Embracing Imperfection as a Writer

Perfection. It’s a state of being for which many of us strive, and sadly too many of us expect of ourselves. This Achilles heel applies to almost any field, but for writers it can interfere in the process of producing and publishing work that deserves to be read. Perfectionism affects a wide array of writers, and it can become paralyzing if it gets out of control. If you can learn how to harness it, however, perfectionism can actually be an asset. The trick is to realize that it’s just like any other facet of our personalities: when you embrace it and harness it, you can achieve wildly; when you allow it to run your career or hobby into the ground, it holds your achievements hostage.

When Perfectionism Gets the Best of You

There you are, sitting at the computer with the blinking cursor ticking time like a metronome. Several minutes pass while you dither about the perfect way to start your new novel. Dialogue or description? Action or passing thought? Flashback or future prediction? The options are seemingly endless, and the longer you sit, the harder it gets to type. You get up and wander, thinking maybe moving will help. The sun is shining, and it calls you outdoors. Yard work ensues. The garage suddenly requires cleaning. Maybe it’s time for a sale, get rid of some old junk. Oh, the ways we talk ourselves out of writing.

First, let’s look at what thoughts are going through your head. What things do you tell yourself when you sit down to write? Do you try to whip yourself into submission with guilt? Do you allow your thoughts to wander aimlessly in avoidance? What exactly are the messages you tell yourself when it’s time to honor your craft? If you aren’t sure, you could try writing about it. Yes, seriously. You’re already a writer, so this should come naturally. I’m no fool, though. I know it might be a struggle.

Get a sheet of paper or notebook and a pen or pencil (or even a crayon if you like), and write at the top of the page: Things I Tell Myself When I Am Trying to Write. Set a timer for five minutes. When you’re ready, put your pen to the paper and write without stopping for the full five minutes, avoiding any editing, crossing out, or concern about spelling or grammar errors. Mistakes are fine, and you need to leave them alone. No one else needs to read this. You can write as badly as you want, and I promise the universe will not implode. The key is to keep the pen moving the whole time, without thinking. Just write down whatever comes into your head. If you get off topic, gently encourage yourself back to the topic by being silly with yourself (this is not about self-flagellation). Everything will be okay. I promise.

When you finish the session, read what you wrote. Does anything stand out? Do you see any patterns, thoughts, or emotions revealed, or did you spend the whole session avoiding the topic? If the latter, do another session. Keep trying until your brain barfs out the truth. It will try to evade you, but you must persist. It’s the only way to root out the insidious internal dialogue that is preventing you from writing. When you finally have an answer, you can stare down the monsters in your mind by replacing that negative messaging with a different message…the opposite message.

What do I mean by that, you ask? Well, if you’ve discovered that the messages you tell yourself have to do with expecting to be able to write a perfect first sentence before you can move on, then you must tell yourself the opposite. You don’t actually need a perfect first sentence right away. If you must, you can start in the middle, or at the end. Craft the part of the story that has already formed in your head. Who says you have to start at the beginning?

This is your story, and no one is going to care where you start as long as you eventually finish the whole thing. Is your internal dialogue wrapped up in providing details you can’t dream up yet? Again, you don’t need to have the whole story figured out before you start. It’s okay to begin without knowing where it’s going. There’s plenty of time to work on the perfect phrasing later, or to figure out what makes the perfect opening sentence; sometimes we need to flesh out part of the story before the best opening paragraph reveals itself.

Whatever your negative messages are, you must figure out what they are saying so you can counteract them with the truth. Messages like “I’m a terrible writer” or “This is the wrong word to use, and I can’t move on until I find the perfect phrase” are simply excuses to derail your success. Stop giving them power. Get to work and allow yourself to enjoy what you do.

The Truth about Perfection

What is perfection, really? Does anyone ever attain it? If we’re honest about it, the answer is no. When we do anything, regardless of how well we have mastered a skill, we are always practicing. Even when a major publishing house rewards you with a high-paying contract and flies you around the world, you’re still a practicing writer. No work, no matter how wonderful, is ever perfect. Stop waiting for perfection to get started, to get published, or to craft your next project. Perfectionism will only drag you down and make you miserable.

True perfection, in my opinion, is embracing the imperfection of our work and saying it’s the best I can do right now. In a few years you may look back on what you wrote and think it’s awful, but that’s a sign of progress. Progress is growth, and it means you’ve continued to practice. This is a good thing. Hug your mistakes to you and be thankful you can say you’ve moved on to better things. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying you should publish work that isn’t finished or isn’t your best. I’m saying do your best, and then be willing to accept it probably isn’t perfect. What’s great is that even if it’s not perfect, whatever you’re writing is exactly what someone else in the world needs to hear right now.

