Exploring a Character’s Past Wound

About five or six weeks ago, I rolled my ankle while walking to work. It wasn’t significant, I didn’t even lose my balance. Just a slight not okay and then okay and I continued on my way to work.

To you, this may seem like a non-story. People roll their ankles ALL the time. But this ankle has been traumatized. Many times. Over many years. This ankle was first really sprained when I was 14 years old, then again throughout the rest of high school. This is the ankle that I had reconstructed six years ago. This ankle still swells when there is a massive switch in the weather patterns, one that I am intentionally rehabbing once a week.

So a minor roll, a quick not even worth noticing not quite injury is, six weeks later, still sore, still slipping, still swollen. The small, non-injury is clearly an injury, and the emotions that I had after tearing two ligaments, after having it reconstructed, after trying to come back with atrophied muscles and incredible soreness are all living in the forefront of my mind.

When we are looking at why a character is the way they are, why they act or react the way they do, we need to make sure readers understand the emotional impact of events in their past and remember/recognize that even purely physical traumas can be accompanied with significant emotional contexts.

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Honoring the Past

While we don’t want to detail every single thing that has happened to a character in our book (really, please don’t), we, as the creators of these people do need to have a familiarity with what has made them who they are at the time of the story. People aren’t just self-conscious. They don’t “get big” when confronted for no cause, and they don’t shrink away in the same situation without a reason to be cautious.

Then, after you have learned/created/acknowledged this, you need to make sure that your readers have the same opportunity to understand. You need to pick the just right time that will deepen the moment of the current situation by allowing the memory of the past to penetrate the awareness we have of what made the character who he/she is.

Merging Then with Now

One of the reasons reconciling with the past is so powerful is that it can often serve as catalyst for where the character is when the story begins and where the character would like or should like to go. Their past can be something that happened a day or week ago, or it can be something that is months, years or decades old. What is important is that the character can first, learn what it is to reconcile what they did or what happened to them with the reality of the situation.

The second is to brace themselves for what the reality means for how they have to heal, and how they have to move forward. This may mean a candid conversation with themselves, and it may mean the incorporation of a therapist, counselor or trusted confidant.

The Reality of a Past Wound

There may be some wounds, some damages, that do not allow someone to heal completely. This, too, is something that needs to be explored: how will the character continue while a little bit broken? How will they adjust to a new reality that is different from what they wanted?

Exploring a character’s past with intentionality will solidify an arc and improve the quality of a story as a whole.

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Tasha Headshot Color

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Depression & Writing

I went months without writing.

I sent lots of emails and drafted blog posts and proposals and such, but when it came time to really look at my fiction, to really dive into the craft, I could find all kinds of things to do besides write.

There were some big life changes that happened. I’d like to say it was just that.

There were some nuances I had to figure out with my mental health and body chemistry. I’d like to say it was only that.

But the reality was I was in a sort of writing depression. I felt like, for the most part, I’d gotten the big D depression that impacted my overall life under control, I’d been able to return to a new normal in most of the other aspects of my life, but when I thought about sitting down to write, all the negative everythings started swirling, growing ever heavier, and I started to look to TV episodes I’d already watched, mindless games I wouldn’t normally play on my phone, EVEN laundry during my free time. I didn’t care what it was as long as it felt like an okay excuse justify my reasons for not writing.

I was scared of my book.

I don’t write scary books.

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I had to really explore where my fear was coming from. When I started this story, I was at a writing retreat and cranked out 16,000 words in two days. I knew this story, knew where it was going, knew what the character arcs were – I was cruising. But when I came back from that retreat, I started realizing I was, in fact, engaged in a wrestling match with my mind, one that I thought I’d already won. I tried to work on this book but couldn’t. I took months to play around with another book, started to like it, then received a recommendation from my agent that this one, this really hard one, was probably where my writing should go next.

