The Importance of the Pause: Failure, Patience, and Persistence in the Writer’s Journey

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If the first half of 2018 had a theme for me, it would be deepening. I have embarked on a journey toward simplicity and intentional living. This goes beyond the act of physical decluttering to include thinking carefully about what I devote my time and energy to.

You may have noticed that I’m blogging less frequently, and that’s because I want to create more thoughtful posts instead of just saying, “Well, I haven’t posted on the blog this week” and feeling obligated to whip something up.

I’ve heard we’re supposed to blog as many as three times a week, and I just can’t do that. My energy level and the maintenance involved in several chronic medical conditions don’t mix well with maintaining that schedule—not if I want to devote myself to writing fiction and deepening my craft.

And just as I’ve been deepening other aspects of my life, I’ve embarked on the same journey with my fiction. I have several WIPs that are close, but I really need to deepen the emotions, to help readers connect with what the characters are feeling. In support of that, I’m taking a course on deep POV and reading books on that aspect of the craft.

I have slowed down. I’ve let go of word-count goals and am trying to allow each project to unfold in its own time. To do otherwise felt like trying to force the leaves to unfurl in the spring. Unnatural and troublesome to say the least.

And what this deepening has taught me most of all is a hidden patience I didn’t know I possessed. I’ve always been goal-driven, a go-go-go sort of person. And I’m still goal-driven, but I’m also allowing things to happen naturally, in their own time.

Truthfully, I still sometimes find myself glaring at my stories, shaking my fist and mentally shouting, “Why aren’t you working?”

But now I step back. I pour myself a glass of cold-brew coffee or brew some tea and I practice the art of staring. I ask the characters to whisper to me. One thing that emerged from the workshop on deep POV, for example, is that one of my WIPs lacks a sense of urgency. What’s the “so-what” of the story?

How have I spent five years working on the story and not seen that flaw? Because that’s half a decade spent with this story, off and on, and I love these characters, and my love for them means that them getting their favorite flavor of ice cream is a big enough so-what. That might be enough for the author, but it’s not enough for readers.

My husband suggested making it an epic fantasy—you know, baddy wants to take over the world or destroy it. Initially, I decided to run with that idea. But the more I thought about it, that didn’t fit in with the main theme of the story or the heroine’s character arc.

I sat. I waited. I sipped. And then the MC whispered. Eureka!

That is the power of patience. That is the power of persistence. That is the power of allowing life and art to unfold naturally.

When we slow down, we create space for the magic to happen.

Take, for example, another WIP, a novel in which I was racing toward the midpoint. And then something felt off. I could’ve pushed through, shoved my characters into a storyline that didn’t quite feel right.

Instead I stopped. I listened. I realized that, one, the storyline had veered off in the wrong direction. And, two, that I needed the hero’s POV as well as the heroine’s to ground the reader.

I’ve been reading Anne R. Allen’s blog, and she has written some lovely posts about the subject of slow writing, slow blogging, etc.

Our society wants fast. We’re trained to want everything now. No, not now. Yesterday.

And I’m just saying, it’s okay to take our time. I’m no longer racing through my goals, crossing WIPs off some master list like a one-woman story factory. My process is slower.

The day I threw away my busy badge, I became free. The day I gave myself permission to fail, I learned to fly. The day I released arbitrary, meaningless goals, I made space for real goals that are in line with my values.

And so, as the second round of ROW80 in 2018 draws to a close, what have I accomplished?

I’ve discovered Wild Tarot, the first in a trilogy about three women learning to embrace a magical destiny, and written 25K in my first attempt at that story.

I’m enrolled in a workshop on deep POV and completing assignments associated with that course. I’m also doing an intensive study of deep POV on my own and trying to master this aspect of the craft.

I’ve worked out some plot problems with two other WIPs as well and am preparing to revise those in round three.

What about you? Are there areas of your life in which you’ve slowed down? How have you learned to slow down and be patient yet persistent?

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#IWSG Post: How I’ve Learned to Deal with Self-Doubt in my Writing Career

How I_ve Learned to Deal with Self-Doubt in my Writing Career

Self-doubt is a part of most people’s lives, but those of us walking a creative path are particularly susceptible. Self-doubt has the potential to stop us in our tracks, to paralyze us. It is, without a doubt, the number one cause of writer’s block.

So, is there anything we can do?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeI am no stranger to the doubt monster, that creature that rises out from the corner and looms over me, trying to scare me off my writing path. I spent a year where I made little progress on my larger projects, but through grit and faith, I managed to finish a few smaller projects that helped me to grow as a writer. One of these is a short story that has just been accepted for publication.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I’m not you, and what works for me won’t always work for you. But here are the things that helped me weather the Doubt Storm and come out the other side.

If doubt stops you cold in your writing tracks, find ways to continue to grow as a writer.