How to Make Perfectionism Work for You

Once you understand the nature of your perfectionism, you can actually make it work in your favor. Perfectionism, when left to its own devices, can run rampant. I sometimes wonder if this is what happened to certain writers who wrote a wonderful masterpiece, and then dropped back into a shroud of mystery. Perhaps perfectionism stopped them from writing another novel, because they were afraid the next novel wouldn’t be as good. They feared not being able to live up to the same level of greatness. For many writers, this is a reality.

We all write books or stories that will be received better than others. Sometimes we only write one great book in our lives. Does that mean we should stop writing because we might not live up to our past achievements? That seems selfish. You are a writer. Your contribution to the world is your writing. Why deny others the pleasure of what you have to share?

Instead, why not accept that some of your writing is going to be like a homerun, and other stories will be more like singles or doubles (or maybe even just foul balls or outs). If you let those worries stop you from writing, you’ll never find out the true nature of how much you can achieve. Fear should not be driving your writing vehicle. Perfectionism is a form of fear getting out of control, but you can harness it if you identify how it hinders you.

For instance, I am a rampant perfectionist. My messaging tended to be that I wasn’t making any money at my writing, so I shouldn’t waste my time on it. This is hogwash. Truth be told, I’m still not really making money on my writing, but that doesn’t mean it has no worth. When people read my stories, I have a lot of readers give me wonderful compliments about what they experienced as a result of reading one of my books. Is that not a reward? I think it is. Would I like to be able to live on my writing? Sure, but until then I can still write and share my work so others can enjoy it. Eventually if I am resourceful enough and deserve the attention from readers, my work might be able to support me one day. I decided to counteract my negative messaging with the positive message that my writing can be rewarding without monetary gain. And it’s the truth. Writing is when I feel most myself. Why should I deny myself that part of who I am?

As a result of my changed messaging, I now utilize my perfectionism as fuel to stick to my writing schedule. It works very well for me now, because I am a diligent little soldier when it comes to getting things done. Thus, my perfectionism becomes a positive means for me to keep writing, instead of it becoming a road block. What can you do to turn your perfectionism into an asset which helps move you forward? If it’s stopping you before you even start, counteract it to allow you to write around your inspiration. If it’s preventing you from sending your work to publishers or to publish it yourself, you can utilize it to help you create a schedule to write query letters or to work on prepping your manuscript for publish.

Do yourself a favor and give yourself permission to be your best self as a writer. Allow your work to take precedence over the garage sales and yard work (I mean, within reason). We all have responsibilities, but I think we adults all know the difference between avoiding and being responsible. I’m not telling you to avoid cooking dinner so you can write a book, unless you know holding off on cooking dinner will motivate you to write first with dinner as the reward. Only you know what you’re thinking and what will work as a motivator to get you going again. No matter what, if you’re a writer, you should be writing. All your practice will inevitably turn into better products, and trust that you will keep growing. Become unstoppable. Make your perfectionism work for you, rather than allowing it to hold you back.

 

How to Craft a Character

Whether you write fact or fiction, if you write a narrative of any kind you must understand how to write a believable character. When I write fiction, characters can be challenging, particularly when writing a novel-length work. It takes a long time to write a novel (even if you’re a fast writer), so you may lose track of things you wrote about a character’s history, behaviors, or appearance. Writing non-fiction may be easier in terms of description because you more readily remember what a real person looks like, how that person speaks, and whether or not that person is friendly. Such traits in our fictional characters are not always so easy to remember, especially when they only live in our heads. Fret not, wordsmiths. I have tricks up my sleeve.

 

Many years ago I heard an interview with former President Jimmy Carter. He had just finished another novel (he’s written several), and the interviewer asked him about his character development. Carter shared that a helpful exercise he likes to use is to write a biography for each main character of his stories. When I heard this idea, a light went on in my head. Biographies? That is so clever, I thought, and then I stole his idea, which he probably also stole from some other writer. This approach works very well for character development if you know where you want to go with the story, and know how you want to utilize the characters. It can also be a wonderful exercise if you write a new character into a story, and you need to decide what kind of history or mannerisms the character may have. When you go back to writing, your characters will come to life far more readily when you have their bio in your mind.

 

Another trick I like to use when writing long-form is to keep a list of traits handy. The bio is fabulous for working out details of characters’ lives, but when you’re in the thick of plot development and the story is flying along, you don’t want to stop and read a long bio to find out the color of a character’s eyes. Instead, I like to keep short lists of hair and eye color, general appearance like height and weight, whether or not a character wears glasses or has some defining feature, and any other pertinent info that might be needed in a jiffy. I have cheat sheets for most of my characters so I avoid having to pore through too many notes, and also to avoid making mistakes when characters come and go. It gets hairy when you have a long list of characters to remember, especially if they have small parts in the plot.

