Showing Up to the Page

I have a secret to admit: I haven’t written more than 15,000 words of fiction since I wrote Somewhere Only We Know. I wrote SOWK over a period of three months, but in the three years since I’ve only managed to write the equivalent of a quarter of that book.

I’ve been struggling a lot in my writing. No idea has felt quite right since SOWK. And I was so busy with so many different babysitting jobs that I felt like I never had long enough stretches in which to write.

So I decided to quit my job two months ago. My husband and I are blessed in that he earns enough to support us both, and I am doubly blessed that he wants me to stay home and write. I was sick of spending so much time and energy running around to five different babysitting jobs a week when what I want to do—what God has called me to do—is write.

However I was so exhausted by the time that I quit my jobs that I wasn’t ready to jump back into writing. Instead I’ve taken the last two months to rest and read a lot. I was hoping after doing so, and after going on our vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains, I’d feel inspired enough to jump back into writing.

One of the mornings on our vacation, I woke up before anyone else and decided to walk out on the deck to watch the sun rise. I took probably the most beautiful photograph I’ve ever taken that morning, but it’s not as inspiring as it seems.

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Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

That morning on the deck, I begged God to reach me, to show me how to do this, to change me, to show me how to write again.

But I felt nothing.

I took the photograph because I couldn’t believe the beauty before me, but I didn’t feel God speak to my heart that morning.

I had this blog post marked in my planner ever since I quit my job, figuring I’d get back to work by June and that I would be full of inspiration after resting and seeing the mountains. I was going to write about taking breaks and coming back to the page refreshed.

Instead I’m coming back almost as worn and weary as before, but with a new perspective. We can’t ask God for beautiful, inspiring sunrise moments on demand. We must simply show up to the work he’s called us to do, and do it.

I didn’t make a whole big schedule this time. I simplified my social media and blog planning to a minimum. I made a list of stories that I can work on. And I’m only trying to write 200 words each day. I’m just showing up to the page.

I’m trying.

I’m learning how to write again.

I’m focusing on nonfiction, because that seems to come a little easier right now.

I’m jumping into writing opportunities at my church.

And we’ll see how it goes and how God leads me. But I have to take the first step by putting my fingers to the keyboard again.

What I think is going to help me the most is that my husband and I are about to move into our first house. I will have my own library/office and my books will all be in the same place for the first time ever. I will finally have my own space in which to create, and I can’t wait to see what magic my new library will hold.

 

How to Fit in More Reading

Writers should read as much as they write. As Stephen King puts it, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Reading helps you as a writer by letting you see what kind of stories are out there and observing how others’ write. Reading a lot surrounds you with words and stories and makes it easier to write your own stories.

But writers often have a hard time fitting in reading. And there are two main reasons for this.

The first is that reading is time-consuming. Writers are often already doing their writing in their spare time on top of day jobs and don’t have any extra time to read, no matter how much it would benefit them. Since I only have a part-time job as a babysitter, I don’t have too much experience with this reason for not being able to read, but I do struggle a lot with reading slumps. I go through many periods of time in which nothing sounds good and I simply don’t want to read.

Whether you have trouble fitting in time to read or are struggling to find something you want to read, I have ideas to help you fit in more reading so that you can have the tools you need for your writing.

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This quote by Stephen King sums up the need for writers to read.

Time-Restraint Tips

  • Audiobooks
    I’ve written before about how I love audiobooks and how they can be a great writing resource. Listening to books as I get ready in the morning or for bed, or while doing housework, is an excellent way to fit more reading into your day even when you don’t have time to sit down with a book in your hands. If you have a commute to your day job, try audiobooks to fill that time with more reading.
  • Always have a book with you
    You never know when you might have a few minutes to read. I don’t usually carry a physical book with me, but I have apps on my phone with ebooks and audiobooks. However, when I know there’s a high probability of having time to read (like at doctor appointments or at babysitting jobs during nap times) I always bring a physical book.
  • Schedule it
    If you struggle to find time to read but know how valuable it can be to your writing, schedule it! Reading is important and we should treat it as such. In my writing planner I schedule it out so that I can read a third to a half of two different novels each week and a chapter a day or so of a nonfiction book about writing. You’d be amazed how much reading you can get in if you break it down and schedule a handful of pages per day.

