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.

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. . . .

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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.

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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.

Trudging Through Sludge

It creeps under doorways, rises through vents, incorporating everything and everyone in its path, zapping them of energy, physical and mental. It’s a destroyer of focus and productivity, causing its victims to write at a snail’s pace, stare at blank screens, and abandon projects. I call it the Sludge, and I’ve been trying to wade through it for ages now.

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I briefly escaped it when I traveled across the country to write in a cabin with a bunch of other writers (several of whom were also traveling to escape the Sludge.) I hoped that maybe while I was away, the Sludge would get bored and move somewhere else. But no, it had waited patiently back at home, and was there to greet me again when I returned.

I tried to convince it to go with threats of Camp NaNoWriMo word counts, but it laughed in my face and gave me the flu. It knows I can’t write when I have the flu. Then the dreaded Spring Break arrived and the two teamed up. There’s no wading through a combo of Sludge and Spring Break—what was originally the thickness of molasses hardened into clay. I’ve written very, very little during the last three weeks.

There’s a trick to fighting the Sludge though, if you’re patient. You know how in old movies, the protagonist would fall into quick sand, and the more they struggled, the deeper they would sink? Eventually they would realize that if they stopped struggling, they’d float back up to the top where they could reach a vine or outstretched hand that would bring them back to safety. The Sludge is kind of like that. The more you stress about how little you’re writing, the harder it becomes to write, until eventually, you’re not writing at all.

I’ve found that I do better if I stop thinking about it much. If I just ride along on the surface of the Sludge and let it carry me to wherever it’s trying to go, it will eventually float me to a branch that I can use to pull myself out. I stop worrying about word counts, and just ask myself if I’ve written at all that day. Or heck, if I’ve even opened up my document and looked at it, if I’ve thought about it at all while showering or doing the dishes—if I haven’t abandoned it completely, that’s good enough for now. And eventually, if I keep at it in just such a way, the Sludge will slink away for a while and let me get back to work.

Have you ever been taken over by the Sludge? How did you handle it? Or, if you’re currently trudging through it, I hope this has helped you to know you’re not alone, and eventually, you’ll find your way back out.

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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.

An Author’s Christmas Eve

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Writing and publishing are often compared to a roller coaster, because hey, we’re writers, and sometimes we want to save the really creative metaphors for our work. But writing and publishing could also be compared to a calendar year—some beautiful days, some rotten ones, seasons of bleak gray, seasons of anticipation and waiting and hard work.

If I think of my own writing journey in these terms (and as somebody who celebrates Christmas), I’ve arrived at Christmas Eve. There’s a red-letter day on the calendar that I’ve been counting down toward forever, and suddenly, it’s almost here. My debut novel is about to be released, and I have an actual hardcover copy that I can hold in my hands! In all honesty, I always imagined this part would feel like Christmas Eve, and it does! But there’s a catch.

I imagined this part of the publishing journey would feel like Christmas Eve as a kid. Nothing but parties and treats and gleeful anticipation of the day you’ve been waiting for forever. Knowing that on the other side of sunrise, you’ll get the very thing you’ve been waiting and wishing for, and all your dreams will come true.

Ahh. Christmas Eve.

The reality is that right now feels less like the Christmas Eves of my childhood and a whole lot more like Christmas Eve as an adult. It’s a wonderful time, to be sure, but there is also a crap ton of work to do. Things to assemble and buy and so many people to reach out to. Events to plan. And will any of it live up to the expectations of those you’re trying so hard to please?

In this Christmas Eve scenario, there is only one gift, and it’s both the one you’re giving and the one you’re receiving: your book. Talk about pressure.

By the way, I don’t think this applies only to writers on the eve of traditional publication. I felt this way before I clicked “send” on queries. Each time my agent sent a new batch of submissions. I feel this way a little even when I send something I’ve written to my closest friends and critique partners and even to my parents. The stories we craft are pieces of ourselves, and it’s an incredibly vulnerable thing to give them to readers of any kind.

So what do you do when Christmas Eve arrives, as it inevitably does? You take that gift that you’ve labored over and you try to find the very best ways to package it and present it, with a query letter or jacket copy or the perfect book trailer or postcards for libraries or…you get the idea. Sometimes this works beautifully, but sometimes the gift itself resists that packaging.

