Why Should I Care About Your Story?

Writing can be a difficult endeavor to navigate. Spending hours at the typewriter or computer or even the trusty note pad throwing words left and right to carve out a story in hopes of making the reader feel something. In doing so, there are so many things to consider. It’s not for the faint of heart and definitely not for the easily distracted. Maybe you’ve been at it awhile and haven’t had the kind of success you envisioned. It isn’t an easy vocation.

Think about it.

We have to come up with a gripping story, one that hasn’t been told before which holds the reader’s interest until the end. It can be as daunting as it is rewarding. We have to do things like incorporate the five senses throughout to make sure we have the reader engaged and come up with an intriguing setting as a wonderful back drop for all the character interactions. What about creating a narrative crackling with possibility? Snappy dialog. We certainly need to all of those things. They are important. They truly are.

But the question remains, why doesn’t anyone like my stuff?

Why am I not getting published?

In some cases it could just be the harsh reality that everything we write doesn’t strike a chord with publishers or friends. In other cases it can be the writing isn’t strong enough yet and we need to hone our craft a bit more. But other times, we might have everything in alignment–the setting, the narrative, the writing, the story–but something is missing. In many cases it can be the characters themselves.

The characters can make or break the piece.

If the characters are one dimensional it makes it hard to relate to them. Think about it. If you have an accountant, named Barry, who is happily married and lives in an affluent neighborhood with manicured lawns and a three bedroom house with a lovely supportive wife, where’s the fun in that? Where is your conflict? Where is the draw to that character? I personally want to punch the guy just to give him something to worry about.

Now, if we use the same Barry, but change a few things, we can make him more interesting. Let’s say he hates working with numbers, but only got his degree in accounting because his father wouldn’t pay for anything else. His father wanted Barry to cook the books for his butcher shop because he’s into drug trafficking or maybe it’s prostitution. And maybe Barry’s a recovering alcoholic because he despises what he does for a living and is miserable. His home life is crap. His troubled second marriage is on the rocks because of his drinking. His wife’s wandering eye has made her distant and more attentive to the men in the neighborhood than to him. He likes to think he doesn’t care, but he does. Barry’s thirty-five pounds over weight and a chain-smoker who is stretched thin with spousal support payments and child support payments to his first wife and is looking for a quick fix. He’s bought a gun he keeps in the locked glove compartment of his car and takes it out and holds it in his lap while driving to and from work. He’s thought about killing himself but is too chicken to pull the trigger. He hasn’t even bought bullets for the gun because he’s too afraid he might use it. One of his high school buddies has come to him with a business proposition which is questionable in the eyes of the law but would take care of his money problems. All he has to do is sign a few papers and file the paperwork anonymously and he’d be on easy street with a cool two hundred grand. He hasn’t made up his mind yet.

That’s a lot of meat to chew on, right?

Think about the conflict and the intrigue and the minefield the character has to navigate each and every day. The second Barry is far more relatable than the first. No one wants to read about perfect characters.

Make them imperfect.

Make them real.

Make them like us.

Give them flaws and hopes and fears and have them make mistakes and deal with the fallout.

If you add flawed characters to the mix, it will make your writing more relatable. Give it a try.

Never give up and always remember to…

Write ON!

Perfect is not Possible

Hate to break it to you but no draft is perfect. Ever.

Yeah, I said it.

Perfect is not possible.

As writers we strive to be, don’t we?

But it’s a myth.

Our narratives build worlds and characters flecked with pieces of ourselves. As we write, our hearts have soared with our character’s triumphs and wilted in their defeats. We live and die in those moments as we should. If we aren’t emotionally invested in what we write, then it’ll never resonate the way we want it to with our readers.

However, there is an important point in the creative process that needs to be addressed. In the course of creating, we cannot allow ourselves to be swallowed by the myth. If we do, if we succumb to the notion that somewhere in the sea of words, there is perfection, then we will never finish the manuscript. We will forever seek the perfect word or turn of phrase or witty banter and we will smother the flickering flame of what made our story truly shine.