Reading Slump Tips

  • Quick Books
    Sometimes I get into a slump because the book I’m reading is really long and it’s taking forever to get through it. Long books may make you feel like you’re not getting any reading done at all simply because it takes a long time to finish. I love to read short books. A book you can finish quickly can give you the boost of confidence you need to get back into reading. Graphic novels and novels-in-verse are my favorite quick books.
  • Something Different
    When nothing sounds good to read, sometimes all you need is something different to make reading exciting again. Try something outside your comfort zone—a book in a genre you never would’ve picked up before. If you only read YA (like me) try an adult fiction novel. If you usually read fiction, try a memoir or poetry. If you’ve never read a graphic novel before, give it a try! You might like it as much as I did. Something outside the norm could help you jump back into a reading groove.

Do you have any tips about fitting in reading to add to the list?

How Music Can Help You Write

Sometimes silence is a good thing for writers. I love to sit with my dog and look out the window together, letting my mind wander and brainstorm. But most of the time I’m listening to music. And I think there are many benefits to listening to music while you write.

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Listening to music while you write can inspire you and help keep you focused.

I’ve always felt that different forms of art can influence each other. Music influences my writing. My writing influences my paper crafts. The Bible, which is God’s Word and a work of art in its own right, influences everything I create.

Music can be a great source of inspiration for writing. Different genres and tones of music can influence your ideas. For example, I like to listen to music that reminds me of a character or a story in order to brainstorm. But the main way music helps me is by keeping me inspired during the physical act of writing.

I have the radio station K-LOVE on pretty much non-stop. Listening to Christian music and worship songs is a great reminder of God’s presence. The music helps me remember that God is always with me and that I need to look to him when I am creating.

K-LOVE helps me when I’m reading, brainstorming, working on social media and my blog, and doing pretty much everything else during the day. But when it comes time to get my word count down for the day, I can’t seem to listen to lyrics anymore.

Instead I turn to movie scores and other soundtracks and classical music. Orchestral music helps me so much when I am writing. I try to pick music that has a tone and pace similar to what I’m writing so that it helps me keep my head in the right place. Some of my favorite movie scores to listen to are Inception (or anything else by Hans Zimmer) and the Harry Potter movies. I also like listening to Cirque du Soleil soundtracks when I want something a little different-sounding. When it comes to classical music, Beethoven has always been my favorite.

Movie scores, soundtracks, and classical music keep me inspired and focused on what I’m doing. It’s so easy to become distracted and turn away from your writing, but a lot of the time I’ll use albums as timers: For example, I know that the Inception soundtrack is approximately one hour long. So if I’m having trouble focusing, I can turn that on and tell myself I have to work until it is over, and that will keep me focused for a whole hour.

Another tip I’ve heard before is that video game soundtracks are even better than movie scores to listen to while writing because video game music is specifically designed to keep you concentrated. I’m not much of a gamer and I only have one video game soundtrack (Epic Mickey), so I don’t have much experience to know if this really does help. But movie scores help me just fine.

No matter what music you like, you can look to is as an inspiration for your stories and use it to help keep you focused while you write.


Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?

My 5 Favorite Writing Quotes

I love quotes. I think the main reason I love Instagram is because of the way people can display quotes and Bible verses on beautiful images. Quotes can encourage. They can be something to look to when you feel stuck or uninspired.

I love turning to quotes about writing when I need a little boost of encouragement or inspiration. The following quotes are my favorites:

  1. “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
    This was my first favorite quote about writing. I discovered it back in high school when I first got serious about writing. I love it because it explains that need to write that people feel. I have something to say to this world, and writing is how I say it.
  2. “A word to the unwise. Torch every book. Char every page. Burn every word to ash. Ideas are incombustible. And therein lies your real fear.” – Ellen Hopkins
    This quote about censorship inspired a book I have on the back burner. I love it because it is so true—you can never take away the power of words.

