Editing Matters Even When Writing For The Spiritual Market

The last decade plus, we’ve seen a huge surge in spiritually based books. They’ve sold so well (both fiction and non) that most of the big houses have some sort of spiritual imprint, running the gamut from Christian Fiction to Buddhist texts to New-Age works a la Hay House, etc.

Editing Matters Even When Writing For The Spiritual Market
Of course, publishing follows cultural trends (rather than vice-versa), so this could change at any minute. But for now, these books are still selling well.
I’ve seen a host of such manuscripts. Many of these come from counselors of a wide variety; many are scholarly; some from writers on a spiritual path.
But the majority have things in common: either they beat you over the head with their “revelations” (which needs no discussion—we’ve all had this experience!) or they’re free-form, just shy of stream-of-consciousness.
And while such numinosity may indeed be the manner in which we receive the essence of spiritual inspiration, it still must be translated into book form in order to be publishable, and to be accessible to the market—readers.
As with all true gems of knowledge, inspiration, even Truth (and isn’t this why all writers write? To convey some bit, no matter how big or small, of something learned along the way), the success lies in the telling.
Now, I’m not here to proselytize for or against any religion, spiritual bent, or path, but rather as a writing coach to help writers fashion their works into true and viable books.
Often the lessons along the way seem quite difficult, and oddly, the “spiritual writer” seems to have the most conflict with accepting criticism and revision, as if to do so would mar the pristine nature of the work.
All writers have that fear to some extent. The spiritually based ones tend to take it to the extreme. After all, if the inspiration came from God, Spirit, The Universe, whatever you may call it in your belief system, the idea is “who am I to question?”
I may have missed something, but I never heard God say, “To edit is of Satan.” Although, of course, many writers would attest to that in general!
But in fact, the editing itself can be as creative a process as the initial inspiration. It’s all in how you go about it.
This mindset, although seemingly mundane, is the point of creating a work that readers can grasp and utilize.
Remember—you yourself are not your only audience. Yes, you are a vital one to please (that is a lot of why we write).
But if you want someone else to actually read it, you must bring the work into a recognizable form, and one which others can grasp.
As a book editor, I see a ton of such works that go all over the map. In other words, the organization is off. Many need a much narrower focus. The ideas, while they may indeed be unique, go from Texas to Nebraska and back without ever crossing the Red River. I.e., you can’t follow the path to save your danged life.

Without a sharp focus and tight organization, the reader is catapulted all over the pages, unable to find the thread of the theme around which everything about the book must be weaved.
Each chapter must build upon the previous, so that your reader’s understanding and knowledge begin to grow from within. And that holds true for fiction and nonfiction.

I edited a wonderful book by Gerald Morton, Never Alone in the Back, which is a collection of stories from an EMT about emergency calls he’s worked. It also weaves his personal spiritual path, and its evolution, through these stories, the inner mirroring the outer, if you will, just as in a beautiful novel.
It was tricky making this work, but Morton is a brilliant writer (he’s had both fiction and non published by Traditional houses), and he never misses a beat. Nowhere is the reader confused as to how these stories relate to each other and the broader theme.

When Randy Mitchell wrote Sons in the Clouds, he didn’t shy away from the work I gave him. We focused on novel development and the elements of great fiction. He plunged in, and revised and revised, producing a beautiful book that fires on all cylinders, and which just happens to have an underlying Godly theme. Is it spiritual fiction? Yes. But first and foremost, it’s a great read. And that novel was nominated for Global e-book award.

While I’m not in the habit of touting writing how-to books, a great resource exists for a more in-depth study of this. Spiritual Writing, by Deborah Levine Herman with Cynthia Black, discusses some of these points, as well as the marketing end of things—i.e., the various genres within the spiritual market, where yours might fit, and how to identify it.

The main point here, however, is that writing a spiritually based book is not terribly different from writing any great book—from a novel to a manual on child care. All of them need inspiration at the core.
All require good writing. And all must have the elements that make up a good book—theme, focus, organization and structure, pacing, flow, vivid characters, showing/creating versus telling, substance, voice, etc.
You don’t get a cosmic get-out-of-editing-free coupon just because you claim God as the co-author (just ask Morton or Mitchell, referenced above :). Besides, I’ve never known the Divine to be a sloppy Creator or Editor.
We’re pretty much the ones who create the mess. And we have the God-given intelligence, combined with the resources available, to clean up that mess. The process is still about writing, editing, revising, rewriting—where, of course, as in everything, the devil is in the details.

Are You Struggling With The Writing Demon?

Writing is a convoluted and intensely psychological process. Even those who say it comes easy and/or don’t want to deal with all that mental ‘mumbo jumbo’ get caught in the same psychological traps as the rest of us.

Are You Struggling With The Writing Demon?

Anything that originates from the heart, the gut, the inner recesses of the human mind by its very nature cannot be easily contained or controlled.

