Permission to Write—Granted

This was going to be a completely different post. I was going to consider writing rituals—those choices of location and atmosphere that we feel inspire us to be more creative. I was going to talk about superstition, and how it can sometimes be a good thing, if, like a magic feather, it helps to trick your mind into performing.

So I started doing some research. What do other writers—ones with far more authority than I—do to get the creative juices flowing?

I began by paging through my copy of On Writing, by Stephen King, which I first read about seven years ago. But after only a few minutes of this, I was hooked. I opened the book to page one and read it straight through. I finished the next day (it’s not a very long book, and it’s an easy and engaging read, half autobiography and half pep talk).

I’m a more seasoned writer now than I was the first time I read the book, so I noticed different things this time around. Bits of advice that had seemed profound many years ago (avoid adverbs whenever possible, kill your darlings) were now simply nice reminders. What surprised me the most, though, was the message I took away from this second reading: with nearly every page, King grants us permission to write.

It turned out to be a message I really needed to hear that day.

You see, I was feeling a little down about all the time I’d been spending with my laptop. Maybe I was even slightly ashamed of it. “I, uh, write a bit,” was a huge—I mean huge—admission for me. As if my friends and family were going to demand a resume, a bibliography, and three years worth of tax returns to prove my credentials.

You may be familiar with imposter syndrome—that idea that whatever success you’ve had is a fluke, and you’re about to be found out. There have been some excellent Thinking Through Our Fingers posts on it, such as here and here.

Why is this so prevalent among writers? Is it because writers tend to be such an introspective bunch that self-doubt comes naturally to us? Is it because popular culture only venerates the bestsellers, the blockbusters, the top-forty hits? Or is it because the statement, “I’m a writer,” calls to mind stereotypes of pretentious know-it-alls who delight in correcting one’s grammar?

If you (or any of your friends) play golf, you probably don’t mince around with the word golfer. You don’t say, “Well, I golf a bit, but y’know, it’s just something I do when I have time. I haven’t been able to earn a living at it yet.” No. You say, “I’m a golfer.”

My husband’s hobbies are rock-crawling (extreme four-wheel-driving) and desert racing. And while I can’t say he’s never made a dime at it, I can affirm that he’s spent far more money on it than he’s ever made doing it. And he’s never apologized for it, because he loves it. It’s part of what defines him. He’s a rock-crawler. I’m a writer.

Say it with me. I’m a writer. There, that wasn’t so hard.

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So if you’re feeling a little down yourself, feeling like you’re maybe wasting your time, here are some words of permission by Mr. King himself.

“…when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy.” (p. 150)

“If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your little heart desires…consider it hereby granted by yours truly.” (p. 150)

“In writing classes, if nowhere else, it is entirely permissible to spend large chunks of your time off in your own little dreamworld. Still—do you really need permission and a hall-pass to go there? Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one? God, I hope not.” (p. 235)

“I have written because it fulfilled me … I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.” (p. 249)

So what are you waiting for? Write. Even if you never make a dollar at it. If it makes you happy, write.

For what it’s worth, you have my permission, too.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.

How to Maximize Your Critique Partner Experience

If there’s anything I’m an expert on in the literary world, it’s how to luck into amazing critique partners.

They are encouraging and supportive, and they kick my metaphorical butt when I need it. Like the time my friend Charlie threatened to have a box of live crickets delivered to me if I didn’t meet a specific deadline. They believe in me when I forget how, and they love my words when my brain is too fogged over by doubt to see them properly anymore. I need my critique partners desperately, and I think they need me too.

While I can’t give you my luck, maybe my thoughts about critique partnerships will help you build or strengthen a fantastic partnership of your own.

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Be Thorough

What do you expect in a critique? And what does your critique partner expect of you? Here are three key aspects of critiquing that might make a good starting point for such a discussion:

  • Technical Editing.
  • Content Editing.
  • Validation.