And I just – I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure that I could write this book. I felt – still feel – strongly that this is a story I can tell, that it can resonate with readers in a way that will be meaningful.

So . . .

So.

The first thing that I did was go back to the drawing board. I looked at the story I had, where I wanted to the story to go, where things had become stuck before. I got insights about character arcs from my critique partners, I read craft books, I looked again and again at this document, and then closed it, making myself keep focused on the story I wanted it to be.

And I put A LOT of effort into taking care of my writerly self, just as I have learned to do with my mental self. I fed my mind words – good, good words – to remind myself what they looked like. I took the time to find representatives of my characters, to dive into their personalities, where they live, what they want. Still didn’t write a word in the manuscript. I went to movies – the movies that were getting great buzz – and let myself sit and absorb and fall back in love with story.

And then I revised the first two chapters. It took a long, LONG time. And I sent those two chapters to my critique partners and held my breath. I was prepared to hear that they needed to be dismantled, re-written. I was ready for them to say I needed to start over again.

They didn’t.

The whole meeting, the critiques were super nit-picky. Do you know what that means?

The foundation of the story was good.

As anyone with mental illness will tell you, the moments when you can tell what is truth and what is just a thought with no power, when you can identify the source of the thoughts, things start to get better. This is also the case (and has been the case) when I have these kinds of slumps. I have to fight, and clear all the distracting chaos. I have to be able to see the things that my not-quite-well brain & writerly mind have tricked into existence for what they are – lies.

Yes, this kind of thing can happen to all people. Maybe it’s a little worse for people like me who have regular mental health issue. And I know there are all kinds of people who say there is no such thing as writer’s block, but there is absolutely a kind of creative block. Our job is to do the really hard work to determine, first, what we are experiencing; second, if we need to push through or pull back and heal, and third; have the courage to open the manuscript, to trust our creative soul, and to craft again.

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Tasha Headshot Color

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Life After Querying: Publication Insights from Authors

For writers who are interested in pursuing traditional publication, there are all kinds of tools and resources for drafting writers and revising writers and querying writers. There is hardly anything that then allows a writer on submission with publishing houses know what to expect. And if a writer publishes with one house — even a few times — and then doesn’t resign? It’s like trying to walk a maze in the dark with a blindfold on.

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With this in mind, I put together a survey to see what the “typical” experience tended to be, how writers negotiated time expectations when writing and marketing, and asked for some advice. Over 50 authors jumped in to share their experiences. I’m going to get out of the way and let you peruse the results.

How many times have you been published?

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 2.33.01 PMWhen was your first book released?

1990s – 4
2006 – 2
2009 – 2
2011 – 5
2012 – 4
2013 – 6
2014 – 6
2015 – 8
2016 – 6
2017 – 4
2018 – 1

Did you publish the same book that you were querying when you signed with your agent?

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How many publishing house read your book before you signed? Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 2.57.44 PM

How many books were included in your first contract?

42 authors signed a single book deal.
6 authors signed a two book deal.
5 authors signed a three book deal.
One author signed four books, and one author signed six (this one was direct author to publisher)

Has the entirety of your publishing career been with the same publishing house? Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 3.03.02 PM

If you have changed publishing houses, which book was it with? screen-shot-2018-01-19-at-3-03-33-pm.png

Considering the amount of time you have available to write, what % is spent crafting and what % is for marketing?

(for reference, the 1st number is crafting/the 2nd is marketing)

7 – 90/10
1 – 85-15
10 – 80/20
3 – 75/25
6 – 70/30
1 – 65/35
5 – 60/40
14 – 50/50
4 – 40/60
3 – 30/70

What advice do you have for authors who just signed their first contract?

