Tag Archives: authors

How to Edit Out FEAR–for Good

It’s still early.

That’s true. A true sentence.

scary bridge
Don’t look down.

Regardless of how little there is left of the day, it’s still early. There’s time yet to write the daily clutch of words.

Despite the fact that my brain is doing its usual whirring with all the things to get done, the manuscripts needing edits, consult calls to make, talks and articles to write, courses to plan, a boulder to shoulder up the hill…

I know the fear is out there. And it’s strong. It’s still strangling so many great works, the words of writers yet to be written. How can I not fight to destroy this most fundamental of barriers?

This post is my Great Rebellion.

I’ve been meaning to write it for weeks, this culmination of thought I’ve listened to and spoken to myself for longer than I can remember…

I believe, despite everything else that’s pressing, there’s nothing else I’m supposed to do but this.

So with that reassurance, I’m ready to face the question:

How do we edit out fear for good?

fear quote
Roosevelt said that. I think.

1. Just write one true sentence.

Fr. Ernie had one unbeatable word of advice for himself I’ve begun repeating often:

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

If writing is the only way for you to be truly happy, what choice do I have but to stop procrastinating and write that one true sentence?

To write the one thing I’ve been waiting so long to speak, how good would that feel? To forget all the many excellent reasons I shouldn’t? To finally deny ALL the distractions and do what I was put here to do today, as I draw this breath into my statistically impossible existence from this terrifyingly perfect blue-green spheball?

I’ve got to stop overthinking it. Just start with what I know.

2. Do Input/Output Every Day

There’s a depressing truth I’ve learned: no one, I repeat, NO ONE is born a writer but reading has made them that way. Just starting out or years into it, writing well takes reading–to find good INPUT, to make good OUTPUT. So I’m resigned that the writer I want to be is not much more than a good scavenger. When I’ve processed enough garbage, I’ll know what makes good material, and what doesn’t.

And by reading, I’ll learn to respond by doing it every day.

Fiction. News. Poems. Memoirs. Then I write and let it be what it is. My job is only to use what I have to its fullest today.

And then tomorrow, I’ll find more manna. I have to let go of any other expectation.

When I get afraid, I’m usually thinking my writing won’t be good enough. But writing isn’t about getting fancy. It’s about writing.

And you can quote me on that.

cowardly lion
Mmmm….rrruff!

3.  Stop, Then Go

I’ve been writing long enough to know it often feels stupid. It starts to seem selfish. I’ll start hearing voices. My limbs will develop phantom pains and I’ll need to, absolutely need to google “misplaced attention.”

I’m getting used to it. This is my tricky brain acting up. It’s perfectly normal. At least for writers it is. So first I have to…

Stop. Sit still and listen. Yes, I’m talking about “mindfulness,” but it’s really just cultivating awareness of the deeper reality behind reality. One Thousand Gifts is a perfect guide for this. When I slow down, I find humble gratitude and the inspiration and permission in the love God freely gives through Jesus and his endless reminders in my daily life.

And when I’m still and silent for a while, I get antsy. After I stop, it’s time to go. Pomodoros are a must to schedule focused work and breaks. But out and about, I carry a notebook and give myself permission to be the weirdo who pauses to capture fireflies.

Life is a series of trades and I’m trading everything else I could do for writing. That’s who I am. So I write to control my time and attention, or it will control me.

This stopping and going thing is based on my hunch that writing doesn’t come from a desire to express so much as from a desire to listen. To me, higher writing is prayer. It’s not asking for something so much as feeding and being fed by a relationship. It’s finding a thread of a thought that seems important to The Inspirer, and following it down the hole, across the bridge, and through the meadow.

When writing becomes no more than God-directed thought, then when I write I am praying without ceasing.

So every day I need to schedule time to practice writing the words down, time to shape them, and before that, time to read. And life happens in between that.

Stop, then go.

Yoda wisdom
The form may change. But wisdom always remains the same.

One true sentence. Input/output. Stop, then go.

These are the distilled lessons I’ve set for myself. Certainly there’s more to them than this. But these 3 keep me on the path, stepping forward, and away from the guardrails.

Remembering is how I overcome the fear. And reminding each other is our simple focus at Your Writers Group. It’s a thrilling surprise that with their continual encouragement and support, I’m facing my fears a little easier every day.

Regardless of how long it’s taken me to get here, I believe it’s still early.

[Getting excited to expand on these basics for storywriters in the 30-day YWG Story Course coming up in 2 weeks! Check the event page for details.]

What helps you face your fears as a writer? Would love to hear your secret…

How Writers and Editors Are Like Snails

John Updike once wrote that “writers walk through volumes of the unexpressed and like snails leave behind a faint thread excreted out of ourselves.” (“The Blessed Man of Boston”)  

 

As an editor, I’m fairly gastropod-like myself. I leave my trail of commentary on a manuscript as evidence of where I’ve been (in fact, I may have an even greater claim to the comparison since if my evidence is scarce, writers are generally happier).

