Monday, October 3, 2016

Breathing In Your Story

Everyone who knows me realizes that I tend to be a sloooowwwwwww mover. Pretty much all the time. We're talking, my husband cringes when we go to Panera because if I order a you-pick-two, I have to eat my sandwich first (while it's hot) and then my salad and then my baguette, which is like three separate small meals time-wise for most people, and Lord help him if they have pumpkin cookies.

I have the same tendency with, shall we say, larger things in life. Matt and I dated two years before getting engaged, were engaged for another full year, and then waited five years before trying to get pregnant. I kept my '94 Accord seventeen years (okay, some of that time it was the family car because I was eight, but still) and would still have my flip-up Sony Ericsson if I could. (You guys remember that amazing little phone? The LIGHTS. Sigh. The lights.)

The point here is, I panic when things move too quickly in real life. But even I struggle with wanting to rush my stories. Do you know what I mean?

As writers, we tend to get REALLY excited when we have a new story idea. We throw our hearts into a new hook and start envisioning the book's cover, the thank-you page (I'm not the only one who does that, right?), the speech we will give at the Christy Awards... all before we've made it through chapter two.

We throw our emotions into our stories, which is great, but what if they're not ready?

One of the coolest things I learned when I was pregnant and taking childbirth classes is that when a baby is ready to be born, he or she signals the mother's body, through a rush of particular hormones, to begin preparing for labor. That process cannot be really replicated, even through induction, which sometimes doesn't "take."

The same thing is true for our book babies. We hit the third trimester in our writing--or hey, maybe even the first sign of morning sickness!-- and we start to think, "Get this thing out into the world already!" Am I right?

But here's the thing.

Every child only gets one pregnancy. One birth experience.

And so do our stories.

There's only so long you can grow and nurture your manuscript, from the safety of your heart-walls. That place where it's only you and God, whispering, "Let's create together."

See, writing in its formative stage is a place of deep vulnerability and tremendous growth. And our stories will never reach their full capacity if we don't first acknowledge what they do to us inside. Before they ever hit an editor's desk, much less a reader's.

You are short-changing your readers if you do not allow God to fully develop the story, your story, before rushing it on its way.

I'm learning that characters, like people, take time to really be understood. Frank Peretti once told me he takes two years on a novel. Joshilyn Jackson said she keeps company with characters in her head far longer than that, before ever putting them on paper.

Like any authentic relationship, we must take time with our stories and our characters if we seek to know them deeply. Otherwise, story elements will feel inorganic to the reader and leave them wishing for more complexity. If you want to surprise a reader, you must first surprise yourself, and you do that by giving your manuscript time to breathe.

So today, I encourage you to take a deep breath, friend. Ask God what He's up to not only in your manuscript, but also in your heart. Forget about your target word count or all the have-to's, and just breathe.

You may find surprising inspiration lurking.


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Bonnee Crawford said...

Hi Ashley, lovely post!

I agree that sometimes we rush our stories out before they're ready. Sometimes when I read the work of my peers, I can tell where it is forced and where they needed to slow down with the writing process. Then sometimes we have deadlines, and don't always have the luxury of waiting for the right time. Guess that's what editing and redrafting are for!

Still, it's nice to just take things slowly with our writing whenever we can. Thanks for sharing. :)

Casey said...

This post just feels like I'm being poured into this morning. As I have a story on my computer for the first time in probably close to three years, having a reminder to BREATHE is huge for me. I don't stop and do that often enough in life and especially not in my writing. I think that can be the curse of being immersed in the writing world because we see everyone "accelerated time tables" and not what came before that to get them where they are. And their time tables are not ours. But this latest story is also teaching me how crazy awesome it is to write WITH God and not just for Him. It's so very worth learning to breathe--both for my story and for me. :)

Angie Dicken said...

Ashley, this is a great post! Although you and I are similar...we are opposite in this. I am fast...too fast...I jump into things and then get flustered! When it comes to stories, I do the same, and it's not good because I get worked up and don't allow God's perfect timing to lead me. I really needed to hear this as I work on my edits because I was worrying about having my next manuscript ready to pitch. AAAAH! That is ridiculous at this point since I have so much on my plate right now. I seem to pick up on all the pressures in writing advice, instead of taking in the posts like this one--to breathe and allow the creative process to be a guide--not a forced to-do.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Lovely post, Ashley! I'm all for slow writing! I will never be a book-a-year person. I love how you slipped in the "Frank Peretti once told me..." which is a pretty cool thing to be able to say, and even cooler that he takes two years to write a book! Now that's my kinda schedule.

Ashley Clark said...

Bonnee, thanks for your comment! You bring up an excellent point about deadlines. But you know, I don't think slowing down necessarily means actual time... we can slow the process even if we're pushed for time by finding ways to experience our story, with God. We can consider how a character might see a beautiful sunset we experience, or our heartbreak. But time certainly helps things!

Casey, it's so beautiful to hear about what God is doing in your heart and your story! I can't wait to see where this goes.

Ashley Clark said...

Angie, I think you're just so passionate about stories that you're quick to jump into them! :D

Karen-- HAHAHA! Like how I managed that? ;)

Amy Willoughby Burle said...

I agree with you and Joshilyn Jackson both. Before I start any given story, the characters have been hanging out in the attic for quite a while, letting me get to know them before I start trying to tell their story.

Linda said...

This is very educational content and written well for a change. It's nice to see that some people still understand how to write a quality post.