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It’s time for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop! The hop takes place the third Wednesday of every month (minus November/December) and focuses on the sharing of resources and learning tools for authors.

Stop by the hop page and check out all the participants and their posts this month! Also check out #AuthorToolboxBlogHop on Twitter.

Life Isn’t Easy

This month for the blog hop, I thought I’d tackle something I’m going through at the moment: real life getting in the way of writing. Unless you’re a professional writer (meaning you make most or all of your income through writing) you’ve probably had the “day job” block your creative flow. Most writers, I think, have dealt with the trials of life bludgeoning them in their writing kneecaps: a job, kids, family issues, illness, tragedies, stress, and all those other nasty curveballs life likes to throw at us to knock us off our feet. By the time we get a moment to write we’re too physically and/or mentally exhausted to make the words come. What we’re slogging through not only makes us tired, it makes our brains sluggish as well.

My job has been difficult for the past month or so and it’s draining my resources. The good news is this will end eventually, but not until sometime in June. Until then, my focus will continue to be off, I’ll continue to resent that I don’t have enough time/mental capacity to write, and I’ll continue to be bitter, feeding into this awful angry, non-creative cycle I’m stuck in right now. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s not.

I’ve decided to try to come up with a game plan to make this, if at least not better, then more tolerable–and maybe, if you’re stuck in the mud too as real life continues to dump more dirt on your head, you can use it as a shovel. I’ve come up with a few ideas that might help me wedge writing in around all the chaos:

  • Schedule time. I’m not a scheduler, so this is hard for me. I tend to write when I write, and I don’t really like to make a rigid structure out of it. If you do, you’re already ahead of me on this one! If I know I’m going to have a stretch of downtime where I don’t have to focus on anything else, I can pencil my writing in there. Will I want to write when I get to that time? I might not, but they say the best way out of a rut is to do things anyway, even if you grumble and groan, and eventually they get easier. Just like exercise–it hurts at first and you feel resistance, but eventually your muscles get stronger and the workout easier.
  • Break the writing down into smaller chunks. This is also hard for me, because when I write I tend to write a lot, but I don’t have the time or energy for that right now. If I promise myself I’ll do smaller portions, eventually those will all add up to something big, even if it’s not as fast as I’m used to. And that’s okay! I need to give myself reasonable assignments and goals during this tough time. I can write only 1,000 words or edit one chapter and still feel accomplished.
  • Be consistent. This is a hard thing to maintain when life is a whirlwind, but consistency also makes the wind feel less like it’s trying to knock you over. When I tell myself “I’m going to do X and Y on these days, and I’m not going to waver from that,” it helps things feel a little more stable. Hopefully, this will also give me small things to look forward to. Routine is comforting, especially when the rest of your life is out of whack.
  • Stick to one project. If you’re like me, I always have several writing projects going on at once. That’s just how I am. If you don’t do the same thing this bullet point won’t help you and I envy your dedication! I definitely like to juggle several balls at once, but right now that’s making me not do ANYTHING because it all feels so complicated and overwhelming on top the other difficulties in my life. During this time I’m going to try to focus on one thing only and get it done, bit by bit. At least then I won’t just lay around crying about how I’m not getting anything done.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. This is the most important task for me, and one I really, really need to take to heart. Is the world going to end if I don’t get another book written by the end of summer? Of course not. Is everyone I know going to hate me and refuse to ever speak to me again if I don’t stick with my writing right now? Why on earth would they! Are the writing police gonna show up at my house and arrest me if I don’t get some writing done every day? The writing police don’t even exist! Or do they…

I’m trying to be easier on myself right now, as well as trying to get my brain to shut up about how I’m being lazy and not taking care of my muses. Wish me luck!

How do you deal with life when it gets in the way of your writing? Any tips or tricks?

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Today I thought I’d share some of my very favorite quotes about writing. All of these are printed in and shamelessly lifted from what is also my very favorite book, For Writer’s Only. Do get a copy, if you don’t have one. It will change your writing life!

