5 Things Nobody Told Me About Writing

It’ll be fun, I thought. It can’t be that hard, can it? After all when creative writing time came around in high school English class, way back when, I was pretty sure I could pull off an A, maybe even an A+. Same thing with college writing courses. Years later I thought becoming a real writer would be a snap.

Oh, how cocky I was. I had so much to learn about the writing world. When I took my first correspondence writing course, I was stunned to learn how much I had to learn about writing. You mean there’s more to it than having a beginning, middle, and an ending? Oh, and of course, good grammar. Seriously? There’s more to it than that?

Was I naïve? Just a wee bit. Two writing courses later, I felt ready to take on the writing world and get my work out there, but I soon learned several things no course could ever teach me.

  1. Once you realize you were meant to be a writer, there is no going back. You’re in it for life. Every snippet of intriguing conversation you hear, that strange character you saw in the grocery store, or that weird tale someone told you, is followed up by, “Hmm, how can I use this in a book?” In your wildest dreams, you cannot imagine not writing.
  2. Once you have that great idea in your head for a novel, it will always be there, like a CD stuck on repeat for the…rest…of…your…life. Even if that great idea doesn’t pan out and a newer, more improved idea pops in, that original plot idea will always be there in the back of your mind saying, “Use me, use me.” Get used to it. It’s part of your life now. If you are hearing voices, you are an official writer. No matter what anybody says, do not let them take you away. If they do, however, remember you can write them into your next book from the safe confines of your hospital room. Then they will be sorry they ever messed with you.
  3. Rejection is a fact of life. At first you may want to curl up in a ball in your bed crying out, “Why me? Why me?” But someday that sting of rejection will turn to tears of joy when you tell your family, “The agent/editor/publisher doesn’t want to take on my project, but they said my story was wonderful.” That is a moment of pure bliss and should be celebrated as such. Little did I know I would ever welcome rejection. That just seems so…wrong.
  4. My biggest dream as a writer has changed from being published to receiving a phone call from an agent informing me that publishers are in a bidding war for rights to my novel and that Hallmark wants to buy movie rights. Ah, how I look forward to that day when I find myself lying on the floor taking that call. (Then I wake up and reality hits.)
  5. No one ever told me how much joy I would receive from fan mail from little girls who read my books. All of the hard work and the waiting, waiting, and more waiting pays off when that first letter comes along. Knowing that something I wrote has touched a young person’s life is one of the best feelings ever. As a writer, it doesn’t get much better than that.I love writing

My neighbor’s daffodils

Is there anything that says spring as much as a cheerful bouquet of daffodils?

I’ve always loved this happy, sunshine-y little flower that promises warmer weather and new life after a cold winter. This year, I was determined to have a whole host of yellow daffodils right outside my front door. I cultivated my little flower bed, planted my bulbs, and waited.

And waited.

I wondered if my bulbs were old, or somehow defective. Maybe they didn’t like the soil, or I didn’t water them enough. Maybe there weren’t getting enough sunshine.

Neighbor's daffodils
My neighbor’s blooming daffodils, as seen from my driveway.

As I waited for my daffodils to bloom, I noticed green shoots start to appear in my neighbor’s yard. Pretty soon, those shoots grew into tall green stems, and a few days later, buds blossomed into dozens of yellow and white daffodils. They could be seen from across the street, from down the block, from the backyard. They were beautiful.

Meanwhile, my daffodils had only sprouted into teeny, tiny little shoots that could only be seen from a few feet away.

I tried watering them more, putting extra soil around them. Nothing enticed them to grow any faster than they already were. To make matters worse, my neighbors are not people who do any sort of gardening. The daffodil bulbs were inherited with the home when they bought it, and the only yard work they ever do is mowing the lawn. They haven’t done anything to encourage the growth of their daffodils at all.

Tiny daffodil
My first (and so far only!) mini daffodil bloom in my front flower garden.

Do you ever feel your dreams are like those daffodil bulbs? That you’re just waiting for them to bloom? I do. I feel like I’m waiting for my writing career to take off, I’m waiting to be a mother, I’m waiting for all those things I dreamed of happening someday to actually happen today. Try as I might, the seeds of dreams that I’m cultivating in my heart just don’t seem to be blooming.

And just like I covet my neighbor’s daffodils, I covet the dreams of others who seemingly haven’t done anything to make those things happen. I’m jealous of people who seem to have it all without putting in the hard work. I’m envious of friends who have babies to cuddle and kiss. I hate knowing that life isn’t ever going to be fair and some people seem to live charmed lives.

