Tag: Creativity

The Robin Lee Hatcher Interview

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A conversation with romance novelist Robin Lee Hatcher

by Jim Denney

Robin Lee Hatcher is the best-selling author of more than seventy-five novels and novellas featuring emotionally charged stories of love, faith, and courage. She has won a shelf full of awards, including the prestigious Romance Writers of America’s RITA® Award for excellence in romance fiction. She has been an eleven-time RITA finalist and has won the award twice. She has also won the RWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Lifetime Achievement Award, the Christy Award, and ACFW’s Carol Award.

A mother and grandmother, Robin and her husband reside in the Boise, Idaho, area. Her most recent books include Who I Am with You (Legacy of Faith, Book 1), You’ll Think of Me (Thunder Creek, Book 1), You’re Gonna Love Me (Thunder Creek, Book 2), and An Idaho Christmas: Past and Present (two heart-warming Christmas novellas). Visit Robin at her Facebook Author Page at http://www.facebook.com/robinleehatcher, and her website at https://www.robinleehatcher.com.

RobinLeeHatcher-WhoIAmWithYouI’ve known Robin for a number of years, and when I learned how she approached the writing process, I asked if she would let me share her creative approach with my readers at Writing in Overdrive. I always like to find out how writers are drawn to a life of storytelling.

Some people divide writers into two camps — (1) those who plot out an outline of their story before they begin writing (usually called “outliners” or “plotters”), and (2) those who “write by the seat of their pants.” Non-outliners are often referred to as “pantsers” — an inelegant term, in my view. I prefer the term “cliff-jumper,” derived from Ray Bradbury’s advice to writers, “You’ve got to jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” In other words, don’t outline — just leap off the cliff and into your story and you’ll discover your characters and your plot along the way.

Now, I’m not saying that cliff-jumping is the only way to write. Outlining (sometimes called “pre-writing”) is a perfectly legitimate approach the creative process. J. K. Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkien, William Faulkner, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, John Grisham, Jennifer Egan, Norman Mailer, and James Scott Bell are some well-known outliners.

Everybody is wired differently, so do whatever works for you. The problem is that a lot of cliff-jumpers have been told they are “doing it wrong” if they don’t outline. If you’re a natural-born cliff-jumper, you’re in excellent company. Madeleine L’Engle, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, John Steinbeck, Margaret Atwood, Colleen Coble, Stephen King and Robin Lee Hatcher are all cliff-jumpers. Some writers — Piers Anthony, for example — are a hybrid, doing a lot of cliff-jumping within a loosely structured outline. So if you either can’t outline or you don’t want to outline, you’re in good company.

How did Robin Lee Hatcher become a writer? She didn’t always dream of becoming a writer, even though she was a avid reader. In fact, she says she went to her first day of first grade with a single goal: learn to read. She completed her first day of school and still didn’t know how to read, so she told her mother there was no point in going back the next day. But her mother sent her back to school, and she eventually learned to read — and write.

She loved drama and storytelling, and she dreamed of being a movie star. When she was in the fifth grade, she made up a story about her mother, claiming her mom had moved west in a covered wagon along the Oregon Trail. As a consequence, her mother instructed her in the difference between fiction and fibbing.

In her twenties, inspired by Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, Robin got an idea for an epic romance story. She talked about the story with friends, and finally realized that books only get written by writing them down, not by talking about them. She wrote her first novel in longhand on yellow legal pads, then typed it up during lunch breaks on an IBM Selectric typewriter at work. It took her nine months to write it, then another two-plus years to get it published.

More than seventy-five books later, Robin Lee Hatcher is still making up intriguing stories and selling them to an eager public. She recently told me about her creative process.

Q: As a writer, you are what some would call a “pantser” — or what I would call, borrowing Ray Bradbury’s term, a “cliff-jumper.”

RobinLeeHatcher-You'llThinkOfMeRobin Lee Hatcher: That’s right. I really like that term “cliff-jumper.” It’s a good description of my writing process. I do not outline. I do not use a storyboard or sticky notes or Scrivener’s cork board. Rarely do I go back and rework anything I’ve written while I’m in first draft. I keep writing forward. If I need to find an answer to a question, I stop and research, then keep going.

Q: How much planning goes into your characters before you begin? Do you know your characters well before you start writing, or do you get to know them as the story develops?

Robin Lee Hatcher: I write first-person autobiographies of my major characters from birth to when the novel opens. This enables me to understand their backgrounds and motivations. I know where they hurt. I know what they want. I have a good idea which characters will come into conflict with each other, and why. Then I write them in a stream-of-consciousness style. I just let my imagination take wing. My stories are totally character-driven, not plot-driven. The plot is simply what emerges from the interaction of the characters.

Q: Your approach is a great illustration of what Bradbury meant when he said, “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” What about your setting? Certainly you need to know where your story takes place before you begin to write.

Robin Lee Hatcher: To an extent. I usually have an idea of my setting, but it’s rarely very concrete. The setting tends to come to life as I write. Almost all of my settings are fictional towns. I know the reality of where they are set but the towns are laid out in ways that best serve my stories. When I begin a novel, I know my main characters, the opening scene, and I have a vague idea of where I am headed. That’s all I need to begin writing.


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Q: Have you ever tried outlining?

Robin Lee Hatcher: Yes. I learned that it just doesn’t work for me.

Q: Why not?

Robin Lee Hatcher: Writing for me is all about discovering the story. When I tried to outline the story in advance, I realized that I no longer wanted to write the book because I already knew how it was going to end. Why write it once I know that? Knowing everything about my story in advance only dampened my enthusiasm for writing it down. It made me anxious to set it aside and move on to a new idea.

Writing without an outline, I get up and go to my computer every morning so that I can discover what happens next. I’m just like my readers in that regard. They read my books to find out what happens next, and that’s why I write them. The deeper I write into the story, the better I understand the story, and the more I know what will happen next.

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Photo: Tony Webster, “Night Driving on the Gunflint Trail in Northern Minnesota”

Q: E. L. Doctorow said about writing, “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Is that an apt description of how your creative process feels? And isn’t it a bit scary?

Robin Lee Hatcher: Yes, writing for me is a lot like driving at night on a deserted highway. My imagination serves as a set of headlights, providing enough light each day to keep me on the road. Are there twists and turns ahead? Is it scary not knowing what’s out there in the dark? Yes, a bit. But it’s also exciting. All the answers to my story are out there, beyond the range of the headlights.

