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This post goes out to all my fellow struggling writers out there…

Sometimes it happens. Authors find their creativity, sense of purpose, and vision has stalled out. (Believe me, I’ve been there.) And so I’ll devote this installment of the Jessie Mae Hodsdon Writing Guidebook to that very thing. How to win back excitement when writing has taken on a monotonous or overwhelming quality.

Blog Bonus Feature: I consider creativity a gift. A treasure of immeasurable price. And so, when it threatens to disappear–being swallowed up by the busyness of life or the pressure of deadlines–I fight back. Because I refuse to let imagination slip out of my life. Don’t give up, struggling, starving, drained artists. Please. Don’t give up.

#63: Recognize that the Halfway Point is Hard.

Anticipate that inspiration will dry up around the 1/3 or 1/2 mark of your novel. The initial excitement over the characters has run its course; you have established your setting; and the basic plot is well in hand. Now what? Whether or not you outline, there comes a point of uncertainty. The best way to deal with it is to expect it. Then you won’t be discouraged when it arrives.

#47: There is Value in a Break.

I want to start this entry by offering a warning. Just as breaks have the potential to bless, they also have the potential to curse. If you make them purposeless (ie not writing, reading, or daydreaming anything), they could destroy your rhythm. Instead, take a purposeful break from your story by reading multiple novels, watching movies, and doing something unrelated but creative. (Your probably already know what that creative thing is. Maybe you like to cook or play guitar or draw. You get my drift…) This will stimulate new creativity inside of you and, before long, you will find the old passion for your story returning

#81: Minor Characters have the Potential to be Awesome.

I’ll assume you are familiar with Frozen. Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff are incredible main characters, but really… where would the movie have been without the trolls? Not far. Kristoff would have been a little less loveable. Anna wouldn’t have gotten the push to accept her feelings. And the essential clue/moral of the movie would have been lost. Not to mention the trolls (especially Grand Pabbie) added flair and spice to the story. The minor characters gave background to a major character (Kristoff), direction to the writer, plot clues to the movie watcher, and color to the story.

I’m a big fan of secondary characters. (And I’ll admit, sometimes I carry them a little too far.) But minor characters, being able to sustain eccentric personalities you could never get away with for main characters, have limitless potential. When your writing has stalled, turn your focus from the main characters you know so well and let your mind tool on the minor characters. Perhaps you will discover background, direction, plot clues, and color too.

If you have other ways to deal with the stall-out point of a novel, let me know in the comments! Best wishes in your writing endeavors,

Jessie Mae

(See my previous posts about the Guidebook here and here.)

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It’s Thursday. How did this week fly by so fast? Tomorrow, already, is my sacred day of rest. But with my niece stirring softly in her sleep beside me and Matt Maher reminding me in the background that Chris is risen from the dead and Easter service almost planned, it feels rather like Thursday has its own kind of rest.

This week held a special landmark. After around twenty seven classes and countless hours of intense feedback and sweat-breaking assignments, my student has finished her novel! This teacher is doing a happy dance of pride. There are always times when writing a novel seems impossible–when writers block hits or characters keep secrets from their author or scenes refuse to bend to that author’s will. (I am of the belief that books have a mind of their own–or at least the good books do.) But my student has waded her way through the various swamps and FINISHED HER NOVEL.

So, one last encouragement, Camp NaNoWriMo started yesterday. If you want to write and are intimidated by the process, take the plunge today. Check out the site, grab yourself a private cabin, and start that book already. The minimum word count is only 10,000 for the month. Believe me. You can write 333 words a day. And it is immensely good for the soul to write–whether or not you finish your story. 🙂

In closing (and because the baby is stirring, so don’t judge my grammar–I don’t have time to edit) and in anticipation of Easter, I am reminded by Maher’s Christ is Risen:

O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory? O church, come stand in the light. The glory of God has defeated the night.

Hallelujah. Amen.

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I’ve got a song about a zebra stuck in my head. (Thanks, Francesca.) Unusual, like the other songs on her album, is just that catchy. And believe it or not, I am actually making progress on my novel this rainy day. Despite the distractions. Of which there are plenty. Francesca Battistelli’s new album included.

I would like to be as profound as I was yesterday or as informative as I was about hipsters last year or even as funny as I was last month when I discussed bloopers, but, alas, all my creativity is being funneled into my novel today. You will have to take me as I am, rugged and raw and overtired from seasonal allergies that suffocate me nightly. I feel a little like Dug (from Up), my brain constantly shouting “Squirrel!” (or, in this case, “Zebra!”). Then again, creativity is often born out of insanity. For proof of that concept, just check out this video, featuring one man, twenty-one Disney/Pixar voices, and the deserved hit: Let It Go (from Frozen).

To return to the subject of the novel… My new character–Otis–is shaping up, finally filling in giant gaps that would make Maine’s frost heaves jealous. And if you’re not from Maine, those frost heaves are really, really, really, really big. Thank you, Otis. Your love of cheeseburgers, your beret-wearing head, and your healthy fear of Russian-spouting computer hacker Tasya are just what I needed to get back into my writing rhythm.

