Today, Dear Readers, I have the distinct pleasure of welcoming published author, psych-therapist and island girl Toby Neal. More about Toby in just a bit, but first she will share with us some important things she has learned about writing from her own journey.
7 Things I’ve Learned About Writing
- Notice everything. The world is filled with sounds, smells, textures, and fabulous stories unfolding all around you. Take the time to notice, and keep something handy to jot down new thoughts/ways to describe that sensory input as it comes to you. Sometimes, when I really let myself experience any given moment in time, I’m overwhelmed by all that’s going on. Life is a series of amazing moments.
- Write what interests you. I ended up writing “crime/suspense mysteries with a romantic twist” which I never expected to do in my younger, more literary-ambitious days. I started no less than 5 novels before I finally finished one in a genre that kept my own interest long enough to write 350 pages of it. (I also LOVE reading these kinds of books, but honestly never thought I could write them. Shows what I know!)
- Write about themes that touch something deep inside. I became a therapist for a lot of reasons, not least of which is my desire to help others heal—but there’s another side to me that wants to kick some abuser ass, and it’s that part of me that Lei, my crime-fighting detective, “actualizes” as we say in the biz. Course, it took me three books with her for me to really understand WHY I was drawn to the themes I was, and to really own them, shucking off cognitive dissonance.
- Write whatever interests you. I know I already said this, but this time I mean don’t try to write something only for it to sell. Write poetry, essays, novellas, series, flashfiction, fanfiction, bumper stickers… it’s all practice and part of the body of your work, and you never know what piece will lead to something else.
- Be brave when you write. Think of it as “touching universal themes”—write about pain, pleasure, rage, and joy from the depth of your experience. FEEL the experience as you write about it. There’s no getting away from exposing yourself when you’re a writer. Course it doesn’t all have to be agony and ecstasy; a good description of that niggling, drafty suspicion that your pants have burst a seam is also universal.
- Persevere. I had no idea how really, truly difficult it is to get published. I could way more easily have done a doctoral degree—that also requires a lot of study and writing, but at the end when you’ve fulfilled all the requirements, they HAVE to give you the little paper with “doctor” on it. At the end of every considerable, unpaid, and even paid-for-professional-editor effort you can still get, “Thanks for letting me have a look at this. However, it’s not right for our list at this time” (a nicely worded rejection. Many are less kindly worded.) What’s my advice? Cry. Rant to friends about the obtuseness of everyone not getting your obvious genius. Then, get back in front of the computer and revise, rewrite, and never stop learning how you can improve. Humble out. You don’t know everything even when you think you do. Oh, and nothing is ever actually finished until it’s in print. And even then, you can still fix it if you self pub.
- Make room in your life for writing. Most people have at least toyed with the idea of writing a book. If you’re going to be a “professional” writer (and don’t give up your day job just yet) you need to have actual time behind the computer built into your life. Study what works for you to produce words on the page—spurts of productivity with a deadline, daily goals, an outline, a laptop at Starbucks—figure it out and plan it in. For me it’s setting goals for myself, scheduling time (I work six days a week, so NOBODY gets to whine to me about not having time) and then DO IT. I get most done on what I call “retreats”—stretches of time when I step out of my regular life and into the world of my characters. A writing day for me is akin to a spa day—a wily tactic for luring the muse out to play. On the other hand, the dearth of time I have creates an urgency that people with more may not feel. If so, fake yourself out. No excuses, this is your life you’re spending, and worlds are waiting to be born through you.
Now stop reading blogs and get out there and create!
About Toby Neal
Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawaii. She wrote and illustrated her first story at age 5, has been published in magazines and won several writing contests. After initially majoring in Journalism, she eventually settled on mental health as a career and loves her work, saying, “I’m endlessly fascinated with people’s stories.” She enjoys many outdoor sports including bodyboarding, scuba diving, beach walking, gardening and hiking. She lives in Hawaii with her family and dogs. Toby credits her counseling background in adding depth to her characters–from the villains to Lei Texeira, the courageous and vulnerable heroine in the Lei Crime Series.