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For a long time I searched for my Happy Place as a writer and I didn’t find it. The reason I couldn’t find it was because I needed to create it. I needed to understand what this place is made up of. Most of all, I needed to identify the core of my motivation.
Writing can be a lonely, thankless venture. For about five years I have been in the process of establishing myself as a writer and I admit I am still far from where I plan to be. But I am exactly where I want to be right now because this is the place from which I move forward.
Right now I have a great deal of experience, raw material, writing resources, ideas, and visions of possibilities for the future. With each day that passes I accumulate more writing aids and grist for the mill. This is a good place to be.
Five years ago I quit my job and began to work diligently on my writing. At that time I gained a lot of momentum as a writer. However, a year later I went back to work at two consecutive jobs. All the while I kept having a gnawing feeling that I was to focus on my writing. Finally I submitted my resignation. (I don’t recommend quitting your job unless you are convinced in your heart that this is what you are to do.)
The past two years have been riddled with doubt and confusion as I vacillated back and forth between staying at home on a reduced income and going back to work again. After repeated rejections from agents and editors I contemplated giving up fiction writing altogether. I over-analyzed and second-guessed myself after numerous blog posts with virtually no reader response.
I admit I have yet to regain the momentum I had during the first year before I went back to work. However, the time in between has not been wasted and I have gained many valuable insights.
Little has changed around me, but something has changed inside me. I have embraced the messiness and the beauty of where I am today. I have accepted what I have, and even what I don’t have.
I made two decisions which are moving me forward.
One, I am motivated by love. I write because I love people. I want to inspire, encourage and entertain people.
Two, I want to write.
I can write anywhere and on any subject. I may write comments on social media, or messages and emails to friends, or notes on birthday cards, or I may write in my journal. The success of my writing does not need to be measured in terms of financial profit. I write because I love people and because I love to write.
I am truly grateful for each writing resource I have studied, each note I have taken, each creative line I have written. I am grateful for all that has brought me to this place where I am today and all that will influence my tomorrows to come.
If there is one thing the past months and years have taught me it is this: Writing is a struggle and it will always be a struggle. That is why it is so critical to know why I am writing and who I am writing for.
My future success may not come in the form of a published book. In fact my future may look much like my past. I’m OK with that. I now see intrinsic value in what I am doing from day to day. I am in my Happy Place.
It’s amazing how far a little encouragement will take a writer. This is the reason each writer desperately needs a support base of readers who are in love with their writing. Among these readers we look most eagerly for those who interact with our work.
I have published blogs and a few articles and short stories and am working on a book. It is so encouraging when people respond to something I have written. At a conference I attended there was a new emphasis on writers establishing an email mailing list of readers. You share your latest writing accomplishments with your readers and they in turn tell you how your writing impacted them.
At this stage I have not yet joined a writer’s group and I hear this is really the best way to connect directly with a group of supportive people during the actual writing process. I suppose the fact that I have not sought out and joined a group says something about my personality. Like most writers, I am afraid to show my work to others and to have it critiqued.
I have become braver lately and on occasion even dared to read some of my work to family and friends and listen to their critique. Painful as it is, a good critique can be a writer’s best friend. Critiques have moved my writing forward. In their own way, critiques are a show of support.
Recently I wrote four songs. Yes, I am a song writer too. One of the songs is intensely personal. I have yet to determine whether it is art or merely “raw reportage flung splat on the page,” as Mary Karr describes inferior writing in Art of Memoir. But, I take courage in the fact that even raw reportage is a start. And listening to lyrics on the radio today, one wonders if art is a requirement at all to get a record label.
Time and distance often help to tell if the writing is good. When I go back to my writing and find it moves me this is a good sign. If it moves others, that is even better.
One has to be careful with critiques. When a writer’s art is in the embryo stage it needs to be protected from harsh judgment. When it is polished, it is time to share it. A writer must have some level of confidence in his or her work or it may never see the light of publication day.