But you know what? Everything happens in His time, and for a purpose. Some dreams (and daffodils) just take longer to mature. Some seeds need more nurturing, more cultivation, more attention. Or maybe they just need to be transplanted somewhere else.

Just yesterday, the very first daffodil opened up in my little flower garden. It’s tiny, and a fraction of the size of my neighbor’s blooms, but you know what? It’s mine, and I cherish it that much more because of the work I put into coaxing it into life.

And God is watering and nurturing the seeds of my dreams, and when they finally bloom, I’ll cherish them even more because of the time and effort put into making them come true.

 

What I Wished I’d Known Then

Over the years I’ve learned many things about the writing game. The thing is, many of those little nuggets of wisdom that help navigate the writing world also pertain to jumping life’s hurdles too. What works in one area often works in the other. It took me awhile to pick up on some of them though.

One of the main things I’ve learned about writing is to lower my expectations. Oh, this doesn’t mean to submit below standard work, it just means that I must accept the fact that not everyone will appreciate my story or understand my determination to achieve my dreams. Creative people need to create, it’s the way God made us. It’s important for writers to use their God-given talents, the same as others should use their gifts, even if it seems to go unnoticed. God notices though and that’s what counts.

Don’t take things so personally. When I first began writing and submitting, I analyzed a rejection letter to the point of nearly driving myself nutty. No matter what an editor said in a rejection letter, even an encouraging one, I tried and tried to understand what it “really” meant. I had trouble accepting the fact that my wonderful manuscript didn’t meet the publisher’s needs (and probably wasn’t as wonderful as I thought.) I eventually learned that not everyone will like my work, even if it is well-written. The same goes for life in general. Not everyone will approve of my choices, but God gave us our own free wills. We all have the right to choose what we like or don’t like. That’s what makes us unique.

Rejection is a part of life. This one really stings. Nobody likes to be rejected, whether from an editor or agent, or a friend or family member who shoots down our great idea. All writers want readers to like their work and say “Ooh, I love this,” but, of course, not everyone will, and instead of feeling hurt I need to accept the fact that most times, rejection isn’t dealt out because of meanness, it’s simply others making a choice the same way I do.

And there you have it, three of the biggies I struggle with the most, things I’m still working on dealing with every day.

E is for Eager

I love fall, especially September. I was one of those kids who loved school. I was ready for it to start by mid-August (but I always had to wait until the Tuesday after Labor Day). I still wander through the school supply aisle when summer winds down – what writer doesn’t love new pens, pencils, and paper?

Living in Minnesota, I love the change of every season. Even when we first head into winter. (The problem is, it takes MONTHS to head from winter into spring so to say I’m eager for warmer weather by then is a huge understatement.)

candy cornI’ve been eager for September to arrive, eager for the cooler weather, although we had a really lovely summer here, and for the smell of bonfires and the sound of football games on a Friday evening. And my hubby is eager for candy corn and those candy pumpkins.

The changing color of the landscape is always something I look forward to, although I can’t say I’m quite as excited by how quickly the yard gets piled with leaves needing to be raked. I’m eager for the amazing smells of fall – baking pies,  crisp fall air, evening fires, and apple orchards.

I’m also eager to see where God is leading me in the coming months. To book publication? A new job? New writing friends? My eagerness can easily slide into impatience when change is slow to come. In the midst of the life’s occasional harshness, I have to cling to His enduring promises. And yes, be eager for whatever He has in store for me, because it will only bring me closer to Him.pumpkin pie

What are you eager for as we head into fall? Are there potential changes looming? A particular dream you’re waiting to see realized? Are you eager for that first taste of pumpkin or apple pie, or to eat smores around a blazing fire? Whatever it is, I pray it’s all that you hope it will be.

 

Falling for the Cover

I’ve said here before, I don’t usually buy a book because of the cover. I buy because I’m familiar with the author. That said, the cover sure doesn’t hurt. And a few covers have made me pick up the book. And twice, the cover made my buy.

Covers, I usually pick up: Karen Witemeyer. She seems to have a magic potion for great covers. If I read historicals, I’d read her, based on covers alone. My favorite of her covers: A Tailor Made Bride.

Covers that made me buy: Mary Connealy’s Over the Edge. Mary seems to have the market cornered on hunks gracing her covers. It was the guy that made me buy Mary’s book and his eyes weren’t even green. And yes, it was historical. And yes, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

So here’s my list of covers I’m looking forward to. And yes, part of the attraction is I already know and trust these authors to giveDancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter me a great contemporary romance with a toe-curling happily-ever-after.

