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Monday, October 05, 2009

Writing Through the Reasons ~ Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter is the award-winning and best-selling author of fourteen novels and novellas, including Surrender Bay,The Convenient Groom and Sweetwater Gap. She and her husband make their home in Indiana with their three boys. Her website is www.denisehunterbooks.com

It was 1996 when God gave me the kick in the pants. He’d placed the dream in my heart and I carried it there (or rather, shoved it to the back burner) for a few years. I had two small children ages 4 and 1 at the time and writing seemed like the impossible task. I had boys, and they never sat still! How was I supposed to write a novel?

But then my grandfather died, and I realized I didn’t want to reach the end of my life with a pocketful of “if onlys”, so I determined I was going to find a way to write that novel. I started my first manuscript within weeks of his death, writing while my boys napped, and (by God’s grace) it was published two years later.

A lot has changed since then. My boys—3 of them now—are have grown up, now ages 11, 14, and 17. They don’t have naptimes anymore, and my time is much less limited as they’ve grown in self-sufficiency (Thank you, God!).

But if it’s not one thing, it’s another right? There are always reasons not to write: lack of time, self-doubt, illness, guilt, deadline panic, financial pressures, depression, lack of “inspiration”, fear, writer’s block . . . the list goes on. Over the past 14 years, I’ve experienced a little bit of everything.

A while back I was encouraging a promising writer to get back to writing. “I feel guilty taking time from my daughter to spend all that time on a file in my computer,” she said.

“It’s not a file in your computer,” I said. “It’s a dream in your heart. And God put it there.”

If God put that dream in your heart, do you have the right to say, “I don’t have time”, “I’m not good enough”, or “I can’t do this”? I don’t think so. Make time. Become good enough. Trust God to do this through you.

All of this requires you to apply yourself. God isn’t going to push you into a chair and stick your fingers to the keyboard. That’s your job. Yet all those “reasons” can stifle your creativity and have you procrastinating for months or years.

There have been many ups and downs in my career so far, but I’ve had 16 deadlines (Multiply that by 3 if you factor in editing dates) and by the grace of God, I’ve never been late. I’ve written through every one of the reasons listed above, sometimes dragging myself to the computer and hating—yes, hating—every moment. When life is crashing around you and you can’t string two coherent thoughts together, writing feels impossible. When fear of failure makes cleaning the toilets an appealing option, you need a plan!

Through the years, I’ve found some things that work for me, get me through the “reasons”, and onto the productive work of writing. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

Set a realistic goal—Either word count or page count, it doesn’t matter. When I started writing, my goal was only 1 page a day. Hey, those naps weren’t very long! If a page a day is all you can manage, you’ll still have a book-length manuscript at the end of a year.

Schedule your writing—Mark your writing times down on a calendar. Put a smiley face on the days you make your goal. Yes, I really do that.

Be accountable—Find another writer friend, share your goals, and keep each other accountable.

Don’t be a lone ranger—If you don’t have other writers to support and encourage you, join a writer’s group, preferably American Christian Fiction Writers.

Trick yourself—If you’re having a really bad day, tell yourself you only have to write 1 page today. Chances are, once you get rolling, you’ll want to keep going. And if not, at least you got 1 page.

Write in a comfy spot—If you find writing at a desk uncomfortable, invest in a laptop. Some people like to write in coffee shops with people bustling all around. If that stokes your creativity, go for it. I like quiet. I write in a recliner with my feet propped up. You’d be surprised how much more you’ll accomplish when you’re comfortable. I’ve managed to write through mono and migraines.

Be true to yourself—If it helps you to outline your story, do it. If you think it’s more exciting to write by the seat of your pants, have at it. No one way works for everyone. If you don’t know which is you, try both way. Planners have more work on the front end. Pansters have more work on the back end.

Watch your self-talk—I can’t do this . . . I’m no writer, what was I thinking? . . . I’ll never write like that . . . What if the words don’t come today? . . . I’ll never be published. . . Negative thoughts invite fear, and fear is bad, bad, bad for creativity. When you catch yourself in those moments, replace the thought with it’s opposite. I can do this with God’s help . . . I am a writer . . . I’ll study and practice until I can write like that . . . The words will come . . . Someday I’ll be published.

Settle—Repeat after me, “First drafts don’t have to be perfect.” Fill the pages with words. If it’s bad, you can fix it later. You can’t fix blank pages.

Write on YOUR time—Figure out when your best creative hours are and use them. Just because everyone else writes in the morning doesn’t mean you have to.

Study the craft—Sometimes just reading through a favorite book on writing will start those wheels turning. If nothing else, you’ll learn ways to improve your craft.

Refresh—Determine what refreshes your spirit and stokes creativity when you’re drained. Watching a movie, taking a walk, chatting on the phone, taking a drive, reading a book, taking a power nap, brainstorming with friends . . .

Take a break—If you’ve been writing from one tight deadline to another or are struggling with grief or depression, you might need time off. But don’t let that turn into quitting. Get back in the saddle as soon as you’re able.

Inspiration is a fickle creature but writing doesn’t have to be. Contrary to popular opinion, I’ve penned some of my most popular work when I “didn’t feel like it” and so can you. I’ll close with my favorite quote on the subject, from someone who knew a thing or two about art and craft.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” Pablo Picasso

5 comments:

Sarah Forgrave said...

What a great post, Denise! I'm in the early motherhood phase with a two-year-old son and am unpublished, so your story inspired me to keep at it. Thanks!

lynnrush said...

SWEET! I love this one: "Trick yourself—If you’re having a really bad day, tell yourself you only have to write 1 page today. Chances are, once you get rolling, you’ll want to keep going. And if not, at least you got 1 page"

That's so true! I've done that before and gotten a few pages out. :-)

Connie Reece said...

Thank you for this timely word. I was exactly what I needed to hear today.

Ane Mulligan said...

Stellar advice, Denise. :)

Gina Holmes said...

Excellent advice. I do "trick" myself all the time. Ha! I thought I was the only one :) I also found trying to do it others' way is very unproductive for me. Thanks, Denise. (BTW, you don't look old enough to have teens. Lucky woman.)