Oh, we can learn to work with that finicky muse. Even tame her, in some cases (the Strength card in the Tarot comes to mind). But control from where inspiration begins? You may as well grab onto a fist full of water and try to hold it.

For example, when writing a book (fiction or non), this is how the process usually goes (if you’re lucky in the first place): You get an inspiration (which means, literally, to be filled with the spirit—the breath—of the gods, the muses, your dead aunt Clara, wherever you find it) and begin to write. The characters or the theme of the setting grow so vivid in your mind that you canNOT not begin.

Words flow from your fingertips onto the computer screen. And they’re good. You can feel it, sense it, your heart is pouring onto the pages. The meanings emerge clearly through plot points and the chapters begin to file into line like clothespins.

You are brilliant. You were meant to do this. All those people who scoffed when you told them (IF you even ‘fessed up) can now eat your dust. Life is good!

And then, ever so slightly you begin to slow down.

At first it happens so subtly that you don’t notice. And then a week has gone by and the chapter isn’t written, when before you were churning one out every few days. You feel stuck in the deep mud of time. Is everything you have written been in actuality, terrible? Or (if you’re not of the beating-yourself-up ilk) can you just not really find the time to return to it (even though your schedule hasn’t changed any if at all)? If you could just get another scene done . . . maybe then you can get back on track.

Some folks don’t go into this slow decline; some hit a brick wall and reel from the smack in the face.

But usually, it happens inch by inch until you’re so bogged down, the way forward so obscure, that bewildered writers want to sit in the road and cry (or on the couch watching soap operas. Horrors!).

You have reached a swinging, precarious bridge on your journey, and as with any good myths (down which the writing path will surely send you), you must successfully navigate this element or stay forever on the ‘wannabe’ side of the river.

In essence, this is quite probably the most difficult crossing on the whole mythical map.

Because if you give up here—and I don’t mean quit writing; most folks simply quit THAT book and begin another—a demon will follow you on down the road. Which demon that is will depend upon your own psychology (whether it’s the one labeled ‘Not Worthy,’ or ‘Afraid of Success,’ or countless other hairy beasts), but rest assured, you have just given power to a slimy creature that while you don’t believe is actually inside you, in reality is grazing on your creative intestines as we speak.

It is vital at this point that you push through.

No matter how horrible you think the work you’re doing is, write.

I mean, how bad can it really be? If your writing was so wonderful in the beginning, what turned you into a hack in the middle? I ask those questions just to turn your thinking around a bit, because they’re really beside the point anyway. Right then, you are in no shape to evaluate your own words. The twin devils of “You’re Brilliant” and “You’re Awful” will talk to you throughout this process. Your only job at that juncture is to say, “Yes, I hear you. And we’ll talk later. Because right now, I have a paragraph, scene, chapter, etc., to write.”

Push through. Make the conscious decision (and yes, it takes a fair amount of courage to stare into that abyss, which is what this crossing comprises) that you’re going to continue, even if you’ve lost your way.

What’s the worst that could happen? You change or ax perhaps whole chapters in revision. Big deal. We do that anyway. As with any monster you keep in the dark, once you face this one, it turns into a silly rat and scooches away.

I’ve chunked entire sections of books. What can I say? I got off track. But by persevering, I finally found the right road again, and in revisions could go back and delete (yep, ax completely) the sections where I’d lost my way. And in the end, I found the pot of gold—right where it was supposed to be, if not where I left it!

“Oh, no!” you say. “I would lose so much work!”

Yep. But revision is truly the name of this game. And you learn by writing and writing more and writing again. As good friend and Western author Glenn Bavosett used to say before he died, “Nothing is ever wasted.”

Because once you do push through that god-awful slough of despond (my apologies to the Bard), the oddest thing happens: Your inspiration reappears, never really having left, and now merely rising from all the muck. You’ll be slogging along, and almost imperceptibly the mud becomes less dense. All of a sudden you’re churning out chapters again toward the finale. It begins to go so fast that before you take a breath, you’re typing, “The End.”

And wondering how by the luck of the leprechauns you got there!

As An Author How Do You Know What To Do With Criticism?

“This is a very subjective business . . .”

big green troll in the impassable forest

Taking Criticism

Are you just about sick of hearing that? How many rejections, critiques, or pieces of group criticism begin or end with that remark? And while perhaps meant to temper the above, we all know it’s a plot (sort of as we use in the South, “Bless her heart,” after trashing the bejeebus out of some character quirk).

Any creative endeavor, however, and especially writing, where you’re often relegated to one person’s opinion at a time, is very subjective.

So, how do you know when to take the criticism, and when to reject it? Because what you do with the words from the book editor, literary agent, contest judge, or critique group most assuredly predicts your success.

Whether beginner or seasoned pro, we all need outside eyes. Many of my writers, upon receiving rejections ask, “Is it the market, or is it my book?” The answer to that is of vital importance to your writing career, so let’s sift through, separating the wheat from the chaff.

