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Writing Days

Summer is winding to a close. The hot days that press down on the prairie like a sizzling iron have eased to moderate temperatures, thanks to the hurricanes pounding the coasts. My brain is starting to wake up and revive from the stupor that three-digit temperatures always induce in me. (My roses feel the same way, perking up and putting on their fall flush of blooms.) Autumn in the prairie cauldron is a short-lived season, one to be seized with joy and gratitude because finally we feel revived and able to get a few things done.

Like write.

Yeah, I know that the sun is mellowing into the golden radiance that late September and October bring, the kind of light that lures me outdoors despite my best nose-to-the-grindstone intentions.

I know that it’s time to clean up the yard, clear off the patio, put away the lawn chairs, wash the windows, treat the grass, buy pumpkins and pansies, plant tulip bulbs, tarp the AC compressor and cast iron patio table, decorate for Halloween, contemplate how many Christmas trees I might put up in November, find my flannel shirts and–more importantly–my socks, and generally get ready for winter, but I need to write.

So many distractions swirling like the north wind that will soon have brown, red, and golden leaves skipping across the lawn–and yet, I need to write.

I am this close to writing the climax of my current work in progress. It was supposed to be one of two books completed this summer. Alas, that objective was not reached. My sights have lowered to the all-important task of getting this one manuscript finished. I can do it. I just have to ignore the beckoning autumn weather, park myself in my writing chair, and type those final scenes.

Back in the days when every summer was a race against the ticking clock of looming publisher deadlines, involving the writing of long, large-cast, complicated novels before my return to the university campus, I typed like a madwoman. The final days of rough drafting were crazy, nearly round-the-clock sessions of writing, eating, writing, crashing to sleep, and rising to write more. I refuse to count the number of years I spent on that particular work treadmill, and how I pushed myself to meet the challenge again and again.

This manuscript is not that complicated. There is no deadline, except the one I’ve set. I have savored the luxury of taking my time. It doesn’t mean I’m writing better. It doesn’t mean this light adventure has any depth. But I’m writing, and for this year–this summer–that is enough.

Here’s a quote from Louis L’Amour that I like: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

We can let ourselves freeze up from doubt, anxiety, and uncertainty. We might be facing the kind of story we’ve never done before. We might feel we don’t know what we’re doing. We might feel we’re too rusty, too untrained, or insufficiently talented to write what is filling our heart and imagination. As creative people, we can invent a dozen reasons why we shouldn’t try.

But as L’Amour says, turn on the faucet. Sit at your keyboard and type. Make your protagonist talk to someone, even if it’s the nosy little girl next door that has nothing to do with your plot outline. Type anyway, until your story sense takes over and the real scene starts to flow. You can always cut out the little girl later. Or, you might decide to keep her.

Roll with it.


Enjoy the fall weather after your writing session for the day. Whatever your daily page quota happens to be, meet it, even if some pages are too weak or inane to keep. And during the days when buying pansies beckons, reduce your page quota–if your deadline will allow–so you don’t feel guilty and you don’t miss the fun.

And, for as long as you need to write, do it.




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Fighting Discouragement

You want to be a writer. Daily you work hard putting words on the page, good words. You strive to improve your writer’s craft. You toil to transmit the wonders of your imagination into prose that others can enjoy. You submit your work to publishers, and wait. And wait. And wait. Or you self-publish electronically, planning for all the readers in the world to flock to your story. And you wait. And wait. And wait.

I don’t have to tell you how difficult the writing life is. We love it, but it’s not easy. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the isolation. We need to be alone in order to focus on our work. But we can’t help but crave feedback and response to what we’ve done.

Hard work and isolation can lead to discouragement. Writing is not for those who must have instant gratification. And so discouragement happens from time to time.

Here are a few tips for combatting it:

1) You are not alone.
Remember that every writer suffers. It’s part of the job description.

2) There is no such thing as an overnight success.
All popular writers endure a long apprenticeship. The ones that appear to be overnight successes either wrote obscure books for a long time, or wrote under pseudonyms, or may be a one-hit wonder unable to repeat that initial success sufficiently to establish much of a long-term career.

3) There are no shortcuts.
You learn your craft. You believe in your ideas. You nurture your talent. It takes as long as it takes, and you can’t measure your progress by anyone else.

4) You make your own luck.
I’ve always believed this. But just last week, I found it expressed better in a fortune-cookie proverb:
Luck happens when hard work and opportunity meet.

Bestselling author Jim Butcher waited for three long years for editors to read what would become his first published novel. Three years! But during that interminable wait, he went on believing in his concept and writing the second and third manuscripts in the series he envisioned. When an editor finally read the first manuscript and wanted to offer a multi-book deal, Jim was ready to seize the opportunity.

5) Find litanies that encourage you.
If you’re into positive thinking and affirmations, then post them on your bathroom mirror, your computer monitor, anywhere you’ll see them frequently.
Here are a few samples:
“Publishers are looking for new writers, like me.”
“My next story will be better.”
“Persistence wins.”
“The struggle is worth making.”
“I do have enough talent.
“Anything I still need to know can be learned.”

6) Continue to write.
I’m repeating this point because it’s important. If you don’t work through your dark moments and find ways to continue, then writing isn’t what you really want to do.

7) Finish every writing project that you start.
I don’t mean you’re committed to writing every scrap of idea that floats through your mind. But if you’ve plotted a story, developed its characters, and written the opening scenes, then finish it, even if you get stuck along the way. Solving the writing problems you’ll encounter is how you grow as a writer.

8) Continue to submit your work.
Rejection is part of the job. Everyone gets turned down by agents and editors at some point. You might have initial success and then hit a dry hole where it seems that no one wants your work. Keep at it. After Danielle Steel sold her first two or three books, she was rejected again and again and again. Finally, she got past that roadblock and went on to produce a string of number-one bestselling books.

9) Be flexible.
Maybe the genre you love best has died, and public taste has shifted elsewhere. Do you quit or do you adapt? Be willing to switch your focus to a different type of story, a different genre of fiction, a different length, or a different style. Flexibility is part of survival.

Author Janet Evanovich was writing romance novels when her publisher dumped her. Forced to janitorial work in order to make ends meet, Janet didn’t give up. She created a new kind of mystery sleuth–Stephanie Plum, the zany bounty hunter–and now Janet laughs all the way to the bank.

10) Not all stories are the same.
Perhaps your last project went like a breeze. You were able to think of a plot quickly. The characters seemed to fall into place with little effort. You enjoyed the writing, and it was a marvelous experience.

Now, however, the new project isn’t going smoothly at all. The plot keeps hitting dead ends. You can’t figure out your protagonist’s motivation. The characters seem artificial. Their dialogue is worse. You hate the story, and you’re certain that you’re washed up as a writer.

Not at all! Either you’re challenging yourself with a more ambitious story that’s a little outside your comfort zone, or you’ve made some fundamental errors with plot or character design. Solutions can always be found.


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