Whiteout! Navigating a Storm of Information


Six hours on the highway and what do I remember most about Sunday’s trip? The couple hours making our way through a near whiteout.

Wind drove the snow horizontally at us, at times obliterating the scenery and obscuring the road. We crawled along until, with a swirl, the snow would be whipped thin and we would catch glimpses of the vehicles ahead of us.

As we cautiously descended the mountainous route, weather and road conditions improved until once again things were in focus and we could relax and enjoy the trip.

There are times when I study the writing advice offered by many experienced authors and industry professionals and begin to feel as if I’m in an informational whiteout. With words of good counsel coming at me from every direction it’s sometimes hard to discern the best route.

A cautious and common sense approach applies here, too.

  • Consider the source

Not all self-promoted sources are equally qualified to offer advice. Some information should be taken as opinion based on personal experience… experience that may not be the professional norm. I look to successful authors, agents and editors for recommendations.

  • Balance information with application

We can be blinded by reams of information from books, blogs, speakers and critiquers. Better to alternate research with writing, putting information into practice as we discover what best applies to our writing style.

  • Trust your instincts

As their creator we should know what we want our stories to accomplish. Once we’ve learned the basics of good writing, completed a few novels and shared them with appropriate readers for feedback, it’s time to evaluate suggestions and advice.  Not every recommendation will fit with our purpose. We must learn to depend on the judgment of a trusted editor or agent, but also on our own instincts.

These are my basic guidelines for navigating an overwhelming storm of writing information. What else have you found important?

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A Quote of Note

Found on Jessica Page Morrell‘s blog yesterday:

“Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”

~ Octavia Butler

In my opinion, that’s worth memorizing!

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Doubt and Discouragement

Can there be anyone in the aspiring-writers realm that hasn’t faced doubts and discouragement at some point? I question the honesty (sanity?) of anyone who claims he hasn’t. During the entire journey towards publication those blasted barbs of insecurity stick to us like burrs in a canine coat! I recommend you read Chip MacGregor‘s recent post, Overcoming Doubt — read it and bookmark it so you can return to read it again and again! I applaud his honesty and appreciate knowing that even professionals hit the wall occasionally.

How do you deal with doubts about your writing  abilities and your likelihood of success?

An Individual Approach Despite All the Advice and Non-Advice

It’s true. If you’ve been reading and reeling through the blogosphere you will have discovered that everyone has a different approach to writing. Every rule has an opposite rule, much like the “action and reaction” law*.

How many books and blog posts have you read with sound advice that was opposite to the excellent advice you found somewhere else? Have you discovered any other writer whose process of writing is exactly the same as yours?

Sometimes I forget that God made me as a unique individual. I am a single pebble grinding my way through a pile of gravel on a bumpy road. I look for rules to follow, directions to make my writing journey a success instead of embracing my individuality and trusting the instincts God has given me. For all my attempts to fit into the right mold there are an equal number of reasons why I shouldn’t.

Following a link on agent Janet Reid’s blog I came across a post by Sean Ferrell where he talks about his writing process.  I recognized his method of writing as being as uninhibited as mine. It made me take a deep breath and relax. It made me remember that one path may wander towards its destination while another follows a grid, only turning corners at intersections, but both will let you walk whichever one you choose to take.

I’d like to tell you all the things Sean Ferrell said, but it would be more effective if you just popped over to his blog and read it for yourself.

Me? I’m going to polish off the novel I’ve been revising, and then I’m moving on to the one that’s waiting to be finished… waiting to be told in its own way. Instead of worrying about the right words and how to say them, I’ll “write what I hear in me.” (Yes, those are Sean’s words.) I’ve read and absorbed all the rules to death. Now it’s time to trust myself. I’ve acted. Now it’s time to react.

Does your writing process cinch you into a mold or leave you free to follow the whims of your mind? Does it work for you?

*Newton’s third law:

“Every action has equal reaction in the opposite direction.”


Writing Advice Worth Remembering

Aspiring novelists are always looking for good advice to help guide them on the journey towards publication. I’ve read more books on the craft than I can count, but I’ve seldom read anything quite as succinct and astute as the words of author Richard L. Mabry in his recent interview with Jennifer AlLee.

When asked about the most important piece of advice he could give to a fledgling writer he replied,

“Every day, ask yourself, “Who am I writing this for?” If you’re doing it because you feel God’s leadership in that direction, that’s wonderful. If you’re doing it because you have a message, and the printed word is your pulpit, write on. If you’re doing it because you want to see your name in print, get a copy of the phone book.”

I chuckled and then read on to find just about everything else a writer needs to know neatly summarized in his next paragraph:

“Seriously, if you’re writing for the right reasons, then learn the craft. Attend conferences if you can afford them. Study good books on writing craft. Read the work of excellent writers, so you’ll recognize good writing when you see it. And then write, write, write. Have one book going all the time. Keep querying, so when one book garners nothing but rejections, you’ll have another option ready.”

He ended with a sentence that every Christian writer needs to remember:

“One final thought. God will change people with your writing, even if it only changes one person—because writing will change you.”