Writing Quotes:

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

Writers kid themselves–about themselves and other people. Take the talk about writing methods. Writing is just work–there’s no secret. If you dictate or use a pen or type or type with your toes–it is just work. – Sinclair Lewis

Talent is a question of quantity. Talent does not write one page: it writes three hundred. – Jules Reynard

Easy reading is damned hard writing. – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Well, I don’t know exactly how it’s done. I let it alone a good deal. – Saul Bellow

When I want to read a good book, I write one. – Benjamin Disraeli

Writing is the only thing that…when I’m doing it, I don’t feel that I should be doing something else instead. – Gloria Steinem

The solitude of writing is also quite frightening. It’s quite close to madness, one just disappears for a day and loses touch. – Nadine Gordimer

True artists, whatever smiling faces they may show, are obsessive, driven people… – John Gardner

There is no pleasure in the world like writing well and going fast. It’s like nothing else. It’s like a love affair, it goes on and on, and doesn’t end in marriage. It’s all courtship. – Tennessee Williams

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes. – Agatha Christie

This morning I took the hyphen out of Hell-hound and this afternoon I put it back. – Edwin Arlington Robinson

Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. – Samuel Beckett

And my favorite:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. – Anonymous

Have a great Monday!

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From time to time on this blog, in addition to sharing, teaching, pulling my hair out, and bemoaning the hardships of writing, I’m also going to talk about the things I love. Those things I HEART about writing. When you stop by and just want a little inspiration, hit up the I Heart Writing category!

What I HEART ❤ About Writing…

Finding out what you wrote isn’t so bad after all.

We all know the first draft can be unwieldy and clunky, and definitely in my case, it needs a lot of fixing up in the revision stage. However, I usually blast my way through the first draft, wincing, feeling like all of it will probably be crap when I go back and read it and I’ll have to do A LOT of work. Sometimes, I don’t even feel like I conveyed the emotion and point I wanted to get across. It’s like trying to paint a beautiful picture in your head, only you can barely draw stick figures in real life.

But then, when I do a read-through and start the process of alteration, I often find that some of what I wrote is really good! Or at least, most of it isn’t nearly as bad as I imagined. That’s always a pleasant surprise. What’s more, I find I did convey what I wanted to get across–it just didn’t feel that way at the time I was writing it, for some reason or another. The more this happens, the more I try to make myself trust the process while I’m actually writing. After all, it’s probably going to turn out better than I expect, so I should let go of the anxiety surrounding it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have to cut, chop, and rearrange as well. I certainly don’t produce perfect manuscripts every time. Some things just don’t work, and often I can be too wordy and repetitive. Sometimes the writing makes me wince. But at least there’s the bright spots as well, and I generally seem to be on track, so I’m not too disheartened. And at least I have the editing and revision stage to make it ever better.

Today I heart…finding out I’m a better writer than I believed!

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I’ve decided from time to time on this blog, in addition to sharing, teaching, pulling my hair out, and bemoaning the hardships of writing, I’m also going to talk about the things I love. So, you’ll see me talk about those things I HEART about writing. When you stop by my blog and just want a little inspiration, hit up the I Heart Writing category!

What I HEART ❤ About Writing…

Describing settings and scenery!

This is one of my favorite parts of writing: describing the surroundings my characters find themselves in. It’s a delicate balance. While you need to convey certain details to your reader, you also don’t want to write an entire page of mind-numbing description. Keep it simple, eloquent, short, and still manage to paint a scene–that’s the key. It can be difficult, but figuring it out is part of the process of creating art. Maybe that’s why I like it so much, because it’s a challenge to say enough but not too much.

It’s also important to remember when to use description. Usually, it’s only necessary when the surroundings are relevant to what your character is experiencing, or as part of the plot. It’s not a good idea to describe every room they walk into, or gives us the entire layout of the park they’re walking through when it has nothing to do with the story. I fully admit I often integrate cities and landscapes into stories, and make them important both to the character and the narrative, just so I can work on describing them. It’s literally one of my favorite things! Sometimes I do it well, or at least believe I do. Other times, it needs to be snipped in rewrites because it’s bulky and irrelevant.

One of the best inventions ever, in my opinion, is Google Street View. I can see places I’ve never been to, up close and personal, like I’m literally standing there. And that means I can describe them! I use it so often it’s practically one of my essential writing tools. It means I don’t have to restrict the settings of my stories, because if I need to clarify something I can just take a peek.