My job is to draw attention to the experience a general reader's likely to have. But as I do, all the while I’m becoming more and more aware of the sacred relationship building between the pages, a quiet space being formed between writer and reader.

In fact, the more I think of it, the more I think everyone who comes to a book has something to learn from the snail. Does any dumb and blind reader standing at the brink of that entrance realize just how much has gone into ensuring the experience of that book is as inviting and engaging as possible?

No. Not if we’ve done our work–concealing the evidence of any work is the work. Like snails again, invisibility allows us bookish types—we who carry our "homes" on our soft backs—to live another day.

Oh, I could probably add a few more comparisons. But I won't.

Bottom line, I see too many authors slide into danger wandering outside the protective bubble of that sacred relationship. We all need to realize we're not really alone, especially when we write. Don't be fooled. Life isn’t created in a monologue but a conversation–an asking and listening, a responding to the unvoiced question, and acknowledging what's behind the questions–even behind the desire for answers.

Because here's the thing: readers only think they want answers because they don’t yet realize what they really need. Only the author can know that. And so authors must go slowly and remain so attentive that their little antenae can detect even the slightest touch.

Because readers are seeking every day, every moment, to know the source of the hope they feel inside. They've felt it, sensed it, somewhere beneath their noisy and insistent daily existence.

If only they had a lowly snail to awaken their memory of it…

M

Interview with author/editor Brandy Bruce

LooksLikeLove I've been excited for a while to have the chance to interview a friend of mine, Brandy Bruce. Her experience as an up-and-coming YA author is unique (of course) but her decision to self-publish after shopping her novel to publishers makes me extra eager to tell you about her journey. First, the bio.

Brandy Bruce holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Liberty University. She currently works as a developmental book editor for Focus on the Family. When she's not chasing after her two-year-old daughter, she spends much of her time reading, editing, working with authors, and trying to keep up with deadlines. She's the author of the newly released contemporary novel Looks Like Love. Brandy makes her home with her husband and daughter in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Me: Brandy, thanks for being brave and pioneering. I figure, despite my initial reservations with self-publishing (as a long-time publishing establishment guy), your decision is a great example for others who are debating this choice. Tell me about (1) your journey from writer to published.

BRB: I've been writing stories since the sixth grade. Reading and writing have always been my outlets for creative thought. I knew from about the time I was in high school that I really wanted to somehow work with books as my profession. I became a developmental book editor and I still love it. But writing has always remained part of that creative outlet for me.

My journey to publishing isn't exactly traditional. A few years ago I started working on a story about a girl starting over after a bad break-up. I showed my book proposal to an agent (Chip MacGregor–Google him.) who liked it and decided to sign me as one of his authors. Then came the hard part–selling it. We received some positive feedback and came close with a couple of houses, but in the end, we just didn't get a contract. That was disappointing, of course. I'd put so much work into my novel that I didn't want to give up. I started thinking about self-publishing. I talked this over with Chip, and he was really supportive. A turning point for me came when my husband reminded me that in today's world publishing is an attainable dream for anyone. I know that publishing is evolving. I know that anyone can have his or her book in an e-format in minutes. I decided to explore my options for doing it myself, and finally, I decided to self-publish with WestBow Press.

Me: So what kind of marketing are you doing?

BRB: When it comes to marketing self-published books, authors have to be even more pro-active. I talked to other authors who had self-published for creative marketing tips. I created bookmarks to send to friends and family when the book released. WestBow sent out a press release, but I also created a press release to send to bookstores and influencers. I had a friend create a book trailer for me and put it on YouTube. I promoted my book on my blog, twitter account, and facebook and recruited friends and family to also post the link to my book on Amazon.com. And I set up a blog book tour the month after my book released. I arranged some blog interviews and encouraged people to write reviews for my book on amazon.com. People don't realize how beneficial good reviews on Amazon.com are!

Me: So true. One idea I've seen an author use recently is offering signed "book plates" for those who write a review for you. Contests are another good idea–offer a chance at a gift bag for people who post a review. What are you hoping for from this publishing venture? What’s something surprising you’ve learned?

BRB: Before I ever self-published I really examined the why behind moving forward with it. For me, having a book of my own was something I'd wanted for a long time. I never felt the deep desire to be a famous author or the need to sell scores of books. I will say that now that my book is out, every time I receive good feedback, I'm just so thrilled to hear that someone read my story and loved it. That's enough for me. Publishing my book was a goal in my life that I wanted to fulfill. I'm proud of every book I edit and I find a lot of fulfillment in helping others create books that made a difference. I know people self-publish for lots of different reasons. But for myself, I just had a story that I loved and wanted to see in print. I've been lucky with how supportive people have been. I had authors I greatly respect come alongside me and offer endorsements. I had fellow editors help polish my novel before I sent it to press. And I've had my wonderful family and friends help get the word out about Looks Like Love. 

Me: So one last question: What played into your decision most? Did feedback from publishers play a role? Did your insider publishing knowledge convince you you could do it better than your average writer just starting out? If you could, help people differentiate the real pros and cons about this really complex decision.  

