Writing is Not a Race

I’m currently reading a book by Lysa TerKeurst called Uninvited, which is essentially about dealing with rejection from a Christian perspective. In one of her chapters she discusses the abundance mentality (originally [I think] from the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). This mentality really just focuses on the fact that there is not a limited amount of success in the world.

For example, I am a writer. I enjoy writing MG and YA novels. There will always be readers for these age groups. Someone else getting published before me does not take away a reader from my future book. To convince ourselves that our level of success is defined by the failures of others ensures our own failure. Why would that make us fail? Because it would let thoughts into our minds that disconnect us from each other.

I’m not saying this is easy. There’s not a simple switch you flick to make you instantly happy when someone else achieves their dream before you. It’s hard, let’s be real. There might be a flicker of jealousy there. It’s what you do with that tiny spark of negative nature that defines who you are.

If you’re feeling the heat from this post, know that you’re not alone. I recently had to remind myself of these truths when I heard about a friend getting published. Now here’s the kicker, I’ve already been published (or at least, I have the promise of publication from a lit magazine, and I’m still kind of waiting for it to happen). And yet, I see someone I know achieving success, and for one ugly moment I think, but what about me? What about me, though? Really.

In her book, Lysa (and she may have gotten this from someone else, I don’t know) stresses that instead of focuses on the why’s we should focus on the what’s, such as What have I learned from this experience?

Why’s lead you down that dark rabbit hole called self pity, whereas what’s bring you up to the light of self discovery. (Yea, feel free to quote me on that one.) It seems so elementary, and honestly, it is. But it’s something that not many of us are inherently good at. Actually, I’d like to meet someone who is good at this off the cuff. It’s a reminder we all need that doesn’t hurt to have. Okay, maybe it hurts just a little. My pride does feel a smidge bruised.

So before you start typing at the speed of light to get your story out before that other person sitting next to you at Starbucks, remember, it’s not a race. There’s enough room in the world for all of our stories.


Peace out cub scouts.

Progress Report #1

If this blog is going to be about my journey as a writer, then I should probably tell you about what I’m working on, right? Right.

So to give you the quick and dirty version, my middle-grade is about an orphan named Amelia who discovers that her newly adoptive parents are ghosts – GASP! In the first part of her story, a rogue ghost escapes from the Underworld and kidnaps one of her new parents. Amelia, who’s quite comfortable with the paranormal, must find her kidnapped parent and put her new family back together.

There’s more to it than that, but you get the gist.

In my final thesis course at Southern New Hampshire University, my professor suggested I make that story – which was originally going to be the whole book – part 1, and continue with the tale so it’ll be longer and more in line with the word count for middle-grades these days.

After balking at this idea and thinking of every possible reason why it’s a bad one, I realized he’s right. And so now, I must go back to the drawing board and create a whole other story when I thought I finally had a chance to rest.

But that’s the thing about writing, isn’t it? It’s full of surprises.

One minute you think you have a complete manuscript, and the next you realize you have half a manuscript and will have to reedit the entire thing to foreshadow part 2.

Or maybe you’ve just reached the climax of your story when you realize you’re missing a character. Or maybe you have too many.

That’s the beauty and frustration of being a writer. Things don’t always work out as planned, no matter how much outlining you do. And even though I love schedules and organization, I’ve learned that when it comes to writing, I have to stay loose.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably felt this way before. This Progress Report is here to remind you that you’re not alone.

And if you’re like me and avoiding writing because you’re afraid you aren’t going to have any more words, just know that the longer you wait, the less words you will have. Don’t let the fire go out. Keep pushing forward with your story.

It needs to be written, and it needs to be read.


Changing Mediums

I’ve written on similar topics in the past, about how learning to write for the stage and the screen can sharpen your novel writing skills (and vice versa). I really can’t stress enough how well-rounded it can make you, forcing you to acknowledge setting and action in a new way.

I know as a primarily novel writer, I tend to become complacent with my fictional elements. I think I know all there is to know to establish a scene, enhance the tension, insert more writer-y lingo here. But whenever I feel like my head is getting too big for my story (or if I get incredibly stuck on a particular scene and can’t figure out the best way to play it out), I realize it’s time for a medium change.

pexels-photo-27008And that change in medium is to write it like a movie.

