Writing When You Don’t Feel Like It

hard workAt some point, our passion becomes A JOB.

I mean, if we want to get good at it at all, we have to work at it. And when we work at it, it feels like a job.

I’m brainstorming and working on the ideas for a children’s book. And it might be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. Right now, it is work. Hard work. And at some point, we don’t feel like working hard.

The growing entitlement of our culture desires the results without the work. It isn’t everyone, but ask any teacher that has worked over the last twenty years and the cultural shift is real. But the facts of life aren’t shaken by a cultural shift. It still takes hard work to be good at something, even the things we are passionate about.

Whether working through “writer’s block” or editing or revising or pushing ourselves on a new project, it is hard work. It isn’t FUN. And so we don’t want to do it.

Learning the discipline of writing when we don’t feel like it, when the words don’t naturally flow, when the creative juices seem dry, is important. It takes hard work.

The secret is this – the more we push ourselves to work at something when we don’t “feel like it,” the more we see the reward in the end. That’s how you learn the discipline.

Because I can guarantee you this, no matter how awesome something is, no matter how passionate you are about it, no matter how much you love it, at some point we have to work at it when we don’t feel like it.


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Suggested Books on Writing (Part 2)

There really are some great books on writing. I’m only sharing ones that I have connected with and feel other writers would, as well. But the important thing to me is to do a little research. See what your library has on the subject. Even a Writing Fiction for Dummies is a good place to start. Just start reading about writing. Read great books, bad books, and just read about writing. Find a blog you like by a successful writer. Whatever. Get started. Maybe one of these.

writing 21st century fictionWriting 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass

This is one I got from the library and then bought a copy. I need to read it again. Maass does a great job going over what the market looks for, what kind of books are a part of the next wave of literature, ideas of genre, etc. Don’t misunderstand, it isn’t a book about a formula, it is a book about being creative and unique in today’s market and not rehashing what’s come before. It was inspirational and important, especially as I revised The Living Stone. Maass says to write what scares you, not what’s safe. And so it helped The Living Stone become what it needed to be.

hit litHit Lit by James Hall

James Hall is a lit professor who had a series of  classes where he and his students started researching the top selling books of all time (he details the criteria in the book) and tried to find some similar principles and aspects to each novel. From To Kill a Mockingbird to Hunt for Red October to The Firm and The Godfather and others, he found a series of aspects that were similar in each novel. What were those things? From plot to character to sex and religion, he explains the kinds of things that each of the bestselling books of the 20th Century had in common. And as different as each book is, they all had them in their own ways. Again, not as formulaic as it sounds. I read this after publishing The Living Stone and the book had all of them except one. But that’s okay. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had all but one, as well. The same one.

There you go. Are there any books on writing I haven’t shared that were important to you?


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Suggested Books on Writing (Part 1)

I promised some suggestions of books to read if you’re an author or you would like to write. I’m going to give two this week and two next week. These two are for authors who haven’t read anything relating to writing. And I know that sounds weird, but I know of many who have self-published or handed me their manuscripts to read and when I ask, they haven’t read anything to do with writing.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting these books as if I’m a super successful author that knows everything. I’m still learning like everyone. I read a newer book on writing last month and learned a couple new things. It takes practice to get to great writing. But we must practice writing well to get to great writing, and these books, in my opinion, pointed me in the right direction.

king on writingOn Writing – A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

Stephen King gets a bad rap among some authors, and I’m not totally sure why. I don’t always like how he brings a story to resolution (IT being the primary example of this), but most of the Dark Tower series is borderline genius, and Drawing of the Three is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I read everything he wrote up until a decade ago and still read a few of his new ones. Under the Dome and 11/22/63 are both great reads, however bad the TV shows were or will be.

On Writing is not a “how to write” book. It is a “how to be a writer” book. If you know anything about reality, then identity is the foundation of everything. And King literally gives his story on what living as an author has meant to him and his perspective on the craft. It is a writing “classic” now, and I’ve read it a couple times. Never disappoints. And by the way, you don’t have to have read anything he’s written to appreciate the book. It will inspire you.


card character viewpointCharacters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.