Q: Have you ever wished you could be an outliner instead of a cliff-jumper?

Robin Lee Hatcher: Yes, there was a time when I thought it would make the writing process much easier if I could pre-write the novel, then breeze through the actual writing. One time, years ago, I was at a conference. As I talked to different writers about the workshops they were attending, it occurred to me that all the character-driven novelists were attending the plotting workshops and all of the plot-driven novelists were attending workshops on characterization. Why were they doing that? Were they trying to improve their craft and sharpen their writing skills? Yes. But more than that, I think that, whether they realized it or not, they were also looking for an easier way to write a novel.

RobinLeeHatcher-You'reGonnaLoveMeWhen I came to that realization, I quit feeling guilty about not being a plotter. I decided to embrace the way God made me to write. This how my brain works, and I’m good with that. I don’t need to change. Cliff-jumping works for me. There is such freedom in getting to the point where you accept that this is who you are as a writer. If you can only write a novel by driving in the dark without a roadmap, that’s fine. If you need to outline your plot before you begin, that’s fine, too.

The truth is, there’s no easy way to write a novel. It’s hard work, whether you’re a cliff-jumper or an outliner. With study and practice, some aspects of writing become easier and more natural, but it’s still hard work. In some ways it becomes even harder, because as we increase our confidence and our skill-level, we want to challenge ourselves more and stretch ourselves in new directions.

Of course, I had to try everything early on in my writing career. I tried the plot-motivation-whatever chart. I tried outlining a novel from start to finish. I’ve read tons of how-to books with all kinds of tips and tricks and I’ve tried most of the suggestions I came across. And in all of that reading and experimenting, I’ve discovered what works for me and what doesn’t.

Q: You said that you don’t use Scrivener—

Robin Lee Hatcher: Well, I don’t use Scrivener’s cork board feature, but Scrivener is a very powerful and useful tool for writers. I do use it. I love the character pages in Scrivener. I love the way you can add photos and details and insights about your characters as you go along. So I enjoy using Scrivener, but I don’t use it for outlining. I use it to make my creative process flow more freely.

Q: One thing I talk about a lot on the Writing in Overdrive website is the power of the unconscious mind to enable us to write faster and to be more creative and uninhibited. What role does the unconscious mind play in your creative process?

Robin Lee Hatcher: I’m convinced that much of my writing happens in my unconscious before I’m ever aware of it. Sometimes the writing even happens while I sleep. I don’t mean that I get plot ideas from dreams — although I have actually dreamt some scenes. I mean that, somewhere below the surface of my awareness, my brain is working on the story. So while it sounds like I just wing it, there’s an unconscious creative process going on that I’m not aware of. That process is working out interactions between characters, exploring plot possibilities, and making intuitive leaps that my conscious mind would never think of.

Q: This is a phenomenon many writers observe during the writing process. Ursula Le Guin said, “I allow my unconscious mind to control the course of the story, using rational thought only to reality check when revising.” And Anne Lamott talked about the need to align ourselves with “the river of the story, the river of the unconscious.”

RobinLeeHatcher_AnIdahoChristmas_PastandPresent_300dpiRobin Lee Hatcher: Exactly! During every writing session, there are probably two or three things that emerge — ideas, insights, connections, entire scenes — that I wasn’t consciously aware of at the start, but at some unconscious level my brain was working on the story. When I’m writing, these ideas come to the surface. We think it comes out of nowhere and we call it “inspiration,” but I think it often comes from our God-given unconscious self. And, of course, God works through us and inspires us when we are open to him and listening to him.

That’s why it’s so important to show up for work every day. We won’t receive our daily allotment of inspiration until we sit down, place our fingers on the keyboard, and discover what our unconscious creativity has been working on.

Q: Robin, the words rewriting and revising are sometimes used interchangeably, but technically they are not the same thing. Rewriting is more drastic, and usually involves major restructuring, such as adding or deleting an entire subplot or character arc, inserting new scenes, or removing scenes that detract from the storyline. Revising is essentially buffing and polishing and perfecting a novel that is structurally sound. Do you find that writing without an outline is an advantage or a disadvantage when it comes to rewriting or revising your first draft?

Robin Lee Hatcher: I don’t think my creative process gives me an advantage or a disadvantage. Both outliners and cliff-jumpers need to revise. I don’t generally have to do major rewrites, but they have happened on occasion. Most of the time, however, when I finish a first draft, I do a proof and polish, then turn it in. I’ve been tweaking and polishing throughout the first draft, so it is usually in good shape.

Because most of my books are romances, I begin with a hero and heroine and I know their history, their lives leading up to the story. For instance, with my latest novel, I know that Jessica is a pregnant widow whose husband cheated on her and he died in a car wreck just after telling her he was leaving her for another woman. And I know that Ridley is a tech guy who got involved in a political scandal for which he was blamed. Both are trying to hide from life and keep people from knowing who they really are. Ridley goes to Jessica’s small town and becomes her neighbor. Their romance begins.

Now, because it’s a romance, we know that the two of them will get together at the end. So I just start writing toward that moment when they get their Happily Ever After. Sometimes I have a glimmer of an idea as to how they will get there, but I usually don’t. I’m driving in the dark.

My first drafts tend to be pithy and concise, so my revisions usually involve fleshing out the scenes I’ve written to make them longer, more emotionally involving. As a romance writer, revisions usually involve going deeper into my characters’ emotions.

Q: I think many outliners have a more adventurous, cliff-jumping spirit than they realize. I’ve known many writers, myself included, who started out with an outline, then wrote and wrote without even looking at the outline. By the time the book was written, it was a very different story than the one in the outline. Along the way, outliners generally discover depths to their story they never imagined at the outset. They discover new characters, new plot twists, and often come up with a completely new ending.

Robin Lee Hatcher: I agree. I don’t think plotters are slaves to their outlines. I’m sure they are constantly tweaking and refining their ideas as they write, whether in broad ways or subtle ways. The book they planned and the book they wrote are often very different from each other. An outline doesn’t have to be a straight-jacket. If you’re a plotter, then your outline is your roadmap. But if, along your journey, you stumble onto a road that isn’t on the map, you’re perfectly free to explore it.

