April 29, 2020

Tick Tock: A Writer's Guide to a Writer's Timeline

When it comes down to it, I think what I really want to be known as is prolific. I am wildly jealous of the authors who can line shelves with title after title. I revere a few of them and every day as I walk through my living room, I see their names lined up on my bookshelf and I wonder if someday somewhere there will be a shelf lined with my name too.

But the truth is, being prolific doesn't necessarily mean you're producing great work. There are 'authors' who are pushing out something new monthly and I refuse to believe there is much substance to such a practice. I want a story that is deep and nuanced and pushes me to think in new ways. I want an author who lets the characters drive the story, who understands the subtitles of humanity, who lets their passion leak off the page, who understands when a story is finished and doesn't let it go until then. I want an author who is the kind of author I'm trying to be.

So, in truth, maybe I want to be known as the author that 'writes well' as opposed to the author that 'writes so much.' I don't just want to tell stories, I want to tell stories that matter.

I knew I wanted to be an author from a young age. I didn't know what that would involve. I naively thought that since I liked to write stories, it would be just as easy to write books. Ernest Hemingway said it best when he said: There's nothing to writing, all you do it sit down at your typewriter and bleed.

Easy peasy, right?!

Comparison is my greatest hindrance.

Competition is my great motivator.

Compassion is the key to my timeline.


Comparison

Dear Anne Rice/Ted Dekker/James Rollins/etc.
You are you. I am me. What you are capable of is not what I am capable of. What I am capable of is not what you are capable of. My life situation is different than your life situation and we're all just doing our best with what we've got. Amen.

Competition

There is so much value in striking up relationships with other authors who are in a similar situation as your own. For me that means authors who are independently publishing (or running their own publishing company), working 'regular' jobs outside their home, and raising families all while trying to put their writing out into the world. Whether these people realize it or not, I am in healthy competition with them. Watching them overcome real-life struggles to keep their writing a priority is massive motivation and I push myself to keep up. It's not about winning, it's about keeping pace in order to support one another.

Compassion

Rejecting comparison and embracing friendly competition allows me to set realistic goals with a compassionate eye towards attainability. Being an independent author means I am my own boss: I set the rules, I set the goals, and I'm the only one allowed to break those. Leaving room for deviations leaves room to breathe. Sure, I deal with guilt when I feel like I-just-can't-write-another-word today/this week/this month, but I've also allowed myself the space to take that break. I never want writing to be a chore or a job. When that happens, I've sold out. I want to love it. Forever.


My second novel is currently in the beta reading stage. You probably think that means I have written a complete manuscript since the release of The Church in the Wildwood back in 2017, but you would be wrong. I wrote the first words of Black Bird in November of 2011, almost three years to the day before I wrote the first words of Wildwood. Black Bird has fought me every single step of the way.

There are many reasons a book refuses to be written and almost every reason has to do with the author, not the book. 

I was afraid. There were scenes the characters dictated that terrified me. There was one particular scene—the main conflict climax of the whole story—that I knew backwards and forwards in my mind but I couldn't make myself write it. I spent months trying to sit down and pull it from my head, but I just couldn't. My fingers were frozen. This wasn't writer's block. I knew exactly what I needed to type. This was resistance to what our dear friend Hemingway tells us: I didn't want to bleed all over the page.

And so, instead of writing what had to be written, I started writing a new book, a YA post-apocalyptic saga (because seriously, people keep buying those and I might as well have a title for pop culture as well as the literary fiction junkies, right?).

Timelines are messy and painful and defeatist, but looking back on it, I'm not sure I would change a thing. The old adage tells us that things happen for a reason, and I know that to be true. Had I not allowed Black Bird to simmer gently on the back burner, I would never have discovered the town of Fallmoore or the cult commune of Harridan Bluffs. I would have never learned that Bird's story happened in the same town. The richness of the story cross-over would have been lost—and though each is a story that can stand on its own, it holds so much more weight when paired up.

Just as my narratives are not revealed to the reader in chronological order, so too is my approach to writing.

November 2011 - began Black Bird
November 2014 - began The Church in the Wildwood
November 2015 - revisited Black Bird for the NaNoWriMo challenge
November 2016 - began The Path That Takes Us Home (working title - YA Post-Apocalyptic)
July 2017 - released The Church in the Wildwood
September 2017 - began The Ghost of Iris Carver (novella)
May 2018 - released The Ghost of Iris Carver
May 2019 - refocused on Black Bird
January 2020 - re-refocused on Black Bird

November 2020 - RELEASE BLACK BIRD

It will be nine years from first words to release. Nine years. That's 22% of my life; 75% of my daughter's life; 40% of my marriage...

And that's okay.

Everything in its own time.

To rush a thing is to cheat it. To let a thing unfold on its own is poetry.

So the moral of the story is, just go with it. Let your story guide you. Take the breaks you need. Give yourself permission to step away. Days, months, years. When the time is right, you will write.
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