Monthly Archives: May 2020

WT6: Find Your Tribe

Writing is a solitary act. You will second guess every sentence. Every chapter. Hell, your entire book. You, after all, are your biggest critic.

It took me a lot of time and pride to realize that I needed a support group. When I got the nerve to find one, most of the time, I was a fly on the wall and showed up and listened to the guest speakers, without commenting much or asking questions (what if they were dumb questions?!). I’d read all the emailed excerpts from the club and admired how brave the writers were who submitted their work.

But even though I wasn’t brave enough or confident enough to share my own manuscript, it helped me to identify myself as a writer and to feel like I was a part of a group. A supportive group of others who were striving toward a common goal.

So, looking back over the past couple of years, there were a couple of things that helped me gain confidence in identifying as a writer. Sometimes, the toughest part isn’t even putting writing on paper, but changing the self-beliefs that are within our head.

Here’s what helped me:

  1. I joined a Community Ed. Writing Class. I know I’ve mentioned this, but I can’t understate how important it is to surround yourself with other people who are creatively writing and sharing ideas. I was fortunate to have a retired Literature Professor, Dr. Neuhaus, as a teacher. Not having a writing background, his techniques in developing characters and honing my writing style helped tremendously.
  2. I sought out other authors. I went to several author events around the area. I LOVE these! Even as it is, I always read about the author and their background before I even read the back cover of a book. I’m fascinated with their backgrounds and how they became authors. I love going to author talks to hear their personal stories, their failures, their successes and to learn. So many of these people did not start out as authors, but had other careers.
  3. I made it a point to meet up with others who like to write. Turns out, there are quite a few friends who either like to write, want to write a book or teach literature. Grabbing a cup of coffee (or three) with them or checking in with them to see how their writing is going creates inspiration! Before I know it, all I want to do is go home and create!
  4. I found mentors. I got uncomfortable and found fellow writers who had experience and were willing to help. I’m still so extremely grateful and humbled by how many of these awesome authors were willing to help (Robert Crane, Thekla Madsen, Jacqueline West, Graham Salisbury) and I made a promise that I would pay it forward and help whomever I could along the way as well.

So, find your tribe. They’re out there. They will pull you through the self-doubts, the writer’s blocks and the voices in your head that tell you lies like, you’re not good enough to write anything interesting or you’re not a writer…you didn’t even go to school for it. Or who do you think you are to feel you have something to say.

Well, let me tell you, I’ve thought all of these things as well as most authors. We all begin somewhere and most remember where they started. Your tribe is a lifeline to accomplishing your dream.

Go find them!

WT5: Separate Yourself From Your Writing

Yes, you heard me correctly. I know you’ve poured hundreds, thousands of sleepless hours into your writing. I know you’re probably the type of person who likes to fully complete big projects in one sitting. BUT…

This is the BEST advise you’ll ever hear. YOU NEED TO SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM YOUR WRITING and possibly, your writing environment.

I didn’t say divorce. I said separate.

It’s hard, I know. But putting your writing away, especially when you hit a mental roadblock, will allow you to come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. It will also give you the chance to read a lot of other books, which will spur creativity and give you new writing ideas for your own book.

I took several breaks when writing “Becoming American,” and though it was tough, it allowed me the time to do more research for it and surprisingly, when I wasn’t focused on trying to develop new story lines and characters, they started coming to me as I read other World War II personal accounts. I’d take notes in a notebook, but didn’t write unless it was very heavy on my mind. Yukio’s character didn’t enter the book until the month before the manuscript was due. One month before, after working on this over years.

Taking a break after a first draft, (like a 3-6 month break), will also give you the permission to work on other writing projects. It’s okay to have a few different manuscripts going at a time. I’ve been bouncing between three very different projects for the past couple of years: a middle grade historical fiction from colonial times, a young adult historical fiction from early fur-trading years and a Depression-era young adult historical fiction.

And you know what? I had been writing the Depression-era book like crazy for weeks, full of optimism and knowing how I wanted the book to turn out. And, then it happened.

Writer’s Block. I tried and tried, but nothing would come out. I couldn’t think of anything to write or how to tie the characters together. I couldn’t think of any plot points. Period.

So, here I am, four weeks into my break and still nothing. But, I am reading fun thrillers and waiting for inspiration to hit when I least expect it. And when it does, hopefully I’ll have a fully-inked pen or very sharpened pencil handy:)

WT4: How to Build Strong Character Arcs within A Theme

Great novels involve character development. Have you ever read a book that goes on and on and a character goes through kind of mundane actions and never really learns anything or changes?

Character development is important. Before you even start writing, it’s helpful to list your main characters and decide which characters will change throughout the novel and how.

For example, in Becoming American, I knew I wanted a young Allu to be innocent and hopeful and as more events press upon her family and dramatically alter her life, I wanted her to move from naivety to someone who understands that sometimes major opinions in the world aren’t justified. Not all adults can be trusted or are kind. But I wanted her to understand these things without losing her own kindness and positivity.

I wanted Robbie to be carefree, patriotic and a ladies man. Despite all of the setbacks and rejection from the government and Army, I wanted him to remain patriotic, but become more responsible for his family.

But not all of your characters have to change. Some of them can remain constant, and it’s you as a reader who is changed. Mama has a quiet strength that’s constant throughout all of their changes, even if she does have some emotional breaking points.

The character arcs can reflect your theme of the book. Hope, despite having everything taken from you. Patriotism, despite having the government reject you and question your loyalty. The importance of family and friendship in maintaining your heritage and pride.

I hope this helps. Sometimes when I get writer’s block, it helps me to go back to my characters and how I want them to arc and then I ask myself, what kind of event could I throw in the story to showcase this part of the character? How would he/she respond? What are some dramatic things that could influence how he/she views the world?

My favorite and most heart-breaking characters are usually the ones in books and movies that I started off hating. They’re selfish and mean etc. but then throughout the story, they change. It seems like usually, right when you fall in love with these ones and they start to do the right things, they die and leave you feeling well, heartbroken. It’s a lot easier to accept bad characters who do awful things, when they die, but that wouldn’t be very dramatic, would it?

I hope this helps. Think of great books and some of the new Marvel movies that have come out and use their examples of how important backstory and character arcs are. And remember, not all of your characters have to change; just enough of them to make a difference.