Kate Bond wrote eight novels and basically never showed them to anybody before she recently won a contest for a screen play. This is an example of how timid writers can be and that is why we need support. Bond submitted her play in an effort to get over her fear. She says, “I think it was this idea that it was a low-stakes way to send a piece of writing out into the world; that some stranger, some third party will read it and it will help kind of alleviate this great phobia I have of showing anything to anybody.”
I started this blog in a really good season when blogs were a new thing. Now we are literally flooded with millions upon millions of blogs and sorting through them can be fatiguing, if not overwhelming. Recently I came across one that I find particularly worth reading, Brain Pickings by Maria Pavova. This lady does much more than “splat on a page.” Pavova says she puts hundreds of hours a month and thousands of dollars into her blog yet the only advertising on her site is in the form of links to books on Amazon of which she gets a small percentage of the sale if people buy them.
When people love our work, they praise it and better yet, agents publish it and readers buy it. Bloggers don’t have the advantage of publishers to promote their work and they don’t get a percentage of sales. As an alternative to posting random ads, Maria Pavova respectfully requests financial support from her readers. I hope people consider donating to her. But for starters, simple praise is what most of us need to be inspired to move ahead and that only costs a few minutes of intellectual investment.
In the writing world it is essential to build relationships and learn how to support and promote one another. I have made many great connections by attending writers’ conferences and find it takes an effort to move to the next level where you really benefit from each other’s skill set.
I am interested in knowing how others have built a support base. Who do you show your writing to? At what point do you show your writing to someone? Have you found the perfect mix of support and critique in a person with whom you have shared your writing? Have you had a shocking experience when you shared your work? Are there online sites you recommend for sharing writing? Have you found a creative way to share your not yet perfect drafts?
If any of my writer readers would like to share their work with me, I will give you a gentle critique and I promise some encouragement too. You may email me at email@example.com. Send a Word document as an attachment, please. It can be a blog article, song lyrics or poetry, short story, or up to ten pages of a novel, double-spaced. Write a little about why you wrote the piece. I will respond to the first five scripts I receive.
Below is an article that tells us how fake news happens. Note that this was not some hacker, some criminally minded person, or some random person out to play a practical joke. It was 20th Century F…
We have had a weekly deluge of snow for the past month in British Columbia, leaving a lot of people stranded in their driveways as inclines make it impossible to get out. Clearing a long driveway i…
At the Peace Arch border crossing, entering the U.S. from Canada, the border patrol person asked me what I did for a living. He seemed very interested when I told him I was a writer and offered me a cure for writer’s block.
“You know what you have to do to overcome writer’s block?”
Of course I wanted to hear what he had to say.
“You have to travel. That’s what will get you over writer’s block.”
He sounded so confident, I decided to take his advice to heart.
I travel to a park or the beach, and sit in my car and write. I travel to a local tourist area and walk around for half a day. I travel to home decor stores to see their enticing displays. I visit the ocean, or the mountains. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest I have access to numerous places to get inspiration for writing, places like Granville Island, Fort Langley, White Rock, Crescent Beach, Deep Cove, Belcarra Regional Park, Stanley Park. I could go on.
My budget constricts me a little, but I have still managed several longer vacations in the past year or so, traveling to the Okanagan Valley, to Manitoba to attend two weddings, to Ontario to visit family I hadn’t seen for decades, to New England to do research for my novel, and most recently to Portland, Oregon to attend a writers’ conference.
I’ve read a lot of advice on how to overcome writer’s block. If I am blocked, it is for a reason. Usually it is the pressure of the urgent. The sense that something is more important than writing.
I am also an artist and a musician and the answer to why I don’t paint, or play piano or guitar is the same. The mundane duties of life supersede my artistic ambitions. If I am not writing or painting or making music, it is because I have not placed a high enough importance on these activities.
I recently visited the website of an author and agent I met at a writers’ conference and saw that his last writing post was dated June 28. My natural response was one of sadness. Why is this skilled writer not writing regularly?