Topping my list is Denise Hunter’s Dancing with Fireflies. I read the first book in this series, this summer and I knew the elusive Jade had a story. I can’t wait to read it. And since I’m Facebook friends with Denise, I usually see her covers unveiled and I always love them. I love the fireflies and the peacefulness of this embracing couple.

Becky Wade cover

 

My interest in Becky Wade’s Undeniably Yours is totally based on the cover. I haven’t read any of Becky’s books. And Brenda actually got me hooked on this cover in a previous Inkspirational post. I love the color. I love the pink shoes. It’s my firm belief that every female should have a pair of heels in every color she can possibly find. So of course, those shoes grab me. Other than that, I love the embrace that promises fun romance and I love her kicking up her heel. And it’s set in Texas which I love. I haven’t bought this book yet, but I will.

 

Beth Wiseman caught my attention because she usually writes Amish, but while browsing IThe House that Love Built by Beth Wiseman found a not Amish book with her name on it. Huh? I bought Need You Now and thoroughly enjoyed it. So when I saw another not Amish title by Beth, it got my attention. The House that Love Built intrigued me again with the colors. I love the aqua summery dress. The guy looks good. And the house in the background–I’m a sucker for big old houses that have stood the test of time.

But the cover I’ve waited for–for fourteen years? Wait for it. Back in 1999 when I started writing, I dreamed of seeing my book on store shelves. In 2001, I got a book published Print on Demand. I didn’t even know what that meant. I soon learned it meant there were no books in stores–anywhere. Only online.

In 2010, my dream of traditional publishing came true. But again, Heartsong Presents were sold in very few stores–mostly through the book club or online. In 2012, Heartsong was acquired by Harlequin and Walmart agreed to carry the line for six months and see how it went. I got to see one of my titles on Walmart shelves and it was a dream come true. But I guess Walmart wasn’t happy with the sales and no longer carries the line.

Arkansas Weddings by Shannon Taylor Vannatter

All this time, I knew–someday, my titles acquired when Barbour owned the line would be compiled into a three in one collection and sold WHEREVER BOOKS ARE SOLD. And finally, my waiting has paid off. Arkansas Weddings releases September 1st. This collection includes my first three traditionally published titles: White Roses, White Doves, and White Pearls. You can find it–I have to say it again–WHEREVER BOOKS ARE SOLD.

And I love the cover. All three stories are set in Romance and Rose Bud, Arkansas. These real towns are seven miles apart, tiny, and about twenty-five minutes from where I live. Couples go to Romance to get married and mail their Valentine cards, and wedding invitations with a romantic hand-stamped postmark.

There is a natural waterfall there which I incorporated into all three books. Each couple has a pivotal moment in their relationship at the Romance Waterfalls. I was thrilled to see the waterfall on the cover. The online copies have my name wrong. But the real thing includes Taylor in the middle.

And remember, you can find Arkansas Weddings WHEREVER BOOKS ARE SOLD. Sorry for the shouting–but I’ve really wanted to say that for a looooooonnnnnnnnnngggggggg time.

 

 

 

DREAM, DREAM, DREAM

Many of you know that I spent the month of February rehearsing for and performing in the pit orchestra for a community production of “Oklahoma!” One song that was the BANE of the orchestra’s existence was the “Dream Ballet,” where there is no singing AT ALL, and you go from one theme to another with action and dance between. I hear the actors and dancers did a great job – the musicians could only imagine!

On top of that, I’ve been recovering from a minor illness – but one that had insomnia as a side-effect! Not fun for a girl who is fond of her sleep!

So you can imagine my delight, when last week, for the first time in nearly a year, I actually slept so well that I had DREAMS!

That made me think – what if there was a holiday in which you remembered all those cool dreams you had, and you woke up with the words simply pouring out your fingers! You have to realize, I have really cool dreams – at least to me. They’re usually stories. Sometimes I’m an observer, sometimes I’m a character in the story. In fact, my first completed novel started out as a dream. I’ve dreamed television episodes, movies, and about the school where I went as a child.

So that’s my writer’s holiday. We’ll call it “In Your Dreams.”

Mom, when are you going to write about your “kidnapping” dream? Talk about a story . . . .

A Letter to My Teenage Self–You Are Never Alone

Dear Brenda,

I understand it’s a lonely time in your life. Making friends has never come easy. The same holds true for many your age. I wish I could say that struggle will ease over the years, but few things worthwhile are achieved without effort. As you strive, always remember to be yourself. God made you uniquely you and He treasures who you are. Remember, you are never alone.

