Writing at any stage of life can be difficult. Some stages present especially complex challenges, like raising children. Your time, resources, and even your body (if you’re nurturing an infant) are no longer your own. How do you craft characters and plots when you’re stepping on Duplos while cooking dinner and your toddler asks so many ponderous questions that you can’t concentrate? To all the parents whose coffee has gone cold, you’re not alone.
A new story is hard to write. And generating ideas to fill it is even harder. When you’re staring at a blank page, Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes might haunt you: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Every story you consume informs your instincts about plot structure, prose, and characters, and when problems crop up in any one of those areas, an alarm sounds at the back of your mind. Unfortunately, no matter how savvy you are at detecting issues, the solutions won’t be as obvious. The disconnect between your ability to identify and straighten out problems is nerve-wracking because you don’t want to write an entire novel without realizing a huge flaw is undermining everything. You need to learn how to interpret your intuition’s signals through three approaches.
You’ve undoubtedly read an article titled “365 Ways to Set Yourself up for Success” or something like that. The internet is loaded with information on self-promotion and increasing the zeros in one’s bank account. However, success is dependent on much more than marketing techniques and get-rich-quick schemes.
Sometimes the biblical ideals that inspire grand visions for our stories also weigh on us like boulders we must carry uphill. The prospect of imitating God’s design is as challenging as it is invigorating. How are we supposed to influence one person, much less the hundreds who will read our stories, when our own time, energy, and knowledge feels bleakly scarce?
Everyone has favorite genres that they fill shelf after shelf and hour after hour with. One of mine is contemporary fantasy. Yours might be romance and historical fiction. But, outside of binging and overspending on those, you probably read more eclectically. You don’t mind picking up a mystery or fairy-tale retelling when the blurb draws you in. After all, you’ve heard over and over again that diversifying your reading material increases your creativity and understanding of story craft. Reading outside your comfort zone, however, is not nearly as challenging as writing outside your comfort zone.
The most helpful writing advice I learned this year came from the letters of a demon. C. S. Lewis published The Screwtape Letters serially in a newspaper called The Guardian, and he realized that the human race harbors an oversized sense of entitlement. Because others have more than we do, we think we deserve the same amount. In idle moments, we wake our phones and thumb through twenty social media posts per second. We read glowing reviews for a debut novel that the author pounded out in two months. We see friends gushing about their book deals, finished drafts, and beta-readers-turned-fans. They’ve achieved their goals while we haven’t. We try to celebrate with them. We extend perfunctory congratulations, but inwardly we can’t resist asking, Why not me?
Millions of books release each year—yes, millions. Between traditional and indie publishing, the number of new titles entering the market is staggering. Maybe those statistics boost your confidence that someday you’ll sign a book contract. If a million writers can slink past picky acquisitions editors, so can you. Or maybe the fear of missing out torments you. You’re struggling to finish your draft—what if no one ever expresses interest in your work because the proverbial field is already scattered with others’ stories?
Fiction is my wheelhouse, my first and last love, my comfort zone, the place where I shine. So, when I noticed Story Embers’ Instagram advertisement for an article writer, I scrolled past it. I couldn’t be the person they were looking for!
I have a phobia of blank pages. No matter how excited I am about a project, as soon as I open a new document, my creativity seizes up. My eyes twitch. And cowardice disguises itself as procrastination, urging me to go brew a cup of coffee.