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    I love this quote by Ellen Hopkins about censorship
  3. “The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” – Vladimir Nabokov
    I think this quote is a beautiful depiction of how it feels to write. When you are into a story and the words are flowing, it truly does feel like the words are already there in invisible ink, just waiting for you to uncover them.
  4. “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” – Barbara Kingsolver
    I love this quote because it reminds me to not let others influence my writing. It can be tempting to try to write a book just like the latest bestseller, but that’s not what I have to say and those aren’t the stories I have to offer to the world.

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    This quote by Barbara Kingsolver is a great reminder
  5. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” – Colossians 3:23
    This last one is not exactly a quote about writing, but I apply this Bible verse to my writing life. Writing is the work I’ve been called to do. And I shouldn’t be writing for some worldly reason like fame. Instead I will work willingly for the Lord.

I hope that sharing these quotes might help inspire you with your own creative projects.


What’s your favorite quote about writing?

My 2019 Writing and Reading Goals

The beginning of a new year makes me reflect on the work I’ve done over the past twelve months and plan ahead for what I’d like to accomplish in the following year. So today I’d like to share my writing and reading goals for 2019.

Being a stay-at-home writer, I struggle with motivation. I have gone through many iterations of schedules and reward systems to try to figure out the best way for me to stay motivated and get work done. But the problem with doing this is that it became more about hitting the hours and achieving the reward than about doing the work God has called me to.

So now my goal list on my cork board only has one item—to write the book I’m working on. Because that’s all that matters

I’m not putting a timeline on it, because that system doesn’t work for me. I can’t rush this. I simply need to remind myself each day that I’m writing for God and that he’s called me to do this work. Motivation comes naturally when I realize I’m working for the Lord.

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Colossians 3:23)

As far as reading goes, I crushed my 2018 goals. My goals were to read 35 fiction and 10 nonfiction books, totaling 45 books. I ended up reading 43 fiction and 17 nonfiction books, for a total of 60 books.

I’m going to up my goals, but keep them under the totals that I read this year so I don’t push myself too far. The only reason I read as many as I did is because of audiobooks, but I’m going through a phase right now in which I’m not really listening to them and I don’t know how long this phase will last.

So because of that, my goals for 2019 are to read 40 fiction and 15 nonfiction books, for a total of 55 books. I do hope to read more than that, but I don’t know if that’s realistic if I’m not listening to audiobooks as often.

2019 Writing Goals
What are your writing and reading goals for the year?

In 2019 I want to keep things simple and focus on the reason why I’m doing this work in the first place. God called me to be a writer. My purpose is to write stories for and about women finding hope despite pain. And that’s enough for me.


What are your writing and reading goals for this year?

Writing/Work/Life Balance

Despite the importance of writing/work/life balance for writers, I haven’t written about this topic before because it had never been an issue for me.

I’m very blessed in that my husband earns enough at his job that I can stay home to write. I babysit as a way to bring in some extra money, but lately it has gone from a small part of my week to a half-time job. I love having all of these extra babysitting jobs. I get to hang out with so many wonderful kids each week and the extra money is helping me to pay off my student loans. But now I’m discovering just how hard it is to write when you have a job.

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How do you schedule your writing time?

When I first started these extra jobs this fall, I still tried to do my normal amount of writing work each week. All that did was make me feel like a failure when I simply didn’t have enough time to get all of my reading and writing done each week. Feeling discouraged, I’d try harder to get everything done the next week, only to feel worse when I once again couldn’t meet my goals.

Things got worse and worse over the months, even though I actually started writing my book. But in November—thanks to being around fifteen different kids each week and their germs, and in addition to all of the writing stress I had put on myself—I got back-to-back colds and had to force myself to stop and evaluate.

Once I stepped away for two weeks, I could see the answer clearly: I was simply trying to do too much. I talked through it with my husband about all the things that were important to me to keep doing (the babysitting, the actual writing, reading fiction, blogging) and things that maybe I could step back on (reading writing craft books (at least in their entirety), some social media).