Especially when first starting out, the critique from a writer’s group can seem very harsh. Sometimes the criticism may indeed be self-serving, being more about the person giving it than the work itself. But often, the folks who have been around the block a time or two want to help new writers along the path. The trick is to keep in mind the personalities involved, then weigh the validity of the comments.

And listen to it all.

Yes, you may dig through a ton of BS before finding a jewel, but that very gem may be the thing that pushes you over some creative hump. In the beginning, all of the skills and tools involved in book writing may seem overwhelming, but by listening to such critique, these skills become more accessible.

As you progress down the writing path, critique serves as a sounding board, letting your know that indeed, you are on track. Or not, and need to go back to the drawing board.

The same holds true for a judge’s evaluation through a contest or conference. Usually the evaluator is a seasoned pro (a novel editor, etc.), and can identify strengths and weaknesses in a flash. I will say that I’ve judged a lot of conference contests, and some of the evaluators don’t give a piece five minutes. But most do.

And before your ego reacts, try to stay objective to the subjective point of view, and look at the criticism from arm’s length.

Does the person have a point? Is the writing flat? Are the characters thin? If you were reading your work from the standpoint of outside eyes, would you feel the same?

That brings us to the submissions to literary agents and editors. Everyone has probably gotten the form rejection, the “Not for me” standard line. The next step may be closer, but say, “I didn’t fall in love with x, y, z.” Followed of course with “This is a subjective business and another agent . . .”

Even after you’ve become agented, you’ll get that ‘no’ from publishing-house editors. And taken one step further, once you’re published, some awful book review editor may slam you. The nerve! Again, these run the gamut, but hopefully they’ll respond more in-depth (just one reason why having a good agent is important).

As you sift through, does a pattern surface?

Are many saying they loved x but were put off by y? Perhaps loved the prose, the voice, but the problems lay in the basic book development? If so, you’re getting there. Those problems are fixable, and doing so may be your ticket to success. If not, you may be facing something as simple (yet difficult) of not yet targeting the right house or agent with your work.

Again, listen to it all. I can’t say that enough. Much more worrisome than keeping your ego intact is to miss something that may be key to your book or story selling.

 In today’s insanely tough market, a work has to be more than perfect to sell; it has to shine above all the rest in order to make an editor fall in love. Remember, the editor who does so still has to convince both the editorial board and the sales’ reps of the book’s brilliance. Never has traditional publishing been more difficult. Never has it meant more as per prestige.

Which brings us to the crux.

Creativity really is subjective, and in those murky waters lives the only true demon—the ego troll.

Nothing is closer to our core than the stories we write. We’re not selling bread dough here; we’re selling work from our very souls. This leaves us so vulnerable that the ego naturally jumps up to provide at least some protection, and in doing so can undermine the very essence of what we’re doing. Getting that troll out of the way so that you can be objective can be the true beast. But you must do it.

I’ve worked with just about every kind of book author. And I’ve seen very talented writers fail because they believed their work was so pristine, so perfect, it needed no editing or revision. I’ve seen semi-talented (and you have to have some talent, but the rest is about skills and those can be learned) writers succeed because they were willing to set aside their egos, dig back in, learn from the critique and their mistakes, and write better.

The best way to deal with the ego troll is to look it in the face.

Is your writing perfect? No. If honest, we all must answer that way. Can it improve? Of course. Does x agent or y editor or z critique group know anything? Hopefully. If not, why did you submit, join, etc.? It all comes back to you in the end. And even if you decide he/she/they were idiots (which surely they were! :), as the old cliché goes (don’t let my writers know I’m using one!), even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.

Put your ego on the shelf for an hour and look at your work as if it belonged to someone else. The validity of any critique (or lack thereof) will shine through. And some always exists, even in the most pedantic response.

Your job is to find the subjective pearls, through your objective mind, and put those into practice.

Sooner or later, that obnoxious phrase with which we began this will not come.

And that agent, editor, judge will simply say, “Yes.”

Creativity And Editing And Working With A Developmental Editor

Most writers (especially new ones) have a fear connected to working with an editor, especially a developmental editor.  It’s not so frightening to think of someone copy editing your manuscript, as what can a few commas hurt?

Workspace Workplace Working Wooden Table Art Concept

Creativity and Editing

But the idea of someone actually delving into the essence, well, it makes a lot of folks squeamish.  Kinda like how having a few stitches put in is one thing, but having open-heart surgery, quite a different one indeed.

The thought is: What if he fundamentally changes my work?  My voice?  My people.

That’s not, however, what a good editor is supposed to do, and not at all what a great one actually does.

One of the most important aspects of working with a great book developmental editor is an intangible one.