 

Aside from remembering who has the suave, debonair appearance and who is short and stocky, it’s helpful to keep tabs on character traits that come across as realistic. Writers tend to be rather observant people most of the time, since our work often requires that we pay attention to our surroundings as fodder for later word painting. Next time you head out to the local café to do a little word craft, take a few minutes to people watch. If you’re paying attention long enough, you’ll notice that every single person you see has particular mannerisms which make each individual recognizable. Subtle things like the way a person blinks, sits, walks, or eats are often peculiarly individualized. We all have odd habits, too. When I sit for a long time, I might start to bounce a leg or tap a pencil. People with long hair often tuck it behind an ear; do they do it with an index finger, middle finger, or with a pinky raised? These types of details bring a character to life, and they are best noted when you want your characters to be memorable.

 

Another trait of memorable and realistic characters centers around speech. The way people phrase sentences, their accent, and their pronunciation all create a clearer image of a person in any story. It’s not always necessary to get this detailed with every character, but main characters deserve the attention. Does your hero or heroine have a speech impediment? Does he or she have crooked or missing teeth? Where did this person live and grow up—a defining factor in how a person pronounces words. Then again, did this person work on losing an accent? If so, does it slip when he or she gets upset or angry? All these questions can lead to a more well-rounded individual who comes to life on the page, full of all the millions of tiny pieces which add up to an individual’s personality.

 

If coming up with a character’s history seems like a struggle, one last trick I will share is to pillage for ideas from the real world. Think about people you know, and draw on their characteristics. For instance, if you know a person who has a habit of clearing her throat a lot, that behavior may inspire you to write just that characteristic into one of your characters (but I don’t advise doing this with a person you know will read your book unless you ask if they mind). Every person in your life has quirks and mannerisms you can use as inspiration for character qualities, and if you draw from several people in your life to create a mash-up of traits, then you have a whole new person. Again, it behooves you to make sure these traits are not those of a person close to you unless you ask if they mind that you use them as an inspiration. Many people will be pleased to have you write an aspect of their personality into a story, unless you turn them into a villain. They may not appreciate your use of their characteristics for that, but I suppose some folks might surprise you. Just be polite and ask, or go back to your local coffee shop and find inspiration in total strangers.

 

To wrap up, one last place I will send you to glean new insight is to go read books with great characters. This may seem obvious to some writers, but I know plenty of writers who forget about studying from the masters. Charles Dickens, Zora Neale Hurston, Ursula LeGuin, JK Rowling, and Kazuo Ishiguro all write fabulous characters often recognizable through their dialogue alone. As I have told many of my past writing students, one of the best ways to learn the writing craft is always to read good writing, especially in the genre you want to write. Even outside of genre, good writing is good writing. Read and you will learn, especially if you read with a pen in your hand to take notes or highlight.

 

As you work on creating your own characters, remember details matter. Readers love emotion, and often enjoy rooting for underdogs. The more quirky your characters, the more likely your readers are to remember them. Even if you’re writing romance, your chisel-chinned object of desire can still be a dorky nerd about science, or your ravishing beauty can be a sky-diving adrenaline junkie. Take the time to let us into the heads of your heroes and heroines, show us their flaws, and remember to drop hints of their past to build a world your fans will love falling into every time they read.

 

 

 

Featured Indie Authors: Literary Fiction

It’s book list time! If you’re a reader, this is the place to find interesting work by indie authors. Let’s get cracking on some indies writing literary fiction. This is a tough genre to write, and I am choosing to begin the first featured author post with literary fiction because it’s a big space to occupy as an author. When you can write LitFic, you can write anything. Before we get into the titles, let me first say I am featuring these authors to showcase their work as writers, not as a reflection of personalities or lifestyles. I don’t know any of these authors personally, but I want to open the doors to the value indie authors bring to the world of publishing through serious conviction to writing. The featured books here are not necessarily new releases, but are chosen for the quality of writing they offer.

Additionally, indie authors are still battling to convince readers that we are valid against the mammoth publishing houses and their equally massive distribution services. But I have said elsewhere–and will probably say it again–indie authors maintain rights to their own work, and there’s a beautiful side to the crafting of creative writing which levels the playing field. When indie authors let loose because they can, we readers get to reap the rewards of unleashing the creative spirit in every writer. With that, please peruse the titles below, and enjoy the worlds spun into the stories. If you like what you see, go ahead and click the book link, which will lead you straight to Amazon to purchase.

*Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

 

I want to begin with a special literary fiction which has become a sort of movement. The book Spilled Milk by K.L. Randis is being used as a text in classrooms to teach students about child abuse, and the author offers speaking engagements around this topic. Spilled Milk has been re-released in an updated version, and has earned serious acclaim. Such a beautiful tribute to overcoming childhood trauma deserves a top spot on any list of good reads. For those interested, here is the jacket info:

Brooke Nolan is a battered child who makes an anonymous phone call about the escalating brutality in her home.

When social services jeopardize her safety condemning her to keep her father’s secret, it’s a glass of spilled milk at the dinner table that forces her to speak about the cruelty she’s been hiding. In her pursuit for safety and justice Brooke battles a broken system that pushes to keep her father in the home.

