Friday, December 9, 2016

Writing that sucks

I've struggled with putting pen to paper the last several months. (Because fingers to keyboard just doesn't sound the same, am I right?!) I just can't seem to focus and don't have anything to say. Really, what's the point of writing then, right?

Only every author blog I've read and book on writing says to write anyway. Write even if it sucks. Yes, well, I know about that. I could easily fill a dozen pages with awful writing. And that drives me crazy. I'm not what I would call a perfectionist, but putting writing out there that sucks? Wow. That's hard. That's vulnerable. That's scary.

Why scary, you ask? Because it confirms my fear: the fear that I am a terrible writer. Whew. There you have it. There it is.

And there is freedom.

Fear only has power if you allow it to rule your actions. 

It's easy to see when fear is in control because it drives your decisions. Fear stops you in your tracks, keeps you from stepping off the ledge, from diving into uncharted waters. Fear is powerful and, until I read The War of Art, I believed its lies. Fear tells you it's bigger than it is. Fear tells you it's not worth the risk.

The War of Art helped me to see that the way to overcome fear is to walk right through it. That spider web of fear? No one wants to walk through the spider web. It's nasty. It makes us shudder. We avoid it at all costs. But that web? All it takes to dismantle it is to walk through it, brush it away, and keep walking, keep writing.

Writing that sucks is still writing. After writing, comes re-writing. But let's not worry about that. First, comes writing. Babies don't learn to walk without crawling first, and neither do writers write great without first pounding out a few limping lines, telling instead of showing, and stumbling over weak verbs. Writing is a refining process, one that doesn't hit perfection without a bit of heat (re-writing) applied.

Friends, even if the writing sucks, kudos to you for kicking it out. You had the discipline to keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. That is something noteworthy and worth praising. It means you pushed through, persevered, and said, "Boo!" to fear, slamming the door in his face.

So here I am, putting out writing; some good, some that sucks. But I'm okay with that because right now I'm too busy wiping off nasty spider webs and moving forward. This is war on fear, and I intend to win the war.

Monday, November 14, 2016


I finished reading this:

Image result for the war of art

Honestly, I don't even know what to say. This book has been recommended at every writing conference I've attended the past five years, but I only purchased it last month. 

Pressfield covers it all: every aspect of resistance, every angle from which it works. I read each page with the urge to highlight. The book is an easy read, but incredibly profound. It may be written with writers in mind, but it can benefit anyone, especially those who have put off or haven't finished whatever it is they desire to finish. The gist of the book is basically how to overcome resistance...and resistance is whatever is keeping you from finishing. 

Reading it has been convicting and challenging. I finished the book, however, and briskly shoved Resistance off the cliff. Then, I wrote this post, thereby effectively crushing Resistance's fingertips gripping the ledge. He's not coming back tonight, at least.

Friends, if you haven't read this one, I highly recommend it. What's on your reading shelf? 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sunday reading

I spent my Sunday afternoon doing what I haven't done in a long time. I read an entire book in one sitting! I vaguely remember my growing up years and early twenties when I would stay up all night reading a book. This past Sunday felt a bit rebellious as I turned page after page, ignoring kitchen dinner duty and telling my children they could, indeed, have popcorn for supper.

"The Boys in the Boat" was the Community Read pick over the summer. My daughter read it and urged me to as well. I added it to my pile of "to read" books. I determined to stick to my #1 book rule: No new books until I've finished reading the one I'm currently on. (If that's not motivation to finish a book, I don't know what is!)

Image result for the boys in the boat

I'm not sure what it is about "The Boys in the Boat" that made me cry because I am definitely not a history buff or an Olympic sport fan. I read nonfiction rarely. But this book was captivating. I loved the glimpses of history in the pictures the book included. I can see why it was a New York Times Bestseller.

When was the last time you lost yourself in the pages of a book?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

5 minutes at the end of the day

What happened to August?! I have no idea. Summer came and summer went. The seasons? They are quadruplets who keep me on my toes, ever a whirlwind of activity, each vying for my attention.

I came across the following video from Tara Lazar's website. (What would I do without Feedly!?) Of course, I'm also a TED Talks junkie, so it took me all of two minutes to click the link and watch the video. (It's less than 18 minutes in length, people!) I'm so thankful for the wealth of support that other writers extend, sharing their ideas, thoughts, and advice. I glean whatever I can on this journey and continually strive to improve.

