Saturday, October 31, 2015

When You Write The End

when you write the end #write31days

Writing a good ending is more important than any other part of your book. It informs the reader's final decision. Your beginning and middle could be pure gold but if your ending falls flat the rest of your story loses its luster.

That's a lot of pressure.

But it's also an exciting challenge.

I've never actually experienced that 'The End' euphoria. I've never written something through from start to finish chronologically. I don't know if this is normal - I only know this is how it comes out of pieces I have to frankenstein together until they form a cohesive narrative.

Thank goodness I have a nerd's love for puzzles!

But the problem with this is that I don't experience the journey of my story until after it's written. When you already know the ending it feels somehow anticlimactic and the only thing I care about is that it isn't that way for my readers.

If my ending is weak, my whole book is weak and {in the spirit of Halloween} what is scarier than that??!?

Wish me luck, friends, as I navigate this next stage of the novel-writing game. I'm going to need all the support I can find! 
{click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Thank you to everyone who has followed along with me on this Write 31 Day Challenge. It has certainly tested my will and forced me to look at how and why I write. It has stretched and bettered me. It has left me feeling exhausted. And yet...I feel somehow invigorated too. The practice of daily writing has geared me up for November's even bigger challenge of NaNoWriMo which begins promptly at midnight tonight. I feel completely unprepared - all my prep time was eaten up by this blogging challenge - but I'm excited to dive into another project and give myself a break from Joseph Carver and his Church in the Wildwood.

All that being said, things may get a little quiet and dusty around this blog during the month of November. I will be BUSY! And if you invite me to do something in the real world, I'll probably say no. Don't take it personally - I'm just taking this thing seriously.

~ you can follow along with my NaNo project by visiting me here ~
it's going to be a long month but it's going to be worth it

The End

Friday, October 30, 2015

Why Letting Others Read Your Manuscript Is Like Sending A Child To Kindergarten

why letting others read your manuscript is like sending a child to kindergarten #write31days

I will never forget the day I first dropped Liam off for Kindergarten. He's a rough and tumble boy but contains a secret heart-space that's vaster than the ocean. Perhaps it's a middle child thing but he is much more affectionate than his brother and sister combined. He's got this ying and yang balance of sweetness and attitude. No one pushes me like he does. But no one loves me like he does either.

Kindergarten dawned and he was all boundless excitement and curiosity. Our morning was happy. Bouncy. Light. We arrived in the schoolyard and everything was sunshine. He met other children. Compared backpacks. Showed off the flashing lights in the soles of his shoes.

But then the bell rang and he didn't want to let go of our farewell hug. I walked him to the teacher, his arms circling me and his face scrunched with worry.

The teacher smiled. "You'll be fine, dear," she said, helping to unwrap him from my waist and holding him back as I untangled myself. "You'll be fine."


One word to rip your heart. The devastation that poured from him was enough to nearly cripple me. His face was distorted into an ugly cry of desperation, his mouth wide with horror and tears splashing down his face as evidence of his abandonment.

"I love you," I said.

"He'll be fine," the teacher assured me.


And I left the schoolyard, that terrible pained face ingrained upon my heart to reappear all day as I waited the long hours to rescue him from my desertion. 

It's hard to let go - to trust your child into the care of another no matter their skill or training. 

Because no one can mother like I can. No one can love him more perfectly than me.

A manuscript is a baby conceived in the womb of your mind and brought to full gestation through laborious exertion. It is crafted by your love. It is dressed in new clothes and fancy, flashing sneakers. It is your heart walking around outside your body and to trust it to the care of another is to tug the gossamer threads of your soul. 

The Church In The Wildwood is ready for beta readers. It's prepped to be poked and prodded and scribbled on and deconstructed to be reconstructed and I'm terrified that it's not the beautiful child I think I've been raising over the last year.

BUT, just as I lack the skills required to effectively teach my own children things like reading, writing and arithmatic - so too do I lack the skills required to effectively read my own work and find it's faults. I'm too close to it. I'm a parent who thinks my child is the prettiest child in the schoolyard. I don't necessarily see the wild bedhead and the stains of last night's spaghetti clinging to an unwashed chin.

And so I'll pass my pretty manuscript off and I'll whisper, "I love you," as it reaches back for me and I'll pretend I don't see those shiny tears as I feel the gaping hole of terror ripped open in my chest at the thought of my sweet baby being torn apart by bullies...

Of course, at the end of it all I'll realize that everything is okay - that it is, in fact, BETTER. It's good to let others teach. It's good to be taught. The Church In The Wildwood will be better because I let it go just as Liam is better because I walked away and let him experience school on his own.

It's about making something stronger. It's about trust. It's about faith in the process. It's about pouring out your heart and then making sure it's the best version of itself it can be.

It's not easy but it is necessary.

Cheers to November 1 - the first day of school for my precious story. 
{click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Thursday, October 29, 2015

9 Signs You Live With A Writer

Nine signs you live with a writer #write31days

Writer's are weird. I'm sure living with one is also an intense exercise into weirdness. We're sorry. We're just wired this way...

