Writing your story: Trust the Process

Recently hubby and I traveled 40 miles west of the city to a farm that specializes in producing grass-fed beef. We checked the website and perused bright colorful pictures of animals grazing green pastures and we were ready to roll.

I remember the farm as a kid; I visited one in elementary school; the horses ate from our palms and the sheep bleeped rhythmically in the background.  And I’ve seen farms on television—peaceful, beautiful.

 

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Miles into our little road trip civilization gave way to lonely roads and stretches of open fields with a home here and there. Finally, we gazed upon a worn sign announcing the name of the farm. Ah…we weren’t lost. We turned down the one-lane dirt road. On both sides of us there was climbing brush and hillsides—not a house a car or the sound of anything from the industrialized world indicating we were nearing one of those cool farms from elementary school. Nothing. But the sign indicated that we were on the right road. Onward and upward.

When we type the words, “The End” after a long stretch of toiling over our masterpiece we feel ready to take on the world.  We imagine grueling negotiations with our agent, lucrative publishing deals and an awaiting public. It’s a one-of-a-kind tale and soon the whole world will know it. But the reality is the process can be long and trying and often there are more ebbs than flows and that is even before we get a deal at all.

Yes, there is so much joy in that great feat—finishing the story because many never do. But you did. And as you seek to get your story out into the world know that each grueling step is part of the process. Take the time to develop the perfect query letter. Research agents or publishing houses to make sure you find a good fit. If you are self-publishing ensure you are a part of a deal that you feel comfortable with. Those are the right things to do. Take your time and trust the process no matter how tedious it may seem.

There is no magic in getting published. It requires putting in the work—sometime reworking or tweaking the story or revising your query or attending some writers’ workshops or conferences to understand the industry. These things are all a part of the process.

As we traveled the road that afternoon, my visions of what a farm should be diminished and were replaced by real farm life. Not the ones made a certain way for the public consumption of 8-year-olds but a real farm where the cows meet you at the gate and  the hills rise high into the sunset and the farmhouse is worn and well lived in. But it is a true farm. And although the road appeared destitute and deserted at the end was exactly what we were looking for. All we needed to do was keep driving. And by the way—the meat was delicious.

Keep at it. The process is tried and proven.  And the end result is amazing.

 

You Can Write it: All things are Possible

My hubby got me a bike for my birthday. I was thrilled because now I could actually make exercising fun. Also, he’d recently gotten one and now we could ride together.  The thing is Tennessee is hilly (now I know where they get the term hillbilly). You don’t think about it so much until you are walking it—or riding it. There are so many inclines in our subdivision trying to divert them is like trying to ride between rain drops.

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When he and I started out on our first ride I was a little apprehensive and purposely avoided some streets because the inclines were much too steep. But after riding a while they all became steep and finally I came to the foot of a hill I knew would bring my ultimate demise.

I am not a chicken or faint at heart by any means but I looked at that hill and turned back to hubby and announced, “I can’t do it. I’m pushing the bike up the hill. I’ll meet you at the top.”

He smiled and calmly said, “You can do it.”

“No. I can’t. And I’m not going to try.”

Was he kidding?

“Nope. There’s no way.”

“You can do it.” He said.  “Take your time. Just take your time.”

Take my time? That’s not the way I’d done it in the past. I’d always gunned it. Maybe that’s why my legs felt like Jello when I got to the top. But aren’t you supposed to feel that way after a great feat? Completely spent?

I’ve always been an all or nothing kind of girl. Sometimes that has worked for me and sometimes not. Creating unrealistic expectations will leave you frazzled and beyond exhaustion and dreading what should be a somewhat pleasant experience. Obstacles in any situation where there is great accomplishment is assured; but should satisfaction only come at the end? No. The experience itself adds to the satisfaction of the end result. As we are tackling that novel or short story or biography we can make the journey pleasant but we can only do so when we take our time to embrace the worth of it. Go at a pace which will allow you to observe and learn and grow and stretch. This is the worth. Too many valuable life lessons get lost on the journey.

When hubby said, take your time it triggered something in me. I suddenly had faith in his method. He’d taken this ride before. He knew the way. So I looked at the hill and slowly ascended. I could feel the pull and stretching of my legs. I steadied my breathing. Several times I looked up at the hill and decided he was wrong; I was not going to make it.

And then another revelation came to me—don’t look at the top, you are focused on how far you have to go. So I concentrated my efforts on the road in front of me and suddenly the obstacle, the impossibility was only in my mind. But the more I focused on the immediacy of the road directly in front of me (and I could not deny that I was moving forward)  that impossibility left too. Why? Because I was doing it and my mind couldn’t argue with that fact that I was actually moving forward.

When I finally looked up again I was halfway up the steep and now it was just a matter of seeing it through. My results had silenced the voices.

As you move through your story, the voices of inadequacy, failure and confusion will be silenced. They cannot argue with the words you have written. You are doing it.