During the Doubt Storm, I found myself unable to work on my larger projects. But I wrote short stories and poetry. I read blog posts and books about writing and, more importantly, creativity. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic was especially helpful, but books such as those by Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) and Julie Cameron (The Artist’s Way) are also beneficial. Or you could try books like Wild Creative by Tami Lynn Kent or Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.

The point is to try to keep growing despite the doubt. If you’re not able to work on your Big Project, work on something else. Pen a few haikus. Try flash fiction. Find a writing prompt online and write something silly. Write a blog post. Read books about writing and creativity. The period of crippling doubt will pass. Have faith in that.

Fill the creative well.

What this means is different for all of us. For me, scrapbooking has proved a wonderful creative outlet. Time in nature or meditation helps me to feel connected and grounded. Find another creative outlet that rejuvenates you. For you, this might be cooking or photography or drawing. Read books that inspire you, and don’t be afraid to look for inspiration in unlikely places. If you write and read in the fantasy genre, pick up a good mystery or thriller. Reading books in varying genres also helps to fill the well. The point is to do things that help you grow creatively.

Understand that you are not a writing machine. Writing is less like a one-person factory and more like a garden. In other words, you are not a robot. You are a farmer.

There will be fallow periods, and they are vital to your creative process and growth. Ever wonder what happens to a field that isn’t allowed to lie fallow?

According to Vocabulary.com

Fallow comes from the old English word for plowing, and refers to the practice of leaving fields unplowed in rotation––when a field lies fallow, the soil regains nutrients that are sucked up by over-planting.

Ah. Sound familiar? That period in which I didn’t work on my stories proved sooo beneficial to my writing. I studied, I reflected, and yes, without realizing it, I grew. I emerged with a sense of clarity and purpose that I’d lost in the whole slog of word-count goals and obsession with finishing drafts.

Today, I’ve embraced a slow but steady approach. Instead of rushing through drafts, I write consistently but slowly. Most importantly, I learned so much during that fallow period, and it has infused my writing with a sense of purpose that wasn’t there before. So, consider that a slow period or dry spell might very well be a vital part of your creative process.

Practice gratitude.

This goes for life in general, but be grateful. This means celebrating what you’ve already achieved. That story that you wrote that you’re proud of, celebrate it and be thankful it chose you as its teller. Make a list of three things every day that you’re grateful for. Keep a gratitude journal. Make a practice of thankfulness and gratitude, and you’re readying yourself for the day when words begin to flow again.

Stop the comparisons.

There are people who never seem to experience doubt or dry spells. Don’t compare yourself if you do. There are people who are full of pithy sayings that do nothing but make you feel worse. And then, there will be wonderful writers whose fingers seem to be flying madly against the keys while you are stuck and starting to panic.

That’s okay. There’s no need to be angry at those people, although feelings of envy and despair might fill you. Just acknowledge they’re in a different place, and honor where you are. Accept that fallow periods might be necessary. Find ways you can grow without comparing your growth to someone else’s.

I can’t claim to have all the answers. Sometimes my own Doubt Monsters have threatened to eat me, and only through faith have I persisted. There are times when I’ve faltered, but I have managed to pick myself back up.

If you get a few words on the page, celebrate it. Don’t be afraid to celebrate the small things.

After all, what is a novel but a collection of small, connected moments?

What about you? How do you cope with self-doubt as a writer? Have you weathered a creative dry spell? What helped you make it through? Are you in one now?

This post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog hop. If you’re looking for a supportive community of writers, visit the group here.

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Summer Grillin’

Tofu GrillinLast fall, for hubby’s birthday, I bought him a grill. We moved into our house last August, so this is the first time we’ve been able to have a grill. And this summer that thing has paid off. We used it last night, when my in-laws came over for a cookout, and tonight we’re making teriyaki tofu and vegetable kabobs.

It’s just one of the many things that has changed since we became homeowners. We lived in our apartment for eight years and never grilled once, although there were a few grills and picnic areas in our complex. Now, we grill at least once a week. I think this might be the third time this week, actually.

Do you grill? If so, what are some of your favorite things to make?

ROW80 check-in…

Writing: Wrote 6,187 words in White Wolf, Red Cloak, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. That one is finished and I’m about to send it to my critique partners. I’m a little behind on where I want to be in terms of weekly word counts, but I’m still finishing projects, so that’s something.

Reading: Read Her Wicked Wolf by Kendra Leigh Castle, which was fantastic, and am currently reading A Little Night Muse by Jessa Slade, which I’m enjoying so far.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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In which I embrace my night-owl nature

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’ve started writing at night. I used to write in the afternoon, and I was managing somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 words a day. Not bad. But I wanted to aim higher.