9 Signs You Live With A Writer

1. At least one zone in your home has been completely overtaken with notebooks, manuscript drafts, and sticky notes attached to the wall. Whether it's a whole room or just a corner it will probably be the cleanest part of the house because that's where your writer makes her heart spill and she refuses to do it in a mess. {I don't necessarily mean neat and tidy - piles of paper and writing tools, remember? - I mean clean so as not to as to instill a sense of creative peace...}

2. Things like dishes and laundry are being ignored. They're not important less pressing than whether or not that favourite character actually has to be killed off.

3. Books. There are books everywhere. On the shelves, on the table, by the bed, in the kitchen, beside the toilet...they're everywhere. And like a nest of pretty bunnies they keep on multiplying.

4. You're cautious about what you say and do because you fear, perhaps, something might end up in a story. {Watch out! Because it will! You won't know when and you won't know how but it will!}

5. Your lover is calling out other names in their sleep. {Babe, I promise...Samuel is only a character in my book! Yes, he's sexy but NO, he's not real!!!}

6. You're left staring at the Netflix logo while she finishes up her daily pages. "Just five more minutes," never means just five more minutes and even though you really wish her well in her pursuits, you also really want to watch the next episode of Homeland.

7. The quality of meals will go downhill while the frequency of pizza night will increase dramatically.

8. There is a constant supply of caffeine - which is actually good for you to keep you awake while you wait to watch your shows together - but it also means a collection of mugs may amass by the sink until there's no mug left for you.

9. There is chocolate {or some other favourite treat} hidden somewhere and you know you'll be in trouble if you find it and help yourself BUT you just can't resist looking EVEN THOUGH YOU KNOW SHE NEEDS IT!


How To Be A Good Writer's Roommate:




Ask questions.

Read their work.

Be honest.

Don't steal their chocolate.

Help with the laundry.

{Do at least half of these and you're basically guaranteed a mention on the dedication page of the next best seller!} 
{click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why You Shouldn't Be A Hermit {but should be able to say no without feeling guilty}

why you shouldn't be a hermit but you should be able to say no without feeling guilty - #write31days

Silence is golden. Solitude is pristine. Loneliness is soul-sucking ugliness.

There is nothing beautiful about loneliness.

But the strange thing is, sometimes we mistake our loneliness for the glories of personal space and we end up missing a whole lot of living.

Life is not meant to be shut up in your quiet, peaceful hole. {A quiet, peaceful hole is lovely - as long as you come out for fresh air every once in a while.} Stories are informed by real life experiences and you don't gain those by always hiding yourself away.

I am quiet by nature. I am slow to warm to new experiences and I'm horrified by the idea of having to have a conversation with a stranger who is basing their whole opinion on me on how I behave in that moment.


Give me my solitary Monday's!

And yet...there's something so beautiful and freeing about leaving the house and settling into the booth of your favourite coffee shop...still alone...but not...

Writer's, you've got to get out amoung the three-dimensional humans! You have to people-watch. You have to eavesdrop on conversations. You have to chase your story into uncomfortable places in order to tell it from a place of whole honesty. And sometimes you have to leave the writing at home and just be one of the girls {or boys}.

Don't forget to live!

But never think living means giving up on your passion!

Build real friendships with people who support your dreams and keep pushing you towards them.
Build real friendships with people who can laugh and cry with you.
 Build real friendships with people who make things better just by being in their presence.

And build real friendships with people who understand when you say no
- who respect your needs
- who don't make you feel guilty for chasing after your heart.

You have every right to pursue what feeds your soul. Celebrate your boundaries and celebrate the friends who respect them.

Maybe you'll say yes to lunch but no to coffee.

Maybe you'll say no to the Taylor Swift concert but yes to the corn maze.

Your writing time is precious. Honour it without dishonouring your friends. Real friends will take your regrets with grace - as long as you make them a priority sometimes too.

Thanks real friends! You make this journey easier. {click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Understanding What Kind Of Writer You Are & Learning To Accept It

A lot of self-discovery has happened through the course of writing The Church In The Wildwood. I approached it thinking I was going to write the kind of book I usually read. If you go to my NaNoWriMo page you'll still see it categorized where I originally envisioned it sitting - thriller/suspense.

It is not a thriller, nor is it particularly suspenseful. There is some mystery but nothing like I thought it would hold.

And that's okay.

The story that came out is the story I was meant to tell.

But there were two surprises...

1. Heavy religious undertones. I don't want to be classified as a Christian author. An author who writes Christian fiction is much different than a Christian who writes fiction. Do you understand what I'm trying to say? I have many feelings about Christian fiction and few of them are good. I DO NOT want to be on the Christian Fiction shelf. I do not want to be put in a box that makes me squirrelly. I do not want to be held accountable to a gospel message. I want to tell a story without the restraint of Biblical shackles. 

Let me be clear: I have a solid faith in which I'm firmly planted. I am proud of my beliefs and I stand by and for them and yes, they inform my writing because they are part of who I am BUT they will not define my writing.

However, there are parts of my book in which, when reading it, I sat back and thought, 'Holy moly -  I'm preaching!'

Except I wasn't. My character was.

And then I remembered the way Samuel L Jackson quoted Ezekiel in Pulp Fiction and I suddenly felt okay about it all.