Writing is such a solitary endeavor. We strive, sweating blood and tears and losing pounds of proverbial flesh in the process, wondering whether the work is good or awful, great or terrible; should we chunk the whole thing and start over. And while authors need outside eyes regarding the nuts and bolts, the elements of plot and characterization and style, these simply provide the framework for the editing and revision. Great insight comes from seeing not only what works, but also what doesn’t, and quite importantly, why on both. Most vital here is guidance on how to fix the problems.

But all of that said, perhaps the most helpful of all aspects that a good editor provides is an emotional one.

And I don’t mean this in a hand-holding sort of way, although absolutely that must be part of the scenario. We all need encouragement; an outside voice that comes in and says, “Truly, you can do this.” All writers need to know that someone, somewhere, sees the potential of their characters, their story. That’s one of the things that gives you an often much-needed shot in the arm to continue slogging on.

Self-editing can be exhausting

Usually by the time a writer sends me his work, he has exhausted his skill set, or is stuck, or just plain sick of it all, and doesn’t know how to make the book better. The idea of one more revision or even polish, much less attention to book development, makes him consider taking up baccarat instead. “I just can’t look at this one more time,” is a common refrain. And often the thought of another revision once I’m done proves a sticking point to even sending it to me. “You do it,” I hear a lot!

But the oddest thing happens when I send a package home to a writer, including the detailed edit of his book along with an in-depth, comprehensive, and very specific critique. I cannot explain why this happens, but it universally does. And it always makes me smile.

Working with an editor revives an author

I’ll invariably get a call from a very different person from the hesitant one who originally contacted me. Although the first reaction is usually a sense of being overwhelmed, that quickly passes. Excitement fills her voice, the tempo growing more and more upbeat. “I see what you’re saying! And I could use this suggestion, or what if I did this instead? Would that work?” Glee tinges her voice.

When you work with a true novel editor—one who attends to all aspects and elements of great writing—for whatever reason, creativity gets cracked smooth back open. Inspiration floods the airwaves, and the keyboard. Characters take off in entirely different directions, deepening, expanding, broadening both themselves and the story they’re now impacting. And the writer who was stuck or sick of it all has just flown over the moon.

Writers are so very appreciative of this numinous turn of events. It’s a joy to see. They thank me profusely, but I benefit almost as much. Few things are more gratifying than to hear that excitement in the voice, that quickening of the pulse, and to know—because it always happens—that a new and better writer has been born. And with that, the beginnings of a great book as well.

Structure And The Novel: How To Keep From Drifting

When new writers dive into fiction, mostly they just put words to page.

Structure And The Novel: How To Keep From Drifting

Which is great!  It’s the way you have to start.  In order to find one’s unique voice, a writer must write and write and write.  There is no other way.

But what results is often a big blob of sprawling pages, where the storyline drifts here and there and yon; where many scenes and even entire plot threads dangle out in space, having no relation to the actual plot.  What you have is basically an amoeba.

And ah, that’s perfect!  I hear your surprise.  But from there you can take all that you’ve learned of your characters and storyline, and begin to fashion this plethora of words and multitude of pages into a real novel.

So often writers tell me, “I don’t want to hear about structure; it’ll hamper my creativity!” 

And while at the outset I don’t dispute this, once you’ve reached the end of your first draft, if you don’t take a hard look at structure that amoeba will stay just that—a single-celled organism, which folks find kinda slimy.

Your job, as a true novelist, is to take that big fat blob and carve away at it to find the true meat and bones of the book—the plot, the story, the main theme and major premise, as well as how the characters serve that and vice versa.  As Michelangelo said, David was always in the marble; he just had to sculpt away to find him.

It’s the same with your book–the jewel is there; your job is to scrape away all of the superfluous layers of verbiage to find it. 

Structure is, most simply put, the arc of the storyline.  (Of course, we often confuse simple with easy.  Don’t make that mistake here!)  But this is how great novels are created, and all of them follow a pattern of rising and falling, ebbing and flowing. The trick is to know when to rise, when to crest, and when to begin the last push to the finish line.

And that’s part of the skill set about writing great fiction that can be learned.  

Without an in-depth understanding of this, folks write novels that take fifty to a hundred pages to get into (which I see all the time), those with sagging middles (I’ve given workshops on this, and agents and editors complain to me most about it as well), those which coast to the finish, or end with a bang only the writer goes on for another fifty pages.

I’ve given half-day workshops on the structure of novels, and writers are always surprised, overwhelmed, dismayed, and by the end of the session, ecstatic—a light bulb has flipped on!

When you understand structure, it takes so much of that grasping-in-the-dark feeling away.

It brings a confidence to the writer, as he knows where and when and how the story needs to build to crescendo, and where the rest stops are along the way; where the character needs trials and tribulations, and when he needs love; who are the allies and villains, and what needs to be learned in order for the grail to be reached.

Yes, a lot happening in this story with these people who were simply once talking in your head!

