For several years, I was in what we called a creative workshop. Just a handful of folks discussing the creative process, led by my pastor Kyle Gott. I came to see the creative part of us as very childlike. Eager to experiment. Fed by instant gratification. Fragile to criticism.
Here’s the thing. We wouldn’t nag a child into painting a picture. We wouldn’t berate a child if they didn’t build a lego project when they had all day. We wouldn’t tell a child that their painting isn’t very good.
If you get stuck while writing – or painting or playing the guitar – try treating the creative part of you as a child. Be understanding and encouraging. Try to make things fun and exciting. Be complimentary. Give your child a new journal and ask it to tell a story.
There is no denying that discipline is a part of this whole writing thing. A big part. But so is letting our creative side play.
“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
“… your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
That enlightening passage is from Stephen King’s “On Writing”. It was the advice passed on to him by a newspaper editor. And it’s the big lesson I walked away with. Take out what’s not the story. It helped me tremendously while writing my first novel BUKU.
It kinda applies to life too, doesn’t it?
In this unprecedented time, in the midst of a pandemic in which our commitments are canceled and we are forced to isolate, many of us have been given the chance to rethink the story. Our story. Maybe our lives need a little editing to get down to what our story really is. And should be. And can be.
I am something of a do-it-yourselfer. Not the kind of do-it-yourselfer who confidently steps up, assesses the situation, and whips together a solution out of twist ties and electrical tape. I’m more the kind who grunts and groans getting down on the floor, stares at what’s broken for at least ten minutes, spends half the afternoon looking at youtube videos, wastes 30 minutes searching for the right tool somewhere in the garage, and gets it wrong at least five times before success.
Still, I did fix my leaking refrigerator last week by replacing the valve that feeds the water to the icemaker. This only happened after I forgot a few steps, found out the first part I ordered was defective, got soaked because I forgot to turn off the water, had to mess with the new valve to get it to quit leaking, and got up and down from the floor about twenty times. In the end, the refrigerator is fixed and I saved at least a hundred dollars.
It occurs to me that being a do-it-yourselfer around the house is similar to becoming an indie author.
And interestingly, some of the same rules apply.
1. Just try. Sure, appliance repairmen and publishers are experts at what they do. But they are just people with a very particular set of skills, skills they have acquired over a very long career… okay, sorry. Got carried away with my Liam Neeson impersonation there. Sure, experts know more than you, but they had to learn what they know. You can learn it too. I’m not saying there aren’t times when it would be wise to hire an expert. It’s almost always easier and more expedient. Sometimes it’s most definitely the best course of action. However, it also is oftentimes way more expensive, and you give up a lot of control. Why not examine your situation and look into doing it yourself?
The first thing to consider…
2. No matter how simple someone else makes it look, it’s not. Whether you’re replacing a part on your fridge or trying to learn how to format the interior of your first novel, remember that the people who are instructing you have done it before. Probably lots of times. Even if you follow their directions to the “t”, you will do it more slowly, you’ll probably do it wrong at least once, and your end result may not look as slick. That’s alright. No one expects a newbie to look like a pro on the first outing. You can still be good. You can still get the job done. Don’t worry if you take a while to do it, you get dirty in the process, and your results aren’t perfect.
The fact is…
3. The internet contains a whole world of teachers. Whether you’re a handyman or you’re writing a post-apocalyptic romance about space alien zombies, someone has already done what you’re trying to do. And they’ve made a video about it. Or written a blog. Or developed a course. You do not have to start from scratch. The things people used to have to learn in college or as an apprentice can be found online.
A good tip…
4. Always read the comments. Or join the student Facebook group. It is true that you will learn from the teacher. But you will learn just as much if not more from your fellow students. Someone else has already tried it and failed, and then bless their hearts, they shared their failure with the world so you can learn from it. On the video about how to change the valve, one of the commenters pointed out that you had to push down the collar surrounding the tube to pull it out. He said he spent 30 minutes fighting with it and finally found the answer on someone else’s video. I read his comment and saved myself all of that time. While working on my first novel, I took an online course from a guy who makes tons of money as an indie author. The course was great, but the most valuable thing he offers is an exclusive Facebook group made up of all the other authors who have taken his course. If I have a question, I post it or just use the search feature to find the dozens of times it has been asked and answered.