Some partners are going to specialize in one of these areas. Some spread their skills across two or three. Make sure you know what kind of critiques you’ll be offering each other. If you only give general content feedback with a sprinkle of validation, make that clear. If you’re strictly a copy-editor with an eye out for technical issues, make that clear.

There are few things rougher than pouring loads of time into a critique and getting just a few lines back in return. Your partnership will be stronger if you give as good as you get. And some partnerships may develop even further to the point that you brainstorm together, vent to each other, and become dear friends.

To that end . . .

Be Kind

Take a little extra time to point out what’s working in your critique partner’s pages. Yes, it’s faster to just highlight what needs work, they’re praise is a vital component of any critique. If you have favorite lines in your CP’s work, tell them so! Someone else might be telling them otherwise. Plus? Warm-fuzzy feelings from being told you don’t suck can give you the strength to fix what does need work.

Most writers have a voice in the back of their head, pointing out all their inadequacies. Try to be louder than that voice. Of course, critiques that are only compliments aren’t really critiques at all, are they? A good balance of compliments and constructive criticism will help you build up your critique partner while giving them tools they can use to improve their work.

Be Genuine

Confrontation is hard. Telling your CP to kill their darlings? SO hard. Sometimes it’s easier to pat them on the head, avoid eye contact, and say, “Yeah . . . that’s good. Real good.”

Remember the heading of the previous section? Be Kind? Avoiding the truth isn’t kind when it comes to helping your partner improve.

When you do offer genuine criticism, make sure you give context. Simply saying “I don’t like this” isn’t helpful. Whenever possible, try to give context:

“Her reaction here doesn’t ring true for me because X.”

“The flow of this sentence is awkward. Maybe it would work better if you broke it into two?”

“The backstory in this scene is slowing the pace and I don’t feel like I’m really with your main character anymore.”

“The POV feels too distant here. Try to zoom in so we can get a sense of his emotional reaction.”

Your genuine opinion is far more likely to be helpful if you actually give it.

Be Prompt

I’m not saying you need to work at breakneck speeds and pull off a twenty-four hour turnaround every time. But if you say “I’ll have notes back to you next week” and your partner doesn’t hear from you for two months, that might be a problem.

If you only remember to critique after being reminded several times? That might be a problem.

If your partner has critiqued seventeen chapters for you and you’ve only critiqued two for them? That might be a problem.

I say “might be” because this is something you and your partner need to figure out between you. Communicate. Establish up front what your expectations of each other are.

Maybe your partner has four kids and works a graveyard shift at the local hospital, but their critiques are so amazing you don’t mind if they only do one for every five you do.

Maybe you have seventy kajillion things going on in your life and can only manage to critique a chapter a month for awhile. Or maybe there are times when you can only give general feedback and not line edits, or times when line edits ain’t no thang, because you’re swimming in spare time.

But if you don’t communicate, your partner might feel like they’re hanging off a cliff’s edge, dangling over the revision pit, with no clue if you’re ever going to help pull them up.

It’s okay not to have time sometimes. It’s even okay to get swamped and forget. But if you do? Apologize. Then establish more reasonable expectations of each other. Being human and being prompt are often mutually exclusive. Own up to your humanity, and accept your partner’s humanity*.

Quality critique partnerships aren’t born; they’re created. And creating, as we all know, requires effort.

*To a point, of course. If they’re being a jerk you’re allowed to say goodbye.

Be Grateful

Whether you’re starting a new partnership or enjoying the blissful comfort of an old one, SAY THANK YOU. Not just for the first critique, or the best critique, but ALL critiques. Whether they’re as helpful as you hoped or not. Whether they send you into a tailspin of despair or soaring to new heights where you can see the “possible” of your story better than ever before, express gratitude for the time that went into the critique.

No matter how effectively the time was spent, it was SPENT, and that deserves your thanks. If you constantly struggle to feel enough gratitude to put into words, it might be time to ask yourself whether that particular partnership is worth continuing.

