Category: Words of wisdom

Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up

I feel like I’ve woken up, and I’m kind of mad at myself. I hadn’t realised I’d fallen asleep. I started this blog because I love to write. It’s my happy place. Yet after a while it became a place of apology, excuses why I wasn’t the writer I thought I should be. Word count flops, failure to publish… a barrage of shame. Rather than dreaming of other realms, the whole writing process had become a bit of a nightmare.

However a chance comment the other day was a wake up call. A bucket of ice water followed by a triple shot of something caffeine laden. A friend of mine was involved in running a writing course and she was bemoaning the excuses our writing peers *coughs* wrap themselves in. This is the gist of what she was saying:

Why are these people wasting our precious time together complaining about why they can’t write, making excuses for their inability to write and talking about what doesn’t work? As writers we have so little time together to collaborate. We should be sharing the things that give us joy, encouraging and inspiring each other, and learning from those who are further ahead and are happy to share their knowledge and experience. Everyone has something to offer that doesn’t involve accolades, or best sellers, or even finished works. Share the pleasure of words on paper, those precious moments where the words match the vision and flow effortlessly, or just rejoice in the success of a colleague.

It struck a nerve. A big raw one. Why had I wasted so much time feeling like a failure? Like a fake at my own writing group, because I hadn’t made progress on my book? When all along I have been writing.

Wait – I have been writing. That great stuff I love to do. The words on paper. Nothing to do with my book, but I’ve journalled a lot, written cards and two plays. The Stand Famous Five and the Mystery of the Disappearing Donkeys, which has been performed at work by both staff and children on several occassions.

And The History of Christmas: An Angelic Perspective, which is a multimedia affair – part pre-filmed and part acted which is being performed at our church Christmas Eve Service. We’ve spent the past few weeks, making costumes, building sets and traipsing around Kapiti filming. It’s been a lot of work, but so much fun watching my vision come to life and seeing the kids having fun. From the footage I’ve seen so far it’s looking great and should be both encouraging and entertaining for everyone watching it. It helps when you have a 16 year old budding film-maker with boundless energy and ideas on board. Collaboration is a wonderful thing!!!

I am a writer. It’s what I do. Letters, articles, speeches (I even did a debate against one of the children at work, which involved me working just as hard as him to craft an argument), and teaching programmes. I am a creative person, and I have no idea what possessed me to box myself into such a narrow view of what a writer should be.

Well no more. I am awake.

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What to Get Your Writer For Christmas…

When it comes to buying gifts, getting into your writer’s good books is easy. Forget trawling through endless book blurbs in the hope you will come across something they might like (trust me, if it’s any good they’ve probably already downloaded it) – this is what they really want for Christmas:

1. Time

Actually top of any writer’s wishlist is a writing retreat. Somewhere comfortably secluded, preferably with the phone turned off, and where the only interruptions are food deliveries…

But if your budget doesn’t quite stretch that far (and sadly mine doesn’t seem to), the real treat is time. Time to dream, to head down the rabbit hole and disappear into the bliss of uninterrupted creativity. So clear the decks, give your writer some space and wait for the gratitude to flow your way!

2. Tools of the Trade

Stationery is the writer’s catnip. I recently bought a Christian Lacroix notebook that sent me into raptures. The paper was heavy, with a silky finish. The embossed cover was smoothly textured. And it had a continuous spine – which means no matter where you open it, it lies flat. It is also perfectly complementary to the type of ink pen I favour; no blots or smudges, just words that sink seamlessly onto the page.

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It’s Christian Lacroix Baby!

Overcome, I may have tried to express some of these remarkable qualities to my family. Needless to say, I saw the widening of the eyes and the metaphorical step back… ‘Yes dear, whatever you say dear...’

