Why Reading is Essential to Writing

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I have heard that some writers have a phobia of reading while they are writing. They believe that the words of another writer might sneak into their subconscious and influence them too much, dampening their own voice, even resulting in plagiarism.

I can sort of understand where this fear comes from. However, in my experience I have found it to be untrue. If I don’t read, my inspiration dries up. My words become blah and even my desire to keep producing dwindles.

I really believe that reading is to writing like sunlight is to flowers. It’s nourishment. If not for reading other books, would a desire to write your own ever have even been born in you? Probably not. Other stories fuel our passion and even sometimes help us when we are stuck by providing new ideas. One thing leads to another and before you know it, the story you just read is feeding the tiny one that’s already growing somewhere deep within.

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So if you are a writer who doesn’t read while you are working and you are finding yourself stuck, pick up a book, either a new one or your favorite one. Lose yourself in it for a while, a solid hour or more. You might just find that the struggle is gone or a lot easier to deal with when you look up.

Write on!

Is Writer’s Block Fact or Fiction?

I am pretty sure that, despite being often being invoked as a lame excuse, writer’s block is sometimes real.

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*** Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017 ***

Every  writer has heard of it and every writer dreads it: writer’s block. Though this “malady” seems to strike word nerds across the board at some point, there is debate as to whether it is a real phenomenon or just a cheap excuse not to park your keester in front of your computer and get the keys hot. Truthfully, I have found myself on both sides of the argument at different times of my life. What is my current take on it? I am going to say that yes, in some cases, it is real.

Now we all know that many writers are epic procrastinators and frequently cite assorted reasons why they are unable to write. But beneath those reasons lie a mere lack of motivation and discipline. And then sometimes, life really does happen and you need to attend to real-world issues, which is perfectly understandable. That’s called being a human

However, I have experienced episodes of what I can only describe as “block.” This block goes far beyond knowing exactly what I need to do next in my story and how to do it, but deciding to binge watch episodes of “My Haunted House” instead and eat my way through a bag of miniature Butterfingers. That’s laziness. Pathetic laziness, often rooted in fear of an impending challenge.

But block? It sucks. You want to write, but for some reason your brain is like an overactive beagle puppy cooped up in the house on a rainy day; it can’t sit still long enough to focus and does not want to do what it is told. Furthermore, and this in my opinion is the worst part, if you try to push through the block and force yourself to write, you end up with god-awful dribble on the paper in front of you that is so uninspiring, it is not worth pursuing.

It happened to me after I finished the first draft of my third novel. I knew what I had to do and wanted to do it, but I felt like I was walking through drying concrete. Like a good little trooper, I slogged through for a while, but finally I had to take a hiatus that lasted for several months. Those first seven chapters that I rewrote when I was struggling are quite frankly mediocre and need to be rewritten again.

I have no explanation for it, but I do remember feeling sort of empty, like a corn field that had been picked clean of its crop. Only husks of my creativity remained and I needed to wait for next year to come back to life. I had given all I had to give and now I needed to rest and replenish.

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Maybe this is just the natural ebb and flow of life at work. Everything after all comes in cycles and I assume creativity is no different. Writing is satisfying but challenging work and maybe our brains really do need a break occasionally. Knowing when to retreat is just as valuable as knowing when to forge ahead. Retreating though does not mean you lost the war; you’re just recouping and waiting to come out in full force again.

So yes, I am pretty sure that writer’s block, despite often being invoked as a lame excuse, is sometimes a bonafide issue. What it is not though, is a good reason to completely give up and abandon a project. Give yourself a rest if need be; and then when you’re ready, give it everything you got!

 

Write on!

Cover Image Credit: Pixbay

Why Do Writers Write?

It’s a question for the ages.

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*** A couple years ago, I wrote briefly for The Odyssey Online. This article was first published on their site and I am re-blogging it here for your viewing pleasure.  🙂 ****

My writing journey began when I was a scant eight years old. I clearly recall the thick, red, sticker-covered notebook on whose pages I set down my earliest stories. One of them featured two “Totally Hair Barbie Dolls” as main characters. (90’s girls will know what I am talking about!) I was a precocious child, so another was about time travel to ancient Egypt and beyond.

As I matured, poems found their way into a journal with a kitten on the front and onto school worksheets during uninspiring classes. In my late teens, I learned to properly craft short stories and set them in the glamorous, gritty underworld of Prohibition-era Manhattan.

My early twenties saw me writing my first two novels with lady vampire protagonists, falling deeply in love while seeking spiritual meaning in their bizarre existences. Now I am working on historical fiction again, this time set in the 18th century, one of my absolute favorite eras, and I feel completely “at home.” It may sound unusual, but many writers will tell you that they meander through genres until they discover their specialty or “niche.”