Above all, keep in mind that the ideal critique partnership is worth searching for AND working for. It requires so many leaps of faith. I know. And there’s terror in that. Of course there is. But the best partners, the ones worth keeping? They catch you when you leap.

And you catch them back.

And your stories become more than words on a page. They become worlds you build and visit together. I hope you find that. And I hope you get to be to someone what my critique partners are to me.

It’s one of the best kinds of magic.

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

Visit Your Future Self

If you knocked on your door 10 years from now what would you find? What conversations would you tell yourself about what you’ve been up to? What will you have mastered in 10 years?

It’s kind of horrifying thinking that I’ll be talking about the perfection of the mysterious ring around the toilet, my ploy to tunnel boy noises, and the cleanest uncluttered cupboards.  Oh brother! That image is a dream squished wish when what I really wanted was wondrous words that wows the world… and changes it.

Though these things are all good (who doesn’t love clean toilets?) I know that there’s something more satisfying for me. Something that fills in all the empty places in my soul.

Writing makes me whole.

But how easy is it to get wrapped up in the day and stray from the ultimate goal: to write. So easy. Too easy. That’s why it’s important to pay your future self a visit. Where is today taking you? Today is gearing up for tomorrow and it’s important to scrub toilets, and boy-lets and all but are you doing writing that is even so small? Because these little things will determine the future self you meet.

It’s time to do some time travelling. Put on your door-to –door salesman beaming grin and official pin. Let’s visit your future self. Are you selling yourself short? Today we are going to time travel and solicit to yourself. You’re the only one that can talk yourself into this. Don’t you be slamming the door, now.

Unbuckle. Let’s go. (You totally thought I was going to say buckle up didn’t you? Well, dear, that’s the problem… you’re all tied down. It’s time to let go and take off!). Let’s evaluate your tie downs and get these words welded on walls.

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Know What You Want

What do you want to be remembered for? The Tidy Wife, Candy Crush King, The Goopy Mop Plop Stopper, The Rusher (from here to there) Crusher, Hair Swirling Twirler, Facebook Fanatic, Piling Paper Skyscraper Caper, Filing Foreman.

If you want it… awesome. Go get it.

But if you don’t, today’s the day to change it.

You can do a little time travel by evaluating what skills you have been mastering in you free time. Because where you put your free time determines what you’ll become. Yes. It is important to spend time connecting with people (huge fan of that) but it’s also important to feed your passion. If you want to be Word Dragon… a daily and simple writing snack will do. A simple 15 minutes a day can make your writing take off and change your current status.

Knowing what you want is half of the battle to becoming what you want. The other half is fed by simple efforts to get there. It’s simple: write if you want to be a writer.

What Things Are You Putting First?

The principle of first things first (Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) is the key to becoming what you want. How you organize your day will determine what you get out of life. We all know those days that we crawl into bed and the torment that’s racking through our head is “What in the world did I do today?”

All day was so stinking busy but you realized that you were just being whipped around by the whirlwind of the day. Only led by the things that pulled you from here to there.

No plan was intact on those days. And life feels cheated by a wasted day. We all have them.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to put writing at the beginning of the day but to schedule it in and protect that time. No phone calls, no last minute lunch with a crazy bunch, no putting off what you scheduled in. In the moment it may feel like a loss…

But in the long run it’s an incredible win. Just ask the self-soliciting salesman knocking on your door in 10 years from now.

Throw away that pencil and permanently write down 3 things that have to happen today. Make writing one of them. Be specific when it will happen and hold your promise to yourself.

As a Man Thinketh, He Is

I’m a firm believer in this principal found in the Bible. Thoughts and what we do with them determine what we will become. And if you keep finding great excuses for not writing your thoughts will excuse you right out of what you really want.

Simply listen to the excuses you tell yourself as visit your future self. Evaluate why you won’t write. Yeah, won’t. Simply listen to your dialogue in your head. I can’t today. There’s no time. I don’t have anything to say. There’s too much to do. I can’t solve the issue I’m working on. I can’t write as well as Word Worm Wendy. I’m not very good.

