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January 2020

When Answers Lead to Questions

Head mistress nancyHHello, my fellow Writerly Women. Today we're welcoming Skeli and Cathy who chimed in with the rest of us this week with their comments. And speaking of comments, I LOVE that you're responding to each other and offering encouragement. That's the mark of a true community, and I couldn't have created that by waving a wand. You did it.

I think I just threw in that thing about the wand so it would look like I had a reason for using this picture of me as the acting headmistress of Hogwarts, Tennessee Satellite Campus. Seriously, is that not an amazing costume my daughter made for me for my granddaughter's Harry Potter Experience birthday party? It screamed for a British accent (all that watching of Father Brown and Call the Midwife paid off), which I spoke in all day as I was sorting children into houses and keeping the magical creatures at bay. 

All right, then, back to the topic at hand. You are a wonderful body of talented women, and I'm blessed to be in your company. The other thing I love about your comments was that in genuinely trying to answer last week's question, you came up with even more questions. That is the creative process. For instance:

After receiving two rejections almost at once, PAM wants to know why we keep doing this to ourselves.

COLLEEN is surprised by both her new genre and her new process (less planning) and seems to be struggling with: Is this okay? Is this what I should be doing?

JENNIFER is still asking, Who the Sam Hill IS my audience? Christians already know Jesus is the real hero, not us, and non-Christians don't want to hear that. (MY question is "Lamentations, Jennifer? Really? You're a braver woman than I am!")

NATASHA's query: Why can't I write the book I really have a passion for? Why do I want to write the fun thing that doesn't actually matter maybe?

 CATHY, our former writing teacher, besides asking Where DOES the comma go this week? is dealing with how to write without rules when she's been The Enforcer for so many years.

SKELI had an answer that I don't think she realized addresses just about everybody's question. She recommended a story to Jennifer, saying it might help her see how she can pull off what she wants to do. Thanks for that, Skel'. It's been my experience that:

    * For every writing wrestling match you're engaged in, some other author has been in that ring before you.

         Rosamunde Pilcher, marvelous English author of Winter Solstice Winter Solstice
and other amazing novels, had her agent in for dinner one night (before she became hugely successful). He was talking about several of his authors doing book tours and making t.v. appearances, and Rosamunde's grown children said, "Why doesn't our mum get that?" He said, essentially, "When she writes a book worthy of that kind of attention, she'll get it." At age 60, instead of being offended, she took it as a challenge. The rest of her novels have been smashing hits, beloved by millions of us, myself included. My point is that if we're experiencing rejection or lack of support from our agents and publishers, we might well use that as impetus to go bigger, go deeper, go farther -- and not settle.

      Flannery O'Connor (who I have to admit I can't read, though I respect her talent) had a deep passion for revealing God in the underbelly of life -- in dark, crazy places most of us don't like to think about. I don't know that she defined her audience as I've suggested we do, but she knew they were out there, so she just wrote the dang books and stories and let them fall where they would. I'm not sure there has been anyone writing like her before or since.

    Janet Evanovich, famous for her Stephanie Plum series (the last 17 of which debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list), started off writing short contemporary romance novels under the pen name Steffie Hall. She was making a decent living, but when she realized she was having to put her current protagonist's name on a sticky note on her computer screen so she could remember it, she knew she was bored. So she came up with a totally fun, over the top concept: Stephanie Plum, a former lingerie buyer from Trenton, Janet Ebecomes a bounty hunter to make ends meet after losing her job. Her books are hilarious. (My husband read several of them and guffawed out loud all the way through.) Now and then it MATTERS that we have something fall-on-the-floor-laughing funny to remove us from all that nastiness we can't do anything about. Give me some Christopher Moore on a bad day and I'm good to go.

    In Dar Williams' song, "What Do You Hear In These Sounds?", she sings about her positive experience working with a therapist. My favorite line is:  "When I hit a rut, she says to try the other parent." It comes to mind now because, again, it's been my experience that when we can't get the answer to that writing question, we usually need to ask a different question. Maybe it could go something like this:

    JENNIFER: Are there Christians who don't get that Jesus is the hero? That God is doing a fantastic job so we don't have to?

    COLLEEN: Who are the non-fiction writers I love the most? What's their process? 

    NATASHA: What am I learning as I write this simply fun piece of pure joy? Could it be that I'll use those skills later on, when I get back to Passion Book?        

      CATHY: What's my favorite part of writing? Just because I'm good at grammar, does that mean I have to focus on it? What would happen if I made some really brazen mechanical errors?