No outlining writer should ever tell a cliff-jumping writer, “You’re doing it wrong.” Or vice versa. A plotter feels more freedom with an outline to follow. A cliff-jumper feels more freedom without an outline. That’s great! Whatever works for you, do that. Enjoy your freedom to create.

Q: That’s great advice for any writer. Thank you, Robin, for sharing your experiences and insights.


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Discover the uninhibited creative power to write faster and more brilliantly than ever before. Read Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.75]

MuseOfFire-Medium350x550And for a 90-day supply of inspirational and motivational writing insight, read Muse of Fire: 90 Days of Inspiration for Writers by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $2.99. [Trade paperback edition $14.95]

Discover how to conquer the eight most common writing fears. Read cover-1writefearlesslyjdWrite Fearlessly! Conquer Fear, Eliminate Self-Doubt, Write with Confidence by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.99.]

These books are designed to motivate you, get you writing with confidence and enthusiasm, and propel you toward your goals and dreams.

 

 

Write Better. Write Faster. Be Unconscious

“Every day I try to be in communication with the universe in an unconscious way.” 
—Paulo Coelho

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John Steinbeck, 1963

Writing faster and writing better is not a matter of techniques or shortcuts or writing secrets. Sure, there are a few tricks you can learn that will increase your writing speed at the margins: You can eliminate time-wasting habits, use voice dictation software instead of typing, and so forth. I talk about these tricks in my books, and they can help you become a faster writer. But these tricks won’t make you more a more brilliant writer.

There’s only one writing insight you can learn that will make you a faster and more brilliant writer: You must learn to write unconsciously

In other words, you must learn to write in flow or in the zone. Great writing does not involve thinking. Great writing comes from a deeper part of us than the conscious intellect. It comes from the unconscious mind.

John Steinbeck, in a 1962 letter to an aspiring writer, said, “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.” Steinbeck warned the young writer not to stop and edit or rewrite while in the creative process. “Rewrite in process,” he said, “is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.”

When you are first drafting (or “fast drafting,” as I prefer to call it), always move forward, never look back. By writing freely and quickly and without inhibitions, you tap into the writer’s most powerful engine of imagination, the unconscious mind.

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Ursula LeGuin, 2008. Photo: Gorthian

Ursula K. Le Guin has described her writing process as “a pure trance state. … All I seek when writing is to allow my unconscious mind to control the course of the story, using rational thought only to reality check when revising.”

In Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande talks about a creative faculty we all possess, though few of us are aware of it — ”The higher imagination, you may call it; your own endowment of genius, great or small; the creative aspect of your mind, which is lodged almost entirely in the unconscious.”

Brande underscores the fact that this faculty is the UN-conscious mind, not the SUB-conscious mind, because “sub-” suggests that which is low and inferior. Far from being inferior to the conscious mind, Brande says, the unconscious “has a reach as far above our average intellect as it has depths below. . . . The unconscious must be trusted to bring you aid from a higher level than that on which you ordinarily function.” In fact, she says, “the root of genius is in the unconscious, not the conscious, mind.”

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One of Dorothea Brande’s most famous disciples, Ray Bradbury, often said that conscious thought is poisonous to the creative process, and that true creativity springs from the unconscious mind. In a 1975 speech, he said, “I have had a sign by my typewriter for the better part of twenty years, now, which says, ‘Don’t think.’ I hate all those signs that say ‘Think.’ That’s the enemy of creativity. . . . Intellect can help correct. But emotion, first, surprises creativity out in the open where it can be pinned down!”

RayBradb-CommderOfOrdreDesArtsEtDesLettres2009
Ray Bradbury receiving the Commander of Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 2009. Photo: Caleb Sconosciuto.

What is the unconscious mind? Where in the brain is it located? Is it in the right brain or the murky region of the limbic system? Is the unconscious, creative mind the result of the synergistic functioning of many regions of the brain working together? Or does the function of the unconscious mind extend beyond the boundaries of the brain? Is it a creative activity of the immortal human spirit — a human reflection of the creativity of God?

I don’t know. No one knows. The term unconscious mind is a convenient label for a phenomenon we can’t explain. We don’t need to know where the unconscious mind is located or how it works, but I can tell you this from my own personal experience:

The unconscious mind is the key to unlocking our incredible creative powers.

 

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Discover the uninhibited creative power to write faster and more brilliantly than ever before. Read Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.75]

MuseOfFire-Medium350x550And for a 90-day supply of inspirational and motivational writing insight, read Muse of Fire: 90 Days of Inspiration for Writers by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $2.99. [Trade paperback edition $14.95]

Discover how to conquer the eight most common writing fears. Read cover-1writefearlesslyjdWrite Fearlessly! Conquer Fear, Eliminate Self-Doubt, Write with Confidence by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.99.]

These books are designed to motivate you, get you writing with confidence and enthusiasm, and propel you toward your goals and dreams.

 

Writing Without Rules

 

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Hemingway in 1939

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” 
—Ernest Hemingway

Many writers obsess about the so-called “rules” of writing. They ask: “What are the rules? What if I’m breaking the rules and don’t know it? What does ‘Show, don’t tell’ mean? What does ‘Write what you know’ mean? How can I get published if I don’t know the rules?”

In my humble opinion, there are only a few “rules of writing” that are so fundamental and universal they truly deserve to be called “rules.” These are the commonsense commandments you must obey or you’re not a writer: “Read every day.” “Maintain a consistent writing schedule.” “Write whether you feel ‘inspired’ or not.” “Finish what you start.” “Never give up.” “Never be boring.”

Any other so-called “rules” are not rules at all. They should be called “principles.” A principle is a general guide to behavior that has proven useful in most situations. There have probably been times when you’ve said, “That’s a good principle, but it doesn’t apply to this situation.” Many people feel anxious at the thought of “breaking” rules. But if we would think of the “general principles of writing” instead of the “rules of writing,” we could relax and be more creative and uninhibited.

Screenwriter Robert McKee put it this way: “Story is about principles, not rules. A rule says, ‘You must do it this way.’ A principle says, ‘This works . . . and has through all remembered time.’ The difference is crucial. . . . Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form.”

Science fiction writer Will Shetterly (Dogland), agrees: “There are no rules in writing. There are useful principles. Throw them away when they’re not useful. But always know what you’re throwing away.”