Since I’m naturally a night person, and since I can’t fall asleep until 3 a.m. anyway, I decided to make better use of my time and try writing during those hours. Instead of, you know, binge-watching Murder, She Wrote.

So for the past couple weeks, after hubby goes to bed (he’s a morning person and a nine-to-five guy), I pull out my laptop, settle in, and get to work.

My daily word count has increased from 1,500 to 2,500. And this week I’ve been pushing 3,000 words a day. I’ve only written two days this week so far, and my word count for those two days is higher than some of my previous weekly word counts.

This is still a new experiment, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results. And, an added benefit, I’m feeling more confident (because I’m getting more words on the page) and less anxious (because those thoughts that kept me up at night are swept aside by the writing process).

Lastly, an ROW80 check-in…

Writing: Wrote 5,570 words in Goblins and Grimoires and 807 words in a new story, tentatively titled Silver Waters, a retelling of The Frog Prince. Total words so far this week: 6,377.

Reading: Finished reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Loved it. It completely changed the way I think about my work. I wish I’d read it years ago. If you’re a fiction writer, I recommend it. During my fiction reading time, I’m still making my way through two short-story anthologies, Once Upon a Curse and The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance 2. I’m also reading a novel, Twilight Guardians by Maggie Shayne, because I needed a longer work for some variety.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? What’s your best time to write? When are you most productive?

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Midweek ROW80 check-in

ROW80Logocopy45. That’s how many pages of notes I’ve taken so far on my WIP “Made of Shadows.” The good news is that the manuscript won’t be a total rewrite. The beginning is more than a little rocky, but toward the middle a lot of what I’ve written has already been revised several times and needs only minor edits. There are still some unanswered questions, a few plot holes to fill in, but most of the writing is solid. I’m currently about 85 percent of the way through the read-through, according to my Kindle. I hope to finish it tomorrow.

It’s interesting to read through a story I wrote several years ago and see how far my writing has come. There are mistakes I made then that I wouldn’t make now—overusing a character’s name when a pronoun would suffice, awkward wording that today I would’ve caught as soon as it was on the page, etc.

My goal for this story is to start submitting it to contests later this year, so at least the first part of my summer will be spent on revisions. I’m still aiming to have a couple of stories query-ready by the end of the year, even though I’m still debating whether I want to self-publish my shorter works. I’m leaning toward yes, but I haven’t decided yet. I’m toying with the idea of a hybrid path—try to get my longer works traditionally published and self-publish the shorter stuff. So I have that decision to make in the coming months.

We’ve completed the home inspection for the townhouse we’re buying, so this summer will be a full one, first getting the apartment ready for new tenants, and then making the townhouse livable. Next week I might pause in writing in order to do a massive cleaning/organizing of the apartment so we can start looking for someone to take over our lease. And then, at some point amid the chaos of moving, I’ll need to start prepping for the class I’ll be teaching in the fall.

What about you? What are your summer plans? Have you ever picked up an older WIP after setting it aside for a while?

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

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Sunday ROW80 check-in: Savoring spring

The warm weather is finally here, meaning I can drink my morning coffee out on the balcony. Yay! And my plants are doing well so far. The basil sprouts just poked their tiny heads out of the soil this week, and the peas are really taking off. The pepper plant appears to be thriving—my first attempt at growing bell peppers, though other types have done well in containers for me before. And then there’s the geranium in the photo, of course—those are notoriously hardy.

My balcony garden spring 2015

Decluttering madness continued this week, although not at the same pace as before. I have a ton of stuff to take to Goodwill, and I still have another closet to go through. But I’m more organized than I’ve been in a long time, and I feel a sense of relief at simply owning less. Now that most of the decluttering is done, I’m on to a serious spring cleaning of the apartment—getting the carpets professionally scrubbed, cleaning the windows and wiping down the windowsills, etc.—wiping away the cobwebs of winter and letting the fresh air in.

On the writing front, draft three of “Good Old-Fashioned Magic” is off to beta readers. That was this week’s big task—doing yet another read-through and cleaning up the draft so it was as error-free as possible before sending it out. I didn’t wait my usual six weeks before the read-through, since I was mostly checking for typos and inconsistencies. With beta readers, I want them to be focused on connecting with the characters, examining the plot, etc.—not getting bogged down in typos and weird word echoes. So that story is cleaned up, sent out, and out of my hands for the time being.

In the upcoming week, I plan to do a read-through of my novel “Made of Shadows” and begin revisions. I have a sneaking suspicion it might need a page-one rewrite, since it’s the first adult paranormal I ever wrote, but I’ll make that call after the read-through.

I haven’t been doing as well with my social media goals as I would like. I’ve started using Pinterest regularly, but I need to remember to check in on Facebook and Twitter every day. And I’ve only been blogging once a week; I’d like to get that back up to twice.

What about you? How are your goals, writing or otherwise, coming along? If you’ve planted a garden this year, how are your plants doing?