So as this year ends and a new one begins, I’m definitely going to be trying some different things with my schedule. It’s important to always be evaluating and iterating your writing process so that you can make the most of your time and do your best work.

Making more adjustments to my writing schedule—and focusing more of my time on the actual writing as opposed to all of the extras—will help me to find more balance between my babysitting work, my writing, and my life in general.

For a great resource on work/writing/life balance, I would recommend you check out Sarah Werner’s The Write Now Podcast. I always feel refreshed after listening to her show and ready to get to work!


If you’re a writer, how do you go about scheduling your time? Have you found a writing/work/life balance that works for you?

How to Name Characters

I can’t start working on a piece of writing until I have the right names for my main characters. Characters are, after all, like your children, and you need to take the time to find the perfect name. And once you do find the right name, the character becomes real.

I love scouring my baby name book when I start working on a project. These are the methods I use when trying to find that perfect name.

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This is the baby name book I use to find the perfect names for my characters.

Naming Dos and Don’ts

  • Don’t use names that look or sound the same.
    Nothing confuses readers (or me) more than having several character names in a story that look or sound the same. If you have a Jon, Don, and Ron all in the same story, readers are very likely to mix them up.
  • Don’t use too many names that start with the same letter
    Likewise, don’t have names that all start with the same letter to avoid confusion. When we read, our eyes move across the words quickly and our minds fill in the blanks. So if you have a John, a Jake, and a Jack all in the same story—three names all the same length and starting with the same letter—your reader is likely to ix them up as well.
  • Do use names a reader can actually pronounce and remember.
    This is mostly a problem in speculative fiction. To make their science fiction or fantasy stories interesting, writers will sometimes come up with names that look and sound really cool. But when readers encounter these made up names, they have no idea how to pronounce them and thus have trouble remembering them. The point of all of these first few tips are to make things as clear as possible to your readers.
  • Don’t use the names of people you know.
    It’s best when writing to just stay away from using the names of people you know well. Even if the character is portrayed in a nice way, it can still cause a lot of problems with you and the person the character is named after.

How to Choose

  • Name Meanings
    Using the meaning behind names is definitely my favorite way to choose the right name for a character. You can use the meaning behind a name to convey a certain trait about a character or to add irony by making the character the opposite of the meaning. You can play with name meanings in the story itself like I did in Somewhere Only We Know. Or you can not mention the meaning at all and leave it up to the reader to look up if they choose. However you use a name meaning, it can add another level of depth to your story.
  • Sounds
    Don’t only play with the meaning of names, but take into consideration how they sound. You don’t want to have a soft character with a harsh sounding name or vice versa. Or maybe you do. Sound is another way that you can play with your character names to find the perfect one.
  • Keep a List
    Finding names takes a long time, time that should be used for actually writing the story. To save time for when you start your next project, you can keep a running list of names you like. I’ve come across many names over the years that I’ve saved in my mind to use one day in a story, but it’d be nice to have an actual list. Then you can organize it by gender/genre/sound/etc to help you easily find the perfect name the next time you have a new character.
  • Time Period/Age/Setting Appropriate
    Lastly, keep in mind when writing historical fiction or older characters in contemporary fiction that names should be time and age appropriate and that characters from other places should have names appropriate for their settings. You can look up online where and when baby names where popular. That way you can make sure you don’t give your character in your story set in England in the nineteenth century a modern American name.

Resources

  • Baby Name Books
    There are so many baby name books out there that list names by meanings or other categories. I use the one in the picture above.
  • The Internet
    I prefer actual baby name books because when you go online you have to have an idea of what you’re looking for instead of just flipping through, but you can still find name meanings and time/places of popularity online.
  • Scrivener
    If you use the writing software Scrivener, they have a name generator! Just go to Tools->Writing Tools->Name Generator (for the Windows version) and you can search for names by gender, origin, meaning and letter. It comes up with first and/or last names and will generate any number of names. You can also save your favorites.

What tips/methods to do use when naming characters.