When the Words Won’t Flow

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When life gives you lemons, mix them with club soda, add a little lime juice, and stick a sprig of mint in the glass. What you end up with is not just a refreshing drink. It’s something quite magical that defies logic.

The same can be said for writing. When we get to a place that just doesn’t work it can sour our mood and quickly send us down the path of “I shouldn’t be doing this” or “There is no way I can ever be a good writer.”

Stop. Right. There.

Add something familiar (club soda), mix in something with a little fun (lime juice), and stick in something delightful and refreshing (mint). What you’ll end up with may not be what you intended but I’ll bet it will be something that will get your creative wheels turning.

So, how does this exactly work in real life? Well, let me lay it out.

Write About the One Thing You Do Know You Want to Write About

I love a good small town romance. There’s something about being known in a familiar place. Things are a tighter knit and feel safer and a bit sheltered from the rest of the world. I also grew up in a small town dreaming of living in the big cities. And, once I did live there, I realized the magic that small communities have.

Today I find myself in a small town café listening to conversations as I type and sip coffee. I walked the main street making a mental list of shops and businesses. People watched and read the local paper.

If I want to write about a small town it helps to be in them and absorb their vibe.

Embrace What You Don’t Know

What? Did I say something? It’s okay to admit that we don’t know what we’re doing. We can read all the books like Save the Cat! Writes a Novel but, at the end of the day, you have to find your own voice and rhythm. Yes, knowing the flow of a novel is important but it’s not a hard and fast follow to the core requirement.

Beyond not full understanding how to write, if your characters have careers or interests that you are unfamiliar with just research it. Before you dive down the rabbit hole of research, decide how deep your knowledge needs to be. How critical is knowing the classes a doctor has to take to saying your character is a doctor? You might need some info to make it feel authentic and accurate but be careful that you don’t waste you precious writing time in a black hole of information finding procrastination.

Start With a Title

I have a running list of books titles. Some have a brief synopsis next to them so I don’t forget what inspired the title. Who wants to wake up in the morning to a title called Four Forks & a Spoon with zero recollection of what the heck that was all about.

Confession, I have two WIPs in progress. I rarely work on them at the same time. Both have different feels so it’s more of when my mind pulls me to one or the other. I know this can be controversial for some writers. I’ve heard writers say they would never finish any novel if they worked this way. It’s true that it may take me longer than if I only focused on one but this is how my brain works best. I mean, do you eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day? Maybe you do and that works for you but I’d get bored and just walk away.

Go For a Drive

When I drive something magical happens in my brain. The wheels start rolling not just on the car but in my novel writing head. Driving through the country side, seeing random businesses, town signs announcing festivals or celebrations, names of towns, bayous and river. All of it triggers story ideas or scene ideas in my current WIPs.

If I’m driving I’ve told my husband to take notes for me on my phone. If he’s driving I’m often typing away furiously in my notes.

Drive through small towns, big towns, parks, countryside… just drive to someplace new of that you rarely get a chance to go to.

Share If You’re Brave Enough To

Another controversial talking point of writers. To share or not to share before your work is done. I asked my best friends to read along as I write. I use a program online to write my novel that allows me to share a link with others to view my work.

When I was just two or three chapters in Laura asked to read what I’ve written. Through chattering teeth and feeling my stomach plummet to the floor I said a weak, “Sure.”

It was the best thing I could have done at that stage. She asked a ton of questions about the characters that I hadn’t even considered. She pointed out phrases or words that seemed a bit odd to her. She helps me hash out plot holes and personalities of my characters. After her feedback I churned out somewhere around 12,000 words.

Find someone that believes in what you are doing but won’t give you a bunch of fluffy feely good remarks. Laura was positive, honest and very insightful. She’s an avid reader so she knows what she’d like to read and what she’d never pick up. She is my target audience.


Just keep writing. With creativity and practice, there are many ways to find the words when you don’t know what to write.

Dip your toes or dive in?

I’ve always been a big idea planner but not a detail oriented planner. As a young teen I mapped out when I’d finish school, have a career, travel, get married, and have kids. I knew when but I had no clue how. I typically think of what I want, find a way to get/achieve it, and then dive into the deep end and cross my fingers I can figure it all out before someone realizes I have no clue what I’m doing.

Good news? I’ve finally picked a story I want to stick to and write completely

Bad news? My next road block is in deciding if I want to turn it into a short story or novella just to get my work out there or continue on and finish a full length novel.

Perhaps I’m looking for confirmation that my tie focused on writing is worth it. Or that I have what it takes to be seen as a Ginny Baird, Lacy Baker, Teri Wilson, Leigh Duncan or Debbie Macomber type of writer.

Honestly, I think it comes back to the details. In the books that I fall in love with and can’t stop reading it always comes back to all the tiny descriptions of the setting, mood, tone, feel and sounds of what is happening in the story. When a book makes me feel like I’m watching a movie I know the author is good. When I can’t remember if the story I’m recalling was in a Hallmark movie or a book I know the author is amazing!