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Another thing: Even when things seem to be going smoothly, there’s a distinct possibility itching at the back of your mind that perhaps the gift itself is not quite right after all. That in spite of all your efforts and thought and planning and sacrifice, what you have to offer isn’t going to measure up. That even you will be disappointed when Christmas morning arrives and this one imperfect story is all there is. But it’s sure as heck too late to do anything about that, because it’s Christmas Eve and you couldn’t change it if you wanted to, and even if you could, on a fundamental level it is what it is and you would probably only make it worse. So maybe just put another bow on top…

No. See there? The bow was too much, and now you’re questioning all your wrapping choices, and the thing inside the package is still exactly the same as it was before, which is to say that it’s still not perfect.

As soon as this gift leaves our hands and passes to someone else’s, there is the distinct possibility that it won’t quite be what they were looking for. There is a high probability that they will recognize its imperfections.

But here’s the thing: That’s what life is. Imperfect and yet incredible. That’s what your gift is, in its own way. In fact, that’s what so much of what we write yearns to convey.

Here are my characters. Imperfect, yet incredible.

Here is their journey. Imperfect, yet incredible.

Here I am, the deepest parts of my soul visible in slivers of light and shadow and all shades in between through the words I put on this page. Imperfect, yet incredible.

What a gift it would be to recognize the value of our words and the value in ourselves, during all seasons of this journey. For me, on this Christmas Eve, I’ve still got miles to go.


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and 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.

The Best Writing Advice I Ever Got (…it might not be what you think it is!)


In writing, as in any profession, there’s a lot of advice to take in. “Show, don’t tell.” “Use adverbs sparingly.” “Write what you know.” A writer at any stage can find advice on everything from craft to platform-building to marketing to how to tackle a query letter—and nearly all of that advice is extremely helpful.

But gather close, my fellow writers, because today I’m going to tell you about the hands-down most helpful piece of writing advice I’ve ever gotten… and it probably isn’t going to be what you think.
In the summer of 2014, I was getting serious about pursuing publication. I’d been writing off and on my whole life, and had recently completed and polished my third novel. After years of not feeling like I was ready to wade into the daunting world of publishing, I’d decided it was time to go out and chase my dream down. And so I did: I signed up for a writing conference and live-pitched my book to an agent. I queried a handful of other agents and spent my days dreaming about how much they’d surely love my book. And when none of those agents uttered a word that wasn’t “no,” I stumbled across the world of online writing contests and entered Brenda Drake’s fabulous Pitch Wars, hoping that I’d win a coveted mentorship and be able to take my writing to the next level.
In the two weeks that passed between the Pitch Wars entrance period and the decision day, I knew with increasing certainty that I wasn’t going to make it in. None of the mentors I’d submitted to had requested any further materials from me, and none of the hints they were Tweeting about their favorite manuscripts lined up with mine. Sure enough, when the list of mentor picks went up, my name wasn’t on it. In the days that followed, I received kind rejection e-mails from three of the mentors I’d submitted to, all of them confirming the feeling that had been growing in my gut: My precious book, the one that my critique partners had declared “beautiful!” and “Newbery-worthy!”, was probably not going to have a chance of standing out in its highly oversaturated market.
Like any good protagonist, all of this plunged me into a bit of a Dark Night of the Soul. I traded anguished e-mails with my best friend and critique partner, agonizing over the fact that I’d never make it as a “real” writer, that I’d never be able to move beyond writing pretty words (my specialty!) to creating something truly meaningful that people couldn’t put down. I lived in fear that I would never figure out the secrets of a compelling plot—that I’d be consigned to nature-observation blog posts and lyrical but slow historical novels for the rest of forever.
During that time, I wasn’t on Twitter much. Seeing all of my newly-made Twitter friends rejoicing in the start of their Pitch Wars experience was just too hard. But on occasion, I’d get on and read the advice the mentors were tweeting for those of us who didn’t get in. And one tweet—a bit of advice from the lovely writer Bethany Smith and retweeted by a Pitch Wars mentor—particularly made an impression on me. 