Any negative dialogue stops progression.

I’m a huge believer in the power of positive thinking. Positive people get places. When the negative words come crowding out your efforts fight back with a positive response instead.

I can write 10 minutes before bed. I can write while I wait. Words won’t flow unless I let them go, I’ll give it a try. Writing is more important than organizing my socks. Watch out! I’m here to tackle my writing issues. I bet Word Worm Wendy squirms at her writing too. I’m awesome.

Is your negative thinking causing your future self regret? Don’t’ you think it’s time to change your thinking and get to it? You’re going to be amazing.

How would your visit with your future self go? Evaluate these three important areas and make adjustments so when the doors-a-knocking, you’ll be rockin’ your writing!

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christie-perkinsChristie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing, blogging, and is a nonfiction junkie. Her stage 4 cancer doesn’t knock down her passion for life and writing. Not a chance. A couple of magazines have published her work but her biggest paycheck is her incredible family. Christie hates spiders, the dark, and Shepherd’s Pie. Bleh. Mood boosters: white daisies, playing basketball, and peanut butter M&M’s. You can find out more about her on her blog at howperkyworks.com.

The Boy Who Lived and Changed my Life

We are thrilled to welcome our newest contributor Yamile Saied Méndez!

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling was published 20 years ago. I was eighteen, still living in Argentina, and although I’ve always been a reading addict, I wouldn’t find Harry Potter for a few more years.

Oh, how I would’ve loved to have read this magical story before I arrived at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a long way from my home at the other end of the world, in Rosario, Argentina. I could’ve used Harry’s perspective at arriving at a new place that was all I’d always dreamed of. Like Harry, I met some of my very best friends to this day that first Spring/Summer. I didn’t have to fight giant spiders or the Dark Lord, although I faced loneliness and homesickness, and in the winter, the pervasive presence of an old familiar companion, depression, my real life dementors.

Although it might sound cliché, I kept the dementors at bay thanks to the love of my friends, a wonderful boy who’d become my husband a little later, and the support of my family. When I met Harry, the world was a-frenzy with the arrival of Goblet of Fire. It was the summer of 2000, and I was awaiting the arrival of my first baby, my son Julián.

My husband and I lived in North Carolina very close to his sister’s family. Her kids lent me the first three volumes of the series so I could catch up before Goblet’s release day. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the opening page changed my life. I didn’t stop reading, devouring each page until I reached the end of Prisoner of Azkaban. Happily, I joined the world as I waited for Goblet of Fire, which I devoured the night I bought it. My husband worked nights, and reading all night and sleeping during the day fit our lifestyle, even after our baby was born. There was an excruciating three year wait until Order of the Phoenix came out. During those three years, I read the four first volumes carefully, analyzing every word. I listened to Jim Dale’s audiobook adaptation, and to this day, I judge every audiobook by the Jim Dale standard. There are a few close seconds who are my favorite readers, but none like him.

I became involved in online forums like The Leaky Cauldron, and I loved discussing the books with strangers who loved Harry and gang as much as I did.

But during those three years I didn’t only read Harry Potter. I started reading for pleasure again. I fell in love with kidlit. I realized that because I grew up in another continent, my ignorance in terms of beloved American kids’ classics was abysmal. I set out to remedy this immediately. I’m still going strong at it. I found Max from Where the Wild Things Are, all the Margaret Brown books, Anne with an E, and everything else I could get my hands on. I took my baby to the library’s story time mainly for me. I needed my weekly haul of books. I started writing.

When Order of the Phoenix came out, we were living in Puerto Rico, out in the island (as the Puerto Ricans say), and I couldn’t go to the midnight release party. Amazon didn’t send me my pre-order copy until A WHOLE week had passed since the release day. I vowed that never again would I trust the postal service or online orders. For Half-Blood Prince, I already had three little potterheads to keep me company. I told them Harry’s story trying not to spoil it for them, especially for my son Julián who literally knew about Harry since he was in utero.