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Silky Smooth…

So for those of you who are not as… er, invested, here are some things to consider when buying writing staples:

Journals – They come in all shapes and sizes, and most writers will use a variety. Buy something beautiful, or manly, or funky or whatever your writer is into. Open the journal up and see how it lies. Sometimes journals with a heavy spine won’t stay open, and aren’t easy to write in. Check the line spacing. A large journal with narrow line spacing drives me nuts, but is perfectly fine in a smaller journal that I might tuck away in a purse. Choose good quality paper. Thin, cheap paper will tear easily and often you can’t use both sides effectively.

Pens – Good pens make great gifts. Bear in mind that writers usually have a preference. I prefer blue or black uni-ball ink pens because they write smoothly. Sadly they’re not cheap either, so I also have a stash of biros (medium point – not too fine) for those times when I’m just scribbling out plot points or editing (nothing beautiful about that process). If you’re buying a gift either find out what your writer favours (they will usually wax lyrical with little prompting), or try the pen out in the store. It’s like driving a car – you’re looking for a smooth ride.

Post-its, Folders, Highlighters, Display Books – These are in no way limited to the stock-standard plain versions – although if you package them creatively they can be just as sexy. A stack of good quality legal pads wrapped with a ribbon would make my day. Look for something just a bit special that will give your writer a thrill when they’re cross-referencing or marking up. The key is quality not quantity.

3. Book Vouchers

If you know your writer well, by all means buy them a book. (As I’m writing this my son has just wandered in and said, you know Mum I bought you a book for Christmas… I’m sure it will be wonderful!). However, if your writer is also a voracious reader and is prone to pre-ordering books, this is the one time when a gift voucher is perfectly acceptable. Watch them pull out their to-read list and pore over which great tome they’ll purchase next.

4. Beverages and Accompanying Paraphenalia

Mugs. Teapots. Glasses. Jugs. Coffee. Tea. Hot Chocolate. A writer needs to stay hydrated after all. Avoid things that have a propensity to tip easily. No one likes coffee all over their folder (one of my favourite, special, folders still smells of coffee after an unfortunate incident – and I’m still a bit tender about it). Chocolate. (Goes without saying). Or nibblies that won’t make a mess on the keyboard…

5. Bottled Silence

I’m sure I read about an apothecary shop that sells this. Somewhere. For exorbitant prices. (It’s all about supply and demand after all…). It’s probably on the shelf next to the formula for finished manuscripts, the fount of eternal inspiration and the mythical self-editing quill rumoured to be responsible for those pesky grammar rules.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope this helps. Happy holidays!

PS. To my beautiful friends and family this is not hint – I’m sure I will love whatever you’ve bought me for Christmas. After all I’m not just a writer, and you know me well. But if you’re ever stuck you might want to bookmark this page…

The Best Writing Advice Ever

I know I’ve succumbed to hyperbole with this title – but I promise I’m not selling anything. *checks pockets* Nope all out of snake oil. But I would like to offer you a story today. A story – one of many that have been told around the tables of Cafe Novella during the course of the Kapiti Speculative Fiction Writers’ Group. A story that on the face of it doesn’t appear extraordinary, but unexpectedly struck a chord within me. A life-changing, writing-changing chord that has already impacted the way I write, and has inadvertently rekindled my love for storytelling.

Such is the power of a good story. At just the right moment.

Now you probably won’t believe this, (especially if you are new to this blog *coughs*), but I have been known to bemoan my lack of progress trying to write The Fall of the Kings. Admittedly not one of my finest attributes. But every month I turn up at our writing group, and we discuss how our work’s going. And for a little while now I’ve felt like Mike Noonan, the blocked author in Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, relying on older work to cover up a disappointing lack of output.

So, last month, knowing my writing hiatus was at an end, I figured I needed to come up with a solid plan to move Kings forward. I was quite hopeful about it too. Basically I told the group I’d figured out the best way to break out of the rut was to rewrite the start of the novel and follow the story from one character’s perspective only. This would also neatly avoid some of the difficult characters I’ve been struggling with.