{And - oh my goodness - I don't why I was so surprised...
I mean, my novel is titled The CHURCH In The Wildwood.}

2. Romance. Yuck! Ew! Gross!* No! I DO NOT want to be a romance writer but, for whatever reason, these tender, beautiful...yes, even sexy...moments came out of me in the course of writing AND I JUST COULDN'T FIGURE OUT WHAT WAS GOING ON!!?!!

I do not read romance. It makes me roll my eyes. Plus - those covers - UGH! Since when does a topless man define a woman's ticket to happiness?

If I ever publish a book with a topless man on the cover you have my permission to hold a burning party. I'll even come if you invite me! I'll light the first match! {And then I'll cry but that's about me - not you.}

I bemoaned my fear on social media and my baby sister talked me off the ledge with a text message that saved my life - "You're not a romance writer, you're a romantic writer."

And I can live with that.

Maybe I'll never write the psychological thriller I wish I had in me - or the exciting apocalyptic zombie/vampire saga that would punch Amazon's numbers through the ceiling - but I will write the stories I do have in me and I'll do it proudly, without apology, with the voice I've been given.

And without a topless man.

I promise.

*To all writer's of romance - I mean no offense. Good for you if you're writing what makes you happy. {And what obviously makes millions of women around the world happy too.} You're doing it! Write on! Writing and reading tastes are subjective. Everyone likes different things. Just because it's not my cup of tea doesn't mean it's unworthy. You're amazing and brave and deep down I really admire you - we could just never have lunch together...I'd be blushing...imagining that scene you just wrote...about the topless man... 
{click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Monday, October 26, 2015

It Begins With A Glimmer

NaNoWriMo begins in a little over five days and I've only just sat down to really put some thought into what I'm going to write. Black Bird is a project that was started with passionate priority; but, with no real incentive to carry it forward, I quickly lost the drive to pursue it.

Well, no more!

I have a mess of notebooks and hastily scribbled scenes, chronicling a story I'm trusting NaNo will pull out of me.

Tonight, as I sat around the table with my Writer's Jam friends, I began the work of setting up my Scrivener template so I'm ready to dive in at the 12:01 dawning of November, 2015.

I'm excited to see this story come alive. A whole year of my life has been spent in the world of fifteen year old Joseph Carver and I'm ready to break away from him (as his story is handed off to beta readers for a first round of feedback and fix-it notes) and dive into a whole new experience.

As I said on the main page for Black Bird,

the idea...came in a dream; an image of a dead dandelion weed reflecting its shadow against a closed garage door. From there it blossomed and spread - as weeds tend to do - and took on the form of a story; the tale of a lost girl, her lost mother, and their quest to find one another in their own brokenness.

Just a glimmer but it was enough to get this writer's thoughts brewing.

Hurry up November! I've got a story to tell!

Finding & Knowing Your Writer's Voice

finding and knowing your writer's voice #write31days

I don't particularly like the phrase 'finding your voice' because it implies that something has been lost. You can't lose what is an ingrained part of you, can you? It can be suppressed, sure, but lost? I don't think so.

We all have a voice - it's in each and every one of us...we need only to uncover it.

Knowing your voice is what's important. A strong readership swells from a consistent voice. People read you because they enjoy your style - because your voice speaks to them. Understanding what that is and working consistently to farm the content they're hungry for just might put food on your own table too!

Identify your goal - what kind of writer do you want to be? Is it true to who you are in real life? Does it reflect your values? Does it sound like you talk or think? Can you produce authentic content as the writer you want to be or are you just copying your favorite authors because you envy their success?

[Confession: I want to be Anne Rice. Because - gah! - her writing is so hauntingly beautiful I can't even understand how it came from a human mind! BUT I AM NOT ANNE RICE, nor will I ever be. Her writing is informed by her heart for New Orleans and an imagination that puts all others to shame. Her voice is rich in mystery and folklore and an eloquence that stops my heart. I can try to emulate her BUT I WILL ALWAYS FALL SHORT because it's not true to my truest being.

Writers, it's okay to fall in love with other writers; in fact, I implore you to do so! Celebrate all the beauty and then go and make your own. YOUR OWN. Because you're the only one who can tell the story you were meant to tell. Anne Rice can't write my story. Only I can. I'm coming to a place where I'm finally okay with that.] 

Read through some of your old work. Compare it to recent projects. What similarities do you see? These are the defining factors that make you the kind of writer you are. 

Ask other people what kind of writer you are. Readers are more likely to recognize your voice than you are yourself. Look for what they see. Understand it. Embrace it. That's why they're reading you!

Vulnerability is the only true way to find your authentic voice. Be brave. Be real. Write raw. Let it spill out. Write now - think later. When you write freely your voice will flow. When you don't force it - when you just let words happen - you may be surprised to find yourself gazing back at you from the words on your screen or page. This is a visceral moment of self-discovery and you should hope for it every single time. {One of the most incredible things about my participation in NaNoWriMo last year was how it stole every single moment I had to think about what I was writing. If I wanted to make my word-count goal I had to put my head down and get the words out and when I went back in December and read through some of what I'd written I had those heady moments of "Wow! I wrote that?!?" Because I didn't have time to get in my own way. Because I was forced to be brave and just let the story pour out of me.}

Why is your voice important?

