Keeping Perspective in a Tunnel Vision World
Ah, writers. The image of the woman huddled in the garret, hunched over her typewriter, fingers numb with cold, wicked stitch between the shoulder blades, and bleeding thoughts onto a page for our amusement is really quite attractive. Images of the Brontes, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and George Eliot all spring to mind.
So, so passé.
In the modern world we’ve left the typewriter and the cold garret behind (and thankfully the male pseudonym and the tuberculosis). And with it goes a certain amount of the romantic image.
It’s so tempting to encourage the mystery that surrounds publication and claim that we don’t have to adhere to the rules. (“Market my book? Why, it will sell itself! I’m not allowed to leave my writer’s hut. “- my wishful thinking)
It’s a well-known fact that you have to fight for writing time, but every now and then it can be used as an excuse to avoid the unpleasantness of life. How do we keep our vision wide open, our hearts full, and our spirit generous when all we want to do is hide in our writer’s cave and press the back of our hand to our forehead?
Well, there are moments of GRACE, like the day I received ‘the call’ and five minutes later changed not one, but two poopy diapers.
The rest is up to us. Hard work in a profession that encourages obsessively narrow vision can make us great writers, or terrible human beings.
Social Media (or How Not to be Unfriended)
I’ve lost my fair share of face book friends in the past few years. (The election is over… can I come out now?) But what used to be the pitfalls of e-mail, has now turned into the morass of social media interaction.
A year or so ago, I wrote a comment I thought was funny on a Seekers wall. Julie Lessman responded with something like, “Virginia, dear, can you explain?” Of course it was misunderstanding cleared up in a millisecond, but I was struck by her grace, her charity.
She could have brought out the verbal flame thrower and toasted me to a crisp.
It was a humbling moment for me. How many times had I jumped to my own defense (or on the offensive)? I resolved to remember to pause, clarify, and then- if necessary- bring out the caps lock key.
There’s also the point of not trying to be too funny on facebook because there is NO ROOM FOR SUBTEXT. But we all knew that, right? Well, all of us except slow learners like myself.
Keep your friends close and your enemies… in the next county.
I know when I get a good dose of the writerly blahs, I need some friendly perspective. I’ve met wonderful people through Seekerville and facebook, and bless their hearts, they never fail to give me a good kick. Once I posted about hating myself because I lost my camera and could never find ANYTHING and my brain was going and I should just give up.
Lots of friends posted how they understood and I should take a break and treat myself or take a nap or… And Julie Hilton Steele asked whether I was “having a breakdown” and did she “need to come down there and staple the camera to my hand”.
Good friends know when to give a cyber hug and when to give you a good kick. Julie and Mary Curry are my critique partners and they’re ALL ABOUT the ‘ spoon full of sugar’ making the crit go down… but sometimes you just need someone to roll their eyes and tell you to stop whining.
As for these guys….
Someone giving you grief? Love your enemies, always.
But don’t engage the crazies. Your time is valuable. Bad reviews, judging comments that are from the planet Mars, and picky readers who find your only mistake in 25 years? Thank them graciously and move on.
Don’t be precious (Or everyone hates a ‘know it all’.)
Writers are encouraged to research everything. Have a character driving a car in 1908? Well, better make sure women could have a license, you get the color and model right, and you’re not shifting more gears than were available. Because SOMEONE WILL KNOW.
(And yes, I know the hipster meme above is misspelled. Not sure if that’s a double irony or just… stupidity. Never mock anyone. But if you must, make sure everything is spelled correctly.)
That said, don’t be precious. I have a terrible habit of becoming completely submerged (not immersed, that’s for dabblers) in my current project. When I was writing ‘Season of Joy’ (Love Inspired Nov 2012) I researched homeless shelters all over the US. My friend Stacey got to hear endless statistics of homeless and vulnerable populations- while we ate cookies and watched our kids play. How depressing. It was enough to make you give up all hope.
She handled it like a champ. And when she got tired of it all, she just waved a latte under my nose and I forgot for a moment how people were GOING TO BED HUNGRY.
There is research, and there is insanity. Knowledge is a powerful thing, but adding hope into the balance is what friends are for. That and vanilla lattes.
Be sure to take a break every now and then from your research, especially if it’s a tough subject like World War II or the Holocaust or even a dysfunctional family. The best writers FEEL DEEPLY for their characters, but that can be a double-edged sword. We want the spark of hope to shine through the toughest scenarios in our writing. And confidence in an eternal HEA is not something you can fake.
Don’t let your well run dry. Refresh your spirit with prayer, worship and good friends. Your story needs to be told, but tunnel vision is a quick way to get writer burn-out.
It’s All About Balance (or learning to juggle)
A few years ago my kids and I went to a book signing in Walla Walla, WA, hoping to meet one of our favorite authors. New York Times bestseller Patrick Carman has written the Land of Elyon series, Dark Eden, Floors, Trackers, Skeleton Creek, 39 Clues, 13 Days To Midnight, on and on.
Here’s an actual picture of him speaking at a school. The numbers are usually in the hundreds, if not thousands.
Anyway, we came early, expecting a huge crush since it was the debut of a new YA and also Hallowe’en night.
Guess what? It was just me and my kids. Dressed up in weird costumes. They brought home made drawings of their favorite characters and all their books to sign. Yup, we already HAD his books, so I don’t remember if we even bought any.
So, NYT bestselling author (who I hear is down in LA working on a movie of Dark Eden) could have been like this…
He could have blown off the little kids with a simple signature and a wave.
But he didn’t. He stayed, talked to each one, asked about their drawings, what they liked about his books. He even let us take pictures of him wearing the Star Wars storm trooper mask my son had. He signed books, scraps of paper, and one well-loved stuffed Lion named Leo. (Leo is still star struck. It was a highlight, meeting his favorite author!)
As for balance, a few weeks ago, Tina posted a link in the WE that quoted writing tips in Publisher’s Weekly from one of my favorite authors.
“Be an unstoppable force. Write with an imaginary machete strapped to your thigh. This is not wishy-washy, polite, drinking-tea-with-your-pinkie-sticking-out stuff. It’s who you want to be, your most powerful self. Write your books. Finish them, then make them better. Find the way. No one will make this dream come true for you but you.”-- Laini Taylor
Preserve that miraculous spark eager to burst onto the page. Nurture the desire to tell a good story. Protect at all costs your dream to become an author.
But don’t get a big head.
Don’t mail your book to every member of your high school graduating class, with an inscription reminding them how they were the popular ones and you ate your lunch hiding in the bathroom. (Not that I would ever do that...)
It’s all about balance. Spiritual, physical, emotional.
As we start the Advent season and look toward Christmas, it’s a great time to take that internal temperature. Where is our treasure? Our joy?
So, what do you do to keep from getting tunnel vision? (We can’t all spend our days like Ruthy does, surrounded by toddlers who think you’re perfect no matter how many books you sell.)
Do you have favorite Bible promises that emphasize the eternal and not this fleeting present world? Do you dive in for a short time, and then emerge blinking into the sunlight? Do you have friends keeping you humble and on track?
Virginia will be giving away one copy of her Love Inspired release, Season of Joy, to one luck commenter! Please let us know you'd like to be entered. And check the Weekend Edition to see if you're the winner.