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Leonard Bishop, in Dare to Be a Great Writer, suggests that, instead of feeling anxious or hesitant about breaking rules, we should sin boldly. He writes:

If you break a “writing rule,” make it noticeable. Exploit your infraction until your personal technique becomes another rule. . . .

A popular rule is “Don’t tell it, show it!” Yet, if you have a scene with ten people who are important and you cannot devise a way to bring them all into action, then tell [about] them — and keep on telling. . . . Offer them, one at a time, as though introducing the cast of a play. Narrate them, describe them, document them, use exposition to reveal their relationships to one another — until the information is down. Tell it all — interestingly. A writer should be bold, versatile, inventive, imaginative, rebellious.

Do not break any rules at the beginning of a novel. It is advisable to allow the reader to get used to your manner of writing before you astonish them with your daring attitudes. (This is not a rule: it is a suggestion.)

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E.B. White with his dog Minnie

E. B. White (The Elements of Style and Charlotte’s Web) observed, “There is . . . no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.”

Novelist Tom Robbins (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) said, “Rules such as ‘Write what you know,’ and ‘Show, don’t tell,’ while doubtlessly grounded in good sense, can be ignored with impunity by any novelist nimble enough to get away with it. There is, in fact, only one rule in writing fiction: Whatever works, works.”

Ralph Keyes, in The Courage to Write, makes the case that a writer’s success depends far more on passion and conviction than on following any set of writing “rules”:

The more I read and write, the more convinced I am that writing has less to do with acquired technique than with inner conviction. The assurance that you have something to say that the world needs to hear counts for more than literary skill. Those writers who hold their readers’ attention are the ones who grab them by the lapel and say, “You’ve got to listen to what I am about to tell you.” It’s hard to be passionate. It means you must put your whole poke on the table. Yet this very go-for-broke quality grabs and holds a reader far more surely than any mastery of technique.

Fantasy master Neil Gaiman offers his own eight rules of writing. His first rule is so basic he expressed it in a single word: “Write.” Most of his other rules are less concise but equally basic: “Finish what you’re writing” and “Fix it.” His eighth and final rule is my favorite, because it repeals all other so-called “rules”—

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

Forget “rules.” Master the principles and follow them when they help you, abandon them when they hold you back. Relax and enjoy the creative process. Write with joy!

For more insight into how to write freely, powerfully, confidently, without inhibition, read my books for writers. Learn to tap into the incredibly powerful source of creative inspiration, “the Muse” or unconscious mind.

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Discover the uninhibited creative power to write faster and more brilliantly than ever before. Read Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.75]

MuseOfFire-Medium350x550And for a 90-day supply of inspirational and motivational writing insight, read Muse of Fire: 90 Days of Inspiration for Writers by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $2.99. [Trade paperback edition $14.95]

Discover how to conquer the eight most common writing fears. Read cover-1writefearlesslyjdWrite Fearlessly! Conquer Fear, Eliminate Self-Doubt, Write with Confidence by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.99.]

These books are designed to motivate you, get you writing with confidence and enthusiasm, and propel you toward your goals and dreams.

Writing: The Marriage of Conscious and Unconscious

“You don’t want to think when you’re writing. You want to stop thinking and just go on inspiration.” —Garth Stein

Gregory Benford is an astrophysicist and a science fiction writer. He is best known for his Galactic Center Saga, beginning with In the Ocean of Night (1977). Benford says that, though he is a rational scientist, he relies heavily on unconscious intuition when writing fiction. When he began writing In the Ocean of Night in the summer of 1975, he followed an unconscious, unplanned process that, he said, unfolded as “a series of revelations.”

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Gregory Benford

Benford had written his way to the midpoint of the novel when a stunning plot twist came to him out of the blue — a shocking surprise that was exactly what he needed at that point in the story. It was brilliant — and completely unforeseen. As Benford pondered the plot twist, he realized he had unknowingly planted clues throughout the first half of the book. The plot twist would be absolutely fitting and would play fair with the reader by being set up beforehand — yet the reader would not see it coming any more than Benford had.

How had he managed to plant those clues when he wasn’t even conscious of where the clues were leading him? Answer: Benford’s unconscious mind knew all along. But he had to write half the novel in order for his conscious mind to catch up to what his unconscious mind already knew.

“It was that kind of assembly work,” he later said, “in which you slowly understand what is going on. . . . This seems to be the way that I have to write books. It takes a long time to put together the ideas and figure out what it means.”

As we learn to rely on the power of the unconscious mind, we discover a completely new way of imagining, creating, and writing. Our stories, scenes, dialogue, and emotions spill forth with compelling energy from the depths of the uninhibited, unconscious mind.

 This doesn’t mean the conscious mind — the intellect — is unimportant. The conscious mind is the critical and analytical part of us, not the creative part. Creativity springs from the Muse. To write truthful and compelling fiction, we must understand the role of the unconscious mind — and allow the unconscious to drive the process.

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Don’t try to analyze what the unconscious mind is doing. “The unconscious more than anything hates being dragged into public,” observed science-fantasy writer C. L. Moore, adding that the unconscious “can’t work under the inspection of the conscious mind.”

Great writers understand that art (as filmmaker Jean Cocteau observed) “is a marriage of the conscious and the unconscious.” Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, explains how the conscious and unconscious work together. “The trick with writing,” he said, “is that there’s an art to it and there’s a craft to it. The craft of writing is all the stuff that you can learn through school, [going] to workshops and [reading] books. Learn characterization, plot and dialogue and pacing and word choice and point of view. Then there’s also the art of it which is sort of the unknown, the inspiration, the stuff that is noncerebral.”

As you write, don’t think. Fantasize. Daydream. Play with ideas. Let your unconscious mind take control of your story. Let it give life to your characters. Let it plan the hidden twists and turns of your plot.

“The best thing to do is to loosen my grip on my pen and let it go wandering about.” —Machado de Assis


For more insight on how to write faster, write freely, and write brilliantly, read my other books for writers:

WritingOverdrive-Medium350x550     

Discover the uninhibited creative power to write faster and more brilliantly than ever before. Read Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.75]

MuseOfFire-Medium350x550And for a 90-day supply of inspirational and motivational writing insight, read Muse of Fire: 90 Days of Inspiration for Writers by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $2.99. [Trade paperback edition $14.95]

Discover how to conquer the eight most common writing fears. Read cover-1writefearlesslyjdWrite Fearlessly! Conquer Fear, Eliminate Self-Doubt, Write with Confidence by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.99.]

