An agent, publisher, myself, my reader? The general masses or a specific few? Maybe we write for profit, maybe we write for fun, or perhaps to heal by telling our story. Yet again.
It could be, the telling encourages others, or lifts our spirits and soothes our souls. It may challenge, instruct, or offer experiential advice. Sometimes, it simply entertains.
It’s a dilemma for most writers.
We long to write. Stories or non-fiction pours out of our brains and into our fingers through our keyboard and onto the page. Creativity expressed without much initial thought as to whether I’m writing for a niche or my Aunt Matilda’s reading group.
But what do we do when people, agents, publishers start telling us what to write? I’m not talking about writing advice, I’m talking about career advice and life direction. I’ve been struggling with this question.
I’m not sure what the average reader wants.
Thousands of authors turn out new works every day. There are more Amish books out there right now than I can ever imagine reading, yet I’ve read my share. My reading habits are varied and not the same as anyone else. I’m currently reading Sherry Kyle (romance), John Grisham(legal thrillers), a book about Rabbi Jesus (Lois Tverberg) and books for my eighth graders literature/history classes. And, my Bible.
This is my conclusion.
Maybe what readers need is a better point. And I don’t know that either. But God knows. He knows who will be inspired, touched, challenged, entertained or advised through whatever I write. So I’ve decided to write whatever God gives me to write at any given time. Sometimes it’s just plain fun. Most of the time it blows me away. Always, I’m amazed at how it seems to help someone in some way.
So I guess only God knows what a reader wants or needs. If I write for him, he’ll make it be for others. He’ll put it into the right hands at the right time.
And it seemed to take longer than usual to shake it off. By January, I had been sick two more times and still felt under the weather. An unexplained rash began taking over my body with painful itching. At first, I didn’t make any connections. Stress governed my life due to family pressures, a beloved friend losing her baby, my grandmother passing and my push to sell myself to an agent. I assumed sleep would take care of my health issues. That is, if I could get any.
During the Mt Hermon Writers Conference, I silently itched and couldn’t sleep for the pain. But, after meeting with an agent who had some great ideas for me, I put my goals in place and plowed into my writing and marketing plans. Within a couple of weeks, the rash on my fingers had turned into painful, oozing blisters. My hand was so swollen I couldn’t type. Complete exhaustion prevented me from speaking a cohesive sentence let alone putting one in a book.
It was difficult to drag myself out of bed at all.
After numerous tests, the bottom line is a depressed immune and adrenal system – the result of a variety of issues. One of which is the driven, non-resting me that ties my worth to my productivity as a person, wife, mother, educator and writer. In the furthest recesses of my heart, what I do and how I perform dictate my value. Oh, my head knows this isn’t true. Jesus loves me based on who I am, not what I do or don’t do. A recent read of Embracing Grace by Daniel Brown, PhD, reminded me that God’s love is unconditional and complete. But sometimes my broken places scream otherwise. Especially when my defenses are down because of external or physical stress.
Here are a few things God’s been showing me:
As I admired the amazing diversity of God’s creation on a recent trip to Florida, I was struck by a whisper of God to my heart. “Just as my creation praises me by being what I created it to be, so are you my creation and praise me by your existence. I delight in you simply because you are.” Wow! Really? Still wrapping my mind around that one.
Rest is more spiritual than physical. Yes, I need to get enough sleep. But on my vacation, during which I basically slept or lounged all day, every day, the Lord showed me that my soul wasn’t at rest which was just as exhausting as not sleeping enough. I’m trying to grasp that I can be still because God is God and has everything under control. He says “I have everything you need. Relax. I’ve got your back.” I am finding peace by spending time each day in his presence—simply sitting and listening for his voice. I’ve read Psalm 23 about 100 times. Really.
I need to listen to what God says. Not agents or bloggers or other authors (no offense to all you wonderful, wise writers out there). I was crazily trying to learn everything and do it all even as it shifted from week to week. Knowledge is helpful. God tells us to “get knowledge.” But God will lead my steps. His direction may or may not fit with the “101 Steps to Getting Published.” Therefore, I need to be selective with what I read (I do not have time or energy for all of it, even if it’s good advice), and I need to submit it to God to see if it fits with his plans for me. He’s the one who can make his good plans for me happen. I got off track. It’s easy to do.