When jury members and a love interest congregate to inspire her to fight, she risks losing the support of family and comes to the realization that some people simply do not want to be saved.

 

Next on the list is Five Fathoms Beneath written by J.R. Alcyone, an award-winning novel focused on mental illness and finding hope in the face of titanic struggles. In many societies, mental illness is still a topic to be avoided lest we face a lack of acceptance for circumstances out of our control. This literary work brings light to the issues of handling personal crisis, thoughts about suicide, and fear of losing people we love. Again, check out the jacket info for more details:

If Ambrose Serafeim’s life is not quite perfect, then it’s very good–he lives in picturesque Western Australia, he has a lovely fiancée, and he is well on his way to fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a physician. Brose owes no small part of his station in life to his famous father, Alec, a gentle and idealistic pediatric heart surgeon who lives by a simple moral code–do good and be good. Brose believes in his father and that code the way he believes in absolutes like oxygen or gravity. But when Alec shatters Brose’s perfect world by acting in a way Brose can neither forgive nor understand, Brose is left foundering amidst an existential crisis and clinical depression, unsure not only who he is, but who his father was.
That is until a catastrophic injury in a running race changes everything.

The road from that catastrophic injury leads Brose to the same heart-stopping precipice on which Alec once stood. Facing the possible end of his marriage and having seemingly lost his career, will Brose repeat his father’s terrible mistake, or will Brose blaze a new path forward, one where he finally realizes his potential to help others?

A twist on Loren Eiseley’s famous essay, “The Star Thrower,” Five Fathoms Beneath blends a realistic medical backdrop with a dash of magical realism to tell the heartbreaking yet ultimately life-affirming tale of a man’s quest to find his life’s meaning.

Five Fathoms Beneath is a realistic story about suicide, an important public health issue. The novel may contain scenes and descriptions which are upsetting to some readers. 

Up next is a coming-of-age story from an award-winning author: The Other Girl by LB Gschwandtner. According to reviews, this reads like a thriller. What seems most striking about this story is the fact that it features a young female attending a Quaker school, the type of story you may not find in the stacks of books released by traditional presses. This unique look into life at an alternative school will likely entertain and educate readers. For more information, read the jacket info:

During her first week at coed Quaker prep Foxhall School, sassy Susannah Greenwood, one of two girls who’ve entered as sophomores, gets pulled into the cool girls’ clique. While the school is instructing her in the moral and ethical tenets of the Quaker faith, the cool girls allow her to enter their world beyond the rule book—but in trying to find a balance between idealistic faith and the reality of a competitive system, Susannah runs afoul of the school’s most authoritarian dean and befriends the only other new sophomore, a brainy, socially inept outcast. Then her new friend runs away after being shamed by the dean, and Susannah finds herself caught between the two forces of loyalty and authority: Should she cooperate with the unforgiving, and now vulnerable, dean, who, with her job on the line, is pleading for information from her about her runaway friend? Or should she keep the secret she’s sworn to protect?

 

Continuing in the vein of the experimental and courageous, this next book features a main character facing gender identity in Roads Not Taken by Emily Gallo. A striking aspect of this novel is the focus on love and the fact that it is not defined by gender or sexuality. In an age where people are becoming more awakened to gender fluidity and questioning cultural norms, stories like Roads Not Taken are becoming ever more meaningful to readers seeking a compass for acceptance about their own identities. For your interest, here is the jacket info:

Sometimes you need to let go of the wheel and see what happens.
A coming-of-age story with a twist: When Malcolm thinks he has found the woman of his dreams, he is forced into reevaluating his beliefs and preconceptions while exploring the meaning of love without gender.

 

I’m going to end this list with a memoir titled Justice for the Lemon Trees by Jessica Lucci. This is another award-winning read by an indie author sharing her own story of childhood and domestic abuse, yet another opportunity for readers to learn and grow from sharing the author’s story. The experiences of women in the world today are finally coming into the public sphere and bringing out into the open the severity of how abusive relationships affect women and children around the world. Read the jacket info below:

Exhilarating waves of emotion pound on the shores of pages pebbled with tragic child abuse, brash bullying, and calamitous schooling. Ms. Lucci’s memoir follows a fierce young girl from suburbia to an engulfing ocean of adult bleakness. Through her eyes, and in her own words, we bear witness to her agonizing submission and defeat in domestic violence, and lift our hearts with hers as she rises up above savage shame. Agonizingly, she falls into despair and uncertain madness as she loses everything, all over again. Through her life story, we can trace the path of pain to follow where things went wrong, and how they can be repaired for the hope of future happiness, for all survivors and their families.

I hope this list opens hearts to the creative and industrious spirit of indie authors, particularly those tackling literary fiction. As an indie author myself, I am a staunch advocate for the hard work it takes to run a writing business in order to be discovered by the audience who wants to read independently-published writing. Next time you cruise over to the “Top 100” list on your Kindle or consider your next book to be delivered, take a chance on an indie author. Certainly there is a wide range of expertise out there, but that’s true of traditionally published books, too. Readers, enjoy the ride in these stories, and expect more book lists to come. I plan to publish a book list at least once a month, always featuring indie authors.