Your voice is what makes you unique - it's what sets you apart from all the other noise out there. You have to do more than shout. You have to develop your voice to a point that it rises above the commotion - proving that you have something worth attention - that you have dedicated the head-space and the heart-space to know how to tell your story in a way that's new and fresh and entirely you.

A final word

Be yourself. There's nothing more I can say. Writer's who don't make it are the ones who burned-out trying to be someone they're not. Be true to the you that lives in the deepest part of your soul - that's where your voice is. Uncover it. Use it. Be heard. 
{click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Sunday, October 25, 2015

How To Edit Your Own Work

how to edit your own work #write31days
Self-editing is the first step after you've written whatever it is you're writing. Don't think you can just pound it out and it will be perfect. I mean it. Don't do it - you'll be embarrassed.

Editing is a long, slow process and for me, it looks a little something like this:

Step 1: Print your manuscript out in its entirety and scribble the living daylights out of it. The computer works very well for me when it comes to the actual writing but for my editing to be productive I find that I really need a physical copy in front of me. I try to be ruthless. I look at each chapter or scene as an individual apart from the whole story, testing its flow and rhythm. I look for word repetitions and replace them with synonyms. I circle every 'was' and try and rewrite those sentences in the margin using better language. I look for hedge words {see below} and I do whatever I can to make my prose active and strong.

Step 2: Import all changes into your document. {Special tip: make sure your scribbles are legible! There have been a few times I've been unable to discern my own handwriting and that's kind of unforgivable!}

Step 3: Print it out in its entirety {again!} and scribble the living daylights out of it {again!}. Think of it more as a whole. Look for story holes. Look for scenes that don't move the story forward. Try not to marry yourself to any one particular scene because sometimes divorce is necessary for your story to progress. Watch for things like 'point of view' and 'character consistency'. Highlight anything that requires fact-checking.

Step 4: Import all changes into your document.

Step 5: Fact-Check. The Church in the Wildwood is set in 1977 with flashbacks reaching as far back as 1954. I ended up making a lot of little changes in order to be true to the era in which my story was set {bead curtains and lava lamps anyone?}. I also had to research such things as 'what kind of moon was it during summer solstice, 1977?' and 'natural birth control remedies' and 'was Fred Astaire handsome?' and 'when did Jim Morrison die?'.

Step 6 {after you've repeated step 3 and 4 a few more times}: Read it out loud. You'll be amazed at the mistakes you find when you put a voice behind your words. This step brings a lot of clarity to the melody of your writing. You want it to flow easily. You want dialogue to feel natural. You want the language to be consistent to your voice.

Step 7: Import all changes into your document.

Step 8: Save your manuscript as a PDF and send to a different device...or print it out in its entirety - again. This time try to read it like a reader {so hard!}. 

            Ask yourself {and keep notes}:
            a. What promises did you make to the reader in the beginning of your story and were those
                promises answered in the end? 
            b. Is your tone consistent throughout?
            c. Does every scene speak to the outcome?

Step 9: Massage your story. Make any necessary changes your PDF-reading inspired and then {if you can stomach it} read it all again.

Step 10: Recognize that you won't make it perfect! It's REALLY HARD to judge your own work because it's so close to your heart. You've known it from conception. You know all the backstory and all the unspoken motivation and it's almost impossible for you to pull yourself beyond it and read with fresh eyes. Find a critique group or beta readers and send it to them with clear instruction of what they're to look for. 

Step 11: Take a break. You've lived and breathed your story FOREVER. Use the time it's in the hands of beta's to rest or start another project {Six more days until NaNoWriMo!!!}.

~ HEDGE WORDS: those words that are kind of likely to take up a fairly big chunk of your manuscript that are pretty much unnecessary but generally hard to let go of because you're presumably really quite fond of being kind of wordy...

                          about                             kind of                             pretty {strong/weak}
                          apparently                     largely                              probably
                          appear                           likely                                quite
                          basically                        mainly                              quite clearly
                          can                                may                                   rather
                          could                             maybe                               really
                          effectively                     more or less                      really quite
                          fairly                              mostly                              seem
                          generally                        overall                              somewhat
                          hopefully                       perhaps                             sort of
                          in general                      presumably                       supposedly

Do you have any editing tips? I love to hear them! Let me know in the comments below!
{click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Getting Over My Fear Of Self-Promotion

getting over my fear of self-promotion #write31days
I think humility is one of the most beautiful graces. It's also one of the hardest to authentically achieve and even now in this very moment, I can't think of one good example of a truly humble person. 

I'm proud. I've got pride pouring out the top of my head like a geyser. It's not ugly pride - it's not the in-your-face-look-at-me pride that makes someone unlikable. It's more the I-know-who-I-am-and-I'm-not-going-to-apologize-for-it kind of pride.

I think that's okay.

I also think it makes me true to my truest self.

And that's more than okay.

It's taken a lot of work to get to a place where I really feel comfortable in my own skin, publicly using the gifts I've been given. It's hard - especially as an introvert - to push myself onto a self-built platform, cup my hands around my mouth and holler for the world: I'VE GOT SOMETHING YOU NEED!

Because I don't. Not really. I have something. Whether anybody needs it is up for debate BUT what really matters is that I'm at a place where I'm comfortable putting it out there - I'm okay with taking the risk no matter the fear I may harbor just beneath the surface.