  • Don’t be shy about communicating with your editor and publicist when you have questions or ideas.
  • It’s never too soon to start working on your next book
  • Always be writing.
  • Enjoy the honeymoon
  • Don’t stop learning. Book 1 is part of the journey, but keep writing, keep honing your craft so future books can be even better.
  • Market a lot at first, keep writing too
  • Read and understand what you’ve really agreed to.
  • Don’t compare to other authors!!
  • Get an agent.
  • You’re not done waiting.
  • Enjoy the giddy, crispy delight of having done this amazing thing. Then take a deep breath, because there’s way more work than glory ahead. ??
  • Keep writing. Book one is just one piece of your career.
  • Make sure to read the contract before you signing you don’t understand it ask for help
  • Build a mailing list!
  • Keep your day job
  • Be clear on the expectations
  • Be careful and read the final print of the contract. Make sure you have an agent who has your back.
  • Start writing the next book! One book does not a career make.
  • Try not to fret social media
  • Connect with other authors who are in a similar situation. It really helps when questions come up.
  • Don’t be a jerk
  • Build relationships based on commonalities and a desire to support others–not on hoping people buy your book. Have your agent be ultra-involved in marketing plans with an aim toward getting you as much support as possible. Remember this is a long game, a marathon not a sprint, and focus on your next book, and your next, and…
  • You make your living writing, not waiting. At first, I was nearly frozen with fear as I waited for edits or notes from my editor (agent) but I’ve quickly learned that that time is golden. It is time to try new ideas, work on my craft, build the next book. Oh, and become friends with your cover artist! Getting to know her/him will be a HUGE help if you need additional art for swag etc. They will also LOVE to help spread the word for you on their social media channel because it is their work too.
  • Be patient and keep writing
  • Focus on the good parts and celebrate them
  • All your marketing efforts are a drop in the bucket. If I were going back, I’d focus on a few select things I like or really want to try and would just spend the rest of my time on the next book.
  • Don’t rush to sign a contract. Don’t rush to fire your agent.
  • Get marketing savvy. You still have to do a lot yourself.
  • Remember you have little control about what happens next. Focus on editing your book to the best it can be and let go of the rest.
  • Before you sign, don’t rush. Don’t settle. Read it twice. If you sign, be cautious. Be clear. They’re not doing you a favor. This is your career.
  • Begin your next manuscript as soon as possible. Do not stop writing.
  • Write your next book and consider going indie. 😉
  • Breathe. Ask questions. Advocate for your book and your career. Meet your deadlines.
  • Nothing is as big a deal as it seems. Things will happen that you’ll be sure are going to ruin the book, the events, your career. It won’t. Don’t sweat it. Just keep working.
  • Everything is going to be fine.
  • Lay strong marketing groundwork now. Build relationships with people.
  • The first contract is just the beginning, not the final milestone. Enjoy all the little successes, because there will be lots of things that don’t pan out the way you expect them to. Cultivate gratitude and try to keep your eyes on your own paper–envy is hard to avoid, but poisonous to creativity.
  • Enjoy it!
  • Treat the time between signing and actual release day as a learning experience.
    It depends on whether they signed via an agent or not. If it’s an experienced agent, let them handle it. Ask for twice the number of finished copies they offer. Ask for print ARCs. Remember that while your sights are on a single book your editor is juggling multiple titles. All are important to him or her; keep that in mind when emailing, etc.
  • Keep writing, keep making connections like you’re still trying to get published
  • Start networking!
  • Just keep swimming
  • Keep your head down and work on your craft. There is so much out of your control.
  • Try not to compare yourself to other writers. Everyone’s journey is different, but all are valid.
  • Expand your platform as much as you can now. Be gracious. Watch out for people who just want to take your money. Ask around before signing up for marketing/promo services.
  • Be prepared to do a LOT of marketing on your own, no matter how you are published.
  • Ask questions!
  • Be informed. Stand up for yourself. If you’re panicking, you’re in the majority.
  • Be willing to make your own magic happen– your publisher likely won’t do it for you.
  • Make sure you have a lawyer look over the contract. Watch out for contracts that want to claim all future works or who will force you to purchase your rights back.
  • Editorial feedback is not always direct, so trust your gut. “We need a bigger plot point here” may mean “you need to make us care more here.”
  • Have an attorney review it. Don’t get sucked into the hype of the moment.