If you enjoyed this list, feel free to comment below! I love hearing from readers. 🙂

*Full transparency, in case you missed my note at the top of this post, I use Amazon affiliate links, which means I may get paid for clicks on links to products. 

How My Hero Natalie Goldberg Turned Me Down…But It Worked Out for the Best

Quite a few years ago, after much self-inflicted drama over the future of my writing career, I followed the advice of a well-known writer who instructed in his book that if you want to start gaining momentum on a self-made career, you need to attach your unknown name to a famous one. This was actually good advice, but I didn’t act on it in an authentic way, so it blew up in my face. In short, I contacted the PR rep for an author I adore, Natalie Goldberg, whose writing advice has been the voice of reason in my head since my college years…and nervously speed-talked my way to disaster.

It may have been a fantastic brain child idea to call up Natalie Goldberg out of the blue and ask if she would be willing to interview with me for a new workshop series I developed around her freewriting techniques, but I didn’t prepare myself. Instead of meticulously planning what to say, I called on a whim, actually reached a human being, and then proceeded to fumble through a very unprofessional request to attach myself to her fame. Just thinking about it makes me wince. I don’t blame her at all for saying no.

Even though I was deflated by the response I got, I wasn’t surprised. My intention was good, but I didn’t plan or think it through at all. I deserved the stiff arm she gave me, but I didn’t let it stop me from continuing forward. With almost maniacal resolve, I threw myself into my writing work, determined more than ever to get myself published, to teach other writers, and to gain a following, even if I had to do it the hard way.

Fast forward five years into the future, and here I sit at my computer, writing this missive to you. I didn’t need Natalie Goldberg to boost my dedication to writing. What I needed to was to kick myself in the pants and get moving on my own. Sometimes what we think is a good idea turns out to be a wrong turn, even if we don’t know it at the time. After many years of wrong turns, I get a lot less worked up about the little hitches in my plans, and instead try to keep perspective on what’s really important. Am I still writing? Am I still publishing? Are my big goals still working, and am I sticking to them? Do the people who need me find me?

Some people are fortunate to find themselves at a young age. I think I found my calling at a young age, but I didn’t allow myself to believe it yet. It took me decades to accept who I am meant to be. I hope that doesn’t happen to you, but even if it does, it’s okay. Finding yourself happens when you’re ready, and not before then. Trust me when I say, if you try to attach yourself to someone else’s coat tails and it fails, it will work out somehow.

At this point in my writing career, I still don’t think I’ve completely come into my time yet, but I’m ready to help other writers, regardless of my own success or failure. In at least one way, I have succeeded: I have published three books with a fourth on the way. That’s a big win. Though I have a lot more to give, I have the rest of my life to keep giving, and I plan to use every day as an opportunity. What is your plan? Do you have one? Are you shooting in the dark? Please, learn from my lessons and make your life easier.

Whatever your journey has been to date, if you need help writing your book, organizing your content, editing your writing, or figuring out how to publish through Amazon, I can help you with that. I can coach you, edit your manuscript, or we can do writing workshops via Skype. Can I get Natalie Goldberg on the phone? Nope, but I can still offer up all the knowledge I have gained from following her expert advice, and it’s been working for me for almost 30 years. If you want me to help you make your writing its best, I can do that. I trained as a teacher, and love helping other writers embrace their voices.

This work does require dedication, getting organized, and being serious. If you’re in the phase of being unsure if you’re even a writer, you may not be ready for me yet. If you’re deep in the process of writing a novel, but feel all tangled up, I’m your girl. Get your tall boots on and prepare to wade into the murky waters with me. I’ll help you keep the gators at bay. Use my contact page to send me an email, and I will get back to you in about 24 hours. We’ll decide if we’re right for each other, and if we are, we’ll get cracking.

How I Dedicated Myself to My Craft

When I was a beginner of the writing craft, I was in high school. I wrote for the sheer pleasure of it, absorbed with the practice because it called to me, and because I had plenty of time. In those days, we didn’t have such big mountains of homework, nor did we have to attend so many meetings after school for the high volume of activities expected of students today. Back then, we didn’t have smart phones or social media, but we did have computer games and too many cable channels. Either way, I loved writing so much I started carrying a notebook with me everywhere I went so I could write whenever an idea struck.

Even into my college years I had the time to dedicate to writing because it called to me on a cellular level. I couldn’t ignore the words rolling around in my head. They poured out of me at all hours of the day and night, sometimes even waking me up from a dream, demanding to be forged on the page. This practice went on for over a decade, sprinkled with writing workshops, books on improving my technique, and talking with other writers. Then I decided to give up.