BRB: Publishers' feedback did play a role in my decision to self-publish this one. I was in touch with other editor friends so I knew when places like Bethany and Kregel and Cook took the book to pub board. I had editors give me positive feedback (Tyndale for example, I met with the editor who reviewed my proposal while we were at a conference). Chip sent me a response from another editor who said the book wouldn't work for them but she loved my voice and would like to see something else. If I'd been hearing mostly negative responses from editors I respect, I doubt I would have felt it was worth it to publish it. I assume Chip probably shielded me from negative feedback anyway, but I told him I wanted to hear what editors had to say about it. And like I said, most was pretty encouraging. And I took what I heard seriously. When an editor made recommendations, I definitely listened and made changes.

And of course, my being an editor helped me feel a little more confident as I moved forward. Also the fact that I'm a consistent reader. I read so much Christian fiction that I felt I knew my genre well. I'm comfortable checking proofs; I know what to look for. Writing back cover copy is something I do all the time. I knew that getting endorsements could really help me. Anyone can self-publish, of course. There are people there to guide you every step of the way. But my personal experience made me more comfortable throughout the process.  

Also, I'm not planning for this to be a series. I am hoping to shop the YA fantasy series once it's ready. I'd love for that to get picked up since it's meant to be a 4-book series.

Me: Is that what you're working on next? What's keeping you busy (besides marketing and publicity on this)?

BRB: Well, I've got a toddler running around, and I'm editing two books so that keeps me pretty busy. I haven't stopped writing though. My sister and I are working together on a fantasy YA series that I'm super excited about.

 

The Book: Looks Like Love by Brandy Bruce

The awesome book trailer.

The author.

The Spiritually-Interested Publishing Revolution

Christian publishing may be more recognized than ever. But that doesn’t mean anyone knows how to sell to the avowed-unaffiliated, spiritually-interested audience.

In fact, there’s strong evidence a big house can’t because more readers are moving “off the grid” every day. Someone said recently that a quiet cultural revolution is underway, especially in publishing—the anti-establishment sentiment seems to be at a fever pitch amongst certain readers and growing louder by the day.


Oh, you’ve noticed? That’s good. Because whether or not CBA survives its uncertain and awkward teen years (never threatening the reach of its big brother ABA, even in a good year), the association of Christian retailers and affiliated Christian suppliers is scrambling to keep up with the morphing and fracturing that’s shifted into high gear. The addition of viable self-publishing, new indy publishers, and a welcoming general market have all but destroyed the arguments that we need more acceptance of Christian books. And while the lingering effects of the recession are preventing many publishers from risking on new authors, there has never been so much opportunity for diverse messages in this industry.


Let the good times roll!


CBA gatekeepers and storeowners can continue to keep “seeker” books out of their stores all they want. Christian publishers can be wary. But those authors and houses who want to do more seeker-friendly books have plenty of ways to reach that broader audience. Outside CBA lies the open sea of the general market and the bottomless Internet. Is viral and guerilla marketing as effective as store placement, big ads, and catalog spreads? It’s hard to argue “No,” when talking about the spiritually-interested book. Spiritual forum discussions, videos, blog tours, downloadable bonus content, interactive web interviews, and other creative promotions are generating interest and sales. Traditional live events, media coverage, reporting, and book reviews, are morphing into online content through alternative news and spiritual websites like Salon.com, Beliefnet, and book clubs. And anecdotal evidence says more people are seeing an author’s self-promotion in regional independent ABA stores more often and faster than those going through the traditional grueling channels (targeting an agent to sell to a big house, re-shaping to fit standards, and hiring a publicist to get you into chain stores while hundreds of other books arrive with yours). Maybe for the first time, the odds of success in spiritually-interested publishing are shifting toward small and independent.

 

By the way, we know it’s been building for several years. These readers have always been a fairly …unusual breed…okay, nerdy nonconformists. Sure, they liked believing they could be accepted in the establishment in-crowd, when it was still new. But marketing has changed all that. The big houses now feel phony and old and sad trying to target the unaffiliated. So for authors, this means the vision you construct for convincing retailers to take your spiritually-themed book will be easier to pitch as unique and desireable (and money-making) for not being mainstream. Because here’s the sound-byte of the century: aligning with big mainstream publishing—general or Christian—can be a liability to spiritually-curious readers.

Plenty of people still like the establishment, including myself. But that doesn't change the fact that these are interesting times in publishing. Any case studies? Leave a comment and we'll discuss.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

A061_2 "I am a seven-foot-tall banana for a San Francisco–based fruit delivery company. I ride the train as the banana. I pass out bananas on the streets dressed as the banana. I get an awful lot of hugs as the banana, and more high-fives than anyone really has a right to."

"…Sometimes I think that no matter what I write, no matter how much I improve, no humorous essay will ever be able to compete with the sight of a middle-aged mom dressed as giant food."

Some special encouragement to all you brave authors out there who are sacrificing time, money, and dignity to survive and thrive.

See now? You don’t have to feel bad just because you can’t "survive" on your writing income. More importantly, are you thriving?