A great resource for this is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.  One word of caution here—it really helps if you’ve written a lot before immersing yourself in Vogler’s book. It confuses very new writers; again, you need to write and write and write and . . . (I think I already said this!) before delving deeply into this topic.

But once you’re ready, study it.  Contact me for any questions about this–it’s one of the things I specialize in.   Read Vogler’s book.  Take a workshop or class on it.  However you dive in, dive in!  Your books will thank you for it.  Your creative mind will jump for joy.

And ultimately, your readers, while not having much clue as to what novel structure actually is but can point to books that “lose them,” will tout you as a great author.   

Your point exactly!

Where New Writers Fail And How To Not Be Like Them

Publishing’s brave new world dawned a decade ago.  And wow, the changes we’ve seen.

Where New Writers Fail And How To Not Be Like Them

Once upon a time, in the ancient days of yore, getting a book published was what amounted to a lifetime undertaking.

Those days of course are over.  With POD and now e-books, anyone can get a book published in what amounts to, well, overnight.

And I know you’ve seen it too: Enter what also amounts to an incredible sea of god-awful books.  Because while it’s true the elite club was almost impenetrable before, the converse of today is that now writers put words to paper and publish it.  Often in first draft.

I know—not everyone does that.  As was once the norm, many writers still delve deeply to learn the craft; to write and write and write some more; to join workshops and take classes and go to conferences and seek skilled editorial help (which in those once-upon-a-time days was provided by publishers).

In essence, to hone their skills and become better and better writers before their manuscripts ever become published books.  The flip side of that is to read and read and read as well.  I am always amazed at the number of writers who tell me they don’t read.  Boggles the mind!

But haven’t you noticed that most of the writerly discussions and forums now talk about physical product and marketing? Which of course are both vital.

I recently gave the opening speech, and a breakout session on Fashioning Fabulous Characters at the Netwo Conference.  And by far—most of the sessions were about marketing.

But marketing is secondary.  Yes, when self-publishing, you have to have a nicely printed product, with a great cover, in order to start selling your book.  And the marketing is absolutely everything in the end—whether you are self-published or traditionally so.  You have to do your own marketing even if published by the big NY boys.  So yes, yes, both these things are necessary.

Only here’s what’s happening with that ocean of books: Once you get past the shiny covers and into the text, folks quit reading.

While most readers cannot tell you why a character is flat, they can tell you that the character is flat.  And they stop reading.

Most readers can’t say why the plot didn’t hold together, but they can say they couldn’t quite follow it.  And while great prose isn’t something the average reader can dissect, she can tell you that the book was so enjoyable.  Now, if this reader is your sister or best friend, she’s probably just going to say, “I loved it!”  (Otherwise you need better friends and relatives:)

But here’s the kicker: Though you may sell a lot of copies of the first book, and therefore think it was good, those readers if not truly entertained won’t buy the second.  And your career as an author has just tanked.  Only the iceberg you hit was you.

In today’s market of billions of books, you have to stand out, above the crowd.

And you do that with quality.

Many of my writers self-publish, and do bang-up jobs getting the book to be perfect before spending all those dollars on covers and marketing. They’re building audiences and becoming more and more successful.  Mary B. Morrison came to me after she’d self-published Soul Mates Dissipate, and knew she wanted to go to the next level. She did. She got a six-figure deal from Kensington and is now a NY Times Bestselling author.

Naleighna Kai did the same.  Her Every Woman Needs a Wife sold through at Zane’s Strebor Imprint at Simon & Schuster.

I could go on. We’re selling a lot of books here these days—and many to the big NY houses.  Randy Denmon’s Lords of an Empty Land won a 2016 Spur Award.

So yep, you have to spend the bucks on the backend.  But unless you spend the time, effort, and dollars on the front end perfecting your craft, even in today’s new world of publishing, you might as well toss that money into the slot machine in Vegas.

What do you do to make sure your book is fabulous?

3 Steps To Overcoming Writer’s Block

Got writer’s block? If so, as folks in rural Texas would put it, we’re a’gin it.

How to overcome writers bloc

Okay, so that’s somewhat flip. But the truth is that here, with my writers, we don’t allow it.  Don’t believe in it.  Don’t succumb.  It’s one of the few things that will get you whipped into shape from this office.

Yes, many, many folks have huge problems with writer’s block.  I hear about it every day.  And it does exist, does plague a lot of scribes, most especially those penning fiction.

But rest assured, this is a simple neurosis.  Meaning, it can be bested.

We all know the origins of it by now: Fear of failure (or success); Fear of not being ‘good enough’ (or of believing your work is so much better than what’s being published); Thinking the first draft has to be absolutely perfect (any 12-steppers out there want to respond to this one? 🙂 )

Or a host of other deep-seated lies of the ego.

As any artist who’s been practicing a creative craft will attest, the biggest hurdle to producing beautiful work is to get the ego out of the way.  That, in turn, let’s true creativity and artistry bubble up from the deep unconscious, where we plug into that numinous quality of beauty, from which all art originates.