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By that time, in the summer of 2014, I was not—and did not consider myself—a beginner writer. I’d been writing with varying levels of seriousness for almost a decade, and I’d been throwing myself into publication-related prep for the past two years. 
But in many ways, I was still a fledgling, just barely beginning to understand how to navigate the world beyond my own Word document. And in even more ways, I had fallen into the trap of imagining myself a “wunderkind”—a pretty natural fallout of having grown up surrounded by praise for my writing from teachers, friends, and critique partners. 
And, hard as it was to swallow, Bethany’s advice was exactly what I most needed. I needed that wake-up call—a reminder that, while I had studied hard and gotten skilled at some aspects of writing (lyrical language chief among them), I still had an enormous amount to learn (plots, for instance!). 
And as the weeks passed after the Pitch Wars mentor picks went up and I wasn’t one of them, I did my best to follow Bethany’s example, and I went to work. I turned to revising another novel, a strange little book that had a lot of my heart and soul in it, and the next year when I began querying that one, I started getting agent requests right off the bat. Ultimately, that novel got me into Pitch Wars the next year, and the things that I learned while revising that book for Pitch Wars were transformative for me. That novel didn’t get me an agent—during Pitch Wars or after it—but it did help me learn skills that I was able to apply in working on my next book, and that book was the one my fabulous agent signed me with.
In the two years that have passed since that watershed moment, a lot has changed. I have an agent now, and, in a funny twist of fate, I myself am a Pitch Wars mentor for 2016. But even now, I think about that tweet. Because while I’ve improved in many ways, I still have a lot of weaknesses, and I no longer consider myself a prodigy. Instead, I try to focus both on how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go, balancing my acquired strengths with the things I still need to learn. Because, I now realize, every writer, no matter where she is in her writing journey, has something to learn.

 

And that’s advice worth following.

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Cindy Baldwin is a Carolina girl who moved to the opposite coast and is gamely doing her part in keeping Portland weird. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of someday writing just that kind of book. She writes middle grade and young adult magical realism in addition to the occasional poem or creative non-fiction essay. She is represented by Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown LTD. Find her online at www.cindybaldwinbooks.com and on Twitter at @beingcindy.

In Defense of Multiple Projects

I used to think that I should focus on only one project at a time. My fear was that, if I let myself get distracted by anything else, I would never finish anything that I started.

Lately, despite this . . . I’ve been having trouble finishing anything that I’ve started. Huh. Go figure.

I’m not exactly sure why this is, but despite planning and plotting (something I never used to do but started doing out of desperation), I still kept getting stuck at right around the first quarter point. Stubbornly, I’d step back, reassess, and usually decide I was taking the wrong approach. So I’d start over, incorporating whatever new idea for a fix I’d come up with. And then, right around the same point, I’d get stuck again.

After about the third round of this with my last project, a shiny new story idea popped into my head. I tried to push it aside; I wrote down a few notes then told it to sit tight and wait its turn. It didn’t like that. It kept nudging me, then poking me, then pretty much punching me in the arm to get my attention. “No,” I told it. “I can’t. I’m still stuck on this other project.” Stuck. Still stuck.

Maybe it was time to take a break. Not give up–no, no, no, I wasn’t at that point yet. Just take a break. Finally, I gave in. I set the other project aside and started working on the shiny new one. You’ll never guess what happened next.

Okay, maybe you will guess. Am I that transparent? Fine, yes, I started finding inspiration for that first project again. I didn’t get bored with the new one. I just found myself thinking about the characters in the old one as well. So now, I’m working on both. Will it take me longer to complete them? Probably.

. . . Actually, probably not. Because instead of sitting around being stuck, I’m actually writing. Yes, I’m writing in smaller increments on each, and sometimes setting one aside for a bit to work on the other, but I AM writing, as opposed to before, when I was spending more time feeling guilty about not writing than actually writing. So yes, I will actually probably finish both drafts faster than I would have if I was concentrating on just one at a time.

So you see, it’s okay to switch back and forth between projects. It’s okay to work on more than one in a single day. It’s okay to take large chunks of time off on one project to work solely on another. It’s okay to do whatever you can to keep your inspiration fresh. Maybe you’re in the mood to write something dark one day, and light the next. Do it. Have both types of projects waiting in the wings so you can pull them out whenever you need them. Writing should be a release, so write whatever emotion you need to deal with that day. Just keep your project load small so you don’t get overwhelmed. I wouldn’t recommend working on more than maybe three. I think for the moment, two is about all I can manage, personally. Maybe when I start revisions for one of them, I will introduce a third.

Now, get out there. Welcome those plot bunnies, don’t chase them away. They may be exactly what you need to get you moving again.

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When 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.

Tackling Writer Stage Fright: Writing What We’re Weakest In

We all have those elements we’d consider our writing strengths, whether it be writing dialogue, world-building, description, emotion, and so on. It’s always a rush to capitalize on these things and write a great bit of dialogue or to have a scene come together so readers can get a true sense of that world you’ve created. But I think it feels even better to tackle the things we consider our weaknesses.