It was a perfectly logical response, and something I’d not tried yet, so I was expecting some positive feedback. Or at the very least – insincere platitudes.

What I didn’t expect was Pat, our awesome group leader, to say this: (Bear in mind Pat has read the first 50 pages of Kings and his feedback was very positive).

Pat’s parents both liked to paint. His father painted sporadically. Whenever the urge struck, he’d pick up a brush and paint out whatever it was that was within him. He was a gifted artist and his work had that inexplicable freedom and spark which set him apart from the hobbyiest. Pat’s mother on the other hand worked at her art diligently and painted all the time. Often she would come home with composition sketches that showed she too had a good eye – that hint of something special. But then she’d sit and paint, and paint – until she’d painted the life right out of it. The paintings themselves were fine. But they could have been really great.

It’s the difference between joy and toil. And with any piece of art, you can tell the difference.

And, yes he effectively told me to stop killing my writing. But he was right.

I have a head full of stories. Amazing stories. Interesting characters. And a vision of what they will look like, fleshed out – writ large. But sometimes I get insecure about telling them just right – getting the details just right that I squash the playfulness, the natural flow or whatever that indescribable thing is that makes my writing special.

So how do I change those ingrained bad writing habits? For me it’s realising that I don’t want to write my stories to death. I don’t want to follow all the writing rules at the expense of the joy I feel when a story comes alive on paper. I know the basic outline of Kings and I love it. It has a killer ending which I can’t wait to write once I’ve built the bridge over this rocky middle. But until I get this internal editor under control I’ve had to park Kings for the time being – because every time I look at the middle section I want to scream. It’s toil and right now you can tell.

Fortunately, I’ve taken my new, enlightened attitude into The Moon is Made of Glass, and I’m letting this new story emerge organically. I’m enjoying the research (such a hardship reading the old celtic fairytales again…), enjoying this new world that is unfolding, and celebrating each unexpected character or development as it’s presenting itself. I haven’t started writing the story yet, (apart from the prologue) – but am looking forward to NaNo as the vehicle to knuckle down and do it.

Do I really believe this is going to sort the problem?

Well I’m practising already. I’ve started an ugly story. One that will never see the light of day. A story that’s been floating around in my mind for ages and I’m writing it as it comes out. Bad grammar, poorly structured, and boring at times. But as I’m letting go, I’m also starting to see those lots of little gems starting to emerge. The ones that got me excited about the story in the first place. The joy has already turned up.

Don’t get me wrong, as the good book says, there is a time for everything; including editing, grammar, and cleaning up the story structure. But now isn’t that time. Now’s the time for rediscovering my love for my stories.

Have you ever felt like you’ve lost some of the joy of writing? What keeps you on track? What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

Stories that Stick – A Word About Courage

Some stories just stay with you. It might be a moment in your life when you got a glimpse of something a little bit bigger than you. A poem or a lyric that struck a chord. A picture that stirred your soul. Or a conversation that changed the way you looked at the world.

For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation like that I had many years ago with a man called Charles Eade. At the time I was in my late teens and Charles was retired, and an elder at our church. He was one of those people where the age gap didn’t matter in the slightest. He’d always smile as if he were really pleased to see you, and he always had something interesting and uplifting to say. (You can tell I had a real soft spot for him).

But the conversation I remember best was about an All Black called Michael Jones. For those who don’t hail from our fair shores, the All Blacks are our national rugby team, and Michael Jones is a legendary player, beloved for his incredible skills and ability to keep calm under pressure (his nickname was Ice Man). He is also a Christian, and had made a personal decision to not play rugby on Sundays. At the time Michael was at the peak of his career, and Charles Eade had somehow managed to spend some time with him.

I was suitably impressed (bear in mind I was a teenage girl and there may or may not have been a poster of Michael Jones on my wall at that time…).

Me: Wow, what did you talk about? (Thinking I would have been tongue-tied being in the presence of such greatness).

Charles: I asked him what he prayed for before a match.

