Monday, December 3, 2012

Trust In Your Ability To Tell A Story

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
Christmas Cactus
This post has spoilers for Beth Spann. (I’ve already texted Mama and asked her not to read my Monday post—Mama, if you are reading the post, this is your spoiler alert!)

I was at a garden center last week, looking for a Christmas cactus to give my mother for Christmas.

There was a really pretty plant there—it’s in the picture, above.  It was obviously the best choice for a gift.

While I was looking around, the owner of the garden center bustled around, answering questions and sounding extremely knowledgeable about plants. But by the time I’d make it to the register, she’d disappeared to a different area of the nursery.  There was another lady at the register who smiled at me.  “Can I help you?” she asked.

“I don’t have much luck with indoor plants,” I said.  “I need to make sure this plant makes it until Christmas.  Do you have any tips for me?”

The woman looked at me with wide eyes.  “Let me see if I can find Sara real quick.”

She did her best to find Sara, but she was nowhere around.  The woman returned slowly to the register.  “I’m afraid she’s not around.”

“Do you know how much water it needs?” I asked. “I usually have problems with watering.”  There wasn’t one of those little plastic stakes that usually tells how to care for the plant, either.

The woman took a deep breath, seemed to do a mental search of all her knowledge on cacti, and said, “Well….the soil should be moist, but not wet to the touch.  You need to keep it out of direct sunlight and make sure it’s not under any heat vents.”  She continued talking about the plant, getting more confident as she went and giving me more and more information about Christmas cacti.

I thanked her for her help, and then said, “You seem to know a lot about the plants.”

“Oh, I take care of them,” she answered.

So…she took care of the Christmas cacti every day, but didn’t seem to trust herself to explain to me how to care for them.  She wanted to find the expert—the owner.

This is the way I think many of us feel when we’re writing, too.  We don’t trust ourselves to tell the story.  We hesitate as we’re writing, thinking we can’t tell the story the way we want it to be told.
We read up on the writing craft, but sometimes this reading takes the place of our practice time.  There’s definitely a point where we need to put our how-to books aside and just write our story. 

Like the lady who took care of the plants—when we practice, we learn.  And once we finish our first draft, we have ample opportunity to edit our story to ensure it’s exactly the one we meant to tell.

A few tips for making sure we finish our story:

Set a manageable goal.  Revisit that goal if it proves not to be manageable.

Show up.  Meet that manageable goal we set for ourselves by sitting down and opening up our document.

Be flexible with our writing time and the places we write.  Be open to writing on the spur of the moment.

Read books in our genre. It’s the only way to learn how to structure books, or to get a sense of the right pace for our stories.  Read blog posts, books, and articles that help us improve—but don’t let the how-to reading interfere with or take the place of our writing time.

Be forgiving of our first draft.

Stop comparing ourselves to others.  Enjoy others’ work, learn from it.  But develop our own voice and confidence in our writing…by writing regularly.

Do you trust yourself to tell your story?  How do you work through your insecurities to finish your draft?  Tips for staying motivated?