Read, Write, Read Again

Read, write and then read again. That’s been me these last couple of weeks. Sometimes, reading is the only way I can break through when writing slows down. When my mind just can’t get past that block that won’t let me continue. Or when my book seems to be slowing down, getting boring and I can’t figure out a way to bring it back to life. Sometimes, just reading a little bit gets my head spinning and I can write. Sometimes, it takes reading a whole bunch of books before I break through.

As a person with OCD, editing my book has also been a slow process. I need to check it again and again, until I’m certain that I covered that bit. Until I’m certain that everything is the best it can be. Sometimes it’s not, and getting through that is hard. No one wants to hear that their book needs work (especially if it’s more work than you expected) but that’s all part of making it the story you envisioned. Rewriting, adding, and correcting the book is all a part of turning the book into the story you wanted it to be in the first place. It’s a slow process, but the best part? It gives me a chance to relive my story, to go through and correct things I was going to correct in the first place. To add new moments that bring more life and individualism to the characters. Edits are hard to handle at times. That tightness in your heart that threatens to break it until you calm yourself and say, “It’s okay. This is good. This is the best thing for your book and you can do this.” Sounds dramatic, huh? But when you put your whole heart into a story, when you love your characters like they were your friends, it can be dramatic.

I think reading as much as I have these last couple of weeks has really helped me. Reading, in the past, always helped me with my writing. But now that my book is being edited, and I’m working through all the wrinkles in it, reading as like a whole new experience for me. I wondered what it was like for the author when they had to change things in their books. I wondered how they handled it. I’ve always heard authors say they were anxious about getting the edits back from their editor. I understand that now. Knowing that it made authors anxious, I thought I was prepared for it. I wasn’t as prepared as I thought, but it’s having an open mind and heart that makes the difference. It’s rocky road, but it’s getting better. I am opening up to needed changes and I’m learning! That’s the best part! I love learning. Reading and writing all the years that I have has been a learning process itself. This is like moving up to the next level of learning. It’s the best.

Read, write, read again. That’s me, doing what I love. These two weeks have been full of that. Some of the best advice I was ever given about writing was to read as much as possible. That’s why my room is currently overflowing with books. Because once I started, I couldn’t stop. 🙂

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Questions

Ah, the questions one gets asked when you become a new author. What’s your book about? What genre is it? What do you like to write? How long have you been writing? All of these are common, especially when people find out how old I am. Then the questions turn to. Really? You’re only 23? That’s so young! And wouldn’t you know I just love hearing that? (Not really) 😉 I think the most interesting thing is that, more than asking me what my book is about, or how this happened, people are simply surprised that one of my books is being published. I get that wide eyed look, the two hesitant blinks that say they’re processing what I said while carefully observing me. I’m not sure what they expect to see, but I find it amusing that people believe I should be older.

Because you see, the thing is, for me I’ve been writing for thirteen years. Of course, no one considered my ten year old story writing as serious writing. But that’s how long I’ve been working towards this goal, that’s how long I’ve been writing, learning and developing. Thirteen years I’ve dedicated my heart to this, to putting stories on paper, to creating characters. Yes, I’m an introvert. Probably the best introvert I know, not sure any of my current friends could beat me at it. My characters become my friends, because my heart and soul, my thoughts, belong to them. I always joke that I write so I don’t have to speak. Well, in some ways it’s very true. I don’t speak very well, but when I write, what I want to say comes out so clearly, just the way I wanted.

But what I’ve struggled with lately is the questions. Some of them, not always so flattering.  I wish I could say that, when I say my book is being published, people turned around with wide eyes and said, “Oh my! Congrats! What’s it about?” Not that I haven’t gotten that, of course I have. But here are the questions that have bugged me the most.

  1. What? Really? How did that happen?
  2. Wait, how old are you again?
  3. Don’t you need to have gone to college to get something published?
  4. You were homeschooled right?
  5. Have you been taking classes on the side or something?

Maybe it’s just the curse of being an introvert, of being shy and quiet. But I suppose a lot of people never really took what I was doing seriously, or maybe they thought it was just a side thing of mine, a hobby that wouldn’t go anywhere. At least, not until I was older and more experienced. It took awhile, but now when I think about these questions, I laugh a little. It kind of amazes me that people practically turn around and say to me I thought you had to work really hard to get published! when that’s exactly what I’ve been doing all these years. All those years I carried a journal, taking down ideas that popped into my head, everyone just disregarded it. I swear, everyone thought I was just doing it for fun. No one actually believed I was already trying to build something that would become my career.