To brag a bit, my best friend told me one of the descriptions of Chicago from The Wicked City was the most accurate and stunning description of the city she’d ever read (we both love Chicago and visit often). In the book, it’s June’s first time ever in Chicago and she’s terrified of the city, and being trapped in it, for various reasons, thus it colors her view of it:

Chicago was a living metropolis, a brilliantly modern and majestically primeval creature breathing and teeming and issuing forth a steady cacophony of human noise. Under the stark winter light, the buildings loomed as monoliths, an overwhelming collection of glittering glass, gleaming steel, and earthy stone. At street level, the world was narrow and claustrophobic, life chugging along under the shadows of the great towers like thick blood pulsing through deep, dark veins.

It was beautiful and horrible at the same time. Like most great monsters.

I love writing descriptions! What do you HEART ❤ about writing right now?

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Last week, when I participated in the Author Toolbox Blog Hop, this blog post by Fanni Sütő really got me thinking about where the line is between a writer and a non-writer.

The posts asks: can writing be taught? Of course, this is meant in the sense, can you teach someone to be a writer? Or is it something innate that can’t be taught, and you either have it or you don’t? I want to expand on my thoughts about this concept, because they’re really quite multi-layered.

First of all, can the technical aspects of writing be taught? Absolutely. I don’t think anyone can argue with this. One of the first things we learn in school is how to write. We learn to recognize words and put them in sentences, and put sentences into paragraphs. As we get older, we learn about identifying the parts of a sentence and how to properly construct a paragraph. You can definitely teach someone all the grammar and technical aspects of writing a novel, from top to bottom. You can teach them the proper use of language and how it all fits together and where and when you can break the rules and so on and so forth.

Now, on to the next question. Can talent be taught? Well, the answer to this is a bit more complicated.

First, you have to define what talent is. Talent is having a knack for using those technical skills you’ve been taught. It’s knowing how to use words in a way that not only tells a story, but paints a picture and draws the reader’s interest. It’s being able to mold words like a sculptor molds clay. The sentence “The sun rose over the mountains,” is grammatically and technically correct. But, “The red sun rose like a blemish on the bleak sky above the mist-laden mountains,” is a different thing altogether. In one sentence you not only set the scene, but created a mood and conveyed an atmosphere, and probably even delved into your character’s mindset a bit (imagine instead the character viewed the scene as “When the pink sun rose, it brought a flash of cheerful color to the bleak sky and the mountains below, adorned in their fluffy frosting of morning mist.”) That’s where talent comes in.

Can talent be taught? My answer is a tentative…yes. You can teach somebody how to shape the technical into something more captivating. You can point out, as I did above, how adding detail to a sentence creates more flavor and conveys story aspects. You can break it all down and show someone how it gets strung together, and they can, of course, emulate it.

But this is where a thing that can’t be taught becomes important. Passion. You can’t teach someone to be passionate about a skill, and the desire to turn the technical into talent often needs a good dose of passion to make it work. I can’t play any musical instruments, but you could definitely teach me the technical aspects of how to play a guitar. I could probably even, in time, learn how to play an entire song. But I will never be a guitarist because I have no passion and desire to be a guitarist. I can’t picture myself doing it, I have no ambition to do it, and it would bore me so I’d never practice or learn new things.

Passion for writing, or any creative endeavor, cannot be taught. You have it or you don’t. It’s passion that makes the writer, because from passion comes drive, discipline, and the desire to learn, grow, and do better. When you’re a writer you want those things with all your heart and you don’t let much get in your way. You figure out how to fit it into your life and you make room for it. When you don’t write it eats at you, and when you do write you feel a kind of satisfaction that nothing else gives you. That can’t be taught. It’s a spark that people–both creative and non-creative–happen to find in the thing that gives their existence meaning. It’s luck, it’s chance, it’s fate–whatever you believe in.

So yes, writing can be taught. But to change up a proverb, you can lead a writer to the keyboard, but you can’t make them type. The desire to write is something that comes from a place they don’t mention in school books.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think writing and talent can be taught? What about passion, where do you think it comes from?