These books are designed to motivate you, get you writing with confidence and enthusiasm, and propel you toward your goals and dreams.

Author Interview: Jacci Turner

Infusing Reality with Hope

jacci-turner-2I like to hear writers talk about how and why they write, and how their creative process works. So from time to time, I’ll feature interviews with highly creative, highly productive writers, beginning today with Jacci Turner.

As a novelist, Jacci has written mostly middle grade and young adult fiction (her book Bending Willow was selected by Nevada Librarians to represent Nevada at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C.). Her first novel for adult readers, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening, will be published March 28, 2017, by Harper Legend, an imprint of HarperCollins. You may pre-order it here. Now, meet Jacci Turner:

Jim Denney: Jacci, is there a single thread or theme that runs through your books?

Jacci Turner: Yes, I’d say I’m a bit of an optimist so, even though the world can be a really difficult place, I think there’s good and hope in it. My tag line is “Infusing Reality with Hope.”

jacci-turner-the-retreatJim: You call your new novel The Retreat “a tale of spiritual awakening.” What inspired the story?

Jacci: This story is based on a real experience I had. I was sent to a monastery in Nebraska by a friend who raised the money for me to go to this retreat. The first night I was walking around, wondering what I was doing at a monastery in Nebraska and this book sort of downloaded into my brain. The exercises in the book are some that I did at the retreat, as well as some from other retreats. Of course, the characters are made up, but they’re a compilation of real people.

Jim: Do you write primarily to express what you already know, or to explore questions and find answers through the writing process?

Jacci: I think I write to clarify what I’ve gone through. I like finding words for my experience. Even if I’m writing fantasy, I’m trying to understand my world.

Jim: What have you learned about writing that no one ever told you, even in writer’s workshops or books on writing? In other words, what have you discovered about writing simply by writing?

Jacci: I’ve learned that your characters can take over a story. That was a surprise to me. And I’ve learned that a story can come to you and you can choose to ignore it until it goes away, but some are stubborn and insistent and nag at you until you break down and write them. It’s a more mystical experience than I ever knew.

Jim: It’s been said that a writer is a reader moved to emulation. Who are your literary heroes and heroines, the authors who inspired you?

Jacci: Ah, that’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. I love so many. . . . Lucy Maud Montgomery, Gail Carson Levine, Madeleine L’Engle, and of course J. K. Rowling, for a start.

Jim: What is the hardest part of writing for you? What’s the easiest?

Jacci: Writing is easy, editing is hard. I have a friend who loves to edit. I hate her.

Jim: Hah! I’ve got one of those friends, too. I hear you. I love the process of creating. I do not enjoy revising and editing. Speaking of the creative process, do you have any writing rituals or habits that help to prepare you for a writing session?

Jacci: I write on Tuesdays. It’s something I started when I began writing about eight years ago. Tuesday was my day off and it has worked for me. I’ve written thirteen books (two aren’t yet published) on Tuesdays. I get to the library about ten and write until two or three. That’s it. I think that authors telling other writers that they have to get up at four a.m. and write every day are doing us disservice. I mean what is four a.m. anyway? I’ve certainly never seen it.

Jim: That’s fascinating! I don’t think I’ve ever met a Tuesday writer before. I’m a “write every day” writer, but I’m also a “whatever works for you” writer, and everybody’s creative process is different and unique. I’m sure there are people reading this who can only write one day a week, or fifteen minutes a day, and they’re tired of hearing writing instructors telling them they’re doing it “wrong.” There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to writing, and you are proof, Jacci, that you can be amazingly productive writing one day a week — especially if you use that day to the fullest.

Now, some writers outline or “pre-write” their stories. Others — so-called “pantsers” who “write by the seat of their pants” — leap into their stories and write without an outline. Which type of writer are you? And why does that approach suit you?

Jacci: I’m a “pantser.” Maybe it’s just my personality, but I’ve never outlined a book. I do mull, though. I mull over a story line sometimes before I write, so maybe I’m just outlining in my head. Maybe I’m a closet outliner! Oh no!

Jim: How do you imagine scenes?

Jacci: I’m very visual. I see and hear it in my head, like a movie. Because of that, I have trouble writing in enough description. That’s what my editor always says: “I don’t know where we are. Where are we?” I mean, I see it. Why can’t she?

Jim: Do you experience writing “in flow”? How do you get into “flow”?

Jacci: There are only two places I’ve experienced losing time, one is while writing, the other in prayer. I love to get in the flow of a story, especially during my once or twice a year get-away-to-write weekends. I love to be alone and just have time to write and write and write. Those are the best. I have friends that let me house-sit in the summer on their little farm. It’s such a privilege to have time and just get lost in it.

Jim: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Jacci: Read. Write. Jump out of an airplane if you feel stuck. We need to live life if we are going to write about it. Join a critique group and a writing group. We need all the help and support we can get! Never stop learning.

Jim: Thanks, Jacci, for giving us a glimpse into your creative process. You’ve shown us that creativity is more than artistic expression. It’s deeply connected to our spirituality and to our uniqueness as individuals. I wonder how many other “Tuesday writers” (or some-other-day-of-the-week writers) are reading these words. You’ve given them excellent affirmation today. Keep infusing reality with hope!

Visit Jacci Turner’s website at JacciTurner.com, and pre-order her new novel The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening, here

Oh, and by the way, I have something FREE for my readers . . .

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How to Put More Time in Your Life, Part 2

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Boost Your Productivity with the Grab 15 Principle

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Adapted from Answers to Satisfy the Soul: Clear, Straight Answers to 20 of Life’s Most Important Questions by Jim Denney


In Part 1, we looked at how to put more time in our lives through organizing our priorities. Now in Part 2, we’ll look at a concept that I believe is going to revolutionize your writing life and speed you to your writing goals: The Grab 15 Principle. But first, we’ll look at how to keep your writing time safe and sacred from intrusions by other people:


Second: Don’t let other people hijack your time. You have a right to set your own agenda for success in life. Others will try to entice you or even bully you into setting your priorities aside so you can meet their priorities. They’ll use guilt and manipulation to pull you away from your goals. Don’t let them.