It all comes down to this: if you really want it, you have to chase it and chasing means putting yourself out there. No one has ever achieved a dream by locking themselves away. Everything needs sunlight to grow. There comes a point when you have to be willing to expose yourself if you want to see growth of any measure.

Is it hard?

Heck yeah, it is! For me, nothing was more unnatural than touting my own wares - at least at first.

Anything can be learned - even the ability to share yourself with the world.

It's been a long, lonely, painful ascent - crawling out of my safe little cocoon was terrifying and though opening my newly formed wings was invigorating it was also - at times - debilitating. Fear will rule if you let it. So don't.

Face it. Look it in the eye. And if it doesn't back down...punch it in the throat!

It was an extensive journey for me to understand just how important it is to embrace self-promotion. It took conferences, workshops, marketing research, and fearless conversations with successfully published authors before I began to grasp that this is the only way to be heard - that the normal person isn't just picked up by a publisher or agent - that there is tremendous leg work involved. Gold doesn't just drop into your lap. Sometimes you have to mine the depths to find it...or to be found. 

How Did I Do It?

1. I started a blog. Blogging is loud and self-indulgent but it was the perfect vehicle for me to test the waters of writing publicly. When I began, I kept it searchable but didn't actively share anything until I'd found my voice within that space. 

2. I began to share my blog entries over facebook, sharing most posts to my personal page, slowly building a small but faithful readership.

3. I set up a Facebook fan page for my blog, sharing every article to a more dedicated audience.

4. I found a community through social media. It's amazing, the encouragement you can draw from a group of people on the very same journey as yourself. Twitter and Instagram have been a major player in helping me learn how to share my work in a public forum.

5. I invested in my personal branding. I purchased my own .com {if you haven't seen my writing website yet it's & I'd love if you stopped by!} and I designed and bought business cards for the sole purpose of promoting myself as a writer. {UPDATE: has now been combined with my blog site to make one GIANT site}

6. I started a monthly newsletter about my writing pursuits, victories and failures, hopes and dreams. It's been a great exercise in keeping myself accountable to the followers who really believe in me.

7. Most recently, I've reset my Facebook fan page to be an author page and not a blog page - putting the focus on me and all my projects instead of only what I've been sharing on this blog.

8. Most importantly, I now call myself a writer and will happily discuss my projects with anyone who approaches me with genuine interest. 

This is obviously an ongoing process. I'm more than five years deep since Step 1 and I know I have a lot more to learn but, if nothing else, I'm proud to be publicly proud. Humility is overrated anyway, isn't it?

Self-promotion isn't something to be afraid of. Yes, it can be daunting but if it brings you closer to your goal then it's worth every single shiver. 
{click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Friday, October 23, 2015

What Scares Me About Writing?

what scares me about writing? #write31days

Fear is the greatest hurdle of any heart-pursuit. It can be debilitating. It can stop you in your tracks. It can reverse your direction and lead you to live a life void of passion. Sure, you may still find some form of contentment but you won't ever uncover the vibrant drive that feeds a soul to push harder/farther/deeper/stronger if you let it control your choices.

What scares me?

That I'm not good enough. That no matter my drive or desire or dedication or the enormous amount of content I produce I will somehow fall short of the mark. That this will all be for not. That I will be nothing more than a girl with a dream. That I will never wake up to its realization. That out of the millions of written voices trying to be heard I am nothing more than white noise beneath the loud and 'worthy' winners who shout loud enough to get paid.

What scares me?

That I am good enough. That someday I will stumble into the right person and suddenly my voice will be out there. That I will be held in the hands of strangers who have opinions that may hurt me. That I will be required to make public appearances, book signings, readings, speeches, CBC interviews. That I will have to be as eloquent with my mouth as I am with my thoughts. That I will be accountable to an actual paying audience who expects the best from me. That I will no longer be hidden in my safe little comfort zone. 

What scares me?

That I'll let my second fear inform my first. My dream is more important than my fear of what happens if I actually achieve it. I will cross that bridge if and when it comes - with gratitude - and I'll learn to face it with grace and dignity and eloquence! And I will remind myself that fear is a vicious beast who needs to taste my sword EVERY SINGLE DAY - and every single day I will rise to the fight. And though I may not win every fear-battle I will win the war by getting up and wielding my weapon again and again and again.

And if I never get there? If I never see the fruition? If it always remains just beyond my fingertips?

Then I vow that no one will ever be able to say I stopped reaching! 
{click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How Writing A Novel Is Like Giving Birth

how writing a novel is like giving birth #write31days

Today is my son's birthday. Fourteen years ago, the glimmer that began as a tiny spot in the womb below my heart made the world a little brighter because he became part of it. These years, they've squared off the softness of childhood and molded him towards the shape of the man he's becoming and I can't help but remember those weary beginnings when I held him warm and tight against my breast and thought it would last forever - when I thought that nothing was harder or slower or more excruciating than being a new mom...though nothing was easier than loving him.

He's trying to be grown and stoic and he faces life as if he doesn't need anything and yet he knows when I need him to be soft. He knows the moment it matters to pause and let me mother him. Those times when I plop down on his bed and ask him about life and he squirms and maybe rolls his eyes but he accommodates my need to never let him go.