    Me? I was struggling with the spiritual aspect of my novel, which is, actually, the heart and soul of the thing in a largely unspoken way. What if I turn off my loyal Christian readers? What if my more conservative friends think I've become so open-minded my brains are going to fall out? My question became a prayer, which led to more questions that in my soul I think came from God:

    Is it Christian readers you want to reach?

Is it time for you to express how faith has come to you -- which is not the traditional pray-the-sinners-prayer route?

Universal ChristAre you brave enough to express your Richard-Rohr-like belief in a Universal Christ?

If you're not going to be authentic, what on earth is the point?

Sometimes I guess the new questions ARE the answers: No. Yes. Yes. There isn't one. 

So maybe this week, you could do these two things:

    1. Ask a new question related to your struggle.

    2. See if the question itself becomes your answer. 

I don't know about the rest of you, but I can't WAIT to hear what happens. Thank you for being here, my friends.

 

Blessings,

Nancy Rue


What Makes It Matter?

Writing at Walden POnd  Hello, my fellow writerly women. In only two weeks we have become a community, and I just find that to be awesome and inspiring and a God-thing. Thank you for being here.

Your responses to the last post on SHAME vs. SMART (if you haven't read that, do go back and give it a skim) were exactly what we all needed (or at least I did). COLLEEN shared a marvelous Spanish phrase -- creerme el cuento -- believe in myself. Step One in the shedding of shame, yes? LILY is keeping her creative juices flowing in other areas while she figures out the next steps in her novel, remembering that she is still growing. Step Two, I think. Lily and me
PAM is writing for her readers, which keeps her from looking anxiously at all the people she can't reach. I did a post on audience in the past, and I think I'll freshen that up sometime soon.   As for AMALIE, who writes comments that rival most of what I put in my professional writing (!) -- she struggles with the notion that she isn't ready to write what she wants to, that she is somehow a fraud, which is paralyzing. I'm going to do a whole post on the Imposter Syndrome.  And our witty EMII is going to try instead of cry. Step Three. Thank you for being real with us.

Step Four in Still Mastering All the Right Things (I'm basically making these steps up as I go along!) is probably the most important one. Once we've started believing in ourselves and we're keeping the creativity going in our lives as a whole and we stop crying and start trying, we have to answer this question about our writing:

Why the Sam Hill does it matter?

Before you start to freak out and immediately jump to, "What if it doesn't? Come to think it, I don't think it does! I've been wasting my time. OHMYGOSH!!!" Before you go there, go here: it DOES matter or you wouldn't be doing it.

I mean, think about it. Would you do the following if it didn't mean something?

    * sit in front of a screen and make stuff up and then delete half of it and come back and do the same thing the next day? And the next?

   Hannah writing * write page after page, not knowing if another human being is ever going to read it?

   *  spend money you could use for a new wardrobe or a down payment on a BMW to go to a week long writing intensive or a big time writers conference just to give yourself another fraction of a chance?

  * pace the floor all night because you're so scared to show your manuscript baby to a perfect stranger who might say it's ugly?

  * get yet another rejection of that same baby and turn right around and send it to yet another agent?

Okay, maybe you'd do all of that because you were nuts, but I don't think you are. I believe you -- and I -- do it because what we're writing is in some way important. I also believe it has to have that significance on two levels.

    (1) Significant to you, individually, as a woman. I'm writing The Footnotes Collection because I'm recovering from the same addiction, if you will, that my four protagonists are. I want to be able to express the pain and the healing in several different ways, just to see how real, how authentic, how essential it is. That matters to ME.

    (2) Significant to the people you're specifically writing it for. Not, as PAM pointed out, for everybody, but for your readers. I want to touch women who have everything society says they should have and are still miserable. And I want those women to gain some sense of the Divine, even if they've never believed or have been wounded by the believers in their original faith. I want them to ask, "What if there's something more -- something bigger than me -- a higher power? What if I lived as if there were?" That matters to THEM.

How do you know if you have that "This matters!" energy in your work? Here's my suggestion: do what I just did. Write two paragraphs, one explaining how your project matters to YOU, and the second defining how it matters to your AUDIENCE. If you experience any of these things, the passion is there:

    * you typed faster as you wrote, until your fingers could barely keep up with your thoughts

    * you sat up straighter and leaned closer to the screen

    * your pulse and breathing picked up Andrea

    * when you were finished you pressed your palms together and said, "Yes!

   * and now you want to go immediately to your manuscript and write some more.

It would be exceedingly cool if you shared those two paragraphs with us -- or at least the jist (or is it gist?) Can there be anything more inspiring than to know that we are all writing something that can potentially make a difference? Down the line we'll talk about how to write like it matters and how to get it out to the people it matters TO. For now, let's just make sure that it does.

