Set Realistic Expectations and Keep the Dream Alive

Another one by Scott Rhoades!


There’s a common affliction shared among most–maybe all–writers: we expect too much too soon. And it can kill a writing career faster than the loss of a favorite pen.

Writing requires persistence. It takes time to write a book, and more time to write a book that sells. You have to chug along through endless days of work and rejection before good things start to happen. But it never fails. As soon as that first paragraph is laid down and we get excited about what we’re writing, we have visions of bestseller lists and blockbuster movies.

The problem is, if our expectations are unrealistic, the inevitable frustration that comes with being a writer and shakes our confidence can push us to believe it’s not worth the effort, and we decide we’re not good enough and give up.

First novels are rarely published. Same with second novels. Sure, it happens. Many successful writers, though, have multiple books in a drawer, an unread testament to the need to learn and gain experience.

Why should it be any different? You won’t play a symphony the first time you sit down at a piano. Your first painting won’t get you a spot in the Louvre. The arts take practice. They take work. They take patience.

So, what if you change your goal? What if you redefine success? You have no control over what publishers want, but you control whether you write and keep writing.

Writing that first novel is a major achievement, published or not. Arthur Plotnik talks about this is his (sadly, out-of-print) book, Honk If You’re a Writer, reprinted as The Elements of Authorship (also sadly out of print). Plotnik points out that many people decide to write a book. Of those, the number who actually start is very small. The number who get to The End is so close to zero that it might as well be zero. 

Make getting to The End your goal, not publication. That puts success completely in your own hands. If you get there, you’ve accomplished something a tiny percentage of people have ever managed to do. That’s a really big deal. If you make it, you’ve succeeded.



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Day 29, 2019

From my friend Scott Rhoades

Scott has written more than two solid years, every single day. He’s my very own Stephen King!

Here are suggestions about when to take a book to fellow writers for critique help.

When Should I Ask for Feedback?

Writing a book seems like a solitary activity and, in many ways, it is. The only way to write a novel is to spend hours alone at a keyboard (or notebook), typing away. But experienced writers know that writing is most often a community effort.

It’s natural to want feedback as soon as you have words on the page, but sharing your work too early isn’t usually the best strategy, and can even hurt your ability to finish.

Sharing too soon can mean your readers are so distracted by early-draft issues they can’t look for the big-picture concerns that are harder to spot.  

The more experienced your crit partner is, the more likely you are to get a great critique on a more polished manuscript. If you’re a less-experienced writer who is lucky enough to score a critique from an experienced writer, you don’t want to waste your editor’s experience with easy line edits when you can benefit from their deeper knowledge. You’re also less likely to get a second critique from an experienced author if your partner feels like it took an excessive amount of time to critique for little mistakes most writers should be able to find on their own (like typos and mechanical errors). 

Keep in mind that a less-polished manuscript draft is more likely to look like a victim of a low-budget slasher movie when it comes back. This can be discouraging, shake your confidence as a writer, and make it harder to finish your manuscript.

Should you never share anything early? Not necessarily. A group of less experienced writers might help each other more on early drafts. Experienced crit partners who are familiar with each other’s writing might share early drafts or even outlines to validate whether a story is going to work as planned. But even if you share the most detailed outline, chances are good that there are things in your head your partner isn’t going to see, and so it’s easy to miss important points.

To help your crit partners help you, it’s best to do some serious revising before you share. Not just a quick pass, but some real work. The better you make your story before you share it, the more a good crit partner can concentrate on bigger issues in your writing.


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Day 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Day 27, 2019

Today is my momma’s birthday.  (I said, “Won’t you stay with me till you’re 85?” And she said, “Yes.” But that didn’t happen.)

I am a writer because she said, “You are a natural.”

I am a reader because our house was full of books.

I love words because, when I was little, Mom memorized poetry with my sister and me. (Our first poem, when I was very little, was Omar Khayyam:

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse — and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness —
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.)

There are things I learned because of her, too.

I learned how to forgive.

I learned how to serve.

I learned some crap just doesn’t matter.

(It’s been a year and I can still hear the way she said my name. Her voice, low in the night, calling me from the other room. “Carol? Where am I?” “You’re home, Mom.”  “Home?” “Yes, Momma. You’re home.”)

Truly I had less than fifteen years with her because of choices she and I made.




That night or so before she left. All the words were gone. The voice. The songs.

The harmonies and sense of humor and the ability to read or even hold a novel. The skill to swallow or stand or keep her head up. (But, she reached for me when she heard my voice.

“Are you ready to go?” I said.  A nod. “Are you sure?” A nod. I won’t be able to bear it, I thought, but I said, “Okay, Momma.”)



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Day 26, 2019

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. Had she not died young, she would have been in 102.

Nana’s first name was Jimmey. She was tiny. And poor. Her father was an alcoholic. There’s a story that her dad tried to sell the family cow to the president of the US when he was playing golf on a course not too far from my grandmother’s childhood home. The president declined the offer.

