An Inspirational Break, With Some Baggage Problems

There’s nothing like getting away to refill your creative juices.

CaymanMy husband and I went to the Cayman Islands for Christmas, visiting family and old friends. We also managed to sneak in plenty of time at the beach. Bright sun, white sand, clear sea. Sitting there, watching the sunset, the surf grabbing my toes… It made me want to write a book.

Everyone’s creativity needs a break now and then. There’s only so many times we can pull out our best work before we need to replenish it. It doesn’t have to be a holiday on a tropical island, although who’d say no to that kind of break? A day trip to the zoo, a drive in the country, a walk around old buildings, even a walk around a nice park or neighborhood can perk up our creativity.

Next time you feel your story waning, get away for an hour, a day or a week. Let the wonderful views of our world rejuvenate you. According to the United Airlines magazine I read on our plane ride back, a study found that seeing awe-inspiring views can even make you happier, more generous and potentially live longer. I would have been fine with increased creativity, but happiness is a bonus.

Speaking of United Airlines, if you do decide to get away for your inspirational break, I recommend not flying this airline. The stress could dampen your creative spirit. A model of efficiency, United delayed two of our four flights (two each round trip) because of mechanical problems and lost our bag both going to Cayman and on the way back. Yep. That’s right. Both ways.

It’s actually impressive how terrible United Airlines is. Thank God, we got our bag on the next United flight to Cayman at the beginning of the vacation, which meant we had the Christmas gifts we had bought for our friends and family, even if we did have to wear the same clothes two days in a row. For our return trip, however, it’s not looking so good. Last night, we picked up our bag in Houston for Customs and dropped it off for the connecting flight. Even though the connecting flight was delayed for an hour and a half, United still didn’t get our bag on our plane. And the airline didn’t even have a record of it being in Houston even though we picked it up.


So steer clear of United for a stress-free creative time.

P.S. As I was reaching for the Publish button, I got an email saying our bag has been found and will be delivered. Thank you God!


The Voice for Writers?

I’m not big on reality TV shows, especially ones where contestants are mean to each other to get others voted off, but on the recommendation of a friend, my husband and I have tried The Voice and I must admit, we’re hooked.

As great as the performances are — and seriously, there are some great singers on this show — it’s the concept that has us so excited to watch. The enthusiasm of the coaches — Christine Aguilera, Ceelo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton — is almost as addictive as the stories of triumph of the contestants. And together, they make for tear-jerking fun.

All artists, whether singing, acting, painting or writing, have a voice in them telling them they’re not good enough. Why do you think so many turn to alcohol to drown it out! Doubt paralyses many artists, stopping them from pursuing their dreams. And for those who do, it’s a hard road to battle back self-doubt so they can perfect their craft.

Having someone else believe in you and be excited to help you, like the coaches on The Voice do, that’s priceless. That support can make a huge difference for someone, like Trevin Hunte who was told by a teacher that he’d never make it in music. Seeing Ceelo believe in Trevin and Trevin stand a little taller because of it is why I keep watching The Voice.

For writers, it’s the same. We work in isolation — just us, a head full of characters and a computer (or pen and paper if you’re old school). Doubts are a constant companion for all writers, even the most successful. In an interview, Sue Grafton once said that when she wrote A is for Alibi, she didn’t think it would be successful enough for a second book, and with each novel since, that same fear — that this one would be the last — crept into her head. Her V is for Vengeance was published last year!

What writers need, like all artists, are champions who believe in them, support them when times are tough and push them forward when they think about quitting. Champions like the coaches on The Voice.

So, could we have a version of The Voice for writers? A bunch of on-the-verge-of-being-published novelists reading their work to four agents who slap their buttons, lighting up the coveted “I Want You” sign. How great would that be?

I don’t know how well it would play on TV. But it would be awesome to have people saying “I Want You.” It’s a long road for many writers before they sign with an agent and/or get a publishing contract. Until we have that kind of support, we can be champions for each other. We can slap “I Want You” buttons for our fellow writers, believing in them and pushing them forward.