Blessings,

Nancy Rue 
   


S.H.A.M.E. vs. S.M.A.R.T

Me as GandolfHey, fellow writerly women! We have added JENNIFER, NATASHA, COLLEEN and EMII -- at least they're our newest commenters. We are officially a creative body, so it seems appropriate to start today's post with a story. It's non-fiction, autobiographical, and I'll try really hard not to embroider or self deprecate. Too much.

Okay, so last September I participated in a week-long Break Out Novel Intensive (BONI) with Donald Maass and his teaching staff. If you ever have the opportunity to attend one, or even one of his weekend gigs, do it. When I did this back in 2006, it changed the way I wrote forever. Because my retirement from one-on-one mentoring was on the horizon last fall and I was chomping (or is it "champing," horse people?) to get back to full-time writing, I thought it would be a good idea to take a refresher course.

Who am I kidding? I wanted to see if I have the chops for the general market, having had all of my books published in the Christian world. I know what I'm doing, right? If I'm honest (and I'm really trying to be), I was looking for strokes.

I got some --  "some" being the operative word. Each of us had the opportunity to submit a synopsis of our work in progress as well as a number of pages for critique by each of the four staff people. I valued all of their opinions, yet I was most anxious to have my one-on-one with Don because he has been my mentor (unbeknownst to him!) for 13 years. Our meeting wasn't scheduled until Day 5, and by that time, I had a ton of ideas for revisions to what was then a 400-page manuscript that wasn't even close to being finished. But I decided not to go in there babbling about all of that. I only had 25 minutes, and I wanted to hear everything he had to say.

What was I thinking?

It started off great, actually. He said my 50 pages reminded him of a play by Neil Simon (one of my favorite playwrights). He said it was reminiscent of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," a t.v. show he loves. And then he looked me straight in the eye and said, "And I was completely confused."    I actually laughed right out loud. The man's comic timing is impeccable. Seriously, all week during our lectures I kept thinking that if the New York literary agent thing ever dried up on him, he could totally make it doing stand-up.

Then he got serious. My protagonist, he told me, starts off too weak -- not the way she's written but the way she is. I did that intentionally, but he thought that was a bad choice. In case you haven't picked up on it, Donald Maass is not warm and fuzzy when it comes to giving feedback. Just sayin'. Then he went on to say that the story needs to be bigger. "I want you to think Jodi Piccoult big," he said. "Keep asking yourself, 'so what?' Because right now, that's what I'm asking myself as I read your synopsis."

oh.

Truly, I was still laughing. Not that many people can keep you in stitches at the same time they're tearing you apart. It's a gift.

Mind you, that wasn't all he gave me. He told me the writing was GOOD. He said I had a strong commercial fiction voice, that the reader is in good hands with me. He liked the humor and the surprises and the fact that my protagonist's writing critique group helps her investigate a murder. But do you think THAT is what I took back to my hotel room with me?

If you've answered "yes," I have been fooling you for years. If you answered "no,"  you are right on. I didn't cry. (That might have made me feel better). I didn't throw things around the room and curse him for being an unfeeling cad. (He isn't.) I actually sat down, looked at my stuff and went, "Well du-uh! I KNEW that! Dang it, I KNEW ALL of that. What have I been thinking for 400 freakin' pages?!"

I set everything aside because clearly I was in no shape to start making revisions at that moment, and it was too early for a glass of wine. So I turned to the literature I'm using in recovery from workaholism -- and there it was. Exactly what I needed. The writer said she was constantly being challenged by S.H.A.M.E. Here's the best part:

S.H.A.M.E. = SHOULD HAVE ALREADY MASTERED EVERYTHING

If I laughed out loud in my interview with Don Maass, I absolutely guffawed when I read that. Since no one that I know of has been reading my journals or my mind, this person was voicing what many if not MOST of us believe at some point in our careers: we should have already mastered everything. 

And you know the deeper level of that for me? There are people who think I actually HAVE. That marvelous drawing at the top of the post (by our own GLORIA) is her rendition of me as Gandalf. You know -- the wise one? The one everybody turns to for answers and guidance and uncanny insights? I've always genuinely dismissed that, but when I was sitting there reeling from my mentor's feedback, I realized I had  believed I SHOULD be that person when it came to writing fiction. With Gloria

And I'm so not.

None of us is.

But that's only part of the story. Not long after I got home I was journaling about that rendition of the concept of shame, and I decided I needed to come up with its opposite, its antidote. Here's what came to me:

S.M.A.R.T. = STILL MASTERING ALL THE RIGHT THINGS

It's the -ing that makes all the difference. Still learnING. Still experimentING.  Still stretchING. Still growING as a novelist. And as a person.