What advice do you have for authors who have to go on submission after having worked with a publishing house?

  • Be patient and prepared for change
  • None. I’m about to do the same thing.
  • Understand this happens to everyone. Publishing houses make mistakes and editors get fired or hired away, all of which are to of your control. Switching publishing houses is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Sometimes the journey is hard and ugly. But it’ll get good again eventually.
  • Be patient and start working on something else
  • Keep writing.Keep submitting.
  • You’ve got this.
  • Keep moving forward
  • Evaluate how your agent or publisher has performed for your book and don’t be afraid to jump ship.
  • If you have to start over trying to find a new agent or new publisher, I would say gird your loins! And never give up, and stay busy on a new project.
  • Keep your chin.
  • It’s not the end of the world. Many authors end up publishing different works with different publishers. You’ve got a leg up in the process since you have books out there in the world and a web presence already.
  • If you want to publish traditionally, don’t give up.
  • Don’t think about it. Write the next book instead.
  • Hang in there. You did it once, and it will happen again. Maybe even at a better house than your first turned out to be.
  • It takes time. Oh my goodness, so MUCH TIME! Before finding a publisher that was a fit for me, we went out on submission to at lease 20 different editors/houses. I piled up comments, collected them, then finally started writing something new.
  • Before we had even collected all of our responses I had a new book ready and THAT is the book that finally found a home. Did I mention it takes a long time?
  • Solidarity, friends.
  • Don’t take any contract if it means changing your manuscript in a way you don’t want to.
  • Good luck and keep writing.
  • Being on sub is the worst anticipation. Fill your time with non-related writing activities as much as possible.
  • All the eggs in one basket is not the norm. It’s okay to be at more than one house, and self-published at the same time.
  • Most of us do have to chAnge publishers from time to time. Don’t be discouraged
  • Consider going the indie route. 😉 My indie book makes more than my book with a publisher…and I get paid every month and can see all the numbers.
  • Take courage. Believe in yourself and your writing. Absolutely write the next book, and focus on the things you can control!
  • Keep your tribe close. There are no guarantees in this business. You’ll need them more than ever.
  • Submission sucks. Be kind to yourself. Remember that your worth is not tied up in your writing–and even your worth as an author isn’t solely dependent upon whether or not a publisher buys your books.
  • It’s brutal out there. Believe in yourself and enjoy the act of writing.
  • Keep trying. There’s a home out there for it somewhere.
  • Best advice: never get angry in publishing (agent, editor, copyeditor, PR folks). It’s not personal–though it certainly will feel like it is.
  • Patience, grasshopper, it only takes one YES
  • As much as possible, try and write the next book and forget about the one on sub. It can take a LONG time, but that is no reflection on the quality of your work.
  • My bias is toward finding an agent you trust and who believes in your work 100%. That might include telling you a particular book of yours doesn’t have a market right now. This is certainly harsh to hear but I really do believe agents know and understand the market better than most writers do.
  • It’s OK to feel bad. Submission isn’t fun. Stock up on junk food and binge watch your favorite shows when you need to.
  • Develop a nice, thick, shell. I’ll be “out there” again after book #2, and at least I know now not to take rejection personally!
  • Get writing on something new
  • Turn the MS over to your agent and forget about it. Do something else, write something else. That book, for the time being, is not in your hands.
  • Find other things that bring you joy, and focus on them.
  • Each house has its own business plan. Whether or not your project is a fit may have nothing to do with the quality of your manuscript. Reality is, if they don’t know how to sell it, they aren’t the publisher for you.
  • Persistence outweighs skill 10 times out of 10

How do these experiences align with what you’ve experienced or heard? Have any advice you’d like to add? 