And don’t forget to look for friendship within your own home. Siblings make the best of friends and will always be there for you.

Those dreams you have of writing a book, they’re more than just dreams. God has crafted that gift especially for you. Don’t  bury those longings where you’ll never find them, but act on them. Receive God’s gift and multiply it. You’ll find no greater act of worship.

You’re growing up on a farm, one of the best places in the world, but it won’t always be there for you. Take time to enjoy the beauty around you. Cradle the kittens and roughhouse with the dog. Take walks through the cornfields and sing down by the lake. Throw snowballs and go sledding. Bike. Swim. Walk. Enjoy the skies dotted with innumerable stars and be awestruck by the northern lights. Breathe in lilac’s spring bloom and autumn’s spicy harvest.

Always accept your grandma’s offering of molasses cookies. Nothing fills her heart more than watching her children and grandchildren enjoy her baking. Your acceptance of her gift is her treasure.

Never stop making music, be it blending with a choir, harmonizing with friends, or playing guitar alone by the lake, praising the Creator of song. Music will always unlock your stoic facade and sing the truth to your heart.

And, in all things, remember the One who breathed life into you, the Giftor or your dreams, the Painter of nature, the Architect of music. Your life will climb peaks, slide into valleys, and plateau on the plains. Yet through every moment, He is with you.

Even when no one else is around, you are never alone.

Sincerely,

Your older, wiser, and always-learning self.

Ya Gotta Start Somewhere

All of our dreams have a beginning, some little seed that’s planted, probably in our youth. With some nurturing, that seed of a dream can grow into reality. For me, the dream of becoming a writer was planted way back in elementary school.

I was going through some old papers recently and discovered this goofy story I wrote when I was 12. Our assignment was to write a short story using the weekly vocabulary words. I think I kept this paper because of the teacher’s comments:  “Fantastic, Brenda – You write such creative stories! I really enjoy reading them.” No, this wasn’t my first story, but it, along with the teacher’s generous comments, watered my dream.

Hopefully you’ll get a little chuckle out of reading this.

One day I was climbing out on the limb of a tree and my thumb got caught in a hole. Then a crumb or more fell off the piece of bread I was eating. I’d really be in a tight knot if I couldn’t get my thumb out of the hole to help me eat my bread.

Then I decided to kneel down but instead laid down and went to sleep. I had the weirdest dream about a knight trying to push me off the edge of the branch with my thumb still in the hole.

Then you’d never believe what we saw! We saw the U.S. flag so we said the Pledge of Allegiance. The knight didn’t say it so a judge appeared at that moment and made him say it.

Then the knight became nice and helped me get my thumb out of the hole. He pulled so hard we fell off into a patch of mud right below the tree. We made a mudball and started to pitch it back and forth. When the knight threw the ball, his arm would stretch 10 feet.

Then the knight saw the beautiful judge’s daughter. She had been a naughty girl so she couldn’t ride with her father on the sleigh. A freight train happened to be passing by so she jumped on it and boy she had fun.

I started to get cold so the knight started to wrap his wrist around his body. How he ever did it, I don’t know. Boy did he wreck his wrist. It looked just like a wreath wrapped around him.

All of a sudden I woke up. I was on the ground. The limb wasn’t very high.

Genius, right? Okay, okay, it was quite the inauspicious beginning, but we’ve all gotta start somewhere. 😉

Do you remember when your dream was planted?

OUT OF MY DREAMS

Out of my dreams and into your arms I long to fly
I will come as evening comes to woo a waiting sky.
Out of my dreams and into the hush of falling shadows,
When the mist is low and stars are breaking through
Then out of my dreams I’ll go Into a dream with you.

–          lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, “Out of My Dreams” from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma

Inspiration can come from just about anywhere, as we’ve discovered over the course of the last two weeks. I can be inspired by my surroundings, by people around me, by conversations overheard, by television shows and movies, or by books I’ve read.

But one of my favorite inspirations was from a dream I had. I’m one of those people who have very vivid, plot-driven dreams. Sometimes I’m in them, and sometimes it’s me, but I’m playing a role. Those are the ones I hate to see end, and from which I almost hate to awake!

After a visit to the beach a few years ago, I fell in love with the South Carolina coastline. I wondered what it would be like to live there, to be able to enjoy the sound of surf, and the feel of sand under my toes for more than just a week at a time. One night I dreamt that I was wandering around an abandoned antebellum mansion in the South.

