I’ve been remiss at visiting lately because I’ve been pretty ill with this pregnancy, but I do miss hanging out with all of you. I’m told that some people enjoy being pregnant, but pregnancy is something I endure and attempt to survive. I’m not sure the word enjoy ever crosses my mind. Anyway, enough about me. Let’s talk writing.
It’s January and a new year. Many of you have probably chosen words for the year and possibly even made a few New Year’s resolutions. As you were picking words for yourselves, I can guess a few words that were probably never chosen, words like trial, struggle, obstacle, hardship, illness, and pain. Who wants to focus the next twelve months of their life on pain or trials? Probably no one.
But trials, hardships, obstacles, and pain happen to all of us. No one reaches 80 years of age without them. And if we’re really going to be honest, no one reaches 70, 60, 50, 40, 30, or even 20 years of age without enduring some of these things.
As writers, difficult times hit us doubly hard, because we have to deal with not just the life aspect of these struggles, but how these struggles interrupt our writing. We’re all probably aware of how easily writing can be interrupted. The flu, a sick child, a broken down car, a panicked call from a friend, relatives coming to visit, a kitchen full of dirty dishes and no maid service to clean for you, and these things don’t include the big tragedies. A death in the family, the loss of a job, bankruptcy, marital problems, divorce, cancer, and chronic pain or illness—maybe even both.
While we can’t prevent hardships from happening, we can choose how we respond to them. Trials can either strengthen us or hurt us. They can build our character or tear us down. But since this is a writing blog, I’m going to talk about how to use these things to strengthen our writing.
1. Take a break if needed.
Don’t heap a bunch of guilt on yourself for needing to step back. It happens. There are—gasp—more important things to life than writing. Your marriage. Your children. Keeping the house you live in from reverting back to the bank. Even paying your heating and electricity bills.
A break doesn’t mean you’ll never ever write again. In fact, a break might mean you’re still writing, but maybe only one book a year instead of two or three. Or maybe you’re only writing two days a week instead of five. While I’m sure everyone wants to see their name in print, and I truly believe the world is a better place with stories in it, I doubt you’ll get to the end of your life and think, Years of marital difficulty were definitely worth publishing that 37th novel. My life would be so much emptier if I’d only written 36 books.
Forcing yourself to write through a tragedy or hardship is only going to bring you stress and might even bring hardship to your family relationships. Now notice I said FORCING. If you’re experiencing trials and writing is a much needed relief, then go for it. If you have the time and the ability to keep writing despite what’s going on around you, then don’t stop. But sometimes life gets in the way of writing, whether we want it to or not, and you might need to readjust your priorities for a little bit. That doesn’t mean you’re a quitter. That doesn’t mean you’ll never reach your writing goals. It just means you’re human—like the rest of us.
2. Use the emotions and experiences you face to deepen your writing.
There’s a reason the world’s greatest novels aren’t written by 21 year olds. (Unless you’re Jane Austen, then you’re allowed to be 28 when P&P is published.) Life experience can enhance your novels if you let it. Ever found yourself out of work and looking for a job? You can write about a character facing that same struggle.
If you write romance—and most of us probably do—you’re already drawing on the real life emotions you felt when falling in love to write your story. Why not take that principle a little further? Do you have a mother or grandmother with Alzheimer’s? Give one of your characters a mother with dementia. While this isn’t a strong enough conflict to drive an entire plot, it can definitely add an extra layer, making both your character and plot deeper. And readers who have loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s might even be encouraged by your writing. Perhaps your family is going through some difficult financial times or hardships dealing with a wayward family member. Look for ways to incorporate similar situations in your stories. Your fictional representation of the situation will probably look and feel very real, and I can guarantee you’ll hear from readers experiencing the same thing.
I drew on my real life emotions last spring when my grandmother passed away. Just before her death, I’d started writing Love’s Unfading Light, which opens just a couple weeks after the hero’s adoptive father dies. Needless to say, writing scenes where both the hero and the Cummings family grieved came naturally to me. Sorting through my grandmother’s apartment was heavily on my mind when I wrote this excerpt:
Mac reached for the door handle—one he hadn’t turned in nearly a month—and let himself into the sprawling log cabin. Coats hung haphazardly on pegs inside the entry room, much as they always had. Boots still warred for top position on the pile in the corner, and mittens, hats, and scarves all lay crammed into the crate beside the boots. But one pair of sturdy mukluks was missing, as was the familiar red and black plaid mackinaw coat Hiram Cummings had worn every spring and fall.