"Love you, too," he still says every morning as he leaves for school and every night as he retires to his room and that daily offering is better than any birthday gift I could ever give him.

He is my heart - walking around outside my body - and I can't even put words to the blessing he is.

But this post is supposed to be about writing...

A novel, like a baby, begins as the seed of an idea - a tiny glimmer that takes root in the womb of your mind. It grows, slowly developing into something vital, expanding until you can detect its heartbeat, ballooning into a story so much a part of you that you can't hide it with big sweatshirts or silence - it is who you are and it shows to anyone with half an eye to look.

The First Trimester of your novel's genesis is lovely. The only morning sickness you experience is some harbored self-doubt but you vomit that out with an anti-delete declaration and you pour into your first draft with the affirming mantra that it doesn't have to be perfect it only has to be written. And so you write. And you eat embarrassing amounts of chocolate and rice krispie squares and you live in stretchy pants and slippers and even though you're feeling more tired than usual, you keep at it because you believe in the finish line.

The Second Trimester puts the breaks on your enthusiasm. You feel ugly and you have secret worries that your story - your baby - will be ugly too. You talk to it and sing to it and try to convince it that you'll love it unconditionally but you worry that you might actually be lying because you can't imagine loving something you haven't really met yet. You eat more chocolate and start calling out from your writing space, "could someone just bring me a spot of tea, please," because the idea of getting it yourself is exhausting. You're moody. One sentence makes you swoon but the next makes you furious. Nothing you do is perfect. You want it to be over. Sometimes you wish you never even started.

The Third Trimester is a mixture of relief and fear. You're almost there! You can see the end! It's so close BUT IT'S TERRIFYING! You distract yourself by editing the first chapter for the eleventy-hundredth time and reading through the whole thing again and again to try and convince yourself it's going to be okay {but you can't help but focus on your thick ankles and how that one character just might be the dark beast lurking inside your psyche.} You start nesting; the folding of tiny onsies and the perfectly arranged stack of tiny diapers is the way you read your favourite passages aloud and your incessant deep-cleaning of the kitchen is the ruthless way you search out every single 'was' and try to replace it with something better. You're all about the busy work because it helps distract you from the moment you'll push that fully gestated story out into the world.

The Birth is exciting because you know it finally means the end of people looking at you with pity. "Oh you poor're ready to must be so uncomfortable, anxious, nervous..." You are ready. And so you open yourself to the pain of it all - to the final letting go. You roll with the contractual waves to the moment you're sure you can't stand one more second and then it slips from you in a mess of blood, sweat, and tears; and {while someone picks your swooning sister-in-law up off the floor} the slime is edited from the beauty and the scale determines whether it's a novel or novella. "It's a book!" the publisher declares and everyone applauds as your name is sealed to the fresh-pressed spine.

And then you hold it - that thing you made with your love - and there is nothing in the world that could make you regret what brought you to that perfect moment. It is your heart, right there outside your body, its own tangible existence ready to breathe into the lives of anyone who cares to hold it too.

And you think to is not enough...let's do it all again... 
{click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Choosing A Soundtrack For Your Story

Music is an integral part of my life but it is not part of my writing. I prefer my writing soundtrack to be that of the tapping of keys or the scratching of a pen. I love the depth of silence. I love my day-off-Monday's when the kids are at school and my husband is at work and I don't have to focus on anything but what makes me happy - how in the quiet I can pour out words for hours without being even remotely lonely.

Quiet births an internal melody that conducts my process. 

It's a beautiful thing.

I know other writer's who only write to music. More power to them. I don't understand it - I get all muddled up in lyrics that steal focus from my own composing - it just doesn't work for me.

But what I do appreciate is the way music can speak to my story.

It never fails - no matter what the Project Of The Moment is - everything speaks to it. Conversations, radio interviews, movies, billboards, the acne constellation on the lisping coffee shop boy's face...EVERYTHING is about my book, my story, my idea.

That's just the reality of a writer's life. There's no avoiding it. No denying it. We are the center of our own universes and our work-in-progress is the eye of our personal storm. It is fed by EVERYTHING.

I adore the idea of creating a soundtrack for a project because it plays a beautiful role in establishing themes and invoking emotions. As I've plugged away at The Church In The Wildwood, I've kept track of some of the songs that seem to speak directly to exactly what I was trying to say in prose instead of poetry and I've gathered them into a Spotify Play List should you feel inclined to listen to all the feels of the tale I chose to spin.

Choose a song for its lyrics.

Choose a song for its emotion.

Choose a song that reflects your story-vision.

It's a powerful way to let people get an audible glimpse of your story-feels.

And, for demonstration sake, here's my pretty little playlist for The Church In The Wildwood.