Speaking of the search function…
5. The right tools are vital. The difference between an easy job and a difficult one often comes down to using the right tool. I have found that out as a do-it-yourselfer, and it directly translates to creating a book. Invest in your tools. You can remove a nut with pliers, but a socket will do it much quicker and with less potential damage. You can meticulously format a book in Word, but programs like Scrivener and Vellum make the work a hundred times easier and produce predictable results.
Which brings me to…
6. Know when it’s worth it. Sometimes you just need to hire someone to do what you need done, or at least part of it. My husband used to change the oil on our cars. He probably saved us 10-15 bucks every few months. At the time, he had more time than money, so it was sensible. Eventually, the savings didn’t justify the time he had to put into it. When I got ready to self-publish, I looked into formatting my first novel myself. I researched on the Facebook groups I mentioned above. I played around with the various free programs. Then I decided I was spending way too much time trying to figure it out. So I found a guy on Fiverr who did it really inexpensively. What I might have saved in money I would have overspent in time.
I think the key is…
7. Know your abilities and your limitations. My father was a handy guy. We never had much money, so he was the one who fixed our cars and appliances and lawn mowers. He even built an addition on our house. It was while watching him work that I became familiar with tools and saw how things are put together. When it comes to being an author, I have written for a living. I have a degree in advertising. I worked on websites and social media in my jobs. My skillset is well-suited to becoming an indie author. If it wasn’t, maybe I would have been better off seeking a publishing deal. (Maybe one of these days, I still will.) But I knew, for the most part, I had the skills to handle the many tasks that are required. Just like I knew I could probably change that valve.
8. Be fearless. That is… without fear. Because there’s nothing to be scared of here. What’s the worst that could happen? Yes, I failed the first time I tried to change the valve. Turns out, the part was defective. Yes, I did get sprayed in the face with water, but that was worth the laugh! Yes, I did spend quite a bit of time on it. But, because I learned from youtube and the comments, because I had tools and was familiar with them, because I understood this was a repair I could probably do… I was out $25 on a part and expedited shipping. Pretty sure if I had called a repairman, it would have been $150+.
As an indie author publishing on Amazon (and probably other platforms one of these days), I make 70% on every ebook I sell. If I had found an agent who would represent me, if she/he had found a publishing company willing to take a chance on a 50+ newbie author (and those are really big ifs and would have taken years), I would be getting pennies… pennies per copy. I may never make a lot of money at this. But there are indie authors who are. And many of them are making a lot more than they would if they had gone the traditional route. The cost/benefit analysis is in their favor. Maybe it will be in mine. I’ll never know unless I try.
Doing it yourself can save you money. And sometimes it can mean the difference between having something – whether it be a working fridge or a novel for sale in the largest bookstore in the world – and never having it at all. So why not just try?
Okay, hopefully we’re not hearing real voices. I’m talking about those subtle voices. The fearful, doubting, negative words, perhaps once spoken to us and about us, that we still carry around.
I had a conversation with a woman who had been divorced for over twenty years. She sat there crying, talking about the awful things her ex had once said to her. He had wounded her, and shame on him for that. But it occurred to me that he said those things two decades ago, and yet she still allowed them to have power over her. She was the one who repeated them, who let them echo in her head, dragging her down.
I had someone who meant a lot to me, who tended to be critical. She has since passed away, and I miss her greatly. However, I sometimes wonder if I would have written my novel if she was still around. I have to admit her negativity was a weight on me.