I’m blessed to part of an amazing writing community in Austin, Texas, as well as a member of the wonderful Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. When doubts invade my mind, and that happens too often, I have people to turn to, family, a fabulous husband and great writer friends. Find those people for yourself and be that person for others. Be someone’s champion every day.

Go Beyond Your Writing Comfort Zone

Tanya Streeter

Tanya Streeter

A friend of mine posted a link to her TEDx talk yesterday and even though she didn’t mention writing once, I kept thinking about me and my work as I listened to her. Tanya Streeter is a freediver — a world record breaking one at that — and her talk was about the obstacles she had to overcome to break that record.

Tanya’s dive didn’t start with the perfect conditions. A few bad breaths prior to diving, and Tanya found herself at 500-plus feet below the surface disoriented and in trouble. As she tells it, she was out of her comfort zone. This was territory she hadn’t faced before. But when you’re a freediver, unknown territory 500-plus feet below the surface is a very dangerous thing.

A thought pushed into Tanya’s head, a strong one, that if she didn’t make it back up, everyone she loved would be sad. Needless to say, she made it back up.

In her talk, which I’ve embedded below, Tanya goes on to give other examples of times that she has found herself out of her comfort zone — above and below the sea’s surface — and had to take a deep breath and push through. I’ll let you listen to her for more.

But for writers, there’s a lesson here. Sure, if we don’t get our word count in on any given day we’re not likely to drown. But going out of our comfort zone is something we all deal with — or should be — in our writing.

Writing is personal, so very personal, and to make the most of the stories we tell, we need to put our heart and soul in them. For private people, which many writers are, that can be very difficult. But if we don’t do it, we’re cheating our story, stopping it from becoming what it could be.

Delving deep into our emotions, putting our characters into the most uncomfortable situations, making them bare the feelings that we like to lock away is daunting. But as writers, that’s what we have to do.

Paul Gallico, author of The Poseidon Adventure, said, “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.” Sportswriter Red Smith was similarly quoted as saying, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Opening our veins and bleeding is definitely beyond anyone’s comfort zone. But when we go beyond our comfort zone, that’s when we create our best work.

And, although — unlike with Tanya’s freediving — it won’t kill us, it will make us stronger writers.

Next time you feel like you’re holding back with your writing, hesitating to go as far as the words are wanting you to go, think of Tanya Streeter, take a deep breath and go for it.

Here’s the video of Tanya’s talk. It’s about 16 mins and worth your time. As well as her inspirational content, Tanya talks about something close to her heart, the dangers of plastic pollution in the oceans.

Fear and keeping your head

My husband and I were talking about fear the other day and he mentioned the saying that’s painted over the player’s entrance to centre court at Wimbledon: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same…” It’s a small section of poet Rudyard Kipling‘s poem If, and it reminded me of the ups and downs writers face every day.

If you don’t know If, you can find it at, and it’s worth reading. A lot of lines fit what we go through:

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you / But make allowance for their doubting too

We get lots of opinions about our writing, from critique groups, family members, friends (you know, when they inwardly roll their eyes when you say you’re working on another novel), agents, editors, etc., and it can be hard to digest. Even from those people we trust, we sometimes get conflicting ideas. But as writers, our loyalty has to be to our writing. Our job is to take in all the approvals and criticisms, process them and use only what we feel will help our work get to a new level. We have to take all the doubts and push them aside, fully believing in ourselves and our work, while also recognizing that we can always learn more.

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master

If we didn’t have the dream of being published, we probably would never show our writing to anyone. Dreaming is a big part of writing, not only for our creativity but also to power our drive, but the challenge is to not get so caught up in our dream that we don’t enjoy our lives. Writing requires a lot of waiting, and in that time, we must live — and write even more.

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew / To serve your turn long after they are gone / And so hold on when there is nothing in you / Except the Will which says to them “Hold on”

I’ve read about and talked to a lot of writers who’ve had moments when they’ve thought about quitting, not wanting to face any more disappointment, but if they didn’t, they would miss out on the best part of writing: the creation — not to mention the book signings when their book is finally in print.