In the process of finding the perfect word we can choke the life out of a perfectly good manuscript.

Now, I’m not saying don’t edit. We all need to edit (and love every minute of it, right?) but what I’m suggesting is instead making five hundred editing passes on the same manuscript let it go at five. I’m sure that might’ve send some of you screaming for the exit doors and that’s okay. We all have method to our madness and if yours is to edit it five hundred times then go for it. I think the manuscript will suffer for it though.

Just get the words down and finish the draft. Messy or not. Get it down.

I know some authors who agonize over every word. Some are great writers but they get mired in perfection and lose sight of what made the story great in the first place. In many cases, they can’t even finish the book they started. The one which had so much promise. That’s because they’ve choked the life out of it.

Get the words down. Let the story breathe. Let it be a little messy. Live is messy. Our characters shouldn’t be perfect either. Let the characters live and die on the page as they’re supposed to do. And somewhere in the course of all that, believe it or not, perfection will live and the story will thrive.

Always remember to write ON!

What’s so Important About a Tree Stump?

Writers are some of the most creative people on the planet. Everything around them is fuel for their inspiration. It might be the way the sky looks in the morning or an overheard bit of conversation at the grocery store. It might be something their kids said or a dream they had overnight.

They take the inspiration and create something out of nothing, whether it’s a character, a setting, or an entire story. And no matter where the inspiration comes from, writers have to use words to bring them to life. The movie playing in their head has to appear within the lines of prose in a way that the imagined becomes the real to the reader. They want the reader to be able to picture what they dreamed up inside their head, both in appearance and mood.

Sometimes writers get lost in getting the words down without taking a moment to think about how their words are perceived by the reader. Does the reader see the same movie? Do they feel the heartache of a breakup? Do they experience the joy of winning the heart of another? Do they see the landscape beyond the window the same way the writer does? Do they know what the monster on the bed looks like?

It’s important the author’s imagined world be conveyed in a way the reader sees, hears, and experiences them as they were intended. When they don’t, the reader doesn’t stay engaged in the story and the author loses them.

What if you were reading a passage like this?

‘I stumbled upon a tree stump in the woods.’

You’d probably imagine something like this, right?

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Just a boring, run-of-the-mill tree stump. Not very exciting, is it? I mean who hasn’t seen a tree stump like that? But, what if I told you that’s not even close to the tree stump I stumbled across.

Let’s try something a little different.

!stump.jpg

‘Lost, wandering in the thick woods for hours, I stumbled across something of nightmares, a stump with a twisted frenzy of tentacles grabbing at the earth, trying to pull the insatiable, squid-like beast into the light of day, its hellish eye watching closely.’

The passage is a little more engaging isn’t it? And after reading it, your mind isn’t filled with the first image above is it?

Writers need to always keep in mind how their work reads to others, which is why it’s important to have other people give feedback on the work. Whether it’s friends, other writers, or beta-readers, their opinions and feedback can be invaluable to the writers to ensure the intended picture they imagined and painted with words doesn’t read like an ordinary, boring tree stump.

The Magic Bullet

What is the magic bullet? Haven’t you heard? It’s the super-secret way all successful authors have to get published. You learn about the magic bullet the same day the SAC teaches you the secret handshake. What’s the SAC? Well, it’s the Secret Authors Coalition of course. If you don’t know about the secret handshake or the magic bullet, you obviously are not a successful author.

Yes, I’m kidding. Don’t go Googling ‘magic bullet’ and ‘SAC’. I cannot promise the search results that might come back if you do.

It would be nice if there was an SAC and a magic bullet, wouldn’t it? I mean, if everybody could have that knowledge then every author out there would be successful, wracking up the publishing credits and becoming a best-selling author, right?

Right.

The only problem is there is no magic bullet, no super-secret handshake, and no SAC.

But hold on. There is still hope. Don’t go running off to cry in the corner.