How did you decide what to first put out into the world? Did you start small with short stories or did you jump in the deep end?

Say it with me… Imposter Syndrome

I don’t like the way this sounds but I can sure relate. Oh, the joy and excitement I felt in saying the words, “I am a writer.” Such empowerment and pride and optimism. Then, the first time I sat down to my WIP, it hit me hard and fast.

Who on earth wants to read what I’m writing?

Will I even be noticed?

Do I even know what I’m doing?

I decided to give Hope*Writers a try by signing up for their $1 membership trial. Little by little I started to regain my confidence. I began a few courses, set up an IG account to connect to other writers and readers. A couple of sweet gals (Sarah and Chantal) reached out to me and offered the kindest words that became the pillars I didn’t realize I needed so badly.

I felt connected, inspired and real.

It isn’t the first time I’ve found myself at the start of something new that left me shaking at the knees with fear – being a missionary, college student, wife, counselor, mother, bible study leader. What I will always remember most vividly are the people who stepped forward to bring me alongside and talk down my anxiety. I am grateful for all the women who have done this for me over the past couple of weeks as I start my writer journey. Your kindness is noted, you’re encouragement taken to heart and your laughs echo deeply in my mind.

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Information overload

I am in the thick of trying to do things differently right now. I completed Atomic Habits and I have been using a habit tracker app to give me something tangible with the adjustments I’m making. Small, tiny adjustments meant to help me create a more manageable schedule (i.e. not wasting my time) to allow space to write. What habits am I tracking? Bible study, make the bed, morning dog walk, workout, study Spanish, work on writing. That on top of homeschooling my four kiddos and keeping them alive and entertained. I got this. I’m fine.

Also, don’t be too impressed – in following James Clear I am just currently showing up to a workout of 1-13 minutes right now. Also, I run on mucho coffee. See, Spanish lessons are working. I’m on week three-ish of these habits and they still feel meh at best.

But, I have to admit. I am beyond overwhelmed with writing. I had three strong possible books in the works. Ok, in my mind with partial parts scribbled in a notebook. And now that I’ve decided to jump on the Wanna-be-Author bandwagon and enlist Hope*Writers as my guide I am drowning in information. It’s rabbit hole after rabbit hole of learning and research and tools and books and videos.

I just want to write. Have you been in this place as a writer? The books I want to write seem iffy now. But, I will not give up. I want to complete one story. Maybe I’ll keep it at novella level. I will finish it even if I’m not in love with it because I just want to go through the process of making myself complete it and learn from it. It’s this analysis-paralysis?

Perhaps I need to step away from all the advice for a bit and use my writing time to write. Well, except for Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. That stays in my hand at all times.

Leave this freaked out newbie some words of encouragement because Lord knows I’m needing it right now!

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I have yet to complete a single piece of work. I have a list of characters that have come to me, relationships that I want to explore, several first chapters and even a couple of half way there pieces. So, why have I not completed anything? Many obvious reasons like graduate school, starting a new career, motherhood and all that jazz. The real reason, though, is I wasn’t sure my pieces would ever matter. Technically, I still don’t know that they will. What I do know is that I have a small gathering of family and friends that have been encouraging me to write and tell my stories.

So, it begs the question, why do I write? Belonging. I am relational and I am intrigued by how people find their place in life, love, relationships, careers and every other aspect that makes life worth living. As I think about the stories and characters I have in the works I notice their pulse beats for belonging just like me. A lot of the characters are strong and smart and have enough gumption to get them where they think they want to be and just when they are almost there, they waver on whether it’s what they really want, if they are worthy of what they have worked so hard for or if there could be something even better for them. What they’ve wanted and worked for might seem perfect but I think we can all relate to a moment when we have arrived to an almost there point. Maybe a decision wasn’t necessarily warranted but, perhaps, an acknowledgement? Or things look a bit different than we had expected it to and we needed to come to terms with it or pivot and move on. Right?

I write because I love to create worlds which aren’t all to far off from our own life. I write to find a place that envelopes me with wonder, hope, joy, love, romance, confidence and personal peace. I want this for my future readers, too.

I imagine someone opening up a book of mine one day and it feels like falling into a comfortable couch with a good friend that you can say anything to and feel safe. Soon, I’ll share these stories with you.

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My daily routine

In my journey to becoming a writer I have had to make some hard and fast decisions to get this thing off the ground. It feels strange saying that because internally all this feels monumental. Externally, my family would say, “What’s changed?”

Everything for me. I’m having to shift my focus on waiting and anticipating the needs of my kids and their schedules and think about making the most of my own time. As a mom this is so hard. My youngest is 3 and is pretty independent which has created space for me to do other things I’ve tucked away for far too long. So long it’s been difficult to even remember how to do things for myself! Oh, the irony!

The first and most terrifying step was allowing myself to identify as a writer. For me, a writer was someone who has worked extensively in the writing field and had already published pieces of their work. How could I ever get to that level? By claiming it for myself. Now, I’m no author – but a writer, yes. I will become an author but, for today, I will allow the title of writer to hang over me.