The Church in the Wildwood novel Alanna Rusnak1. Bedroom Hymns by Florence + The Machine 
2. In A Week by Hozier (with Karen Cowley) 
3. Slumber My Darling  by Sarah Sample  
4. Cinder and Smoke by Iron and Wine 
5. Young Pilgrims by The Shins 
6. Photograph by Ed Sheeran 
7. Mama Says by Billy Pilgrim 
8. The Outsiders by NEEDTOBREATHE 
9. Lost In My Mind by The Head and The Heart 
10. Who By Fire by Leonard Cohen 
11. The Promise by Tracy Chapman  
12. Just Breathe by Pearl Jam  
13. If I Should Go Before You by City and Colour 
14. Need It by Half Moon Run
15. I Will Follow You Into The Dark by Death Cab For Cutie

What songs would you put into your playlist?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How To Ask A Writer What Her Book Is About

How to ask a writer what her book is about #write31days
A writer's book is a piece of their heart. It is blood poured out for your reading pleasure. It is sweat and tears and chaos and sunshine and words birthed from a soul-fountain. It is not simple. It is not graceful. It is not quick. It is not easy.

So how do you ask a writer what her book is about?

Very carefully.

I dread this question. Not because I don't want to share but more because I don't know if I can trust your query.

1. Do you actually care?
3. Why do you really want to know?

Be genuine.
Don't ask unless the answer actually means something to you. Don't patronize me. Don't string me along. Don't feign interest. Don't pick at your hangnails and nod at my forehead. Look me in the eye. Ask intelligent questions. Be present.

Be patient.
I'm an introvert. I probably don't trust you. Unless I know you personally I'll want to understand why you're asking the question. Are you genuinely interested? Do you actually read anything? Is this just space-filling-small-talk through which you'll be daydreaming about what's for dinner? I need a moment to gauge your authenticity. I need to know I can trust you with my plot-line. I need to know you really care before I allow myself into the vulnerable position of sharing where I've been spilling my heart for the last week...months...years...

Be gentle.
Unless I'm very close to the end I may not know fully what my book is about. I'll know what I want it to be. I'll know the general themes and genre {hopefully} but I may not have a complete pitch ready and I need you to be okay with that. Don't push for more information than I hand over willingly. I'm not going to share my plot twists or favourite moments because I wrote those moments so my story will capture you in a moment. I'm not willing to blow that just to impress you during a friendly conversation.

Be encouraging.
So you only read books about vampires that sparkle? Good for you! But that doesn't mean my idea is invaluable. If you don't like my pitch, that's totally fine - just please don't crush my spirit. Mean people suck! Don't be mean.

Other {not so scary} questions to ask a writer

How/why did you choose your title?
What inspired your story?
What do you like to read? Are you writing in that same genre?
What have you learned while writing your book?

Other {really awesome} things to say to a writer

You're so inspiring!
I can't wait to read it!
Will you sign a copy for me someday?
You're so smart, funny, pretty, special...and all the other really nice things!

All joking aside...tread gently around a writer like me. I'm quite likely to stutter, blush, cry, shrug you off, or run away.

So be genuine. Be patient. Be gentle. Be encouraging.

And don't be mean {or you might end up in one of my books as the character who chokes to death on a chow mien noodle} 
{click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Monday, October 19, 2015

When You Don't Want To Write Another Word

when you don't want to write another word #write31days writer's block
It happens every so often - this overwhelming feeling that all you do is garbage and you're wasting your time and no one will ever read it or want it or praise it...or even care enough to trash it.

It can be debilitating.

So you close the laptop, shut your notebooks, and cap your pen. You turn on the music really loud and you clean the toilet because you know that's something people actually appreciate even if they don't say it.

Every day can't be an eternal flowing of perfect word-creation.

It just can't.

And that's okay.

Slumps keep you humble.

And they weed out the wanna-be's from the gonna-do's. 

And I wanna-be a gonna-do and so I persevere. I'll clean the toilet. I'll fold the laundry. I'll sweep under my table so tonight's Writer's Jam attendees won't grind old Corn Pops into their socks...and somewhere in the middle, while I'm scouring a pot or adding a blouse to the ironing pile, I'll rediscover that spark. I'll stumble on the missing piece that's held inspiration at bay and I'll drop the pot back into the bubbles and fling open my notebook and catch that wisp of an idea before it's tossed out with the bathwater.

Because maybe, for a moment, I questioned who I was but then, in stepping away from it I realize exactly who I am and why that's who I need to be.

Breaks are important. Quitting is not.

There is an ebb and flow when it comes to writing. You have to accept that truth or it could break you. Be the shore. Catch the wave when it comes, soak it into every grain of your sand so you have the strength to wait when the tide is low.

Don't despair. It always returns. If you want it to.

I promise. {click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Daydreaming {the art of productively gazing into space}

daydreamig the art of productively gazing into space #write31days

Step 1. Position your elbow on the tabletop.

Step 2. Place your chin in the cup of your palm, resting your fingers against left side of your face.

Step 3. Tilt your head slightly and raise your eyes as if looking on the 9 of a clock.

Step 4. Soften your face and allow your vision to blur.

Step 5. Drift away on silver-lined clouds as you inaudibly repeat the question who's answer you desperately seek - an internal mantra set to echo until your mind takes you to that place where story secrets are stored.

Step 6. Don't allow anyone to tell you that daydreaming - that thinking - is not worth your time. What do they know? You could be moments away from a Giller-Prize-worthy epiphany!

In the eighth grade I lacked the skills of a visibly productive daydreamer. I clearly remember the day I sat in front of a Commodore 64 at the back of the classroom, working on a creative writing project in which I was at a loss for ideas. So I sat. Hands on my lap. Staring blankly at the dark screen as the cursor winked at me. Idle. But working incredibly hard somewhere deep inside my own head.

