Motivation for Writers: Wonderful Words Describing Why I Write

Writing Yesterday morning, as I was reading some of the blogs I follow, I came across this post, “Some Thoughts on Hope, Cynicism, and the Stories We Tell Ourselves,” on Brain Pickings, which is excellent reading, in and of itself.

However, I was most moved by portions of a  quote shared from William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, moved enough to seek out the speech in its entirety. After discussing the world-wide angst triggered by the development of the atomic bomb and the cold war, Faulkner says:

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his head, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars, to help him endure and prevail.

Such beautiful, ringing, and inspiring words! I wish I’d written them. I long to write words like them, to tell stories that do exactly what Faulkner is charging the artists of the world to do.

As a children’s and YA author, I love that one of the trademarks of our corner of the literary world is that we not only try to write true, to write real–even in the fantasy realms, but we also strive to leave our readers with hope.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, as a lover of people in all our wide variety of lives, and hopes and dreams, as someone who appreciates the goodness we are capable of doing and the beauty we are able to create, I am committed to bring my readers a vision of hope.

What motivates the writer in you?


Revise Your Life Story

Purple WritingI’ve been feeling a little blue lately, a little depressed about what I have not yet accomplished in my life, and its been manifesting itself in a lot of negative thinking–about myself and negative sniping–at the world. Not good. This is not the person I want to be. I’ve been trying to figure out how to turn myself around for several weeks now.

In a letter to a dear friend I finally identified the root of this discontent. Time. I want more of it. Just the typing of the words brought tears to my eyes. Good thing, that day, I had also read this, “How to Live a Better Life Story: The Power of Revising our Stories in Light of the Gospel,” by Rachel Marie Stone, on the her-meneutics blog.

In it, Stone writes about how we shape our lives by the words we use–phrases like: “I’m such a mess,” “I don’t have time for it,” and “It’ll never happen.” She argues that even if our lives have become “infused with pessimism, negativity, and hopelessness” (that’s been me these last few weeks),  we can “edit our stories and change our lives in the process.”

One of the ways I’m doing that is reflecting on my “story” here, in my journal, and when I write to my friend. This type of reflection allows people to both edit and reframe their stories in a more positive, yet still realistic, light.

Another method Stone shares for rewriting our stories is to revise and edit the things we say in our heads throughout the day. She says we need to be less violent and more gentle with ourselves. We don’t have to do anything, like go to work. We choose to go to work. I choose to go because I love helping the young people in our school who are striving to turn their lives around. I also choose to go because I want to help relieve my husband, whom I dearly love, of the burden of being sole breadwinner for our family.

I think about the things I have been saying in my head, things like, “Your novels will never sell,” or “All that work was just a waste of your life.” Or in the morning, when I’m dressing–“You are fat, and it’s hopeless. You had better just get used to being that way.” Would I ever say that to someone I know and care about? No way! I love encouraging people. However, I’m afraid I’ve looked in the mirror or at the scale and said things that cruel to myself on a near daily basis–and not just about my weight.

Here is another quote that nailed me right in the heart.

…as Hanna Rosin pointed out in a post on Slate’s Double X blog, saying  (my emphasis) that we’re so busy perpetuates our own sense of busyness and feelings of being overwhelmed. Our negative self-talk becomes the storyline we live by.

I’m tired of feeling like I’m running and running and getting nowhere.

Stone ends claiming Christianity gives people a different story. My faith tells me we are all deeply loved, cherished, children of God. It tells me we are gifted and blessed, and that our God has good plans for each of us, all of his children, believers or not. And we have the hope of heaven. Eternity. It’s funny I have been fretting so much about time when actually, I will never run out of it. I must admit, I had forgotten all about eternity these past few weeks.

And so, this Lent, I am committed to remembering and embracing the concept of revising my own story. (Goodness knows, I revise my fiction often enough.) I am “fasting” from making snitty little comments, I am committing to editing and rephrasing the negative self talk that pops into my head, and I am going to look for the good and the valuable in each moment instead of wallowing in remembrance of other things I desire–like publication of my fiction or to travel the world, because actually, come to think about it, right now is pretty good.

My Portland Writing Workshop Experience

Chuck SambuchinoLast month, I found a notice for the Portland Writing Workshop, taught by Chuck Sambuchino. Now, I have been following Chuck’s blog, Guide to Literary Agents Blog, for several years. It has been a great resource for building my literary agent database in preparation for The Swallow’s Spring and Set in Stone to begin making their way out into the world.

I knew this was a workshop I needed to attend because, frankly, whenever I come across the option to take a marketing or a craft class at a writing conference, I just can’t resist the craft class. The sole focus of the Portland Writing Workshop was on getting your finished book published. No distractions.

So, Friday found me and a member of my critique group shooting up I-5 to Portland.

The day was divided into five sessions:

  • Your Publishing Options Today
  • Everything You Need to Know about Agents, Queries, and Pitching
  • Writers’ Got Talent: A Chapter One Critique Fest
  • How to Market Yourself and Your Books: Author Platform and Social Media Explained
  • How to Get Published: 10 Professional Writing Practices that You need to Know NOW to Find Success as a Writer.

Chuck is a dynamo. These were information-packed sessions, that confirmed many things I had been picking up through my reading and conference attendance. I don’t feel like it would be fair to go into detail on his content. Just rest assured, if the workshop comes to your area, it is worth your while to go.

What I will share, however, are my notes from the Chapter One Critique-Fest, which was actually a page one, on the spot critique done by the editors and agents in attendance. My notes consist of a list of things to beware of on your first page ranked from most frequently cited to least.

