I Told You So

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Some of the most well meaning people told me to wait to write until I get older. No way a twenty-something can write what people want to read. You don’t have enough real world experience. This is a pipe dream.

The reality of writing a book is that this is a tough job, tough business, and not everyone succeeds. So often the people in our lives have the best intentions as they quietly attempt to redirect us. They don’t want us to be disappointed, experience the sting of failure, or struggle through pain induced by rejection.

Thank goodness the Lord has different plans. I’m thankful for those who attempted to redirect me. I’m thankful for the countless friends and family members who consistently encouraged me. Both groups helped me trust the Lord more. I imagine Him smiling down with a little chuckle and saying, “I told you so.”

I am under qualified in life experience, but I serve a big God. If fisherman can become world changers, so can I. I love what the apostles say in Acts 4:20, “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” So let’s turn that into writing advice:

1)   Write what you know.

I know the heart of young adults to make a difference and dream big. I know the pitfalls that come with learning this adult life. I know the struggles of my parents to raise kids and find a new dynamic with adult children. I know my grandparents’ joy as they pour into us and take the “friend and counselor” role because they’ve already done the parent thing.

I know the south. I know Texas. I understand different personality dynamics. I know how girls think. With a younger brother, I’ve been around guys enough to know how they react and respond.

Bam. I can take all that and craft characters, scenes, problems, and story lines. Imagination takes care of the rest.

2)   Write what you want to learn.

In the course of writing my first book, I wanted to learn more about the SEALs, Haiti, and living in the deep south. (Yep, my brain is random.) So I set my book in Alabama with a trip to Haiti and a Navy SEAL love interest. I might recommend starting out with something slightly more familiar for a first novel, but I rarely pick the easy avenue when I start a project. So here we are!

I traveled to Haiti, made friends with a SEAL, and peppered my Alabama friend with questions and requests for pictures. I worked to become an expert. I’m still a long way from perfection, but I can now speak with a working knowledge on these topics.

3)   Write from your passions.

Three things impact my writing heavily:

– Characters that dream big

– Life as an adventure

– Hope that is found in Christ

I believe we serve a big God who loves to do big things with everyday people. I believe every day is an adventure crafted by the Master Storyteller. And I believe every story ends with hope because of Christ. Forget this post-modern idea that you live and die and that’s it. We were created for something more, and my stories wrestle through hard issues that don’t always end perfectly but always end with Christ. With that fueling me, passion informs every word I write.

I don’t have to understand life, the universe, and everything. I understand my world and snapshots of the world around me. I write what I know. I write what I want to learn, and in doing so, my world expands to fuel my next novel. I write what I’m passionate about, which changes and grows constantly.

Now, I’m telling you that you can do it. You can achieve your writing dream. There were many moments when I doubted this dream would come true. But if the Lord has called, He will bring it to pass. Keep writing. Keep growing. Keep networking.

One of these days, when you get that first contract in the mail, know that you heard it here first: I told you so!

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The Best Advice I (finally!) ‘Got’

I always hated it when writing instructors told me to 1) write what you know, and 2) follow a formula.  How, I wondered, could I write what I knew when I didn’t know anything interesting, and when the only formulas I remembered were from high school math class? I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to be much help in writing anything other than a final math exam.

Now, having finally decoded those two pieces of cryptic advice in the course of my own writing career development, I have only two words to share with would-be novelists: read and outline.

Read books (all kinds!), but also read everything you can get your hands on: newspapers, magazines, the backs of cereal boxes, newsletters, church bulletins. I even read vanity license plates, which inspired me to give one of my series characters distinctive car plates that have played into more than one mystery plot!

The purpose of all that reading is twofold: 1) you accumulate a storehouse of information about the world; and 2) you never know what word, image, or idea will catch fire in your writing process.  Reading feeds you with new material – like ongoing brainstorming.

As for reading books in all genres, I find it’s a great way to broaden my experience. I may not be an expert on scuba-diving or anti-matter research, or know one end of a knitting needle from the other, but if I’ve read about it, I at least have some familiarity with it. And if it might fit into something I’m writing, I can go back for more reading or research.

It wasn’t until I figured this out – that I didn’t have to be an expert about something to write it into a story – that I finally really understood why my teachers insisted you had to ‘write what you know.’ Write what you know – not necessarily what you yourself have experienced. What a relief to know I didn’t have to commit a murder to write about one!

The most important thing I ever did when I was writing my first novel, however, was to outline. And I’m not referring to the outline of my book, either (though I do work from a rough outline when I write). The outline that I found most helpful was the outline I made of my favorite author’s best-seller.

Yes, you read that right – I outlined a book by my favorite author.

It was a tedious task, to be sure, but by the time I finished that chapter-by-chapter outline, I knew more about pacing and plot development than I had ever learned from any teacher or class. My secret was to use a different color marker for each subplot, so that by the end, I had a notebook in which I could visually trace how story threads flowed together and how the notorious ‘red herrings’ of successful plots operated. Deconstructing a best-selling novel taught me how to write my own ‘formula.’

What are you reading/outlining today?