Enjoy the Ted Talk, writing friends, and remember to do your homework!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

When you're frustrated with writing

Writing is tough. Anyone who thinks writers just sit down and start writing has never done it. (Unless, of course, it happened in a moment of inspiration. Moments of inspiration are awesome, but never daily.) Naturally, I wish inspiration were a frequent occurrence, but truthfully, it more often resembles spotting a shooting star: it's brief and unexpected. Writing may involve inspiration, but it is sustained by W.O.R.K.

My biggest frustration lately hasn't been a lack of inspiration, but rather expectations. I had expected to be writing and revising picture books. However, that hasn't happened in over a year. Wowza. That stinks. I don't like admitting that. I'm not where I wanted to be at this point, and I'm not writing what I wanted to write.

However, I am writing. I write what I don't necessarily want to write about: grief. It would appear the saying, "Write what you know" is applicable. I wish it were different, but it is what it is. I can't count how many times I've been tempted to scratch my whole grief blog only to be contacted by someone saying they are so thankful for it and how it's helped them. And that happens every time. I am floored by the number of grief moms I've met through my blog, many from other countries.

Writing isn't easy, and writing about grief is not a particularly uplifting subject. It is heavy and necessitates vulnerability. It requires writing when emotions are oftentimes overwhelming. Yet writing honestly is what connects with so many. It is the honest writing of other writers that I myself appreciate.

However, there are seasons to both life and writing. I think perhaps realizing this is where I finally gave up the struggle and embraced the season. I'm not going to guilt myself any longer on what I'm writing (or not writing). I can be reassured that my picture book manuscripts will get finished, but for now, I am called elsewhere. There's no guilt in that, for wherever and whatever I'm writing, I have the same purpose: to write well.

Additionally, when whatever I'm writing gets too frustrating, I know I can always take a break and focus on something else, something completely different. That's the joy of writing. Flexibility is a good thing. (Even if I fight it much of the time!) I'm not sure if most writers are like this, but I tend to lean toward being an "all or nothing" type of gal. Writing will definitely challenge this personality trait! I'm learning, again, that flexibility is the key. It means that I don't have to ditch a project entirely. It means I can take a break and come back to it. Oftentimes, it's after a "creative breather" that breakthroughs happen.

Frustration is part of the writing process. Yet finding the silver lining around it can make for a productive process, as well. Flexibility is my silver lining. What's yours?

Friday, June 10, 2016

I am an amazing writer!

This thought has entered the mind of many a writer. It's rather ironic, really, when you consider that we are also some of the most insecure, doubtful, and neurotic people you've ever met. It's true that "serious" writers may think this ---- for about 3 seconds. While the "wannabe" writers will think this  ---ad nauseam.

The wannabe's thoughts go something like this:

I am an amazing writer.
My writing is so good I don't need anyone else to read it before I send it in.
An editor is going to be lucky to have me.
What's a query?
I'll just self-publish and make millions.
My mom thinks I'm a brilliant writer.
I don't need to write every day. I wait for inspiration.
All my friends tell me my writing is fabulous.
What do I need writing conferences for?
I don't need to learn the craft, I'm a natural.
What do I need a critique group for?

The serious writer most likely started out thinking these same thoughts. But the serious writer hungers for truth in a way a wannabe writer doesn't. Even if the truth hurts. The serious writer begins as a wannabee, but doesn't stay one.

I finished reading Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life last weekend. It, of course, was excellent. It gave me food for thought and reaffirmed much. I've made pretty much most of the mistakes mentioned in the book, but that's okay. Because mistakes don't define us as writers. What defines us as writers isn't just that we write, but that we also learn about the craft of writing. That's what separates the wannabe writers from the serious writers.

Amazing writers don't just happen. Even those who have a natural talent or a gift for writing will tell you that it still takes work. They'll tell you that it takes intention and attention. Published authors can testify that publication isn't the be-all, end-all of being a writer. The motivation matters. I am incredibly thankful for this journey, for having the courage to fail, and the perseverance to keep writing anyway.