If you are a new author who is finally ready to begin submitting work and hoping to get that precious first publishing credit, you might feel like you’re navigating a dark warehouse with just your cell phone for a flashlight. It doesn’t illuminate much and your progress is slow. You keep bumping into things you can’t see and getting frustrated. It is a learning experience like no other and no instruction manual to go with it.

The good news is, even without a guidebook, anyone can be successful as a writer. Every writer has a different concept of success. Some, merely want to finish a story or their first book while others want to have their story published online or in print. For some, success is selling their first short story and getting their first royalty check. And still, other writers want to make a living putting words down on paper. The writer needs to define their version of success.

When writers get brave enough to start submitting their work, all the anxiety they’ve kept in check while shaping the story and getting it ready escapes. Is my writing good enough to be published? Will anyone want to read my story?

All of those are valid questions. Writers can spend hours upon hours poring over their work trying to make it perfect before sending it out. Well, I have news for you, it never will be perfect. There are always improvements that can be made. I know some writers who struggle so much with making it perfect, they choke the life out of the piece. Sometimes, it is better to give it legs before it gets killed during editing. There are no perfect drafts, there are merely finished drafts with hope.

So, I have a confession to make. I lied when I said there is no magic bullet.

What is it?

You’re probably not going to like the answer. The magic bullet is simply hard work coupled with never giving up. Keep writing. Keep improving. Keep submitting. You will learn as you go and the lessons you learn will guide you, the cell phone flashlight growing stronger, the darkness of the warehouse slowly dissipating. The publishing doors will open eventually and when they do you can feel the joy of having a first publishing credit.

And then the second.

And the third.

You get the idea.

Don’t get discouraged.

We are all in this together.

Stop reading this stupid blog post and get back to writing.

And always remember to write ON!

Rejection? I’ve Got Your Rejection, Right Here

Rejection at any level sucks, right?

You see someone you’re attracted to and ask them out, and you get the thanks but no thanks response. You interview for your dream job, and they go with someone else. You raise your hand to give a high five and you’re left hanging. All of it sucks. But the kind of rejection I’m talking about has to do with writing.

Your writing.

Your creation.

Your soul.

We, as writers, are an odd flock. I mean, surely you’ve realized that by now. And if you haven’t, you will. There is no denying it. No other vocation requires people to spend hour upon hour in solitary confinement locked away inside their heads, their own worlds, talking with people who don’t exist anywhere else but on paper.

Dutifully, we pound out words and sentences to bring these people, places, and things alive. We agonize with our characters, don’t we? We feel them at the worst and champion them at their best. At times, we will them to make decisions, but once fully evolved, they have minds of their own, becoming unwieldy bits of bothersome fodder to our tale. (It is magic, by the way, when that happens)

For some writers, it is enough to begin writing.

For others, it is enough to finish the first short story.

And others still it is enough to finish their first novel.

But for others, there is a need to be published, to let the world judge their work.

And it’s to the last group, I’m speaking. Writing is incredibly personal. Why? Because it’s flecks of ourselves, our pain, love, hopes, dreams sprinkled across the page for everyone to see. It’s a glimpse into our innermost secrets, the locked inner chambers of our minds and hearts.

And that’s why it hurts in a very personal way when we have our writing criticized and rejected. It matters not if it comes from our fellow contemporaries, our writers in arms, the ones who are supposed to be helping us improve and grow as writers. It hurts, even more, when our writing is rejected by the insurmountable wall of the publishing industry.

It is important to realize how brave we are as writers. It took a lot to bleed on the page for the sake of our art, to agonize over the wording, the tone, and mastering the proper voice. It took even more courage to submit a story to a publication with the hope we would earn the right to appear in print.

Some writers might say, “Oh, that’s such a shame.”

Others might say, “Tough tittie, deal with it.”

I’m kind of in the middle. I’ve been on the receiving end of brutal rejections, which stung for quite a while. I have amassed quite an impressive array of rejection letters from magazines, journals, anthologies, agents, and publishers alike. If you’ve been wading through the trenches of fiction publishing, I’m sure you have too
The important lesson learned–and it’s a hard one to swallow–is rejection is part of the writer’s growth. It truly is.