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Tasha Headshot Color

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Being Courageous & Vulnerable: Writer Edition

I have had numerous conversations lately with people who have had questions about something related to publishing, something that their agent or editor might know, but for reasons including mental health issues, insecurity about writing, or a desire to not be that client, they have each paused and let the stress fester a little.

It can be a very scary thing to send an email to someone who you respect, but with whom you have some feelings of frustration, whether it be something that you don’t understand as well as you should, feedback that wasn’t provided when you thought it would be, or writerly imposter syndrome in general.

For these kinds of situations (and so many others in my life) I reach into the vault of brilliance provided by Brené Brown – this time from her book Rising Strong.  In it, she states over and over about the importance of us acknowledging the story we are telling ourselves. Please note that this isn’t the story that is true or the story that is rational – it is the story we are telling ourselves.

For example, I endure depression. I don’t like to say I suffer from it, though sometimes I do. So, the voices that tend to visit me circulate around being enough of whatever the flavor is of the day. I talk to myself as I’m getting ready for the day, greeting those thoughts when I am able to recognize as depression thoughts by their name (our theme song for this meeting is The Sound of Silence. The Disturbed version is best for me). If I am able to tell when I’m in a depression cyclone and when I am having valid concerns, it helps.

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Then, I choose key moments to share this reality with the professionals I work with. I do NOT recommend this conversation take place at the beginning of the relationship; however, it is something that I think should be shared in close partnerships, and a quality agent or editor relationship should be a close partnership.

With that out of the way, the courage comes in. There are some key things to keep in mind when starting such a conversation:

  1. DO NOT WRITE/CALL WHEN YOU ARE ON AN EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER. There are going to be times when the initial response to something sends your thoughts and feelings on unpredictable loops and that is not the time to talk. I have a colleague who has a sticky note on her computer that says “24 hours.” As soon as she has an email/voicemail/hears of a conversation that gets her heart racing, she looks at it and waits. This is wisdom for many situations. Practice it often and even in excess.
  1. Always, always, start with a humane greeting, a sincere inquiry into how things are going, an expression of gratitude for what has been done. Agents and editors work very hard for a lot of people, and you have the opportunity to be part of that. That’s amazing. Express your gratitude often.
  1. Lay the foundation for where you are coming from:
    • “One of the things that I was wondering . . .”
    • “I’ve always been the kind of person who . . .”
    • “A question that I have had for a while is . . . “

One of the things to remember with this part is that you can come across as accusatory VERY easily. That is not what you want to do.

This is where Brené Browning comes in. You have to convey the story you are telling yourself. It can be incredibly scary. It can feel terrifying. But honest, true expression wins over and over and over.

  1. Present options for resolving the issues you feel need to be addressed. This can be asking for some particular document that you have heard about but not seen. This can be a request to talk more in-depth in the future. This can even be an estimated timeline to receive feedback.

Some candid advice about this kind of openness: one big course correction every once in a while is necessary, but equally necessary is that you, as the author, do everything in your power to make the minor modifications as the journey toward your publication goals continues. It is not healthy for individuals within the relationship or for the relationship in general to lock everything up, let it build, send an email full of courage and vulnerability, and then start over.

There is so much uncertainty within the world of publication – the relationship you have with the people who are help you meet your goals should not have that uncertainty. And if you aren’t certain if what you are sharing has the appropriate tone, ask a trusted confidant/friend/spouse to do a read through for you. For many writers (too many writers) these kinds of moments have made them realize that the relationship they have with their agent or editor isn’t what they thought it was. That brings a whole other blogpost for another time, but please remember that you are working together in a professional partnership. If the relationship you have with your agent/editor is as strong as you’d like it to be, vulnerability and courage will reward you with peace of mind, and that is priceless.

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Tasha

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Unlock Writing Successes Through Planning

I like to think ahead.

Nope, that’s a lie.