In my heart, what I wanted more than anything was to dedicate myself to writing. I wanted to be a published author. When I said this to people in my life—the people who supposedly cared for me—some of them told me my dream was impossible, and that I’d better get a “real job.” Time and time again I was told that writing wasn’t ever going to amount to a real income, and at some point I allowed those fear-based ideas to leech into my head. When my children were young, I gave up writing for many years, believing that it would never lead to anything.

During those years, I was horribly unhappy.

Quite a few people I know have heard me tell the story of how I gave up writing in a foolhardy attempt to “grow up” and get a “real job.” Like so many other writers who did this, I failed at everything I tried to do. Every job I took only left me empty or frustrated. Meanwhile, words leaked out of me onto register tapes, napkins, and even the margins of magazines. I wrote in all the spare spaces of whatever paper I held. Eventually, I took the hint that my heart was trying to give me for years. I started writing again.

Once I embraced my craft and dove into it again fully, I felt alive again. I got a poem published in a small arts journal, to this day one of the biggest honors of my writing life. All of the writers published in that journal were far more well-established than I was, and I was floored to be included with them. After that, I got a pair of articles published in a magazine, and then I wrote a whole novel. It wasn’t very good, but I did it. But then the rug got yanked out from under me, just when the wind began to fill my sails.

In an effort to make more money, I went back to school to get my teaching degree. It took every last drop of energy and time in my day outside of working and taking care of my kids. I slept very little in those three years, and trying to work as a teacher made me happy only when I could work with my students on writing. Otherwise, I struggled with the other aspects of the job. Being trapped in bureaucracy is not for me, but I was trying to do the right thing, or so I thought.

Eventually, teaching in schools stopped working at all. It’s like the universe was banging me over the head with a two-by-four, telling me to listen to the clear message I was getting: YOU ARE A WRITER. Still, I didn’t know how to make a living as a writer. I had spent most of my adult years teaching. In this mess of my life, I wasn’t really sure what to do, so after years of stress and suffering, I finally embraced my writing desire once again. I followed my heart and got myself into a writing habit of producing 500 words per day. It changed everything.

With so much dedication to writing daily, I improved my work drastically over the course of a year and managed to write more than one whole novel in that time, along with a few short stories. I finished more in a year than I had in the last five. It was glorious, and I felt so much better. Still, I was listening to those dubious voices in my head, the voices of people who wanted to help, but steered me wrong. They were telling me I couldn’t publish, that my writing was only for me. Thank goodness I realized it was hogwash.

At some point, I got out of my head and chose to honor my truth. I quit trying to please everyone else, including publishers, and decided to publish myself. With a little ingenuity, I found a friend to help me edit a book I wrote, created art for the cover, and put that work out there…but not before I tried it under a pen name first. I published a different novel to test the landscape, and got decent feedback from friends, then took it down. After that, I just kept going.

Now I am ready to publish my fourth book with several more in the wings, and have the goal to publish ten books in five years. I’m right on target. As I continue to publish, I figured out how to build a website, start a bunch of social media and email campaigns, and am working on freeing myself from a day job so I can focus entirely on my writing. It’s happening. I’m honoring my dream.

Clearly, my story doesn’t end here, but I hope anyone reading will learn from my lessons. Don’t fall into the same traps I did. Listen to the inner voice that tells you to write. Honor who you really are. Make the time for writing and make it a daily habit. Trust that whatever you are meant to do will unfold for you if you give it time and put in the effort. You may be tested along the way, you may have to fight a dragon or two, but the dragons are only in your head; only your truth is reality.

If this story speaks to you and you need a little help getting up the mountain of mixed messaging, I am right here, ready to take your hand. It would be my honor to help you if you’re feeling ready to dedicate yourself to your craft, to make writing a serious goal, and to honor your own worth as a writer. I excel at helping writers to write in their true voices, to help bring out their strengths, and to work from the foundation of who you really are. It’s part of my own work in the world to help other writers shine.

No matter what anyone else says about who you are, take it with a grain of salt. Listen to your own inner voice, the true depth of who you are. Stop listening to fear as it needles you toward work that sucks your soul and steals your creativity. Listen instead to the part of you that giggles at the thought of accomplishing a dream, a goal, or a wish. Desire isn’t a dirty word, it’s a driving force in creating the life you are meant to live. If you’re ready to step into the light, contact me for help. I’m ready to hear from you.

Once Upon a Time, I Was a Terrible Writer

Once upon a time, I was a young writer filled with doubt. For years in high school, I wrote terrible poetry with my friends, pages and pages of it. I filled notebooks with my miserable poems, and occasionally wrote short stories that were also terrible. But I kept writing because it called to me. From the very beginning when I was 15, writing felt like home. Nothing else filled me up the way writing did. I kept writing because I felt driven to do it, and because it made me feel alive.

At first, I didn’t like showing my writing to anyone other than my most trusted friends. I felt like my work lacked skill, but what I really lacked was confidence. Even when my writing was good and my English teachers and writing teachers praised my work, I didn’t believe them. Instead of hearing the praise, I was busy comparing myself to famous authors, people who I wanted to emulate.

