels.

Next year, I hope to enjoy (and survive) the release of my first two books and sell a third (fingers crossed).

What was your high point for 2016? What goals have you set for 2017?

Whatever achievements you have accomplished or plan to attain soon, all of us at Thinking Through Our Fingers wish you a Happy New Year!

_____________________________

Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the U.S.A., she’s perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of SCBWI and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat. You can find Emily at emilyrking.com

How Your (Other) Career Can Make You a Better Writer

Full-time writer.

Ever since I was a teenager, I have entertained dreams of this concept. Now I am well into my *cough* forties and not a full-time writer, though I personally know a few of these magical creatures. I have another career that demands quite a bit of my time, and I’m perfectly aware that I’m not as prolific as a writer as I could be. I used to battle over this notion, working on my WIPs in the wee hours of the morning until I was stressed and exhausted and a grouchy monster with no possible relief in sight for said grouchiness. This ultimately led to burnout, and on top of that, unhappiness with my inability to better balance my time between my author career (which I love with a passion) and my Associate Professor career (which I also love with a passion). We writers always hear the advice to make writing a priority, and I wholeheartedly agree. BUT  I admit that I sometimes wonder if I can mentally/ emotionally/ physically sustain both careers. (Note that I’m in the middle of finals week as I write this and I feel mentally/ emotionally/ physically exhausted.)  I also have a family that always comes first. And I have important friendships and other interests and even a need to eat now and then and my health to take care of and other matters of life and ALL THE THINGS. *hyperventilates*

But I digress. This post is about career choices — though for me, there really is no choice. I love and need my life as Associate Professor, and I love and need my author life, and so I choose both. But here’s the amazing thing that I figured out rather late in the game (this year). Until recently, I had largely been viewing these two careers as separate and not synergistic. Now I’ve come to realize that I’m a better professor because I’m an author. Likewise, I know that I’m a better author if I embrace my career as a Professor. (I should probably mention here that I’m not an Associate Professor of English or Creative Writing. I’m an Associate Professor of Biology.)

If you aren’t a full-time writer but are working two careers, whether it be Author first and Other second or vice versa, here are some ways you could benefit from embracing both:

  1. Character inspiration: This is not to say that you should necessarily write your boss as a villain (No matter how tempting that may be, this would invalidate that important disclaimer about your characters being fictional and how any resemblance of them to real people is a coincidence). BUT we can’t help that IRL people do serve as character inspirations. Maybe your coworker has a quirky or annoying thing that she does that your character borrows for her own. Maybe your directory of colleagues (or class list – hehe) serves as a potential list for new character names. Writers create real characters by borrowing bits of real people. A former colleague and I used to joke that someday we would write a comic strip about university life because of all of the drama and characters we work with. This hasn’t happened, but I’ve had lots of idea fodder because of my working environment, which I’ll talk about more in #2. But before I get to that, I need to emphasize that one of the most important things that helps us as writers (and human beings in general) is EMPATHY. In working with my students and others, I try to take the time to understand them as people. This helps ME as a person and yes, as a writer.careful_or_youll_end_up_in_my_novel_round_sticker-rae60fc169aa946faa3d08ee493ce1893_v9waf_8byvr_324
  2. Career-based inspiration. As real people serve as character inspiration, your knowledge base and working environment may be a source of inspiration as well. The specifics of this one are obviously dependent on your particular career. John Grisham is probably one of the best-known examples of an attorney who used his background to write his legal thrillers. One of my childhood favorites, Agatha Christie, worked for several years in a pharmacy, which gave her knowledge of drugs (and how they could be used for murder). My YA characters have been known to take science courses, and my inside knowledge of college life makes for a relatable college life for my NA characters. Your particular area of expertise can also help to improve authenticity and be used for elements of world building, no matter how big or small. (BTW, I really love this post by Amanda Rawson Hill on contemporary world building). agatha
  3. Integration. Every day that you write, you become a better writer. (If you don’t believe me, blow off the dust from one of your earliest works and read it.) If you truly enjoy both of your careers as I do, you can seize opportunities within your job to become a better writer. By this, I don’t mean by writing during lunch breaks or while waiting for a copy job to finish (though you could), but by seizing opportunities to do the things that help you become a better writer. Again, this does depend on your career type. A career in floor retail doesn’t afford much opportunity to integrate writing (but imagine the possibilities for #1). Neither does flying helicopters (but imagine the possibilities for #2.) Proofreading reports or legal briefs may help you become better at killing your darlings. Those sales pitches or job presentations may help you become better at pitching your stories. I used to think I had to keep Author life and Professor life completely segregated, but the possibilities for integration keep expanding. For instance, I’ve made great strides to instill the love of reading and the value of scientific AND general literacy in my students. My talented friend and colleague Tasha Seegmiller and I coauthored a scientific paper this year on how to effectively use fiction to promote scientific literacy in biology classes. My other talented friend and colleague (Assistant Professor of Chemistry; see how doable this is?), Elaine Vickers and I were recently accepted as faculty at the 2017 LDStorymakers Conference for our class, Getting It Right: Science in Fiction. These accomplishments are part of my author life AND my professor life, and TBH, I probably would have never dreamed of doing either of these specific things as part of my job if I hadn’t become an author. Also, in grading mountains of scientific papers (finals week – gah!), have become a better editor of my students’ written works (much to their dismay  when they find so much markup on their papers #sorrynotsorry). In my classes, they’re doing scientific and not creative writing, but I still feel it’s my professional duty to teach my biology students about the superiority of active voice over passive voice and why spelling matters (e.g., you know, because the words, “assess” and “asses” have completely different meanings.) But also lessons about why attention to all details is important (a lesson from editing and publishing) and why it’s important to make sure they take care of themselves as people (a lesson from writer life in general).

