Stories that Matter

Write, Straight Up

Not on the rocks. Not with a splash. Maybe a twist, that’d be fun. But don’t water it down. Write what you want to say, write from you heart, and write, for the love of everything, like you mean it. If you don’t mean it, don’t waste your reader’s time, or yours.

After 20 something years of pushing buttons and watching words appear on white pages, I still hold to that advice. It took me a while.

At first, when I was all about climbing the rungs on the ladder, (gotta get an agent, then a publisher, win a contest . . .) I followed all the rules. I wrote stories I thought agents and publishers were likely to be most interested in. Sweet little happy ever after stories with dogs named Fido and cats named Fluffy. Kidding about the pet names, but I may as well have. What I was writing was okay. It might even have been sellable. And I was getting a few second looks. But thank God nobody asked me to sign on the dotted line at that point, or I may well have doomed myself to a life of cotton candy and sugar-coating from here to kingdom come.

Write what you want to say.

It sounds simple enough. But it’s not. And people don’t always want to hear what you want to say. When I wised up to the fact that I really wasn’t happy writing sweet romance, I wrote a book. A real actual novel set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. With romance of course. It just wasn’t terribly sweet. And I had one agent tell me I would never sell that story. That agent was wrong, and that story went on to be Yesterday’s Tomorrow, still one of my favorite books, but probably because it was my first. But I had finally written the book of my heart. And let me tell you, there’s freedom in that.

Don’t waste your reader’s time. Or yours. 

This is super important. I’m a fast writer. I could probably make a killing writing sweet novellas instead of slogging it out over 130 thousand word manuscripts. Well, maybe not a killing, but you know . . . I’d be producing more so maybe making more money? I don’t know. There is no real money in publishing, right? Unless you’re a famous person. Which I’m not. But I digress. It’s not about the money. Who needs money? 🙂

I’ll go out on a limb here and propose that if  you’re writing purely for the sake of writing something to sell, your work may not be as good as it could be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about goals and if getting published is your goal, that’s great, and I also share that goal. But I’ve learned to be a little more discerning about what I write and why I’m writing it. If a story isn’t speaking to me by the end of the first two chapters, well, it sure as heck isn’t going to speak to my agent or editor or readers. And readers are by far the most important part of the equation. Readers can make or break you. I love them and treasure them and most of all, I respect them. I don’t want to waste their time. Or, at this point, mine.

What’s on your heart? 

I know this is a trite little saying that I imagine some sweet gray haired pastor asking in his counseling office. But once I get past that image, I kind of like it. What is it that gives you all the feels? That steals your breath a little and gives you pause? What do you most long for? What are you passionate about? Are you writing about it?

Yikes.

Again, not as easy as it sounds.

And all this stuff is really a culmination of my learning and growing and failing, a lot, picking myself back up and starting over. Until I got it right. If I ever get it right. If you’re a writer or you know one, you know that confidence is not our best attribute. We’re full of second-guesses and hand-wringing and the occasional ledge walk where our best friends have to pull out the big dog ladder to get up there and talk us down. Thank God for those friends.

Summon all that courage.

Seriously. If you want to write you have to be brave. And then some. You have to believe that this thing you’ve done is going to be worth it. That readers are going to love it. And some won’t and you’re going to need to be okay with that. But your baby is out there, and it’s not ugly, no matter what anybody tells you. If you had the courage to put it out there, you now have the courage to release it.

Yes, I’m talking to myself. Because we are about two weeks away from the release of book number six. And it’s flat out terrifying. But this book? This book I think was where I finally found the freedom to just write. To not worry about anything other than the story I wanted to tell. And it made a difference. A big difference.

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I wrote straight up. 

And it was amazing.

The trick is finding the courage to do it again. And again. But practice makes perfect. So I’m willing to try.

I hope you are too.

And if you’re not a writer, I hope you’re a reader, and I hope you’ll take a chance on those of us who are stepping out of the box and writing beyond convention, but with conviction. I hope we’re all writing this way, really. How exciting would that be? Those are the books that will leave imprints. The stories that will linger long after the last page. And maybe if we find the courage to write from the heart, we’ll find the courage to speak from the heart. To love authentically, with grace and forgiveness that’s all too easy to hold back. Could we do that?

Shall we try?

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1 Comment

  1. Sherri Stone Bennett on May 7, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    Love, love, LOVE! Thank you!

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