Non-writers frequently ask why writers write and what exactly it is that makes us tick. It is a question for the ages. I haven’t the slightest inkling of what prompted me to begin writing or why words excite me as much as they do. Nor can I explain why I feel compelled to create on a daily basis. Perhaps it is a matter of brain chemistry and genetics.

My father used to write and is now spending his retired days crafting wooden flutes. My mother bought me plenty of books when I was small that were read to me every night at bedtime, which undoubtedly helped cultivate my love of the written word. I happen to believe that all human beings are incarnate on this earth with at least one gift to share with the world, so maybe storytelling is mine. Perhaps it is a combination of all three.

While I will not pretend to know where the drive and ability to write come from, I can tell you what I enjoy about writing, and therefore, yes, part of my personal reason for writing. I love the magic of being swept up in a new story, discovering layer by layer the characters who inhabit it, the plot, and the theme. (Yes, I am more of a “pantser” than an “outliner”.)

I play with words and arrange them until they accurately express what must be said. Like hot fudge over chocolate ice cream, writing is that special ingredient that takes my day from good to awesome. This magic pervades everything, like floating flecks of gold, caught in a shaft of sunlight. Problems big or small feel more manageable. There is a sparkle in my eyes when I discuss the WIP (work in progress,) and I feel powerful and accomplished, at the very top of my game, unstoppable. And then, there’s that sweet taste of victory when the project is finished and the knowledge that in time, another story will develop, and I will fall in love all over again.

Write on!

 

Reclaiming My Femininity and Owning What I Write

Femininity is not dumb or ineffective — it’s just a different way of being. And that’s perfectly fine.

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I have been wanting to write this post for a long time now as it has been on my mind a lot this past summer and fall. I procrastinated for fear of unpleasant backlash, but I have never been one to shrink from difficult subjects in my writing, so here it is.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I have long had a love/hate relationship with the fiction I tend to create. I privately enjoyed it but always hesitated to share it with the rest of the world. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was writing stories about people in relationships –love stories.

Part of my aversion to admitting what I was writing was nothing mysterious. I simply feared not being taken seriously by the high literary crowd. Despite the fact that romance is one of the most successful book genres, you see scathing reviews and downright hatred directed at these novels and their authors. Sometimes even their fan base is not spared the biting criticism. Now to be perfectly fair, some of this criticism is spot on. There are some truly dreadful romances out there that are poorly written and have covers that make you cringe–but I could say that of ALL genres really, not just romance. Still, it often seems that any books that are labeled as anything other than mainstream or literary do not get a great deal of respect. (Book snobbery!) While I don’t really think my story would be considered romance as it doesn’t fit the format in many ways according to my own research, it does center around a relationship between a man and a woman that is tested by historical events. I was terrified of being scoffed at by the literati gate-keepers.

I wrote about this in an earlier blog post. But I felt strongly that there had to be an even deeper reason for the shame I felt over my own writing.  Ever the seeker/amateur philosopher, I began to question myself. Aside from being laughed at by more “serious” writers, why was I so hesitant to write about something that called to me so strongly? And then it came to me.
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It was too much too feminine. And we all know that feminine is weak or silly or useless. Women are brain-washed to be “girly” or like traditionally “girly” things. It cannot be due to their own preferences or any inherent inclinations. In fact, there is really no such thing as feminine at all. It’s just a manmade construct designed to keep women ignorant and powerless.

Or so my culture had taught me.

I thought writing a story with a relationship at its core would make me be seen as weak, silly, or useless. Other women would assume I was stupid and probably couldn’t even live without a man in my life. I would be guilty of perpetuating anti-woman ideas  and even poisoning the well of matrimonial bliss by depicting images of love that no real relationship could ever live up to.

Girls today are growing up with the belief that it’s detrimental to their well-being to be feminine and the belief gets carried forward into adulthood. We’re raised to believe that there are no differences between men and women aside from their genitals and to say otherwise is an act of misogyny. Disney princesses, romance novels, and chivalry are now labeled as toxic. The very word feminine is at times used as a subtle insult to insinuate that a woman is weak, shallow, or anachronistic in her thinking. I am not the only one to make this observation as I have interacted with a surprising amount of women who concur with me. They felt they had to hide their desires or hobbies or dress like men because someone told them that they will not be taken seriously, that they are simply not good enough as they are.

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And there, after all these years, is the problem. Feminine is still not good enough. I no longer believe that feminine is inferior. Femininity does not mean dumb or ineffective or “look pretty and keep your mouth shut”. It’s just a different way of being, of connecting with and expressing feeling, of deeper acceptance, of being in a receptive state, of flowing. It’s sensual, intuitive, fluid, nurturing, beautiful, and soft, but soft is not weak. And it’s okay to be okay with that. Remember, Venus (who’s gracing my post today) was able to disarm Mars. Venus might have been the goddess of love and beauty, but she was no weakling. 