In the dream, I went from room to room, seeing it as vividly as anything I watch on television. When I woke up, I had to tell my husband, which cemented it in my head. After that, I thought, “What would I do if, out of the blue, I inherited a house like this from a relative I never met?”

And I was off and writing. From that dream, I was able to imagine what a character would do, feel, sense; what she went through to get there; what the people around her were like. What if she lived far away from there, and all she knew about the place was what she saw on a summer vacation? Why did she feel a connection to this place? Why did she have these odd feelings that if she went there, God would speak to her, tell her why things were off-kilter in her life for the first time?

So, that’s my story. Take a dream and then ask a writer’s favorite question: WHAT IF? Try it. You’ll be humming “Out of My Dreams,” too!

Oh! And if you REALLLLLLLY want to have a dream come true, comment for a chance to win not one, but TWO books by your own Inkspers! Lorna Seilstad’s A GREAT CATCH, and Shari Barr’s McKENZIE’S BRANSON BRAINTEASER! Don’t lose out! Who knows? One of these books may inspire YOU!

Juggling Dreams & Reality

Dreams:

  • Publishers will foam at the mouth over my very first book and want to publish everything I ever write.
  • Write when I want to, go shopping, run around, and have fun.
  • Future books will flow from my fingertips.
  • Teach workshops and help other writers.
  • My books will take very little editing, nary a comma out of place.
  • Zap out a book in a couple of weeks.
  • All books go through three edits and mine will be easy.

 

Reality:

  •  Write nine books in nine years. Sell a three-book series based on one completed book. Within two weeks, come up with two other books based on characters only mentioned in book 1. Despite being a confirmed pantser, write a one-page synopsis and a more detailed chapter by chapter before writing each book. 
  • Write from 8:30 to 2:30 every weekday during the school year and grab snippets of time whenever possible during summer break, while consistently staying up as late as 2:00 AM, without being tired or grumpy the next day and maintaining fun-mom energy. 
  • Deadline stress kills creativity. And writing a detailed chapter by chapter gave this pantser writers’ block.  
  • Attend a workshop by Kaye Dacus, a pantser, and receive advice on getting past synopsis-induced writers’ block that worked. Besides, it was my turn to submit for critique, so I had to write something. 
  • In the midst of struggling with book 2, receive content review for book 1. Stressed to the max, take one month to rework my timeline and two major story threads, then put it all back together seamlessly so the reader would never know changes had been made. Thank you Lord, my editor approved the changes and the line edit was a snap, but reiterated I still have no clue what to do with a comma. 
  • Take every nano-second of the entire nine months allotted to finish book 2. The week before deadline, change the black moment and revise very pivotal scenes a half a dozen times. Brenda and Lorna read each version and gave me pointers and advice. Thank you Lord, for my patient critique partners.After taking so long to write book two, I only have four months left to write book three. But in two weeks, I’ve written 17,000 words. At this rate, I can have the first draft finished in a matter of weeks, which leaves me more time to revise and change my black moment a dozen times on the week before I have to turn it in. Thank you God, for letting this book write itself.
  •  Two weeks before turning in book 2, get an urgent e-mail. Cut 3,000 words from book 1. Even though it was just under the 50,000 word count, it wouldn’t fit on 176 pages. And all Heartsongs are 176 pages or less, so that four of them will fit into the box for book club members. 
  • Take editor’s advice and combine my chapters. Cut 500 words and mark two beloved scenes to be cut if needed. The longer chapters made fewer breaks and we got to keep my two scenes. Thank you Lord, for my brilliant editor.
  • Still not completely finished on book 1, I recently received my first galley proof. It made me cry—in a good way. It’s all set up like a book. My picture, bio, dedication, and acknowledgments are all there. It’s really going to happen. I have until the eleventh to make minor deletions, looking for any typos or mistakes. Then White Roses will go to press and be on sale in two months.

 So, what I have I learned?

  1. With God’s help, I can do this author thing.
  2. Persistence pays off. If publication is your dream, don’t give up. Keep learning and striving.
  3. My hat’s off to the writers who have kids, a spouse, and a day job too.
  4. Writer’s have to be jugglers.
  5. Deadlines aren’t daunting.
  6. Chapter by chapter synopses are a handy dandy tool to have if a pantser gets stuck in the middle of a book. For a pantser, that’s like the Fonz admitting he’s wr… wr… wro… wrong.
  7. Writing as a career is a full-time job and hard work.
  8. But what a ride!

 What about you, done any juggling lately? Do you remember the Fonz? Are you a pantser or a plotter?