Also, do you see the word "should" in there? Yeah, there are no "shoulds" in creativity. Otherwise, we might as well all just bag it right now. And I don't want any of us to give it up. You wouldn't be here if you didn't have talent, a gift, a calling. Nor would you be reading this if you had it all figured out.  You'd be signing your multi-million dollar contract. Although not even the best selling authors have mastered it all, and they would be the first to tell you that.

Now, let me be clear: Don Maass was not trying to shame me. I took care of that all by my sweet self. In fact, his last words to me on Sunday at the end of the intensive were "Think big." So thinking big is that right thing I'm working on mastering.

What about you, writerly women? Will you tell us what you (mistakenly) think you should already have mastered as a writer? And will you also tell us what next right thing you're mastering as we speak? We will help you toss out the "shoulds" and celebrate your "ings" with you. Can't wait to hear.

Blessings,

Nancy Rue

 

   


I'm So Jazzed!

Sarah at GlenHello, my writerly women. I'm planning to post just once a week, but I couldn't resist responding to YOUR responses to our new start. I AM JAZZED! The writing life CAN be isolating, and to allow it to be is dangerous to our creativity -- not to mention our sanity (which is precarious at best anyway, right?) So ...

Welcome SARAH (pictured here!), AMANDA, AMALIE, KATHLEEN, MT, PAM and whoever else visited but didn't comment (which is perfectly fine, but we would love to hear from you, yes?) I can't tell you how glad I am that you're here. I'll post on Tuesday, January 14, but here's a teaser. The topic will be:

S.H.A.M.E.

VS.

S.M.A.R.T.

 

Can't wait!

Blessings, Nancy Rue

 

 


Shall We Begin Again?

With megan at BoniHello, my fellow writerly women. It has been a VERY long time since I've checked in with you, and while I'll fill you in on why that is over the next several weeks (because it shines light on all of us as female authors), for now let's just say it has not been for lack of thinking about you. You've been scurrying around in my thoughts, and I've almost been able to hear the clacking of your keyboards and the whirring of your ideas -- as well as the squeal of your victories and the moans of what feel like setbacks.

And now I'd love to hear all of that for real ...

 The Reader's Digest version: I'm discovering a new rhythm for my life, which has included retiring from one-on-one mentoring (a tough decision, to be sure), focusing on healing and recovery from some challenges, both physical and at a soul level and reviving my own writing. All of it centers around a renewed consciousness of and connection with God in some ways that weren't familiar to me before. An important part of this fresh season's beat will, I hope, be our blog community.

Besides ... I've missed you, so there's that.

What I intend for us to shape here is different from what we were doing before. Okay, yeah, I'm a seasoned writing mentor and teacher and I've written a bunch of books, so now and then I have something to offer that you haven't heard (0r you've just forgotten). But there are SO many writing blogs, it's makes you wonder if everyone on the planet is in some stage of writing a book. Seriously.What could I possibly add? And who has time to keep up with all of them and still, well, write?

What I feel we can do here that's NOT that, could be this:

    * discussions of what we REALLY want to write, what's burning in us ... even if it isn't what "they" are contracting for (Who the Sam Hill are "They" anyway?)

    * ways to FREE our creativity that goes outside writing itself and then brings us back to it

    * developing our OWN Rule of the Writing Life, each of us individually, so that we can tell stories with integrity and authenticity -- and with creative discipline that doesn't feel like a regimen (because it shouldn't)

    * discovering what doesn't work for US, even if it's conventional wisdom for a lot of people

    * a sharing of our frustrations, what we're learning that's letting our work flow  -- and our causes for celebration

Here's the deal with that last one. I'm right where many of you are -- just starting. The many books I wrote in the Christian publishing world notwithstanding, I am a newbie because I've never attempted to write in the general market before. The feedback from the week-long Donald Maass Novel Intensive in September Donald-Maass-1-A
was both encouraging and challenging. (Fellow writer Megan, pictured above, shared that experience -- total blast!). I'm venturing into new soul territory on the page as well. It really does feel like beginning again, and I crave company along the way. 

I would love that company to be you.

So, if you're in, let us know via a comment. And maybe include your writing intention for this year? What challenge are you going to confront? What new waters are you planning to dip a toe into? And maybe most important of all, what are you trying to let go of?

Me? I'm letting go of busyness. Space and margins await! 

Blessings,

Nancy Rue           

    AND BY THE WAY ... THE YOUNG WOMEN WRITERS RETREAT IS STILL ON!!!

IF YOU'RE BETWEEN 18 AND 39, SAVE THE DATES --

APRIL 17-19

GLEN EYRIE RETREAT CENTER

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO 

I'll provide the link as soon as it's available.

Even goofier YWW 2019