Last time he’d visited, Hiram’s things had still been out.
He wasn’t sure which was worse.
He stepped inside and jostled the pie and three remaining loaves of bread he’d carried with him from town. Maybe he should have come sooner.
Maybe he shouldn’t have come at all.
(This is where Ruthy would say, “Love’s Unfading Light is up for preorder on Amazon for just $2.99. Everybody CLICK HERE and buy it now!!!!” But I’m not Ruthy, so I’ll go with, “My book is currently up for preorder. If you’d take a moment to peek at the cover, read the description, and see if the story sounds interesting, I’d be most appreciative. Just click here.”)
3. Transfer the emotions you have to situations you’re unfamiliar with.
Writers probably use this aspect of blending real emotions with fictional situations the most. No one reading Seekerville today lived through the French Revolution, Revolutionary War, Civil War, or even WWI, and yet countless novels are set during these time periods. I did a lot of emotional transferring when I wrote my new release, Falling for the Enemy. Have I ever fallen in love with an enemy at war with my country? Um, no. But I have fallen in love, and I do know what it feels like to have enemies.
I had to use this technique again when it came to dealing with Danielle and Gregory’s differing social classes. Are social classes as rigid today as they were in Regency England? Again, no. But I come from a blue collar, solid middle class family. My dad has been a factory worker for almost 40 years. While his job always adequately paid the bills, I also know how it feels to sit in a room with upper middle class people, and think, Yeah, half of you would faint if you knew my dress came from J C Penny. And did I mention I bought my purse on clearance for $10? I have no business being here. So when I transferred those emotions and memories to Falling for the Enemy, I ended up with scenes like this:
If England won this war, France would go back to how it had been before the Révolution. No more liberty or equality for the masses. Peasants heavily taxed while aristocrats lived in excess. Commoners starved for bread and clamoring after only a handful of jobs while the queen ate cakes at Versailles.
Papa’s first wife had taken ill and died, half from starving and half from illness, during those days.
Many others would die of disease or starvation once more if King George had his way. ’Twas why England’s tyranny had to be stopped.
’Twas why she never should have agreed to aid Gregory.
(And yes, Falling for the Enemy is currently available on Amazon. You can find it here.)
Are trials fun? No. Do they sometimes require a break—or at least a slowing down—in our writing? Yes. But we can also take these trials and use them to make us stronger people and better writers.
Have you ever taken a real life trial and put it into your writing? I’d love to hear about it. What about transferring some of your personal emotions to your characters as they deal with different situations? If you have any techniques for infusing your novels with realistic emotions, please share them in the comments. I’d also love to see some examples of emotional situations from your novels. And in honor of being on Seekerville today, I’ll be giving away one copy of Falling for the Enemy. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
An Unlikely Alliance
Betrayed and stranded in France at the height of war, Lord Gregory Halston has few options. After rescuing his ailing brother from jail, they struggle to survive in hostile territory without outing themselves as Englishmen. Gregory hopes the feisty French peasant woman he meets is willing to guide them to safety.
Danielle Belanger doesn't wish to protect any man from the same country responsible for her brother's demise. But there's something about the determined Englishman that makes her willing to try. Though a match between Danielle and Gregory is impossible, their attraction can't be denied. The only thing more dangerous than aiding the enemy…is falling in love with him
Naomi Rawlings is usually a vibrant mom of two boys who spends her days picking up, cleaning, playing and, of course, writing. But at the moment, she’s pale, wan, and not very mommish—and that’s on a good day. On a bad day, she’s green and curled up in bed. Instead of sending a professional author picture, to Seekerville today, she decided to show you a baby bump one, taken at 21 weeks, because she knows some of the Seekers love babies (though at the moment she’s trying really hard to understand why). If you want to learn more about her novels, visit www.naomirawlings.com. Or you can hop on over to Amazon and peek at her two books releasing this winter, Falling for the Enemy and Love’s Unfading Light.