I can’t help but think ahead. If something is coming up on a weekend and I’m not sure how it is all going to unfold by Tuesday – Wednesday at the latest – I start getting antsy. I want to know when I need to leave or what the responsibilities are, if everyone who is involved is aware and prepared.

Which means I’m looking at how to make 2018 better than 2017.

Yes, already.

I haven’t started planning yet, but I have been taking windows of time to reflect and understand. I’ve been taking time to be honest with myself, about how I used the time and resources available to me, how I can be better with them in the future. Today, I’m going to walk you through my process just a bit.

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Context

The first question I have to answer for myself is where am I with my writing. The short answer is agented and on submission. But that’s not the honest answer.

I’ve been spinning my wheels instead of writing. I’ve been giving myself the excuse to watch an episode (or three) of The West Wing. While I have outlined two stories and have a pretty solid idea of where they are going, I haven’t been doing the work that I know I need to do to get them written.

I don’t know where my ambition went. I don’t know why I’m not writing. This is not going to bode well for making next year better.

Goals

There is really no reason that I can’t have several completed manuscripts in my proverbial file cabinet right now. I know lots of authors who sign with a publishing house and then get all sorts of requests for more. If I am really thinking ahead and because I know that I have several story ideas, my goal needs to be to complete.

But that’s too broad. It’s like lose weight (yep, that’s another one). Sure, it’s a nice thing to say, but until there is a measurable way for me to mark my progression, it’s not going to happen.

The goal needs to reflect dedicated steps that will assist in accomplishing. For me, I need to write. Probably every day. Probably at least 500 words a day. I need to honor the time I do have to write, be true to myself and my craft, and write.

Needs

I need a dedicated ritual to prime the writing part of my brain to work. There is something about me showing up in a particular space that allows me to really hone in on the work that needs to be done. I have a ritual when I get up and get going in the morning. I have a ritual when I get to work. I used to have a writing ritual, and there were several mental and physical and emotional curve balls that made me duck and cover instead of stand and hold my ground. I need to get back to where I was, and that will only happen if I commit to something and then tell my team.

Team

I have a few teams that I’m on when it comes to my writing. The first is my family. They know how to honor what I need to do, know how to solve their own problems a lot of the time, know that writing is important to me. I need to get back to communicating when I am taking time for my craft and when I’m taking time to be a mom and wife. I need to make sure that I do both.

I need to communicate better with my CPs. They are strong, driven, creative women who are pursuing the same thing as me. They are also kind and generous, which is the very best thing to be, and sometimes a little enabling. I need to recommunicate that they have permission to give me the evil eye if I don’t have pages for them to critique. I need to lean on them as I would hope they would know they could lean on me.

I also have an incredible agent. I can share frustrations and ideas with her, can ask for her professional opinion on matters related to the submission process and have learned much through the editing she has shared with me already. One of the big lessons I learned this year, that I need to carry forward through the next is that asking questions is okay, and that as her client, I’m not bugging her when genuine concerns exist. In fact, that’s one of the hats she is happy to wear.

Finally, I am on my team. It sounds strange and perhaps a little obvious, but I am really good at taking care of things that people expect of me and if it comes down to what others want vs what I want, I will nearly always take care of others first. It is sometimes the necessary choice. It isn’t always the best choice. I need to remember that working for me and on my craft is one of the reasons I am able to share with others: I have to be a fulfilled person myself before I can hope to genuinely contribute to the lives of others.

So, as you are looking forward to a new year, what is your present context, goals and needs? Who is on your team? How do you plan to improve in 2018?

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Tasha Headshot Color

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Use Small Details to Strengthen a Story

“It’s amazing, in this game played on a 120 yard field, how many times inches make games.”

This is the statement Cris Collinsworth said during the Sunday Night Football Game I was watching last night. The Packers were playing, down, and almost out of opportunities to tie up the game. It’s not the first time that I have heard such statements, but as I was thinking about writing and habits, craft and successes, I became quite aware of what this really meant.