On your first page watch out for:

  • lots of exposition/telling
  • a voice that does not match up with the genre
  • not being original enough
  • point of view errors
  • no conflict, tension, or action
  • starting out with what should really be back story
  • the narrative voice being too detached
  • not making the gender of the point of view character clear
  • interrupting the momentum of the story with a pause to tell about something else
  • leaving out sensory details that help pull in and anchor your reader
  • using unnatural, elevated language
  • using even a single adverb

That last one really got my attention. The pros all raised their hands for Chuck to stop reading when the writing included its first adverb.

I really got a lot out of this one-day event. Thank you, Mr. Sambuchino, for taking the time to do this, and thanks also for your wonderfully useful and educational blog. Both have been well worth my attention.


The Dreaded “As” and “-ing”

Self-Editing 4 Fiction WritersThis week I finished a rapid read-through of Set in Stone, a novel I thought I had already finished. I’ve entered it in contests (it received an honorable mention in the Willamette Writers’ Kay Snow Contest), pitched it to editors and agents, and even sent out the full manuscript, upon request, a number of times; however, I had never edited it for the words “as” and gerunds indicating simultaneous activity ending in “ing”.

Silly me.

For years, agents, editors, and conference speakers have been recommending the book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King, and for years–like my stubborn grammar school self–I have resisted. (I read almost no children’s classics as a child, rather seeking out and finding lesser known books that were not being pursued by the herd. While I enjoyed a wide range of reading, I missed out on gems like Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles and Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time and Austen family novels–all of which I discovered in a college Children’s Literature course, and which launched me into writing books for kids and young adults.)

Anyway, back to Self-Editing. This is an excellent book, and I patted myself on the back the many times I noted I was already following their advice. Until… I came to the section discussing editing out, whenever possible, sentences like:

As Johann touched the scepter to the boy’s stone hand, color began to ripple down to his granite fingertips and up his arm.

In favor of sentences like this:

Johann touched the scepter to the boy’s stone hand. Color rippled down his granite fingertips and up his arm.

Or change sentences like this:

Ducking under the table, he pulled the magic cloak snug about himself and Gretl.

In favor of sentences like this:

They ducked under the table. Johann pulled the magic cloak snug about himself and Gretl.

I love the immediacy of the revised sentences.

I also noticed that when I use those forms, I seem to be trying to hurry my story along instead of allowing it to naturally unfold. Hmmm. Could this reflect my own insecurities. Is it possible I do not trust my storytelling skills enough, and so try to rush my tales along lest I lose my readers? Wow! I’ve got lots of thinking to do here.

And so, out went the old “as” and “ing” sentences, and in when the new, stronger verbed  phrasing (please excuse me for turning verb into an adjective; I love to play with words). Now I have to do it all over again with The Swallow’s Spring. Hopefully after these two hundreds of thousands of words exercises in editing out the dreaded “as” and “ing”, this new habit will be securely embedded in my writing brain.

What about you? Is there any great writing advice you ignored only to wish later that you had followed it sooner?


Creative? Or Just Really Weird

crazy little personDo you ever wonder if you are just really weird? I do. I talk to myself, disagree with myself, and disobey myself on a daily basis. I make up silly little ditties. If I’m alone and in a particularly good mood I might even sing them.

And then there are those characters who start conversations in my head at the most inconvenient times–in the shower, when I’m trying to fall asleep, when I’m hiking or out on a walk, or when I’m driving in a hurry because I’m running late and I can’t catch a red light for the life of me so I can jot down my latest inspiration.

I confess, I also have odd habits. I love to drive through puddles and watch the water fly–although I never splash people. I rotate my clothing, selecting each day’s outfit from the “front” of the rack in my closet and putting it away at the “back.” I don’t like to touch most things–but I’ve got a good excuse for that–terrible eczema on my fingers. I am way too old to be as addicted to Bejewelled as I am. (It is my favorite use for my phone.) I eat precisely six pistachios, eight grapes, and one fiber bar for breakfast every workday morning. However, I don’t need any rituals for writing. I can write just about anywhere.

Am I crazy or creative? What’s inside my head would never “fit in” the regular work-a-day world, and I can’t live constantly in my “normal” persona without feeling like I’ve lost what is best and brightest about life.

Don’t worry, though. I’m functional. (Except I hate to cook. Alas for my poor husband. However, he is a fabulous cook.)

The trouble is, if I’m not reading or pinning or crafting, I’d just about always rather be writing. It is the carefully carved out fiction writing time in my life that makes my heart sing.

What about you? Are you creative? Are you a little bit weird? What makes your heart sing? Please share. You’re in good company here.

Play With Your Words #85: More Fortune Cookie Writers’ Prompts

searchToday my husband and I had lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant, “China Faith.” If you live in Salem, Oregon, or visit Salem, Oregon, it’s the best! It’s located on North Lancaster.

As usual, when done (and the servings are so large I brought some home to take to work for lunch tomorrow) I eagerly waited for our bill and fortune cookies. Why? Because fortune cookies provide great writing prompts.

Here is mine for today: “An alien of some sort will be appearing to you shortly!” (The exclamation point came with the fortune.) Hmmm. Do a smell a science fiction or fantasy story brewing here?

My husbands: “Be generous, and the favor will be returned within the week.” Again, oodles of story possibilities.

Try one of these out and enter your title and a short summary of your story in the comments. I’d love to see what these prompts inspire.