And for the release of Deathly Hallows, my dear, amazing, adoring husband took the family to London and Scotland, to wait for the book in “the” holy land. After touring the Balmoral hotel and different castles, we waited in line at the Waterstone in Edinburg. That night, my little Julián painstakingly read the book next to me, but he finally fell asleep, his pudy hand still holding a wand. A year later, when his reading skills were off the charts, he read Deathly Hallows in twenty hours. He was seven years old. He’s been re-reading Harry every year ever since. He’s also a voracious reader like me.

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Harry Potter is the reason I fell in love with kidlit. I read it; I write it nonstop. My stories are not like J. K Rowling’s, not at all, and that’s okay. Harry and his world have followed me all over the world throughout the years, and it’s not a coincidence that when I was at my MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (my real life Hogwarts, hands down), my class chose The Harried Plotters as the class name as it’s the tradition in the school. For our graduation, my classmates and I got Mischief Managed tattoos, and we raised our wands in victory (this is one of the perks of attending a writing for children program :p).

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Harry gave me magic, and I love the characters and this world because like Dumbledore told Harry, even if it’s all happening in my mind, it doesn’t mean it’s not real, right?

What book has changed your life?

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YamileMendezYamile (prounounced sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is an immigrant writer and reader, a dreamer and fighter, a Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate, a 2014 New Visions Award Honor Winner, and one the 2015 Walter Dean Myers Inaugural Grant recipients. Born and raised in Rosario, Argentina (cradle of fútbol), she now lives in Alpine, Utah with her husband, five children, and three dogs, but her heart is with her family scattered all over the world. Find her on twitter: @YamileSMendez and online: yamilesmendez.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.

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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.

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

Talking it Out: With Experts

Back in April, I posted about my rejection of the the old “don’t-talk-about-your-book” bromide. Recently, Nik Riptrazone took up the subject again over at The Millions, which rekindled my interest in the core ideas of that post. I also wanted to push a few of those ideas along.

Riptrazone’s post represents one of the most common beliefs about creative process, namely that it’s primarily done by lone geniuses. This goes back at least as far as the Romantic poets, but I just don’t buy it. Our creative communities and networks are real, vibrant, and important. Creativity doesn’t flourish in a vacuum.

In his post, Riptrazone describes an encounter with a professor which led to a discussion of writing. As he began talking about a work in progress, the professor held up his hand and said that people should never talk about a book until it hits the shelf, or they’ll kill it. In this essay, and in everything I’ve read on this idea, no one ever describes exactly how talking about your project kills it.

Riptrazone says:

If you talk about your book, it stops belonging to you, and starts belonging to the world. You’ll have to explain it to people you sit next to on the train, distant cousins at family reunions, or people at work. When the soul of your book hits the air, it will dissipate without its physical body.

But this doesn’t explain what talking does. When we’re told to cough into our sleeve, it’s obvious how that keeps us from showering the room with tiny, moist, viral droplets. What people have to say about not talking about your work reveals no deleterious process. They only say it’s bad, and it will have bad results. Here’s the thing: a book is supposed to belong to the world. Writing is an act of communication, and as far as communication goes, you can’t do it alone, not without people looking at you funny.

I don’t think you should sequester yourself. Even deliberating juries get to talk to each other. But this isn’t what I want to discuss. The comments sections of the internet have this handled.

I’d like to revisit the idea that conversation, interaction, and sharing are generative. They help us create. More specifically, they help us work around our own patterns and avoid cliché. In the previous post, I focused on using conversation to generate ideas. This time, I’m thinking about how interactions with others is a profound and important way to conduct research.

Normally we see research portrayed as a solitary endeavor: one person against stacks and shelves of information trying to locate the needle in a haystack. With grit, focus, and fortitude the researcher will find lost and forgotten gems of information, notice patterns, and verify important truths. This is how it was presented to me in the research methods course I took for my PhD.