Orson Scott Card is another of my favorite writers, mainly his Ender books. Anything in that world he created is a great book. Ender’s Game is a bonafide classic.

Unlike On Writing, this is a “how to write” book. And it covers two of the major parts of writing a novel that beginning authors struggle with – building a great character that is a real person and writing from a consistent and specific point of view within a scene.

Most published books I read (and again, from last weeks post, I read a ton) are told from third person limited or first person point of view. Most first manuscripts I read from authors are in a random type of third person omniscient. Characters and Viewpoint helps with some of the nuts and bolts to help keep voice, character, and perspective consistent in ways that draw readers in.


That’s it for this week. I’ll share two more next week.


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On Becoming a Reader

reading3When I decided to write a fantasy novel, I had read fantasy and I was familiar with the more popular series, but I was ignorant of the whole scope of the fantasy genre, which is huge, let me tell you. But the point is, I started doing research.

As a writer, what is research? First, I read books on fiction writing. I got all I could from the library. I did research on the internet and found suggestions for the top books on writing, and if the library didn’t have them, then I went on Amazon and got them. The ones from the library I really liked and wanted to keep, I went on Amazon and bought them, too.

Second, I started reading more and more fantasy. Game of Thrones wasn’t a huge TV show yet, so I read all of those before they became hugely popular. I read others, as well. Some I really enjoyed, others I didn’t as much. The goal with this research was to find authors and stories I enjoyed. With the books I didn’t care for, why did I not care for them? What was it about those stories or characters that didn’t connect with me? For those authors that I really liked, what was it about them that sucked me in?

Third, I read other books outside of the fantasy genre, books that were supposed to be good. Literary or sci fi or historical fiction, I read a wide gamut, from Water for Elephants to Star Wars pulp fiction. I also read a classic or two along the way.

The point is, before I wrote a word of The Living Stone, I read a lot. Over years. Like, a lot. And I went from reading simply for pleasure to reading with a purpose, reading critically. I still enjoyed what I was reading, but I was even more engaged as an author in what I was reading. I was intentional.

One of my next projects is writing a children’s book. But I’ve never written one. Guess what I’m doing – research. I’m reading books on how to write children’s books. I’m looking up lists on the internet of the best recent kids books. Then I get them from the library, and as an added bonus, I get to read them with my kids and see what they like and think about them, as well.

Full disclosure here – I am a voracious reader. I know very few people who consume books like I do. So to hold you to the same standard may not be fair. My wife is an incredibly intelligent person but does not read as fast as I do. It is not a sign of your ability or intelligence; some people read faster than others.

But if you want to be a writer, then you must read. A lot. I don’t know of any successful author that I’ve read about that DOESN’T stress the importance of being well read.

There are some great books that I’ve found and would recommend if you are getting started or are interested. That post will be next week 🙂


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Say Yes and Figure it out Later

yes man 2Too often, our first instinct is to say, “No. I can’t,” when an opportunity or an idea arises. This soon becomes habit and this habit begins to eat away at our creativity. Ideas come and are dismissed or begin to never come at all.

Jim Carrey starred in a movie called Yes Man in 2008. In the story, the main character changes his thinking by saying, “Yes,” to everything and never saying “No.” It was a decent movie, but the point was made. He learned and experienced things he never would have had he not taken a risk and a chance.

As creators, as writers, we have an endless supply of ideas. We have to challenge ourselves with new tasks, new styles, new ways of doing things.

As a songwriter, I’ve tried my hand at several different styles of music. I’ve written rock, metal, folk, country, even rap and pop. While the music business does want to pigeonhole and label – they can sell it better that way – creativity doesn’t fit neatly into a box. And we can learn more by going outside our comfort zones.

It is the same as an author. When I decided to write a fantasy story, I had never written one before. I knew the main authors and series, but I wasn’t as familiar with the genre as, say, SciFi or especially horror. But when I decided to explore the idea, I also committed to figuring it out along the way.

Even as I continue to write the Eres Chronicles, I try and challenge myself with something in each book, something I’ve never done before. In writing The Pack, I wrote more organically and did more in the first person.

I can’t explore every idea, so practically, I can’t say YES to everything. But in order to grow, we must say YES to things we’ve never done before, selecting based on our passion and intentional growth.