And then new voices will emerge telling you that what you have written is crap. They will mock that you are not a writer! But you will silence them too reminding them of what you have already accomplished. What you have done will be a testament to what you can do. And you will do it and no one will be able to argue the results.

 

Creating the unlikeable character

“I write because the world is an imperfect place, and we behave in an imperfect manner. I want to understand why it’s so hard to be good, honest, loving, caring, thoughtful and generous. Writing is about the only way (besides praying) that allows me to be compassionate toward folks who, in real life, I’m probably not that sympathetic toward. I want to understand myself and others better, so what better way than to pretend to be them?” Terry McMillan

Terry McMillan says she writes to find out why people do what they do. Why do they behave the way that they do. And this means getting into the heart and soul of people we don’t like, people we avoid. Most of us see others as one dimensional; they are either bad or good; they either have good motives or bad ones. I disagree. Good people can make bad choices on a given day. We are complex individuals who move and think and act and react based on our hearts. Sometimes our hearts our pure and we move towards good, other times we are selfish, self-serving; even bitter or angry. The complexity of our makeup causes it to be impossible to say we are good or bad.

Even within the confines of a story characters are often the nemesis to one character and the best thing to happen to another. When we develop characters that are all good or all bad our stories tend to become stale, stagnant and predictable. One thing I like about McMillan’s stories as that she has mastered the art of creating those types of characters that I would call misunderstood. To understand why a mother would abandon her children does not mean that you will like her once you know the reason; it just means her story is not as simple as it seems. And that is all. No judgment. It is just the way it is.

We all have motives and corresponding actions, hang-ups and childhood issues, fears and doubts that we express in a number of ways. To understand them and even feel a sense of compassion doesn’t mean that we will embrace them but only that we will not jimmy them into stereotypes. They will not be forgettable, carbon copies of like characters from other stories.

I try to create believable characters—describe people at their worst and then seek to understand why they can’t be their best. Sometimes you won’t completely get them until you see their development over time. And sometimes you will never get them. Our personalities and makeup often make embracing us all unrealistic. But it does broaden your perspective and give you a better understanding of the world in which you live.

When developing your characters try to seek motive or understanding for their makeup. Don’t be afraid to shine an unfavorable light.  And we may never fall in love with them, but we certainly won’t forget them.

I will get there: silencing the voices within

I will get there: silencing the voices within

So I’m winding down for the evening preparing myself for bed and I’m reflecting on my day. I’m a task-oriented person. I tally up what I’ve accomplished for the day and decide whether or not the past 24 hours have been successful. I began my morning in prayer asking God to give me strength for this, help me to be better at that. This particular day I asked for control over my mouth. Teach me Oh Lord how to keep the peace and say only what needs to be said. And Lord, give me patience with my children to give them the attention they need.

I remember this prayer as I’m making the kid’s lunches for the following day.

It is well after 10 at night there’s not much else to be done. It is then I remember the argument I had in the car with Wil; the one I was never gonna have again. He’s packed on the pounds since we’ve moved to the south. For lunch that afternoon he pulled into a McDonald’s and ordered the biggest, juiciest burger they sell—and a side of fries. I sat quietly for a moment remembering my humble prayer; right before I go into a rant about how huge he has become and a treadmill wouldn’t exactly hurt him. He blows me off but I won’t stop because I figured at that point I might as well empty myself. I sigh. Well, I can remove that from my list of things accomplished.

And then as I’m placing lunches in the fridge, I remember my prayer for patience with the kids. In my mind I fast forward to just after school. We were riding home and Jillian goes into a long-winded story about some kid that was being nasty to her. Midway through I’m thinking about what to cook for dinner and how long could this story possibly go on? Ugh. Mommy, you aren’t even listening to me, she asked. I tell her I am. But of course I have no solution to her problem because I only heard half of the story. I roll my eyes up to the ceiling. Geez, that was a bust too.

I go on, checking some things off the list as accomplished, but most others were not. Sometimes it feels like my life is more ebb than flow. Thursday night I’m in bible study and instead of getting into praise and worship I am once again analyzing my failures and weaknesses. I hate this. But I hear His voice say, I will get there. It’s then I realize that we are often harder on ourselves than he could ever be on us. We have lists and rules and so many absolutes we can’t even keep up. But His grace is sufficient. Every day I pray for this or that not realizing that every day he gives me grace to accomplish those things. But I’m not suddenly cured from being impatient or short or unkind. There’s no instant relief or quick fix. Grace is connected with action. As we move and strive he gives us grace, or favor and spiritual strength to do what we need to do. We don’t always feel it. It is not through will power or crossing our fingers. His grace is there. We just need to walk in it by faith. Yes, I am moving in an upwardly direction. In time…I will get there.

My daughter walks into the kitchen later that evening after bible study and asks me about the meaning of Easter. It is late. She needs to be in bed. I am tired. I sit her down at the kitchen island and explain it to her…from the beginning. I am getting there.

Live on Purpose

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