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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Sunday ROW80 check-in: Decluttering Madness

As far as writing goes, April was a slow month. I did finish the third draft of “Good Old-Fashioned Magic,” though, so it wasn’t a total loss. I’d like to clean that one up and send it to beta readers so they can read it while I work on “Made of Shadows.”

April might have been slow for writing, but decluttering went extremely well. I’ve lost count, but I’ve gotten rid of well over 100 magazines and literally thousands of papers—in addition to a bunch of random items I just wasn’t using anymore. My office has never been so organized. I feel so much lighter now that I’m not bogged down by all of those pieces of paper and random items that were no longer useful. Trips to the recycling center and to Goodwill are definitely in order. I still have more to do, but I’m off to a strong start.

I’m glad I started on the decluttering process, because there’s a strong possibility that hubby and I will be moving to a new place this summer. Having less to pack and lug around will be wonderful. It also looks like I might be teaching in the fall, so I have that to plan for. A lot happened in April–thus my previous post on “distractions.”

Hopefully in May I can kick my writing in high gear and dig into these revisions on “Made of Shadows.” My goal is to have two or three query-ready drafts completed by the end of the year. I’m working toward that goal.

What about you? How are your goals, writing or otherwise, coming along? Have you started spring cleaning? Do you ever go on a decluttering spree? I’d love to hear from you!

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop!

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Sunday ROW80 check-in

The past week was fairly productive. I revised 11 chapters in my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic,” so the third draft is officially finished. I need to do a read-through and fix any typos, and then it’s off to beta readers. I’m also making progress on the decluttering front, getting rid of a minimum of 10 items a day—more on some days. I also became addicted to Pinterest, but that’s another story. 🙂

I’ve decided to take a couple days off in between writing projects to focus on something else. So now that this third draft is done, I’m going to take some time off to do some organizing and decluttering and maybe some other apartment maintenance stuff. Then on Wednesday I’ll move on to revising my novel “Made of Shadows.”

Sunday ROW80 check-in:

Writing Goals

1.) Finish a third draft of “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Finished!

2.) Finish a fourth draft of “Made of Shadows.” On hold.

3.) Finish a draft of another story, to be determined. On hold.

4.) Read three books on the craft/business of writing. No progress to report.

5.) Do morning pages daily, Monday-Friday. Three of five.

Social Media Goals

1.) Check in on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest daily, Monday-Friday. Four of five.

2.) Blog twice a week. Goal met.

3.) Comment on three-five blogs daily, Monday-Thursday. Three of four.

A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

What about you? Are you in spring cleaning mode yet? How are your goals, writing or otherwise, coming along?

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ROW80 Round 2 Goals

ROW80LogocopyI’m actually a few days late in getting this post up, but here are my goals for the second round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. This round will be all about finishing drafts and trying to get some of my work ready for submitting later this year.

Writing Goals

1.) Finish a third draft of “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” (In progress)

2.) Finish a fourth draft of “Made of Shadows.”

3.) Finish a draft of another story, to be determined.

4.) Read three books on the craft/business of writing.

5.) Do morning pages daily, Monday-Friday.

Social Media Goals

1.) Check in on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest daily, Monday-Friday.

2.) Blog twice a week.

3.) Comment on three-five blogs daily, Monday-Thursday.

What are your goals for this round? Have you started your spring cleaning yet? Are the daffodils blooming where you live?

ROW80 is a blog hop. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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WIPpet Wednesday: Prince Neal

It’s time for another installment of WIPpet Wednesday, the blog hop that gives writers a chance to share excerpts from their works in progress. The only stipulation is that the post must somehow relate to the date. Click here to cheer on fellow WIPpeteers.

I’m keeping it short this week. Here’s today’s math: 1+1=2. Here are two paragraphs from “Be True.” Prince Neal has found himself torn out of his world and pulled into ours thanks to a spell with unexpected consequences.

It was cold. That was Neal’s first thought as he woke up. Snow flakes drifted gently down, covering his chain-mail and the sleeves of his black tunic.

He was sitting on a bench in a grassy area surrounded by black roads and strange-looking buildings with large windows.

Midweek ROW80 check-in

Writing goals

1.) Make measurable progress on one of my WIPs. Wrote 2,873 words in “Be True.”

2.) Read four books on the craft/business of writing. 3/4. No progress. I’m thinking of revising this down to three books instead of four to give myself more time to focus on the new-adult workshop I’m taking this month.

3.) Do morning pages in journal Monday-Friday. On track to meet this goal.

Social media goals

1.) Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Met for Wednesday, not for Monday or Tuesday.

2.) Blog twice a week. On track to meet this goal.

3.) Comment on three-five blog posts daily, Monday-Thursday. Goal not met.

***

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop! Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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