Me: Huh?

Charles: You know I’ve always wondered what he’d ask for. His passes to stick, for the opposition to fumble, that God might help him score some amazing tries (like touchdowns), to win by a great margin…?

At this point Charles gave me one of those looks, you know the ones where people sort of widen their eyes, and nod their head to make sure you’re with them. Honestly the thought had never crossed my mind, but the question was so – Charles. What would I pray for in his situation? I had no idea.

Me: What did he say?

Charles: Courage. He prayed for the courage to go out and play to the best of his abilities.

And I never forgot it.

It’s not about the show, the hype or even the performance; it’s about having the courage to give it your all. Especially when others are watching. Michael Jones carried the weight of a nation’s expectation with him and always played out of his skin. For those of us who write we have to deliver our work for public scrutiny; and the pressure to perform or produce can be huge. It takes no small measure of courage – but that’s what we need to have.

We write for many reasons. To tell a story, to entertain, to ask questions – of ourselves and our readers, to make a connection. Somewhere in the middle of all of it I hope I can tell a story that sticks too. Even if, like Michael Jones, I never know anything about it.

I’ve read many books that have challenged the way I think – and not because they’ve been overtly making a moral point either. In Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, C.S. Lewis really made think about the way we can be totally convinced by our own versions of truth. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde made me wonder whether a person’s countenance is changed by the life choices they make. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott – that life can often be hard and full of loss – yet still full of hope too.

In my current WIP, the question is about choices. What happens if a good person makes a spectacularly bad choice? Two of my characters do, and respond quite differently. I hope it resonates with someone and makes them think.

Looking back through some old journals I found a poem I wrote some years after my conversation with Charles Eade.

Charles Eade asked Michael Jones
What do you pray for before a game?
               Ball handling
                              Speed
                                             Good hands
                                                            Points?
Do you ask to win
               To anticipate your opponent
                              To play well?
What does a man like you
               Ask God for?
Michael Jones said
               Courage
 
Charles Eade told me
               I have never forgotten

Poetry isn’t my strong suit, but it captured a moment that has really stuck with me and inspired me. How about you? Have you ever been surprised or challenged by a story or conversation?

A Plan So Cunning…

Right now I’m gearing up to participate in NaNoWriMo, the great November writing marathon where tales are spun upon gossamer threads, fingers develop calluses as tough as the sole of a hobbit’s foot and stories are shaped and forged in the fire of imagination. You might think I’ve been spending this time warming up my writing muscles, working on my plot or rereading the start of my grand opus (where exactly did I leave it)?  But you’d be wrong. Things have been happening to make made writing time as elusive as the One Ring itself.

So am I going to give up? Flag away NaNo before day one has ticked over on the widget? Absolutely not! I’m just going to pull out my diary and make the best of the time I have available.

The Problem with the Best Laid Plans.

I am a planner – utiliser of lists, charts, corkboards and highlighter pens. In my house, they’re used to me rubbing my hands together and quoting Blackadder with the passion of a zealot:

I have a plan Baldrick! A plan so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel…

The problem with a plan is you can’t cover every eventuality. This morning I planned to get up at 6am and have at least an hour working quietly on the blog before the family woke up. At 6.15 the first child came out rubbing his eyes, delighted to find he had his mother all to himself…

When a Character’s Plan Goes Awry.

In a story, thwarting the plan is a good thing. Not for the character perhaps, but definitely for the writer. If we’ve done our job well the chance of success was slim to start off with, but as the plan goes down the toilet, so does our character’s hopes. The reader is pulled in – how are they going to get out of this one?

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf hasn’t even finished giving Frodo his super-secret-brief when he finds Sam Gamgee ‘not listening‘ outside the window. Gandalf can’t risk leaving a hobbit with loose lips running around the Shire with news about the location of the ring of power. It’s not like Sam, the gardener, has any skills to recommend him to the mission either. What’s a wizard to do?