There are some great sites out there that can teach you how to write a screenplay (Adobe Story is one of them). That’s not what this blog is for. This is really to explain the process your mind goes through as you transfer your readers from their imagination to yours.

When you write a screenplay, your action is direct. The actor needs to know exactly how you see them in this scene – crossing to the door, dropping a plate, laughing uncontrollably.

Sometimes as writers we can get lost in the literary clutter. We try too hard sometimes to make things sound fancy when they really just need to be clear. Stripping down your work to the bare bones gives you that chance to find the skeleton of your story. Once you’re there and you know what you want your audience to see then you can spice it up.

Now the dialogue. That’s the hard part in writing a script for me. There’s not really direction tagged with the dialogue in a script, so your writing needs to make it clear to your actor how the character is feeling. They should be able to pick up on the cues of how to act through what you’re having them do.

The same should be true when you write a novel.

Gasping, crying, laughing, shrieking, murmuring – they’re all wonderful words to describe your characters voices. But are you overusing them in place of expressing those same words through other actions? What if instead of crying out, your character clenched her fists in fear? What if instead of smiling, your character felt the warm bubble in his gut that made his words drip like honey?

This is a lesson I’m learning heavily now as I edit Part 1 of my MG novel and begin writing Part 2. My writing had become stale in the last few chapters. Rather than create a detailed work of art, I had created a sketch, a rendering, of what I wanted my audience to see.

That’s not good enough for me.

Practically, I’ve just transferred my work from a Word Doc into Scrivener by scene. As much as it pains me to do, I’m going to go back, scene by scene, and mentally write my story into a script. Break it down to build it back up.

It’s going to be a painful process, and honestly, I’m going to hate most of it – does anyone really love editing? – but if it produces a better story in the end, I believe it will be worth it.


Keeping a Writing Journal

Do you carry a writing journal with you? I do, but I rarely write in it. I’m more of a typer, and my hands now find holding a pen to be very foreign.

There’s something special about writing things by hand, though. It feels more personal, like the words somehow mean more because you took the time to draw them out. As a blogger, I have to recognize the disconnect with typing, even though it’s my preferred method. There’s a boundary between you and me that doesn’t exist if I were to write this by hand and mail it to you.

Handwriting implies familiarity, whether that familiarity is between you and your reader or you and your story.

I’m definitely not suggesting to handwrite a full novel. If that’s your deal, by all means, go for it. I’ll cheer you on from behind my computer at Starbucks.

But, if you have a chance to take your notebook out and jot down some ideas or write the beginning of a story, please do it. Go somewhere even. Somewhere quiet and isolated or beautiful and inspirational (or all of the above). Just be alone with your mind and your imperfect handwriting.

I think you’ll be as surprised what happens.


Creating the Space Around You

If you’re anything like me on this, then I’m really sorry. It makes us kind of high maintenance sometimes, but it is what it is, right?

What I’m talking about is that need to set the mood before you write. Light some candles (there are so many literature inspired candles out there it’s insane). Make sure all the dog hair has been vacuumed. Pour a glass of wine or grab of mug of tea. Get that ambient music Pandora station going.

Sometimes it takes me longer to create the space around me than I actually spend time writing. That’s not a bad thing, per se, if the time I spend actually writing is used efficiently. But it can definitely cripple me if I’m in a space that’s less than perfect trying to write. I am not one that can write anytime, anywhere. I’m the little kid distracted by squirrels in the middle of a conversation. I can’t help it.

So I’ve decided to preset my space. Even though it may take some time to rearrange my desk and get my life in order, it’ll at least save me from having to do it later when I just want to claw at my keyboard and get the words out.

I’ve been slacking a bit on that, and I don’t really have a good reason other than the weeds in my yard took over my plants and I had to put the rest of my life on pause. But hopefully I can get myself back on track. And I’m going to start by staring at my desk and figuring out what I can do to make it feel less hectic.


The Popular Kid: Joining MG/YA Writer’s Groups

So this is something I periodically struggle with and then subsequently forget about after checking my empty wallet. A writer with his or her ducks in a row would probably be in all the right writing groups/clubs/associations/etc. A writer just trying to get through grad school and work and puppy life doesn’t even know where his or her ducks are. Raise your hand if that last one is you.

Don’t worry, me too.