Nana had, I thought, a total of 7 children (6 girls, 1 boy) in her family. I wanted to put all their names in my novel MESSENGER. It seemed a nice way to remember the woman I loved so much. As I was writing, I couldn’t remember a sister I had never met and my daughter Caitlynne did some genealogy for me.

One afternoon I received a phone call.

“Mom. There were ten children in Nana’s family!”

I got all their names in MESSENGER. And then I had this to ponder: why didn’t the sisters and brother know about the two little boys and the baby girl who only lived a few days each?

My grandmother married an abusive man who made his children’s lives miserable. He worked for the railroad and built them a house from two railroad cars joined end to end. I knew him for only a few years, and found him the day he died. He was lying on his bed as though he’d needed a rest. He was in his mid-forties. I hope, in this life, I am able to forgive him for his cruelty. It translated into generations.

Nana made biscuits and syrup. She let me drink huge glasses of hot tea with her coffee creamer in it. She took me to the library. She watched me dance. Listened to me sing. Laughed at my jokes. Threw her arms around me in huge hugs. Held me on her lap. Sent me secret letters, sometimes with a dollar bill tucked inside a card. She loved romance novels and wore polyester because she hated to iron. She smoked, drank beer and laughed with her whole self. She let us pluck her eyebrows (she could sleep through that!) and file her fingernails and toenails.

I was her first grandchild. I was her favorite grandchild. (Sorry, Kelly. I know it’s true.) She let me spend weeks with her in the summer. Bought my warts. And didn’t mind when I peed in the concrete planter in her front yard.

As she lay dying, I whispered to her that I had a book coming out. My first one. KELLY AND ME. I told her I had dedicated it to her and her dad. She couldn’t speak but she let me know she both loved that I had dedicated the book to her and did not love that I had included her father.

I wish she could have held that novel, read it. I know she would have laughed over the stories in it. Some were from family incidents. And while she might have been unhappy that Papa (her father) was a star, I hope she knows now that she is the hero in every book I write that has a grandmother in it.

She saved me.

Happy birthday, Nana.





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Day 25, 2019

I missed writing on Saturday. I didn’t even realize until Sunday. I was sorely disappointed in myself.

We have one week left of NaNoWriMo. While I didn’t write on Saturday, I did get up this morning and start adding words to a book that’s already in progress. A romance. That will have kissing but so far does not.

Ah, the power of the pen. 😉

These last few weeks NaNoWriMo weeks have taught me something that I’ve never really known about myself when it came to writing. When prompted, I can write 2,000-3,000 + fun, new words a day. A. Day! Wowie kazowie!

I understand these words need to be cleaned and then polished. I wouldn’t let anyone see them right now. But, the fact that I was writing several thousand new words per week is very exciting to me. And I even did it once I started my new job.

So. Way back when I felt a good day was 1000 words–or about a chapter for me. I was homeschooling my girlies and I wrote before they got up in the morning. Then the rest of the day was ours. (Man, I miss those days. A lot.)

I’m used to writing. A little a day, that’s all we ask. I’m unable to write a book in a few days like Ann Dee Ellis. It’s always more slow and steady.

But this successful NaNoWriMo adventure has taught me something fabulous. I can write more than 1000 words in the mornings. And I can enjoy it, too.

There were hard days. But when I stopped and thought and brainstormed through the hard stuff, I still accomplished words.

So this is my new goal: 2000 words a day. I won’t be completely like Stephen King. I might take off Saturdays or save that day for revisions. And I won’t work on Sundays. And maybe not Thanksgiving or Christmas like he does.

But this idea that I can do something I love in the now limited time I have, thrills me.

Ready? Set. Go!


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Day 22, 2019

What I know I have to rewrite:

  1. More world-building. My characters are not from planet earth. Everything they see would be new to them.

I remember when my editor Mary Cash came from New York to Utah for a one-day writing conference Rick Walton, Cheri Earl and I put on. Mary stood outside and said, “I cannot believe that there are these HUGE mountains close enough to touch, and then, right there, a K-Mart!”

My first time to Utah I felt as though the mountains might fall over on me. When Mary came to visit I had grown so used to beautiful Utah, I hardly noticed the mountains anymore.

2. More killings by vampires.

Have you read Thirsty by MT Anderson? The opening of that novel where there is talk of the vampire killings is spectacular. It’s a couple of pages long and without meaning to, I have memorized bits of the description. It’s that good.

3. LOTS more dialogue between our earth host and our alien character.

These two ‘girls’ are gonna know each other pretty darn well by the time their three days together is over. Better get them communicating.

And while I’m talking about dialogue, I want to mention I need lots more between earth creatures and aliens and between the aliens themselves.


4. Humor. Please! Give us humor.

Do I even need to say anything about this? Where is humor needed? Everywhere. The whole book. From start to finish. Yes! You can laugh when there are vampires killing people. Or at least afterward.

5. All in all, the book needs a hefty rewrite on more things than I have time to mention here. I looked at it a little this morning and added things and took things away. I’m gonna let the book sit for a bit, but I won’t stop thinking about it.



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