We will feel as if we can’t. That is natural. But we move forward anyway, trusting that we can figure it out after the commitment. No great achievement was ever begun with “I can’t.” Most were begun with, “I don’t know how, but I will figure it out.” We are sometimes surprised at what we produce.


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Writing and Waiting for the Baby

woman in laborI’m brainstorming and working on the outline for The Flame Reborn. I wanted to have it done by Jan 1.

Guess what. It’s not ready.

My wife and I have had three kids. Let me tell you about babies. They come when they are ready. And unless you try to move the process along with drugs or surgery, we just have to wait until it happens. And that can get frustrating.

While I do not know this firsthand, I can safely say that for most women, the last month or more is uncomfortable. And that might be putting it mildly. A woman feels ready to pop. She’s hot. Her back hurts. She feels huge.

There are natural things to get things moving. We don’t just wait. You can have more sex, eat eggplant, walk a lot, etc. Ultimately, however, it happens when it happens.

As a writer, I know the feeling, in a creative sense. The Flame Reborn is in there somewhere. It is taking shape. It is getting close. I feel bloated with it. I need to write it, or I feel like I do. But it’s not ready yet. That is frustrating.

There are things I can do, though. I can write out ideas. I can imagine scenes. I can revisit characters. I can take a step back and edit another book (Make a God needs to be revised and edited). I can read other works or watch other movies that inspire me and generate ideas.

I’ve written four rough drafts over the last four years. I don’t have to worry. It’ll come. And I’m excited to see what it will be.


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Answer the Question: What Happens Next?

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens taught us an important lesson. The power of story is within answering the question, “What happens next?”

For those of us who are ancient enough to have seen the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI), we dreamed of new Star Wars movies for years. What happened after the Empire fell? Were there other Jedi? What happened with Han and Leia? We wanted to know one simple thing, “What happens next?”

A story that is a “page-turner,” a story that engages the reader or viewer, is a story that constantly has us desperate for “What happens next?” Even if the story comes to a conclusion, a satisfying one as it did in Return of the Jedi, we still want to know what happens next.

Because we love the characters and struggled with them.

For those of us who were hungry for more, we had to read Star Wars novels and comic books, some of them amazing. Some not so great.

When Lucas announced he was making more Star Wars movies, we cheered. When we heard he wanted to do the prequels, we went, “Well, okay. I mean, yay!” And the prequels never engaged us like the original trilogy. Why? We knew the end of the story. We knew, for the most part, what happened next. We knew Anakin would get together with Padme, turn to the dark side, and have twins. We knew Obi Wan and Yoda would survive. We knew Palpatine would become the  Emperor.

Some bad writing and acting and overuse of special effects and visuals, and the sequels didn’t catch on with fans of the original trilogy. Some of the younger generation, some kids, whose first introduction were the prequels, they love them. But for those of us who cried on the way home from Empire Strikes Back, freaking out about what happened to Luke’s hand and Han Solo, we went, “Cool lightsaber battles, but otherwise, meh.”

The Force Awakens is what we wanted. I’ll be honest, without giving any spoilers, the movie isn’t perfect and could have been a little more creative, but the reason why people are so excited about this movie is that it continues in the spirit of the original trilogy and it makes us ask the question … what happens next? There are more unanswered questions at the end of the movie. And we’ll come back to get the answers to those questions.

As a writer, we should remember to set up a story so that the reader is desperate to know what happens next. The further we go in the story without creating that desperation, the more likely it is that they give up on the story. How do we do that? We do it with strong characters people can relate to, a goal we can understand and then epic struggles to get to that goal. Every story that sucks us in has those elements, from simple to complicated.

And I think I just learned … don’t do any prequels …


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Getting Inspired to Write Again

Now that I’m beginning to recover from my book grief, I am trying to get inspired again for the next project.

The Eres Chronicles take a lot out of me. The Living Stone was five years before I got started, then another two to actually write the thing. The Blades of War took more like a year and a half. Why does it take so much out of me? It is a world I have created, with a story and characters I have created, but my goal is to make it all as real as possible. In order to do that, I have to immerse myself into that world. It is different than having a scene take place at the Dairy Queen down the street or even a generic fast food place. I can conjure those settings up in my mind with ease. With the Eres Chronicles, I have to reacquaint myself with Asya and Taggart and the political and social and religious systems. Takes a good bit of creative effort.