As J. K. Rowling observed, “The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books.”

When someone asks you to take on a task, immediately decide (1) whether it is something you choose to do or not, and (2) what priority this task should have (if any) on your Things to Do list. If you agree to take on that person’s task, put in the appropriate category — Priority 1, 2, or 3 — and accomplish it according to the priority it deserves. Just because someone is clamoring the loudest doesn’t mean his wishes should be your command.

It’s okay to say “no” without making excuses or offering any reasons. It’s okay to say, “This is my time, and I choose to spend it another way.” You don’t have to make up a lie or justify yourself. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Most people will respect your polite-but-firm refusal — and if they don’t, that’s their problem.

People will chew up your writing time if you let them. They’ll phone you or knock on your door and refuse to hang up or leave. When that happens to me, I find it helps to be polite but direct. I say, “I’m on a deadline,” or, “I’m short of time right now,” or, “I have to hang up now, my appendix just burst.” A good friend of mine simply says, “I’m going to hang up now.” If you want to be diplomatic about it, you can say, “I’m glad you called, let’s do this again real soon.”

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Third: Follow the Grab 15 Principle. I learned this principle years ago while partnering on books with Bert Decker and Dru Scott Decker. Bert is the author of You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard and founder of Decker Communications, Inc. His wife, Dru, is a popular business speaker and author of such books as Stress That Motivates and Women as Winners. Dru originated the Grab 15 Principle, and Bert and Dru both promote it in their writing and speaking. It has changed my life by putting hundreds of extra hours into my schedule.

Here’s how it works:

You’ve got a project you want to accomplish, but your schedule is so full that you just don’t have the time. It might be that book you want to write, the exercise program you want to start, the new language you want to master. You’re saving this project for that mythical “someday” when you have “more time” — which, of course, will never happen.

But, thanks to the Grab 15 Principle, it can happen. Most of us are unaware of how much priceless, irreplaceable time slips through our fingers like sand through an hourglass. The Grab 15 Principle salvages that time and uses it to make our dreams come true. This principle is amazingly easy to follow and incredibly powerful:

First, select the project you wish to accomplish.

Next, make a commitment to “grab fifteen” minutes every day without fail to work on it. Come rain or come shine, come hell or high tide, you will devote a minimum of fifteen minutes of every day to your dream. Promise yourself that your head won’t hit the pillow until you’ve done your Grab 15.

Sounds too easy, right? But there are a number of good reasons why this principle works.

First reason: All those fifteen-minute snippets of time quickly add up. Let me ask you this: What could you do with an extra 78 hours a year? Because even if you take Sundays off and only “Grab 15” six days a week, that works out to 90 minutes per week — or 78 hours a year. That is time that would otherwise just fall through the cracks. You’ve magically, effortlessly added the equivalent of almost two 40-hour work weeks to your life.

Second reason: The Grab 15 Principle boosts your creativity, concentration, and retention. This is especially important if you are writing a novel or play. The Grab 15 Principle keeps your head in the game. Every day, you’ll spend at least fifteen minutes concentrating on your project. This provides reinforcement and continuity from day to day.

Without Grab 15, you’d be starting from scratch every few months or years, whenever you happen to get around to your project. You’d lose tons of time just saying to yourself, “Now, where was I?”

With Grab 15, you never lose your place, never lose your momentum. You remain focused on your goal day after day, so ideas and insights come to you in the shower, on your commute, and while you exercise, because your project is never far from your thoughts. This magnifies the effectiveness of each fifteen-minute session.

Third reason: The Grab 15 Principle keeps you disciplined. It imposes a daily requirement and keeps you moving steadily toward your goal. It creates a daily habit in your life that soon becomes hard to break. If you go a day without keeping your promise to yourself, you really miss it — and you make sure to get back on track the next day.

Fourth and most important reason: You find it hard to stop at fifteen minutes. You put in your fifteen minutes and discover you’re on a roll, and you just keep going. That’s even more bonus time to carry you toward your goals.

I use the Grab 15 Principle every day. This idea works.

Spend your life doing what counts

Dru Scott told me the story of her friend, Margaret. At age forty-two, after suffering a series of unexplained headaches, Margaret went to the doctor. The doctors diagnosed her with an advanced and inoperable brain tumor. She had one week to live.

Margaret’s husband phoned Dru with the shattering news. Dru had seen Margaret only days before, and she had seemed healthy and vital. Margaret had a happy marriage, a rewarding career, two fine sons, and everything to live for. Why did she have to die? And why so cruelly and suddenly?

Two days before Margaret’s death, Dru talked to her on the phone. Though the pain medication slowed Margaret’s speech, it could not quench her spirit. “For some reason, during these past six months,” Margaret said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about how I spend my time. I always thought of myself as career-oriented, but lately I’ve realized that my family is the most important thing in my life. These past few months, even though I had no idea I was about to die, I’ve spent much more time with David and the boys.”

When Margaret said that, Dru recalled her last visit in Margaret’s home. “I should feel guilty about that mess,” Margaret had said, pointing to a messy desk in one corner, “but there are a lot of things more important than a clean desk. Lately, I’ve been concentrating on more important things — on my husband and my boys, on building family memories. It’s so much easier to face what I am facing now because I’ve spent my time doing what really counts.”

Are you and I spending our time doing what really counts? Or are we just “killing time”? Let’s use the gift of this present moment to do the things that matter.

Collaborating with the Unconscious Mind

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by Jim Denney

In Creating Short Fiction, science fiction writer-editor Damon Knight describes how to get your analytical Conscious Mind to work in sync with your creative Unconscious Mind (which I call “the Muse,” and which Knight calls “Fred”):


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Your mind comes in two parts, the conscious part and the other one. . . . I prefer to call it “Fred.” . . .

When you think about a creative problem, or even when you think something as simple as “I wish I had an idea for a story,” you are sending a message to Fred. . . . Fred will respond to your ideas pretty much the way you respond to the ideas you get from him: either a kind of dull, empty feeling, which means “No,” or else an excitement, an electric tingle, that means “Yes, yes!” . . .

To be productive, Fred needs a lot of stimulating input—odd facts or fancies to knock together, insights, specimens, interesting data of all kinds. . . . Critics talk about “the well of inspiration,” and they say that the well sometimes runs dry. What this means, in my opinion, is either that the author is feeling the lack of stimulating input, or that she has not given Fred time enough to think about the problem. Trying to force this process is a mistake. . . .