The second step was to look at my schedule first as a homeschooler. My kids are in their second year of homeschool and we have a pretty set routine of doing lessons Monday through Thursday from 8:30-11:30am. Fridays are for fun! Next, I looked at the schedule as a mom and considered all the kids’ regular activities. Once those were identified and realized I had so much time to do other things. I’m not tied down to naps, nursing or public school schedules anymore!

Yes, I still have to do home management and random stuff – meals, cleaning, laundry, random appointments, walk the dog, get some exercise. Those do take up time but, as a family, we complete most of the items together so it’s not all on me. I’ve given myself a lot grace in how my house looks. I know I can’t function well in a cluttered space but beyond that – hey, its a lived in place with a heck of a lot of kids running around! And a dog!

The last step, sticking to the plan. This means believing that what I’m working on and towards matters. It’s not that I never thought writing didn’t matter but that I thought so many other things mattered more. And, for a season, they did.

Trust the Process

I’m a glutton for fresh starts at the beginning of the year. Then, I let everything wane away for this or that reason by the third week of January. Anyone else? The only time I stuck to some new habit or activity was when I decided to start running. I am a terrible, terrible runner. I had a goal and I stuck to the plan for six months – an absolute miracle! I gave it up immediately once I reached my goal because my body hurt so bad after each run. And the Texas heat was unbearable but mostly because I ached everywhere. I tried adjusting my gait, my shoes, my breathing, the music I was listening to, the time of day I ran and even the location. My body said no thank you. That was two years ago and I have not wanted to start it up again in the least.

I’ve made a lot of excuses to not be the type of person I want to be. Things like school, starting a family and homeschooling my four kids have been huge road blocks. I’m now in a season of figuring out, or maybe remembering, all the things I wanted to do and try and I plan on making that happen.

My mode of operation in the past has been to jump in the deep end of all new things. This time though… slow and easy for this gal. In my life before having kids and early in motherhood, I was a mental health counselor. I say this because I have given patience and grace to so many other people on their journey to fulfillment and peace except myself. Author James Clear has helped me take a pause in how I process personal change. Specifically, he has (in the first 7 chapters of Atomic Habits) taken away the guilt and shame I have carried about not sticking to new habits by reframing the environment I am working with. I was working from a point of focusing on the product and not the process.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been told to focus on the process. At the start of grad school for counseling, I had a professor who handed out the class syllabus and as I scanned through it looking for due dates of assignments to add to my planner I noticed something strange… there were none. Zero. I thought this had to have been an error so I approached him after class, planner and pen ready, and asked him if he could tell me when he needed me to turn in the assignments. He sat back on the edge of his desk and folded his hands in front of him. He smiled broadly and said, “Trust the process, Stephanie.” Huh? He told me there were no dates and to turn in the assignments when I felt they were at the level I wanted them to be. I was a wreck but I did enjoy the process on my own terms and I liked it.

So, what’s my process? Designate a specific time for writing (Monday, Tuesdays and Fridays at 12:30), short term goals with rewards associated with writing (new class or book), with a big long term goal mid year (release a short story). I know, there’s still a bit of product focus happening but the process of getting to those points is clearly defined for me.

What’s on my desk

I spend time at my desk these days doing everything from homeschooling, taking writing classes, researching dinner recipes and working on this blog. Because of this, my workspace is constantly changing. Trying to minimize clutter in a multi use space is a constant thing. Making the space as beautiful and comfortable matter immensely. Oh, let me not forget that our homeschool/writing room is also our guest room!

So, how do I stay organized? My husband would prefer that I say I have everything organized and accessible online but it is not. I’m a paper planner kinda gal. Here are my go to items:

*Blue Sky Academic Planner I am not in school but I just love that I don’t have to change planners at the end of the year. I know its strange but with having school age kids it just makes sense in my brain to stay on the school schedule routine (even with homeschooling). I use this for all this except homeschool stuff.

*Well Planned Gal Homeschool Planner

*Five Star notebook because, again, I like pen and paper more than computers.

*Post It Notes These help me flesh out quick ideas. Admittedly… before they go to my notebook or planner… before it makes it onto a computer file. Stop judging. It works for me!

*Bath & Body Works candles. I’m currently burning Cactus Blossom.

What’s on your desk that helps you become the writer?

Steph’s Stack

A part of my new becoming a writer process is immersing myself in a variety of book genres. For the past ten years I have attempted to read so many books but the sheer exhaustion of motherhood left me too overwhelmed and in a fog to make sense or even enjoy what I was reading. I used to spend my nights playing games on my phone until I had enough “me time”, a.k.a. “no one is touching me or wanting anything from me time”. This year I decided to delete all the game apps and ditch the phone in my nightly routine. Thanks to this handy dandy reading light I got for Christmas, I can finally read without disturbing my hubby!

So, here’s my January stack:

*On Christmas Avenue by Ginny Baird

*Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody

*The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

*Atomic Habits by James Clear