Stills from Call Northside 777 (1948).

But there is another method of research. It is common, but overlooked. In fact, this approach has been maligned by the many in my academic field (revered in others). This is the model of the reporter, detective, or social scientist. Conversation and interaction are primary tools for people who move about in the world asking questions. They get people talking, and then they listen.

The research I do for my fiction involves information I’m often not familiar with, so it’s difficult for me to have a clear sense of the key terms and concepts that would allow me to navigate traditional information systems, even some of the amazing ones given to us by databases and machine learning algorithms. Sometimes I only have a broad and imprecise sense of what I want to know, and I’m looking for a deeper kind of serendipity, one where I only know that there must be something there, but I have no idea what it is, or only the vaguest notion of what it might be.

One of the most complex epistemological sets is the category of “things I know must exist but have not been able to find or identify.”

Conversations with experts has consistently been the best approach for me to positively identify and learn about things I know must exist but don’t know how to find.

As I’ve been drafting my current novel project, I have sought out doctor friends to ask medical questions on their understanding of the physician’s duty of care and their thoughts and feelings on Good Samaritan laws. I’ve taken anthropology professors to lunch to learn about ethics of archeological digs. I asked the president of my university (a former prosecutor) about a complex legal question about how prosecutions work across multiple jurisdictions. And a few days ago, I interviewed a former student with a Master’s Degree from the Glasgow School of Art about the philosophical underpinnings of museum curation.

In order for this particular conversation to proceed, I had to tell Debra about my book: plot basics and some character information. This provided a framework for our discussion of the key principles, epistemologies, and guiding practices of museum curators. I told her one of my characters was a curator, and I needed to learn enough so I could begin some of my own deeper research. I didn’t know enough about museum work to do anything more than skim the surface, which I knew would lead to cliche. She was worried that she wasn’t going to share anything useful, and I assured her that I didn’t know what I wanted her to share, but I would know it the instant she said it.

The conversation was inspiring.

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We spent close to an hour going back and forth about the differences between artifacts and specimens, accumulations and collections. We talked about the curatorial impulse and how provenance was everything, that provenance was more important, in some cases than the artifact itself. Once she got going, she starting making the most amazing associations, recalling things she hadn’t prepared, making new connections on the fly. I would ask follow up questions, which took us deeper into unplanned and uncharted territory.

This give and take, which (as I’ve said) involved me talking about my book, was an amazing process. From that conversation, I felt I was finding new and interesting, and most importantly, non-cliche ideas about this book. As a by-product of this exchange, (specifically the part about auction catalogues) I had a revelation about the book’s epilogue. Was I planning an epilogue? No, not until the very point in our conversation when I experienced what I can only call an epiphany.

This entirely brand new idea hit me out of the blue, completely formed, as a result of me not hiding my unfinished book in a hole.

When you are minding your own business, keeping your book on the down low, this kind of thing doesn’t happen much. In the end, I’m of the belief that this taboo against sharing your book is a lot like kidnapping a person and keeping them locked in the basement. Or maybe it’s like those hogs confined to sterile facilities where they fatten unnaturally and can only be kept healthy with constant injections of antibiotics.

It’s okay to share your work and interact with others. Your book isn’t going to disappear if you talk about it or your process, which an organic, evolving thing that needs a nourishing environment in which to thrive. As John Donne wrote:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

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Todd Robert Petersen is represented by Nat Sobel of Sobel/Weber Associates. Originally a YMCA camp counselor from Portland, Oregon, Todd now directs Southern Utah University’s project-based learning program. You can find him online at toddrobertpetersen.com and @toddpetersen for tweets and Instagrams.

Stages of Writing

This writing business is not an easy one. At any given moment, you will find folks in the writing community who are celebrating great successes, others wondering if they should quit for good, and all of the iterations in between. As a writer, I sometimes feel like I boarded a tiny boat on a big ocean, trying to navigate somewhere while constantly being tossed by waves that alternatively represent swells and crashes — or swells and bigger swells followed by crashes and bigger crashes.