Here’s the thing though. I know that her critical nature was not because of who I am, but because of who she was. So allowing her words to stifle me… is on me. She wasn’t the one who held me back. I was. I was the one who let her voice – my perception of her voice – echo in my head. I was the one who anticipated her negativity… and adopted it. She may have planted the seed – quite unintentionally – but I gave it room to grow, watered it, nurtured it. Her words would have been buried long ago if I hadn’t given them fertile soil to blossom into something they were never intended to be. I did that. Not her.
Now I’m not beating myself up about this, and I don’t expect you to either. What I’m saying is we all need to examine those voices – the fears, the doubts, the criticism — and understand where they come from. And then choose to release them. Or bury them. Or whatever metaphor you want to use. Let’s silence them. In their place, let’s put our voice. Our true voice. The voice that has something to say and wondrous things to create.
Disprove the naysayer. Convince the doubter. Drown out the whispers. Shut down the shouter. Create what you love, no matter what’s said. Silence the critics who live in your head.
It took me a very long time to decide to fulfill my childhood dream of being an author. Part of that was because of life. Life needs tending to, always. But when I started attending a Creative Workshop headed up by my pastor at the time, Kyle Gott, I slowly came to realize that my real problem wasn’t about time, or lack of ability, or not knowing how to do what I wanted to do — all of my excuses. My real problem was fear.
I was fearful that I wasn’t really capable of accomplishing it. Fearful I wasn’t a good enough writer to write what I wanted to write. Fearful of putting something out into the world that was so very personal. Fearful of the response I would get and how I would react. Fearful that my childhood dream — that this dream I had held onto for so long — was not going to end well.
As I told a group of people during a talk at my church last night, once I faced my fears, I was able to study them. Understand them. And I decided that the only thing that made me more fearful than attempting to write a novel, was not writing one. I became more scared of not taking a stab at my dream than I did of doing it. Not writing a book would have been a regret. A deep one. And aside from a few cringe-worthy moments that still float around in my memories, I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life. Not doing this would have been a monumental one.
So I wrote a book. And I’m writing another one. I haven’t sold a lot of copies. I can’t claim to be successful yet. But, this was never about becoming rich and world famous. This was about becoming a writer. A novelist. Just like I dreamed of when I was a kid. I did it. The world hasn’t changed. But my life has.
I encourage you – make room for your dreams and your passions. Make time for them. Become more fearful of not doing something you should do than you are of doing it. Give yourself nothing to regret.
I was thinking about the story of Jesus… and Peter… walking on water. I looked at the reasons why Peter was able to walk on water, however short-lived the experience was. The obvious reasons are because he had faith… and Jesus was on hand to command him to do it. But beyond that… before that… he first imagined that he could do it… he dared to think that he should do it… and then he asked Jesus to allow him do it. I thought it was a good thing to think about as we look ahead at the things we want to accomplish in the new year. We always focus on the things we want to change about ourselves… to work on our faults. What would the year look like if we imagined something big… dared to think we should do it… turned to God for the approval and the assistance… and had the faith to do the seemingly impossible. That’s my resolution. Happy New Year, everyone.
“Do you quilt?” asked the electrician, as I moved piles of stuff around in my laundry/sewing/craft area so he could get to the breaker box.
“No,” I was forced to admit.
Nor do I use 95% of the fabric and various and sundry other things I have in bins and drawers and piles. Much of it was inherited from my late mother, who loved the idea of sewing much more than she did the actual activity.
But I can’t blame her for all of my stacks. And I think I owe her an apology for the eye rolls over the years. Mom, turns out I’m a lot like you. While I don’t generally buy fabric that I’ll never use (at least not nearly as often), I’m still hanging on to some of what you bought. And I’ve kept all of the buttons and lace and tools and notions.
I think, more than the actual fabric and trim and fringe, it’s about the possibilities. It’s about what they could be, were we to invest the time. What we could be, if we took the time to invest. That’s much harder to let go of, I think.
I have written a novel. I am proud of myself. I am proud of my writing. I am proud of my book.