As Keats said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”  

So, problem solved.

Okay, there I go being flip again.  But far too much emphasis is given to avoiding writer’s block, and what a terrible malady it is to suffer through.  Because this is one of those instances—for certain—where the more focus you give it, the bigger a beast it grows to be.  Especially for a monster that does not, in reality, even exist (except front and center in that dastardly ego).

As anyone who’s been at this very long knows, writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.  It’s all about the work.  And there’s only one way to accomplish that: butt in chair, fingers on keyboard.

I have one prescription for my writers when suffering from this made-up malady, and it’s failsafe. Works every time.  Might not the first day, or the second.  But if you don’t give up on the process, it will work.

Here are the details:

֎    Step One: Carve out a time every day to write.  Yikes!  That sounds like work.  Where is all the glamour of being Hemingway?  (Note: he wrote every day, even if it was just a paragraph).  Tough real-life schedule?  Four AM has always been a favorite time of mine . . .

֎    Step Two: Sit your butt in that chair every day at your appointed time.  No matter what.  Unless your hair is one fire or your child is in the hospital, I don’t want to hear why you can’t.  Just do it.

֎    Step Three: Write.  Cat got your fingers?  That’s fine.  Sit there.  Write the yellow pages.  Write why your husband/boyfriend/sister is a first-rate crumb and doesn’t understand you.  I don’t care what you write, just write.

These are the keys to the kingdom.

I have yet to find the writer plagued with horrid bloc who after doing this for three days, didn’t find himself back to work on the novel, short story, memoir, etc. (And conversely, I can always tell when someone wimps out and cheats.  I have my ways. 🙂  )

But something about making those fingers work is kinda like the motion of the ocean for a child in a car—it puts your conscious mind (ego) into a lull and voila!  Out comes art (or a dream, if you’re in the car, which in essence is part and parcel of the same thing).

Julia Cameron in Finding Water recommends writing morning pages every day.  A stream-of-consciousness set of pages first thing in the morning that just lets all your demons out—many of which you didn’t even know were there.  While I don’t do that, I like the idea of it   If writer’s block has set in, however, do this.

Because here’s the very most important thing:

Forget caring about this first draft.  Stop it. I order you.  Doesn’t matter if it’s the worst schlock you’ve ever seen, and not even your dog would eat it.  Nothing in a first draft is permanent.  Not even that lovely line you’re so amazed came out of you (half the time even those end up on the editing-room floor as well).

First drafts just don’t matter. 

Let yourself go.  Let your fingers go.  Quit thinking!  This is the creative stage, and we’re trying to get you, the you of the ego, out of the way.  Just write.

If your goal is to write for forty-five minutes every morning, and you end up with one well-written line, wow!  Give yourself a big pat on the back from me.  That’s the entire point in a nutshell.  Go have a nice cup of coffee and watch the sunrise.

And tomorrow, you can build upon that line . . .

So, what are you waiting for?  Give it a go.

And let us know what works for you!

This Is Why It is Critical For Writers To Take A Break

We all need breaks from writing.

Taking a break from running

But odd advice, no? When the prescription is usually write, write, write. Read, read, study, learn. Write, write, write.

And those are my prescriptions too.

Nothing is more important than the above, no? But once you’ve finally finished that novel or book-length non-fiction, and hopefully have sent it off to that developmental editor, taking a break from writing follows directly next. And it’s imperative to the process.

Working with a true editor takes time. And the very best thing you can do at this point is to forget entirely about that work, and inhale long and deep.

And not a drive-around-the-lake kinda breath, or a quick trip to Starbucks. Nope, now’s the time for an extended one; a place for your mind to cool a bit from the frenzy and let the chaotic miasma unravel and come back to rest.

Otherwise—and I promise you this—you’ll maim the baby on the page.

This is where writers so often tell me they want to revise the manuscript just one more time.  Even though they’re unable to process the words on the page, and find themselves circling in on themselves.

But they just can’t let go, can’t back away, are afraid everything is not exactly right and if that’s the case, the writing police will find and cite them for some awful unforgivable infraction.

Yep, the root of all this is fear, and fear such as this does not accomplish one good thing.

Writers freak at this extended break! Eight entire weeks? Of not working? And I know I have just sprouted horns in their images of me. But, in a word, yes.

Once you’ve devolved to circling your brain with words you don’t remember knowing, that break is mandatory.

 I always take this time to just read. You know—all those books and stories you’ve been meaning to get to but haven’t had the time? The perfect antidote for not writing is reading great books. Of course, in my world, that’s pretty much the perfect antidote for everything up to and including a nuclear holocaust, but that’s another story!

Or see all those friends/family who’ve been wondering if you still exist or have literally become a vampire since you’re never seen in daylight and your skin’s turned ghostly pale. You know—those folks you ostensibly love and who’re now doubting that fact.