I remember spending hours and hours in libraries, reading beautiful poetry from authors like e.e. cummings, Maya Angelou, Leonard Cohen, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Many hours were spent sitting in the aisles of libraries in my teens and early 20s, copying poems and phrases into my notebooks, imitating the masters I so wished I could be. My writing got better from the practice, and I eventually developed my own voice.

Even though I got brave enough to read my poetry in public venues, I inwardly felt like a faker. My lack of confidence in myself did not reflect the truth of my hard work, and I wasted more than a decade hiding behind fear, keeping my writing hidden because I didn’t believe it was good enough. This same lack of confidence made me believe I could never write a novel, even though I had ideas floating in my head. It seemed like too big a project, and it overwhelmed me.

Finally, an idea for a novel grabbed me by the ears and forced itself through my hand, pouring onto the pages of a notebook. I eventually typed it all into my computer, and then printed it. A few people read it for me, and gave me feedback. It wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t a bestseller either, but it was my first novel. I had written a whole book, and for the first time in my life I actually felt like a real writer. That was the turning point of my writing career, but it took me many, many years to get to the point that I published.

Once that first novel was done, I began working steadily on other stories. My head exploded with ideas, so many I could barely keep up with them all. Suddenly the flood gates opened, and my brain whizzed. Story after story wanted to be birthed, and I kept writing, but I was also raising children and working while trying to hold a broken marriage together. My priorities were a mess, and I wasn’t dedicated to consistent writing.

Eventually I straightened out my personal life, but an old friend from high school inspired me on Facebook one day when he shared a post about finishing his year of dedicated writing every day. For a whole year he had written 1,000 words a day. It got me thinking. He was going to start a new year of writing, so I told him I would join him in writing 500 words a day for the next year. That was another turning point for my writing career.

In that year, I discovered the beauty of consistency and honoring my craft. Every day I wrote, regardless of how good or bad, regardless of whether or not I felt inspired. Sometimes I found myself writing at midnight because I hadn’t made time earlier in the day, but I did it. I honored my choice to write daily, and I kept my promise, posting to Facebook every day after I completed my task. People began responding to my posts, encouraging me, and I completed project after project, story after story. My work got better at a faster rate than ever, and I was getting responses to my queries to publish.

Whilst on the wave of my new-found confidence, I began to research what I needed to do to get published. It became clear to me, however, that even if I was published by a massive publishing house, I was likely to be on my own for marketing my work. Without a huge following of readers, my books would probably never get published, or they might be published and pulled quickly from print. What really disturbed me was the fact that the publishing houses would own the rights to my writing, not me. I decided to take ownership of my process, and went indie.

This decision changed my life. I sought out other authors who had gone indie and had successful careers. I hired an editor to help me polish my writing. I figured out how to build a website, and I started a blog. A smattering of people paid attention, and I got wonderful feedback. None of it was really done well, but I did it. It took me a long time to realize all my messaging was wrong, and I was all over the place with what I was producing. We all have to start somewhere.

Now I have three books published, with a fourth on the way. I have a goal to publish 10 books in five years, and I am on track to complete it with flying colors. My computer is loaded with stories, files and files of novels and ideas, and I still write regularly no matter what else is happening in my life. As I grow in my authorship, I keep practicing and improving—that’s what all writers do, even the best sellers.

No matter where you are in your writing career, I want you to know that I see you out there, working hard, feeling afraid, holding back. I hope you read this and realize it’s okay to be afraid, but please don’t let it stop you from sharing your work with the world. Your work is important, and your voice deserves to be heard. If you want help, I am here. I became a teacher a long time ago because I love helping other writers make their writing shine, and I got very good at it because it’s important to me.

If you are uncertain about stepping into the limelight, if you’re scared to hit the “publish” button, I know your pain. It can be paralyzing to let others read your writing because it’s such a personal piece of yourself, but I learned how to get past that and accept what comes. If you need help with your confidence, or you need an editor who works with your strengths, I’m here. Ignore those other writers who don’t want your competition. There’s enough room in the world for every writer driven to share their work, and your writing deserves its time.

It took me 30 years to accept my purpose. Please don’t wait that long. Contact me if you need the outstretched hand. If you’ve dedicated hours, written daily, researched madly, and know you have what it takes to be a published author, I see you. If you need an honest editor or coach who truly has the training to make your work its best while cheering you onward, send me an email. I would love to help. Even though writing can be lonely, you’re not alone. We can do this together if you’re ready.