Oh, and then I have to tell a cool story with it all.

And then I have to kill off some of my favorite villains and heroes. Yes, the villains, too. They aren’t good villains unless you love them.

So how do I get inspired for all that? I consume a lot of media. I read as much as I can. I watch as many movies as I can.

I have to be selective and intentional about what I watch, however. I’m not reading or watching to simply be entertained. I read new books, new authors, sometimes ones I’ve already read and know I love. I watch new movies. I particularly watch foreign movies. They are stories told from different perspectives and with different endings and arcs that American stories don’t have. Gives me new ideas rather than the same old formulas.

If you want to be a writer, to some degree you give up the right to be mindlessly entertained. You have to know what inspires you. Because if you don’t figure that out, how can you hope to inspire others? Inspired people inspire others. And writing is a great outlet for that. And being consistently inspired is hard work.

That’s my hard work for December.


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Book Grief … It’s Lame but it’s Real

My wife looked at me last week and said, “Well, you’ve been in a funk the last couple days.”

Now, you might think she meant I listened to a lot of James Brown and Marvin Gaye, which is always possible, but no, she meant I was moody.

I knew what she was talking about, yet I didn’t know why I was in a funk. I started thinking about it and it came to me: book grief.

I had heard of it before, and I probably experienced it to some degree a couple years ago after I finished the Blades of War, but honestly, I didn’t really believe in it. It sounded lame.

And to be honest, it is lame. Like most of you, I’ve experienced real grief. Real people in my life have passed away, whether after a long illness or suddenly. And that hurts like crap.

This isn’t near as bad as that. But there is a type of grief that happens.

For the last two months, and a little more, I tried to write 2k words a day. That’s a couple hours a day. On Saturdays or other days off, that might be more like 4-5 hours of writing up to 8k a day.

If I’m a good writer, and that is up for debate, then my characters should live and breathe like real people. They have pasts, they have desires, hopes, dreams, fears, all of it. I saw them in my head and lived with them. I don’t think I would say they were my friends, but I knew them fairly intimately. Now they’re gone. Poof.

There was no grief after Make a God. I went right into The Pack, like a rebound, I guess. Now that I’m taking a break, I miss the story. I don’t miss the work and the sacrifice, but I miss the people and the story. And in some way, since I wrote The Pack less from an outline and more in an organic flow, it was even more personal and real. Maybe the grief is worse for that reason, too.

I’m getting motivated and inspired for the next book. I want to start it in January. There’s work to do. But the motivation for the next book, The Fire Reborn, is I want to revisit the story and the characters. I want to see Caleb again. I want to watch Aden continue to grow. How will Eshlyn react and act in the war to come? I want to experience the battles and the struggle with them. And I want to share it with you, the reader.

I know. It’s lame. But it’s why we write.


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Final Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

So I finished the book. I literally wrote a book in a month. I wrote 71k words and 211 manu pages in 28 days (I started a day later and finished a day early).

I rewrote an older short story and made it into a novel. I should do this more. I enjoyed it. The Pack is a werewolf story with my own werewolf mythology in a modern, young adult setting.

Advantages. I had finished Make a God just before, in October, so I was in the writing groove. I had already written it as a short story, so the feel, the voice, the general idea was all there. I could just write. Last, there was Thanksgiving Break to sneak in a few more hours of writing.

Obstacles. I traveled the first week of November and started a little behind. I got caught up, though, that first weekend, and kept writing every day. Some days, also, I just didn’t want to write. Forcing myself to anyway was therapeutic and instructional.

Next for The Pack is beta readers. After a few of those come in, I’ll work on my first major revision/proofread. Then I’ll send it out to an editor.

Then I’ll shop this one, I think, to agents. We’ll see, but I think this has potential in a lot of ways to be something a publisher would be interested in.

Will I do NaNoWriMo again? I thought it taught me a lot, and it was a bucket list kind of thing, but I’m not sure I’ll do it again. We’ll see next November. I might …



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