In other words, go play.

Take a cooking class. Hike Mt. Everest (okay, you’ve ostensibly just done that, so maybe scale back to the Appalachian Trail 🙂 ). Let your creative psyche decompress and heal and remember what joy is.

Partake of life and all its abundance again, and feel the gratitude that comes with that. Which is exactly how you dispel the guilt piled on by the demons of writing who crucify you for not working. Being grateful shuts them smooth up.

Because when the time comes to dig back into rewriting and revision, when the novel editor sends back your manuscript dripping in red blood, with a critique that reads like a mini-book, you’re going to need your resources. Being fresh, feeling strong, champing again at the bit to dive back into book development will serve you in more ways than I can count.

And the funniest result of your extended time off?

When you get back to it, lo and behold—your subconscious creative mind has actually been working all that time, and what bubbles up from there is better, stronger, more wonderful and delightful than you ever thought you could write.

This is what feeds your creativity.  And puts a smile on the face of your muse.

Now, that’s something be thankful for.

How do you take writing breaks?

When Inspiration leaves, You The Author Can Find Her Again

The New Year always starts with a bang of new goals, new projects, even resolutions to better ourselves in some way or another. Writers commit (or re-commit) to their stories and books and dreams of being successful in this crazy business.

Paper ball forming a lightbulb with other multi-colored paper balls around, white background

Inspiration

But here we are, half way through the year, and many of those fall by the wayside and we’re left in a funk, compounded by feelings of failure for capitulating so soon!

Especially in a creative endeavor such as writing, those little demons can wreak havoc on our psyches. And there is, really, only one antidote to all of that: Inspiration. Elusive at times, but oh-so-joyful when we’re in the midst of her spell.

The word tracks back to mean, literally, in spirit. Those times when our fingers take off on their own, whirling through the keyboard (or pen to paper) and some outside force drives the story, the characters, and we find ourselves in the glorious creative zone. Every writer knows this feeling. We live for it.

But of course, so much of our time as scribes is spent slogging through the muck and the mire, cubby-holed-up in a quiet office somewhere, alone, trying to cajole that dang muse to get us back to the song and dance.

As we all know as well, writing is a lonely endeavor. It’s a lot of hard work. From that point of initial inspiration to finishing a manuscript, well, we pretty much all could write a book on what’s required. And sometimes I wonder why I just didn’t take up basket weaving (not that, mind you, I have any knowledge that it’s easier!).

I often think, when in that sort of trudging through the slough of despond, about a little book I read a zillion years ago called Hind’s Feet on High Places. The main character slogs metaphorically and literally through, and every time she’s about to give up, she’s told, “Call the shepherd!” This is a spiritual book, and I’m not here to proselytize for any religion. In fact, I tend to think of the shepherd as that illusive muse called Inspiration.

And when she just won’t seem to come, the paradoxical antidote is to submit to the slogging. Yep, to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, to quit designating any emotional value (such as, ‘You can’t write your way out of a paper sack!’ etc.) to the process, and to just write.

Of course, often in revision, you can easily tell those un-inspired places. Big deal. They can always be rewritten, with renewed vigor, and funny enough, often end up some of the best pieces of all.

When Inspiration leaves, I’ve come to trust that she always at some point returns.

Many things can give us a shot in the arm to help as well.  Of course, when a new book is published this causes Inspiration to sing. It makes all the drudgery worth it, all the blood, sweat, tears can now be viewed with rose-colored glasses. A book!

But we all know that taking a manuscript from idea to publication is a long and winding (sometimes treacherous road.  So we do of course have to find that muse when she wanders off track.

What I tell my writers at this point is quite simple, really.  Although as we all know, simple doesn’t mean easy.  The antidote: Write your way out of it.  Write, write, write some more.  Again, it doesn’t make a whit of difference if you ultimately trash it all.

But that muse is a jealous lover.  And when you stay committed to her, no matter what, she truly does always return.

So when sometime down the road, you again hit a big ocean of mud, just feel your way back to the creative path. Honor it—whether in glory or mire.  And then, once more, Inspiration will sing.

What Inspired You To Write This Novel?

This week we’re honored to have with us my fabulous author, Jesse Byrd, talking about his wonderful debut novel.  Oiseau The King Catcher has earned honors at both the 2016 Los Angeles and Paris Book Festivals! The story tells of a refugee penguin growing up amidst a power struggle in South Africa. After 3 years honing the manuscript, Jesse quit his day-job to focus on writing full-time. His next project is a children’s picture book to explore the lessons of fear.
Jesse Byrd_Hi Res 1

1. What inspired you to write this novel?

This novel annoyed the hell out of me. The story came to me in bits of conversation at the WORST TIMES. I’d grumpily roll over at 2 a.m., type a line of dialogue into my phone then quickly go to sleep! I didn’t want to stay awake and pull at the thread. I did not. I wanted sleep. This is where I must admit I was a terrible host, with pretty much the demeanor of a wet baby every time my story wanted to put me to work. It wasn’t until I stopped mistreating my inspiration and set aside the time that those pieces of conversation became more interesting and developed into something I was curious enough to pursue. So in that respect, I’m very thankful Oiseau didn’t give up on me, because thus far it’s been the best and most rewarding part of my life’s work.