In order to make the big things really happen, there is a necessity to make the small things happen too.

Yes, you have to be able to draft and think up characters and outline settings. Yes, there is a necessity to finish – all the way – and then do some large, sweeping revisions and edits and layering. But, to take the writing from a good story to a great story, it is the small details that really need to be solidified.

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Tip #1: Hone in on the Senses

Last year, Orly Konig shared some great ideas on how to utilize sensory details in a story. If you have someone who is naturally musical, their preference is probably going to be sound. Knowing how they interpret that is what will make the character development stronger. If it makes sense in your story to rely on sight, consider the character who is seeing: a cop walking into a room for the first time will notice different things than an interior designer or a professional cleaner/organizer.

Tip #2: Use Rhetoric

One of our contributors, Rosalyn Eves, has a PhD in rhetoric, and from this post, you can tell she knows her stuff. It may seem like a silly thing, but the ebb and flow in and out of sentences can make or break a full story. This is what makes readers forget they are reading through a story and, instead, get immersed in the language and the voice, which, I think, is the goal of most writers.

Tip #3: Speed Up & Slow Down

There are certain times in a story when the pacing needs to pick up a little. This is when the story is jumping ahead, when someone is driving from one place to another because they need to be in a different place. Or when there is nothing until the end of a day. Unless there is serious character issue involved with lunch, we don’t always need to see it.

But there are also times when the plot needs to slow down. This can be detected by staying tuned into the emotional arcs that are weaving into the fabric of the plot, by noticing the way that the emotional pacing is moving the story and the character forward.

What times have you used the small things to make a story great? Any tips you’d like to share with our readers?

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Tasha

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Remember Why We Write

“Any creative pursuit judges its artists harshly and swings wildly. Don’t let the gatekeepers take away your joy of creating. It’s not about them ultimately. It’s about you and the page.” – Heather Webb

It was this snippet in an online conversation that made me stop, made me re-read, made me ponder. We would like to think that it will be different for us, we have probably all imagined how it is different for us. We think of the agents who will swoon over our query, request a full, and swoon again. We think of the editor who will fall in love with our writing, the sales teams who will fall in love with our writing, the readers who will fall in love with our writing. We imagine the lines of people who will gather desirous for a chance to have just 30 seconds with us, to swoon over our books, to take pictures, to brag to their friends that they got to meet us.

But.

People in the querying trenches have felt the sting of a form rejection. Or of a full manuscript wherein the reader “didn’t connect with the story like they’d hoped.”

Then there are the edits suggested by the agent who loved the story enough to take us on as a client, who then ask for changes to the story we thought they loved enough to take it as it is.

And this chain of doubt and insecurity adds another link when it comes to editors and being on submission to publishing houses. There are several ways within an editing house where the yes can become a maybe can become a no.

Finally, in the world of online reviews and the ease of accessibility that many readers with writers wherein they can tag them, regardless of if the feeling about a book is stellar or lackluster.

It can be enough to drive a person crazy. It can be enough to make a writer want to quit.

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When this happens (and, I’m sorry dear reader/writer, it is when), we need to go back to what Heather Webb said. We need to go back to what made us pull out a clean notebook, open a new document, jot down ideas about characters and setting and plots. Yes, we have our dreams and goals and imaginations. But, in the beginning, we started a story. Before we really thought about whether the story would sell or analyzed a myriad of arcs, we started with the spark of a story. And if we think about that, we can probably all say that the spark of story came from our heart, that it was small, but grew, stretching until it filled the whole of us, stretching until we reached out to find others who knew of this, who had their own spark, who drafted word after word for the love of story.

This is why, I think, so many very accomplished writers ask, plead and beg us, when querying, when on submission, when working between edits, when launching, when reviews keep coming in, to write, write, write.

The spark that started us is enough to hold off the gatekeeping winds if we will be dedicated to nurturing it.

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Tasha

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.