You remember that compassionate smile I talked about in my blog post Dreams DO Come True? It still haunts me. I don’t think anyone outside my family actually believed that I would get this far (at least not this soon). But I learned that as long as I believe in myself, I can do anything. Literally, anything. I don’t think a lot of people believe that, but if writing stories of faith, hope and love have taught me anything, it’s taught me that what once seemed impossible, can become possible in just one moment. All you have to do is have faith, no matter what judgment might come your way.

And as for the questions…ask away! Because I’ve come to realize that I LOVE answering! Not that I wouldn’t prefer your questions be about my book, but as an author, I want you to get to know me! I want to share my journey! So ask me anything you want! And thanks for reading. 🙂

The Review

More than anything, I think an author wants reviews. We want to know what the reader thinks, we want to see their praise and love for the stories that mean so much to us. But at the same time, we dread seeing reviews. We dread seeking them out, nervously asking someone if they’d be willing to review it. What if they don’t like it? What if they give it 1 star? What if asking that person for a review turns out to be the biggest mistake ever? It’s a risk that we all have to take for the sake of getting our stories out there, getting them into the hands of people who will like it, who will enjoy it and see the message in it.

I have heard mixed feelings about reviews. Some authors like to read them, even the bad ones. Others won’t look at ANY, not even the five star reviews. I have thought a long time about which author I’m going to be. Will I or will I not look at that first review? Will I overcome my nerves and see what my readers have to say? Or will I do what that favorite author of mine did? Will I avoid them and push on with my writing, refusing to let negative reviews get to me? It’s a difficult decision to make, because some reviews are good ones and you want to see that, you want to see that people enjoyed your book, that they recommended it to others by their kind review.

As my book is being edited for publication, I have had this anxious feeling in my heart. Mostly about getting my book out there to hopefully gain peoples’ interests. But then there is a reluctance in me to see reviews. I want people to review it, but it’s a scary thing. When you spend so much time developing your characters, falling in love with them yourself, it’s hard when people criticize. I’ve always fought for authors who have received bad reviews, because sometimes there are people out there who aren’t nice about it. They’re brutal. I’ve tried to live by the phrase ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,’ but not everyone follows that advice. I’ve stood up to some people, who have been harsh, cruel even, to an author. Especially a new author. But in the end, the question I ask myself is did it do any good? Perhaps if they author saw it, they appreciated it, but the fact is the review doesn’t come down. It stays there and someone comes along and sees it and follows the advice of one person.

Reading reviews was the reason I decided I was going to read books for myself, to draw my own conclusions. I kept seeing people who read bad reviews and at the end said ‘Thanks! I won’t read this now!’ It made me sad to see. I’m a true believer in forming your own opinion, not going off what another person said, especially if that person was intentionally cruel. I probably sound defensive, but hey when you’re a writer you probably can’t help but be. It’s scary, putting yourself out there to the public, but it’s exciting at the same time. I can’t wait for it! Will I read the reviews? Probably not. Will I be curious enough to take a peek at my ratings? I probably will. 😉

100 Pages

So, last night I reached 100 pages in my current WIP! Whenever I reach 100 pages in my book, I celebrate a little. It’s an accomplishment to me, to reach 100 pages and to still not have the ending of the book anywhere in sight. I feel exhilarated, full of excitement because I know that the book will be long, most likely nearly 400 pages. That’s the most exciting part of all, watching the book grow longer, keeping an eye on that word count as it climbs from 20,000 words to 50,000 to 80,000.

What makes this moment so amazing, is all those times you weren’t sure you had it in you.  You start with a basic idea, and you know that you can turn it into a story. But will it be long enough for a novel? Will there be enough detail, enough character development, enough drama to fill up the pages? It’s a worry that plagues you, because more than anything you want to see your story in print! You want to share the story of your characters with others, and you want them to enjoy it, just as much as you enjoyed writing about it. When doubts creep in, that’s the hardest time. There are many things out there that could make you doubt yourself.