word

In sum, for those of you who, like me, are not full-time writers at this point in time (and maybe never will be), don’t feel like you haven’t “made it” as a writer. Take stock in your entire world and appreciate opportunities for inspiration and whenever possible, integration. There is really something to be said about having the best of both worlds. 🙂

Do you have a career in addition to your writing career? What are some ways in which you’ve managed to have the best of both worlds?

______________________________

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). As an Associate Professor of Biology, she tries to instill good writing practices and a love of reading into her students. You can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com and her professor life at helenboswell.wordpress.com.

 

 

Pausing to Reflect

After tomorrow, 2016 will be a quarter of the way over. If your year has gone anything like mine, you may have found that you are running, constantly. While I’m pretty sure this is a semi-regular norm of modern society, I also think it is one of the greatest detriments. Taking a few minutes to pause, reflect, and let the frenzied thoughts of our mind have a moment to settle can be highly beneficial.

With this in mind, I’ve asked several of our contributors to share the one thing they’ve learned about the writing journey so far this year. Take a few moment to read through their lessons, and feel free to add yours in the comments below.

Tasha Seegmiller

I’ve learned that sometimes it feels like you will be the one waiting FOREVER for something to happen, to finally figure out how to make it to the next stepping stone. But if you keep working and learning and writing and supporting while you are waiting, your chance to leap to the next stone WILL come.

Helen Boswell

Whether you have a good day or a bad day is largely dependent on your attitude and perspective. Whether you have a good WRITING day or bad WRITING day is the same. Just as it’s not healthy to compare your day with how someone else’s day went, your writing progress, accomplishments, and growth should be measured by one standard: your own.

Elaine Vickers

I’ve learned that there’s a difference between “writing time” and “developing a writing career” time. If I let the latter eat too much into the former–if I spend my precious writing time answering emails or fixing my website or working on an ARC list–I begin to feel the same emptiness as when I’m not making time for my author self at all. Protect your actual writing time, my friends.

Liz Isaacson 

I’ve learned — through something really painful and disappointing, actually — that an author needs to stay true to their vision for their own story. That just because someone wants your story to be something else doesn’t mean you have to make it that way to please them. After all, authors have a right to have a vision for their characters and story that shouldn’t have to change if they don’t want it to.

Sydney Strand

Be creative outside of writing and it will​ help you think more creatively. I’ve been actively doodling and joining doodle challenges since November/December. This has helped me revise better because I’m seeing plot points that are not the easier route I took for the initial draft. By making myself do these other creative outlets, I can see (in these quicker, non-75,000-word pursuits) how much better an odd choice can make a doodle better/more memorable.

Jenilyn Collings

I’d heard this before, of course, but I’ve learned that everyone struggles with the ups and downs of being a writer. Everyone has moments (or days or months or even years) of self-doubt. But just because you struggle with that (and everyone does) it doesn’t mean that what you are working on isn’t worth it. It doesn’t mean that you are the worst writer in the world or that you won’t ever improve. 

What have you learned so far this year? 
_________________________________________

Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.