Hey, Writerly Women. I promised -- or maybe I should say "threatened!" -- to guide us through the making of our second list: what are the areas of writing that challenge you most? Some of us had a tough time with the first list -- 10 Areas of Strength in Your Writing -- and I get the sense some of us are chomping at the proverbial bit to beat ourselves up. "Only five items?" you say. "But I could go on for pages!"
I'm not gonna let you wallow, ladies. As the Baroness of Beating Myself Up, I know whereof I speak: getting too far down that road is discouraging and defeating and leads to despair.
And there's enough of that going on, for very real reasons. Let's take a look at what Pam shared with us in a comment:
"Just yesterday, I said out loud what I've been wondering for a few years now - is it time for me to stop writing? It's not that I believe I'm a bad writer, but with all the self publishing and all the pulling back of traditional houses accepting what I write, the market is so glutted and people don't want to pay more than a couple of dollars for the novel that took me 12 years to write (which included many hours of angst and tears and paying $$ for writing getaways and all the rest) and no marketing help and telling us we have to do all the social media, etc ... it all just makes me want to cry. And yet, I have IDEAS. Good ones! And when I stop writing to do other things, after a while I feel "off" and have to sit down at the computer and pull up a manuscript. Sigh. My therapist asked me yesterday - what would it look like if I stopped writing? I really don't know."
Natasha echoed that: "Pam- I GET IT. It is soooooooo exhausting, the act of pouring yourself out there for what often feels like so little return. I constantly think of the "pearls before swine" saying, although I don't actually think the people not enjoying my work are swine. I hate feeling crushed after another rejection, or staring at my screen and wondering why it is I'm working on possibly another dead-end book when I could be writing an essay or heck, watching Netflix with my fam- I don't think I could just not write. And how much sanity does it bring me?"
Natasha and Pam are not alone. I hear this ALL the time -- sometimes even in my own head. I wish I had a perfect answer for you. I don't, but I do have some things to share that I hope will help. I'll start with a question asked by Yogiraj Achala, the author of Pigs Eat Wolves (the title alone makes you want to order it immediately, doesn't it?):
"What are you not seeing because you are seeing what you are seeing?"
As we wrestle with the kinds of dilemmas we're talking about here, what are we seeing?
* We're seeing an industry that is a hot mess right now, especially in Christian publishing. Even individual publishers I respect have told me they're struggling as much as we are.
* We're seeing authors all OVER social media, posting and tweeting and Instagramming about their books, and we become nauseated at the very thought of doing that.
* Unfortunately we're also seeing the discouragement turn to jealousy and anger. One gifted writer emailed me just last week and said, "I have seen so many hurtful comments on FB within the Christian writers’ industry. I know there is only one God, but I question whether some us can be connected to the same God and believe so differently. Oh, and the meanness. Not necessarily toward me, but toward each other. I’ve had to step up on my praying and faith walk."
With all that yuck smearing our lenses it's impossible to see what's actually true. Where the hope is. Where the path lies. So what do we do when our lenses are clouded? We clean them. And if that doesn't do the job, we get new ones. Only then can we start seeing what we weren't able to before.
I don't know what that might look like for you, but here's what my vision tells me:
* Something's gotta give with this industry soon. Otherwise it's going to die. That tells me two things.
(1) We have to be ready with the best work we're capable of when the shift happens. I came in on the ground floor of the Christian fiction movement when I was in my late 30's, early 40's. Nobody was yet publishing the almost-edgy stuff I was writing, but they were ready for it. And so was I. Ten years earlier, it probably wouldn't have happened.
(2) We have to be willing to rebuild it if it does wither on the vine completely. Some of the indie publishers are doing that already. We can be part of the creation of a new market, a new approach. The work you've submitted here makes that very clear. You are truth-tellers -- word-weavers -- image-makers. It's up to us, and we have the creative gifts for that. Why do you think I've revived this blog to bring us all together? So we can figure that out.
* You know how they say, "Haters gotta hate?" I don't believe that, but I do believe that writers gotta write. Pam talks about "feeling off" when she doesn't write. Natasha intimates that it provides her with sanity. As for me -- it just won't leave me alone. It's like a nagging child: the only way to shut that kid up is to pay attention to her.
* This writing that we're doing is essential to our inner journeys toward oneness with God. Notice what my email friend says: "I've had to step up on my praying and faith walk." That is in response to the discouragement and meanness she's seeing from Christian writers on Facebook. She goes on to say: "We never arrive spiritually, but God has shown me some areas in need of growth that I thought I'd already conquered. I guess sometimes we walk, fall and then get back up running." Only sometimes? I too have a very long way still to travel, but I am the God-loving person I am now because of all the writing I've done, all the ways I've had to find to express truths through story.
* If you have a gift -- and every one of you does -- and you feel a call or a nudge or a conviction -- which I'm sure you do -- I believe we have an obligation to God to use it. We can't spend our time trying to determine what the fruits of our labors are likely to be. Doctors don't say, I'm not going to treat this patient because she might die anyway. Lawyers don't say, I know for a fact this guy is innocent, but I'm not going to defend him because I might lose. New mothers don't say, This world being what it is, this baby might grow up to be a shoplifter or a topless dancer. I'm taking her back to the hospital...
So why the Sam Hill are we saying, This might not get published. I might not find an agent. I might not sell many copies. I'm going to be embarrassed if this comes to nothing. I should take a job as an accountant, which I know I'll hate, because at least I'll make some money, which I will very likely never do as a writer.
TRUE CONFESSION: I have written a bunch of books and they've been published and many were really successful. But I haven't had a new book published since 2015. So, yes, when I'm tired or I think I'm looking a lot older than I did yesterday, I wonder, Am I done? Do I actually have a place in the general market? Should I just quit and rest on my laurels so I don't look like a pathetic has-been? And then I recall the 80 year old woman at the Donald Maass Intensive last year who keeps cranking out books that she's self-publishing because it's, as she put it, "a gas!"I don't know what her religious beliefs were, if any, but she was doing the God-thing.
How can we do less?
This may seem like an odd way to start, but here's the challenge:
1. Make a list of ONLY FIVE areas of your writing where you feel challenged.
2. Get yourself a cup of cocoa or green tea or whatever (I highly recommend matcha, for which you need an official dadgum bowl ... but I digress) and sip while you look at your list, as if it were written by a professional writer who does not give up on the constant improvement of her craft. No matter what the fruits may -- or may not -- be.
3. Share that list, either in a comment or via email to me: email@example.com.
1. I always write longer and wordier than the appropriate word count. It never fails: I get to about Chapter 7 and think, "This thing is going on forever!"
2. I really have to work at expressing emotions through a character that I shy away from myself -- like anger, grief and despair.
3. Describing geography and nature is a HUGE challenge for me. What the heck is a glen, a meadow, a ridge?
4. I second-guess myself about how much body language in dialogue is the right amount.
5. I have to be super vigilant about not creating every protagonist to sound like me. There's my writing voice, and then there are their individual voices.
Promise me that you will remember as you craft your list that you are doing this to move yourself closer and closer to the writer you want to be. As one of my yoga mentors, Chase Bossart, says, "Set your intention., and what is important will be established in your life." I think Jesus would totally agree.