I’ve been writing for a long time. I was told that I had a gift for it, that I should keep going. So I learned and developed. When I was old enough I joined an online writing group. One of the first things I did was enter one of their writing contests, their big one that they do every year at the beginning of the year. Entering contests is definitely a good thing! But what I learned is that you need to guard your heart, because sometimes judges comments isn’t always what we want to hear. That’s why it’s terrifying to any writer to present their work to another. Because all it takes is one person, even someone you don’t know, can bring you down and make you question yourself. That happened to me, and it was very difficult for me to write again after that. But after the fog of my hurt feelings cleared and I did start writing again, I became determined to enter the contest again next year, and the year after that. I knew I might never win, but deciding to take the helpful tips from kind judges and apply them to my writing, saved me from giving up the thing I love to do most. In the end, entering those contests help me to greatly improve my writing, leading me to the point I’m at today.

Reaching 100 pages is huge to me. That’s when I determine that a story isn’t going to die. When I reach a slump, in any story, and it’s before the 100 page mark, I always begin to wonder if maybe it wasn’t meant to be. If my inspiration for the book can’t last to 100 pages, maybe it’s time to move on to another idea that will. But, I suppose, that’s what pushing forward is all about. If you have a good idea, if you love your characters and you know that you can bring it to a satisfying conclusion, then push on. No matter what anyone says, no matter how difficult it is to hear, apply their knowledge and continue to learn. I’m still learning, even now. I think that’s one of the most exciting parts. The learning never ends.

Reading & Writing Historical Fiction

I love reading. Ever since I picked up my first book, I’ve loved reading. I discovered that warm and fuzzy feeling when a good romance ends. I discovered the edge-of-your-seat feeling when reading a suspense novel. I discovered that I could cry, when moved by a character’s faith and struggle. Reading was the best feeling in the world. Then I discovered that I could write and that opened up a whole new world. The thing about these books (another discovery I made) is that they were all Historical Fiction. I’ve read a variety of genres, but Historical Fiction has always called out to me. I love research, I love looking for facts and finding the truth. Putting it down on paper is a very satisfying feeling, making sure that what I’ve written is as accurate as I can make it while mixing with my character’s story is important to me. This was important to me while writing my book, the first one that will be published. When you write a novel based in the World War I era, you want to be accurate. But writing about The Somme was difficult. Writing about the devastation of the war that took nearly an entire generation of men from the world, was heartbreaking for me.

The inspiration for my novel came from another book. It wasn’t what I usually read, it wasn’t fiction. It was one of the many historical books my dad keeps on his shelves in the den. There are a mixture of books about WWI and WWII in ‘the book room’. Reading this one book in particular opened the world of WWI to me and my book, the first one to be published, was born. My heart was moved by the stories that were told in those pages, my mind coming alive the farther I went. My world opened to the historical facts surrounding that time. But the truth is, this book of mine was inspired quite a while before I read the book. It started one night a very long time ago, I don’t even remember when. One comment made by my parent opened the floodgates to the main theme of my story.

One night, while on the subject of WWI, my dad mentioned something about The Lost Generation (incidentally, the title of my book!). I heard him say this before, but until I read the book he gave me I didn’t understand it completely. He said that, eventually, people probably wouldn’t remember this tragedy. That it wouldn’t mean as much anymore. I told him that wasn’t true, that I would remember them and that I would tell my kids someday and they would tell theirs. I don’t know if my dad even remembers this, but this opened my mind to the story. A story about three couples, three families, and how this war changed them forever.

Since I’ve announced that my first book is being published, I’ve had people ask me what the book is about. Usually I start by giving them the title, ‘The Lost Generation’, and tell them that it’s a WWI era based novel about three couples from different parts of the world, (1 Canadian, 1 British, and 1 American) who end up coming together because of the war. Then I mention something that brings up questions. I mention the Pals Battalions. I’ve gotten a couple of head tilts and I’ve asked, ‘do you know what that is?’ Then I go into my explanation. This was the reason I wrote the book, the Pals Battalions. It inspired me, moved me…it broke my heart.

World War I was called The Great War. It was. But it was a Great War that became a Great Tragedy. My book, from the start, was written with the goal of giving different perspectives on the war, on men who went MIA, many of them never found. Of the women, wives and mothers, who were left behind, forced to continue with life without knowing what had happened to their men. My research opened this world to me, and my book came together in a rush. I am very excited to share it with you, and hope you are as moved by the tragedy and drama of that era as I was.