Think of the rejection as the publication saying right now, at this point in time, with this story, in this shape, the answer is no. It doesn’t mean you can’t write. It doesn’t mean the story sucks. It means, right now, it’s a no. So, leave the story to simmer, go back over it with a fine-toothed comb and submit it again.

The first rejection is always the hardest. For me, it took me about a week to get back to it. The writing I mean. Submitting again took me a little longer. But it became a rallying point. Other writers get rejected. Everyone does. It’s part of the game.

I’m incredibly stubborn. Ask anyone who knows me. I have Scottish, Irish, and German blood running through my veins. The only person more stubborn than me is my mother, the daughter of a U.S. Army Colonel. I didn’t let it deter me. When the rejection came in, I took it to heart and buckled down. It drove me to write better and to come up with better ideas. I began to read books on writing and incorporate things to improve. I read about how to better focus my query letter and how to word it so they would have a hard time saying no.

I began to submit more pieces, and although I received even more rejections, they didn’t sting as much, and I started to wear each one as a rite of passage.

Don’t let rejections get in the way of what you love.

So, join me. Wear your scars proudly and keep writing and keep submitting. The acceptances will start coming.

Never stop.

And always remember to write ON!

Sorry, No Shortcuts Here

A lot of people say they want to be writers.

Typically, these are the people who have taken a creative writing class in high school or a course or two while in college. Maybe they’ve watched movies, or read books, where the writer’s life is romanticized and fluffed into something unwieldy and unrealistic. No, we don’t all live in an oceanside estate, sipping brandy from a sifter, beside the fireplace, writing bestsellers. It just doesn’t happen that way.

If truth be told, most writers cannot make a living from their craft. Many times, they don’t make any money. The people who say they want to be writers have visions of writing the next bestseller at their seaside estate or mountain retreat. The people who say they want to be writers don’t understand what it takes to be one. You see, they envision the muse flitting about their head, whispering the next lines of their book. That’s not how it happens. It’s a wonderful notion, but unrealistic. They don’t see the late nights, the agony of each rejection, or the torture of wondering whether you can do this or not with every word you get down.

For the true writer, the ones who add words to blank pages every day, there is no romance to it. There is nuance but not romance. There is no magic muse whispering sweet nothings in our ears and no seven-figure contract waiting once our manuscript is complete.

It’s just us against the blank page.

We grind out words each day–sometimes painfully, sometimes effortlessly–but it’s a commitment like no other. It’s a commitment to ourselves that we can fill another page, write another story, and make another sale.

So, why do we do it? If there’s not much money in it, why do we write?

For me, it’s a need. It’s undeniable. I have to write. Even when I had a day job, I still had to write every day. I had to get words down. Even now, on those days when I can’t write until late, my fingers get itchy, and I get restless. There is something wonderfully cathartic about creating something out of the blank space of a white page. Characters, dialog, places, and events. All at my fingertips. All mine.

For those of us lucky enough to make a living as writers, there are no shortcuts. There are just words to create and stories to conjure.

For those out there who say they want to be writers? Stop talking about it and start doing it. Put the words down and fill the page.

And then another.

And then another.

You get the point.

Never give up. And always write ON!

It’s Not Your Muse’s Fault

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It isn’t your muse’s fault.

I know some authors would completely disagree and, that’s okay. It’s their opinion and ultimately their loss.

The authors blaming their muse for their inability to continue writing are missing the point. They are overthinking it. Maybe they lack self-confidence. They worry they can’t finish the story. They struggle to put pen to paper to fill the empty spaces. Maybe they don’t believe in their abilities as a storyteller or as a writer. In short, they don’t trust themselves.

I used to be one of those writers.

After all, it’s romantic to think of a muse whispering the most incredible things in your ear as you frantically fill page after page of beautiful prose, right? Who wouldn’t want something as cool as a winged fairy to help them write?

