When my husband finished reading the first draft of my debut novel (The Travelers), he dropped the hefty, 3-ring binder of single-spaced pages on the table and said something encouraging like, “It was good.”
It was easy to read the truth between the tonal lines in his voice. He really meant, “It was a giant, slog-fest and half of it should go in the shredder. But I can’t tell you that because you have never shown anyone else this book or any of your work and you have a fragile artist’s ego.”
“It was easy to read the truth between the tonal lines in his voice. He really meant, “It was a giant, slog-fest.”
I’m pretty sure I cried for days. It’s not his fault. It was the truth and it hurt. And I’m better for it now. After much work and years of revisions, I finally got The Travelers published by a lovely small press called Saguaro Books and then embarked on writing the sequel (which will hopefully come out in 2018!)
When my husband read the first draft of The Travelers Book II (SPOILER working title: Something Wicca This Way Comes), he said, “The first draft of The Travelers II is better than the 10th draft of The Travelers I.” And there was nothing between the tonal lines of his statement.
I knew it was true. I felt it. I felt it when I was writing the sequel. I felt it when I was revising it. I had more confidence, more understanding of story flow, structure and character development. Much of this was thanks to reading more about writing and all the great editors who gave me feedback on The Travelers I.
There was something else that helped too. Something a bit more intangible that has led to this improvement in my writing. It was self-awareness, much of which I gained through blogging.
A Blogging Identity Crisis
I started writing my blog when Travelers I was published in October 2016 and, at the time, I decided I would write a blog post every day. It was ambitious, but if I’m going to do something I’m going to do it all the way. Even during no sleep, 80+ hour work weeks, I wrote a blog. Even when traveling around the country, I wrote a blog. On holidays, weekends, I wrote a blog.
Like many other bloggers, when I first started my blog, it had a bit of an identity crisis. In the beginning, I wrote posts related to my debut novel, stories about places that inspired me and some silly posts about which Barbie dolls are most like my characters. Then, I realized a blog just about my book wasn’t a sustainable, everyday sort of topic. (Luckily, it didn’t take me too long to figure this out.)
I shifted focus to another passion of mine: reading. I wrote anything and everything I could think of about books I’d read or wanted to read. While I didn’t find a shortage of topics, it did start to feel a little forced. So I incorporated posts on writing and editing.
Eventually, after abandoning my neurotic, OCD need to write a blog every day, I settled into a bi-weekly post routine and a theme that combined all of my book passions together. Now my blog focuses on my ideas and experiences as a writer.
Learning From Blogging
So how has this made me a better writer? Well, here’s the thing, as you readers know, much of reading is about connections. We, generally, feel drawn to books and stories where we can relate to a person or event, even if it’s not an experience we’ve ever had. We all want an “I know how that feels” moment.
We all want an “I know how that feels” moment.
If you’ve spent your life avoiding and ignoring and bottling up your emotions, as I have, creating such moments in your characters can be difficult.
As a child, the worst thing you could be called in my house was “sensitive.” To steal that age-old saying, if I had a penny for every time someone said to me “don’t be so sensitive” or “toughen up,” I’d be a millionaire. In my world, we didn’t talk about our feelings. We bottled them up until the pressure built so much that something exploded. (Don’t worry family, I don’t think we’re alone in this plight.)
A year ago I would not have been able to write the paragraph above. One of the consequences of trying so hard not to be “sensitive” is developing a very fragile shell of an ego that can’t withstand embarrassment of any kind, including failure and looking stupid. [Side Note: “Looking stupid” is an umbrella term that includes: 1) Not knowing an answer for everything, 2) Being wrong, 3) Saying sorry, and 4) Saying something dumb or basically anything that makes your cheeks turn bright red and want to be sucked up into a giant hole in the earth. Avoiding these are the basis of my worst personality traits.]
Now that paragraph above, a year ago, my fingers never would have typed. NEVER. EVER.
Why did blogging help?
When you blog every day, eventually, you have to think about who you really are and why you do the things you do.
Little by little, day by day, I’d open up a bit more when writing my blog. And then, one day, I wrote a post chronicling how I’d failed at something, miserably and rather comically. And the world didn’t end. In fact, someone told me the blog was “really funny.” It was as if all those walls I’d created to protect my fragile ego started to crumble.
Making fun of my embarrassing faults through writing helped me realize I don’t need to take myself so seriously. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong or making a mistake or failure. Writing about it helped me understand myself better and it felt good to have people relate to it. Other people got an “I know how that feels” moment and a laugh from what I wrote about my failures. It was freeing.
There’s nothing wrong with being wrong or making a mistake or failure.
It’s Not Just About Writing It Down
I could just write all my thoughts and feelings down in a journal, never tell anyone and perhaps I’d still reach these epiphanies. But I’m not so sure. The act of pressing “publish,” putting my failures and embarrassments and typos out there for everyone to read creates that connection, the one we all strive for when writing and reading.
I think, to be a writer, even a halfway decent one, you have to crack yourself open and expose your deepest emotions. Because if you don’t understand emotion and feeling, no one is going to care what you have to say.
One of my beta readers for The Travelers II highlighted a sentence and wrote the following comment: “Yes, this is how it feels. You captured this perfectly.” It was the best feedback I could have gotten. I realized by exploring my own emotions and faults through blogging, I was better able to express emotions in my novels.
And because of blogging not only am I a better writer, I’m starting to be a better person. A person who can be the idiot she really is. A person who can let herself be silly or ball her eyes out during every single episode of This is Us and not try to hide it. A person who can recognize the over-achieving, fragile ego lunacy in herself and laugh at it.
Blogging wasn’t the only thing that got me to this place. I happen to have a pretty awesome husband and daughter who helped. But it had a big impact.
So, for everyone who has read my blogs thank you for going on the journey with me. I hope you stick around for more of my craziness and I hope, if you read them, you find my books are better for it too.