Reacting to others or circumstances rather than seeking God first sends me into emotional overload and gives the enemy a place to attack. Instead, whenever I start freaking out inside, I’ve been trying to ask God, “What do you say about that?” Sometimes it takes some sorting out the truth from the lies that swirl through my mind. Today my husband reminded me that whenever the thought I hear accuses or belittles me, it isn’t my thoughts or God’s about me. Satan hates me and wants me to hate myself. He is the one who tells me lies.
I’ve been learning so many great things. And while I’d rather have God heal me miraculously, I believe this has been the better way. Of course, God knew that.
And now I need to get to bed 🙂
Perhaps you can relate to feeling overwhelmed or exhausted because of an urgent driven place inside. Would you be willing to share your experiences?
Or, an attempt to encapsulate infinite amounts of wisdom in less than 800 words.
Mc Nair Wilson, our keynote speaker, inspired us as creative people to:
Be yourself. What do you do best? Who are you, really?
Take risks. Just start something. Everyone fails. You have before, you will again. Don’t fear it.
Challenge assumptions. God expects us to live in more abundance.
Stay Curious. Do what people think can’t be done. God’s name is I AM and He is holding you.
See differently. Write a story no one has written before. Do. You.
Be confident. God’s on your side.
Tell the why. Pay more attention to life.
Remember that Jesus showed us humor, humility and humanity.
About editors and agents.
Practice talking about your manuscript. Agents and editors expect you to be nervous so don’t fear them. Know your story well. Be prepared to answer their inquiries and be willing to ask them questions too. If an agent or editor has to tell you no, it isn’t personal, it’s about the right editor at the right publishing house at the right time. Don’t give up!
About the craft of writing.
The four D’s:
Desire sets our protagonist on a particular path that pulls the reader through the book.
Distancing happens with each conflict that knocks her off the path.
Denial is the point when it seems that our character will never attain her desire.
Devastation goes beyond denial, pushing our character back to the beginning.
A boring or confusing story is actually a symptom of a writer not having a concrete desire with high stakes for each of his main characters. We can approach our story with this simple formula:
Protagonist wants (action words – verb) so that (specific result or outcome).
For me, it’s actually much harder than it seems. Being specific propels the character through the story, but that same specificity feels elusive to pin down. I’m still working on it.
Use restraint and control with our words. (Rein ‘em in boys!)
Our sentence structure needs to keep the tension taut like a rubber band during our story. Too many words weigh our story down and alleviate the tension. We may lose our reader. Make it easy for our reader to remain engaged. Anything that stops the action (or forward momentum) is a reason for our reader to stop reading.
Use sentence rhythm. (Who knew?)
Our sentence rhythm needs to match the beat of the action in the scene. The sentences should reflect what is going on in our character. High action or nervous tension? Use short sentences. Complex sentences make the reader wait to get to the action. Don’t make your reader wait. There is a fine line between suspense that engages the reader and frustrating our reader by not giving enough detail. Each sentence should answer a question and raise another one.
Show, don’t tell. (We’ve heard this before, right?)
We want our reader to feel the scene not just read about it. Use all five senses and chose your words and their placement for the greatest impact. Split up descriptions and place them strategically to show without stopping the action. Add emotion by showing it in the dialogue and action of the characters without explaining or naming it.
And finally, about characters.
Point of View
Pretend there is a camera attached to the side of your POV character’s head. He can’t see himself (don’t cheat with a mirror), only what he would be looking at or thinking. Limit your point of view changes to new scenes. You personalize your characters by the way they perceive a setting or scene.
Knowing your characters intimately will help you create real dialogue that shows who they are without tags. Try taking out all the speaker attributes and see if you can tell who is speaking. Use action wherever possible and only add in “he/she said” when necessary to avoid confusion. Long, uninterrupted speeches aren’t natural. (Okay, maybe only for me …just ask my husband). Keep it short.
One parting note…
My mentoring group teacher, Brandilyn Collins pointed out to us that when we evaluate our own writing, we judge it based upon the same level of craftsmanship with which we wrote it. Therefore, find a more experienced critique partner (or professional editor) to help you discover the deeper issues you may be missing in your writing.
Phew. I made it. Only 760 words. And that was only the first day. (Just kidding)