 

 

All Good Things Come to an End

*Photo taken at Sequoia National Park, where I really began chewing on the idea of writing a travel lifestyle blog in the summer of 2017. This picture was taken while a marmot chewed on the inside of the tree as I stood in the opening. 🙂

My lovelies, the time has come. After posting religiously every week since November 16, 2017, I have come to the realization that I must take a break from writing Flying with the Falcon. This may come as a surprise to those who follow me, as I haven’t even hinted in my blog about my growing frustration with finding subjects to write about every week, but the frustration has been there for a while. Now that the travel has halted for so long, my ideas wane, and I feel I am not serving my audience the way I could or should. I have so enjoyed writing this blog, and truly looked forward to sharing my thoughts with my readers every week. My heart has been here in every post, so grateful to have this platform, and so happy to offer my humble travel experiences with you. It’s been such an honor to serve as a gentle encourager of getting out into the world, to fall in love with nature, to hold this beautiful planet in our hearts, and to honor it with our care. I have shared my ideals on politics, taking a stand for justice, and taking care of humanity. As you probably know, I believe love and compassion are the only answer to make our future work better than our present. See it, believe it, live it. We can make it a reality. All the writing I shared, along with my conviction to living tiny, will all live on the internet on my new website, still available for anyone who wants to read them. For now, I will stop adding new content. I will miss it, but it’s time.

I plan to travel again, but I don’t know when that will happen yet. Things are up in the air with our jobs holding us down with time, and we need to focus on funding our dreams. We need a home, and rebuilding the Aluminum Falcon seems like a distant hope with no place to park it in New Hampshire, no place close enough to make it convenient for working on it regularly. Our Olean home needs to be finished so we can put it on the market. My writing business is in need of my attention to make it grow. So many things to juggle in order to move forward, and something had to give. I plan to hike this summer, and maybe I’ll write about it and share. If I travel, I will certainly write about it when I can. For now, though, I feel I am doing my audience a disservice by rummaging in the past for interesting material until new travel experiences come along in my present. It’s just not good enough. In the meantime, I still plan to write. I am working on ideas for a blog about writing, and still need to decide what I want to write about, and how often I want to publish. In this moment, I think I need a short break from the schedule to just live with my thoughts, find my new direction, and spend some time with my inner compass.

This week I read a little news, which I haven’t done for a while (because it’s been so horrid and hopeless, and I don’t want to feel that way). It’s awful, but also wonderful. Christchurch is grief-stricken with the massacre of over 50 people who wanted only to worship together in peace. Children all over the world participated in over 2,000 strikes, walking out of school on Friday, March 15th, to protest the lack of attention being given to climate change. They may just save us all. Meanwhile, the president of the United States falsely proclaims that white nationalism (aka: white supremacy) isn’t a problem, that the shooting in New Zealand is no big deal, and our southern border is still an emergency. He’s trying to crowdfund his wall now. I am mystified by the ability for anyone to ignore science, research, and real data. It’s astonishing, but it’s a problem humanity has had for millennia. We aren’t new to ignoring truth, we just share it more readily on social media now. For what it’s worth, I still feel hopeful for the future. I believe most people are generally good, and when faced with tough decisions, they will do the right thing most of the time. We all make mistakes, we all do terrible things sometimes, and we all are imperfect, but we all mostly want the world to be better, for people to be happy.

As I move onto a new platform for my website and do my best to keep improving content for my readers, I am excited to say that I have fallen in love with podcasting. If you think I’m leaving you because this blog is taking a break, think again. I will still be here in one form or another, whether writing, podcasting, sharing photos on Instagram, or making videos. My work is just shifting to another way to share, so come find me if you are compelled, or share with a friend. I always welcome sharing, and am so very grateful to all the wonderful readers who have come here weekly to read. There are a few of you I see here all the time, and I love you for your support. You are the reason I stayed as long as I have, trying to keep the flame lit for the Falcon. Who knows what the future will bring? Perhaps something much better, bigger, more valuable. Whatever it is, my mind needs time to dig it up from my subconscious so I can share it in the best way for you to enjoy it. I want it to be amazing. You deserve my best.

My friends, I want to leave you with a request that we all take good care of each other and our world. There are so many ways to make an impact, and even the smallest effort can change lives. Remember to hold doors for your elders, bring your own bags to the grocery store, look up at the stars at night, hug people you love every day, put down your phone more often, visit libraries and museums, plant a garden, go dancing, and above all, remember people usually have good intentions. Not all people are well-meaning, but most are. Trust that humanity has a good heart, and you will see the evidence everywhere you go. Enjoy this beautiful planet as much as you can while you’re here, because you never know what day will be your last. Live your life to its fullest every day, and regret won’t stand a chance. Be good to each other. I’m so sad right now, as I write this last paragraph to you. This connection has meant so much to me, and has truly become an important part of my writing life; I am going to miss it dearly. Can you feel me here? Can you feel all the love I am pouring into my words? It’s heavenly, this depth, this connection, this slender tether that ties us together each week. More than anything, I wish I could see you all out there to hug you goodbye until we meet again, but the words will have to be enough. May your hearts be full. May you love unconditionally. May you live with joy and abundance, and know that while you have shared my experiences with me, you have been cherished.

With all my love,

Elaine