The second grand failure of a plan was the creation of the Fellowship. Carefully crafted at the Council of Elrond to include a Wizard, one of the Dunedain, an Elf, a man, a Dwarf and a few Hobbits, – it only lasts about five minutes when the chips are down. The Elf and the Dwarf squabble, the man always thinks he knows best, the hobbits almost freeze to death at the first taste of unnatural snow and the only one with any power to hold them together falls at the hands of a Balrog. The man tries to take the ring and the whole group are scattered when the enemy turns up. Not a resounding success any way you look at it.

Yet in the scheme of the story both of these deviations work really well. Could Frodo have made it all the way to Mordor without Sam? Didn’t the Fellowship accomplish much more after they broke up?

So let your character make plans. Good, intelligent plans. And then mess with them any way you can…

Roll with It.

The most successful plan in TLOTR is Frodo’s very vague idea to head in the direction of Mordor and see what happens. On the way he and Sam do the best they can to negotiate a hostile landscape – forced to rely on an unstable ally, are taken against their will by the I-know-better-than-you brother of Boromir (the attempted ring-stealer), and are captured by Orcs a mere stone-throw from Sauron himself. Yet they never stop looking for chances to get back on the road to Mount Doom.

I’m starting to see the benefits to this kind of planning when you’re on an epic journey. Plan today and see what happens. As long as you’re putting one foot in front of the other, you’re still in the game.

A Good Attitude.

In a story when a character’s plan doesn’t work out they don’t throw in the towel, they just make another plan. Occasionally they’ll fail spectacularly and end up in the gutter (like Syracuse, Colin Farrel’s character in the sublime movie Ondine) but they always get back up again and make an effort to finish what they’ve started.

Just because my own writing plans haven’t gone well lately, it doesn’t mean I haven’t lost sight of Mordor (er – NaNo). So as the start draws near I’m consolidating: Getting my house in order, stocking the freezer so no one starves next month, sleeping. By the time November rolls around I’ll be a lean mean writing machine.

Don’t Give Up.

Of course at times the task seems insurmountable. What was I thinking – writing a novel? Me? Although it sometimes feels it would be easier to just enjoy other people’s stories – I still believe my writing has purpose; enough to encourage me to keep going when it seems too hard.

When Frodo and Sam were at their lowest, with no food and water, in hostile enemy territory they became a little philosophical about their circumstances. Sam sums it up well:

‘And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to all them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten.  We hear about those as just went on…

I have a small Amanda Cass card on my desk entitled Follow Your Heart (you can view it here) of a girl running after her heart as it flies before her. It’s a beautiful, visual reminder of why I’m on this journey.

How about you? What kind of a planner are you? Have any of your character’s plans gone spectacularly wrong? Did that ever lead to something so much better than the original plan? How about your own plans (especially in the lead-up to NaNo)?

To Thine Own Style Be True

In my post Writing the Ravine: A View from a Rope Bridge, I had in the back of my mind my own habit of writing in circles.  For me writing can be a slow and laborious process.  Right now I’m about to tip into the second act of my WIP and yet I’ve become bogged down in the details.  I feel like I’ve almost hit it – but not quite.  So I’ve gone back and added in another POV character (feels better), spent some time fleshing out some back-story (motives now good) and have been tightening up timeframes and cultural identities (tedious and not quite there yet).  And yet I still haven’t managed to push past the Act I climax.  But then Scott left the following comment on the post which got me thinking:

I think my metaphor for my writing journey is a little different. I think I am the Forrest Gump runner who got up one day and took off. I had something bouncing around in my head that I wanted to write and so I wrote. As I went along a little, I realized that I needed a plan, so I drew myself a map of where I wanted to go (the outline for the rest of the large story I was telling) and I have been running that route ever since, occasionally stopping to check and see if that’s where I still want to go.