If we can do all that and more, as Kipling says:

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it / And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

(Or woman!)

So writers, fear will always be with us, we  just have to keep our heads.

Write On!

Some great inspirational links

Between my DVD and Blu-ray website,; my books; and moving, I feel like I’m just trying to keep my head above water. So, a couple articles I read today as I was doing research really caught my eye. They’re geared toward bloggers and those trying to make money online, but their message works equally well for writers trying to get their work published and pushing through the self-doubts.

The first is How To Remain Productive When You Feel Like Giving Up. Self-doubt is a normal thing that every writer has to battle, even if they’re published but especially when they’re just starting out. It’s hard to sit at that computer and type and type without knowing if your work will have any success at all. The majority of people who start writing a book never finish it, and those who do often don’t do the work necessary to get it in a good enough shape for publication. And then there’s the querying agents process… Rejection is part of a writer’s life, and it can be hard to keep going, but this article has some great tips.

The second article, from the same site, is titled: If You Want Success Today, Let Yesterday Go and Stop Seeking Tomorrow. The article is long — and I must admit, I skimmed it — but the title itself is what I thought was great advice. I tend to look back and look forward way too much for my own good, but it does nothing except build my anxiety. And the truth is, I can’t do anything about yesterday or tomorrow. All I can work on is right now. And in this moment, I can work on one thing. So I need to choose that thing, then work on it to the best of my ability, not worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow or what I missed yesterday. If I do my best right now, if I succeed today, then tomorrow will be sorted out by itself.

The third inspirational blog post I found today is for writers. Author Bobbi Miller has a great interview with fellow author Kathi Appelt. Kathi offers up a bunch of good stuff (her answer about the “American fantasy” genre is very interesting), but the most inspirational part is at the bottom when she talks about advice she received from M.T. Anderson, who told her “write what you think you can’t.” To Kathi, that meant she had permission to fail, and that opened her up to try new things. Good advice for all of us.

Write On!

Kurt Vonnegut's rejections

The New York Times reported on a new Kurt Vonnegut library that’s going to open in Indianapolis in the fall, and my favorite part of the article is a quote from his oldest daughter, Edie Vonnegut, who said, “We have boxes of rejection letters, letters saying, ‘You have no talent and we suggest you give up writing.'”

Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t revel in the rejections great writers have suffered through. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. But, knowing that if a writer as a great as Vonnegut can get rejections like that, rise above them and continue to pursue writing — and be successful at it — that’s inspirational.

Rejections are difficult to deal with, but it’s part of the business, and not personal — even though it feels personal, it’s not.

Rejections are also nothing that should stop us from writing and pursuing publication. A rejection is simply one person saying no; there will be others, but there also will be plenty of people who will say yes.

Like Edie says in the article: “He did not have an easy time of it, and I think anyone who wants to be a writer, it will be important for them to see how tough it was for him.”

It Vonnegut could do it, we can do it. Thank you, Kurt.

Write On!

Great inspirational story

Manuscript update: I’m at 8,937 words, 1,723 words more than my last post, which was five days ago, so I’m way below my goal of 1,025 words a day. Sigh. To be finished by the end of this month, I have to write 1,150 a days. Don’t know that that’s going to happen, but we’ll see.

I don’t want to seem like I’m harping on rejections after my post “Dealing with rejections” from last week, but in my continued agent research for my completed and edited book (not the one I’m currently writing), I came across a wonderfully inspirational story and wanted to share.

On her blog, Aprilynne Pike, author of New York Times #1 bestseller Wings, talks about her journey to signing with agent Jodi Reamer, of Writers House and the agent of Twilight author Stephenie Meyer. (Click for the full post here, but I’ll give you some highlights.

Aprilynne said she reached triple-digit rejections for her book:

“I had sent this sucker to every agent who might possibly be interested in representing fantasy,” she says.

In that time, she had received two requests for the full and both of them had been out for two months. All the rest were rejections.

Aprilynne doesn’t say if she ever felt frustrated or like giving up. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t.