2.  What did you learn while writing it?

What I learned professionally: Writing starts as a Disney movie, then drops into a war film. The initial inspiration was like flint to help me spark the fire but then I had to learn how to grow this puny faint flame into an inferno. This took a ton of trial and error. As a new author you’re still developing your process, trying to figure out what’s the best way to flesh out my story, learn my characters and get to the heart of this thing. It panned out to three years of research, writing and revisions with an editor who really coached the best out of me.

What I learned as a person: Starting out, in my gleaming naivete, I said ‘I don’t want this book to be about me’. We didn’t need this to be some weird penguin autobiography of a guy in Oakland. It wasn’t until I finished the manuscript that I realized, although these characters have lives of their own, it was impossible to separate my human experience from the story, and I should’ve been beaten for trying. What makes me human: my hurt, my fire, my loss, my love, makes them human. To remove that wouldn’t be fiction worth reading.

3.  How do you handle discouragement?  There’s lots of it in this business!

It never feels good to see your work go unnoticed. You ask yourself a ton of questions like are agents even reading this thing? And I sent you my heart for an automated rejection? Two things help me shorten the ‘woe-me’ state and get back in the game.

Perspective. For every 100 no’s you only really need one yes for it all to work. And as you study the stories of all the crap Greats had to go through to at each level, you kind of shrug and say, “Hmm. It ain’t that bad.” (Which you kind of knew already. You didn’t get diagnosed with Malaria, an agent passed on your manuscript – you sensitive artistic baby!)

Faith. I don’t care what you believe in you HAVE to believe in your work. If you can look at yourself and say this is my best. I didn’t cut corners. I put in the maximum effort. And you really believe this work is part of your Earthly service, then at some point things have to and will turn in your favor and these struggles will just be anecdotes you exaggerate in your memoir. 🙂

4.  You’ve won two major awards–how did that success feel?

We’ve been blessed enough to win Runner-up for book of the year in Young Adult at the 2016 Paris Book Festival as well as Honorable Mention at the 2016 Los Angeles Book Festival. Umm, I handled it like any self-respecting adult would. I flipped out. Flopping around in the bed like a fish, yelling, hitting the mattress with my fist. There was praying and clapping and dancing and singing and then…I realized I was late for work. Lol. I’m sure I looked manic to my neighbors, but it was pure electricity. I think to get any kind of recognition for your novel is incredible, especially your first one because you don’t know how well it will measure with the market. A small part of you is just grateful someone took the time to read the work and found it beneficial. It felt good.

5.  What keeps you inspired to write?

There are four things:

Discovery: I love to learn new things and the process of writing/research takes you down a path of discovery where you’re always a student and I love that.

Passion: Every cheesy script-font-Facebook-quote you’ve seen about work not being work if you love what you do is true. I’ve spent a week working on this interview and you’ll finish it in less time than it takes to eat a ham sandwich, but I love it. The process, the playing, the laughing, the problem solving, the lessons, everything. I wake up excited to work.

Experience: The real gift of being an author, to me, is to be rewarded for every single crappy and dynamic experience. Every emotional charge / lesson learned is value for your story and your characters. Think about it, how fun is that?! Traveling, tasting food, being dumped, mistreated, promoted, stubbing a toe, losing a loved one, getting a dog, visiting your dentist, etc., can make you a better writer! If you’re willing to delve into those experiences with some honesty it’s a wonderful cache you can pull from.

Assignments: I have 5 book concepts currently and newbies that just stroll in on a whim. It feels like weird little seeds dropped into your palm, and you don’t know what kind of tree they are or how exactly to cultivate them but it’s your job to learn! And make them healthy, vibrant trees with good fruit, shade, etc. I feel obligated and blessed to tell these stories that have been assigned to me.

6.  What are you working on now?

I’m finishing the manuscript for a picture-book called: What You Should Know Before Going To The Jungle. The first book in a line featuring a 4th grader who dramatizes weekend trips with his father in order to scare his peers. This weekend they went camping with “mosquitoes as big as a moose, with noses so big they can drink you like juice!”™ The Hollywood-pitch would be Goosebumps for picture books. Albeit tons of fun to get kids riled up for kicks and giggles, I believe one of the early morals is that fear is often fantasy. And the first step to curing it is education. So, I’m hoping the animals and things we touch upon in the book in a fantastical way, will incite a real curiosity/discussion about what these animals look like, what they eat, where they live, etc. Though tons of work, I’m having a shameful amount of fun working on it – manuscript should be finished soon!