Sleep is good because it makes the conscious mind shut up and gives Fred a chance to think. Drop an unsolved or half-solved problem in before bedtime; in the morning, chances are, you will see it in a different light.1


Ursula K. Le Guin has a similar view of the Conscious-Unconscious collaborative process. “All I seek when writing,” she said, “is to allow my Unconscious Mind to control the course of the story, using rational thought only to reality check when revising.”

In Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande talks about an ability we all have, though few of us realize it: “The higher imagination, you may call it; your own endowment of genius, great or small; the creative aspect of your mind, which is lodged almost entirely in the Unconscious.” Our goal as writers is to harmonize both regions of our being—the Conscious and the Unconscious—in a productive and creative collaboration.

We tend to think of Damon Knight’s “Fred,” the Unconscious Mind, as a nebulous, irrational part of us, hidden and submerged somewhere underneath our real personality. But the Unconscious is, in many ways, actually more powerful than the Conscious Mind, especially when it comes to the creative process, the writing process. The Unconscious is wild, uninhibited, and exuberant, so it is the Unconscious that breathes life, energy, and emotion into our work.

Once we learn to marry the raw creative power of the Unconscious to the critical, analytical reasoning of the Conscious, our best work will come blazing forth, white-hot with energy, ready to dazzle editors, reviewers, and readers alike. That is the kind of uninhibited creativity that drives great fiction — and great fiction-writing careers.

  1. Damon Knight, Creating Short Fiction, Third Edition (New York: St. Martin’s, 1997), 23-26.

For more insight into how to tap into the uninhibited creative power of the Unconscious Mind, read Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly by Jim Denney [Kindle Edition available at Amazon.com for $3.99] [Print edition available at Amazon.com for $7.75]

Jim Denney has written more than 100 books for a variety of publishers. He’s the author of the four-book Timebenders science fantasy series for young readers, and is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

How to Write a Novel in Three Days

By Jim Denney

From Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly by Jim Denney [Kindle Edition available at Amazon.com for $3.99] [Print edition available at Amazon.com for $7.75]

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In his early career, Michael Moorcock eked out a living writing adventure novels in the low-paying pulp fiction field. To boost his productivity and income, he devised a plan for writing sword-and-sorcery potboilers very quickly, usually in a matter of three to ten days. Every novel he wrote this way adhered to a series of simple formulas:

• Length formula: 60,000 words, divided into four sections of 15,000 words, six chapters in each section, no chapter longer than 2,500 words. Each chapter is required to contain elements that advance the action.

• Plot formula: the familiar tale of a lot of people competing in a quest to gain a much-sought-after object (examples of such objects: the Holy Grail, the Maltese Falcon, the gold of El Dorado, Alfred Hitchcock’s notion of “the MacGuffin,” or the Rambaldi artifacts in TV’s Alias).

• Character formula: a fallible and reluctant hero who tries to avoid responsibility, but ends up being pitted against vastly superior, even superhuman, forces.

• Structural formula: a dire event occurs every four pages to advance the action and keep the reader hooked.

• Fantastic images formula: the story must contain a series of wild, vivid, fantasy images, such as Moorcock’s “City of Screaming Statues.”

• Time formula: the hero is in a race against time. Moorcock explained: “It’s a classic formula: ‘We’ve only got six days to save the world!’ Immediately you’ve set the reader up with a structure: there are only six days, then five, then four, and finally … there’s only 26 seconds to save the world! Will they make it in time?”1

Even though the actual writing of a novel may take as little as three days (a phenomenal 20,000 words per day!), Moorcock would always spend at least a couple of days preparing and organizing the story structure, characters, and lists of images and events he wanted to include, so he’d have everything he needed once the writing began. “The whole reason you plan everything beforehand,” he explained, “is so that when you hit a snag, a desperate moment, you’ve actually got something there on your desk that tells you what to do.”2

This may sound like a recipe for churning out the most dreary and unreadable fiction imaginable—and in the hands of a lesser talent, it undoubtedly would be. But Moorcock actually wrote some of his highly acclaimed Hawkmoon and Elric tales on this formula. Though the plots were formulaic, his characters were strongly delineated and memorable, and his writing was clean and well-crafted. About the same time he perfected this recipe for writing novels in three days, he began earning better money. Growing tired of the formula, he moved on to more challenging genres and projects.

Yet he continued to write quickly. One of his most celebrated novels is Gloriana, or The Unfulfill’d Queen, a literary fantasy novel that won the World Fantasy Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Published in 1978, Gloriana has remained continuously in print to this day. Moorcock wrote it in a mere six weeks.

For Michael Moorcock, preparing to write quickly is a matter of quality as well as speed. He organized and disciplined himself to write quickly, and in the process he wrote very well, and acquired a reputation for literary excellence.

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Notes
1. Michael Moorcock and Colin Greenland, Death Is No Obstacle (Manchester, UK: Savoy, 1992), 8.
2. Ibid., 9.

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Update — Tuesday, August 23, 2016:

I received this from a friend on Twitter today: “I’ll go so far as to say it can be done, but I don’t think even attempting this speed is good for most writers.”

I wouldn’t claim to know what’s best for most writers — there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to writing. In my books and blogs about writing, I try to present ideas that my fellow writers are free to adopt, adapt, or ignore, depending on their preferences and predilections.

Yet I absolutely believe that most writers could benefit from “writing in overdrive” — that is, writing quickly in a state of creative flow. When you are “in flow” or “in the zone,” you are tapping into the creative power of the unconscious Muse. You are not thinking critically and analytically about your work. You are simply letting the work flow straight from your imagination onto the page. Your writing is free and uninhibited. Because the work is flowing quickly, you can easily remember everything that happened before, and you don’t get lost in the thicket of your plot. You stay excited and energized, and you experience one inspired insight after another.

Michael Moorcock’s peak results — 20,000 words per day — are an extreme case. But any writer could adapt Moorcock’s formula by lowering the daily word goals to a less daunting level — say, 5,000 words per day. At that rate, you could first-draft a 60,000-word novel in twelve days. At 2,000 words per day (which, by the way, is the daily word quota set by Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and John Steinbeck), you could first-draft a 60,000-word novel in thirty days.