"What are you doing?" the teacher asked.

"I'm thinking," I responded.

"Get to work!" he said.

"I'm thinking," I repeated. And I don't believe I was being disrespectful - I only wanted him to understand that I was struggling with where my story was going and I needed a moment to find my way.

"Go stand in the corner!" he said. As if I was a second-grader. As if I had no right to plumb my own mind for inspiration.

I was mortified. And angry. And how dare he try to stifle my creative energies!

I flipped my french braid over my shoulder and marched right out of the classroom.

Because of step number six.

It didn't matter that I hadn't mastered the perfect daydreaming method. It mattered that I knew it was a tool - not for wasting time but for real discovery. And it mattered that he was trying to take that from me and I was not going to stand for it.

I have been a rebel for my art for a very long time now.

And I have been a daydreamer since the day I first put pen to paper... {click the image above to see all the #write31days posts}

Saturday, October 17, 2015

How Writing Is Like A Marriage {special anniversary edition}

how writing is like a marriage #write31days

Today is my anniversary! Seventeen years ago, I slipped into my mother's wedding dress and floated down the middle aisle of a church that wasn't mine to a man that was...and still is SEVENTEEN YEARS LATER! Yowza! {You should probably congratulate us - 17 is no small feat!}

Tonight I will be lost in the tangle of white-linen-king-sized-kid-free bliss {yay!} but for now, as he sleeps off the grogginess of a late night gig and I rub the sleep from my own eyes and contain my excitement for the impending white-linen-king-sized-kid-free bliss {yay!} let me tell you how writing is, in fact, very much like a marriage...

The exciting build up and the inevitable crash.
Finding new story ideas is thrilling. It's like twirling in the 10th dress you've tried on and giggling with your girlfriends and seeing that ring on your finger and trusting the promise it holds and practicing writing Mrs. and stars in your eyes because YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU'RE GETTING INTO and YOU'RE ONLY A CHILD, YOU FOOL! A CHILD!

You chase ideas and flirt with character arcs and dance with perfect settings and promise to see it through to the very end; where, with soft kisses, you'll go together gently into the good night...but then the ring gets forgotten at the altar and the cheesecake gets knocked off the table at the hall and your brand new husband 'forgets' to book a hotel room for your very first night as newly weds and so you fall asleep ON YOUR PARENT'S SOFA while he tries to frantically mend his 'mistake'.

There is no perfect no matter how perfect your idea is. Everything that could get in your way probably will. You will face writer's block, writer's fear, writer's groaning-on-the-floor-and-bathing-in-your-own-tears {a.k.a. Saturday night}.

There is NO PERFECT.

BUT, if you're willing to give a little grace, if you're able to laugh about the awful little motel you end up in, if you're able to turn that into an obstacle to overcome, your story {or marriage} will come out the other side stronger than your original vision.

Commitment is everything.
Just as a marriage without commitment is nothing, so to is a story. If you can't stay faithful to the integrity of your characters, if you can't get out of your own way and let their plot shine through, you will have nothing but a hollow tale with little or no emotional connection.

The sharing of joys and sorrows.
The beautiful thing about a marriage is that it gives you someone to do life with - someone that will be happy when you're happy and feel your pain when you are sad. It provides a hand to pick you up when you fall, arms to hold you when you're afraid, legs to run and fetch you a tissue when you're laughing so hard that tears and snot are pouring from your face.

When you really put yourself into your writing you share every emotion with your characters. You laugh with them, you cry with them, you get angry with them, you forgive them. They are part of you. They are a piece of your heart. You take them with you everywhere, just as {I hope} you're never far from thoughts of your loved-one, lingering on the edge of your mind and heart...{yes, even after seventeen years!}

Compromise breeds productivity.
A marriage without compromise is just a football game. It's a lot of yelling and tearing around and pushing for your own way and concussed passion.

A writing dream without compromise is just a dead dream.

Unless you're willing to shift priorities to make writing an important part of EVERY DAY it will slowly drift from you until it's nothing except something you once thought you'd like to do.

And unless you make it a priority to CHOOSE YOUR PARTNER EVERY DAY, they will slowly drift from you until you're just a guy in a football helmet with under-inflated balls.

Make space for what matters! That is ALL that matters!

For better or for worse.
Marriage is about taking the bad with the good. It's about knowing the worst thing about someone and still choosing to say 'I do,' every single day. It's hard. But it's worth it.

In writing, the principle is the same: good and bad, you're in it for the long haul because you need it in your life just as surely as you need {and want!} your partner in your life.

There's no quitting when things get tough. If you quit, you weren't meant for it anyway.

Marriage and writing are both about going all the way no matter what way the road leads, no matter what stories are written or what memories are born - it's a forever thing and I hope you {and I} have the guts to persevere...for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish as long as we both shall live... {click the image above to see all the #write31days posts} is celebrating all of the amazing Write 31 Days readers who are supporting nearly 2,000 writers this October! To enter to win a $500 DaySpring shopping spree, just click on this link & follow the giveaway widget instructions. Good luck, and thanks for reading!

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