Until tomorrow, friends, I remain your overly-creative and slightly-zany author,

Jessie Mae

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Dear Friends,

Life continues to astound me. Despite my perpetual and utter uselessness when it comes to my novel, I’m in a downright peppy mood as I jam out to Francesca Battistelli’s new album: If We’re Honest (Deluxe). “Sometimes it feels like Starbucks is my permanent address,” she sings in I am Home, a song that describes home as so much more than an building and contentment as so much more than reaching goals. With lyrics of longing while fulfilling her dreams loaded into her last work, I am encouraged and thrilled to hear her choice to be happy right where she is. And that happiness doesn’t come from dreams. It is Paul’s ‘secret of contentment’ found in Philippians 4:12b, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content,” and in 1st Timothy 6:6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Oh, what gain!

10245289_10203033352971455_4028926361156906554_nI am still amazed that I chose not to attend grad school and remain in complete loss as to what the future holds. Yet, as I slug my way through the mire of same-old-same-old and the maze that is The Lure of Lemons, my life is getting downright exciting. It is more than my favorite coffee filling up the kitchen or the flowers I was given yesterday for Administrative Assistants’ Week. It is more, even, than the gratitude I feel for being asked to teach a mini-writing camp this summer as well as to take on a writing student for the fall semester. Truth is, whatever is coming, its certain to be good. Because God is the Author of my story.

Sure, there will be crashes when everything will fall apart. Honestly, they happen more than I want to admit. Yet, I am learning, that good is not the absence of tragedy. My future is bright because it is controlled by Someone a whole lot more intelligent and creative than I am. He is not fumbling around wondering what’s going to happen, like I am in The Lure of Lemons. He is beauty and mercy and power and crazy in love with me and in absolute control. In that knowledge, there is contentment. Poor or rich, successful or failure, author or not. Contentment.

To close, some lyrics from Battistelli’s He knows my name:

“I don’t need my name in lights. I’m famous in my Father’s eyes. Make no mistake. He knows my name.”

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Starbucks got pretty fun yesterday. A few of us pulled out the ear-buds and acted like real people, trading jokes, stories, and turns watching laptops. It was pretty awesome. It filled a need in my heart for community–something I feared I was sacrificing when I decided not to attend grad school in Virginia.

And after I had returned home, Sister Kate showed up. We went for an unexpected walk, catching up in about twenty minutes. All of it strengthens me. And I needed some strengthening.

Last night I also attended a Good Friday service. Contrary to the somber affairs I had been accustomed to, this one was lively. It was full of upbeat music and positive thoughts–focusing on the glorious words, “It is finished.” Rescued. Christ’s death rescued me. Living a story full of heartbreak, thrill, adventure, danger, and success that would make a novel jealous, I am fully grateful for that rescue. Christ is my knight in shining armor. The One Who says I never have to be alone. Hallelujah.

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I’m working on the final stages of my novel. So–to make sure everything ties together with a little bow–I find myself doing nearly constant research with my previous books. And today I had a good laugh, because I discovered a document entitled Bloopers. All I can figure is that during the backbreaking work of editing Xsardis, my mother/editor and I went a little bit crazy. We created a Blooper Reel of editing mishaps, misunderstandings, mis-writing, and snarky (albeit well-meaning and well-received) comments.

Take, for example, this comment from my editor and chief: “Doesn’t this person have a name? Call him a small elephant if you want, but give him a name!”

Or this one: “Why did coloring help her use a slingshot?”

Or this encouraging word: “It’s probably written right. You just can’t read.”

Or how about these completely random and I-can’t-quite-see-how-they-are-relevant comments: “Pant girl!” and “I think you need a chicken in this story” and “Put a skirt on a continent.”

Hmm… What does it all mean? I can see how I could mis-write “asked us to flee” as “accessed a flea.” I can even see how my poor description of someone’s downcast eyes as “his eyes fell down” could leave my mother with the impression that the eyeballs “rolled out and dropped onto her shoes.” But the rest? Well… Let’s just say that what happens in the editing room should probably stay there.

In the pursuit of a refined novel we’ve pinned each other to the wall to discover how to break free; we’ve chucked paper at each other to get out angst; we’ve drank too much coffee; arm-wrestled for who is going to read; and had some minor mental breakdowns when I need to get a sentence just right and she wants to discover if a character lives or dies (really, why is she so impatient?). But, all in all, as evidence by the Blooper Reel, my editor and I have had a glowing good time doing it. So I’m looking forward to round 5 with the Lure of Lemons… That editing process will come sooner than I think.

Ps. If you can’t tell that I absolutely ADORE my mother and that we have a fabulous working relationship, you really need to read this blog more often and get to know me better… She’s awesome.

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As I was working on the novel yesterday, I came across the following note from my old self:

Insert random details about the building and city of your choice. Yes, you skimped the last time you were writing, but, hey, it was 2:34AM, so you were understandably exhausted and had poor judgment.

Reading this was highly amusing to me. Sanity and logic truly are not my strong points when writing in the early hours of the morning. Yet, I still contest that some of my best work is done there. When perfection fades in sleepiness, when everything gleams as bigger and deeper than it might otherwise appear, when the creativity of childhood still beats within my heart.

It was 10:30 when I put the laptop aside last night, with another thousand words in my favor. And as soon as I could pry my groggy eyes open this morning I wrote again. It is dedication more than inspiration, but words–and some of them very good–are falling from my mind into the realm of reality. So be it.

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