I have to say I was a bit envious.  I want to write like that.  I don’t want to be the girl who is so busy trying to tie her shoes properly that she never gets in the race at all.  But it got me thinking, we’re all so different (yes like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates) and that’s really a good thing.  I’m stoked that Scott knows who he is as a writer and is following after that with all his heart – because I have the same goal.  To tell a good story.  And to tell my story I need to tell it my way, and go about it in a way that’s going to work for me.

In the Lord of the Rings, there are a lot of heroes.  There are those born to be King (like Stryder / Aragorn); the graceful and elusive Elves –  fleet of foot and high of cheekbone (Orlando Bloom… er –  I mean Legolas); the resolute dwarves – stocky and pure of heart (Gimili); and of course the short, hairy-footed hobbits who like their food and home comforts much more than running around Middle Earth and saving the world.  Yet of all of these heroes the hobbits, the most unlikely of the bunch, were the ones who were able to destroy the One Ring.  They didn’t do it by charging into battle in full battle regalia – more often than not they crawled away on their bellies to avoid the fighting because they were small enough to be overlooked.

My point is – you don’t have to be a pantster if you aren’t.  You don’t have write 5000 words a day if you can’t.  You just need to understand your own style and strengths and do what works for you.  Even if it doesn’t look as heroic as you’d like.

Another example of this is the story of David and Goliath.  When David fought Goliath he was still an unproved young man charged with tending his father’s sheep. Yet he was able to convince the King to let him face the Philistine champion. The King dressed David in his own tunic, gave him a bronze helmet, armour and a sword.  David, however, wasn’t used to wearing all the battle regalia, so he took them off.  He preferred to face the giant as he tended the sheep, with smooth stones and a sling-shot. And we all know how the story ended.  One stone and one dead giant.  But it might have been quite different if he’d tried to fight the battle any other way.

So for me – I’m trusting my gut.  I’m an edit as you go kind of girl.  It’s the way I write.  Sometimes I wish my inner-editor would let me get more words on paper.  But I guess then I’d just be proud of my numbers – when it’s the story that counts.  The benefits are that I feel better if I’m working from a solid foundation and I won’t need to edit as much later on.  So when I suspect I need to tighten and work on back-story I will, even if it means it takes a little longer. And I’m learning not to worry so much.

But there are many, many other ways to write your story.  It’s better not to compare, rather to try and glean nuggets from others that might improve your own process. I tip my hat to Scott who sets his goal and runs after it.  You might plot, you might pants, you might edit as you go – or not.  But find your rhythm, and enjoy your writing journey your way.

What kind of writer are you? Are there things about your writing style that frustrate you?  That work really well?  How has your writing process changed for the better? I love to hear from you.

Writing the Ravine: A View From a Rope Bridge

Have you ever crossed a rope bridge? A really rickety one, not much more than a few pieces of rope strung across a drop of bone-breaking proportions? Living in New Zealand, I’ve had my fair share of encounters with these no-frills crossings – especially on school camps where they are deliberately built that way to promote confidence.  (Not sure it had that effect on me – I could only envisage them scraping up my broken body from the rocks below while our teacher felt terribly guilty apologising to my distraught parents…).  But then it occurred to me crossing a rope bridge is a great metaphor for the writing journey.

1. Consider Your Approach.

The last thing you want to do when getting onto a rope bridge is rush the approach. You’d check it was sturdy, evaluate the distance and ease on slowly to make sure it will hold your weight.

It’s much the same with writing a novel.  Hopefully you will have given some thought to what you want to achieve, the genre, the theme or an overall goal. I have the greatest respect for pansters, but even if you plan to pants your work the whole way – it pays to have some kind of plan or you can invest a whole lot of time in something that might end up in the trash. (Or the bottom of a ravine.).