Where are you on the journey? What steps do you need to take to get serious about writing? Join me, won't you? I'll be waiting...and writing.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Conference take-aways

This was my third year attending the UW Writer's Institute. I loved seeing familiar faces and not having the "deer in headlight" first-year attendee look on my face. I adore the cookie and pop (I'm a Minnesotan, folks!) snack break and the continental breakfast. (What can I say? Food helps.) Downtown Madison is a delightful place to explore during lunch break, and the Madison Concourse Hotel is gorgeous. It was a weekend of soaking up encouragement, acquiring accountability, and creating camaraderie. Who doesn't love all that?

One of my favorite workshop presenters this year was Laurie Buchanen. Her insights on writing gave me a much-needed fresh perspective. For instance, she challenged our writing intentions: Do we have good intentions to write or are we actually giving our writing attention? Writing takes Attention rather than Intention. And who could resist Laurie's plea? ("Promise me you'll spend 15min. a day writing.") She concluded with the reminder that, as writers, we are not spending our time or wasting our money by attending writing conferences, workshops, or enrolling in classes. We are investing our time and money. Additionally, several times throughout the weekend I heard, "Butt in chair. Words on paper." Yes, even if the writing sucks. Again, it's an investment.

Many of this year's conference highlights were small, but powerful. For instance, Friday's Success Panel Lunch event implemented tables arranged by genre. While there were only two tables of children's and middle grade genre writers, it was wonderful to network with other picture book writers. Writing is, by nature, a solitary profession, yet we benefit much from drawing together in community. This conference provides exactly that.

The Success Panel is another of my favorite highlights. Getting to meet and listen to fellow conference attendees who are also recently published authors is so cool! They share candidly and humbly. They speak about the joy, and agony, of the publication process. They encourage and admonish. One Success Panel author, Bibi Belford, drew my attention because she is also an educator. She has a debut middle-grade novel titled, "Canned and Crushed." (I'm currently reading it to my nine year old.)

The Writer's Institute is invaluable, and their keynote speakers are spectacular. This year's keynote speaker, Hank Phillippi Ryan, was also no exception. Additionally, the conference follow-ups (Did we feed your writer's soul?) are compelling inspiration to keep the creative juices flowing long after the weekend is over.

Perhaps you'll join me at the Writer's Institute next year? I'd love to see you there!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

UW Writer's Institute

I'm in Wisconsin yet at the UW Writer's Institute, and I swear each time I attend, it gets better and better. (This is my third year attending.) Of course, as I sit in on the various workshops I still have to silence the voice in my head that says, "You don't belong here!" "You don't know what you're doing." "You're out of your league."

One of the best ways to silence that voice is to listen to other writers and published authors at the conference, namely the keynote speaker, those on the author panel, agents, and workshop presenters. The keynote speaker this year, Hank Phillippi Ryan, shared a phenomenal message titled, "What I Wish Someone Had Told Me." There's nothing like hearing an award-winning author tell you that they struggled with exactly the same issues you're struggling with: self-doubt, finishing a manuscript, and receiving rejection letters, just to name a few.

The conference wraps up tomorrow, and my head is spinning like a tornado, but it's all good. Attending a conference should be a priority in any writer's life. Conferences are communities, and you need it, friend, if you're writing. The act of writing may be a solitary process, but birthing your creative work into the world is where a conference becomes your midwife, coaching you through labor and delivery. Keep breathing. Transition is rough. (I should know. I've birthed seven children!) Write through it. Inhale. Exhale. Push through.

The end result?

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Friday, March 11, 2016

12 X 12 Challenge

I stumbled across the 12 X 12 Challenge recently and decided it was exactly what I needed. I'd been looking for more support and accountability in writing the past year, and since I've never been able to resist a good challenge, I knew this was going to be a good thing. The challenge is to write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. Easy, right?! Ahem. "More like insane," says I. Or, perhaps it's just the motivation I need. Either way, I'm in.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Where's the GPS?

I'm convinced that GPS was invented just for me. Seriously, I did not get the direction gene. I have been known to get lost leaving the examination room at the doctor's office trying to find my way back to the lobby - even with signs clearly marked "LOBBY" in bold, black letters. I once had only two turns to make taking one of my kids to a friend's house, and I missed both turns. Yeah.