This is one savvy writer! He writes “medical suspense with heart” and his first novel, CODE BLUE, has just been released. Do I need to say how much I’m looking forward to reading it?

Just Do It!

As I read various blogs I come across so many comments from people wondering how to do it all – make time in days and nights filled with so much living in order to eek out precious hours for their writing. There are dreams unfulfilled because stories have never made it past the idea stage, or have been started but not finished, or finished but not marketed.

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In last Friday’s interview on the NovelJourney blog, author Kristin Bair O’Keeffe was asked what advice she would give aspiring writers.

Her answer:

“The way I look at it, there are two parts to being a writer:

1) the mystery of discovering and writing stories

2) the business of finding homes for and marketing those stories

Keep the two parts separate. Trust the mystery of your story as you’re writing it. Listen to it. Breathe it in. Breathe it out. See it in your dreams. Carry it on your daily walk to the river. Once you’ve finished a story, believe in it. Then do everything you can to find a home for it.”

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I like how succinct Kristin’s response is. “Keep the two parts separate.” It doesn’t address the challenges we may face, the doubts or lack of time. It assumes serious writers will overcome these and move on to achieve. It has the ring of Nike’s motto, “Just do it”.  It reminds us that excuses don’t produce books, action does, and the choice to write or not write is ours to make.

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No, of course Kristen didn’t actually say any of these things, but that’s what I discovered between the lines. I sensed a no nonsense “just do it” attitude.

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Do you think maybe this is the attitude that separates dreamers from achievers?

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Keep Doin’ It

There’s nothing complicated about finding one’s way onto the road to success. At least, not for NY Times best-selling author Diana Gabaldon. In her interview with Dee-Ann Leblanc on the “Freelance Survivor” website she was asked for her most important piece of advice:

 

          “Keep doin’ it.  Not only do you get better at something, the more you do it—persistence is the single most important aspect of success.”

 

It’s not complicated, but it’s profound in its simplicity and truth. Just “keep doin’ it.”

 

I am, Diana. I am.

Taking Control of the I.E.

Some days the grouch in me can turn me into an unpleasant-to-be-around complainer. It’s those days you hear me muttering at the computer screen as if the words therein are animate: “What’s the matter with you? Can’t you see that isn’t what I intended to say at all? Get it right, for Pete’s sake!” The words never answer back. They just sit there and leer at me.

 

On her new Blog, “ElderFox” talks about the creative “entities” that invade a writer’s mind. (I hope she’s going to tell us more about hers!) When the wrong ones gain control and squelch our dreams, we don’t achieve our goals. In fact, a little of our writing spirit is destroyed every time they even knock at the mind’s door. Among such beings is every writer’s voice of doom, the I.E., or Internal Editor—the nagging voice that constantly reminds us we don’t know how to write, everything we’ve written so far is garbage, and the project is destined to be a failure.

 

So what do we do about it? Most aspiring authors recognize that we all suffer from a form of split personality, where our minds are full of developing characters anxious to take on a life of their own. We welcome them as an important part of our story planning. It is the negative voices, the procrastinating urges, the don’t-write-until-the-concept-is-perfect impulses that we have to recognize and snuff out… whap them smartly with a wet blanket until no embers remain.

 

Otherwise the tendency will be to hesitate, to falter, to be discouraged. Then our writing ceases and we blame it on Writer’s Block. We wait it out, hoping Ms. Muse will miraculously return to our office but it rarely happens, or at least not as quickly as we wish.

 

IMHO, there’s no half measure. Either we take control or we lose it, perhaps to one of those unworthy entities. And truly, I don’t want one of them authoring my book!

Hawking Advice on the Internet

There is a house in our neighbourhood being remodeled. No, in truth it’s being rebuilt. It’s getting a major addition, new wiring, new windows, new roof. A prominent sign announces the contractor – an indication that it isn’t a do-it-yourself project.

 

I pass the house frequently and observe its progress. Yesterday I noticed the roofing materials are not being applied in the usual manner and a peculiar shingle patch covers an unconventional wiring connection.  It makes me wonder about the knowledge and competency of the contractor. After all, a professionally painted sign does not guarantee a contractor’s credentials.

 

My thoughts wandered (as they too often do) and compared having faith in a contractor as an analogy to trusting the Internet. It has been touted as the modern day source of all information. The naïve may assume everything posted online is correct without realizing anyone lacking credentials and knowledge can publish an opinion. (Eek, is that what I’m doing?) Blogging offers every would-be expert a place to set up a soapbox. (Mmm, and I guess I’ve just climbed onto mine.)

 

So when it comes to the subject of writing how do I sort through the barrage of advice in cyberspace? How do I know what’s reliable?

 

My approach is similar to how I would select a home building contractor. It’s not a matter of Googling my way through a directory and settling on a site because its creator urges, “Use me. I’m an expert.” I get references and recommendations from more experienced writers.  Even then, I know that accepting every offering without question can leave me holding a few wooden nickels. I don’t blindly follow every suggestion, but continue comparing and examining to determine what’s right for me, because I know not everything will be.

 

The stories we write are as individual as the homes in which we live. When customizing the contents I want my help to come from capable, credible sources. It doesn’t hurt to be skeptical of hawkers.