2. Balance is the Key.

It doesn’t matter how good your plan might be to walk steadily across the rope bridge without stopping or slowing down; but once you’re on the bridge other things will affect your progress.  There might be a slight breeze which requires you shift your weight. Some ‘friend’ might decide to leap off the end and you have to white-knuckle it until the bridge stops swinging.  Your foot might slip and it takes time to recover your balance (and your nerve).  The truth is when you cross a basic rope bridge every step is a matter of balance.  The same is true in the writing journey.

I’ve put many plans in place over the years outlining how I will write my novel.  One went something like this:  I will write one hour every morning and the cumulative word count will mean I’m finished by X.  The problem is life happens. I missed the odd morning, the cumulative words turned out to be cumulatively bad (or unusable) and I felt like a failure.  What I’ve come to realise is – I know my goal. So each day I have to work out the best way to move me closer.  Take a step, check my footing is good and I’m half-way there.  Now I know setting goals is good, I’m all for them and even have another lined up for later this year.  But I’ve learned it’s easier if I balance family, work, health, friends and writing each day.  I want good words.  And I want to enjoy the journey.

3. Start and Keep Going.

What’s the alternative to not crossing the bridge?  You could go down and make your way through the rough ravine to get to the other side.  You could take the long way around (if there is one).  Or you could go back and miss out on what’s on the other side.  If you want to write, going across is the equivalent to writing the novel.  Not reading about writing, talking about writing, journaling forever…  Cross the bridge.  Write the novel.

4. Don’t Let Fear Stop You.

If you’ve ever looked down while crossing one of these bridges, (if you’re at all like me) you start to see every jagged rock, every sharp stick or unyielding boulder.  If fear gets hold of you the shakes start.  You shake.  The bridge shakes.  All of a sudden there’s a real possibility the whole thing will flip over and the emergency rescue team will be coming for your body.

That doesn’t usually happen (although it might – I am it seems, still a wimp at heart), instead you tend to white-knuckle the sides and freeze.  Anyone seeing the correlation here? If you think too hard about what you’re trying to achieve when you’re writing, you may not write anything.  I’ve had plenty of times when I’ve thought it’s all a bit much.  I’ll never do it. Who am I kidding?  But then I take a deep breath. Find my balance. And take the next step.

If we let fear stop us writing, we don’t just stop and that’s it – our dreams are the ones that end up broken in the ravine.  And that hurts.

5. Don’t Rock the Bridge.

There is nothing worse when you are on a rope bridge, when someone else decides to rock it.  Because they’re not in any danger, they think it’s funny to scare you.  I’m sure none of you would ever do this. It’s the same with writing. Don’t pull holes in someone’s writing because you think it isn’t as good as your own.  We’re all on the same bridge so to speak, even if some can navigate more easily.

I remember an old Castle episode (well Firefly is gone so at least Nathan Fillion is doing the writer thing), where Castle (rich, famous, best-selling author of a hugely successful series) invited a younger breakthrough writer to his poker game with his other established best-selling author friends.  The group pretended to welcome him in, but then preceeded to humiliate him and reinforce his green, new-author-on-the-block status.  The younger writer left with his (proverbial) tail between his legs, knowing exactly what his former heroes thought of him.  Now Castle as a character has many (mostly) likeable flaws, but this went over the line for me.  He was jealous of the youngster and his behaviour was plain mean.  I think you get the point.

6. Relax and Enjoy the View.

If you can relax and take the time to look out from a rope bridge, you’ll often find a vista has opened up that you have never seen before.  You feel like you’re flying above it all – that you’re part of it.  It’s a great feeling.  Again it is the same with writing.  When I can get my head above the self-doubts I can appreciate what an amazing feeling writing this book has been.  Right now, in drafting stage, I’m really the only one who can glimpse the potential of this story – and my own potential as a writer.  I’m trying to make the choice to enjoy it.

Only you can walk the rope bridge, one step at a time.  Others can watch and cheer you on, but essentially it’s something only you can do.  I hope it’s going well for you today.  Keep going – I’ll see you on the other side!

Can you relate to this metaphor?  Do any of these points resonate with you? How do you keep going?