But what she does show in this post is how much she believed in herself and her book.

After receiving so many rejections, Aprilynne took out an old critique of her manuscript and spent two months polishing it until she thought it was perfect. She then sent it out again.

In her words:

“But I tried to be hopeful. I did get rejections, and this time it was hard. I really felt them, even if it was just those first five pages. But I had a couple of bites and was happy about that.”

A few months later, she got an email from Jodi, and … well, the rest is history.

There are two takeaways here:

First: Polish your manuscript until it is perfect. That will get you an agent.

Second: Never give up. If Aprilynne had given up after her first round of triple-digit rejections, she never would have become the New York Times best-selling author she is today. Aprilynne’s Wings is scheduled to be made into a movie by Disney, and the sequel novel, Spells, was released today. Wings also was in Publishers Weekly’s top-selling book list.

I love this story, and get so much inspiration from it.

What’s your favorite inspirational writing story?

Write On!

Dreams do come true

Manuscript update: Started my new final round of revision yesterday. The last round was the make-every-word-great round, after going through plot and scene revision rounds earlier. So this is the polish, the I-want-to-make-sure-every-word-is-still-great-and-I-didn’t-type-something-weird-last-time round. I’m excited, and plan to be finished in a week or so. Fingers crossed.

With the economy the way it is and all the bad news that has been coming of the publishing industry the last few years, it’s great to see all the deals still being reported by Publisher’s Marketplace. But when it’s a deal for a debut writer, it’s even more wonderful, it’s inspirational.

As I was shutting down my computer last night, I saw fellow blogger Beth Revis had posted the news that her book, Deep Freeze, has been picked up by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin, for a spring 2011 release. According to Publishers Weekly, Razorbill editor Bill Shrank “said he thinks the book will do for popular sci-fi what The Hunger Games did for postapocalyptic fiction.” Wow!

Beth also scored a three-book deal, which shows the confidence Razorbill has in her writing.

This is fantastic news for Beth, and I’m so excited for her. I also can’t wait to read the book, because it sounds wonderful.

But it’s also exciting news for all unpublished writers. It shows us that despite the layoffs and low financial quarters at publishing houses, editors are buying books, and they are buying books from unpublished writers.

Sure, I’ve heard over and over that manuscripts need to be really polished before they’ll even attract an agent nowadays — hence my new polish round — but if you put in the work, the rewards will come.

Go on, dare to dream, then get to work on making that dream a reality. It will take work, a lot of hard work, but it will be worth it in the end.

Write On!

Writer treat: Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

Manuscript update: I’m going to reward myself with this treat when I get the perfect query letter and synopsis written.

Writing a novel isn’t easy, and we writers should reward ourselves when we reach a goal, no matter how small. Here’s one suggestion, Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies

Imagine these cookies speckled with brown whole wheat grain.

Chocolate chip cookies from scratch have been a staple in our home for years. We even have a special tin, and all our friends know there’s always some in there. I use the regular Tollhouse recipe on the back of the Tollhouse Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips bag, but I’ve tried to make them a little better for us over the years with a few substitutions:

  • Replace the granulated sugar with Splenda. The difference is neglible.
  • Remove the egg yolks and use just the egg whites. With between 9 and 10 minutes in the oven, the cookies have a nice crisp outside and chewy, cakey inside.
  • Add some more flour. I buy free range eggs, and they seem to be bigger than regular eggs. So to compensate, I’ve had to add in some more flour to keep the right consistency.

Now here’s my latest discovery:

  • Replace 1 cup of the total flour with whole grain flour and use regular white flour for the rest of the required amount.

Over Christmas, when I made a bunch of cookies that were a bit more healthful than the usual recipes, I found an awesome recipe for Whole Grain Snickerdoodles. I got the idea for the whole grain flour substitution in the chocolate chip cookies from those snickerdoodles, and it gives the chocolate chip cookies a really nice texture — not to mention having some whole grain flour in there is a little better for you.

So, next time you achieve one of your writing goals, no matter how big or small, try these for a (somewhat) healthful treat.