So I decided spur of the moment to give you a list of some of the major writer’s associations that you should at least consider. And by consider I mean look at your wallet. If you can do it, do it. If you can’t, don’t feel bad. There isn’t a secret rule that keeps us loners out of the publishing world. But you will make lasting friendships in these groups that will support you on your road to publication.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to at least take a look.

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

This organization is huuuuuuuge (in a good way). They also work on the regional level so you don’t get lost in the shuffle. Obviously it’s for children-young adults, and the plus side is it’s not too expensive to join. Students even get a discount! You’ll have to check out the conferences/opportunities for each state individually to see if it’s right for you.


Young Adult Chapter of the Romance Writers of America

Like the lovey dovey stuff? Check this out. This group includes a mentorship program which is awesome and rare along with the usual discussions and support.


Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

So this one is pretty exclusive because you have to already be a published writer to join. They have a special group within the organization specifically for MG and YA writers that focuses on sharing knowledge on this particular audience.


Hopefully these will get you started on your search. Don’t forget to look at your state associations as well. They don’t have to be MG or YA focused to benefit your writing.

And if after all this research you feel like an organization is not for you, then I definitely encourage you to look into going to a writer’s conference, specially those with agent panels and pitch sessions. Those experiences are invaluable and some of my best memories as a writer.


Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

The Elusiveness of Inspiration

We’ve all been there. You sit down to write and the words just won’t come. Maybe you’re just exhausted from working all day. You’re too tired to think straight, let alone write a coherent sentence. Or maybe you just can’t think of what to write. The muse may be singing, but you surely can’t hear it.

Every writer has felt this way, more than once. What separates the writers who make it from the writers who don’t, is that the latter quit trying.

But if I’m being honest, there are days I just don’t even want to write. It’s not necessarily that I don’t have something to say, I’m just being lazy or stubborn and I want some me time (read, I want some time to sit on the couch and stare at the wall and pretend to be productive).

There’s really no way to squash the elusiveness of inspiration. You’re either going to feel it or you’re not. Some days writing is like performing surgery on yourself. It’s painful. You don’t want to do it. The stuff coming out of you is pretty sickening. But you know if you don’t do it, it’ll only be worse the next day.

And that, my friends, is the key.

Writing through the tough times will bring you to the good times. Getting through the tough times is, well, tough, but there are ways to make it easier on yourself. Here are some tricks I’ve learned over the course of the last year and a half I’ve been in grad school.


There’s nothing worse than trying to do something you don’t want to do while your significant other is watching Modern Family in the other room. Granted, my hubs wouldn’t dare do that without me, but you know what I mean. Anything can be a distraction when you’re doing something you don’t feel like doing. The only way to combat this is to hide. Find a secret place you can go to and get away from whatever might tempt you.

Write the easy/fun parts first.

People usually say this the other way around. If you do the hard stuff first then the rest will be smooth sailing. Well, pardon me if I’d rather dip my toes in the hot tub before I jump in and scald my skin off. In research paper-type writing, I found it better to start with the parts I was genuinely interested in, rather than the parts that would require me to find a billion sources that don’t exist. I’ve nearly broken my Mac ten times in my anger when I’ve tried to do it any other way.

The same goes for creative writing. I do prefer to write in a linear fashion, but it is okay to glaze over some parts if you intend to go back and rewrite them. Granted, if the parts aren’t interesting, then maybe they shouldn’t be there in the first place. BUT, if you want to wait until you’re in a better from of mind to write the heavier stuff, then do it. There’s no set rules on how you have to write. As long as the elements of the craft are in place, you could have written it backwards for all I care.

Make yourself a playlist.

Be prepared to switch this playlist up, otherwise you’ll make yourself sick of the songs. I have different playlists for different writing moods. If I’m working on an edgier piece I tend to listen to something like Halsey. If I need to get in a solid groove then I go for Explosions in the Sky. Whatever you know will work for you without getting you distracted.

Reward yourself.

Shoutout to my last blog post. Place rewards for yourself along the way, and pretty soon you won’t need them anymore. If I need to write 4,000 words for a class, I’ll give myself a Facebook break for ten minutes at every 1,000 words. UNLESS I’m in a groove. Then I keep going. The wisdom of giving yourself a reward is knowing when you know you don’t need it.


Think like Faulkner. People don’t become masters in their chosen field because they’re talented. They become masters because they trained themselves to be.


Follow me @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.