I’ve never had a 20,000-word day myself — but I’ve had quite a few 10,000-word days over my writing career. That kind of speed may not be for everybody, but it’s exhilarating to experience. Over the next few weeks I plan to post more “writing in overdrive” insights that I hope my fellow writers will find helpful and empowering. God bless and inspire you!

— Jim Denney

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Jim Denney has written more than 100 books for a variety of publishers including Simon & Schuster, St. Martin’s Press, McGraw-Hill, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Baker Books, Humanix, and many more. He is the author of the four-book Timebenders science fantasy series for young readers, and is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). For more writing insight and inspiration, read:

Muse of Fire: 90 Days of Inspiration for Writers by Jim Denney

Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly by Jim Denney

Write Fearlessly! Conquer Fear, Eliminate Self-Doubt, Write with Confidence by Jim Denney 

Copyright 2016 by Jim Denney.

Invent Your Confidence

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Excerpted from Muse of Fire: 90 Days of Inspiration for Writers by Jim Denney.

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“I think that all artists, regardless of degree of talent, are a painful, paradoxical combination of certainty and uncertainty, of arrogance and humility, constantly in need of reassurance, and yet with a stubborn streak of faith in their own validity no matter what.”
— Madeleine L’Engle

Edna Staebler was born two blocks from the public library in what is now Kitchener, Ontario. As soon as she could read, she’d go to the library two or three times a week and return with an armload of books. As a teenager, she wrote daily in her diary — though, as she later lamented, “nothing exciting happened to me; Kitchener and my dates seemed very dull.”

Attending college at the University of Toronto, Staebler told all her friends she was going to be a writer. But during the year she spent on the campus newspaper, she only wrote one story — “about girls drinking buttermilk in the Women’s Union.”

After college, Staebler took a job with Kitchener’s daily newspaper. She wanted a job writing news stories, but her boss assigned her to collect money from the newsboys instead. Her poor math skills resulted in swift termination. She desperately wanted to write, but didn’t know how to go about it.

She recalled, “I read hundreds of books: novels, plays, biographies, and books about writing: Virginia Woolf, Mary Webb, Arthur Koestler, T. S. Eliot. Some of them expressed thoughts I’d had and I wondered, Why didn’t I write that? And all the time I felt guilty as hell because I wasn’t trying. …  I just woozled around, not knowing what to write about.”

Staebler married a man who at first seemed talented and fun-loving — but after a few years, his personality underwent a change. He became a moody alcoholic and was diagnosed with mental disorder.

One summer, to escape the unhappy atmosphere at home, she went to visit her sister in Nova Scotia. She’d only planned to stay a few days, but ended up staying for two weeks in the little fishing village of Neil’s Harbour. Each day she told herself, “Tomorrow, I’ll leave.” She went out on the sea with the fishermen, square-danced at the Orange Lodge Hall, and got to know the men, women, and children of the village.

She awoke one morning and said, “That’s it! I’ll write a book about Neil’s Harbour!”

She went back to Kitchener and wrote about everything she could remember — the sound of the ocean, the voices of the people, the colors, the emotions. Her mother came to visit and found her on the sofa, writing in a notebook. “Why waste your time?” said her mom. “You can’t be a writer — you have to have talent.”

Just when Edna had finally begun to write, her mother — her own mother — sabotaged her! Staebler’s confidence wilted. She felt the chilling onset of writer’s block.

A few days later, an author came to town and spoke to the women’s club. Staebler talked to him afterwards and showed him her work. He told her it was good. He left town, but sent her notes of encouragement. “Keep writing,” he’d say. “Believe in yourself.”

She accumulated hundreds of manuscript pages — but never dared submit them to an editor, fearing rejection. During a lucid moment, her husband said, “You’re not a writer until you’ve had something published.” His words stung — but she knew he was right. She selected a story about Neil’s Harbour and submitted it to Maclean’s — her first-ever submission. It sold.

She was in her fifties when she made that first sale — it had taken her that long to summon her confidence. When her alcoholic husband ran off with her best friend, she decided to support herself by writing. She worked regular office hours, producing scores of articles. She sold them to Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Saturday Night, Reader’s Digest, and many other publications.

At age sixty, she published her first book. At age sixty-two, she produced a cookbook — recipes from Canada’s Mennonite region, enriched by Staebler’s personal stories. At sixty-six, she published Cape Breton Harbour, based on her two weeks in a Nova Scotia fishing village.

Edna Staebler died in 2006 at the age of one hundred after a memorable writing career that began at the precise mid-point of her life. The moment she summoned the confidence to do the work she was born to do, she became a writer.

More than talent, more than skill, more than a keyboard to pound on, a writer needs confidence. You have to decide to write, and you must act on that decision even if you don’t feel an ounce of confidence within your soul.

Diane Ackerman (A Natural History of the Senses) said, “The best advice on writing I ever received was: Invent your confidence. When you’re trying something new, insecurity and stage fright come with the territory. …  How could it be otherwise? By its nature, art involves risk.”

American novelist and writing teacher John Gardner empathized with the insecurities of a writer. “In my own experience,” he said, “nothing is harder for the developing writer than overcoming his anxiety that he is fooling himself and cheating or embarrassing his family and friends. To most people, even those who don’t read much, there is something special and vaguely magical about writing, and it is not easy for them to believe that someone they know, someone quite ordinary in many respects, can really do it.”

Romance novelist Jayne Ann Krentz has more than 35 million copies of her novels in print under her own name and six pseudonyms. Her advice: “Believe in yourself and in your own voice, because there will be times in this business when you will be the only one who does. …  An author with a strong voice will often have trouble at the start of his or her career because strong, distinctive voices sometimes make editors nervous. But in the end, only the strong survive. Readers return time and again to the unique, the distinctive storytelling voice. They may love it or they may hate it, but they do not forget it.”

When did Edna Staebler find success? She found it when she stopped listening to her mother, her alcoholic husband, and her self-doubt — and she made the choice to invent her own confidence.

Be yourself and believe in yourself. Tell your stories and live your dreams.

 “The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”
— Neil Gaiman

Copyright 2015 by Jim Denney. For more writing insight and inspiration, read Muse of Fire: 90 Days of Inspiration for Writers by Jim Denney.