I used to think the same way. I’d say I was stuck while writing a particular piece because my muse wasn’t talking to me. I’ve come to realize the muse is nothing but a romanticized excuse, a notion that isn’t true. It’s a crutch brought out when the writing gets tough. Blame it on the muse when the section of your book isn’t going as smoothly as you originally planned.

Stop giving some imaginary make-believe thing all the credit. The muse isn’t whispering the story to you. You are the one breathing life into the work. It’s your mind creating something magical out of nothing.

I once complained about my muse not cooperating. I said I was stuck and an author friend said, “Choke the bitch and put her out of YOUR misery.” Hearing that struck something inside. Once I took control of my muse and pressed the mute button, my writing output increased tenfold. I no longer doubt I can write the story. I sit down and write every single day. It’s liberating not having to rely on some pixie to open the story for me.

So trust me. Throw away the crutch and stop using the muse as an excuse. You need to trust yourself as a storyteller and as a writer and write the story.

Stop making excuses.

Take back your superpower.

It’s you writing the story.

It’s you that’s the author.

It’s you.

Write ON!

The Sting of Criticism

As writers, we all have a strong connection with what we write. Anything we create comes with bits and pieces of us. Every word, every sentence taking the reader on a journey we conceived by crafting a story is humbling and rewarding. It’s impossible to separate the author from the work and vice versa. That’s not a bad thing. It’s quite the opposite.

Think about it.

As an author, if you aren’t emotionally invested in the story as you’re writing it, how can you expect the reader to be? It’s as simple as that. And, because so much of ourselves is in our work, criticism can sting. A lot.

After all, we’ve taken this idea and built it into a story by pruning, editing, and polishing it until we’ve felt brave enough to unleash it upon the world. The reason for setting it free upon the readers of the world doesn’t matter. Maybe we enjoy writing for our self-satisfaction. Perhaps we’re hoping for a publishing credit. It doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s all the same.

When we let someone else into our world, the one we’ve created from thin air, the one we breathed life into, it can be a little scary. Their opinion can shake our confidence and wake up the self-doubt lurking in every author’s mind.

And that’s where a lot of writers struggle.

About five years ago, I started to focus on my writing. I had soured on the publishing industry and, why not? I had a best-selling novel through Northwest Publishing twenty years prior. I was on the bestseller lists with Stephen King’s Green Mile and Danielle Steele’s Lightning. I’d thought I’d made it. The owners of Northwest had embezzled millions and stolen from hundreds of authors. Inmeshed in a class-action lawsuit, I’d had enough.

I didn’t write for close to fifteen years. It was too painful. But, the itch came back. The idea factory wouldn’t let me sleep. And while I was recovering from the first of multiple neck surgeries, I cracked the laptop open and started again.

I began putting myself out there. I started submitting short stories to magazines and novels to publishers and literary agents alike. The treadmill of submissions, as any author can tell you, can be a daunting one. A proven track record doesn’t always mean a lot in this business.

I received a particularly harsh rejection letter for a short story entitled ‘Slippage’. It suggested I pick up a book on style and take a class on form and substance and that I should take the story out of my rotation of pieces to submit.

I took it hard. I loved the story, a first-person tale set in the late 19th century about an obscure artist and the things he could create with his hands. There wasn’t anything constructive in the rejection at all, nothing I could build on. What was I supposed to take from that? Self-doubt started to snowball as more rejections for other stories began to roll in.

It would’ve been easy to drown in self-doubt. I went over the rejections and realized these were just opinions. Everybody has one. And while I took the criticism they contained personally, I didn’t let it stop me. Some were positive and others negative. It’s important to realize who is giving the criticism. If it’s someone who doesn’t tend to like the genre you’re writing in, they might not be able to relate well to your story as well as someone who loves it. If it’s a family member, they might tell you everything you’ve ever written is genius. Most likely, you’re not a genius. They are just trying to be supportive.

I learned to take every opinion with a grain of salt. As a writer, you have to realize it’s impossible to write something everyone will love. You can create something some people will love, but that’s not the most important thing to keep in mind. You have to write something you love because when you do, it shines through the work.