Without delving into a deep philosophical debate about where this leaves women, I will get to my main point.  Re-embracing my femininity has been a large part of my recent spiritual growth and has had a positive effect on my entire life.  With regards to my writing, it has allowed me to start believing that I have nothing to “prove” to the rest of the writing/reading world. I can write what I feel strongly about writing instead of something I think will be “taken seriously”. I can write different things than men usually do because I am a woman and I am different and it’s not wrong if only (or mostly) women read my books. Admittedly, it’s still a bit of a struggle for me though. Habits you have had for years are hard to break and I am still battling perfectionism and occasional outbursts of feeling inferior. (I hit a “landmark birthday” this year and had a bit of a “time is passing” crisis for a couple of days, haha) but I am back in the saddle. I am able to see things about myself I was unable to see before and accept my feelings and desires more fully. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Write on.

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Yes, Writers Deserve To Be Paid

A look at erroneous ideas surrounding writers and money.

 

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There is a longstanding idea in our society that writers should not always expect to be paid for their writing. Those who espouse this opinion often justify it with one or a composite of the following ideas:

“Exposure is just as good/better than being paid.”
“Writers should just be glad anybody reads their work at all.”
“Writers write for fun, and they should be okay with just having an audience/ you don’t get paid for having fun.”
“Charging money for your writing degrades the craft of writing.”
“Writing is unnecessary.”

Let’s take a look at each of these beliefs, shall we?

For emerging writers, exposure can be a blessing even if you do not get paid. I am blogging after all to build an audience. Simply seeing your name in print can be validating. Writers can also reach readers by giving out some freebies on occasion. But taking all these actions to the extreme deprives writers of the financial compensation of which they are worthy and, most importantly, of the means to support themselves.

As far as being glad anyone reads your work at all, sure writers are generally tickled pink to gain fans, however that does not negate the need to keep a roof over your head. Romantic notions of writers living in ramshackle apartments or holed up above cafes in glamorous cities not knowing where their next meal will come from are unrealistic and only romantic in movies where you know the writer characters are going to make it big.

With regards to not getting paid to have fun…there are doctors, lawyers, engineers, fashion-designers, teachers, and truckdrivers who enjoy their jobs, but they all still get paid –exactly as they should! Just because a person enjoys something does not mean they should not receive money in return.

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The idea that charging money for a service somehow “defiles” it is to me unbelievably erroneous. This is a common problem among artists of all sorts as well as those who work in the complimentary/alternative medicine fields — massage therapists, Reiki masters, etc. Money has gotten a bit of a bad reputation in Western culture. We are taught to go out and make money but also told that  “money is the root of all evil”. (I would say human greed is the root of all evil is much more accurate.) Many spiritual paths that revolve around a doctrine of self-denial and the righteousness  of poverty also promote shame around living an abundant life. These are massively  disempowering ideas that seep into a lot of writers’ brains by default. Money at its most basic is another form of embodied energy, one that enables us to feed ourselves and our families and to help others in need as well. Life becomes stressful when you do not have enough money and stress hampers creativity. Paying someone for their time and services or charging money for services rendered is perfectly moral.

But I think the most egregious idea yet is the last one: that writing is unnecessary. Writing, and any other artistic pursuits, are not unnecessary. They give tired minds an opportunity to relax and heal, they inspire us to be our best selves, they instruct us  and add a spectacular rainbow of color to our world. Can you imagine a world in which there were no books, no paintings, no music? I can — and it would be a world I would not want to inhabit for long. The arts preserve the very history of humanity. If we think that is unnecessary for our growth as human beings, we have failed.

So do not feel guilty about wanting to be paid for your writing. It’s natural, it’s ethical, and it does not degrade the very act of writing. May you become a best seller! 🙂

What do you think? What was the lamest reason you ever heard for writers not being paid? Share with me in the comments!

 

Why I Have Decided To Self-Publish

With proper time and effort, self-published books can look and be as good as traditionally published books.

Book and daisiesBefore I proceed, I have not written this post to disparage those who work in the traditional publishing fields such as editors and literary agents. I am sure these people work hard at their jobs and are passionate about the written word. But I have chosen a different path.

After a great deal of thought, I decided to self-publish the novel I am currently at work on. This avenue had been suggested to me before by other people in my midst, but I fought the idea tooth and nail, justifying it with my erroneous belief that truly talented (or “real”) writers don’t need to self-publish. I thought no publisher would overlook something that is truly good and readers would sniff contemptuously at anything they discovered to be self-published. I have thankfully broken free of those beliefs. Why? Because they are false.

