Saturday, August 4, 2012

8 Lessons Learned in 8 Months of Writing

The close of summer is a sad time for me, even when the temperatures have been over 100 degrees here in the Midwest for most of it. I still love the sun, the swimming, the freedom, the vacations, the flowers, the red, white, and blue, and the fun with my kids. I have found myself reflecting this week on what I have learned in the eight months I have ventured into the world of writing.  
1. When in serious doubt about where your book is going, resist the urge to go back to the beginning. Plunge ahead, and get to the finish line.
I still get these moments where I think, How in the world am I going to get out of this mess I've created? Is it even worth it? Maybe starting over will lead to some new ideas. But I've read and heard from others that finishing is so important. As in life, you can reflect on the past for awhile, but then you have to move on. Eventually, I'll be back to the beginning, but if I do that now, I'm going to lose momentum. I might also lose what my characters are trying to show me. I can't just leave them hanging now, can I?
2. Brothers can be great encouragement, especially when they're as funny as mine.
One day, I was lamenting over the fact that I didn't know whether to use real street names since my scene was in an actual city, in an actual point in history. Some of my historical facts were going to be accurate, but then there was that "fictional" part. I said, "What if someone actually tries to follow my directions and sees that this place doesn't exist?" He imitated for me the type of person who would do this, and then told me about the most amazing nerd, also known virally as "red shirt guy" in this one-minute video.

I will laugh and think of this every time I'm worried about that one person who's going to come to my book signing, and call me out on an inaccurate detail.

3. When you're in the zone, and your subconscious writes something seemingly out of nowhere-- chances are you've probably read it somewhere.
I informed an author friend that my character had uttered a phrase I had never used before, nor ever remember even hearing. I was amazed by how it just spewed onto the page, and even further, did not even mean what I thought it meant. ("Inconceivable!" "You keep saying that word- I do not think it means what you think it means." - Princess Bride, of course).
I was almost utterly embarassed when she said, "Well, that is funny. But if you look at my book-you-just-finished-reading on page 203, you will see that phrase used." What? How had I not remembered reading that, but my brain had somehow absorbed it? And funny enough, she used it right.

4. When you write about a brave character, it might just tend to make you braver in real life.
We often write about the kind of character we wish we could be. But sometimes, real life and fantasy overlap. To believe in something, and give it life on paper, we are not only creating a fictional character, we are creating new parts of ourselves. So if you are trying to improve some characteristic in yourself, consider writing it into a fictional character. Then imitate. But use this power for good, not evil.

5. Writing is one of the few wonderful places where, if you hit a roadblock, you can skip it and go ahead into the future to write a new scene.
Writers have different methods, but this one has worked for me. Who says you have to write straight through, just as you have to live life in a certain order? Maybe if I skip ahead to a future scene, I'll get my answers to get through this point in time. If only life were actually like this! Think about how much you learn when you look back at a problem you once thought was so huge. But then again, in life you have to fight through those obstacles to learn and grow. There is no other way.

6. History is incredible. It gives the springboard behind writing historical fiction because there are so many little tidbits you can bring to life.
When I started, I took a year (in the 1800's) and began to look at events that happened during the year. My research took me to a situation in which a young lady is mentioned. She is the only one who stands up to a bully in defense of a man, of all things; her name is never given. The writer did not even know who she was at the time. She did exist as a blip in history, and the moment I read it, I thought, that is my character. Everything took off from there. If you are wanting to write, this is all it might take to spur your imagination. Pick up a piece of history and go from there!
7. Social media is so time-sucking, but it's also a lifeline.
I have to be thankful for Facebook, because it has allowed me to connect with so many new readers, writers, and friends. I have enjoyed supporting them along their journeys, and the great thing is, they have also supported me. Writing can be lonely, but knowing there is a system out there of friends who care about what I'm doing-- it's so amazing to me. So here's a call to "like" my new writer's page on FB. I would love to interact with more of you. Let me know what you're up to, so I can support you, too! Just knowing that someone else is looking forward to my book has kept me going many times.

8. Celtic Woman on Pandora makes a great soundtrack by which to write. This, and New Age Essentials.
Sometimes I can't get rid of the distractions until I stick my earbuds into my laptop and get the music going. I have found that concentration has been one of my biggest enemies, and this is almost like classic conditioning. I hear the violins, my fingers know to write. (Well, I wish it happened exactly like that). This music has dramatic highs and lows, beauty, sadness, joy. Drums beating, sounding like a herd of horses across a plain, rainstorms, nature, flutes. Whether the sound of history in Ashokan Farewell, or Irish fiddlers, or haunting themes from Lord of the Rings and Braveheart, it's all there. I love music as much as reading and writing, and love how it helps my imagination.