In the end, the most important critic is in you. You have to have faith in what you write and confidence in your ability to tell a good story. Don’t let the negative reviews or criticism detract you from putting words on paper. Stay the course and keep writing. You’ll improve with every story, every paragraph, and every word you write.

Never give up.

Always remember, write ON!

Do I Need to Read in Order to Write

Well, the obvious answer is no. You can certainly write without reading a single word, but I don’t recommend it. There is something to be said about ‘research’ when you write. And no, I’m not talking about research into a topic you’re writing about. I’m talking about ‘research’ as in reading other authors and recognizing their differences in style, delivery, and voice.

If you’ve been writing for a while, then you probably have found your voice and your style. You’ve learned what works and what doesn’t in your writing. Is dialog a weakness or a strength? Are your characters well-rounded or flat? Does your setting add anything to what is happening? Our writing always gravitates toward our strengths.

Well, believe it or not, so does our reading.

Most writers read what they write. That might sound stupid but think about it. Romance novelists tend to read more romance than anything else. Horror writers read more horror than anything else. Why is that? It’s a level of comfort. We want to see how other people are doing it. How do they write their dialog and how do they describe certain aspects of the story. How do they paint the landscape in a way to draw us in from the first sentence?


It’s research people.

We are doing ‘research’ every time we pick up a book and read it. The beauty of it, at least for me, is I get to enjoy a new book at the same time I’m researching. I’m enjoying a new world and escaping with the author. The other bonus? When I read, it always inspires me to write. I get the itchy fingers, and the need to get some words down on paper is overpowering. So, while you might not need to read to write, it is strongly recommended. You might not even realize you’re doing it, but you are subconsciously taking notes on the author’s work. And when your fingers are flying across the keys, or madly scratching a pen across paper, or even banging it out on a dusty manual typewriter, those notes, those thoughts, those memories of what you’ve read will come to life. You can incorporate the things you liked about what you’ve read and avoid what you didn’t.

So, in short, while it’s not a requirement to read to write, it is highly recommended.

I think it’s time to do a little research, don’t you?

Happy reading, and always remember to Write ON!

It’s Not Your Muse’s Fault

5063054.jpg

It isn’t your muse’s fault.

I know some authors would completely disagree and, that’s okay. It’s their opinion and ultimately their loss.

The authors blaming their muse for their inability to continue writing are missing the point. They are overthinking it. Maybe they lack self-confidence. They worry they can’t finish the story. They struggle to put pen to paper to fill the empty spaces. Maybe they don’t believe in their abilities as a storyteller or as a writer. In short, they don’t trust themselves.

I used to be one of those writers.

After all, it’s romantic to think of a muse whispering the most incredible things in your ear as you frantically fill page after page of beautiful prose, right? Who wouldn’t want something as cool as a winged fairy to help them write?

I used to think the same way. I’d say I was stuck while writing a particular piece because my muse wasn’t talking to me. I’ve come to realize the muse is nothing but a romanticized excuse, a notion that isn’t true. It’s a crutch brought out when the writing gets tough. Blame it on the muse when the section of your book isn’t going as smoothly as you originally planned.

Stop giving some imaginary make-believe thing all the credit. The muse isn’t whispering the story to you. You are the one breathing life into the work. It’s your mind creating something magical out of nothing.

I once complained about my muse not cooperating. I said I was stuck and an author friend said, “Choke the bitch and put her out of YOUR misery.” Hearing that struck something inside. Once I took control of my muse and pressed the mute button, my writing output increased tenfold. I no longer doubt I can write the story. I sit down and write every single day. It’s liberating not having to rely on some pixie to open the story for me.

So trust me. Throw away the crutch and stop using the muse as an excuse. You need to trust yourself as a storyteller and as a writer and write the story.

Stop making excuses.

Take back your superpower.

It’s you writing the story.

It’s you that’s the author.

It’s you.

Write ON!

I