Many fine books have been rejected numerous times by the big houses only to become best sellers. It was only due to perseverance on the authors’ parts that we have those books to enjoy. They persisted but I wonder how many other skilled writers gave up after one too many discouraging e-mails, the gems they might have penned relegated to a desk drawer forever? I also happen to know other very talented wordsmiths who have received rejection notices even after rewriting and having their manuscripts professionally edited. Contrary to popular belief, books do not always get rejected because they are bad. Sometimes, the publisher has already published a similar work and cannot take on another, or it simply didn’t tickle someone’s fancy enough.
 
So far I have poured three and a half years into my novel. I would hate to see a project I have given my heart and soul to languishing in a slush pile forever. The writing world these days is highly competitive and the odds are pretty heavily stacked against new authors. They are just too risky to take a financial gamble on in a world where producing and marketing books is so expensive.
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Another variable that makes self-publishing an attractive option is not needing an agent. As great as I am sure agents are, they are difficult to acquire and, well, also have to be paid fairly for their work which dips into my author income.
 
My third and honestly, biggest reason for self-publishing is (almost) full creative control. I am free to chose the cover design, book length, publishing house name, and make the final call on what ultimately gets cut and what stays in the story. I can also set my price and earn higher royalties. These are all particulars I understand traditionally published authors have little control over.
 
Am I worried that readers may not buy my book if they know it is self-published? Not a great deal. Some readers do balk at self-published books over concerns that they are low quality. Admittedly, there are self-published books that are low quality, but that isn’t simply because they are self-published or the authors lack talent. From what I have seen as a reader, writers get so excited over sharing their book with the world that they forget to revise and take their time crafting a quality work. I share that excitement, I truly do; but years of working in sales has taught me that in order to make a good name for yourself and build a loyal customer base, you must offer a product that people love, that people are willing to spend their hard-earned money on, a product good enough that they will come back for more. These sorts of products take time and I intend to polish my work to the best of my ability.  
                                                                                    
Will people be able to tell my book is self-published? My guess is no (unless they read this blog. 🙂 ). With proper time and effort, self-published books can look and be as good as traditionally published books and I intend to put in the time and effort. I am sure self-publishing will be a big challenge, but I plan to give it my best. (I might be a Libra, but I have strong Virgo influences in my chart and Virgo is nothing if not exacting. 🙂 ) The internet has opened up a whole new field to writers and the publishing landscape is indeed changing. Follow my blog for updates on my progress!
 
What are your thoughts on self-publishing? I would love to hear them!

What Do Baking And Writing Have In Common?

A good story, like a good cake, is a composition of many ingredients — plot, characters, theme, and word usage to name the most important ones.

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Happy Monday! I generally only blog twice a month, but I was inspired last night after baking a Dutch apple bread. 🙂 ❤

As you are well aware, writing is my oldest passion. One of my other great loves is food and the preparation of food. I just love cooking and baking. (Baking particularly lets me play with one of my favorite things– chocolate!) I post recipes compulsively on Facebook and stare longingly at high quality cookware. I am an addict.

So what on earth does food preparation have in common with writing? For me, quite a bit, I have found.

Timing

As we have to take time into consideration with baking, so do we with writing.  When baking, you need time to gather the ingredients and get your baking area set up (prep time) as well as actual bake time. When writing a novel, you must consider your “prep time” as well as your “bake time”. You must first gather all of your “ingredients” — writing materials, your outline, inspiration, and any research you must do before setting to work. You should certainly figure your prep time into the entire process.

You also must observe the bake time. You cannot remove a cake from the oven too quickly nor can you leave it in too long.  It will either be under-done or burnt. The same is true for a story. You cannot hurry it along because it will seem flat, rushed or full of errors–things the keen eyes of your readers will certainly catch and not appreciate. You also cannot drag the story out by adding too many extraneous details or scenes or allow it to molder inside of you and die.

Ingredients

All ingredients must be gradually added together to form a delectable (or hopefully delectable) creation. Most recipes give specific instructions as to when and how the ingredients are to be combined. First, last, creamed, beaten, stirred, sifted, mixed, folded, etc. A good story, like a good cake, is a composition of many ingredients — plot, characters, theme, and word usage to name the most important ones. They must blend well together and each will unfold and develop in a certain order and in their own good time. Each genre also requires a special touch or effect. Just as there are all sorts of cooks and bakers, there are writers who excel at each genre.

Trial and Error

Not all kitchen experiments are successful. Sometimes you follow an inferior recipe and sometimes you make a mistake or several that destroy the food. Whatever the reason, we all fail sometimes and we can all learn from our failures.  Being a writer is the same as being a baker. Sometimes your writing is delicious and close to perfect. Other times, it falls flat. Sometimes it’s a success but does not get the attention it deserves. That’s okay.  You always have tomorrow to go back to the kitchen or to your writing office and begin anew.

Bon Appetit and have a wonderful week! ❤

 

 

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