Hey writers, have you been enjoying this series from Sharlene MacLaren? Feels like we've had a mentor visiting and encouraging us this month, doesn't it? Read on! ~ Annette
From Seed to Sprout, Part 3*
by Sharlene MacLaren
7. READ, READ, READ! (And not always in your genre.)
When I first acquired the bug for writing, I couldn’t read enough about honing my craft! I read books on writing fiction, how to publish your first novel, books on punctuation and grammar, books about the publishing industry itself, and my library grew to the point that my husband had to build more shelves. And that doesn’t even include the books I purchased pertaining to my story plots and themes.
Abbie Ann, the third in my Daughters of Jacob Kane series is about sailing and shipbuilding in the early 1900s, so I went in search of books about shipbuilding and sailing and bought a huge volume called Seamanship and Small Boat Handling. I think it’s about five inches thick, not to mention heavy. And when I wrote Maggie Rose, the second in that series, I had to find books about the orphan trains that ran for 75 years beginning in the mid-1800s. Most of my series are historical, so I have books about 19th Century clothing, Everyday Life in the 1800s, and I even have a book about the origin of hymns because if I write a church service into one of my scenes set in, say, 1850, I can’t have my congregation singing, My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine...because the writer of that old hymn, William R. Featherston, would’ve only been four-years-old at the time, and while he did write the poem at the ripe age of 16, it didn’t appear in The London Book of Hymns till the year 1864. So, beware, somewhere out there in the Kingdom of Readerdom there will be a reader or two who will catch a mistake like that and say, “Hmm, this author isn’t very versed on her facts. I don’t think I’ll be purchasing any more of her books.”
8. DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
Ugh! Did I just say, “Do your homework!”? I don’t know about you, but that word conjures up a whole slew of bad memories for me! Let’s change that to research. Research can be whatever you make of it, pleasant, unpleasant, interesting, grueling, time-consuming or, well, time consuming, fun, or plain old hard work. The fact of the matter is whether you enjoy it or not, you can’t get around it, so live with it! In the end, you’ll be glad you did.
Our readers are not dumb; they are well read, well versed, intelligent, and sometimes, dare I say it, critical to the point of hurtful. But we learn from them; they teach us through their critiques and reviews when we’ve messed up. Yes, we write fiction, but that doesn’t give us license to change historical facts. So, in whatever era you happen to be writing, be sure you know who the president of the United States is/was, whether it was an election year, and whether something significant happened in that time frame that would affect your story. If you’re writing in a contemporary genre, then know the lingo, stay up with the newest, latest and greatest fads and trends, know what’s happening in current affairs, not that you have to address politics per se, but if you want to keep your audience engaged you have to write from a contemporary viewpoint. This is one reason I enjoy writing historical fiction. At 64, I’m having a tough enough time learning to hit the right keys while texting, let alone write about everything else going on in the world of technology.
9. FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, DON’T QUIT!
And, yes, I do mean for Heaven’s sake, because if you are called by God to write, then it is your responsibility to persevere.
I may have a passion for writing, but that doesn’t mean I wake up every morning and say, “Oh, goody, I get to write today! Yea!” No, some days I crawl out of bed and think to myself, I’d rather go catch snakes than write a single stinking word today. Of course, that’s a huge exaggeration, but you get the idea. Some days are like that. I tell myself I don’t have an ounce of creativity in me, I’m not especially motivated, I lack inspiration, and I’m feeling downright lazy. The thing is, when that happens there’s usually a reason behind it. You either do truly need to take a day off, or you’ve hit a great big roadblock that needs addressing.
Maybe you’re stuck and can’t figure out where to go next, so instead of writing your way out of that tough spot, you quit for several days and tell yourself you’re “thinking.” By the time you finally get back to your computer, you’re no further ahead of the game than you were when you quit. Some call it writer’s block, some call it hitting a wall, and some call it brain freeze. Here’s what I call it – are you ready for this? A big – fat – excuse! When I find myself in that position, what helps the most is talking to someone. Brainstorming is an awesome way to pull one’s self out of a hole. Go over that scene you’re struggling to complete with your spouse, your best friend, a family member, or a fellow writer. Few people can write, but lots of people have great ideas! Don’t quit! Quitting leads to discouragement, discouragement leads to despair, and before you know it, you’ve lost your momentum. Don’t let that happen. Remember, you’re called to write, so persevere – all the way to the end! I ran across a quote just the other day that said this: Write from your heart; write from your soul; make the most of your talent, and don’t ever let it go – not for anything!
*This series originally appeared on Sharlene's blog in October, 2012. Used by permission.