How do you reward yourself?

Write On!

P.S. If you’ve got a burning question about ghostwriting, you’ve got until Sunday night to enter it to be answered by writer Laura Cross, and have a chance to win a PDF copy of Cross’ informative book Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent: Everything You Need to Know to Become Successfully Published. Cross’ answers to all the ghostwriting questions — and the winner of the book — will be on the blog on Feb. 12.

P.P.S. I’m going to the Austin SCBWI conference tomorrow, so next week look out for reports about the speakers, including Arthur Levine editor Cheryl Klein; Farrar, Strauss and Giroux editor Lisa Graff; Bloomsbury editor Stacy Cantor; agent and former editor Andrea Cascardi; agent Mark McVeigh; agent and blogger extraordinaire Nathan Bransford and many, many more.


Revision update: It’s coming along, but I’ve slowed down a bit.

There’s that old saying that when a door closes, another opens. Call me an optimist, but I believe in this. I acknowledge that the second one doesn’t always open immediately, but with some patience, a lot of hard work, dedication and, perhaps most of all, faith, it will open. God provides, I believe, and I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

On Wednesday morning, I heard that the job I have held for the past 10 years was being eliminated, pretty much effective immediately. I knew change was coming, but hadn’t expected it quite so quickly and didn’t expect this type of change. But there it is. I’ve been laid off, which nowadays isn’t an unusual thing. I’ve joined the many many many others who have lost their jobs lately thanks to the economic climate.

I’m not one who worries too much about change. I lived in four different countries by the time I was 12, so change is nothing new. It can be exciting, strange, daunting, but mostly, it’s something that happens, and you just roll up your sleeves and deal with it.

Change can also bring opportunities, that other door opening. Who knows what we’ll find through that door, but no matter what, it will be a new chance to learn, at the very least.

When I put the news of my job’s demise on Facebook, a writer friend of mine wrote back: “Bummer! but more time for the novel selling/writing ;-)” 🙂 Now that’s looking at the bright side!

I don’t know what will be in store for me in the near future. I’m looking for a new job and freelance work (anyone need an expert editor/writer with 15 years experience?) and I do plan to also spend more time on my novels. Whatever happens, though, this is an opportunity. I plan to make the most of it.

And now, I’ve got an opportunity for you.

On Feb. 12, I’ll be posting an interview with Laura Cross, author of Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent: Everything You Need to Know to Become Successfully Published. See, I told you, opportunities!

But here’s the real opportunity. Laura will be answering YOUR questions, and the best one will WIN a PDF copy of her book.

Here’s some info about Laura:

Laura Cross’s family and friends in Detroit, Michigan knew she would move on to bigger and better things when she began writing and performing plays for them as a child. Actually they hoped she would move on to bigger and better things–they were tired of being her only audience!

When Laura packed up the moving van it was to head to California where she earned Certificates in Writing and Feature Film Writing for the UCLA Writer’s Program. Laura’s writing life has included magazine writing, script reading for production companies and literary agencies, leading writing workshops and blogging about screenwriting and non-fiction writing. She’s also written some absolutely fabulous non-fiction books but sadly, as a ghost writer, she has to keep the titles under wraps! Laura divides her time between Los Angeles and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

For our interview, we’ll tap into Laura’s private life: ghostwriting, although I’m sure Laura will answer other burning questions if you have them. Ghostwriting is one of those lucrative opportunities that, if you’re like me, also seems elusive. How can you tap into this market? How does the process work? How much ghostwriting is really done in publishing? Ok, there’s three questions from me, but I’m sure you guys have plenty more.

Please put your questions in the comments of this post before Jan. 31. If someone else has already submitted a question you’d like answered, keep thinking and put in a different one. All the questions will be sent to Laura on Feb. 1, and her answers along with the winner of the PDF copy of Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent will be posted on Feb. 12. The winner will be chosen by Laura as the one with her favorite question, so please make sure you post your question with a name, not anonymous, so we can contact you for your prize.

Good luck, and Write On!