And I am delighted that people seem to be enjoying it. It is affirmation of the work I did sitting alone in a room for three years.
But it’s a little weird. It took me a while to come to grips with the idea of signing my book. It felt… pretentious. (I have gotten over that and am happy to sign, by the way.)
I love hearing what people think and am thrilled when someone tells me they like BUKU. But I admit, I also feel a bit vulnerable. (It is my first book, after all.)
I have had friends joke that they “knew me when”. I’ve heard phrases like “now that you’re rich and famous.” Let me assure you. I’m still in the hole financially, and there are 349,846 authors who are more famous than me on Amazon right now. (That’s my sales rank across all books on Amazon at the moment!) I’ve had friends who I haven’t spoken to in thirty years say they’re proud of me. That’s humbling.
So do I have a point? I think I do. And it’s this. Writing and releasing a book has been one of the most fear-inducing yet pride-producing things I’ve ever done. And I think both of those things are good. When we steer away from what scares us, we deny ourselves little moments of glory.
What I have done is small… minuscule in the scheme of things. Kinda like winning a trophy in t-ball. And yet, in my little world, to me and my friends, it’s a big deal. And they’re the people I care most about anyway.
So let me encourage you to do something that scares you. Terrifies you. Makes you feel vulnerable. Sing a solo at church. Post your latest poem on Facebook. Paint a picture of your dog.
Maybe it will go unnoticed. Maybe it won’t be very good. But how else will we ever be all that our Creator created us to be? How else will we open ourselves up to a moment of glory, no matter how small it is?
A family member just passed away. I have two friends recently diagnosed with cancer. I know people who are dealing with depression, addiction, chronic pain, and the inevitable march of time.
Some of the people in my circle are lonely, sad, overwhelmed, grieving, depressed, broke, jobless, friendless, faithless. So when I post on Facebook that I’m excited about releasing my first book, a part of me feels… guilty. Frivolous. Shallow. What I’ve done will not cure sickness. It will not feed the hungry. It will in no way change the world.
I’ve written a book about monsters chasing people through the mountains. And yes, there is a love story in the book. And a tale of good vs. evil. And a touch of spirituality. But it is, after all, entertainment.
Except to me, it’s more than that. I accomplished a dream I’ve had since childhood. I started a new career in my fifties. I figured out how to do something that I had absolutely no idea how to do. (And am still trying to figure out a lot of it!) I faced the fear of rejection and self-doubt and worked past it. I set myself a huge goal and (eventually) met it.
More so than that, I tapped into that awesome creative spirit that seems such a mystery to those fortunate enough to experience it. I can’t really tell you how I thought of the story of BUKU. I can’t really tell you how I came up with multiple characters and a storyline that seems to tie together. I can’t really tell you where the melody to “Iris’ Lullaby” came from. Creativity remains somewhat magical to me.
Which brings me to my point. In a world filled with heartbreaking things like death and cancer and pain and depression, creating can be essential. It reminds us that there are things far more fascinating than the everyday world. That there are things far more mystical, far more meaningful, far more enjoyable. It reminds us that there is something beyond us that we can connect to as we delve within.
I don’t say these things because I wrote a book. I say these things to encourage you to write a book. Or paint a picture. Or make a quilt. Or sing a song. Or take a photo. Or plant a flower. Or color with your granddaughter. Or whatever it is that is inside you, longing to be let out. We can’t stop the sorrowful inevitabilities of life. But we can interlace them with things we create with our hands and our minds and our hearts. We can bring beauty and peace and passion and godliness into this cold world.
I hope you create something today. Or this week. Or this year. Not because the world needs more entertainment. But because it needs more hope.
When Lee Ann Womack won Female Vocalist of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards, it was a dream come true. Literally. Lee Ann used to watch the awards show as a child and dream of winning the coveted trophy. She worked hard, with single-minded conviction, until she actually did it. She was named the top female singer in country music in 2001.
