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Finishing

I recently finished writing my 21st novel which is a definite cause to celebrate! It feels so unreal to have written that many books. I remember feeling startled upon finishing my first novel. As I wrote those last few words, I blinked at them with genuine surprise and realized I had no more words to say for that book. How was running out of words possible?

It took me several years to write another book because I truly believed I had run out of words, but when that book was accepted for publication, it occurred to me to write a second book (I know, I know. How pathetic that it took me so long to figure it all out).

And now I know that running out of words is impossible. If I wrote one book a year and lived to be 100 years old, I would still die with novel ideas never fully realized and written.

My guru grandma once told me something that really stuck with me (most everything she said stuck with me because she was my best friend), but this particular nugget of wisdom is my talisman when things get hard and the idea to maybe run out of words on purpose becomes a terrible temptation. She said, “Be a finisher, Julie. If you care enough about something to start, then care enough to finish.”

Every time I finish a novel, I smile to myself, toss a wink heavenward, and think, “I finished again, Grandma!”

A career as a writer is not always perfect or smooth or everything you dream of, but if you care enough to start, then care enough to finish. If you’re having trouble coming to grips with your own writing career and need a boost of finishing energy, email me, and I will tell you all the reasons you should stay the coarse and just get it done all the way to . . .

The End

back in the days of film, where you didn't know someone blinked until after the film was developed. Grandma Peterson and me

Back in the days of film, where you didn’t know someone blinked until after the film was developed. Grandma Peterson and me (Don’t you love my 80’s rocker haircut?)

Find Your Story

I once had a writing teacher bring an old, muddy, scuffed-up boot to class where she plopped it down on her desk and said, “There’s a story in there somewhere. Start writing.” She sat down at her desk, and we went to work.

It’s been a good twenty years since that classroom and that boot, but the lesson was learned. There are stories surrounding us every day, everywhere we go, in everything we see. There is a story in the nail technician with chipped, cracked fingernails on her own hands. There is a story in the woman wiping tears from her eyes as she moves forward through traffic in her car. There is a story in the man who pulls into the driveway of a house after a long and grueling day at work only to remember that he hasn’t lived there since the divorce. I see stories in everything: in a smile, in a glance, in a snippet of overheard conversation. The ones I go after and dig deeper to unearth are the ones that usually have the most character–like the muddy boot. I want a story that’s been through something and is going somewhere.

I want a story that can walk over difficult terrain and climb mountains.

Recently,  I’ve come across a letter from my great, great aunt to my great uncle. I need to write the story found within for several reasons:

It’s my family history. It’s heart achingly real. And the story has feet wearing incredibly worn and muddy boots.

When I do school visits and other presentations, I am almost always asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” The answer is always the same: “There’s a story in there somewhere.” And by there “there” I mean everywhere.

So if you are in a creative slump, go out and find what kinds of stories you want to tell. What holds your interest? What makes you happy? What fills your creative well? Here are some exercises I do when it seems I can’t see the story through the mud.

  • Appreciate art. I am always inspired by someone else’s artwork. Kevin Wasden has been a tremendous resource and friend to my creativity over the years.
  • Find emotion. I need to have something that strikes an emotional chord. If I’m not feeling the love, neither is my reader.
  • Read. I get great ideas from reading, and usually those ideas have nothing to do with what I’m actually reading. It goes back to the art thing. I believe art begets art.
  • Listen. Everyone has a story–much like those old boots. Everyone has a past and a moment where they were either amazingly heroic or horrifically villainous. Listen to people. Besides, people are important and deserved to be listened to. My parents have excellent stories–some they would mind a great deal if I shared to my reading audience and others that they are happy to share. Tap your family resource (you know, without alienating that family).
  • Eavesdrop. This is a wee bit different from listening because you don’t want people to know you’re listening because it would maybe look creepy and stalker-ish.
  • Get back to work. Yes, work. Writing isn’t always fun, and sometimes you have to slug through the muddy words to get to the boot. Sometimes you have to look yourself in the eye in the mirror and say, “There’s a story in there somewhere.”

Because there *is* a story in you.

The Butcher

So my author friends struck up a conversation on the woes of abridged audio books.  I’ve heard them whine whine whine about this before, but never paid attention. After all . . . I’ve never had an audio book, and I feel they should be grateful to have something so cool.

Except now things are a little different. I am slated for an audio book for the novel, Eyes Like Mine, coming out in February. I am so wicked thrilled to have an audio book. I grin stupidly every time I think about it.

The thing is . . . it’s abridged.  The book is just over 90,000 words. The abridged version–45,000 words.

Yeah. My math isn’t so hot, but even *I* know that means HALF. Yes, gentle readers, half is a lot of words. And then once I cut all those words out, I have to try to piece it back together in some way that makes sense, with a logical flow of plot development and proper character depth and motivation. I owe all my friends chocolate and apologies. How do you cut a book in half and expect it to be the same?

It’s like the baby brought before King Solomon.  No good mother wants to see her child chopped in half. No good author wants to see their book butchered, and worse–have to be the one doing the butchering.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m still excited about the audio book. It’s the pain I’m afraid of. I determined I’d better get started soon because I have the sneaking feeling this is going to take some serious time.

But I can’t start this week . . .  or next. Tomorrow, I am speaking at a youth conference and really should be working on my presentation so I don’t bore several hundred teenagers to sleep. And for the rest of this month I have to finish my work in progress just so I can say I did.  It may not be a good draft, but it’ll be a done draft. Good can always come later, right?