Maybe it is because we writers are not machines. Yes, we can seat ourselves at our desks and determine not to get up for four hours. This will produce results of sorts. Some writers are able to adhere to a self-imposed writing deadline and I expect their email as consistently as Saturday, or a full moon. But we are not all like that.
The greatest hindrance to good writing is a depressed spirit. Traveling, getting into a new space and making new encounters, works very well to lift one’s spirits.
One weekend I travelled down to Lynden, WA to help my son and his wife paint the interior of their house. My husband took a separate car and came later, after work. When I returned back home, my husband went through the border first and I followed after him. The border guard greeted me and I told him I had been visiting my children.
“I heard you ‘Tom Sawyered’ your husband into painting a house.”
I laughed, and thought to myself, border guards read too. Once again my little journey proved to be inspiring.
Maybe traveling isn’t your way of getting over writer’s block. Find out what works for you and do whatever it takes to get your thoughts out there for people to read. Somebody is waiting to hear from you.
Last week I attended the Oregon Christian Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference began on Monday and ended Thursday afternoon. For any writer who has never attended a conference, I highly recommend it.
One of the reasons to attend a writers’ conference is that writers have access to agents and editors in a way that doesn’t happen by simply sending in a query. Editors and agents pay more attention to writers who attend conferences because they can tell that these writers are serious about their craft and willing to invest time and money to improve their writing skills.
If you are planning to attend a writers’ conference it is important to thoroughly familiarize yourself with who will be at the conference and know what you want to accomplish. This will help you to prioritize and make the most of your time. My priorities were 1) to help out with morning worship by playing the guitar, 2) gain a better knowledge of the craft of writing women’s fiction, 3) talk with a mentor about writing as a career, 4) build relationships with agents, editors and authors, 5) get an understanding of the place of my writing, 6) volunteer, and 7) spend time in the pool. I managed all of the above.
Before the conference I selected a coach and signed up for a Coaching Class–seven hours of in-depth teaching in three morning sessions. My class was taught by Angela Hunt. Angela has written contemporary fiction, historical fiction, children’s fiction and several books on the craft of writing. It was inspiring to hear her tell about her writing journey and her technique, which she covers in her book, Writing Lessons From the Front: The First Ten Books.
I also selected a Mentor for a half hour appointment. Poppy Smith–an author, international speaker and life coach gave me some helpful input as we discussed writing as a career path.
At the conference I signed up for 15 Minute Appointments with Editors and Agents, based on their availability. If I could not get an appointment I waited for mealtime and sat at the Tables of Editors or Agents I needed to meet. I also had a conversation with two agents during the Thursday afternoon one hour Autograph Party.
There were twenty-six Afternoon Workshops. We could only choose four. Since we were not committed to particular classes ahead of time I was able to change my plan at the last minute and attend the class of an agent I was encouraged to see, based on my other meetings. Thankfully I managed to spend time with every person I planned to talk to.
At the end of the day, after the Keynote Speaker, I felt too tired to attend the final Night-Owl Workshop. I went to my room to rest and my roomie almost dragged me to the Night-Owl. She knew I needed to go and she was right.
One of the things I discovered in speaking with several agents about my book is that it may not be suitable for Christian publishers. The Surrey International Writers’ Conference is a renowned conference held in my hometown every October, so I’m thinking of attending it next year and hearing more on the subject.
The hope of every writer is to get a publishing contract but, realistically, the chance of this happening at a conference is still pretty slim. As you may have noted in an earlier post, I participated in the Manuscript Submission Program by submitting my first ten pages, cover letter and synopsis to two agents and an editor a couple of months before the conference. The response was that my novel has “promise” and “potential” and needs more editing.
In summary, I got much more than I expected out of the conference. If you are going to a conference I suggest you read Chip MacGregor’s post, Ask the Agent: How Do I Get the Most Out of a Writers’ Conference. I heeded his suggestion to plan which sessions to miss in order to have time to spend with friends and added my own version–remember to include time at the pool too!