If I had a penny for every time someone told me, "Oh, it's easy. You won't get lost," and then I got lost, I would be living...well, not where I am.

Writing has also been, for me, a navigational challenge. I entered the world of writers much like I entered the world of parenting - with no experience, but with a whole lot of hope and trepidation. Like parenting, writing is an adventure, a learning experience with each new phase of growth. And like a toddler, I've stumbled and tripped and fell while learning to walk on these writing legs. It's tricky business walking on inexperienced legs. Fortunately, writers, like toddlers, are stubborn persistent. They don't often take no for an answer, and they plow ahead undeterred.

With every step, walking quickly turns from instability to surefooted confidence. Each step I've taken in the land of writing has likewise produced greater assurance of proficiency. I've missed a few turns and taken a couple wrong exits, but I'm figuring it out. Cruising to critique group meet-ups is a monthly highlight I enjoy. (And, yes, I still need the GPS to get there!) The navigating system also comes in handy when attending writing conferences, I might add.

Travelling into writing territory leaves me longing for a time when I won't need the GPS. I look forward to the day when I won't feel like a lost child or a new student in the class. I hope to soon feel as if I really belong in this world of authors instead of feeling like an impostor. I like to think that I will eventually master the route, knowing where the turns and on-ramps are. In the meantime, I am certain of this:

Embracing change isn't easy, but I am thankful for the road signs along the way. Critique groups, writing conferences, and other writer friends are the map markers. They are the GPS that enables me to keep going even though the road curves unexpectedly. They are the ones who redirect when I've hit a dead end. I want, of course, to take the direct route, travel the shortest distance, but that's not always possible. Sometimes the only way to get to point B is to travel the winding roads. Though I'm typically not a fan of the scenic route, I'm learning to admire the scenery, to soak up the beauty along the way. This trip in the writer's world is an adventure, for sure. Adventures inherently hold change, for it is change that makes the adventure! And with that, I'm off to find my GPS. Next stop? I'll keep you posted.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Game on!

The writer's world is a mixed bag, I tell ya. It's like the game Bean Boozled. You've heard of it, right? It's a game that elicits excitement and trepidation in each spin. The game's spinner presents a player with a choice, and the choice is a gamble: get a yummy jelly bean or a nasty jelly bean. But you don't know what you get until you eat it. You simply take the plunge, play the game.

Writing is also a gamble. You don't know, either, what you get until you simply write it. It may be crap, or it may be brilliant and inspiring. But it's not until you spin (aka "write") that you discover the flavor. I've written a lot of things that definitely didn't "taste" good, but I've also written a few things that were pretty sweet. Each manuscript and blog post is expectant with Bean-Boozled excitement and trepidation.

As writers, we put ourselves out there, not knowing what kind of response we'll get. We are a vulnerable lot, a risky lot. But I'm learning that without vulnerability and risk, there is no authentic writing. I've also learned, however, that with authentic writing, there must also be a thick skin. What an oxymoron, huh?! Vulnerable, but thick. Hmmm. Perhaps we should add juggling to a writer's repertoire. Ahem. I digress. Back to the point.

This mixed bag keeps it interesting, that's for sure. For so long, I've been frustrated with one of my manuscripts. While my main character is strong, my story lacks tension. I keep revising, however, and bringing it back to my critique group. Now, having one's manuscript critiqued is a bit like chewing a jelly bean from Bean Boozled and praying it tastes like caramel corn instead of stinky cheese. (According to the number of revisions I've done, that means I've eaten about eight "stinky cheese" jelly beans!) One of these days, I'm bound to pick caramel corn, right? No matter what, it's been fun playing the writing game.

The game wouldn't be as enjoyable, either, without the right players. My critique group is made up of some pretty amazing people. In fact, I often feel (pretty much every month) that it's out of my league, and I'm in way over my head. BUT. But, I refuse to allow fear to win. I refuse to be intimidated. No, I don't know as much as they do, nor do I have the level of experience they do, but I know this: I will learn. I will press on and keep at it. Remember the adage "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again"? There is going to be failure. There will be nasty jelly beans. However, the goal, for me, is to play the game well. And if you play it well enough, you'll eventually win. I hope I get caramel corn one of these spins.