This weekend, my computer’s hard drive failed, and I received the diagnosis that my MacBook Pro had suffered a failed motherboard. After I made the final decision to lay my beloved MacBook Pro to rest, I spent some time reflecting on all we had gone through together. Yes, I know that it’s  just a computer and that their motherboards and hard drives have a lifetime, but I had written 3.5 books on this particular laptop (and I’m sentimental, okay?). In my tumult of emotions, I also thought about my writing community and the times while writing those 3.5 books when I’d both needed support and lent support to others, talked about and shared hopes and fears, advice, and inspiration, and I realized not for the first time that (1) I’m not on this tiny boat all by myself after all and (2) what an up-and-down kind of journey it really is.

In a tribute to this journey (and indirectly to Ms. MacBook Pro), here’s my representation of the many stages of writing, showing some of the things that I and others have experienced. This is not to minimize any of these feelings, but to inform you that these are perfectly natural and totally reasonable reactions to the various stages of writing (shown via Bitmojis, naturally):

I wrote more today than I ever have! I’m in the flow! I can do this!

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Am I a fraud? Do I even know what I’m doing?

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Word count today: 0… the same as for the past month…I mean forever. What if I can never write another word again?

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I typed “THE END” on this draft!!!! This is the greatest feeling ever!

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*sends to beta readers*/*sends queries*/*goes on submission*  *refreshes e-mail every three seconds*FullSizeRender(28)

I don’t know what to write now. What if I don’t have another story in me? EVER?

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Do I save these rejections or delete them? *sets them all on fire and eats all of the ice cream and chocolate in the house* *buys some more for next time*

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Someone wants/requested/read/liked my manuscript!!!!!

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Revisions. And more revisions. And edits. And copyedits. And more of all of the above. Will this ever end? It has to end sometime, right?

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BOOK RELEASE DAY!!!!! THIS IS THE MOST EXCITING DAY EVER! I HAVE LIVED FOR THIS DAY!

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I’m just going to check my Amazon/Goodreads ratings one more time, but then that’s it. *five minutes later* Okay, just one more time. And one… More… Time…. FullSizeRender(7)

My book made a list! (Wait, is that category even applicable to my story? I don’t know. But who cares?) A list!

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Someone left me a 1-star review. They didn’t get it. They hated it. More people hate it now. What if my career is over?

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I’m deleting all of my social media and going into hiding.

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I just got the best story idea! It’s fresh and I already love the characters, and it’s almost like it’s plotting itself! FullSizeRender(25)

I’m writing again! I almost forgot how great this feels! It’s the best!

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Huh. I thought writing this next one would be a little easier. A tiny bit easier? Not a whole lot harder. It’s like I forgot everything I ever knew….

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So many plot holes. So many loose threads. What does this revision note to myself mean? What am I even doing?

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I feel so inspired! That writing conference/pep talk/book by *insert super inspiring writer or favorite author* was exactly what I needed! I’m rejuvenated and ready to hit it hard!

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I’ve been writing every night. And getting up early to write. And writing during the day between all the things. Because deadlines and expectations but also exhaustion and no time.

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I just hit 70K… but I’m really not feeling this story anymore, and my early test readers are bored. Maybe I should…*gulp* scrap this version and start over.

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I love this story again! I just needed to do “V, W, X, Y, and Z” to fix it, and it’s awesome again!

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Deadline is approaching…. I’m not sure I can meet my deadline…. Deadline is past.

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I finished the draft! I did it! I DID IT! (I knew I could do it.)

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Wait. All if this. All of this is my writing/publishing life? Can I really sustain this in the long term?

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I love writing! Ultimately I write for me, and I can’t imagine not doing it.

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I AM A WRITER, AND ON MOST DAYS, I LOVE IT.

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HelenHelen 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 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 romance-suspense LOSING ENOUGH. She’s working on a couple of new stories right now, and you can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.