Dreams DO Come True

Since I was a little girl I wanted to write. I’ve been writing stories since I was ten, always with the dream of being published prominent in my mind. That’s thirteen years I’ve been learning about writing, actually writing and improving my writing. Sometimes it felt like being published was SO FAR AWAY. Like the times I would enter and lose writing contests. Or some of the brutal criticism I would receive from the judges of those contests. That was never easy and at times I even thought maybe I should stop, maybe this wasn’t what I was supposed to do. But then my mind would begin racing with new characters and compelling stories that I just couldn’t put aside and forget about. So I started reading, and discovered that with reading came an even deeper desire to write, to be like the authors I admired.

The thing about dreams is that the world will tell you they don’t really come true. The world sometimes looks at you with a compassionate smile that clearly says, “Aww, she’s sweet and that’s a cute dream that will probably never come true”. At one time, I let those smiles get to me and doubt would creep its way back into my mind and heart. But then my characters would draw me back into their world and I would remember that this was where life had led me and this was what my heart desired. If God didn’t want me to write, then why was I miserable when I wasn’t writing? Why was it that, when I was away from my computer, all I wanted to do was run back home and write? This was serious, this was real and I pushed through.

Writing isn’t just something I enjoy, it’s what I was meant to do. This is what I do and it’s who I am. A month ago something happened that changed my life forever. It all started with an email I almost didn’t send. But choosing to click ‘send’ set in motion a whirlwind of events that felt like a dream. It proved to me that you never know how the people in your life–even those who have been right under your nose but you didn’t know they were there–can hold the key to the door of your dreams. Thanks to that email, I set foot on the path to publication. I had no idea that sending that email, which I viewed as simple, just a few words of encouragement to a fellow writer, would get me where I am today.

I have signed a publishing contract! Saying that out loud takes my breath away. I have been in love with writing for so many years and I’m looking forward to falling even deeper in love with what I do as I continue on this road of publication. I also look forward to getting to know my future readers and I hope they love my stories and characters as much as I do! My life changed in a matter of minutes one hot afternoon in June, and I have never been more grateful to learn that dreams really DO come true!!

My 5 Step Process

When I start a new novel I always go through a process. I can never just sit down and start writing, not without knowing the outcome of the story. There has to be a timeline, there has to be a plan for the characters. Knowing their own unique personalities before I begin is most important to me. In the novel I’m working on now I have SO many characters that separated them by their ownersonality has been difficult at times, but working in so many different settings has helped and it is probably one of the most exciting stories I’ve written so far. I’ve never tried to work with this many characters in one book before so it’s definitely been an adventure for me.

So this is a list of the steps I take before I begin writing:

  1. Know the basics (time period and main plot)
  2. Come up with a title
  3. Will this be a series or stand alone? (Based on the plot, can I tell this story in an 80,000 to 90,000 word novel or do I need to expand to a sequel?)
  4. Come up with characters names and develop their personality by doing so
  5. Write a synopsis detailing the main character’s journey and the ending

Generally a novel can be as long as you wish, there should be no limit to word count. But neither do you want a novel to be so long that your reader gets bored with the minor details. Depending on the type of genre you pick, you must decide whether or not you want your reader to be on the edge of their seat at some point, with anticipation for a second novel. My current WIP is such a novel. With so many characters and such a big plot I knew that I couldn’t sum it up in just one book, but had to take a chance and go for a series. But sometimes coming up with a series can take you by surprise. With a subplot you might discover a new story for one of your minor characters that could be a novel all on its own later on.

Then the whole process begins again! Which to me is one of the best parts. Writing an intriguing synopsis always helps me delve deeper into the mood of the story, and fills me with anticipation of what’s to come. Because I never know where my story is going to take me or how my characters are going to surprise me. Discovering new characters is like making new friends and that’s why my mind never runs out of stories and I don’t think it ever will. There will always be a new character waiting for his or her turn in the back of my mind and I will have no choice but to write their story. A synopsis at the start can never fully reveal the story in it’s entirety but it gets you started on the path to a conclusion. What happens in between is the exciting part. Sometimes your characters might even have secrets that you don’t know about until you’re writing it. I love that part.

So that’s my process. Details have always been very important to me and jumping into a story blindly is not something I can do. But discovering the little details, the little surprises along the way, is what keeps the story fresh and exciting. As the writer I will always love my characters and their stories and I hope that one day my readers will love them as much as I do.