 Have you learned any lessons this year? Either in reading, writing, or life?


  1. I have learned SO many lessons this year, but I'll stick to writing for now! Christina, your blog is bang on. Here's what I learned with regards to your points:

    First off, people WILL find an error or mistake like that. So what? It's fiction? We all do our best. Unless it's really blatant (which an editor would catch), those people usually don't make a big deal of it. So don't worry.

    I agree about the Bravery thing. Opening yourself to criticism is a huge feat of bravery to begin with. Standing there and defending your creations makes your stronger still. And hey, sharing your thoughts on this blog are even more brave, imho.

    Yeah, if you skip a part in your story and move on, chances are the story will fill itself in later on! That's when you have to place a blind trust in the process ...

    I think the biggest thing I learned this year is that I'll never stop learning, and that even the smallest lessons, the ones I think aren't important, are of value to others. So thanks for sharing yours!

    Facebook's wonderful, and I did join your page.

    1. Thank you, Genevieve! I'm glad to be learning a lot, and you have certainly helped me out along the way. I appreciate everything.

  2. Barb Leatherman (mom)August 5, 2012 at 7:20 AM

    Christina, your blog is as interesting as a book. So keep on! I've learned or re-learned:
    -to see new things through my grandkids' eyes, like their first major league baseball game
    -to see a new world through my daughter's eyes, like her country wedding
    -to see nature trying to struggle through the heat wave, like keeping my hummingbird feeders full and fresh, and putting a kids' swimming pool of water at the edge of my woods for critters
    -to feed my hobby of creating by sewing something new
    -to find fulfillment in helping my kids with their painting projects and redecorating rooms
    Hope everyone had a productive summer by time spent with family, getting projects done (finished as Christina says), or just by beating the heat.

  3. Barb Leatherman (mom)August 5, 2012 at 7:32 AM

    P.S. from (mom)
    on your #8...when I was a teenager, I was practicing the piano, playing a classical piece, as my sister, Laurel, painted a landscape scene. She made me keep playing the piece until her painting was finished. I suppose it helped us both!

    1. That is a funny moment. I can just picture it!

    2.'ve got me thinking, Barb (aka Mom). Maybe I should hire a pianist to come in at least once a week during the summer? You'll get what I mean if you read my comment below to Christina's "question of the day."

  4. Another insightful post, Christina. Loved your points.

    What I've learned is that I can't do it all. I can't write, take care of family issues, promote, and worry about reviews, crits, etc. So I've prioritized: As always, family first (which is why I'm so late getting into this book that's due December 12th--AARG). Then writing, then promoting. As for the reviews and crits--I don't pay much attention to them anymore. When I first started, it was difficult not to agonize over each one. But now, I find that they're more of a distraction than a help. I've also developed a greater appreciation for the people I've met in the writing world. Like you, and Gen., and a ton of others. My precious book might be remembered for a few years, but the help given and received along the way can live for decades. That's the real legacy. But mostly, I've learned that if I intend to be a writer, I have to stop procrastinating and write. So...bye.

    1. Yes, please get back to that book! Thanks for the reminder on priorities, too.

  5. I agree with Kaki that family and friends come first! These are the people who will stand behind you and cheer you up and on! With this said, however, the summer is pure chaos for me as during this time family and friends from all over the country choose to plop into town for weeks at a time. This means constant cooking, cleaning, and entertaining. Add to these the new dimension of travel to do presentations and book-signings and working my way through the social media maze for marketing and promotion, and my calendar puts to shame the back-and-forth and criscross patterns on the map that shows the Tenth New York Volunteer Cavalry Regiment's movements througout the summer of 1863. It's nearly impossible for me to write even 50 words in a week once June hits, and this really frustrates me. So, what lesson did I learn from this? Again, that family and friends come first. These same people who have in a roundabout way compromised my writing productivity since June 1 have gifted me some pretty good connections in terms of helping me to spread the word of my debut historical novel. This and the research that I've gotten done count toward the overall job. So, what am I going to do for the balance of the summer? Stop beating myself up and sit back and relax and enjoy my family and friends! And who knows? Now that I'm not trying so hard, I just might get some writing done in the next couple of weeks.

    Thanks, Christina, for another stellar blog and for leading me to the above insight. What are friends for? I'm glad I stumbled into ya---thanks to Kaki!

    1. Lisa, it sounds like you need a good hiding place. They're family, they'll understand if they can't find you for awhile, right? I hope you get some writing done, for yourself and for US! Yes, it's all thanks to Kaki and that blog of hers. I'm forever grateful for the connections made there.