But Lee Ann said that after the euphoria died down, she was left with a big question. What next? What do you do when you achieve what you’ve worked for for so long? Well, I am about to find out!
No, I’m not up for an award. And probably never will be. But I am about to release my debut novel to the world. Of course, my dream doesn’t center around one book. I hope to write many more. But here at the top of a hill I’ve been climbing for several years, I find myself contemplating the path behind me. It extends all the way back to childhood when I read books that transported me to other places and times. That’s when I told myself I could do that too. The adult me took a long time to get around to it, and I can tell you that path has been long and steep and even torturous at times. But hey, young Jenny. Look at the hill we have climbed.
There’s lots more to do. I’m self-published, so stuff like covers and formatting and marketing and websites is all in my hands. And of course, it’s time to start on the next book. It’s just that, right now, I want to acknowledge that I did it. Whether it sells or not, I have fulfilled a childhood dream.
And folks, I can tell you. It feels good.
I hope you remember your dreams. I hope you can do something that helps you accomplish them in some way. Maybe you can’t become an astronaut, but you can still explore the stars by studying about them. Maybe you can’t be a superstar, but you can still sing or act or paint or pick out a tune on a guitar.
What hill did you want to climb as a child? Have you tried climbing it lately?
Some friends were out of town, and I was over at their house walking their dog. Suddenly, their neighbor appears in his yard with his dog. Both dogs let out a yelp and strained at their leashes trying to get to each other, whining in frustration.
I wonder if we would be like that if we could easily spot fellow writers and other creatives. Would we have an instinctual urge to run up to them, check them out, size them up and shoot a hundred questions at them trying to figure out if they have a secret we don’t have? Just a thought.
Wanna read the start of the prologue to my novel Buku? http://jenniferandersonwriter.com/2018/04/10/buku-lock-stock-and-oil-barrel/
I head up a ministry in which we invite the at-risk students of an after-school program to our church once a week for classes in art, music, sewing, crafts, cooking — whatever I can find teachers for. It’s a lot of work, as you can imagine.
This semester, we are doing a music video. With the help of some of the kids a few years ago, I wrote a rap. (Yep, I wrote a rap.) A great guy in town who has a video company is going to shoot and edit it for us. What I planned to work on today with the kids was practicing the song.
Except they weren’t into it. Shyness, young teen “coolness”, the lack of a music leader — all of that resulted in a bunch of kids staring at me like I was asking them to eat rotten apples. I got frustrated and told them none of us had to be there. Their teacher stood up and read them the riot act. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.
And then our star music student played a beat on the keyboard. Some of the kids started singing. The other kids joined in in loud boisterous voices. It certainly wasn’t pretty. It is still a long way from good. But all the sudden, we were having fun. And almost everyone was joining in. Even some of the girls who have been “too cool for the room” all year did the rap.
The lesson for me was, the kids weren’t at fault. I was. Because I was failing to make it fun. It wasn’t intentional. I always want them to have fun, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t accomplishing that. Once it became fun, they participated.
I think the same applies to ourselves. If we want to create, to be truly inspired in what we do, we have to include play. I’m not saying work won’t enter into it. Because it will. But first, it has to be fun.
In my quest to learn what I need to know about writing and publishing a book, I have subscribed to a dozen or more different blogs/email lists/Facebook pages/etc, all with instructions on how I should write, why I should write, what I should not do while I write. There seems to be a lot of advice and rules and suggestions and no-no’s. I find that some apply to me. Some I disagree with. Some are talking about the kind of writer I will never be. The only thing I know for sure… the one rule that I will state applies unequivocally to every writer, in every genre, for all time… all of my knowledge and wisdom summed up in one sentence is: If you don’t write, it won’t get written.
And by the way, I think this applies to all creatives. (And we are all creative.) What we have inside of us, the part that is unique to us… if we don’t express it in some way, we stop it from ever being revealed to the world. Or at least our world. Or maybe even, just to us.