An analogy: My favorite professor from college was my first biology professor. While he was a proficient instructor, what I remember most was about him was that he was an outstanding performer. He was engaging and enthusiastic, sometimes he dressed up like pivotal scientists from history, and once he even taught and led us in a song. (Over twenty years later, and I still remember that this song was about the evolution of Amphioxus.) Imagine my surprise when my professor admitted to me that his biggest weakness was stage fright. I was floored to hear that he, the most engaging presenter I’d ever seen, had to rehearse every single lecture prior to walking into that lecture hall or he’d suffer from stage fright. He could have hid behind his lecture notes or whatever the equivalent of PowerPoint slides were back then (they were called overheads). But no, he battled his stage fright by rehearsing and then doing multiple stage performances Every. Single. Day. 
This professor was not only my ultimate inspiration for wanting to be a biology educator, but his lessons now also extend to other aspects of my life. For instance, his attitude serves to remind me daily about how to view the challenges of writing. Not the song and dance bit (because that would be weird), but in how we constantly need to work on the things we consider our weaknesses. Tackling our own sources of stage fright, if you will.

With every manuscript I write, I’ve identified specific challenges. The challenge with my first manuscript was just to finish the darned thing (ha!), but then it was to go back through and make sure my character had a strong and unique voice. With the second one, I wanted to focus on becoming better at world-building and writing from a dual POV. With my current contemporary story, my biggest challenge coincides with the thing I struggle with most: writing emotion. I want to to move past description of how events affect my characters and evoke real emotion in my readers. 
Hooray, a new challenge! But oh, man. A new challenge. How do we tackle these writing challenges and get our WIPs ready to step onto center stage? You’re probably doing a lot of these things already, but here are just a few important reminders:
Selective revisions and layering.

When I’m drafting, I leave placeholders or specific notes for myself in areas like, “Include more emotion here” or general comments like, “Yuck. Fix this later with something way more awesome than this.” I find that if I dwell too much on those weak parts for too long during the drafting process, I lose the steady footing that I gained from my strong scenes and have trouble moving forward. You can always go back later and fortify the areas that are weak by selectively revising or layering in those things. For me, selectively revising means combing back through my WIP three or four times and strengthening those specific moments that need more emotion.

Constructive criticism is a gift.
You might not even know what areas are weak until somebody looks at a draft and points them out, so listen to constructive criticism. (With my current WIP, my critique partners give me comments like, “We want to get more into his head right here.”) The word “criticism” evokes defensive feelings in a lot of people, but that’s because this word has two meanings. One does has a negative connotation that centers around disapproval, but the other meaning is much more balanced. Ideally, constructive criticism will hit on both the strengths and weaknesses of your work. Ultimately it’s up to you as to what you want to do with feedback, and you’ll also have to consider the source of criticism when you seek out or receive feedback. Your critique group, other trusted writers familiar with your genre, or other avid readers who are experienced with your genre will give more useful feedback than a random person off the street who states his/her opinion, for instance. If your trusted sources hit on the same thing they think could be improved, don’t ignore it. Regardless of if it’s positive or negative, view each tidbit of feedback from your trusted sources as a gift. You can either use it or stick it on a shelf somewhere, but you should look at it before deciding which.

Read, read, and read some more.

A bookseller once told me that the books that I purchase are tax-deductible just like when you might have to buy textbooks for a class, and this was the greatest news ever! Read. Read a lot, whether it be craft books for inspiration or technique or books in the genre you’re writing. Some writers say they cannot read books in the genre they’re currently writing because it affects their own story too much. However, other writers I know deliberately read in their genre to submerge themselves in the mood or style they desire for their own writing. Because my current challenge is writing emotion, I’m looking for the books in my genre that give me SO MANY FEELS. When I read a book that leaves me feeling flat, I know what not to do. If I’m buying more tissues during this process, it’s all in the name of research.

Don’t let stage fright keep you off the stage.
If you flip your weaknesses on their unruly heads and go that extra mile to address those weaknesses, your readers won’t even know you struggled with those aspects during the writing process. My biology professor didn’t step out into the classroom every day without first addressing his stage fright, and his audience was none the wiser. Nor did he wait until his stage fright was no longer an issue before he stepped out into the classroom. As it turns out, he had stage fright for his entire teaching career, but he kept performing. And he did it wonderfully.

What’s your biggest writing weakness, and how do you tackle it? 
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Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy 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 YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. You can find out more about her at www.helenboswell.com.